Oh, yes: I've gotten a lot of emails of late, and I wanted to thank
each and every one of you who have emailed me over the past two weeks. I
respond to every email I get--even if it sometimes takes me awhile!--so,
please, do write. I get no greater pleasure than reading what
everyone thinks. What can I say; in the words of a friend of mine,
I'm a "review whore." Also! A lot of people have asked about
who I am and etc., so I've decided to include a short bio at the end of this
chapter. If you care, feel free to read. And now, on to the story!
This is an important chapter, after all.
By Nicholas Nurse
Chapter Seven: To Open A Door
I opened the door and let myself into the house.
Slipping through fingertips.
It was dark inside, and if I was still it seemed as though I could hear the ticking of some vast and ancient clock, counting down the minutes and seconds until this world became as dust.
I had been like this since yesterday, after I dropped Julian off and went for a very long drive. The music had been low and unobtrusive, the road blessedly clear. I had kept the top up to ward off the rain and had driven clear to Camp Pendleton, the naval base just before San Diego. There were long stretches of seaside highway there, places where there was literally nothing but highway, sea and sky. I pulled off the road at one of those places and got out. There was a hole cut in the long fence that ran between road and beach; I slipped through the gate and ran down to the beach area. This was trespassing, I knew, but I wasn't too worried. What was the worst they could do to me? Nothing was worse than what Julian had shown me. I needed time to be alone and to think, and there was no place more beautiful and more deserted than this.
I made my way through the long grass and stumbled out onto the rocky beach. The sun had slipped unseen below the sea while I stood there, barefoot and soaked. The rocks beneath my feet were slick and the same color as the ocean and the clouds. If I blurred my vision, it was as though everything—land, sea and sky—were as one, and I was suspended, floating between them as I floated underwater, hiding in the silent spaces where time dreamed itself away. I had shivered then, though at the time I knew not why. I did now. I feared those still moments now. In that stillness I could feel the passage of each moment, and now I knew what lay at the end of all the waiting.
There was a Latin saying I'd heard before: carpe diem. Seize the day. Like many of the Latin phrases that had outlasted the language itself, its meaning was far more subtle than its two words could convey. It was a way of life, a way of viewing the world, a philosophy that relied on the realization that this life is fleeting and that every single moment is a part of a rare experience. Life comes our way only once, all beliefs in reincarnation aside, and if I didn't live it the way I wanted to, when I reached the end of my road and looked back down at the trail of my life, I would be filled with regret.
It was time to drop some bombs.
I would not condemn myself to Julian's deep and silent suffering. I would not allow myself to feel that kind of loss. I would not allow myself to be so alone. After dropping him off, I had already extended the firm hand of friendship; he had my cell phone number and a promise that in me, at least, he had a friend who understood. There was more than that, however. Simply being Julian's friend did not mean I would escape his fate. After I'd reached some conclusions, I'd turned around and made it back to my car, drenched and filled with purpose. I flicked on my headlights, busted a screeching U-turn across the freeway, and gunned the engine. I was home in forty minutes and, once there, I had spent the rest of the evening deep in thought.
Now, the house was empty and growing dark. Making my way into the kitchen, I saw a note on the table. I scanned it quickly: "Tris, hon—We're off to dinner at Okinawasabi; come meet us there. Love, Mom, Dad and the Twins." I grinned, slipped it into my pocket and hopped back into my car. It would be good to see them again. I would tell them what they needed to know, and soon, but tonight was not the night. Tonight was a night for more fundamental things.
With a curse, I remembered my dinner date with Sarah. Damn! I would have to be brief at dinner if I wanted to make it to meet Sarah on time. Not that I really did, of course, but if I didn't she might very well dig up a virgin, sacrifice it, and hex me. Or worse. And from the looks of things, she wouldn't have to dig too hard to scrounge up a few virgins among our friends. In fact, come to think of it, the only one of us who'd had any real play was Taylor, the sometime college boy-toy, who let his buddies beat him off. Well, I thought. Hopefully I can change that soon.
I sped down PCH and pulled into the lot at Okinawasabi in record time. I tossed my keys at the valet and dashed inside the restaurant. My parents and sisters were sitting at a largish table toward the back; flames were leaping up from their table and a chef was flipping shrimp in the air and catching them in his hat. The twins were giggling and clapping. I stood back and watched for a moment from the shadows, a smile on my face. It was good to see them again. My mom threw her head back and laughed at something my dad had said. The chef flipped the shrimp onto the girls' plates, and their laughter turned to horror. I chuckled quietly where I stood; they didn't like seafood, and shrimp least of all. I could see long thin strips of beef cooking on the table; those must've been for Izz and Sandy. Finally, I stepped forward. "Hey guys!" I said as I sat down at the table.
