BY ALAINA LEARY
I paused at the threshold of my bedroom, waiting to soak in the emptiness of the one person I would never see in there again. I was greeted with a somber smile that seemed like a hard slap across the face on that November day.
"James," I said. "What are you doing in here?"
His small, warm brown eyes lit up just a notch when he saw me. That warm brown was just a little less dim, like the multi-feature lamps I had scattered through my small house.
"Rachel." James opened his mouth so his teeth could smile at me. "Are you okay?"
I reached into the back pocket of my black dress pants, pulling out a small metal flask filled with Jameson whisky. "I’m not. But this is what Will would have done if he were here. I’ll get better."
A small chuckle escaped from James. "He would be very proud. Have you been drinking that stuff since the wake this morning?" He wrinkled his nose.
My pink cheeks were the only color in my entirely black ensemble. "I took a sip every time the priest said something about Will moving on to a better place with the Lord. I knew that hearing that would make him sick, but I had to let his family do things the way they wanted."
I was careful not to drop the flask from my slightly shaking hand. As I neared, James opened his arms and enveloped me in a hug. I was vaguely aware of the warmth spreading from my lips to my fingertips, all the way down my spine into the core of me.
When I let go, James’ eyes were red-rimmed. "Mind if I have some?" He gestured to the flask and when I handed it over, he took a few long swigs. "God, that tastes like shit." James’s laugh was the kind of laugh I thought I’d never have to hear—James without his best friend by his side.
"You know, I haven’t cried at all," I said, taking the flask back. In college, when the three of us stayed up late drinking on Adirondack chairs, Will would take Jameson straight while James and I tossed back Cokes to drown out the mixing tastes of rum and vodka. It seemed longer ago than just six years.
I closed my eyes to the cold metal of the flask, imagining Will’s strong fingers grasping it. "Since I got the call about the car accident four days ago, I haven’t cried. I just feel numb."
James wrapped his skinny arm around my waist. I sank into him, letting the electricity where his fingers lay travel through me. I had always been attracted to James, ever since we met our freshman year at university, but I was already with Will when we met James.
I felt him nod and I studied his small medium brown eyes. They were nothing like Will’s blue, so piercing that it felt like it stared right through my defenses.
"I keep thinking he’s going to call me up to get a drink with me," James said, smiling wistfully at the flask. "That he’s going to say, 'Hey, what’s got my drinking buddy so down these days? Let’s get a bottle of rum and watch a movie with Rachel and laugh our asses off.'"
I let my body sink into his, wrapping my hands around his waist. His mouth slipped into a confused frown before I reached up to press my lips against his. His small lips parted and I found myself melting into him, pushing his body against Will’s and my king bed. I realized his hips were sharper than Will’s as I folded our bodies into one another. James gently picked me up and placed me on the bed.
"Rachel." His eyes were still red, but I looked away, focusing on the feeling of his curls as I ran my fingertips through them. "Should we be doing this, with everyone downstairs talking about-?"
I let out a breath of relief when he didn’t say the name. "Please, James." My voice was low and shaky, and he hopped onto the bed and rolled on top of me. I pulled his short-sleeved black shirt over his head with ease, revealing a thin, lightly toned stomach underneath. The last time I saw his stomach was in college when he stripped and ran around the apartment that we shared with Will. Almost every memory I had of James was mixed up in Will. I bit my lip and helped James take off my silky black blouse. I would change that now.
Soon our pants were off as well. James pressed into me, and I covered my mouth with my hand to keep myself from letting out a gasp of surprise. My fingernails dug fiercely into his bony back, pulling him closer.
When we finished, I lay in the crevice on Will’s side where his body was barely imprinted from the two short years that we had been married. I turned over on my side, James’s small hand draped over me, protecting me from the hoards of fake-sad people downstairs who had never heard the nuances of Will’s laugh that we had. I glanced at my bookshelf and fixed my gaze on a picture of Will, James and I on my 21st birthday. Will had a shot glass in his hand and a wide, snarky grin, and James was sticking his tongue out, and both of them had their arms around me, permanently affixing the three of us together.
I squirmed out of James’ grasp, not letting it encase me permanently. "We should go downstairs. I have to greet people. It will be weird if I’m not there. Will’s sister is probably looking for me." I pulled my blouse over my head and checked my hair in the mirror over my dresser. It was a mess of tangled dark brown strands that I attempted to smooth out as I started walking toward the door.
"Hey, Rachel." The soft sound of James’s voice caught in my throat. I choked it down as I turned to look at him. He lifted the flask of Jameson from the bedside table. "One more for the road?"
We each took a turn with the flask, swallowing the taste with pursed lips. James’s fingertips met mine where they lay at my left side. I bit back my smile as I said, "Let’s go get some Coke so we can forget how disgusting that tasted."