It was a summery Tuesday afternoon when Cara gave me a call to tell me that she was getting married.
Whatever she had in mind and whenever she chose to share it with me, Cara called. No text messages, no emails. She always called. She didn't bother to send me a fancy invitation to her wedding she rang my number two days before the event, thus ensuring that I couldn't wriggle out of it, and told me when and where and what I had to do.
"Your tux is ready for pick up at Cristiano's. Be at The North Ridge by 10am. 10am, okay? You can't miss it, you're my best man," Cara had said.
"Excuse me. Best man?" I repeated sort of dazedly. "Brides don't have best men, Cara, they have maids of honor."
She had hurled several invectives at me. I almost felt them like physical blows. "Don't argue with me, Jazz "
"Whatever. February 22. 10am. The North Ridge. PICK UP YOUR TUX."
Two years later, on another Tuesday afternoon, Cara gave me another call that was like so many others yet so very, very different. Her voice thick with unshed tears, she told me that Gray had succumbed to cancer. She called me as a last means of comfort; I dropped everything and fled to her.
When she opened her door, Cara fell into me and wept. Years ago, when she broke up with her very first boyfriend, she told me that she never cried. Crying was shallow, Cara said, and she clearly wasn't. When an event warranted tears, she wept. Profound pain could only be expressed through weeping.
For the first time in her life, Cara broke down and wept in front of me, and all I could do was cradle her head against my shoulder. I felt a sickening mix of regret and remorse.
I've always seen Gray as the man who stole my best friend and the only woman I've ever loved.
Cara and I grew up together, best friends through and through. Many thought that we'd end up a couple and get married straight out of college. The problem was that I didn't realize that I loved Cara until she told me that she was going to London to further her studies. I could almost swear I had stopped breathing. The thought of her being so far from me almost shut down my system.
"Jazz, are you all right?" Cara had asked, looking equal parts puzzled and concerned. "Don't worry, I'll call you every day."
She didn't call every day until after a year, but for every week leading up to the anniversary of her departure, she had sent me thousand-word emails. This, she said, was the reason why she never resorted to emails or texts she had so much to say that a phone or a computer screen just couldn't contain everything.
For two and a half years, it was our routine. We never missed a day. I stayed up late and Cara talked for hours and all the while, I contemplated whether or not I should confess that I loved her and that I wanted her to come back so that I could show her just how much.
When I finally steeled my resolve, she had called me that she was coming back, and that she couldn't wait to introduce me to Gray. She was so good at giving me these sucker punches.
Gray was a tall, fair-skinned, dark-haired, hazel-eyed European man, and Cara was charmed. I wasn't. While I didn't show outright animosity, I never made an effort to make him feel accepted. Not especially when, during moments when he thought I didn't notice, he kept looking at me in a way that I had found annoying and disconcerting.
I made it a point to invite Cara out for lunch or dinner, a movie, a jog around the park, a trip to the museum practically anything almost every day to spite Gray and perhaps change her mind about the man. She agreed to go with me most of the time. "Finally making up for ignoring me all those years ago when I had a massive crush on you?"
Another one of her shockers. "What?" It was an effort to make myself heard; my mouth and throat felt full of cotton.
Cara laughed good naturedly and lightly punched my shoulder.
Fourteen months later, Cara had given me another call to tell me that she'd gotten engaged. With more squeals than actual words, she regaled me with the details of how Gray had presented her with the multi-carat whopper and then invited me for a celebratory dinner.
I sounded stiff even to my own ears. "Third wheel issues."
"Just you and me, idiot," she'd said, brooking no argument.
Later that night found the two of us in the Pie Plate, devouring pizza and chugging down beer like there was no tomorrow. I had marveled at how Cara had downed six bottles of Dos Equis in the past hour.
"Are you sure you just got engaged? Because the ungodly amount of alcohol you are consuming is indicative of a cruel break up," I'd told her, while privately wishing it were true. Disgusted with my thoughts, I threw back another swallow of beer.
