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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All through my shift, the last advice from Federico kept spinning inside of my head. I knew my boss's words were just advices, not something I had to imply into my life, but even if the old man told me once that he didn't hold the Truth, I new better not to think twice about what he said. But how do you get to know when it is yours to make compromises, well, I didn't know. Probably Federico didn't know either. But these words, made up with all the philosophy of the old man's life had to mean something to me. Everything he told me since I asked him for advices always made sense. Yes, I could stay at my parents for one single more year. Jeez, I survived there for five years since my father disowned me. Sure I could stay there if it meant I could go to College with a scholarship as soon as I was free from high school. Sure I could wait until then before I could go on with my life and build myself one of quality instead of regretting what could have been done. But making compromises with my family... I didn't know if I could do it.
How could I go and talk with my father after all these years? I didn't want to talk to him. He disowned me as his son. He had no right to come to me and claim me as his son. No fucking way! Did speaking to him made me be obliged to go back to my childhood when he meant so much to me? Did speaking with him meant I had to come back to loving him unconditionally? Did I have to jump to his neck and hug him the way I used to do? Did it mean I had to let him kiss my pain away and forget all about it, pretending it felt better? If making compromises was something like that, well... it was not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe not ever. If it was what was expected of me, simply because I was so young, well, everybody would be disappointed. Because if I did that, I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. It would make me become the worst thing I could expect to be, a hypocrite. But thinking back about what Federico told me earlier, I remembered it was very vague. As if what he said meant that he couldn't say much more, just because he couldn't. His words were vague because he wanted me to know that even if I would have to make compromises in my life, it didn't mean to tell me exactly what I should do or not.
Federico was never making up final decisions for anybody. As he once told me, "I'm always questioning myself on what I am doing. How could I tell you what to do? I am not a Great Master of the Truth, I already told you. All I can do is to give you advices, take it or leave it, and whatever what your choice will be, if you need more advices, I'll be there if I can help. But I won't run after you to give you any advice. That's not what real friends do. They wait for you to be ready to talk to them."
I was so into my little miserable life that I never realized that I had a friend. Okay, maybe my friend was not exactly my age, since Federico could easily be my grandfather, nor was he really a cutie to me, even if he was carrying so much charm in his eyes, but with all his good advices, his way of telling me his vision of friendship, I could tell he was slowly on his way to become my friend. Life was not just now. Because now was already in the past. But life was everything that would occur from now on. In the life I used to live, always looking in the past, all I could discover was a friend who betrayed me, a father who disowned me, a life without a friend, a life alone. If I took a look on my life as a whole, a life leading from now on, I was having a friend in Federico. Michael, who betrayed me was trying his best to make up for what he did to me. My father told me today that he was sorry for not being a good enough father. My mother... well... Oh my God! My mother... She was trying. She was trying so hard to make up for this night when she didn't soothe me... She didn't know what to do to win me back. That's why she made me go to see Dr. Kelly. I wouldn't talk to my mother. I wouldn't talk to her. I wouldn't smile... The only thing she wanted was for me to feel better and let me know she was there. Even if she didn't do it the right way, she couldn't know how to help me the good way since I never talked to her.
"She is not a Great Master of the truth either..." I whispered.
"Were you talking to me?"
I lifted my eyes from the Charles Dickens' book I was reading to see these mysterious dark eyes. Mike. I didn't hear the bell hit the door.
"Should be a really good book if you didn't hear me coming. Actually, I cheated. You seemed so engrossed in Great Expectations that I held the bell for it doesn't hit the door. I just finished working." he said, a shy smile on his face. "I work at the sports shop in the mall."
"What time did you stop?" I asked, not really knowing what time it was.
"Well, after finishing with the cashier, I think it was sometime around nine thirty."
I jumped out of my seat.
"What time is it, now?"
"Close to ten. I saw the lights were still on, so I came to see if you were still there, and there you were. Must be paradise for you in here. I remember how you couldn't quit reading Moby Dick once you had started it."
"I have to close."
"Huh? Oh! No, It will be okay."
"Come on, Lucas, I really want to help you. Let me help you. Please..." he pleaded with his puppy eyes. "After that, maybe I can drive you back home?"
