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    Jason MH
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Between the Shadow and the Soul - 15. A Tale of Constant Sorrow

Chapter contains third-party recollections of a child predator grooming a minor as well as the immediate aftermath of the brutal sexual assault of a minor. Although there are no details of the assault itself or explicit descriptions of predator-prey sexual contact included, it does contain an outsider's view of the grooming and an emotional description of the victim as found by the first to arrive after the assault.

October 17, 2016

"You look positively radiant," I cooed.

Aunt Jan ducked her head and smiled. "Stop, you," she giggled.

"Your cheeks have the nicest bit of color."

"It's from the chill morning."

"And the frisky breeze," I added. She smiled. Then I said, "Your hair's tousled into the epitome of style." Her hands jumped up but I caught them. "No, leave it like that, Aunt Jan. It looks wonderful on you."

Trying her best for a disconsolate tone but sounding like someone biting back a smile, she turned her head away as she asked, "You don't like my usual frumpy mop?"

"You always look fine," I assured her as I pulled her against me for hug, "but you look lovely beyond words just the way you are this morning."

"You make me feel twenty years younger with all your charm, Greg."

"What? Is there something wrong with complimenting my favorite aunt?"

"I'm your only aunt," she huffed good-naturedly as she playfully swatted my chest.

"Which means you're my favorite aunt!" I assured her, adding another hug for good measure.

She cupped my face and pulled me down so she could kiss my cheek before sending me off toward the office door. "Your uncle's waiting for you," she told me.

Something in her tone seemed a bit off, reluctant or worried I couldn't be sure. When I glanced back, she smiled before saying, "I love you, my darling."

"I love you, too, Aunt Jan," I said, my voice suddenly heavy with emotion. Then I turned, opened the door, and stepped into an unexpected surprise.

"Nate! What're you doing here, dude?" I was both thrilled and mistrustful: excited for the unanticipated sight of my best friend and suspicious that either he or Uncle Farid had somehow discovered that I'd finally seen what lay at the heart of my blind spot, that I'd finally illuminated every dark and dank corner of that shadowy realm and had been left with a discovery that I'd started hiding from myself long before my fifteenth birthday.

That's something I'm not ready to talk about, especially not with—

"Greg, remember we use outside voices here," Uncle Farid tossed my way, his voice both reprimanding and tickled.

But it was Nate's face that halted me.

He'd been inside my head again, I just knew it, because he looked confused, as though he'd been on the cusp of discovery, but he also looked worried, as though he'd been denied a critical piece of information. Both of which were true, but he needn't know that.

With a laugh I told Uncle Farid, "Yeah, I know. It's just my inside voice turns on automatically sometimes. I'll look into having it fixed." Turning to Nate, giving him an affectionate hug, I whispered in his ear, "Always good to see you, Little Big Man." Then I pulled away from him before adding for both of them, "While I love Nate to death and have never complained about seeing him, are we having a party? Am I underdressed? Was I supposed to bring booze? Or drugs?"

Both men chuckled before Uncle Farid gestured to the sofa and said, "Take a seat, both of you."

So we did. Side by side. Connected from shoulders to hips to knees.

Immediately leaning my head in his direction I mumbled into his ear, "What're you doing here, dude?"

Nate rubbed his cheek against my forehead before answering, "I'll let Uncle Farid explain."

That's it? Really? You're supposed to be my best friend. Now you're at my therapy session without notice and you won't tell me why. What am I—

So quickly it caused me to jump slightly, my best friend turned and kissed between my eyebrows and whispered against my skin, "It's all good, G-Man. Relax."

"But you're not relaxed," I returned without hesitation.

Because he's not. I can feel the stress in his body, like he's getting ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute. And I can hear it in his voice, this slight but appreciable tenseness underlying his words.

With another kiss to my forehead he reassured me, "It's all good, G-Man." Then he turned and looked out the windows.

Avoidance. Plain and simple and as obvious as his painfully hot bod. But why?

Uncle Farid was gathering a few pens, his notepad, his cigarettes and lighter, and the little remote thingy he used to control the room's recording system. With his supplies in hand, he came over and settled in his usual seat, spreading pieces and parts all about him.

