Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thanks to Richard for the edit.
I flipped open my Zippo, sparking it, and brought it to the tip of my cigarette. I inhaled deeply, letting the warm smoke travel through my lungs before letting it come back out in a slow exhale. There is something about a cigarette that makes me feel powerful; makes me feel like I am the ruler of all things and, most of all, my life. I live for the day I don't need them anymore.
I heard Mac yelling for me, but I didn't want to answer him just yet; I didn't want to break this spell. I needed to feel normal and, with half a cig left, I had time to spare.
"Camble, answer me boy."
"Yeah, back here," I called and put the cigarette out in the small ashtray I kept back there. I looked up to watch Mac come through the door.
"What's up?" I asked as I stood up.
"You've been back here for a while son; just wondering where you were," he said, and put a hand on my shoulder as a way of asking me if I was okay without saying the words.
"Got lost in the moment; sorry," I said, and walked past him to the door. I continued through the room, going for the swinging door that led to the front of the bar where I worked, which Mac owned.
"Cam?" I turned. "Is everything alright?"
"Mac, it's called depression," I said, laughing at the face he made. He hated it when I talked to him like a little kid. "I'll get over it; just give me a few more years."
"Maybe I can't wait a few years; maybe I want you to be happy; maybe I should knock some sense into you," Mac said, and pushed me against the bar. The man sitting at it moved his mug quickly and backed up.
"You don't have a say in the way my mind works," I said, pushing back.
"Oh yeah?" Mac pulled his fist back. It was like in slow motion; his fist coming toward me slowly; connecting with my right cheek; landing me flat on my ass and knocking over a row of glasses on the shelves kept under the bar.
"Are you nuts?" the man at the bar asked.
"Yes," I moaned, rubbing my face.
I looked up at Mac. He was standing with his fists up, beckoning me with one hand to get up. I pulled my hand away from my face, and saw blood; probably from my lip.
"You suck, man," I said, and started laughing.
"Coward," he whispered.
I knew he didn't mean it; I knew that he wouldn't have punched me if he wasn't at his wits end. I felt instant pain go through me, not from my face, but from what I had been putting Mac, and probably his wife Rhonda, through. My laughing soon turned into dry sobs. I sucked at life.
I lay back in the bed of my truck and watched the sun set over the lake behind my small town. There was something about this one spot that I loved so much. There wasn't anything that great about it, but it was great to me; and it was a place that I kept coming back to again and again. To think, to be quite, or to be alone. This time, though, I came to think.
Last year my ex-boyfriend was arrested; hand cuffed right in our front room. Today was the anniversary of that event, and I couldn't think about anything else. It was like a movie playing over and over in my head from start to finish; starting with the day we met. I was fourteen; he was twenty-four. He was the son of my father's football coach. My father had asked him to show me some tips, because I was starting freshmen football that summer. Yeah, he'd showed me some tips but they had nothing to do with football. From day one I was completely in love with Rick. He'd been so manly, and so kind; he didn't treat me like a kid just because I was younger, and he talked to me like I was his equal.
When I turned eighteen, I told my father that I was gay and that I was moving in with Rick, who lived on the other side of town. I still have scars from that day, from when he beat me so badly I couldn't move for a week. Of course that week was extended to three weeks when Rick got hold of me.
He'd been wonderful from day one, and I had been so happy with him. I had thought we would stay together forever. But when he learned that I told my dad about us he knew that his dad would be the next to find out, so he put me in the hospital to prove to his father he wasn't a fag. Rick had been sorry afterwards, begging me to come home to his house; that he wouldn't do anything like that again. For four years he'd been perfect; I had trusted him and I wanted to trust him still, so I went.
Over the next six years I went in and out of the hospital more times then I can remember. He had lied, and it did happen again, and I was a fool for trusting him and for staying with him. But I loved him and I thought, deep down, he loved me, but I was wrong. The night he was arrested was the same night I put his 12 gauge shotgun to his forehead and told him I was going to kill him. One of the neighbors must have heard us yelling and called the cops; something none of them had down before, and by the time they'd got there he had me flat on my back with the shotgun in my mouth.
He was charged with attempted murder and he got a life sentence. I haven't seen him since the day I was put on the witness stand, and I pray to God I never do again. But it's hard for me to forget all that happened, and even harder to forget about the first four year when I was so happy, so content, so loved.
The incident between Mac and I earlier that day kind of opened my eyes. I hadn't been in a fight since Rick was carted off to jail, and I couldn't bring myself to fight back. I needed to do something about that, and my life. It needed to get better, and I was the only one that could do that.
