This is my second story on Nifty.
In this chapter things get tough. But remember: love will never abide by religion or by law. Love is the ultimate anarchist. The term "sin" is meaningless in love's language, as is the term "underage".
If you disagree with this statement, go find another story to read.
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THE SOUND OF HIS FOOTSTEPS
The sun was gone, wouldn't come back until mid-January. The days were blue, the arctic night wrapped Sander in lethargy. The city, however, buzzed with life: Streets were decorated, shop windows glittered, Christmas lurked around the corner. Some left, others came back for the holidays. New faces and new voices laughed and called out behind pints of beer, children one normally didn't notice ran through the streets, shouting, throwing snowballs, rolling around in the banks of snow. Families gathered in cafÚs, lovers went window-shopping, arms wrapped around each other. The Salvation Army were collecting on every other corner. Not being a native Northerner, Sander could never understand that the two months of darkness didn't affect people more negatively, to him it felt like life was put on hold.
But this year was different, this year his winter blues were modified by the bittersweet longing for the sound of those footsteps up his stairs, and then the quivers that would run through his whole being at the sight of those hazel eyes, and that heady smell of boy and soap. Even though he had recently learned something deeply disturbing. Something that would have changed everything had he known about it two months ago. Something that when he let his mind dwell on it froze his blood and paralyzed his brain. But no possible threat, no panic, no fear could diminish the love his heart overflowed with, nothing could undo the spell he was under.
Sander booked a flight to Oslo to spend the holidays with his mother, since Thomas would be going with his mother to celebrate Christmas with his aunt in Hamar. Sander took care to make sure they were not on the same plane.
Their last afternoon together before they left coincided with Thomas' birthday. Thomas hadn't mentioned this to Sander, but Sander had found out a couple of weeks before. He had incidentally looked through the school archive looking for info on the home conditions of one of his students, one whose absence from school was getting rather conspicuous. The thought struck him that he didn't know when Thomas' birthday was, and out of curiosity found his card in the filing cabinet. He instantly regretted it.
→ Sander → → Diary 2018
We've got dry rot fungus in the cellars of our apartment building. Yesterday, as I sat outside in the backyard, a rat sat staring at me. I thought it was a hamster or some such pet that had escaped one of the flats, but then I saw it was a big, fat, disgusting rat. It just sat there in one of the big flowerpots, undisturbed, not scared at all, just watching me. It sent chills down my spine.
Rot and decay. The windowsill in the guestroom has a deep crack. The doors of the kitchen cabinets hang loose, all my window frames need a coat of paint. Most of my clothes are more than ten years old. My body is sagging steadily closer to the floor. I've thrown out the big mirror in the hall.
There are no children left in the building. The last stroller vanished from the entrance four years ago. All sounds are geriatric. No one runs up or down the stairs, no one calls for daddy. Grandchildren visiting have hood covered heads and plugged ears, and never look at you. The board have been planning for two years to install an elevator.
I don't care. I don't give a fuck. And still: I weed the front garden, I pick and kill those leopard slugs that infest the flowerbeds. I water my tomato plants. As if it helps. As if everything isn't dying.
I can't bear to attend Fred's funeral. I can't.
Sander put his cheek to Thomas' and whispered:
Thomas recoiled. His face paled, his shoulders tensed, his eyes looked stony. Sander grabbed him and pulled him close, his hand gently stroked Thomas' back. Up and down, and up and down again.
"Yes", he said quietly. "I know."
He took Thomas by the hand and led him to the couch. Sat him down and watched his face closely. Thomas was on the verge of tears. His hand seemed to fly by itself up to the scar at the back of his head, uneasily fingering it. He swallowed twice.
"You could have told me," Sander remarked. Thomas bowed down, frightened and ashamed.
"If I had told you, you wouldn't have wanted me," he muttered.
"I don't know. Maybe you're right. It's possible I could have ... well, waited?"
Thomas lifted his face, eyes pleading, eyes tortured, eyes asking for mercy.
"But I couldn't wait", he whispered. "Forgive me." And then his tears came streaming down his cheeks.
Sander embraced him. Held him loosely for a while, not knowing what to do with his contradicting feelings, part of him seeing only the dangers of their predicament, part of him wanting to feel him closer, to kiss him, to remove all their clothes and forget everything else.
"It's too late to do anything about it now. I'm a criminal in the eyes of the world; okay, let them think so. You know what, I don't give a shit. I don't care if I go to jail for it. Being with you is the best thing, the most marvelous thing that's ever happened to me."
Thomas sobbed loudly.
"How can you talk about jail?" he wailed. "No one knows! I haven't told anybody!"
