The People You Know

by Rick Lemmon

Part 3: The Whole Story

Brad was pretty mad at me for the next couple of days. I'd of course told him the whole story. I couldn't hold it in once I'd pieced everything together. Brad was pissed I'd given PJ the card. He hated Jake. Hated him on principal for the way he'd broken PJ's heart, even though he didn't know him. He was convinced that the same thing would happen all over again.

"You didn't know PJ back then," he'd said. "He was a complete mess. I don't think he ever fully got over it." I felt some regret about what had happened, but only because Brad was so pissed off. In truth, I didn't regret what I had done. PJ was a big boy. He could make up his own mind. All I had done was given him a way to reach Jake, if he wanted to.

Either way, they both seemed like they needed closure. Brad himself had said that PJ had never gotten over Jake. And Jake had admitted that he was still carrying a torch. I'm a romantic. I believe in love. I wanted them to find each other.

I think Brad was mostly angry because he hadn't heard from PJ. He'd tried to call him a couple of times, but hadn't succeeded in getting through. PJ didn't return his calls, even though he'd left a bunch of messages.

I didn't blame PJ for not calling Brad back. To be honest, if I had been him, I probably wouldn't have, either. Brad can be very predictable. Everyone involved knew what he would say if he got the chance. `Don't call him. Throw that card out. Stay the hell away.'

It was sensible advice in a lot of ways. But maybe not in ones that really mattered. I knew he was just looking out for PJ, something I hoped he would never stop doing. But I thought he was wrong in this case. I tried to keep my opinions to myself, though. We were still on a bit of thin ice. I'd barely gotten him to forgive me by finally admitting he was right, that I couldn't possibly understand the situation, that I'd made a mistake. Brad was very stubborn. He always had a hard time seeing things from other people's perspective.

PJ finally called about 5 or 6 days later. I was the one who answered. He sounded cheery on the phone. He asked if we could all get together for dinner, and we made plans for the next night. I would do the cooking.

PJ showed up a bit late the following night. Not by a lot, only about 10 or 15 minutes. But it was enough to get Brad going again, thinking he wouldn't show. I know I've mentioned that PJ has a vulnerability to him that makes you worry. It's true. But Brad had a tendency to treat the guy like a china doll. Like he would break if you didn't cushion him at every turn. I always suspected that PJ was a lot stronger than that. But trying to get Brad to listen was impossible. So I let him fret.

Of course, I wasn't surprised when PJ showed up smiling with a bottle of wine in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in another. He was always a polite guy.

"Sorry I'm late," he said. "The line at the LCBO was ridiculous." The lines at the LCBOs were always ridiculous. Downtown Toronto didn't have nearly enough liquor stores. I told him it was alright, took his coat, put the flowers in a vase, handed the bottle of wine to Brad to open.

"Dinner'll be ready in about half an hour," I informed him. In the meantime, we snacked on hors d'oeuvres and talked in general about the weather, the news, how our weeks had been. Both Brad and I were waiting for PJ to broach the topic of Jake. I don't think either of us felt comfortable bringing it up. He finally introduced the subject when we started eating.

"So, Brad, I'm sorry I didn't get back to you earlier in the week," he started. Brad smiled, said it was alright.

"I just needed some time to think some things through. I assumed Bob had filled you in, and I kind of knew what you wanted to say to me. Before I say anything else, you guys should know that I didn't call him." I felt a little disappointed at the news. I'm sure Brad felt relieved.

"I'm still trying to decide what to do. Brad, I know what you think of this guy. But nothing that happened between us was really his fault. Bob, I'm still confused as to how you found him, how you came to know anything about him, really."

"It happened by accident," I said. "He was dating this girl I sort of know. I met him at the bar a few weeks ago. We got to talking, and somehow he ended up telling me his whole life story. All about you and him. Then I bumped into him again. He told me you saw each other the other night. I didn't even figure out he was talking about you until you guys told me where you'd gone out to eat. He called you Peter. It all seemed impossible." PJ just shook his head, trying to absorb what I was telling him, I guess.

"Everyone at school used to call me Peter. PJ was a family nickname." And then he paused for a minute, trying to figure out what to say next.

"I've been in love with Jake since I was a little kid. Since I was 11 or 12. I don't know. Since I started going through puberty. I always liked him, always wanted to be friends with him. He was my first crush.

"He was always so close but so far. He lived just down the road. We went to the same school. But he was popular, had lots of friends. I was a bit of a class weirdo. He was hard to get to. I just watched him from afar, hoping one day I would get my chance to get close to him.

"It finally came the winter we were in grade 11. There was a big blizzard, no one could go anywhere. I saw him outside building a snowman with his little sister. I manned up and made my way down the road to talk to them. I told him I was bored, wondered if we could hang out. I was so nervous.

"But he just smiled and said sure, why not. I ended up spending the whole afternoon with them. I couldn't believe how easy it was. He was so nice. And he seemed to like me.