After lighting a cigarette, with levity in his voice and a smile on his face, he began, "If you two youngsters are done cuddling and smooching—"

I stiffened, though I caught it quickly enough to keep it minor. Still, Nate noticed and gave me an odd look. But Uncle Farid was still talking, so my best friend quickly turned his attention back to those words.

"—I think we can begin." With a flip of his wrist, my uncle and therapist aimed the remote at the ceiling and pressed a button. Three soft tones sounded, subtle yet unmistakable. I'd heard it often enough to know it meant the system was now recording; in addition, a small lamp above the door illuminated with soft red light.

He set the remote aside and pulled his pad and pen onto his lap. Then: "It's approximately nine in the morning on October seventeen of two thousand sixteen. This is the usual Friday session for Greg Beaumont. Also present today is Nate Sawyer, who's in attendance as part of his own continuing therapy."

I was astonished and hurt. I'd had no idea Nate was seeing Uncle Farid. I'd never even suspected.

"How'd I miss that?" I wondered aloud, more to myself than anyone else.

Nate turned to me in surprise.

But before he could speak Uncle Farid explained, "Despite this being your session, Greg, Nate will be doing the talking this morning. He's given authorization to couple your appointments, the reason for which I'll explain shortly."

My eyes danced between the two.

What else have I missed? Fuck, have I blinded myself so much that I didn't know my best friend, the man I know better than anyone else, was going through therapy?

Although Nate was watching my face, loving concern pouring out of him, his eyes misting and his heart on his sleeve, it was our family therapist who spoke.

"Remember my repeated admonishments about inside voice versus outside voice, Greg." Even as my eyes snapped to his, Uncle Farid continued, "As to your question, the answer rests in what we've recently focused on in your sessions."

"My blind spot..." I mumbled.

"Precisely. Let's leave that discussion for another day, though." After a quick inhale from his cigarette he explained, "As I was saying, Nate will do the talking this morning. During his therapy we've mutually agreed that he has need to talk to you about his experiences surrounding your fifteenth birthday in order to deal with some residual and ongoing concerns. Both of you have mentioned you've touched on this briefly between the two of you. I'd recommended to Nate that he not have that discussion until I felt you were ready. He agreed as he likewise didn't think the time had come yet. Now, however, it's time, and luckily your readiness for this coincides with Nate's readiness to tell you about his feelings on the matter.

"Normally I wouldn't consider having a shared session. Legally, ethically and professionally... Well, let me say it's frowned upon at best. Also, the confidentiality of a therapist's interactions with his patients is paramount if trust is to be maintained and success given its best chance. But this situation is different. You're both intimately familiar with the happenings to be discussed, you're as close to each other as any two people can be, you intended to have this conversation anyway, and a combined therapy session will benefit you both, at least in this single instance.

"Despite this being your session, Greg, I want you to think of yourself as a spectator only. I'll lead Nate through the session. I just want you to listen. Is that clear?"

"Of course," I said too quickly. I was still stunned, confused, worried, and a laundry list of other adjectives.

"One more thing. Greg, I need your permission to conduct this joint session. In case your outside voice suffers the same problem your inside voice has, I need your approval for Nate to be privy to whatever thoughts you might share."

"But you said—"

"That you should behave like a fly on the wall, yes, but that doesn't mean in the heat of the moment you won't open up and speak, either to me or Nate, within the bounds of the therapy session. It's just a formality since you two probably have no secrets from each other."

My eyes widened but I caught it quickly. Peripherally I saw Nate give a tiny glance in my direction before looking back at Uncle Farid.

"Uh... Okay. Do I need to sign something?"

"No. Just say out loud that you give permission for Nate to attend and participate in your therapy session."

"Oh. Yeah, sure. Um... This is Greg Beaumont and I approve of Nate Sawyer being involved in my therapy session today." It seemed so inadequate that I gave my uncle a questioning look with a confused shrug.

Through a cloud of exhaled smoke he said, "That's fine, Greg. Nothing more difficult than that."

Nate squirmed. Since our bodies were pressed together, his unease communicated through my own body as soon as he revealed it. Without thinking I reached over and grabbed his hand, intertwined our fingers, gave it a good squeeze, then settled it in my lap so I could wrap my other hand around his and hold tight.

I'm here, Nate. I'm right here with you. I'll help you get through whatever it is you need to get through.

