Don't Meddle

We’re out walking alone. It’s night. We’re both laughing and joking around. She asks for the Slurpee. I pass it over to her. It’s spiked with vodka. She takes a big gulp.

“Jesus!” she exclaims.

“Don’t be a baby,” I tease her. I take the Slurpee back and take a big gulp myself. “Oh god!” I cry out.

“Now who’s the baby?” she grins.

“Brain freeze!” I shout, desperately clenching my forehead, “Brain freeze and vodka!”

She laughs and asks me how much farther. I tell her that it’s not far since we’re already at the park. In truth, I have no idea, and am not even quite sure which park we’re at. But our wandering doesn’t seem to bother her, and neither of us are in any rush to go home.

Her name is Carmen. She is a brunette with short brown hair. She is skinny and carefree. She is easy going and easy to talk to. She is fun, and she is my friend.

We’ve spent the whole night walking home from a lame party. We didn’t arrive together, nor did we intend to leave together, but after an hour at that lame party we both made up excuses and got the hell out of there. Since then, our night has consisted of piggy back rides and hopping fences. We’ve gotten noticeably lost twice, and missed two buses. I have a vague sense of how to get home, however we have no map, and neither of us really know these streets too well. Yet, neither of us seem to care.

Armed with our spiked cherry Slurpee we are both just enjoying the night.

Carmen stops and pulls out her cigarettes. I grimace a bit.

“I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” I tell her.

She rolls her eyes.

“Seriously,” I say. I put out my hand.

“What?” she asks.

“Can I see them?”

“Why…?” she says untrustingly.


“Because why…?”

I shrug, “Just because.”

She is giving me a suspicious look and leaning away from me.

“Come on,” I say, stepping towards her.

She steps back cautiously.

“Come on,” I repeat. I step towards her again and she again steps back. She see’s right through me.

Another few steps while she parries backward and I decide to make my move. I lunge forward and try to grab her smokes. She lets out a giddy scream and turns to run, but I manage to get my arms around her. I wrestle her to the ground, reaching and clawing for her cancer sticks but she’s playing an amazing game of Keep Away. She’s laughing drunkenly and hysterically, and so am I.

I keep telling her it’s for her own good and she keeps yelling for me to get off her.

As we tussle in the grass, I suddenly make, what I think is, a clever move forward to get to her cigarettes, only to end up with Carmen accidentally elbowing me in the face. I let out a loud painful moan and fall on my back.

“My face!” I scream, holding my face and groaning in agony.

Realizing what’s happened she immediately rushes over to me. She tells me she’s sorry. She leans in and asks me if I’m okay. She brushes her hands over my face and asks me where I was hit. She is tender and regretful and she apologizes profusely. However, I am a jerk.

As she inspects my face for injury, my look of pain and hurt fades into that of an arrogant grin. Suddenly, she realizes her folly.

My face is fine. She didn’t elbow me or smack me. She didn’t wallop me or cream me. She didn’t even touch me in fact. It was just an act.

She looks down at my hand and sees it clenching her now freshly squashed pack of cigarettes. She lets out a loud gasp. “You cheating fucker!” she shouts and she gives me a shove. Despite the fact that she lost, she’s still smiling. “You owe me some smokes there pal,” she says with a smirk.

I smile, and so does she.

It’s funny, because I fully recognize how much of a dick move it was to wreck her smokes. I know that it was cruel and unsympathetic. I know people who would literally punch my lights out if I did this to them. And yet, Carmen is not one of those people.

Instead of anger or malice she is staring at me with a childlike innocence. Instead of rage and fury she is laughing that she lost. She’s smirking at my mischief, and staring at me with playful eyes. To Carmen, life is just a game, and she can never really be mad at me.

As we stare at each other, I see it happen. Our smiles slowly disappear and our eyes lock. Our faces slowly drift towards one another. Our foreheads meet, and our lips are about to touch. We are seconds away from kissing when suddenly Carmen freezes everything, puts everything on hold.

“Wait!” she exclaims.

My heart is racing, my mind adrift, I pause, unsure of what to say or do.

“No,” she says, our foreheads still resting on each other, our lips still close. She looks confused and disheartened. I suddenly feel like I made a big mistake. “No,” she repeats.

Gone is the playful and carefree demeanor. Replacing it is an awkwardness that’s been known to ruin friendships.

“I uh…” I start, but Carmen interrupts me before I get to say anything else.

“I’ve started seeing someone,” she tells me. She leans back and sits up.

“Oh,” I stutter. I guess I should be relieved, since it means her rejection is nothing personal. Unfortunately I still feel like crap.

“Yeah,” she tells me with sad eyes. “I’m… sorry.”

