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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
    Jason MH
  • Author
  • 4,776 Words

Between the Shadow and the Soul - 10. From Failed Anger to Failed Relationship

August 4, 2016

I'd rushed Kyle out of the gym without time for either of us to shower. I'd told him I had something important to do.

Like lie in wait for my best friend to come home. We're gonna have a talk about his meddlesome chitchat with Keigan, telling him my morning schedule.

"What the hell was he thinking?" I mumbled as I bounded down the stairs, freshly attired in a pair of cargo shorts and feeling somewhat more clearheaded, the heat and steam from my shower having relaxed my muscles and cleared my mind and focused my thoughts.

* * * * *

Sitting on the couch drinking a beer, I heard the garage door open and Nate's car drive in and park. Shortly thereafter the kitchen door opened and in walked the target of my upset.

Nate sauntered in with his gym bag hanging from one shoulder, looking positively phenomenal in a tight gray tank top that looked more like body paint than clothing, blue gym shorts hanging low on his hips and accentuating that divine ass of his, and gray sneakers with blue accents.

Look at him! He looks like he just stepped away from a photo shoot. Does he have to look that good when I'm pissed at him? It makes it difficult to concentrate on my anger.

"Hey, G-Man," he greeted as he walked through the living room, clearly headed upstairs.

When I didn't immediately respond, he glanced at me, noticed I was admiring the view, smirked, dropped his gym bag, stripped off his shirt, then turned a slow circle while suggestively rotating his hips.

"Is that better?" he asked once he was facing me again, "Or..." He tucked his thumbs into the waistband of his shorts and slowly pushed them down, lazily gyrating his hips as he did so, trying his best to give me a sultry look but instead appearing constipated as he struggled not to smile.

I snickered and grinned before I could stop. Then I remembered I was supposed to be angry.

Donning my most ferocious scowl—or what passed for one since I couldn't stop smirking at his impromptu silliness—I growled, "What the hell are you doing?"

I didn't sound particular happy. At least I got that part right.

"Terminator Greg," Nate replied snidely. He glanced down at his shorts before looking back at me with a shrug. "All you got was an extra inch of skin. Too bad. I'm feeling frisky, so I was willing to drop'em completely just to watch you drool."

Yanking his thumbs out of his waistband, the shorts gave a little slap as they popped back into place against his bare skin Then he intentionally provoked my wrath by turning away from me and heading back toward the kitchen. As though our conversation was concluded.

Frustrated that this confrontation wasn't going the way I'd planned, I leaped up from the sofa and intercepted him at the refrigerator as he fetched a bottle of Dutch courage. Otherwise known as a cold beer.

Arms crossed over my chest, I scowled at him. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Having a beer before I get ready for my date." Then he took a healthy swig. Like half the bottle.

Watching him guzzle made me realize I'd already finished the beer I'd been nursing for an hour. Involuntarily licking my lips, his eyes watching, Nate took another small sip before he moaned in pleasure, closing his eyes to punctuate how much he was enjoying his adult beverage.

After my mouth opened and closed a few times, I huffed in frustration as I pushed him out of the way so I could grab one for myself. While I opened it, he watched me with shit-eating grin.

Well, I'm gonna wipe that look right off his damn handsome face.

After taking a long pull from the cold bottle, I realized I looked more pleased than pissed, so I scowled at him. Again. He'd already distracted me from my prepared and practiced diatribe, damn him.

With a shake of my head to refocus my thoughts, I asked with not a small amount of ire in my voice, "What the hell's the matter with you, Nate? Why do you have to meddle? Have you lost your mind?"

"Nothing, because it's necessary, and possibly, though I hide it well." At that he cocked his head and grinned like the Cheshire cat.

I fought a chuckle and won, but when I seized my facial muscles to subjugate the half-grin that followed, it felt like I'd developed a serious facial tic.

"Something wrong with your face?" he asked.

"No, damn it!" I tried for serious, irked even, but what I achieved was a dash of pissed mixed with annoyance at my slipping mask of anger.

