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A/N: First story of (hopefully) many. Please shower me in comments and feedback.

*****

AND JUST LIKE THAT…

My life is broken.

As I stare out of the window of the café, the music drifting through the speakers comes as muffled noises into my ears, the smell of freshly ground coffee beans that I once basked in now makes me go dizzy and nauseous , I ponder about the timeline of my life and try to find the moment where it all went downhill.

James Cohen, 35, associate at Park & Montgomery, a law firm in Manhattan, sits across from me, his face barely visible in the glass but I can still make out the hopelessness in his eyes, under which wrinkles are starting to form. His fingers linger on the cup of black coffee, searching for warmth but finding that it has now gone cold. How long has he been sitting here with his eyes downcast and his head resting on the palm of his right hand?

He stares at me, and I stare back at him. His jet black hair is haphazardly combed, his cinnamon-colored shirt is covered in wrinkles and his face is tainted with sadness.

Where did it go so wrong for him?

He still manages to keep a job at the firm, but years and years have gone by and he still can’t get a promotion. Hardly anyone notices him, let alone appreciates what he does, as he seems to be stuck with tedious cases. Why haven’t his bosses fired him already?

He lives in a studio apartment, the door of which he has been the only one to step through. He can’t bring himself to make new friends or talk to the neighbors, let alone go on dates. His social anxiety is that crippling. But he hasn’t always been like this, how did it start?

His family has disowned him when he was 24 after finding out he was into guys.

And so I start to wonder if he, if I, am worth anything.

A man walks pass the coffee shop and glances through the window. He suddenly stops and stares right at me.

And smiles.

And for the first time since I don’t know how long, a real smile appears on my lips and my eyes sparkle with excitement.

The man rushes into the café and shouts, “Oh my god, is that James Cohen?” God, I miss that voice.

Before I could even give his rhetorical question a sarcastic reply, I find myself standing up and being pulled into a tight embrace.

“Holy shit if it isn’t the legendary Craig Henrick! Gosh, how long has it been?” I say as Craig releases me from his arms and sits down.

“Damn it must have been 13 years since we last saw each other…Graduation day, remember?” His white teeth is downright dazzling.

“Yeah, how can I forget?” My eyes are fixated on him. Damn, he has changed so much. Craig Henrick, the life and soul of every party we, or, more accurately, he ever went to in college and somehow, my best friend for the whole 4 years. Dude was crazy. No one had ever beaten him at beer pong. He could finish 1 gallon of beer in practically a blink of an eye. He could chug a hundred shots and still managed to walk back to the dorm in one piece (well, that happened only twice, but still impressive). I should know, I was his roommate. If it hadn’t been for my care and guidance, Craig couldn’t have graduated, hell, he could have even died. I made sure he still did his homework and got good grades on tests. I gave him a shitload of water and Gatorade every morning he was hung-over. And I always kept an eye on him, never allowing him to do anything stupid like doing drugs or setting the campus on fire.

But before my eyes right now is an entirely different Craig Henrick. The guy who hardly ever shaved, showered, and did laundry is now in a suit, a fucking three piece, charcoal suit that looks like it costs a shitload of money, his dusty brown hair is now side-parted and slick with gel and his defined, muscular jawline is free of any stubble.

“Wow, look at you. Someone’s all grown up!” my tone is filled with pride and joy to see that the batshit crazy dude that was my best friend in college turned out so amazing.

Craig blushes and looks downwards. His sparkling smile is still wide across his lips.

“Why the fuck are you in a suit on Sunday though?” I ask, looking up and down his body. Damn, even under these clothes I can still see his muscles.

Craig’s cheeks go red again, “Oh, I was on my way to meet with a potential investor. For some unknown reason, he likes to work on weekends. That bastard. Hope he’ll give me a ton of money, though.”

I chuckle, “Wow, an investor. So you have a business now?” The music in the café suddenly has rhythm and melody.

Craig still smiles. God I’m addicted to that smile. “Yeah, bro. I run a company that sells high-quality sports equipment and fitness gear now. Just started a year ago but doing really solid, the profits are definitely good. Before this I was an investment banker but then I got bored.” Strange, the aroma of coffee seems so much more pleasant now.

“Damn, you really took off, didn’t you? I’m super proud of you, man. It seems like it was only yesterday canlı bahis that you threw up all over your laptop after partying till 2 a.m. the previous night.” I wipe a fake tear off the corner of my eye. Craig chuckles and punches me in the shoulder.

