Sorry for the delay with this one. Real life has a way of intervening and messing with my posting schedules. The story may be coming slowly, but it hasn't been forgotten. Thank you for your patience.
It's amazing how much you can hide from yourself. I had spent so much time and energy hiding my feelings for Brian from everyone, including myself. Now that they were unmasked, I couldn't hide from them anymore. The memory of his touch, his body against mine as he held me, his scent, the sound of his voice, every sensation of those moments in the snow in my back yard was burned into me like a brand.
Brian knew how I felt. He said he was okay with it. That should have been a comfort, but it wasn't.
How could he possibly be anything but disgusted by me? I'd betrayed our friendship, betrayed the trust he'd put in me, and I'd betrayed Mary – his sister. I couldn't fathom how he could forgive me. I couldn't forgive myself. And so, I did what I had always done when I couldn't cope – I ran away.
Monday after the cast party I avoided Brian completely. Tuesday we shared a class, but I came in just as the bell rang and ran out the door before he could say a word to me. Wednesday through Friday was more of the same. I avoided him entirely when I could, spent as little time with him as possible when I couldn't, and absolutely never found myself alone with him. He called four or five times a night. I didn't return his calls. I suddenly had inordinate amounts of time to spend with Amy. She was thrilled. I felt lower than pond scum.
Brian was fuming. I could see it in his face when we did interact. Slowly, he stopped trying to catch up with me as I ran from him in the halls, stopped calling at night and stopped trying to get me to talk to him in class. I read that as proof that he was truly as disgusted with me as I was with myself.
* * * * * * * *
Katie caught up with me in the library one day about a month later. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure she'd be able to hear it.
“Sam, what happened between you and Brian?” The tone of her voice grated on my nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. Shrill didn't begin to describe it. I couldn't fathom what Brian saw in her.
“Nothing. We're fine. I just have a lot of studying to do.” I was fervently hoping that she would accept that and go away. I guess this particular “dumb blonde” wasn't quite as dumb as Brian's usual because she was fixing me with a stare worthy of one of the nuns that said she wasn't leaving without an answer. You would think that I'd have known she was smarter than his usual several months into their dating, but I pretty much had ignored her, just as I had ignored the rest of them, figuring that she would disappear eventually. If I was being truly honest, I would have said hoping that she would disappear. That realization made me wince - something that didn't escape her attention.
“Look Sam, I know you don't much like me, but Brian is driving me nuts! What did he do to piss you off so bad?”
“He didn't do anything wrong. He never has.”
“So why are you so pissed at him?”
“I'm not pissed at him; I never have been.”
“Well you're sure acting like you are!”
I dropped my face into my hands. I wasn't having this conversation with her. What was I going to say? 'I'm in love with your boyfriend - my best friend, and oh yeah I dated his sister and I love her too and everyone expects us to get married, and oh, by the way, I really can't stand you and I don't know if it's because I'm jealous or you're obnoxious or both'? Uhmmm, yeah, probably not a great thing to announce in the library of my very Catholic school. I took a deep breath and tried to calm my jangling nerves.
“I'm not pissed at Brian. I was never pissed at Brian. I've got a lot of studying to do before the AP exams hit, and I'm going to get back to that now,” I said and turned back to my books. She sat there staring at me for a few minutes while I pretended not know she existed, as if she expected me to break and tell her everything if she just stared hard enough. Finally, she stood to leave.
“You know Sam, I never figured you for a coward. Whatever happened, avoiding Brian isn't going to solve it, and if he didn't screw up, you must have, so get over yourself and go talk to him.” With that she turned and marched out of the library.
I stared blankly at the Calculus book in front of me. She was right. I was being a coward. I was losing the single most important person in my life because I couldn't cope, but for some reason, losing him by my own hand was better than having him walk away from me and I couldn't imagine that he would stay.
* * * * * * * *
The rest of the school year passed remarkably fast. There were final concerts, the last track meets, the final push to finish the yearbook, AP exams and final exams to take my mind off the mess I had created with Brian. I continued to avoid him; he seemed resigned. Every now and then he'd make a half-hearted attempt to reconnect, but I shut him down every time, feeling as if a piece of me died every time I turned away from him.
Graduation itself was a total blur. We stood, we sat, we listened to mass. The bishop droned on and on as he always did. I got the empty holder for the diploma that I would receive in the mail sometime later. Everyone around me was overjoyed but I just felt empty.
