Disclaimer: All the normal rules apply.  Do not read if you'd be offended by material of a sexual nature; if local laws prohibit you from reading this, read no further.  Do not copy or reproduce, in whole or in part, without permission of the author, Nicholas Nurse.  All material is copyright Nicholas Nurse 2003.  All individuals depicted are imaginary, and any resemblance to real persons or events, express or implied, is purely coincidental.

Tristan's Redemption
By Nicholas Nurse

Chapter Fifteen: Broken and Rising, Burning

A hard tapping against my shoulder roused me from my drunken slumber.  "You, boy, wake up," a voice said.  I groaned and rolled over, opening my eyes.  I flinched immediately.  A great shining light hit me full in the face and for a brief and wild moment I thought that maybe I'd died, until I realized that it was far more likely that any light at the end of my tunnel would be a roaring fire.  My eyes focused and I saw a cop leaning over me, tapping me none too gently with his baton.  "You can't sleep here."

"Sorry," I mumbled, sitting upright.  I was far more sober than when I'd fallen asleep, I noticed.  The vomiting had helped.  Nonetheless, I had a splitting headache.  "I guess I nodded off."

"Have you been drinking?" the officer asked pointedly, shining the light into my eyes.

"No, officer," I said.  "I'm narcoleptic."  It was a lie, but there wasn't any way for the cop to check.

"Listen, you look like a decent kid; get up and get moving.  I'm coming back in five minutes and I don't want to see you on the streets, or I'm taking you in.  And stay out of trouble, you hear me?"

I nodded attentively and hopped to my feet.  Immediately I was awash in dizziness, but I held myself steady lest the police officer see.  I'd gotten off far luckier than I deserved; the cop could easily have hauled me in and then I'd really be fucked.  As it was, I was about ten minutes from Seth's flat; apparently I hadn't managed to get far in my drunken state.  I made my unsteady way back to the flat, trudging up the stairwell.  Even from outside the door I could hear the sounds of moaning.  Yep, it appeared they were still at it.  I opened the door and the sounds grew louder.  In the darkness, I couldn't tell who was going at it; most of the guests had stayed, so there were easily a dozen boys sprawled in the darkness of the living room.  I passed by and made my way to the bedroom, but the moaning noises only grew louder, accompanied now by the classic sounds of squeaking boxsprings.  I was too tired to care, though; all I wanted to do was fall asleep on Seth's bed and then apologize to him in the morning.  I opened the door to Seth's bedroom.

Seth was fucking Rory's brains out on the bed.

Neither of them heard the door open.  I stood there in shock, my brain refusing to reconcile what my eyes saw: Rory, on his back, legs in the air, panting and screaming his little bitchy high-pitched screams, and Seth, sweat running down his back, moving in and out of Rory like a piston, a machine, something cold and dead and with no feelings at all.  The room was filled with the humid scent of sex.  This had obviously been going on for some time.  I was filled with a cold rage and suddenly I wasn't sleepy or hung over anymore.  Every sense and feeling rushed out of me, replaced with an implacable drive to end this.  I walked up behind Seth, who still hadn't noticed me, and placed my hands on his shoulders.  He barely had time to begin to turn his head before I was ripping him out of Rory and onto the floor.  He flew backwards with a startled cry and spilled naked and damp across the carpet.  "You worthless piece of shit," I growled between my teeth.  "What the fuck are you doing?"  Behind me, I heard Rory start to get up; I knew what was coming.  Leave it to a coward to try to strike from behind.  I stepped sideways, out of the range of the blow I knew was coming, and as I pivoted I saw Rory slap at the spot where I'd been.  I ignored him.

Seth was getting up off the floor.  I was pleased to note that his back and side were red from where he'd struck the ground.  "You wouldn't give it up," he said coldly.  "So I'm done with you.  Rory, here—"

"—Is an easy fuck," I finished.  I was still completely calm.  Inevitability had settled across my shoulders and I felt only that great and frozen rage.  "Suit yourself, Seth.  Rory's slut trash and, well—" I gestured at the tangled sheets—"birds of a feather flock together, as they say.  Or fuck together, in this case."  I had to know something.  "What I heard is true, then.  You sleep with everything.  You've slept with half of USC and now that you've made your way through LA, you've come to . . . this."

"So what?" Seth said.  "Yeah, I've fucked around a bit.  Yeah, I wanted to fuck you.  Now it seems you don't, so—"

"Funny," I said, and I felt nothing but that anger as I continued, though I should've felt a torrential sadness, "and here I thought that just maybe you loved me."   