“No, no,” I say. “It’s OK. It was… stupid.”

We both sit there awkwardly and silently for a moment, a long moment. It feels weird and strange and the entire mood of the night has changed. There isn’t much you can say to break the tension, but I try anyway.

“So like, now that our relationship is over,” I say, “who gets the kids?”

She smiles and lets out a subtle laugh.

“So who is this other man anyway?” I ask casually.

“Mark,” she tells me.

“Cool,” I say nonchalantly, not really knowing which Mark she could be referring to.

“Your friend Mark,” she adds.

Fast forward nearly a year later. A bunch of us are out at a bar, enjoying ourselves. At least, all of us are, except Carmen. We’re playing pool, having drinks, exchanging stories, and although Carmen physically present, she is just barely with us mentally.

She gets a text, reads it, scoffs, puts her phone down, and continues to look disgruntled. Someone asks her if Mark is coming out and she almost doesn’t reply. She tells us that she doesn’t know. This is what it’s like unfortunately. This is how it’s been for weeks.

When Mark and Carmen started dating, everything was great. Sure there was a little bit of awkwardness between Carmen and I because of what happened right when they started dating, but it quickly became history. I dated other girls, got over anything I might have felt for Carmen, and got back to being her friend. Carmen and Mark for their part, built a phenomenal relationship together. They were a good couple, a good match, and they seemed happy… at least, for a while.

They were the perfect couple, the happy pair. They were the ones that other couples were jealous of, the ones that just seemed to fit so well together. A year passed and nothing seemed to faze them. They were just happy… together… until recently that is. Out of nowhere, they started to have problems. It was subtle at first, but we all gradually picked up on it. And once we did, it didn’t get better.

Carmen and Mark never had a big fight or explosion. They never yelled at each other or suddenly burst into insults. There was never one big incident to point at. Instead, they gradually became more and more upset with each other. They steadily came to talk less and less well, to ignore each other more and more, and to be worse and worse with maintaining their relationship.

It was painful to watch… like someone slowly tearing off a band-aid.

Someone asks Carmen how things are going with Mark and instead of responding she takes a big gulp of her beer. We try to make teams to play pool and Carmen gets pissed when we decide to play guys versus girls. The waitress brings Carmen a drink and she freaks out because the waitress forgot the lime.

Fun times…

When Mark shows up to the bar, Carmen almost completely ignores him. Very quickly, the entire night itself somehow devolves into a social game of guys versus girls. The whole thing is awkward because those of us not dating Carmen or Mark want to mingle and hang out, but there’s this weird tension in the air that’s ruining it all and keeping the genders segregated.

Mark doesn’t want to talk about things and denies there’s even a problem.

Despite all the unease, what I feel worst about is the failing relationship of Mark and Carmen. I feel like my parents are on the brink of a divorce and I am watching helplessly.

I remember when they used to show up to parties arm in arm, when they used to give each other piggyback rides and cuddle up on the sofa when we all watched movies. I remember when they were in love. And I always thought that if anyone was going to last, it was them. Now here we in our gender quarantined groups with both sides denying there are problems and no one wanting to talk. It’s bullshit.

Finally, at one point, Mark goes for a cigarette by himself. I decide to tag along, and force a smoke down with him, just so that we can talk.

He’s surprised when I ask him for a cigarette, since I don’t smoke, but he obliges anyway. We both stand there quietly for a while as he smokes and I pretend. Then finally he speaks. He lets out a heavy sigh and speaks without even looking at me, “Carmen and I are having problems…”

Mark tells me that things have not been so good for a few months now, longer than any of us had thought. He tells me that it started with a fight that never ended, where they both apologized and he thought it was over, but something remained.

Mark tells me that they’ve been fighting more and more recently, over smaller and smaller things. And now, he doesn’t even know why she’s mad at him anymore. He tells me that they haven’t been talking for a week and that they’re both miserable. He tells me that she’s keeping something from him, he’s sure of it, and that it’s keeping them from getting through the storm.

A friend fighting with his girlfriend is one thing, but when they’re both your friends and they’re both miserable, I guess you have to intervene.

“What if I invited her?” I ask.

“To what?” he asks.

“The wedding,” I say.

“Oh,” he says blankly.

“Yeah,” I say. “I mean, get her out of the house, to something fancy. Maybe I can talk to her, you know? Find out why she’s mad at you, try and smooth things over with you guys…”

“Oh,” he says again, more impressed this time. “Yeah! Yeah you should! Yes!”

Maybe I should say that when your two friends are having problems, I guess you could intervene. You could intervene and try to help your friends. You could put yourself in the middle and try to get involved in business that you have no business being involved with. You could be that selfless and that stupid. I’ll spoil the ending for you right now though: you really, really shouldn’t.

