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The Secret by J.Q. Rose
|The Secret by J.Q. Rose|
Mike slid the screen door aside to get inside and grab his ringing cell phone on the small kitchen table in his Florida condo home. He grinned when he spotted Olivia’s name in the caller ID. He looked forward to talking to his best friend since kindergarten.
“Hey, Olivia. How’s it goin’?”
He threw his beach towel on the kitchen chair and plopped down in his leather recliner to talk. After thirty minutes of catching up and re-living fun times together, Olivia asked “Why didn’t we ever get together as a couple? I’ve asked you that question many times, but you’ve never answered.”
Mike’s brow crinkled. How could he answer Olivia’s question without revealing the secret he’d kept from her for so many years? He shot up from his chair and paced the tile floor. Was this the right time to tell her?
“Mike. Hello. Are you still there?” Olivia’s voice on the cell phone jarred him.
“What? Did I shake you up when I asked the question…again?” Her soft giggle lightened his heart.
The memory of his attempt to ask her for a deeper relationship flashed through his mind. He could still picture that night six years ago when they sat at the corner wooden table in the diner eating greasy burgers and fat French fries. How they loved the food there, the quiet evenings, and even the smell of grease that clung to their clothes long after they left the building.
He remembered the heat flaring through his body when he gazed into her brown eyes framed by the longest lashes he had ever seen. Wisps of her blonde hair, piled up on the top of her head, escaped from the hair band, and poked out from her head. He wished he could undo that hair band and let her hair fall free to her shoulders so he could feel the soft curly strands through his fingers.
Olivia swallowed a big gulp of pop, then stopped before grabbing another French fry. “Hey,” she said. “You’re kinda quiet tonight.” She reached across the table to touch his arm. “You okay?”
Mike placed his hand on hers. “Yeah. I’m okay.” He hoped she believed him. He wasn’t okay. His gut clenched as he made the decision to finally ask her if she would be interested in him as a boyfriend, and no more of the relationship just as his kid sister.
“So how’s it going with you and Jack?”
She sighed. “Looks like Jack and I are history.” She wrinkled her nose.
Mike searched her face trying to decide if that was a good thing or a hurtful thing for her.
“I just had it with his drinking. No respect for me. Three dates with him were two too many,” she said as the corners of her mouth curved up into a smile.
“Sounds like he’s not the right one for you, then, eh?” His eyes twinkled.
“Nope, no way. He’s not Mr. Right for sure.” She picked up her burger and took another big bite, then licked the grease off her fingers.
Mike glanced toward her as she fumbled for her napkin. Leaning his elbows on the table and threading his fingers together, he watched her till she looked up at him. She finished wiping her mouth and hands and tucked the napkin under the plate. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I was just wondering what you’re looking for in a guy.” He had found the perfect opening to broach the subject of a big change in their relationship.
She smiled coyly. “Ha.”
“I’ll ask you some questions to help you decide.”
She laughed. “Alright, bring ‘em on if you think it’ll help me find the right guy.”
“Okay. Hmmm.” Mike tapped his chin and stared up at the ceiling as if contemplating what to say. He gazed back at her and asked in his best interviewing style, “Would you consider a guy who is shorter than you?”
“Oh sure,” she replied quickly.
“How about a guy who doesn’t have a college degree?”
“That’s easy. If I love him, I don’t care if he’s a teacher, a plumber, a brain surgeon, or whatever.” She shrugged. “And of course, he’d have to love me back,” she added holding her hands to her heart.
“What if he had Herpes or an STD?”
“No. Next question, please.”
“So, let’s see. Final question. What if he didn’t like to eat burgers and fries and was a vegetarian?”
“Are you kidding me? He’d have to love burgers and fries.” She held her arms wide and wrinkled her nose just like she did when she was eight years old.
Olivia interrupted his memory. “What’s up with you tonight anyway? I just asked a simple question about why we never got together.”
“Yes you did. But really, why ask now? I mean the last time I saw you was at your wedding about a year ago. Are you and Tim having problems?”
“No, no problems. I love Tim with all my heart. I guess I was just thinking about the good old days. You and I shared a lot together, and yet, we never became romantically involved. I was more of a kid sister to you, wasn’t I?”
“Okay. I must admit I had thoughts about us getting together, but I just couldn’t ask because I have a secret I could never tell you.” He heard her gasp.
“You kept a secret from me all these years? How’s that possible? We shared everything. Or at least I thought we did.” His eyes misted when he heard the hurt in her voice.
“You may not remember our conversation when we were in college. We were at the diner trying to figure out what kind of guy you were looking for…”
“I remember,” she said softly. “I thought you were asking because you were interested in your being my Mr. Right. But you never even suggested it. I was disappointed to say the least.”
“I asked you if you would want a guy with Herpes.”
“Yes, and about a million other questions.” She laughed.
Mike hesitated. “So what you don’t know is…” He took another big breath. “I have Herpes.”
Her silence was louder than the sounds of the ocean waves roaring on the beach outside his condo’s door.
“Oh, Mike.” Her voice caught in her throat. “I’m sorry, so sorry. I wish you’d told me. Never in a million years would I have considered you having Herpes. I had no idea.” Silence again. “I loved you, Mike. That would’ve never stopped me from loving you.”
His throat closed with emotion leaving him unable to speak.
“But I love Tim now, and I married him. We’re very happy together.” She paused then continued, sounding stronger.
“I called to tell you that Tim and I are expecting a baby.” Her voice reflected the joy in her heart.
“Oh, that’s great news. I’m so happy for you.” And he truly was happy for her. But his heart shattered with the knowledge of what could have been if only he had revealed his secret that night at the diner.
“Mike, Mike. Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here. I’ll always be here for you, Olivia.” He inhaled a ragged breath. “Congratulations to you and Tim.”
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