Amy informed me that she was dragging me to the end-of-year party up the canyon. I didn't want to go. There were too many memories there, but she was adamant and the thought of a quiet weekend “celebrating” with my family was even less pleasant, so I agreed to meet her there.
I drove up the canyon fairly late; Amy was sitting on her car waiting for me. I didn't know how long she'd been sitting there, but she was clearly peeved that I'd let her wait so long. I parked near her and walked right past her heading to the nearest keg of beer. Amy had been dropping hints left and right that she thought it was time to move the physical relationship up a notch or twenty. The thought left me cold – yet another sign that I wasn't wired quite right. Every other guy I knew would have been happy to bed her: she was pretty, intelligent and willing. I'd certainly known Brian to screw infinitely worse prospects. I couldn't. It had been okay with Mary because I loved her. I liked Amy enough, and she was certainly attractive, but I knew I didn't love her, I knew I would be her first, and I knew I couldn't do anything with her without thinking about Mary or Brian or both. She deserved better for her first time; she deserved better from a boyfriend – period. I felt crappy enough for using her to avoid Brian; I wasn't going to use her to get off, not even if she was willing.
My brilliant solution was to get drunk. I'd never had anything alcoholic before aside from communion wine and the occasional dose of cough medicine, but I wasn't watching out for either Brian or Tom this time, and I figured I could get drunk, pass out and forget the whole sorry mess. The pain of a hangover the next day seemed fairly minor compared with the pain of the entire situation I was facing that night. Dealing with my family was beginning to look attractive when compared with the barrage of memories the canyon brought back. So, I marched directly to the keg, Amy in tow, telling me off the entire way. I couldn't bring myself to respond to her tirade. She was right. I was a terrible boyfriend and she didn't know the half of it.
I continued to ignore her while I grabbed the tap from a surprised-looking classmate and filled up a cup. Her volume went up a notch when I chugged the first cup, but I was too busy trying to suppress the shudder that the vile liquid had induced. I couldn't imagine actually wanting to drink this stuff. I kept my eyes closed until my stomach stopped threatening to return the cheap beer to me. Amy was still talking, or rather, yelling, and I was still feeling far too much, so I reached for the tap again and repeated the whole process. The second cup wasn't quite as bad as the first. When I reached for the tap a third time, Amy got in my way.
“What do you think you're doing?” she screamed at me.
“I got that part. You don't drink.”
“I do now. Aren't I allowed to celebrate too? Why should I be the only sober one in the whole friggin' canyon?”
I cut off any further discussion by reaching around her and grabbing the tap to fill my cup for the third time. That's about when the alcohol started to hit. Okay, so I was a lightweight. It didn't help that I hadn't eaten all day and I had zero tolerance for the stuff. Amy recovered her wits when my cup was half full and began telling me off. I knew she was telling me off by the tone of her voice, but the buzzing in my ears was making it hard to understand her - not that I wanted to know what she was saying. I remember wondering if that was the reason everyone called it getting buzzed while I finished filling the cup and ignored Amy's ranting.
I turned around expecting to confront Amy, but instead Brian was standing there.
“What the fuck are you doing, Sam?”
I went from irritated to fuming in seconds. Who was he to comment on anyone else drinking? “As I just told Amy, getting drunk. Anyone else need an explanation of the obvious?”
I looked around the small circle of people who were watching the theatrics just waiting for someone to comment. Everyone suddenly developed a profound interest in the ground. When I looked back at Brian he was slowly clenching and unclenching his fists. I was almost hoping he would just hit me and it would all be over with. I deserved it. I'd totally screwed up the friendship and all that was left was to make it official. I closed my eyes and tried to fight down the feeling that the world was tilting; I just wanted to sit down and have everyone go away.
No, what I really wanted was to take a step forward and put my head on Brian's shoulder, but that wasn't an option and I wasn't drunk enough to think that it was, nor was I drunk enough for it not to feel like someone had reached in and was slowly ripping my heart out. Not someone, Brian, and I knew he wasn't trying to. That made it worse somehow. I gathered what was left of my wits and steeled myself to look at him again, intending to tell him that I wanted to be alone.
I didn't get that far. As soon as I opened my eyes I found myself staring into his. I expected to see anger there - anger and disgust. There was some anger, but most of what I saw was hurt, confusion and concern. My words died on my tongue and I was left standing there with my mouth hanging open like an idiot. I couldn't break away from his gaze, even when I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye and felt him gently grab my arm.
