They say that nothing good ever happens after midnight, but I was sure that I’d be the exception. The TV was on in the background, an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S was trying relentlessly to convince me that it was a comedy by bland, repetitive laugh tracks. Why did I watch that show? I guess it had something to do with peer pressure. It was taboo to dislike the popular shows. If you said you disliked anything that the general population adored, then it would be in your best interest to sleep behind locked doors and boarded-up windows with a 24-hour guard posted outside. But it did give me a strange sense of comfort. The voices in my head were swirling, yet the fake laughter in the background seemed to help keep my emotions balanced.
I made a promise that I had to keep. Broken promises are lies. “Promise me that you will always be there for me no matter what.”
No matter what…
Those three words rang in my head like a church bell. Each hammer strike drove me further into madness. I wrestled with these thoughts of mine until it felt like my head was going to burst. Chandler said something sarcastic in the background, and the audience burst out laughing in their rehearsed way. Right on cue. I felt myself relax, but only for a couple seconds. Like I said before, it was a balancing act.
No matter what…
My best friend Emily had just broken up with the love of her life (interpreted as “douchebag”). How she loved him. How I held back my vomit whenever she talked about him. It was not my place to say anything, but that didn’t stop me from saying something here and there.
Three long years went by and nothing. She was still with him, still madly in love. One day he showed his true self. They got in an argument and instead of using words, her boyfriend decided to end the argument with a fist. She ended up with a concussion, a broken nose, several bruises, and required many stitches along her arm. But when the roses appeared at the foot of her hospital bed, she instantly forgave him. Fortunately for Emily, she wasn’t entirely stupid. “Promise me that you will always be there for me no matter what.” No matter what…
That was a month ago…
The deciding factor came when she walked in on the douchebag with another woman. That was the reason that this relationship would not continue another day.
That was a week ago…
And now, here I am, alone in my apartment on the second floor, staring at the text that would change my life: “Can you come over?” Joey just said something that made the audience laugh. That calmed me down for a second.
Now, our story comes full-circle…nothing good ever happens after midnight. Her apartment was only a mile away from mine. It would be an easy walk. I checked the time on my phone. 11:40pm. I thought that this would be a bad idea, but as it happens so much in my life, my intuition was ignored.
I flipped off the TV, put on some sweats and a T-shirt, tied my shoes and I was out the door. It wasn’t till I was outside that I wished I had stayed behind my locked apartment door.
The fresh midnight air felt good on my face. My heart had turned to a beating stone in my chest, yet the air was calming, as if it were telling me that everything was going to be all right. As I walked down the street, I kept my head up and felt the rhythm of my feet upon the smooth pavement. The faint orange glow of the streetlights hypocritically did nothing to illuminate my way. The moon was locked behind thick clouds. You’d think that be enough to make a sensible person turn around, but my brain pleaded:
No matter what.
I loved Emily. I had loved her since I was young. She was tall and slender. She had long, flowing blonde hair that went halfway down her back. Her blue eyes shown like the bluest skies above the beach on a cloudless day. She had cheekbones so sharp she could open an envelope with them. Whenever she flashed her huge smile at me or she held me in a tight embrace, I felt my entire body leave me. I would be transported to a place where nothing else existed, just her and me. Many guys desired a girl like Emily, but I was never one of them, so I stayed by her side through all of her breakups as the third-wheel, friend-zoned companion. The one time I had tried to tell her how much I truly felt about her was cut short by her gang of squealing cheerleaders.
No matter what. My every thought that night was about her. I promised her that I’d always be there for her. Of course, I said yes to that. And tonight, I had to make good on that promise. I was not going to let her be alone.
I saw her apartment materialize through the haze of the early morning. I made a left turn and walked through the sidewalk leading to the complex. I made my way up to the third floor as I’ve done so many times before to Suite #303. Emily always liked to make the claim to fame that her apartment was similar to the band called 3Oh!3. I always rolled my eyes at the reference. It’s amazing how much people want to be connected to the lives of the celebrities. I share a birthday with Lindsey Stirling, the violinist, so there’s my lame claim to fame.
I checked the time once more. 12:04am. I took in one large breath and shook my arms, as if somehow that was going to wash away any superstition about the midnight hour. I knocked on the door and waited for what felt like hours until the lock clicked, and Emily—the most beautiful woman I have ever known—opened the door.
Wasting no time, I quickly entered her apartment and she shut and locked the door. She ran to me and wrapped her arms around my neck. I put my hands around her back and held her close. I felt the warmth of her body next to me, and I didn’t want to let go. She looked so beautiful, so innocent in her white bathrobe. I pulled her closer. I could tell she's been crying, but I didn't address it. I gently kissed her head and continued to hold her, feeling the world peel away into nothingness.
For several minutes, we didn’t save anything. When she relaxed her grip, the world started coming back into focus. Damn. “Thank you for coming.”
“No matter what.” She smiled in a not so happy way and walked over to her couch.
“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked as she gestured for me to have a seat.
