Goaded

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise. And this is just as ridiculous and silly here as it was there 😉


“Jay. I am 34 years old. It is not a question of not knowing how to. Do you honestly believe that… just because I haven’t tried something before, that I couldn’t?”

Dean studies Jay’s face in that way he does when Jay knows he’s being an idiot but just keeps on talking anyway, and waits.

“Uh…” Jay stumbles, feeling lost for any kind of meaningful words.

He’s known Dean coming up to four years now, and on some days Jay still can’t work out how the two of them have become such good friends. Where Jay is practical, act-now-think-later, and very much a learn-by-doing, Dean is meticulous, researches and cross-references things he wants to know about to a point of obsession, and is the first to admit that spontaneity is a dirty word.

He’s also serious, thoughtful, loyal and compassionate to the people he cares about. Dean makes Jay feel he might be worth something, and that’s not something he’s used to being. And above all else, he’s patient with him, stays calm when Jay is close to panic, talks reasonably when Jay’s lost all sense of his. So it’s sort of funny seeing the slightest evidence on his face of being flustered that suggests for all of his blustering bravado, he’s actually a little nervous. It’s kind of cute, Jay thinks, then catches himself thinking it and pretends he isn’t.

“Yeah, Jay,” Matt pipes up next to him, grinning at Jay’s discomfort. Matt’s smirk drops instantly when Dean’s assessing gaze turns to him, as though Matt is being equally stupid.

This is what you get, Jay berates himself, trying to keep a lid on the whine that’s threatening to climb up out of his throat. This is what you get for arranging for your closest friend stroke not-so-secret forbidden crush to come over for dinner, and not forcing your kid brother out of the house you share. It’s inviting trouble, really, and he can’t blame anyone but himself for whatever’s about to unfold.

Dean continues to stare at him as this internal berating goes on for Jay, silently demanding an answer.

“Knowing the theory isn’t actually the same as… you know. Doing it,” Jay finally offers a little helplessly, flinching as Dean’s eyebrow raises a notch.

Jay looks longingly towards the doorway of the kitchen, to safety and escape.

He’s not going to get away from this that easily though, he knows that, acknowledges that the only way out of this is down. But he is going to have this out with Matt later, that much is for sure. How dare he bring up something like this, when he knows… Jay knows Matt knows… about… well. Things. About stuff.

“Well,” Matt relents after a minute, and Jay’s trying to concentrate on that, rather than the way his heart is attempting to leap out of his chest, “we’ve evidence, Dean. For example, from the last time you, uh… tried to help us cook. That… just ‘cos in theory you know how to do something? In practice, it doesn’t always work out all that well,”

“Omelette,” Jay blurts out, and for a moment, all three of them frown in sync, avoid looking at the black scorch mark on the frame of the patio door, and each other. Then Dean’s eyebrow cranks up a fraction more, in blatant disdain for their stupidity.

“I choose not to cook. It is not a question of not being able to,” he retorts, his scowl turning into a full on glare when Matt snorts, and Jay’s mind takes him back to the day of The Omelette pinpointing that as the start of so many of his current problems.

Dean had been insistent. Obnoxiously so. And most indignant, when Matt and Jay hadn’t believed he’d be able to do something as ‘simple’ as make an omelette. He’d raised an unamused eyebrow at both of them – very much as he is doing now – then shrugged out of both his coat and suit jacket in one fluid movement, and slowly rolled up his sleeves, all whilst Jay watched him open-mouthed like a man gaping at a beer after a taxing Dry January. Discreetly, of course. Discreetly.

Jay had continued watching Dean’s back as he’d walked over to the sink to wash his hands, dried them on kitchen towel like a pro, and then stalked over to the carton of eggs on the counter, bringing them back across the kitchen to leave next to the stove. Jay had swallowed roughly to see the pull of the shirt over Dean’s muscle and had stood, transfixed, willing himself to look elsewhere, but failing dismally.

Next, Dean had walked over to the fridge, bending down to peer inside in interest, and giving Jay a very distracting view of the way his pants tightened over his ass. Jay couldn’t help staring at things like that on any given day when he was around Dean, honestly he couldn’t, and at the time, Matt had given a delighted snort, grinning victoriously in his direction. Jay grimaces uncomfortably for remembering the look of comprehension on Matt’s face, still shrinking back from the wickedness emitting from his brother after all this time, wanting to turn quickly on his heel, and leave. Matt had that effect on him a lot when it came to Dean, Jay reflects then, fighting back yet another whine.

But Matt and Jay’s attention had then turned immediately to the bowl Dean clunked down noisily on the counter, and the way he threw in everything at once, before stirring the mixture vigorously and slopping it all over the sides.

Sure, in principle, the idea had been good; eggs, cheese, and bacon were acceptable – essential, ingredients perhaps, for making an omelette.

But, as Jay had sidled up to him, taking in the bits of shell floating on top of the mixture and the bacon fat sticking out like little white islands in a sea of yellow, he couldn’t help but laugh.

Even if Dean did spin on his heel and glare at him in contempt.

The second attempt, when the first had been thrown with some force into the trash, fared slightly better to start with. But Dean couldn’t seem to get to grips with the pan, and even Matt, who had been strictly forbidden from doing anything more complicated than reheating or nuking things in the microwave, howled in laughter, as Dean pushed stubbornly at the black mess that in a former life had once been eggs.

The third attempt, using up the very last of the eggs, had resulted in that black mark on the door frame that all three of them are currently glaring at, and Jay tactfully takes a slight step to the side, blocking everyone’s view.

“This is different,” Dean assures them with the most serious of expressions on his face.

“How is this different?” Matt laughs, boldy. This doesn’t really impact him one way or another, after all. Aside from watching his brother die from mortification. Unless it’s a really underhand way to get his share of the house, Jay thinks, considering just how evil Matt is, and what his limits may or may not be.

Dean stares at Matt curiously, and somehow that makes Matt laugh more. “Because, Matt. The omelette… incident…” Dean glares at them both for a second, daring them to comment. They do not. “I had never considered making an omelette before. It was not something I had ever spent a lot of time thinking about. You are both aware that I prefer to eat meals that are prepared for me,”

Jay straightens up from where he’s been slumped back against the counter, and his eyes narrow. “Wait,” he says, half-extending a hand towards Dean but curling his fingers back before they actually reach him. “You’ve been thinking about this? A lot?”

“Yes, Jay.” Dean tells him with utmost certainty, calm and assured as he is almost always calm and assured.

There is a look on Jay’s face that Matt instantly recognises as jealousy. He knows it, and has known it all his life; usually when Jay thinks Matt’s got more toppings on his pizza than he does, or has unknowingly poured himself an inch more wine from a shared bottle, it’s true. But still. He knows jealousy on Jay when he sees it, and finds himself smirking a little harder.

“With who?” Jay demands, stepping that touch closer, his voice tinged with bristling anger.

Dean’s face contorts, showing he’s really not sure what Jay’s problem is.

“I would have thought that would be obvious by now,” is all he can offer in answer. Which Jay growls, actually growls at, and Matt barks out a peal of laughter at, earning himself another glare from Jay.

“So,” Matt eventually manages when he’s finished his gleeful laughter from the safe step back he’s taken away from Jay’s mood. “What you’re saying, Dean. Is that. Is that. Unlike the omelette thing. You’ve been thinking about doing this. A lot. So you know exactly what to do here.”

