by Hylas



It was going to be today. Shit! I have a really bad feeling about it but I've promised myself and I won't back out. Can't back out. Fuck...

I swore I'd do this today, because if I don't, I probably never will. It's my last chance. I know I don't want to, but I NEED to do this while I still have some courage in me. I need to do this today, because I know it won't be long before my silence will finally defeat me. Won't be long before I'll be rendered mute for life.

I know I wouldn't be able to stand another day of darkness. Another day of hiding... To know I had another chance and the strength and I wasted it would haunt me all my life. I had no choice. I WILL do it today.

Oh God, I can hardly think of anything else.

A sitcom was on the TV downstairs. A good one. Hilarious, judging from the laughter coming from the living room. Funny, it seemed so far away. Another night and I would have been down there with them, laughing my guts out. Not tonight. I couldn't face happiness tonight. Couldn't face laughter when in a few more minutes I would probably be denied even the simplest joys.

Sighing softly, I closed my eyes and hugged my pillow tighter. I've been like this all day. Almost catatonic. Staring at the walls, sleeping, trying my best to bolster up my courage. I tried surfing the net for articles, stories, blogs... anything. I tried researching more about myself, tried imaginary dialogues, tried figuring out their reactions beforehand... None of it seemed to work. At the end of the day, I felt just as apprehensive as I did this morning. I really think I'm not ready for this...



It was going to be today. I WILL not hide anymore. I'm eighteen and I'm sick of the years of utter loneliness. Forgodsakes, I AM a teenager with all the longings and angst of one. All the desires that have never been completely fulfilled. All the frustrations that have never seen the light of day. Bottled up until I feel like I'm going to explode.

I've already missed the best years of my life. Not one single romance, just an unconfessed love and the wavering belief that my life couldn't be this cruel. Something beautiful must have been reserved for me somewhere. I was grasping at straws, desperate, but it was hope. I can live with it as long as the smallest flame of hope still burns within me.

Yet I know that hope untended will die eventually. This is my only shot at true happiness. In everyone's life there is a time to risk everything, and my time is today. I'm risking the single warmth in my life for the chance of daylight... or eternal darkness.

Oh God.

I was trembling faintly as I turned around and picked up my single most prized possession lying on my bed. A photograph of Cliff and me from last year, goofing off at our class field trip.

Cliff Stuart, my bestfriend for ten years and the object of my deepest longings for five. Cliff... the person who made me realize what I was, who I was, and where my life is going. The person who opened my heart and locked away my soul. But no, I've never regretted loving him. I can only regret the fact that I may not be what he wanted. He held the keys to my prison, whether he frees me or not is entirely up to him. I had nothing over him.

I tenderly traced his outline with my fingers. Gaining strength from the brilliant smile on that handsome face. His gray eyes that could turn stormy with anger or sparkle silver with amusement. Those dimples that made him look impish, even with his 6'2" linebacker's build. The sound of his laughter - a deep throaty chuckle that escalated to an almost thunderous guffaw. His hands messing up my hair in the picture...

I love you, Cliff.

Incredibly, a small smile began to spread on my own face. It felt strange. Out of place. Almost like it was the first time I've smiled again in eons. But there it was, a real honest-to-goodness smile on my face and a warmth in my heart.

Puzzling over the simplest expression of joy, I was struck with a realization. Cliff! I can take whatever comes my way as long as he'll be there! I know he'll be there. God wouldn't take that from me. Surely, he wouldn't be that cruel.

I nearly broke into hysterical giggles. YES! I've found my anchor. I've had him all these years! NOW I'm ready.

I still couldn't help but flinch as a soft knock came through my locked door.

"Rick?" My younger sister Katie's voice.

"Yeah?" My voice was scratchy. I think it was the first word I've spoken all day.

"Dinner." Without waiting for my reply, I heard her head back downstairs to join the rest of the family.

Wiping the smile off my face, I brought the picture up to my lips quickly. Kissing it for strength.

