I'd like to thank TalonRider for his hard and perceptive work
throughout editing this chapter. Thank you!
I'd also like to thank Dargon and Librent for their exceptional skill and sound suggestions when beta reading this chapter. Thanks guys!
And finally I'd like to thank Jamie de Valen. His kind words and wise advice really makes this story shine. Thanks!
The gentle afternoon breeze blew across my face, bringing a shivering coolness to my tear streaked cheeks. Reaching up to wipe away the excess moisture, I swabbed at my damp eyes with the back of my hand. I was steps away from Brandon’s house when I lifted my head to stare up at the clear, blue sky. For a few seconds I gazed upward, watching a small flock of birds frolic overhead. I found myself suddenly wanting to fly; to extend my wings and jump, to soar and dance about the heavens, away from all the troubles down below. It would’ve been a happy existence. The birds quickly darted out of sight, as if driven away from the rising turbulence of my thoughts.
All I wanted to do was to tell Torri. I wanted to tell her everything. I’d tried, but when the moment came, an inner force took hold of my body and squeezed, locking me up. I couldn’t think or breathe; I was drowning in my own mind. Flailing in the turmoil of my own thoughts, I chose to run, and I did until the relentless torment in my mind brought me to a stop under the streaming sun.
I wasn’t a coward, so what was I so afraid of? Why was it so hard to tell the truth to someone who meant everything to me? I knew I needed to tell her; the one person I never wanted to hurt. I was trapped inside a cage, the cage of Torri’s heart. Jordan stood on the other side, just beyond the threshold, but he wouldn’t be there forever. I could almost reach through the bars and touch him, almost, but Torri’s hand kept pulling on me and drawing me back in, leaving a life with Jordan as nothing more than a wild fantasy.
It all came down to one underlying question; was a possible relationship with Jordan worth the high price it commanded? I wanted to be with him, to see his perfect smile every day, to touch and hold his soft hands, to kiss his pink lips until my heart exploded from his sweetness. I didn’t just want Jordan, I needed him.
Gazing up at the vast azure, I had my answer, and knew what I had to do. My body quickly became numb, my hearing distorting for a few seconds. My right hand began to tremble, as did my left. Lowering my stare from the sky above, I pushed my hands into the pockets of my jeans and forced myself to turn around. I could feel myself shaking, sweat beading on my skin as I began to walk forwards, back in the direction I came.
It felt like I wasn’t in control of my own body, as though my mind had detached from my brain, saving itself from an almost certain demise. The road ahead seemed to become one with the horizon, stretching out before me like an image from a twisted nightmare. I wanted to turn around, go home, and do it tomorrow.
Yet I continued to walk on, for deep down I didn’t want to stop myself. Whether the outcome was good or bad, I had to get it out, I had to tell Torri everything. For some time the truth had been eating away at me, cutting away at the soul of Kieran, taking away the things that made me, me. Even if Jordan wasn’t waiting on the other side, I owed it to myself. I owed it to Torri.
Approaching Torri’s house, on my right, I could see the deep green hedgerow of her front garden coming into view, I felt like I wanted to cry again. I didn’t want to go through with it, but in the same thought I knew it was what I needed to do. I enjoyed a brief flash of comfort, knowing that I only had to do it once. To go through the whole ordeal just one time. The sense of reassurance was short lived, but it was enough to propel me forward as I began to trail up her garden path.
The dark double-glazed windows stared down at me menacingly as I walked forwards, threatening me from moving closer. Averting my eyes, I focused on the front door. The blinding sun reflected off the pearly surface and burned my retinas. Forced to look away once more, I let my gaze drop instead to the safety of the ground as I finished my journey.
My feet made contact with the doormat, signalling the end of my crusade. Raising my hand and forming a tight fist, I suddenly froze. Fear paralysed my arm, granting me a final chance to turn around and head home. Swallowing heavily and inhaling through a blocked nose, I reached out my hand and prepared to make my presence known. My soft half-hearted knocks on the door were a poor imitation of the pounding going on inside my chest.
