Bullshit. He’s lying. There is no way in the world my father gave his father the letter. To this day neither of my parents know about the letters or what happened. It was difficult to hide all of it from them after we moved, but I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want to burden them.
I want to challenge him, but not yet. For now, I bite my tongue as anger builds inside of me. I need to hear more.
“I thought we were friends,” he continues, “and because I thought I could trust Jamie, in my last letter, I shared a lot of personal information. I revealed truths I hadn’t shared with anyone else. But it turns out Jamie was just using me. He was waiting for information he could use against my family. They said they’d publish the letters unless my dad paid them thousands of dollars. So, my dad paid. Now, normally I don’t believe my dad. He lies all the time. But he showed me the bank records. It was all there. And my mom backed up his story. She said it was true, and I trust her. She isn’t like my dad, she never lies to me. I was furious. I felt like such an idiot. My mom held me as I cried.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I didn’t fully believe it was true. Why would Jamie put himself in harm’s way to save my life? That didn’t make sense. My dad said it was because people will go to extreme lengths to make money ... but I don’t know, that wasn’t the Jamie I knew. The next day I jumped into my car and drove to Jamie’s house. I wanted answers. But they were gone.”
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. This isn’t true. We did not extort his family for money! We also left right away because my dad’s new job basically started the next day! It was clear his father wanted us gone as soon as possible.
“As to why I still wear the watch, I guess to remind myself to keep my guard up. It’s worked up until now; you’re the first person I’ve ever told this story to, which might not be the wisest thing to do but … at the same time it’s good to talk to someone about it all. I also wear the watch to remind myself of him. Even if it was all a lie, it did still mean something to me. He helped me grow, even if his motives were wrong.
“Then a few years ago,” he continues despondently, “I hired a private investigator to track down Jamie. I wanted answers. If all he was after was money, why would he turn down my multiple offers to help? Why wouldn’t he take the watch? Why would he reject my offer to help pay his tuition? I still remember how upset he was when he thought he wouldn’t get to go so the school of his dreams. If all he wanted was cash, he could have gotten that easily from me. Plus, if we stayed friends, over time he could have gotten thousands more. So much didn’t make sense.
“It didn’t take the P.I long to find him. He told me Jamie did attend the prestigious school he always wanted to go to, so at least the money he got from my dad went to good use, I guess. But soon after he graduated, he was walking home when he was uh … he was hit by a car. It was a drunk driver. Jamie um ...” he looks down and stares into his empty glass, “he unfortunately didn’t make it. He uh … he died. He’s gone and I’ll never get to hear his side of the story.”
Unbelievable. He’s clearly concocted this entire story, this new reality, all to make himself feel better. None of that explains why his friends knew about the letters, he just said he never told anyone about them, or how they knew about the kiss. And if my dad really did threaten his father, why would his father give my dad a promotion? It all doesn’t add up. And you know what, that’s fine. There is nothing he can say that will ever appease me or change what happened. Maybe it’s the three drinks I had while he spun his web of deception, or maybe I’m just fucking fed up, but I’m done being part of all these lies and games. It’s time for some brutal honesty.
“You should never say never,” I reply. “All the answers you need may have been right in front of you this entire time.”
“I’m sorry?” he asks confused.
“You can stop pretending, Ali. You can stop lying. Oh, you were right. The other night when we met, I called you Ali.” At first, I couldn’t remember if I had used his nickname, but when I thought about it, my uncertainty started to wane. I think I did use it.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
I knew he was a good actor. “You’ve clearly known all along.”
“I’ve known what all along, James? I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
I guess I’ll have to spell it out for him. “Cedar Creek forest. Diamond trail. Just past the small foot bridge. Turn right. Ten steps in. Oak tree. Two letters. A and J.” He engraved our initials in a tree the day we met. It was meant to be our secret meeting spot. But we never went back. His expression slowly changes to one of a mixture of shock and disbelief, as I outline something only two people in the world know.
“It’s not possible. No. It can’t be,” he says shaking his head.
“I guess I’m back from being fake dead.” His reaction is almost convincing.
“No. He showed me a newspaper article, he showed me a fucking death certificate!” he yells.
“Well, I guess your P.I. was good at faking documents, or like you, faking an entire story.”
“This isn’t real.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, but it is. Whether you’ve known who I am all along, I can’t tell. And you know what, it doesn’t matter. But I’m not going to sit here and let you spin some delusional, sad tale, where you’re the victim. I did not betray you. I saved your fucking life. You betrayed me! I know you didn’t write those letters. Your friends told me the truth about that stupid bet to ‘turn me’. But I guess now I know why you were so obsessed with getting another guy to love you.