"I love you, Cliff." I whispered quickly before I stood up and opened the small hidden compartment in the desk beside my bed. My hand brushed aside the jumble of porn movies and magazines that were a part of every teenager's treasure trove. Only thing is, my porn were not exactly normal. They only featured guys for one thing.

My porn reflected my own weakness. My shame.

I was gay.

I ignored the rush of self-loathing that rose unbidden from within, and carefully replaced Cliff's photograph among the deepest secrets of my soul. My fingers lingering over the smooth side of the picture, imagining his smile again...

"Rick!" My mom called from downstairs. "You're food's getting cold."

I let go and closed the hidden compartment, feeling a bit of the confidence leave me as I did so. I breathed in deeply a few times before starting for the door.

Today we'll see how much God loves me.

I could hear my sister bickering with my younger brother Carl as I reached the bottom of the stairs. Mom was hushing them up as I rounded the corner and entered the dining room. Beef and mushrooms, cheese macaroni, and potatoes. Normally, with that fare, I'd be fighting with my younger siblings over who gets the biggest share... but not now. I wasn't really even hungry, even though I had skipped lunch and only had three pieces of french toast for breakfast.

I slid into my seat and helped myself to the meal. Carefully taking only very small portions.

"Is that all you're going to get?" My sister asked curiously as I took my first bite.

I nodded.

"Can I have the rest of the mushrooms, Mom?"

"Shut up, Katie. You're a girl. You shouldn't eat that much." My brother butted in, already helping himself to the last slab of beef and mushrooms on the dinner tray.

"Mom!" For a moment, Katie looked like she would actually grab my brother's plate away from him. Thankfully, she just let out an exasperated sigh when my father sent a warning look over their way. That didn't stop her from glaring daggers at my brother, though. At least she did it quietly; I really didn't need their constant squabbling to foul up my parents' moods tonight.

Mom took advantage of the momentary peace to talk to Dad about getting Katie and Carl a new PC each. The fact that there were only two computers in the house and that I had sole access to one of them had been a sore point between my younger siblings. They were always fighting over who gets to use the other computer and my Mom had had enough of it.

I tried to keep track of the conversation but found out I just couldn't. My thoughts keep wandering over how I was going to say it. Where would I start? How would they take it?

Homosexuality had never been discussed deeply in my family. Sure we had discussions on politics, the environment, drug abuse, the war, even the fucking women's lib! But homosexuality? Nah. The topic was always skirted around when it came up. That one time I'd deliberately brought up the topic, my brother had dismissed it with some rude remarks about 'fags', my sister just laughed at the 'disgusting homos', and both my parents just issued us warnings about 'those people', hinting along the lines of STD's, plague carriers, and abominations before changing the subject.

Not exactly encouraging is it?

It fucking nearly killed me the first time, that's what! My family were an intelligent, liberal people, and I had more than hoped that homosexuality was something they'd be open minded about... god was I wrong! It was a few years back, on what would have been my original 'coming out' date. Hearing them talk like that about 'fags' was like hearing them make fun of me. ME! Every single word degrading what little confidence I had built up that day. Every single fucking word had driven another fucking nail down my coffin. Every single fucking word had pushed me deeper into the darkness I now find myself in.

I had lost my courage then, but I will not lose my courage again tonight!

Still... what makes me think they'll be more receptive tonight? Nothing has really changed, has it?

The feeling of impending doom grew stronger until I found myself actually holding my breath as I dealt with the rush of pain.

Oh God. I dropped the knife back to my plate as I lost all traces of my appetite.

"Rick, are you alright?" My mom asked.

I could feel all of their gazes on me as I stared down at my hardly touched plate. Longing suddenly for a release from this uncertainty, I decided to get it over with, there and then. I took a deep breath as I raised my head to meet their eyes.

Here goes nothing...

"I'm gay."

