“James is fine,” I tell Will. I stopped using Jamie because of what happened with Ali, though my family still uses the nickname. I didn’t know how to tell them to stop, without explaining everything that happened. I know they’d never judge me, but I didn’t tell them because I thought they’d also think I’m an idiot.
“Right, I love you and all, and you’re great at storytelling, but you’re killing me here! What happened!?” he asks eagerly as I continue to recount my story as we sit in the park.
“It didn’t work out in the end, Will, it’s just best to leave it there.”
“Nope, not a chance. You’re not doing that. He kissed you! The story clearly doesn’t end there.”
“I wish it did. I was discharged from hospital later that morning. I know it was crazy and even though I could have gotten an extension, I went to school and wrote my final exam. When my dad came to pick me up, he told me we were moving, and so we left town.”
“Wait, that’s it? You moved?” Will asks confused. “I don’t understand, you said it was all a lie. How was any of that Ali’s fault?”
“I found out the letters were part of an elaborate prank. Ali was just messing with me. He had a bet with his friends.”
“Really? Wow. That’s totally fucked up and doesn’t make any sense. That’s a lot of work for a prank to write to someone for a year.”
“I agree. That’s what I thought. But he wasn’t even the one writing the letters. He basically told some kid what to write and he paid him.”
“He paid someone?” Will asks, shocked.
“Rich kids find creative ways to waste money.”
“How did you find out?”
“His friends told me. They ran into me outside my school. I guess they figured out who I was because I was the guy with the broken leg. I was waiting for my dad to come pick me up, but he was late because he was talking to his boss.”
“That seems way too convenient. Why were they on the east side? How do you know they were telling the truth? Why would they tell you this?” Will asks a series of good questions – questions I’ve asked myself many times over the last few years.
“They had my letters. Ali said his dad destroyed them, but they had them. They laughed as they read the letters back to me, so that I knew just how big of a fool I was. They said they’d go through them as a group and mock the desperation in my writing. The prank was only supposed to go on for a while, but Ali was convinced he could make me fall in love with him, that even guys couldn’t resist him, especially a guy who, as they put it, had a girl’s name. He bet all his friends a thousand dollars he could ‘turn me’. But his friends felt the letters weren’t enough, they wanted the two of us to kiss. And they knew that happened the night before. They knew about the kiss. The only way they could have known is if Ali told them. So, I guess it was all a lie.” I can feel all of that anger return as I recount this part of the story.
“That’s really fucked up. Where was Ali? Why were his friends only there?”
“Supposedly he was on his way. His friends though scattered when my dad arrived.”
“Fuck, dude, that’s horrible. People actually do that shit?”
“Normal people don’t. Entitled pieces of shit, yeah, they do. We’re not human to them.”
“Fuck. I would have confronted Ali and told him off.”
“And what would I have said? I felt like such a fucking fool. I thought we were friends. I thought he loved me. Sitting there unable to move because of my fucking broken leg, it was unbearable. I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t. I had to sit there and listen to them taunt me. Then my dad said we were moving, and I realize I could actually run away. I was more than happy to leave. That’s why my dad was talking to his boss. He was being promoted to an office job on the other side of the country. He also got a ‘signing bonus’. But I know that’s not why he got that money.”
“Why did he get the money?” Will asks.
“It was hush money. Easton Limited doesn’t give signing bonuses, I did my research. Ali’s dad wanted us gone, so he made it happen. The ‘signing bonus’ was to make sure we didn’t talk.”
“Wait, I don’t understand, if it was all a prank, why would Ali’s dad pay you to leave?”
“So that we wouldn’t tell anyone else his son was a fucking sociopath. I still had all of his fake letters. He paid to make the problem, in this case me, go away.”
“Right, that make sense. Fuck, dude that’s crazy. Did your dad know that?”
