I had a choice.
The restaurant that night was packed. Both dining rooms were fully seated and the bar was overflowing with hungry people. As usual, there wasn't enough silverware. It was always a tricky business swiping setups from the other room's bus station. A certain finesse was necessary to avoid all-out war with the other room's staff. This night I felt no brotherhood with them. A Phyrric victory was the only possible outcome.
Chef Cooper was presiding over his line of cooks like a chain-gang foreman. He was about two stories tall and almost as wide. Luckily, he was mostly indifferent to the wait-staff, as long as they didn't cause any trouble in his kitchen. I walked past him and he looked at me. He never looked at any of us. I should have aborted, but I just didn't care.
Good fortune. Their bus station was momentarily deserted. They had just one setup left. I grabbed it just as Bill poked his head through the door from their dining room. "Hey!" he yelled. I took off down the narrow corridor toward the back, wanting to avoid Cooper who lay on my most direct return route. Bill gave chase. I rounded the corner by the walk-in freezer and hopped over some boxes. I had planned to proceed up past the dishwashers and back into my dining room. Bill couldn't touch me there.
Bill was no match for me physically. I was bigger and stronger, but I had made myself vulnerable before him and he had taken advantage of me.
And now he was closing in. I had nowhere to go. My path was blocked ahead by a curious Cooper. I was cornered by the dishwashers, Bill slowly advancing. There was some muttering in Spanish behind me as the dishwashers, no doubt grateful for the distraction, looked up at the pregnant situation.
"Give it back." Bill said, still slowly coming.
"Why did you tell her?" I asked.
"I'm sorry. She had a right to know."
"No she didn't! This is between you and me."
I didn't know whether I would hit him or cry.
"This isn't the time or place." Bill attempted.
I held the silverware over the dirty water. Bill's face flashed alarm and then steely composure. "You wouldn't," he said with a faint smile. And he was right. I'm not the spiteful, grudge-holding guy. I was infuriated, no longer at him for betraying my confidence, but with my own predictability. She was denied me now and I felt impotent. The only thing I had was a choice. I let go of the silverware.
I remember the shock on his face. Cooper was yelling and we beat a hasty retreat from his lumbering advance. Bill and I exchanged a short glance before going our separate ways. It was only silverware, but I'd struck his soul. His look told me he realized he'd have to harden himself.
We were in all the same classes for the last two and a half years of high school. We saw each other daily, but were never friends again. Someone "borrowed" my yearbook late in our senior year and let him inscribe in it: "It was fun being your friend, even if we did break it up. --Grace". His gradual conversion to an active christianity was in full bloom the next and last time I saw him, more than a year later. He was on a bicycle sporting an "Ask me about Jesus!" hat. I don't remember what we said, but it was soft, not hard.
Fifteen years later I still dream about him. Twice or so a year I'll be going about my surreal business and encounter him. He'll be smiling. I throw my arms around him and say I'm sorry.