Authors: J. Roman
I didn’t expect to hear defeat in Jason’s voice. “I’m done,” he whispered softly. “I’m tired, Tommy. I’m really tired. I
fight anymore. Just let me go. Please.” Tears glittered in his eyes. “I can’t be real. It hurts too much.”
What did that mean? What did those impossible sentences mean?
I can’t be real. It hurts too much
. I kissed him then because I couldn’t do anything else. There on the cold deck I ravaged his mouth, demanding that he respond to me, to be “real” with me in this last moment. He broke the kiss first, and we just stared at one another, wanting to go farther because we didn’t know if we would ever get to do it again.
He swallowed and pushed on my shoulders, and I obliged him by moving. The space between us cooled the lust somewhat, but it was far from quenched. “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah. I think so. We knew this was a long shot.” He didn’t look me in the eyes when he said it. “I’d understand, you know, if you want to break up.”
“No,” I whispered. I couldn’t lose him like I lost Mom. I loved him too much. “I’m in this forever.”
“Me too.” Relief laced the words. “I’ll see you at school. Mind if I come get my stuff tomorrow?”
“It’s fine. You sure I can’t convince you to stay with me?”
He shrugged. “With you? Always. Here? In this house? Nah. Can’t.”
I pushed myself to my feet and offered him a hand up, which he took. “Call me when you get where you’re going. I’d give you a ride but….” The fact that I didn’t have my car anymore, thanks in part to him, hung between us.
“It’s okay. I’ll text you.” He walked down the steps and around the corner of the house.
Something crumpled inside me as he disappeared from sight. Walking back inside seemed like an impossible task, but somehow I managed. Uncle Charlie and Uncle Mark were just where I left them, sitting at the kitchen table with a coffee cup between them, talking softly in worried voices.
“How could you do that?” I asked. Shock was giving way to rage. “You did that deliberately! You made him leave!”
“Tommy, we didn’t make him leave,” Uncle Mark said, his voice soft. “He’s self-destructing right now. We can’t sit back and watch him implode and take the rest of you out with him. He needs help, but he has to want it.”
“I could’ve handled him! I could’ve made him better! I could’ve kept him under control! He’s my responsibility!” I grabbed the sugar jar off the counter and threw it as hard as I could against the floor. It shattered, and its destruction pleased me. My uncles just watched on dispassionately.
Uncle Charlie took a sip from his coffee cup. “You’re seventeen, Tommy. You’re not an adult yet, and you are not responsible for Jason’s behavior or happiness. What is your plan to keep him from wrecking his life? So far, you’ve joined him in his misery. What good did that do? Dean got arrested, and you got wasted. What did you accomplish?”
I had no answer for that.
“Will you let us know when he gets somewhere safe?” Uncle Mark asked.
I shrugged and headed back into my bedroom before I slammed the door shut behind me. I hated them. I hated Jason. I hated myself.
I lay down without bothering to take my clothes off and stared at the ceiling, so tired, I should’ve passed out immediately. But my brain was so wired it was like I’d taken Dean’s ADHD meds or something. How had everything gone so terribly wrong in such a short amount of time? I didn’t know, and I couldn’t fix it. I was a failure, and everything that had given me comfort had fallen apart. I don’t know when it happened, but one minute I was awake and the next I descended into inky blackness and was relieved that I didn’t dream.
didn’t text or call me all weekend. I went through the motions at the community service, doing what I was told and nothing else. I barely spoke to anyone as our one-month anniversary came and went. I had no appetite and no interest in anything other than sitting in front of the TV and watching endless episodes of
on Netflix. Uncle Mark offered to go out and get us pizza, tempting me with the offer of picking out the toppings of one for myself, but I passed. I didn’t care anymore. What was there to care about?
I should’ve had sex with Jason when he’d wanted to behind the bowling alley. At least then I would’ve felt like I got something from what we’d been. Now I was wondering about it constantly. If I would’ve, would he still be with me? Would he have been in a better place and taken Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie up on the counseling? Would he have trusted me to carry him through his problems? I didn’t know. But wondering about it was a bitch.