Hopefully his ESP was tuned to my frequency. When he gently squeezed my hand, I had my answer.

"Nate," Uncle Farid began, "we've discussed a great deal about Greg's fifteenth birthday and the ramifications of what happened. You've told me that you feel ongoing guilt and remorse for your role in what happened to Greg. Today I want to talk in generalities about those feelings, at least insofar as you feel Greg needs to be aware."

I almost jumped in and scoffed at Nate's need to feel any guilt or remorse for Richard's actions, but Uncle Farid was already giving me a glaring command to keep my trap shut and my ears open.

"Okay," my best friend said.

"Why do you think you have such strong guilt and remorse stemming from your father's actions?"

Nate momentarily jerked when Uncle Farid used the word father but otherwise didn't respond to that. He hated admitting Richard was his dad, often choosing to call him his sperm donor or the monster that sired him or something similar.

In a voice surprisingly reluctant, almost weak, Nate answered, "Because I knew. I saw it coming and I didn't do anything to prevent it." With a guilty shrug he added, "Because I saw it happening."

"What did you see happening?"

After flicking his eyes in my direction he replied, "Richard never seemed to notice me, like I didn't exist, unless other people were around, especially adults. If it was just me... I was close to invisible. But if Greg was around... Shit, it was like a switch that could turn on and off in the blink of an eye."

"What do you mean?"

"It's like Richard had eyes only for Greg if he didn't think I was paying attention or couldn't see what was happening. It was creepy even though I was young, and the longer it happened the more I came to realize what he was doing."

"You mean Richard?"

"Yeah, Richard. I slowly understood he was fixated on Greg. He'd watch him, he'd sneak around the house sometimes so he could secretly observe him. It was sick, really, only at first I didn't realize it. I thought I was a disappointing son at first, that he liked Greg better than he liked me."

"Did you resent Greg for that?"

"No!" he gasped, horrified by the very idea. "Of course I didn't." Looking at me he added, "We were too close. You're like the missing part of me that I never knew I needed. And, honestly, I knew it wasn't your fault. You didn't make Richard act that way." Then back to Uncle Farid: "Hell, Greg spent all his time focused on me—"

I flinched again but covered it with a muffled clearing of my throat, which fooled nobody.

"—so I never resented him, I never felt like he was trying to steal my... my father. All my upset and anger was directed at Richard because I could see clear as day that he was fixated, obsessed even, though I didn't understand why at first.

"But since nothing changed in my relationship with Greg, I started ignoring it, figuring if it didn't bother Greg and didn't break our friendship, why the fuck should I care? I just assumed Richard was a wacko of some kind—clearly a good assumption—and I went on like normal. We never had a good relationship anyway. I always felt like a tool to him unless somebody else was around.

"Don't get me wrong. He was a great... well... I was going to say a great father but that's not right at all. Richard was a great advisor, a great influence about social issues, a great example when it came to dealing with finances, a great teacher in a scholastic sense, great in many things. I learned a lot from him. Weird, but in some small way I have to thank him for making me the person I was when I met Greg and his parents.

"But Richard wasn't a father unless people were looking. He taught me manners and respect and language and graciousness and a lot of other stuff, but I learned about love and friendship and family from Greg and Mom. Obviously I mean Yvonne, but she's Mom and that's that. And I even learned it from Gavin and you and Aunt Jan, but mostly it was from Greg and Mom.

"What I started to say is that I sorta started ignoring Richard's weird behavior toward Greg. At least at first. It just seemed like another bizarre trait from an utterly bizarre man who was too distant to matter anyway."

Nate took a deep breath, then shuddered, then took another deep breath that he let out slowly, like an extended sigh. I squeezed his hand and he squeezed back.

"Did you not think it strange that he acted a different part when you were alone as opposed to when you were in the company of others?"

"Not at all. That's what I grew up with. I didn't know anything else. I guess I just figured that's how families worked, like it was a game or something, being this way in private and then putting on masks and costumes in public. At least I thought that until I met my real family."

"When did you realize there might be a problem?" Uncle Farid asked.

"Shit, from the beginning," Nate snorted disgustedly. "I mean, seriously, I was ten when it started so I didn't understand things too well. I'd guess by the time I was twelve I could see a problem and I was really convinced around the time Greg came out to me and his folks."

