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.
That having been said--enjoy! And feel free to contact me
All flames will, of course, be laughed at and summarily deleted.
By Nicholas Nurse
Chapter Six: The End of All Things
I found Julian Lambowski in the hallways that morning, between my second and third classes. He was alone, which suited my purposes just fine. I had spoken, albeit briefly, to Julian on previous occasions, so there was some precedent for this. His locker was a little ways down the hall from my own, so I grabbed my books from my locker while I kept an eye on him. Honestly, I was steeling myself for the approach; going and asking Julian about being gay, whatever the context, felt a little too much like letting the cat out of the bag. Or the queer out of the closet. Whatever the case may be.
From out of the corner of my eye, I stared at Julian. There was nothing overtly gay about his person or his attire, really. The only dead giveaways were the rainbow patch on his backpack and the smaller stitched patch that read "Sorry, Girls . . . I Like Men" slightly above the rainbow patch. Julian dressed like most boys at the high school did: longish shorts and a t-shirt with one of a dozen equally meaningless company names scribbled across the chest or back or wherever. He was pretty average all-around, I decided; mousy brown hair fell every which way around an ordinary face. He wasn't heavy, or slender, but instead was somewhere dead center between the two. Julian was not terribly bright, but nor was he stupid, either. He was just another kid, no better or no worse than most of the kids here. The only thing that separated him was the fact that he was gay. Like me. Funny—I never imagined myself having anything in common with this boring boy with the rainbow patch and corporate logos.
I realized I was stalling. Julian was scrounging around in his locker, apparently looking for something—a piece of paper or a pen or something—and I was rooted to the spot, unable to move. I was staring into my locker as though the blank metal walls utterly fascinated me. I could hear the ticking of my watch. A minute passed. Julian still searched about, and I still stood staring at emptiness. The bell for third period would ring soon. And still I was unable to lift my feet.
Julian stood straight, apparently having found whatever it was he'd lost. I had my satchel on my shoulder and all the books I needed. There was no reason for me to be standing here. No reason than my inability to talk to him, to widen the cracks in the door that Taylor had already started to open. There was an old note clumsily taped to the inside of Julian's locker. He glanced at it; from here, I couldn't make out his expression. Julian closed his locker. I watched, transfixed, as he slid two pieces of paper into his backpack, tucked a pen behind his ear, and turned to walk away. The echoes of his footsteps rang down the hallway as he went to turn the corner.
My mouth was dry.
Suddenly he was in profile as he turned left; the corner wall swallowed him up and—
"Hey, Julian!" I called. My voice sounded weird even in my own throat. Had he heard? Or had he already walked into a room . . .
Julian's head popped back around the corner. "Tristan? Did you . . . call me?"
I closed my locker. "Yes . . . yeah, I did."
Julian walked toward me. Even his stride would never stand out in a crowd. This kid could've stayed closeted forever and no one would ever be the wiser. Why did he do it, then? What made this kid tick? What was it about him that made him do what I didn't think I could ever do? What made him open the door?
Julian stopped uncertainly when he was a few feet away from me. He leaned against a locker. "What's up?" he asked.
I steeled myself. If there was one thing I never liked doing, it was showing weakness in front of others; I certainly wasn't going to do so in front of, of all people, Julian Lambowski. "I'm doing a report on homosexuality in young adults," I said. "I was wondering—if you're not too busy sometime this week, I'd like to interview you and ask you a few questions." I laughed breezily. "As far as this topic goes, you're kind of a hot commodity, you know. Not too many other openly gay kids running around."
Julian laughed. "Sure, dude, no problem." He glanced up. "Hey, the bell's about to ring and if I'm late one more time for Mr. Hansen's class he's gonna give me double detention—"
"Then we'll make this quick," I replied. "How's . . . today after school?"
Julian nodded. "Yeah, that should be fine."
"Alright. I'll meet you here after school, then." I turned to walk away. "Oh, and Julian?"