"Give it up, kid," Rory said from the bed.  "Obviously you're not good enough—"

"Oh, and you are, you stupid little whore?" I sneered.  "I don't know who's a bigger tramp here—you or Seth."  I turned in his direction, my face still twisted in derision.  "It's no wonder your parents threw you out. "  Seth moved toward me, red-faced and raging, and it was then I noticed that he was moving with the belligerence of the half-drunk.  He would hurt me if he could.  I forestalled this with a quick punch to his solar plexus, and down Seth went.  It would take him a few minutes to recover his breath.  

Rory tried to take another swipe at me, and this time my patience had worn out; I smashed a flat palm into that pretty face.  His nose started bleeding instantly and he screamed "Fuck!" at the top of his lungs.  

Angrily, I yanked all the sheets off of the bed and threw them at Rory.  "Wipe your face with those, you cheap assfuck whore," I said.  "They were gonna end up with your blood on them one way or another."  Then I turned to Seth, who was still kneeling on the floor.  "If I were you, I'd make sure you never saw me again," I said.  I turned, shouldered my bag and walked out of the room.

I got on the bus and made it as far as the BART station at the Civic Center before my legs gave out.  I sagged on the ground, back against a stone bench, and held my knees up to my chest.  I would not cry.  I wouldn't.  Seth was a bastard and didn't deserve my tears.  I leaned my head back and swallowed shallowly, pressing my balled fists against my eyes as though I could dam the tears that threatened to fall.  They squeezed out around my hands, but I wiped them away as soon as they did.  I rocked myself back and forth, holding my quivering body together through sheer force of will.  I was able to stanch my weeping quickly, and soon it was as though I'd never broken down at all.

*    *    *

I had nowhere to go.  The BART rolled through an endless succession of tunnels through the city; then the deeper descent came and we were under the bay, rushing under the surface with the sea above us and, beyond that, the sky.  I wondered for a moment what would happen if a portion of the tunnel suddenly collapsed and all the water of the sea rushed in like blood to fill this gaping wound in the earth.  I was moving toward nothing, really.  The train made a high-pitched howling noise in the darkness, stretched and tortured, before the ground suddenly parted and we were exploding against the sky suddenly so blue and the railways crisscrossing above Oakland and, further on, Berkeley.  Station after station blurred past the windows, marked only by the signs indicating which was which.  I never glanced up.  Eventually we came to the end of the line, in Richmond, and the train reversed direction, and it was as though I was moving through time backwards for a moment, the mindless sameness of the stations and the darkness of the underground tunnels interspersed with the flashing views of buildings like fingers raised and the crushing weight of the bay.  When the train made it back to the station at Embarcadero, I figured this was as good a place as any to get off.  Instead of heading toward the piers, I cut inward through the streets and the buildings visible from the BART.  The sidewalks of Embarcadero Plaza were a sea of faces, of arms and hands wrapped and gloved against the cold, of businessmen walking quickly, trenchcoats over suits, and their female partners, in skirts and peacoats, of tourists with cameras and maps in hand, sometimes shivering from the cold—apparently they thought all of California had Malibu's weather year-round—and the native city-dwellers in their jeans and sweaters and hats and warm jackets.  In this mass of people back and forth under the blue shadows of the buildings, I had never felt so alone.  I stood still for a few moments in the middle of the sidewalk, pretending to study a building in the distance, where everything converged on a narrow strip of sky; really, I was feeling the crowd part around me as though I wasn't there, as the air parted around the skyscrapers without slowing.  No one met my face.  For a crazy moment I had an urge to scream just to see if anyone could hear me.  I moved again, slipping through the crowd as something unseen, just another boy walking to somewhere where everyone had already been.

Around noon, I found myself growing hungry.  My solitary walk had taken me toward Chinatown, so I ducked into the first restaurant I found, ordered the first thing on the little paper menu, ate it, and left again.  I don't know if anyone took notice of me beyond accepting my cash and handing me my food.  Out again into the streets, through the throngs of people, past the little shops with Chinese trinkets, rugs, clothing, under the archway that opened up into the gray city.  Soon it would grow dark.  I had maybe five hours before night fell, and with it weather colder yet.  I stopped for a moment, leaning against the wall of a tall white building.  I opened my bag, checking my flight ticket; the plane was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.  I wasn't sure if I'd even use the ticket.  For as little as I had here, I had even less there.  I stuffed the tickets back into my bag and kept walking.  Two bus rides later, I was on the Golden Gate bridge; this late in the afternoon there were few joggers out, so the pedestrian path was fairly clear.  The sun was setting.  I stared out toward the ocean and remembered what it was like to lose Garrett.  Face it—you've got no luck in the love department, I thought sourly.  For a moment I gave in to the self-pity from which, I realized, I'd been running away all this time; the force of it made my knees weak.  I had nothing.  Literally nothing.  I had the clothes on my back, a backpack that was half-empty, and a few thousand dollars in a bank account.  I had no home; I had no friends; I had no diploma or work experience—what was I going to do?  Realistically, what were my chances?  I'd be better off just letting myself fall into the sea; certainly the collision of body against water would be fatal.  I'd heard that falling into water from a great height is about the same as slamming into concrete.  It would hurt for maybe a second or two, but I doubt that the fall would be frightening at all.  Nothing was frightening if you wanted it badly enough.