"And when was that?"

"When he was thirteen."

Every part of my mind was focused on not reacting, not screaming, not flinching, not something or anything or... or whatever.

Thirteen? Fucking hell. When I came out? And that's when—

"Greg."

Uncle Farid's voice caused me to jump. My eyes snapped to his and he shook his head, a silent rebuke. Yeah, I'd been caught using my inside voice again, and this session wasn't even about me. Oops.

Back to Nate he asked, "What specifically did you notice that made you uncomfortable?"

"I'd been talking to Greg about it for maybe a year, hinting that I knew he was gay. Don't ask me why but I have really good gaydar. Greg was the first time it worked like that and I just seemed to know. Little things here and there, things he did, things he said, the way he'd look at—" With a quick peek at me from the corner of his eye Nate added, "Well, stuff like that."

He breathed heavily then continued, "So I'd been hinting at it and talking about how being gay was like being straight, no difference, just a different flavor of the same thing, that kind of stuff. And eventually Greg came out to me. Then to his parents. And finally to Richard.

"But during that time, from Greg's twelfth birthday until shortly after he turned thirteen when he came out, Richard became something else. When it was just the two of us he acted like he hated me, like he'd rather kill me than look at me, and he seemed so frustrated with Greg, although I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. He hadn't done anything, you know? He was just Greg. Eventually Richard started being overtly hostile toward me."

"Was he violent?" Uncle Farid asked.

"Never. He never hit me. He was angry, hostile, telling me maybe he'd be better if I wasn't around, maybe Greg would be happier without me in his life—"

By this time I was so tense I knew Nate could sense it and Uncle Farid could see it. I'd been working so hard to dismantle my blind spot. And without telling anyone, I'd successfully penetrated to the very bottom of the chasm, discovered the abyss held one secret that I'd denied for so long I'd forgotten it even existed. I never stopped feeling its meaning but I had stopped acknowledging it, making it impotent and as weighty as a breath of air.

Only now Nate was talking to that secret, talking of it, talking around it. I was suddenly hearing—understanding—more about myself and the blind spot than I'd thought possible.

"—and he even threatened occasionally to send me to an orphanage or put me up for adoption or enroll me in boarding school because it would be best for everyone involved. Then, like I said, he changed as if someone flipped a switch, and we were back to normal, back to the detached Richard who didn't really notice me unless someone else was around."

"But you said Richard's behavior changed around the time Greg came out, correct?"

"Yeah. It was strange. I was getting used to the anger and the hostility and the feeling that someday I'd come home and all my stuff would be piled on the front yard. Then Greg came out and a month or so later something changed, something dramatic, something that altered our household.

"Greg was spending the weekend at our house and we'd fallen asleep watching late movies. At some point I woke up, it was around midnight, and I got up and stumbled off toward the bedroom. I realized Greg was already gone and I figured he'd gone to bed. He'd never left me behind before, but maybe he wasn't feeling good or something. I knew he wouldn't just leave me. But I didn't give it a lot of thought beyond that. I was only half awake.

"Anyway... I got to my bedroom door when I realized I could hear Greg's voice coming from Richard's room. It sounded like Greg was crying, sniffling and stuff. And I could hear Richard's voice, too, but the door was shut and I couldn't make out what they were saying.

"I was a kid and I was tired, so I blew it off and went to bed. You know how kids think, like I'll deal with that in the morning.

"The very next day, though, everything had changed. Richard was back to his stoic, efficient self, life in our household went back to the way it'd been before, and I pushed the whole thing out of my mind. By then all I wanted to do was get the hell out of that house anyway, so I figured if my sperm donor was going to leave me alone long enough without killing me, awesome, I was gone, who cares, all that shit.

"That's when it started getting bad, though."

"What started getting bad?" my uncle prompted.

"Richard. And Greg, too. It's like something inside Greg had changed with the conversation that night. He was still my best friend, but a tiny light had gone out in his eyes, something had changed in the way he looked at me."

Uncle Farid and I locked eyes. I held my body still, didn't let it twitch or squirm, didn't give away anything, but something in my uncle's gaze told me he knew something. What, I didn't know, but I was sure it was something I'd rather not have him know.