“Hey,” Dean greeted me, plopping beside me on the couch and offering a bowl of popcorn. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Think so.” I grabbed a handful and munched, eyes riveted on the screen. It was mindless, and I enjoyed it. Jason always called me an idiot for getting into shows like
but whatever. He was the one who watched crap like
. How gay could he get?
“Jason’s gone, huh?”
I sighed, annoyed at the interruption. “Yeah. Can you drop it?”
“Sorry, man.” His silence lasted through his next mouthful of popcorn. “Charlie and Mark are worried about you.”
I didn’t want that. “I’m okay.” I paused and chose to clarify. “I’ll be okay.”
“You say that, but I’m not sure you mean it. You said that at your mom’s funeral, man. If I had a mom worth yours, I would’ve been ripped up.”
Then he decided to be quiet, so I was turning over his words in my head. I felt like my insides had been put through a meat grinder and had felt that way in greater and lesser degrees since my mom died. Jason was the icing on the proverbial cake. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems, didn’t want to appear weak when I was drowning. Startled, it finally clicked. Jason and I had similar problems. We just chose different ways to express them. Whereas he lashed out, I became the easy kid. I shrugged it off and got good grades and made myself helpful when all I wanted to do was bury myself under my bed and not come out for a month. I wanted to cry and wouldn’t let myself because I knew my tears would make everyone else feel bad.
I got up off the couch and went into the kitchen. I had lectured Jason, told him it was okay, that he could confide in me, that he could trust Uncle Charlie and Uncle Mark, but I hadn’t set a very good example for him, had I? I remembered the words he’d tossed in my face.
“I run away when stuff gets tough? Well, hello, Pot, I’m Kettle. We’re both fucking black. You won’t even
at your mom’s stuff. Your room is stacked full of shit from your old life, and you won’t talk about your mommy or anything else that existed before you joined the gay version of
The Brady Bunch
. At least I acknowledge the fact that I am fucked up beyond fixing.”
I’d told him everyone was savable and that he’d have to try.
hadn’t tried. I went into my bedroom, closed the door quietly behind me, and looked at the dreaded boxes stacked against a wall. I swallowed and reached for the first one.
You okay?” Uncle Charlie asked a few hours later. It was eleven thirty, and I was surprised he was still awake. I sat in the middle of my room, surrounded by boxes, some empty, some half full.
I’d cried a few times as I’d taken out her family albums and saw the pictures we’d taken at Myrtle Beach last year, but I’d held it together pretty well otherwise. For the most part, the things in the boxes were happy memories, leftovers from my old room. Mom’s things had been put in storage to wait for the day I was ready for them. I didn’t know if I ever would be, but it seemed to be okay. The family albums had been the only thing I’d grabbed outside of the stuff from my room. They had been stacked on the dining room table where she’d been working on them, and on impulse I’d stuck them in two boxes the day Uncle Mark had come to help me pack up my things and move them into the new house. I hadn’t remembered I’d done that until I’d opened them.
I looked up. “I’m fine. Just unpacking some boxes.” A strange look came over his face, something between hope, relief, and sadness.
“Yeah. It was time.” I didn’t think I needed to share my epiphany.
He hesitated like he didn’t know quite what to say. “You need some help?”
“I think I’ve got it. Maybe after I finish we can load the empty ones in the car?”
He nodded. “Sure thing. You need to eat something besides popcorn, though. There’s leftover pizza in the fridge.”
“I’ll eat in a minute. You’ll pick me up from practice tomorrow, right?” I hadn’t thought about it all day. It was the last practice before we had a meet on Tuesday, so it was important I was at my best.
“Sure will. Have you heard from Jason?”
I shook my head, my chest tightening slightly.
“Ah, well, that’s okay. I’m sure you can talk to him about it Monday at school.” Uncle Charlie always seemed so gentle to me. He wasn’t usually the disciplinarian, and I knew that assuming the hard-line he had with us the past week had taken its toll on him. He was a good guy, just like Uncle Mark. They didn’t deserve what we had been giving them lately. Guilt gnawed at my backbone.
