This story is by Tom Chambless and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Heath and he were never apart. He had practically grown up with him in this shabby, old house. But, it was not home and manners were the rule, so he knocked. He turned his back to the door for a minute and watched the wind blow the dead fall leaves down the curb and around his truck tires. The leaves blew down the street in pairs, like him and Heath through the years.
He heard the knob, turned, and saw his face in the small paned door glass. His hooded gray eyes stared back. A girl told him once he had cupid bow lips. He didn’t know. Heath’s mother, Martha, answered by opening a bit. She smiled. “Hello, Tommy, come in,” she said and he pulled the screen door.
He stepped inside and was careful not to let it bang shut. “Is Heath here?”
“You mean, is he up yet,” she said and laughed. Her chest rattled and she coughed. Her long brown and gray hair rolled off her shoulders. “He’s still in the bed, at one in the afternoon.” Her rattling chest sounded like his mother’s before she died.
“I guess that’s what I meant. I didn’t want to say,” Tommy said.
“You’re too shy. You should get over it,” she said with a wink.
Tommy looked down at his shoes in the dark hall. He looked up at her, grinning. He pulled his long, black hair from his eyes. She patted his cheek. Martha was as close to him as his mother and she knew what made him blush.
“You know, you are too pretty for a boy. If I was a young girl, I’d eat you alive.” She smiled.
“I’ll look and see if he’s asleep, if you don’t mind, Martha.” He had something to tell Heath.
“Suit yourself,” she said. He called her Martha now.
Heath’s bedroom door was first on the right down the hall. It was the same blue print, peeling wallpaper, the same dirty white doors with skeleton locks. Tommy gripped the knob, but withdrew. He wiped the nervous sweat on his pants and tried again. He had rehearsed his words and was ready. He stepped inside and eased the door shut.
Tommy turned, and jerked his head away, averting his eyes. Heath was in bed with raven-haired Belinda Ramos. The sheet over them was casual, covering crucial parts.
He looked down. His eyes watered from seeing him with her. Why was Heath, the quiet loner, the solitary landscaper, with her?
“Tommy,” Heath said. It was the way he said hello. He had dark shadowy stubble below blue eyes and black brows. His dark curly hair was bed messy.
Tommy blew a breath. “I’m guessing Martha doesn’t know she’s here,” he said.
“What can we do for you, Tommy?” Belinda asked with a grin and a raised eyebrow.
“I’ll leave and come back later,” he said.
“No, don’t. Stay. Nothing’s happening here, anyway,” she said, glaring at Heath. She pulled the tan sheet around her, twisted around, and grabbed her panties and jeans. She dressed underneath the sheet, wasting no time.
Heath turned, put his feet on the floor and lit a cigarette. “Well, this turned out to be low rent. I thought we had a thing going,” Heath said.
She squatted, still wrapped, and snatched up her clothes. “We had something going, until you couldn’t, you know, get going.”
“Yeah, it happens sometimes,” Heath said.
“Not with this body, it doesn’t,” she said frowning, still dressing.
Tommy clenched his fists, his back to them.
“Tommy? You seem upset?” Belinda asked. She stepped close to him buttoning her white blouse.
“I’m fine, Belinda.” He smiled his best smile. She smiled back.
“Good,” she said. “You’re still my best friend, you know that Tommy.” Her smile seemed shallow. With a little more effort, she would admit being tired of her stale friends, this shitty city, this tired life.
He nodded. “Best friends, as always, Belinda.” Her big brown eyes smiled for a second and dropped. She slipped on her shoes and left the room, for the bathroom, he supposed. The door clicked shut.
Heath stood, and Tommy stared at his lily-white tan line from outdoor work. He smiled.
“Mother has fresh coffee made,” he said. Heath wanted him to leave.
He realized he made Heath uncomfortable and it surprised him. They bathed together as kids. Without talking, he left the room. He went down the hall to the kitchen on the right. He spent most his childhood at this kitchen table, either doing homework or playing with Heath. Martha always welcomed him.
Old wooden white cabinets lined the wall on the left as he entered, and the sink and coffee pot was further down the same side. The dinette set was in the room’s center. It was old aluminum, and two out of six chairs matched. It had always been a place of lively talk, good laughs, and coffee. He went straight to Martha at the sink and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“How’s George doing?” She asked about his father.
“Dad’s holding his own, Martha. He comes to the shop, but he doesn’t work. I’m doing all the work now.” Tommy took over the upholstery shop.
“As you should. You’re a good son, always have been.” He knew that she knew he lied. Inoperable lymphoma, they said, and he was worse now, bedridden mostly, not in the shop. His mother died years earlier from lung cancer.
“It’s hard bouncing back and forth from the house to the shop, but I manage,” he said.
Heath entered wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. He poured a cup of black coffee and sat at the table at the end chair. Tommy sat down beside him at a side chair.
Belinda breezed through the kitchen straight to the coffee pot. She flipped her long black hair out of her face as she took a cup from the tree. Martha didn’t pay attention to her. She was a regular in Martha’s kitchen. She smiled at Heath, and Heath smiled back at her.
Tommy watched this exchange. Her hair was long and silky, shining black as the night. She had huge brown eyes and sculpted eyebrows, her skin was a rich smooth brown.
“Hey,” Martha said, poking Tommy’s shoulder. “I asked you a question.”
He turned to her standing over him. “I’m sorry, what did you ask?”
“Would you like anything to eat?”
“No thank you, Martha. I’ve eaten.” She shrugged and went to the plate cabinet.
This was it. Nerves or no, he knew he had to say what he came to say or he would burst.
Tommy sighed, “Belinda, I know you like Heath,” he said and looked at Heath. Heath put down his cup. “I’ve been meaning to say this to you both for a long time. I haven’t had the nerve.”
Martha paused and turned.
Belinda shook her head, “Tommy, don’t say it. I like you as a friend but that’s as far as it goes.”
He held up his hand. “Hear me out. It must have been karma you were here today to hear this. So, here goes. I know you’ve been my best friends,” he said looking at Belinda. He turned and looked Heath in the eyes. “But, Heath, I’m in love with you.”
Belinda and Martha stood statue still, wide-eyed, caught off guard. Heath rose, slack-jawed and dumfounded, focused on Tommy, his blue eyes begging. Tommy stood, too.
“What? This is…,” he said and darted out of the kitchen.
Tommy had not expected Heath to run, or the deafening silence resonating through the kitchen. He hung his head. He peeked at Martha from under his hair. Her face glowed red.
Both his hands covered his face in chagrin. “I’m sorry,” he said, muffled between his hands. He turned and bolted down the hall toward the front door, his singular thought was to get out, go home.
As he passed Heath’s room, Heath’s arm shot out and grabbed him. Heath jerked Tommy inside his room and slammed the door.
Heath turned away and paced the room biting his fingernail, thinking.
Tommy, chancing he had nothing to lose, fronted Heath and stopped his pacing with a hand to his chest. With a thundering heart, he held Heath’s face with all the calm he could muster. He went up on tip-toes, and kissed him. To his delighted surprise, he felt Heath relax. They parted.
“When did you know?” Heath asked. He looked away and shook his head, not what he meant. Tommy placed a fingertip on Heath’s lips and moved closer.
Tommy’s shapely lips parted as he lifted his chin and peered into Heath’s blue eyes. He tilted his head. They kissed again. And during the hard, fierce kiss, Heath gripped Tommy’s back and pulled him tight. Tommy let his arms fall to his sides in sublime submission. They had been inseparable since childhood. Now they were more.