|Far From Home|
Authors Note: Standard disclaimers apply here... If it illegal to read about homosexuals and any physical expression thereof, then go away (though there isn't any sex yet... so if that is what you are looking for, then it might be best to move on). This is my first time writing fiction, and I appreciate feedback.
I have managed to put together a website for the story. Check it out at http://www.crosswinds.net/~charlatan. I hope you like it. Let me know what you think... I enjoy getting email.
from last time...
Hearing the door slam, Sam bolted down the stairs. I was still standing in the living room. I couldn't move. As soon as she touched me I collapsed started sobbing hysterically. Sam guided me to the sofa and held me. Despite the vice grip on my chest, I managed to speak.
"I didn't get...."
"Charlie, breathe. That's right. In and out. In and out. Now tell me what happened."
"He asked me what was bothering me. So I told him about work, but before I could finish my explanation--before I could explain things, he just blew up and left.
"Oh Sam," I said, clutching onto her, "I'm so scared."
She pulled me to her chest as I continued weeping profusely. "Im so scared," I whispered. "So scared."
Sam continued holding me like that, rocking back and forth. I sat there trying to figure out what had happenedwhat had gone wrong when the image of Ryan and Mitch popped into my head. I felt a chill shoot through my body at the thought of history repeating itself.
I flew out of Sams arms and ran into the kitchen. "What in the hell are you doing?" she asked.
"I have to call him. I have to make sure hes okay,"I said, nearly ripping the phone off the wall. My hands were shaking so much that it took me three times to punch in the number to his cell phone.
"Hi, youve reached Ryans cell phone" I hung up and dialed again. "Hi, youve reached Ryans cell phone. Leave me a message and Ill get back to you."
"Ryan, Im sorry," I said, trying to speak while crying. "Please... be safe...." I waited for a few more seconds before the beeping of his voicemail cut me off. I couldnt let go of the phone though. Hearing Ryans voice on the recording made the pain I was feeling even more unbearable.
Sam came over and pried the phone from my hands. "Come on upstairs," she said. "Ill draw you a bath."
She sat me down on her bed and instructed me not to leave. I heard the water from the bathtub faucet a few seconds later. The tears had stopped, not because I was feeling better, but because there werent any left. I picked up the phone on Sams nightstand and dialed the number to Ryans moms house.
"Hello?" answered a voice.
"Cccaan I ssspeak to Mrs. Kirkpatrick?"
"Just a minute," the man answered. I heard him yell out for Debbie, and she came to the phone a moment later.
"Hello?" she answered, her voice full of Christmas cheer.
"Mrs. Kirkpatrick? Its meCharlie."
"Charlie! Im sorry you couldnt join us this year. Youll have to wish your mom a Merry Christmas for us."
"Charlie, you dont sound so good. Whats wrong?" she asked. "Charlie, are you still there?"
"Ryan and I got into a fight."
"Aww, Charlie, you two have had disagreements in the past," she said with a consoling tone in her voice.
"Its different this time. He stormed out of here and got in his car to go to Macon. He wont answer his cell phone. Im really worried that..."
"It will be okay, Charlie. Hes a good driver, and hes got a good head on his shoulders. Dont worry."
"But" I started.
"Charlie, dont worry. How about I call you when he gets here so youll know hes okay."
"Consider it done. Now you calm down and stop thinking so negatively. You two will work this out."
"I wish I had your faith," I lamented.
"Charlie, you sound defeated already. Get that out of your mind. Dont worry about Ryan either. Hell be fine coming home, and Ill make sure to call you in a few hours."
I hung up the phone after thanking her profusely. Sam reappeared a while later. "You should feel lucky my friend. I gave you some of my Mr. Bubble. I dont do that for just anyone ya know."
"Thats about all Ive got to be thankful for right now."
"Come on," she said, dragging me from the bed and into the bathroom. After she made sure Id gotten into the tub, she got up to leave, telling me shed check up on me in a little while.
"Sam?" I called out. "Will you stay with me?"