If nothing else, though, the guardrails stopped me from flinging myself over.  As I sat and thought, though, I realized that there was something more, the same something that had stopped me from seriously trying the same when Garrett had turned and walked away from me.  I was angry.  I'd been dealt a pretty shitty hand, and I was pissed.  I'd fucked up in a few places, I know—I shouldn't have been so harsh with Taylor; he'd been right, after all.  I shouldn't have gotten drunk and been cruel to Julian.  I should've explained things better to Jared.


Damnit, I bet he was hurting pretty bad right now.  I'd run roughshod over him unthinkingly, without caring about his feelings, without doing anything to stop him from crying that morning, simply because I was too much of a coward to be honest.  Jared had been true to me from day one, and at the first test of loyalty, I'd failed him.  Shit.  The anger that I was feeling at the world in general—at Seth, at Rory, at the sort of mentality that brought people to hurt other people, at my parents, at the casual cruelty of Garrett and Liza—was suddenly nothing compared to the anger I felt at myself for making Jared break down and weep.

My anger translated itself into motion.  I crossed back the way I'd come and walked the entire distance clear to North Beach and then inward, back where I'd been this morning.    
Now that it was later in the day, men and women walking to and from work had been replaced by families, couples, groups.  I cut through these crowds as easily as I had the others.  I wasn't entirely sure where I was—somewhere near the Embarcadero again; I knew that much, at least.  At some point I'd have to find a bus and make my way . . . somewhere.  I couldn't keep walking forever.  

Or running, I suddenly realized, because that's what I was doing.  I was running away from everything that was going wrong in my life, and since that was just about everything, there really wasn't any worth in running any longer.  You can't outrun yourself.  There were things that needed fixing, and there were questions I needed answered.  And the only place I was going to get that was at home.  I was done with Seth Lokine and Rory Semel and that crowd of hedonists, lovers of the flesh above all else; now, it was time to turn my attentions to the people that really mattered.

How long had I been ignoring everyone else, too obsessed with Seth to pay attention to what was going on around me?  How long had I let him blind me, as though he were a creature made of light, when instead he was filled with deceit and indifference?  How much had I thrown away in that time, my head too filled with dreams of Seth's body, Seth's eyes, Seth's empty promises, while all around me the things that mattered were slowly dying?

Although it was late in the evening, I took the bus straight to the airport.  I knew now what I had to do.  I was filled with one thing: purpose.  I still had nothing and was returning to nothing, but even if I burned myself out in the attempt, there were mistakes I needed to correct.  I would start with Jared and then, afterward, deal with my parents.

I'd read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies that suggested that people don't change.  That we grow up to be a certain way and then, no matter what, that's it—if we start off nice and good, we stay that way, and if we're cruel and terrible, then there is no hope for us.  A lot in life seemed to say that everything in this world is fixed and immutable, and that if we don't like who we are, then all of our life will be a battle to accept ourselves, because there is nothing we can do that will turn us into someone we are not.  But I refused to believe that.  The moment I believed that humans died just as they were born, never changing, never growing, everything I wanted would be lost.  

God damn it, I can change.

*    *    *

I had to act before I lost my resolve.  I needed to do this quickly because no matter how much I wanted to change, the doing was still like a knife through me.  What I planned would go against everything I'd believed in all my life.  I wasn't sure when I'd come to the decision that the easiest way to deal with life was to go through it as though nothing could quite touch me, reach deeply enough inside to hurt me.  I'd built up some impressive walls over time.  It was no surprise to me that most of the kids at school saw me as someone to fear, or at least avoid.  It seemed a natural consequence that what friends I did have I had a hard time holding on to.  And finally, it was almost an inevitability that I couldn't really let myself love.  I'd been burned both times I'd let my heart open a bit.  

And now here I was, winging my way southward again in this thing of cold steel, to go forth and bare my chest to the stabs of fate again.  It had to be done quickly, as a gangrenous limb is cut off, or the way a doctor administers a shot—a quick piercing and drawing out of fluid and then a swab and bandage to patch the hole.  The plane landed and this time the airport was empty, no one to greet me, and the utter wrongness of it struck me at the same time as the realization that I'd brought it upon myself.  Well, I was sick of it.  I didn't ever want to walk through an airport alone.  I didn't ever want to feel that there was no one to greet me because there was no one left who loved me.  It wasn't a good feeling at all.