I counted the cash and prepared the deposit for the day to follow and left a note to Federico telling him I was sorry I stayed open until ten o'clock, just to be honest with him. I thought he deserved it. While I did that, Mike swept the floor. When we left the store, we headed to Mike's car. While he was driving me home, we were chitchatting as two old friend trying to know each other better, trying to make up for a long separation. Well, that's what it was, even though I had seen Mike every day of that separation. It was quite strange, speaking with him. We were being diplomats, polite, maybe too much for two best friends, but just quite enough for two hurt people. And Mike was ashamed about what he did to me. It was the first time, though, that we were not talking about his betrayal. And I could feel the relief in his voice when he parked in the driveway to my house.
"I'm glad you agreed for me to help you, Lucas. It gave me some time to be myself around you and not think about..."
"I don't really want to talk about that, Michael." I said. "It was nice not to think about it for a while."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Michael. I'm sure. Thanks for helping me and taking me home. It was pleasant."
"Pleasant?" he asked with a smile. I smiled too while opening my door and standing up.
"Yes, it was."
Just before I could shut the door, Mike called my name.
I looked at his face where a shy smile had replaced the other one.
"Would it be to soon..."
"Too soon for what?"
"Michael... too soon for what?"
"For... huh... maybe watching a movie or something, sometimes?"
"Well, if you mean to go on a date, well yes, it would be too soon." I said calmly.
"Listen, Michael... It's just too soon. I don't want to get hurt again. But watching a movie with you, we surely could make it."
If a grin could split a face, Mike's upper head would have been lying on the back seat.
"Okay. Good night, Michael."
"Good night, Lucas."
I must have stayed there for ten minutes after Mike's car had left our driveway, even though he just had to back up and enter the neighbour's one and into the garage adjoining his house. I just stayed there, watching the very place where Mike had asked me for a first date. Sure I had been tempted to say yes to his offer of a date together. Everything was too fresh. Maybe if we knew how to become friends again, I would reconsider having a date with him. Yes, I could say that I hoped it would work that way. I could fantasize him becoming the man of my life. But I couldn't expect the things to come back the way they were. We were not kids anymore. And life started today for me. I had to make good decisions. Not kiss and make up and also accept to go on a date on the second day.
When I walked inside the house, I could see there was light in the living room. I was torn between the ideas of confronting whoever was still awake and to cave in my room, far away from everybody. All the events of the day, jeez, everything that happened in only two days made me want to be alone for some time, if only for one good night of sleep. Yeah, alone... Nobody around.
If I had a car, I thought I could have left town maybe for one week-end. I was sure Federico wouldn't have objected for me to take two days off, if I were going to use them to find myself. I could have just taken my tent and gone somewhere out of sight, maybe even at the lake my father and I used to go on our camping trips. But I had no car. Jeez, I didn't even have my licence to drive... There were so many things I neglected to do, too centred around my my own little problems, well... my problems, since I couldn't consider them as small... but as I said, as I was letting my problems become the centre of my universe, I neglected to do what I should have done. Working at Federico's Books for the whole summer, I just put all the money on the side, not even using a dollar of it to buy myself a coffee. Okay, I didn't really needed to use it, since my parents filled the refrigerator every week and I could grab some coffee or tea at work. But the real reason I wouldn't spend any of that money was because it was for my way out of the house. I didn't even know how much money I had put in my account since the day I received my first pay check. And I was still planning on keeping that money in it for my own safety. I would need money the year after, when I would leave definitely the house of hell and build my own life.
It's weird to think of how lonely yet always in a crowd I felt. My loneliness had always been aggravated by all these people surrounding me all the time. Alone because I was in the middle of a crowd, what a paradox! Hell, I was always so full of hate for everybody that I didn't even remark that Federico had become a friend of mine! Egocentric... That's what I had been. Everything evolving around me was foreign. The only thing I could see was my own person and my miserable life. Some people had it harder than me! I had not been thrown out on the street, nobody had ever threatened me to death, I was eating three meals a day, I had a roof over my head, I still could go to school and learn... Oh! My life was far from perfect! But if I continued on with my introspection, the way I was looking at my own navel would always lead me to the starting point.
I started climbing the cracking stairs.
"Lucas?" asked a tired voice coming from the living room. I stopped dead in my tracks. "Lucas? Is that you?"
"What does she want?" I asked myself, sighing deeply.
"Yeah, it's me..." I sighed again, louder, to let my mother know I was weary of my day.
"Oh... You were going to bed, I guess..." she stated.
"You don't have a couple of minutes?"
"I'm really tired, mother, and there is school tomorrow..." I trailed. Was I going to school in the morning or was I suspended, as Mr. Howell told me? Maybe now with my father yelling at him, my punishment was even more serious.