In a bored tone, as though discussing the weather, he asked, "Is something on your mind?"

"Why the hell are you tampering with my already fucked up life?"

"Since that question is burning a hole in your mental pocket, I'll let you spend it. Here's what you bought—because I love you."

I shook my head, frustrated and disappointed. "Christ, is it that simple for you? You mostly have what you want in life—"

"Is that what you think, G-Man? You think I'm sitting pretty? You think I couldn't possibly want for anything else except a little bauble here, a little trinket there? I'm fucking thirty years old and still living with my best friend because I love him too damn much to leave him on his own."


"Despite the fact that you think I'm a playboy who only wants to dip his wick and move on, I'd actually like to meet a nice girl, get to know her, settle down and get married, have kids, the white picket fence, a dog and a cat and a mortgage, a lawn to mow, maybe a pool to swim in, his-and-her cars, and eventually teenagers who hate me and without whom I couldn't survive and with whom I'll go nuts and about whom I'll worry myself gray.

"But before I can get there," he continued, poking a stiff finger at the center of my chest, "I gotta make up for what I did, and that means I gotta make sure you get your shit together and find your own goddamn happiness!"

Clinging to what little firepower I had left in my expertly disarmed fury I countered, "Don't turn this around on—Wait. What?"

"Nothing," he huffed dismissively.

"No, not nothing. Something. What do you mean? You've hinted at this before, said it wasn't time, but it's bloody hell time now, dude. Cough it up."

"Persuasive argument, Greg. You're a real master debater." He waggled his eyebrows for effect.

I bit my lip to stop from laughing. Nate failed to maintain such control and chuckled at his own joke.

"Come on, G-Man! That was good. Master debater. Masturba--"

"I got it the first time, you asshole. Stop changing the subject." My mask had completely slipped because I was grinning stupidly.

"What was the subject?"


"What were we talking about?"

"About what you said."

"No, before that."


"You're angry. What, pray tell, have I done to displease you so?"

"We'll come back to that."

"We're already there."

"Alright, damn it. Fine. Let's talk about it."

"About what?"

"Stop it!"

"Why are you being so peevish?

"Me? Peevish?" My voice was going up. I'd already realized he'd derailed my confrontation. Expertly derailed it, I might add.

"Yes, you. Yes, peevish."

"Quite smiling!" I tried for a harsh tone but failed miserably.

"What vexes thee, dude?"

"Stop that!"

"Stop what?"

"I'm trying to be angry here."

"How's that working for you?"

"Not well," I admitted. I wanted to sound defeated but wound up sounding humored instead.

Damn him!

"We've never been able to make angry work with each other," my best friend said.

Dropping my head with a slight shake and a subdued laugh I admitted, "I thought I could do it this time."

Patting me on the shoulder in commiseration he told me, "Someday we'll get it right, and then we'll fight like normal people."

An entertaining mix of emotions fought for control of my face. As my eyebrows dropped in what should have been a scowl, I had to raise a hand to cover the grin that sneaked out of hiding.

Keeping his voice light and cordial he continued, "Will you chill long enough to talk to me like a friend instead of coming at me like an enemy? If so, I'll give you back the reins to your runaway conversation."

He chugged the second half of his beer. He grabbed my empty bottle and dropped both in the recycle bin. Then he fetched two more, opened them, and handed one to me.

When he finally looked at me again, I was smiling softly, my eyes showing mirth, and I was shaking my head.

"Do you yield, sir?" he asked. Then he gulped another bit of beer. Maybe half the second bottle, but I could only guess and could've overestimated. Or not.

I finally chuckled. Then nodded. Then guzzled the entire second beer he'd just handed me. Then yelled, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

We both laughed. Loudly.

* * * * *

"Why can't we argue like normal people? Why can't we be angry with each other and make it stick?" I took a swallow of beer after asking.

We had both grabbed another—yes, a third for him and a fourth for me, thank you very much—and migrated to the couch. With backs against the armrests we faced each other, each with one leg curled atop the sofa. It was a familiar position for us, one we utilized when we wanted to talk.