“We are going to talk. Now.” Brian started to pull me away from the group. I was trying to find my voice to tell him no, but all I could do was shake my head. Then Amy cut in.
“The hell he's going off with you. He promised to spend tonight with me.”
If looks could kill, Amy should have dropped dead on the spot. I was beginning to wonder just how much she had imbibed before I arrived; raving bitch wasn't her normal behavior. I watched Brian fight down the urge to give her a graphic description of what she could shove where and how. I could practically hear the words percolating through his mind and I couldn't help it – I started laughing. All the tension spilled out of me in hysterical laughter. Soon I was gasping for air. Every time I came close to getting myself under control I'd look at one of them and lose it again. I could see Amy's temper hitting the boiling point but I still couldn't stop, at least until Amy grabbed my cup of beer and dumped it over my head, handed my cup back to me, then stomped off. That shocked me out of my hysteria and launched Brian into his own round of laughter.
“You're an idiot when you're drunk,” Brian said while trying to stop laughing at me.
“Fuck you, Walker.”
Brian's retort just hung in the air between us. That was the problem. I did wish for exactly that, and I still loved his sister, and now I had lost them both. Reality hit with an almost physical force that had me swaying and nauseous.
“Come on, Sam. We are talking. I'm not going to watch you beat the shit out of yourself any longer.”
I tried to resist as he led me up the path to the clearing by the river. It was almost full moon and the light reflected off the water was beautiful. My mind got lost in the sound of water crashing over rocks and all the memories that were tied to this place; all of them tied to Brian somehow. I didn't even realize he was speaking until he shook me.
“Sam, would you fucking respond?! Jesus, man. I can't do this by myself!”
Suddenly I was in a white hot rage. I was angry with him for pushing the issue, but mostly I was angry with myself. I was angry that I had screwed up the two most important relationships in my life, angry that I had let anyone get close enough to hurt me that much, angry that I had let myself believe that it could last, angry that once again I was utterly different from everyone else on the planet. I wasn't gay, I wasn't straight and as far as I knew, those were the only two options. I was angry with the universe for finally letting me know what it felt like to be “home” and then ripping it away. I was just angry, and looking at Brian hurt more than anything had ever hurt before – and that fed the rage. Some little corner of my brain knew that this was all my last ditch attempt to stop myself from breaking down and sobbing. I couldn't let him see that. I was too proud to let him see what a mess I was, and too scared that he would finally just walk away.
The next thing I knew I was yelling at him. The alcohol had apparently eliminated my ability to edit and it was all spilling out in a torrent of words. The thoughts were all jumbled together in a brain puree that would have taken a team of shrinks decades to untangle. When I finally wound down I was gasping for air, and Brian was just staring at me in shock.
“Sam, I...,” he paused, trying to find words I guessed. “You didn't hear what I said before, did you?”
I couldn't seem to respond. It felt like one of those nightmares where time slows for you, but everyone else is moving at the normal speed and you know that you can't run or speak in time to stop a catastrophe. He was searching my face, looking for something, then he reached for my arm. Whatever had me frozen broke the instant he touched me. I jerked away from him and closed my eyes to shut out his face.
“I can't do this. I don't want to love you like this, and I can't stop and I can't hide from it any more. It hurts too much.” With that, I turned and ran into the woods. I could hear him calling me back, but I couldn't stop. I kept running until all I could hear was the river. Then I sat and sobbed. Yep, it was my night to be a total flaming drama queen.
I was still sitting there when dawn came. I splashed some ice cold river water on my face and headed back through the woods to my car. I knew the woods well enough not need the trails and the last thing I wanted was to face another human being. It was still early enough that most people would be asleep, but I wasn't taking any chances. There was a note under my wiper blade when I got to my car. I recognized Brian's scrawl, “Call me. Please.” That nearly set me off again, but I managed to pull myself back together and get in my car. I pulled out of the parking lot and aimed for home. I saw Brian sitting off to the side just before I reached the main road. He looked as lost as I felt. Knowing that I was hurting him made me feel even worse. I had destroyed something vital to both of us, but I couldn't find the courage to stop running and face him.
* * * * * * * *
I was too tired to hurt anymore by the time I arrived home. Fatigue had dulled everything to a distant ache and all I wanted was sleep. Actually, all I wanted was to rewind the last two disastrous years back to when I was with Mary, Tom was alive, Brian was my best friend, and I could pretend that everything was precisely the way I wanted it. It had been, or at least as close as reality could ever come to what my heart desired most. I planned to sneak in and try to get a few hours of sleep before my mother demanded my company. It was early enough that my parents should still have been asleep.
