Aunt Jan greeted me with a hug, a kiss to my cheek, another hug, stern silence, and the look: lips mashed together in a frown, eyes narrowed, forehead wrinkled, gaze unwaveringly formidable.
When she held me at arm's length and appraised me, her eyes boring into mine, the look of grim determination she started with slowly melted into loving sympathy. Cupping my cheek she whispered, "You look sad and tired, my darling."
My mouth opened but I had no words. So I closed it and shrugged.
She pulled me down and kissed my cheek again, then she whispered, "I know you're hurting, Greg. The rest of us are, too. This breaks our hearts." Leaning back and speaking in a firmer tone she added, "Your uncle's ready when you are." Then she patted my cheek a few times before walking back to the reception desk.
Squaring my shoulders and breathing deeply, I marched to Uncle Farid's office door, opened it, stepped inside, closed it behind me, and took inventory of the room. If my uncle's stern scowl meant anything, it was that Nate's therapy sessions came earlier in the week than my Friday morning visits.
Or, um, I don't know, maybe he called Mom and cried his heart out, maybe he called Uncle Farid or Aunt Jan and wept until his soul was empty, maybe he called Dad and asked how things could possibly have gone so wrong, or any of a number of other options.
Oh. Sure. Could be.
"Take a seat, Greg," Uncle Farid barked with a gesture toward the sofa. As I settled in for harsh treatment, he came around the desk and deposited his usual bounty near the chair he always used. Cigarettes and lighter here, pad and pens there, recording remote in his hand.
He dropped into the chair with all the ceremony of a plane crash. Then he hit the remote, causing the usual three chimes to sound and the light above the door to illuminate. He tossed the remote onto the coffee table before dragging his pen and pad of paper into his lap.
Without preamble he said, "It's approximately nine in the morning on November twenty-fifth of two thousand sixteen. This is the usual Friday session for Greg Beaumont."
So far all he's given me is a dirty look and instructions to sit down. No greeting, no banter, not even a smack to the head.
"Outside voice, please." Despite my worries, he sounded normal. A tad gruff maybe, a touch sad, but he'd put on his therapy hat and that was that.
"Sorry," I mumbled.
He waved away my automatic apology and turned slightly, setting his serious expression on me like hounds on a fox. "Anything in particular you feel like discussing today, Greg?" Does he sound snide? "Anything at all on your mind that seems pressing and important?" Nope, not snide. That's snark! "Anything I should know about before we get started?" He's loaded for bear.
Dropping my head as I gave a slight shrug, I shook my head as I said, "I suppose we might as well talk about the elephant in the room."
"And what elephant might that be?"
I chuckled. I couldn't believe it, but his facetiousness coupled with that unwavering glare tickled me.
While he lit a cigarette I explained, "Look, Uncle Farid, I suspect you've already met with Nate this week. I suspect you've talked to Mom and I know you've talked to Dad. So the elephant is that I did what was necessary—"
"Ah! Necessary. Necessary ..." He practically savored the word the second time, as though checking to see if it still tasted the same. "Now there's a funny thing in this context, Greg. Since the twenty-eighth of last month, when you revealed Richard's role in building your blind spot, we've repeatedly discussed how necessary it is for you to calm down lest you make any rash decisions, how necessary it is for you to take time for objective evaluation and consideration of what you're going through and how you might respond to it, how necessary it is for you to pause instead of taking sudden action, how necessary it is for you to understand you're not thinking clearly because you're overwhelmed at the moment.
"You've been on a downward spiral since you met Kyle. We agitated that by digging through your blind spot and exhuming everything you buried there since you were thirteen, but most notably since you were fifteen. You're dealing with memories that are traumatic and hurtful. You're flooded with related emotions, both past and present, but you're unable to correctly process and act on your feelings because they're deluging you whilst you're already beneath the surface of everything else. Added to all of that is learning of Nate's guilt and remorse about what happened to you. And you rediscovered your love for him when you dismantled your blind spot well ahead of schedule—"
"You weren't ready for that level of revelation, Greg, nor that level of psychological and emotional upheaval. You just weren't. Immersion therapy is one thing, drowning is something altogether different. But instead of working through the process with me so we could address what lay hidden in that dark realm, you kept digging and digging. And though I warned you of the necessary nature of calming down, waiting, not leaping before looking, what I've heard this week—starting with a late phone call Sunday night, young man—has left me wondering if you're really here for assistance and guidance, or for some other reason I can't fathom."
