A Morality Play

By Titus Villanueva

Class ended a bit late that day, but it seemed to be more of a blessing for Natalie. At least this time she wouldn't have to wait for him. She already knew that by this time he would already be waiting there. She couldn't be blamed of course, considering the professor extended an extra fifteen minutes for that surprise test, so it was perfectly alright. She moved through the campus halls, half-skipping, half-walking, reminding herself that she had him for the rest of the day, and probably longer than that if she was lucky. She had him for a month already, but that was enough to convince her that she could keep him forever. Her affections for him were there for as long as she could even remember. They grew up together, after all. Being next-door neighbors had its perks, but it was only now that he began to reciprocate. It was the happiest month of her life. She wanted to reach the park before sunset. The idea of being there with him as the orange sky turned black was something out of a daydream.

It was amazing how she kept it to herself for so long. Every kiss was a victory to the idea that staying loyal to one's heart pays off in the end. Every night they spent together made up for all the times her heart broke for him a hundred times over. Those years of wanting and yearning were finally worth it all even just for that one month. And to think it all started out as a friendly chat by their cliffside hangout. When she confessed, he seemed to have no other option but to bite in. From that day on, the two of them met there every day.

She reached the park and made for their spot. It was a secluded patch of grass overlooking the entire university campus. It had been their spot since they were children. He liked it that way. He preferred that he had her all to himself away from the prying eyes of the community. In she walked and there Tyler was waiting for her. On a normal day, the first to arrive would set a picnic mat on the grass. Today wasn't a normal day.

"Hey, Tyler..." said Natalie as she walked in.

The expression on his face wasn't one she wanted to see. When Tyler wasn't smiling, it always meant he had something a tad undesirable to say. Before he opened his mouth, Natalie, not wanting to hear whatever it was decided to get the whole thing over with.

"It's Cassandra isn't it..."

"Yes... I'm sorry." said Tyler solemn and sincere.

"Why did you lead me all the way here?" Natalie asked calmly ignoring the fact that her heart was slowly breaking as the blades of reality sank into it.

"I didn't want to tell you over text or the phone. It wouldn't do justice to what we had. We can't do this to her anymore..."

"I know... She is your girlfriend after all."

"Natalie... I"

"You don't have to explain a thing. I get it... We both knew this wasn't going to last."

This was half a lie. Deep inside, Natalie wished that he would come to his senses and leave his girlfriend of one year for his childhood friend who loved him from the beginning. Ultimately, she always knew that it was never going to last. Whenever she told herself she was being dumb, she only reminded herself that just a day as his lover was enough for her. Natalie finally picked up the courage and told him what she wanted.

"Just love her already... At least someone will be getting it. Love her like I've always loved you."

With that, the six o'clock bell began to toll.

Tyler was in anguish. He had no idea what to say. Several questions entered his mind at once.Am I doing the right thing? Am I about to lose my childhood friend? Will Cassandra forgive me for what I've done? Does Cassandra even know what I've done? Will Natalie ever...

"I shouldn't have done this to you." said Tyler

"I don't blame you for anything. I knew what it all was... It's okay, Tyler."

He felt her embrace him. It was the most reassuring thing he ever felt in his life. Natalie had that way of doing things; telling him things without having to open her mouth. He could feel her saying:

I just want you to be happy. If that happiness comes from another person, we'll always be the best of friends. I know how much you love her. You don't have to tell me that you loved me. I already felt it from you. In the end, you should only have one. I'm just sad that your choice wasn't me.

She kissed him one last time and left him there. He couldn't escape the reality of things. For months, he had been cheating on his girlfriend with a girl from his childhood. Whether or not he loved one more than the other, he could not say, but what was true was the fact that he did love them both each in his own different way. He knew in his heart that such a life would only end in tragedy, so he knew he had to make a choice. In the end, it was Cassandra. She was the one he wanted, and she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. As he walked out of the park, he could finally see in the eye of his mind the idea of finally marrying her and starting a life together. He never brought the idea up with her, but he saw them married someday. They'd have a little house, painted white. They'd have a garden with soft grass and they'd spend every Sunday together with the family they raised. He could see their children playing in the yard as he embraced her and told her that he was the happiest man in the world. With Natalie out of the picture, the future was clear and bright.

