“I do love you,” he said. He couldn’t stop the tears from falling. “I hope you believe that.”
“I do. I know you do. I love you, too. This is for the best, though. You know it is. I want you to be happy. You can’t be happy like this.”
“I can be. I know I can. Don’t do this. I can’t stand it.”
“You’ll be fine. I promise.”
“I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you. I know this is killing you. Let me stay. I want to do it. For you.”
“That’s the problem. I don’t want you to do it for me, I want you to do it for you, and you can never do it for you because it’s not who you are.”
He couldn’t argue that. There’d been enough lies and he wasn’t going to add to them by denying that what she said was the truth. He took her in his arms and held her. He could smell her shampoo and that thought that he’d never smell that smell again broke him. He let her go, told her again that he was always going to love her, picked up his bags, and walked out the door. Forty five minutes later he was at the airport, standing in front of a payphone.
“Hi. It’s me. Yeah. No. I’m not ok at all. Listen, I’ll be at PHL in about three hours. Can you pick me up? Thanks. I’ll see you then.”
“Cory!” Eric Matthews jumped in the air, trying to get his brother’s attention. “Cory! Over here! Hey!”
Turning around, he saw Cory standing behind. “Cory! How’d? You? I mean, I just saw you over there,” he said, pointing at the baggage claim.
Cory looked at where his brother was pointing. “You mean that guy? The one in the red shirt? Eric, he’s Latino.”
“Oh. I thought maybe you’d gotten a great tan.”
“And straightened my hair? And grown six inches?”
Eric didn’t pay attention to the sarcasm. “It’s good to see you, little bro! What are you doing here? You sounded upset on the phone.”
“Yeah. I’ve just got some things I need to do here. And I’m not feeling so hot.”
“Things? What kind of things? Fun things? Cool things? Or bad things? Like money stuff. Because money stuff isn’t fun. Unless it’s winning and spending money, but usually money stuff means-”
“Hey, Eric, do me a favor?
“Don’t tell Mom and Dad I’m here yet. Can I crash at your place?”
“Sure. But lie to Mom and Dad? Why?”
“I don’t want to talk about it right now. You’ll know soon enough.”
“Ok” The older Matthews pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “Let me call home and make sure it’s ok. It shouldn’t be a problem, though.”
“Huh? You have a roommate? I thought you were on your own.”
“No one told you? Yeah, I have a roommate. You know-”
“Never mind. Let’s just go. I kind of just want to take a shower and crash right now. Do you mind?”
“Mind? Nah.” Eric’s mind came up with a lot of silly things to say, but some part of him knew that now wasn’t the time to be the brainless dolt he had the reputation for being. “It’s good to see you Cory. Whatever’s going on, it’ll work itself out. You’ll see. Come on.” He picked up Cory’s bag and threw his other arm around his brother’s shoulders, walking him to the car in silence.
Cory stretched out on Eric’s bed. “Are you sure about this?”
“Yeah. I stay up late when I’m home, but I’m usually working late shifts, so I’ll just stay on the couch. I can move into here whenever you get up. It’s all good.”
“Thanks Eric. I appreciate it.” He saw the worry on his brother’s face. “I’m fine, Eric. I’ll tell you about it later. Right now, I just need to sort it all out in my own mind. We’ll talk, ok?”
“I’ll be ready when you are. I need to go do some things, but if you need to talk, you have my cell number, ok?” He waited for a reply, then closed the door behind him on his way out of the room. A moment later, Cory heard the front door open and close. It wasn’t long before he was asleep.
When he woke up, he saw that it was dark outside. He looked for a clock, but didn’t see one. He got up and walked in to the living room. “Eric? Hello? Anyone?” Apparently, he was the only one in the place. Eric wasn’t home yet, and the roommate, who’s name he didn’t know, wasn’t there either. He walked into the small kitchen area and opened the door to the refrigerator. All he found was some beer and an empty pizza box. It figures, he thought to himself. Taking a bottle of beer, he closed the door and walked over to the couch.
The thoughts started running through his head and trying to shake them away didn’t do any good. He opened his beer and took a long drink. “Ugh. Why did open this? I hate beer!” He took another drink. He felt lost. What was he going to do now? He felt like such a loser. He should have just kept his mouth shut that night. But no. Not Cory Matthews. Once again, because of his mouth, he was in a mess.
He knew he wouldn’t be going back to New York. He’d never liked it there. He’d only gone for Topanga. But he didn’t think he’d be able to stay in Philly, either. He had no idea what was going to happen to him or where he’d go from here.
What he did know was that he needed a shower.
He got up from the couch and took another gulp of the beer before setting it on the coffee table. There were a few doors in the place, and he figured one of them was the door to the bathroom. He walked to the one closest to him and found a closet. The second door revealed the same. He opened the third door and saw the other bedroom. Seeing someone else’s stuff in Eric’s apartment reminded him that he needed to call Eric and make sure that this guy – assuming it was a guy – knew he was there. He closed the door and moved on to the next one and was glad to see it was what he was looking for. It may have been Eric’s place, but he felt like he was snooping, opening all those doors.