I was flabbergasted. And hurt. Not because Uncle Farid's words pained me, but because they dredged up the truth from some abyssal plane deep within my mind.
Tough love indeed ...
"I'm sorry," I said, though I knew when I said it what his response would be.
"I'm hardly the one most deserving of an apology, though you dragged the entire family into this mess with your unjust, selfish, injurious theatrics."
"The whole family?"
"Yes, the whole family. First I receive a call from Gavin—maybe you don't remember, but your father is my wife's brother and therefore my brother-in-law—he calls me late Sunday night to ask me what kind of hell I unleashed inside you. Next, Jan received a call from Yvonne, at which point we started a conference call. Without violating doctor-patient confidentiality, I had to reassure them that this was not the end of the world despite my own doubts in that regard. Thankfully Nate spent the night at Yvonne's, so he had someone to help him get through what was a traumatic and life-altering evening. All of which means the entire family was involved. Is involved."
The word startled me only because it slipped out of an otherwise silent yet open mouth. Mine, if you were wondering.
After blowing out a cloud of smoke, Uncle Farid's countenance softened yet again, his avuncular love shining through as his tone became familial. "So let's talk about the elephant in the room, Greg. We love you dearly and we love Nate dearly; you're both family. Therefore we want to fix what you broke."
"But I don't!"
"I beg your pardon?"
I wiped a stray tear away. "I don't want to fix it. Fixing it just puts me back in the same situation, puts Nate back in the same situation, neither of us completely happy and neither of us willing to leave the other to find our happiness."
He shook his head slowly, frowning. "Is that the truth or is that a defense of your decision?"
After a frustrated huff, I bowed my head for a moment to collect my thoughts. Then: "Let me see if I can explain this." I paused to take a few deep breaths before I met his gaze and said, "His absence unnerves me, makes me want to see him desperately. Which is true right after he walks out the door, let alone if I haven't seen him all day. It's a constant need to be with him, the need to be in his presence, the almost painful feeling of missing him even when he's coming back soon. Especially when I know the love that causes those feelings will never be returned, that eventually I'll see him off to another life without me while I wallow in misery and self-pity and wonder why I waited so long to get the hell out of the situation."
Uncle Farid exhaled a stream of smoke, eyes squinting at me through the fog. But he didn't say anything, just stared, considering, waiting.
"Regardless of that," I continued, "I never feel happier than when I'm around him. Even sitting in complete silence, so long as he's with me I feel as though all is right with the world. His presence gives me a sense of completeness and serenity that I've never experienced with anyone else."
After I huffed out a frustrated breath I added, "The physical attraction is stronger than ever, but at least I understand lust."
"Is it lust? Or is it something else?"
"I ... I know what you're asking. It's lust, at least to some small degree. But the emotional and intellectual responses are altogether different, unsettling at best in their severity and confusing and arresting at worst for their unpredictable and unrelenting nature. He's all I think about, all I want, but that feeling's not shared and it's not productive. Fuck, Uncle Farid, has anyone ever felt anything like this?" He nodded. "How do they cope? How do they fix it?"
"It's not something that needs to be repaired, Greg."
"I disagree. Clearly something's wrong if I ache at his absence and shiver at his presence and think of him all the time. No one's ever evoked all these feelings in me. No one! And it's been there since we were kids, growing stronger day after day." Flustered, I threw my hands up as I declared, "Then he went and got hot! That didn't help at all!"