"But the change in Greg was minor compared to Richard. Because that's when I noticed it. He started sneaking around so he could watch Greg."

"Watch him when? Doing what?"

"Watch him sleep, watch him eat, watch him talk and walk and swim and anything else. I figured it out then, realized what I'd been missing, because Richard was being very sneaky, just not sneaky enough. He'd wait for us to fall asleep before opening the door and watching Greg sleep. He'd make a point of coming in the room when we were changing clothes, but only when Greg was there. His eyes were fixed on Greg. It gave me chills, made me uncomfortable, made me want to tell somebody. But I had to talk to Greg first."

Here Nate looked at me with a great deal of sympathy and love. He leaned his head briefly against mine before turning back to Uncle Farid and continuing.

"One day I asked Greg about it, asked him if he'd noticed anything weird about Richard, asked him if maybe Richard was acting weird toward him, maybe doing things that weren't appropriate. At first he denied it, waved it away like it was nonsense, but I could tell there was something there.

"Finally, after prodding him a few times, Greg sat me down and made me promise not to tell anyone what he was going to tell me. So I promised. And then he told me that he was attracted to my sperm donor, maybe like a crush or maybe just casual interest, that Richard helped him deal with things he didn't know how to deal with, helped him feel better when he was hurting inside.

"Of course I pointed out the age problem but Greg shot me down. Not in bad way," he said to me when I looked at him in shock, feeling like I'd done something wrong. "You didn't do anything bad. All you did was convince me that you knew what you were doing, you knew what you wanted, and maybe things might work out with Richard and you, maybe not, but you didn't want me to worry about it."

Then back to Uncle Farid he continued, "I was torn. Part of me felt like it was a terrible thing and should be stopped, but I loved Greg and trusted him—still do. Greg's always been the smartest guy I know, and back then he wasn't hindered by any of this shit and he was really on top of things, so I accepted that he knew what he was doing and what he was getting into.

"Over the next few years it got worse. The Fiend—that's the best way to describe him, goddamn it!—Richard would tease him, sexually I mean, but he was doing it in subtle ways, ways that he thought I wouldn't notice. He was enticing him sexually and toying with his emotions to get him interested. He was very tactile without being gross. But there was definitely gross involved.

"Richard would make sure Greg would catch him jerking off at night. It was like a game he played, setting up this scene so Greg would see it when he went from my bedroom to the bathroom. And he'd intentionally leave porn playing so Greg would see it, sometimes even asking him to watch it with him.

"Then the touching started. Not sexually, at least not that I saw, but it was affectionate stuff, too much physical contact to be mistaken for something innocent. Richard really pushed the boundaries with that, making it hard not to see it because he was so blatant, little caresses here and light touches there and unnecessary physical contact. But it only happened at our house where no one would see, and only when he thought I wouldn't notice. But I did. I started noticing everything."

I could hear the hitch in his voice, feel the pain coming off him in waves, smell the guilt oozing from his pores. He was fast approaching a terrible time, a terrible place, a terrible thing.

Without letting go of his narrative, without interfering with the desperately needed catharsis my dearest love and closest friend was experiencing, I pulled one hand from Nate's so I could slip my arm around his shoulders, tugging him close to me, hugging him to my side as he spoke. My other hand I clasped around his and held it tight.

"I even caught him kissing Greg once, shortly before Greg's fiftee—" He sniffled, sucked in a breath, stuttered it out, sucked in another one and continued, "Shortly before Greg's fifteenth birthday I caught him kissing Greg, who had a shocked look on his face but otherwise didn't fight.

"Greg seemed fascinated by Richard's body. Sure, the asshole had a nice gym build and he was handsome for an older guy—" Uncle Farid huffed amusedly and Nate added, "Well, I was a kid and anybody over eighteen was an old guy. What can I say?

"Anyway, Greg was coming into his sexuality and all and here's an older guy with a nice body, so Greg looked as much as he could without being too obvious. Of course Richard made sure he shoved it in Greg's face every chance he had, parading around in little clothing, touching himself absentmindedly—it was all intentional, of course, but he tried to pretend like it wasn't."

Uncle Farid lit another cigarette before asking, "It sounds like things were escalating. Is that the impression you had?"

