Nicholas pulled over to the side of the road just at the beginning of the Promenade, where the pedestrian zone began. He looked at his son with concern, watching him unfasten the seat belt clumsily, hurrying to get out.
“Do you want me to come with you?” he asked, wrinkles appearing on his forehead as he frowned. Alex shook his head.
“No, we’ll be fine. Thanks, dad.”
“Alright. If Jeremy needs someone to talk to, feel free to bring him over to your mom and me.”
“Ok, I’ll tell him that. See ya, dad. And thanks for driving me.”
With his phone in hand, Alex stepped out of the car and proceeded down the street toward the Appleton bakery.
The first thing he noticed when he came in was the awkward look on the face of the new girl, Trisha. She stood behind the counter, cleaning off the flour and crumbs. Several customers sat at the tables, eating their lunches.
“Hey, Trisha, is Jeremy upstairs?”
“Yeah,” the girl replied quietly. “Hey, uh, is he gonna be ok?”
Alex nodded in reply. “Yeah, I hope so. Thanks.” With that, he went to the back door and upstairs into Jeremy’s little apartment. As he climbed the stairs, he noticed how quiet it was. He wondered if Jeremy’s mom was still there and how she would react if she saw him. Luckily, he didn’t come across her.
She’s probably gone, he thought as he knocked on Jeremy’s bedroom door.
“Come in,” a voice said from the other side of the door, and Alex opened it to find a somber Jeremy sitting at his computer, playing Dota 2.
“Hey,” the baker said, his face lighting up just a little at seeing his crush walk into the room.
“Hey, whatchu playing?” Alex asked in a soft voice as he pulled another chair over and sat next to Jeremy. “Oh, Dota,” he smiled, glancing at the screen and then back at Jeremy. He was the same, using video games as an escape whenever he was upset or sad. Getting immersed in a fantasy world and playing out heroes and villains was always the biggest draw of gaming for him. It allowed him to escape reality, at least for a while.
“Sorry, just a few minutes and I’ll be done,” Jeremy replied, not taking his eyes off the screen.
“How’s the match going?” Alex asked, looking at the situation on the screen before glancing back at the blond guy.
“It’d be going much better if these idiots knew how to play!” Jeremy suddenly raised his voice in frustration, clicking his mouse as fast as he could. “Oh for fuck’s sake, Meepo died again!” he groaned, slamming his fingers on the keyboard.
Alex was startled, but he knew better than to tell him to calm down. If they were anything alike, that would just make him even angrier. He just sat patiently and waited for the match to be over.
Five minutes later, when the word “DEFEAT” appeared on the screen, Jeremy huffed and clicked rapidly in an attempt to leave the game as quickly as possible. Alex swivelled the guy’s chair so that they were facing each other, and then took his hands.
“Hey,” he spoke softly and Jeremy looked up, his sad eyes meeting Alex’s. “Got it out of your system?”
“Yeah,” Jeremy nodded, sighing.
“I’m here, wanna tell me what happened?” Alex asked, squeezing the other guy’s hands. He wasn’t sure what to say or do, so he thought it best to let Jeremy open up. Maybe that would make him feel better.
Taking a deep breath, Jeremy got up from the chair and moved to the bed. He sat down and pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around them. Alex followed suit and moved to the bed as well, sitting next to Jeremy with an arm around his shoulders, leaning into him. The silence was heavy.
“If you don’t wanna talk now, that’s ok too,” Alex suggested, figuring Jeremy might not be ready yet.
“Ok,” Jeremy replied, his voice barely a whisper.
“Come on, let’s lie down,” Alex suggested, pulling him down. They lay to the side, Alex spooning Jeremy from behind, his chest pressed against Jeremy’s back.
Their slow breathing and the faint ticking noise of the clock on the wall were the only sounds in the room. The two boys didn’t speak a word. After a while, they both fell asleep.