"Tris!" the girls shouted, jumping up to hug me. I grinned and ruffled their hair. My mom and dad smiled at me.
"Tris, how are you, hon?" my mom asked.
"Good to see you, son," my dad said, passing a plate of ahi tuna sushi my way. Greedily, I picked off two and slid them onto my plate, then stole a little wasabi.
"I'm doing well, Mom," I said between bites of sushi. "It's been a long weekend, actually."
"You look tired, Tris," she said. "Have you been sleeping well?"
"Yeah," I said. "I just have a lot of stuff weighing on my mind."
"Anything you want to talk about?" my dad asked, taking the sushi back before I finished it all.
"Well, I'll make a long story short. Yesterday a friend of mine—Julian, a kid from school—and I got to talking, and he told me about a friend of his who had died. We went to the cemetery to see the gravesite. It was a lot all at once." I shook my head and reached for a California roll. "But enough about that! Tell me all about the city!" I leaned back and listened to them tell me all about San Francisco; I let the sounds of their voices wash over me and through me. Their voices, their smiles, were a balm for what I knew was to come. In a sense, this dinner was the calm before the storm, the underwater stillness that brought peace. And yet, as in those submerged moments, I could hear the passage of time in every clink of silverware and plate.
All too soon, I had to make my excuses and head to dinner with Sarah. "If I'm late, she'll kill me," I said as I apologized. I rose from my seat. "And I mean that. She owns a bunch of guns." My parents laughed, unsure if I was being entirely truthful—the scary part is that I was—and let me go. I really was sorry to leave. Some people, however, are not to be put off.
As I walked out to pick up my car, I flipped open my cell phone and dialed Taylor's number. He answered on the second ring. "Taylor here."
"Taylor, it's Tris."
"What's going on?"
"Had a long conversation with Julian yesterday,"
"Oh? Do share."
I told Taylor about everything leading up to when we left Wired, but then realized that what I was going to tell him next—what I'd decided to do—wasn't going to make any sense without the relevant context. Julian hadn't indicated that he wanted to keep what had once been between him and Mark a secret, yet all the same I felt as though I would be betraying his trust all the same. But Taylor needed to understand and, more importantly, I needed Taylor to understand. "Alright, Taylor," I said after thinking about it for a while. "I need to tell you something that I probably shouldn't, but you need to know in order to understand what I am going to do. Now, what I tell you dies with you; do you understand?"
"Whoa. Heady stuff there, Tris. Of course you can trust me."
"This isn't about me; it's about Julian. I cannot have you breaking this promise. You will hurt him. Julian's my friend now; I'm sure you two will talk and he will tell you his story in due time. Now, I'll fill you in on what you need to know." So I told Taylor the majority of what had happened in the cemetery, leaving out few details; the more Taylor could understand the reasons for my actions, the more he would be able to help me through the consequences, be they good or bad.
"Wow," Taylor said when I had finished. "I had no idea Julian has been through so much." There was a low whistle from his end. "That may very well be the saddest story I've ever heard."
"I felt so sorry for him," I agreed. "And, Taylor . . . the worst part of it for me is that for the past day, since we talked, all I can think about is how time moves so quickly, and how life ends so swiftly . . . and if we don't do what we want to do, then what, really, is the point of living?"
"Alright . . . so what are you going to do?"
I took a deep breath. "I'm going to tell Garrett that I love him. Tonight."
* * *
After I hung up with Taylor, I dialed Julian's number. His mother answered, so I politely asked for Julian. After what seemed a moment of surprise, she said "Hold on a minute, please!" and ran to get her son. I heard her voice, muffled as though she were covering the mouthpiece: "Julian? Julian? There's a boy on the phone—he says his name is Tristan—"
Then Julian's voice. "He's a friend, Mom. Here, I'll take that—Hello?"
"Hey Julian, it's Tris. What's going on?"
"Wow, I wasn't expecting you to call, Tris."
"Why, is it too late in the evening?" I looked at my car's clock. It was only six-thirty.
"Er . . . no," Julian said. He sounded embarrassed. "Actually, it's because I . . . don't get too many phone calls from boys." He giggled. "Especially straight ones."