"Yeah," Nate replied. Then he sniffed again, his inhale shaking his body. "Yeah, it was escalating. I had no doubt where it was going. So I talked to Greg again. He assured me it was fascination, possibly lust, maybe a hint of affection, but he wasn't going to let anything happen. He just wanted to leave it alone, see what it could become, maybe build an emotional bond with this dashing doctor if it went that direction, age differences be damned.

"I had the impression Greg was overwhelmed at that point. Too much stimuli, too much attention, too much emotional chaos, too much everything. I had the feeling he'd lost something and Richard pushed himself into the empty space so Greg would see him as filling the need." When I stared dumbfounded at my best friend, he looked at me and added, "I don't know how else to describe it. The light went out in your eyes—" He sniffled, wiped unshed tears from his eyes. "—and I never knew what caused it, but it was obvious to me Richard knew it and took advantage of it."

Turning back to Uncle Farid, his voice tremulous, his body shuddering, he said, "But I've always trusted Greg no matter what. When he said he wasn't looking for anything but was flattered by Richard's attentions and wanted to let it be to see if someday a meaningful relationship might develop, I accepted it."

When Nate didn't continue, Uncle Farid regarded him closely, then he asked, "But you didn't think that would be the case?"

My best friend huffed, his frustration and anger tempered by his sorrow and pain, "No, not at all. Even if that's what Greg wanted, I could see the hunger in Richard, the raw want, the primitive carnal desire. It's like every time he looked at Greg his appetite grew stronger. No matter what Greg thought was happening, I knew Richard had other ideas.

"I brought it up a few times but Greg always brushed off my concerns. He didn't dismiss them, didn't act like I was a nervous idiot without a clue; he just let me know he wanted something lasting and wasn't going to jump into anything. He said his first time was going to be special and not with some hot old man—his words, not mine!—he wasn't going to jump in bed with some hot old man just because the option was there.

"Honestly I thought there might be someone else, that Richard was just Greg's diversion. There were times when I could've sworn that's what I saw in Greg, that I read that the way I can read him now. But I'll admit I couldn't read him as well back then. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, maybe I was just hoping there was someone else, someone better. That's what I wanted for him anyway.... what I've always wanted for him..."

Nate grabbed a tissue from the box on the coffee table and blew his nose, then he wiped the tears away from his cheeks before settling back into my arms, his hand automatically finding mine and merging with it.

"Then came Greg's fifteenth birthday..." He sobbed and I choked on horror at what he was feeling. My own tears were flowing silently, my cheeks wet and my shirt absorbing the emotional load.

Is it the memory or Nate's emotional pain?

I wasn't sure. Both, probably, but at that moment I was so attuned to my best friend's anguish that I couldn't distinguish between his or mine.

"Yeah, so Greg's birthday."

He turned to me then. I was vaguely aware Uncle Farid never moved, never gave any indication that he intended to stop Nate from what came next.

Nate leaned forward and kissed my lips gently, the taste of his tears mingling with my own.

With his eyes shut he leaned his forehead against mine as he said, "It was a Monday. You were supposed to be in school but you said you didn't feel good. I'd had a bad feeling about things, so I wasn't sure I believed you. But what could I do? Nothing. I went to school like normal.

"By second period you were all I could think about." His tears were steady, a constant flow, his sniffles regular, his breathing hitched and stuttered and ragged in his lamentation, and I could feel it all, I could sense every terrible emotion running through my best friend, my soulmate. We had become one.

"Between classes I called Richard's office. I'm not even sure if I knew why, I just knew I had to. The answering service said he was dealing with an emergency at the hospital and wouldn't be available that day. But it was a lie." Another shaky kiss to my lips, more tears. "It was a lie and I knew it. I don't know how I knew it but I did."

His mourning was escalating, his torment growing. I wanted to stop the session, stop it and run away from it and protect this man from the horrors of that day. We hadn't reached it, not really, not in Nate's world, but we were fast approaching a terrible thing.

I didn't move, though. I knew he needed to give voice to the devil that had plagued him for so long. All I could do was be there, support him, hold him, love him, and when it was all over I'd take him home and protect him and let him know he's my hero and my love and my best friend and the finest part of me.

