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    Duncan Ryder
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Everybody's Wounded - 14. Chapter 14

The instant I saw him, I felt that hard, fast rush. The quickened breath. The sharpened senses. Fight or flight.

It was like you get sometimes on the hockey rink or on the rugby field. You know, when you’re about to make some great offensive move and some asshole breaks the rules with some illegal move to stop you and it’s just too late to get out of the way and you know you're gonna collide and…

No. Fuck, not like that. Not like that at all.

This wasn’t a game, and Luc wasn’t the opposition. But when those elevator doors opened and I saw him there, I felt this instantaneous rush of adrenalin, of sudden desperation. I didn’t know what I wanted to do more: sink into the floor or hit something.

It’s not like Josh and I were touching. Or even standing just that much too close. I mean, we weren’t even talking to one another. We were just standing there, together, side by side, facing the doors. The wooden shipping crate containing the painting stood between us, pressed up against my leg. Josh was leaning back against the wall, his eyes half closed.

But we didn’t need to be touching. I knew exactly what Luc was taking in. I mean, it was 9 o’clock Friday morning, and there we were. Me with my back pack and my gym bag, and Josh with his hair still shower damp. It was pretty bloody obvious where I’d spent the night.

In those first few seconds, I was watching Luc, and breathing, and trying to figure out what to say.

But Luc, strangely enough, didn’t seem to react to the significance of our presence at all. He just stepped into the elevator, flashed me a little smile, and pressed the button for the underground level where his car was parked. It was that same soft little smile that had played across his face Sunday night when he’d picked me up and brought me to his condo.

“Hey,” Luc said softly, as if we met on elevators every morning. He stepped over to my side of the elevator as the doors closed, and leaned back against the side wall.

I shot a glance at Josh, but he was motionless, silent.

“Um, morning,” I said, staring straight ahead.

The first thought that flowed through my head was, “Five floors. How fucking long can it take to descend five floors?”

Then I looked over at him and his eyes met mine, those beautiful Siberian eyes, and I was trapped. I couldn’t look away. For an instant, I was back in that moment, his tongue in my mouth, his cock in my hand, mine in his…

And the stab of guilt was so swift and brutal it almost took my breath away -- and it was not because I’d just spent the night with Josh.

James Joyce calls it an epiphany, those instances of sudden and transcendent clarity in your life when you profoundly understand something that changes you fundamentally. It’s a fancy word, epiphany. For religious types, it refers to the magi, the revelation of Jesus as the son of God.

I don’t know about that. I do know that, whatever the word for it is, I was standing there in that elevator having one. In that instant, as I was struck with the flashing image of what I had done with Luc, and then that stab of guilt as forceful as a sucker punch, I understood something. Something about sex and something about love and something about physical acts that transcend themselves and change you forever.

How to you unpack the clarity of such an instant?

How do you explain how all the little pieces of experience come rushing into your head, falling into place, revealing, clarifying?

How do you explain everything that overwhelms you with its truth?

Everyone knows you can have sex without making love. Most people do it from time to time. Hell, for all I know maybe some people do it pretty much all the time. But until that moment, it really never had occurred to me that you could physically make love to someone without having sex.

Ok, so maybe everybody else already knows this stuff. All I can say is, my experience was pretty limited. Before last night, being naked and touching was about expressing love through sex. But as I stood in that elevator with Josh on one side of me and Luc on the other, I pretty much had to come to terms with the realization that last night, last night…

Last night, which had been physical without being sexual, had been about expressing love, too.

I’m not sure how I know this, but I know that Josh is not a guy who cries. He’s a guy who holds pain in, who makes containment a holy cause. Last night, standing beneath the flowing water, he had opened that up to me in a way I cannot explain. We’d been skin to skin, but it was more than that. He’d held me hard, but it wasn’t about sex at all. He’d leaned into me in a way that spoke to his need for comfort, for touch, for understanding.

It was about being together in a dark place and holding on. He’d trusted me. More than that, he’d opened his pain to me to share.

It had been so different from the time I’d held Luc. Luc’s pain was hard and angry and completely self contained, and I’d known even then that he had found no comfort in my touch. Even when we’d finally made love, I knew it was still there, somewhere. He’d just managed to close it off for awhile. He wouldn’t let me near it.

