Now That You're Here - The College Years
Jason looked at the clock, not really
surprised to see that it was almost four in the morning. He’d been out of the
hospital for almost four days and he still couldn’t seem to be able to get any
sleep. Every time he dozed off, his brain would take him back to that horrible
place he was in on Friday night and he didn’t want to be back there. He didn’t
want to have to relive the worst experience of his life over and over again.
Instead he pretended to take his pain medication for fear of it making him
drowsy, and sucked down coffee and caffeinated drinks whenever he could. His
parents, after a very heated discussion, finally agreed to fly back home and go
on their holiday vacation. He refused to let them miss their cruise because of
him. There was nothing they could do for him. There was nothing anyone could do
for him other than to let him rest while his body finished recovering. And he
was finally starting to feel a little better. If only his mind could recover as
And now it was Wednesday morning, which meant Brian, Justin and Zac would be back in town by the end of the day. It hadn’t been easy convincing them to stay at school until Thanksgiving break; especially Zac. But Jason just needed his space and knew he was already going to be surrounded by Chris, Zander, Steve, Sophia and his parents. He didn’t need three more people sitting around staring at him. It should’ve been heartbreaking saying goodbye to Zac. His boyfriend had been tearful as they stood by his parents’ rental car outside the hospital, but Jason couldn’t bring himself to feel anything. He couldn’t bring himself to care about much of anything at the moment.
He slowly climbed out of bed and made it to the bathroom without too much discomfort. He couldn’t wait until the time came when the physical pain was gone. He was hoping that once the reminder of what happened wasn’t so prominent, he wouldn’t spend all his time thinking about what that bastard had done to him. Jason had been able to get a good look at the guy, and knew he’d be able to identify him if he saw him, but he didn’t recognize him from around campus. Because of that, the sick son of a bitch was still out there. That knowledge was just another reason Jason couldn’t shut his eyes at night. He was expected to go back to the campus right after the holiday weekend, but how was he supposed to do that? How was he supposed to walk those grounds after what had happened to him there?
Once he had relieved himself and washed his hands, making sure to avoid his reflection in the mirror, he made his way out to the kitchen. He was getting tired and remembered seeing a few Redbulls in the fridge. After getting what he was after and drinking it down, he went into the living room and sat down on the couch. The middle of the night while everyone was sleeping was the only time he really felt comfortable in the house, which was just another aspect of his life that had changed. He used to feel like he belonged there. Even when he was still living in Pittsburgh, Chris and Zander always made him feel as if it was his home, too. Now he didn’t feel comfortable anywhere. He didn’t even feel comfortable in his own skin.
After he found a comfortable position, he leaned his head back and shut his eyes to block out his surroundings. When he was a kid and had trouble sleeping, his mother used to make him shut his eyes and imagine a different scenario; a different time or a different place. Back then he used to imagine what it would be like if he and Justin lived in Disneyland. He could shut his eyes and actually see the two of them wandering through the park like they owned the place, being greeted by Mickey and Pluto. Now obviously, his dreams were different. He forced his mind to think about the resort that he, Zac, Justin and Brian had gone to during the summer. They had found a place in Mexico that was beautiful and had stayed for a week of sun, fun, and relaxing.
Jason pictured himself there; floating in the pool, the sun shining down on him, not a care in the world. It was so peaceful and so calming. It really had been the best vacation he’d ever been on. At first it was working. He could feel the tension leaving his body and he continued to see himself floating on the clear water…until he showed up. Suddenly that bastard’s face was right there, startling Jason from his thoughts. He jumped up off the couch, crying out in pain as the movement caused his ribs to throb. He couldn’t breathe…he couldn’t get that face out of his mind. What was he going to do? How was he going to go on with his life after what had happened to him?
And suddenly Zander was there, standing right in front of him with a concerned look in his eyes and all Jason could do was throw himself in the older man’s arms and sob.
“Shhh, it’s okay. Let it out,” Zan said as he held the distraught boy in his arms. He had known that Jason was having trouble sleeping at night. Zan had always been a light sleeper and heard Jason getting restless late at night, but didn’t say anything to anyone. But now, after ignoring the problem for the first three nights, Zan couldn’t bring himself to let it go on any longer. He needed to step in and try to help. “It’s okay, you’re safe here.”
“It’s not okay,” Jason cried as he held on tight. “It’s never going to be okay again. I can’t do this, Zan. I can’t do this. I wish he had killed me. I wish he had just ended it all that night instead of leaving me here to try and go on.”
The pain and despair in Jason’s voice, in his words, shook Zander to his core. He’d had his suspicions for the last few days, but now he knew without a doubt that what happened on Friday night was more than just a random beating. The horrible grief that Jason was feeling was a sign of a much deeper violation. One that Zander didn’t even want to think about, but couldn’t turn his back on. In college, he had volunteered at a crisis hotline for a few years. He’d been trained to read through the lines to determine what the callers were trying to say without actually saying the words. That asshole hadn’t just beaten Jason. He had raped him.
