Friends, With a Kiss

Friends, With a Kiss

“There’s the mysterious man,” she said to herself. Faith noticed him sitting by himself again. He stood as she approached, removed his hat, then sat as she sat, scooting chairs. He was bald except for a small, thin, horseshoe of white.

“You’re new here at the Apartments, aren’t you?” Faith asked. They sat at a wrought iron chair and matching glass table set in the grounds in the backyard. The Apartments is what the residents called the modernly styled, six-story, retired community living spaces, officially named Grandview. It was chic with its balcony and roof gardens. He set down his book face-down open to save his place.

“I am. I moved in two weeks back. I’m up on the fourth floor, 401. And I’ve seen you around, too.”

She was a smart-looking woman, in her spring blue dress. She was thinner than most with lively blue eyes and a big smile, young and pretty, the way she fixed her white hair with curled bangs above her eyebrows.

“Is that a fact?” she asked with a grin. “Let me introduce myself, since we’re neighbors and practically friends, anyway. My name is Faith Young.” She offered her hand.

He took it gently with a liver spotted hand, “I’m Chris Rowe. ‘Faith Young’ is an appropriate name for a beautiful youthful woman.”

Her cheeks blushed and she turned her head. “Well thank you. I noticed you keep to yourself, is there a reason for that?” she asked and paused. She was curious about him, this tall mysterious man who never spoke to anyone. He was older than her, and hard to pin either handsome or homely on him, but there was youngish air about him. She saw him as strong and wanted to get to know him. She wasn’t one to drool like a girl, but he did dress nice, was thin in the waist, and he had a nice butt!

The moment she asked if there was a reason he kept to himself, he lost his smile and his face fell. He was red-faced as he looked down at his book. “Yes, well, I’m that way. I don’t mix,” he said softly, barely audible. He tried to smile.

“You’re angry. Did I say something?” she asked.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, “Of course not. It’s me. Look at me. I’ve only met you and I’m already apologizing for something.” He stood up and scooted his chair underneath the table. “Faith, it’s been a pleasure. But I feel a nap coming.” He fixed his hat and turned away.

She stood. “Don’t be unfair. I don’t know what I said wrong.” Stepping quick, she managed to grab his shirt sleeve before the door. “Listen, there’s a meet-and-greet soon, in the dayroom, and I thought we could have a drink together.”

For a second, she flashed with anger at herself for jumping after him.

He sighed, “Faith,” he said turning to her standing erect, chin up, and put both hands on her shoulders focusing on her, “don’t be offended but I’ve watched you, too. You drink quite a bit. And you flirt. You go from one man to the next. I didn’t ask you why you do it, did I?”

She leaned back, defensive. “No, I don’t drink near as much as some here. You’ll find out. And flirt? Shit! This place is sex crazy. You haven’t been here long enough to find out.”

“I’ve noticed, but that’s not what I asked,” he said and he took her hand without squeezing, petting it with the other. He smiled and meant it, not angry. “Did I ask you why do what you do?”

She paused. “No, you did not,” she said glancing down at the way he held her hand, loving it. She thought for a second. “I erred. I brought it up that you stay to yourself,” she said and lifted her eyebrows. “Then I pried, and you told me to mind my own damn business.”

He chuckled. “But not in those words, dear girl. I am not a crude man. I simply excused myself because I didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to make excuses for the way I behave.” He pulled her hand up and kissed it.

“Like I just did, with the flirting,” she said.

“Pretty one, I didn’t ask you why you flirt because I didn’t want to embarrass you. And it’s really none of my damn business,” he said.

She smiled. Faith put her palm on his chest. “I should thank you for that. I’m going to have to stay on my toes with you.”

He took off his hat with one hand, and covered her hand with his other big hand. “Is it such a terrible thing?”

“It’s exciting as hell.” They kissed.

They parted and Chris lifted his chin and kept his eyes closed as if savoring every drop of the kiss. He opened his eyes and looked down at Faith.

“Where did you go?”

“It’s been awhile, that’s all. Your kiss is so sweet.”

“Those pretty brown eyes are watering. Do you want another kiss? Or, perhaps, we can go up to my room?” she asked and put her hand on his shoulder.

“Another please,” he said. She obliged him with a very passionate kiss.