"You don't have to go tomorrow."
What? I didn't have to? What was that? A cream to take away the pain from the word "suspension"?
"What do you mean?"
"Your father is sleeping. I don't want to wake him up by speaking so loud. Could you please come here for a couple of minutes?" whispered my mother, that I didn't hear nor see walking to the hallway."
"Well, since you are already here, let's just finish with that now."
"Please... I'd like to talk to you."
"Why are you so stubborn?" She didn't wait for my answer. "Sorry... that's not what I meant."
"Yes, that's exactly what you meant. Don't lie to me."
"What did I do?" Tears started covering her cheeks. "I know I'm not perfect, Lucas. I know it. I know I violated the house rule by obliging you to see Dr. Kelly. I just thought it would be the best thing to do for you, Lucas. I only acted to help you coming out of your shell... but I guess it was not the best thing I could do." At this point, she had started sobbing. I hated to see her crying... It was making me vulnerable. "You know, Lucas, I didn't know what to do at this point. You never smiled, never talked, never laughed as you used to do before the..." She stopped.
So I screamed the words that I always wanted to tell her, the words that kept me clammed for all these years.
"You never apologized!"
And I stormed out of the house and stood on the porch, leaning on a post holding the canopy. I was crying too. But I didn't want my mother to see me cry. I had a strange feeling. It was as if something really heavy was suddenly lifting itself from my chest. The air of September was chilly but refreshing, as a glass of spring water when in the middle of a desert. There was no noise disturbing the spiritual calmness, the peace of the night. I could finally breathe. For the first time after so many years, nothing was hampering my throat and I could breathe freely. I was crying tears of relief.
I didn't have to turn around to know my mother had walked through the door and was standing there, leaning against the frame, nor did I need to see her to know she was looking at the floor. She didn't have to speak. I knew. Simple as that.
"I'm sorry, Lucas..."
Wow!... After all these years... I heard them... the words...
I thought I never wanted to hear them anymore. I thought I could live without. I thought they would not change anything. I thought I hated my mother so much I didn't want to hear these simple words... "I'm sorry, Lucas..." She was talking to me as an adult, not as some little kid anymore. Almost as before the events. Almost. Because nothing would ever be the same as before. Because we were now and that was then. Because I've been hurt. Because I've grown up. Because I was almost an adult. Because life was starting from now on.
Then I heard the door closing. I was alone again, in the fresh air of the night, looking at the sky. I don't know how long I stayed there under the canopy, looking at the stars, partly blocked by some clouds, before I was woken up from my reverie.
"Hey..." I heard. "Mind if I keep you company?"
My eyes drifted slowly to meet Mike's dark pools. A shy smile was on his lips. He looked unsure if I were to invite him or ask him to leave, so he stayed there, one foot on the step, ready to do exactly as I would tell him to.
"Am I interrupting you or something? You seemed thoughtful..."
"It's all right." I sat down on the porch, feet on the step. When Mike sat down beside me, I was reminded of all these evenings in the past that we did just that, sit down and breathe. As it used to be, we just sat down there on the porch, thinking silently.
It's weird how things that had been so cruel for so long can clear themselves to become bearable... As they say, "After the storm comes the sun", well I could just say that day that my life started to see its own sun piercing through the clouds.
We didn't need to talk, me and Mike. We had talked enough during these two days. Now we just needed peace. We just needed to know we were there together. We needed to know we were not going to separate anytime soon, that we would still stand up for the other.
Isn't it strange how this simple gestures of extending a hand and grabbing the other's warm a heart of ice almost instantly? That a felling as distressing as loneliness could vanish by fingers intertwining? Isn't it weird how holding hands with someone you care for can make one thing you used to see as horrible so marvellous? Change your whole way of seeing it? How could a sunrise become so beautiful, holding Mike's hand on the front porch of my house?
To be continued...
So this is it with chapter 6. I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. I know the end of this chapter was a little bit corny. Well, I can say I like some mushy mushy, you know. I'm just a big sentimentic and romantal. Thank you all for your great comments, they keep me on wanting to write. Keep on sending me constructive comments, it helps me improve with my English writing. I'm already planning on a new story for when this one will be over. I really hope you'll like it as much as you tell me you do this one in your e-mails.
As for you, dear readers, see you soon for chapter 7. Ssssstay tuuuuuuuuned!