If Luc was thinking that Josh and I had had sex the night before, he’d have been wrong. On that front, my conscience was clear.

But if he was thinking that we’d made love…

Then he was right.

We had.

I had. Made love to Josh. In that instant, when he had leaned into me, under the caressing flow of his shower, and I had taken him in my arms, I had begun to make love him. That’s what I was doing when I used my hands and my breath and my body to cleanse and to soothe and to try to help heal his pain.

And Josh had recognized and accepted it. For what it really was. Because in that instant it was what he needed from me, and what I had needed to give him.

True, it hadn’t been about sexual release, about orgasm – but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that my body had loved his as intimately, as meaningfully, as when I had made love to him.

Perhaps more so.

I understood that now.

I glanced over at him. He stood motionless, leaning against the wall, his eyes half closed and focused straight ahead, his beautiful face determinedly unreadable. He’d bowed his head slightly and his right hand was gripping the red cashmere scarf at his throat.

It was like he had gone to some safe, secret place where his breathing stayed calm and his face gave nothing away.

“Scott?”

I startled at the sound of Luc’s voice. Clearly he’d been talking to me and I hadn’t been focusing.

“Yeah?”

“You’re going to our economics lecture? It’s a review.”

“Uh, yeah,” I forced out. “I’m going.”

Still Josh said nothing.

“I just – I need to take some things – “I gestured vaguely at the painting propped up against my leg. “I have to go to my room.”

“Do you want a drive or –”

Luc stopped, his gaze shifting from my face to Josh’s.

“You will drive him, yes?” he asked.

And though his voice stayed calm and even, the sudden French phrasing, the strong French cadence, told me that he was shaken.

Josh raised his eyes and met Luc’s, then slid over to mine. He nodded once, slowly.

The building had two floors of underground parking, and fortunately, Josh and Luc’s cars were on different floors. We got off first. I told Luc I’d see him later.

Josh and I headed silently to his car, and silently put the painting and my stuff on the back seat. Josh settled into the driver’s seat. Since I’d driven last, he had to readjust it for himself – a need that brought last night into the car with us. As if anything else needed to.

He sat still for a moment, his hands on the wheel, staring straight ahead. Then he sighed heavily.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t ask where things are with you and the beautiful, fucked up French boy,” he said finally. “And I’m not asking. I just want to say that I hope this didn’t ruin anything for you. Anything you wanted. I don’t want to do that. I’m grateful for last night – you’ve no idea –”

“Fuck that, Josh,” I said, the sudden intensity of my anger surprising us both. I took his chin in my hand and turned his face towards mine. “Don’t do that. Don’t lock me out. I think I have a pretty bloody good idea about last night. Give me some credit here.”

He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

My anger vanished as quickly as it had come, and my hand softened on his face. I wanted to kiss him, but I didn’t. I just left my hand where it was, kind of cupping his chin. I felt suddenly calm, and strangely certain.

“Ok,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I think we need to be honest here. Yesterday, I couldn’t have told you where things were with Luc. Or with you. Or with myself for that matter. But today –”

I searched his face, until his eyes finally opened and gazed into mine. “Today, I think I know where I need them to be.”

A flash of something crossed his face, too fleeting to read. I held that cautious, green gaze, and found myself caressing his cheekbone with my thumb, almost absentmindedly.

“Luc’s important to me,” I said. “I care about him. A lot. Maybe I love him. Or I’m starting to. But I’m not in love with him. I think I could have been. I think I was maybe on the edge of it. But now -- now I know I’m not.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

I knew what he wanted to hear, but I couldn’t say it. Not yet. It was too big, and I really hadn’t gotten a lot further than figuring out how I felt about Luc, and even that had been pretty much an instantaneous recognition. Epiphanies are strange that way. I’m fundamentally an analytical guy, and I needed to think about it.

“I still need some time,” I said.

Josh reached up and pressed his hand over mine. “We both need some time,” he said.

Then he moved his head slightly and pressed his mouth into the palm of my hand.

***

I got to my 10:00 lecture just as the prof was about to begin. Normally, I’d have slipped into a vacant seat by the door, or even stood at the back, but my eyes met Luc’s across the lecture hall and he smiled that calm, little smile. The seat beside him was empty. I remembered how it felt when he’d shut me out, so I made my way across the row and sat beside him. He touched the side of my hand with the tips of his fingers in a greeting that was a little more than casual, a little less than a caress.