Ignoring my uncle's amused expression and shaking my head, I sighed as I looked down at my hands clasped in my lap. "All of this troubles me to a great degree. How will I ever find the right man to live a life with if I spend all my time seeking Nate's company? How will I know I've met the guy who'll build a future with me if all my mental processes spend their time focused on my best friend? How will I know I've fallen in love if I can't see beyond the emotions Nate engenders?"
Again I sighed, a sound heavy with confusion. "How can any of you expect me to go back to that when it means sacrificing the promise of happiness?"
"Why do you think reconciling with Nate means you'd have to sacrifice potential happiness?"
"If I'm around him, it feeds the love I feel for him, makes it stronger. It already overrides everything in my head and heart. There's no hope of finding the right man as long as I'm hung up on Nate, and since Nate will never feel the same way—"
"Did he tell you that when you discussed your departure?"
"I didn't discuss it!" Then my eyes widened at what he'd just done. "Fuck ..." I muttered.
"You didn't give Nate a chance to talk about this with you. You took away his choice in the matter."
"It was my choice! It's my life!" I hated the words even as they exited my mouth. I hated them because I knew they were selfish and uncaring and wrong.
"Again you're letting emotions rule your intellect. It's not just your life or your choice. You broke a relationship without considering the other party. You didn't give him a chance to help you, to discuss this, to find a way together to solve the problems you see. Instead, you decimated two lives without letting the other half of you be there for you like he's always been, like you've both always been for each other."
"I did it because I love him." My voice came out weak, unconvincing.
"But it's not altruistic, Greg, at least not entirely. You destroyed his most important relationship, took away the man he loves more than anyone else in the world, and you didn't offer him an opportunity to respond, to tell you how he felt about your revelation, to react after thoughtful consideration, to defend his most cherished possession. You dropped two emotional bombshells on him at once, then you marched out as if the discussion had ended, when in fact what you did was start a conversation."
Leaning forward and piercing me with his steady gaze he asked, "Did you stop and ask yourself how this would affect him?"
"Of course I did! I knew it would upset him, but he'd see I'm setting him free and I'm doing what's necessary for my own happiness."
"Did you know he was too upset and shaken to sleep Sunday night, yet he still pulled himself together Monday morning so he could attend his meeting at the new gym site?"
I shook my head and gave a little shrug. And I felt like a selfish prick.
"Did you know he overheard your discussion with Rita and he wasn't sure if it was good or bad, though he thought you handled it well, and only after he saw how she shunned you all night and how she gave you glowers and frowns and rude stares did he realize the conversation had been forcefully negative on her part, that she was essentially attacking you to separate you from him, and he couldn't stand it that he didn't defend you and support you when it happened?"
"He heard that? Oh, of course he did. Bionic hearing ..."
"He thought you handled it quite well. He also thought if it had been a real issue, you would discuss it with him and that would be the end of her involvement in his life. Except he didn't know what you had planned for the evening, only that you were distancing yourself from him and that you clearly had no intention of dealing with her or the overall situation."
"Did you know he's heartbroken? Did you know he wants to give you what you asked for while also being dedicated to reconciling with you and repairing what you tore apart?"
"Aren't you breaking confidentiality—"
"All of this was discussed with the family on the phone that night. There was no doctor-patient confidentiality involved."
"The point being, Greg, you never considered his feelings, you never considered how this would affect him. You drove your emotional bulldozer right over every word he uttered, not stopping for a moment to consider he might have something to say about all this.
"You did it because you didn't listen to my recommendations, you didn't listen to my counsel. I told you you were in no condition to make reasonable, sound decisions due to an emotional and psychological overload. You're making decisions based on out-of-control emotions rather than facts. You're making decisions in the shadow of all we've unearthed from your blind spot, all the memories we've dredged up, all the pain and sorrow and anguish we've exhumed. You're integrating those memories into your thoughts and considerations regardless of their validity and applicability. You're facing all this in a short amount of time, measured in just a few months, not years. You're better, Greg, but you're not healed."
"How can anyone ever heal from something like this?"