Ah! Perfect lead-in. "Well, Julian, that's kind of why I called. I kind of have a confession to make. Yesterday, when we were . . . on the hill, you . . . said a lot of things that made me think. About life, and death, and what we do in between." I found myself smiling nervously, although Julian couldn't see it. "Julian, I'm gay. I'm gay and tonight I'm calling my best friend, with whom I'm madly in love, and I'm going to tell him the truth."
Julian's line was completely silent.
"Julian?" I asked. I glanced at my phone to make sure I had reception. I did. "Are you there?"
"Yeah . . . I'm here. Wow. Holy God wow."
"Sorry . . . I didn't mean to unload it on you like that," I said quickly.
"No, it's not that." Julian took a deep breath. "I didn't at all think you were gay, so I'm a little taken aback, and—your best friend? Garrett? Tris, are you sure? I don't think he's—"
I cut him off. "It doesn't matter," I said, my voice soft. "That doesn't matter to me at all."
"What do you mean? You just want to . . . come out to him?"
"Well, yeah. And tell him I love him. I'm crazy about Garrett, Julian. Always have been. But I've never had the courage to say anything to him—not until what you said yesterday. Because you're right; we only live once, and if we don't do it right the first time . . . " I trailed off into silence before I dredged up any more painful memories for Julian.
"Don't do what I did," Julian said to me then. "If you can be with him, then you should be with him. You're doing the right thing, Tris."
After I'd hung up, I realized that I had been a fool. How could I have thought Julian was just an average boy? True, I didn't think I could fall in love with him, but Julian would make a great friend. And maybe, just maybe, I could help him find someone who could help wash away the pain of Mark's death. But for now, I had to deal with my life first. Tonight, I had to open that door and let Garrett in.
When I pulled up in front of Sarah's house twenty minutes later, I was running about five minutes tardy. I hopped out and dashed up to her door. I looked down and realized I hadn't changed—I was still wearing the same jeans and sweater I'd worn all day. Ah well. If she'd expected me to dress to her standards, she should've warned me. Or offered me something from her Closet of Death. I got out of my car, walked around her huge old pickup truck—so anachronistic, that, with its gun rack and NASCAR stickers—and rang the doorbell.
Sarah opened the door. "Tristan, darling. You're late." She grabbed my arm and whisked me inside. "We have dinner all ready; we've just been waiting for you. Do you like wine? I hope you're fond of a good Merlot." Her black nails scratched gently at my arm as she turned to me. I suddenly noticed that she was wearing high black boots and more leather than I'd ever before seen in one place. And that includes on cows. "We are . . . pleased . . . to have you here," she said, leaning in for the kill. Sarah was a fairly tall girl, and it wasn't much of a stretch or a not-so-gentle downward tug on my head to make her lips meet mine.
When she pulled away, I asked stupidly, " 'We'?"
Sarah glanced toward the kitchen. "Arachnia!" she called. Another girl, this one a little older—eighteen, perhaps?—turned the corner. I glanced at her; she was like a less elegant version of Sarah. Shorter, and with reddish hair chopped in layers at the neck, she was wearing a black dress embroidered with silver spiders. The lacy wrists and hem of her dress were fashioned into delicate webbing. "This is Tristan Elliot," Sarah said by way of introduction.
"Good evening," the girl said. "My name is Arachnia. It is wonderful to finally meet you, Tristan. Asphyxia has told me all about you." With that, she brought my hand to her lips and bit it. I jumped slightly; I'd been expecting a kiss. This was getting really weird really quickly.
"Ah . . . so are we going to eat?" I asked, gesturing at the table. Three plates filled with food stood ready, flanked by candles and what I sincerely hoped was a fake human skull as a centerpiece. "I'm . . . really famished."
"Let me pour the wine," Arachnia said, disappearing back into the kitchen.
When she'd gone, I turned to Sarah. "Who's she?" I hissed quietly. I wondered what her real name was. Certainly not Arachnia. Certainly not.
"A friend," Sarah said, not even turning to face me. "She will be partaking in this evening's . . . activities."
A shiver coursed down my back. "What do you mean, 'activities'?"
Sarah laughed softly and trailed a long finger down my neck. "Sweet Tristan. You will see, my dear." As we sat down, I took a glance around the house; Sarah had done a good job of disguising her parents' rather bland and mismatched décor. Where the tattered brown couch had squatted, Sarah had thrown silver and black pillows across it and bought black sofa covers. The family portraits were turned backwards or removed. Candles filled the room with a soft glow and fake cobwebs were spread across the TV. I felt as though I'd fallen through a time warp into a world where it was always Halloween. In Salem.