I'd flown in a half-day ahead of schedule.  It was near midnight and the city was quiet.  Later, when all this was over, I'd realize how fortunate it was that I'd arrived early; had I come home on my scheduled flight, things might've gone much differently, beginning with the police car that would've been waiting outside.  Now, though, I hailed a taxi and paid the fare for a brief ride to a nearby hotel.  I would wait for morning, when Jared and my parents would be awake, and then I would set my plan in motion.  I passed the night in fitful and restless sleep, and I was fully awake the second the sun, muted through a layer of clouds, streamed in through the window and across my face.  I quickly showered and dressed in my jeans and a t-shirt.  The clubbing clothes I'd been wearing I tossed in the wastebasket; they were a reminder of something I'd rather forget.

Another taxi ride later, I found myself staring up at the Luceris' house.  I was desperately hoping that Liza would not answer the door; I would deal with her in due time, but that point was not now.  First was her brother, and then my parents.  But it was Mary Luceri who answered the door.  "Hi, Mary," I said, remembering to use her first name.

"Hello, Tristan," she said, opening the door.  "How are you?"

How in the world could I answer that question truthfully without opening up a very large can of worms?  "Fine," I said instead, marveling at how that one word could gloss over the pain and loss and betrayal, all overlaid with this last and desperate hope born of anger and determination.  

"Good, I'm glad to hear it," she said.  She looked at me oddly.  "Oughtn't you be in school right now?"

I froze.  Shit.  I'd totally forgotten that today was Monday.  Jared wasn't home.  I deflated in that moment and briefly my purpose deserted me.  A long and awkward moment passed as I groped about for something to say.  Mary finally filled the void, saying: "Jared has been really upset these last two days, though he hasn't said why.  I'm glad you're here, but he went to school this morning with Julian and his mom, and Liza went with Garrett."

"Oh."  Julian again.  When had that friendship sprung up, and why?  It was just another of the many things I'd missed while dazzled by Seth's dark charm.  "Well . . . er, can you let him know I stopped by?"

She nodded.  "Sure thing.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get going myself, before I'm late."  She smiled and I made for the door.  I was standing in the street a moment later.  Well, so far it was a swing and a miss.  I didn't expect either of my parents to be home, but I figured I'd best make my way there next and then head to school.  I could head off Jared there—possibly at the meeting of the club this afternoon, if not before.  When I looked back on things later, I realized how lucky I had been to walk the entire distance home without getting picked up by the cops.  But no police cars passed me on my route home—a slip subsequently brought to their attention, and with great anger.  I walked home quickly, my breath fogging in front of my face.  Clouds had gathered thickly, obscuring the sun; rain began to fall, at first gently and then harder, until I was soaked through and miserable.  By the time I turned onto the street that led to our gates and the driveway, there wasn't any part of me that was not completely drenched.  Apprehensively, I stood before the gates.  Through them I could see up the driveway that led to our house.  The last time I'd seen it the house had been bathed in darkness, as though a shroud had been drawn across it, with only those two forlorn lights looking out.  I put both of my hands up on the gates for a moment, holding tightly to them.  I wasn't welcome here.  I knew what I wanted to do—what I had to do—but I was coming here as a stranger.  I didn't like the feelings within myself.  I didn't like feeling afraid to walk into the place where I'd lived almost all my life.  I didn't want to see the cold and impassive faces of my parents, or, worse, their outright disgust.  I tried to punch in the numeric code to open the gates, but my hands shook so badly that I couldn't do it.  I took a deep breath, stilled myself, and tried again.  The gates swung open—they hadn't changed the code, at least.  Probably hadn't had time to call the security company out to do it.  Once the gates had opened, I went in, but I couldn't make myself walk up that driveway.  It was too long.  But it was wet, and it was cold, and I needed somewhere to go before I froze to death in the rain.  The place I might've once called home was as good as anywhere right now.  I walked up the drive, every nerve in my body screaming at me to turn and run.  And then, suddenly, my traitorous, shaking fingers were on the front door.  I fumbled for my key.  Would they have changed the locks?  I held my breath as it slid in, clicked, and caught.  I would've breathed a sigh of relief, but I still had to go inside; that would be the hardest part of all.

Several minutes passed while I sat there under the overhanging portico, my key in the lock and the knob unturned.  I couldn't breathe.  I had to lean against the column to my side to hold myself upright.  Later I knew I would have to face them.  But not now, I told myself.  They won't be home now.  Still, I can't describe what it took to turn the lock.  It felt like something soft and beating was being ripped out of me.  I pushed the door open.

