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I've Got A Secret

"As the Moody Blues's Nights in White Satin whispered over the tavern's stereo speakers, Malcolm stared balefully at his girlfriend, Trish, and his supposed best friend, Paul, out on the dance floor of the pub, slow-dancing to the mournful tune. How could he have missed what was obviously going on? he wondered. The way that Trish moved so sensuously, the way that Paul encased her in his arms. It was obvious that they were in love! Malcolm took a breath. He had to regain some perspective. These were the two most important people in the world to him, he told himself. The evening out had been Paul's idea; supposedly he had a secret that he wanted to share. But Paul and Trish had been growing noticeably closer over the past few weeks. There were the little things, glances, touches, smiles that they probably thought he hadn't noticed. But he had.
So what if they were preeminent in his life? he thought unhappily. That didn't mean that they weren't also perfidious bastards, after all that. Malcolm sipped his beer, but his gaze was again consumed by the drama occurring out on the dance floor. He almost felt guilty about eavesdropping on "their moment." Malcolm drank his beer again, arriving finally at a conclusion: he'd have to kill both of them, he told himself. He shook his head, saw dots before his eyes; he was really getting loaded.
At length, the amorous couple came off the dance floor. They approached him, sitting at a large round table in the middle of the bar.
"Babe," said Trish, touching his arm. Paul nodded perfunctorily at his "best friend," and left to order drinks. Trish seemed animated, as if she'd suddenly turned a switch and become alive. Malcolm wanted to touch her, share her warmth and excitement, but he felt left out and so he said and did nothing.
In minutes, Paul returned bearing a huge pitcher of beer and two glasses. He poured for Trish and himself, then topped off Malcolm's glass. "Skoal!" he exclaimed. Trish tittered. Malcolm rolled his eyes. Paul's motives were so clear, so obvious now. It was like scales had been lifted from Malcolm's eyes. He glanced back at the bar clock: 1:35. It was almost time for last call.
"What's next?" Malcolm found himself asking.
"All the bars close in twenty-five minutes," replied Paul. "I guess we go home." Paul, temporarily homeless, had been staying at Malcolm and Trish's apartment for the past several weeks. Malcolm nodded.
Paul was in love with Trish; Malcolm knew this for a fact. How she felt about Paul was less certain. He was tall and blond and handsome. And he was certainly attentive enough. And why not? He had no job, no family, no other distractions. He certainly never talked about other women. Trish enjoyed being fawned over, he knew. Malcolm himself was necessarily less obliging, working twelve hours most days at a busy restaurant in town. He came home most evenings wiped out, not even getting high or drinking the beer that Trish and Paul so enjoyed. Malcolm stewed; he worked, while they played. Trish was a serious student at university. In the two years that Malcolm and Trish had been a couple, she had not strayed -- as far as he knew -- and had comported with the notion that once she had graduated, she would work to put Malcolm through school. All that seemed very tenuous now, he thought.
As they exited the bar and found their car, Malcolm was confronted with a problem: how would he murder his girlfriend and his best friend? He owned no firearms, had scant access to poisons or munitions. Wait, he thought. He did own a huge chef's knife, just like the one he wielded at work. That would do, he thought practically. As he piloted the Kia through the side streets, Trish tittered at some witticism of Paul, who sat in the back seat.
"Hey," said Paul, "who wants White Castle?"
"I do, I do," yelped Trish enthusiastically, raising her hand.
"C'mon, Mal," said Paul, "let's get some sliders." Malcolm frowned. This was interfering with his carefully laid plans. His idea had been: bar, home, murder..." and frankly, that's as far ahead as he'd thought. Then again, he was hungry.
"Okay," he agreed, steering the little car across the bridge and into the next county, where White Castle was located. Purchasing two large white paper bags of hamburgers, they sped from the parking lot and were soon bound for home, on the outskirts of the college, where Malcolm and Trish had their apartment.
Cloistered in the apartment, they sat on the sofa, munching hamburgers. Trish took delicate little bites and Paul chewed loudly, with his mouth open, the way that he did. It made Malcolm realize just how much he'd enjoy killing his friend. At length, the twenty burgers consumed, the three friends relaxed with beers and reefer. So mellow did Malcolm become that he completely forgot about his plans to stab his lover and his best friend to death. Malcolm shook himself; he had to regain control. Then he remembered: the secret.
"What is it you wanted to share, Paul?" he asked. May as well let his friend get off his chest what was bothering him; Malcolm knew what it was, but fair was fair.
Paul glanced at Trish, who smiled encouragingly, and he said, "I'm getting married, man." Malcolm's jaw dropped. Marriage? he thought. Trish and Paul were getting married, just like that? How long had this been going on, after all?
"Whe...when?" was all that Malcolm could think to say.
"In two weeks," replied Paul brightly.
Two weeks? What, were they going to displace Malcolm, kick him out of his own apartment? But then it came back to him: he was killing them tonight, in only a few minutes. There would be no ouster. On the other hand, he thought, he would be caught and then charged, tried and sentenced. Malcolm blew out a wearied breath. He felt the yeasty beer roil in his stomach.
"That's...interesting," he managed at last.
"Tell him the best part," urged Trish, putting her slender fingers on Paul's knee.
"Right," said the man. "I want you to stand up for me. Be my best man. What do you say, Mal?" Malcolm only stared at him. Was this the ultimate conceit, asking the cuckolded friend to serve as best man to the man who had stolen his one true love?
"Tell him the rest," said Trish. There was more? thought Malcolm wildly. What more could there possibly be?
"I'm marrying Richard," announced Paul with a grin. Malcolm blinked.
"Richard?" he queried dully.
"You know, Richard Fenniman, the bartender at the tavern," he explained. But, Malcolm still didn't get it.
He said, "You're...." and he left the sentence unfinished.
"I'm gay, man," said Paul, blushing a little. "I was afraid to come out at first, but in the time I've spent here with you and Trish," and he gave her hand a little squeeze, "she made me realize that it was okay, that I was okay. And that whoever I loved, it was alright. That you would understand and support me, like she does. After all, we are best friends," he continued.
Finally, Malcolm regained his aplomb and said, "Of course. Of course, Paul, it's your life, and whoever you love is your business. And Richard is a good guy." He found himself grinning widely. "And I'd be proud to stand up for you -- and Richard," he added.
" long have you been gay, Paul?" asked Malcolm uncertainly.
"All my life, man," replied his best friend.
Malcolm nodded. "I guess it's gonna be a hell of a bachelor's party," he murmured, to the bright laughter of the others, relieved now that he didn't have to commit a double homicide.
Bill Tope is a retired caseworker and hotel cook and construction laborer and one-time nude model for art classes at university. He lives with his mean little cat Baby.
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