By Martin Clement
Unless otherwise noted, this story is Copyright 2006 by Martin Clement for Clement & Boule Associes. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, published, distributed, displayed, performed, copied or stored for public or private use in any information retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any mechanical, photographic or electronic process, including electronically or digitally on the Internet or World Wide Web, or over any network, or local area network, without written permission of the author.
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Almost six years ago, my friend Michael, my real best friend betrayed me.
All my friends left me to avoid becoming a target.
My whole life was torn apart when my parents ignored my emotions.
That's when everything started.
Other students started to bully me.
My life became a living hell for five years.
Strange because even if I could remember all the events and still feel the pain they brought to my life...
... living from now on kept on making me want to finally live and fend for myself.
I was not alone anymore.
Oh! I didn't become anybody's hero for what I had done. But people seemed to start realizing it was all so childish...
And now, as I had finally found some new friends in Michael's gang, I wasn't treated as an outcast anymore.
"Lucas!" Mike hissed through his teeth.
"What?" I asked before being nudged in the ribs by Dennis' elbow.
"Lucas Decker!" announced the voice again.
I quickly lifted myself out of my seat, trying my best to exit the row without crushing anybody's feet. While I was making my way to the podium that had been placed on the stage of the auditorium of the school, I remembered how often I had told myself that I would never attend my graduation day. Jeez, last summer, when I started to work for Federico, I thought I would never finish high school either. I wasn't the same Lucas Decker anymore. Don't get me wrong! Nothing would ever make me forget this suffering I went through. Nobody! But at least, I could learn from what happened. You know, everything hadn't been that bad, if I look back. Even if it hadn't been quite sane for me to be treated the way I had been, I could say that during these years of loneliness, I had matured a lot. Yeah, I had grown up. I was now ready to become an adult. And I knew what I wanted. I didn't want popularity or sports cars, not even money. I didn't want to be surrounded by a bunch of hypocrites waiting to stab me in the back. I had found friendship in Dennis Hutchkins, with whom I could talk freely, Cassandra Domini, my favourite books lover, Federico, my own personal philosopher, and most of all, my real best friend in the whole world, Michael.
A couple of days after I came back to school after having been hit by the car, Mr. Howell packed up his belongings from his office and left the principal's office for a sabbatical vacation, recommended by the school board. Oh! I received an apologetic letter from him a couple of weeks later. See, he probably used to be a great teacher and a good principal at a time. But it seems as being in one place for too long can sometimes get to you and make you grouchy.
"Congratulations, Lucas." Mrs. Campbell said handing me my diploma and shaking my hand.
Mrs. Campbell stopped teaching in October. See, being the vice-principal, she now had a new career of director of the school in front of her. Mr. Manning (well, Jeff, since he didn't like the word mister, as most of our teachers) was a really good literature teacher, but I actually missed Louise's (Mrs. Campbell) way of teaching. One thing that was for sure, after she entered her functions, there was no more bullying in the school that was not staying unpunished.
"Thank you." I said, looking at the precious roll of paper in my hands, then lifting my eyes to meet my friends' and my parents cheerful smiles. I couldn't help myself but grin before I left the stage to go back to my seat.
Nothing would ever be the same. I had lost the trust I had in my parents. Jeez, I hated them for over five years. I never jumped to their neck the way I did when I was a child. I wasn't a kid anymore. Things had been too hurtful for me to get all my confidence in them in so little time. But at least, my parents were back. And I was quite comfortable around them. Some days, all this felt awkward for me. Sometimes, I was even shy in front of them. Especially my father. And I'm sure he felt the same. I finally forgave him and my mother, the way I had done with Mike, but I knew they hadn't forgiven themselves yet. And even though I had forgiven them, There still was this little pinch I felt in my heart once in a while, remembering all of the events. The big difference between now and then was that I was actually trying. Yeah, I was trying my best to have a life that would be bearable. And I was finally succeeding.
As I was entering the seat row, my eyes met Mr. Walsh's and I stopped to send him a smile.
Last Christmas eve, we invited Mike and his family for what my father called a new start party. When I said that we invited them, it really means that I had a say in the discussion, the way we always used to do before. I was still feeling awkward seeing Mr. and Mrs. Walsh, but as they understood where I came from, they went out of their way to make me understand that I didn't have to feel that way around them. Even though our family was agnostic, Christmas was always a time to tell people surrounding us that we cared for them when I was a kid. And I think this special Christmas evening, from my own and Mike's families meant to tell me they really cared.
"Excuse me..." a voice trailed, and I looked down to see Matthew Harris who was offering me a shy smile. "It's my turn..." he trailed again.
