"Sometimes, I think of suicide. But more often than not out of ennui than out of actual despair."
"Boredom spurs thoughts of death?"
"I wouldn't exactly put it like that. I like to think of death as a nice sleep in a warm bed."
"Are you sure you're not contemplating suicide out of laziness?"
This was the conversation Manuel would always remember. Three weeks and two days before Joseph's death they had sat in a Pizza Parlor drinking poorly made espresso, eating greasy slices of pepperoni pizza and talking about suicide casually. Joseph talked about everything casually. Manuel did not have to close his eyes to envision Joseph's half-lidded smile or the way he would pick slices of pepperoni off his pizza while arguing a point, licking his fingers with relish as he responded to Manuel's elegant rhetoric. Manuel envied the effortlessness of being Joseph. No air of world-weary disdain, no patina of culture had a chance of competing with such guilelessness and natural charm.
On Manuel's desk was a pile of photographs neatly arranged by chronological order. There was a thin coating of dust over the photos' glossy surfaces; they had lain untouched since Joseph's death. The pictures were of the trip Joseph, Manuel and Gabrielle had taken to Rosarito Beach. This thin covering of dust in Manuel's otherwise immaculate house was the most tangible evidence of his grief.
Manuel perched on the edge of his chaise longue staring at the pile of pictures from halfway across the room, deciding whether to properly confine them in the slightly garish leatherbound photo album Joseph ahd given him or to throw them away and be done with them when the telephone rang. In a flash of prescience Manuel knew it would be Gabrielle on the other end. He knew this despite their careful mutual avoidance of each other for the past four weeks.
"Hello," he answered, somewhat fatigued.
"Hi Manny, I need to talk about Oceanside," Gabrielle's voice was slightly slurred and she carefully enunciated each word. Manuel knew she was drunk again. Gabrielle had taken to drinking every night in the two months since Joseph's death. Manuel knew that Gabrielle regarded the fact that his life went on in the same ordered and precise fashion as before as proof of Manuel's sangfroid indifference. It was one of many sore spots between the two.
Manuel waited a moment before responding, "What do you want to talk about?" Then, more tenderly, "What do you want to know?"
"That hotel we stayed in -- coming back from Rosarito -- the moon was so bright that night. So big and orange and so full over the water."
Manuel remained silent, unsure of what Gabrielle meant. She continued, "It was so big and so full that I couldn't sleep. I -- I didn't mean to -- but I saw things."
Manuel sighed, his suspicions confirmed. Quietly he replied, "Gabrielle, you never said anything."
She made short, choked sound, whether a laugh or a sob Manuel could not tell. Then she asked in a small voice, "Did you love him?"
Manuel closed his eyes as if darkness could protect him from tears, "He was impossible. He was crass and brazen He was wonderful and brilliant. How could I not love him?"
"So why weren't you two together? I mean, besides Oceanside? Why --"
"I never told him I loved him. It would have been immaterial, he didn't love me. It would have made everything awkward. I suppose I was just another of his great experiments."
"Oh," Gabrielle sounded relieved, "So you and me -- we finally understand each other, huh Manny?"
Manuel did not answer. There was a click and then the droning of the dialtone. Manuel did not expect to hear from Gabrielle again. This, in its way, was a relief. Manuel drew his curtains against the moon, nearly as big and as full as the on the night that Gabrielle had alluded to. Manuel made himself a cup of tea and took to bed with a novel, feeling much older than twenty-one.
No longer religious, he prayed to the Saints to protect him from dreams. His prayers went unheard, once more he dreamt about Joseph; the sharpness of his gray eyes that belied his dreamy expression, his artlessly tousled hair, his tanned fingers pulling a slice of pepperoni from grease-mottled pizza.
"I'm not sure I'd call it laziness --although I'm willing to concede the point," Manuel said, trying not to smile. Joseph slurped noisily at his latte, "Your bed thing sounds sort of safe -- and by safe I mean boring. Me, I hope death is a wild ride."
Manuel gave up on trying to saw through the crust of his slice with a knife and pushed is mostly uneaten pizza away from him. He looked Joseph directly in the eyes, then looked quickly away, afraid that the naked longing in his own eyes would be be evident. Shyly he said, "Safe's not always a bad thing. A good friend could be safe."
Joseph pulled a mushroom off of Manuel's pizza, "So... what do you say about coming with me and Gabrielle to Rosarito next week? You like to swim and neither of us speaks Spanish. It's a perfect fit. You get bargains from the locals and I'll show you where to swim."
Manuel smiled, "I would never dream of intruding on your vacation with your lovely lady."
Joseph laughed at this, "Gabby's not my girlfriend. We're just buds. Besides, the trip would be more fun with you along."
Manuel pushed his hair back from his forehead, surprised at how ignorant Joseph was of the depth of feeling Gabrielle had for him. Anyone could see how she opened herself to him, anyone could see how her eyes followed him around a room.
"In that case, I will accept."
"Great. Gabby'll be stoked."
Joseph got up from the table, beaming a smile down at Manuel. Manuel grinned back, Joseph's puppy-like exuberance was infectious.
"Thank you for inviting me, Joseph."
"No one ever calls me Joseph, I kinda like it. Makes me feel grown-up. Hey, I never realized before, your eyes are the same color as my aunt's rosewood table. They're really beautiful. You shouldn't wear sunglasses."