Kneeling back down to the tub, she brushed a stray lock of hair from my forehead. "No problem, kid." She took a seat on the tile floor while I soaked in my bath.
The bubbles had long since dissolved before either of us spoke again. "Sam, why does my life have to be like this?"
"I just get the feeling that Im on this big rollercoaster. Just when things are going well, I hit the top of the hill and start hurtling towards the bottom again. It just seems like a constant cycle of ups and downs. Things cant stay good for two long. I have to get the rug pulled out from under me."
"Life would be boring without a few loops and corkscrews Charlie. You just have to be confident that things will start going uphill again."
"Sam, youve always been there for me. You are such a strong person, and every time things have gone downhill, youve helped me get through it. I dont think Ive ever really thanked you for it."
"Charlie, you dont have to thank me. I know youd be there for me if our situations were reversed. Thats what friends are for."
"Cue the Dionne Warwick song," I joked half-heartedly.
"You dork!" she said, flicking me on the nose. "Why dont you get out of that tub? I know that the water must be getting cold. Lemme get you a towel so you can dry off and start packing. We have to be at the airport tomorrow morning by nine-thirty."
The phone rang after I had finished packing. I answered it on the first ring. "Ryan?"
"No Charlie, its me, Debbie."
"Did he make it home alright?"
"Well, he made it home," she answered.
"Um... how is he?"
"Honestly Charlie, he looks like he got hit by a Mack truck. I asked him if he was okay, but he brushed me off and went upstairs to his room."
I let out a defeated sigh. "Would you call me and let me know how hes doing?" She agreed and took down the phone number at my moms house. I hung up the phone and collapsed into bed, falling to sleep almost immediately.
Ever since Dad had passed away, Mom and I had joined Sams family for a Christmas Eve dinner before they headed to Tennessee to be with their family. This year, we were having the dinner at our house. Mom coaxed me into helping her prepare the meal, which I was actually thankful for. It gave me something to occupy my mind.
Sam and her family left for Tennessee on Christmas morning. She would be coming back to Virginia on the third, and we were supposed to fly back to Atlanta the next day.
Time crept by so slowly that I it seemed I could feel every second pass. I hadnt done much but mope around since Id gotten home. Mom tried her best to get me to leave the house, but I refused. I had to stay by one of phones in case Ryans mom called. The phones were mysteriously silent though, except for Sam calling to check up on me.
That is, until the morning of the thirtieth. The phone rang, waking me from a fitful sleep. "Hello?" I answered.
"Charlie, its Debbie."
I shot out of bed at the sound of her voice. "How is he?" I asked pleadingly.
"He just got in his car to go back to Atlanta. He barely left his room the entire time he was here, and he refused to tell me what was wrong. Can you tell me what happened Charlie?"
I told her the story as best I could. "Im afraid that we wont get through this though. I mean, I cant ask him to come with me, but if I stay, I feel that this whole experience will just loom over us like a dark cloud."
"Charlie, do you love him?"
"Of course I do."
"Then go tell him that. I know my son, and Im sure that ninety-eight percent of what hes feeling is anger at himself. You two need to talk."
"Youre right. Thanks Debbie."
I ran downstairs after talking to her to try and find my own mother. Shed left me a note on the fridge saying that she was out shopping and would be back soon. I flew back upstairs to get a shower and pack my bags. When she arrived home, I was sitting on the couch ready to go.
"Mom, you have to take me to the airport."
"Charlie, what are you talking about? Your flight doesnt leave for a few days."
"Ive got to go back to Atlanta today."
"Charlie, youre talking crazy! Its the holidays. All the seats will be booked."
"Im going to sit in that airport until I can get a seat on a plane. I dont care if I have to stow away in the cargo hold, Im getting back to Atlanta today."
She gave me a quizzical look, and I started getting impatient. "Come on, lets go!"
She relented, and I was in line at the ticket counter an hour and a half later. The place was absolutely crazy, especially for a place as small as the Richmond airport. I finally managed to get to the front of the line after a lengthy wait. "I need to get to Atlanta today," I said to the ticket agent.
"All the flights to Atlanta are booked sirno wait, make that overbooked," she said.