“Come on, Jas, take a few deep breaths and try to calm down. I’m here for you and I’m going to do everything I can to help you,” Zander said softly and he rubbed soothing circles on Jason’s back. He was rewarded by the sounds of deep breathing. He could feel Jason settling down some. “I promise you that you’re gonna get through this.”
“You don’t understand,” Jason hiccupped.
“Yes, I do,” Zan assured him. He pulled back slightly and forced Jason to look him in the eyes. “He hurt you, didn’t he? He hurt you in a way that no one should ever be hurt.”
Jason looked stunned. “But how…did my parents…?”
“No, they never said a word,” Zan replied. “I worked at a crisis hotline back in college. I know the signs. Jas, I’m so sorry you had to go through something like that. I can’t even imagine how horrible it must have been. But you have to believe that it will get easier. I think maybe we should see about getting someone for you to talk to.”
“No!” Jason exclaimed with fear in his eyes. “I can’t talk to some stranger about…no…I can’t talk about it at all. And please don’t tell anyone. I don’t want anyone else to know.”
“So Zac doesn’t know?”
“Are you kidding me?” Jason laughed bitterly. “He’s the last person I’d tell. Only my parents and Justin know…and probably Brian because Justin tells him everything.”
“Jason, you know it’s nothing to be ashamed of, right? What happened to you wasn’t your fault. It was the fault of some sick bastard that should be shot and put six feet under.”
“That’s not true. I should’ve been more aware of my surroundings. I should’ve fought back harder. I let him do this. I let him…”
“Shhh, no you didn’t,” Zan insisted. “Listen to me, Jason; this was absolutely not your fault. You had every right to think that you were safe leaving class on the campus. You had every right to be an eighteen year old boy trying to live his own life.”
“I want it to stop, Zan. I want the nightmares to stop. I want to forget his face. I want to be able to put it all behind me and forget that it happened, but I can’t. Every time I close my eyes, he’s there. Every time I drift off to sleep, I relive what he did to me. I’m so tired. I’ve never been so tired.”
“Come here,” Zan said as he led Jason over to the couch. He sat down and patted the cushion beside him. “I’m going to sit right here. I want you to lie down and try to get some sleep. You’ll feel better once you’ve had some rest and I’ll be right here if you need me, okay?”
“No buts…you’re falling asleep on your feet. You have to get some rest before you crash. Come on, it’ll be okay.”
Jason looked closely at Zan and then at the couch. It looked so inviting and he really was exhausted. Maybe it would be okay if he just closed his eyes for a few minutes. Zander was right there. He would make sure nothing happened to him. “Alright, but only for a few minutes. I don’t want to sleep that long. I don’t want him to…”
“It’ll be alright. I promise.”
Jason curled up on the couch, resting his head in Zander’s lap and quickly felt sleep begin to overtake him. The last thing he remembered was Zander’s soothing hand on his head and his encouraging words.
Zander knew the minute Jason succumbed to sleep and sighed with relief. The poor kid couldn’t take much more. A quick glance at the clock told him it was barely 4:30. Jason could probably get a good three or more uninterrupted hours before Sophia woke up and made her presence known. Maybe more if someone could convince her to be quiet while getting ready for school. As Zan continued to sit there and rub Jason’s head, he thought back to the pain and fear in Jason’s face as he talked about not being able to go on and wasn’t surprised when he noticed his cheeks growing damp. It always broke his heart when he took rape calls at the hotline, but this was different. This was family and he didn’t know what to do next. He was so lost in thought he barely noticed he wasn’t alone any longer.
“Hey, what’s going on? I woke up and realized that you weren’t next to me,” Chris said softly. He looked down and saw Jason in his partner’s lap. “Is he alright?”
“No, he’s not,” Zan whispered as the tears started falling faster. “He’s not okay and I don’t know what to do for him.”
Chris was immediately worried. Zander wasn’t the type of person to overreact. If he was that upset, there was a reason. “Shit, what do you need?”
“Could you just grab a blanket and throw it over him for now? I’m hoping that he sleeps for awhile. I get the feeling he hasn’t been doing that much. The poor kid is exhausted.”
Chris went and got a throw blanket from the closet and placed it over Jason gently so as not to wake him. He then leaned over and gave Zan a soft kiss. “We’ll talk later and figure out a way to help him. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” Zan replied softly before shutting his eyes and blocking out the world.
“Dude! I don’t know what’s up with you lately, but I can’t sleep with all that tossing and turning you’re doing. Now go to sleep before I tie you to the bed so you can’t move!”
“Sorry,” Matt replied guiltily to his roommate.
He’d been having trouble sleeping ever since the night that…well, for awhile. It had gotten so bad that he’d contemplated going to see a doctor about sleeping pills, but he was trying hard not to go that route. Instead he’d been going to the gym and working out late into the evening to exhaust himself. That seemed to be helping a bit, until two days ago when he found the note under the door. It was sealed in an envelope with his name on it. Matt had known who it was from without even opening it and almost threw it away without reading it. In fact, he had tossed it in the trash can. Unfortunately his curiosity got the better of him and he was pulling it back out fifteen minutes later. He’d read the message over and over again in the last two days. It was simple and non-threatening, yet it caused so many mixed emotions in Matt that he’d been able to think about little else since reading. He even knew what it said word for word.
