Here For You Nowbyanon_temptations©
I knew that you would not understand my decision so I never confided in you. You would have tried to stop this and you'd probably have succeeded, but it would only be preventing the inevitable and this is just something that I have to do. Sometimes it feels as if even breathing is a chore to me and now that I have made my decision, I can only feel a sense of relief that I have finally found a path towards peace.
I know you thought that I was stronger than this and for that I am truly sorry. You did your best to help me -- please don't ever doubt that. I don't think I ever told you how important you were to me but I hope you knew anyway. Sometimes I acted as if our friendship didn't mean the world to me, when it was in fact one of the greatest things in my life. You were the only person I felt I could talk to over the last few months. You kept me holding on just that little bit longer. Please don't hate me for this.
I love you, Jake.
I folded the letter and gently placed it back into my wallet. I didn't need to read the thing to remember what it said. The words were ingrained in my mind so that I could never forget them, even if I had wanted to. The tragic suicide of my best friend Sandy at the tender age of 22 still crippled me with grief, even 12 months later. As I sat at her graveside on the first year anniversary of that fateful day in which I found her unconscious at her desk, I kept thinking about what might have happened if I had left college early that particular day. But I had been too late. Would Sandy still be alive if I hadn't stopped by at Starbucks on the way home from a full day of lectures?
Sandy had been everything to me; I'd met her when we were both 14 years old and we'd become best friends instantly. She spent most of her time with me rather than going home to her abusive step-father and an absent alcoholic mother, and then we had left for college together. Sandy had been my roommate, my best friend, and perhaps the most important person in my life with the exception of my mother. Sandy's life had been difficult but she had projected the image of being such a strong and independent young lady to the rest of the world. She could be herself with me, and I knew better than anyone how sad and alone she felt sometimes. I'd spent many hours comforting her or sleeping beside her when she didn't want to be alone.
I leaned forward to rearrange the flowers against her headstone. I tried to shake off the memories of her downward spiral towards suicide and instead replayed the good times, memories that I had spent the past year trying to bury because it was too painful to know that those good memories were now all I had left. I recalled my 18th birthday when I came out to her. She had rolled her eyes and told me that she already knew, saying that she'd be more than willing to go to the local gay bar with me to help me find a guy who would take my cherry. I had blushed profusely and slapped the back of her head playfully before bursting into laughter.
I remembered the day when I introduced Sandy to my first boyfriend Jon. She'd not liked him very much but she'd been nice for my sake. She was the first person I called when he dumped me for some college football player. Sandy and I spent the evening eating ice-cream and watching bad horror movies until the early hours of the morning when I passed out in front of the TV.
I laughed out loud as I remembered when the two of us had started hunting for an apartment together in our second year of college and our current landlady had assumed we were partners. Sandy decided to go along with it, slapping my backside and calling me 'baby' and 'honey' at the end of every sentence. I had been so embarrassed but she had found it hilarious. She had also enjoyed embarrassing me.
Sandy would have been disappointed with the way my life had turned out since she had left me. I had been almost as dependent on our relationship as she had been. Without her I fell into the dull and repetitive pattern of college, eat, sleep, college, eat, sleep until graduation and then into a similar pattern of work, eat, sleep. My social life was now non-existent and I'd fallen out of touch with my college buddies. I rarely spoke to my mother -- a brief phone call every couple of weeks simply to let her know that I was okay -- and I never visited her. I still lived in the apartment that Sandy and I had rented together, paying the rent on my own with an empty room that I was too afraid to enter. Her step-dad Dirk had taken her stuff -- probably binned it all too or sold it for drug money -- and all I had left of her was a photo album that I had taken before Dirk had turned up, plus her sketchbooks. I should probably have advertised for a new roommate but it just didn't seem right.
What really bugged me was my lack of tears. My life had fallen to shit in the last year but I hadn't cried once. Maybe a tear or two at the funeral but nothing more. Surely that couldn't be normal. What kind of person couldn't even cry over the death of their best friend?