He walked in and closed and locked the door behind him. A pile of dirty laundry confirmed that Eric’s roomie was, indeed, a guy. Eric has always been a boxers kind of guy. Still was, from what Cory’d seen on the bedroom floor. The pile on this floor had a couple of pairs of tighty whities. Without thinking, he picked a pair up and looked at them. Medium. Interesting. Same size Cory himself wore. He put them back down and stripped naked. He climbed in the shower and turned on the water, closing the curtain as an afterthought.
As he was lathering his hair, he heard a knock at the door and a voice saying something. “Shit. Sorry Eric! I’ll be right out.” At least, that’s what he meant to say, but facing the shower head, he ended up gargling warm water. He heard the door open and figured Eric had one of those little pokie-thingies that you put in the tiny hole to unlock the door from the outside. He heard the faucet on the sink turn on and the medicine cabinet door open and close. He quickly rinsed off and turned off the water, then opened the curtain to reach for a towel. He wasn’t concerned about being naked. He and Eric had seen each other naked plenty of times and never thought anything of it.
Only, it wasn’t Eric he saw standing there with a toothbrush in his mouth.
“Grrrory!” Shawn Hunter about choked on the toothbrush in his mouth. Cory Matthews was the last person he expected to see standing in the shower. His eyes dropped, then quickly looked away.
Cory saw the look and looked down, realizing for the first time that he was standing in front of his old friend in his birthday suit. “Oh shit!” He closed the curtain so fast that he almost ripped it off the hooks. He stuck his head back out. “Shawn! What are you doing- Oh, no way. YOU’RE Eric’s roommate?”
Shawn spit in the sink and wiped his face. “Yeah. What are you doing here?” he asked, still kind of shocked. Shocked both by the fact that Cory was there and that he’d just seen Cory naked. In all the many years they’d been friends, they’d never seen each other in anything less than underwear.
Cory heard the question and it brought back to mind the reason he was back in Philadelphia. Hearing it from Shawn, his old best friend, made something snap inside. The tears started again and he groaned, before slumping to the floor of the tub, pulling the curtain down and around him. He sat there sobbing for a moment before Shawn dropped to his knees and grabbed him in an awkward hug and held on to him.
“Cory? What is it? Are your parents ok? Morgan?”
Cory kept crying and Shawn held on, waiting until his friend was able to pull himself together a bit. Cory finally stopped crying and looked up at Shawn. Shawn. His buddy. His pal. The only person he- Shawn.
“Topanga’s divorcing me.”
Throwing out the beer bottle Cory’d left on the coffee table, Shawn grabbed a fresh one from the fridge. He walked back to the couch and sat next to his friend. He leaned forward and grabbed a slice of pizza out of the box he’d brought home from work. Delivering pizzas wasn’t a glamorous job, but for now it paid some bills. It would do until he figured out what he wanted to do next in life.
He leaned back and looked at Cory. He was a little worried. Cory hadn’t said anything since blurting out the news that his marriage was over. Shawn figured the guy would talk when he was ready. Until then, he’d just sit with him and be there for him.
Finally, Cory leaned forward and helped himself to some pizza, then settled back on the couch and looked at Shawn.
“Yeah. Divorce. How the hell am I supposed to tell my parents that Topanga wants a divorce?”
“That’s kind of heavy, Cory. I don’t understand. You guys love each other. You’re right together. What happened?”
“What happened? What didn’t happen? Stuff happened. Money stuff, to start with. Money stuff’s never good stuff. Unless you’re winning the money and then spending the money, but who wins money? No one. That’s who. Sure, we paid our bills, but it wasn’t enough. But you know what? We managed. We got past it. Like always. Why? Because we’re Cory and Topanga. We’re the couple that gets tv shows made based on our lives.”
“Ok,” Shawn interrupted. “You got past it. So-”
“And don’t even get me started on kids. I told her…TOLD her that it didn’t matter. We could adopt. And we could have. Kids. Kids are kids, right? They’re little, they’re messy, and they’re loud. Why not adopt? But no. That wasn’t an answer.”
“Kids? Adopt? Why-”
“Oh yeah. Adopt. Apparently, ‘little Cory’ can’t do his part in the making babies department. How’s that for a slap in the face? I finally grow up, but my balls decide they want to stay in their childhood.”
“Yep. Infertile. Or whatever a guy is. I make the little suckers, but not enough for them to reach their destination. They stop for a layover and never get back on the plane. Make their home in the What’s-It-To-Ya canal! Shit. What’s the point in having sex if the end result is a bunch of lazy sperm?”
Shawn put a piece of pizza in Cory’s mouth and spoke quickly, while he had a chance. “So, Topanga’s divorcing you because you can’t make babies? Come on, Cory, that doesn’t sound like Topanga.”
