They bonded well. It became imperative to talk to each other every day. Over walks, drives and occasional lunches, Jenna learnt things about Jack that he’d never gotten around to telling her. A dog had bitten him once, he had beaten up a bully with a stick, he had won a local spelling bee contest, he’d asked out the hottest girl in high school to prom and she had turned him down…
Chris, in turn learnt that Jenna loved dancing and she had forced Jack to take up salsa lessons with her, at which they had gained enough mastery to consider entering into the annual dance competition. Jack had wanted to have three children; two daughters and a son and also a dog. Jenna and Jack had once been to a skiing getaway, quite impulsively.
Slowly but surely, Jack became the medium that connected their lives together through his normal and yet so important past.
Chris dropped her at her art studio every morning and picked her up in the evenings without fail. It began to mean a lot to both of them to be together every day, even if it was only just for a half hour.
That day, it was raining when Chris stopped outside Jenna’s studio. She was waiting for her, a mackintosh draped over here shoulders and her purse clutched tightly in one hand. She ran through the rain, he opened the door to the passenger seat for her and she climbed in besides him, flushed.
‘Some people from this renowned art magazine stopped by today and the liked some of my paintings. They want to cover me in their next issue.’ She gushed.
‘Wow’ Chris exclaimed, starting up the car. ‘Congratulations! This is just so great news. Which ones did they like?’
‘Thanks! Well they seemed to take a liking to Man in The Shadows and Semblance-‘
‘Ah I love Semblance’ Chris interrupted. ‘Its one of my favourites too.’
‘That’s all there is to my life now anyway,’ Jenna muttered, her mood suddenly taking a dark turn. ‘I feel like my life is a semblance. Love, happiness, excitement..all of those good things are just a thin layer on the outside.’
‘What are you trying to say Jenna?’ Chris asked quietly as he started up the car. ‘Isn’t there anything else in your life but the pretending anymore? What about all the good stuff?’
‘See Chris’ Jenna replied, staring ahead; avoiding his gaze. ‘The good stuff is still out there somewhere. But it is mostly lost.’
‘Well it isn’t in my life’, he said. She noticed how he looked at her as he said that, out of the corner of his eyes; some sort of a fire was blazing in there. And then they both lapsed into silence.
The car finally stopped outside Jenna’s house.
‘So’ she said. ‘I’ll probably see you around tomorrow, I guess?’
He was looking at her with the blaze still in his eyes and she had to turn away from it. Something in there; something unreachable was pulling towards her and she didn’t want to feel it.
He took a deep breath and spoke, ‘There’s something that I need to say to you Jenna.’
She had turned her gaze down to her purse now, her hand was inside it, pretending to hunt for her keys but she couldn’t feel anything; the objects moving against her fingers were impossible to identify. ‘What is it?’, she asked, trying to sound casual.
Her hair had fallen forward over her face and he reached out hesitantly with one hand to tuck it behind her ear. She startled at the touch but did not draw away; the parted curtain of hair revealed her vulnerable eyes to him.
‘It is so crazy, my doing this right here…right now.’ Chris said in a low undertone.
‘Do what?’, she asked, still casual.
‘You know, just…’ he shrugged. ‘I just wanted to tell you Jenna that having you around has really helped me get over the pain of losing my best friend.’
She finally met his gaze, her eyes were pained and he was suddenly reminded of the Jenna he had found a few months back on the fateful day when they had first strengthened their friendship.
‘But you’ve done a lot more than just that’ he added, his voice almost a whisper now.
‘What do you mean Chris?’, she asked, her voice quivering.
‘Jenna, I’ve fallen in love with you.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know how or why or when but…I just want to tell you that somewhere along the way…while we were fighting all the grief and coping with the loss, I started to feel more for you than I would for just a friend.’
He stopped but when she said nothing, continued, ‘I know how strange this must sound to you, hearing it from me…from your dead husband’s best friend but the truth is it happened and I had no control over it.’
He waited but she hadn’t moved. Her eyes were focused on a distant vision, something he couldn’t see.
Finally, she said, ‘Chris all this time you have been nothing but a friend to me. A very good friend, a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold when I was lost. And I was happy to think that that’s what I was to you too. But there never was and never will be anything more than that.’ Suddenly, she rounded on him, ‘Tell me. Was it me? Did I give you the wrong idea? I am so sorry if I did Chris, I never meant to…’
‘No Jenna!’ he protested. ‘Oh Jenna, don’t say it like it’s a crime! It isn’t a crime to fall in love. Least of all when its you we’re talking about’ his voice softened. ‘It’s all right.’
‘No it’s not all right Chris’ she said. ‘And you want to know why? Because Jack was your best friend and my husband. You were the best man at our wedding. Imagine how he’d feel, how very betrayed, how utterly broken if-‘
‘But Jenna-‘, he began.
‘No!’ she yelled. ‘You were there! You were there when we said our wedding vows and promised to be there for one another, loyal and faithful until our last breaths. And we said we would never, ever cheat on one another. We meant it Chris.’
‘Jenna’ Chris said firmly. ‘Jenna, Jack is dead’.
She had opened her mouth to argue back but no words came out. She closed it again; he noticed her hands were shaking in her lap as she tried to steady herself but he had to go on.
‘You had a wedding and it was beautiful and sincere but now your husband’s dead and he’s not coming back, Jenna’ he said, in the low undertone again. He couldn’t bear to raise his voice. He couldn’t bear to reveal the raw emotion. He looked across at her, shivering in the passenger seat and he wanted to reach out to her, touch her, hug her, comfort her and hold her. He wanted to protect her. ‘You have to move on Jenna’, he said.
‘Right’ she said, recovering herself. ‘Right.’
Before he could stop her, she got out of the car, slamming the door and walking away while he sat in muted surprise, his hands on the wheels.
‘Jenna, come back’ he yelled after her through the rolled down glass of the door. ‘Jenna, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.’
But she ran to her house; he saw her fumbling within the purse for the keys. He wanted to run after her and take her in his arms and kiss her, let her know how much he meant what he had said but he contented himself with watching her unlock her door, go in and then lock herself in. He sat at the wheel until the light outside faded, staring at the closed door while the sky filled out with stars.