“Yes,” Dean gives him simply.

Matt shrugs. “Prove it.”

“Matt,” Jay blasts out, eyes full of rage for Matt and spinning around, fully turning his back to Dean.

His eyes drop the second he feels Dean’s hand on his shoulder, and raise back up again in shock as Dean is pushing him back against the counter with no gentleness at all.

“Uh…” is all he manages, before Dean is against him bodily and kissing him firmly on the mouth.

There is a moment, a tiny moment, when Jay registers Matt laughing hysterically beside them. But it is only a moment, because right now, his brain has shorted out for the absolutely most impossible thing to be happening to him. Dean is kissing him. He’s actually kissing him, willingly, very ably, he’d very much like to add, and from the feel of… yep, that feels a lot like, well, interest, he seems to be enjoying it just as much as he is.

Unconsciously, Jay’s arms curl around Dean’s lower back, pulling him that little bit more firmly against him, making Dean moan into his mouth in appreciation.

I’ll die happy, is the only thought Jay manages, sagging under Dean’s weight.

Matt is doing all but cheering them on, resisting the urge to clap and forcing back the slight tears he’s feeling pricking in his eyes to see what he’s seeing before him.

Never in his wildest dreams would Matt have believed that what was a glib challenge to Dean about his never having kissed another man before, would have led to this. To seeing Jay, so utterly and thoroughly caught up in, well. Kissing Dean, like Matt damn well knew he’d been thinking about for an eternity. It made his little shipper heart sing, it really did.

Although.

Perhaps that level of enthusiasm was a little too much for his eyes, and oh hell he knows he just saw tongue.

Choking back the laughter that’s threatening to erupt yet again, Matt clears his throat, which neither Dean nor Jay acknowledge him doing.

“So, uh…” he tries pathetically, knowing there’s no way he’s getting their attention any time soon.

“Uh… you can thank me later, Jay,” he manages to half-call out eventually, backing up slowly towards the kitchen door.

Jay must be somewhat aware that Matt’s still standing there, because he slowly raises the hand he’s got wrapped hard around Dean up, flips him off, then slowly gives him the thumbs up Terminator two-style, before putting his hand back firmly on Dean, a little lower this time.

Matt’s eyes widen to see that, and he thumbs a gesture over at the door, making a quick exit with an absent wave, averting his eyes as he does.

Point of No Return

“You remember when we-”

He says, a reminiscent smile on his face as he leans on the terrace railing and stares out over the water. His voice fades away, but you don’t need him to finish the words, because you do; you do remember. A small boat, white with a navy blue trim around its flank. Sea spray striking your skin as wind whipped up your hair. Your hands on the steering wheel, though he was the one steering; pressed up tight against your back with his hands around your middle, gentle fingers slipped between your own.

A lifetime ago, you think, but it isn’t really. Can it only be three years since? Three years, for the love of your life to morph into barely an acquaintance? You don’t even know this man stood there in front of you, not really, not anymore. Not the lines of his back, nor the warmth of his skin beneath yours; nothing. You barely know yourself anymore, you defend, but it’s empty, as empty as you feel.

“I do,” you say, anyway, wincing at the words, because not so long ago, you thought you’d be saying them in front of witnesses. The ring still sits in its velvet prison, buried deep at the bottom of your sock drawer. You should have taken it back months ago, when you first accepted it was never going to happen, but you’ve talked yourself into and out of it so many times, clinging on for hope, which is what this weekend is all about.

You watch him in profile, and it brings the slightest amount of comfort seeing that reminiscent smile turn wistful before finally settling on just plain sad. You both did this, you tell yourself, though it’s nothing but fiction. Because some days it’s easier to pretend it just happened. Easier to act like you didn’t bring it all on yourself.

That small boat, with that deck so small, that you barely had room to step around one another. But that hadn’t stopped the wandering hands, the smiling faces, the teasing kisses under the fading summer sun. A lake house, a long stretch of decking to which that boat had eventually been tethered, and love made on a mess of blankets on that decking underneath the light of the stars.

You took that from him, you think, your stomach churning, as it always seems to be churning of late; you did that to both of you. Took something sacred, sweet, and centring, and turned it stale, and sour. And this weekend away, you hoped would claw it back. But how can you claw back what you took for granted? How can you regain the trust that you so viciously shred apart?

“I wouldn’t go back, you know,” he says then, quiet though firm, soft enough to make your heart both ache and pound, “I mean, I wouldn’t change it. Wouldn’t… guess I’m saying is, I don’t regret it; not a minute of it. Not even if this is where we’ve ended up,”

This, you think, tears choking your throat, then pricking in your eyes, as his hand reaches out to press over yours, slotting his fingers between your own as he once did, as he has done, so many times. This is over; there’s no point denying it, no point sprinkling it in sparkle and pretending the end isn’t happening when so obviously, it is. It has been happening, for months now. You’ve just finally run out of time.

Tomorrow

When did tomorrow become too late?

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll tell him. Tomorrow I’ll find the words to sum up all the chaos that’s been turning paces round the inside of my skull for a lifetime.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’ll stop making excuses, find courage that I tell myself I have for every other occasion when for this, courage seems like an impossible task.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll call, tomorrow I’ll say something, tomorrow I’ll be the person I could be, were I only to open my mouth.

Tomorrow. He’s… gone. Not here. No forwarding address, no call connecting, no way to make contact now I’ve found the strength to ask.

Did you want this? Me? Think of me for even one of the moments I’ve been dreaming of you? Did I occupy any corner of your mind, like you’ve invaded every one of my thoughts?

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I said, over and over and over some more, until tomorrow came, but you were already gone.

You couldn’t wait for me, and I understand that, in theory, of course I do.

But if I had just one more tomorrow. Just one more moment to hesitate.

Where would you be now?

Waiting For the Right Time

When Evan’s brother is in an accident, he’s terrified, and doesn’t know where to turn, or who to ask for support. Which is stupid, really, since Peter’s been in his life for longer than he hasn’t, and has always been a rock.


 

It isn’t fair, Evan thinks, staring down at Tom laid pristine white in a hospital bed, willing himself to concentrate on the slightest evidence of his chest rising up and down. Tom’s the baby of the family, eight years younger than Evan is himself, and all Evan can think staring down at him then, is that he’s failed him for letting this happen.

It’s beyond not fair, he adds, eyes closing in anguish at the sight of the apparatus set around the head of that bed, proof that Tom’s only there because there’s machinery keeping him alive. The bandage wound around his head speaks of swelling that hasn’t shown any sign of lessening, and there are enough smaller ones dotted to his neck and arms to make him look tiny, fragile there in that bed.

Tom’s a good guy, the best of them, never done anything but try to live a good, honest life, and do the right thing, every chance that he gets. And okay, so maybe Evan’s a little biased because Tom’s his little brother and he’ll never see him as anything but a hero. But he’s also never willingly hurt anyone, and that’s a heroic quality Evan feels a lot of people in the world are lacking, turning a blind eye where Tom is always sticking up for people. Always jumping to the defence of others without any regard for himself, without ever being asked.

Which is apparently how he got himself into this mess in the first place.

Just a day ago, Evan had been putting the finishing touches to a customer’s garden, enjoying the many perks of outdoor work in the late summer sun, when he’d received the phone call. A quick glance around, his careful eye checking for any small details that needed fixing, was interrupted by the scream of his phone, and Tom’s near-hysterical friend Steven announcing he’d been hurt in a fight.