"After that, we started to spend a lot of time together. I was happy just being his friend, never really expected it to become anything more than that, even though it was my greatest wish that it would. We became really close. And I fell for him even more. It was a strange mix of heaven and hell every time he touched me.

"He didn't really talk to me at school that much. To be fair, we didn't see each other often, but he seemed to not want anyone to know we were friends. I accepted that. Like I said, I was always a bit of a weirdo and he was popular. I was willing to take what I could get.

"Then that Easter, things changed. I don't know where I got the courage, but I finally made a move on him that weekend. I thought he would maybe punch me or something when I took his hand in mine, but he just squeezed it. We made out that night. I was walking on sunshine.

"We continued to fool around over the next few years. I was completely in love with him. He never told me how he felt, but the way he acted led me to believe he felt the same way. He would never call me his boyfriend, though. He didn't want to let go of the idea he was straight. And he made that clear from the get-go.

"He got himself a girlfriend when he got to university. It hurt. But he always came back to me. I should have ended it a thousand times, but I couldn't imagine not having him in my life. Even though he ignored me throughout the year. Even though he was making a life with someone else. I always held out, believed he might come around.

"It got to be too much eventually. I just blew up one night at him. I was sick of being second best. We yelled and yelled, and then I just walked away. I regretted it, of course. I missed him desperately. But I tried so hard to get over it. Brad, I'm sure you remember all of this. How much I was partying. I was just desperately seeking something that would feel as good as Jake's arms wrapped around me. I never found it.

"That was 6 years ago, and I haven't spoken to him since. I just saw him once, at the grocery store a few years ago. We stared at each other, but didn't talk. I thought that I could let him go, but when I saw him I felt this surge of love, this desire to touch him. I walked away, though. I wanted so badly to be over him.

"And then I saw him again a few weeks ago at the Blue Garden. I'd barely been thinking about him lately. I mean, it's been six years. Who carries a torch for that long? I thought I was over him. But seeing him again, it was like no time had passed at all. It really disturbed me how much just seeing him affected me.

"I excused myself and went to the washroom to try and get ahold of myself. The bastard followed me. He locked us in together in that tiny room and just looked at me with this desperate expression. I can't describe it. We didn't even say anything. We just started making out.

"I was in heaven, ready to forgive him anything. But then he bolted, just like he always does. Mumbled something about a girlfriend. Same old bullshit.

"I tried to put him behind me once again. I'm terrified that I'll never be able to. That I'll be stuck living my whole life loving someone who can't love me back. It doesn't seem fair. I feel like such a loser.

"Bob, I'm not sure what you want me to do with this card you gave me. I don't know what good calling him would do. I think it'll just get me hurt again."

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to encourage PJ to pick up the phone. I wanted to tell him everything Jake had told me. But Brad was sitting right there. I knew he wouldn't like what I had to say. If I spoke up, it would lead to an argument. But PJ looked so hopeless sitting there.

"When I saw him the second time, when he gave me his card, when you just missed him, he told me he left his girlfriend. He seemed... like he was starting to accept who is. He told me he wanted to find you." I had to tell him. What if they both lived lonely, sad lives because they never came together again, and it was all because of me? Brad shot me a death stare.
"I don't think it's a good idea," he told PJ. "Bob, no offense honey, but you're too trusting. I think it's sweet, the way you always think the best of people. But you're naive. PJ, this guy has broken your heart time and time again. Why give him another chance?"

PJ looked at me. `Why give him another chance?' I saw the answer in his eyes. Because he loved him.

"PJ, give me the card. I'll rip it up. That way you won't have the temptation any more." Brad always had very strong convictions. When he believed in something, he believed in it 100%, and there was no changing his mind. As he saw it, the only right course of action was for PJ to ignore Jake, move on with his life. I don't think he was capable of understanding that it was impossible for him.

PJ took a deep breath, like he was steeling himself. Then he looked Brad right in the eye. "I can't do that. I have to call him. I won't argue with you about this." Brad started to say something, but PJ cut him off.

"I can see that you won't accept this. So, I'm just going to go. Thanks for dinner, Bob. It was lovely." And he left, just like that. Before we'd even had coffee or dessert. Brad was angry with me that night. We had a blow out fight that didn't really end until the next day. I slept on the couch. I'm a pacifist. Or, as my dad puts it, a pushover. I normally bend to Brad to avoid a fight. But somehow I'd become caught up in those two, in their fight to be together. I believed in it. Brad and I were fundamentally different in that regard. And I wasn't going to let it go. Time would tell who was right.

Hello all. If you like my story, I'd love to hear from you. Send me an e-mail at blue_steele82@hotmail.ca It's always nice to hear from people out there who dig my work. Also, if you e-mailed me before about this one, well, turns out I'm a moron and had a typo in my address!