A fork hit the edge of a plate with a clatter. Then silence. A heavy, charged silence that made me think of the calm before the storm. Silence pregnant with promise of chaos.

And I knew.

I've lost them. Like a distant angry swarm of bees gradually approaching, I could feel what was coming. I knew what was coming.


All hell broke loose.

I was seeing it all through a curiously dreamlike haze. My mom crying, my dad shouting angrily at me, my sister looking bewildered, my brother trying to comfort mom while avoiding my gaze... I just sat there, detached. It all seemed so... unreal. Muted... Like I wasn't really part of the scene happening in front of me anymore. Not my world.

"...the fuck did we ever go wrong with you? How could you have done this to us, you ungrateful bastard! I don't have a faggot son! I'll never have..."

I've never seen my father this mad before, I realized as I watched his face contort in his screaming. The face that had lent me its features. The genes that had given me a naturally muscular build, even though I dislike sports with passion. My father...

Not my world... anymore.

I felt the first cold fingers of despair wrap themselves around my heart. The dreamy detachment held, but I suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness as I let go of another of my dreams.

My family.


Dad finally stopped screaming at me and helped mom stand up. I was half expecting him to hit me or something. Christ, I WANTED him to hit me! To give me a reason to hate him. To hate them. To channel this hatred away from myself. He just shot me a look of awful disdain before he led her quietly to their room, rubbing her shoulders in comfort as she continued sobbing uncontrollably. Seems like junior failed to live up to his namesake, eh? I watched it all in silence. My sister got up and followed them. My brother shot me a disgusted look that somehow failed to wound me more than I already was. Ominously silent, he followed them a short while later.

I was left alone in the dinner table. The plates of food staring forlornly back at me. Alone...

But then, I had already been alone even before the moment the words passed my mouth. Come to think of it, I had always been alone.

"...could you have let your own son turn gay?!"

"Me?! I've always made the point of talking to him, forgodsakes! It's not like I was an absent father!"

"Well, you could've been a bit more heavy-handed, he's turned into a fucking pansy!"

"That was his fucking mistake, Martha. Look at Carl! Carl is still normal, isn't he? That kid just fucking decided he'd..."

An hour passed unnoticed. Two. I tuned out the sounds of arguing in my parents' room while I stared at nothing.

Is this it?

"Rick." I looked up to see my brother. It hurt to see him obviously keeping his distance from me, like I was the carrier of some highly contagious disease or something. Homosexuality was probably worse in his book. Doctors can cure a disease, but nobody can cure a fag.

It wasn't only that, his whole attitude had changed imperceptibly as well. He was only three years younger than my 18 but it was as if my revelation had left him a great deal older.

The reason, I assumed, was that he was technically the eldest son in the family now. Being gay meant I couldn’t even be considered male. He was already assuming the mantle of responsibility from my own obviously unfit shoulders.

"Rick." He said again, with more force. Anger. "Dad thinks you should stay with Aunt Maggie tonight."

I nodded meekly. Too emotionally drained to disagree.

"Here's money for the bus fare." He didn't even hand it to me. He just set the bills down on the table before leaving without another word.

Goodbye Carl.

Goodbye Katie, goodbye Mom, goodbye Dad.

Goodbye Home.

I stood up dazedly. I grabbed the money from the dinner table before hurrying out to the front door. My mind had blanked out from all the pain. I felt like the time when I had broken my arm and had had to be anesthetized before they could set my bones. Not oblivious, but not fully awake either. Not pleasant, not painful, but numb. All over.

The front door clicked shut quietly behind me. The cool air outside cleared my head somewhat and the full brunt of what just happened hit me.


I hadn't even thought to stop and pack some things. I had to get out of here. I desperately didn't want to, but it wasn't in my hands. Never was. They didn't want me here, what right do I have to question that?