“As for me, you never cared for me, let alone loved me. It was all a farce. And my dad did not extort your father for money. He didn’t even know about the letters. Your dad paid my father to make me go away. That’s the truth. You’re a shitty person who did a shitty thing. Stop peddling this false narrative just so that you can feel better.”
Throughout my entire rant, Ali just sits there stunned, like a deer caught in headlights.
“I wish I had recognized you before I slept with you, and not after. I don’t know if you knew my identity when we met, if sleeping with me was a mistake, or a continuation of that stupid bet. And you know what, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m not going to believe whatever you say because you’re a pathological liar. All I know is that I’m done with you, and all of this bullshit. I never want to see or hear from you again. I know you’re the rich kid with all the connections and you can probably ruin my life again, but you know what, I don’t give a shit. I’m not going to run again. I moved here first. If you have a problem with me, you’re welcome to fucking leave.”
Before I storm off, I slap some money on the table. “I never wanted your money, and I still don’t. I can pay for my own shit.”
None of those words truly encapsulate my state of anger. When I left the bar, it felt as if my insides were burning with rage, that steam was literally about to come out of my ears at any moment. That the piece of shit would blame me and my father is almost laughable, if it wasn’t so infuriating. I almost fucking died trying to save him!
After I stormed out of the bar, I went straight home. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. My mind was racing, revisiting and dissecting every part of our conversation. I tried to see if I could get my version to mesh with his somehow, if there was a way to force it all to make sense. But there wasn’t. Our stories are too different. There are too many gaps. I know my version of events is true, yet he seemed equally as confident. Perhaps the real truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I even at one point in time considered calling my father to ask if he knew about the letters, or if he went to Ali’s dad, but I dismissed that idea. I trust my parents. They don’t lie to me. Also, my dad would never try to get ahead through extortion. It’s not like him. I’m not going to disrespect my parents – the parents who continue to work their asses off to give me a better life – and give that lie any credence by asking my father about it.
I also kept coming back to another point – he never said anything after I confronted him, not a single word. Granted, I didn’t really give him a chance to respond, but he could have interjected and said something, offered some defence. But he didn’t. He didn’t because he knows he’s wrong.
In the end, I realized fixating over all of this is not healthy. This morning I made a commitment to myself – it is time I move on, properly this time. Last time I told myself I had gotten over him, but I hadn’t. Part of me was still stuck in the past. This time I’m not doing that. I’m actually putting all of this behind me. And the best way to do that is to get back to my regular routine. So, I got up, had breakfast, did some schoolwork, and ran some errands. I was supposed to call Will this morning, but I didn’t. I knew he’d ask about last night, and I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I’m still not ready. So instead of sitting at home, I came to the gym. I’m still there now running like a mad man on the treadmill. Yes, I’m trying to move on, but clearly, I’m still thinking about him and taking out my rage on this machine. It’s not like I can just forget it all right away. It will take some time to get that stupid fucking douchebag out of my head.
That’s when I notice someone who does make me forget about everyone else in the world. Out of his element, but still in a perfectly tight shirt, it’s the hot bartender. I notice him walk into the gym, his bag flung over his right shoulder. He notices me and smiles. Fuck me. I smile back. Wait, is he coming over here? He is. I slow down.
“Always on the run, I see,” he says standing next to me.
I look at him perplexed. “Sorry?”
“You ran out of the bar in a hurry last night, and even now it seems like you’re in quite a rush.”
“Oh, yeah, you know, just um, just getting my steps in.” Getting my steps in? Wow, I’m super lame.
“Of course, have to burn off all those calories from those multiple orders of water,” he says with a smile that really should be classified as lethal. “Well, enjoy your workout. I’ll see you around.”
He returns from the change rooms a few minutes later. I almost trip over myself when I see him walk out. Gone is the tight shirt. Instead he’s wearing a loose sleeveless shirt that does very little to conceal his upper chest. And those shorts, what can I say? Just that whoever made them did this world a gigantic favour.
I assume he’ll go to the other side of the gym where all the weights are, but he doesn’t. He does squats fairly close to the treadmills. When he goes down, I get a spectacular view of his ass. I try not to look – I'm not a creepy stalker – but I feel like he is putting on a show just for me. One can dream, right?
Okay, he is totally putting on a show. He stays close by for the next exercise, and the next. When he finishes, he lifts his shirt up to wipe the sweat off his face, revealing his very flat stomach. How could I not look? He sees me looking and smiles. That’s when I decide it’s probably a good idea to end my workout now; I’m starting to get hard in the middle of the gym!