After several seconds of waiting, just as my legs were about to buckle from the force pressing on my shoulders, the door opened to reveal Torri. At first her face held a neutral expression, but instantly faltered once she noticed it was me. “Kieran, what are you doing here? I thought you were ill.”
“No, I’m fine.” My voice trembled, thankful she’d spoken first.
Her frown deepened. “You don’t look fine.”
“Torri, we have to talk.” My words came out in an incoherent rush. Pausing and looking her in the eyes, I continued. “Can I come in?”
Examining me for moment, she stepped aside and allowed me to enter. “Kieran, is something wrong?” Her voice quivered slightly as she closed the door behind me, sealing us away from the world.
“No, it’s just…” I glanced around the darkened hall, feeling even more vulnerable in the large open space. “Can we go upstairs, please?”
For a second time Torri cast her stare over me, analysing every small detail, before she turned and made for the stairs. Slipping off my shoes and traipsing up to the second floor, we finally made our way to her room. I walked across the light, cream coloured carpet towards her bed and then sat down on its cushioned surface. The taut muscles in my shoulders seemed to relax a small amount, but it still felt like I was wearing a vice on both sides, clamping down and limiting my movement.
“You’re starting to scare me.” Torri closed the door and walked over, sitting on a chair next to her desk. “Are you in some kind of trouble?
“No, no, I’m fine.”
“Well, what is it?” The lines of worry etched on her face blended with a look of fear; something I’d rarely seen her show.
I raised my eyes to rest on her grief stricken face. “Look, the thing is,” I turned my head and looked away, my eyes focusing on a faded stain on the carpet; a stain I’d caused a few months before. Images flashed in my eyes as I recalled how panicked I’d become at my clumsiness with a can of Coke, but Torri was completely at ease, insisting that everything was ok. Facing her, I wondered if she’d find it within herself to forgive me again. “I really, really like you Torri. You’ve been a great friend to me all these years, a best friend.”
“What are you trying to say?” Her troubled voice cut through the thick air as she spoke quickly.
“I’m saying I still want to be your friend…” I trailed off, unable to deal the final blow.
Torri said nothing for a moment and sat there staring at me. “Kieran, are you breaking up with me?” Her tone was calmer than before, maybe too calm, as if she’d known the truth all along.
I kept my gaze glued to my hands, tears building up in my eyes once again.
“But,” she sounded lost and confused, like a small frightened child. “Why?”
My head started to spin, my stomach churning and bile threatening to invade my mouth. I inhaled and met her stare, summoning every ounce of strength I could find from within. “I’m gay.” My tongue had formed the words in my own voice, and they’d left my mouth, yet I was sure someone else had said them. It was as though another power, another entity had inhabited my body for a brief moment, long enough to make the declaration, and then disappear.
An uneasy smile swept over her face. “What?”
She frowned and shook her head. “Are you acting a scene or something? Did Jim put you up to this?”
“I’m gay, Torri. Really gay,” I stammered. “Well, not really gay, I mean gay enough to be gay, I…” Torri’s eyebrows caused her forehead to wrinkle. I bit my tongue and kept quiet.
A few seconds passed before she walked over. “Kieran,” she sat down beside me, the bed dipping ever so slightly with her lithe weight. “Look at me.”
I stared at her, into her beautiful, light brown eyes, opening up my soul to her. Her head shook slightly again, trying to deny what she could see. Tears entered her eyes, causing them to shimmer in the light streaming through her window.
“Oh my god.” Her voice was soft and slow, barely above a whisper. “You’re not lying, are you?”
“No. It’s the truth.” I swallowed hard, turned on the bed and took hold of her small hand. “I’m so sorry, Torri, you have no idea how much I care about you.” I maintained my persistent stare into her eyes, wishing I could remove the pain and worry I could see building up inside her.
She avoided eye contact and remained silent for about a minute. The pink wall-clock in her room performed its rhythmic tick-tock, with each second feeling like an hour. The repeating sound started to chip away at me, torturing my mind and causing my body to judder. “Torri? Torri, please say something.”
