I can’t breathe. I feel paralyzed. My attempt to project self-confidence, that ability to believe in myself, all of it is gone. In an instant, I’m that boy again. That weak, defenceless boy.
“That shower felt great,” the half-naked liar says as he walks into my bedroom. But his smile fades when he looks at me. “You okay, James?”
It was just supposed to be one drink. How did we end up here? How did I end up with him? Out of all the people in the world, I slept with him. Him. The one guy I swore I’d never have anything to do with again. The one guy who to this day makes my insides burn with rage.
How could I have not known? How did I not recognize him? Now it seems so obvious. It’s him. It’s obviously him. Part of me feels like I knew the truth all along.
I should have run. I should have listened to that inner paranoid voice in my head and left the bar. The problem is I can’t take it back. I have to live with what I’ve done. For now though, I need to compose myself. I can’t be that boy again. Not in front of him. Never. I won’t give him that satisfaction. I won’t let him control me again.
I grab his t-shirt from my bed and toss it to him. “Yeah … um … this was good … but uh … I’m kind of tired now … and uh ... you should head out,” I say my voice cracking.
He’s clearly surprised by the turn of events.
“Oh. Okay. I … um … sure, yeah. I’ll just get dressed.”
“Take your time. I’ll be in the living room.”
Stay calm. This will all be over in a few minutes and he’ll be gone. He’ll be out of my apartment and out of my life again. I just don’t know how long I can keep my composure. I can’t let him see me cry. I won’t give him that victory.
I keep thinking back to the last time we met, the day everything changed. It felt so real, I knew that moment was real. Then it wasn’t. Then it was all supposedly a joke, a prank. I didn’t believe it then and tonight is proof I was right.
Or maybe it is still a joke. Maybe he knows who I am. Maybe he’s still playing that same game, that sick game. Why else would he use his middle name as opposed to his first name? If he used his first name, I would have known right away. Why is he hiding? There can only be one reason, to fool me.
He joins me fully clothed a few seconds later.
“This was nice,” he says. “I had a lot of fun tonight.”
“Sure,” I reply coldly.
His reaction is instant. He didn’t expect such a curt response. He’s used to people fawning over him, running after him for his approval.
“Okay, um, maybe we can see each other again?”
I can see what he’s trying to do with his eyes. He’s trying to charm me. I won’t fall for that trick again.
“Maybe. Anyway, it’s getting late.” I open the door to indicate he’s outworn his welcome.
“Yeah, um, of course.” But he hesitates at the door. “I’m sorry, did I do something wrong? I thought we were having a good time?”
It’s too late for apologies. We’re so past apologies.
“I just have to be up early.”
“Of course, I understand. Just one other thing before I go … um, I’m not out. So …. uh, if we can um, keep this between us, please.”
And they said I was weak.
“I won’t tell anyone.” I’m not telling a soul about tonight. I want to erase this memory.
“Thank you,” he says as he crosses the threshold. “Take care, James.”
“Yeah. Bye, Ali.”
As I slam the door in his face, I can see the light, the confidence, go out of his eyes. Good. He’s used to getting everything he wants, but not anymore. Those days are long gone, and I’m not that person anymore. I’m much stronger now.
I’m not as strong as I think.
When he leaves (I’m not saying his name) I strip my bed. I have this urge to burn the sheets, that’s how much I want to erase his presence here. But I think that would be a bit too crazy. Instead, I wash them three times. I just want to get his stench out of my bed, out of my home.
But even when I put the sheets back on, I can’t sleep there. I keep picturing him, picturing his naked body on my bed, and what we did together. So instead, I try to sleep on the floor, but it doesn’t work, I can’t sleep. Besides being extremely uncomfortable, my mind is racing, reliving all those memories I tried so hard to bury in my head.
I feel like a massive fool. I’m always so careful. I always keep people at a comfortable distance. Hell, it took me a year to really become friends with Will, and even then, I still keep some distance between us. Yet, a guy smiles at me at a bar, makes me feel good about myself for all of five minutes, and I invite him into my bed. I thought I was better than that, that I didn’t need someone else’s validation to make me feel good about myself. After all these years, I’m still that pathetic.
I try my best not to cry, but I can’t. At one point in time I break down and let it all flow out.
“Did you see last night’s episode of …” Will asks as we get set for our weekly bike ride. We joined a school club a few weeks ago. We meet every Saturday morning. It’s a good way to get some exercise and socialize at the same time.
