I faced a stark choice tonight, one that I debated in my head for what felt like hours. I thought I could either try to let go of the past, think about my future, and go to Oliver, or confront my past again, maybe get some real answers, and meet Ali.
Weighing heavy on my mind through all of it, the letter. The emotion, the raw pain was clear in every word. I know the turmoil and angst one feels inside when confronting your sexuality. A gay guy wrote that letter, I’m sure of it. And as I read it over and over again, in my heart I knew that guy was Ali. The guy in that letter was the same one I met all those years ago north of Cedar Creek. It was the guy who captivated me as we rode our bikes. It was the guy I risked it all to save.
Even when I put the letter down, I couldn’t stop thinking about what he wrote. It raised several new questions and doubts, including doubts about my own father. Despite my initial reluctance I knew I had to ask my father if he was involved, so I called him. I asked if he ever found a letter and gave it to Mr. Easton. He had no idea what I was talking about. He said he didn’t know anything about a letter. He was genuinely confused. My dad is good at many things, but lying is not one of them. He was telling the truth. Instead of getting clarity, I was left with even more confusion.
Now, despite that confusion, after speaking with my father it was clear what I had to do. I needed to think about what would make me happy in the long run. In the end, I chose my future.
I think I made the right call. What drew me here was my strong sexual attraction to Oliver, but that only lasts for so long. There needs to be an emotional connection too, and there is. Oliver, or Ollie as he prefers, is kind, funny, and smart. With him, there is also no drama. Or well, less anyway.
“You know I almost got in trouble because of you,” he says with that orgasm-inducing smile.
“Because of me? How? I’m so sorry!”
“It’s okay. My boss wasn’t too thrilled that you stayed at the bar without ordering anything besides water. He told me a few times to either get you to order something or ask you to leave.”
“I’m sorry! You should have told me; I would have ordered something!”
“I thought maybe you just wanted to stick around to talk to me.”
I feel like the kid who just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “The company, and the view, I must say, were both much appreciated. I just assumed you were straight!”
“Yeah, that’s the difficult part, knowing someone’s orientation for certain. So many people flirt with me because I’m the bartender and they think I’ll give them free stuff. You should see how many girls try.”
“They could also be flirting because, well, have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Have you?” he asks flirtatiously.
“Yes, and there isn’t much to brag about!” I laugh. I know people don’t like self-deprecating humour and I should stop, but he just laughs along.
“Not from my vantage point. There is a lot to brag about.” It’s nice of him to indulge me. “But yeah, it’s not always obvious if a guy is on our team, so, I’m a bit careful. My boss is also a bit of a homophobe, so ...”
“Oh, sorry to hear that.”
We cover all the normal topics people touch on when they first meet; hometown, school, hobbies. Turns out, we have a lot in common. He also worked a few years after his undergrad, but now is back getting his master’s degree in architecture. He’s much more than just a hot bartender.
Even though I know I shouldn’t, I compare how I feel now, with how I felt when I was with Ali the first time we met at the bar. Back then I felt a different level of excitement. With Ali I felt a sense of adventure and danger, while Ollie feels safe. But safe is good. I need safe.
“I’m really glad you came tonight,” Ollie says an hour into our date.
“So am I,” I respond. I am glad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my heart is not fully here. I can’t stop thinking about that letter. I look at my watch. I still have time. “Shall we head out?”
“Sure, perhaps we can continue this back at my place?” His leg lightly brushes against mine. I know that wasn’t by accident.
Shit! That’s not what I meant at all. I was trying to end the date. But even if I didn’t have somewhere else to be, I don’t think I’d go with him. Two weeks ago, I would have seriously considered his proposal. Spending a night with Ollie was, and still is, a fantasy. But right now, I’m not sure I’m mentally there. My trust level in other people is pretty low at the moment. I think he can tell. I sense a bit of panic in his once flirtatious eyes.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to rush you or –”
“No, no, no, it’s okay. I’d love to but maybe –”
“It’s too fast?” he asks.
