The sky is dark, the rain is coming down with fury while thunder is making loud booming sounds throughout the sky and the lightening is cracking through the black clouds. What a sad day all around. The weather brings an extra depression to the funeral. The glum that can’t seem to go away at all. There is no laughter in the air, no slight smiles. It was as if Jeff’s life was a boring, and he didn’t live an exciting, intriguing life, but he did, didn’t he?
As I stood at my childhood best friend Jeff Carpenters funeral, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Jeff and I had been best friends for what seemed like our entire thirty-one years of life. But that wasn’t entirely true! Yes, Jeff and I had grown up on the same street, and as kids we played outside together. You know the normal kid’s stuff; kickball, tag, climbed trees, rode our bikes, skated, those types of things. We went in different directions. Jeff was more of the nerd, and I was the popular girl. I wasn’t the cheerleader, I was the athlete, hung out at the beach and skating rink, and basically of the things the popular kids did in middle and high school. But we still would hang out when we were both around the neighborhood. As we got older, we drifted apart. We went to college was in different states. He went to an Ivy League school for law up north, and I went on a basketball scholarship to Carolina and studied Marine Biology. I had moved to Florida after I got my degree and got my dream job at SeaWorld, and he stayed in Boston after he graduated. We hadn’t talked much since, just a few times that we had been home at the same time on holidays. But it didn’t change how I was feeling today.
When my mom called me last Tuesday to tell me that Jeff had been in a car accident and the car had caught on fire, I couldn’t believe it. She said the body was burned so badly that they could only identify him by dental records. So, of course there was no open casket. It all just seemed so unreal. And then to get to his funeral and to see his parents and my parents devastated tore at my heart. But then I am pissed off because there were so many of our classmates here that never even spoke to Jeff and even some that were hateful and bullied him. I wanted to go over and punch each one of them in the face. I know Jeff would laugh at me for wanting to do that, but he would also be the one to tell me, ‘They are not worth it T’. I swear I could literally hear his voice as clear as he was standing right beside me.
A week after the funeral, I headed back to my life in Florida. It was late in the afternoon when I got back home. As I pulled into the driveway at the mailbox and grabbed the mail that had been piling up because I was so upset that I forgot to put a hold on it. Then I drove into the garage, gathered my luggage, went inside, dropped the mail, my keys, and my purse on the kitchen table and went upstairs with my luggage. I threw my luggage on my bed and unpacked. Then ran a bubble bath. I must have fallen asleep, because when I went to get out, the sun was starting to set. Once I was out, I threw on my gown and went downstairs to see if I had something I could fix to eat really quickly. I found some lumpia’s in the freezer, took out five and put a pan with olive oil on the stove to fry them in. Then I sat down at the table to go through my mail.
I started separating my mail into piles: bills, junk, and other. What is this? What caught my eye was the beautiful beach scenery. Since I love the ocean, even if it was junk, I flipped the little postcard over, because I would probably keep it just for the picture anyway. It read, ‘T, first please don’t pass out, second, take a breath right now, because I know you stopped breathing as soon as you read “T”! Yes, it is me. Please listen to me, I know I have a lot to explain, but you cannot say anything to anyone and I mean anyone. I am only trusting you. I am not dead. Meet me tonight at your favorite spot at 9 pm.’
“My favorite spot? When did I tell him about my favorite spot? Oh…. three, no, wow it was five years ago that I saw him at Christmas, and we walked through the neighborhood looking at the lights.”
I looked up at the clock and it was 6:50 p.m. I needed to hurry up eat and get dressed so I could get on the road. I jumped up from the table, still in shock, and ate as fast as I could. Then I ran back upstairs and throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, put my hair in a ponytail, brushed my teeth, and put on a little make-up. (Not sure why I did the make-up for Jeff, but I did. I guess because he had just come back from the dead.) It was now 7:45 pm, and I was scared I was going to be late. I ran down the stairs, almost slipped, couldn’t remember where my keys were, finally found them under the mail on the table, grabbed my purse, threw on my Crocs, and into the garage.
I pulled into the parking lot at the Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Cocoa Beach, parked the car, and got out. I looked around and there were no other cars in the parking lot. I had barely made it on time with just 3 minutes to spare so he should be here. I could hear the waves crashing on the sand. I decided to walk towards the building where the restrooms and showers were. Once I got to the side of the building that faced the water, an arm went around my waist as the hand of the other arm covered my mouth, and I was pulled into a family bathroom.
“Don’t scream T. It’s me,” Jeff said in my ear in a very low tone as he pulled me into the bathroom.