Even with these thoughts, he knew that it never would absolve him of the fact that he betrayed her. She trusted him, and he did something unthinkable. He had feelings for Natalie, but that never was an excuse for the fact that he made a promise to Cassandra. Even at that moment, people were already talking. The affair lasted long enough for him to know that at least one person on campus knew about it, and one person was enough for the news to reach Cassandra. What then would happen?

I shouldn't have cheated on her in the first place. Fuck the fact that I had real feelings for any other girl. I'd rather betray my own heart than break a promise to Cassandra. I told her she'd be the only one for me. I promised her...

He was thinking too hard to notice that by then, he had already reached his dormitory. He found a necktie around the doorknob indicating that his roommate, Bryan was not to be disturbed. There was a couch in the lobby that he could nap in. Bryan usually didn't take long so a nap should be enough.

Once his eyes closed he dreamed of what happened between him and Natalie. The details of every night and every afternoon they spent together were so vivid, it wouldn't have been unbelievable that he had been asleep for days. It was half a dream, and half a nightmare. He realized, the pain he felt was what he had to pay for what he had done, and what he wanted to achieve.

When he woke up, Bryan was standing over him.

"Sorry, Man. I didn't know you'd be back so early. I thought you were with Natalie... On days like this, I thought you'd be spending time at her apartment."

"It's over, Bryan... I'm a one woman man."

"Well, that's a shame" laughed Bryan "but I'm happy for you, dude."

They walked into the dormitory. It was a mess.

"What did you do?" asked Tyler.

"Kate was in here awhile ago... It was fun."

"Nuff said"

"Nuff said" repeated Bryan as the two boys laughed.

"When are you going to settle down and find someone?"

Bryan opened the fridge and threw Tyler a beer not before getting one for himself.

"When I feel like it..." Bryan looked at his friend with a chuckle "Hey! You're the shining example of why I don't feel like it. Look at what you just had to go through. At least I can screw whoever I want without people thinking less of me."

"It's not just sex.."

"Yeah, I know buddy. I was just teasing you. So, what now?"

"Well... I'm going to keep my promises to Cass I guess. It's our anniversary tomorrow and things have been great with her so far. After today, my conscience is clear. I'm a new man!"

"You really think you're getting away with the whole Natalie affair? People are starting to talk, you know."

"What do you mean?"

"It's only a matter of time before Cass finds out. You're in it deep, man."

Tyler slumped down on the couch as his friend continued.

"Well? You know what's going to happen when she finds out."

Tyler knew from that point in time that it was over between him and Cassandra.

"I know..."

"Well? You went through all this effort to break up with Natalie just so Cass can dump you? You always have a plan. Personally, I'd have stayed with Nat and dumped Cass. She loved you more than anyone and have you even looked at her, dude? She would never leave you like Cass would."

"I love Cass..."

"You're so hopeless sometimes. You think that makes any difference?"

There it was. The idea of a future with Cassandra was gone in an instant. Bryan was right. Tyler couldn't hope to keep her for long with what was going on. He even knew that at some point, Natalie in her sorrow would let it slip to one of her friends at some point. News spread quickly in their community as it did with any other. That was already on the off chance that people didn't already know. The inevitable was in motion. Tyler knew what to do.

"I'm going to have to come clean."

"Yeah? Then what? She's still breaking up with you."

"Why would she? At least I'm being honest."

"You're not thinking like a girl. Do you know what her friends will do once they find out?"

"If you're talking about what happened with Kelly back in high school..."

"You're damn right I'm bringing Kelly up. There's a reason she's my ex you know. I know I made a mistake when I slept with that exchange student on her last night in campus, but once she found out, she tried to forgive me. That didn't stop everyone from telling her I was no good and she had no self-respect just because she stayed."

"She couldn't live with the idea that her boyfriend was a cheater and neither could everyone else. They thought she was weak and they'd feel sorry for her whenever they saw you together, and whenever she was alone." finished a frustrated Tyler.

He hated hearing this story.

