Just Friends? Part 3

My entry in the Reader Retention contest.

Just Friends? Part 3

by **Sigh**
Copyright © 2019 plaintivesigh
All Rights Reserved.

Meghan desperately needed Rick's friendship. He's about to desperately need hers.

~o~O~o~

Rick was driving back to work, talking hands-free on the phone with his boss. “Thanks, Jerry. I appreciate it, and I’ll stay an hour after closing to make sure I’m all caught up. You’re the best.” He hung up, and whistled with relief. Another bullet dodged.

Only one last thing bugged him. Beth, his wife. She would surely now hear that he had been over to Meghan’s apartment. Though he was fairly confident that Lizzie would assure Beth that his visit was innocent, he still needed to be the first to tell her about what he did for Meg today. Then he could apologize for not letting her know what he was about to do beforehand. This would be best done in person, not over the phone and definitely not via text. Maybe he was being over-cautious; but with his marriage being on some thin ice, he needed to be as open and careful as possible. His house – where Beth lived by herself, now – was 2 blocks off of his current route back to his work. He pointed his Ford Expedition in that direction.

Beth’s Toyota Supra was in the right driveway – per usual, as she worked only the mornings on Wednesdays. But the Mercedes convertible in the left drive was an unexpected sight for Rick. This had an innocent explanation, he was sure. He kept telling himself that as a knot formed in his gut. Approaching the front door, he quietly entered the unlock code into the keypad. He turned the knob carefully and stealthily entered. An empty foyer greeted him, but no voices or noise was audible. The living room and kitchen were equally silent.

He now stood in the doorway to his bedroom, watching two post-coital lovers sleeping in each other’s arms. Beth’s head and long hair lay on the chest of some guy from her work, a supervisor or something-or-other. Someone Rick seemed to remember from Beth’s company Christmas party last year. For the first time since the night they agreed to separate, Rick began to cry. He took a few pictures of the scene, capturing their snoozing and state of undress; The both of their torsos were open to air, and it appeared the thin coversheet was the only thing adorning their lower bodies. Rick quietly left as they continued their illicit slumber.

Rick was lousy at work that afternoon – distracted, and obviously suffering and despondent. Boss Jerry noticed, and gave him the rest of the day off after 2:30. Rick drove to his apartment. I'm gonna find my booze and get ... As he put his car in park, his cell rang.

It was Beth.

Rick punched the answer icon. “Hey,” he choked out.

“Hi. I see you came over at about 1:03. The doorbell camera caught you. I know you saw me and Michael.”

“So tha’s his name,” Rick said through clenched teeth. “What ‘bout, you know, you an’ me, monogamous?”

“Rick. You know why this happened. We’ve talked about it. Your … problem. The fact that you can’t give me that thing I really, really need.”

“I can give you ev’ry othr dam thng!” he spurted out in locked-jaw speech.

“And that’s why I said everything would be fine if you just agreed to let me have another man to satisfy my needs from time to time! If you could allow that, we wouldn’t have had to change a thing!”

“Th’ counsel’r – he told you not to –“

“Screw the counselor. Or maybe I should? He’s only 5 foot 10, but I bet he doesn’t have your problem.”

“So yu fckd Mike. Do yu feel any regret? Was it worth it, baby?”

“Rick … this is going to hurt you, but I’m being totally honest here. My only regret is that I didn’t sleep with him sooner. It was – God, it was magnificent. I never want to be without it. And because you can’t handle that, it probably means I need to start divorce proceedings. I’m so, so sorry to hurt you this way. But if we go back to the way we were going, it will hurt you even more in the long run. Not to mention I’ll be miserable too.”

She listened for a response, but heard only repressed sobs. Finally –

“Beth. Do yu still love me?”

“I … I have a love for you, Rick. Let’s leave it at that.”

“Um … ‘kay. Go ‘head. File for the d’vorce. I’ll get a lawyr. God help me. Someone help me, help me God.”

“Rick. You’re worrying me.”

“G’bye, Beth.”