“OK,” I tell him. “I’ll ask her to be my date to the wedding.”

He beams, “Thank you!”

This was the moment when I decided to meddle.

Meddling is generally a bad idea. I can’t really tell you why I thought it wouldn’t be. I guess I just thought that if I could somehow talk to Carmen, and figure out what was happening, maybe I could guide her through it. Maybe I could help her mend fences with Mark and keep them together. Maybe I could fix their relationship… or at the very least, just be there for her in her time of need. I can’t really tell you why, but I thought I knew best.

The wedding is for one of my co-workers that I am not that close with. Carmen doesn’t even know the guy. In all honesty I wasn’t even going to bother coming to the wedding, but somehow, I knew Carmen would want to come. There’s something about weddings for girls. I still have no idea what exactly it is, but they always seem to want to go.

When I ask her to come with me, she immediately says yes.

The night I take her to the wedding, she’s in a full gown, hair up and wearing a corsage, lips ruby red and eyes lightly shadowed, she smiles at me and tells me I look hot. I stand there, in a rented tuxedo, and slicked hair, looking a bit like James Bond with stumble—and I even have a secret mission: to meddle.

The entire drive to the wedding she’s glowing. She’s telling me that she can’t believe I invited her. There’s something about weddings that drive girls crazy. I smirk casually, “Ain’t no thang.”

In my head though, the fact that she’s smiling, that she’s laughing, that she’s being herself again, are all good signs. I start to feel that tonight I may just be able to do some good.

We arrive at the wedding reception, arm in arm, like two kids to prom. Around the reception are parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, nieces and nephews, best friends and acquaintances. I gaze across the crowd and recognize no one. Neither does Carmen.

Like I said, the wedding itself is for one of my co-workers that I honestly am not that close with and Carmen doesn’t even know the guy.

I gaze out at the crowd which I know nothing of and then look over at Carmen.

She smiles, “Shall we?”

I shrug, “Sure Edith.”


“Yeah,” I say. “That’s believable.”

“I thought we agreed on Sophia.”

“I like Edith better,” I joke.

“That sounds like someone’s grandma!” she protests.

“Well you better hope you get to introduce yourself before I do!”

At the reception we wander around and mingle with various relatives and friends of the co-worker I barely know. We introduce ourselves variously as cousins, friends, and ex-lovers. We drink fine wine and do shots of whiskey. We dare each other to talk with Australian accents when we meet people. We hold contests to see how many hands we can shake in thirty seconds. We pretend to be staff and take people’s drink orders. Then, we intentionally mess up the orders. We do everything and anything that a twenty-something is not supposed to do at a wedding, and it is exactly what she needs. We even sneak into the background of a few wedding photos.

The thing about the wedding is that it’s a little surprising to be honest. It’s surprising to see Carmen so happy and carefree and well, like her old self again. Carmen laughs and smiles and seems lighthearted, and cheery, and full of glee. I almost hesitate to bring up the topic of Mark, but in the back of my head I know that even if it kills the mood, now may be the time when she is most receptive. I decide to ask her.

Carmen returns from a bet with a cocky grin, “Success!” She slams down five dollars on the bar. “I successfully panhandled at a wedding.”

I am shaking my head. “A new low, even for you.”

She smiles mischievously, “You love it.”

“Carm…” I say. “The other night, when you and Mark were fighting…”

Suddenly her smile fades and she shakes her head. I stop talking and as I do she tries to smile again. She looks at me and asks, “Can we just pretend, just for now, that there is no Mark?”

I apologize tell her that it’s none of my business.

She tells me not to worry about it.

“It’s just… good to see you this way again,” I tell her. “To see you happy and relaxed.”

She smiles and thanks me again for inviting her out.

“Of course.”

Suddenly everyone starts to head into the dining room for dinner. Carmen runs ahead to switch our nametags to a better table. As Carmen leaves, I shoot Mark a quick text updating him: “It’s going slow…”

At the dinner table, I turn to Carmen and whisper, “You fail by the way.”

“Shut up,” she mumbles as she holds a napkin to her face to obscure the speech from the other guests at our table. At our table, we are sitting with BJ Reynolds and her husband, David and Marlene Horner, and Tim Tin and his wife. Needless to say, the names sounded cool on paper, unfortunately not one of them is under the age of fourty.

“You stuck us at a geriatric table…” I mumble.

“Hey!” she laughs coyly, still trying to whisper and cover her mouth. “Be nice!”

The waitress comes around to ask if we’d like coffee and I immediately try to order a drink. She tells me that the bar is closed.

