I'm sitting with Amanda in the coffee shop and she's going on about her most recent failed relationship. We're having a free therapy session, really. I listen, she talks. Mostly she talks about him.
It's been a month and she's already burned all of the things he gave her (except the ring, the T-shirts and the Star Wars original-from-the-seventies pillowcase: they are too valuable).
There's one moment when we both stop talking to watch the guy at the microwave, who is not paying attention to his popcorn, but having a conversation with someone getting cream and sugar for their coffee. The popcorn is just starting to burn. We can both smell it.
A crash of thunder stops the conversation again. We watch the rain in silence.
"So what you're saying is you want him to be miserable and full of regret?" I ask.
"I was the best fucking thing that happened to him," she says.
I nod wisely, absently, my eyes on the black mound of burnt microwave popcorn the guy two tables away is starting to eat. The smell alone is enough to make any sane person sick.
He's wearing a string tie, though, which explains a lot.
Amanda keeps on talking, but I'm really thinking about books and the evil curse of wonderful memories; like my best friend who is now just one of those wonderful memories.
Is it my fault he stopped speaking to me?
I have this copy of Fellowship of the Ring. It's so old it might as well have been Tolkien's. The pages are smooth and careworn. The cover fell off once and is held on now with a wide swatch of black tape. It smells old. My best friend gave it to me back when we were both in the loop back when he called me brother and the summer nights seemed endless.
The last time I moved and had to pack all of my junk away into boxes, I took his book down from the shelf just like all of the others, but as soon as I touched it I had a memory. We were in the park and fighting. It was my fault, a crappy end to an otherwise wonderful afternoon. I remember it was my fault. I remember that it had rained earlier in the afternoon, so the grass was still wet. I remember it was very hot and by the time we started to fight the sidewalks were just starting to dry, a scattering of large light-colored patches on the concrete. I can't remember why we were fighting I've tried, but I just can't remember but it was my fault, I'm sure of that.
He started to walk away. I got hysterical. I begged, pleaded with him to stay. He couldn't walk away, not now, not after he knew everything about me. Not after we'd confessed secrets and dreams. Not after I'd finally invested and risked myself. I got so scared when I realized I might loose the one thing I valued most. I never knew friendship was so important. I started to shake just a little and my breath came in tiny ragged gasps.
Amanda starts to eat my fries. I get her the ketchup. Outside the rain has stopped.
He didn't walk away that day. We made up, somehow and everything went back to normal. I had a best friend again someone who would listen to my secrets and tell me his. It was such a simple wonderful thing that I was amazed every day that it was there at all.
Later that summer, all of a sudden, it wasn't there anymore. He refused to speak with me. Even his girlfriend hung up on me when I called her to ask what was going on.
The popcorn man has resorted to a knife and fork to carve up his steaming charcoal lump. He gets ten points for effort, but minus five hundred points for trying to eat the smelly mess. It's really amazing what a microwave can do.
My insides felt black and burnt when I called him and he wouldn't talk to me. Amanda is bitter but recovering after just one month of forced closure. After a year I was still up in the middle of the night asking why. Is it my fault he stopped speaking to me?
Amanda asks for the salt. My fries are mostly a memory now. I give her the salt.
It's been a few years since that last summer. I no longer lie awake at night asking why. I'm on the way to getting over him. I have other good friends and a score of acquaintances. I write my secrets down because I have no one to tell them to. When I sit at my desk in my new apartment I can see the bookcase and Tolkien sitting there, holding my memories and the slim chance that maybe, one day out of the blue he'll call me and I won't hang up and everything will be just like it was.
Until then I have only my thoughts and an inscription that reads, in his usual sloppy green scrawl that I remember so well: "To my friend. For real." Surely that must count for something.
Amanda grabs my wrist to look at my watch. "It's time to go," she says. We leave the coffee shop by the back entrance the smell of burnt popcorn still strong in the air, but already starting to fade.
Who are you waiting for?