Chapter 1: Funeral
His arms are folded across his chest in that open casket. He doesn't look like himself; he looks frozen in time like a dummy in a wax museum. He was off fighting in the war, the war we are still fighting. The war on terrorism that no one can seem to end or win. Why does a 24-year-old have to come home dead? Why won't he wake up? If I close my eyes, will he open his?
Death is a bitch, a slap in the face. All I have left of Liam is his crying fiancé, Emily. I feel her crying on my shoulder. Her tears are a gentle reminder of how precious every day is.
I know she will be hanging on me every moment for the next few months. I don't know if I want this responsibility. I don't want to be cast in this role. Being with Emily every moment will be amazing, but without Liam around, I fear my feelings for her. Feelings that should never have been there, to begin with.
I know I've just admitted to myself that I have feelings for my dead best friend's fiancé. But to my credit, I never acted on it. I'm twenty-four and still single. I have been single for two years now. I tried dating Emily's best friend, Mandy, but I had to break up with her.
I recall one night Mandy, and I were about to have sex. She was obviously a virgin, hovering above me like a clueless wonder. Instead of being a normal guy, I told her I couldn't have sex with her. When she asked if there was something wrong with her, I told her no, it's me. I confessed my feelings for Emily. She smiled and understood. I also told Mandy I couldn't have sex with her. It wouldn't be right. A man shouldn't have sex with one woman when he's in love with another. Or so my father taught me.
Instead of leaving my apartment like I thought she would, Mandy asked if she could stay the night. We ended up playing video games all night long. Mandy called me one of her best friends after that incident.
To this day, Mandy has never told Emily of our encounter. Emily thinks we broke up because there was "no chemistry!" Don't get me wrong; the temptation to have sex with Mandy was high. And the thought definitely crossed my mind.
Mandy is this gorgeous red-haired wonder. If Ariel from The Little Mermaid were in human form, she would be Mandy. I couldn't take advantage of Mandy, knowing she was Emily's best friend. No, I couldn't do that to any friend of Emily's.
I look down and see this beautiful brown-haired beauty staring up at me.
"Joseph, I'm so sorry you have to see me like this. I'm going to miss Liam so much. Thanks for being here for me today," Emily sighs.
Her breath is short, and I know she is flustered about the passing of her fiancé. Before Liam left for the war, he made me promise one thing.
"Joseph, if anything happens to me, take care of Emily at all costs!"
I don't know what Liam meant by this exactly, but I don't think he wanted me to fall in love with her. But I want to. Who am I kidding? I've been in love with Emily for a decade. I met her during my freshmen year of high school; we both attended that fancy private school downtown. She wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to be a doctor.
Mandy knows I want to be Emily's boyfriend. She even offers to make-out with me occasionally if I need a release. We have a complicated relationship, to say the least. Mandy and I are friends-with-benefits minus the sex. Who does that? It's so middle school, and yet here I am, twenty-four and not minding this arrangement at all.
"Emily, I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm going to miss him too. He was my best friend. He was lucky to have you. But remember, he loved you very much. He wouldn't want you to be sad right now. He'd want you to enjoy your friends and celebrate his memory. And if you need anything, Mandy and I are both here for you."
All she can do is wrap herself around me and cry her eyes out. I thought I heard her say 'thank you' under those tear-stained eyes. I don't move; I just let her cry under my arms as long as she needs. Mandy looks over at me and gives me a look that says, "Joseph, you need a make-out session tonight!" And boy, that look knows me more than I know myself.
That evening I find myself in Mandy's apartment, once again caught in a lip lock. I love making-out with Mandy. My heart pounds for some reason when we kiss.
My phone starts ringing, and Mandy tells me to answer.
"Hello?" I say.
"Hey, Joseph, it's Emily. Can I come over?" I can barely reply or say anything. I freeze. I have wanted to hear Emily ask that for so long. I wish Liam didn't have to die for me to hear it.
"Oh, Joe...just tell her to be over in ten minutes," Mandy barks.
"Sure, Emily, see you in ten!" I say.
I'm so glad Mandy and I live in the same apartment building. If I ever need to make-out with her, I can knock at her door at any hour of the night. We have each other's house keys. It sounds like we're dating, but we aren't. We make-out a lot.
I run out of the apartment, and before I leave, Mandy says, "Remember Joseph, she's emotional, so control yourself. Come back over. I know you'll need It!"
I nod in agreement, knowing what this means. Coming back over means getting that physical release that I need and means lip-locking it with Mandy again.