"Thanks." I left. That had been a lot easier than I expected, really, once I'd finally gotten the nerve to just talk to him. The rest of the day passed fairly quickly; I ate lunch with Garrett and Liza, as I always did, and Jared stopped by with some of his freshman friends to say hi. Sarah had a different lunch schedule, so she sat with her little group of Goth friends and Taylor, who was definitely the odd man out in that social unit. The last few classes passed quickly, and as early as it was in the month, not too many teachers were handing out heavy workloads. When the final bell rang, I made my way down to the lockers and met Julian there. I admit that I was a bit leery of talking at great length with him while in the crowded after-school hall, but then I realized how childish that attitude was. I walked up to his locker and found him there, waiting for me and fiddling with the rainbow patch on his backpack.
"Hey . . . didn't expect you to get here so quickly," he said. He closed his locker door, but not before I got another glance at the old piece of paper taped there; it looked like a poem or something, and at the bottom it was signed, "Love, Mark." I had my guesses, but I wasn't about to ask right off. "So where did you want to go to talk?" he asked.
"It doesn't matter to me," I said. "I can drive, so don't worry about distance."
"That's good, because I don't have a car," Julian said.
I laughed. "It's settled, then. Let's say we go to Wired and get some coffee." Julian nodded and we took off in the direction of my car. We were both fairly quiet along the way; I waved at a few people I knew and stopped briefly to chat with a few girls from my history class before nodding at today's warden and heading out the gates. I noticed that Julian didn't say hi to anyone.
We got to my car; I rolled down the top and hopped in. I unlocked Julian's door. "Nice car," he said with a low whistle. "Is it fast?"
"Hell yeah," I said. "Wait till we hit an empty stretch on the way—I'll show you." I backed out of the space, careful not to smack Sarah's car on the way out, and drove down the street. I knew that a bunch of people had seen me walking out of school with Julian, and part of me was nervous about that. As I thought about it, though, I realized that the greater part of me didn't really give a shit. Nobody was going to come to the immediate assumption that I was gay. It's not like we were skipping and holding hands or anything. And Julian was a perfectly normal guy—too much so, really—and nothing like what people expected. I think most people thought that he left a trail of rainbows on the ground and butterflies in the air everywhere he walked; as it turned out, however, Julian was just the boy next door with a painful truth hanging over his head.
He didn't see it like that, I quickly learned. When we got to the coffee shop, all I had in mind was to ask him a few questions, feel him out on the topic and start to get a sense of what the gay teenager's life was like. Part of me knew it wasn't all that much different from the straight teenager's life, but I wondered if there was a huge secret underground gay world that I knew nothing about. I have to admit that the idea of such a possibility titillated me. All day at school and even as we were walking to the parking lot, I hadn't given much thought to Julian as a person; to me, he was just a kid who happened to be gay and, as such, useful in pumping for information. On the drive, however, something had been nagging at me, and I finally figured out what it was: I was a moderately popular person at school—people knew my name, said hi when I walked by, talked to me and whatnot; on the way to my car, I'd spoken to easily a dozen people and nodded greetings at a dozen more. Julian had walked with his head straight ahead, not looking to the left or the right. He had spoken to no one. I wondered if his life was always so silent; was it because Julian was naturally shy or was it, as I feared, ostracism as a result of his being openly gay?
We ordered our coffee and looked for an empty table. All around us, people were typing with laptops connected either wirelessly or with the high-speed outlets on every table. While we waited for our coffee, Julian turned to me. "So what's this for, again?"
Shit, why hadn't I thought all this out before I talked to him? "Uh . . . AP Psychology. I mean, AP English. Actually, a little bit of both."
Julian raised his eyebrows. I felt myself turning a little red. "Wow," he said. "No wonder you wanted to talk to me. You get to kill two birds with one stone."
"Yeah." I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I tried a laugh. "I told you you were a hot commodity." Thankfully, just then the barista handed us our cups of coffee. In the momentary silence, I thought I saw Julian give me a curious glance out of the corner of his eye. "So what's it like to be out of the closet?" I asked Julian after we were seated with cups of coffee in our hands. I had treated him as my way of saying thanks for the "interview."