Evan had driven directly to the hospital, the mantra that Tom was against mindless violence doing nothing but terrify him even more, for all the images and possibilities it stabbed into his mind. Steven’s broken words when he’d collapsed into Evan’s arms, once he’d found him wide-eyed and startled on a hospital corridor outside the operating theatre, spoke of Tom standing like a fortress, when a guy at the table next to theirs in a beer garden had been attacked. Of course he did, Evan thinks to himself for the hundredth time as he reaches out to pointlessly straighten Tom’s blanket, of course he’d done that. Without even hesitating. Without even giving it a thought.

There’s only the two of them, Evan thinks then, his stomach knotting over and over, half-glad that their parents are already long gone and not having to share this burden with him, yet also desperately missing their support. What happens next? Who does he need to call? What can he do to fix this? There’s a thousand things he needs answers to, but no one there to tell him anything.

Thank god, or whatever is out there, he thinks, that Peter is there with him.

Peter is a calming, steady presence beside him as Evan stands watch over Tom, twitching, trying to anticipate whatever Tom might need, or want, even though he hasn’t yet opened his eyes.

“I’m here,” Peter says, seeming to sense how badly he needs him, not offering any platitudes about Tom being okay, knowing it will do nothing to soothe Evan’s nerves. Instead he drapes his arm around Evan’s shoulder and allows him to shuffle closer, the only acknowledgement paid to Evan’s frustrated tears being the circling of his thumb repeatedly against his upper arm.

***

When Evan gets Tom back to his apartment to watch over him as he recovers, Peter is still there beside him offering quiet support. He brings Evan coffee, swiftly grabbing the rapidly emptying whiskey bottle from Evan’s hands with a terse look that speaks volumes Evan doesn’t want to hear about, and replacing it with a large, warm mug he can wrap his fingers around as he quietly nods in thanks.

Peter empties the bowl Tom retches into sometimes, walks with him to the bathroom when he needs help getting there – when he’s sent Evan out on errands to force him into getting some fresh air, and continues his silent vigil over both of the brothers when Evan finally succumbs to much-needed sleep.

Peter is also there, when Tom is screaming, crying out in the middle of a nightmare, and Evan is leaking silent tears of his own for all the things he can’t do for him. Peter rests a hand on Evan’s shoulder, and Evan breaks, grabbing Peter to him and sobbing wrecked into his neck, clinging on with a vice-like grip. Peter soothes with words spoken softly into his ear, and gentle hands rubbing reassurances into his back.

At some point about a week into Tom’s recovery, Evan thinks that in a fear-fuelled moment late one night, he’s kissed Peter, seeking comfort, reassurance, and escape. But his mind is so twisted in confusion with all that’s happening, and so bone-tired, that he can’t even remember if the moment was real, or just an unrealised fantasy that’s taunting him. That has taunted him, for as long as he can remember. Either way, Peter resolutely stays by his side.

***

Tom is strong, and begins to show good progress, with strength returning to his limbs, and wit making a reappearance in his words. Evan looks on, smiling proudly, reminded of a thousand times he’d watched over Tom protectively in sleep when they were growing up, repeating his mantra of thank you over and over for having him there to still do that.

As Tom gets better still, Evan begins to leave him alone for longer periods as a solution to his argument that he should go home, get out of his hair. He’s never far enough away to be out of shouting distance if Tom needs him, or wants to yell at him some more for being an overprotective mother hen; but enough to give Tom what is surely much needed space.

Peter is still there with him, and Evan finds it aches thinking about him eventually leaving when things go back to normal. His overnight bag’s become a feature of Evan’s living room, his favourite shower gel leaves a teasing scent of him in the bathroom, and his attempts to force nutritious food on Evan have filled his cupboards with strange new worlds of ingredients for all the recipes he’s got him trying.

Evan pauses outside Tom’s room, one time, hearing Tom’s soft laughter and a bemused, gentle mirth in Peter’s low, gravelly tone, leaving Evan stuck between listening and leaving, both curious and afraid of what he might overhear.

“Don’t tell him, Pete, ‘cos I can’t handle justifying all his fussing. But I don’t know how I’d have got through this without him,” he hears, and Evan feels a lump form in his throat, that he quickly forces down.

“You too,” Tom adds, and from the rustling sound that follows, Evan’s sure Tom’s reached out to pat Peter on the shoulder, or something.

“Evan wouldn’t leave your side, Tom, not for a second. When we were in the hospital waiting for you to wake up, I had to drag him out of your room to make him take even a five second break. He was terrified for you. Kept telling me, he wished he could take your place there, wished he could be going through it all for you. And though I would do anything for you, help you in any way I can, it’s been… difficult. To have to hear him talking like that. It’s probably selfish, but… I’ve felt so helpless,” Peter finishes with a sigh, and Evan wants to walk in and wrap his arms around his shoulders, tell him how vital he’s been to him throughout all of this.

“You’ve been here for Evan.” Tom answers, stealing his words. “That is far from being helpless,” Evan hears Tom reply, imagines his smile, and closes his eyes, grateful that Tom is finally smiling again.

“He’d be lost without you too, you know?” Tom adds, and Evan freezes at his words, desperate to know Peter’s response.

There is a pause, but finally Peter gives a soft, breathy sigh that sounds like acknowledgement, and answers quietly with, “As would I without him.”

“You guys need to talk stuff out, you know,” Tom tells him, and Evan thinks he can picture Peter shuffling in discomfort.

“It’s not really the time, Tom. We need you to concentrate on getting better, more than anything else.” Peter’s tone is decided, and firm, adamant he’s right in his thinking. He is right, Evan agrees, but it doesn’t stop his heart sinking a little, even if he’s not worked up the courage to do anything about this – them, himself.

“Pete,” Tom’s talking in that gentle, patient, explaining-to-an-idiot tone of his, and Evan kind of loves him for it. “I’ve known you for… it feels like all my life. You two have been friends since forever now, and it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that there’s something between you even if you pretend that there isn’t. If you keep thinking about it like that, that now’s not really the time, there’s never gonna be a right time. So why not make it the right time now? What is it the two of you are waiting for?”

Evan doesn’t want to hear Peter’s answer, too scared it will be the confirmation of rejection, so chooses that moment to go in with the tray of food he’s prepared. But it’s not like Tom’s words don’t play over and over for Evan, or stop him sneaking continual glances in Peter’s direction for the rest of the day. Or give him any chance of sleep later that night.

When he’s admitted sleep is just not going to be happening for him, Evan gets up, sighing heavily at the early hour glaring back at him on his phone, and pads through to the living room, expecting to find Peter stoically asleep on the sofa where he’s taking up what feels like just as much permanent residence as Tom. But Peter is sat at the dining table, his face illuminated by the screen of his laptop, and his eyes raise at the sound of Evan entering the room.

“Can’t sleep,” Evan offers in answer to Peter’s silent question, “What are you doing?”

Peter pauses, then reaches over to flick on a lamp on the table, and silently closes the laptop lid.

“Nothing much,” he says, coming around to lean back against the table, his hands wrapping around the edge, as he watches Evan. “Couldn’t sleep either,”

Evan watches back.