"And that is why you're never supposed to cheat on girls!" continued Bryan "You should have never taken Natalie in the first place! Once you cheat, and she finds out, you're done! Finished! It's the fucking rule. There may be a chance, but with Cassandra's friends? They'll never accept her if she lacks so much "self-respect" that she stays with her cheater boyfriend. She'll have to choose between you and them, and you already know who she'll pick."

"I didn't know what to do. It seemed so right at the time."

"Well, there's your mistake."

"Yeah there it is..." agreed Tyler.

All his hopes and dreams had been crushed by that sad reality. Cassandra would find out, and by society's much unspoken laws, it would be over.

"Death to polygamists." joked Bryan as he raised a fist in the air imitating a Middle Eastern jihadist.

It was as if some dark shade had enveloped their dormitory from that point forward. They ate silently. They studied silently. There was no interaction between the friends save for the encouraging pat on the back as if to say it's going to be all right. The reality was there. It was over. Forgiveness aside, it wasn't possible for Cassandra to ever trust him again.

Time passed them by like a speeding car a week went by as Tyler's sleepless nights began to accumulate. The sun began to set over campus as his victim sat in her living room. She heard the church bell ring to signal the end of the day.

Cassandra looked out her window. Tyler had been gone for more than a week. It wasn't like him to visit his parents so urgently. Then again, he was a little homesick in the past few months. It was a very stressful semester. A tear ran down her eye. She had no idea how she was going to cope with what transpired the other night. Bryan couldn't even look at her ever since it happened.

She wondered what would become of her. Across from her sat Natalie. Natalie had changed in the past week. She seemed overly apologetic for everything. She bumped into her in the hallway in between classes the other day and Natalie couldn't stop apologizing. It was like that most of the time. They have always been friends. She was her boyfriend's best friend after all. Natalie paid the bill whenever they ate. Natalie always drove and she always made sure to sincerely apologize for every single thing she might have done wrong. She wasn't always this polite.

"Oh gosh.. Cass... I'm sorry... H-here I'll pick your books up for you..."

It only had Cass wondering what exactly was it that she did to make Natalie so "afraid" of her. She lacked the proper word to describe it in her head. Even so, it was nice of Natalie to keep her company. Natalie seemed nervous. It was probably because it was exam week.

"Does a guy know if you're a virgin when he does it with you?" nervously asked Cassandra.

"I wouldn't know... I guess it's obvious when you bleed."

"Have you ever..." Cassandra couldn't even finish her question.

"Y-yeah" answered Natalie. It was very apparent to the both of them that Natalie was uncomfortable, but who else could Cassandra talk to?

"Did you bleed?"

"Yeah... I did." Natalie was reminiscent of something. For some reason it seemed familiar, but Cassandra couldn't point out what about it was.

"Did you bleed the second time?"

"No... It's perfectly okay the second time." said Natalie trying to smile. She failed.

This is it thought Cassandra. He's going to know... He's going to know I lost it to somebody else.

"Is there any possible way that maybe a first timer doesn't bleed?"

"I guess... They say athletes don't because they break it earlier in their lives."

Cassandra wasn't an athlete. She was never the type of person to ever have broken it earlier.

"Some girls" continued Natalie "are just born without it, I think."

Would that be enough to convince Tyler? She had no way to explain it. She couldn't even remember exactly what got into her when she let Bryan into her bed the other night. It all went by so fast. She couldn't even explain to herself how it happened. There was never a cause for it. At that very point in time, she wanted him. There was no other way of explaining it. It wasn't his charm, it wasn't love. She didn't even know if it was lust. She just knew that at the time, she wanted it from him, and he willingly gave it to her. Ever since, he hadn't said a word. It was like she was dead to him. She made a mistake. She should never have... She couldn't bring herself to even admit to herself what it was she did. There was one glaring problem. Would she lie to Tyler about it after promising to be honest with him no matter what?

"Natalie... What was your first time like?" asked Cassandra desperate for a friend; desperate for someone to relate to. She just wanted to talk to someone that's all. She was never going to confess. She just wanted to talk about it remotely.