Wes had said that Seth must have had a lot on his mind, and that he only forgot to ask me that day. But as the days, and weeks, and then months passed, I knew Seth had either totally forgotten that he asked me out, or regretted asking me in the first place. I opted more for the regret side of it when I met his boyfriend. They had been seeing each other for three weeks, Brad told me. Brad, that was his name; Seth seemed to go for guys with B names: Brandon, Blake, Bill, Bobby, and now Brad.
"It's nice to meet you," I said and shook Brad's hand. Really, I wanted to bash his perfect face through my computer screen, but my politeness stopped me. "Are you here to meet Seth?"
"Yeah, I wanted to surprise him and take him to lunch," he smiled, giving me a flash of his perfectly lined up white teeth.
I always thought that people's teeth say a lot about their character. Brad's teeth were all straight and set; teeth you can only get after thousands of dollars worth of dental work, which gave him a "holier then thou" look. I'm sure he was a nice person, but I could tell he was looking down at me and my secretary job. Wes had pretty straight teeth too. He had one tooth, third from the front, that was out of place and slightly pointed. When he gave you this lopsided half grin, you got a flash of it, and I always thought it made him look mischievous, which is his personality to a tee. My teeth? Well, I don't know about mine.
"Reed, are you on the speakerphone?" Seth asked, coming out of his office.
"Brad, what are you doing here?" Seth's gaze flicked over his boyfriend then to me and back. I couldn't read his eyes.
"I came to take you to lunch, lover." Brad wrapped his arms around Seth's waist and leaned in for a kiss. I turned away then; maybe if I didn't see it, it wouldn't hurt.
"Um, okay, let me get my coat," Seth said. When I looked back up they were walking hand in hand to the front door.
"Reed, I'll be back in an hour, okay?"
I didn't say anything, and he didn't wait for it. I picked up the phone and called my mother.
"Honey what's wrong?" she asked after our hello's.
"I need to find a new job," I said, before I burst into tears.
Things where rapidly turning black. Every time Brad would show up to take Seth to lunch, which was every day now, more started to fade from my vision. Mom said that I couldn't let something like Seth having a boyfriend get in the way of my job; that I should be a professional. But I didn't think I could last much longer having to deal with Brad's perfect-ness. It was driving me nuts. It wasn't only that he was dating someone who I like very much; it was the fact that he seemed to always have to prove he was better then me every time I saw him.
"That's a nice watch, where did you get it?" Brad had asked the morning I decided I couldn't take it anymore.
"Oh, thanks. My brother got it for me at a state fair," I smiled. I had seen it, the watch, and fell in love. It had a thick leather band with a silver star sewed in it and a square face. It wasn't usually my taste, but I had wanted it so bad Wes asked the woman to wrap it up for me. It was one of the many times I was "between jobs".
"Oh, state fair? That's cute."
He flashed me a glimpses of a thick silver Rolex that lay on his wrist. Why the hell would someone pay that much for a watch? You could go to Wall-Mart, buy one for ten dollars, and have it tell time just as well. But, I guess, if I had a lot of money I would buy things like that too. Maybe.
I grabbed at the hair on the back of my head, something I had been doing often lately, and tried to calm my nerves.
"So, why haven't I met your boyfriend? Doesn't he ever take you to lunch?"
I looked up and smiled, trying not to show how much that comment had hurt. Even when I did have a boyfriend, he never came to take me to lunch. I hated that he gave me another reason to feel unwanted.
"Someone has to watch the place while your out with Seth," I said and tried to ignore him by doing work that I didn't really have.
"I don't think Seth would mind; I could always bring some food here I guess. I must admit I have wanted to try out his desk, if you know what I mean." Brad was evil; I could tell by the way he was laughing at his own joke. I was having a hard time believing he was only joking though.
I stood and walked into Seth's office. He had been on the phone when Brad got here, and seemed to be on it still. Seth took one look at me and then told whoever it was that he really needed to go.
"What's wrong?" he asked and moved toward me. I put my hands up to stop him; I really didn't want him near me.
"I would really like to get everything out in the open before I leave," I said, and leaned up against the door just in case Brad tried to come in before I was through saying what I had to say.
"Out in the open?" Seth asked, and sat down on his desks top.
"Yeah. See I have liked you since I first started here. I never thought that you would feel the same way so I just kept my feelings to myself. Then, last month, you asked me out. Do you know how happy that made me? How totally ecstatic I was that you would want to go on even one date with me?" I brushed my hair out of my face then grabbed some at the back of my neck before continuing. "Then, the next day, you acted like it never happened. And okay, yeah; I was hurt, but I guess it was my fault for having gotten my hopes up. But that isn't okay Seth; you can't do that to people. It's wrong to play with people's emotions as if they don't matter. I thought I could deal with this whole you and Brad thing, but I can't. I'm tired of him making me feel like I'm less then him. And I'm tired of watching you with him. I know I should be a grownup and just do my job or whatever, but I can't. I'm quitting, and I'll be done here by the end of the day."