When we got inside, and he let me go the first thing I did was I turned around and grabbed him by the neck and hugged him as hard as I could. Then the tears came pouring out of nowhere. Then I stepped back and punched him in the stomach, and said, “Don’t you ever scare me like that again. Don’t you ever die again and don’t snatch me in the dark again.”
Wow, that hurt. I stepped back and if it wasn’t for his voice and those sexy brown eyes, I wouldn’t have recognized him. He definitely wasn’t the same Jeff I remembered. My hand felt like it had punched a brick wall. Don’t get me wrong, I had always thought when we were kids that he was cute, but the guy I was looking at now was…. well…. stop girl. He was just dead for god’s sake. I had to shake myself out of my thoughts.
“T, are you okay?” Jeff asked. “And I am sorry on both counts. But everyone had to believe I was dead in order for me to be alive.”
“Yes, I am okay,” I responded. “And what exactly does that mean? Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?”
For the next hour, we stood in the bathroom and he explained that he had been prosecuting a high-profile case, and he couldn’t give specifics, but it got messy, and the people he was prosecuting were trying to kill him so the FBI faked his death and put him into protective custody, but he told them that he wouldn’t go unless they let him speak “unless they let him speak to me first.
“Me?” I asked. “Why me and not your parents? Are you scared they won’t let you go, so you want me to give them a message?”
“No, that’s not it at all. My parents know. Before the fake death, when the FBI approached me, I told my parents everything. They are the ones, along with your parents, who convinced me to talk to you before I disappeared forever,” he said.
“Wait, so both of our parents know you are alive and no one told me? They let me believe you were dead. They let me cry my eyes out for over a week. I am going to KILL them,” I said through my teeth.
“Wow, you really cried your eyes out for a week. I am feeling a little special,” he said with a smirky giggle.
I looked up at him with eyes that could have burnt holes in him. So, he changed his face real quick and said,
“Okay, I get it. Look, our parents have known for years how I feel about you and that I never had the guts to tell you. So, they wanted to make sure that if I was never going to see you again, that I at least give you the decency to know it from me. I tried to get them to let you believe that I was dead and they tell you so that I wouldn’t have to deal with your rejection, but they wouldn’t have any part of it,” He stopped and took a deep breath, and looked at her like he was studying her face.
Finally, I said, “Jeff, what are you trying to say? Whatever it is, just say it. We have been friends for way too long for you to feel like there is anything that you can’t tell me. I know once we got to middle school we had different sets of friends, but we were still friends through it all. You have to know that. You have to know that even though we haven’t kept in touch like I thought we would, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it was just life had gotten so busy, not because I never wanted you a part of mine. I mean you wouldn’t have sent the note if you hadn’t known that I would always be here for you, right?” Okay, now I am babbling.
He took another deep breath and said, “Yes, I know all of that. It is just this one thing that I am not sure how to tell you or how you will react, and I was always scared it would be the one thing that would have you run in the other direction and never look back. But now, it’s going to be me running in the other direction because I have to. But it is still hard, but here goes. Tara, you have been my best friend since we were about seven years old. You were the one person I have always known would be by my side through anything life threw at me, even when people in school didn’t understand me, you did. You understood I wasn’t the jock and you liked my brains and me, just the way I am. We watched and supported each other through relationships. You cried on my shoulder when guys broke your heart and somewhere along the way my feelings for you changed. I fell in love with you, but I knew I wasn’t the type of guy that you would fall in love with. I am looking at us. I was the nerd and you were homecoming queen. Why would you love me? So, I kept it to myself until now. Now I am telling you because I am going to walk away from here and I will never see you again, or the life we had. I will have a new name, a new life, everything will be new.” He stopped still looking at her face to try and read her expression, and he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. “T, are you listening?”
She took a deep breath and said, “Jeff, first let me say that I am so pissed off that you would tell me something like this as you are getting ready to leave me for good. Second, how could you ever think that we were so different? I got straight As too. I just also was an athlete and yes homecoming queen. We just did things a little differently. There was this time right after Charles had broken my heart and you kissed me. Do you remember that? And then you backed off and apologized and started acting weird for a while. Then the next thing I knew you were seeing Paula. I was more heartbroken at that moment than I had ever been about Charles. I felt like you rejected me and I didn’t know why. So, I pretended that I was okay with us just remaining best friends because that’s what you wanted and that was better than not having you in my life at all. I love you, Jeff, I think I always have.”
At that moment it was like time stopped, and he grabbed her and pulled her close and kissed her deeply. When they finally broke apart, he said, “I know I don’t have the right to ask this now, but we have one chance. Will you come with me? My FBI Witness Protection handler said that they can give you thirty days to decide.”
She looked at him with her hands cupping his face, smiled, and said, “Thirty days, haven’t we waited long enough?” Then she leaned in and kissed him again