By The Way
Chapter 22
copyright 2006 by Mark Logan

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I never saw that whole episode with Alan coming.  For the rest of that weekend, I walked around like someone had surgically removed something from my body and forgot to close the incision.  The ache in my chest was constant.  I'm not sure why, and perhaps I was a bit of a dope because of it, but I honest to God never thought about him moving on and finding another guy.  From my perspective, I still loved him, so I guess some small part of my brain assumed that once the distance problem was solved, once he'd graduated, we could be together again.  But I should've known better.  He was a very loving guy; caring and compassionate.  How stupid of me to assume that he would never meet another person that he thought he could love.  Shit, being only friends with the guy was gonna kill me.

Constantly that day I had that feeling you'd get as a kid when you knew you were about to cry but you fought to keep the dam from bursting, constantly that day.  I kept remembering that first football game on my birthday when I was a senior.  Kept thinking about how cute he was, how jittery we both were.  I kept thinking about how it felt, emotionally, the first time we were together.  How it felt when we were together for his first time at the beach, and how much I'd changed because of him.

That Saturday night when I went to bed I bawled like a baby, trying to keep the sobs contained to my pillow.

*   *   *   *   *

Greg must've been at work that Sunday evening when I got back to the dorm.  Good.  I needed to be alone a little bit longer.  Those of you who have lived in dorms know how impossible it is to not be social on Sunday evenings, when everybody is returning from home.  An open door was an invitation to anybody passing by who knew you to come in and make themselves at home.  I didn't want to talk to anyone, so I kept my door closed.  Instead, I turned on the radio and lay on the couch.

Around 7:30 that evening I realized that I'd fallen asleep when I heard the door open and Greg walked into the room.

"Hey man," he said, turning on the lamp over his desk.  "You sleepin'?"

I grunted and rolled over, facing the back of the couch.

I heard him plop down on the chair and let out an exhausted breath, which was followed by the sounds of two shoes being thrown into his closet.  It was then when I noticed the kitchen aroma that always clung to his clothes whenever he came back in from work.  God, I hated that smell.  It permeated the air and the cinder block walls, and invaded my head.

"You takin' a shower?" I asked, muffled into the couch cushion.

I heard him snort lightly.  "Yeah.  I just thought I'd sit down for a minute.  Why?" 

"Because, dude, that damn kitchen smell is pretty fuckin' rank."

"Gee.  Sorry," he said, sarcastically.  "I just thought after standing up for eight hours, I might sit down and relax for a few minutes, if that's okay with you."

"Fine," I mumbled.  Then I rolled off the couch and left the room, closing the door behind me.  I headed down to David, my former roommate, and John's room.  As always, their door was open and the windows cracked, allowing a steady breeze to flow through the room.  The sounds of Jim Carey being Fire Marshall Bill on "In Living Color" greeted me as I walked in.  Grabbing a desk chair, I pulled it back, sat down, and leaned it back against the wall, my arms folded on my chest.

"What's up, Paul?" John asked.

I grunted in response.

"J'you have a good weekend?" David asked.

"Who the fuck knows.  Gotta wake my brain," I said.

"Where's Greg?" John asked.  I looked at him for a second, wanting to fling one of David's drafting triangles at him.  Why in the hell did everyone always ask me that question?  Instead, I nodded my head towards my room.

Suddenly I felt a presence next to me in the doorway.

"There he is," David said.  "How's your weekend, Greg?"

"Alright.  How about y'all?"

"Pretty good," John said, as David laughed at something that Carey was doing on the television.  "Fixin' ta take a shower?" 

I turned and looked up; Greg was standing in the doorway with a towel wrapped around his waist.  In one hand he was holding his shower kit.

"Yeah," he said.  "Apparently, I'm smellin' up the room," he looked down at me and smirked.

I sat forward in the chair, stood up and left.  I think I muttered "fuck it" or something similar as I brushed past him and out into the hallway.  David said "What's wrong with him?" as I headed out into the stairwell for destinations unknown.  I couldn't stay around people any longer.  No fuckin' way was I in the mood to chit chat and bullshit, and soon I realized that I was walking around the small campus without any particular destination.