"Listen, I dont care how much it costs. I dont care if you have to route me through Lima, Peru. I need to be there today!"
"There is one seat on a plane leaving from Reagan National, connecting in Nashville... it can get you there at eleven-thirty this evening."
"What time does it leave?"
"Just under four hours from now," she said.
I slammed my credit card on the counter. "Give it to me!"
Mom was pacing back and forth outside the terminal when I found her. She gave me a strange look when she noticed I was still carrying my luggage. "What happened?" she asked.
"Wheres the car?"
"In the hourly lot, why?"
"Were going to Washington."
"Charlie, this is insanity! You want me to drive you all the way to Washington so you can hop a flight to Atlanta?"
"Mom, Ill rent a car if I have to. Hell, Ill hitchhike!" I gave her a pleading look. "Please?"
She sighed heavily. "Fine, but youre driving."
I hugged her and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Thanks mom. I owe ya one."
The flight landed half an hour behind schedule, but I was so thankful to be back in Atlanta that I didnt mind. By the time I had gone through baggage claim and hailed a taxi home, it was almost two in the morning.
I decided not to go to Ryans house until morning. I knew hed probably be asleep, and after a day of hanging around airports, I felt like crap. If youre going to go and try and rescue your relationship, or more likely, destroy it beyond repair, you might as well be well rested.
I laid down after washing off the residue of four different airports. Sleep eluded me however. Tossing and turning in my bed, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread surround me. My stomach started doing back flips.
I went to the bathroom for a few shots of Pepto Bismol. I couldnt even walk around the house without seeing something that reminded me of him: the rocking chair in the den that we found at a garage sale, the picnic table that hed helped me refinish, his jacket hanging on the back of my desk chair. The list went on and on. I had to get out of this house.
Donning a sweater and grabbing the now half-empty bottle of Pepto, I got in my car. I didnt really have an idea of where I was going, but somehow made it to I-285, the ring road around Atlanta. I drove around the circle for a few hours before I noticed the eastern horizon start to lighten. Soon the commuters would be out in force. The next time I saw the exit for I-75 north, I took it.
Ryan lived in a duplex in a quite suburban neighborhood with his roommate Mike who had gone home to Minnesota to visit his folks. A friend of theirs and his wife shared the other half of the house. I saw Ryans car parked in front of the house as I turned onto his street.
I remember when we went to go get that car. His old Saab finally died on the side of the interstate one night on his way down to my house. We spent that weekend scouring Atlanta for another Saab in good condition. He finally picked one out from the early 90s that was only slightly less beat up than the one he had before. I tried to talk him into getting a more reliable Japanese car, but he wouldnt hear of it. "Ive got brand loyalty," he said.
After driving around the block a few times, I parked on the street a few houses down from his. The sense of dread returned and I suddenly began to feel very claustrophobic in my car. I got out and started walking around the neighborhood, hoping that it would give me the chance to collect my thoughts. Things were pretty quiet, and the morning air was very crisp.
An hour later I came to realize that Id gotten myself thoroughly lost in the sprawling suburban neighborhood. A few houses down, I noticed a man coming out of his house in a business suit. He was jiggling the key in his car door when a young woman appeared at the front door. "Jim?" she called out.
"Dont forget to run by the pharmacy on your way back from work."
"Will do. Thanks honey." he responded. A little girl appeared in front of the young lady, holding on to her housecoat.
"Bye Daddy!" the little girl yelled out.
"Ill be back soon Princess!" He got in his car and started backing out of his driveway.
"Wow," I thought. "Ryan and I could have thatcould have had that."
I flagged down the young father as he approached me. He rolled down his window. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"Im staying with a friend and went out for a morning walk, but I think Ive gotten myself lost. Can you tell me how to get to Grayson Drive?"
"No problem," he said. "Go down to the end of this block and turn right. Grayson is three streets ahead on your left."
"Thank you sir, and Merry Christmas." He waved and rolled up his window before continuing on his way back to work. I followed his directions and soon found myself in front of Ryans door... again.