“What about you, Cohen? What’s going on with you?” Craig asks. I instantly feel my smile vanish from my lips. And his soothing, cheerful voice suddenly turns into distant echoes.

What’s going on with me?

What’s going on with me?

What’s going on with me?

“Oh you know, became a lawyer, writing contracts, winning cases, that whole stuff,” I pull a weak, fake smile, the one I pull to be polite to baristas and colleagues, when inside I want to crash onto the floor and cry.

Craig doesn’t seem to notice my change in attitude. “Cool, cool, you have a boyfriend yet or still the perpetually shy introvert hiding in your dorm room?” Craig snickers.

But his question pierces right through my wilting heart.

“Nah, nah, still single,” the fake smile appears again, “you and Claire have kids yet?” I quickly change the subject.

Somehow, beyond my utter comprehension, Craig managed to keep a girlfriend throughout college. They met in sophomore year at a party, both had become notorious party animals by then and they were a match made in heaven, completely head over heels for each other. Oh god, if I got a penny every time I had to carry an unconscious Craig from Claire’s dorm room back to ours, I’d probably have enough money to buy that suit Craig’s wearing.

On graduation day, Craig told me he and Claire were going to elope to Vegas to get married. Her family was pretty wealthy and again, for reasons beyond my utter comprehension, supported their relationship so money was definitely not a problem despite their being two kids fresh out of college. I congratulated them, whined a little about not being able to be Craig’s best man, and said goodbye. I never heard from them again.

That is, until now.

Craig pauses for a second at my question and then says, “Yeah, actually we have 2 kids now. Kaitlyn and Zack. Here,” He pulls out his wallet and shows me a picture of a girl and a boy sitting side by side on a swing. I can hear their laughter just looking at their radiant faces. I asked him about his kids as a joke, really, I have never thought those two crazy people could be parents. But apparently, they can, and they seem to be killing it with parenting.

Wow. Craig went from a hard-core party animal to a well-groomed business owner and a father of two. Responsible, caring, happy.

What happened?

How did Craig become so…wonderful while I am just… nothing?

“Well, nice talking to you but I got to go,” Craig’s voice wakes me from slipping into the abyss that is my thoughts, and I look up towards him.

“Here take this,” he hands me a business card, “Call me and we’ll hang out some time, wait no,” his eyes glimmer, “tonight, we’re going out tonight, Cohen. “

I stare at the card with his number on it, words failing to come out of my mouth.

He has a fucking business card.

What happened?

“Oh right, forgot to tell you, I moved here a few days ago, wasn’t feeling Boston any more.”

“Oh… great,” I uttered, almost inaudibly.

“OK, see ya later man,” his voice gets smaller and smaller.

“Yeah… see ya.”

I go back to my apartment, crash onto my bed and cry and cry and cry.

Once again I drown myself in tracing back the steps I have taken and wondering where it all went so wrong in my life.

.

.

.

Eventually I remove myself from the pillow soaked with tears and text Craig my address and tell him to come pick me up at 7.

A sad and lonely bachelor as I may be, I always keep my apartment clean and neat. No pizza boxes scattered around, no empty beer bottles rolling under the sofa, no mountains of unwashed dishes. I also always try to keep the fridge stocked with fresh ingredients so that I can cook myself a nice hot meal after work. I absolutely detest fast food. I had enough of that in college. And I don’t drink alcohol.

It is a completely different story when it comes to my appearance. When was the last time I worked out? I’m not flabby, but I definitely don’t have much muscles. I never shave my body hair, resulting in a thick carpet of fur covering my torso. I have no taste in fashion whatsoever. At work I wear a suit, at home I slip into sweatpants and a tank top. When I go out I just throw on whatever’s smelling good and still fits. I don’t even care about wrinkles anymore. I rarely buy new clothes.

Then again, why should I care about such things when my social life is non-existent, right?

But at half past six I find myself preparing surprisingly carefully for Craig. I shave and wash my face as clean as a baby. I slick my hair back and comb it neatly. I spray some cologne that have never been used before. I have picked out a mahogany-colored shirt that fits me quite nicely and has almost bahis siteleri no wrinkles and paired it with beige chinos and a dark brown belt. I pop a mint into my mouth and check myself again in the mirror.

And just like that, I am face to face with the reflection of myself.