“That’s OK,” I tell her. “I’ll pay.”

“No,” she says. “It’s closed.”


“Like no more drinks until after dinner,” she tells me. “Sorry.”

I already feel my buzz fading… this is going to be a long evening…

The waitress leaves as the woman known as BJ leans over to ask us what we do.

The dinner itself is relatively monotonous. Carmen and I continue the inside jokes and continue to make up elaborate falsehoods about who we are and what we do. But we speak with conviction, and the couples at our table seem to buy it.

As dinner progresses and I see that Carmen is enjoying herself, I decide to try again to bring up the issue of Mark… only, subtly this time. Unfortunately, she has a sixth sense for my prying, and although I make scattered attempts throughout our conversation to snoop, nothing seems to work.

“So what’s been new in your life? I feel like we never talk anymore?”

“Oh you know,” she says. “Same old, same old.”

Strike one.

“It’s just nice to see you like this,” I tell her. “You’ve been… glum, recently.”

“Oh,” is her only response.

Strike two.

“I feel like we haven’t had a real heart to heart in a while…” I say casually.

“Yeah it has been a while,” she replies before changing the topic.

Strike three.

Every little poke and prod I attempt to get her to open up ends in nothing. It’s then that I know, despite her joyous attitude this evening, something rather serious is going on with her.

Somehow, around this point, our table gets on the topic of birthdays. Carmen and I mention that we share a birthday, which is true. When we do, one of the women at our table swoons and tells us that that will be so easy for our children to remember.

I let out a subtle laugh, expecting Carmen to surely play into this ruse. I take a sip of my water in preparation for her to tell the story of how we first met and fell in love. Perhaps she’ll even make up fictitious children that I’ll be forced to remember the names of for the rest of the evening. However, she does not play up their mistake. She has plans of her own.

“Oh we’re not a couple,” Carmen says straightly.

“Oh,” they say.

“Yeah I don’t believe in marriage because I would never submit to the norms of a patriarchical society and JD loves the cock,” she says with a mouthful of chicken.

The shock and brass of her statement causes several people at the table to hiccup or spit up their drinks and everyone turns to stare at the two of us. I myself have a look of total and complete shock and am dribbling water from my glass down my chin without even realizing.

“Y-you’re gay…?” one of the elderly people asks, almost as if she’s frightened of me.

I am dumbfounded, with no response but an idle stutter. Carmen is staring at me with a smug grin smeared across her face.

I could really use a drink…

After some very awkward dinner conversation about my fictitious alternative lifestyle I am saved by the wedding speeches. The wedding speeches, which go on for over an hour. Eventually, bored out of my mind, I excuse myself for the washroom.

In the washroom, I check my phone and see two more texts from Mark. One is asking me how the wedding is going and the other is asking if I’ve talked to Carmen yet. I call Mark.

“How is she?” he asks.

“She’s… okay,” I tell him. “She’s a bit more like her old cheerful self tonight.”

“Did she say anything to you?” he asks.

“No,” I tell him. “She doesn’t want to talk about it. But something is bothering her though man. I know because she keeps changing the subject. Carmen normally doesn’t hold anything back.”

He sighs.

“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “I’ll press the issue. It just takes time you know.”

He sighs again. “You know, I’ll be done work soon. I can be there in an hour.”


“Yeah,” he says. “Should I just come?”

“What?!” I exclaim. “No! Don’t crash the wedding!”

“Why?” he asks innocently. “I have a suit and everything man. It will be fine.”

“No, it won’t,” I am shaking my head. “That’s not a good idea.”

“What? You said Carmen is acting a bit more like her old self. Maybe we can talk or something.”

“No, no, no…” I tell him. “No man. Bad idea! Do not come.”

He doesn’t reply.

“Look, she’s not talking to you right now. Something is bothering her. Constantly trying to get her to talk is not going to help matters. You showing up here is clingy and desperate man. You want some real advice? Give her space. Maybe if you give her some room, she’ll come to you.”

“I don’t know…” he says with an unconvinced tone.

I sigh. “Look leave it to me man. I’m on your side here. I’m on her side too okay? She seems more like the old Carmen tonight than the last few weeks. By the end of the night we’ll have a heart to heart and I’ll be able to make some progress. Just… don’t try to come.”

He lets out a heavy breath.

“Trust me,” I tell him.

“OK,” he says earnestly. “I know you’re looking out for us.”

I return to the table to find Carmen sitting alone, looking rather tired. The speeches are over and the dance floor has opened. The dance floor is full of middle-aged couples dancing awkwardly to Miley Cyrus. Carmen is staring onward at the dancing. Her face is blank. I can’t tell if she’s envious or bored.