Cory grabbed the beer from Shawn’s hand and took a drink, then thrust it back into the hand from where it came. “Damn it. I hate beer. Why do I keep doing that?” He stood up and walked into the bathroom, then came back out. “I need to fix that curtain. No. That’s not why she’s ending it. I could understand that. But no. You know what? I think I’m kind of drunk. How do I get kind of drunk from three drinks of a beer?”
Shawn tried not to laugh. “Um, Cory? Are you forgetting the four beers you had after the shower? Getting dressed, not liking the shirt, and changing three times? Those beers? You know, while you single handedly ate that whole other pizza?”
Cory stopped in place, turned around three hundred sixty degrees, and looked at Shawn. “I did? Shit. Next time, remind me that I don’t like beer, ok?”
He walked back into the bathroom and came out holding Shawn’s dirty underwear.
“Hey. These are medium. And. And. And they’re Fruit of the Loom. I wear medium Fruit of the Loom, Shawn! What are the odds of that?”
Still trying not to laugh, half out of concern over the news of Cory and Topanga, and half out of common decency, he decided not to mention that there were probably millions of guys in the United States that wore medium Fruit of the Loom underwear. He also thought it best not to mention that they’d had this same conversation in junior high.
“I’m holding your dirty underwear.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“I think it is. Don’t I?”
“What are you? A fucking psychiatrist? Stop answering me with questions!”
Shawn was stunned into silence for a split second. But just for a split second. “Cory!”
Cory jumped, startled by the tone of voice, and looked over his shoulder. “What? Me?”
“Yes, you! You said fuck!”
“Oh. I did. Well. Well. Ok.” With the pronouncement of it being ok, he sat on the floor. “I said fuck. I don’t say fuck, Shawn. I don’t sayanything more than shit. Why’d I say fuck?”
“Because you’re drunk.”
“I’m fucking wasted, I think.”
“Yeah, I think so, too.” Cory felt really tired all of a sudden and closed his eyes to think about what to say next. He was about to tell Shawn something important. But he couldn’t remember what it was. He did know that he said fuck, though, and it felt good. With his eyes closed, and the words slurred, he tried talking to Shawn again. “Hey, Shawn?”
“Is passing out like sleeping?”
“Kind of. Why?”
“I think I’m passing out.”
“You do that. It’ll be good for you.”
Cory started to snore, but picked his head up to say something else. “Good. No dreams. Hey, Shawn?”
“Yeah. No. I love you.”
Shawn didn’t reply. There was no need. Cory was out. Shawn set his beer bottle down and walked over to his friend. He squatted down and pulled Cory up, picked him up, and carried him to his own bedroom. He thought about Eric’s room, but he wasn’t sure of the sleeping arrangements, so he figured it was for the best. He laid Cory on his bed, then went to get a wet wash cloth. Coming back, he carefully undressed the boy. No, he thought to himself, he’s not a boy anymore. He undressed the other man, stripped him down to his underwear, then stopped to laugh. Cory wasn’t wearing medium Fruit of the Looms. He was wearing blue Hanes. Trying not to jostle Cory too much, he managed to maneuver him under the sheets.
Standing up, Shawn walked to the door and turned off the lights. He looked back at the sleeping form and couldn’t help himself. He gave into the urge, walked back over to Cory, bent down, brushed the curls from his forehead, and gave him a gentle kiss where the curls had been.
“I love you, too, Cor,” he whispered. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you through this. Together. That’s what friends are for. Right?”
With that, he walked quietly out of the room. He folded out the couch and made himself comfortable. Finishing the beer he’d started and eating another slice of pizza, he went over what Cory’d told him.
Money problems. Fertility problems. But Cory had told him those weren’t the reasons for the divorce. He thought about calling Topanga. Not tonight, though. I’ll call her in a couple of days if he doesn’t get any better. He finished the beer in one swallow and set the bottle on the little table at the end of the couch. Turning on the television, he laid back and faded off to sleep.
It wasn’t long before he was nudged awake.
“Of course it’s me! What are you doing out here?”
“I see that. Why aren’t you in your room?”
“Cory’s in my bed.”
“I thought he was in my bed.”
“I didn’t know where he was sleeping, so I put him in my bed. I was being nice.”
“Well. I’m going to bed.”
“Gee. Sounds like a good idea.”
“No, Eric. I told you. It was a one time deal.”
“Fine. Be that way. One of these days, I’m going to bring a girl home, then you’ll be sorry.”
“I’m sure I will. Until then, you’ll just have to look forward to telling me you told me so.”
Eric gave a disgruntled grunt. “Fine. Good night.”
“Good night, Eric.”
He waited for the bedroom door to close, listening for the familiar click of the lock. When he heard the bed squeak under Eric’s weight, he laid back and, once again, welcomed sleep.