"It's . . . hard," Julian responded. "I mean, everybody knows. Everybody finds out really quickly. And I refuse to hide it. I told my parents when I was sixteen, so they've known for a year. And then I came out to all my friends a little while later. It was all too late, but I did it."
There was a brooding look on Julian's face, so I decided to ask another question to keep things moving along. I didn't want this to get awkward. "How'd you know you're gay?"
Julian laughed. "When I realized the only time I got boners was from checking out other boys."
"I guess that'll do it. How old were you?"
"About eleven or so . . . shouldn't you be writing this stuff down or something?"
I shrugged in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. "Eh, I'll remember it all."
Julian rolled his eyes. "If you say so."
"Were you afraid to come out?"
Julian shook his head. "By the time it came down to it, so much had already happened that I felt like I needed to be honest with myself. So no, I wasn't too scared. I think that when people are really ready to do it, the fear goes away."
I digested that for a moment and took a sip of my coffee. "Do the benefits outweigh the risks?"
Julian sipped his coffee. I could see he was deep in thought. "Depends on how you look at it."
"What do you mean?"
"Well . . . I feel better about myself. That I'm honest. That I can look at myself and say, 'This is who I am, and nothing's gonna change that, and I'm happy with that.' But . . . well, everyone avoids me. Unless they're gay, I don't have any real friends." He shrugged. "I mean, there are a few girls who really like to hang out with me, and some of them are popular, but their guy friends never want anything to do with me, so I don't go out with them when they go out in groups." Julian put his cup down and sighed. "I spend a lot of time at home."
In that moment, I think I finally saw him as a person for the first time. "I didn't know it was so hard, Julian."
"Oh, it's not that it's hard, really." He laughed; it sounded a little bitter to my ears. "At least I've never gotten beaten up. They'd just rather ignore me than beat me up."
I decided to risk it. "You sound bitter."
Julian didn't meet my eyes. "Some of it has been very hard, Tristan." He ran hands through his hair. "Harder than you can imagine." His shoulders shook and I wondered why. "I know I sound like a crusader at school sometimes . . . trying to start a gay/straight club at school and petitioning for the GLBT class . . . but there's a reason. I was too late once and I will not ever do that again." I wanted to stop and ask what Julian was too late for, but he didn't pause. "I feel so empty sometimes. There's no one else out at our school. I've never dated anyone. Not since Mark . . . I don't know if it's because I haven't wanted to or if it's because I haven't found anyone. But it's lonely."
"Who is Mark?"
Julian did the strangest thing. He closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and muttered something so quietly the only way I knew he was forming words at all was by the motion of his lips. He looked as though he were talking to himself, or to someone inside his head. Then he stopped and was still. Running a hand across his face as though extremely weary, he opened his eyes and looked at me. "I feel like I can trust you, Tristan," he said.
His intent was unmistakable. "I will not betray your confidence," I said.
Julian stood up. He had obviously reached a decision. "I want to show you something," he said. Without another word, he walked out of the coffee shop. I finished my cup, dumped it in the trash can, and followed him. When we got in the car, Julian was silent except for giving directions on where to turn. After a few such directions, I felt a distinct chill; I knew exactly where we were heading.
Julian confirmed my suspicions with a terse "Turn here" at the driveway leading up to the local cemetery. I pulled into a discreet parking area and turned off the car. All around us, trees swayed under the gray sky. The grass was unnaturally green; off in the distance, the only audible sound was the snik-snik-snik of a rotating sprinkler across the lawn. Rows and rows of tombstones stretched off to either side.
I did not immediately get out of the car. I turned to look at Julian. I would not ask before he offered; I would not force what he wanted to say out of him. Wordlessly, he met my eyes. I saw a welter of pain there before he abruptly turned and opened his door.
Silently, we walked up the grassy hillside, through the trees and around the markers of the dead. When we got to the top of the hill, Julian stopped and turned to look back the way we came. It was a beautiful view; from here, the towns below were nestled away under the shadow of the hilltop. The rocky cliffs were visible and, beyond them, the leaden gray of the sea. Clouds scuttled across the sky and were mirrored in the depths.