His eyes met mine, clear and calm and icy blue. I wondered just how much pain showed in mine.

I knew we needed to talk, but I owed him more time and more care than I could squeeze in that day between classes, and packing and leaving for New Brunswick. I had to be at the athletic complex by 4 for the team bus to the airport. I promised myself we would talk as soon as I got back Sunday night.

Because I’d spent the night before with Josh, I wasn’t even packed for the weekend. Luc insisted on walking me back to my residence after the lecture.

“I have something for you,” he said. “Something for the trip.”

I looked at him curiously. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his silver iPod.

“I want you to have this,” he said.

I laughed. "I can’t take that!” I told him. “You’ll be lost without it!”

Luc always had his iPod with him. His music was so important to him; those little white ear buds were part of his identity. Hell, the very first time we’d really talked it was because of what he’d been listening to on his iPod.

“For this weekend, I can manage,” he said. “Please. I loaded it with some things I really want you to listen to.”

“Luc, I can’t –“

Oui. You can,” he said, and he laughed. “You will.”

We’d reached my residence by then, and he shoved it into my pocket. “Take it,” he said. “Please.”

Then, to my surprise, he leaned up and kissed my mouth. Softly. Quickly.

“Bye,” he said.

And before I could even react, he had turned and was walking away.

He hadn’t even looked around to see if anyone was watching.

***

I was one of the last to get to the Athletic Complex where I found the guys sprawled over the lobby, a loud and boisterous mass of hard bodies, winter jackets, gym bags and testosterone. I was greeted by a raucous chorus of greetings as I slumped onto a bench and looked around for Brandon.

“Hey,” I asked Jase. “Where’s the fireplug?”

Jase laughed and nodded his head towards a corner. There was my man Brandon. And facing him, leaning against the wall with her face tilted up to his, was Laura. His forearms were resting on her shoulders.

Bran’s not tall – maybe 5’ 7 or 5’ 8 – but what he lacks in height, he more than makes up for in sheer muscle mass. He’s build like a fucking tank. Proportionately, I’d have to add a good 30 pounds to match him. Beside Laura, barely five feet and something less than 100 pounds, wearing nothing but her gymnast's spandex, he looked massive.

They were talking quietly, and he was kind of twisting her ponytail around his wrist, letting the blonde hair run over and through his fingers. Then she stood up on her tip toes and reached one hand up around his neck, and I saw his hand kind of fist in her hair. He lowered his head slowly into her kiss – and it sure as hell wasn’t a peck on the cheek. She wrapped her other arm around his neck and seemed to just kind of melt against him.

I should have looked away, I guess, but I couldn’t. It was just so damned cute. I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

“Hey, Romeo!” some cheerful asshole shouted out. “Bus is here.”

I waited for him. Laura followed, flushed but smiling.

“Hey, Munchkin,” I said softly, scooping her up in my arms.

“Good luck, Scottie,” she said, planting a little kiss on my cheek.

“You didn’t come back last night,” said Brandon as we headed onto the bus. He sounded serious, kind of angry, in fact.

“How do you know?”

“Don’t fuck with me, Scott. I called. I went over. I was there til after midnight.”

“With Laura?”

“Yeah, with Laura.”

I grinned at him, but he didn’t react.

“It’s all right,” I said. “I spent the night with him, because he was in bad shape, and he needed someone there.”

“And?”

“He’s gonna be ok, I think.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know,” I said. “We’ll talk later.”

Later was much later, after lights out in a dark hotel room.

***

I’d made arrangements with my uncles to meet at their airport, but when we got there, Ben and Ry weren’t in the Arrivals area. I checked the schedules and found that their flight had landed an hour before. I flipped open my cell phone and turned it on. There three calls from Ben. I called right away.

Ry answered. “Scott?” He sounded exhausted and worried.

“Hey Ry," I said. “What happened? Where’s Ben?”

I knew it had to be something important. There was no way my uncles would have stood me up otherwise.

“He’s driving. I’ve got his phone. I’m sorry, Scott. We were literally on our way to the airport when my Mother called.”

His voice broke, and I could hear the tears in it.

“What happened?” I asked, as gently as I could.

I could hear him take a deep breath. “My Dad had a stroke this afternoon. We’re on our way to Kingston now.”