It’s been a week since it happened. For the first few days I avoided Will. I felt that in a way, and I know this is ridiculous, everything that happened was partially Will’s fault. If he had just shown up at the bar on time, or told me he couldn’t make it, none of this would have happened. I would have stayed at home, watched TV, and I would never have run into him.
Then I realized I was being extremely stupid. I know I could have run into him any time on campus, or at the grocery store, or wherever. It clearly was meant to happen. And it almost happened again, I think. Two days ago, I was on campus when I thought I saw him across the field. I quickly grabbed Will by the arm and pulled him in the opposite direction. Poor Will was baffled and nearly fell over. Then again, yesterday I had to do a quick 180. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him but I didn’t want to take the chance.
I figure the best way to forget what happened is to just carry on with life like I normally do. I buried it all once before, I can bury it again. This time though, I’ll be smarter. The walls are going back up, and they’re going to be taller and stronger.
Except this time, I have nowhere to run. The moment Will steps to the side to refill our water bottles, I hear a voice. Instantly, my heart sinks. For fuck’s sake! I wasn’t saying I wanted to run into him, I was just saying that it was possible! Yet now here he is in the flesh.
“Hi, James …” the unwanted guest says.
When I turn around, I realize it is much worse than expected. Not only is he here, he has a bike with him. He joined the club. Great, another sanctuary ruined.
“How are you?” he asks.
He notices I’m glaring at his bike.
“I was looking for an activity to join, and I remember you saying that –”
“Well, hello newbie,” our booming club leader Josh says as he (thankfully) interrupts our conversation. “Welcome to our bike club! Do you two know one another?”
“No,” I quickly blurt out.
But at the same time, he says “yes”.
“Great!” Josh continues “You can show Cameron around then and help him get set up. Thanks guys!”
Before I can protest, Josh takes off. Fuck. Perhaps if I just avoid him, he’ll finally take a hint and leave. But no, he just stands there with a stupid smile on his face.
“So, uh, this seems like a cool group,” he says.
It was cool before you joined.
“Yeah …” He doesn’t deserve more than one-word answers. As much as I tried to forget him after last week, I couldn’t. I just kept wondering if he knows who I am. He must. Right? How could he not? Though, I didn’t recognize him at first. The last time we met was ten years ago. He looks different. I know I look different too. But that different? Even now though, the way he is acting, it’s like he doesn’t know we share a past. Fuck, this is annoying! I want to ask him, but at the same time, if he doesn’t know who I am, I’d rather keep it that way.
“Cool. So, is there anything I should know?”
You should know you’re a prick and not wanted here. Now I just need to find a way to say that in a nicer, more diplomatic way so that he’ll leave. I’m so preoccupied with trying to formulate a plan I don’t even notice Will’s return.
“Hey, I’m back!” Will says with two bottles full of water. Shit. I didn’t want them to meet! He looks over at the new guy. “Hey, I’m Will.”
“Cameron. I just joined the group.”
“Thanks. James was just showing me around.”
“Um, about that. Hey, Steve!” I say waiving down another guy in our group. “Hey, sorry, do you mind showing the new member around. I just noticed my chain is messed up and I want to fix that before we go. Thanks, you’re the best!”
“Yeah, no problem,” Steve says.
“Um, I guess I’ll catch you later,” he says as he walks away, the disappointment clear in his eyes.
“Who was that?” Will asks the moment we’re alone again.
“The new guy,” I respond.
“Uh huh. Seems like you two know each other.”
“Nope, just met,” I say.
“Something is off.” Will is also annoyingly very observant.
“Nothing’s off,” I say as I kneel down to ‘fix’ my chain.
“We both know there is nothing wrong with your bike’s chain,” Will correctly points out.
“I was mistaken. Anyway, the group’s getting ready to head out. Let’s go!”
This is meant to be a leisurely bike ride. We don’t go very fast and we take frequent breaks. Normally, I’m somewhere in the middle of the pack. Today though I ride in front. Will breathlessly tries to keep up. Even when the group takes a break, I go for a mini lap. If I’m not with the group, I can’t run into him again. Will can tell something is up, he’s not dumb.
For the most part, I successfully avoid him. But with just a few metres to go I notice someone pull up next to me. When I turn to the side, he looks over and smiles. Instantly, I’m taken back a decade to a memory I’ve long tried to repress but is still so clear in my mind: the two of us, riding bikes on a country road. Lost in that memory, I fail to notice the giant pothole in front of me. The next thing I know I’m falling.