At first she did nothing, but just as I was about to speak again, she pulled away her hand from mine, breaking our contact. “I, I think I know what’s wrong.” Her voice started to tremble as she stood on shaky legs. I watched as she walked over to her chest of drawers, pulled open the top one and began to rummage about.
“Torri?” I made no effort to hide the alarm from my voice as I stared at her back. “What is it? What are you looking for?”
“It’s here somewhere,” she mumbled, continuing her assault on the drawer. I was readying myself to stand and confront her, when she suddenly froze. Not bothering to close the drawer, she slowly turned around and faced me. I lowered my head and began to survey the small packet in her hands when my eyes widened, a feeling of numbness gripped my chest. Raising my eyes to meet hers and protest, I found myself becoming rigid when I focused on her face. Her expression was still one of panic and need, but her eyes appeared dark and lifeless. Fear encapsulated my body, my mind racing to keep up as everything began to collapse in a downward spiral.
I shook my head, my brain aching from the violent movement. “No, Torri.”
“I’m ready, Kieran. I want this.” Her fingers frantically tore at the wrapper, freeing the packet of condoms. “I know this is what you want.” She returned to her position on the bed, sitting up straight and jutting her chest out towards me.
A surge of panic coursed through me, knowing I needed to do something, anything to stop things from degrading further. “Torri, this isn’t happening. Not now, not ever.”
“Don’t you love me?”
I froze, everything seeming to hang in motion at her last comment. It was the one word we’d never used. We were Kieran and Torri, we never saw the need to discuss love, we were simply together. “This isn’t about love, this is about,” I frowned and attempted to back-track. “You’re a girl.”
“And you’re a boy.” Her hand slowly crept up my thigh. “We’re compatible.”
I leapt up off the bed and stepped back, my heart racing. “Compatible? Torri, what has gotten into you?” Anger laced the retort I shot at her.
“You, telling me how you’re gay. You’re not gay, Kieran!”
“Yes,” I nodded my head, “yes I am.”
She held my gaze for a second, and then shifted on the bed, leaning back against the headboard. “Maybe I should have done more as a girlfriend. I know what the other guys do with their girlfriends, I just thought you were different.” Her voice softened as she stared down at her quilt cover.
Satisfied at the drop in tension, I went over to her desk chair and sat down. “I am different. At least in that way.” Even that came out wrong. I swallowed and tried again. “Torri, I don’t want or expect anything from you. Especially that.”
Her eyes met mine again. “Because I’m a girl?”
“What if I were Stephen? Or Jordan?”
Flinching at the mention of Jordan’s name, I leant forwards, attempting to change the topic. “You’re my best friend, Torri. You’ve always been my best friend. You’re very important to me.”
“I saw the way you hung around with Stephen and Jordan today. You think you’re one of them but you’re not.” She waved her hand, a lone condom tight in between her fingers.
“Please put that down, nothing’s going to happen.”
Ignoring my request, she continued. “What if you’re bi?”
Torri’s voice quickened and rose in pitch. “Bisexual, then you could be my boyfriend.” A smile grew on her face, content that she’d found her answer.
“No, no I’m not.” I let out a sigh. “I’m not bi or confused or anything like that. This isn’t about me wanting to be your boyfriend.”
“I don’t understand. Kieran, what are you trying to say?” She sat up, the smile vanishing from her lips, and my heart sank when I realised she still didn’t comprehend.
“I’m not trying to say anything. I’m telling you that I can’t be your boyfriend. I’m gay, really gay.”
Torri’s eyes seemed to glaze a bit, and then, as if everything that had just happened really hadn’t, she continued, “it could work. We’d be together.”
“I think I should go.” I stood up and made for the door.
“No, please don’t.” Torri scrambled off the bed and rushed to meet me at her bedroom door. “Kieran, I need you.”
I turned and looked down at her, “and I’ll always be here for you.”
