Chapter Thirty-six

Several days later, a Sunday, I think…yes. It was Sunday. I remember now because there was a huge accident on the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) causing me to be late for lunch with Freddy and Ralph with the possibility of Melina joining us.

It would be the first time in a long time the four of us would be in the same room and I missed it terribly. I still do not understand why this is even a reality. What’s happened that I’m not seeing? Is it because of me; did Ralph tell Melina everything? She’s the only one who didn’t know- perhaps she does now.

We met up for sushi in the Maspeth section of Queens. What should have been a thirty minute drive took almost two hours. Luckily I wasn’t the last to show up; Melina came in some minutes after me.

“Have y’all ordered yet?” She asked.
“We were waiting for you.” Freddy said. “We didn’t wanna start eating and then make it awkward for you later.”

Melina hated being the only one eating while everyone watched, and vice versa. So when she were late, we waited.

“Were you stuck on the BQE, too?” I asked.
Melina, perusing the menu, seemed oblivious to my talking to her. I tapped on her forearm. She glanced over, startled.
“Wha- I’m sorry.” She said. Her eyes darted back and forth like she were avoiding my own. Or perhaps Ralph’s since he had been next to me.

“I asked you if you had been stuck on the BQE.”
“Oh, no. But the trains are a mess today. I thought I gave myself plenty of time.”
“Well, we’re all here…” I said, smiling at each of them.

Freddy greeted mine with one of his own. Ralph’s face was in a stack of papers that appeared to be a manuscript. Melina was still in her own world.

We ordered the house special which featured seven types of sushi and a complimentary bottle of saki with a stand alone price of forty dollars.

Silence as we ate. That was unsettling. Since when have the four of us eaten a meal in silence? I did notice Ralph and Melina exchanging looks, however.

The tension at the table was palpable. Freddy shifted in his seat. I itched. This had to be cleared up.

“What’s going on here?”
“What do you mean?” Melina asked.
“Why the uncomfortable silence?”
“We don’t always have to chit chat whilst eating, Johnathan.” Ralph said. “We’re not teenagers anymore. Sometimes silence is a good thing.”
“I agree. But there shouldn’t be any now, not since the four of us are finally together after how long?”
“Do you have something on your mind, Jonathan?” Melina said.
“That’s irrelevant. How often have we strung together conversation after conversation on almost nothing?”
“You look as though something is on your mind.”
“There is.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Ha!”
The three of us looked at Ralph.

“What’s that for?” I asked, setting my chopsticks down.
“I doubt you wanna talk. Not about this.”
“About what, exactly?”
“Yea, what?”

What’s Ralph up to?

“I received a phone call the other day while revising my novel.” He shot me a look, then, “Jonathan ended things with Sofia, and I had to hear about it from her with tears rolling down her face.”
“You broke up with Sofia?”
“This is pretty big, man.”
“Why would you do such a thing?”
“Tell em, Johnny.”
“Tell us what?”
“Johnathan had been-”
“That’s enough Ralph.”

The two of us exchanged eye contact that was fueled with words meant for dueling. But isn’t that what we had been doing of late anyway?

I turned to Freddy and Melina whose eyes were fixated on me. So, Melina doesn’t know. Then getting the two of them in the same room was not halted on my account. There’s an entirely different reason at play.

Freddy, on the other hand, his eyes seemed to know what I was about to say. It all depended on how I would deliver the news I’m certain he is anticipating.

I took a breath. “I was unfaithful to her for some time. She did nothing to cause my straying away- it was a choice, one I willingly made without malice, and-”
“Why?” Melina asked.
So I said the only thing that would be the 100% truth: “because I wanted to see if I could get caught.”

Melina stammered yet her eyes were filled with questions. Freddy stared at me, blinking. There was no need to see Ralph’s reaction- I knew it all too well.

“Enough of this interrogation. I wanna know why the four of us haven’t been in the same room for god knows how long.”
“You haven’t figured it out by now, Johnathan?” Freddy said.
“Had I, this discussion would not be taking place.”
“Can we drop this please? We’re together now. Shouldn’t that count for something?”
“I know the last time we were all in the same room.” Freddy continued, ignoring Melina.
“You do?”
Shaking his head he said, “August twelfth.”

August twelfth…? What a weird date. What’s its significance? I don’t recall something major occurring during summer, so- wait a minute. A lightbulb.

“Isn’t that the day Ralph was released from the hospital?”
“Can you two drop the subject? What difference does it make when the last time we were together had been?” Melina said.
“We went to Atlantic City that night, didn’t we? Because Ralph mentioned wanting to play blackjack.” I looked over at my best friend. “You won three grand at that table alone. I was so impressed at how calm you had been the whole time.”

Ralph cracked a faint smile then turned away. Another lightbulb.

“You were still grieving for Clarissa. I made a mental note of it because women were throwing themselves at you during your winning streak. But you turned them all down. You went to bed alone that night which I figured to be right.”

“You sure about that?” Freddy said.

He and I stared at one another. I then looked at Ralph who was looking at Melina who was looking nervously away. Then, it hit me.

“No. Way.”

Melina hung her head low. Ralph finally turned his attention elsewhere. I then realized why Freddy had been so hard pressed to inform me that my best friend and a dear friend of mine had decided to share a bed- his attraction to Melina never fleeted. Despite having a girlfriend he never stopped caring for her. He chose to tell me this out of jealousy. Looks like Melina isn’t the only one recieving new news today.

“How did this happen?” I asked, looking at Ralph and then Melina knowing Melina would be the least likely candidate to spill.

“Its like you said,” Ralph began, “I was still grieving. Melina helped me.”
“How does sex help the grieving process?”
“How does taking a sip of booze help detoxification of a drunk?”
“Can we please drop this? Please.” Melina pleaded.
“What the both of you don’t know,” he said pointing at Freddy and I, “is after thinking about the situation long enough, our sleeping together wasn’t a mistake. Nor did I want it to be a one time thing. She saw differently.”
“I told you why, Ralph.”
“And I called bullshit.” Ralph then leaned over the table. “You and I both know we’d be good together. Stop being so scared and face your feelings once in your life. That’s why guys don’t stick around very long; you’re strong-willed but goddamn it, its like you’re scared of your own feelings.”
“I am not. I just don’t wanna-”
“Complicate things? We’re way past that. One day, when I’m no longer looking for you, you’ll come searching for answers to the ‘what if’ questions. Guess what? I wont be there to give you what you want.”
“You’re not a quitter.”
“I wouldn’t be quitting. I found love through death. Perhaps it were the answer I had been searching for all along. But a man can only wait so long, and I’m not that patient.”

This certainly was not the reason I had been expecting. Silence fell upon the table once more. What could be said at this point in time, really.

Soon after, the meal was done and the time to say goodbye presented itself. Sadly, I knew this would be the next last time the four of us got together.

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