No no no no no, not gonna happen, this is not the time for sulking and letting self-deprecating thoughts get into my head. I’m going to meet Craig and we’re gonna have a good time without me getting all depressed about myself. Save that for when I go to sleep tonight.

A knock at the door startles me. My stomach is suddenly filled with butterflies as I go open it.

Standing before me is Craig in a plain grey T-shirt that barely has enough room for his muscles, his pecs bulging forward prominently, his biceps stretching the short sleeves to their full capacity. A pair of jeans cover his strong, chunky thighs and legs.

And to think, this guy had gummy bears and hot sauce for dinner not once, but three times.

His emerald eyes glint with eagerness and some mischievousness. His cute, soft dimples lie near the corners of his mouth. And his smile, as always, emit rays of pure white light across the room, dispelling every doubt and fear in my mind at the moment.

Damn he is gorgeous.

“What’s up, Cohen? Ready for a night of fun?” Craig says, arching his curvy eyebrows up and leaning forwards. His deep, husky yet joyful tone makes every muscle in my body tingle.

I almost choked, “Ye…Yeah, sure, let’s go!” Trying to keep my voice from quavering and be as calm as possible, I quickly grab the keys and lock the door. Suddenly I feel the weight of his arm wrapped around my shoulders, his biceps protruding against my neck. The smell of his cologne strikes my nose, spicy cinnamon and smoky cedarwood slowly makes me slip into a trance. I can feel the warmth his body emanates through the fabric of my shirt as we walk into the elevator.

I just want to be here forever.

“So where are we heading?” I ask, somehow still not drowning in Craig’s sexiness yet,”let me guess, a bar?”

Craig snickers, “Oh, Cohen. I’ve had enough alcohol for a lifetime already, and I have never seen you drink in the four years we spent together so no, not a bar. We’re going to this sushi place that got glowing reviews on Yelp and then go to this contemporary art exhibition that has a bunch of hipster stuff and then go to this bakery that also got glowing reviews on Yelp and get, I don’t know, cupcakes or something.”

I stopped dead in my tracks.

“What?” my voice monotonous. The fuck? “So, my first night out with Craig Henrick in 13 years and we’re going to get sushi, go see paintings and eat cupcakes? You said a night of fun, not a night of mediocre shit. Oh my god, what the hell happened to you?”

Craig punches my shoulder and then pulls me even closer to him, squishing my body against his.

Fuck.

“I’m no longer the guy who stays out partying with a shitload of booze going into his stomach anymore, Cohen. No, sir. I have changed. I have taste and finesse now,” Craig lets out a breath of pride.

“Yeah, well, this new Craig is BORING!” I shout, just as the elevator dings and opens.

Craig chuckles and leads me to a sleek, luxurious silver Mercedes.

“Sweet ride, huh?” he spreads his arms wide and says while my mouth drops open. Waves of excitement and jealously wash over my entire body.

That son of a bitch.

.

.

.

“Well, the night’s over already,” Craig says with a sigh and places his fork on a plate where a slice of cheesecake once was.

“Yeah, too bad,” I sigh as well. We had a really wonderful time catching up with each other. Of course I avoided the failure that is my life and focused on fucking perfect Craig. 13 years we haven’t heard from each other and fate decides to let us come together again.

Nice job, fate.

“Oh, right, I guess I have to say sorry,” Craig stretches his lips and scratches the back of his head.

“For what?” I ask, scooping up the last crumbs of the red velvet cupcake off the plate.

“Well, for eloping to Vegas without handing you a number or an email or anything. I should have given you a way to keep in touch with me, you know? And also for not trying to reach out to you all these years, I guess I was just too wrapped up in my own stuff,” his voice slightly trembles, his eyes avoiding my gaze on him.

I wave it off, “Don’t worry about it. We’re here now, right?”

Craig looks up at me, a trace of regret and a hinge of relief shows in his eyes, “Yeah, I’m glad we’re here.”

I feel his feet moving under the table, softly pushing against my loafers. Craig’s legs get twitchy when he’s nervous, I still remember that.

“So ummm…,” Craig hesitates, “I’ll drive you back to you place?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

.

.

.

Craig stands at the doorway, his shoulders resting against the door frame as I slowly walk into my apartment. My feet feel as if they bahis şirketleri are tied to bags of bricks, heavy, almost unmoving. This is where he leaves me and I go back to the void that is my life. The blackness that has enveloped me since…

Oh my god.