"Sorry." I simply said, continuing my way to my seat.
Even though some of you might think Matthew and me became good friends, it is not the way things went, although I can tell you that his cocky attitude changed quite impressively. But me and him were not meant to run in the same circles. I now had my friends, and he had his. Nothing more than this. He kept his promise and stopped harassing me. He even told his buddies to stop bothering me. He never talked to me without a good reason, and it was always in class, never in the hallways, so I don't feel cornered.
"You've done it!" said Mike cheerfully while Cassandra ruffled my hair and Karl was straightening my tie.
Dennis and I became almost inseparables. I had so many questions to ask him at first (no, no sexual question, jeez, I was almost seventeen, we had sexual education in elementary school, modern world, 21st Century), and he was so willing to answer every single one of them that we rapidly became very good friends. As for Cassandra, she started working at Federico's Books sometime in March, when the big book store finally closed its doors after a three months strike. Can you believe the strike started before Christmas? Yes, they sold books by the dozen and at a lower price than everybody else, but it seemed as for doing so, they had to exploit their employees. So after they closed, Federico's gained back it's noble letters and the old man had to hire a couple more employees. So I recommended Cassandra.
Michael and I, well, we were still rediscovering each other. Even though he had betrayed me during five years, now I couldn't imagine myself away from his smile with the magical dimples in his cheeks. I loved him. I still was scared. But not that much. Me and him were best friends again, and I hoped that we could be that way forever.
We didn't attend the party that followed the diploma ceremony Mike and I. We didn't even wait for the group picture, as neither me nor him wanted one of them. Anyway, these pictures always stay for years in boxes that people finally throw to the garbage when they realize they are spoiled. Save the trees instead!
"Lucas!" My father told me through the passenger's window. "Are you coming home with us?"
I felt Mike's fingers loosen up in my hand, as if to say I was free to do whatever I wanted. But I could tell when I took a step from him to talk with my father, that he felt defeated. I knew since September that he still felt something for me. Jeez, that was his feelings for me that triggered his telling his father that he was gay! I exchanged a couple of words with my father and mother through the window. After that, I turned around to face Mike who was staring at the floor as a kid who lost his favourite teddy bear. When he heard the car leaving and saw my shadow on the sidewalk, I already was right in front of him.
"What..." he tried to say, but I shushed him.
"I told them I would ride with you." I said.
When he lifted his eyes to meet mine, his dark eyes were teary and the tears shined as glowing stars on his cheeks.
All the way home, I could feel Mike's eyes drifting to me. Even though we became friends again, after the first night he drove me home, he never pushed the issue of him and I trying for a date. Yes, we have been much more comfortable together. We even held hands sometimes, as we did on my porch that famous night for comforting, but the actual subject of trying to go further never came back. Mike was always caring and joyful around me when we were with our other friends, but he became shy and nervous as soon as we were alone together and doing nothing. One hand on the steering wheel, the other on his knee, his fingers fidgeting, I covered his hand with mine while looking at him. He turned his head one quick moment to look at me. I smiled. A timid smile appeared on his lips also.
As soon as Michael had parked his car in our driveway, always the gentleman he was, he jumped out of the car, went around it and opened my door for me.
"Come with me." I whispered into his ear as soon as I was out of the seat and on my feet.
"What's there?" he asked, seeing me walk through the flower garden to get to the back yard.
"Come!" I insisted and I walked faster.
So Mike followed me to the back yard but stopped in his tracks as there stood both my parents and his, looking pretty serious.
"What are you doing here?" Mike asked his parents, incredulously.
"Shhhh, Michael." Mr. Walsh whispered. "We're waiting."
"Waiting?" he asked. "Waiting for what?" He looked at me. "Lucas?"
"Come here, Michael." her mother said lovingly. "We are attending something very special here."
I walked to my father and stood in front of him with a serious face.
"Lucas..." he said. "Are you sure you want to do this?" my father asked me.
I was nervous. My hands were blue and cold as I knew what I had planned on doing that very special night of my graduation. Was I so sure I wanted to do this? Now I was thinking it back again even if I had planned on doing this simple action a while ago. Keeping the symbols up and alive would never let the old feelings leave me. And I wanted to be free. So I had to do it. But keeping the symbols up would also make me remember of all that happened. Remembering means not let what happened happen again. But memories, even though they had their own qualities, I would have to keep them in my mind, for seeing the symbol every time I was to visit my parents would only mean to install a division from me to the ones I cared for.
"Yes, father. I'm sure." I finally said.