He threw himself at Sander's chest, buried his wet face against his shirt and cried uncontrollably. Sander tightened his arms around him and rocked him. Shushed him. Kissed his ear.
"It doesn't make any difference. So now you're legal ... God, what a hateful word! ... but you are the same boy you were yesterday. I am the same, too. And I just ... I just love you."
Thomas jerked himself loose, his jaw dropped, his eyes opened wide.
"You do?" he breathed.
Sander closed his eyes, tears were starting to burn behind his eyelids. He bit his lip and leaned his head against the back of the couch. He inhaled deeply, his breath trembled.
"I do." Sander shook his head slowly from side to side. "I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you." And he couldn't hold back his tears any longer.
Hamar, August 1989
Sander rings the doorbell.
The man hadn't been at all difficult to locate. On the phone he had sounded younger than he must be, his light tenor voice revealing him to be a native of the area. He also revealed that he knew who Sander was, and was more than willing to meet him. He did in fact sound quite eager.
A flash of recognition hits Sander as the man opens the door. He knows it's not just from the similarities. His body goes stiff.
"I've seen you before!" he blurts out.
A crooked smile, a tilted head:
"Have you, now? I don't recall having seen you, but if you are Sveen, please come in."
"Sorry. I forget my manners. I'm Aleksander Sveen.╗
Sander holds out his hand, Braathen shakes it. Long, slender fingers, sinewy hand. Sander scrutinizes him: The familiar bony shoulders, the same oblong face, but not the same eyes. The man's black hair is prematurely greying, almost white at the temples.
"Jan Ola. Come in, won't you?"
He leads the way to a small living room: Unpainted paneled walls, darkened with age, the furniture is dark and heavy, except for a huge canvas above the sofa, a painting in shades of yellows on white, Sander can't make out what the subject is. A flat screen TV in the corner is on, the sound muted. Braathen makes no move to turn it off, he points Sander to one of the deep armchairs. The room smells of pizza and stale cigarette smoke.
Sander is offered a cigarette, he is tempted and accepts. Braathen lights them, inhales deeply and clears his throat. Giggles a bit.
"You're making me nervous!" he says. "Thomas has told me a little about you. But there's so much he hasn't said, so I'm quite curious about you."
Something in the man's eyes, something that jogged his memory. Something more than curiosity, something unmistakable.
"Now I remember where I've seen you! That parking lot by the bridge, you know? A couple of years ago? I stopped by accident because I had to pee, I didn't know it was a cruising area. And you came trotting out from the cove and passed in front of my car. I know, because my heart almost stood still, I was convinced you were Thomas. But then I saw your face in the beam from my headlights."
A freezing afternoon, the end of January, the ice-cold north wind and the stench from the fish oil factory pierced your nostrils. Sander sat in his chair, ears alerted to the click of the front door and the footsteps up the stairs. Waited and listened. Time dragged on. Darkness fell around him.
The doorbell split the silence, his heart jumped, and he ran downstairs and tore the door open.
An unknown woman, dark hair, duvet coat and sealskin boots. But the eyes, the eyes were Thomas' eyes. Oh no, his brain screamed, this can't be! Oh shit! Oh hell!
The woman wasted no time.
"I know what you've done to Thomas. It's disgusting, it's vicious, and it's criminal. And it stops here!"
She spat it out, each word cold and hard as shards of glass. Her face was tight with wrath and loathing. Sander noticed his jaw hung open, he closed it so hard his molars slammed together. All power seemed to leave him, he tried desperately to mobilize what little was left.
"Won't you please come in? Can we please talk about this?"
"Huh! I have no intention of listening to your sick thoughts! I'm here to tell you this is the end. How could you, he's a child! How could you! You ought to be castrated! And you can be certain he will never cross your doorstep again. You will not contaminate him with your sins or your disease anymore. You can go to hell on your own!"
She dropped Thomas' key to the pavement, turned on her heels, and walked away with hurried steps. He called out a stifled Wait! after her, but she sped up and disappeared. Sander shuddered as every single little hair on his body rose. Stood there numb and lost and felt his whole world collapse and slide like an avalanche away from him.
Inside there was nothing but despair awaiting him. His whole body seemed to shut down. How could this have happened? Why? And what the fucking hell am I going to do now? Everything, everything, everything had suddenly been stolen from him. All he had left was this hollow and devouring terror, and an impossible and sleepless night.
→ Sander → → Diary 2018
"I KNOW I CAN NEVER BE HAPPY, BUT I KNOW I CAN BE GAY."