The silence remains heavy, loaded with unspoken questions. And Evan decides he can’t stand just watching anymore, so takes a courageous step forward. He bends slightly to cup Peter’s face and tilt it up, slow to give him time to resist if that’s what he wants to do. And then Evan leans down, claiming Peter’s mouth in a kiss that feels very, very long overdue. Peter’s hands are immediately around his waist, gripping Evan as he adjusts the way he stands between his legs, and pulling him as close as he can get.

The silence between them might not be filled with words, but there’s soft gasps and gentle exploration in their place, and that adds more to the sense Evan has of them finally getting somewhere. Evan feels hopeful, and humble, and more than anything, home. And when they pull apart to catch their breath, Peter’s smile for him repeats the same thing back.

***

When Tom walks through in the morning, rubbing a tired hand down his face, he comes to a stop at the foot of the sofa, his head tilting to one side as he considers the view in front of him.

On the sofa lays Peter on his back, with Evan tangled between his legs and wrapped up in his arms, fast asleep in the crook of Peter’s neck.

Peter looks at Tom, and Tom looks on back at Peter, and where Peter’s smile is small and a little timid, Tom’s is wide, and beaming happiness.

They nod at each other in unspoken acceptance of the change in circumstances between them all, before Tom turns and heads into the kitchen, a spring in his step and a hum in this mouth. He rinses the cafetiere, measuring out a generous amount of coffee, then settles it down on the side, fingers drumming as he considers adding another spoon.

Tom pulls down two mugs from a shelf, leans over to fill the kettle, then leans back against the counter, a gentle smile lingering around his lips for how ecstatic he feels for his brother. And with that smile, and a barrage of teasing already forming in his head, he turns around, and reaches for a third.

Finding The Words

James knows Darren loves him. He just needs to find the words to convince him of it.

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😉

“You don’t get it, James,” Darren’s voice is low, and tired, and he stands as though he has never lived without permanent ache.

James watches him wordlessly, arms folded roughly across his chest, letting Darren speak.

“You just don’t. You don’t understand that I don’t get good things. I don’t get the happy ending, I can’t just have what I want. I just can’t,” Darren sighs then, looking over at James with pleading in his eyes. James can’t tell if he’s pleading for understanding or to be proved wrong.

“It isn’t because I don’t want this,” Darren adds, and he doesn’t need to say the words. This is them. It’s that thing that has brewed and bubbled between them for what is possibly forever. Or feels like forever. Ever since that first – and last time Darren had lapsed, and reached for a bottle instead of help on a bad day, when he’d been doing so well, not drank a single drop in god knows how long; that’s how long Darren’s felt like this about him.

Even then, in that darkest of moments, especially then; James had looked at him as though he believed in him, and that what had happened was nothing but a temporary blip. Darren has never had anyone show that much faith in him, and seeing it open and honest and there on James’ face had solidified for Darren what he’d been kidding himself for the longest time was just fleeting attraction for him.

“It isn’t because I have a problem with this,” he adds, and now he’s being as clear as he can be, when clear feels impossible, “it’s because I want this. You. More than I’ve wanted anything my whole life. And I can’t have it, I just can’t; you’ve got to hear what I’m trying to tell you,”

Silence fills the space between them for an age, and then James quietly replies with, “May I ask why?”

Darren’s resolve is slipping. The tone of James’ voice that is hurt and looking for understanding crumbles it, because that’s what James does to Darren. He makes him weak. “Because I just can’t, okay? I’ll ruin it. I’ll mess things up, and I’ll hurt you, and I’ll lose the best friend I’ve ever had,”

Which, in a nutshell, is the full truth of it. James has been one of Darren’s closest friends since college, with Darren remembering as though it were yesterday looking up across a lecture hall at the sound of a well-spoken English man, articulately arguing for his right for admittance. Or whatever the words he’d used at the time were. The point was, Darren had smiled at him in welcome when he’d come to sit a few feet from him, and James had returned it, and they had been friends ever since.

But it wasn’t yesterday, it was more than ten years ago, and James has been by Darren’s side ever since. His friend, his confidante, his rock. There through his many failures, there for his few successes, there for everything. How can he risk losing all of that by giving into all these feelings, when he knows without doubt that James could do so very much better than himself?

“And you could get hurt.” James adds, noting the omission.

Darren huffs as though that’s not a distinct possibility. That the thought of losing James, especially if he allows them to just… be… doesn’t kill him already.

“You could get hurt.” James repeats firmly, holding Darren’s gaze, in the way only James ever does.

“Yeah, well.” Darren shrugs, breaking the eye contact, “happens…”

James turns slightly, still keeping his distance from Darren. “I would never make promises not to hurt you, Darren. That would be unfair and a lie. I could only promise to never intend to hurt you.” James’ words are gentle, and Darren can’t help but let the tenderness of them seep through him for a moment.

“Don’t know why you’d be interested anyway,” is Darren’s response, scuffing the toe of his boot along the floor with his usual kneejerk change-the-subject reaction.

“I could list all of the things I love about you, Darren. Yes, love,” James repeats the end of his statement when Darren snorts in dismissal, “because I do love you. I have loved you. For a very long time now. But I doubt very much that you’d like to hear what I have to say about that,”

“How could you?” Darren mumbles, eyes still on the floor, and it’s a fair question. How could anyone as incredible as James; intelligent, attractive, kind beyond anything – how could anyone that amazing love him of all people? It wasn’t possible, not now, not ever.

James takes comfort from the fact that Darren hasn’t run from his words. There was a time when he feared complete rejection purely because they were both men, and throughout college and beyond, Darren had only ever shown interest in women. He feared that Darren’s outlook on life was already carved in stone by the views of his father, and although it was unfair, James felt nothing but dislike for the man, and the way he had shaped his son to hate himself as much as he knew Darren did. In situations such as now, with the full embodiment of Darren’s self-loathing making him truly believe he wasn’t worthy of him, that dislike flared ugly.

“I already said,” James continues, “I could list all the things I love about you. The reasons why. But you wouldn’t want to hear them. It would be pointless to force you to hear things that you are adamant you don’t want to hear. And will reject,” he adds, unable to keep a tinge of sadness and bitterness from his tone. He really has loved Darren for an age; in silence, in secret, at a safe distance. Never pushing, never taking more than Darren was willing to offer because until recently, until an evening where they’d fallen asleep together on his couch and James had woken to Darren staring at him with nothing but want on his face, James had never dared think Darren might care about him, want him back.

Darren’s eyes fly up, pain reflected there because of the pain he knows he’s causing James now. “I’m no good, James,” he protests, “no good at all. I’ve got… nothing to offer you. You could be with anyone, anyone you wanted… anyone at all-“

“You are who I want,” James interrupts, trying to keep his voice gentle when he wants to yell in frustration to make him see sense.

“How?” there’s bewilderment there in Darren’s voice, and he’s tightly gripping on to the edge of the counter where he’s leaning like his life depends on it. “What could I possibly give you? You could have… anything. Everything. But I can’t give you anything, James. I’m nothing,” he finishes with, his voice trailing away as he lets his head hang with a single shake.

“You could give me you,” James counters, “that is all I want,”

“You don’t mean that,” Darren shakes his head again, refusing to hear the words.

“Darren. I never knew want like this before I knew you. I never knew longing, or friendship, or what it is to be cared about. You are going to have to trust me when I say it is you that I want, because you were the first person that I ever wanted this much in my entire life. The only thing I’ve ever wanted in life that I still want,”

“Aside from brownies and pizza and cof-”

“Darren,” James cuts him off, frustration creeping in at Darren’s constant need to make a joke. He knows it’s a diversionary tactic and exactly why he does it, but now is not the time.