They were here.  Both of them.  Here.  My mom was on the couch in her morning robe.  She looked so tired.  The moment she saw me, she leapt off of the couch, her hands going to her face.  My father, dressed in a business suit, was on the phone, turned away from the door; my mom's little shriek brought him around.  In my surprise, my wet feet slipped out from under me and I fell heavily to the wood floor.  My mom rushed toward me and I almost turned and fled.  Tears started at the corners of my eyes and just as I was about to pick myself up off the floor to run, she knelt and scooped me, soaking and shaking, to her chest.  "Don't you ever leave again," she told me severely, shaking easily as hard as I was.  What was going on?  "Don't, do you hear me?" she said, sobs finally breaking through.  I felt her shoulders tremble through her robe much as small animals did when cold or afraid.  

My father's voice suddenly registered.  "No, no, I'm going; my son is here.  Yes, he's here."  There was a distinct note of joy in that last sentence.  I was completely bewildered.  Then my dad stepped over to me and put his hand on my head.  I could feel it shaking too.  "I'm sorry, my boy," he said, over and over.  "I'm sorry."

Eventually, the need to know finally trumped my shock.  I helped my mother rise and looked at them both.  "What's going on here?" I asked, clamping down before my jaw started shaking with the force of the tears I was holding back.  They didn't hate me.  They didn't want me to leave.

"I'm sorry I didn't speak to you at the dinner table," my dad said, and my mother could only cry harder and hang on to my arm.  "Tristan, my boy, I love you.  I don't care about all that.  I was going to go up and tell you after—"

"Then why did you say you wanted me out?" I asked, my voice cracking on the last word.  Oh, God, one more moment and I'd be bawling in front of them as I hadn't since I was six and my cat had died.  My dad looked utterly confused for a moment.  "I heard you on the phone," I said once I had a bit of control over myself.  Not much control—I was still holding myself tightly, crushing everything inward in order to keep from flying apart.  

"Oh my God," he said, his face suddenly pale.  "I didn't realize—"

"I heard the whole thing," I said, and I pulled my hand away from my mom.  "I heard you talking to Mom."

"That wasn't Mom," he said.  "She wasn't even in the room."

I glanced at her and she shook her head.  "I was in the master bedroom," she said.  And then it hit me.  Two lights.  Why would there have been two lights if they were in the same room?  

"I was on the phone with a member of the Board," my dad said.  "Today was final notice of termination for one of my district guys.  I was talking about an employee, Tris."  He looked so stricken.  "I didn't realize . . . " he said again, this time in a whisper, as he sat heavily on the sofa.  "I'm sorry you had to hear that."

The hand, slamming on the desk.  That had been him slamming down the phone.  It all made sense now.  I had been a fool.  "I thought it was me," I mumbled, and, unable to control myself, I brought my hands to my face as great and heaving sobs overtook me.  My mother gathered me up then, and my father reached over to take me around the shoulders and hold me.  

"We don't care about—the other stuff," he said, and I noticed it was hard for him to say the word.  Gay.

"We love you, Tris," my mom murmured into my ear.  She rocked me back and forth as I choked on everything that was flooding out of me in that moment.  "We may not understand all of it yet, but we don't care, and we love you.  That's what matters."

"I can stay?" I gasped out through my tears.

"Oh, God, Tristan, we love you so much.  Of course you can stay; this is your home, and you'll always be our son."

Oh my God.  They'd said it.  I was safe now.  I hadn't realized how much that mattered to me until that very moment.  If anything, I cried harder, knowing that now they were on my side.  After some time, I regained control; wiping my eyes and stumbling into the bathroom nearby for a Kleenex, I cleaned up a bit and sat back down between my parents.  It felt so good to sit between them like this.  Protected, loved.  "Where are the twins?" I asked.  I missed them with an intensity that startled me.  We should all be here right now.  I was filled with such a sense of belonging, of family, that I thought I might never leave this home again.

"We sent them to school," my dad said.  "We didn't tell them you'd run away because they would've been too upset, and they wouldn't have understood anyway.  They don't know yet, Tristan.  About that you're—that you're gay, I mean.  When they're older, we'll tell them, but right now they can't comprehend it."

"That's fine," I said.  Anything was fine as long as they loved me.  

"We would've told them if the police didn't pick you up when you got back in from San Francisco," my dad continued, and I felt a thrill of fear run through me.  How did they know?  How much did they know?  Accept me they might, but I wasn't ready to tell them all the sordid details of this weekend's events.  

"Police?" I asked stupidly.

"We called to report a runaway almost as soon as we realized you'd left," my mom said, and I imagined the scene in my head: they'd gone upstairs to talk to me, to apologize, and they'd found the room empty and my little travel bag missing.  It wouldn't have been hard to track down the flight information; indeed, it would've been the first thing they'd checked.  "The found the flight record and your return time.  The San Francisco PD was also on the lookout for you."  Funny, I thought, given that they hadn't seemed too concerned when they woke me out of my drunken stupor in the gutter.

