Heartstone

10 – Friends

Arwin left Fanri-Talbot feeling surprisingly good. The entire time leading up to the interview, he’d been nervous, knowing that this was not the kind of career that he really wanted. The greedy corporate world just didn’t suit him. Had the company been different, perhaps a lot more employee-positive and less internally competitive, he might have found a way to make it work. But the entire time he’d been there, his negativity had only increased with everything he’d seen. He understood now that, even if he’d played along, he would have wasted the next three months of his life in unpaid slavery and eventually left anyway, miserable, and behind on his rent and car payments. He was glad that he hadn’t given in and had walked away instead. It meant that he’d have to continue job-searching, but he could live with that.

He strolled for a while through the streets of downtown. His thoughts drifted to Kelli and how she’d take the news about his interview. Would she understand and be supportive? Though Arwin didn’t think very highly of corporate, profit-driven life, he knew that Kelli thought the opposite. Like the other two others who’d interviewed for the position, she was impressed with FT’s stock price and fame and she had really wanted him to fit in there, wanted him to have the type of career that she did.  

It was understandable: they’d be able to relate to each other a lot more if they shared career types. It’s always nice to have a big part of your life in common with your partner. You’d be able to come home at night and share stories and know that your partner really got what you’d been through because they’d been through the same. 

The new apartment, the new car, they were expensive. A new job could help with that. But he suddenly wondered if the reason that Kelli was so interested in him changing careers was only about their bills, or was it about something more. 

He paused in his walk, thunderstruck by a new thought. 

He’d figured that Kelli had just been pushing for the new apartment and new career for him because she wanted a more luxurious lifestyle together. What if it was more than that? Was if she was nesting, becoming more serious about their relationship because was trying to build a long-term home they could share? Maybe the new career and new apartment were actually about getting married, and eventually having children.

How had that not occurred to him before? 

He shook his head at his own blindness and felt both panic and excitement flare in his chest. He’d been an idiot for not seeing this until now. They’d been together for almost three years. And it wasn’t as if they’d hadn’t talked about the subject of marriage. But it had never been a conscious goal, at least for him. They’d been dating and things had gone well — really well — and he’d just enjoyed their time together without planning for something more than just shared happiness. At some point in the last three years, in his heart, he’d become committed to her. For him, that seemed to be enough. He understood that most people eventually got officially married and such, but it just hadn’t occurred to him that they needed to go through the official process. 

Apparently Kelli, however, had been thinking about it. It was all so obvious in hindsight. Damn. He’d been so obtuse!

A big grin stretched across his face and he found himself full of new energy. Honestly, he’d enjoyed being with Kelli so much that maybe he really should have been thinking about marriage seriously too. Some people wanted that kind of official commitment. The two of them were amazing together. No relationship was perfect, of course, but in three years he’d never grown bored, never wished he was with someone else. They rarely argued, except when shopping for the apartment and car as her tastes were much more expensive than his own. The best parts of his day were when he shared something with her or made her laugh. Making her happy was his mission in life, the reason he got up in the morning and why he worked so hard at their relationship. 

He skipped down the sidewalk.

Marriage! The idea had kind of scared him for a moment. But the more he thought about it, the more excited he became. Ha! Kelli in a white dress. The two of them holding hands at some beautiful place in the woods or mountains or something. The honeymoon sex. He couldn’t imagine anywhere better than living by his best friend’s side. 

Maybe he’d bring it up at lunch today. Should he? What if he was overthinking this? He could be totally off base with the whole marriage thing. Or maybe he should just go shopping for a ring and pop the question. Was she waiting for him to do just that? After all, they were moving in to a new place together and she was obviously planning things for the future. 

Dolt. You should have thought of this already.

Arwin had a bit of time before meeting up with Kelli — perhaps his soon-to-be fiancé! So he headed towards a large, downtown park. He needed some space to breath and calm down.

He entered the green space and quickly saw that preparations for next week’s big event were already underway. It was called Storming the Wall, named after a quote from Marcus Aurelius:

‘Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and need a comrade to pull you up, so what?’

 Proceeds for the event went towards funding a local mental health clinic. Storming the Wall was a four-part event that included a swim of seven pool lengths followed by a five hundred meter sprint, cycling three and a half kilometres, running fifteen hundred meters, and then climbing over an intimidating, three-meter wall. 

Arwin had competed in this event for years, once in the iron div, alone, but only as a personal challenge, not expecting to win as he’d never mastered getting over the wall. He just didn’t have the height when he jumped. The previous three years he’d competed with two of his best friends, Eddie Jones and Jimenez Vasquez, in the hard division. All three were natural athletes, always playing in various sports, and made an excellent team. Eddie swam, Arwin cycled and Jimenez ran. They’d ranked third in the hard division last year, their best finish ever. Arwin had been really proud of how well they’d worked together, pushing each other to train every single day, pushing each other to eat right, bringing the best out of each other day-in and day-out. It felt fantastic to be part of something bigger than oneself. And doing it with your closest friends made it even more special.