“Should” being the operative term.
I opened the door from the garage to find both of my parents glaring at me. Alarm bells started ringing in my head as I frantically ran through anything I could have failed to finish before I left the previous night. I was drawing a blank, but it had to be something major for my parents to be sitting up waiting for me at dawn. I let them to make the first move.
When my mother finally broke the silence her voice was cold and hard, “So, did you finally make up after your little lover's quarrel?”
My mind was racing. The only thing I could come up with was that they had somehow found out about my fight with Amy. That meant they either knew I had been drinking and were pissed, or thought we had sex and were pissed. The thought that I could be in trouble for having sex with Amy after the disaster that was the previous evening was almost enough to make me laugh.
I tried to keep my voice as even as possible when I responded. “I'm pretty sure Amy and I aren't a couple anymore.”
My father barked something that sounded almost like a laugh, “She's definitely done with your faggot ass. She called here in the middle of the night to tell us all about your fight with your boyfriend.” His voice was dripping with disgust and he was looking at me as if I was a puddle of raw sewage.
Fatigue was making it almost impossible to think clearly. For several long moments I stared back and forth between my parents in total confusion until it finally dawned on me - Amy had overheard my fight with Brian and had misunderstood.
“Brian isn't, and never has been, my boyfriend. He's as straight as they come.”
My mother leapt in saying, “Are you telling me that nice young woman was lying? She said she heard you tell him you loved him.”
I knew I could deny it. I could claim that Amy was just a spurned ex who was lying, or even that she had simply misunderstood. Something in me snapped as I considered running away one more time. I couldn't do it; I couldn't call Amy a liar. She had every right to feel betrayed by me; she had been. Running from this had lost me everything I loved. I didn't have anything else to lose and I was tired of being afraid.
“No, she wasn't lying. She just misunderstood. Brian isn't my boyfriend and nothing has ever happened between us. He is totally straight, but he knows that I'm not and that I love him. That's what we were arguing about.”
I stared at the ground and waited for the screaming to start. The silence stretched on and on. When my father finally spoke it was barely more than a whisper, and somehow, that was far more frightening. “I will not have a faggot for a son.”
I finally forced myself to look at him. His face was a mask I couldn't read. I knew I should back down, but for once I wasn't going to. “I don't know what I am and I'd give just about anything to change it, but I can't, and I won't lie anymore.”
His expression didn't change. “Get out and don't come crawling back to me when you fall flat on your ass.”
I was stunned. Somehow, it never occurred to me that he could kick me out. I stared at him, looking for confirmation that he was really going to do this. I walked back out the door to my car. That was mine, paid for with my own money. He followed behind me and held out a hand for my keys when I opened the door. He removed my house key and grabbed the garage door opener out of my car without saying a word and opened the garage door. There was a van parked in the driveway. I hadn't even heard it pull up. Brian's dad and oldest brother, Mike, were climbing out. Mike was in his police uniform. All I could think was what now?
Mr. Walker made a beeline for me looking concerned. Before I could blink he had me wrapped in a bear hug.
“We thought you could use some help getting your things packed. Rose has your room all ready.”
My father interrupted before I could even think of a response, “He has nothing to pack.”
“Yes, Craig, you made your thoughts on the matter quite clear last night - as did I. Sam isn't eighteen. You cannot just kick him out. Rose and I are happy to act as his guardians until he turns eighteen but you are not sending him away with no clothing.”
My father looked between Mr. Walker and Mike and seemed to think better of picking a fight. He stepped out of the way and Mr. Walker lead me back into the house with an arm around my shoulder.
“He didn't tell you we were expecting you, did he.” It was a statement, not a question. I just shook my head. “Son, we got the same call your folks did from Amy, and I don't care if any, or all, of it is true. You are welcome with us for as long as you want to stay.”
“I am. Brian's not.”
Mr. Walker just looked at me for a moment. “As I said, I don't care either way. Now, let's get your things before Mike takes his lack of coffee out on your father.”
“He decided to kick me out last night?”
“Yes, Sam, he did. It wouldn't have mattered what you said this morning. I tried to talk some sense into him, told him that Amy might have been wrong or lying, told him that he should at least hear you out, but he wasn't having any of it. I'm sorry, kiddo. He'll come around.”
“But it's true.” I couldn't believe that he was actually okay with all of this. I kept waiting for my words to sink in and for him to say “never mind” and head back out the door.