"I couldn't... couldn't get out of class," he stuttered, "but I... tried. They would... wouldn't let me leave. I knew I had... had... had to get... home. I knew you... needed me. Somehow I... somehow I knew.

"Then... at lunch... my phone... You called. Oh holy hell, Greg," he said, his shaking hands cupping my cheeks as he held our faces together, our breath mingling, our tears mingling, our memories mingling in our shared anger and hurt. Because in that moment, in that call, in that memory, our recollections had become one, our suffering shared, our anguish real.

"You... you could barely... barely talk."

He kissed me again through his sniffles, held our faces together, had me breathing in his words and soaking in his tears and shaking with his trembling.

"It was... was so hard... to understand you. You said... you cried... you told me... you said to come... come home. You said... you needed me. You cried..."

He sniffled again. Held me close. Breathed with me. I no longer knew where I stopped and he started, no longer knew if we were two or one, no longer knew my thoughts from his or his from mine.

"Oh fuck I was so scared!" he wailed. "I ran! I ran as fast as I could! I ran all the way!"

He was rushing his words out, pushing past the pain and anger, struggling through the memories. All I could do was be with him.

"When I opened the door... Oh my dearest Greg... You were on the floor. There was so much blood. From down the hall. Across the floor. So much blood. And your beautiful face. Oh that beautiful face. What did he do to you!? So much blood, so swollen, all the bruises... No wonder you couldn't talk. And your neck! Hand prints around your neck! So red and raw and inflamed. How did you dial the phone? Oh my precious Greg, you couldn't even see because your eyes were swollen shut! How did you dial?

"And the blood. You were bleeding so much. From your face, your mouth, your nose, from your... your... What did he do to you? I was so angry and so scared.

"I called Mom, told her to come, told her it was bad, told her you were hurt, cried and screamed and made her understand she had to come. I got a blanket and covered you, wrapped you up. Then I just held you. I didn't know how to stop the bleeding. There was so much of it, all over you, and the bruises and the cuts and... Oh fuck! I thought I was going to lose you!"

He was rocking us both back and forth, back and forth. I held him, held his trembling body, accepted his trembling words, took his trembling and enveloped it in whatever strength and love I could give despite my own torturous hurt.

"I held you, baby," he said, "and I talked to you, told you I loved you, told you I needed you, told you how sorry I was, told you to stay with me, told you help was coming, told you I'd never leave you again, told you if you stayed alive we'd always be together, just you and me."

His body turned rigid, his breathing harsh and strained, and he screamed in rage, "I should have done something! I should have stopped him! I should have told somebody, told Mom, told a teacher, told anybody!"

Dropping his head to my shoulder he wept, gasping and sobbing and crying out, "There was so much blood... Why didn't I do something? Your beautiful face... He hurt you so bad... I thought I'd lost you... I can't lose you... Why did he have to... Why did he... Why...

"I'm so fucking sorry!" he yelled before falling into incoherent wails and sobs and mumblings, his body shuddering and his voice hitching and his breath ragged.

All I could do was hold him, rock him to and fro, constantly whispering through my own tears, "It's okay now, Nate. It's okay. You did what you could. You saved me. You always save me. You're my hero. You rescued me. You were there when I needed you most. I love you."

* * * * *

Nate had his arm around my shoulders as I supported him through the kitchen door, the garage door humming shut behind us. We'd left his car at Uncle Farid's because he was in no condition to drive. I'd take him to get it later. Or tomorrow.

Having called into work and taken a sick day and having texted Kyle to let him know I couldn't make it to the gym, I intended to stay as close to my best friend as possible.

What a terrible ordeal. So much guilt, so much anger, so much remorse. And I'd been blind to it because I chose to be, because I built the blind spot specifically to hide—

Now's not the time for that. Now's the time for Nate.

After throwing my keys on the bar, I helped Nate up the stairs but turned him toward my room when he tried to head down the hall.

"Let's lie down for a bit, shall we?" I urged as I guided him into the master suite.

Eyes read and puffy, cheeks stained with dry tears, he leaned into me as he said, "Yeah. Please."

Once in the bedroom, I removed his jacket and set it on the desk, slipped his shirt up over his head and tossed it aside, then I settled him on the edge of the bed so I could remove his shoes and socks. For his part, Nate was a broken body unable to assist, a wounded animal. He'd emptied his soul, shared what he'd hidden for so long and what I'd turned a blind eye to.