“Yeah, a bit.”
“I’m really sorry.” He genuinely looks sorry.
“It’s honestly fine. I just would like to get to know you a bit more first if that’s okay.”
“I’d love that. I guess that means you’ll agree to a second date?” he asks clearly full of hope.
“I’d really like that.” I really would.
We exchange phone numbers and a promise to meet again. As I watch him walk away, I know I made the right call coming here tonight. For one, I made a promise, and it would have been wrong to leave Ollie here waiting. And two, I could have a future with him. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made all those years ago – putting my entire focus on Ali. I don’t know what will happen when I see him tonight, but no matter the outcome, I know this time I’ll be able to move on, with or without Ali.
It was always my intention to also see Ali tonight. Despite my doubts and confusions, one thing is clear – outside forces successfully pushed us apart. Both of us were deceived. We assume the truth is always obvious. Either something is true or it’s a lie. But sometimes it’s more complicated. Sometimes the truth is messy. Our story is clearly messy.
By the time I arrive at the park it is 8:15. I have no idea if he is still here. But the park isn’t huge, and it doesn’t take me long to find him. He’s sitting on a bench, waiting.
“You came …” he stands when he sees me approaching.
“Yeah. I um, had somewhere else to be earlier.”
“Right, I figured you might be busy, that’s why I thought I’d wait for a bit. I’m glad you’re here. I assume you read my letter?” he asks, a hint of nervousness in his voice.
“I did,” I say.
“And do you believe me that I’m the one who wrote it?”
Being someone’s pen pal, you never get to understand their facial cues. You don’t know if they have a tell when they’re lying. Sarcasm, humour, concern, don’t always translate well in the written word. And so, I study him now before answering. That same sense of nervousness is clear in his eyes. Those are also the eyes I remember. He must have been wearing coloured contact lenses before. He’s squeezing his fingers, as he waits for my response. I didn’t spend enough time with Ali to know if he fidgets, yet if I had to guess, the guy in those letters does.
“After everything that happened, honestly, I don’t know what to believe anymore but … yeah … I think you did.”
I can see his body relax, the tension lifting from his shoulders.
“I swear I did. I wrote all of them, Jamie. Every single word was mine.”
“That’s not what your friends told me. They had my letters, Ali. They read them back to me. They made me feel like I was worthless, that I didn’t even deserve to breathe. They destroyed my self-confidence. And it wasn’t what they were saying; I’d heard stuff like that from those types of guys before. It was because they said those comments were coming from you, a guy I trusted. A guy I was falling in love with! I thought you were my fucking best friend!” I don’t mean to yell at the end, but it’s hard to keep my emotions in check. What his friends said that day scarred me, and those scars are still not gone. They hold me back to this very day.
“I swear to God, Jamie, I never told them about you, or said anything negative about you. I wouldn’t do that. You are my best friend! Those weren’t my comments. I’m really sorry for what they did. You didn’t deserve any of that.”
“I didn’t. I trusted you. You said your dad destroyed my letters.”
“I didn’t knowingly lie. Everything I said back at the bar, Jamie, I thought was true. That is what I was told. But you’re right it wasn’t the truth. It took me a while today to find out what really happened. I called everyone but they kept lying, until I eventually found out what happened.
“As you know, my dad got my last letter. He wasn’t thrilled that I was writing to someone from the east side, but that wasn’t the real issue. That’s not why he grounded me and kept me away from you. It’s what I wrote. He was ashamed of having a gay son. He thought it would further reduce his standing in society. A gay son meant he would never be accepted into the elite club. It was all about him. Not only did he blame me, but he blamed you. He thought I was confused because of you.
“He searched my room and found the rest of your letters. He told me he destroyed them. I didn’t see him burn them, but they were gone when I checked. Now I know that’s not what happened.