I slump down beside her and give her a smile. She smiles back lazily. She looks like her mind is lost in thought.

“Sooo…” I start.

“Yeah…” she sighs.

We both sit their quietly for a moment.

“So I’m gay?!” I ask.

She shrugs. “You were either going to be gay or a Mormon. I figured gay would better explain why you weren’t with me though.”

I shake my head. “You’re ridiculous.”

“I was bored,” she defends. “Plus this party kind of sucks when you’re sober. I feel like I’m hanging out with my grandparents.”

“You wanted to come,” I remind her.

“I know,” she sighs. “Don’t remind me.”

I laugh. “What is it with weddings?”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Well I mean, all you girls just love weddings. I mean look at you, you jumped at the opportunity to come to this and now you hate it.”

She turns to me, “Uh, I didn’t agree to come out because you invited me to a wedding.”

“Oh…” I say. “Well… why did you then?”

She smirks and changes the topic, “This wedding blows.”

“Yeah,” I agree.

“Will you dance with me?” she asks suddenly.

“Now?” I ask.

“Of course now!” she laughs.

“Hmmm. That might mess up my chances with the boys tonight. Wouldn’t want to start any rumours about me liking the va-jay-jay or anything.”

Carmen rolls her eyes, “You know I was just joking right.”

“But I do love the cock,” I say sarcastically.

Carmen laughs. “Come on loser,” she says as she pulls me out of my chair. “I’ll make sure to spread the word about how much you love the cock before we leave.”

“Twist my arm…” I say with an ironic grin.

We join the swarm of awkwardly dancing parents and grandparents, being one of the only young couples out there. A few songs go by, and then a slow song hits. I expect us to return to our table but Carmen puts her hands out for us to slow dance. I take her hands and we step together. She rests her head on my shoulder and we dance.

As I continue to dance with Carmen, I can tell that something is bothering her. She isn’t saying much, and isn’t really dancing. She’s leaning on my chest as we sway back and forth slowly. She looks like she’d rather be in bed than dancing.

“It’s been so long since I’ve danced,” she tells me quietly.

“What are you talking about? You went clubbing two weeks ago.”

She smirks, “Clubbing is not dancing.” She takes a deep breath and turns her head to the other side. “Mark and I never do things like this anymore.”

“Oh…” I say.

This is the first time she’s brought up Mark all night. It’s the first time his name has come up and she hasn’t changed the subject. She speaks with a softer, more fragile tone. I can tell that her walls are starting to come down.

“Carm…” I start gently, “How are things with you and Mark?”

She shrugs.

“Seriously,” I tell her. “You know you can talk to me if you guys are having problems.”

She doesn’t respond.

“Carm?” I ask softly.

She huffs and shakes her head, “Please shut up.”

My heart suddenly drops as I feel like I’ve just offended her. “Sorry,” I tell her apologetically.

“It’s fine,” she tells me.

I give her hand a reassuring squeeze. She squeezes back.

“God, if my wedding dress is ever that ugly shoot me,” she tells me.

“I thought you opposed the patriarchical norm of marriage,” I tell her with a smile.

She speaks sarcastically, “I meant hypothetically of course.”

We dance for two more songs in silence. She spends the entire time with her head on my shoulder. Even though no more words are spoken, I feel as though her walls are coming down, I feel as though I might be able to have a real conversation with her soon. But she must be psychic. I’m about to try and engage her again when she suddenly pulls away. She gives me a half-hearted smile and asks me to get some drinks, she’s going for a quick smoke.

I manage to catch an elusive server and order two rum colas. It costs me $15. I sit down at our abandoned table and shoot Mark a quick text: “Getting closer.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice one of the old people from our table talking to someone and motioning discretely at me. I see her noticeably pronounce the word “homosexual” as she slyly motions in my direction.

The guy she’s talking to suddenly looks offended and glares at me.

“Thanks Carmen…” I mumble sarcastically, as I drink my solitary rum cola.

Mark text’s me back: “Thanks JD.”

I am by myself for a while. I end up polishing off both my and Carmen’s drinks before I am finally joined by another human being at our table. It’s the groom.

“Hey JD,” he says casually as he sits down. “Glad you made it.”

“Hey man,” I say, shaking his hand. “Congratulations.”

He nods, “Thank you sir.”

“So… just sitting and drinking by yourself tonight eh…?”

I smirk. “I have a date.”

“Ah,” he says with a grin as he pats me on the arm. “Getting lucky tonight?”

I let out a loud “Ha!”

“So, no?” he says.