"Honestly? They can't. A trauma of this severity is like a spinal cord injury that renders you a paraplegic. By healing we mean learning to cope, learning to accept, learning what deserves weight and what doesn't. What happened to you will always be with you, but it is possible to mitigate the effects, to reduce the impact it has on your feelings and your thinking and your everyday life. But you're not there yet."
"But I'm getting better!"
"Yes, you certainly are getting better. But what happened requires more than a few months of therapy. The manipulations alone require a year or more to address, to separate the lies from the facts so you can identify and establish a new equilibrium in life that doesn't rely on and isn't crippled by those influences. Add to that the trauma itself, the fears and pains and memories. Yes, the progress you've made is great, I assure you, but there's a lot of work yet to be done."
"Why do you keep reminding me of that?"
"You were an impressionable teenager. Clever, yes, you've always been clever. Smart? You are definitely smart, as you were back then. But you were just a teenager. Do you really believe a thirteen-year-old boy can stay ahead of an accomplished and dedicated child predator who's almost three times your age and has a doctorate and has successfully avoided detection despite the number of boys he'd already assaulted? Seventeen other boys before you took years to break through the mental barriers he created in them, the manipulations and the fear and the embarrassment and the deceptions, all of which he planted in them and nurtured until he had them under his control. What makes you think you had any hope of faring better than those other boys?"
I shrugged. Feeling rather daft for having assumed any superiority over Richard, which now seemed a fool's folly at best, a shrug was the only response I could offer.
As he tamped his dead cigarette in the ashtray, he said, "Now tell me why you did this terrible thing to Nate and your relationship with him."
"I needed to get away from him—"
"No, Greg. Tell me the truth. Tell me why you did this thing."
"I can't be happy—"
"More excuses. Tell me the truth, Greg."
I was angry, though not specifically at his approach or questions or disinterest in my answers. "Why do you think I did it? You won't listen to my reasons. You tell me why I did it if you're so goddamn smart."
"Because you're hiding from the love you feel for Nate."
"No! I'm not hiding."
"You hid it from yourself for years. Now you're hiding from it by running away."
"How long are you going to run away from this, Greg?"
"How long are you going to let Richard control you?"
"He's not! He's not controlling me! He's not!"
"Part of your own justification for this course of action was something Richard put in your head, was it not?"
"That's ... But ..."
"You said the only reason Richard's sexual assault on you was so violent was because you redeclared your love for Nate and used it to deny Richard his conquest. You said you built your blind spot to hide your love for Nate; you built a mental mechanism for self-deception which subsequently took on a life of its own and hobbled your perceptions and emotions and thoughts for fifteen years, a psychological construct Richard taught you to build. You've shunned relationships while hiding from the one that mattered most, all because of what Richard did to you."
My body trembled but I couldn't stop it. My breathing was ragged. And yet I didn't cry. Not one tear. The pain I felt was easily overwhelmed by anger at Richard and, more importantly, anger at myself.
"You knew he was manipulating you," he continued, "but you let him do it because you thought your friendship with Nate was in danger. Richard offered to help you avoid that danger, so you let him mess around in your head. And now you're making decisions based on what he put there, what he deceived you and manipulated you into believing. Now you're acting on his instructions just as he hoped."
"How long are you going to let Richard use your own love against you? How long are you going to let him use your love as a weapon against Nate? How long will you let Richard control you? How long, Greg?"
He reached over and grabbed my hand, which startled me, and he held it firmly in his warm and soft and familial and loving grip. Then quietly he asked, "How much more will you let Richard take from you? How long will you let him win?"
All I could do was stare, mouth agape, eyes wide. Was I letting Richard win? Was I letting The Fiend run and ruin my life now fifteen years after his arrest? Was the evil doctor going to plague me for the rest of my life, control me, influence my every thought and deed? When would I stop living according to his manipulations and start living for myself?
Running my free hand down my face I mumbled, "Fuck, Uncle Farid, it's like he's still in my head. I need to evict him."