We ate and the girls made idle chit-chat, all the while throwing me seductive glances from across the table. They poured the Merlot—which was cheap, I noted sourly—into wineglasses emblazoned with the words "Irving & Edna—Happy 50th." "What are these wineglasses?" I asked.
"They're . . . from my grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary," Sarah replied. She seemed a bit annoyed that I'd asked. "It's time for dessert," she said, rising.
"What'd you make?" I asked.
"Blood pudding," Arachnia responded calmly.
By now, I wasn't surprised. "Whose?" I asked, careful to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
Arachnia's lips curled into a rather disturbing smile. "Wouldn't you like to know."
"I'm suddenly very full," I said when Sarah came back into the room.
"You only have to try a little bit," she said, handing me a bowl and a spoon. With a grimace, I dug in. After having made little headway, Sarah and Arachnia rose and cleared the table. I remained seated, my eyes scanning the room worriedly for signs of what was to come next. Finally, they reemerged and headed for the stairs. This was probably the part I'd been dreading, I figured. "Come upstairs, Tristan," Sarah called. "We'll unwind up here." I followed them, wondering where this was all going to lead. Sarah pushed the door to her bedroom open. Her room was an odd mix of Gothic décor and various NASCAR and Star Trek posters. My favorite one was a poster of the crew of The Next Generation in Gothic makeup and clothing. I had to wonder where she'd found that; I had been fairly certain that there was only one Goth Star Trek fan, and that that girl was Sarah.
"Look, guys, I have to go soon," I said as they sat down on the bed.
"Hopefully not too soon," Arachnia murmured, sliding closer to me.
"Well," I said, looking at Sarah, "I have to call Taylor and I need to speak to Garrett tonight. It can't wait."
"What about?" Sarah asked, lying back on the bed. I noticed that at some point during the evening's proceedings the top two buttons of her dress had come undone. "Surely it can't be more important than us?"
"A friend of mine recently took me to where his . . . best friend is buried. He made me realize how precious little time we have before death. And how some things in this life need to be done now, because there may be no more tomorrow."
Arachnia moaned and threw her head back. I raised an eyebrow. "Ooh, Tristan, you're so sexy when you talk about death," she purred. "It makes me want to do things to you now that'll make you forget all about tomorrow."
Sarah threw Arachnia a dirty look. "Is it something serious, Tristan?"
I ignored Arachnia. "Quite possibly the most important thing I've done in my life." Sarah made eye contact with me then. She dropped the sexy pose and looked inside of me; in an instant, I knew she knew about Taylor and I could feel her guessing about me. About the door, and what was behind it. I held her gaze and nodded slowly.
Sarah sighed once and buttoned up her dress. "God damn it. All the good ones are unavailable." She smiled at me. "Taylor, then, is it?"
I gasped. "No!" Sarah laughed.
Arachnia had apparently been oblivious to all of this. She was prone on the bed, her legs slightly apart and her finger in her mouth. "Tristan, oh, Tristan," she moaned. Somehow she imagined I'd find any of this attractive. "Come suck my soul. I need to feel you darkly inside of me."
Irritation flashed within me. "Look, Arachnia, there's a spider on the wall! Maybe you should fuck it!"
To my immense surprise, Arachnia leapt up and fell off the bed. "A spider!" she shrieked. "Kill it, kill it, kill it!" With a cry of terror, she flung the door open and ran into the bedroom.
"She has a fear of spiders, ironically," Sarah confided.
"There's not even a spider there," I said, getting up. "Sarah, listen to me. I think you're a beautiful girl. No, you're gorgeous. And . . . aggressive. If things were different, Sarah . . . if things were different, I would love you." I reached down and kissed her. She gasped and her lips parted and I could feel the warmth of her breath as I inhaled everything within her. "But it cannot be," I said as I pulled away. "I'm sorry. It's Garrett that I love."
Sarah ran her finger across her lips. This time, the gesture seemed one of remorse. "I will keep your secrets, Tristan," she said. "Now, go, before Arachnia comes to see if we killed the imaginary spider. I'll take care of things here."
"Thanks for understanding, Sarah," I said as I turned to go. "Now I know why Taylor trusted you with his secret."
"Good luck with Garrett," Sarah said as I left the room. "Oh, and Tristan!" she called. "It's not Sarah. It's Asphyxia."