After aimlessly wandering for about an hour, I found myself at the campus amphitheater.  It was really pretty big, and the grass ledges carved into the hillside next to the new library were just perfect for students wanting to take a break between classes, or study, or even sleep.  At the bottom of the hill, adjacent to the side of my dorm, was the amphitheater stage.  Shaped like a football, it curved out into the grass ledges at the front and had two or three concrete ledges at the rear which allowed seating for the adventuresome teacher who'd give an outdoor lecture to his class.

It was dark, now, and the cold front that had blown in and brought the tornado had settled all around me.  I hadn't noticed it when I'd left the dorm and was walking, but sitting here at the front of the stage with my legs dangling down, I kept getting chills.

I stared off into space and asked God how in the hell this could happen.  I was mad at Him.  Not for letting me love Alan, but for letting me lose him.  Sure I still had him as a friend, but now things would be different between us.  Alan was in love with someone, and that person wasn't me.  He has Reed, now, my mind spat out like venom, and the tears flowed freely, my heart as heavy as lead and my stomach aching to feel him again.  What sucked the most was that I couldn't tell my best friend how bad I was hurting.

God, I needed Alan so damn bad.  I was feeling desperate and I thought that if I concentrated hard enough, I could somehow make him think about me.  It only made me cry harder, and I lay back on the stage and jammed the heels of my hands into my eyes.

Alan had come into my life feet first and with his heart open.  He showed me not only how to love, but how to let myself be loved as well.  It was a feeling that I needed to have.  I craved it like a man dying of thirst craves water, but I had nobody to tell any of this to.  Not a fuckin' soul.

I had friends all around me, but I was alone in this.

I let myself go until there were no more tears; my only wish was that the pain I felt would be washed out of my body along with them.

*   *   *   *   *

"Paul, are you sure there isn't anything that I can help you with?"

It had been a couple of weeks since the tornado came through town, and I was definitely not my old self.  I was mad at everyone, hated everything, and had become verbally abusive to the people around me.  Greg was helping me with the tracings that I had to draw for Architecture History.  At the first part of the quarter, the professor gave us a list of fifty or so buildings in our history book that we had to enlarge and trace.  Luckily, we only had to pick a maximum of thirty to do.  With the first group of drawings I only got a C+ because of "poor line quality," according to the professor.  Now that she had given us a second set of drawings to chose from, I decided that if I only got fifteen out of the required twenty , then tough tomatoes.  I was going for better "line quality."

And don't kid yourself when I say we had to do tracings that it was easy.  The purpose of the exercise was to get a feel for the details and massing of some of the prominent architectural monuments throughout history.  For example, when I did a tracing of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, it took me eight and a half hours.  Tracing ain't easy; now multiply that amount of time by twenty or thirty. 

Greg had volunteered to help me with my second set of tracings, and I greatly appreciated it.  He was sitting at his desk in our room, and I at mine, our Rapidiograph pens out and slowly stroking the lines of the drawings beneath our vellum.  As with most architecture students working on a final inked project, the tops of our knuckles were covered with black lines from the pen.  Depending on what medium you were drawing on, the fine tips of the pens would clog up with paper residue, and the easiest way to clear them out and get the ink flowing again was to stroke them across your knuckles.

"Um, Greg, you are helping me," I said, continuing across the facade of St. Paul's.

"No," he said after a pause, "I mean...are you alright?  You've been acting really odd lately.  It's like...I're just pissed at the world, and normally you're a pretty easy going guy."

After a moment, I said, "You know, you're right, things aren't going all that well for me.  Haven't been for a couple of weeks.  Just got some things I need to work out, is all."  I continued my slow work up and down the church's columns and capitals.  My eyes were starting to get goofy on me with all of the time I'd spent looking at this one drawing.  After another minute or so I continued.  "So Greg...have I been, like, a major asshole or something?"

"Uhh...I dunno about that.  But you have a really short temper now, and you're a helluva lot more apt to bite off someone's head than you used to.  I mean, I know I haven't been around you that long, but in these last couple of weeks you seem a lot different now than you were last quarter."

"Just some shit I gotta work through," I repeated, not breaking concentration on the drawing.

It was around four-thirty in the morning and we had the radio on Peach 95.  They played some pretty mellow music, and while Greg liked a lot of bands like REM, at that time of day we both wanted to hear something mellow.  He surprised me with his next question.

"Is everything okay with Alan?"