“Jamie!” he cries out as he kneels beside me on the ground. It actually looks like he is worried. I knew he was a good actor. Also, he just used my nickname! “Sorry I mean, James, are you okay?” Now he switched to my real name. He must know who I am! Right?
“I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“You okay?” Will asks when he catches up.
“Yeah, I'm okay,” I say sitting up. “Just some scratches.”
After I assure everyone that I am indeed okay, I hop back onto my bike. I am a bit sore, so don’t go as fast. Will stays beside me the entire time. I notice him riding up ahead, frequently looking back. Like he actually cares.
When we get back to our starting point, we normally all stay for a drink and snack, but I tell Will I’m going to take off.
“I’ll ride back to your place with you,” he says, “just to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m fine,” I say for what feels like the hundredth time.
“You’re not going to stay for a snack?” he asks appearing out of nowhere.
“That’s too bad. I was hoping I could ask you something about last week, I mean, biking,” he quickly adds. “It’ll only take a moment.”
“Uh, sorry, Will and I actually have movie tickets and have to go. Another time. Bye, guys!” I say waiving to the group. “Let’s go, Will!”
I quickly hop back onto my bike and take off. It takes Will a moment to realize what’s going on, but he soon joins me. I didn’t want to bring Will along, but I also didn’t want to leave my friend there with him.
“What’s going on with you, dude?” Will asks when we stop at a light.
“Nothing,” I say.
“Nothing? We don’t have movie tickets.”
“It was a last-minute decision. Let’s go see a movie!”
“You clearly know that guy and are trying to avoid him. I’m not dumb. You’ve been off all morning. Actually, you’ve been off this whole week, and something tells me it has to do with Cameron.”
Will’s right. It has everything to do with him. Will is also stubborn and won’t let this go. Plus, I think it might help if I talk to Will about all this. But this isn’t a conversation one has at the side of the road. We head over to a park nearby, lean our bikes against a tree and sit under its shade. Now I just need to figure out where to begin.
“We met last Saturday, the night you failed to show up at the bar. We started talking. He bought me a drink and um then I had another and …”
“You two fucked, didn’t you?” Will asks with a huge smile.
Dammit. I wasn’t going to tell him that part. “Yes.”
“Nice. Well, he’s clearly into you, and he’s cute.”
“He’s cute? Are you sure you’re not gay?” I know Will’s not gay.
“Hey, I’m secure enough with my sexuality to admit if another guy is attractive. So, are you not into him?”
“It’s not that, exactly. It’s way more complicated. When I met him Saturday, I thought he looked familiar, but nothing else matched. It was only after we slept together that I realized he’s actually someone from my past.”
“Ooh, intriguing. Go on.”
“We actually met more than ten years ago when I was in high school. His name is Alistair. Cameron is his middle name. I guess he goes by that now. Do you remember the rich immature brats I told you about?” Will nods. “He was one of them.”
“Oh, wow. Wait, is he one of the guys who bullied you? Did you sleep with your bully?”
“Sort of …” How do I explain this to Will?
“Wow, I don’t know how I’d feel if I slept with someone who bullied me. In a way though, it’s kind of, I don’t know how to put this, not ironic, but like, karma. He always thought he was better than you, or too good for you. But you got the last laugh. A literal ‘fuck you’.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“So, does he know who you are? How did you guys not recognize each other?”
“He looks different. He’s changed, and I guess I have too. As for if he knows, I have no idea. Sometimes I think he does, but then at times I think maybe he doesn’t. I honestly have no clue.”
“What did you say when you realized it was him?”
“I kicked him out of my house.”
“I was hoping he would just disappear, but I guess not.”
“Are you going to tell him who you are?”
“No,” I say shaking my head.
“Why not? You have a chance to confront a guy who tormented you.”
“As I said, it’s a bit more complicated than that. He didn’t torment me. It was different with him.”
“How so?” Will asks.
“Ali wasn’t like the other guys. Or he just pretended he wasn’t like them. I thought we were friends … perhaps even best friends.”
There you have -- "How I Accidentally Slept With My (Best) Friend"
A question, you may be asking, is how did neither of them recognize the other? Well, you'll learn more about that in the next chapter.
As always, feedback and comments welcome below. Cheers!