“As I told you the other day,” he continues, “the night we kissed at the hospital, when I got home, I got into a fight with my dad. He threatened me that if I told anyone else about you or, as he put it, this ‘lie’ that I was gay, there would be consequences. I was so angry I told him it was too late, that Hugh knew everything. I believe I told you about Hugh. We hung out together a bit, but we weren’t close friends. Most people found him rather irritating. I hated him because he thought he was better than everyone else. Like my dad, he looked down on and didn’t trust people who had less than him. He was also really fucking stupid and gullible. We only really knew each other because his father is my dad’s best friend, so I knew it would really piss off my dad. I was right. My dad was livid. But just to be clear, it wasn’t true. I didn’t tell Hugh a thing.
“Assuming Hugh knew the truth though, my dad called him the next morning. He told him it was all a misunderstanding, that I wasn’t gay, but just naïve. He said you were trying to manipulate me to get money, and I didn’t realize that since I have a soft heart like my mom. My dad can be very convincing, and as I just said, Hugh was an idiot. My dad had two goals. One, to convince Hugh that I wasn’t gay. And two, to get you to hate me. He told Hugh to find you and tell you it was all a prank.”
This is a lot to take in at once. I don’t know what to believe yet or how to react; it sounds so far-fetched. And yet, at the same time, from what I know about his father from those letters, it sounds true. There are still gaps in this version of events though.
“How did your dad or Hugh know about the kiss?” That part still doesn’t make sense.
“I told my parents when I got home that night from the hospital. My dad kept saying it was just a phase, that I’d get over it, that I’d get over you. I was so angry. I told him about the kiss because I wanted to prove to him that he was wrong, that it wasn’t a phase. After that night I knew I was gay. I knew before, but I was certain at that point. I told him when we kissed, I finally felt something. I had kissed girls before, but every time I felt nothing. I felt numb. But with you, it felt right. It felt …” he clearly is struggling to find the right word. “It felt like someone finally loved the real me. My dad mentioned the kiss to Hugh because he thought Hugh already knew about it. He’s the one who made up the whole bet lie.”
Ali’s struggle hits close to home. I know that feeling of numbness. I also know how it was temporarily replaced when he first kissed me all those years ago. He can’t fake those emotions. Yet I’m still having a hard time reconciling all of this.
“How is it that you know all of this now but you didn’t before?”
“I called my dad and confronted him. He wouldn’t tell me anything at first, but my dad’s done some ethically questionable things in the past, and I may have used that to my advantage. He was still cagey and didn’t say much, but I got the rest out of Hugh. He admitted he grabbed another friend and confronted you. Hugh thought he was helping me. I asked him why he never told me any of this. He said my dad warned him not to because I was ashamed of what happened. Plus, if he kept quiet, we would become better friends. That didn’t happen. Two months later he moved across the country to go to school, and I also left town to go to university, and we lost touch. I didn’t really keep in contact with anyone from Cedar Creek. Also, if you’re wondering, Hugh is still a giant fucking idiot.”
Okay, so he has an answer to that too. I have no fucking idea what to believe right now. I’ve never been this confused in my life. He can tell.
“You don’t believe me,” he says.
“I don’t know, Ali. I don’t know what to believe! All of this it’s … it’s so. Fuck! I don’t know!” That frustration is back again.
“I understand,” he says calmly.
“You also said it was my dad that found your last letter, that he went to your father and demanded money. I asked my dad. He had no idea what I was talking about. Are you going to admit that was a lie?”
He looks down and starts to fidget with his fingers again. “Um, you’re right, it wasn’t your dad who found the letter … it was the park manager. He saw me go into the shed one day and went in after I left. He’s the one who found the letter. My dad told me the other story so that I’d hate you. He actually defended himself. He claimed he was right because your family was just after his money.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I respond. “If my dad wasn’t the one who found the letter, then how exactly was my family after his money?”
He looks unsure whether he should continue. “It’s obviously just another lie, and it doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me. What did he say?”