"Its now or never," I said to myself. I climbed the concrete stairs that led to his front door and knocked. Nothing. I knocked again.
This time I heard some commotion coming from inside. The door opened and there stood Ryan. His clothes were wrinkled and he looked like hed been in them for days. He had bags under his eyes, he was pale as a ghost, and his hair looked matted and tangled. And even then, he was as beautiful as the day Id met him.
It was everything I could do not to break down right there. "Ryan... um... I know you probably dont want to see me, but please, let me say some things and Ill be on my way."
Well, the door was still open, so I guess I had his consent. "First of all Ryan, I love you. Ive never felt this way about anyone before... and Im sorry. Im sorry that... I never meant..."
I stopped for a minute to collect myself before I felt I could go on. "Ryan, youre everything to me. I cant imagine what my life would be like without you. I know I cant ask you to come with me, and if I stay, I just have this feeling that this will screw up things for us in the future.
"So I brought you something to remember me by." I reached in my pocket and pulled out a piece of silverware. I extended my hand. Ryan studied it for a moment before extending his own.
"Whats this?" he asked, his voice sounding very dry and scratchy.
"I lifted it from the Waffle House we went to on our first date. I wanted something to remember that evening." I suddenly felt very tiredthe lack of sleep and running around for the last twenty-four hours was finally catching up with me. "I should go," I said. "But remember, youll always have a special place in my heart."
I descended the concrete steps and started walking down the path that lead to the street. "Charlie?" Ryan called out after me. I turned around to see him still standing in his doorway. "Im not moving to Chicago with you," he said. His vacant expression changed to a slight smile, "Not unless you marry me."
Standing there, I tried to figure out if what I heard was real or the product of a sleep-deprived imagination. My question was soon answered though as Ryan ran down the stairs and tackled me with such a force that we landed in the grass. He clung to me for dear life. "Im so sorry. I shouldnt have blown up like that. Its all my fault," he said as his tears flowed freely. "Can you ever forgive me?"
"Oh, so easily," I said. He got up and helped me off the ground. After we were both standing, he knelt down on one knee in front of me.
"Charles Ezra Ashby, will you marry me?"
"You bet your cute little ass I will," I said before pulling him up into a long and passionate kiss.
"Ya know, I was wondering when you two would get around to doing that!" We broke our kiss to locate the source of the voice. Ryans neighbor Bill was returning just returning from his morning run. "So do I get an invite or not?"
"Dont worry Bill, youre on the list," I said. He gave me a thumbs up before heading inside.
"Wait a minute," Ryan said. "How did you know I was here. I wasnt supposed to be back until Friday."
"Ive been keeping tabs on you. Your mom called me at home this mornwell, yesterday morning. I got my mom to drive me to D.C. so I could catch a flight back here last night."
"Ive got an idea. When do you have to be back at work?"
"Not until Monday, why?" I asked.
"Lets go surprise my mom!"
"Sleep first," I said. "Then well go to Macon. Ive been up for more than twenty-four hours, and Im dead tired."
"You and me both," he said. "So you really stole a fork from Waffle House? Hmm...."
"Whos the sappy one now?"
I walked up to his house and in the front door. "Ya know pookie, I could just as easily go to sleep without you there."
"Like hell you will!" he said, following closely behind.
"Mom?" I said into my cell phone.
"Charlie! I was worried when you didnt call me last night. Did you get to Atlanta okay?"
"Yeah, but I didnt get home until two in the morning. I didnt want to wake you up."
"Is everything okay?" she asked.
"Ive got a question for you. How you like a son-in-law?"
"Charlie!" she screamed into the phone. "Thats wonderful! I take it everything went okay then?"
"Yeah, were in Ryans car on the way to Macon to surprise his parents," I said.
"So, tell me! When is the big date?"
"I dont know mom, he just asked me eight hours ago. We wanna do it before we move to Chicago though," I answered.
"So youre taking the job after all? Thats wonderful! Wait until I tell Sam! She called yesterday afternoon to check up on you."
"I know. I heard the half dozen messages she left me when we stopped by my house. She sounds pissed. Please dont tell her anything though. Just let her know that Ill be at the airport to pick her up."
