Saturday, November 28, 2015

Still Holding On.

When your best friend moonlights as a call girl, you're bound to have a unique relationship. To make it even worse, I'd been in love with Carla since the fourth grade. For over twenty years, we attended birthday parties together, watched countless films, engulfed thousands of pints of ice cream and even slept on the same bed. Though, not once had I ever worked up the nerve to tell her how I felt. Honestly, I think I created the concept of the friend zone.

Carla began working as an escort in college, soon after her junior year. At first, it was just to earn enough money to pay her rent and not be broke from one month to the next. As time progressed, it eventually morphed into a high-dollar enterprise. Thankfully, Carla was very prideful and not driven by an addiction like most other girls. She only visited wealthy men whom could afford her beauty. That's the thing with her; Carla is just about the most gorgeous woman I've ever known. Having a business degree under her belt didn't hurt, either. Eight years into her work and Carla had smartly saved a small fortune. It wasn't exactly earned legally, but it was honest work nevertheless. No one could take that away from her.

The great thing about Carla was that no one besides myself and her clients knew what she did for a living. Even her parents thought she ran a consulting firm for large hotels and resorts. She typically dressed somewhat conservatively and didn't show too much skin in public. Any reasonable person would have easily been fooled by her composed, business-like exterior; this was exactly what Carla wanted.

One cold night in December, Carla called me collect from a number I didn't recognize. It was the scariest phone call I've ever had.

"Matthew, it's Carla."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at the pharmacy on the corner of Horton and Potomac. They have a pay phone. Can you believe it?"

"Not really. Your cell phone dead?"

"I don't have it, can you come get me? Please, Matt."

Please. That's how I knew Carla was in trouble. As hard-headed as she was, Carla never said please for anything. Hurriedly, I tossed on some clothes and jetted down the highway. About thirty minutes later, I arrived to a scene I never wanted to see.

Her jacket and purse missing, Carla was standing huddled against the pay phone along the side of the pharmacy. A single lamp above wobbled in the fierce, biting wind. Casting a rocking beam along her shivering frame, I could tell that her black dress had a rip up the side. Emerging from my vehicle, it was like Carla didn't even want to look at me. Ushering her to my passenger seat, I couldn't help but notice the bruises on Carla's arms and neck. Her hair was disheveled and pulled astray. A dab of dried blood escaped from the corner of her mouth.

My worst fears had come to fruition.

The ride home was uncomfortable and quiet. Carla pushed her seat back and reclined the position. Pressing the button on the door to lower her window slightly, she eventually closed her eyes against the crisp night air slicing through the opening. As the city streets passed me one by one, the glow of green and red traffic lights highlighted each and every infraction against Carla's angelic temple. How could any man defile her so? What beast would batter someone so pure, so wonderful? I wanted to rip his chest out with my bare hands. My fingers dug tightly into my steering wheel, nearly tearing the leather off. As I sat fuming over the events of the evening in a rage-filled bubble, Carla surprisingly placed her hand on mine and looked at me, not saying a word. She just smiled, then went back to sleep.

That night, I helped Carla get cleaned up, gave her a set of my pajamas then put her to sleep in my bed. Tucking her under my flannel sheets, she just stared blankly at me with a look of polite inquisition. We never talked about what happened that evening, but I knew all I needed to know. Carla buried the despair deep, never to let it see the light of day. Her strength was without limit. Turning the lights off, only the amber shine of a night light illuminated the outline of my bed. The most valuable thing in the world was right there, sleeping like nothing had happened.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of clanking in my kitchen. Peeling my blanket off and rising from the couch, I stumbled upon Carla cooking breakfast. She'd already scrambled some eggs, with a pile of bacon sizzling in a skillet.



She plopped two slices of bread into my toaster and depressed the lever. A kettle on the stove began to whistle. She poured two cups of tea, one for each of us.


Carla pointing at my kitchen table, I took a seat and rifled through the day's newspaper. She eventually brought me a hot plate of food and sat down next to me. We discussed the local events -- a holiday food and toy drive, the annual winter music showcase at the Tarleton Theater, the new hospital being built. As we dug into our eggs, crunched our bacon and sipped the tea, I felt a swelling of emotion hit my face. This was the most perfect morning on the most perfect day. Carla was eating breakfast with me, just like couples do. I tried to choke it back, but I couldn't. A tear fell onto my plate, then another and another. Gathering my composure, I rose from my seat and leaned over the kitchen sink. Letting the moment pass, I wiped my eyes and sat back down, trying to act as if nothing had happened.

"This is nice," she said.

Not fully understanding how to respond, I ate another piece of bacon and remained quiet.

We finished our breakfast and did the dishes, with the sound of the radio in my kitchen broadcasting Liszt's Sonata in B minor in the background. For the rest of the day, we watched television, did laundry and played a couple rounds of Scrabble. Our dinner that night was a homemade pot of chicken noodle soup, to which Carla simply did not stop raving about.

Considering the night before, I couldn't help but feel a twisting knot in my stomach. The irony was sickening. Perhaps the greatest day of my life, preceded by the worst.

As the moon skipped across the cobalt sky, I tucked Carla into my bed once again and returned her to the embrace of the night. Peeling my clothes off in the bathroom, I stepped under the steamy rush of my shower. The hot water soaked my hair, sending every strand before my eyes. I could feel the worry seep through my pores and drip into the hole at my feet. What was I doing? Had I been a good friend? Why was I so scared? Here I was, pretending to live the life I always wanted, knowing full and well that it couldn't last. I'd let the moment slip by, oh so many years ago.

The water continued to drench my spirit.

"She doesn't know," I muttered beneath my breath. The words barely escaped the bubbles on my lips.

With gushing liquid flooding over my face and ears, I didn't notice Carla's hand cut through the steam and grab my shoulder. Her delicate physique pressed against my backside. Every curve, each ethereal contour... it pushed into me. She squeezed my chest and kissed my back. Unable to understand what was happening, I turned around. Blinded by her celestial grace, it was almost too much for me to perceive. She was just so perfect.

"I've known all along," she stated softly.

We must have stood in that shower for an hour, just holding each other. Though, I don't think we ever stopped holding on. It's all we knew how to do.


"That's the happiest story I've ever heard."

"Indeed. I have to admit, I got lucky. It's not every day that a guy like me winds up with an angel. Play your cards right, son; don't make the same mistakes I did."

"I suppose you're right. So, this is my stop coming up. Thanks for making my bus ride tolerable."

"Don't mention it. I appreciate you keeping this older timer company."

"Where are you headed this Christmas?"

"To visit with family."

"That's good to know."

His new-found friend once again returned to the unknown, Matthew rode the bus to the end of the line. Pushing through the bus' creaky folding entry way and stepping upon the frozen, ice-locked ground, he wandered into a steeped maze of snow-covered stones, each bearing a name. Bracing each and every step with his long cane, he made sure not to tumble onto the frozen grass beneath his feat. Looking through the ivory tundra, Matthew finally found one bearing a name he so desperately cared for.

"I met a nice young man today, Carla. You would have liked him."

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