That’s it.

That’s the moment my life went on a downward spiral.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” Craig stands straight up, digging his hands into his pockets.

“Ye…yeah. Bye,” tremulous mumbles come out of my mouth. No, don’t.

Craig nods at me, turns his back and starts walking. No, don’t.

“Please don’t leave,” I hear myself bellowing, my eyes stare at Craig’s back so hard it is as if I’m trying to pull him back with my mind.

Craig turns his head around, his eyebrows drawing together in a state of confusion, “What?”

I stutter, bags of tears start to proliferate in my eyes, “Y…You…You can’t…You can’t leave me…again.”

Craig turns his whole body facing me, he speaks tentatively, “Um…I don’t understand. What are you-

The giant bubbles of tears burst into streams accelerating down my face. My legs collapse before Craig and I kneel before him. But my legs keep sliding down as the floor turns into malignant quicksand and I feel my body sink and sink and sink. I wrap my hands around Craig’s legs, my fingers digging into the denim so deep they can almost tear the fabric. But I can’t let go. He’s the only thing here to save me from sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand, into the abyss where no light or sound can reach, where I am all alone amidst grey and black.

Craig immediately kneels down, wraps his arms around me and tries to pull me up. But my legs won’t work, no, I can only cling to his and hope that I can be salvaged from total self-destruction.

Craig speaks frantically, “Hey hey hey Cohen, what’s wrong, wh-

I scream, my voice hoarse and quavering, “You can’t leave me again. I’m fucking miserable, OK? Ever since we graduated and you went off with Claire, my life has gone to shit. I hate my job, I can’t make friends, I can’t hold a conversation with anyone, my family shuns me. I can’t do anything. I can’t… I can’t…” my tears flow and flow and flow, creating puddles on the floor and soaking Craig’s jeans, my face is buried between his knees.

I feel Craig’s hands caress my hair and try to lift my head up, but I’m melting, dissolving, disintegrating into some kind of liquid, dull, lifeless.

“No no no no no, you are not miserable. You are going through a hard time you’re going to get through it, OK? You just need to-

I scream again, my voice cracks into a jumble of high-pitched and low-pitched sounds ,”Nooooooooo. You don’t understand. YOU’RE supposed to be the pathetic one. And I’m the one that cleans up your mess. YOU need to be the fucked up piece of shit that I can fix, because if you’re not, then I have to look at how messed up I really am. But now your life is perfect and I turn out like this and it’s unfair because you need to be the damaged goods. ”

Oh my god, what the hell did I just say?

I use what little strength I have left to lift my face up to look at Craig. His mouth is open, his eyes wide staring down at me in horror, I can hear him trying to say something but choking in his throat. No, what have I done?

I bury my face back into between Craig’s knees, tears won’t stop falling in torrents from my eyes, “Oh my god…I’m sorry…You’re not a mess… I…I didn’t mean to… Pl…Plea…Please don’t…leave me. I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” apologies keep coming out of my mouth non-stop in wheezes and croaks in between hiccups.

I can barely breathe.

Suddenly I feel Craig shaking. And before I know it, he grabs my head and lifts my face up forcefully. He shouts, “YOU LISTEN TO ME, COHEN. You are not fucking miserable or pathetic or messed up, OK? You are a kind, funny and caring person who is just having a hard time and you are going to recover from this. So you can cry and you can wail all you want but I promise you it’s going to get better, you understand?” he says in one breath.

My face is inches from him, I can feel his hot, fiery breath on my face, his warmth melting away the coldness besieging my body. His shiny green eyes are fixed upon my dark brown ones, there’s something calming that emanates through them in the midst of this meltdown. His lips are slightly open and twitching a little bit, as if wanting to say something more.

“Now, I’m going to lift you up and throw you onto the sofa and I’ll tell you how my life is not fucking perfect like you think, cool?” I can’t stop looking at his lips now, how they move so elegantly, how red and juicy they look.

I can’t say anything. My chest is still pulsating, throbbing up and down to the beat of my heart.

Craig slowly wraps his arms around my torso and hoist me up on my feet. My body is limp noodles in his arms. He places one arm behind my knees and one behind my back and in one swift motion, lift me up and cradle me like a baby in his arms. Gently, Craig places me on the sofa and sits next to me, resting my head in his lap, his hands brushing my hair softly.

And just like that, the waterfalls of tears stopped.

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