It was starting to get dark and the sound of the church bells woke me from my thoughts. I stood and brushed the grass off of my trousers before heading out through the rusty gates, turning left to head back to my apartment. I passed a bar on the way. I don't know what compelled me to stop but I paused outside. I hadn't been in there often but Sandy and I had been there a couple of times and she had always quite liked it. I peered through the window for a moment and then headed inside. A couple of drinks might do me some good, I thought.
I took a look around as I entered. The place wasn't too busy, but there was still a steady crowd. I pulled my wallet out from my pocket to check how much cash I had on me. It was enough for a couple of drinks, at least. I ordered a double vodka and coke and sat down at the bar. I felt overdressed; I'd headed to the graveyard straight after work and so I was still in my black slacks, white shirt and navy tie. I took a look at myself in the mirror behind the bar. I looked tired too. My black hair was sticking up all over the place and I had slight bags under my eyes. I used to pride myself on my looks but I had definitely let myself go in the last several months.
"Cheer up, Sunshine."
I looked up as a guy sat down on the stall next to me and shot me a grin. I took a second to appreciate how stunning he was before looking away and taking a swig of my drink.
"Scott." He held his hand out towards me. I hesitated before putting down my drink and shaking it. Gosh, he was beautiful. For a brief moment I thought that I recognised him. His smile, those eyes, that gorgeous chocolate brown hair. He seemed so familiar. Had we met before?
"Jake." I offered, before releasing his hand and looking back down at my drink.
"Yeah, I know who you are." He laughed at my incredulous expression. "American history with Professor Lewis?" There was an awkward pause where I tried to place him, then nodded. "Don't worry, I don't think we ever really spoke to each other. You were always glued to that blonde chick's hip. It's been a while though, I wasn't sure if it was you at first."
I reeled at the casual mention of Sandy and simply nodded. I did remember him, although not too well. He'd not been part of my crowd and I hadn't gone out of my way to talk to many of my classmates.
"So, how's life treating you?"
I wondered why Scott was sitting here trying to make conversation with me. Now that I could place him, I couldn't remember a single time when he'd spoken to me in class with anything more than a brief "hey" or a quick nod of the head. In fact, I was surprised he knew who I was at all. I'm not rude, though, so I put on my best smile and responded with a shrug.
"Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Work's keeping me pretty busy." He looked like he expected me to say more, so I continued. "I work over at the big law firm Smith & Sons around the corner from campus. It's not really as good as it sounds though, mainly just proofreading documents and stuff. How about you?"
"Cool, man. I don't work too far from there, actually -- I'm working over at the museum." I nodded. The only museum in this town was less than a ten minute walk from the offices of Smiths & Sons. "It's not the best job I guess, but I'm hopefully up for a promotion soon." He paused. "Still playing football?"
I was shocked by how much this guy remembered about me. I hadn't played football on the college team, but I'd played at weekends with a bunch of friends. I'd never been any good but it had been a lot of fun. I felt slightly guilty that I remembered very little about Scott other than that he had always sat a few rows behind me in our American history lectures. How had I failed to notice him before? How had I been so oblivious to his striking good looks and those beautiful dark eyes, the kind that you could lose yourself in?
Scott ordered himself a beer, buying one for me, and I thanked him. We began to engage in small talk. I'd have called it 'catching-up,' but we hadn't known each other well enough beforehand for that. It was nice to have the company, and I quickly learned that Scott was extremely funny and very smart. Good looks and intelligence? Some people got all the luck.
"So, are you still seeing that blonde girl from college? Sally, was it?"
I tensed at the question. A lot of people had assumed that Sandy and I had been an item, although it wasn't deliberate on our part. I had never hidden my sexuality from anyone, but to passers-by and people who didn't know us, I suppose we must have looked like a couple. It sounded like Scott had not heard the news of Sandy's suicide, either.
"No, I'm not with Sandy. We were just friends, anyway." I tried to keep my voice neutral.
"Oh. Okay. Sorry, dude." He must have sensed that it was a sore topic, although I assumed for the wrong reasons. I had loved Sandy, but I hadn't been in love with her. She had been like a sister to me.