"They can't even see it," Julian said quietly. I was silent. I knew what he meant.
"It helps," I whispered.
"Us, maybe." He turned resolutely from the view. "For them, though, for him . . . they can't see through six feet of dirt. Their eyes can't pierce through death."
I put a hand on Julian's shoulder. He jumped; the touch had been unexpected for us both. "Who is here, Julian?"
In answer, he knelt beside one of the tombstones. I bent beside him, but he did not look at me. "Remember when I said I was too late, Tristan?" Julian spoke through a voice filled with sorrow. "This is what I meant." I looked at the inscription on the tombstone before which Julian had knelt.
Tentatively, I put a hand on Julian's back. He looked up at me and I could hear the emptiness roaring inside of him. For the first time in years, I opened my arms and gestured another within. Julian fell against me then, and for a moment I just held him while he wept. "You . . . loved him?" I asked.
I was silent then, allowing Julian his time to grieve. Deep wounds never heal completely; they may scar over, but in their wake they leave a place of weakness that never quite goes away. Somehow, I knew that Julian had never been able to talk to anyone his age about Mark. When Julian had calmed somewhat, I asked him, "What happened?"
He spoke against my chest. "Middle of the night. I got a phone call. Mark's sister; his parents hated me and wouldn't have called me, but Jamie's always been nice to me. I still talk to her, sometimes. When it doesn't hurt too much to be reminded." He unwrapped himself from me then and dabbed at his eyes with his sleeve. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't be sorry."
"Thanks." He sniffled and took another moment to wipe at his face. "He'd been in an accident. The car had been crushed and . . . and oh God, it was so hot that day and I was sweating . . . it was a closed-casket funeral and I sat in the back, alone, and no one would talk to me and there was just this sad little box . . . "
I didn't know what to say. "I'm so sorry, Julian. I didn't know . . . I didn't have any idea . . . "
"There's a good reason for that," Julian said. "I've never told anyone about this before. I've never brought anyone here before. Nobody's ever cared."
"I care, Julian." Now I was feeling guilty for talking to him under false pretenses; I almost wanted to tell him the truth about myself, but somehow I couldn't make the words come out.
"I know." Julian put a hand on the tombstone. "Sometimes, at night, if I'm in bed and I concentrate really hard, it's like I can hear him breathing beside me." Julian had calmed down considerably, I noticed. "But that's part of this story—the fact that we never did sleep together. See, when I met Mark, he went to a different school and he was openly gay. He had it pretty rough, too. He'd been beaten up once, even. I wasn't out and I was afraid of coming out—I was afraid of being gay. So we were friends and the whole time he always knew, but never said anything." Julian closed his eyes. I had to lean in closely to hear his quiet words. "We kissed and he knew it then, and I knew it then, but I couldn't bring myself to say it. Even his family knew what I meant to him, and they hated me for it, even though . . . even though we never did anything more than kiss each other. It was like that for months—half a year, eight months, with my never having declared my love for him—that's what it was, love—because I was too afraid to acknowledge the truth." Julian inhaled a deep and shuddering breath. "And then I woke up in the middle of the night and he was gone."
The clouds, which had looked ominous all day, finally began the promised storm. Rain started to fall, at first gently and then harder, while Julian and I stood before Mark's grave. Julian stood, and he was soaked with rain, his hair slicked back against his forehead and his clothes drenched with it. "So it was too late for us when I finally admitted the truth to myself," he said. "And I learned that you have to seize every moment of life, because everything is heading toward this." He gestured at the tombstone. "That's what I meant when I said that this is the end of all things. Everything good in this life ends in separation and in death. So you have to grab this life and hang on to it with everything you have, and live in every single moment. Because if you don't, before you know it, it'll be gone." Julian turned, then, and began the long walk down the hill. I didn't immediately follow. I stood at the foot of Mark's grave, deeply in thought. What Julian had said terrified me in ways I was only barely coming to understand. I had much to think about. When Julian had made his way to the bottom of the hill, I turned and followed after.