“Not at the moment, but thank you.” She nodded as if her feelings were somehow hurt, but sat down next to me. Her arm snaked around mine and she leaned her head on my shoulders. I didn’t want this to moment to end. I felt that she wanted me to take the lead, so I broke the silence. “Hey, Em, what’s going on?”
Emily squeezed herself in closer and replied in her silky-smooth voice, “I needed to be with someone. Drake,”—the douchebag— “keeps texting me and calling me. He won’t stop. I’ve told him a dozen times that we’re not getting back together and he won’t listen.”
“I told you that you should just block him.”
“I know, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it," she replied, her voice starting to break.
“He’s not going to leave you alone. You know that. For three years, all he cared about was having things his way. I mean, he works at Burger King for a reason!” Emily smiled at that and continued to rest her head on my arm.
“Emily, you are the most wonderful person I know. People like Drake are not worth losing sleep over.” I put my arm around her and held her closer.
“Thank you. You always knew how to make me feel better.”
I knew at this point that a response was not needed…
“OPEN THE HELL UP!”
…but Drake didn’t know that.
The fear in Emily’s face was clear. I was startled too. She looked at me as if she were pleading with me to keep her safe.
The knocking was louder now, more vicious.
“Son of a bitch, I know you’re in there! Open up you cowards.”
I turned to Emily. I tried to appear strong for her. Was it working? I didn’t know. “Go hide and call 9-1-1! I will keep him distracted”
“What are you—”
“NOW, Emily!” She didn’t try to argue any more. I watched as she disappeared down the hallway. I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a chef's knife.
“Drake, you need to leave. Now!”
“Get away from my girlfriend.”
“You lost the right to call her that.”
“Shut up, and open the damn door.”
“You need to leave,” I said again, more firmly this time. “You need to leave, now!”
“I’m not going anywhere until you’re gone and I can see her.”
“You’re crazy if you think I’m going to leave!”
“I swear to God I will kick down this door.”
It looked as if a bomb had gone off outside the apartment. Drake's kick ripped the door off its hinges and propelled it toward me. I swerved to my left. In one fluid motion I lunged at Drake with the knife firmly grasped in my hand. He didn’t have time to react. The knife made contact on his upper thigh. He screamed in pain, but that only appeared to make him stronger. He grabbed my wrist and twisted it. I dropped the knife. With his free hand, Drake threw a right cross. I noticed the punch just in time and ducked. With my feet firmly on the ground, I pushed him with all my body weight. Drake lost his balance and fell backward on the landing outside.
I was on top on now, swinging frantically with my fists from left to right. I was winning. I was sure of it. “Stop it, both of you!”
I looked back only for a second to see Emily standing in the doorway.
Drake found opening he needed and threw a punch right against my face. I toppled over. My ears were ringing from the impact. My vision was blurred. I was hunched over in pain as Drake threw me off him and got to his feet. I couldn’t see clearly, but I knew Emily was in trouble. Mustering what strength I still had left, I got to my feet and tried to mount another defensive maneuver.
He was ready this time. His massive hands grabbed my arms as he twisted and threw to the side like a ragdoll. “Drake, stop!” I heard the voice speak. I knew it was Emily’s but I couldn’t see clearly. I got to my feet again, but I was stopped dead in my tracks by a blood-curdling scream.
Emily. That sound ripped my heart right out of my chest. Anger filled in the empty spaces. I felt the life coming back to me. I don’t know what it was that knocked me out of my daze. But it helped. I had Drake in my sights and I took off running with all the energy in my body. He turned his head around and tried to get ready for another attack. But it was too little, too late. I shoved him as hard as I could from behind. There was a huge thud as his head connected with the corner of a wall. When I looked up from the floor, his limp body lay unconscious on the floor.
I turned to look at Emily and my heart shot up into my chest. Emily was lying in a fetal position in a pool of blood. The knife was stuck in her stomach, and I feared the worst. The sirens in the distance did little to comfort me. “Emily?”
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw her blue eyes open. They were paler than when I saw them last. The sight of her in pain was too much to bear. My mind immediately raced back to all the good memories I had of her. I thought about the time that we'd comfort each other when we were sick. I thought about Freshman year of high school when she agreed to be my date to the spring dance—as a friend, she made clear. I remembered when I broke my leg from a fall, and she visited me daily. Thoughts continued to flow freely through my memories as I held her hand, waiting for medical help to arrive. Tears began stinging my eyes. It was harder to breath.
When the police arrived and the ambulance took Emily to the hospital, I cried the whole way. As her breathing got shallower, her skin got paler, I was there by her side. When she took her last breath, I was holding her hand.
Today is the first day of spring, a time for new beginnings. But for me, the best part of my life had ended that day. Why didn’t she stay hidden like I told her to? Why did I respond to her text? Maybe if I had stayed home, Drake wouldn't have seen me walk over to her apartment. He wouldn't have followed me. But it didn't matter. Everything was a hypothetical at this point. The damage was already done.
But he Drake rotting away in prison right now, sentenced twenty years for first degree murder. It sounds to me like he got off easy. I want to move on, but I am not ready to. Emily's memory will always be with me.
They say that nothing good ever happens after midnight and that hindsight is 20/20. In retrospect, I think that whoever said those things might have a point.