I know you’re probably going home for the holiday. Can we meet before you go? My last class on Wednesday is at noon. I’ll be home by three. Come by. Let me make you dinner. I promise I just want to talk to you. Please give me an hour of your time.
See you soon,
When Matt had first read it, he laughed it off, sure that he wouldn’t even consider going. But now, only an hour before the sun was due to rise on Wednesday, he was more confused than ever. He didn’t want to go. He knew that going would only lead David to believe that what he’d been saying was true. That Matt was drawn to him. And he didn’t want David to think that; even if, God help him, it was true. Unfortunately, as time moved on and it got closer and closer to three o’clock, he had to start admitting to himself that he was going. That regardless of how dangerous it was, he was going to be seeing David in twelve hours. He didn’t really have a choice.
It took another hour before Matt finally drifted off to sleep, but once he did, he slept rather peacefully…right through his alarm clock. When he finally opened his eyes and saw the time, he shot out of bed in a panic. He’d completely slept through his psych class and already missed more than half of English. He rushed to his dresser for his clothes when it hit him. There was no sense in rushing. He’d never make it to class before it ended. Not even if he ran the whole way there. He had to face the fact that he fucked up and it was all David’s fault.
Okay, so realistically he knew that it wasn’t David’s fault, and that blaming him was completely unfair. Then again, he didn’t think it was fair of David to keep pushing him into…whatever it was that he was pushing him into, so that made them even. Yeah, he tended to be childish when he was sleep deprived and in need of a swift kick in the ass. He pulled out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and got dressed quickly. Then he threw on a hat and headed out, deciding that a workout was definitely needed. He had a lot of frustration in him that needed to get out. Once he was finished pushing his body more than was necessary, he went back to the dorms and took a shower, refusing to think about anything David related. Instead he thought about his family and friends back home. He was excited to see everyone again. Especially poor Jason, who had been beaten up the week before on campus. He hadn’t known Jason as long as he’d known everyone else, but they had become pretty good friends in the last eighteen months; probably due to the close friendship they each had with Justin.
Justin: he was the friend that Matt wanted to see the most, yet he was also the friend that he wanted to see the least. If anyone would be able to pick up on the confusion and angst that Matt was dealing with, it would be Justin. He’d already been stupid enough to mention that something was bothering him a few weeks back, giving Justin even more reason to be watching him closely. But regardless of his fear of discovery, he couldn’t wait to see his friend again. He couldn’t wait to see any of his friends again. And he would see them…right after he had dinner with David. He didn’t know who he was kidding thinking that he wasn’t going to go. The pull was too strong. He didn’t have a choice. Besides, it would give him yet another opportunity to tell David that what happened at his party was a mistake and that nothing like that was ever going to happen again. Once he did that, he could wish David a happy holiday and start his trip home, putting everything else behind him.
Whispered voices were the first thing Jason heard as he started to wake up. Steve saying goodbye before heading to work. Zander promising to be there as soon as he could. Steve telling him not to worry about it. He said that Jason needed him more than the store did. Then the two of them went back and forth over the attack. Obviously Steve didn’t know…all the details, but it was obvious that he was concerned, especially after finding Jason on the couch with Zander. It felt odd to listen to them talking about him while he was right there, but he kept still, wanting to avoid having to see Steve before he left. Apparently he was still really tired though, because he quickly found himself falling back to sleep.
The next time he awoke, Jason sat up slowly, trying to get his bearings.
“Hey, you’re up,” Zan said, stating the obvious. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” Jason replied softly. “What time is it?”
“It’s after ten.”
“Wow, I can’t believe I slept so long,” Jason said before realizing the situation. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. You’re been sitting here for six hours. You must be so stiff. You should’ve woke me up.”
“Are you kidding? You were finally sleeping. I would’ve stayed here for twelve hours if I had to. Besides, I’m fine. I slept for a little while and then Chris brought me the first ten chapters of his new book so I was busy reading. I do have to use the bathroom, though. When I’m done, I’m going to make some breakfast. You must be hungry. You barely touched your dinner last night.”
“Not really…I haven’t had much of an appetite lately,” a quick glance told him that Zander didn’t like his answer. “But I’ll have a little something.”
Zan smiled. “That’s better. Maybe we can talk while we eat? Sophia’s at school, Chris is at the paper and Steve is at the store. It’s just the two of us.”
“I don’t really think…um…don’t you have to go to the store today?”
“No, Steve is handling things for me. He’s turning out to be a really good assistant. I’m gonna hate it when he figures things out and moves on,” Zan chuckled. “Anyway, that gives me plenty of free time to talk…and before you say no, I think you need it. Obviously the whole thing has you so upset that you can’t eat or sleep. Ignoring the problem isn’t working. Maybe talking about it will.”