To be honest, the delusional, or one can argue optimistic, side of me thought he’d follow me into the locker room. He didn’t because he’s obviously not gay! I need to stop living in a fantasy world, though I have a feeling that will be the case for a while. I look for him as I walk out, but he seems to have disappeared. He’s clearly just doing his own thing. Ah well, c’est la vie.
“Done burning off all that water?”
I almost jump out of my skin when I hear his voice. I look back to find the hot bartender leaning against a machine. His hair and shirt are all matted with sweat. Normally, I’d say gross. But, honestly, fuck, fuck, fuck! How is it possible that he looks even hotter covered in sweat! Life is truly unfair.
“Um, yeah, you know, yeah.” Honestly? That’s the best I can come up with! What’s wrong with me? My mouth is dry. I could actually use some water right now! Or I could just lick his chest. Okay, that’s gross. Seriously, what is wrong with me? I clearly have a problem.
He just smiles. “You’re cute when you’re nervous.”
I’m sorry, did hot-as-fuck just call me cute!? I can’t help but smile. Dammit, now I’m blushing. “Thanks, um, you’re not so bad yourself.” What is going on!? Is he gay? Can dreams actually come true?
That makes him laugh. Oh, lord, I’m going to have an orgasm right here. As a guy in his 20s, I feel I have a normal sex drive. I’m normally not this amped up. This guy clearly has cast a spell over me.
“Well, I try. I’m Oliver, by the way.”
“James,” I reply.
He raises an eyebrow. “Oh, I thought your name was Jamie?”
How did he know that? “James is my actual name, but my family and some friends call me Jamie.”
“Ah, and here I thought I was in the friend category,” he says. “Guess I’ll just have to try and change that.” Now it’s my time to raise an eyebrow. “Perhaps we can start tonight. If you’re free, maybe we can grab coffee. 7:00 o'clock, Starview Café?”
Okay, that sounded like he was asking me out, right? Right!?
“Um, yeah, sure. Um, I’d love to.” Keep it together, man!
“Excellent. It’s a date then.”
It’s. A. Date.
“I look forward to it.”
“As do I. See you soon.”
I should just let this go, but I’m curious. “Sorry, how did you know my nickname is Jamie?”
“Oh, the guy at the bar called out your name as you left last night.”
“I see.” It was him I seethe. No, not thinking about him. I’m pushing that all down. My focus is Oliver.
“You know, I was actually going to ask you out the first night we met. I saw you looking at me a few times and I was pretty sure you’re also gay,” he says the last word quietly. There are still many intolerant people in this world, unfortunately. “I was actually kind of disappointed when you left with the other guy. I thought maybe the two of you were a couple, but last night it didn’t seem that way. Then running into you again today, I figured it was a sign and I should try my luck.”
Interesting. “I’m really glad you did.”
“So am I.”
“I’ll see you soon, Oliver.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I have a date with the hot bartender!!! This is just the distraction I need. I’m no longer thinking about him. Fuck, now I’m thinking about him again! You know, I wonder how different life would be right now if that first night I had gone home with Oliver instead. It would have saved me so much trouble. But you can’t change the past. The good thing is I still have my shot with Oliver. Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to wear!
I’m so consumed by thoughts of Oliver that when I open my apartment door, I fail to notice the envelope on the floor. I almost slip and fall! Someone must have pushed it under my door while I was out. All it says on the outside is ‘Jamie’. Instantly, I know who it’s from. It’s from him.
I wish he’d just leave me alone. I honestly should just rip this up and throw it in the garbage. I’m trying to move on! I have a hot date waiting for me. And yet, because I clearly never learn, here I am opening up the envelope. Inside is a letter.
I wish I could explain how badly I’ve wanted to write those words, to write to you again these last few years. I never thought I’d get the chance. All of this still feels so surreal, as if I’ll wake up any moment and you’ll be gone again, and that void will be back in my soul. Life has given us another chance and I don’t want to mess this up again.
I know you likely won’t believe me, but I wrote every single one of those letters. Every word, every line, every paragraph, every story, every emotion was me, and only me. There was no bet. I wasn’t trying to fool you. All I ever wanted was a friend.
I can prove it to you. Enclosed is the last letter I wrote to you all those years ago, the one that was given to my dad. I know when you read it, you’ll know it came from me.
I can explain why I still have that letter, and everything else that I said last night. Please, just give me a chance to explain. You’ll understand after you read my letter.
Well, Ali may not have known before, but he definitly now knows he's talking to Jamie!
Plus, Jamie has a possible new love interest.
And then there is the letter. Why will a 10-year-old letter prove to Jamie that Ali is telling the truth?
Leave your thoughts, theories, comments, and feedback below! As always, thanks for reading.
(Also just going to point out this chapter is the longest yet in the series)