“Sorry,” I say. “No. Carmen is just a friend. She’s actually dating one of my close friends too. In fact I’m kind of in the awkward spot of trying to see if I can smooth things over with her and her boyfriend right now since they’re kind of fighting… and well… anyway! No. There will be no getting lucky for me tonight.”

He shrugs, “Well you could always try your luck with a bridesmaid.”

“Oh yeah?” I ask.

He nods, “Although two of them are married and the other is sixteen. But one of the married ones thought you were cute.”

I roll my eyes.

“Sorry man,” he says.

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “Besides knowing my luck, word about me being gay is going to get around pretty soon.”

“You’re gay?” the groom asks confused.

I shake my head, “No. But the old people think I am.”

He is staring at me strangely.

I smile, “It’s okay. It’s a stupid joke my date played on me.”

“Speaking of which,” he says slowly. “Where is she?”

“That’s a good question…” It’s been nearly half an hour.

He smiles. “Well anyway man I just wanted to drop by and say hello. I’ve got to keep making rounds here though.”

“Yeah man,” I say, shaking his hand again. “Congrats again. I should go find my date.”

I find Carmen sitting outside, by herself, with a cigarette in hand. She is sitting calmly, staring off into the distance, the same way I found her earlier at our dinner table. I walk up beside her and ask her how she’s doing. The second I speak she jumps.

“Jesus!” she exclaims. “You scared me.”

“Sorry,” I say, as I look down at her.

She looks away instantly and tells me that it’s okay. Something is off in her voice, and she’s looking away from me.

“Carm?” I ask. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she says, with a phony happy tone. “Great… You want to go back in and try to raid the bar?”

I place my hand on her chin and turn her face towards me. In the dim moon light I can see she is teary-eyed, as if seconds away from crying.

“Carm… what’s wrong?” I ask her.

She pulls away and wipes her eyes.

“Carm?” I repeat.

She scoffs angrily, “What do you think?! Mark… life…” She lets out a heavy sigh, “Everything.”

I don’t respond.

“I’m sorry,” she apologizes. “I wanted so much to not do this tonight, to not be like this for you.”

“For me?!” I shake my head, “Don’t worry about me or this stupid wedding. Seriously.”

She doesn’t speak. She just looks up at me with soft, sad eyes and squeezes my hand. I sit down beside her and take her hand. She smiles briefly and then puts her head on my shoulder. She puffs her cigarette and I cough.

“Sorry,” she says meekly. “I know you hate this.”

“It’s okay,” I tell her.

We both sit there for a few minutes, staring up at the stars, neither one of us speaking. Despite her fragile state, it’s nice. It’s nice to be there with Carmen and to just, well, be there for her. We sit there for a long while in silence before she finally speaks.

“If you made a mistake,” she asks me, “would you undo it, or live with it?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I guess it depends on the mistake.”

“What if undoing it would make one person very happy, but another person very sad.”

“I think the question is not whether it would make other people happy, but how it would make you feel?” I tell her.

She looks at me seriously.

“Like for example,” I continue, “coming to this shitty wedding... that is a mistake I would not repeat.”

She laughs. “Yeah… sorry for making your bring me.”

“Well,” I say, “I guess someone had to.”

She looks up at me and smiles. “Why are you so good to me?”

I shrug. “You’re Carmen.”

She smiles and rests her head back on my shoulder. As she takes another drag of her smoke she asks me if I’ll take her home.

“Sure,” I nod. “I’ll call a cab then.”

“No,” she says, “I want to walk.”

“Uh,” I give her a confused look. “You realize that would take over an hour. And you are dressed like a lady, for once, in a full gown and all.”

She smiles and pulls her dress up slightly, revealing not high heels but Converse sneakers. “I’m not that much of a lady.”

I smirk.

Our walk is somber and quiet. There are no piggy back rides or hoping of fences. She spends the entire walk in silence, with her arm wrapped around mine.

Before we leave I text Mark to let him know we’re coming, but we’re going to be slow. He immediately offers to come pick us up but I tell him not to. In my reply I tell him that I think it will do more harm than good.

Carmen seems distracted our entire walk, no doubt contemplating about her future with Mark. Maybe it’s just to break the awkwardness, but I chime in again.

I tell Carmen that she doesn’t have to talk to me, but if there’s ever anything that she wants to talk about, I’m always here. I tell her it can be anything, anything at all, and I won’t judge her. I won’t take sides or tell her what to do. Even if she doesn’t want me to talk, I’ll just listen.

Carmen doesn’t respond.

As I talk we pass by a park and wander onto the grass. I tell her that whatever she’s thinking, she should know that a lot of people care about her. I tell her that her choices and her life matters to people. I tell her that we all want her to be happy. I sigh and tell her that whatever she’s thinking, whatever she’s going through, she needs to tell Mark. I tell her that she needs to talk to Mark.

