When I had first met Sam we were in high school. He was the first to start smoking cigarettes in our grade–that I knew of. They were Camels, and I liked the smell of them even though it earned him a reputation.
“Why do you smoke them,” I asked one day, I had always been curious but it was one of those things you didn’t ask. You were supposed to just know.
“Just cause, I guess.” He said. He always sounded bored–or perpetually tired.
“Can I try one?” I asked. He took one out. I smoked through high school and when Sam quit in college I tried, but couldn’t.
I remove one from the pack as I’m sitting at my laptop. I go to shut the door to the living room area and see some sad looking girl dragging her hangover to the bathroom. She’s clutching her shirt to her chest as Sam watches. We make eye contact before I shut the door.
We had moved in together out of college. It was Sam’s idea. We had been best friends for so long and didn’t know how to get along alone.
“It makes sense to split the rent, my job blows, so I can’t even afford to be alone.” He said matter of factly. We didn’t talk about the real reason that we were moving together, that we knew nobody else.
“Right, that makes sense, right?” I said concealing my desperation.
I put the cigarette out. These rainy days always made me nostalgic. Things had been so quiet in the apartment I longed for noise. I thought, if someone would just say my name really loud, that would be enough.
The apartment door closed. Sam walked back and opened my door.
“What did you think?” he said standing shirtless in my doorway.
“Of what?” I asked confused.
“Her.” He said smiling still. It was the kind of devious smile he gave when he asked me these questions.
“She had a great stumble.” I said lighting another cigarette. I didn’t want one, but I always thought it made me look more indifferent.
“I mean look-wise, man, you can tell that right?” He smiled. This was his pay-off: asking me that.
“She was hot,” I said. He smiled more. I wanted to punch him and tell him I didn’t care. I never do.
He left the doorway.
We didn’t talk about this either: the parade of women to and from his room. I mean we did, but not what it meant. Sam and I had made out once in high school when we were drunk for the first time. In college I blew him once.
This was how it was. The silence of us bringing home other people. It was unwritten that we never got serious with them. We were both miserable. We had unconsciously decided a long time ago this was how it was to be.
Sam had a girlfriend in college. I spent the year making other friends. I had a few, but enough to fill my free time. We would get drunk and make fun of people we hated. We watched bad TV and discussed our plans for life. I didn’t know what my career would be. I studied biology with no intentions. These friends were short-lived for me.
Sam and his girlfriend broke up. I bought him a bottle of vodka and cigarettes. He wouldn’t have a cigarette.
“She fucking, she fucking broke up with me, man,” he said. He was fine before but had started crying somewhere through the bottle. I regretted buying it.
“It happens. People survive these things, you just loved her.”
“I did. It hurts.”
I hugged him. Somewhere through the hug he said: “No.”
“No, what?” I asked.
“It’s not going to happen with us either.” He said.
Sam had put on the television in his room. It was some stupid criminal investigation show. I lay back down in the bed listening to the rain mix with the overheard dialogue. It was the only sound in the apartment.