"You caught a flight back early, I take it?" my dad asked.  "You weren't even supposed to arrive for another forty-five minutes."  He smiled faintly.  "You would've been late for school, you know."

"I . . . had to leave early," I said.  "I had to come back.  I wasn't going to, you know.  When I left.  I thought that that was it—that I'd have to start over again up there, with Seth—" saying the name was painful, "—and get a job and skip school and stuff.  But then I realized I had to come back."  And maybe someday I'd tell them the full story, but not now.  It would hurt them too much—not the sex part, but describing the loneliness, the confusion, the aimless wandering through places where no one gave a shit.

"That reminds me," my father said, suddenly businesslike again.  "I'd better get in touch with them and tell them to call off the dogs."  

I laughed just a little bit.  It felt good to laugh—the same way it felt when swimming on a smoggy day and getting out of the pool.  Pulling air into my lungs then was just the slightest bit painful, but so much sweeter for the ability to feel the air and the expanding of lungs so clearly through the dull ache.  "I need to go to school," I said, remembering why I'd come home in the first place.  I hadn't expected this conversation to take place until tonight.  "There are people there I need to apologize to."

"Tristan, we want you home for dinner tonight, okay?" my mom said.  "I'll make you whatever you want.  Your favorite meal."  

I grinned, and that too felt right.  "You know what that is," I said.

My mom pretended to sigh.  "Filet mignon, medium rare, in port-wine reduction with shallots, garlic and Roquefort cheese red potatoes, mashed, with organic mixed green salad, no endive, in a vinaigrette dressing with walnuts," she said, using the same bored tone of voice one used when reading a grocery store list.  She raised an eyebrow and I laughed.  

"Right in one," I said.  "Do you have time?"

"Good thing I took the day off," she replied.  "Now, go shower, you.  You smell like a gutter."

I laughed crazily as I ran up the stairs, two at a time.  God, it was wonderful to laugh.

*    *    *

It was after lunch when I finally made it to school, and the only periods that were left were history and then gym.  Right before gym started I passed through the locker room and, as was customary these days, my eyes skimmed right over Garrett.  And then stopped.  There was something else that needed doing, something that was almost as important as talking to Jared.  Before there was time for thought to supercede action, I walked right up to him; his back was turned to me, so I tapped him on the shoulder.  "Garrett," I said.

Garrett jumped and nearly cracked his head right into the lockers in front of him.  
When he turned, the look on his face alone was worth my breaking the silence.  "Tris?" he said once he had mastered his shock.  "Uh . . . what's up?"

The funny thing was that although this was totally unplanned, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.  It was almost as if, somewhere in my mind, I'd been preparing for this long before I knew I even wanted to.  I certainly hadn't planned any of this in my conscious thoughts.  "I haven't talked to you since that night at the beach almost two months ago," I said, "and the reason for that is because you were the one that walked away from me.  But we've been friends for a long time, Garrett.  I don't want to throw all that away.  If you do, that's fine, and you can just say that and it'll be on your shoulders.  But I thought I'd give it one more chance."

"I can't believe you're talking to me," Garrett said.  I could tell that he hadn't been expecting this at all.  It made sense, though; I certainly wasn't the type to be the one to try to resolve fights.  I didn't like having to swallow my pride first.  Well, that was the old me.  Garrett was in for surprises yet.

"Believe it," I said back to him.

"I really had given up any hope of ever . . . "

"You're the one that walked away, Garrett."

Garrett looked away uncomfortably.  "I'm sorry, Tristan.  Really sorry.  I meant to tell you that a long time ago, but I didn't think you'd want to hear it.  I was sure you hated me from the moment I turned and left."

"I never hated you, Garrett."  Shit, but this was hard.  Being so open, I mean.  It was difficult to continue.  Normally, I would've stopped at that, but a new sense of obligation compelled me to add, "I was hurt more than anything else.  Hurt that you . . . just pretended we hadn't been friends for so long."

Garrett continued his study of the wall.  "I . . . overreacted that night," he said.

I almost snorted and said "You think?" but instead I held my tongue.  "Kind of," I said diplomatically.  "I . . . it took me about a month . . . "

"I was going to talk to you the very next day," Garrett said, as though he hadn't heard me speak.  I realized he needed to just talk right now, so I was silent.  "I wanted to tell you that I was sorry for running, that I got scared and couldn't handle it . . . you know how I get . . . but you looked so angry, like if I were to talk to you you might've . . . and then every day I saw you you had this look on your face like a prison wall."