“No. To this day he still thinks he actually got a promotion, and that all his of hard work paid off and … I can’t take that away from him. Plus, it was enough to cover my tuition for university. I had gotten into King’s University, and as you know it’s really expensive to go there. Even with my scholarship it wasn’t enough to cover my expenses. My parents were so proud when I got my acceptance letter. Very few kids from the east side go to a top university. But when they realized they were thousands of dollars short they were gutted. They thought they had failed me. My dad took on another job to help make up the shortfall. I was also planning to work multiple jobs over the summer. But when he realized with the bonus, he had enough to make my dream, and their dream, come true, he was ecstatic. I’ve never seen him happier. Plus, his new job just happened to be in the same city as the university. I didn’t want to touch that money. How could I use it when I knew what it was really for? But I didn’t have the heart to tell my parents the truth.”
“Shit, yeah, I get that. Fuck, that’s messed up.”
“And now you know why I hate him. Then on top of that I fucking slept with him! A decade ago, that’s all I wanted to do. But now … ugh! I feel gross.”
“Yeah, I get it now. Fuck. That’s rough.”
“Part of me wants to confront him, to just rip him to shreds.”
“You should do it!”
“But then I wonder what’s the point. It won’t change anything.”
“It won’t, but at least you’ll say your piece, right?”
“I guess, but I don’t even know if he knows who I am. I keep going back and forth. Why would he join our bike club? Is he still messing with me?”
“I don’t know, but sleeping with you to prove a decade old bet is kind of extreme, no?”
“It is, but you don’t know these guys. They’re fucking messed up. I just don’t know.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
“I honestly have no fucking clue.”
Do I confront him, or do I ignore him? That’s all I’ve been thinking about since I got home from the park.
Putting aside the anger and humiliation, to this day all I really want to know is why. Why he did what he did and what he got out of it all. Did it make him happy? Was it just to have a good laugh at my expense? Was he really that heartless? Or was there more. Maybe it started out as a prank but turned real and he was too afraid, or too ashamed to admit it? These are the questions that drove me to study psychology. I thought by studying the human mind and behaviour I could find the answers, but I still haven’t found them. He holds all of the answers.
Then there are the new questions. He always called me his lifeline, a feeling I assumed was also fake. But to get that tattooed on his back, and our pen pal number? If it all truly was just a prank, why create a permanent marker on his body? A marker that he’ll carry for the rest of his life. Surely, people will ask about it in the future. Even when he’s old and grey, he wants people to remember how he tricked a poor kid into falling in love with him? Who thinks that’s a badge of honour to celebrate? He can’t possibly be that sick, right?
Maybe it did mean something to him.
Fuck, I hate my life!
And clearly the world isn’t done fucking with me just yet. All I wanted was to order in a pizza and eat my feelings away. I thought it was the delivery guy at the door. It’s not. It’s him. For fuck’s sake! This crosses a line.
He truly is persistent.
“I’m sorry to just show up like this at your house. I know I’m probably coming across as a crazy stalker.”
You are. This needs to end. “Yeah, look, you had your fun, it was a random hook up, that’s all that was, let’s not make it into anything more. You got what you wanted.”
“I got what I wanted?” he repeats back confused. “I don’t even know what that means. You’re right, I did have fun, I thought we both had fun last week. But I understand you’re not interested, and while that sucks, it’s fine.”
So then why are you here?
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here then,” he continues, “and why I came biking this morning. I joined because, honestly, you made it sound fun, and I thought it would be a good new activity – but I can tell it made you uncomfortable, so I won’t go back. I also wanted to ask you something, but you took off in such a hurry that I didn’t get the chance. I was wondering if you’ve seen my watch? I had it with me last week when we met, but I haven’t seen in since. I thought maybe I accidentally left it here? It’s sort of a special watch and means a lot to me.”
I noticed his watch while we were at the bar on Saturday. It looked like the one he tried to gift me all those years ago, but I wasn’t sure. I figured he got rid of it and moved onto something fancier.
“I haven’t seen it,” I truthfully respond.
“Do you mind taking a quick look, please?” he asks.
Fuck, I do mind, but if I pretend to look, then maybe he’ll leave for good.
“Fine,” I say as I start to close the door. My plan is to have him wait in the hallway, but the dumb fuck comes inside! “Do you know where you think you may have left it?”
“I think I had it when we went into your bedroom, so probably there?”
“Wait here, I’ll check.”
Once again, my sacred space is ruined, and I really like this apartment! Maybe I’ll just have to move. For a second time, he’ll drive me out of my home.
