A recently divorced failure moves in with his best friend, only to discover that not is all as it seems in his new town
Judah grinned. "I am so glad you decided not to get any of the furniture. Moving this television up three flights of stairs is more than enough for me." He adjusted his stance and grunted. "Hang on, man, it's slipping. Let me get my..." He grunted; his face contorted into a grimace, and then relaxed. "Okay, there we go. This thing's a monster, I didn't want it falling on top of me."
Frank hovered three steps above him, squatting and hunched, his face red. "Just come on, man, I'm going to have to ring church-bells for a living if you don't move your ass."
Judah laughed and took a few steps. Once they made it to level ground, Frank gestured and they lowered the television. Both of them sagged against opposite walls and let out a long sigh. Judah hid his intentions in the stare; it had been two years since he'd last seen Frank, and the changes in that time had been terrible. Frank was always one of the bigger guys in their group, but he'd lost at least forty to fifty pounds in that span of time. The skin seemed to hang off of his face. He looked old, terribly old.
"Take a picture, man. Come on." Frank squatted behind the television and Judah nodded and took the other end.
Judah's apartment was a bachelor's haven, the walls covered in movie and music memorabilia. The couch and loveseat clashed in color, pattern, and material. A half-eaten ham sandwich lay upon a stack of magazines and unopened letters. Judah gestured to the end table that rested against the wall - his makeshift entertainment center - and they set the gargantuan television upon it, each of them letting out another gust of air before collapsing on opposite couches.
Frank tilted his head back, his eyes boring into the ceiling. "I can get my clothes later. Third floor apartments are such bullshit, man."
Judah laughed. "It's got its perks."
"Oh yeah? Name one."
"We hardly ever flood."
Frank smirked. "Well, you've got that, I suppose."
Judah snatched a wadded ball of paper from the coffee table and threw it at Frank. "And he smiles! For a second, folks, I didn't think that he had such a thing in him anymore!"
"Just tired, bro," Frank sighed. He rested his forearm on his forehead. "Just tired."
"Yeah, we both know that's not it."
A long silence passed between them. Judah didn't break the stare from his best friend. Frank kept staring at the ceiling. Had their lives drifted that far apart? Judah thought this move for Frank would be a good thing. It would take his mind off of all of the nonsense he'd been struggling with for the past five years. It would give him a reason to have some fun. But here Frank was, with the world as his oyster, with all of his past behind him, and all he could do was stare at the ceiling like it contained some great philosophy.
"She was a total bitch, Frank."
Frank said nothing.
"You can do so much better. I always thought that."
Frank sighed. "Then why didn't you say that before?"
Judah opened his mouth to reply, to tell him that he wouldn't have listened anyway. He wanted to say "Frank, you were never in love with her, you were just a moron that thought he couldn't do any better and you were just glad that any woman would give you the time of day. I could have told you that, but you would have acted like I was nuts."
But Judah only said, "Frozen pizza okay?"
Judah preheated the oven and pulled a couple of pies out of the freezer. He hated the knowledge that he could have told Frank anything when they were kids, even the cruel truth. But now, as adults, the cruel truth was just too damned awful to share, no matter how much future hurt it might have prevented. He leaned against the counter, watching the oven temperature rising. He wondered if offering Frank a place to live had been a smart thing.
Frank was in the doorway of the little kitchen, leaning against the frame. His face, already older from the lost weight, sagged in frustration. Or sorrow. His eyes glistened. "I appreciate you opening your door to me, man. I don't know if I've said that enough. It means the world. I really didn't have anywhere to go."
"Ah, bullshit, man. You know I would have made room for you." Judah forced himself to look away, back toward the oven, with the temperature rising at a snail's pace.
"Even so," Frank must have felt the awkwardness of the situation, because he left. Whatever else he'd wanted to say remained unsaid, and Judah felt shameful relief.
Once the pizzas were done, Judah brought them, unsliced, on a pair of plates. He handed one of them to Frank, who couldn't help but smile at the uncut pizza before him.
"In this house, we eat like kings," Judah proclaimed in a booming voice. "Who needs forks?"
Frank touched the pizza and hissed. "Is it okay if this king uses a fork? This shit is nuclear, man."
Judah shrugged. He sat his plate down next to the unfinished ham sandwich and started toward the kitchen. He felt Frank's eyes on him. It was the sort of gaze that couldn't be ignored, no matter how hard you might try to act like you didn't feel it. Judah's shoulders sank and he returned the look. "What?"
"Thank you." Frank's voice broke, and tears began to pour from his eyes. "Ah, shit, man, I thought I could hold it back," he started to say, but his words turned into hitching sobs, and he buried his face in his hands and just shook, over and over again, making wet sounds. Judah wiped his forehead and stood in silence, watching his friend break down, unsure of how to deal with it, and wondering how long this would all last.