PALS

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A story of the eternal sadness: You can only have one deep, totally overriding perfect love---or you're a pal.

PALS

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

“Hey, Markie.  

Mark Cole stopped walking. He looked behind him, searching for the source of his name caller. He was sure it was Mary Andress. The rare sunny day of April in London increased his smile while he searched for Mary. He spotted her. She was hanging out the back seat window of a stopped taxi on the opposite side of Marylebone High Street, waving wildly and laughing merrily.

“Wait there,” Mark yelled above the tumult from crowded sidewalks and stifled traffic. He paused—to avoid death-by-cab—before making his way in fits and starts between grumbling drivers and honking horns to reach Mary.

“My God, Markie Cole, what are you doing here?”

“I will answer you with the same question; by the way, have you had lunch?”

“No, are you inviting me?”

“I certainly am; pay up and come and let me hug you.”

“But you’re married, Mark . . . aren’t you?” A surge of taxis muffled her question. The sun found her head. A glow surrounded her lively face, upturned nose, and cute freckles.

“Absolutely.”

Mary handed some bills to the cabbie and hopped out to hug Mark with passion. Mark returned the tight squeeze while he twirled Mary about. She was a tall woman with auburn hair and a perpetual smile---or laugh, who constantly sought adventure and the counter intuitive.

Her astounding figure remained firm and her bottom had not dropped a centimeter since he last saw her. They parted ways seven years ago after three years of off and on dating. Two months later, Mark found the love of his life, married her, and moved to Santa Barbara for the good life in the sun and a career in the law.

Anna was in publishing, working two jobs to accelerate her advancement. Mark worked with a Private Eye during the day and attended a unique law school where there were no professors; every one of his teachers was either a practicing attorney or a judge.

Mary drew back as she began to feel lust and arousal in every applicable zone. Mark drew back for the same reason. They stood on the sidewalk facing each other without speaking. Pedestrians wearing much less than a trench coat—or a sweater—in the hot weather, weaved around the two ex-lovers. Mary and Mark’s faces turned from happy to ecstatic. They began to laugh at the same time, which increased their laughter when both realized the other was thinking of former times when they were a hot couple.

“You look fabulous, Mary, as always. What are you doing in London?”

“Let’s find a restaurant and I’ll tell you; that is, if you buy me lunch. You’re obviously prosperous like I knew you would be, right?”  Heat from the sidewalk and its occupants wrapped the couple in an invisible cape of delight.

“In the minor league of prosperity, Mary, but doing okay. Let’s find food and drink.”

After several minutes edging through the lunch hour throngs, Mary spotted an empty window table in Mark’s favorite restaurant. They immediately entered, quickly went up two steps and secured their window on the world of lunch hour in London. They sat for many moments smiling at each other before Mark spoke.

“I am married, Mary. My wife and I are disgustingly happy. We’re taking a year out of my law studies to live here. As you already know from our pillow talk, I was born here. My father and step-mother still live here and are busier than ever in the film and TV biz. Anna and I have a little walkup over on Sutherland Ave near St. John’s Wood; top floor, with a view of St. Paul’s and Hyde Park.

“Anna works for a literary agent. I’m doing some Voice Over and a few commercials and movies where they need a young American Canadian Brit.” He laughed. Mary joined him.

“Well, add tall to that; you haven’t gotten any shorter.” She laughed again. Mark Cole was a  blond man of fine posture. Friends thought he was perpetually standing stiffly before making a speech involving the destruction or salvage of the country. Once in front of him or beside him as a guest or a host, you noticed his hazel eyes, and his straight nose. He had a good chin as well. He was an exercise zealot, allowing his lean body to move easily when he walked. The occasional movement in his sweater or suit jacket—and especially in his polo shirts—revealed the results of years of staying in shape by working out at a gym and running whenever time permitted.

“Are you just visiting, Mary, or are you living here?”

“I’m living here—temporarily. I think I’m getting married in a few months.” She lowered her eyes for a moment as a server approached their table. After ordering, Mark could not tell if Mary stopped short because of the server arriving or because she was unsure of her statement. The couple knew exactly what they wanted and ordered at once.

“Are you not sure, Mary?” said Mark with concern.