"I promise she wont hear anything from me," she said. "Is Ryan there? Can I talk to him?"
I handed the phone to Ryan. "She wants to talk to you."
"Hello?" he said. "Yes maam.... Yes maam.... Yes maam I know.... Yes maam.... I will.... Okay.... I love you too. Bye." He clicked the phone off and handed it back to me. "She told me that I had to take care of you, that youre a very special person, and that we have to let her know a date as soon as possible. Shes gonna take some time off before the wedding to come down and help us with the final details."
"Oh dear. Im sure Sams mom will want to come down early too. God help us!"
We pulled into Ryans neighborhood a few hours after dark. His dads car was missing but his moms stationwagon was in the driveway. As we were walking up to the house, he stopped us. "Lets trick her," he said with an evil grin. "Just follow my lead." Ryan opened the door and pushed me into the stairway so his mom couldnt see me.
"Ryan, is that you?" she called from the den.
"Yes mom," he said, feigning anger. I crept down the stairs to better hear their conversation.
"Honey, why are you back?" she asked. She was sitting in a recliner with her back to me. Ryan was standing a few feet in front of her.
"Did you have to tell him? Did you have to tell him where I was? How can you just meddle around in my business like that?" He was really putting on a good show. I was trying to stifle a laugh so I wouldnt give myself away.
"But Ryan, I was just concerned...."
"Do you have any idea what youve done? Do you?" he asked, allowing a dramatic pause. "Youve up and gotten me engaged!"
He dropped the outraged look from his face, replacing it with a goofy smile. His mom stood up from her chair. "You what? Why I outta spank your bottom! Where is he?"
I stepped into the room. "Im right here," I said, walking over to her. "Thanks for keepin track of him for me."
"Hey, wheres Dad," Ryan asked.
"He had to go to Alabama. Vivian got into an accident."
"Is Aunt Viv okay?"
"She slipped in her kitchen and broke her arm. Shes okay, just a little shaken up. Your dads helping her around the house until she gets used to the cast... probably a few days. How long are you two staying?" she asked.
"Just tonight. We want to spend tomorrow together so we can do something for New Years." I answered.
"Well, this calls for a celebration. Have you two had dinner yet?"
"Well, hop in the car. Lets go!"
Sam looked absolutely furious when she appeared from the jetway. "Youve got some explaining to do Mister. Why did you just up and leave?"
"You had the number at grandmas. You didnt even call me! I had to find out from your mom!"
"Will you be in my wedding?"
"I mean.... gees! Youwait, wait, hold on. What?"
"Will you be in my wedding?" I asked again.
Sam simultaneously screamed out loud, grabbed onto me, and started jumping up and down. People were looking us like wed just been released from a mental ward. "I take my eye off you for one second and you get engaged?" More screaming. "Where is your fiancée?"
"I left him at the baggage claim. I figured that if you saw him before I told you that you might jump him. I dont want my man gettin beat up by the likes of you!"
Sams plane landed at the concourse farthest from the terminal, so it took us about twenty minutes to make it to the baggage claim. I gave her the condensed version of what had happened after she left to see her grandparents. When she saw Ryan pacing back and forth in the terminal, she gave him the same treatment that shed given me at the gate.
Ryan and I spent a lot of time at his house planning what we were going to do. We had a lot of details to work out, but I still needed to know a few more things about the move before we could set anything in stone. When I got to work Monday morning, I headed straight to Dennis office.
"Julie, is he in?" I asked.
"Just a second, let me see if hes free." She picked up the phone and punched a few buttons. "Charles Ashby is here to see you sir.... Yes sir." She placed the phone back on the cradle. "Go on in."
Dennis sprung from his chair to greet me as soon as I walked through the door. "Charlie! Good to see you. Did you have a good vacation?"
"It was... eventful, but good. I came to discuss your offer."
"Go ahead. Here, have a seat," he said.
"Thank you sir. Overall, Im satisfied with the offer, but I have a few changes I need to discuss." He nodded his head in consent and I continued, "I need to add relocation benefits for my fiancée, and I need a week off before I move so I can go on my... honeymoon."