"The road to recovery begins with admitting you have a problem," he said gently, squeezing my hand as he did.
* * * * *
December 7, 2016
Bundling myself in a scarf and knee-length leather jacket and driving gloves, I grabbed my satchel, slung the strap over my shoulder, then marched out of my office.
I've done enough work to last until spring.
Yeah, but you'll be back in the morning anyway.
With a few nods and waves and quiet words with some of my employees and a few of the other executives, I made my way to the stairs and headed down twelve floors to the underground parking garage. The world outside was cold and blustery; so, too, was the multistory concrete cave filled with automobiles.
Thank fuck my car has heated seats.
Nate leaned against my car, hands crammed in his jacket pockets, a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck and his collar pulled up for extra insulation.
"Here I thought we had security to keep the lowborn away from the nobles," I joked.
His head jerked up at the sound of my voice. The sad countenance he'd used while considering his shoes evaporated in favor of that smile, that wonderful, warm, brilliant, just-for-me smile. And it went all the way up to his eyes.
Grabbing his crotch and giving it a tug, he shot back, "Yo, dawg, I gotcha lowborn right here."
I shook my head despite the grin on my face. "You've never been able to pull off the thug thing."
He looked sheepish when he said, "Yeah, I know. I feel like I'm disappointing my peeps."
He looked tired. The skin beneath his eyes was puffy and dark, he face haggard. It felt like looking into a tinted mirror.
"Are you okay, Nate?" I asked, suddenly concerned by his abrupt appearance, wanting to reach out and touch him, to reassure him and myself. "Is something wrong?"
"No. I'm fine," he said with a bit too much enthusiasm. Overcompensating, of course. Then with less enthusiasm he added, "Not fine, not really, but you know what I mean."
"I'm sorry," I said softly, sympathy for the pain I'd caused overriding my resolve to stay the course.
With a dismissive shake of his head he responded, "It is what it is, G-Man."
"Why are you here? You promised—"
"I know," he interrupted. He gave a little shrug, ducking his head between his shoulders. His eyes became sad. "But I wanted to see you," he practically whispered.
"But that's not all, G-Man. I promise. Even though it's true, I also came because I need to talk to you."
He's beautiful ...
He blushed, a shy little grin on his face.
Bloody hell! Is he in my head?
Wait! He's never picked up on this before.
Just as my mouth began to open, a question on the tip of my tongue, he said, "I'm having a hard time not going crazy thinking about what you told me. About Richard, what he did to you, why he got so violent on your birthday. I never realized that's why he hurt you so much, because of how you felt. About me ..."
"It's in the past."
"Not all of it ..."
Cocking my head, I asked, "Meaning what precisely?"
I don't need him to remind me of how I feel. I'm well aware of it.
"He hurt you because you love me. He did that because you were true to your feelings." Nate looked down, leaving me staring at the top of his head, and he took several deep steadying breaths. Then he looked up, shrugged, offered, "I want to apologize for my silence."
"That night at home when you told me how you felt ... I clammed up and didn't say anything. I was thinking about all the things I wanted to say, all the things I was feeling, how much I was hurting, how much you were hurting while telling me why you felt like you needed to leave ... Well, a lot was going through my head."
"It's okay, Nate. I understand. It doesn't make you an insensitive prick. Yeah, it bothered me. A lot. But I understand, I really do."
"That's not all, though, G-Man. That's the problem. I've never let you shut me down, you know that, and I could've pushed my way through your jeremiad and made you listen. You know it's true, I can see it in your face. But that's not why I didn't say anything ..." His words had tapered off, weak and disquieted.
After a few moments of silence I asked, "What was it, Nate? What happened?" My own voice came out fragile, wanting yet frightened.
I'm not sure I want to hear this. Maybe it's another emotional hit below the belt.
He took a deep inhale before explaining, "When you told me on the phone that night about what Richard did because you love me, about the assault and the blind spot and all that, it occurred to me I needed to tell you something. When I shut up that night and let you walk out, regardless of all the crap I was feeling and thinking, the reason I couldn't talk was because Richard spent two years telling me this very thing was going to happen."