I would never, EVER, force myself on anyone who wouldn't want me. For even I would turn myself away, if given the chance. Even I am disgusted at my own obvious perversion. My abnormality. I could never demand acceptance. I can only take what was tossed my way, like a scrap of meat to a mangy stray mongrel. I didn't have any fucking right to demand for anything in this world. Everything that I am, is wrong. Ethically, spiritually, politically, biologically... I was a mistake. God just had the cruelest sense of humor, sometimes.

They're better off without me anyway.

Tears were streaming down my cheeks, blurring the streetlamps into starbursts of light; pale yellow flowers that illuminated the darkness of the suburban night. I started down towards the sidewalk and made my way to the bus stop. Keeping my head down, not really to hide my tears but more because I was ashamed of everything that I was.

It was still a good two blocks away when the overcast starless night sky suddenly opened up and started pouring. I was drenched before I even realized it was raining.

I didn't need this. Why can't something go right for a change?!

I started running. Not knowing where to. Not knowing why. Just running. The hollow sound of my shoes hitting the pavement, echoing in the streets. The bus stop forgotten as I vented my frustrations on exerting my body as hard as it would go. I dimly noticed other people steering clear from my path. Pedestrian lanes be damned, I crossed whenever I wanted. I ran.

As I sprinted yet another block in what seemed like Olympic time, it dawned on me. I was running away from myself. From this world. From this life.

A loud continuous blaring filtered through my trance. I looked up to see onrushing headlights and I barely leapt back in time before the car rushed past me, mere inches from the tips of my toes.

Trembling and soaking wet, I came to my senses. I had almost died.

People, especially people my age, seldom dwell on the real implications of death. I mean, I have thought of death. I had considered myself ready for it, but actually coming face to face with death. I found myself strangely thankful to still be alive.

I slowly made my way back to the sidewalk, still panting heavily. The overload of adrenaline leaving me weak.

Did I really want to die?

Suicide was an old topic to me. I have thought of it a lot ever since I found out I was gay, but then I realized, what's the point? True, it would have been nice to have everyone feel guilty for once. But that just wasn't enough reason. Sure, my life was hell. Even more so now that I knew my family's reaction. But... suicide?

I had never been religious. God certainly wouldn't have anything to do with people the likes me. Gays. Faggots. Sodomites. Sinners from the day we were born. Destined for damnation for just trying to be happy. What will suicide accomplish? An express ticket to eternal torment, that's what.

But then again...

Life is hell. When I die, suicide aside, I would probably still be going to hell. I mean, a God that burns cities of people just because of sexual orientation wouldn't actually permit someone like me to taint his paradise now, would he?

Living, killing myself, dying.


What's the point? I can't run away. There really was no escape.

Still, being alive is better, I convinced myself. At least I had choices.

Suddenly feeling ancient, I gathered my wits and looked around. I dimly marveled at my brief moment of madness, I had ran through half the town it seemed. I found myself in the park. A good distance from any of the bus stops that would take me along the route to Aunt Maggie's.

I didn't care. I really didn't want to beg asylum in a relative's house like a discarded piece of luggage anyway. Besides, knowing Aunt Maggie, she'll probably throw me out too.

I zeroed in on a deserted park bench and took a seat. The pounding rain had trickled to an almost unnoticeable drizzle, but it had grown colder. I only had the clothes off my back and their wetness only aggravated the chill. I sat shivering until the rain finally stopped. Realizing that the money I had with me wouldn't be enough to get a room somewhere, I began to seriously rethink my plans. Not that I had any in the first place. But unless I wanted to die of hypothermia, I needed a plan.

I cursed myself for not thinking ahead enough and saving some money for a situation like this. I guess, I was afraid that preparing for the worst would actually summon the worst like some godforsaken demon in an arcane ritual. But where did that leave me now?

I cursed myself more for having left the house without anything. True, I honestly didn't want my books, my hobbies, my clothes, the little bits and pieces holding memories that accumulate in one's life... but I desperately needed Cliff's picture right now. I needed to see his face.



