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Friends or Lovers

The knock came at midnight, almost to the second. I was already in my shorts and t-shirt, ready to get in bed for the night when it came. No one ever comes to my door without ringing me on my intercom first so I was a bit more than a little cautious when I went to the door.

"Who is it?" I called.

A familiar voice rang out. "It's me. Marty."

I quickly unlocked and opened my door. "Marty? What the heck you doing here at this time of night." I became concerned. "Hey, is everything okay?"

I moved away from the door to let him in. His tall frame moved through the door. "Yeah, great, I was just heading home from Rob and Terry's house and I needed to talk to you." He noticed my get up. "Hey, I wasn't thinking, you're all ready for bed." He moved towards the door again. "I'll just go."

"Don't be silly," I protested. "It's Friday night, I was just going to read for a couple of hours. I don't have to be up early for anything, tomorrow." I motioned to the couch. "Have a seat."

He took off his raincoat and tossed it on a chair.

It was early December and it had been raining on and off for the past week. It was my favorite time of year and I was enjoying the cozy feeling of being in my little apartment, snug and warm.

I sat in my usual spot on the sofa and Marty sat at the opposite end. He seemed a little nervous. "What's up? I asked.

"I just wanted to talk to you. I feel like we have some unfinished business to discuss." He looked me straight in the eyes.

His seemingly angry statement startled me, but Marty and I had been friends for a long time and I figured our friendship could take any disagreements we might have.

He kept eye contact when he asked, "Why didn't you ever tell me you were in love with me?"

Maybe this was going to test our friendship more than I ever thought possible.

***********

Marty and I met in college. He was one of many boyfriends that my ditzy roommate, Jenny, had lurking around her. Marty was different than her usual taste. He was tall and muscular and really very handsome, which is what Jenny went for but Marty had something that most of her other boyfriends lacked and that was a working brain. He would come over to pick Jenny up and usually had to wait for her until she was ready. And I tell you that girl was never ready on time. I would keep Marty company while he waited and we would have the greatest conversations.
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The knock came at midnight, almost to the second. I was already in my shorts and t-shirt, ready to get in bed for the night when it came. No one ever comes to my door without ringing me on my intercom first so I was a bit more than a little cautious when I went to the door.

"Who is it?" I called.

A familiar voice rang out. "It's me. Marty."

I quickly unlocked and opened my door. "Marty? What the heck you doing here at this time of night." I became concerned. "Hey, is everything okay?"

I moved away from the door to let him in. His tall frame moved through the door. "Yeah, great, I was just heading home from Rob and Terry's house and I needed to talk to you." He noticed my get up. "Hey, I wasn't thinking, you're all ready for bed." He moved towards the door again. "I'll just go."

"Don't be silly," I protested. "It's Friday night, I was just going to read for a couple of hours. I don't have to be up early for anything, tomorrow." I motioned to the couch. "Have a seat."

He took off his raincoat and tossed it on a chair.

It was early December and it had been raining on and off for the past week. It was my favorite time of year and I was enjoying the cozy feeling of being in my little apartment, snug and warm.

I sat in my usual spot on the sofa and Marty sat at the opposite end. He seemed a little nervous. "What's up? I asked.

"I just wanted to talk to you. I feel like we have some unfinished business to discuss." He looked me straight in the eyes.

His seemingly angry statement startled me, but Marty and I had been friends for a long time and I figured our friendship could take any disagreements we might have.

He kept eye contact when he asked, "Why didn't you ever tell me you were in love with me?"

Maybe this was going to test our friendship more than I ever thought possible.

***********

Marty and I met in college. He was one of many boyfriends that my ditzy roommate, Jenny, had lurking around her. Marty was different than her usual taste. He was tall and muscular and really very handsome, which is what Jenny went for but Marty had something that most of her other boyfriends lacked and that was a working brain. He would come over to pick Jenny up and usually had to wait for her until she was ready. And I tell you that girl was never ready on time. I would keep Marty company while he waited and we would have the greatest conversations.

Marty was pre-med at the time and I was a science major, though I didn't know in which direction I was going to go with it. We had a lot of the same tastes in books and movies and our conversations about politics were lively and stimulating. We often had to agree to disagree. Our sense of humor was similar and we loved to crack each other up. I was a pretty good mimic and Marty loved it when I imitated people we both knew, especially, Jenny.

