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 at firstname.lastname@example.org. All flames will, of course, be laughed at and summarily deleted.
By Nicholas Nurse
Chapter Nine: The End of the Beginning
Fortunately for the both of us, Garrett's locker was on the other side of the school. The only times our paths really crossed were at lunch and in gym. Nevertheless, from the moment I stepped through the gate that day, I was in a dark mood.
Taylor, wisely I think, knew to avoid me. I made it through my first class without incident, but when I was at my locker after first period, I saw Liza and Garrett engaged in conversation in the hall ahead of me. They walked past; Garrett ignored me, but Liza threw me a quick glance when she thought I wasn't looking. When they were gone, I slammed a fist directly into my locker. It dented and my knuckles bled on the metal and concrete. Fuck. Then, aloud: "Fuck! Fuck this!" Several people turned to stare at me, but I didn't care. I turned and walked away.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully until lunch rolled around. Julian found me walking to the lunch lines; he waved and came toward me. I didn't acknowledge his presence. Undaunted, he stood next to me in line and asked, "Well, how did it go?"
"How the fuck does it sound like it went?" I snarled, staring straight ahead.
Julian looked shocked at my outburst. "Oh, ah . . .. I'm really sorry, Tris, really, I am . . . uh . . . is there anything I can do?" he asked timidly. I'd hurt his feelings. I didn't really care.
"You can go the fuck away," I said.
"Oh . . . okay," Julian said in a small voice. I ignored him as he turned and walked off, defeated. I got my food and ate it, but it tasted like ashes. Restless, I paced up and down the empty hallways, avoiding any location where other students gathered. I saw Liza and Garrett again, but they weren't sitting together or talking; they each individually were walking in different directions. I wonder what Garrett had told Liza. I found I didn't want to know.
It was when I was walking down the furthest corridors from the lunch quad that I found Julian, sitting in the darkness of an overhang and eating alone. He heard me coming long before I saw him; my boots on the sidewalk echoed loudly ahead of me. He glanced up as I rounded the corner and my angry eyes met his hurt ones. Shit. I knew I had to correct this wrong, at least. "Julian," I said as I slowed.
"I'm sorry, Tris," he said quietly, glancing back down at the food on his lap.
I sighed. "It's not your fault," I said, slumping down to sit on the sidewalk beside him. I was quiet for a moment as I glanced around the vacant hallway. "It's been hard. It went badly. I don't really want to talk about it."
Julian looked as though he were about to put a hand on my shoulder and then thought better of it. "I know how you feel," he said. I realized he did. He'd been there before. The pain was different, somehow. At least he had been loved.
"It's not the same," I said quietly. "Mark . . . loved you. At least you had that, before . . . before what happened. It's like Tennyson said: 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."
"Tennyson wrote that in a poem called In Memoriam," Julian said. "The poem was written about a friend of his who died young."
Julian was right. I shook my head. No matter how I looked at it, his situation was worse than mine. "Garrett made the conscious decision to not love me. At least Mark had made the decision to love you . . . but in a way, that's worse, Julian. You know pain too. I know you know what this is like." I laughed; it was bitter. "At least Garrett's still here, even if he'll never speak to me again. He's as much as dead. Oh, God, it hurts."
"You did the right thing in telling him," Julian replied. "You did the thing I could never quite bring myself to do. Even if it turned out badly . . . at least you seized control of your life." He smiled. "Mark would've been happy. Happy that you did what you had to do." He did put his hand on my shoulder then. "It will pass in time, Tris. There will be days where you'll wake up and that'll be the first thing you think about, but you will find that as time goes on, that happens less and less." He ran his other hand through his hair. "And things that you will see that will inevitably dig up the memories, and the pain . . . but that passes too."
"I hope you're right," I said. "Because right now it hurts more than anything I've ever known." I looked at Julian. "I'm sorry, Julian," I said. "You have hurt more than I ever could. I didn't mean to . . . marginalize that."
"Don't worry," Julian said with a smile. "It was a year ago, and I'm much better now. The days aren't as dark as they once were, and the memories are . . . there is as much sweetness in them as there is sorrow. So it's okay. We live life one day at a time, after all."
"Yeah," I said. "I'm just going through the motions until it doesn't hurt so much."
"Remember to seize life, Tris," Julian reminded me. "Every breath we take is another moment of a rare experience, and it won't come our way again." With that, he got up and turned to go. "The bell's gonna ring soon," he said, "and I don't want to be late again. Tris. Don't let it consume you." He turned the corner and was gone.