This year, however, things hadn’t gone the way they’d hoped. Jimenez had accidentally injured his leg last week during a soccer game and was out. Arwin, as team captain, had been scrambling to find someone to replace him, but this close to the race, most people interested in competing already had teams, and those who were left weren’t up to the same physical level that he and Eddie were. If he had to bring a lesser athlete onto the team, so be it; winning wasn’t everything and he just wanted to do his best and have fun. But he’d much prefer to team up with someone at the same level. It was just more exciting that way.

Arwin approached the wall, intending to feel how high it was, to remind himself of it. As he walked over, a trio of young men came out from behind it, all dressed in shorts and t-shirts, ready to practice climbing the wall. He recognized two as a couple of the strongest contenders for the upcoming event: Jars Smythe and Danny Wong. They flanked someone, seemingly discussing strategy for the event. 

That someone was Arwin’s long-time Climb-the-Wall partner and good friend, Eddie. 

Eddie’s eye caught Arwin’s arrival and he did a double-take. A brief look of guilt flashed over his features, but he hastily smoothed his expression to cover it. “Hey. What’s up?” he asked with obviously forced casualness.

“Hey,” Arwin replied. He eyed the two other guys. “What’s going on?”

Eddie didn’t offer anything in reply. A very awkward silence dragged out.

Arwin felt his stomach sinking. Eddie was one of his best friends. There were never awkward silences between them. He swallowed. Forcing himself to be light, he slapped his hand onto Eddie’s shoulder and nodded at the other two guys. “You guys sharing training tips?” he asked. 

Eddie had the grace to look just a trifle awkward, then he hardened. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I can’t do Storming the Wall with you anymore. I’m joining up with Jars and Danny. We’re making a new team.”

Arwin felt his body go cold, then a kernel of anger coalesced inside. He tried to control it.  He turned to Jars. “I thought you guys were teamed up with Bonzie?”

Jars just shrugged. “Dumped him as soon as Eddie was on board. Top swimmers are rare. You know that. Eddie swims like a shark! He gives us a much better shot at winning.”

“So you just ditched Bonzie?” Arwin asked in disbelief.

Jars seemed entirely guiltless about dropped his former teammate. “Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to win.”

Arwin turned to Eddie. “You and I are already a team.”

Eddie shrugged. “If you and I do it we only have two, which means one of us has to do two events. That’s rough.”

“I did the whole event myself last year, the day after you and I competed with Jimenez, and I came in sixth in the iron challenge,” Arwin reminded Eddie. “Besides, I told you, we’ll be fine in the team event. We’ll find someone. We stand a really good chance of doing well.”

“Maybe,” Eddie nodded. “But if I’m on a team with Jars and Danny, the three of us are pretty much guaranteed to win.”

Arwin took a step forward. “Eddie, we still have another week. We can find someone. I’m sure we can,” he pleaded.

Eddie shook his head. “Sorry, Arwin. I already committed to these guys.”

Arwin stepped back in disbelief. “We’re friends. I thought you were committed to us. We’ve been training for weeks.”

Jars had a greasy, satisfied smile on his face now that he’d seen Eddie officially ditch Arwin. “Eddie’s smart. He wants to win. With us, he will.”

Eddie nodded.

“And what, winning is everything?” Arwin asked seriously.

Jars and Danny laughed as if Arwin had said something stupid.

Danny spoke up. “Why would you do it if you weren’t trying to win?”

“Maybe that’s why you only came in third last year,” Jars taunted. “Maybe you don’t want to win enough. Maybe that’s why Eddie chose us instead. We’re all about winning.”

“Winning is everything,” Danny agreed. “Especially when it’s five grand for the winning team.”

Arwin turned to Eddie, ignoring the others. “Eddie, don’t do this. You know I want to win; of course I do. And I know you do too. But at what cost? We’re friends, too. Come on man!”

Eddie looked really defensive for a moment, then anger clouded his features. He turned his body away from Arwin. “Sorry. I’m joining their team.”

Emotionally staggered, Arwin backed away. Had he really just lost a friend over a silly race and a little bit of prize money? He stumbled over someone’s foot, turned, mumbled an apology to a woman waiting to train on the wall. She frowned at him. In shock at the unexpected betrayal, he wandered through the park, barely able to think clearly. 

Eddie’s unexpected decision really floored him. Arwin could hardly imagine doing the same thing to a friend. And for what? A third of five grand? For the momentary glory of winning something most people didn’t care about? Wasn’t their friendship worth more than that?

He walked with his head down, heart heavy. This would probably be the end of their friendship. He might forgive Eddie if the guy ever apologized and honestly tried to make up for it, but would he? After being dumped like that, Arwin wasn’t sure he had that much faith.

As for the Storming The Wall contest, Arwin was pretty much screwed unless he could convince the registration officials to let him compete alone in the iron division. However, the idea of taking part in the event suddenly didn’t seem so exciting anymore. All the fun had been sucked right out of it. He wasn’t really interested in doing it alone. 

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