Even when Marty and Jenny and eventually Jenny and I, had our parting of the ways, Marty and I remained fast friends.

I was attracted to Marty. Who wouldn't be? He was smart, funny, tall and athletic. And did I mention, sexy as hell? He was a gorgeous mix of Mexican and Italian. He got his mothers perfectly tanned skin, sensuous lips and easy nature and his father's dark wavy hair and startling blue eyes. What a devastating combination!

I was cute in my way, though I knew that I was not Marty's type. He tended to lean towards the Jenny's of the world, tall, leggy blonds who absolutely fawned over him. I was none of these things. I was short, dark haired and have a very round figure. I also challenged Marty at every turn. I had no illusions of my devastating beauty but I have delicately arched brows, large dark eyes and full lips. People have accused me of having had some help in that area. Another thing that people liked (I like it too) is my deep sexy voice.

Between girlfriends, Marty and I would be inseparable. It was those times that were the hardest for me. I would find myself fantasizing about Marty figuring out that I was perfect girl for him and that we would ride off into the sunset together. But eventually he would meet someone new and I would be pushed into the background again where I would convince myself that I didn't really love Marty in a romantic sense.

Half way through college I realized that I didn't want to head in the science direction and became an art major. Marty was very supportive of my decision. He went to all my art shows and was the first person to buy one of my pieces. He was only pre-med because he didn't know what else he wanted to do. And it made his family happy. So it was great that at least one of his friends was going to get to do something they wanted to do.

After college I moved to Los Angeles. I had accepted a position as an assistant to a pretty well known artist and felt a new start in a new city would be great push for my career. It also made it easier to keep my feelings for Marty at bay.

For the two years Marty was in medical school, I was immersed in the art scene. I had a couple of internships in different parts of the country and I even went to England for three months to work on a major project with several other artists. I was enjoying myself immensely. I kept in touch with Marty through that time but both of us were pretty busy and we didn't see each other at all then. I had pretty much convinced myself that I didn't love him anymore but once again he entered my life. Marty had accepted a residency at UCLA and would be moving to Los Angeles.

******

I don't think either of us moved for at least 5 minutes. My head spun, trying to think of what I should say, if anything. Marty just waited for my response. My mouth dropped open and then I closed it again.

Marty finally removed his intense gaze from me. "I don't know what made Terry want to tell me this now. She seems to think you've felt this way since college." He looked at me again. "Is it true?"

I finally gathered my wits about me. "Marty, I don't know what Terry told you, but I haven't had those feelings in a really long time. I love you. I really do. But as my great friend. My brother." I sat forward and put my hand on his arm. "I realized a long time ago that I had to stop living in a fantasy. And I have gotten past it." I sat back again. "You need never have known. But thanks to Terry . . . well, now you do."

He nodded. Then he tilted his head as if a thought occurred to him. "What did you mean fantasy? I still don't get why you wouldn't tell me."

I sighed. "Marty, look at us. You're everybody's golden boy and I'm everybody's best friend, I could never compete with the Jenny's and Michelle's of the world. I wasn't what you were looking for and I knew that. I accepted it as reality."

Marty just shook his head. "Why do you always do that? You always make me out at some prince, some prize and your only second place." It was his turn to lean forward. "You are the smartest and most accomplished women I've ever met. You challenge me at every turn and put me in my place when I need it. You've always made it seem as if you didn't need romance or . . anything else, that you had it all together. But I guess I was blind and foolish to think that you were beyond all that. Everyone needs love. And not just platonic love but true, deep, physical, emotional, unconditional love." He moved closer to me and took my hands. "I know I've been looking for it all my life. And to think I could have found it right in front of me all those years ago."

I froze, and then quickly stood up. "Don't!" I moved even further away before I turned to look at him. "I don't want your pity. I don't need you to feel sorry for me."

He spread his hands. "I don't. I happen to love you."

"This is nuts." I shook my head. "You don't love me. Ok, maybe you do. But as a friend, a sister, a . . . a companion." I started pacing back and forth. "You know everything about me. We're comfortable with each other like a pair of old shoes." I sighed. "I need more. I need it all. I need to be swept off my feet! I need to be romanced and I've never had that! I want to be desired and fawned over . . I want to be told I'm beautiful." I stopped pacing and tried not to cry. "I want to be loved so badly it hurts. It hurts a lot. But I can't let myself believe that just because you're having some kind of mid- life crisis or worse. . . feeling lonely, suddenly you love me." I was starting to get angry now. "I'm just supposed to fall into your arms in gratitude because you finally feel something and take pity on the fat girl!"