Jason sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about what had happened to him. Then again, Zan was right. Ignoring it wasn’t helping him either. He just wanted it all to go away. Could talking about it, sharing the horrible memories with someone really help him put it in the past? “Alright fine, we’ll talk. But I’m not promising how much I’ll be able to talk about. It’s still kind of hard to think about.”
“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. But I’ve been told that I’m a really good listener and I want to help you. If you don’t want to go to a therapist and talk to a stranger, then I’m the next best thing.”
“I know, and I appreciate it. I know I’ve said it before, but thanks again for letting me come here to recover. The last thing I wanted to do was go back to Pittsburgh, but the thought of staying on campus…well, that’s just not an option right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do next week when classes start again. I know my professors said that they would work with me, but the bottom line is that I either have to go back eventually or drop out.”
“Hey…no talk about the ‘D’ word right now, okay? It’s only been five days. Give yourself time to deal with what happened. It really is going to get easier for you. I promise,” Zander assured him once again. “Now let me get to the bathroom before I explode. I’ll be right out.”
Jason chuckled as he watched Zan jog to the bathroom. It was the first time he came close to laughing since Friday and just what he needed. Maybe Zan was right. Maybe he did need to talk to someone. And if he had to talk to someone, Zander Morgan would definitely be top of his list. Ever since he’d met both him and Chris, he was in awe of them. Two successful gay men who loved each other and their makeshift family with everything they had. They took in Brian and then Justin, no questions asked. And of course, they recently added Sophia to the mix. Not to mention opening their home to him and Steve both when they needed it. They may not have all the answers, but they offered their support to those they cared about without giving it a second thought. Jason felt like his life was made better just by knowing them. He shook off his thoughts as Zander reappeared, giving him a gentle shove towards the kitchen.
“Come on, let’s get you fed,” Zan laughed. “What are you in the mood for? Eggs? Pancakes? I think I can whip up some strawberry crepes.”
“Zan, you don’t have to go to any trouble. I’d be happy with cereal.”
“Cereal? Are you out of your mind? If you remember correctly, I turned thirty not that long ago. I can’t eat that crap anymore or I’m going to end up overweight and out of shape and Chris will leave me for some young, hot copy writer with a 30 inch waist and six pack abs,” Zan teased.
“Yeah right, like Chris would ever even consider leaving you,” Jason replied honestly. “Seriously though, you don’t have to wait on me.”
“Okay, how about if I just scramble some eggs. Quick and easy.”
“Fine, but if you’re cooking, I’ll do the dishes.”
Once they were sitting down to eat, Jason began, “You know, I didn’t even hear him coming. I had just walked down the steps by the library and he came out of nowhere and grabbed me. His arm was around my neck and I couldn’t breathe. I was never so scared in my life. It gets a little sketchy for a bit. I think I might have passed out. The next thing I remember is him hitting and kicking me. I was on my back lying on the ground. There was something over my mouth but I screamed anyway, hoping someone would hear me. Then he finally stopped hitting me and I remember thinking…oh thank God. I thought it was finally over, but then…then he was on top of me. He had a knife and he put it to my throat and told me that if I didn’t shut up and cooperate, he’d slit my throat. I was so scared. His eyes were so cold and…I don’t know…unfocused? I tried to calm down at first, trying not to piss him off, I guess. The next thing I know, he’s opening my…my…pants…”
Zan watched Jason lose his composure and was instantly at his side. He squatted down and took the crying boy in his arms. “Shhh, you don’t have to say anymore. It’s okay.”
Jason pulled back and wiped his eyes, forcing back his tears. “No…you’re right. I have to…I have to talk about this…I need someone else to know…please…”
“Alright, why don’t you have some of your juice and take a few deeps breaths. I have all day. Take whatever time you need.”
Jason did just that. He sipped his juice and took a few deep breaths before continuing. “As soon as I realized what he was doing…what he…wanted…I panicked. I started thrashing around, trying to throw him off me…but he was so strong. He quickly regained his position and then put the knife to my throat again. I could feel the point digging into my skin…I could feel a trickle of blood running down my neck. I thought he was going to kill me, and I didn’t want to die. I thought of my parents, and how they would feel when they got the news. Or how Justin would feel…he’s still mourning the loss of his parents. So many thoughts were going through my mind. When he asked me if I was going to cooperate, I just nodded my head. I didn’t know what else to do…I swear to God, Zan, if I had any other choice…I swear I didn’t want…I couldn’t…”
“I know, Kiddo. I promise you, it wasn’t your fault.” Zan was still squatting alongside Jason, rubbing his back reassuringly. His stomach was churning as he listened to the poor kid sharing his story. “If you continued to fight him, he would’ve killed you. That’s not a choice.”
“He finished…opening my pants and pulled them off. Then he flipped me over and…it hurt so bad. It was horrible…I started trying to fight him off again, but I couldn’t. He was just too strong. I might have had a shot while I was still on my back but by then it was too late. God Zan, it just hurt so bad…I’ve never had…I mean…Zac and I haven’t…and now, what if I can’t…I mean, just the thought of Zac…or anyone touching me. My bruises and broken bones and sprain will heal eventually, but my mind…every time I close my eyes for more than a minute, he’s right there. And then I feel like maybe I’m overreacting or something. I mean, it’s been almost a week. Shouldn’t I be putting it all behind me or something? But I can’t. I'm just so scared all the time.”