Rick hung up.

~o~O~o~

Rick unlocked his dark little apartment, took two steps in – and stopped.

He stood like stone, every muscle in his body tensing as he tried to fight off the tears. Don’t lose it, man. Don’t … But his strong, mountain like shadow began to shake. Those tree trunk legs of his began to buckle. He fell forward on his knees and began to cry and roar in emotional torment.

The sobbing continued off and on for the rest of the afternoon. Now it was just past 9:30 pm. He’d had nothing to eat or drink, save more than half of the bottle of bourbon he’d pulled from the pantry. All the effort I put into my marriage - for nothin’. She told me it wouldn’t matter, that she’d love me and stay with me in spite of it. I was so careful to pick someone who’d love me unconditionally – and she couldn’t do it. If Beth couldn’t, then no woman will.

Rick looked around the apartment from his vantage point on the living room couch. Despite the bourbon the pain was unrelenting, and everything was getting darker. Everything. The lights in the place, the lights outside, his mood, his future. That future was dead – killed by the one person he had invested his all - time, heart, energy, trust, love – in. Not to mention that damned quack of a doctor back in ’93. He desperately searched his mental files for hope, but found absolutely none. Now, a foreign thought crept into his mind.

I wish I were dead.

Immediately the devilish idea sprouted. Pistol in my bedside drawer. One shot, in the mouth, aiming towards the base of the skull at the back. No note or explanation needed; anyone could figure out why. Just stop the pain. Stop the horrible pain.

He looked at the door to his bedroom. A countering thought emerged in his brain – Hypocrite! You just prevented your friend Meg from taking this way out earlier today! – but he brushed that off. One more reason for me to end this. The world will have one less hypocrite. He stood, and readied himself to walk to where he kept the gun. As he took his first step -

A knock at his front door.

Rick frowned as he glanced at the wall clock. Fifteen 'til ten. Who - ?

The knock came again, this time a loud, fast prolonged rapping.

He cleared his throat as he approached the door. All he saw through the peephole was the opposite was the hallway, and two tufts of hair – one red, the other blonde. “Who is it? You’ve got the wrong apartment. Go away,” he barked.

But no response came, save the same urgent, rapid knocking.

“No solicitations!” Rick growled. But the knocking was constant now, not taking any breaks.

He looked in the living room mirror. He was a mess – drunk, disheveled, with bloodshot eyes and puffy lids, a bourbon stained dress shirt. Oh well. When I answer the door, this mess – and me – will scare ‘em off. Then I can get back to .... He went to the door and unlocked the bolt. Grabbing the knob, he yanked the door open. “What??” he roared.

Standing there were two short women – Lizzie and Meghan – in jeans and sneakers. Meghan had on a knit top; Lizzie wore a T-shirt, and carried a thick heavy steel briefcase. Meg returned Rick’s gaze, and her eyes filled with tears. She reached around his trunk and began to squeeze him. “Oh Rick. My buddy, my friend. I’m so sorry this has happened.”

“I called Beth to let her know I ran into you today,” Lizzie said. “She ended up admitting to me everything that took place. She said she was worried about you. Not enough to come over and check on you herself, mind you. I never knew she could be such a heartless witch. So I called Meghan – we became fast friends over coffee today – and we came to check on you.”

“Hey, uh, thanks,” he replied. “But I’ll be okay.”

Ahem,” said Meghan. “We’re not asking you to let us in. We’re coming in.

And just like that, Rick was walked back to his couch and sat down between the two women. He tried – weakly - to get them to leave him alone.

“I’ll really be … ah … OK,” he whispered.

His statement was ignored. “I’m so thankful for you Rick. You saved my life today,” whispered Meg as she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. “You showed me more love – true, sacrificial love – than any one ever has. I love you, like a sister loves her older hero brother. And I think you need some appreciation, and loving words and hugs.”

“Doctor Lizzie here. That’s my prescription for you, bubba. Hugs and loving words, applied constantly, for at least the next few hours – longer, if necessary. To be administered by Nurse Meg.”