"We just can't," he responded, "because we're no good at it. At least not with each other."

"We can't even stay mad at each other long enough to foster contention, let alone maintain it."

"I feel like a failure at this whole confrontation thing, G-Man."

"Me, too, Little Big Man."

We both took a swig of beer, enjoying the dark ale's strong, cold flavor.

"We're too close, spent too much time together, know each other too well," he explained.

"And we love each other too much," I added with heartfelt seriousness.

"Yeah," he agreed, "thought sometimes I wonder why..."

"Yeah. Me, too."

Then we smiled at one another, took a simultaneous drink of beer, set the bottles down as if a reflection of each other, and finally sighed.

After a deep breath I asked, "So why did you talk to Keigan?"

"We all talked to him. You were there, dude."

"But why tell him my morning routine?"

He tilted his head and looked at me with a blank expression. "Huh?"

"You told him when I normally go to Starbucks during the week."


"Like you were trying to make sure he could find me on a regular basis."


"Stop doing that, damn it! You sound like a broken record."


We both fell into a fit of silly giggles.

Once he'd regained his composure, my best friend said, "What makes you think I said anything to him about your super-secret morning routine?"

"When he caught up to me this morning he said, and I quote, ' Your friend told me you come in here pretty much every morning.'"

"Huh? When? This morning?"

"I believe I specified that it was this morning, which appears to answer your repetitive questions."

"Smartass." He took a quick sip of beer then inquired, "So you saw him this morning at Starbucks?"

"Again, nitwit, that's what I said. He found me there because he knew I'd be there."


"Flying fucking hell, Nate, stop saying 'huh' before I bludgeon you with an oven mitt!"

"Kinky," he grinned, waggling his eyebrows and giving me a poor excuse for a sultry look.

"The point being," I began as I shook my head at him, "he said 'my friend' told him where and when to find me."

Looking resigned he explained, "It's not the conspiracy you think it is, Greg. We chatted after you left, just for a minute or two, and he asked how often we ate at Fat Daddy's. I gave a ballpark figure, said it was random but regular. But I could tell he was kinda interested in seeing you again. So I mentioned—hear me well, G-Man, because this is important—I mentioned casually that you were fond of Starbucks and probably stopped there some mornings on your way to work."

Nate and I didn't lie to each other. We'd been too close for too long and respected and loved each other too much to play games like that. Not to mention we could read each other like a book, so an attempt at lying came with all the subtlety and believability of the Twilight saga, which meant none at all.

I didn't have to read his honest features to know that he was telling the truth. It would never occur to either us to do otherwise, not with each other.

"I'm sorry. I overreacted." I slumped against the sofa's armrest and heaved a great sigh.

"Dramatic much?" he asked.

"Yeah. No. Wait. I mean whatever."

"Gotcha." He took the last pull of beer from the bottle before asking, "So anyway, you can stop thinking we're all plotting behind your back. It's just me and Mom plotting, nobody else involved."

I swung my foot off the floor and used it to bump his thigh as I responded, "Mom and I, you uneducated heathen."


"Duh! You, you bonehead."

"Oh. Right. It's just that you so rarely insult me that mostly I think you're talking to someone else."

"Hardy har har," I groaned sarcastically. Though I might have smiled. And snickered. A little.

Apparently having taken lessons from Teresa and Kyle, he snapped my full attention in a different direction when he asked, "Did you see Uncle Farid today?"

I used the last of my beer to delay answering, slow sips giving me time to consider an answer. But this was Nate, so I went with what came naturally between us—the truth.


"Gonna keep seeing him?"


"Wanna talk about it?"

"I'm not ready to talk about it just yet. Gimme time." Then redirecting my own thoughts, I gave him my best impression of a prosecuting attorney as I asked, "But let's go back to something else. Like what you've hinted at a few times now. About what happened back then and how it affected you. You've said—"

Abruptly standing and grabbing both empty beer bottles, he turned his back on me and headed to the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, "You're not ready."

