12 Days of Fiction 2016 -2: Secrets
The bells hanging over the café gate jingled when Claire entered. She looked around, but Carlos had already spotted her and was beckoning her. A small corner table, perfect.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Why has anything to go wrong?” she said.
Carlos started counting with his fingers.
“One, you texted me out of the blue, mid-morning. I had forgotten to silence my phone and all my students laughed at me, by the way. Two, I can read between the lines. It’s kind of my job. Part of it is, anyway. Third, I can see you now. Your face tells me something’s not right. So, what is it?”
“Can we order some tea first? Please?”
“Sure.” Carlos said, and he stood. “Chai?”
“I think I’d rather get something mellower.”
“OK, I’ll get a vanilla one.”
A few minutes later Claire was holding her cup with both hands. She sipped and focused her attention on something out of the window. Carlos just stared and waited.
He didn’t wait long.
“Claire. I love being here with you, but it was you who wanted to meet. If you wanted to talk…”
“I have a secret,” she said. Claire was still not looking at him.
“We all have secrets, that’s normal.”
“Not like this one.”
“How do you know that?” he said.
“I… I don’t know.”
“Are you going to tell me, or you just wanted to… sit and be mysterious with me staring?”
“Don’t make me laugh, silly,” she said. Carlos had always been good at that.
“Ava. It’s Ava.”
“Ava? She’s one of your best friends. What’s happened? Have you argued or something?”
“No. OK, let’s see, it’s not Ava herself. It’s Ava and Mark. Ava and Mark.”
“Ava and Mark?” he said.
“They’re getting married. Ava showed me her engagement ring. Mark gave it to her yesterday, and the first thing she did was calling me, and we met, and then she showed me. So far it’s a secret, you cannot tell anyone.”
A tear crept down Claire’s cheek.
“I feel so bad, Carlos. There she was, showing me her ring. She was so happy. I… I faked being happy for her. We hugged, and jumped, and laughed, as if we were girls once again. And inside I couldn’t bear it. I just couldn’t. I wanted to die.”
“Am I a bad person, Carlos? For not wanting my best friend to be happy with the man she loves?”
“No, you’re not. But…”
“She’s never noticed, Carlos. Never seen it. Never seen the real me. Damn, we’re supposed to be best friends, and she doesn’t know. She has never realized…”
“I know, Claire,” he said.
“That you loved Ava? Of course I know. I’ve always known. Ever since I met you two.”
“But that was ages ago!”
“Yes. I can recall it perfectly. I know which bar it was: The Pit. I remember you two wore matching clothes: black jeans, black t-shirts, blue jackets. I thought you were sisters and hoped you never thought of darkening your hair.”
“Wow. I didn’t remember you met us the year we decided to always wear the same clothes. That was so silly!”
“I realized the way you looked at Ava. If you ask me, I think right then you really didn’t know what it was. You used to go out with Sven a bit later, do you remember?”
“Sven. Oh my, he was an idiot.”
“Amen to that. Everyone can make mistakes,” he said. “I saw several guys chase you afterwards, but you rejected them all. Once burned, people thought. But I could see you had really noticed Ava. Or noticed your own feelings towards her.”
“I… I guess I had been suppressing them. I didn’t know any better. We were so young…”
“I saw,” Carlos said. “I noticed how you talked to her. How you hugged her when you met or said goodbye. How your mood changed when she left with Mark. How you didn’t want to hang out if she didn’t come. And even more than that, I saw it in your eyes. Did you know they lit up when you look at her?”
“Oh. Have I been so transparent? Oh, no, Carlos, Ava must have realized. I just want them to be happy. I really do!”
“I don’t think anyone else noticed,” Carlos said. “You’re really good at hiding your feelings, I’d say.”
“Am I? But you noticed! How did you…?”
“You’re not the only one who has been loving someone in secret for years.”