That stopped my progress on the cathedral.  I turned and looked at him.  "What?" I said, dead pan.

He'd been looking at me, then turned back to the tracing he was working on.  "Well, I've noticed that you haven't been talking to all, lately.  And y'all used to talk on the phone almost every day."

Greg was right, but I didn't think that he'd noticed.  Up until the day of the tornado, Alan and I would talk nearly every day, never letting two days go by without giving the other a phone call.  Since the day of the tornado I hadn't called him once, and I had been ignoring his messages.

"Is...everything okay with him?" he repeated.

Shit, how was I going to explain this.  I'd never really advertised my sexuality to people.  My business was my business.  When Alan and I were seeing each other, we were extremely cautious how we behaved around others.  And now that he was a major player on the Bulldogs gridiron, well, I still intended on keeping that anonymity for his sake, even if we were only friends.  Everybody at school knew I had a friend named Alan, but I never said his last name.  I knew that they'd know who he was because he was really popular, but I had no interest in dropping names.  To me he was my best friend, Alan.

"You know, Greg, things really aren't so damn hot with him right now.  We...uh...we're having a rough go of it.  I guess it's just a phase of our friendship...I hope it's a phase."  Secretly, I felt guilty for not contacting him or returning his calls.  At that time in my life, I had a very hard time dealing with the hurt, and the best way to handle it was to not deal with it at all.  But deep down inside, I was still dying.  "I'm sorry if I've been such an asshole..." and I turned back to my tracing.

I could tell he had turned to look at me again.  "Well, I know I haven't known you all that long, but I...if you need or whatever, let me know."

"Thanks," I said, returning to St. Paul's.

*   *   *   *   *

It was the end of the quarter in March and the studios were about two-thirds full of first-year students working on their final projects.  We had two days until jury on Monday but complete fatigue hadn't set in, mainly because we all had been up for only two days straight without sleep.  By the day of the jury, I knew we'd all be zombies, having been awake for four days.  Being a typical Atlanta spring, it had rained a lot.  That week was no exception, and we'd received a shitload of rain in just a few days.  It made carrying projects back and forth between the dorm and the studio a dismal nightmare.

I was sitting at my table working on a pencil perspective of a new pool-house/party-cabana design for the community pool on the property next to our campus, when I heard a bit of a commotion over near the windows.  Jason, our resident surfer dude, and with, like, a totally tubular connection to the, like, world of mary jane, was babbling excitedly about something.  I thought I'd heard the word "diesel" but never thought twice of it.

"Are you sure?" I heard someone say, to which Jason replied, "Like, yeah man.  At least, I thought so.  Then he ran around the corner of the building."

"You really gotta lay off the weed, Jason," someone else said.

"Yeah, riiiiight," Jason said, and laughed a Jeff Spiccoli laugh.  Mentally, I rolled my eyes in my head and continued working on my drawing.

Next thing I knew, I heard a voice that so surprised me I thought I was hallucinating.  "Um...y'all know where I can find Paul...Lyons?"

At my name being mentioned I looked up and was greeted with the fish-like faces, mouths agape, of Jason and several of my other classmates.  I turned to see who they were looking at, and the blood flushed right out of my face.  "Alan?" I said.  I couldn't believe it.  His back was facing me because of the way he came into the studio, but his body was as familiar as the day is long.

He turned around, then his face broke out into a huge smile.  "Paul!  Where ya been at, ho'?"  He started walking over to me, and I could see a few of the guys in my periphery leaning in together to talk about who had just come into the room.

In an instant I'd felt the weight of all of my shame for not calling him or returning his calls.  I was pretty sure that my jaw was laying on my table, my hand frozen in mid-air still holding my pencil.  I was so surprised to see him that I just blinked.

"Is that all you're gonna say?" he smiled his gorgeous smile, and winked, closing the distance between us.

I felt every emotion known to man:  happiness, revulsion, sadness, anger, joy, love, regret.  In a nanosecond I wondered: if he'd come back for me, no he was just coming for a visit, but why was he coming for a visit, he wanted me back, no he wanted to beat my ass for how I was acting, no he was just glad to see me, no he'd broken up with Reed, no he wouldn't tell me that right here....

"Uh...uh...Alan!  What are you doing here?"  I'd finally dropped the pencil.