Though I wasn't quite sure I ever would be, I knew he was right.

* * * * *

August 19, 2016

My hands trailed lightly in the wake of the barbell as Kyle did bench presses. I allowed his movement of the weights to move my arms, keeping them ready without interfering with his workout.

"One more," I encouraged.

He grunted, not wanting to interrupt his slowing rhythm.

"Good. Give me one more. Gotta push to failure."

He grunted again.

When my eyes drifted from the barbell to his face, his eyes were squinted and strain covered his features, sweat dewing across his forehead and cheeks, his hair damp.

"One more, Kyle. Can you give me one more?" I wasn't sure he could but he needed to try.

"I think," he moaned. He pushed, the bar trembling along with his arms, rising slowly, a tremulous groan escaping his teeth-baring snarl.

About halfway up his left arm failed and folded, the bar tipping, his right arm collapsing from too much weight. But the barbell dropped only a hair before coming to rest in my grip.

"It's alright. I got it."

His hands fell limply to either side of the bench, broken bird wings dangling uselessly. His breathing came full and deep.

After settling the weighted bar in the holder above his head, I stepped around the bench and held out my hand. He grabbed it and allowed me to pull him to his feet.

"Come on." After grabbing his towel off the bench, I turned him around and guided him to our water bottles. "Good workout, Kyle. Really good on that last set."

"Thanks," he breathed out heavily while shaking his arms at his sides like limp noodles. "You've helped me a lot."

"No big deal," I said dismissively, regretting my tone the moment the words left my mouth.

He gave me a brief inquisitive look before turning away.

We sipped our water and rested against the wall for a minute before heading to the showers in silence.

* * * * *

I leaned against the door to the locker room, my gym bag hanging off my shoulder, waiting for Kyle to join me. For a fifteen-year-old boy, the kid seemed to think showering at the gym was a time for dawdling relaxation. It wasn't unusual for me to lurk about for five or ten minutes while he finished. Which earned me more than a few inquisitive, if not accusatory, looks.

As soon as he came out, dirty gym clothes sticking out of the backpack slung over one of his shoulders, we headed to the car.

Still in silence.

After toying with the radio for a bit, he turned it off before sitting back and sipping his water. His sullen gaze meandered back and forth from the scene out the windshield to the scene out his window.

"What's on your mind?"

"Can you take me to Traci's?"


I changed lanes and made the first turn away from home.

"Thinking about a post-workout workout with the girlfriend?" My voice held a hint of crudity. I was horrified.

That was gauche. What the fuck?


But I knew what the fuck. I'd grown to resent Kyle to some extent. Or to a great extent sometimes. His mere existence had forced me to finally deal with my past.

Meeting with Uncle Farid wouldn't fix me overnight. And it would force me to face what I'd spent more than fifteen years avoiding, denying.

But it's not Kyle's fault. I gotta remember that.

Yeah, but it's difficult sometimes to not blame him.

Shifting mental gears to something less crass and more affable I asked, "Just looking to spend some time with her?"

"Yeah." He sounded less than thrilled. I heard resignation.

"Be sure to let your mom know."

"I will."

"You want to tell me what's wrong?"

He looked at me for several seconds, uncertainty written all over his face. I watched peripherally as he stared.

Is he unsure of how the afternoon will go or is he unsure about telling me what's going on?

Without a hint of impudence or disrespect in his voice, his expression opened as he asked, "You gonna tell me what's wrong?"


I did my guppy-on-dry-ground impression again, mouth working but no words forming.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I'm just tired and sore. I guess I'm a bit cranky."

Thankful he'd save me from embarrassment, explanation, introspection, and a host of other activities I wanted to avoid at that moment, I told him, "I feel your pain, buddy. And I'm sorry. I guess I'm a bit irritable. Got a lot going on with work and life."

"You can talk to me about it."

Again with the guppy impersonation. Stop it!