They parted, she said, “Let’s go to my room.”

“I’m sorry, Faith. I’ve reached the end of the line. This train stops here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I can’t go up with you. I’m the loner, remember”

She nodded a little, but frowned. “Is it breaking the rules to ask you why we cannot go up?”

“Ask me anything else. Ask me where I lived before, or what I did for a living.” He smiled and opened his eyes wide. “Or ask how ooold I am!”

Faith giggled. She turned thoughtful and frowned. “You want to be friends and no more.”

He nodded. “I want to leave it at that.”

She shrugged. “I suppose we can be casual, you know, good friends and all.”

“And let me add, let’s be really good friends who might steal a kiss every now and then. I really enjoyed it.” He donned his hat again.

“Then good friends it is, with a kiss from time to time…wait…where are you going?”

“To get ready for that get-together, of course.”

“Wonderful!”

“I’ll freshen up a bit and be right back down,” he said

He went up to his apartment. Faith waited for him to come back down for what she thought was a half hour. It puzzled her. She noticed he left his book on the table and it was all the excuse she needed. Being forward and fearless, she went to the lobby and to the elevators. He said he was on the fourth floor.

She exited the elevator and went to his apartment door, 401. Faith rang but there was no answer. She waited, and after a few minutes, put her ear to the door. She heard what she thought was moaning and tried the handle. The door opened. The living room was steamy from the shower.

Faith called out, “Chris?” Moaning came from the bedroom. She knew where it was. This one-bedroom apartment had the same lay-out as hers. She turned into the small hall and into the bedroom and found Chris on the floor on his back wearing his bathrobe. It was open, and he was naked under it.

She dropped the book, stifled a scream with her hand over her mouth, and went to his side.

Later, Faith knocked on his hospital room door. Chris had a mild heart attack. His bed was up and he was reading the same book she had dropped in his bedroom. He put it down and smiled around the oxygen tube at his nose. The fluorescent light reflected off his bald head.

Seeing that he was awake and better, she sat by his side in the chair. “Really good friends who steal a kiss, you should be ashamed of yourself!”

Chris chuckled. “I suppose the cat’s out of the bag.”

“That’s one way to put it. You had your tongue in my mouth!”

“And I must say it was heavenly!”

Faith poked her leg with her fist and frowned. “You’ve been passing as a man.”

“For fifty some odd years. I had no choice. It was the times and my androgyny, you see. I’m the most mannish, ugliest woman in the world. And what if I cheat away a kiss from a beautiful girl, what’s the harm?”

“How am I supposed to feel?”

“You could love me. That would be a first.”

I can’t.” Faith stood to leave, her face growing red with anger.

“I know,” Chris said, letting a tear fall. “But, could we still be friends, with a kiss?”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry.” She turned away. “I’m a victim of a… deception,” she said, walking away.

“At least keep my secret?”

Faith closed the room door.

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Anonymous wrote this about The Rule. There are some spoilers:

Hi Tom,

Your title grabbed me. It told too little to guess anything about the story, and it was too intriguing to ignore. It’s a good title. You could say the rule is what gets Kelly killed.

(…) skipping spoilers

Your writing is to-the-point, and you don’t shy away from difficult topics or scenes. It’s something I appreciate… The story is sad indeed, in the “this needs to be written about” kind of sad. What I mean is that this story could have happened, and maybe did (though I hope not).

Kelly’s character is described in precise strokes, in how he speaks, what he wears, the feelings he has for Devin. I think the name “Kelly” is feminine too, is it not? At any rate, his characterisation is excellent, and there is just too much to it for me to quote all bits that make me imagine him so clearly. I feel bad for him, that his life ended the way it did. He may have been a transgender, but we’ll never know.

You addressed the issue of guilt, of who has the fault. I’m glad you did, because it’s a question with no answer, but the story would have felt incomplete without it. It gets the reader to think, as well. We still have discrimination nowadays, although in most countries it has gotten much better.

Your story is not only sad, but revolting. The contrast between the peace and love attitude, and Kelly having to abide by the rule of not showing his feelings, not following his heart, is striking. I enjoyed reading it for the way you handle the words and craft the story, but the thematic left a lump in my throat.

Well done.

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