Their house was only about four blocks away from here! Without hesitation, I stood up and started in the direction of the Stuarts' residence. The rain had stopped and the clouds had retreated to reveal a swathe of stars in the night sky.

The air was warmer, the shadows friendlier, and it seemed as if the stars were all twinkling just for me. I quickened my pace as I got nearer. Cliff! All the problems earlier seemed suddenly insignificant as my heart started singing. Cliff... Cliff will be there for me.

I was smiling again as I pushed through the little gate in their front yard. I was greeted by King, the family dog as I mounted the porch steps quietly.

"Hey buddy." I knelt and gave King an affectionate scratch on the head. I felt curiously lightheaded at the innocent act. Something I'd done millions of times before without ever feeling the way I did now.


Here was someone who didn't care what I was. Someone who loved me for all the frisbees, the dog biscuits, the belly scratches... and didn't give a damn if I was gay, straight, or castrated. Here was someone who really accepts me. I gave in to the sudden welling of tenderness from within me and hugged King tightly for a good minute. King, in his usual bumbling dog temperament didn't even blink at the display of affection. He didn't even mind my drenched state, and damn, it felt good to be hugging someone warm again.

"I love you, King." I declared as I drew back. The perpetually sad eyes just stared back at me. Tongue lolling happily in his version of a smile, making me grin back. "Be good, bud." I gave him one last pat before standing up to ring the doorbell.

A few moments later, a bleary eyed Cliff was opening the door. He didn't even get the door halfway open before I leapt into his arms in a desperate hug.

"Oof." Cliff's eyes widened with shock as I grabbed his midsection and held on for life. He started struggling as he looked down frantically at me. Recognizing me after the moment of panic, he let his guard drop and just hugged me back.

It felt so wonderful to be in his arms. I fervently wished I could just merge with him and be with him forever, to become a part of his life. I could feel his heartbeat beside my face, still racing from the shock of the unexpected hug. The pleasant smell of his sweat drifting from his pajamas. The indescribable comfort of his hands slowly running up and down my back.

We just stood there hugging for what seemed like eternity before King came sniffing between us. He started lapping Cliff's bare toes causing him to jump away giggling.

"Stop it, King." Cliff reprimanded the grinning german shepherd. "You got your own house, out!" Chuckling, he shooed the reluctant King back outside and closed the door softly.

"We need to talk." I blurted out as he turned back to me.

"Yeah, I can see that. Jesus, you scared the hell out of me!" Cliff's concern showed through the easygoing smile on his face. I wanted to hug him again, but I restrained myself when I noticed the wet patches in his pajamas from my own drenched clothes. He followed the direction of my gaze and laughed. "My parents are asleep, but you know you're always welcome to stay here. Come on, we'll find something drier."

I took off my muddy shoes and socks and set them beside the doorjamb. Meekly, I let him shepherd me towards his room, trying my best not to drip too much on the living room carpet. As he closed the door quietly behind us, he went straight to his closet and rummaged around for a set of clothes.

"Here." He said, tossing me a towel. "Take a hot shower, then we can talk."

I caught the towel and headed toward the adjoining bathroom. Before I entered the room, I paused and murmured awkwardly "Cliff?"

"Hm?" He said not looking up from sorting through his hopelessly messy closet.

"Thanks." I said, blushing. "I mean it."

He looked up at me and smiled warmly. "No problem, Rick. Now go get your dirty ass cleaned off."

The stinging needles of water hitting my body felt awesome. Steam rose quickly from the bathroom tiles, misting the mirrors set around the stall and enveloping me in a cloud of warmth. A few minutes under the spray and I started feeling human again. I turned off the shower and lathered soap on myself. Rubbing fiercely, almost as if I wanted to clean away all traces of sadness that lingered within me. Washing away everything that went wrong with my earlier tonight. I took my time enjoying the shower and pretty soon I found myself actually whistling a tune as I rinsed myself. Drying myself, I wrapped the towel around my waist and stepped out of the bathroom, feeling reborn.