I mused over what Julian had said through the rest of the day. Gym rolled around and I simply ignored Garrett; if I acted like he wasn't there, then it didn't hurt as much when I did alone or with others the things we usually did together. At the end of class, I skipped the showers, since I could go home immediately afterward. I shouldered my satchel and left, heading straight for the gates to the parking lot. Taylor met me halfway there. "Are you ready to talk about it?" he asked.
"Does it really matter to you if I am or not?" I shot back.
Taylor shrugged. "Not really." He fell into step beside me. "Tell you what—let's go get smoothies or something, my treat, and you can tell me the story then. I'll drive."
I nodded. "Fair enough. Hey, wait here," I said, then turned and ran back toward my locker.
"Where're you going?" Taylor called as I ran.
I turned briefly. "To get Julian!" I hollered. I found him at his locker, luckily, and told him he was coming with us. When we met up with Taylor again, I knew introductions were in order. Quickly, I said "Julian, this is Taylor Darman. Taylor, Julian Lambowski. Now, can the talk; you two can chat while I drive." We went out to the parking lot. "So I'll drive so I can put the top down. It's a nice enough day for that." Only in California could a day in October still be sixty-five degrees—cool enough to roll down the top and drive along the coast. It would improve my mood.
"Is this your way of telling the story all at once, so you don't have to do this several times?" Taylor asked.
"Well, not really," I said honestly. "I actually already told Julian most of it, and there's Sarah too, whom I'd have to tell . . . actually," I said, pulling out my cell phone, "let me call her and see if she can join us. That way I can tell it all at once." I sighed. For a moment, I missed Garrett with an intensity that burned. "The less I have to tell this story, the better." I dialed Sarah's number. "Hey, Sarah, it's Tristan," I said when she answered. "Where are you?"
"I'm on my way home—what happened the other night? I've called you and I didn't even see you today—"
"Sorry, Sarah; I've been avoiding everyone. It didn't go well. Actually, that's why I called. Taylor, Julian and I are on our way over to Wired. Wanna join us?"
"Julian? As in Julian Lambowski?"
"Well, yeah, who else?" I asked, realizing that I hadn't told her of our recent friendship. "Do you want to meet us or not?"
"Sure, sure," she said. "I'm flipping a U-turn right now." Indeed, through the phone I could hear the screech of tires. I hoped she'd turned a legal one. Somehow, I doubted it. "I'll be there before you guys, I bet."
I grinned and gunned the engine. "I doubt that." I flipped my phone shut, handed it to Taylor, and blasted down the street. We turned back onto PCH—really, all the best places were along PCH, unless we felt like heading inland to the mall—and pulled into the lot. Sarah was just rumbling up beside us; I guess that made it a tie. She was out of the car before all three of us were, however, so I figured she'd try to declare herself the winner by default.
Surprisingly, she didn't say anything. "So, Julian, I'm Sarah Vergell. I don't know that we've been properly introduced." She reached out her hand.
Julian took it. "It's nice to meet you, Sarah," he said. "It's funny; I don't have any classes with you guys."
"Well, all of us are in the Honors and AP Core," Taylor said as we walked inside and up to the counter to order.
"Which begs the question: why aren't you, Julian?" I asked. "I'll be honest—I used to think you weren't that bright, but now I know I was totally wrong about that. You'd totally do fine in Honors."
"I don't know," Julian replied.
"You know, it's only, like, mid-October," I said. "Definitely not too late for you to test in. There'd be a little makeup work and whatnot, but nothing major. Our first big projects don't really start until December."
"We'll see," Julian said. "Honestly, I'm pretty well-settled in my classes now, and I'm not sure I have the personality for Honors." He sat down at a nearby table. "We'll see."
"That'll have to do, I suppose," I said.
When all of us were seated at a table, Taylor and Sarah looked at me expectantly. Julian had already heard the story, so he was understandably less impatient. So I told them everything that had transpired that night on the beach, sparing no details. I felt again the pain and the loss as I told them how Garrett had been silent, how he had then turned and walked away from me. Through the pain, I felt an odd sensation, a loosening of bonds in my chest. It was as though a poultice had been placed on a wound in my heart and was drawing the pain like poison up, up and out through the wound to disperse in the open air. I found that when I was done, when I looked up from the table at the sympathetic faces in front of me, I felt better than I had in what seemed a long while. I would sleep more easily tonight, and if my dreams were troubled by water again, this time at least I would be able to swim free.
"I'm so sorry, Tristan," Sarah said. Unconsciously, her hand had found mine under the table. I clutched to it, knowing that this time her touch was not one born of desire, but of friendship.