Ali sighs heavily before continuing. “Just to be clear, I don’t believe him. My dad said the day after the accident, your mom came to the house. She allegedly blamed me for the accident, she thought I was the one driving the car that hit you. She demanded my dad pay for your recovery. He said they came to an arrangement, and as part of the deal you guys would leave. They agreed to make it seem like your dad got a promotion. He also said he made your mom sign a non-disclosure agreement. But again, I don’t believe him. It’s clearly a lie.”
I shake my head. First it was my dad, now my mom. “My mom doesn’t even know you. She asked me several times that day if I knew who brought me to the hospital, but I lied and said I didn’t know. I just said I was walking to the store when I was hit. My parents still don’t know it actually happened up north.”
“Look, Jamie, you don’t need to explain, I believe you. I know my dad is lying,” he quickly interjects.
“Though, I guess now that I think about it, one of the nurses could have told her your name.”
“That’s true. A lot of people saw me there.”
“My mom asked me a few times that night if I knew who hit me. At one point in time she even thought that maybe I was covering for someone. She was convinced it was someone from the west, since the police didn’t get involved in a hit and run. I just assumed that was taken care of by your dad.”
He nods. “The chief of police is my dad’s golfing buddy. But again, as I said, I don’t believe him. I know you, your dad and your mom were not after my money.”
Is it possible my mom learned Ali’s identity? It’s possible. But why would she go to his house? Did she really think Ali was responsible? And if she did go, why would she hide that from me and my dad? Also, now that I think about it, that first night my mom asked me a ton of questions. But the next day she didn’t. Only my dad brought it up. Maybe it’s because she believed my story. Or maybe she signed an NDA. I don’t know.
“Also, if it was allegedly my mom who demanded money … why would your dad say it was my father? Why wouldn’t he tell you it was my mom? Why lie about that?” That doesn’t make any sense.
“I had the exact same question, but he wouldn’t say. If I had to venture a guess I think it's because – and this likely won’t come as a surprise – my dad is a giant misogynist. If what he said is true – and just to be clear I’m not saying it is true – but if it is, then I think he probably was too ashamed or too proud to admit he had to capitulate to a woman. I don’t know, but that’s probably why.”
“Maybe …” I guess we may never know. “Also, speaking of mothers, you said your mom backed up your dad’s story. Where was she during all of this?” According to his letters, he was always close to her, yet she is almost completely absent from this story.
“My dad got his assistant to lie to her. He also showed us both the bank transfer. It had your dad’s name on it. We both believed him when he said it was proof your family demanded money to keep quiet. That could also be a reason why he said your dad was behind the threat – because the money went to your dad. That made it more believable. But now I know the money was really my father’s way of making sure you guys left town.”
“As for my mom,” he continues, “she actually was away for a few weeks after my birthday. She went to this yoga and wellness retreat at a remote spa in the mountains. You weren’t supposed to have much contact with the outside world, but she did call a few times. I never told her what was going on because I knew she would be upset and it would ruin her trip. She was far away and couldn’t really do much. Plus, I didn’t want to come out to her over the phone. I desperately counted down the days to her return. I was so happy when she came back. She gave me a hug and told me just how much she loved me and missed me. And that’s when my dad decided to out me. She had literally just walked into the house. Her bags were still by her feet. And you know what he told her? ‘This is why your pathetic piece of shit son is a fucking faggot, because of all of our coddling’. Those were his exact words. I was humiliated.”
Fuck, that’s bad. The pain on Ali’s face is undeniable. I would be humiliated too.
“I ran to my room,” he continues. “She came after me and I told her everything, about you and the letters. I actually showed her my last letter. My dad confronted me with it. He threw it at me in anger. He didn’t realize I took it out of the envelope. He tore up the envelope after, thinking the letter was still inside. But it wasn’t. I kept it all these years. When my mom read it, she wasn’t angry like my dad. She hugged me and she cried. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry like that before. She thought she was the worst mother in the world for not realizing how much pain I was in before. She also told me that she loves me unconditionally, and accepts me for who I am. It was … I’ll never forget that moment.”
I know how frightening it is to wonder if your parents will accept your sexuality. I can see that turmoil in his eyes now as he reflects on that memory.
