In the very beginning of our friendship, that first summer in fact, Jac put a muzzle on me. She told me that if I were to ever fall in love with her that I had to keep it to myself. She couldn’t know about it or everything would be ruined. I was taken aback by her sudden request. Who even says that kind of thing? I was alarmed until she followed it with a cheeky smile and I raspberried her, waved her off, sure it would never come to that.
What I didn’t know until later was that it had happened before. A good friend of hers had confessed his love for her but she didn’t feel the same way. She thought he would be able to deal with her rejection and be cool. Turned out not to be the case. The friendship became strained and they couldn’t talk anymore without fighting. Eventually the relationship died out. She muzzled me as a precaution, afraid it would happen again, but neither of us really thought it would need to be employed.
Until I fell in love with her of course.
It was around the time she was dating a guy she was pretty serious about. We were freshmen in college then, young and free from parental control and she had a long queue of guys after her. I didn’t understand then the burning feeling in my chest was jealousy. My experience with girls until Jac had been pitifully short. I ignored the ache because I knew Jac would always be with me, no matter what fool tried to take her away. #Bestiesforlife. That’s just how close we were.
Once I realized what was going on though, I felt that I didn’t have enough romantic influence over her to make her leave her boyfriend for me. Friend-zoned for the win. It became a painful cross to bear when she came to me sobbing because of her break up one night. There was nothing I could do though in the face of her tears. Words wouldn’t work. So I hugged her and bought her pints of ice cream and a box of tissues. It’s what best friends did.
“You know, I’m an Athletic Trainer, technically. I know a body’s weak points. Wouldn’t be to much trouble to debilitate him and make it look like natural causes.”
She laughed weakly and wiped her nose again, giving me a pathetic, watery smile.
“I could poison him with Belladonna and you could hide the body.”
“There you go. Team work!”
I could have told Jac that night. I could have made her forget that her heart had ever been hurt over the mongrel. “I LOVE YOU.” That’s all it would take. But it would have been a hollow victory. I wouldn’t do that to her on the heels of a bad break up. Plus such a declaration would most certainly push her away from me and that was the last thing I wanted. So I remained muzzled.
I stroked her hair as she curled beside me under our favorite fleece Detroit Lions blanket and let her soak my shirt with her tears, holding my tongue. She didn’t see it but my heart bled all over her that day and stained her. She had it all now. My blood, sweat, tears and now my heart. She had become, in so short a time, my life’s purpose. Whatever else happened to me, I had to keep this woman by my side.
“I’m sorry Jerry,” she sighed, on the verge of sleep with her puffy eyes and chapped lips. “I love you. What would I do without you?”
She never had to find out. Not for the next 5 years. I was there for everything, internalizing my agony over every new boyfriend and suppressing my jealousy with my own attempts at dating. It never ended well because Jac was still #1 for me. No woman likes to be told she’s second best. So I made the decision to be alone and focus on my career, being content as the best friend. Until now. I don’t know why I did it now. Maybe I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Maybe I thought the risk of losing her was worth her finally knowing.
I turned my face up to the iron skies above the stadium and let the snow flakes sting my skin. What are you doing without me now Jac? It was strange not to know. Between us there were hundred of texts a day when we weren’t together. Small things like what we had for breakfast to what we thought about global warming. The radio silence from her was killing me. But I couldn’t think about it too often; my anxiety would flare. Staying busy was my only sanctuary.
Steph set a hand against my shoulder and pushed, breaking my day dream and my balance.
I saw the team and coaches start to head to the locker room to dress and I nodded, trying to get my head into the game. I jogged along beside Steph, half listening to his story about his crazy night at the bar last week while I made a mental list of injuries I needed to ice and rub out.
In the locker room I set my phone in my locker and snapped the lock in place. There. Then I turned to the fridge and started to dole out ice packs and do my job. Focus. Focus…