"Don't worry, it's fine. Actually, I'm gay." I had no idea why I told him this, it just came out (no pun intended). I guess I had been so keen to change the subject that I had said the first thing that popped into my head. Unfortunately the first thing to pop into my head had clearly been the subject of my sexuality. My insides clenched as I waited for Scott's reaction.
Scott was quiet. I wondered if he was trying to plan his escape, perhaps debating the best way to leave without being too rude. Or perhaps he didn't care about appearing rude and just wanted to get away from me as quickly as possible. The wide grin he sent my way threw me off a little and made me lose my train of thought.
"In that case, do you fancy going out for dinner some time?"
Well, that was unexpected.
"Um, sure." As was that.
Scott smiled again. God, his smile was breathtaking. I started to feel aroused and shuffled in my seat nervously.
"Cool, man." He downed the last of his beer and slammed the bottle down onto the bar before speaking again. "Well I have to get going, but can I get your number?"
I nodded and leaned across the bar to ask the barmaid for a pen. I jotted my number down on a beer mat and handed it over. Scott grabbed the pen from my hand and scrawled his own number onto another beer mat before leaned towards me to slide it into my shirt pocket, where his hand lingered gently for a moment. I gasped at the contact then blushed furiously. He was so close that I could feel his warm breath against my face. I was embarrassingly turned on.
"I'll call you." He pulled away from me and winked. He was gone before I even had a chance to react.
I finished my drink and then headed home. Scott was on my mind the entire time. I couldn't stop picturing that astounding smile of his, those gorgeous full lips and that tall, muscled body. I'd always had a thing for taller, more muscular men. I stood at an average 5"10 and Scott had to be at least 6"3. I wouldn't have said that I was skinny and I certainly had muscles -- I used to work out on a daily basis -- but it was clear that Scott was way more defined than I was. I shuddered as I remembered how good it had felt to have him lean in so close to me.
It wasn't until I got back to my tiny third floor apartment before I remembered the reason I had been out late in the first place. My feelings of lust were suddenly replaced with guilt.
I didn't hear from Scott the next day. I spent my Saturday tidying the apartment and then going for a run. I ordered pizza and ate alone, drinking cheap beer and watching Star Trek reruns on the television. I briefly considered heading out to a bar or club, but what was the point when I would be on my own? I could call one of my college buddies and invite them out but I suspected that they'd given up on me by now. I could phone Bill, one of my work colleagues, but I suspected that he'd be spending the evening with his pregnant fiancé and wouldn't be particularly keen on the idea of going out drinking with me. I looked across my small living room at the beer mat which was sitting next to the phone. I could always call Scott but I was sure he'd be busy on a Saturday night. Besides, he'd said he would call me and I didn't want to seem desperate. I headed to bed early.
I was lying in bed on Sunday morning, debating whether it was worth getting up and trying to decide what I needed to do. I thought I should probably head over to the gym since I was still paying for a membership that I barely used. I desperately needed to head over to the laundromat before I ran out of clean work clothes. My fridge needed cleaning out too, and I'd have to head to the store at some point. I sighed and looking over at the alarm clock. 8am. Perhaps another few hours of sleep....
I was woken up by the sound of my phone vibrating along the nightstand. I turned to take a quick look at the alarm clock. 11:15 am. Shit. I reached out for my phone and flipped it open, bringing it to my ear.
"What?" I answered groggily.
"Hey, Jake. It's Scott." He sounded amused. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Oh, err, I mean, hi, Scott..." I could barely construct a sentence. Smooth. "No, I was awake. Well, I was earlier. I... fell back to sleep." I felt like slapping myself. Just stop talking Jake, I thought.
Scott let out a small chuckle. "Well I was just calling to ask if you fancied going out to dinner tomorrow night?"
I sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. "Yeah, sure. Where did you have in mind?" Phew, my power of speech had returned.
"Well there's this great little place a few blocks over from my apartment. I could pick you up at your place at 6? That's if you'll be up then?" He joked.