It was an hour later that Alex woke up, feeling a stirring motion next to him. He opened his eyes to find Jeremy lying next to him, also awake.
“Sorry if I woke you,” Jeremy apologized, turning so that he was facing Alex.
“That’s alright, I don’t mind waking up like this,” Alex lifted his head up and smiled at Jeremy. “Do you want to talk about what happened?” he asked gently as he got up and sat next to the other boy. “It’s ok if you don’t.”
Jeremy looked down at the blue and white carpet, as if contemplating whether to open up. Then, he sighed and lifted his head.
“Mom’s gone. She packed her things and left this afternoon.”
“Baby, I’m sorry. I take it she didn’t react well?” Alex looked at him with concern and joined their hands together. Jeremy just shook his head. “How did she find out? Did you tell her?”
“That friend of yours came over… Brandon.”
Alex’s eyes went wide with shock when he heard Brandon’s name. “What?!”
“He came over this morning when I was working, said he wanted to talk about you. I tried to shush him because I didn’t want mom to overhear us, but he insisted that we talk,” Jeremy continued his account of that morning.
“What the hell did he want?” Alex asked, fear creeping inside him, making him dread hearing the rest of the story.
“He told me… He said you deserved to be with someone you could be with openly, and not me, since I’m not even out.”
“What the hell? That fucking… I can’t believe this,” Alex curled his fingers into a fist, infuriated at Brandon as much as himself. He was an idiot to have told Brandon anything at all. If only he hadn’t confided in him that night, none of this would have happened!
“By the time I got him to leave, it was too late. I turned around and saw mom standing there, looking… broken.”
“She heard everything,” Alex said, looking at Jeremy with sad, brown eyes.
“Or at least enough to get the picture. You should’ve seen her, Alex, she didn’t even want to talk to me. Didn’t even let me explain. It was as if she had given up. She just wanted to get out, so she packed her bags and left.”
“Just like that? Did she say anything?”
“She just mumbled that she couldn’t believe it, that she didn’t even know who I was anymore. As if I’m suddenly a stranger to her,” Jeremy spoke sadly.
Alex wrapped his arms around the other boy, trying to hold back the tears. He pretty much hated Zara as much as Brandon at that moment. How could she do this to her own son? He simply couldn’t understand.
“Do you think she’ll come around?”
“I don’t know,” was all that Jeremy said. He seemed resigned to the fact that his mother was out of his life - indefinitely.
“I’m so sorry, baby, you shouldn’t be going through this. And I never should’ve told Brandon anything. I was just trying to get some things off my chest, but I can’t believe he went and did this! That fucking douchebag only cares about himself!” Alex said, his soft voice slowly turning to angry grumbling.
“Hey, it’s not your fault, ok?”
“I’m just… angry at everything. None of this should’ve happened! You didn’t deserve it. You’re sweet and kind to everyone… And I’m an idiot.”
“No, you’re not. You’re amazing. I couldn’t go through this without you,” Jeremy insisted, trying to reassure Alex that he held no grudge against him.
However, Alex couldn’t be convinced so easily. He couldn’t help but feel that if it wasn’t for him, Jeremy wouldn’t even be in this mess.
“Thanks,” he finally conceded, letting the blond guy rest his head on his shoulder. “So what are you gonna do now? Are you gonna tell your sister?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Jeremy shrugged. “Mom will probably tell her anyway, if she hadn’t already. She deserves to know.”
“If you want moral support when you talk to her, I’ll be happy to be there,” Alex offered.
“I mean it. Whatever happens, I’m here for you, ok? You don’t have to go through this alone.”
“Ok,” Jeremy replied. “That means so much to me.”
When he finally left Jeremy’s apartment that evening, Alex was feeling an overwhelming mix of emotions unlike anything he had ever felt before. On one hand, he wanted to be with Jeremy and show him how much he cared about him, but the guilt was starting to eat him up. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was his presence that was causing all the trouble in Jeremy’s life. First, the fight with Natalie, and now the fallout with Jeremy’s mom. On top of that, he felt anger and contempt toward one particular person - Brandon.