As we wander on the grass she lets out a heavy sigh and whispers, “I know.”

I nod. “Well… good…”

She sighs and lets out a brief laugh. “No! I know…”

“Uh,” I say, confused. “OK. You know what?”

She sighs again and shakes her head, “I know about you.”

“Me?” I ask surprised. At first I am totally confused. I don’t know to what she is referring.

She nods. “I know what you’ve been doing JD. What you are doing.”

Then it suddenly clicks, I suddenly clue in. She is staring at me with disappointed eyes. My heart suddenly sinks. I have been spying on her all night. I have been reporting to Mark and trying to play both sides. I quickly realize that she must know why I asked her out tonight, and that I haven’t really been the selfless Samaritan that I’ve been pretending to be.

I suddenly feel like a shitty friend.

“Oh shit…” I mumble.

“Yeah,” she says quietly.

“Look,” I start apologetically. “I didn’t mean to…” But they aren’t disappointed eyes, they are just emotional eyes. And she isn’t talking about my meddling, she is talking about me.

“I know about your feelings…” she interrupts me.

“Er… what?” I stammer.

“You can drop the act JD,” she scoffs as she turns to me. “I know OK? I’m not stupid. I know what you’re trying to tell me. I know how you feel about me. I know why you’re there for me, and why you care about me, and why you’re here for me now.”

“I uh…” I stutter.

She sighs, “I’ve been such a mess these last few weeks, and tonight… you know? But I think, maybe, it was me coming to terms with things. It’s crazy but you’re right. You’ve always been there for me… and you’ve always made me happy.” She speaks softly and apologetically, “You’ve been the one constant—the good guy. The one who cares for me and wants only the best for me. I’m an idiot… I’m an idiot for dating Mark.”

I am speechless.

“You’re right though…” she continues. “I need to talk to Mark. I need to tell him that it’s over, that I’m leaving him.”

“Y-you are?” I stumble.

She nods and smiles as she approaches me, “I’m leaving him dummy… I’m leaving him for you...”

I try to speak, but she interrupts me, “We-“

“It’s okay,” she whispers. “I’m scared too. But it’s all I think about anymore. And tonight... it has to be the right decision. It’s why you were always there for me. It’s why I’m here with you now. It’s why you asked me out tonight. It’s what we’ve both always wanted but couldn’t have. I like you… I’m in like with you… and you like me.”

Uh oh…

“No, Carmen…“ I start, but she silences me by pressing her lips to mine. She kisses me.

As we kiss, we both drift towards the ground. Her on top, me pinned below her, it feels like our first kiss all over again, only this time it actually happens. And this time, it is Carmen who starts it and me who needs to stop it. Only, I don’t. I let it go on for one, or two, or three or four seconds. And that’s all it takes. That’s all it takes to make me a cheater.

I suddenly hear a loud, high pitched squeal. At that exact instant, I am blinded by a stinging white light. For a moment, I think I’ve just had a stroke. However, when I realize what’s actually happening, I kind of wish it was a stroke.

“Oh, NO!” I shout.

The tires screech and the headlights hit me square in the face. The car that has just pulled off the street is Mark’s. Mark, who was supposedly taking my advice and not being clingy or desperate or weak tonight. Mark, who was going to wait for us to get home of our own accord. I guess he was driving around looking for us, to give us that ride. How nice.

In retrospect, I really wish Carmen had waited until we got further in the park to make her move. Or at least not done it under the glimmer of a street light. Mark saw us making out in the grass quite easily from the road. Needless to say, he is a little perturbed.

“You son of a bitch!” he shouts as he bursts out of his car.

“Mark, I didn’t do anything,” I shout as I struggle to get to my feet.

“Didn’t do anything?!” he screams infuriated.

Carmen jumps off me as Mark marches forward. She’s telling him that it’s not my fault, that this was because of him. She’s telling Mark that it’s over. She’s telling him that she doesn’t love him anymore and that she’s leaving him.

Her words however, bounce right off him. He isn’t even listening. His eyes are locked on me as he storms directly towards me. He is glaring at me with furious, burning rage in his eyes.

All I can do is let out pathetic, muttering begs as I see what is coming. “No no no, wait wait wait! Not in the face! Not in the face!”

Mark grabs me and I turn my face away, clenching my eyes shut in preparation for having my teeth knocked in.

“Not in the face…” I utter frantically, in a last ditch effort to cheat my fate.

He obliges.