Mr. Walker squeezed my shoulder, “You're part of our family, Sam.”
I didn't have a response to that so we went to work in silence. We packed everything I wanted to take from my room into a couple of duffle bags; there really wasn't much that I wanted. My clothing went in one, books, sheet music and tapes in another. It was very strange to see my life reduced to two bags. I supposed I could take more, but I couldn't imagine the Walkers would let me stay for any length of time, and I didn't want a ton of stuff if I was going to be staying in my car. At least my scholarship would cover most of my expenses starting in the fall. The only other thing I really wanted was my piano, but I knew my parents wouldn't allow me to take that even if I had a place for it. It felt as if I was abandoning an old friend though.
I lead the way back through the house to my car. My mother was nowhere to be found. My father was still standing beside my car having a staring contest with Mike. I stepped around them to put my bags in the trunk of my car. Mike helped his dad load the bag he was carrying and took my keys from me.
“You're too tired to be driving. Ride home with my dad. I promise I won't wreck your baby.”
I just nodded and turned to follow Mr. Walker. My father didn't say a word, but I could feel him glaring at me as I climbed into the old van.
The ride to the Walkers' was almost silent. Mr. Walker tried to start a conversation, but I just couldn't seem to muster the energy to string more than two words together. Finally, he gave up and turned up the radio. Verdi's Requiem was playing. It seemed a fitting piece for the day I was having.
I was greeted at their house with more hugs and concerned looks from Mrs. Walker and frantic kisses from the Walkers' dog. I focused my attention on the dog: I knew how to react to her. Mike grabbed my bags and led me to the room across from Brian's. Brian and Mary were nowhere to be seen. On one hand, I was relieved not have to face them just yet, but on the other I just wanted to get it out of the way. I'd made a total disaster out of things with Brian, and the thought of facing Mary made me nauseous.
The Walkers left me alone with my thoughts after another round of hugs and several admonitions to get some sleep. Mrs. Walker had offered me breakfast, but I couldn't have eaten if my life had depended on it. Correction, I could have eaten, but the likelihood of it staying down was zero. I was exhausted beyond anything in my experience, but I couldn't sleep. All I could do was lie on the bed and stare at the ceiling worrying about what would happen when Mary and Brian returned. My anxiety ratcheted up a notch with each hour that passed with no sign of either of them. Mrs. Walker had said they were “running errands” and would be back, but I couldn't help thinking that they were simply avoiding me. Part of me had expected them to meet me at the door to the house, or maybe I had simply hoped they would. They had both been there every time I'd needed someone all through high school. It was my fault that they weren't there now, but it still hurt, and I was angry with myself for allowing myself to hope that the mess I'd created could be fixed.
I didn't leave the room all day except to take a quick shower. I spent the day lying on the bed coming up with one scenario after another for what would happen when Mary and Brian finally returned, each more awful than the last. I was horriblizing, and I couldn't seem to stop. It was nearly dark when the door to the room opened. Mary and Brian were standing in the doorway. I registered who it was, then closed my eyes. My courage had deserted me again. The silence was almost unbearable, but I still hadn't figured out what I could possibly say to them.
I finally screwed up enough courage to whisper, “I'm sorry.”
“Oh, Sam. I figured that one out before Brian. Don't be sorry. We were hoping you were sleeping.”
Mary climbed on the bed next to me and curled up with her head on my chest. It was the last thing I expected. Brian was still standing in the doorway, leaning against the door-jam. He looked so sad and when I finally managed to meet his eyes he just shook his head at me. I closed my eyes and fought to stay in control. I really had ruined everything with him.
Then I felt the bed dip behind me and Brian wrapped himself around me, sandwiching me between him and Mary. He put his head right next to my ear. I could feel his breath across my cheek. When he finally spoke, his voice was hoarse.
“You spent the whole damn day beating the shit outta yourself, didn't you? Jesus, Sam, when are you gonna trust me?”
“I'm sorry,” I managed to croak before I lost control. I felt his arms tighten around me. I turned my face into the pillow and tried to wrench myself back under control, but it was a losing battle. Too much had happened and I was just too tired to be able to hold back any more. I felt as if I was flying apart into a million pieces. The only things anchoring me were Brian and Mary who were holding me so tightly I could hardly breathe.
I finally pulled myself together, but they didn't let go. A million voices in my head were still screaming how wrong this all was, but I was too tired to listen to them. I fell asleep holding Mary and being held by Brian and somehow feeling utterly right for the first time in recent memory.