"So," he said, "this is what you do when you're not returning my calls."  He was standing next to me, looking down at my perspective drawing.  He'd made his comment with a smile and I'm sure everyone else thought he was kidding, but I knew him well enough to know he was upset, if not altogether pissed, by the look in his eyes.

"Dude!!!  Like, you didn't tell us you knew The Diesel."  Two guesses who said this.

"Bullshit," I said.  "I've mentioned Alan to y'all a million times."

Alan looked down at me.  "You did?"

"Yeah, but like, you didn't say, like, Alan Collin.  He's, like, the running back for the Bulldogs, dude."

"Uch.  I know who he is, Jason.  But I'm not a jock-fucker, so I didn't feel the need to throw his full name out to make an impression on anyone," I said sarcastically.

Alan slapped me on the back.  "Jock-fucker.  Good one, Lyons," he laughed.

"Dude!" Jason said again.  I swear, if I never heard that term again...  "you're, like, totally awesome.  Do you remember that game against Florida when--"

"Please, Jason," I interrupted, "let's not give him a bigger head than he already has."  Instantly I'd regretted the double entendre.

Alan just smiled real big and massaged my shoulders playfully, saying, "Don't'cha just love this guy?  I do."

I closed my eyes and shook my head.  Quickly I made intros to the people that I hung out with.  After about ten or fifteen minutes the fervor surrounding Alan's presence finally died down, and everyone went back to their tables.

"Dude," I imitated Jason's favorite word, "I had no idea how popular you are."

"Yup," he said, leaning down to rest his elbows on my table, smiling.  I avoided his eyes.  In them was pain mixed with anger, and I knew that I was the reason for that.  "I used to be popular with you, until you vanished," he said softly.

"Well, some things you can't help," I muttered, turning back to the drawing.  He leaned against my table, inches from my shoulder, as I worked a little bit more on the project.  At that moment my attraction to him became so powerful I wanted to grab his face and kiss him.  It was an emotion which was quickly replaced with the feelings of hurt and anger that I'd allowed myself to marinate in over the past six weeks.  Damn!  Six weeks it had been since I'd talked to him.  "Sorry," I mumbled.

"You okay?" he asked quietly.

I looked at my drawing for a moment, unmoving.  "Hey man," I said out loud, "I'm ready for a break.  Wanna step outside for a sec?"

"Yeah," he said.  As we started to leave, some of the guys in the room said "bye," " good luck", whatever.  To tell you the truth, I'd never been around him when people behaved that way.  I knew that in Georgia, you were either a Bulldog or a Yellow Jacket fan.  I was neither, because I wasn't big into sports, so the whole athlete worship thing was lost on me.

Our studios were on the second floor of the building, and we headed downstairs to have a seat on one of the benches in the corridor outside.  The building, long and rectangular, was oriented east to west.  On the south face of the building, the second floor was situated over a colonnade, providing a corridor along the building that was protected from the elements.  This part of the campus was very hilly, and the ground sloped down pretty steeply, starting about five feet away from the south face, and down to a water retention pond at the bottom of the hill.  With all of the rain we'd received, the pond was nearly full, and the slope was well-saturated.

Alan picked a bench not too far from the stairs that we'd just come down and sat on the middle of it.  I walked around and sat down next to him, a couple of feet away.  Looking down at the retention pond I thought how nice it normally looked when it hadn't been raining so much.  But today, it was brown and nasty from all of the rain runoff.

I did my best to not look at Alan, but he bored a hole into the side of my head with his gaze.  He spoke first as I looked down at my feet.

"You scared me, Paul."

I blinked.  "Scared you?"

"Yeah.  You scared me and you pissed me off."

I finally looked at him.  "Pissed you off.  You for real?"

"Hell yes, you pissed me off.  You haven't returned my calls, and you haven't called me.  I thought something was wrong."

I turned back away from him and shrugged.  "Why are you here, Alan?"

"Because, man, I'm worried.  I wanna talk to--"

"I don't wanna talk.  Sorry pal, I'm not in the mood."  I was teetering on the edge of feeling dead inside.

He sat there and I could still feel him staring at me.  Finally he spoke again.  "You're full of shit, you know that, Lyons?"

I looked at him incredulously.  "I am!  What the fuck did I do?"