"What? What thing? What was going to happen?"
"That you'd leave me, that you'd tell me you loved me and then you'd leave me. He said you'd do it because you could never be what I needed and I could never be what you needed, and he said you'd know you had to leave before our friendship blew itself apart."
Fuck me running. Richard was right about that, I guess.
"No! Don't do that, G-Man. Don't give credence to anything that asshole said. He made us doubt the truth and made us believe the lies, he messed with our heads and our friendship—"
"Fuck ..." I lacked the strength to say more, the word dying on my lips.
"You said he weaponized your love for me, used it against you. Well, he messed with my head just like he did yours, using our friendship and my feelings for you as a weapon against me, making me fear ever feeling more than friendship for you, making me fear you'd leave me if you ever thought I did."
"Then ... But ... Okay ... Fine then, Nate, so he fucked our minds over."
"But that's just it, G-Man."
"That's why I couldn't speak that night. I heard everything you said, but what was happening in my head was a replay of all the times he described that very scenario. All I could think was that he was right, that somehow my feelings had fucked it all up and you were leaving because of it."
"What feelings?" I barely heard my own voice, such a frail thing, as though speaking too loud might shatter the moment, might break the spell of disclosure.
His eyes dropped toward the ground as he scuffed a foot back and forth. And he shrugged again.
With a bit more volume I asked, "What feelings, Nate?"
When he lifted his gaze to mine, confusion and fear stared back at me. "Rita told me she loved me. That night, you know."
Fuck, Greg, you sound like a jealous freak. Stop already!
"She'd known me for what, like six weeks, and she was already declaring her love? It was desperate, right? Isn't that how it sounded to you?"
"It doesn't matter what I think about that."
"Yes it does! It always matters to me what you think. Nothing's changed in that regard, dude."
He was right. Why should current circumstances keep me from expressing my opinion?
"Like you, I thought it was an act of desperation, far too quick to be likely and timed too conveniently to be anything other than a way to get what she wanted."
He bobbed his head a few times as he said, "Right. Exactly. So anyway ... She said that and I thought it was too soon. Sure, there's love at first sight and all, but this wasn't it. And the timing was all wrong, convenient even just like you said, especially given your conversation with her earlier that evening."
With a frustrated scowl I said, "I don't really want to talk about Rita."
"What I'm saying is I realized when she said it that the words were meaningless coming from her. Had it been true, maybe it would've felt nice, but even so it wasn't the same. It didn't make me feel good like it always does with you. With you it was never a game, it was always real, it always meant something—"
"Means something, Nate. Present tense."
He took a step forward, placing him much closer to me. "I know," he whispered.
I stared for several moments, trying to retreat from what I was feeling, trying to retreat from Nate.
"I came here because I wanted to see you, Greg," he said softly, "but I also came to say I'm sorry for how I acted that night. I'm ashamed of my silence. You laid yourself wide open and I got stuck in my own head."
He looked so chagrined and repentant.
I want to wrap him in my arms and comfort him, hold him and rock him and whisper in his ear that it's okay, he's okay, we're okay. But we're not and I can't.
When he cocked his head, his eyes slightly misted and his cheeks slightly flushed, I thought he looked so handsome, so inviting, so very much the Nate I loved.
Damn it, he's too damn much for me to handle. I don't know how much more of this I can stand.
Then, without thinking, I stepped forward and pulled him into a hug, the embrace tight and familiar and welcome.
"There's nothing to forgive. I understand. More than fifteen years later and he's still fucking up our lives."
My best friend's arms wrapped around me as he settled his head on my shoulder, his face pressed against my scarf-wrapped neck. For a minute or more we held each other in silence.
I want this so much ...
I released him slowly, reluctantly. He backed up a step and met my eyes.
I want to kiss him. And touch him.
Nate's blush flared, his skin darkening, and he dropped his eyes just as he licked his lips. As his face lowered slightly and he looked at me through his lashes, he bit his bottom lip.
