“Thanks for coming.” At least I’d warmed up his side of the park bench before he got there.
“I’m only here because she asked me to come.” Ken sat so far on the other side I thought he might fall off.
“After all this time,” I said. “Took you long enough. Forty years, sheesh.”
“Like I said, only because she asked me to.” He crossed his arms against the cold.
“I’m glad you called. What took you so long?”
“I told you, you old coot. She made me promise. Said two men who started out in the same sandbox ought to still be friends.”
“Yeah, twins at heart, but really only neighbors. Inseparable. Same Sunday School class, same ball team, same classes at college.”
His face softened a bit. “Ben and Ken. Never saw one without the other.”
“Liked the same food, same favorite color, wore the same clothes, listened to the same music.”
“Loved the same woman.” His lips pressed in a grim line.
Well, there it was. The breach, the gap, the great regret of my life. No use arguing about it now.
“She chose you.” I cracked my knuckles.
“You tried to steal her away on our wedding day.” Ken kicked at the dirt under his feet.
“Had to try. I loved her. Still do. I said I was sorry.” I did. I went to the church and tried to change her mind. She cried, but she said no. I was only ‘Ben the Friend’ to her. I tried to apologize when they returned from their wedding trip, but Ken wouldn’t speak to me. I walked out of their lives for forty years. “You cut me off.”
“I know. Bad decision.” He still wouldn’t look me in the eye. At least he admitted it.
“So, what’d she do to finally convince you to come and see me?”
The solemn cold of a late winter blew up a sharp, biting wind. I hadn’t expected that. I couldn’t imagine Jenny of the golden hair and chocolate eyes not only old, but dead. The wind in the trees and the tapping of his foot on the ground echoed the hollow place in my heart.
“It wasn’t that you loved her. Who wouldn’t? It was that you’d hurt me, take her from me. My best friend.” Ken shook his head.
“No excuse.” Love does strange things, even to best friends.
“We had a son.”
“Didn’t know. I hope he doesn’t look like you.”
“He didn’t. He looked like Jenn.”
“We lost him in Iraq last year.” Finally, he looked me in the eye. His loss leaked out, moisture right in the corner where I’d accidentally hit him with a baseball bat in Junior High. Scar still there.
“What’s his name?”
Years vanished. Like at his mother’s funeral when we were six, my arm around him then, my arm around him now.
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