What Are Best Friends For?
Billy Black and Charlie Swan have been best friends all their lives.
1. What Are Best Friends For?
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Watching his best friend cry the day Renee took the baby and left had not been easy for Billy Black. If he'd known at the time how Charlie would comfort him now that his own wife had died, he might have found more ways to offer support. But he'd had brand new twin girls to think of, and not much money in the meantime to support them with. Life had been so busy, back then.
Billy didn't regret much. He'd loved his wife and been good to his kids. But he regretted not holding Charlie Swan's hand the day he lost his family. And he regretted the beautiful Ms. Call from the res to the North, whose hand he'd held instead.
Charlie hadn't cried for very long. Most men don't. And Billy got the impression that even though Charlie had loved Renee, he was mostly upset that she'd taken the baby. Billy could relate to that. His own girls had been just under a year old at the time, and he couldn't have imagined life without them. Now they were six, and so was little Bella Swan, who only came to visit for a few weeks every summer.
In the meantime, Billy had a four year old son to deal with, too. Jacob was the light of his life, but now that it looked like he was going to have to raise all three of them alone, Billy had a difficult time managing not to regret him as well. For now, they were all staying with Harry and Sue Clearwater.
The house was silent except for the sound of Charlie's even breathing. Billy couldn't see him, because as soon as they'd come through the door, he'd parked himself in a chair at the kitchen table and let his head fall into his hands. But he knew Charlie was watching him from across the table, and it was comforting. At least he wasn't alone. He'd just buried his wife, but at least he wasn't alone.
Charlie's hand was cold on his wrist, and Billy couldn't be sure whether it shook, or if he himself was shaking. He supposed it was probably him, and tried to force himself to stop. It only made him shake harder. He figured he ought to get up and turn on the television. Maybe there'd be a baseball game or something, and he could cry quietly while Charlie watched it, instead of him. But he didn't have the energy to suggest it. Every bit of his attention was divided between trying not to break out into sobs and fending off the few regrets that suddenly loomed large in his psyche.
One good thing - his wife would never have to know about Embry. All these years, he'd kept a post box in Forks so the boy's mother, little more than a child herself, could send him pictures and letters. He'd never opened those letters anywhere but at Charlie's house. Charlie could keep a secret better than anyone. He might not have understood what drove Billy to do it, but he'd understood that no one could ever know. What else are best friends for, after all?
Billy tried to quiet his breathing, to avoid the embarrassing sobs. It was bad enough his face and shirtsleeves were soaked with tears. He concentrated on the way Charlie was rubbing his thumb across his forearm, trying to be soothing, probably. It seemed to be working. Finally Billy managed to calm himself enough to risk raising his head. Charlie's bright eyes were on his instantly, crinkling at the corners as he assessed Billy's state of despair.
They stared at each other in silence for a few heartbeats. Then Charlie's lips turned up. "Mariner's game should only be in the fourth inning or so," he commented lightly. Billy nodded solemnly, and after another long silence, Charlie got up and came around the table, hauling him to his feet. Billy's joints weren't what they'd been six years before and he'd left the damned cane in the truck again. He was still getting used to relying on it. Charlie remembered it more often than he did.
He let the slighter man help him to the couch without complaint and felt his eyes lose focus as Charlie turned on the set. There was no need to change the channel. About all anyone ever watched in this house was ball. Billy folded his hands in his lap as Charlie sat down on the small couch next to him. He watched out of the corner of his eye to see that Charlie was pointedly keeping his eyes on the game, but after a few moments, he felt Charlie reach over and take his hand, and he let him. He squeezed back hard, but Charlie didn't turn towards him. He just kept on holding his hand and watching TV, until the game was long over and Billy had cried himself into exhaustion.
When that time came, Billy barely registered Charlie helping him to his room and tucking him into bed. He hadn't tried to feed him, or offered any meaningless platitudes. There'd been none of the painful reminiscing that had gone on at the funeral home. Charlie had understood. And what else are best friends for, anyway?