For a moment I felt a low undercurrent of frustration.  Fucking hell, if Garrett had been so sorry, he should've had the courage to just come up to me and say so.  As though he were reading my thoughts, Garrett continued: "You're totally unresponsive when you're like that, and I knew if I walked up to you to talk to you you'd tell me to fuck off.  Tris, seriously, I've been regretting it every day.  I mean, man, we used to practically spend every damn day together . . . do you know what it's like to have so much fucking free time and not know what to do with it?"

This time, I did snort.  "It's not like I didn't go through the same thing," I replied.  "Only add to that the hurt and confusion of watching your best friend leave you."  I saw a look on Garrett's face as though he'd stuck his finger in a light socket and decided that now would be a good time to shut up.

"Tris, I seriously would've resolved this a long time ago if I thought you wouldn't have slapped me down," Garrett said.

"Whatever," I said, suddenly uninterested in throwing blame around and explaining away two months' wasted time.  "It's over and done with now.  I don't know if we can be the same, but at least we both know where you stand now."

"What do you mean?"

"About what?"

"What you said, about not knowing if it can be the same again.  What do you mean?"

"Never mind.  Listen, let's ditch gym and talk.  I need to be back for the GSA meeting, though, so I'll drop you off at your car right after school's out."

I think that it was my statement that implied that our friendship had irrevocably changed more than anything else that led Garrett to say "No, I'll go to the GSA meeting with you."

I paused and raised an eyebrow.  "You realize that the 'G' stands for 'gay,' right?"

Garrett started to blush, but came right back with "And the 'S' stands for 'straight.' "

"Touche," I said.  Then, "Listen, I don't want you going if you think you have something to prove—that just because I'm gay you can be all 'rah-rah queers!' and shit.  I really don't want to sit there and watch that if that's what you're going to do."

Garrett shrugged.  "Liza and I have been talking about it a bit—"

"You told her about me?" I almost shouted.

"No, no, no," Garrett said quickly.  "It was more of an abstract."  He was definitely red now.  "Listen, I swear to you that I didn't tell her, okay?  She can draw her own conclusions.  And I know you didn't tell her, because you two haven't talked for almost as long as we haven't.  She doesn't know."

"Then why did it come up?" I demanded.

"Because it just did," he said hotly.  "Listen, that part of it is between Liza and me, so leave it alone, okay?"

"Fine, fine," I said.  I could already tell that the whole gay thing would be a sticking point with us for awhile.  "But I mean it—don't come if this is you trying to be someone you're not."

"Well, honestly, I've done a bit of research in the last two months," Garrett said.  "And everything I read mostly just confirmed what I knew right away after I left—that I'd been fucking stupid.  I'm really sorry, Tristan."

"I forgive you, Garrett.  I forgave you a long time ago, really."  I left out that I had been doing everything I could to forget him, as well.  It didn't need to be said now, or ever, perhaps.  While talking, we'd managed to find our way down to the parking lot; when we got in my car and drove off, I asked, "What kind of research, anyway?"

"I was looking up information on homosexuality," Garrett replied, stumbling over the word a bit and glancing out of the corner of his eye at me, almost as if I would take offense to the word.

"Listen, if we're gonna make this work you have to be able to talk about it with me.  I don't expect you to understand everything, and I want you to know that this isn't some hugely important part of me—it's not like now that I've told you, now that I'm kind of out, that I'm going to start wearing girls' clothes and skipping everywhere I go.  It doesn't work like that."  I turned down a couple of side streets.  "Each person's perception of being gay, and their response to that, is a bit different."

"Alright," Garrett said.  "And I want to understand, Tris.  I really do."

"Good, because you'll need to if we're ever going to be as we once were.  A lot has changed, Garrett, and a lot has happened to me in the last two months."  

There was a silence for awhile, and then we pulled up to my house and got out.  Garrett looked as though he wasn't sure if it was alright to grin.  "Haven't been here in awhile," he said.  "Kinda missed it."

I didn't respond as I opened the front door.  That day he and Liza had been at Fashion Plaza and I had overheard them leapt up into my mind.  "I have a question for you, Garrett," I said.  Now, I could go two ways with this, I knew: I could make it a loaded question by first asking "Did you ever make fun of me?" and then following up with "So what was this incident all about?"  Or I could just ask and allow him to explain.  The old Tris would've opted for the first, and it was still my instinct to do so; for awhile, at least, it was going to take concentration to do what I hoped would eventually become instinct.  Ah well.  Rome wasn't built in a day.  "I was at Fashion Island not too long ago and you were there with Liza.  You two sounded like you were making fun of me."

Garrett looked surprised.  "You were there?  When?  What did I say?"

"Well, you asked Liza about a pair of jeans and she said, 'It looks like something Tristan would wear' and then you made a face and put them back on the shelf."