"So Garrett hasn't talked to you since?" Taylor asked. "It does make sense—when I saw him earlier today, he didn't say a word about you."
"Nothing?" I asked.
"No . . . neither good or bad."
Julian gave me a hopeful glance. "Well, no news is good news, right?" he offered.
I shook my head. "From Garrett, no news is bad news."
"Listen, Tristan." Taylor seized my attention. "If Garrett can't accept who you are, who you have to be, he's not much of a friend."
"It's inevitable that people are going to hate you for who you are, Tris," Julian said. "It's just a fact. It's why I was scared, at first. Some people are just born to hate. Some people are just born to misunderstand. You have to accept that."
"Change the ones you can," Sarah said.
"Of course," Julian affirmed. "Change the ones you can, and accept that some, you can't."
"You should be able to change them all," Sarah grumbled.
Taylor laughed. "In a perfect world, sure," he said. "Unfortunately, this isn't. Far from it."
Julian raised his eyebrows and grinned. "That's easy for you to say, Taylor. You don't have to put up with the hatred. You're straight."
Sarah and I were completely silent.
Taylor snorted. "Guess again, buddy," he said.
"No way," Julian breathed. "You too?"
"Only on days that end with 'y,' " Taylor said.
"Very funny," Julian replied. I could tell he was still a little shell-shocked. "Then why aren't you two—you know—" he made a hand motion indicating that we should be together. "I mean, since you two both are—"
"He's not my type," Taylor and I both said at the same time. We looked at each other and laughed.
"Thanks a lot," I said.
"Well, you said it first," Taylor replied. "Seriously, Tris, as far as Garrett is concerned . . . take your time. I know it hurts. But when someone else comes along, when there's someone else you meet . . . don't let your feelings for Garrett, or your upset at what happened, hold you back."
"That's pretty much what Julian's been telling me," I said. "Trust me, I believe you both."
"Oh?" Taylor looked at Julian. "So that wasn't as original as I hoped?"
Julian shook his head. "Hate to burst your bubble and all . . . "
A thought struck me. "Hey, guys." They looked at me. "Beyond Garrett, only you three know the truth of all this. Don't say anything to Liza, please. She doesn't know yet, unless Garrett told her, and if he did, I want to hear it from her. She doesn't even know that I'm . . . that I'm gay. So don't say anything."
"You haven't told her?" Taylor asked, surprised. "I thought that of all of us, she was closest to you."
"Yeah, well," I said. "Each of you kind of found out more or less accidentally. I mean, Taylor, you guessed it; Sarah, you pushed until I had to tell you—sorry—and Julian, well, you're gay already, so telling you wasn't a big risk." Sarah smiled and Julian made a face. "Liza doesn't know, and doesn't yet need to know, until I feel her out on the entire issue. Besides, she was chatting with Garrett today and I don't know where she stands on all of this, so it'll take a little time to sort out her position on this and figure out exactly what Garrett told her."
"Don't worry, we won't say a word," Taylor said. I looked at the other two; they nodded. Good. That was settled. "Now, Tris, a serious question," Taylor said.
I nodded. "Go ahead."
"Honest answer: are you sure you're alright? I know it must hurt a lot, but we're here for you. All of us care about you, Tris. We want to know that you're okay."
"And that if you want us to, we'll beat the shit out of Garrett," Sarah added. She winked to show that she wasn't serious. I think.
I thought about it for a moment. "I'll be alright," I said. "I'm not going to lie and pretend that everything's okay. I'm hurting, obviously. But there's not a lot I can do about it, and I'm sure I'll feel better over time." I looked over at Julian. "You're right; I did the right thing in telling Garrett. That was not a mistake. All it means is that now I can stop wasting my time pining after him and start looking ahead." Even as I said it, I could feel the pain of losing Garrett's friendship. There are things in this life we cannot change. Fine. I would not look back. "It'll take awhile. Perhaps a long while. Right now, unless I'm thinking about something else, my mind always drifts back to that night on the beach, or some memory of Garrett . . . it's hard. But, well, Julian, you know what it's like. It'll get less difficult as time goes on. I'm sure of it." And even through the pain, I knew that it would be so.