“Jas, what you went through was a horrible, traumatic experience. No one expects you to just put it all behind you. It’s going to take time. But you will put it behind you one day. You’ll never forget what happened, but you will be able to put it out of your mind for the most part and feel like yourself again. I promise you that.”
Before Zan could say anything else, his cell phone rang. A quick glimpse at the screen to him it was Chris. Jason saw it to, and nodded towards the phone. “Go ahead and answer it. I’m okay.”
“Are you sure? I can call him back.”
“No, it’s okay.”
Zan offered a small smile and then answered the phone. “Hey Babe, what’s up?”
“Hey, first of all, how is Jason? Did he get much sleep?”
“He’s doing okay. He slept until after ten and now we’re having something to eat. How are things at the paper?”
“Um…okay. Listen, you said that Jason wasn’t alright…has he talked to you about what happened? Has he told you any details?” Chris asked carefully.
“Well, Ed knows a lot of people and he got information on a story about an attack on the Arizona State campus. Ed came to me because he knows Brian and Justin go there. He got some details about what happened…and he said…well…they’re saying that…”
Zan knew exactly what Chris was trying to say and sighed. “I know what they’re saying.”
“Oh Babe, what are we going to do? The poor kid has to be…I don’t even know.”
“We’re just going to be here for him if he needs us.” Zan looked over at Jason and saw the kid watching him closely. “Were the details…did they…”
“No, the story that ran didn’t have those specific details. Someone just got a tip today. I’m going to go talk to Ed and see if I can keep the rest of the story from going to print.”
“Thanks. We’d both appreciate that. Um…listen, let me go. I think I need to talk to Jason. When will you be home? I’ve got to write a shopping list of things I need. It’s hard to believe tomorrow is Thanksgiving already.”
“I know. I’ll probably be out of here in an hour or so. Since Sophia only has a half day today, how about if I just shoot over to the school and pick her up? Then we’ll swing by to grab your list and go get the things you need for tomorrow. How does that sound?”
“That sounds like a great idea. I only need a few things. You’re awesome, Babe.”
“I know. I’ll see you in a little bit. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” Zan replied before disconnecting the call.
“What was all that about?” Jason asked hesitantly.
Zan explained about what Chris told him, hating the look of fear on the kid’s face. “Relax; Chris is going to do whatever he can to keep the details out of the news. As of right now, the only story that has been run is about the beating. Chris’s boss Ed is a powerful man in the newspaper industry. He’s got a lot of pull. If anyone can get a story buried, he can. Alright?”
“Yeah, alright. So I guess Chris knows now, too.”
“It’s okay…I mean, he’s family too, right? I just…want as few people to know as possible…and that includes Zac, too.”
“You really don’t think Zac should know? I mean, he’s not going to understand when he tries getting close to you and you start pulling away, which I imagine you’ll do for awhile. You’re not going to get past this overnight. You said yourself that the thought of anyone touching you…”
“I can’t explain it, Zan. I just really don’t want him knowing, alright?”
“Alright, I won’t push. Just think about it some more, okay? I think he really needs to know.”
“I promise I’ll think about it,” Jason replied. “Now let’s eat so I can get started on those dishes. I need to get in the shower before everyone starts showing up. We have a big night ahead of us, not to mention a big day tomorrow.”
“A big night?”
“Yeah, going through the decorations, watching Christmas shows. Last year you said it was going to be a new tradition. I would imagine that you’d be excited to share it with Sophia this year.”
“Oh that,” Zan said. “Chris and I were talking about it earlier and thought that maybe it would be best if we didn’t do it this year. I mean, we can wait another week or two before decorating.”
“Because of me?” Jason asked, although he already knew the answer. “No way, Zan. I appreciate the fact that you guys want to put my feelings ahead of everything else right now, and I love you for that. But there is no way I’m going to allow you guys to break your new tradition for me. Besides, I had an awesome holiday here with you guys last year and I’m look forward to doing it again this year. Talking to you helped some…and if I need to…maybe I can talk to you some more later?”
“You can talk to me whenever you need to. Not only now, be once you’re back at school, too. I’ll never be more than a phone call away.”
Jason got up and pulled Zan into his arms, hugging him tight. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome,” Zan replied.
“Okay then, let’s get the day started. I’m going do my best to forget all about what happened last week and have a fun day with my family and friends.”
“Sounds good to me,” Zan agreed. He just hoped that Jason would be able to do exactly that. The kid deserved a few days of fun after what that bastard did to him.
Matt pulled his truck into David’s driveway at five minutes to three. His heart was beating faster than normal and his palms were sweating, although he wasn’t sure why. He was only there to tell David once again that nothing was ever going to happen between them. He’d be on the road back home in under an hour. He slowly got out of his truck and walked to the door, taking a deep breath before ringing the doorbell. A moment later David appeared with a smile on his face.
“I didn’t think you were actually going to come by. Come on in.”