"You gave me that bullshit speech after your senior cruise, saying that you always wanted to be friends, no matter what--"

I stood up quickly.  "I'm not listening to this.  Not gonna talk about it.  I'm sorry you came all this way--"

"The fuck you're not gonna talk about it--" and he grabbed me by my wrist to stop me.  Now I knew he was pissed.

"Lemme go you asshole," I snapped at him.  I looked around, but there was nobody nearby.  Saturday afternoon at the architecture building was, except for inside the studios, a veritable ghost town.

I jerked my hand away and turned to walk off, but Alan had stood up and grabbed my arm again.  "We're gonna talk--" he began to say as he pulled me back.

"No we're not--" I was saying as I spun around.  The momentum of my spin, as well as some of my anger, caused my other arm to swing around and jack him in the mouth.  "Oh my God, Alan!"  I was as stunned as he was.  "I'm sorry--you okay?"

"Of course I'm okay," he said, then he got up in my face.  A look I'd never seen before was in his eyes..  "You wanna hit?" and he smacked my chest.  I staggered back, stunned.  "I said, you wanna hit?" he smacked me again.

"Cut it out, you jock fuck-asshole," and I smacked him on his chest.  By now I was furious to the point that tears were starting to come down.  I was no match for him, but in my anger I didn't care.

"I'm not the asshole here Lyons," smacking me again.

By now our positions had changed, and Alan's back was towards the bench. I pushed as hard as I could and he flipped backwards over it, rolling out from beneath the building colonnade and into the pouring rain.  It was like I was looking at myself from the outside, but I was fuckin' furious at him for how he was acting, as well as everything else that had built up in my head over the last six weeks.  If he wanted a reaction from me, he sure got it.  He looked up at me sitting on one knee and his fists on the ground.

"You're fuckin' meat, Lyons."

And I knew I was.  Instead of running up the stairs into the building, I ran down a long flight that led to the street.  When I was only halfway down them, he came charging down the hill next to the railing and flung himself over it and onto the steps.  He stood there, crouched down on the stairs below me, and said, "You picked the wrong fuckin' day to start fighting, Paul." 

I turned and took the stairs two and three at a time, his feet pounding behind me.  I knew that he'd easily catch me, so I had to bob and weave between the columns and over the benches to try to dodge him.  I lost my footing and rolled onto the ground and down the hill about fifteen feet or so before jumping up and running off towards the woods on the other side of the retention pond.

"You know you're not getting away from me, Paul!" he shouted.  I knew that was true, but I could at least delay the inevitable.

I ran in and out of trees, slipping on wet kudzu.  Lucky for me, he was also sliding around on the vines as he ran behind me.  I skirted the far edge of the pond and got to where there was overflow running down into a creek bed.  I was running down into it when I slipped and fell on my ass, sliding down into the shallow, muddy creek.  Alan overshot me and landed on the other side of the creek with an audible "oof!"  Quick as I could, I ran up the other side.  He was quicker, though, and he grabbed my foot.  I came down like a block of granite onto my chest, getting the wind knocked out of me.

"You're gonna fuckin' talk to me, Lyons," he hollered at me.  I rolled over onto my back, not even noticing the rain pouring down through the pine boughs and running in rivulets all around my body.  He was a muddy mess, but I could still see the look of hurt in his eyes.

I was out of breath as he came up to me, squatting down over me.  "I ain't talking about shit!"  I pushed him in the chest with my foot and he flipped back into the creek again.  Then I scrambled to my feet, tripping on those fucking kudzu vines.  I came back out of the woods and stumbled over a broken pine branch.  Bending over, I picked it up and waited for Alan to emerge from the trees.  He did a second later and stopped short when he saw me.

"My God, Paul," he said out of breath.  "What are you doing?!"  The rain was coming down almost in torrents at this point.

I was out of breath, too, and looked down at the branch in my hands.  I was so fucking angry at him, at myself, that I wasn't thinking straight at all.  My frustrations exploded all at once and I flung the branch as hard as I could away from him, yelling at the top of my lungs.  I was mad at Alan, yeah, but I was also furious at myself for allowing myself to become so crazed.  All I could think was that our friendship was over now, and it fuckin' killed me.  I started walking around the pond, heading towards my dorm, to get away from him.