Everything about the conversation was turning out wrong. I’d imagined tears and anger, but instead she offered me the one thing I really didn’t want. Her friendship had meant everything to me. It still did. I just didn’t want her, at least in that way. The constant change in her demeanour had my mind in cartwheels, unable to come to a coherent conclusion. I glanced over towards her window, but my eyes came to rest on the small, upturned packet on her bed, condoms hanging out its open lid. Staring at her again and searching her eyes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong with her. I had to get out of there.
“No, I’m going to go.” I pulled open the door and stepped out into the hall, making my way to the stairs.
I could hear Torri’s footsteps as she chased after me. “Wait! Kieran!”
I arrived downstairs and stepped into my shoes that I’d left on the side. Torri walked past me and stood at the door, barring my exit. A wave of sadness rippled through my body as I took in her appearance, knowing that I was the reason for everything she was going through.
“Why are you leaving?” Her solemn tone did little to aid my feelings of guilt.
“You need time to think.” I exhaled and looked away. “We both do.”
“You’re not gay, Kieran. There’s nothing about you that’s gay.”
Her remark stabbed at me. What did she know about being gay? I was ready to respond, but watched as she turned around, unlocked the door, and pulled it open. Light poured into the dark hall, lighting up a path towards my exit. I wasted no time and quickly walked over. Stepping past Torri, I headed out the door and began down her front path, eager to escape.
“You know where to find me.”
I stopped and stared straight ahead as I heard the door close shut behind me. My mind chewed over her final remark for a split second, but then resumed my journey in haste, making my way to the end of her path and turning out on to the street.
After leaving Torri’s house and walking down the street, I tried to force myself to think of a neutral topic, something much less stressful, but I’d failed miserably. Just steps away from her house, I found my mind pouring over everything she’d said. It was the only thing I could think of. Mostly it was disbelief; I simply couldn’t believe what had just happened between Torri and me. Of all the ways I’d expected her to react, I hadn’t foreseen that occurring at all. It left me feeling empty, alone, and confused.
One topic I couldn’t shake from my mind was how close I came to actually sleeping with her, and worse, how easy it would’ve been. Minutes earlier, I’d had the most beautiful and caring girl I knew telling me that she wanted to sleep with me. I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head, trying to erase the image of Torri wielding the condom between her fingers.
“You know where to find me.”
What did she mean by that? I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a sexual connotation behind it. The thought alone sent a sickening feeling to my stomach that made me shiver. If Torri really thought that of me, then we were better off apart. The last thing I wanted was for her to think I expected a physical relationship. I simply wanted her friendship and companionship, a fact I’d tried to make clear when telling her.
Approaching the end of the street, I thought that maybe I was being too naive. Perhaps I was expecting too much. After all I’d both broken up and come out to her at the same time. From out of nowhere another thought entered my mind, perhaps I’d been sending her mixed signals. Clearly she’d thought about us moving our relationship to the next level. She’d already bought the condoms. That was one shocking fact I’d never expected. Maybe it’d been something I’d said, or done that caused her to think that way. Whatever the reason, I hated where things stood with Torri. Worst of all, I hated how I’d messed it all up.
I drifted into a daze, my mind unable to form any comprehensive thoughts as I numbly placed one foot in front of another, distancing myself from Torri’s house, and from Torri. I’d become completely oblivious to my surroundings. Nothing else mattered anymore. I just had to get away.
“You look terrible.”
A familiar, matter-of-fact voice had me slowly raising my eyes. “I feel like it.”
Brandon stood leaning slightly against the gate at the front of his house, his arms folded as he swept his gaze over my body. “Come on.” He flicked his head towards his house, and pushed off the gate.
Staring at the taller boy, I was quickly overwhelmed by an unstoppable need to share everything that’d happened, to simply tell another soul and see their reaction. I felt like I was going to burst from guilt, from grief, or from insanity if I had to keep it in. Thankful for his invitation, I simply nodded. There was little else I could do. Turning to follow him, I walked down the garden path and entered Brandon’s house.
Important: The future of Kieran on Nifty
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