My mouth slammed shut with the clack of teeth.

He's right, you know.

Yeah... And the time will come. But not now.

"Eventually, Kyle."

He chuckled without a trace of humor.


"You think I won't understand? You think I'm just a dumb kid?"

"That's not it at all."

Then he gave me that blank expression of his, the one that looked witless and dense but that I'd learned hid a great deal of pondering, all of it related to his ceaseless, almost keen observation.

Turning his gaze back to the windshield he quietly announced, "I'm a kid but I'm not dumb. I know it's about me."

Don't wreck the car! Don't wreck the car!

With a not inconsiderable sigh he explained, "I got eyes and ears."

"I know," I said apologetically, "but don't be quick to jump to conclusions. It's all me. And it's—"

"Complicated. I know. It always is." He sounded resigned, disappointed even.

"I promise I'll—"

"Talk to me about it. Yeah, I know."

"It's just—"

"You gotta figure it out. Yeah, I know."


"Won't let you finish a sentence. Yeah, I know."

We both chuckled, the dour mood suddenly lighter.

"Let me just say—"

"It's about the phoenix tattoo. And you'll explain it to me at some point, even tell me what the writing says and how I'm involved. Yeah, I know."

As I waited for the light to change so we could make a turn, I looked at him. I mean really looked at him and considered him and evaluated this whole conversation.

Have I revealed that much without realizing it? He's observant, I know, but shit...

I turned back to the road, a grin on my face as I came to understand just how cool a kid Basketball Boy was and just how lucky I was to have met him. Then: "You're a—"

"Damn smart kid. Yeah, I know."

"Quit it!" I laughed as I smacked him lightly on the arm.

He cringed against the door in mock terror even as his laughter joined my own.

After our mirth settled back into a comfortable silence and while I turned from a major thoroughfare onto a neighborhood street, I glanced at him. "Does Traci know you're coming over?"


Despite the short answer, I could see the wheels turning in his head. It was written all over that blank expression of his, an expression I was learning to read along with his other nonverbal cues. Pushing for more seemed like a bad idea, though I had suspicions about some of what was going on in his mind, the same suspicions his mother had.

Despite my vacillating unease around Kyle, our friendship continued to deepen and I felt close to him; whether that closeness translated to jumping in his personal business remained to be seen. So I erred on the side of caution and let his malaise about Traci slide.

Silence once again settled between us, but not an uncomfortable one. No, it struck me more as a thoughtful quiet, each of us turning inward to deal with whatever required pondering.

After only a minute, however, he said, "I wanna see what she says when she sees me get out of this car. She's gonna shit herself."

I chuckled before saying, "If I'd known that was the idea I'd've let you drive."

"Really?" Both his face and voice communicated real shock, not to mention a growing thrill. "You rarely let Nate drive your car."

"True. He has his own, though. And let's be honest here—you don't have your license yet, so the best I'd let you get away with is driving it from the end of the block. Besides, this baby's not even a year old. We're still in our honeymoon phase." And with that I stroked the dashboard and whispered sweet nothings to the most expensive automobile I'd ever owned.

He shook his head with a laugh. "Sometimes I wonder about you, Greg."

"Only sometimes?"

"Good point."

Arriving at Traci's house in a lighter mood than we started with, I pulled to the curb and put the car in park. Then I looked at Kyle and waited. Waited for him to climb out, shut the door and head inside.

But he sat there instead, sat there with his eyes locked on mine, his face struggling for expressionless but instead veering all around the emotional road.

So I waited.

Just look at him. The gears are turning. He looks terrified, determined, confused... If he doesn't get control of his expression soon, he'll break his face with all the feelings vying for control.

After what might have been a minute or an hour, a resolved expression spread across his face as he inhaled deeply, let it out slowly, then asked, "Can I call you when I'm ready to leave?"


"You don't mind coming to get me?"

"Not at all. I've been working a lot lately, so I'm taking tonight off. I'll just be home chillin."