"I didnt know you were engaged. When did this happen?" he asked.
"Over the break. That was why it was so eventful."
"Well, congratulations!" he said. "I dont think Ive met your fiancée before."
I paused a second, wondering how much I should tell. "Actually, you have... at the company picnic this past summer. His name is Ryan."
Dennis stroked his chin for a moment. "Oh yes, I do remember him. He does something with landscaping, no?"
"Well, I think your requests are reasonable. I have a few additions of my own actually. Im gonna need you up there a few times before you move so you can get acquainted with the project."
"When can I find out the dates?" I asked.
"Ill make some phone calls and get back to you this afternoon, and Ill get in touch with our relocation service so they can start working with you on finding a place to live. So, do we have a deal?"
"Great! Get your team together today and let them know. Ill send out an official announcement to the rest of the bank tomorrow morning.
"As you can see," said the realtor, "hardwood floors through most of the house, except for the den, which has a lovely cream-coloured berber rug." She continued leading me around the empty townhouse as I followed with my digital camcorder.
"The kitchen has ceramic tile floors and a breakfast bar that separates it from the dining area. Theres enough space to put in an island if you want to, and well be getting the new appliances in next week. Are you ready to see the upstairs?"
Without even seeing the upstairs I felt like Id found our house. "Id love to," I answered.
"Most of the floor plan is the same as the original owners had it, but weve made a few modifications. As you can see, this stairwell curves slightly on the way up, and the master bedroom has been redone. Take a look." She threw open a set of French doors and let me walk in ahead of her. What I saw was absolutely breathtaking.
"We knocked out the attic space above this bedroom to give it vaulted ceilings. Theres still plenty of storage space above the old bedroom though. The windows are also new."
Running along the backside of the house, the whole length of the bedroom, were windows eight feet tall, with semi-circular windows on top. It looked like a series of archways. "Theres plenty of closet space, and the master bath is just through that door."
I stood in what I was sure was our new bedroom and tried to imagine it filled with furniture. "Joanne, what happened to the original owners?" I asked, shutting off the camcorder.
"Well, after the fire, the wife found out she was pregnant with triplets. They decided against turning the basement into an additional bedroom and took their insurance money to buy a larger house a little farther from Chicago. They sold us what was left of their property and we rebuilt. Its pretty much done except for the kitchen and the walls in other bedroom."
"Joanne, youve outdone yourself. I have to get Ryans okay, but I really think this is it."
"When can you let me know?"
"I fly back to Atlanta this evening, and I can let you know Monday morning," I said.
"Here," she said, digging into her purse. "This card has my home number on it. Call me there Sunday night. Im showing this place to some newlyweds on Monday morning, and we wouldnt want it to get away from you. Also, remind me to get you a copy of the floor plan once we get out to my car."
"Thanks Joanne," I said. "Would you mind giving me a minute alone in here?" I asked.
"Take all the time you need," she said, closing the French doors behind her. I laid down on the floor in the middle of the room and closed my eyes. The house smelled new... the scent of hardwood and fresh paint lingered throughout.
I imagined waking up on a Sunday morning and seeing Ryan standing at the windows. Light poured through them and illuminated the entire room. There was snow on the ground, and Ryan had a blanket wrapped around him. I walked up to him and rested my chin on his shoulder.
"Watcha doin?" I asked.
"Watching the sunrise," he explained. I took the blanket from him and wrapped it around both of us as we stood there, watching a new day begin.
The image faded from view. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. After dialing a number I heard a familiar voice pick up on the other end.
"Ryan, I think Ive found our house."
No cliffhanger this time! For those of you who asked about the rewrite of the story, I can say that it is progressing rather well. I've gotten Chapters 1-10 rewritten. A friend is going to proof them for me this weekend. Check on my website for more info on that...
Thanks again for everyone's kind emails. I'm glad that you are enjoying the story. Keep it coming though, I love getting encouraging email, even if I am sometimes a little... uh... late in getting back to you.