Garrett was a bit red about the neck and chin again.  "Little things that reminded me of you were kind of painful, Tris.  I remember Liza saying that because it was . . . it caused that little twist of pain, and I was tired of it."

"So it wasn't you making fun of me?"

"No.  I'm sorry if that's what you thought."  Garrett laughed nervously.  "I'm apologizing a lot.  Then again, I owe you that, and in spades."

"It's not important," I replied.  Then I figured I'd try to revisit an earlier topic.  "Now, where does Liza fit into all of this?  I really don't understand why she chose sides so readily."  I left out that I wasn't sure why she'd picked Garrett's side over mine, either.

Garrett took a deep breath.  "Well, really, Liza didn't know you were gay and why we'd fought, and she was actually mad at me when I told her it was mostly my fault—that was the very next day, after school.  And then you snapped at her and she got mad at you and spent more time with me.  It was bad, Tris.  We seriously spent a lot of time complaining about how we should just go up and talk to you, but neither of us really had the nerve to do it."  He waved a hand in the air.  "Long story short—Liza wasn't really all that committed until I casually asked her one day what she knew about being gay.  I told her it wasn't me, of course, and then Liza and I started doing research together.  Into being gay, I mean.  The funny thing is that she never suspected it was you."

"She can be kind of stupid that way," I agreed.  "Well, I'm going to talk to her too, after the meeting today."

"You have no idea how nervous she was about going to that first GSA meeting," Garrett said.  "She thought you'd scream at her and throw her out, her and Jared both, or that you'd—well, that's whatever.  But she said you all looked pissed at each other, so she just bolted as soon as the meeting was over."

"They're still pissed at me," I said.  "I owe them all a huge apology."

"What happened?"

"Well, I was sort of seeing this guy," I started, then felt myself turning red.  It was one thing to admit to Garrett that I was gay; it was quite another to let him know that I was dating boys.  

"Was he cute?" Garrett asked, and I was surprised until I realized how clever his question was: it was carefully designed to disarm me, to bring a bit of levity into what could potentially be an uncomfortable conversation.  I wasn't sure if it was entirely natural—there was a bit of the forced air about it—but when it did become secondhand nature, that's when Garrett and I could be as close as we once were.  We had to unconditionally accept everything about each other before we could be as we had once been; too, there was the issue of my friendship with Jared, who had, in essence, taken Garrett's place.  But I would tell him about that in due time.

"He was . . . well, beautiful," I said.  "But beautiful the way a sarcophagus is beautiful.  Like, it's all gold and beautiful design on the outside . . . but inside, there's a mummy."

Garrett laughed.  "So he wasn't the best guy, I take it."

"Not quite.  But I'll get into that later, when I can apologize to everyone simultaneously.  It'll be better than having to tell the story seven times."  I paused.  There was something that I needed to do.  "In fact, you just reminded me of something.  Hang on, okay?"  Garrett nodded and I rushed up the stairs.  Reaching behind my bed, I found the bottle of vodka Seth had given me.  I took it downstairs, through the kitchen, out to the patio, and chucked it into the trash.  "There," I said with satisfaction.

"Was that . . . a bottle of vodka?" Garrett asked, surprised.

"Yeah," I said.

"Was that . . . a half-empty bottle of vodka?"

This time, a little more shamefacedly: "Yeah."

Garrett was incredulous.  "What was that about?"

"It's part of the long story with Seth—the guy.  Long and short of it is that I was too wrapped up in this guy to care about anything else.  I . . . said mean things to them and pissed them off.  You know, typical Tristan.  Except this time I pissed everyone off, so I had no one but the rotten boyfriend.  And then he turned traitor on me."

"Good lord," Garrett said, sympathetic.  "You've really been through life's food processor, eh?  Hey, question," he said.  "When did you become such good friends with Julian Lambowski?"

"Now that's a long story too," I said.  "Listen, we have to get back to the school in a couple of minutes, so I can tell you about how Julian and I became friends on the way back.  I don't want to be late for the GSA meeting.  With you there, I can kill, like, lots of birds with one stone."  So we got up to leave and I told him the story about how I'd "interviewed" Julian, leaving out the details about Julian's breakdown in the graveyard, and how that had led me to tell Garrett I loved him.  And as we chatted and laughed, I began to hope that things really might once be the way they had been.  Right now I wasn't entirely sure, and I didn't want to let go of the cautious sense that held me back from truly trusting unquestioningly.   In time, I would.  But not now.  There was a difference between being more forgiving and being stupid.  One day, though, perhaps Garrett would reclaim his place at Jared's side.

And now it was pretty much time to go wrap things up with Jared, Liza, Julian, Taylor and Sarah.  They'd all be at the meeting, so I could talk to them all at once.  As I drove, I found my insides were clenching like a fist in my chest.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that all would go well.

Two chapters left.
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