Not that I was his bitch or anything; I just didn't mind fetching him since I was already responsible for getting him home from the gym.

A few more seconds of silence while he stared out the windshield ended when he finally unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out of the car, closed the door and headed toward the house.

After someone let him inside, I put the car in gear and drove away.

* * * * *

I hadn't been home an hour when my cellphone rang. Kyle.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Can you come get me?" Solemn, to the point.

"Uh... Okay. But you haven't been there long. Are you sure you're ready to go?"

"Yeah. I'll be waiting out front."

"I'll be there shortly."

"Thanks." He hung up before I could reply.

* * * * *

Kyle fell into the car like a dropped bowling ball, buckled up, then distractedly said, "Hey."

"Hey, yourself," I replied as I drove out of the neighborhood where his girlfriend lived and set a course for home. It would take all of fifteen minutes to get there unless we ran into an accident or other obstruction.

"Care to tell me what's happening, Kyle? You've been down since we left the gym, you didn't spend very long at Traci's, and you seem distant. I'll help if I can."

He gave me a quick glance, serious and without emotion. Then he turned back to look out the window as he said, "I seem distant, huh? You think I'm down, huh?"

"Hey, let's not—"

"Make this about you. Yeah, I got that."

"Stop doing that!" I chuckled, his own giggle joining mine.

Then without preamble he announced, "I broke up with her."

Tread carefully, Greg. Very. Carefully.

"Things weren't working out between you?"

For a brief time after we met, he and Traci seemed happy together. Or at least he seemed happy with the fringe benefits of the relationship.

That night he'd met my mother, that night of maternal tough love, was the first time he'd indicated things between them weren't all rosy. That was also the first time he'd admitted someone new had come along and made him reevaluate his life.

Like Nate, whose gaydar was better than mine, and like Basketball Boy's mother, I'd long since decided Kyle was struggling with his sexuality. I couldn't speak for my best friend or Teresa, but personally I wasn't sure if that meant Kyle was just questioning himself, finding out he liked more than just girls, or discovering he didn't like girls at all. Though I think all three of us had strong suspicions on where things were going.

He also called sex with Traci 'okay.' 'Okay' sex with anybody would be reason enough for me to look elsewhere.

Be serious, Greg.

Oh, that was a totally serious statement.

After several moments of silent consideration he snorted with frustration. "I'm not sure how I feel about her anymore."

"People change. It happens. Even for old men like me."

He chuckled, though it sounded mechanical.

"You think the breakup is temporary? Like you need time to see how you feel before maybe trying with her again?"


His response came without hesitation and sounded definite. Although it also sounded unqualified given the overreach of my questions.

"No it's not temporary or no you don't need time to see how you feel or no you won't try with her again? Or just no, shut up, Greg, and leave me alone?"

He smiled, quick and unconvincing. Mostly he maintained that expressionless look he nurtured to perfection. Which meant serious synaptic work, at least for a fifteen year old.

Finally: "It's not temporary. I won't try again with Traci. But maybe I need to see how I feel. Things are kinda jumbled for me right now."

I pulled into my driveway and stopped before facing him.

"You can always talk to me. About anything. Don't forget that."

"I won't." And with that he was out the door and moving down the street.

Thank you so much for your continued readership, feedback and comments! I appreciate you more than you know.

Copyright © 2018 Jason MH; All Rights Reserved.
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This is another splendid chapter, in ways that I hope you know and enjoy writing.  Just one snippet of an example:  Nate's ironic and sincere scenario of the conventional life that he hopes to live some time in his future. 

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Great chapter. I like that Kyle finally put Greg in is place, I mean as teenager he is much younger, but he is not a kid nor dumb, he could sense a feel Greg flipping attitude towards him. Now at least they were forced to acknowledge that Greg has a problem that he is projecting on Kyle, and that they will have to eventually talk about it if they are to remain friends. 

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To an old man like me, the conversation in the car on the way home sounded pointless, but to the two people involved I am sure it had deep hidden meanings and we will subsequently see what the sub-text was.

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