Replaying all of the things Jeremy told him that day, Alex hopped on the city bus with a purpose. He knew exactly what his next stop would be.
Alex pressed the doorbell impatiently, waiting in front of Brandon’s apartment. He didn’t bother announcing himself, but in case the guy wasn’t home, Alex was prepared to wait as long as necessary. He was not leaving until he gave Brandon a piece of his mind.
The door finally unlocked and opened, Brandon standing there and looking mildly surprised.
“Alex, I didn’t…” he started to say, but didn’t even get to finish his sentence. Alex barged in, shoving him forcefully in the chest.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Alex shouted angrily as Brandon stumbled back, almost falling down.
“Wow, calm down, man,” the brown-haired guy said as he steadied himself, raising his hands defensively.
Unrelenting, Alex went in again, this time with a fist flying straight toward Brandon’s face, but the other guy was fast enough, catching Alex’s fist in his hand.
“Fucking stop that!” Brandon yelled, now furious at Alex, pushing him away with great force. Alex almost tripped over his own feet and fell onto the couch.
“You wanna fight? Ok, ‘cause I have no problem bashing your face in,” Brandon threatened and Alex realized he had underestimated the guy. “Or do you wanna sit there and tell me what’s bothering you?!”
“You gotta be kidding me,” Alex spat out, looking at him with eyes full of burning rage. “You’re what’s bothering me! You had no business going to Jeremy’s. Do you have any idea what you did?”
“Oh, of course he would tell you. Why am I not surprised…”
“He told me because you outed him to his mom!” Alex shouted, as Brandon’s expression changed from annoyance to surprise. “She heard what you talked about and now she’s gone. She left him because she can’t handle him being gay. So great job! If you wanted to ruin a family, you did it.”
“What? I- I never meant for that…” Brandon stuttered. “I promise I…”
“Let me guess, it was all an accident?” Alex said sarcastically. Whatever excuses Brandon had to offer, he didn’t want to hear them.
“I swear I wasn’t trying to out him. I just came over to talk to him about you, because I care for you!”
“Give me a fucking break! If you cared for me you wouldn’t go and tell my boyfriend he’s not good enough for me!”
“And what kind of a boyfriend is that when you can’t even be seen together?” Brandon asked, only managing to make Alex even more furious.
“That’s none of your business! You had no right to butt in! What, did you think you’d break us up and I’d come running back to you? That’s never gonna happen,” Alex spoke with anger and determination as he stood up from the couch and went for the door. “I’m surprised you didn’t offer to pay him to leave me.”
“Yeah, because that’s me, spoiled little rich boy who uses money to get what he wants. I don’t remember you having any problems borrowing money from me five seconds after we met,” Brandon immediately shot back, making Alex stop in his tracks and turn around. “Is that what you really think of me, Alex? Is that how you see me?”
“Don’t try to turn this around on me! You were the one who went and ran his mouth, not caring who might get hurt,” Alex responded angrily, regretting he even came to see the guy.
“I did it precisely because I didn’t want you to get hurt! I may have gone about it the wrong way, but I did it because I care about you,” Brandon said, chuckling humorlessly at Alex’s blank stare. “Yeah, newsflash, I have feelings too. But you wouldn’t know that, would you? Because to you I’m just a preppy snob who thinks he can buy everything. So maybe I am used to a… more luxurious lifestyle than most - it’s not my fault my parents are wealthy. But that’s not all who I am. And if you’d bothered to get to know me, maybe you’d have seen that. I’m sorry about Jeremy, I really am. But I am mostly sorry about being an idiot to fall for you.”
With that, Brandon turned around and stormed off to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Completely dumbstruck, Alex reached for the doorknob and let himself out, quietly leaving the building.
Thank you all for reading, I appreciate it so much!