"Stop it!" It was his turn to be angry. "I don't feel sorry or pity. And I don't expect you to just fall into my arms." He came up to me to look me in the eyes. "I've been an idiot." He raised my chin to make me look into his eyes. "I have always loved you."

******

I was more in love with him than ever. He had matured and could be more serious now that he was a resident. We fell into the old pattern that when he wasn't pursuing a new girlfriend we would spend all our free time together. He loved going to the different art gallery openings with me. We talked about anything and everything and my heart would soar. Then he would meet a new honey and I would be shuffled off into the background again, kicking myself for letting myself fall all over again.

Then the inevitable happened, Marty found "the one". Her name was Michelle and she was gorgeous. Long brown hair, stunning green eyes and a figure that could make grown men cry. And to make it all worse, she was smart and funny. Marty and Michelle became inseparable. I hated her. Within 3 months they moved in together and within the year, horror of all horrors, they were engaged.

My career was flourishing. I was becoming well known in the area and I had had my own showing at a prominent gallery in New York. I couldn't have been happier with that part of my life. My love life? Well, that was another matter. I don't know what was wrong with me. I had many men friends and acquaintances. I was constantly meeting new people but no one ever kept me interested enough to go on more than a couple of dates and not once was I ever even propositioned to sleep with any of them. Well, there was the 72-year-old gallery owner who said I reminded him of his dead wife, but I don't count that one. I knew I was sabotaging those dates because no one could compare with Marty. Stupid, huh?

I knew there was trouble in paradise for Marty and Michelle when Marty asked me to be his "best man" at his wedding. I never saw or heard them argue about it, but I ended up in peach taffeta as a bridesmaid just the same. They were a perfect couple, he the up and coming doctor and she the hospital administrator's assistant. He was becoming known as a skilled doctor and she wanted to have children right away. They were the perfect couple.

*****

Tears formed in my eyes. "You're going to break my heart." I pulled away. "I can't let us do this!" I moved over to the couch and sat back down. "You're desperate. You're going through a mid-life crisis! You're biological clock is ticking!" I threw up my arms in desperation.

Marty stared at me then burst out laughing. "You're a nut and I love you."

I covered my face with my hands. "You have to stop saying that! I can't let you do this. I can't let myself do this!"

I felt him move over to the couch and sit by my side. He caressed my shoulder. "Why, not? We have nothing to loose and everything to gain."

I shook my head but didn't uncover my face. "No. We have everything to loose." I looked at him then. "I can't loose you as my friend, as my family. That would kill me. It's all I have." I was trembling.

I allowed Marty to gather me into his arms for comfort. "All right." He said, his lips in my hair. "I won't push. But, let me stay the night."

I pulled away from him. "What?"

"No. I meant, on the couch." He gestured towards the darkened window. "It's pouring out there. I'll be a perfect gentleman." He held up three fingers. "Scouts honor."

I smacked his hand lightly. "You were never a scout." As if to support his plea a gust of wind and rain shook the apartment windows. I gave him a sidelong glance. "Well . . . I guess it wouldn't hurt."

********

I rarely saw Marty during the six years of his marriage to Michelle. All their new friends were couples involved in the medical community. Michelle was co-chair for several of the large fundraising events that went on at the hospital where they both worked and none of Marty's friends were ever invited. I think I was able to have lunch with Marty twice in 6 years. I realize now, after talking with Rob and Terry, friends of ours from college, that Michelle made sure Marty was always unavailable to his old friends. But we all still tried.

Marty never made me aware of any trouble that may have been going on in his marriage until he came knocking at my door one Sunday afternoon. He simply told me that his marriage was over and asked if he could stay on my couch for a couple of day until he found more permanent digs. I wondered why he didn't want to stay at a hotel but I was happy to have him around.

Later that night I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He just shook his head and repeated, "It's over."

