Chapter 15
Not Perfect, But Close
The Conclusion
Copyright 2005 Julien Gregg
Edited by Bruce

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.  This story is completely fiction.  The characters depicted in this story exist exclusively in the imagination of the author.  Any resemblance to an actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  For a list of my other stories, original and fan fiction, please visit my personal website.

"Hi, Dustin," he said, standing there with this strange look on his face.

For an instant, it was like nothing had ever happened between us. I was happy to see him, and then I was angry with myself for forgetting so easily that he had tried to destroy me after so many years of loyal friendship. I hadn't planned on talking to him this soon. I still didn't know what I wanted to say.  However, that higher power that so many are so focused on didn't see things my way, it seemed. First my mother surprised me, and now here was Keith.

"Come in," I said, turning away from the open door and walking back to the dining room table. I sat down and folded my hands on the table in front of me.

"I just needed to ask you about the rent," he said, closing the door. "I don't know anyone else in the building."

"Sit down, Keith," I said, still trying to figure out what I was going to say once he was seated across from me.

He chose the seat diagonal from me, and I inwardly flinched. I'd wanted him across from me, so I could look him in the eye while I questioned him. I could still do that with him sitting in the chair he was in, but I'd have to turn and face him, and that just seemed a bit too intimate for me at the time. It was stupid, and I know that, but at the time it seemed important.

"Look," he sighed, "I know you don't want to be friends anymore, and I don't blame you."

"Shut up, Keith," I said through a sigh of my own. "I want to talk to you, but you have to listen first."

He sat there, looking back at me, and I thought I saw a mixture of hope and fear in his brown eyes. He put both elbows on the table and rested his chin on his folded hands to look at me. It was a pose that was purely Keith, and I'd found it so sexy in the past.  Now it was only familiar. I had to think fast to figure out what I wanted to say and find the questions that I wanted to ask.

"I want to know why you did it," I finally said after he remained silent. "Why did you tell everyone that I tried to rape you?'

"Dustin, I can't apologize for that enough," he said, looking down at the table. "I don't know why I did it. I was talking to Jeff Masters about nothing in particular, and then he asked me about you, and it just popped out of my mouth. I was angry at you when I said it. At least, I thought I was angry at you."

"What were you angry with me about?" I demanded.  "I'm not the one who started anything that happened between us, Keith. I was merely there for the ride."

"I know that," he said defensively. "That's part of what I was so angry about. I wanted you so bad that day, Dustin, and I knew that you liked me. You'd told me that you thought you liked me more than you should have, and I used that to get what I wanted. I'm sorry for that, too. I know I was beyond a prick, and if I could take it all back, I would."

"Why didn't you just talk to me about it instead of having sex with me?" I asked. "You should have talked, Keith. I would have discussed your feelings with you. You were my best friend in the world."

"I know that, Dustin," he said. "I know that you were the best friend I ever had, and I threw it away like yesterday's trash. I know that I hurt you, and I know that I'm responsible for all that's happened to you and your parents. I'm so sorry for all of it, Dustin. I can't take it back, but I wish I could. I wish I could take it all back, but I don't regret having sex with you."

"Why not?" I gasped. "You punched me in the face when it was over, Keith. You started it, finished it and freaked out. Why?"

"Because I didn't want to be gay, Dustin," he spat.  "I didn't want to be that way. I hated myself for wanting you that way, and then I tried to hate you instead. I tried to convince myself that it was your fault. I don't know what I was thinking, but I know that I'm sorry."

"But you say you don't regret having sex with me," I said. "You don't want to be gay, but you don't regret having sex with me?"

"Dustin, I don't regret that you were the one I had sex with," he replied. "I'm sorry that I hit you, and I'm so sorry that I reacted the way I did. I didn't expect to like it so much and then feel so ugly and dirty when it was over. I know what I am now, Dustin, and I can't change that. I can't go back to the boy I was before that day, because all I think about is that day all of the damned time. I think about how it felt to touch you . . ."

"I don't want to hear about that," I snapped. "I want to know why you branded me a rapist, Keith. You still haven't answered that question."

"I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I know that I was stupid, and I blamed you for something that you really had nothing to do with. I know that much. I just don't know why I said what I said to Jeff that day. That's how it started, and I tried so hard to take it back, but he just wouldn't stop telling people. I even denied it when people asked me. I tried to make Jeff out to be a liar, but everyone believed him.

"They didn't believe that you had tried to rape me," he continued. "They believed that I told Jeff that, though. I betrayed the only person in the world who ever really cared about me, and it spiraled out of control so fast, Dustin. I couldn't stop it once it started. Believe me, I tried so hard."