Matt walked in and took a look around, his mind going back to the first time he’d been there. It had been almost two months earlier, yet seemed like it was yesterday. He glanced over to the corner where a recliner sat, somewhat separated from the rest of the room. That was where he’d first met David. He’d only gone to the party because some girl from his poli-sci class insisted it was going to be the party of the year. Being a freshman, Jason didn’t know many people at the party so he grabbed himself a beer and sat down on the recliner, ready to spend the next hour people watching. David appeared at his side moments later and the two of them started talking. It was weird how quickly Matt felt comfortable in a stranger’s presence. He’d never been exactly shy, but it usually took a little while for him to warm up to people. Apparently that wasn’t the case with David.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
Matt forced his mind back to the present. “Huh? Oh um…yeah, I guess.”
David chuckled. “You seem a little tense. How about a class of wine?”
“I probably shouldn’t. I have to drive back to Arizona after I leave here,” Matt admitted.
“I don’t think one glass will hurt any, and I’m hoping it will release some of the tension you’re feeling. You look like you’re ready to run.”
“David…look, I’m not exactly sure why you invited me here. I told you before, I’m not gay. I don’t understand why you keep trying to contact me,” Matt sighed.
“Humor me, okay? We’ll have a glass of wine, talk a little bit. Dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes. Then I will gladly show you to the door,” David promised.
Matt eyed him suspiciously. “Okay, one glass of wine. Thanks.”
David went into the kitchen, leaving Matt to look around more closely. There were a lot more personal belongings throughout the room this time, probably because there wasn’t a college party happening around them. He noticed some picture frames spread around on the entertainment center as well as hanging on the wall. It was obvious that some of the photos were of David with his family. Others were group shots of what he could only conclude to be friends. There were also several of David and a very good looking guy. They were both obviously younger. If he had to guess, Matt would say that they were still in high school. Maybe seventeen or eighteen. From what Matt had learned the night of the party, David was a senior, which put him somewhere around twenty-two. It was obvious by looking that the two of them were close, probably closer than most high school friends. One picture in particular caught Matt’s attention and for some reason he couldn’t look away.
“That’s Ricky. We were…seventeen there I think. He was my best friend from the time we started kindergarten up until he passed away about six months after that picture was taken.”
Matt jumped at David’s return. “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s horrible. He was so young. Was he sick?” Matt asked and then thought better of it. “Never mind, forget I asked that.”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind talking about Ricky…well, not now at least. Back during that time in my life, I was mad as hell and wouldn’t talk to anyone…about anything. Have a seat.”
Matt took a glass of wine and sat down on the couch. He tried not to stiffen when David sat down next to him. They weren’t exactly touching, but there were plenty of other places David could have chosen to sit. Ones that wouldn’t be considered Matt’s personal space. Yet he kept his mouth shut and waited.
“Like I said, Ricky and I were best friends. We lived a block away from each other and were always together. Our parents got along too, so it made it a lot easier to always be together. It was like we were brothers with two sets of parents. That’s why, when I was twelve and realized I was gay, Ricky was the first person I told.” David stopped for a moment and thought back to the day he shared his secret with his friend. To this day, he wished he hadn’t.
“Was he okay with it?” Matt asked, suddenly intrigued.
“Yeah, he was. He assured me that he wasn’t gay, but that it was okay with him if I was. I was worried at first. I wasn’t sure if he was going to start feeling uncomfortable during sleepovers or when we were changing. You know, some people are okay with gay people as long as they don’t get too close, you know? I wondered if he was gonna be one of those people. I mean, we were only twelve…sexuality of any kid is confusing when you’re twelve. But he was cool and nothing changed between us. In fact, we were as close as two friends could be right up until we turned sixteen.”
“What happened when you turned sixteen? He didn’t…turn on you or anything, did he? I mean, you said you were seventeen in the picture,”
“No, he didn’t turn on me,” David laughed. “When we turned sixteen…well, that was when Ricky admitted to me that he thought he might be gay.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of how I reacted, too. He told me that he was so confused because as much as he loved girls, he couldn’t stop thinking about me. He said that he kept catching himself watching me while I was changing or when I was sleeping. He was so embarrassed telling me, but he said he couldn’t keep it to himself anymore.”
“I did what any normal gay boy would do when the object of his teenage fascination admitted something like that. I kissed him. I remember my heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest from the mixture of excitement and terror that was rushing through me. I was so afraid that he was going to push me away in disgust…say he was only kidding…I don’t know. I’d fantasized so many times about him telling me he was gay and us living happily ever after that I couldn’t wrap my mind around the reality of it.”
“And I’m guessing that he didn’t push you away?”
“Not at all. From that moment on we were even more inseparable than before, if that was even possible. He didn’t want to come out of the closet, but I was okay with that at first. I was a little less okay when he kept dating girls to keep up appearances, but I dealt with it. I was just so happy to be with him, you know?”
“And then…was it an accident?”