I let out a low groan and gasp as my world explodes into bright light, a ringing in my brain, and complete, unbearable pain: “That was worse…”

As I collapse on the ground he pulls his knee back from my groin. My dick and balls feel as if they’ve been crushed with a mallet and burst in my pants, and suddenly all the thoughts in my head disappear leaving only the terrible, agonizing sensation of hurting in my genitals.

I fall to the ground, coughing and wheezing in the dirt, hoping against hope that I will black out.

In some distant level of consciousness, I can hear Mark screaming at me, calling me a backstabber and a shitty friend. He’s calling me a two-faced dick and screaming at my deceit. Carmen is pushing him, telling him to leave me alone, telling him that none of this was my fault, it was his.

For my part, I’m just coddling my injured testicles and trying to regain conscious thought processes.

“JD and I are together now!” Carmen tells him firmly.

“You’re cheating on me with him?!” Mark yells.

“I’m not cheating I’m dumping you!” Carmen shouts hurtfully.

“How long has this been going on?!” Mark demands.

“A year!” Carmen states matter-of-factly.

“What?!” he shouts.

“What…?” I manage to mumble myself.

“A year ago,” she tells him. “That’s when this all started.”

In my head, I want her to stop talking.

“A year?!” he barks. “The entire time we’ve been together?! You’ve been fucking all that time?!”

“We haven’t been fucking!” she shouts offended. “That’s when feelings between us started… that’s when we fell for each other. That’s when I should’ve chosen him instead of you. JD loves me in a way you never will!”

I really want her to stop talking.

“He understands how special I am, and has harbored his feelings in secret…”

Please... stop…

“He’s been there for me through everything, never judged me, and always tried to do what’s best for me, even though it hurt him in the process!”

Mark is stunned, and stares down at me with utter disdain.

What can I say? “It’s not true…” I gasp.

“You bastard!” he shouts. “How dare you do those things!” He kicks me in my chest as he yells. He kicks me hard… really, really hard. I instantly feel a whole new wave of pain through my entire body.

I briefly wonder what the cleaning costs for this rented tux are going to set me back.

“All that stuff about backing off, about giving her space… every time you were there for her, trying to smooth things over for me… you were going behind my back?! You were lying?! It was all just a ploy so you could move in on my girl?!” he shouts. “We were friends!”

He kicks me yet again.

Why am I not blacking out?!

“Stop it!” Carmen screams as she leaps to my defense. She wraps herself around me, placing her own body between myself and Mark. He looks like he wants to kill us both, but lucky for me Mark isn’t about to hit a girl, and I’m pretty sure he won’t risk hitting me again with Carmen wrapped around me.

I desperately want to set the record straight. I desperately want to try and defend myself from Mark. I desperately want to explain to him that this is all just one big misunderstanding.

I want to tell Carmen that I don’t actually love her, that I haven’t been harbouring secret feelings, and that I sincerely do just see her as a friend. Unfortunately, I am lost in a world of pain at that moment and barely breathing enough to stay conscious, let alone speak.

Mark spits down at me, and tells me that if he ever sees me again he’ll kill me. He tells me that I am a piece of shit, and that he’s going to let everyone know what I’ve done. Mark turns and jumps back into his car. He slams his door shut and peels out of the park.

Carmen is coddling me, rocking me gently, asking if I’m okay as the roar of his car engine gradually fades. Her tender touch reminds me of when I pretended that she elbowed me in the face.

I look up at her weakly. It takes me a second to save up enough air to actually speak. She gives me an apologetic smile as I gasp, “I think my chest‘s caved in…”

I have a new rule: don’t meddle. Don’t get involved and try to fix other people’s problems. At least, not when you have a vested interest in both parties, or testicles that can be easily injured.

It’s not hard to believe, but the repercussions of that night were not so great. When the pain and confusion finally faded, Carmen tried to kiss me again and I had to stop her. It was perhaps the cruelest thing I’ve ever done; worse than crushing her smokes in fact. However, the truth is that I wasn’t harbouring secret feelings for her. I don’t know why we came so close that one time, but for me, the moment had passed. I couldn’t date her without lying to myself. Things between Carmen and I were… weird, for a while.

As for Mark, well, thankfully, he was more talk than action. Although he threatened to kill me, he never followed through. Apparently a friend of a friend who is pretty close with Mark told me that he felt more betrayed than anything else, and he really wasn’t interested in revenge in the end. He more just wanted nothing to do with me.

So what did I get out of the entire night? A bruised testicle, a battered chest, a shaken friendship, a new enemy, and a table of my co-worker’s relatives who now believe that I am gay. What else is there for me to say? I guess sometimes, that is the happiest ending you’re going to get.

Don’t meddle.

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