When my father handed me the hack he was holding behind his back, I took it and turned around. There, in front of me, stood the symbol, the monument dedicated to this awful night of September almost six years ago. I had to destroy it to free myself. As I was approaching my target, hack in both my hands, tears started to run down my cheeks. This time, I didn't hold back the tears. I hadn't let my parents see me cry after this night when I felt left alone, this night when I was helpless, soaked in tears for my parents didn't want me as a son. At first, they were only silent tears, but the first time the hack hit the old tree house, I started crying openly. And so I hit the planks again, and again, and again until the old kid's house fell to the ground in a pile of planks. My rage was at full mast and I continued hitting and hitting again with the hack, shouting all the cusses I had clammed inside of myself for so many years. My insults, dedicated to that symbol, were so vulgar and hurtful that if a priest had heard them, he would have come with all his stupid stuff to do an exorcism. I shouted and cried all the words I wanted to say for so long, words to hurt my mother, my father, Mike and everybody in general. All these words now directed to the tree house instead of them, all these words coming out of my mouth, these painful words finding their way out of my chest, of my bones, were slowly draining me from my energy. The hack became heavier in my hands and as I fell to my knees, my hands let go of the tool. My hands glued to the dirt on the ground, a loud plaint escaped my heart through my lips as I felt my face red with my need to throw up. I gagged a bit then put my hands to my face and cried again, now silently, my privacy now protected by my hands in my face.
"Lucas..." my mother whispered. Even though I couldn't see her, I knew she wanted to comfort me but didn't know how to do so. So she just squatted down near me without touching me for fear of invading my privacy. I could feel her. I could also feel my father kneeling down close to me. I could say nothing. I was drained from all the hurt I felt. I wanted to live and I knew destroying this symbol of failure that had become the tree house would be the beginning of a new life for me. Words from my friend Federico started to dance in my head. "Nothing can erase the past. But remember that sometimes in life, we all have to make compromises, even if we are not the authors of the great disasters. Although we are not, we are the authors of our lives." He was right. I had to live in the now instead of living in the past.
"Mom... Dad..." I cried in my hands.
At this moment, knowing the symbol was down, I let myself free of my grieves and just let my tired body fall in my mother's arms. As I felt a strong hand, my father's hand on my shoulder, then my mother's fine fingers in my hair, I finally was reliving this night of 2002, but this time, with my parents soothing me and telling me I was still their little boy.
"We should leave them." murmured Mr. Walsh
"You are right. We shouldn't steal this moment from them. Come on, Michael." I heard Mrs. Walsh say as a teary whisper. "You'll come back tomorrow. Let them find themselves again."
I heard shuffling in the dirt and the grass.
"Mi..." I breathed. "Please, Mi... Michael... Stay with me, Michael." I could finally say quite clearly even though my voice was raspy like sandpaper. They must not have heard me since I could hear the back door to the Walsh's house opening. "Please, mom, Michael..." I pleaded. Then I heard the door shut and I broke down. Slowly, my father stood up and my mother let go of me.
"Don't stay outside the whole night, Lucas." she said. "I wouldn't want you to get sick.
I simply nodded and then she was gone too. I heard the sliding door open then close. I was alone. I was tired. So tired. I could have slept right then and there on the pile of wrecked planks that had become my old tree house, hadn't it been of the almost inaudible shuffle of shoes in the grass.
"Who's there?" I asked through my hands still covering my face.
"It's me..." I heard as a murmur. I knew it was Mike instantly.
"I must look like a mess..." I whispered.
"No, Lucas. You're beautiful." Mike knelt down in front of me and took my hands in his, and I let him uncover my face. Tears were still covering his lovely cheeks from his eyes to his soft dimples. "You're beautiful, Lucas." His strong arms finding their ways around me, I let myself being protected on his massive chest.
"Mike?" I breathed.
"Do something for me."
"Whatever you want, Lucas."
"Call me Luke."
I lifted my head slowly and found Mike's mouth with mine. Between tears and tremors, we shyly kissed in front of the destroyed symbol of the past and our path to the future.
There you have it! All the story is there. Complete. Done. Well, almost, since there still is an epilogue to follow. I promise a last surprise for you. I hope you all liked it.
I'm terribly sorry for the very long delay since the last chapter was sent in March. I had a lot to go through in my career so I had to make choices for the time being and what was more important to do. I'm glad that it's all done now and I can finally come back to writing Hate and all the books in progress that are filling my work table since I started working on the publishing part of one of them without being able to come back and do what I live for, which is writing. Thank you all, people who sent me constructive comments and words of encouragement all through this extremely delicate part of my work, they were very helpful and gratifying.