I quickly look around my room to see if I can spot his stupid watch. I know it’s not here; I would have noticed it before. Yep, as expected, not here. Perhaps it fell under the bed? It’s possible. I crouch down to take a look. Yep, there it is, his stupid watch.
“Any luck?” I hear him call from the family room.
“Looking still,” I lie as I reach underneath and pull it out. At first glance, it looks like the one he tried to give me all those years ago. Yeah, it’s the same watch. It still has the engraving on the back: ‘To Jamie, My Lifeline’.
After all these years he kept the watch. Why? It makes no sense. He can easily afford to replace it, yet he says this one is special. What’s so special about this watch? And did he leave it here on purpose as an excuse to come back? It’s sad how I have to question everything he does and says.
“Found it,” I say as I walk out of my room. “It was underneath my bed.” I add the last part so he doesn’t think I found it earlier and was trying to keep it.
Immediately his eyes light up, as he breaks into a huge smile. He actually looks relieved. “Oh my God, thank you, thank you, thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Okay, now my turn to fuck with his brain.
“So, who’s Jamie?”
“Sorry?” he says looking up.
“On the back, it says the watch is for Jamie, and you’re not Jamie.”
“Oh, right, yeah. It was a gift for a friend from a long time ago.”
A friend? Interesting word choice. “Must have been a special friend. The same one you got the tattoo for?”
“Yeah. You know, it’s weird ... you kind of remind me of him.”
I do, do I? “Really? How?”
I've physically changed a fair bit in the last decade. I was a bit chubby before, but I lost a ton of weight. My face used to be round, but not anymore. I have a jaw line now. My hair is completely different, plus I have a bit of facial hair. I also no longer wear glasses.
“You kind of have some of the same features. And even just talking to you, it feels familiar. You know, normally I don’t run after people, but –”
I don’t let him finish. “Should I feel special?” He clearly is still a douche.
“No, no, no, no, no, that’s not what I meant at all. I mean … I just,” he stops to take a deep breath. “After Jamie, I met a bunch of people and I … I never … how do I put this … I never connected to any of them like I did with him - that is until I met you. Last week when I was with you, it felt like I was with him again, even though I know that’s not possible. I guess even after all these years I’m still searching for him.”
Searching for him? What the fuck? “What do you mean searching –”
He doesn’t let me finish. He clearly isn’t even listening. “In fact, I was so convinced it felt like old times that I thought I heard you say something as I left. It’s been on my mind all week.”
Weird. “What did I supposedly say?”
“It sounded like you called me Ali.”
What? No, I didn’t. I wouldn’t be that careless. “I’m sorry?”
“As you closed the door, I’m pretty sure you called me Ali.”
I shake my head slowly. “No …”
“I figure I misheard because I only told you my middle name, I didn’t tell you my full name. So, then I thought maybe you’ve known who I am all along. It’s not hard to figure out, my name and picture have been in the news before because of my dad, and the stupid shit I’ve done in the past. That’s why I don’t use my full name, because everyone will know who I am, and that I’m a total fuck up. But even if you knew who I am, you would have called me Alistair, because everyone calls me Alistair. But I thought you called me Ali, and Jamie is the only person who ever called me that.”
Fuck. Did I call him Ali? I don’t remember. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Oh shit, maybe I did. Fuck. “We both had a lot to drink that night. You probably misheard.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.”
He doesn't seem fully convinced. But I need to return to his earlier comment. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what happened to Jamie? You said you were searching for him? Why?”
He closes his eyes and bites his lower lip. He takes a deep breath before answering.
“I guess to get closure. To know why.”
I’m so confused. “Why, what?”
“Jamie was my first love. I thought there was something special between us, but I was wrong. And I guess … I just thought if I could find him then I could ask him why he uh … why he betrayed me … if it was all worth it. But I know I’m never going to get an answer ..."
I’m sorry, WHAT!
TWIST! I hope none of you saw that coming.
In Jamie's version of what happened - Ali is clearly the bad guy. So then why does Ali feel like he was the one who was betrayed? 🤔
Leave your thoughts, feedback, comments and theories below. As always, thanks for reading!