"You know what you need--" Alan said behind me, and suddenly I felt myself being lifted into the air and thrown onto his shoulder like a sack of beans.  I fought to get off of him, but he outweighed me by one hundred pounds, and I was powerless in his grip.  The next thing I knew I was flung out over the retention pond, landing in it with a resounding splash.

Sputtering the muddy water from my face as I stood up, I screamed at the top of my lungs, "You threw me in a pond, you fuck!!!"  I wiped the water from my eyes and walked the ten feet back to shore.  I was exhausted, but tried to get away as quick as I could.  Next thing I knew, the wind was knocked out of me as Alan's shoulder crashed into my back, slamming me onto the ground at the bottom of the hill.  He flipped me over onto my back and pinned my arms to the ground, sitting on my waist.

"You're...not...going...anywhere...until we talk," he said, still out of breath.

"I don't want to."

"We're going to."

"I don't want to."

"We're going to!"  He was covered in mud and both of us were soaked to the bone.  "You told me years ago that you'd do anything, end our relationship, whatever it took if in order to keep our friendship.  Well dammit, Paul, you're not keeping your end of the bargain!" he said, pointing his finger in my face.  "You're trying to walk away!  And I can't...I won't let that happen!  I won't let you leave without a fight."

I tried to push myself up which just resulted in him dropping his full weight down onto my chest.

The cold rain couldn't cool the warm tears that now flooded my face.  I lost it and started babbling like a four year old.  "It hurts, dammit!  It hurts!  I didn't think it would be as bad...I thought we'd get back together...I thought I could come back!"  I was openly bawling now.  All of the pain that I'd bottled up in the last six weeks came roaring out like a train.  I was totally out of control, and Alan was sobbing out loud too.

"I'm sorry!  I'm sorry--I'm sorry!  I don't know what to do!  I can't go on with us like this, Paul.  If anything else, we were always great friends.  The best of friends.  I can't lose that.  My God, I can't lose your friendship.  Shit, if it means breaking things off with--"

"No!"  I nearly hollered.  "No, you can't do that."  I was still crying, the feeling of a hot poker stirring my insides like a knife through butter.  "I'm a shitty friend.  I bailed on you."  At that I felt his tears dripping onto my neck.  "I was a shitty friend," I repeated.  His body shook with sobs on top of mine.  "I'm so sorry, Alan, for how I treated you?  I was so fuckin' hurt and couldn't face talking to you.  It was wrong.  God, that's not a good friend," I blubbered, "that's a whiney fuckin' brat.  How could I be such a fuck up....God, I love you so much."

Alan pushed himself up off of my chest and looked down at me.  I could see in his eyes that all of the intimate feelings he'd had for me weren't gone.  The world stopped just like it did that first night after the football game on his patio.  I saw it in his eyes:  passion.  He wanted it.  I wanted it.  At that point I didn't even care that we were in the rain.  The only problem was that he was with....

"Reed," I said.  It was like an axe had swung down onto my neck.

Confusion and sadness then crept into his eyes, and new tears spilled over their rims.  "Reed," he whispered, then nodded.  Rolling off of me, he sat with his head in his hands.

"Reed," he repeated.

I said softly to him, trying to maintain my composure, "Look, Alan.  Now's just not our time."  His face contorted with sadness.  "I wish it was.  I wish I could change it...."  I was kneeling beside him by now.  My heart was still breaking for him...for us.  "Um...Alan?" my voice wavered.  The thought that I had taken the chance of losing him for good seeped into my brain, and seeing his face wracked with so much pain caused fresh tears to slip from my eyes.  As he looked up at me, I asked, "Can I...can I touch you?"  I reached my hands out a little bit.

"Paul," he croaked, "I'm so sorry."  He grabbed me up.  "I didn't mean to hit you...I just couldn't get you to talk..."

"It was my fault," I said, tears rolling down my face.  "I almost threw you away, because I had no idea how to tell you that I still wanted...that I still needed you...that I'd do anything to get what we had back."  He gripped me close and didn't speak, his grasp telling me all he had to say.

I held his face to my chest and rocked him back and forth slightly.  Warm tears mixed with cold rain on my face.  I was afraid to let him go again.

Alan and I sat like that for a long while, holding each other and rocking, until we were both shivering from the cold.

We knew that we needed each other, but we had no idea what to do about it.