“I can’t, James,” Darren pleads, his words quiet, and full of emotion.

“What you mean is, you won’t try,”

“Not if it means losing you altogether. No,” Darren tries for firmness in his voice but it’s marred by the way he just wants to give in, to have James and to let James have him. Because as much as he fights it, it is the only thing that makes sense to him. It – James, is the only thing that has made sense to Darren in a long, long time.

“But if you keep pushing me away. If you continue this… charade, with me, Darren. Do you

honestly believe I can stand it? Do you honestly think I can stay?”

Darren’s eyes widen, and there’s real fear there making his heart thrum away in his chest in panic. “Are you saying… that if I don’t… if we don’t… you won’t stick around?”

James pinches the bridge of his nose, cursing his choice of words. “I am not trying to force you into anything you don’t want. I’m not trying to give you an ultimatum, Darren. I’m just saying, I can’t keep-”

“I didn’t say I don’t want-”

“I’m saying, it will hurt too much to be near you and watch you. With others. With another…”

James’ words dwindle away and he drops his hand heavily to his side. “When I want you to be with me. It will be too painful to pretend that all I feel for you is friendship, and to have to keep wondering if I’m too close, or if I should comfort you, or reach out to you. I am not so strong as to continue to act as though we are nothing but friends, Darren. We are that, we have always been that, and I cherish your friendship beyond… anything. But we are also more. So much more,”

Darren chews on his lip for a moment and then, says quiet enough for James to have to lean forward to hear it, “You do know that I love you back, right?”

For a second, James’ heart soars at the words he never thought he’d hear out loud. Sure, he’s thought he’s seen them in all of Darren’s gestures, the way he cares about him like no one else does. The way he remembers all the smallest details about him, and goes out of his way to make him happy, looking so proud and rewarded every time he makes him smile. That is how he knows Darren loves him, but to actually hear the words spoken is better than any sound he could ever imagine. All he can do is nod his response.

“So, you do know that me saying this can’t happen is because I love you. Right?”

Darren’s logic is annoying, because James can completely understand where he’s coming from. He knows how broken Darren’s opinion of himself is, of how he fears he’ll turn everything good to dust. He knows how frightened he is of that. And he also knows that Darren is rejecting him from a place of love. It doesn’t mean it isn’t rejection though. James can’t see past that, not when he sees, he knows, how good things could be between them. It would just be like coming home, to a home he’s never had, really, but now doesn’t want to be without.

Darren is watching this internal debate play across his face, and James swears he can feel Darren’s heart pounding from across the room. He knows how torn Darren is, knows all the reasons for it. He knows Darren. He just needs to find the right words.

“You say that,” James says, full of caution, “but you are still sending me away,”

“I’m not, James. God, I’m not. I’m trying to explain… I need you. You don’t know how I need you.”

“If you need me-”

“But I can’t need you. Don’t you get it? I can’t rely on anyone. I can’t have anyone rely on me. I’ll just… I’ll fail you, James.”

“You are a most confusing man.” James sighs, rocking on his heels. “What you’re saying is that these… intimacies… that we both want, we cannot have, and that you need me, but can’t have me, so I’m supposed to just be here but not be here with you?”

Darren rubs a hand over his face and a dry laugh escapes his lips. “When you say it like that…”

“It sounds as stupid as it is,” James finishes for him, knowing his tone is curt. He doesn’t mean it to be, but he’s hurting here too.

“I’m sorry,” Darren says, and his voice breaks, his body arches towards James even from this distance, confused by the pull to comfort him and the idea that he must, for James’ sake, stay clear.

James knows that Darren rates his own intelligence very low, and he hates that Darren does that. But right now, James can’t help think how ridiculous Darren is being. How can Darren be saying all these empty words, the things he feels he must say, when James can see written all over his face what he is truly saying? He can practically hear the longing, the wanting, the love that’s there. It just doesn’t mean as much, or anything at all, if Darren can’t manage to say these things out loud. It would be like using his not-so-secret thoughts against him, and there is no way James would ever want to violate him like that.

James decides to take matters into his own hands, or at least, to give them a nudge.

He stretches back languidly, knowing full well the way Darren’s eyes are on him as he arches his neck. He’s not blind; he’s seen the way Darren’s gaze lingers over him, knows when he’s wearing a favourite shirt, or a pair of jeans Darren really likes on him. He knows lust when he sees it in someone’s eyes. Knows ache, and god, does he know want. And he’s seen each of these things in Darren’s eyes, so many times when he’s looked at him.

James lowers his head, eyes pinning Darren’s in place, sure he’s hearing a solitary loud thud of his heart. He stands to full height, and very slowly walks across the room, never breaking eye contact.

“Tell me you don’t want me, Darren. Tell me. And I’ll go,” His pace is deliberate, giving Darren time to consider his words.

“I don’t want you to go, James, I never said I wanted you to go,”

“No,” James agrees, “you want me to stay, but not stay with you. You push me so far and then just… pull back. You keep… toying with me, Darren. I do not enjoy that feeling,”

Darren’s hands fall, crushed by the truth of James’ words, curling defensively into his sides. “I don’t want to hurt you, James. I never mean to do that,”

“So, tell me you don’t want me,” James prompts again, sterner this time.

Darren’s voice is barely audible when he says, “But you know I want you. You know,”

“I do,” James agrees, a slight nod as he stops directly in front of Darren, eyes flicking down to his chest where now he really can hear Darren’s heart pounding out a staccato, “but you can’t keep doing this to me.”

James tries to keep the hurt from his voice, because he knows that it just makes things painful for Darren, but he can’t help that. He can’t help it if Darren has made him so aware of everything about him.

“So. Here is what I am going to do, Darren. I am going to kiss you. I am going to lean in and kiss you, any moment now, and if you honestly don’t want me to. If you honestly, truly believe that this,” and he waves a finger between them, “is a bad idea, well, then. I guess you’re just going to have to stop me.”

Darren’s eyes widen and his tongue dips out to wet his lips; the action is involuntary, as is the tightening of his jeans in response to James’ words.

Again, James knows exactly what he is doing. He leans a little closer, and closer, practically hearing Darren’s internal monologue that goes something like please, kiss me now, no stop, stop, I can’t stop you if you do.

James pauses, inches from Darren’s face, watching Darren’s eyes fall to his lips, his own slightly parted. And then, he does it. Presses his soft, dry lips against Darren’s in one slow, chaste kiss.

He may as well have lit a stick dynamite, because that one touch is not enough.

James’ hands cradle Darren’s face as he reaches in to kiss him again, never for more than a few seconds, always giving Darren the chance to pull away. James can feel Darren’s hands twitching uncontrollably at his sides, until suddenly they’re not. They’re finger deep in James’ hair, holding him exactly where he wants him as Darren kisses back, hot and hard. James’ own hands wind around Darren’s neck and he presses himself flush against Darren, earning him a low growl and Darren rolling his hips back against him.

Darren’s kisses are not gentle; they are ferocious, exactly the kind James expected of him after holding back for so long. He’s been so sure that Darren wanted to kiss him, to claim him for his, to never let him out of his grip again. Now he’s getting confirmation of that, and James is overwhelmed by it, realising that all his fantasies about Darren like this have always been barely adequate. This Darren, the real one, is a furnace, ready to consume him.