“Rick,” whispered Meg. “Tell me the truth. Have you wished you were dead at any time today?”

The big man sighed. Busted. “Yes. I planned to use my gun in my bedside drawer.”

“Be right back,” said Lizzie as she hopped towards Rick’s bedroom with her heavy briefcase .

“Beth told Liz you owned a gun,” Meg said. “I had a hunch you might be this desperate. Lizzie brought her portable safe, just in case; I’ll bet she’s locking your piece in there now. And I brought my stack o’ bibles – my little pamphlets – for you to swear on. So agree to swear on them that you won’t hurt yourself. Or should I dial the hotline? Let’s see, 1-800-S-U-“ – she tapped out numbers on her phone.

“Give me the pamphlets. I’ll swear to it … as long as … as … “ Rick started to choke up.

“As long as what, Rick?” Meghan breathed ever so quietly.

“God … this sounds like a line … but I don’t think I can stand to be alone right now, Meg. Things just got so … so dark …”

“Are things dark right now?”

“Not as bad as before.” Rick looked into Meghan’s face and half smiled. “Not with you here.”

“Then I’m here,” Meghan said. “I’m here as long as you need me.”

She laid her head on his chest as she stroked his shirt, then his neck, as Rick laid his right hand on the stack o’ pamphlets and promised he wouldn’t harm himself.

~o~O~o~

Rick lifted up his head. Where am I? Then he quickly realized: he had fallen asleep on the couch. The lights were all off except for a small lamp, and it gave off adequate light for him to see the wall clock. 2:36 am.. I need to get to my bed, and hit the bathroom along the way. Wonder why –

Then he remembered. Beth and “Michael”. He sat up, and felt some arms from behind him fall away as he did so.

“Hey, sleepyhead! You finally got some Z’s in,” Meghan’s voice came from behind him. “I need you to change out of your duds into the sweats we placed at your bathroom sink. Lizzie and I raided your closet. And swish some Listerine for your gums and teeth. Then come back into this living room.”

“Where’s Lizzie?” mumbled the big guy.

“I sent her home; I think we got this, you and I. Now get changed and get back here, cowboy.”

Rick did as ordered. He was in no mood to argue. Here was someone who wanted to give him affection and appreciation, and he desperately needed both.

On arriving back in the living room, he noticed a bed sheet had been laid across the leather couch, with 2 pillows from the master bedroom placed at one end. Meghan had taken off her shoes, but still had her socks/jeans/shirt on.

“We’ll stay on the couch. To avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” said Meghan.

“Like sex isn’t possible on a couch,” Rick weakly smirked.

Meg got on the sofa on her side, her back snug against the back cushion. “Lie down on your side in front of me.”

As Rick did so, he felt Meg’s arms once again wrap around his neck and shoulders. “You’re like a huge, huggable bear,” he heard whispered into his ear. “A protecting bear, and yet a squeezy teddy bear. Big Bear – that’s my new nickname for you. Honorable, noble, protective – yet tender enough to be vulnerable. And some bad ol’ she-cougar ripped you open in your tender belly. We need to heal that with the balm of loving truth. And the truth is, is that she doesn’t deserve you.

“You are an amazing man, a great human being. You will survive this. Don’t give up. Don’t you dare give up. You are loved. I’m proud of who you are. You have people who love you, who cherish you. There’s no reason to be ashamed. I don't know why Beth left; but somewhere out there is the woman who will cherish you as you deserve. And some day you will find each other. And on that day I will jump and cheer as you seal your wedding vows to live as you should, happily ever after.”

Meg began to choke back a tear again.

“Tell me you’re not going to give up, Rick. Say it out loud for me.”

Meg heard nothing but a peaceful, slight snore from the man she held to.

“That’ll do. Sleep tight, Big Bear.”

~o~O~o~

To be continued tomorrow.

If you've gotten this far, please leave a comment! Don't make me reach through the computer screen and tweak your nose!

Thanks for reading!



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
191 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 2461 words long.