I think Cruise has read this... I've touched it up a bit... and in the process realized how much I like it.
It needs much more than just touch-up work, but... And yes, no Sci-Fi here, either.
Another short story by Semirrahge
- - -
"I had a friend, once."
The oddness of the comment startled me, and I looked up out of my reverie and across the fire at him. It took me a moment to realize what he said, and as soon as comprehension came I thought back to what I knew about Christopher Strake.
He had moved onto my street about a year and a half ago, three houses down from mine. Almost instantly I took a strong liking to him, and proceeded to get acquainted. This was not very easy, as he was very withdrawn. He wore a perpetual ‘lost’ look, as if he had lost something very dear to him and had never found it again.
This intrigued me. I enjoy playing at shrink or counselor, I don’t know why but I like to listen to and find out other peoples problems. I often asked him about his family or friends, and I always got some vague reply. I gradually figured out that he had none, or none that he wanted to remember, and set about to make myself a friend to him.
Even though I was open and kind to him, he still withdrew from me. It was almost as if he had been deeply hurt by someone close to him, and was highly reluctant to get close to anyone again. I invited him to my some parties and get-togethers I hosted, and although he was nice enough, and seemed to enjoy himself, I could see that deep inside he was still alone.
Last year, I invited him to a Christmas party at my house.
I was standing at the kitchen table when the doorbell rang. I popped the rest of my cookie into my mouth and walked through the house to the door. People were everywhere – talking, laughing, eating, and the carols playing in the background further added to the festive spirit.
Reaching the door, I pulled it open. There stood Chris, in kaki pants and a light brown leather jacket with a fur collar. The way his unruly brown hair fell over his face and the fur-lined collar of his jacket he reminded me of Squall from Final Fantasy 8. I laughed at the thought, and greeted Chris.
"Hey, man! How's it goin'?" He smiled, and again I was amazed at how his face lit up when he smiled.
"It's going pretty good." Was his reply as he stepped through the door. I offered to take his coat, but he declined. All through the evening, even though he took part in the activities, I felt as though he stood outside the circle of the group, looking in.
He laughed and joked, but I thought he looked as if he felt out of place. He always stood off to one side, eating from his plate. I never saw that plate go empty. Chris sure liked his food.
During the gift exchange, he wore a strange half-smile, as if he was having fun watching others have a good time. Only when it neared time to leave did he even try to enter the circle.
He has a great sense of humor, and I stood to one side, laughing, as he spat off one smart remark after another. It was only after everyone was gone that I realized that he had not really let himself go. His joking had been awkward, and he had not been able to get off with the women at all.
So here we were, East Texas in the exact middle of nowhere on an April night, camping. I had bought this 200-acre section of land late last year, and I had asked Chris if he would come out and look it over with me.
We were sitting in the middle of a smallish clearing, about 20 feet across, the Live Oak trees arching overhead, the flames of our small fire casting strangely distorted shadows on the limbs. The moon was hidden in the trees, but the cloudless night sky displayed an awesome starfield that was totally invisible in the city. I had gazed up at it in awe for some time earlier, but now my attention was riveted to Chris.
I scanned his face over the small leaping tongues of the fire. The still of the night was unbelievable. The crickets sang softly in the leaves under the trees at the edge of the clearing, and the fire popped quietly now and then. Chris was sitting cross-legged, and he was looking out to one side of the clearing, his face still.
The fire flickered red-orange light over us, and his face shimmered slightly in the heat. I sat silent, not knowing what to say. He took a shuddering breath, and said: "I had a very good friend, a long time ago. The best friend I ever had." He looked at me now, and even in the dim light I could see the long-hidden pain on his face. "I was closer to this person than I've ever been to anyone on earth." There was an extended pause as he looked away again. I squirmed a bit, felt the heat of the fire on my face, the small rocks under my rear, and his pain in my heart.
Chris spoke up again, and this time it was evident that he could barely keep back tears. I felt slightly embarrassed to see a grown man in this state, but it was overwhelmed almost instantly by empathy.
"I hurt her bad, Mike." His voice was a husky whisper. "We weren't in love, we were just friends. I don't know why I did what I did. I got angry one day, and-" he broke off, unable to go on.
I spoke for the first time, "That's ok, Chris. I don't need to know what you did." My voice sounded odd andout of place. He looked up at me, his tear-streaked face displaying the agony in his soul.
"She left town. At first I- I blamed her for what I did, justified it. She left the next month. We had not spoken since that day. She never said good-bye, and the only way I knew she left that day was that another friend told me."
His voice had started to become calmer, and then he shuddered. "Right then I knew it was all my fault. I had hurt the one person in the world that I really trusted, and then had the gall to- to blame her for my pride." He was nearly sobbing now, the pain and shame of it overwhelming him.
"I have not seen her since that day, 15 years ago. I don't know where she is, or even if she's alive. I- I'm lonely, and I - I don't know... anything, Mike." His voice trailed to a whisper, then died off. Abruptly, I became aware of where I was again. I realized I had been engrossed in his story, and suddenly I felt tears running down my cheeks.
Chris looked back up at me over the dying coals, the tear streaks shining in the dim light. "Will you be my friend?"
The simple words, childish in their implied trust, touched me to my heart. I thought of all my old friends, the ones I had loved, and thought of Chris, and his pain. I looked him in the eyes.
I said, "Yes." And for the first time, Chris's answering smile came from inside.
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