Mary looked down for a moment, before putting out her two hands for Mark to hold. Mark felt no sexual tremors, nor did Mary. They were well past the lover stage; almost seven years past. They were that rare couple who could be either glad or sad with each other; love or not; have sex or not. In fact, they were both thinking why they had never married. Yet Mark knew. He had found in Anna, the perfect woman, lover, and companion. He would shove into any conversation about Anna that she was not only glamorous but also extremely clever, with a non-stop sense of humor that sometimes bordered on the raucous— or the cutting.

Mary widened her soft brown eyes and stared into Mark’s hazel ones.

“I just don’t know,” said Mary, frowning. Small creases appeared around her lips. Jollity fled from her face, “I think I love him. The problem is I’m not sure if he loves me; you know, as much as I love him.” She looked out the window. When she returned her gaze to Mark, her eyes were dancing with sparkles of excitement.

“Hey, stud, why am I being such a downer here? Tell me everything you’ve been doing in the last seven years, two months and fourteen days.” She grasped Mark’s hands like a vise. “Sorry, Mark, maybe I’ll feel more cheerful after some food.”  Mark left his hands locked in hers while he tried to decide what to think of the exact calculation Mary dropped on him since their last date. The sounds of crockery rolled over the chatter of the diners. A laugh. A happy cry. Some “oh, nos!” All about them, joyful people brightened their day with their friends or dates. Perhaps it was the welcomed sunshine.

Mark looked at his former lover as though they remained pals, yet not quite lovers.

“Who is this guy, Mary; is he English?” He rocked their joined hands with a gentle motion.

“He is English. He’s a doctor. He’s tall and very handsome . . . and he’s a great sport. I mean he plays a couple of sports; rugby and cricket. And extremely well too.” She forced a close-lipped smile while maintaining her strong grip on Mark’s hands. She drew in a deep breath and again looked out the window.

Their lunches arrived. They released hands, found cutlery and glasses, and attacked their food and drink. After years of love and daring, each usually knew what the other was thinking.  

“Sounds to me like you’ve got a keeper there, Mary; what’s the problem?”

Mary clenched her teeth. Mark had never seen her do this before. She avoided his eyes and was silent, while she picked at her lunch. Mark decided to let Mary think through whatever it was she wanted to tell him. After a few minutes, following a deep sigh, Mary raised her head and gave Mark the most brilliant smile he had ever seen from her.

“He’s not like you, Mark. I don’t know exactly what it is; or maybe I’m supposed to be single and just be pals with good guys,” breaking into a fit of laughter that raised the heads of most patrons, “I’m just a gigolo, Mark, and you were my best customer—by far.” She laughed again, softly. “I just never got tired of you, Mark, and I think you felt the same way about me.” Mark nodded. Mary put down her fork, cocked her head to one side, and gazed out the window at the passing human comedy.

“I don’t think we ever even had a fight that I can remember. I can’t even remember disagreeing with you; we were great pals, as well as lovers . . . and it’s the ‘great pals’ part that Edward lacks. Oh, he’s always up for a good time or a good laugh but I don’t feel like we’re pals. Like you and I were; are; I hope. Of course, I was very pissed at you for choosing Anna instead of me, but I agree with you on that score. She is absolutely stunning. God’s truth.” She held up her right hand, assumed a serious look before giving way to her infectious laughter.

Mark put down his beer as the server arrived to check on them. She was a chubby blonde lass of medium height wearing a becoming smile.

“Can I get you anything else?”

“I’ll have another ale, please—and you, Mary?”

“Yes thank you.” Polly wheeled about and set off for their grog.

“Mary, we will always be pals. I mean it. I’m wondering if what you are saying about Ed is that he was never carefree—or at least didn’t act that way. Am I right?”

Mary relaxed, took a much deeper breath and nodded in the affirmative.

“You know, Mark, that’s exactly it. I mean precisely. Edward and I have these, these . . . gaps. It’s like his inner computer is making decisions for him at warp speed so that you can’t tell the difference unless you’re right next to his mouth.” She laughed again, covering her month in a becoming way. Mark instantly felt those emotional ties he still had for Mary. She was the ultimate sport; except for his wife. Anna was in a higher league. Mary sensed that when she heard Mark moved to California. Despite the distance separating her from Mark and especially in spite of his marriage to Anna, Mary never stopped feeling they were at least daredevils, travelers, and pals.