He was crying now, and that was a shocking event. I hadn't expected that at all. I only wanted to know why. I wanted to know why he had taken my entire life in his hand and crushed it. He said that he didn't want to be gay, and he blamed me for making him feel that way. I could almost understand that. I knew that it was bull shit, but I could almost understand it.

He was right about one thing. I had wanted him. I'd wanted him for so long, and I was so shocked to find out that I hated every part of having sex with him. I didn't understand what that meant at the time, but I did understand it when he sat there at my table. I loved him, yes. I loved him like the best friend that he was. I'd only thought I wanted more out of our relationship, but the reality of it proved me wrong.  I didn't want the fantasy to become reality.

"You hate me now," he said. "I know you do, but Dustin, I love you. Not the way that I know that you love that Phillip guy, but I love you. I wish that we could go back and be the way we were before all of this happened. I wish to God that we could. I know it isn't possible, but I really do hope that we can at least find a way to be some kind of friends."

"I don't hate you, Keith," I said slowly. I didn't really hate him. I was angry as Hell with him, but I didn't hate him. "I don't know what will happen between us now, but I don't hate you."

"You don't want to be my friend anymore, though," he said, wiping his eyes.

"I don't know if I can be your friend now, Keith," I admitted. "I know that we'll never be as close as we were. Charlie and Phillip hate you, and I can't blame them for it at all. I just know that somehow, I don't hate you."

"Can we try to be friends again?" He pleaded. "I know I don't deserve it, but please, Dustin, can we try?"

I had to think about that for a second. Did I even want to be his friend now? I wasn't sure. We'd been friends for so long, and I really did miss him from time to time. I didn't miss him as much anymore, though. When something happened, I didn't automatically want to call him and tell him about it now. Still, we had been friends for a very long time, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to completely throw it away.

"I can't trust you now, Keith," I said finally. "I don't know what kind of friendship that would leave."

"I can try to gain your trust again," he said.  "Please, Dustin. I can't stand not talking to you any more."

"How would you gain my trust again?" I asked completely out of curiosity. I didn't think he could actually regain it, to be honest.

"I don't know," he admitted, looking down at the table. "I could try, though."

"You say you love me," I replied. "How can you love me when you lied about me to everyone that would listen."

"I only said that to Jeff, Dustin," he said quickly, snapping his head back up from looking at the table.  "Jeff's the one who spread it everywhere."

"You told my father!" I spat. I wouldn't stand for lies. If he wanted to gain my trust again, he was doing a very bad job.

"No, I didn't," he replied. "I swear that I only said that to Jeff. I don't know who told your mother, but she called my house to ask me about it. I wouldn't answer her question. Dustin, I told her that you and I weren't getting along. I swear that's all I said to her. I never even talked to your father."

"Then how?"

"I don't know," he said. "I swear I don't know, Dustin."

"Wendy said that you were telling everyone," I said, remembering the discussion that I had with her at Tommy's.

"No, I wasn't," he said. "Wendy got in my face about it, and so did Tommy, and I told them that it wasn't true. I never said those things to anyone but Jeff, and that was bad enough."

"So, Jeff was the one that spread that rumor all over the school?" I asked. "Jeff was the one who repeated what you said, and somehow my mother found out?"

"Yes," he said, nodding his head. "I really didn't spread the rumor. I shouldn't have said that to Jeff, but I was very upset when I talked to him. I know it was stupid, and I'd take it back if I could, but I can't. Dustin, I'm so sorry."

"My mother is back, you know?" I said, changing the subject.

"I saw her at the grocery store," he said. "She wouldn't even look at me."

"What I'm saying is that if you did tell her anything, she'll tell me when I ask her," I informed him.

"Then I have nothing to worry about, because I didn't tell her anything other than what I told you," he insisted.

Just then, Charlie and Phillip came home with Jason.  I didn't want to find out just how civil my brother and lover would be to Keith, so I told him that I needed to think about things. He didn't say anything to anyone other than me as he left, and that was only to thank me for talking to him. I really did have to think after that talk. I didn't know what I would come up with, but I knew that he really was sorry for what had happened. What I wanted to know was if Jeff Masters was really the one that had spread the lie around school.

"So you had your talk with Keith," said Charlie, sitting down at the table with a bottle of juice in his hand. "How did it go?"

"I'm more confused than ever," I sighed, rubbing my face with my hands. "He says that Jeff Masters is the one who spread the rumor, and he denied it to everyone who asked him."