"I don't know what to say Reed," he said.
I looked up to find his eyes looking at his hands. How about, `I'm sorry?' How about, `I'll kick Brad to the curb for hurting your feelings?' How about, `I need you to stay?'
"That's okay," was all I could get out.
Maybe my politeness had started because I was scared of confrontation. I was scared of what else he was going to say, and saying "its okay" would magically make him not say things I didn't want to hear.
"Anyway, Brad's waiting to go to lunch with you and I have to finish some things." I opened the door and come face to face with Brad, who was smiling like the villain he is.
"He's all yours," I said and moved back to my deck.
I ignored Seth for the rest of the day, which I'm sure he didn't notice. I made arrangements for one of those temp girls, which Seth hated, to fill in for me until he could hire someone permanently. It took most of the day to get all my stuff out of the desk and the rest of the office. After three years stuff does start to pile up though, I guess. After I threw out all the useless crap that was only taking up space in the first place, I had one small box of things to bring home. It contained only a few things: toothbrush, day planner, CD's, and other stuff like that.
But I did find something that I didn't remember bringing to the office. I had probably done it to show Seth and then promptly forgot. It was a five by six inch photograph of Seth and me from last Thanksgiving. He had joined us at my Grandparent's house for the holiday. We had been walking around the back yard, talking about work, when he stopped under a tree and looked straight up.
"This tree must be really old; it's so big," he said, then looked back at me.
"My great-grandmother planted it when she found out that she was going to have my grandpa," I informed him, and leaned up against the trunk. "I used to come out here a lot and try to climb up it. I can't even reach the branches now; I don't know what I was thinking back then."
We laughed. I loved his laugh, so smooth and alive.
"Your hair is getting long again," he said, and tucked one of my locks behind my ear while smiling at me with his eyes. It seems that is when the picture was taken; when his fingers had moved across my cheek to move the hair. Wes had to have been a few hundred feet away when taking it, but the quality was so good it looked like it had only been a few feet. That's what Wes did for a living, by the way; take photographs.
Today I was going to leave a little early. I didn't want to talk to Seth right then, and if we left at the same time words would mostly like be exchanged. I placed the picture in the middle of my desk, along with my keys to the office, and left.
"How goes the job search?" Dad asked as we loaded up his rented truck with more stuff to bring to the junk yard. I just shook my head.
After Wes and I had left them at my Grandparent's house to finish the cleaning, my mother said it was too hard for her. Grandma had been like another mother to her. Mom had gotten pregnant with Wes at sixteen, and when her father found out he kicked her right onto the street. Her mother, all the while, was calling her a dirty slut. Grandma took Mom in, making her and Dad sleep in separate rooms until they got married three weeks later.
"It wasn't been a shotgun wedding or anything," Grandma always said when telling me the story. "I asked your father what he wanted to do, and he told me, `I want to marry her.' so I let them do it. They lived with us till he finished college, got a job, and could deal with having to pay for everything. Wes was such a good boy back then."
After I quit working with Seth, Dad and I got Mom to come back to finish the job. The load we were taking to the junk yard would be the last. The only things left in the house were the furniture and the boxes of stuff Mom wanted to bring home with her; which contained pretty much everything my grandparents owned.
"You aren't going to sell the house, right?"
It had been in our family for three generations now; it would break my heart to see it go to someone else.
"Mom doesn't want to, but I don't really feel like commuting three hours a day for work. Maybe we should rent it out while we decide what to do."
This was the perfect time to ask. I knew that it was risky but I had to try.
"Dad, do you think I can have it?" I said, after gathering all my courage.
He was driving. He and Wes are alike in that sense; when you try talking to them while driving they mumble, ignore you, or are really slow on the uptake.
"The house, Dad; can I have it?"
He looked over at me before returning his eyes to the road.
"Reed, it's a really big house. There was still too much room when your grandparent's, your mom and I and Wes were there with all our crap."
"I know, but I love that house so much, and I don't have anything but you guys and Wes keeping me in the City. It's not like I'm going to get lonely; I already know people in this town. Plus, you know Wes; he'll be out here every other day to check on me. I think it would be a good change for me." That sounded believable. It was all true, mostly.
"Is this because of Seth?"
Dad had never been too comfortable with my homosexuality, but I knew that he loved me no matter what. Mom had been kicked out of her family's life; she knew the pain that came along with it, so she made it clear from day one that I would always be her son no matter what I did. Dad hadn't gone through it, but he'd been there when she would cry about missing her parents and siblings and he promised her he wouldn't ever do something like that to their children. I don't think they ever expected me to turn out gay, but that rule was still in place.