* * *
After dinner that night, I spent most of the evening practicing with my katana. There was a certain focus, a narrowing of thought to a fine line, that pushed out all other distractions. I practiced forms against multiple attackers, and then shifted into forms against one attacker. After my arms grew tired from the weight of the blade and my legs were throbbing from exertion, I set the sword aside. Sweat ran down my bare neck and back and disappeared along the waistline of my pants. While in the dojo, I always wore my gi, but at home the canvaslike outfit was too hot. After sitting in a corner of the gym for a moment, I felt my energy return slightly. I spun up from my crouch on the ground and kicked as I rose. This time without the blade, I whirled through the rapid strikes and kicks that, after five years of training, had become imprinted on places more primal than the mind. Again I felt that narrowing of focus; all thought shifted aside and for awhile I could engage in a simple and deadly dance back and forth across the room. I was scant months away from my blackbelt test, and if I wanted to be good enough to pass, I not only had to execute the forms flawlessly, I had to have the stamina to maintain continuous practice and exercise for at least six hours, if not more. I was nervous about the test, which took place over two days and was veiled in secrecy until the moment the test began. I knew Garrett would be testing with me then; we'd been training at the same dojo ever since we were twelve years old.
At the thought of Garrett, my step faltered momentarily. Grimacing, I drove him out, found that balance point and struck out again. It was like walking along the edge of a sword, maintaining that mental stillness in the face of all of my life's distractions. In a way, the level of concentration reminded me of when I would lie still underwater; that same unity of thought and motion was present in this fluid movement from strike to strike.
At about eight that evening, after several hours of practice, the phone rang. My mom came into the gym and handed me the phone. "It's Liza," she said. "She says she wants to talk to you. Where's your cell?"
"Over there, in the corner."
"Why didn't she just call your cell phone?"
"I don't know," I replied, taking the phone from her. "Thanks, Mom."
"Do you want some shortcake? Your dad and the twins had some and said it was very good. I'll leave you a piece downstairs if you'd like."
I could feel my stomach rumbling nervously as I held the phone in my hands. "No, Mom, thanks. I don't think I could stomach much right now."
"Are you alright?"
"Fine. My stomach's just bothering me a bit is all." I put the phone to my ear to indicate that our conversation was over. "Liza."
"Oh, Tris, there you are. Are you okay?"
"What do you mean, am I okay?"
"Well, I know you and Garrett had a . . . fight. I wanted to make sure you weren't too upset."
"I'll be fine. What do you want?"
Liza seemed hurt. "To talk to you, of course."
"Why didn't you just call my cell?"
"Because . . . I was afraid you wouldn't answer."
"I might not have."
"Why are you so mad, Tris? I didn't do anything to you."
I ignored her question. "What did Garrett say about our fight?"
"Nothing—just that you two had fought and that now he's mad at you."
"That was it?"
"You're not lying to me, are you? Cause if you are, and I find out, I will make you regret it until you die."
"I swear I'm telling you the truth . . . why are you two fighting? What happened?"
"That's none of your business, Liza."
"Look, asshole! I'm calling to find out what the shit is going on, cause as far as I'm concerned, I'm just gonna stay out of your stupid little fight and be a friend to both of you. But if you're gonna be a bastard about it, then you can fuck off and I'll get it from Garrett."
"No! Look, Liza, leave it alone. Seriously. It'll work itself out in the end." I sighed. "How's the diet going?" I was looking for anything to switch topics, really.
"Don't change the subject!" Liza said. "I saw the way you looked at us in school today. You looked like you wanted to kill us. I heard you punched a dent into your locker, too. Oh, and I've lost two pounds," she added after a brief pause.
In my present mood, I could care less. "Look, I don't care what you do or don't do. Just know that it doesn't look like Garrett and I will be patching things up. Ever." I realized I was very, very tired, and suddenly I wished that everything would just go away. For a moment I missed Garrett with everything inside of me. Something huge and deep within me longed to cry out in loneliness. I trembled as I held myself from flying apart. "I need to go, Liza," I said, my voice breaking on the words. "I will talk to you tomorrow." I hung up the phone and set it aside. I had to keep from looking at it. I knew if I stared at it for too long, the vast and yawning emptiness within me would take control of my hand and I would call Garrett. I would not do that. I would not chase after him; I would not be a gnat buzzing around his head.
Everything good in this life ends in separation and death.
A light in my heart had gone out. Sometimes, I thought, it seems as though separation and death are one and the same. I breathed in deeply, taking in all my lungs could hold, and let out my shuddering breath, hoping that this moment too would pass.
It did, and the moment after that did too, and the moment after that. All I would have to do is learn to block out the pain. Learn to ignore the things that I felt inside. I could teach myself not to feel, to be cold inside until the wound froze over and broke apart. Then, in the numbness, I would be whole again.