My heart sank. Ry’s relationship with his dad had been pretty much non-existent since he came out as a young man. A couple of years ago, they finally started to take a few slow, tentative steps towards one another. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but now the guys at least went down to visit from time to time.

“Aw, God, Ry. I’m so sorry,” I said.

“Yeah. I know. He’s – he’s not going to make it. We’re just hoping he hangs on long enough for us to get there.”

“Oh, Ry –”

I heard Ben’s voice in the background, then Ry came back on the line.

“Scott, Ben said to tell you we’ll pull off at the next Tim Horton’s, and he’ll call you, ok?”

“Ok. I’m – I’m really sorry.”

What else can you say?

“Something wrong, Scott?”

It was my coach. I explained the situation to him. I had made arrangements to stay over the entire weekend with my uncles. He went with me to the ticket counter, and we changed my plane ticket so I could fly back with the team after the game the next day.

***

It was much later that night that Bran and I finally got to continue our conversation. We’d switched up with some of the guys so we could share a room and have some privacy. Bran and I had never had trouble talking, but somehow, talking to each other in the dark added a level of comfortable intimacy. It was a good thing, because the stuff we had to talk about was hard stuff.

“That was Josh, right? The graduate student?”

“Yeah.”

“He seemed really upset.”

“Yeah. He, um,” I wasn’t quite sure how to explain it. I mean, God knows Graham had exposed Josh enough, but not in a way that Bran was likely to discover. “He was in a pretty abusive relationship. His ex sent him some stuff that really upset him. He just – he needed some help dealing with it.”

“So you spent the night with him. Again.”

“Yeah. “

Silence.

“And?”

“And nothing. We didn’t have sex, Bran. I just didn’t want to leave him alone.”

“Ok.”

Another silence.

“And what about this other guy. Luc, right?”

“Yes. Luc. I saw him today. In fact, I saw him in the elevator, leaving Josh’s place. They live in the same building.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“And… what did he say? What are you going to do?”

“He didn’t seem phased by it all. It was weird. He gave me his iPod to take with me on the trip. Made me take it.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. I told him I’d see him Sunday night. I’ll give it back then.”

“And?”

“And… and I’m gonna tell him that we’re friends. That’s it. Friends.”

Deep sigh. “And Josh?”

His name kind of hung in the air for a minute.

And then I said it. Out loud.

“I think I love him, Bran.”

Neither of us said anything for awhile.

Until finally Bran said, “That’s good, then.”

“What about you and Laura?” I asked. “That looked pretty good too.”

“Yeah,” he said slowly.

But there wasn’t the delight in his voice I expected there to be.

“What?” I asked. “You changing your mind about her?”

“God, no! She’s --. No.”

“Then what? There’s something. I can tell.”

Another long silence, just the sounds of us breathing and rustling in the dark.

“We got to her bad experience,” he said finally.

“Oh. How bad?”

“Pretty bad.”

“You gonna tell me?”

“Yeah.” But he didn’t say anything.

“Um, tonight?” I asked after a while.

“Prom night,” he said finally. “Some asshole guy. You know what it’s like. Limos. Hotels. Booze in the punch.

Oh shit. I had a really bad feeling about this.

“She’s so little,” he said finally, and suddenly his voice sounded little in the dark room.

“Yeah,” I said again.

“And you know, she didn’t have much of a social life. Everything was gymnastics. She had a tutor, and studied by correspondence most of the year. She was just so happy to have a date for the prom.”

“And?”

“And what do you think?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I can put that together.”

“The fucker. I mean, he not only forced her, but he’s got her convinced it’s somehow her fault.”

I could hear the fury in his voice.

“So what are you gonna do?” I asked finally.

“Figure it out with her, I guess. What else can I do?”

“She have any counselling?”

“I asked her that. She said no. She said it was her own fault.”

“Maybe you can help her start there,” I said. “I’m pretty sure there’s a rape crisis centre on campus. You could call them for her. Just get some information. Date rape’s still rape.”

“That’s an idea.”

Neither of said anything for a long time.

Then Bran said, “Scott?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“You, too, man.”

***

I suppose I should go into the details of the game: the rush, the physical intensity, the back and forth. I can’t do it. It’s not real to me any more. To be honest, I don’t even remember. What came after just blocked the reality of it all out, and if I can’t write about it to put you there, there’s no point, right?