James doesn’t mind that imagery one bit.

He kisses back with as much of his own force as he can, his tongue darting fiercely into Darren’s mouth forcing a moan out that flares fire through James’ core. Darren sucks on his tongue, chases it, moves his hands shakily down James’ back to press into James’ ass so that he can grind against him.

Gradually, the kisses lose their intensity, and they lean into each other more in comfort than

anything else. Their breathing is heavy, and lips find skin along jaws and necks before James’ head finally falls onto Darren’s shoulder, and Darren’s arms circle him protectively. Darren kisses him once, long and hard on the side of his head then sighs into his ear, sounding defeated. Finally, he whispers, “I could never have said no to you, James. I don’t have the willpower,”

James nods against him but says nothing, because he doesn’t want to break the spell that is them.

Darren’s hand strokes gently down James’ back, feeling his face flush as he buries it further into his neck. He’s been kidding himself for all this time that James had no idea, when obviously, how could he not? “Then why now?”

“Because, Darren,” James noses against him, “I wanted you to be the one initiating things. I never wanted you to feel I had forced you. That I was using your own thoughts and feelings against you, when you… when you have never acknowledged them,”

“Hey,” Darren raises his head to look James in the eye, “I’ve never felt forced, okay? This isn’t about being forced. It’s about me being terrified of screwing things up. It’s about me still thinking you’re making a mistake wanting me like- like I think… I’m fairly sure you do,”

James narrows his eyes. “Do I have to kiss you again to prove to you how wrong I think you are about that? About me making a mistake in loving you? Wanting you, Darren?”

“Well,” Darren replied, eyes again falling to James’ lips like he’s found a new addiction, “I’d kind of prefer it if you just kissed me for the sake of it,”

And James does just that, slow and leisurely, melting into him.

They break away, a long time later, looking at each other with a mix of awe and uncertainty.

“I’m still not sure about this, James. I mean,” he grips James a little tighter in case there’s any misunderstanding, “I want this. I never didn’t want this. I just… I don’t know how any of this is going to work,”

James shrugs then, leaning in to kiss him once more, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and leaning hard. “We will work that out together, Darren. We will… we will take things as they come,”

“Don’t leave me,” Darren pleads then, squeezing him a little tighter and gathering to him.

James sighs, slotting his fingers through Darren’s hair to cradle him, one warm hand splayed wide around his back. “I never could,”

I am you, and you are me

The crackle of the record player with every spin of the disc hissing in the background, the muted orange lighting that bathes skin with a night time glow. Socked toes, catching on the tug of the cream carpet pile with every turn, the brush of cotton beneath fingertips, the feel of fingers spread low around a waist.

Soft hair from a bent head brushing over an already bare shoulder. Shirt buttons against skin with every exhale. Breath, calm, steadier than the heart thudding beneath bare chest as a hand raises, stroking slowly up from the waist over the smoothness of a back. A head raises; stubble brushes back against stubble making breath catch; the ghost of a hint of a kiss as lips linger longer in passing.

A look; certain in uncertainty, a right when everything outside these walls says wrong. Shaking fingers snagging against tight shirt, seeking out shirt ends, pulled up from a belted waist. Buttons, unsteadily unfastened with fingertips revealing a swirl of wiry hair, an endless expanse to explore, a shrugged shoulder that asks to be rid of shirt.

Clothes fall to carpet, nerves numb to need; desire wins out over fear of defamation because here, here we are alone. Together. Where we are meant to be. Skin on skin, sweat on sweat. In this room, in this moment we are exactly who we are and do not have to justify it, or fear it – or fear other’s fear of it.

I am you, and you are me, and in this moment, we are free.

***

The thud, thud, thud of the club downstairs has the walls rattling. The desk lamp jolts across the desktop, teetering along the edge as we teeter on our own edge. A swirled thumb, a darting tongue. The telltale snick of a zipper being slowly pulled down.

Muffled moans on contact, catches of breath and clutches for more; a stolen moment, perhaps, but one that is ours, one that is heated, and filled with need. Even the anonymous voices beneath us do little to disturb but to raise a smile, before we’re diving straight back in, drawn to one another and submitting to what so many view as immoral, a depraved sin.

We’ve both lost friends. A never-ending cough, a night filled with disturbed sleep and drenched sheets, and lesions to the skin like a badge of belonging no one wants to have on display, or to ever have to wear. And no one is doing anything; stood on the sidelines, observing, judging. Silently hoping that our kind will disappear, eradicate itself with its own unnatural urges.

The clock is ticking, however, and now is not the time to dwell on the things beyond our control. This night is almost over and tomorrow will dawn a new day of keeping secrets, seeking reassurance and pleading with gods we still hope to believe in that it is not our turn, it is not us, nor those that we love around us.

Tomorrow, we will go about our day jobs behind masks and make believe, make them believe us just enough to allow us to fit in. Turn a cheek to hatred, to persecution, to misinformation. Go about our lives as though we have a right to it, to live, to exist, to breathe easily.

But for now. In this moment. I am you and you are me, and we are free.

***

The sidewalk glistens slickly under the streetlights after a deluge of rain. You huddle closer to me for warmth, lean in for a kiss as my arm wraps around your waist, draws you in. The couple behind us mirror our movements, shooting us a shy smile as we all look together to the front of the queue, see the newly engaged couple, so happy in their happiness that they are lost in one another, oblivious to the doorman rolling an amused eye, ushering them in.

Inside, the club is busy, vibrant, welcoming; there are cheers for the newlyweds, hugs for returning friends. Drinks at the bar, beats on the dancefloor. Safety, acceptance. A home away from home. We get this now; free to love, free to live, free to legally spend the rest of our lives together if that is what we choose.

Pride went off almost without a hitch last weekend. Only a handful of protesters whose ways were blocked by allies and voices louder than ours. A spectrum of accepted sexualities to match that of our rainbow of flags. We are equal, we are together. We are one.

And next weekend, it’s just you and me. A weekend retreat where we’ll be hand in hand, side by side the entire time. A shared bed in a hotel booked without secrecy or shame, because we can do this now. We are accepted now. And that ring box in my dresser that is burning a hole through my sock draw just reiterates that acceptance somehow. That need to have something that has been taken for granted by so many for so long.

My heart thuds at the thought of it and you smile, curious at my thoughts, squeeze my fingers and lead me over to dance without a moment’s glance back.

Of course, nothing is that simple. No day is without a comment, surprised look, falsified smile. No moment when we don’t have to second-guess stereotyping, steer clear of subjects people find unsettling, smile sweetly through insensitivity. Bigotry is rife in the undercurrent, unsilenced by blanket acceptance. Still a punch to the gut for each disparaging comment and every sneered out queer.

But for now, we are together, we are successful, living our lives alongside every other couple out there, existing in the in between beside our friends, families and allies. In a community to which we are sometimes tethered, and often tied, but that still questions if we belong.

Where I am you, and you are me. But are we really free to be that?

 

Keeping It Simple

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😉


Looking back now, it all seemed like unnecessary fuss.

Everyone they’d ever met had commented on the way they looked at one another, how they gravitated towards each other without the slightest sign of effort, or even the intention of doing so. How, no matter what they were doing, or who they were with, they’d end up side by side, often forget there were even other people around them when they were talking, and more often than not would be the ones to walk each other home.