I told him we could share the bed, since we had done so several times in the past. I reminded him about the Spring break weekend we had spent in Vegas, back in our college days. The hotel had made an error in our reservation and gave us only one bed. Since it was spring break, there were no other rooms to be had and we made the best of it and slept in the same bed for the entire weekend. This time he refused, saying that for now he thought his insomnia might keep me awake.

That first night as I lay in bed trying to sleep I could hear him pacing back in forth in the living room. I wanted to go to him but I knew if he wanted to talk he would come to me sooner or later.

I drifted off to sleep and then woke again a few hours later. I listened and could still hear him pacing. Just as I was dozing off again I heard a soft knock on my door. "Lily?" He called softly.

"I'm awake." I called back. "Come in, Marty."

He poked his head through the open door. "Sorry, I . . . never mind. Go back to sleep." He started to close the door again.

"Don't be silly. Please, come in." I sat up in bed and started to get up.

He started to protest, but pushed the door open wider. "No. You need your rest. I'm alright." There was enough light coming from my bedroom window to see that he was in his t-shirt and boxers. "I . . .oh, Lily. My life is such a mess." He covered his eyes with one hand and hung his head. I knew he was crying.

I quickly got up and went to him. "Oh, honey, no." I put my arms around him and he clung to me, crying softly. "You're going to get through this. I promise." I stroked his hair and his back. I guided him to the bed and sat him down on the edge. I kept up the soothing words and held him tenderly. I eventually coaxed him into bed and sat next to him until he relaxed enough to fall asleep. I sat there for sometime just watching him sleep, stroking his hair. Finally, I slipped under the covers next to him and slept as well.

For the next two months we slept side by side. He never spoke about Michelle and I stopped asking if he wanted to talk. Somehow I knew he was gaining comfort just being there with me, even if we didn't discuss his marriage. Finally, one morning he told me he had found an apartment and was moving out that weekend. And that was the end of that.

Our relationship resumed almost exactly as it had been seven years previous. We were both successful in our chosen careers now. Marty had decided to go into practice with a colleague and I was selling my artwork all over the world. Life was pretty good for both of us.

*********

"Great. Just get me a blanket and pillow and I'll be fine." He got up and started to remove the pillows off the sofa.

I grabbed the pillows from him and threw them back on the couch. "Don't be silly. We'll share the bed." I walked into the bedroom and started to arrange the blankets and pillows.

He reluctantly followed me into the bedroom. "You sure?"

I rolled my eyes at him. "Don't be silly." I said again. "You're still my best friend. You're still the person I trust more than anyone else in the world." I sat on the edge of the bed ready to get under the covers. "You're delusions of love haven't changed who you are." And I slipped under the covers.

As he undressed, he shook his head. "You know, Lily? Sometimes you're the most pragmatic person I've ever met."

As I switched off the bedroom lamp I asked. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

He rolled onto his side and drew the covers up to his neck. "Ask me in the morning. Goodnight, Lily."

I snuggled down. "'Night."

After a few moments his voice came out of the darkness. "I love you."

"Shut up." I replied, exasperatedly. But I was smiling.

Rain still fell the next morning as I began to stir. My eyes flashed open when a voice startled me, "Morning, beautiful." Marty was leaning on one elbow watching me sleep, a dopey smile on his face.

"Jesus!" I groaned and pulled the blankets over my face. I knew my hair looked like a rats nest and that there had to be pillow creases etched onto my 37 year old face.

I peaked over the edge of the blanket. He on the other hand looked as sexy as all hell! His hair was tousled and during the night he must have taken off his shirt because his well-muscled arms and chest were bare. He moved to pull the blanket down from my face. "Come on. I didn't get to give you a good night kiss, so at least let me kiss you good morning." A teasing light lit his eyes.

I yanked the blanket back over my face, "You're insane!" I quickly rubbed my eyes and ran my finger through my hair as best as I could under the blanket. A quick breath test and I peaked out again.

"Come on. I'm serious. Just a quick morning kiss." He didn't look teasing anymore. "How dangerous could that be?"

This was it. This was the moment where if we kissed and laughed in each other's face, would that ruin our friendship forever? Or if we kissed and it felt right, does it mean we were meant to be? Or am I just going to jump his bones cause I'm horny and I've wanted him forever? Oh, God!

I quickly moistened my lips and swallowed hard. I tentatively drew down the blanket. "Morning." I said.
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Author: 1crazymama
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