We didn’t win. No one expected us to. But we did ok, we weren’t blown away, our coaches were proud of us, we were proud of ourselves. We were excited and happy when we boarded our evening flight home, and the plan was that we’d all dump our stuff in our res rooms, and head out to party big time.

It was almost nine when I got to my room. It was cool but stuffy, and as I leaned over my desk to open the window a crack, I noticed that the message light on my room phone was blinking. Odd. Everyone calls my cell. I put it on speakerphone as I dumped my backpack and sports bag, and started sorting though all my filthy rugby stuff.

I heard Luc’s voice, made tinny by the crap quality phone speaker.

“Scott.”

A long pause.

Alors. I can’t imagine you listening to this.”

Another pause.

I froze. There was something in his voice --.

“You either know, or you don’t know.”

A sob.

“Which means you either hurt, or are going to hurt. I am so sorry for that.

“I just – I just have to tell you that this is not your fault and you are not to blame yourself for this. It’s not because of you. It is not because I saw you and Josh yesterday. I had already decided. You have to know that. I had the music with me already, Scott. I had already made it for you.

“I’ve known for a long, long time that this would be my road, my only road. Please understand that. You mustn’t blame yourself. If it weren’t for you, I would have done this weeks ago. I have come so close, so close…

“I was going to do it that day we met in the library, the day you told me about Lorca. I was ready then. Read the poems…

Oui, I was ready to do it… But these last few weeks with you...”

Another long pause.

“I should be writing to you. I know that. I could sound coherent if I were writing. Maybe I could even sound profound. I don’t feel profound. What I feel is that for just once in my life I need to say this out loud. I need to say it, and I need to know that you will hear it, from me, in my voice.

Je t’aime. I love you. I never thought I’d ever get to say that to anyone, and mean it with my whole heart and soul. But I do. I say it and I mean it. You’ve given me that, and you’ve no idea how much that means to me. I love you so much.

“But it’s not enough. There is too much hurt. The way I am, it has already caused so much pain. I knew that when I went home last weekend. Poor Daniel. And my parents, my brothers, my whole family. What I have done, what I have caused -- I know it can never be made right. I know I can never be made right.

“But loving you – it has given me the strength to do this. To be free of it.

“I do know it will hurt the people I love. My parents. My brothers. You. I also know it is the right thing, the only thing to do. I cannot live like this. I can’t.

“I don’t know when you’re listening to this. I don’t know if you already know what I’ve done. But if you don’t already know, I need you to do one thing for me. Stay where you are.

“Don’t go to my place, Scott. Call the police if you have to, or just wait. I’ve left a message at my brother’s apartment. He’s away for the weekend, too, but he is to be back before you. Let him deal with this. Or the police.

“Don’t be the one to find me, Scott. I don’t want you to remember me like that.

“I want you to remember me the way I think of you right now. Standing in the fog. Do you remember? Of course you remember.

Salut, mon amour. Je t’aime. I love you so much.”

Copyright © 2011 Duncan Ryder; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Guest cogito_ergo_sum1666

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omfg that was just wow. u are so talented its so full of REAL emotions. beautiful.

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Crap how could I run out of likes at a time like this? This is a gut wrenching twist and the Pollyanna in me wants it to work out. Must read next chapter!

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How can I express the beauty of your writing? The little icon of the thumbs up is so inadequate to tell you how you affect me. You are beautiful, not necessarily in appearance, I do not know what you look like, but in heart -- you have a beautiful heart to be able to write about human pain so well

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Ever the optimist, I had no inkling that Luc would suicide.  I don't think Scott did either.  For all his brilliance he couldn't figure out a path forward.  That's not just sad, but devastating.  

The story title is a truism.  Nobody makes it through life without getting hurt.  For most it makes you stronger, but for some it becomes a defining issue.  Help exists, yet some feel responsible or unworthy of getting the help needed.

I wonder if Scott and/or Josh realize they need help, just as Scott suggested to his friend about the munchkin?

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On 8/20/2018 at 5:09 PM, Will Hawkins said:

How can I express the beauty of your writing? The little icon of the thumbs up is so inadequate to tell you how you affect me. You are beautiful, not necessarily in appearance, I do not know what you look like, but in heart -- you have a beautiful heart to be able to write about human pain so well

These words sum up my feelings.   🤗🤗

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