Poor Marilyn. Poor all souls who fall flat on their faces in pursuit of happiness.
Poor all souls who live in Zenon's paradox and forever have to see their goal move away, out of reach.
Poor all souls who never have a Sensei to show the way, never have a mentor to take their hands and lead them to an open door.
Poor all souls who drown in the roar of the demons, who lose direction in the vast sea of You shall! and You shall not!
Poor all souls who are stuck within a struggle of how to correctly spell the word love, and who forget how love feels.
Poor all souls.
The light was much too bright, the room was much too white. Everything was cold: cold instruments, cold hands, cold face. Like a polar expedition; like an incomprehensible, overexposed film.
He couldn't take more of this, the probing fingers, the exhaustive questions. He lost his control and screamed at the white coat.
"Why can't anyone listen? I have not been raped!" He started to cry. "Can you please get it into my mother's head? Nothing has happened to me!"
The doctor pulled off his latex gloves.
"You can get dressed now."
He sat down at his desk, started to scribble something on a paper pad. Thomas got off the examination table, turned his back on the doctor and quickly dressed. Remained standing without turning. It seemed to take forever until the doctor finished his writing, then he heard the squeaking of little wheels , footsteps and a door opening.
He knew it was his mother who entered. He could feel her eyes burn into his back. He refused to turn around. The doctor's voice rang in his ears, arrogant, slightly contemptuous.
"There is nothing, and I repeat nothing, to indicate any undesirable sexual activity. No hematomas, no sign of penetration. I suggest you listen to your son instead of wasting my time, and other's as well.
His mother's sharp, nasal voice sent ice into his veins. She was clearly not going to let anything go.
"I'm not interested in your opinion. I know full well what's been going on, regardless of your finds."
The doctor came over to Thomas. Put a hand on his shoulder to turn him, tried to get eye contact.
"I truly regret you had to go through all this. But look at it this way, isn't it better to have got it out of the way? For your sake, I hope you will be spared further humiliation."
Thomas looked up. The doctor's eyes weren't so hard and cold anymore. There was compassion, maybe even care, somewhere deep within those eyes. He couldn't look at the doctor any longer. His mother was tapping her toes impatiently, her voice like steel.
"Thomas! We're leaving!"
He marched past her, didn't throw her a single glance. Out in the corridor he started to jog. Ignored her as she called after him. He had to get away from the white lights and the cutting voice, find some place to hide, a hole he could crawl into where no one could find him. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, arms held tightly around himself, as if he needed to hold his soul in place and protect it, so no one could steal more slices of it.
Hamar, August 1989
Braathen seems a bit uncomfortable with Sander's observation, sits deep in thought for a while. But now he laughs, and his body visibly relaxes.
"Aha! So you think you've exposed me! Well, to a certain extent you have. I have been known to seek that kind of company."
"I'm sorry if that was too personal. Tell me to shut up, I didn't mean to be impertinent."
"Not at all. I'm really pretty straight. But every now and then I need ... I don't know. The excitement?"
Braathen folds his hands and stretches his arms out. Straightens his back.
"It started when I was fourteen. No, it started before that. Wanting to look at other boys. Or men. See them masturbate. It's continued through the years."
He rakes his fingers through his mop of hair, puts his cigarette out and lights another one. Sander studies him, uncertain about where this conversation will go, if there is to be a conversation at all. His head is suddenly like an empty conch shell, Braathen's voice resounds in the void:
"Don't make too much of it, it's not important. Just a bit amusing when I think of ... some of the consequences."
He puffs on his cigarette with a hidden smile on his lips.
"For one thing that you should happen to see me there. What are the odds? I've been to that place maybe five times all in all." He laughs out loud. "That could imply that you've been there quite frequently!"
Sander coughs, smiles back at him. This is weird, he thinks. Here I am, talking to half of Thomas' genes. So like him, and at the same time so unlike.
"Never before, never after", he says, "believe it or not. Can I ask you something?"
"Go ahead. I don't have to answer."
"Are you too a born-again Christian? Or have been?"
"Not on your life! Where are you going with this?"
"Well, I was thinking of all those conflicts Thomas lived with regarding religion. So I wondered if your situation was similar. For instance in your marriage? I'm sorry, that was impertinent."
Again this laugh, like a horse whinnying.
"You're so off the mark. That marriage going to the dogs had nothing to do with either religion or my ... well, adventures."
Sander figures he ought to change the subject, but his curiosity gets the better of him.
"I can't totally grasp the situation. Thomas didn't tell me much about you, but I do remember him saying you drank a lot, and that his mother threw you out. Is that right?"
"Talking about impertinence ...!"