They shared clothes, split drinks, stole food from each other’s plates when they were out to dinner, and knew their way around one another’s apartments as though they lived there themselves. Which in some ways, they did, because they spent so much time together, that if any of their friends ever saw either one of them alone, they politely checked if the other one was sick, or working late.

No one said anything of course, as the looks between them became more loaded, and their closeness grew more heated, until the knowing expressions of their friends were so obvious that even they couldn’t ignore what was happening. There are only so many times you can fantasize about having someone’s lips on yours before you find yourself on them, without even realizing what you’ve done.

Mark hadn’t even said a word.

That initial kiss, when Liam had pulled back in belated realization of his own actions, all he’d felt was fear. Of rejection, of losing the best friend he’d ever had, of never knowing the taste of Mark again. He really shouldn’t have worried, though, he reflected, thinking about it all this time later with a rueful smile for himself, because the only thing Mark’s smile for him at the time had said was… finally.

And that had been it.

Well, not quite it.

Of course, there had been conversations, words that with anyone else would have stayed firmly hidden away under metaphorical lock and key. But with Mark, in private, Liam’s words flowed freely, and in turn freed him of all the burdens he’d been carrying by not letting what he really wanted to be known.

He’d laughingly told Mark of all the times he’d planned conversations with him, to tell him what he was feeling was more than friendship, or adopted brother since they’d known each other so very long. He’d imagined every outcome, both good and bad, and had reached for him countless times before forcing himself to pull back again at the last moment, never sure if this is something he could really have.

Mark had rolled his eyes, but smiled, kind as he had always been to him. He too had internalized those very same conversations, those wants, and also the same fears, he’d shared with him then, reaching out and grabbing his hand. And it proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that they really were both excellent at giving other people advice about talking, and honesty, but failed continuously at doing both those things themselves.

And after that, they just… were. No fanfares, no confessions, nothing involving any kind of fussing. No drunken announcements, or status declarations on Facebook, or lewd insinuations in their Whatsapp groups involving emojis of eggplants and winky faces. No acknowledgement of before and after. They just… were.

Everyone would figure it out, eventually.

Even if it did take one very drunken birthday party where Liam and Mark had been unable to see anything but each other, and alcohol had found them grinding together in a corner, smiles never far from their lips, lips never far from each other’s, oblivious to the flash of cameras behind them, the hollering, and even the eventual raucous round of applause. It had taken a hearty grasp around Liam’s shoulder by his brother, whose birthday party it actually was, for them to untangle themselves from each other long enough to turn around, realise they were being watched.

But it had been okay. After the initial blushing, and mumbled excuses for leaving early, they’d woken to a stream of notifications on their phones, and spent a lazy morning in bed skimming through message after message of congratulations, then losing themselves in each other once more; this time without an audience of smiling eyes to stop them. And it had taken them a while, what with the long shower and vast amount of breakfast food that followed, but then each and every one of those messages had been returned, with thanks, and love, and if they were both honest, a little bit of relief that no Big Conversation was necessary.

So now, here they were. It was okay to reach out and touch one another in public. It was fine to lean a head on a chest, or a hand on a heart, to check the other were still there. It was more than fine to somehow manage to fall asleep in each other’s arms every single night, no matter what was going on around them. Liam figured he’d done enough self-denying for so long when it came to Mark to allow him this one selfish thing.

Mark was more than happy to oblige.

So here they were, in a blissful kind of limbo between work and other obligations. Staring up at a starry sky with nothing but a blanket beneath them and a holding of hands between them, cliche dates on deserted beaches be damned.

It wasn’t always simple.

But in this moment, it was.

A Wasted Evening

It’s time to give up.

This wasn’t meant for you, anyway, not really, wasn’t something you ever dreamed you’d get to experience. And look how right you were about that; nothing has happened between you at all. Not for all those looks, those lingering fingers that have pressed into your skin in passing, nor the whisper of a thousand unspoken words, that all of the holy sonnets would have paled in comparison to, if only you could hear them said out loud.

He doesn’t want you. Or in truth, he does, you know he does, but he won’t let himself. And if you’re honest, that’s the thing that’s hurting most about this – the denial of it all. These feelings might be frightening for their intensity, and his fears things that you can’t ever know. But you hear him without him speaking, and you know him, more than he allows anyone else to know. Yet still, he won’t. And it’s not frustrating, or excruciating anymore, it’s just numbing. Numbness that spreads its way through you, for every snatched back hand, every clenched jaw biting back words, every almost action. Because not acting says just as much as acting ever does; more even. And by not acting, he has left you this; stranded, in ways you never thought be stranded. In places you were never meant to tread.

You could have, you tell yourself, said, or done something yourself, been the one to make that all-important first move, or first confession. But since you lack the experience, and have, foolishly, romanticised things between you, you have always secretly hoped that he’d be the one to show you the lead in this. And maybe that’s selfish, naive, or just too hopeful. But how can you be anything else, when hoping is the way he’s taught you how to live?

Maybe you’re just not enough for him, and this is his way of telling you. He whispers it in sentences that never pass his lips, seals them in the flicker of an eye, or a tilt of a chin that says, you aren’t anything to me; sure as hell aren’t enough. So maybe it’s not numbness you’ve been feeling, but just acceptance. Acknowledgement of all the ways in which you lack.

It’s over now.

In all the time you’ve known each other, there’s been enough time to realise, to notice, that this isn’t where you belong. He is not who you belong to. You belong nowhere, tethered only by the torment of the thoughts you allow yourself to have, when none of this was ever yours.

The waitress is pretty, you think to yourself, a mass of curls and a warm smile that widens every time she catches your eye. He taught you this game, you remind yourself, shifting in discomfort, wondering if that’s the answer to this low, gnawing pain that’s eating away at you, core deep; losing yourself in the pleasure of something you’ve never been attracted to, never even really seen much point to, when it wasn’t with someone that you loved.

Love, you scoff to yourself, returning that smile just a little too brightly as you signal for another drink, love wasn’t something meant for you. Nor was home, peace, or quiet, but you fooled yourself into thinking that they might have been once – more than once, actually. And each time it was snatched away from you, crumbled before your very eyes, or just denied. And it hurts, it hurts to feel like this. Why would anyone choose to feel this way, you ask yourself in astonishment. Surely there are more, better things to feel, than the sensation that your heart is being shred apart.

The evening drags on, the drink burns your throat, but it’s the way you’ve been taught to grieve, so there’s really nothing else you can do. Or would know how to do, you amend, then laugh, adding the reminder that there is nowhere for you to go, besides home. And home is just a reminder that you are alone; that he doesn’t want you. Because you were meant to be with him tonight, and you mistook that invite for something as more than friendship. The look on his face when you’d blurted your rehearsed words out telling him that You could isn’t a sobering thought, but is enough to signal for another refill.

It’s so late now; perhaps you can stumble your way on a walk somewhere, down a rain-soaked street on a storm-filled night. You can even convince yourself that your feet won’t carry you back to his, to look up at his window willingly, and wish that you were inside, in his warmth.

You stand, hands wide around the bar stool as you right yourself, fight for your wallet, throw bills down on the counter that you don’t even count. Turning is an interesting feeling, as is the knowledge that you’re not sure if you can even make it to the door. The door where he is now standing, you think, jolting a little, blinking repeatedly and telling yourself he’s just a figment of your imagination, or a conjuring of all the spirits you’ve been drinking.

If you weren’t so numb you’d pinch yourself.