Before I could stop myself I asked, "Are you receiving me, Little Big Man?"
"Five by five, G-Man." Like my question, his reply was automatic.
Somehow he'd fixed his ESP if he was suddenly picking up the thoughts that once zoomed right by his mental antenna. Or ...
"How long, Nate? How long have you been able to see it?"
His shocked expression gave way to remorse as he answered, "I don't know. A long time maybe, though maybe not until recently. Since we were, like, thirteen or something like that. Then I guess I deceived myself into thinking it wasn't really there, maybe never had been."
"Because he manipulated you ..." I mumbled.
Wiping a hand down his face, he nodded, an almost imperceptible movement. Then he admitted, "Yeah. Maybe because I was worried Richard might've been right."
"This can't go on," I said, shaking my head. "It has to end. Twenty years ago it started; fifteen-plus-change years ago it came to a head. Here we are still walking in his shadow, still struggling against his manipulations, still fighting through his machinations."
Already shaking his head, he leaned forward and claimed my gloved hands. His gaze grabbed mine and wouldn't let go. "Greg. This is real simple, so listen carefully and don't smear memories of Richard all over my words so you can dismiss them."
I wanted to pull my hands away, only as a statement of my intent, but I couldn't. I couldn't look away from his eyes, either. At that moment Nate had me under his spell.
"You're in love with me. There's nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. Please don't use it as a wedge to tear us apart. That only serves to hurt both of us unnecessarily. And it's exactly what Richard wanted."
He stepped closer, yet I couldn't retreat, couldn't move at all. When next he spoke, I could feel his warm breath as it tickled my face.
"You took a piece of me when you left, G-Man, a big piece. Don't risk breaking my heart or yours just because you're scared. Please come home and let's figure this out the way we always have, together, side by side."
Lost. I was lost in his gaze, in the depths of his dark brown eyes that never failed to make me feel like I was the only other person on the planet. I was lost in the love that spread from him to me, passing through his hands into mine, drifting with his words into my soul. I was lost in the moment, lost in the feelings I couldn't control, lost in a desire decades old that had intensified yet never satisfied. I was lost, and Nate made it worse.
I leaned close enough to kiss him, though I didn't. His eyes fluttered briefly, his inhale stuttered as if in anticipation, his face rose slightly to compensate for the inches I had over him.
"Tell me about your feelings," I whispered against his parted lips, the touches light, barely there, his body twitching slightly in response, his eyes closing.
He mumbled something, less a mumble and more the exhale of words accompanied by the movement of his lips. I wasn't sure I heard him correctly, but before I could ask him to repeat what he said, his eyes snapped open as he took a step back, looking down, looking away, looking anywhere but at me.
"Uh ... Well ... I don't ..." When he met my gaze, the misery he felt clouded whatever he was feeling, though confusion and defiance were evident.
Disappointment coursed through my veins with every beat of my heart. Disappointment and ... resignation.
"I have to go," I groaned, pulling my hands from his and brushing by him as I hit the button to unlock my car. Two brief chirps and two quick flashes of the lights announced it was ready for business.
"Wait!" he called as he spun around. "Wait, Greg! Please!"
With the door open, I turned toward him and said, "You said it best just a few minutes ago: 'Don't give credence to anything that asshole said. He made us doubt the truth and made us believe the lies, he messed with our heads and our friendship.'" My voice dropped to something anguished and sorrowful when I added, "Don't let Richard control you, Nate. Don't give him any more victories."
"There's one more thing I need to tell you." The desperation in his voice and the dying hope in his features did nothing to stop me, nor did the obvious tremors in his hands.
I considered listening. I considered letting him say whatever else he felt he needed to share. But a big part of me felt such disappointment and hurt. So instead of hearing his last important tidbit, I said, "Please respect my wishes, Nate. Please." After that I dropped into the car without waiting for a response.
"Is that really what you want?" I heard him mutter sadly before the door slammed shut.
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