“She’s the one who helped me get away the next day,” he says picking up his story. “It was because of her I was able to come and visit you at your home. She’s always been in my corner.”
Right, he did tell me his mom had been away the day we met. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this the day you came to my house?”
“I was going to. I was going to come out to you and … and tell you I was in love with you. That’s why we were biking to the falls. I wanted to go somewhere special. But as you know we didn’t make it.”
“Right, we didn’t …” His story is starting to add up.
“Look, I know you don’t trust me,” Ali continues, “and you have good reason not to. You were right. You didn’t betray me. I betrayed you. But in my defence, I didn’t know what was going on. Their lies seemed real. I tried to find you the next day, but you were gone. Years later I tried again ... but in retrospect hiring my dad’s former private investigator wasn’t the smartest idea. He told my father I was looking for you, and my dad paid him even more to lie. Clearly using him was dumb.”
“Yeah …” I agree.
“If I were still lying, Jamie, why would I have kept the last letter, and this watch and the tattoo. I could have had the tattoo removed. I could have easily purchased a new watch. But I kept it all because it reminded me of you,” he passionately argues. “I always doubted that you betrayed me. There was always this nagging feeling inside of me that something wasn’t right. I thought maybe you were also unaware of what was going on – that even if your family was after my dad’s money, that you didn’t know. I was always trying to find an alternative theory as to what could have happened. I didn’t want to part ways with you. Also, if it was all a prank, why would I get a tattoo on my back? Why would I get a permanent reminder on my body? And that isn’t just any heartbeat … it’s yours.”
“It’s mine?” That completely throws me. “I don’t understand.”
He pulls out a small pink piece of paper from his wallet. “That night you were in hospital, I took this from your chart. It’s your heartbeat. I kept this too.”
He passes it over to me. Sure enough, it has my name on it, and it’s from the hospital.
“It’s the same,” he says turning around and lifting his shirt. It really is the same. He drops his shirt and turns back around. “It’s your heartbeat. Not only did I keep that paper, I got your heartbeat tattooed on my skin, near my scar. I thought it was the least I could do to say thanks for saving my life twice.”
“Twice?” I ask confused. I still don’t understand why he thinks I saved his life more than once. “There was only the one time.”
“There were two. The second was when we were biking. The first was when we met … when I was hurting myself and I um …” he sighs heavily while looking at the ground. “You saved me then too.”
He doesn’t say it, but I think I know what he means. Fuck.
After reading his last letter, at first there was just a trickle of doubt that I could be wrong. Now it feels like the floodgates are open. Looking at him now, the pain and sorrow in his eyes, the way they plead with me to believe him … I know in my heart he’s not lying. His version sounds real. Clearly, we were both lied to. And he’s right about the letter, the watch, and the tattoo. He clearly didn’t want to let me go. People do not go that far to pull a prank. They just don’t.
“Did you ever hurt yourself again after?” I’m actually worried for him.
“No,” he says quickly. “I thought about it after everything that happened with you, but I didn’t. I promised my mom I would never hurt myself again, and that I would see a therapist. It also really helped that my mom accepted my sexuality, though after everything that happened with you, I tried to ignore it. I thought the only guy I ever loved possibly betrayed me, so nothing else mattered. I even started to think my dad was right that it was only a phase. I tried to date girls, but that didn’t work for obvious reasons. I came to a point where I thought I didn’t deserve love, so I didn’t try to find it. It’s why I still have douchebag friends. Also, I’m not proud of this but I had a couple of meaningless one-night stands with a few different guys. But that wasn’t the case with you. That night we spent together was different. I didn’t know who you were when we first met at the bar, I swear. But something drew me to you. I think it was fate.”
Fuck, that makes me feel awful. All this time I assumed I was the only one hurting. He was clearly hurting too. “I’m sorry to hear that you went through all of that.”
“I’m not,” he says.
“You’re not?” I asked surprised.
“No. It helped me grow as a person.”