"I-I gotta go..." Natalie stood up, apologized several times and walked out of the dormitory. Cassandra invited her to come over for coffee. She never seemed comfortable with it, but she came anyway, then there she was running out the door. Cassandra could swear she was weeping or something of that sort. Maybe her first time wasn't something she wanted to remember.

I wish he was the one that cheated on me, thought Cassandra. She hated herself. She loved Tyler. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. She thought of what she wanted. She thought of married life with him in that house she always imagined was small and painted white. She wanted a large yard for the children to play in and a nice big tree to lie under with the man she loved. It all seemed gone now because of what she did. He would never forgive her. Even if he did, nobody would forgive him for doing so. This was it... Cassandra felt that she ruined her entire life by what she did with Bryan. It was the end for her and Tyler.

knock knock knock

Cassandra walked towards the door. Once she opened it, Tyler stood there by himself. She expected flowers when he got back, but he had none. She didn't care anyway. She leaped into his arms and embraced him, feeling it would be her last chance to do so. He had a look on his face. He didn't seem happy. She felt like something was about to change between them.

He released her and sat down. He never said a word until he got to her couch. His face was apologetic. She could feel sincerity in his eyes. Her heart beat faster and faster every second. She felt as if she were about to be executed. The drumbeats of her heart, the execution command. The drums stopped once Tyler opened his mouth.

"Cassandra" he said "I have a confession to make..."

There were bells in her head. They could have been either wedding bells or funeral bells, though she couldn't tell the difference. The one thing she was sure about was the fact that the ringing faded away.

As Tyler's lips began to move, he remembered the night before he left for home. He could see it all happening as Cassandra's face began to change from apologetic to something different. He remembered Bryan's face when he saw him get up that night.

Bryan woke up a few hours past midnight. Tyler's chess pieces were still on the table. His eyes were red from the lack of sleep. It seemed as if Tyler hadn't slept in days. This was probably true considering what he was going through.

How long has he been up? Bryan wondered. Is he still thinking about Cass? I don't blame him. He's about to lose his girlfriend after all they went through. Poor guy.

"Bryan... Are you awake?"

"I'm up... Are you okay, man?"

"I'm fine…"

"Go to bed, Tyler."

"I know what we have to do." said a distraught Tyler.

"We?" asked Bryan.

"Do you remember the time that girl, Melissa took a thin needle and poked holes in your condoms to get back at you?"

"Hey, I didn't do anything wrong. She thought I was serious about it. I was clear that I wasn't in for a relationship then she just went ballistic. Next thing I knew I find holes in my…" Bryan felt insulted. He had no idea where the line of reasoning was going.

"Well... Do you remember who caught her and told you about it?" Tyler's face was straight and emotionless as a tree.

"You did..." replied Bryan finally realizing the implication.

"What did you say?"

"I said that you saved me from getting into a lot of trouble, and that if there was any one thing you wanted me to do for you. Tyler, I meant what I said. What do you want? You're scaring me, man."

Tyler's mouth moved, but his face didn't. Bryan couldn't believe his ears.

"No..." he quickly replied.

"You said you'd do anything to get me out of trouble. This is it."

Bryan's head began to boil. This was the cruellest thing Tyler could possibly do to him. This was just plain wrong. He hated his roommate for the idea.

"This is deception. I won't do it. You're my best bro. I can't do that to you."

"I'm asking you to do it."

He couldn't believe what he was hearing. This was Tyler's all-time greatest low.

"Why?!"

Bryan already knew why. Maybe the people around them would hate them both anyway, but they wouldn't have as much reason to break up. At least they'd have each other. It would be easier to keep her if they were both being judged anyway. Better to face persecution with another person than alone.

"I know. How else do you see Cass forgiving me? The only way she'll ever have even the slightest chance of letting me stay with her is if she cheated on me too; if she had no way to blame me for it; if her friends had no way to blame me for it."

"You're being selfish. You're doing all this to keep her with you?"

"You have any idea how much sleep I lost over that affair? You have any idea how hard it was for me to let go of my childhood friend just so I could be with the girl I loved? I gave up so much for her. I love her, man. I quit the debate team just so I'll have time to work an extra job just so I could support her where her parents couldn't. I-I saved up just so I could show her places and things she only dreamed about. She was so happy whenever we were together. I want to keep making her happy. We're better people now because of what we have."