“I wish it was. I would’ve been able to deal with it better if it was. Ricky kept telling me that there was no way he could come out to his family. He said his father would kill him if he knew that his youngest son was attracted to guys. I didn’t believe that and I kept trying to get him to consider talking to his father, but he refused. That was also around the time I wanted to come out to my parents. I wasn’t sure how they would take the news, but I never doubted that they’d continue to love me. Ricky was terrified that if I came out, his father would figure him out, too. He begged and pleaded with me to keep it a secret. I finally agreed to keep my secret a little while longer, but I told him if he didn’t find a way to admit who he was soon, then he was going to be on his own. I never should’ve told him that.”
“Why, what happened?”
“A few weeks later, Ricky killed himself. His parents found him hanging in the garage.”
“Oh my God…David…I’m so sorry,” Matt said, horrified by the story.
“He left a note for me…he apologized for not being stronger. He said that he couldn’t live without me but he couldn’t tell his parents who he really was. He was too afraid to have them turn their backs on him. He said as much as he loved me, he just couldn’t be gay. I was devastated. I couldn’t wrap my mind around having to live without him. Of course, I ended up coming out through all of this. His parents read the letter before giving it to me. They were looking for answers, I guess. Of course they told my parents and suddenly it was all out in the open. Just as I thought, my parents were really cool about it; although that might have had something to do with their fear that I was going to try and join Ricky. The sad thing is that Ricky’s parents were devastated. I don’t think they would ever have been PFLAG parents, but just as I always suspected, they would’ve accepted him for who he was. His death was all for nothing. It took me a long time to get over the loss and find a way to move on. Not only did I lose my best friend and the love of my life, but I lost him because he let his own fears and insecurities keep him from reaching out to his family when he needed them most.”
Matt sat there for a moment, letting what David was saying sink in. “That’s why you think I should…I mean…why you keep telling me to be honest with myself”
“Don’t you see, Matt? No one can keep their feelings to themselves forever. Eventually the truth comes out, one way or another. If Ricky had just been honest with his parents, he would’ve realized that their love for him was stronger than he’d thought. He’d still be here with me right now. I don’t want to see what happened to Ricky happen to you.”
“But I’m not Ricky. I would never take my own life. Not for anything. And it doesn’t matter because I already told you, I’m not ga…”
Before Matt could finish his sentence, David’s mouth was on his in a heated kiss. He tried pushing David away, but then suddenly found himself pulling him closer. All rational thought left him as he opened his mouth and let David inside. It was good…as good as he remembered it being at the party. Good enough to cause his pants to start tightening around his groin. He needed to stop. He needed to get as far away from David as he could before the guy ruined everything for him. All he had to do was stop kissing him first. And he tried, but the pull was too strong.
Eventually David did what Matt wasn’t strong enough to do himself and ended the kiss. They were both panting and out of breath, but where David was staring at Matt, Matt himself was looking down at the rug.
“I’m sorry. I realize that I probably shouldn’t have done that. I just couldn’t sit here and listen to you deny what we both know is true. Not after just sharing my story about Ricky with you,” David said carefully.
“What, Matt? What are you going to say? That I shouldn’t have kissed you? Because you’re right, I shouldn’t have. I don’t usually make it a habit of kissing guys that don’t want to be kissed. Are you going to say that you didn’t enjoy that? Because that would be a lie. I can tell by looking at your lap that you enjoyed that just as much as I did. What exactly is it that you want to say?”
“Um…I should go,” Matt said softly.
“Damn it, Matt! No, you shouldn’t go. You should stay here so we can talk about this. You need to talk about this.”
“I can’t…I just…look, I really have to go. I just can’t be here right now. I’ll...um…I’ll call you later tonight.”
David was skeptical. “Really?”
“Yeah…I’ll…uh…I’ll call,” Matt promised.
“Are you okay to drive?”
“Yeah, I only had a sip of wine”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh…um…yeah, I’ll be fine. The five hour drive will probably be good for me,” Matt chuckled humorously.
“Are you sure? I promise not to kiss you again if you want to hang out a bit longer until you clear your head,” David offered.
“Somehow I don’t think my head will clear as long as I’m here,” Matt mumbled. “But really, I’m fine. I’ve got people waiting for me back home. I want to get to them.”
“Alright, just text me when you get there so I know you made it safely, okay? And then you can call me whenever you have time. I don’t care if it’s two in the morning. I’ll be here.”
“Okay, yeah…I will.”
Matt practically sprinted to the door, anxious to get as far away from David as possible. When he reached for the knob though, he felt David’s hand on his arm, stopping him. He turned around and looked him directly in the eyes.
“I just want you to know that even though I’ve made it very clear that I want you, I’m willing to put aside those feelings and just be a friend if that’s what you need. This isn’t an all or nothing situation. I really like you and my first priority is your mental health and well being,” David said as he gently stroked Matt’s cheek.
“Thank you,” Matt replied hoarsely.
“I will,” Matt told him. And then he did something completely out of character that he’d probably regret later. He leaned in and kissed David quickly on the lips before yanking open the door and making his way to his truck. He refused to look up as he started the engine and pulled out of the driveway. He didn’t want to see the smile that he knew would be plastered on David’s face.