While they continued to eat in silence, each was building a well of joy and merriment. They began to smile at each other, then grin. Mary’s entire body grew more beautiful. She held her head up; her neck looked as though it had grown another couple of inches.

“Yes, Mark, that is it, exactly. We’re not pals—Edward that is, not you. We’ll always be pals.” She smiled again.

When their ales arrived, both were in a deep state of ‘palship’.  

“You know, Mary, I think we could have a damn good marriage; we already know we could have a great relationship as lovers.” He paused to look out the window before returning his eyes to gaze at his former love.

“It is one of the very few things I truly resent about life, Mary: the fact that you cannot maintain a close loving relationship with more than one woman in today’s society. One has to choose—or cheat. And I know you would never cheat, and I believe you know that I would never cheat. That leaves us with a close loving relationship as chums, to use the local term. Yeah, pals.”

Mark reached across the table and raised his head in a movement asking Mary for her hand. She put down her knife and fork and grasped Mark’s hand. Mark said with his best smile: “Pals.”

“Pals,” said Mary with a somewhat sadder smile, but an understanding one. Not that she had ever given up hope of getting Mark back in her arms, but here, now, she felt a much deeper connection to Mark than she had felt before in all phases of their relationship. Both picked up their glass and clinked a lifelong promise to be pals.

With their dessert of Tiramisu finished off with a last ale, Mary and Mark sat back and reveled in the view of each other. Not quite like the old days, but close. Mary looked deep into Mark’s eyes while she sipped and listened. Occasionally, one or the other would take a good draw on their ale.

“So, ‘Mr. Advice to the Lovelorn’, what about lunch hour with Anna?”

“Oh, that’s not for another hour or so. I can chat until then if you don’t have any other plans. And I can give advice to you, one pal to another—if you like.” Sounds of clearing glasses and dishes bounced softly off the red damask walls.

“Oh that’s terrific, Markie—pal. I’m meeting Edward around that time, but I have to get to Lord’s Cricket Ground. I’ll probably end up walking. Such a wonderful day. Get some rays and think about what we’ve talked about. It has been such a pleasure to see you again, Mark. I hope we see each other again before another seven years go by. If you don’t find me, I’ll sure as hell find you.”  

Mark’s warm words and indirect advice visibly pumped up Mary. She silently decided to reject Edward and return to Boston to look for another ‘pal-plus’. She clearly understood what she wanted in a lover or husband: a pal. A guy who was always carefree, loving, kind, and up for anything; like Mark.

As she was finishing her thoughts, she remembered that Mark had more or less, packed up and slipped off to Santa Barbara and the ‘warm California sun’. His departure was quick and quiet. She had to ask. Their coffees arrived and both gave a large sigh. By this time only two other tables were occupied. Polly checked with them again and told them that they could stay as long as they wanted.

“All right, Markie; spill. Why did you leave? You had the world by the bal . . . neck. Everything lay before you.”

“Yes; true, Mary, but there was no adventure in store for Anna and me. In Santa Barbara, we knew no one. It is an adventure. I can’t tell you what a thrill each day brings me. Every minute of every day is a wild ride of emotions, because no day has a determined ending; no weekends up 601 to the cottage; no social clubs to join.” He laughed with a merriment usually heard only at Christmas time. “This is the ultimate adventure, Mary.”

“Okay, what next, Mark; this is really exciting. God, I see what you mean by the carefree take-off feeling. Like ours, as I said. Wow. So there you were. How exiting. Do they have a beach?”

Do they! They have at least eleven. You can swim, run, surf; just glorious.” 

“Wow! Mark, did you know anyone there?

“Nope.”

“But you had jobs lined up—or available.”

“Nope.”

“Have you any plans to return?”

Mark pursed his lips. “No.”

Mark squeezed Mary’s hand while she continued to look into his eyes, looking for any chance to be more than pals. A soft sadness slid across her face leaving behind the previous look of knowledge, hope, inspiration, and a pal she could call on anytime to help her. She wanted to cry. As she felt the sobs rising and the tears edging to her eyelids, she understood that Mark’s comment about not being able to have more than one deep totally overriding perfect love was, in her mind, true.

They would live and die as pals.

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: May 25, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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