"Ha ha," I mocked, "but yeah, that sounds good." I gave him the address to my apartment and then we said our goodbyes. I instantly felt nervous about our date, but hopeful too.
I dragged myself out of bed and headed over to the bathroom. I glanced towards the closed door that led to Sandy's room. I paused outside it, tentatively reaching for the handle and opening the door a crack. I didn't go in there often and the room was empty. I supposed I could use the space as a guest room or for storage, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Sometimes I considered moving somewhere else, somewhere where I wasn't haunted by the loss of Sandy, but I didn't think that I could do that either. Besides, I knew that the loss of Sandy would stay with me no matter where I lived.
I briefly let myself remember the day we had moved into this place and how excited we had been. Sandy had dashed into this room to claim it as hers despite it being the smaller of the two bedrooms. She claimed she wanted it for the view but all you could see from the window was a dodgy looking alley, a bus stop and the apartment buildings across the street that mirrored our own. I found out pretty quickly that the real reason was because she didn't have that much stuff -- her step-dad Dirk hadn't allowed her to take much from home when she'd left for college so all she'd had was her clothes, her art supplies and a few CDs -- and she'd felt that this would have been more obvious in a bigger room. Naturally, I'd never been over to her place when she'd lived with her step-dad, and her roommate during the first year of college was so messy that it had been hard to decipher what belonged to whom. I was offended that Sandy had thought it would matter to me though and we had even argued about it. In the end I'd given her the 'what's mine is yours now' speech and we'd made up.
I remembered the times that I had slept in here, just holding Sandy in my arms. Sometimes she'd have bad dreams and I'd stay with her because she said that she needed to know that someone was there to keep her safe. Sandy had been so petite that at first I was scared I'd break her but we got into something of a routine when I stayed with her, and I'd pull her against my chest and she'd sleep with her head resting on my shoulder and my arms wrapped around her. Sandy never really told me what she dreamt about those nights but I still knew that the nightmares were about Dirk. I also suspected that they were about her mother who was never around and who hadn't thought twice about leaving her only daughter alone with a man like Dirk Winters.
I pulled the bedroom door shut and headed to the bathroom to take care of business, trying to concentrate on my upcoming date rather than wallowing in the loss that still felt so fresh. Jesus, what would I wear? I glanced in the bathroom mirror. I'd definitely need to shave and I'd have to make an attempt at taming my untidy hair. I was pretty sure that Scott wouldn't go for the homeless look. But he'd already asked me out, so surely he must have liked something he saw. I stared at my reflection for a few more seconds, trying to figure out what had attracted him to me. I came up blank. I might have had something going for me during my college years but I'd graduated almost a year ago -- just 6 weeks after Sandy's suicide -- and these days I was something of a mess.
I could think of nothing else but my date with Scott at work the next day. I kept making mistakes, which was completely unlike me. I was a pretty efficient worker, always keeping my head down and getting on with the tasks I had been set. I got very little done and kept swearing under my breath every time I noticed yet another mistake in the documents I was typing up. Bill kept quiet at first but eventually asked me what was wrong.
"It's nothing, really. I'm just a little preoccupied. I've got a date tonight."
"Way to go, man," Bill exclaimed. "About time! What's his name?"
"Scott. He's... wait --" I paused. I'd never told Bill that I was gay. I hadn't deliberately kept my sexuality from him but since I didn't date, there had never been a suitable time to drop it into a conversation. "How did you know I was gay?"
"I know everything, dude," Bill joked. "But seriously, tell me about him." And just like that, my friendship with Bill seemed to solidify into something more real. We'd always got on well but I wouldn't have considered us good friends until that point when he showed a genuine interest in my life outside of work and he seemed to really care about seeing me happy.
"You'll have to let me know how it goes. Just, please, no sex details." I laughed at the face that Bill pulled before he continued. "If it goes well, perhaps the two of you could come out to dinner with Scarlett and I some time. She's always complaining that I don't take her out enough, plus she'd love to meet one of my work colleagues."
"Yeah, maybe." I smiled and nodded, but I didn't want to think that far ahead. It was only a first date, after all.