For a second Braathen's eyes are narrow slits, then he inhales, throws his head back and blows two perfect smoke rings into the air.
"Jesus, I was nineteen. I wasn't even out of high school."
He stares into space.
"It was ... She was a hot lady, you know. Really sexy. And horny, my God. Four years older than me, do you have any idea how flattered I was when she hit on me? Nineteen and randy as hell, just imagine!"
Sander wracks his brain for analogies, parallels, something to hold on to.
"I've never been with a woman. Sexually, I mean."
Braaten's mouth curls up, a little condescending, a little incredulous. As if he wonders what Sander's life has to do with this. Sander pushes on:
"Please go on. I want to know more, if it's okay with you. I've met Elisabeth, you know."
"I know you have. I bet that was fun."
Headmaster sat across from Sander, a most uncomfortable look on his face. Sander felt like the worst villain in the world.
"I've had an extremely unpleasant confrontation with Elisabeth Olsen, mother of Thomas Olsen, whom you obviously know is a student here. I do not know to which extent her allegations are true, so I will ask you to explain yourself. What is the nature of your relationship with Thomas Olsen?"
The nature? The nature of their relationship? What could he say that headmaster would understand?
"I actually don't know how to explain this. She was at my door yesterday, foaming at the mouth, making me feel like a child molester, and I'm certainly not that."
"She was adamant that you had seduced her son and lead him into a sexual relationship. Is that true?"
Sander couldn't answer, he had to think. How much was at risk? What reactions could he expect from this stern and forbidding face in front of him? Condemnation? Understanding? He took a chance.
"It's not that simple. Thomas sought me out on several occasions. I will admit that I've ... what can I say, I've fallen for him. However, the initiative was just as much his as it was mine. And he's sixteen, his body is his own."
He could tell the man did not appreciate this answer. What had he hoped for, shame? Remorse? Repentance? Mister Headmaster, can't you see I love the boy?
"Sveen, even if he's not a minor, he's not of full legal age. But that is not the main issue as far as I'm concerned. We do not want or allow intimate relationships between teachers and students, regardless of gender or bent. The responsibility rests on the adult in these cases, and if these accusations are true, you have shown a deplorable lack of judgement, and you have betrayed our trust. I do not know yet what the outcome of this will be, but you realize that this could very well cost you your job? And deprive you of any chance of teaching in the future? Until this is settled, you are suspended."
Sander couldn't let this be the last words said. He ached to make the headmaster understand.
"Can I just say something before you dismiss me completely? You've made me sound like a predator. I'm not! I don't go around chasing young boys! Secondly, don't you think I've been through every sensible, every logical argument concerning this situation in my head already? And this is not about abuse or exploitation or lack of responsibility, and it isn't even about violating school rules or conventions. This is about a young man who hasn't had many breaks, a boy who hasn't had much love in his life, and who has found something he wants very much. We both do. So this is about two people. Two people! And excuse me for repeating, this is about love. Why is that so impossible to understand?"
Oh, shut up, Sander. Just give in before you start to blubber.
Headmaster had stooped slightly forward as Sander spoke. Now he firmed up, cleared his throat, put his grim face back on.
"Whether I understand or not is immaterial, there are regulations to abide by in situations like this. And Sveen, you are suspended as from this moment."
The sky outside his window was as dark as his soul. His apartment felt as empty and as meaningless as his heart. Drained of strength, devoid of will, Sander slumped in his chair as the night dragged its feet into the room. Aching for those footsteps that didn't come, pining for the body that had vanished from his arms.
He nodded off in his chair. Suddenly he was jolted awake by the insistent shrill of the doorbell and a heavy banging on the downstairs door. He jumped up with a start, ran down, threw the door open.
Thomas. A black shape in the wind and the snow, face ghostly white and eyes frightened to death.
"Sander!" His voice was cramped and at breaking point.
"Sander! They are going to send me away! Mum and those people at church, they are going to send me away!"
"Thomas, come in. We can't stay out here!"
"I can't come in! I can't be here! Mum's locked me in to prevent me from coming here! They're going to send me to this Christian school, they're going to cure me! It's not my fault, Sander, I never told anyone. But mum's been going through my things and found something I wrote, and she found my key and she followed me when I though she was at work, and now everything is just scary and full of shouting voices and hatred and I don't know what to do!"
He bawled now. Sander reached out to hold him, he backed off.
"I can't! I have to be back before she finds out I escaped! You don't know what she's like, you have no idea!"
He ran off, but stopped and turned.
"Bye, Sander! I love you, Sander!" he cried.
Sander had lost him.
(to be continued)