"Well, I know he wasn't the one who told Mom about it," said my brother. "She told me that she overheard a few kids talking about it at the grocery store, and Keith told her that you guys weren't getting along, but he wouldn't tell her why."

"I don't want to talk about Keith right now," I said before telling them all about the greenhouse. I told them about the loan that we got, and their eyes about popped out of their heads. I quickly explained that Shirley had actually gotten the loan and that Mike Andrews had helped, but we were set for a while.

Shirley called a little while later to tell me that power and water would be turned on in the morning, and she said that we should get started right away. Carl was already at the greenhouse measuring the panes of glass so he could get more to replace the cracked ones. She said that as soon as we got the sprinklers working and the place was cleaned up, she was going to start buying seeds and soil to start getting plants and flowers ready.

That following Monday, the greenhouse was cleaned up, and the sprinklers had only needed to be flushed out.  Jason and Danny helped to repair the cracked cement in front of the building, and they taught us a few things about doing it along the way. We got busy really fast, and the new customers were all very excited about the coming services that we would be offering.

The first week of August, Meg bought the house across the street from Tom and Shirley. She was sure that once her house in Maine was sold, she'd have this one paid for, and she announced that they would be flying back to Maine to pack in three days. Carl told us that he was having his car driven to Storyville instead of driving it himself, so it would be a while before it got there. Until then, Meg told him that he could drive the car she would buy when they got back to Storyville.

Two nights before they left for Maine, my mother came to supper with me, Charlie, Phillip and Meg. Meg wasn't exactly impressed with my mother, but she was cordial. Mother did her best to not even bat an eye when Phillip kissed me in front of her. I could tell that it wasn't something that she was happy about, but she hid that with a smile. She asked questions about the business and what our plans were for the future all through the meal.

She did confirm for me that Keith never told her the lie that Jeff Masters had been spreading. Exactly what he'd said that he told her was what she told me, so I had a little more to think about where Keith was concerned. Wendy helped me learn that Jeff was, in fact, the one who started the rumor at school. Keith was guilty of telling him the lie, but he wasn't the one who spread it all over school.

Phillip was gone for a whole week right before the school year began, and I missed him like crazy.  Charlie suggested hiring Keith to help us while Phillip was away, and I was more than shocked that he'd suggested it. It seemed that my brother had almost completely forgiven him once we'd learned the truth. Keith had never been big on any kind of work, but he worked his butt off on the lawns, and when Phillip came back, I decided to hire Keith permanently.

We never were as close as we had been, but we were at least friendly. We even invited him over from time to time, and I was actually happy for him when he started to date Frank Peirce. Frank was home from the Army on a medical discharge. He'd been hurt in Iraq, so he wouldn't be going back. We had supper at Tommy's just about twice a week until school started, and I was really working on being a better friend to Tommy and Steve.

Tommy and Nick started to hang out alone off and on, and I was shocked when Tommy told me that everything had been resolved between them. It seemed that my friendship with Keith wasn't the only mended friendship in the mix. We all went to Wendy's end of summer party, and she'd even invited Keith. I'm sure that was partly because of Frank, but she was nice to him the entire night.

The night before school was to start, Phillip and I stayed at the apartment. We'd been spending a lot of time at Meg's house, and I was really getting comfortable with Meg and Jason. She'd gotten her divorce from Paul. It had been a little scary at first, because Paul's lawyer told the judge that Meg was promoting a morally depraved lifestyle to his sons, but once the judge heard full testimony, Paul wasn't even given visitation rights. Of course, Carl, Jason and Phillip had testified that they didn't want anything to do with their father.

Against my better judgment, I enrolled at Storyville University with Carl, Frank, Keith, Vince, Maria and Charlie. My major was business (that was Shirley's idea), but I had several classes that were directly linked to what I was doing with my business. It seemed that everything was going really well for me.  It was far from perfect, but it was close enough for my comfort. I had Phillip, my relationship with my best friend was mending, and my mother was at least trying to accept me for who and what I am.

The End

I want to thank all of you who have sent email about this story.  It took longer to write it than I'd intended, but I finally finished it.  Dustin will return in Storyville 2, so don't worry about him.  You'll find out what happens to him, Charlie, Carl, Jason, Phillip and Keith.  I want to give a special thank you to Bruce for editing the story for me.  He'll be editing the new stories as they come, and I have ideas for about three besides the sequel to Storyville.  Some of them will be a bit darker than what you're used to from me, but I hope you'll all like them.

Julien Gregg