"No," I said and focused on the trees moving by outside.
"You know, I always hoped that you would end up with him," Dad said, surprising me. We had never talked about my love life. "He's a good man, and I knew he could have made you happy. But it's his loss, you know? Someday you are going to find someone that sees how special you are, and they will love you for it."
He took his hand off the steering wheel, something I've never seen him do before, and patted my cheek. "If moving out here is what you want to do, then I'll let you." He smiled at me and then settled into a comfortable silence.
The first morning that I woke up in the house, everything was bathed in a beautiful yellow tint. Remembering the last time I had seen this color I made my way out to the huge wooden porch, overlooking the backyard. I sat down in that same white plastic chair and leaned my arms against the railing. I felt happy for the first time in months. This yellow tint felt like a sign, from God maybe, that everything was going to turn out okay. I stood and stretched, getting all the kinks out of my muscles. I patted the railing twice.
"Thanks, I needed that."
"So Camble, how you feeling buddy?" Rhonda asked me early one morning.
"Well, thank you." She'd always called me buddy, a fact that I loved, it made me feel like I really was her kid rather then guest living in her and Mac's house. "How are you?" I sat down at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee.
"Fine, just fine dear... Speaking of fine; did you know Emily and Peter's grandson moved into their house?" Emily and Peter Timmy had gone to high school with Mac and Rhonda. They'd remained friends over the years, and they later became mine also. Even now, months after their passing, I had urges to go mow their lawn or take the Sunday paper by.
"What does that have to do with being fine?" I asked, and shook my head.
"Everything; he's a nice piece of ass." I gasped at her and started laughing, shaking the whole table along with me.
"Rhonda, you're sixty-five years old; you aren't allowed to say that," I said, and rubbed a hand across my face, although hearing that from her wasn't that big of a surprise. She and Emily used to have cussing battles at every gathering we had.
"I think you should go by and see him; I'm sure he's lonely," she said, ignoring my comment on her age.
"And I think you should stop trying to set me up," I said, standing.
She reached over and hugged me tightly to her small frame.
"You haven't had sex in a while buddy; it's time to get back in the game," she said, patting my cheek and handing me the keys to my truck. How the hell did she know that?
"I'm never telling Mac about my love life again," I mumbled, walking out the back door. He had a big mouth.
Rhonda had tried setting me up with every man that passed through our city since before Rick was arrested, not even taking the time to stop and find out if they were even gay. I doubted that this guy she was talking about was gay, just like all the others. So what if I hadn't had sex in a year? It was by choice; I wanted something real. Sex wasn't as important to me as most people thought. That's what I told people, at least. I did miss it though; it was human nature to want sex, and lets just say my right had was one of my best friends as of late.
I drove my old truck into town, needing to pick up a few things for Mac before heading to work. I stopped off at the gas station; we only had the one, and filled up before going inside to grab the paper.
"Camble, good to see you, how are things?" John asked. He'd worked at the gas station, like forever; the last owner had left it to him in his will, something that John was mighty proud of.
"Good, and yourself?" I asked, placing the paper on the counter.
"Fine. Hey, Rhonda called here a few minutes ago, asking me to remind you that the Timmy boy lived at the end of this street, whatever that means."
I had been reaching for my wallet, about to hand over some change, but what John said stopped me cold.
"Are you serious?" I asked, not being able to help the blush that came over my face.
"Yes, I'm guessing that you know what she meant?"
"Want to fill me in?" John was pretty much my only friend left in town, beside Rhonda and Mac. He'd been truer to me then I could have ever asked and, because of that fact alone, I was never able to lie to him, or ignore a direct question.
"She wants me to have sex or something, and she thinks he'd be more then happy to oblige," I said, and dropped the change on top of the paper.
"I see," he said, and smiled at me. "And you don't think so?"
I shook my head. "Come on John, you know just as well as I do there isn't a single gay man in this town, so what makes you think one would move in?"
John was one of the town's biggest gossips; he knew everyone's business. I think I was the only one he didn't spread things about.
"Are you sure?" he asked, making me raise an eyebrow.
He knew something, but I wasn't going to ask. Asking would mean I was interested; and I hadn't even met the guy, yet. Plus, I kind of like asking people out myself; I'd heard enough blind date horror stories to last me a while.
"Oh, shut up, you dick," I said, slipped the paper off the counter, leaving the change, and went out to my truck.
I drove down Timberwork, toward the Timmy house. I don't know what was compelling me to do so, but I did it anyway with little thought. The house was at the very end of the cull-de-sac, a good three hundred feet from the other houses. I stopped in the middle of the street, a ways away, staring, asking myself why I was doing it.
"Don't be stupid, you don't have a thing to offer him," I said, and turned my truck around, driving back to the bar.
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