Once his feet were bare, I removed his belt and then his pants, leaving him in his black boxer-briefs.

Such a beautiful man, inside and out. Why did I ever build that blind spot?

I knew the answer, of course, and the cause hadn't gone away, but at that moment I only knew that protecting myself had caused too much pain for the one man I cared most about, the one man I loved above all others.

Gently nestling him into bed under the covers, I quickly undressed before climbing in behind him, big spoon to his little spoon. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him tight to my body, not a hint of space between us from head to toe.

As he grabbed my arms and pulled them snug to his body, he pushed back against me to ensure we were as close as two humans could be.

I settled my head against his shoulder, kissing first his neck then his cheek.

"I forgive you, Nate, for whatever wrong you think you did. It's all over now. It's all gone. Let the guilt go. Let the remorse go. It's all gone now. None of it matters anymore."

He shuddered bodily, sniffled, writhed against me as he pushed his body into mine. I settled my lips against his ear as I pulled him closer still.

"I love you, Nate," I whispered, "more than you can possibly know. And please know you've never been to blame. You didn't do anything wrong. We were kids and we're not responsible for what Richard did." Hugging him tightly I added, "I've never once blamed you, never once thought you could have prevented what happened. All I know is that I love you and always will."

"I love you, too, Greg, so much," he murmured, his voice hoarse and scratchy.

"Just rest now, Little Big Man. Let me take care of you this time."

He squirmed a bit, pushing back again, nestling into every nook and cranny of my body, merging with me, making us two parts of a whole.

"I got you, Nate. Just rest."

* * * * *

We both fell asleep. He needed it, that I knew. But I shy away from napping because it totally messes with my sleep pattern. Nevertheless I napped. I guess I needed it, too.

When I awoke it was almost four in the afternoon. Clearly I'd needed some rest.

While we slept I'd eventually moved onto my back. For his part, Nate lay against me, his head on my chest, one of his arms slung over me hugging me tightly, his legs weaved with my own. His other hand was linked with the one I had around him. We held each other close, our grips like iron and concrete and permanence.

I pulled my other hand from behind my head, took his hand from my side, settled them both above my heart. Then I kissed the top of his head, a simple yet long and heartfelt kiss, and finally whispered, "I love you, Nathanial Sawyer. When the dust settles and the air between us finally clears, I hope you can remember that." Nuzzling my face against his scalp, a single tear escaping down my cheek, I murmured, "Always remember I love you so much and that's why I have to..."

I couldn't finish the statement. It hurt too much.

A sincere thank you to everyone for your interest in Nate, Greg and Kyle! Your continued readership, feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.

 

There's one more chapter before the third interlude, after which things unravel and weave together quickly until the story's conclusion. (Well, not too quickly but quickly enough to avoid boredom.)

 

A special note about Greg's fifteenth birthday: At no point in this story have I written the actual assault. Although that kind of scene might work elsewhere, it was absolutely never going to be included here. First, because it would be between an adult and a minor, and second, because it's unnecessary and inappropriate in this tale. However, Greg finally tells Kyle about it in the eighteenth chapter, at which point you'll have all the details about that tragedy.

Copyright © 2018 Jason MH; All Rights Reserved.
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Very well written! You handled a difficult subject with compassion. This was a bit hard to read. As much for the emotional anguish for Greg and Nate as they relive Richard's assault, as for the assault itself. My hope is that Greg and Nate can move past the assault and go forward as a couple. I am anxious to see how you are going to resolve this. Thanks.

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Of all the finely and aptly telling words in this chapter, their epicenter is, I think, "precious".  I clicked on "love" as a response in the sense that I have loved fitting performances of "King Lear".

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Mmm. 

Wow. I'm feeling traumatised by the retelling. Poor Nate. Poor Greg. 

I just cannot imagine anyone doing that to a child! 

 

I actually hope that Greg & Nate do not become a couple. That they get over this and become the people they were meant to be! 

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Simply Amazing! You’ve told this extraordinarily emotional and traumatic chapter with compassion and candor. I’m certain that this was a difficult chapter for you to write, however, thank you for having the courage to tell it. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😢❤️

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