Brian and Justin managed to make it home by mid-afternoon, ready to try to enjoy the holiday with their family and friends. They figured that Jason’s situation would be a constant cloud over the long weekend, but decided to do whatever they could to keep their friend’s spirits up. Justin had already accepted that they wouldn’t be doing the whole preparation for Christmas bonanza like they did last year, and he was okay with that. He needed it more last year anyway. This year his focus needed to be on Jason, and his parents would completely approve of that.
And having those thoughts in his head was the reason he stopped dead in his tracks when he walked into the house and found Jason, Zan, Chris and Sophia going through boxes of Christmas stuff, laughing at whatever nonsense Chris was spewing.
“Um…hey…what’s going on?” Justin asked as he dropped his bag and stared at them all like they’d lost their minds. Now of course, he was happy to see that his friend wasn’t sitting around the house dwelling on what had happened to him. It was just weird because when he talked to Jason the night before, his friend had suggested getting a hotel room for a few days so he didn’t ruin the holiday for anyone else.
“Hey guys,” Zan said as he got up to hug his two favorite teens. “We didn’t hear you come in. How was your trip? Was the traffic heavy? I didn’t know if you’d hit much being a holiday weekend.”
“No, traffic was fine,” Brian said as he hugged Zan back. Then he walked over to where his brother was and patted his head before opening his arms. “And where is my hug, little missy.”
“My name’s not Missy,” Sophia giggled as she got up and threw herself at Brian. It was a game they played regularly. “I missed you, Brian! It took forever for you and Jus to get here.”
“Sorry sweetie, but those mean professors at my school made me go to classes today.”
“Brian, don’t tell her that,” Zander chastised. “I’ve already started talking to her about colleges. I don’t want you to scare her away.”
“Zan, she’s nine,” Justin laughed before turning his attention on Jason. “Hey, how’re you feeling?”
“Better. Still a little sore, but I’m getting there,” Jason replied.
“Good. Can I talk to you for a minute? In the other room?” Justin asked.
“Um…yeah, I guess.”
All the adults looked at each other as Jason got up and followed Justin down the hall to the office. Once the door was closed, Zander turned to Brian. “What’s that all about?”
“I have no idea,” Brian admitted as he continued to stare at the hall his boyfriend just walked down. Then he shrugged it off and dropped down on the floor alongside Sophia. Whatever Justin wanted obviously didn’t concern him. He just wanted to kick back and enjoy his family.
As soon as Justin closed the door behind them, he turned to Jason. “What’s going on? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that you seem to be having fun. It’s just that last night you were talking about leaving for a few days so you didn’t ruin the holiday for everybody and now you’re suddenly having a good time? I’m worried about you. You haven’t snapped or anything, have you? Are you having some kind of mental episode?”
Jason looked at his friend for a moment and then burst out laughing. It was exactly what he needed. “Oh my God, you are so funny.”
“Okay, so that’s a yes on the episode?”
“No, dumb ass,” Jason said. “Look, I know you’re worried about me and I really appreciate it. And I can’t promise that my good mood is going to continue, but thanks to your cousin, who is even more awesome than I ever realized, I’m doing okay.”
“Come over here and sit down,” Jason said as he took a seat on the bed. He spent the next few minutes telling Justin all that Zan had done for him, from helping him sleep to listening to all his gory details. He even told him about the news threat and how Chris thought he managed to get the story tossed. “So, no…I’m not suddenly cool. I still have a lot that I have to deal with. But I’m also not having a mental episode. I’m just not going to let that scumbag ruin the holiday for me or my family.”
“Wow, I’m really glad that you were able to talk to Zan about everything. I guess he’s easier to talk to…him being older and all.”
“What? What does his age have to with…oh…come on, Jus. You know better than that. I didn’t talk to Zander because I thought he’d be easier to talk to. I talked to him because he was here at four in the morning and you weren’t. Who the hell was the first person I told to begin with? You are and always will be my best friend. I’ll always choose you over everyone else. Okay?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m an ass. The most important thing is that you’re feeling better, not who helped you to feel better. And I’m really glad you were able to talk about what happened. I did some research on line about…you know…assaults and what happens after. Like how to move on and stuff. All the sites say the same thing. That talking about it will help you put it behind you. They also say that it’s important to share what happened with your significant other. You are planning on tell Zac, right?”
“No, I’m not,” Jason sighed. “Look, Jus, I know you don’t understand it, but I really don’t want him to know. It’s the only way I can deal with this right now. The fewer people who know, the better. Now not only do my parents know, but so does your whole family…since I know you talked to Brian. And before you try to defend yourself, I expected you talk to him about it. I would never expect you to take in that kind of information and not have someone to talk to about it. I know I can trust him, too. But that’s enough right now. Zac’s already been acting weird with me over the phone. I just want to leave things as they are right now, alright?”
“Whatever you want,” Justin replied. “I’m just glad you’re starting to feel better. Now, what do you say we get back the rest of the family? We’ve got a very busy couple of days ahead of us.”
“Sounds good to me.”
End of part 5
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