“Yeah. I will. Uncle Charlie?”
“What is it, son?”
“I love you guys.”
A soft smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “We love you too, goofball. Finish up and get some supper. I’m going to bed.”
“Night.” He shut the door as he left.
I ate some pizza and guzzled a glass of juice before I climbed into bed an hour later. I still had a couple of boxes left and a crap-ton more that needed to be taken to the trash, but I was satisfied with the progress I’d made. I checked my phone for the millionth time since Jason had left and wasn’t surprised to find it without messages.
Jason?” Kevin, Jason’s best friend and resident football god, asked as I came into the cafeteria. He pushed off the wall as I came through the double doors and fell into stride beside me. He obviously hadn’t eaten lunch yet. The tall, broad-shouldered, blond-haired giant was Jason’s would-be bodyguard, the guy closest to Jason other than me. I’d wondered the same thing myself when I’d come onto campus this morning. He hadn’t been at the long brick wall where he usually met up with his friends in the mornings, nor had he been in his first class. I would know; I had waited in the hallway for him afterward, and he hadn’t come out.
I shrugged, hoisting my backpack higher up on my shoulder as I did so. “I don’t know. He was supposed to text me this weekend, and he never did. I assumed he was at your place.” I had even tried to text him first. He hadn’t replied. I’d just assumed he had wanted me to leave him alone.
Kevin frowned. “You mean he left your place?”
“Yeah. His stepdad made him quit his job at work, and he got drunk. My uncles told him he had to go to counseling, but Jason left instead. You know he won’t tell anybody about it.” I could tell Kevin about Jason. He was the only person I
talk to about Jason.
Kevin sighed, his shoulders tensing. “I’ll leave after lunch and see if I can go find him. Aaron didn’t come to school either. Maybe they’re together.” He swallowed as Angelina waved to him from the table we usually sat at. “I just hope he didn’t go back to that stupid bastard’s house.”
A knot formed in my gut. “He wouldn’t.”
“If he thought it would make it easier, he would.” Kevin huffed, sadness settling in his expression. “He can handle suffering so long as no one else is. For someone so self-centered, he hates to see other people hurting because of him.” His blue eyes met mine. “If you hear from him, let me know.”
He broke off to meet his girlfriend, leaving me to contemplate what he’d just said.
Great, now I’m going to worry all day
. Lunch was going to taste like ashes, I just knew it.
I tried to engage everyone in lunch conversation, but I just didn’t have much energy. My chicken sandwich was undercooked, my mashed potatoes definitely came out of a bag, and my milk was lukewarm. I managed to bitch about how bad today’s lunch was and even talked a little shop with Davie, another wrestler, while we waited for sixth period to start. But my mind was on Jason, where it always seemed to be lately.
buzzed in my pocket as I dumped my tray in the can. I looked around to make sure there were no teachers around before I fished it out. We weren’t supposed to have them during the day, and it would be a bitch if they took mine away. The New Message indicator flashed. It was Jason’s cell.
Hey Tommy-Boy, I’ll meet you at your house after school.
I typed out my reply quickly.
Can’t. I’ve got w. practice. Where have you been?
Less than a second later, the phone buzzed again.
Around. Plz, skip? I need you
I had a meet tomorrow. The team was counting on me. But maybe I could tell Coach that I wasn’t feeling well. It might cost me my starter position, but that was all right. If Jason needed me, it would be worth it.
Fine. Meet you there
. I hesitated before I messaged the next bit. I didn’t want to appear too clingy. I decided to say it anyway.
You all right
Will be when I see you.
In my experience, the more emoticons someone used, the more they didn’t want you to know what they were really saying. That was okay. A few more hours and I would be with my boyfriend, and I would make whatever was wrong with him better. Maybe I could even convince him to stay home or go to Kevin’s or something. Too late I remembered the fact that I didn’t have my car.