We both just look at one another, breathing heavily, as our hearts race away. This has clearly taken an emotional toll on both of us.
“So, what happens now?” I’m the first to break the silence.
“I don’t know. I need to have a long conversation with my dad again, but I’ll wait until I see him in person. One thing is for sure though, I’m done wearing masks. I’m gay, and my dad will have to accept that whether he likes it or not. I don’t care if it ruins his social status.”
“Someone wise once told me, ‘This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow,’ that uh …” I don’t remember the rest!
“‘As the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man’,” he says finishing the Shakespearean quote. That makes him smile, but it quickly fades. “And speaking of truth … do you believe me?”
It still is a lot to take in, but my gut tells me I can trust him.
“It sounds crazy, but, yes, I believe you. I still have many questions and so much still doesn’t make sense. I think your dad is lying about my mom, but after everything we’ve been through, clearly you never know who is telling the truth. So, I guess at the very least I should have a conversation with her. Otherwise, yeah, I guess I do believe you.”
His smile grows. “Thank you. I know I don’t deserve your trust, so it means a lot. And sorry.”
“For causing you pain. I will forever hate that I did that.”
“It’s not your fault, you didn’t know.”
“I should have though. I should have known what my family was capable of, and I should have done a better job protecting you from them.”
“We can’t control what others do, Ali. And I should apologize too. I shouldn’t have doubted you and believed your friends, that wasn’t fair to you.”
We both fall silent, again unsure where to go from here.
“So, what does this mean for us?” This time Ali is the first to break the silence.
That’s a good question. “I don’t know.” I really have no idea. I didn’t expect the night to go this way.
“Clearly, there is still a connection between us,” he pleads. “I can’t tell you how many times I dreamed of being close to you all those years ago. I thought I knew what it would feel like. I was wrong. It was nothing like what I felt the other night when we were together. And I think you felt something too.”
He’s right. There was a connection. But I thought I was connecting to a stranger I barely knew named Cameron, not the Ali who significantly shaped my life.
“Look, Ali, this is a lot to process, and we clearly need to still sort through some stuff. And I want to be honest with you, I’m kind of seeing someone now.” I feel like he deserves to know that.
His smile vanishes. “Oh, I’m um, I’m happy for you.” He doesn’t look happy.
“It’s going to take some time to figure all of this out.”
“That’s completely fair. I guess I’ll just see you around then.”
I can’t tell if that’s a statement or a question. He looks broken, and it breaks my heart. Even after all these years, he knows the path to my heart. We’ve already lost so much time together; I don’t want to lose anymore. At the very least, I don’t want to lose my friend again.
“I guess you’ll see me next week.”
“Next week?” he asks confused.
“Yeah, we have bike club Saturday morning, remember?”
There is that puzzled yet hopeful look again. “Um, yeah, I guess we do.”
“You promised, as my friend, it would be our escape, remember? I’m still holding you to that.”
“Perfect. Have a good night, Ali.”
I was wrong. I thought coming here wouldn’t change the past. While it doesn’t erase those years of heartache, it does put it all into a new perspective. It also opens up many more possibilities for the future.
Our bodies tightly pressed together,
Wandering hands, explore his soft skin,
Navigating the uncharted terrain.
Staring into those dreamy eyes,
Enthralled by his aura,
Longing for even more,
Fearlessly, I lean forward.
Breaking away from all that doubt,
Eagerly, I bring my lips to his.
Tenderly, yet passionately,
Readily, I give in.
Undoubtedly, this was no accident.
Ending up here with him … it was meant to be.
There you have it, folks! I hope you enjoyed the story. Please let me know what you think in the comments!!!
Some of you may have wanted more, but I think this is where the story needed to end.
Now, I don't say at the end who Jamie is with -- Ollie or Ali (see what I did there?). That's up to you to decide. BUT if you want to know what I think, I actually left a clue in this chapter. If you figure it out, please don't type it openly in the comments.
A big thanks to everyone who read this story -- especially those who left a comment.