Bryan's brain began to hurt. He knew that everything Tyler said was true. Never in his life had he seen the two of them so happy. Tyler was probably the best thing that ever happened to her. Now all of that was going to end. Bryan had to stick by his principles.

"Well you can't! You have to pay the price for what you did! You're not being fair, Tyler!"

"You think I'm being unfair? How can you think I'm being unfair!? All my life, I've done everything right! We made each other happy! We made sacrifices! We worked so hard on making this relationship work! I spoke to her parents; got them to consent to us dating. It was perfect. Now this one mistake means all that was for nothing just because I slipped ONCE everything I am doesn't matter anymore? All of a sudden, staying with me is the absence of self-respect?! You tell me how that's fair! I love her! Why should anyone tell me otherwise?"

Tyler's face was red with rage. His eyes, wet and scarlet as he stated the reality of his situation again and again and again; cursing the world where people are compelled to betray each other and at the same time are incapable of forgiving each other for such sins. Bryan stood firm.

"Cass is still a virgin. Even you haven't touched her."

"I probably never will. I don't care who touches her first anymore, Bryan. She didn't get my first, why should I deserve hers anyway? What matters to me is that in the end, it's me she comes home to. I just don't want to lose her. I'm willing to give that up."

"Tyler..."

"I've made up my mind. I'm leaving to stay with my parents for the next week. By the time I get back, you should have done it. Don't mention it to me after this anymore, please."

"I can't do this..."

There was no emotion in Bryan's face. He didn't know what to feel. Only that he felt like the most despicable human being in the world. He knew that at some point, he would agree.

"Please... I'm asking you as a friend."

This was it. This was Bryan's breaking point.

"FUCK YOU TYLER! FUCK EVERYONE ELSE! THIS IS YOUR FAULT AND I HOPE YOU REMEMBER THAT!" Bryan felt sick. "It's their fault too isn't it? If only she'd understand. If only they understood how much you loved her! I know this is the only way to fix your relationship, but this isn't right! Fuck society for their fucking rules. FUCK YOU FOR CHEATING ON THE GIRL YOU LOVED AND FUCK HER FOR NOT UNDERSTANDING! I'll do it... but this won't be pinned on me, you hear?!"

Like Pilate in Jerusalem, Bryan washed his hands off the blood of an innocent. In the end, the crime was still his. No matter how much he tried to hide it from himself he knew that he would carry the blame for this til the end of his days.

Tyler left immediately. It was only a few minutes until Bryan realized he was gone. He had one week to do what he said he would. He still had the choice to snuff the entire idea and go on with his life, but some unseen force of nature seemed to keep him walking toward his destination. He hated himself for what he was about to do. It seemed as if all the demons in hell were pushing him in that direction. Egging him on to commit the sin he feared so much. Then he began to feel them chase him. His walk began to hasten. He tried to coax himself out of it, but the urge just began to grow. It was a force keeping him; holding him to his promise. It was as if nothing could stop him. On and on he felt the demons running faster and faster. He thought of what people would say. He thought about what he'd tell himself every night just so he could sleep. His heart was racing. His walk turned into a panicked jog. Sweat poured out of his body as he felt them draw closer and closer. His thighs ached as he moved faster and faster. His breaths turning into quick bursts of air as guilt squeezed into his lungs. Passers-by saw him speed by as a man being chased by nothing, but he could feel them. He could feel them chasing him, laughing, baring their teeth and claws; ready to sink them into his flesh; their dark figures gaining in on him. The jog turned into a sprint. His muscles painfully stiffened as each step got louder and harder. He was running through campus like a man convicted; as if the deed had already been done and his judgment was upon him.

"No..." he whispered to himself... "I won't... I can't..."

He began closing in on his destination. Faster and faster; his calves began to burn. His muscles tense and his body drenched. The pain only intensified as he ran. Then he felt his demons reaching him. The church bell rang again and again. His body began to hurt with every ring. He let out a writhing cry when he finally gave in. They caught him.

The bells mercilessly beat the man into submission.

The Bryan his friends knew was dead.