Drawing strength from depths flooded by oceans of alcohol, you square your shoulders, suck in a breath that pricks sickness into your throat for all you’ve been drinking, yet you fight it back. Stand as tall, proud as you can, though proud is not how you feel. You stagger towards him, words muted of their meaning that you still fight to try to form into value, heart pulsing, every pound pulling you closer to him.

No amount of whiskey will ever dull his features to you. You can make out his eyes, his cautious smile, the twitch of his hands that are an invitation, even through all that fog in your mind. And as you get closer, those features morph and shift with every pace. Sadness, shame, guilt. Longing. Love. Hope?

“I’m sorry. I overreacted. I panicked,” he tells you, his fingertips grazing just above your elbows, seeping heat through your jacket into you skin as he rights you, the breath of space between you as he draws you near making you realise just unsteady you are. “Can we start over? Can we talk?”

It’s everything that you want to hear; everything.

“Let’s get you home,” he tells you, and how do four simple words have such power over you? How do they succeed in wiping out all the melancholy you’ve been feeling all evening? How can they restore all that hope that you dissolved in glass upon emptied glass?

The blast of cool night air against your face is alarming, and as you stumble at the force of it, his grip tightens for just a second before dropping altogether. You curl after it, missing his touch already, but there’s no need; a warm, steadying arm is thrown around your shoulder, pulling you too him, and even more alarming is the kiss pressed to your temple as he guides you towards his car.

The tenderness with which he gets you seated and secured is overwhelming, and you tell yourself it’s the whiskey speaking when the look in his eyes is so soft, you could sink into them. As is the way that when he’s seated, he grabs your hand, drags it across to his lap and presses, secures it there, like it belongs there, for the entire drive.

No Way Out

The key turns in the lock of the front door and even from all the way up here, through wood, metal and plasterboard, it revs the engine of your heart, pounding it into fearful fight or flight life.

The duvet, moments ago warm and faking safety, now feels part clammy with fear and part shackled prison.

You’ve timed it. From key in door to foot in bedroom doorway takes around four minutes. So you have four minutes to go over your options.

One, lay there, pretend you are asleep. Sometimes that works.

Two, spring into elated partner-mode and greet them mid-stair, praying for a happy mood.

Three, just pray. To what, to who, you’re not quite sure anymore.

Four, check out. Go numb, passive, submissive, limp. You once learned in a talk on car accidents in school that you should never tense for impact. It only causes more damage.

Time does that cruel dance it often does where four minutes feels like both four seconds and four years simultaneously.

You’ve had time to go over your options and now you go over your whys.

Why is this happening?

When did everything go so wrong?

What did I do wrong?

Will tonight be the night that I…

A dry swallow is followed by a forced, shallow breath, and you screw your eyes up, wishing yourself away, anywhere, any other life.

Your mind races back to earlier, sunnier days when touch meant love, not bruises, and looks of promises for later meant cries of wanting, not of hurting.

When did it all go wrong?

When did you go wrong?

Memories of the way your left eye teared up and swelled, your cheekbone reverberating painful shoots up through your skull and down through your teeth. Of the agony of straightening up from the cramping bruising of your stomach and the Tim Burton-style rainbow of black, blue and yellow that you inspected later, wincing as the arnica you dabbed on got into your broken nail beds. Of how you should probably get that damp patch under the window at the bottom of the stairs checked; it’s funny what you notice when you’re winded, on your back, after falling down a full flight of stairs.

This is your fault.

You did this.

You made this happen.

There is no other way.

Memories of the vicious words in your ear reminding you to keep silent. Of pointed remarks in front of neighbours and possessive ones under the gaze of the A&E nurse. And your fake smile. Spread so wide you felt your cheeks might split open. Which they have done, from time to time.

No way out.

From the pillow through half-hooded eyes you watch as the handle on the door slowly lowers and the bottom of the door skims in deceptive gentleness against the soft carpet beneath it.

You hold your breath.

Please.

Let it be a good mood night.

(Originally on Inkiit and Tumblr)

An Uncounted Statistic

He sits in the shop doorway trying to disappear into the background under the glare of the soft orange street light. His hands absent-mindedly wind the thin fabric of the dirty tattered blanket he’d stumbled across yesterday around his long, chapped-from-cold fingers. A thin layer against the night was better than nothing, and hopefully he’d still be able to feel his fingers by morning unlike the rest of the past week. Tucking the edges around himself – under torn canvas trainers, around frayed jean bottoms, under his back as he lays as foetus-like as the doorway allows – he rests his head back into the hood, thankful that at least this part of his parka jacket remains intact.

He likes to watch the stars when there is no light pollution from above; on a clear, balmy summer evening it temporarily takes away the reality of his surroundings and he can lose himself in his own tales of far off places and distant worlds. But now is mid-December and the small amount of heat that for some reason radiates from this shop might just be the few degrees between life and death by hypothermia.

He thinks back to the warm but flavourless coffee someone had kindly given him in the morning. Although he can’t bring himself to beg, he must have looked forlorn enough for the passerby to realise he was homeless and he is temporarily heated by the flush of his own shame. When he first became homeless he had been so adamant to himself that he would do all he could to not look homeless. Washing in public toilets, carefully cleaning his hands and combing his fingers through his hair so he looked unkempt but not like an undesirable. And of course, once the beard fully grew in it helped keep him warm in the cold of the night. Long hair had suited him once and it could again, even when peppered with premature grey. Somehow he managed to keep his two sets of clothes relatively clean for the longest time but now, after eight months on the street, he blends in with all the other homeless around him. He can no longer pretend he is any different.

He is a failure.

He is nothing.

He has nothing.

There is a glimmer of pride within him still that he hasn’t resorted to drinking – although the thought of forgetting the world to the bottom of a bottle and sinking into a restless sleep has felt more appealing than he’d like, and he didn’t even drink much when he lived his ‘previous’ life. He hasn’t stolen either, living on scraps from bins, the occasional soup kitchen and the generous meals provided by shelters when they can. If he’s lucky he gets a bed once a week, but only if he is early enough. It is soul-destroying to think you are going to have temporary shelter and then to round the corner and see twenty sets of desperate eyes staring back into your own, ahead of you in the queue. Not your turn for warmth. Not tonight. That thin, lumpy mattress and well-used duvet you’ve fantasised about all day is the privilege of another of the city’s nobodies this evening.

His stomach growls but somehow the hollowness of hunger doesn’t bother him as it once did. Sure, it’s so much harder to ignore in the winter because it is so cold, but, he’s always had an active imagination, so when it gets really bad he conjures up elaborate meals for himself with gluttonous calorific content and glorious limitless seconds.

He fights the urge to rehash the how, the when, and the why yet again. How did this happen? When did he lose everything? Why hadn’t he turned himself around yet? Because it made no difference. This was his life, currently. Another uncounted statistic. The hope that tomorrow would bring something, any glimmer of change had long gone; he just lurched between days and shivered through nights, wondering when it would all end. If he would have the strength to end it himself.

Because truly, what other way out was there?

Some homeless ‘got lucky’ and got help. He didn’t really know how. He’s never seen it happen to someone he knows and so he wouldn’t even know where to start looking for it. Are there actually places that would help? He has no idea.

No idea about anything.

Except that the temperature is dropping. That he is alone in the world. That he is huddled in a shop doorway under the orange glow of the street light, fighting to stay alive.

He must stop asking himself why he bothers to even try.

(Originally posted here)