I laughed as I closed the door behind me.
* * *
I was leaning with one leg against the lamppost when I saw Garret's Explorer roll into the beach parking lot. It was a little after nine. Excitement warred with the choking feeling of nervousness within me. I could ruin it all right here, I knew. He hopped out and walked over to me. I watched him as he moved; every line of his body was beautiful. We fit together like this, I knew. This was so right.
"Tristan. Why're we here?" Garrett asked.
I shrugged nonchalantly and let my leg slide down the lamppost. I felt like throwing up. "I just wanted to walk and talk," I said.
Garrett stood alongside me then. There was concern on his face. "Something on your mind?"
"Many somethings, Garrett." I turned and walked in the direction of the beach. "Walk with me." Garrett fell into step beside me. "Look at the way the water flows," I said after some minutes had passed. We stood beside two huge boulders; the rising tide washed around them, throwing up spray. "Up between these rocks and back down again. It's so slow . . . so gentle. And yet, over thousands of years, eventually the water will wear this stone into sand."
"I assume this is somehow relevant," Garrett mused, a half-smile on his face. By now, he was well-used to my ramblings. Besides, he knew when I just needed to talk.
"It does; trust me." I grinned at him and my heart was full in that moment. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and kiss him and tell him everything that was inside of me. But not yet. Patience. "I've been thinking a lot lately, Garrett." It was a wonder that he didn't make any sort of sarcastic rejoinder. "About what we make of what we're given. How we play the cards we're dealt." I spoke so quietly I could barely hear myself over the waves. For a moment I was still, listening to the crash of the surf. These boulders would be gone someday. "All things in this life are transient. Everything we see and hear and smell and touch—one day it will all be gone. It's scary, Garrett."
"Yeah," he said softly, his eyes distant. He was staring straight out to sea, but I knew that it was more than the horizon he was seeing. He understood. "There's a whole lot of nothing that waits for us, isn't there?"
"One day we will die, Garrett. And one day a long way away from that day, the earth will grow cold and still. The sun will go out and this world will be no more." A shiver ran through me then. "And even all the stars will eventually go dim. You know, there will be a time when the universe will expand to such large size that no matter will be able to condense to form new stars. And finally, hydrogen, the most basic element of all . . . it will decay into subatomic particles. Neutered things. This universe will die a frozen death, a death of stillness and nothingness." I inhaled deeply. "Everything we do in this world is nothing. Everything we touch will eventually die. There will be a day when no living soul will even remember that humans existed, and there will come a day when there is nothing alive at all."
"Okay, Tristan, you got me. I'm thoroughly creeped out."
"Listen. It's time, Garrett. Time is our greatest enemy. There is nothing in this world we need fear more than time." The surf rolled around my bare feet. I let it. For a moment, I wanted it to carry me away—away with Garrett beside me, down forever into the sea. "I believe that there is only one reason we are here on this earth. We are here to experience life, to laugh and scream and cry and live and love. This is it. There is no greater reason, no complex 'meaning of life'—that's it. We're here to experience the joy that is every second of our existence. So we should have no regrets. That when we die, we've done everything we've set out to do." I shook madly. The moment was upon me now. I could barely get the words out, my mouth had gone so dry. "That's why I asked you to come here tonight." Garrett started to speak, but I raised a shaking hand to his lips, begging for silence. If I didn't say it now, I never would. No matter what Garrett's answer was, I could not live with myself if I didn't at least say the words. I was shaking so badly my legs almost gave out from under me. "Garrett, I need you to know something. I need you to know that I'm gay, that I've always been gay, and that . . . and that I'm in love with you."
And now, a few words from our author:
Hi, everyone! Here's a little bit about me, since several readers have
asked. Where to begin? Well, I'm twenty years old and a college
student in sunny California. This is my first lengthy online posting,
but I've definitely done a lot of writing before this. Although this
story is imaginary, many of the characters in it are amalgams of people whom
I have known. And don't worry, I already know exactly how it's going
to end, and yes, there will be more friskiness to come in future chapters.
But sex, like many things, is only improved with anticipation; by now,
even I'm getting anxious to see some people take a romp in the sack.
All in due time, I promise. Anyhow! I do use AOL's instant
messenger service; my screen name can be ferreted out if you go back and
look at a few of the earlier chapters for a clue. If any of you actually
care that much, that is. And that's enough out of me! Please
stay tuned for the next chapter, which (after this cliffhanger) I promise
will be posted soon! Take care!