Cara grinned. "I just wanted to celebrate pure gutter style," she said.
"So Gray is opposed to 'pure gutter' style, then?"
She scrunched her nose and popped open another bottle. "Not really. It's just not his style. His mother's French. His dad's half Spanish. He grew up in Britain. You go figure."
"So what made you say yes then?"
Cara blinked, surprised I had to ask. "Because I love him and I want to spend the rest of my life with him."
"Of course," I said with a terse nod. I downed the rest of my beer in one gulp.
A year into their marriage, Cara gave me another call, this time to tell me distractedly that they had just come from the hospital and that it appears that Gray had cancer.
"How could he 'appear' to have cancer? Does he or does he not?" I asked.
"He does," Cara answered. "Will you please come over the house later?" Again, she left no room for arguments.
Over lunch, Cara, Gray, and I talked about insignificant things the weather, the roses blooming happily in their garden, my comic book collection as if to draw the conversation away from Gray's health. Again, I found him looking at me in that strange way of his and this time, he didn't even bother hiding it.
I wasn't a complete asshole. I wouldn't wish for anyone to be sick. But it was only for Gray's cancer that I was able to hold back my emotions. I had wanted to lash out at him and at Cara and at the world because I couldn't figure out what I was feeling at that moment, sharing in a couple's grief that I didn't want any part of.
When I looked at Cara, she was on the verge of tears her lower lip was trembling, her eyes a little wild, and she kept on taking deep, shaky breaths. Her hands were clenched into tight fists on her lap. I had never, ever seen her this close to losing control. My anger surged.
Gray gave me another one of his looks before smiling a sad smile. He stood up and said he was going to rest for a while; it was an exhausting day. Cara followed almost automatically, but Gray told her to that he wanted to be alone and needed time to think. He gave her brow a gentle kiss and a burst of jealousy threatened to unhinge me when Cara's fractious mood melted into instant calm. She smiled back at him and asked that he call her if he needed anything.
When I finally got home hours later, I cried myself to sleep.
On the day of the funeral, Cara was dry-eyed and straight-shouldered. It was as if she'd cried all her tears that day she called to tell me that Gray had died. She was, in every sense of the word, a pillar of strength for her in-laws and Gray's friends. She shook hands and accepted condolences. Her voice was steady.
But her grief was much, much more profound.
When finally the rites were finished and she was handed the urn of Gray's ashes, Cara took my hand in hers and said quietly, "Thank you for being here."
I nodded, not trusting my voice. "Gray wanted you to have this," she handed me a crisp cream-colored envelope.
"What is this?" I asked but Cara could only lift her shoulders into a half-shrug. I put the envelope in the inside pocket of my coat.
She startled me by asking, "Would you come with me to the beach?"
I started to shake my head no, but, in her usual fashion of never taking no for an answer, she added, "Please. I can't do this alone."
We took my car to the beach where Gray had asked Cara to marry him. In his will, Gray had asked for Cara to bring him back to where his forever began. I thought it sounded ridiculously cheesy and facetious for a legal document, but if I were being honest with myself, it was my stubborn jealousy that was making the editorial.
I stood back as Cara walked to the surf, the waves lapping at her bare feet as she scattered Gray's ashes to the wind. When the urn was empty, she carefully laid it down the beach where the waves couldn't carry it away, and then she stood back up to look far into the horizon.
Taking a deep breath of my own, I looked at Cara for a few more seconds before reaching into my pocket for Gray's memoir for me. I didn't know what to expect as I slid my finger under the seal to open the envelope. Inside was a single piece of the same cream-colored paper, containing a sentence in Gray's evenly spaced script.
Please take care of her for me.
It was only when Cara had made her way back to me, Gray's urn clutched in front of her stomach in a protective embrace, did I realize I was in tears.
For the first time in my life, I broke down and wept.