"The clothes are on the bed, Rick." Cliff told me. He had already changed into drier clothes and was looking breathtakingly handsome as usual, perched on the swivel chair in front of his computer.

I quickly set about to dressing myself in his clothes. Cliff had seen me naked plenty of times before, and both of us never gave it much thought. And no, I wasn't sporting anything embarrassing. I've pretty much learned to control myself from the years of hiding. Nothing short of two men making out in front of me would make me betray myself.

Clean and warm once again, I sat down carefully on Cliff's tousled bed. Cliff was looking at me expectantly. I met his inquiring gaze but looked away almost immediately.

Here I am again, wondering where to start. Fuck. Cliff, I love you. I can't just say that now, can I? Cliff doesn't even know I'm gay... What if he...

I felt a dark cloud pass and I almost started crying again, but I stopped myself grimly and took a deep breath.

No. He's got to have feelings for me. All that kindness, the years we've been bestfriends, his unabashed touching, and the smiles he sends my way... I mean that's got to mean something, right? He's always been there for me. He wouldn't fail me now. He COULDN'T fail me now.

Because I wouldn't survive it if he did...

He was the sun in my sky. Every dark moment in my life dwindles to unimportance when I think of him, like shadows under sunlight. I love him so much. All this darkness has to have a dawn, right?

Please, God... all I'm asking is for him to love me back. I promise, I'll be good to him. I'll love him with all my heart. He'll never know a moment of pain again in his life. I'll treasure him... just... please, please let him be mine. Let me know what happiness is for once.

My mind was whirling as I grasped at whatever small reason, whatever small hope I had of this turning out alright. In a few moments, I will know what my future holds. In a few moments, I will have to bare my soul to the one person who can actually kill it.

"So?" I almost jumped out of my skin as he suddenly slid up beside me. "Jeez, you're jumpy. What happened to you?"

I met his earnest gray eyes for the second time and again looked away quickly.

"What is it? Been caught wanking off?" He gave a small chuckle.

I just sat up on the bed, breaking contact with his body.

Realizing it was really serious, Cliff scooted up to me and draped a comforting arm over my shoulder. "Hey..."

"Cliff... I just got kicked out of my house." There. Now he's going to ask why.

"Why the hell for?"

I kept silent as I fidgeted with the sheets. He gave a small sigh and dropped his arm from my shoulders. He stood up and headed for the door. "Let's talk on the porch, okay? I'm gonna get us some beer." He called back to me, already disappearing down the hallway.

Still barefoot, I got up stiffly and made my way back out to the porch. King was nowhere to be seen, he's probably already asleep in the doghouse. Taking a seat on the porch steps, I felt a little bit calmer as I drew in a lungful of the cold night air. The night sky was now totally devoid of all traces of the storm. The stars twinkling in familiar constellations as the full moon rose from behind the silhouette of houses and trees on the horizon. The sparkling freshness that always comes after a downpour was evident even on the moonlit surroundings. Everything felt... clean.

The front door opened behind me, Cliff sat down and handed me a can of beer. I opened it and quickly slurped down the froth that hissed out of the ice cold can. Nobody said anything as we sipped. We just sat there, shoulder to shoulder, watching the moon slowly free herself and rise majestically up the sky. I was acutely aware of everything around me, the chorus of crickets singing happily on the bushes in the lawn, some dogs barking at bogies in the distance, the wailing of a baby in one of the neighboring houses, and Cliff. We were barely even touching, but I could feel the heat of his body seeping towards my own, giving my tired soul a measure of relief. I loved him so much.

"Cliff." My voice was hardly a whisper. "Cliff, do you like me?"

"Huh?" His eyebrows shot up in bewilderment as he turned to look at me. "Do I like my bestbuddy? That doesn't even deserve an answer, Rick. You know I do."

Shit. Gotta backtrack a bit. "No... I mean... am I a likeable... er... good person?"

"Rick. You're evil incarnated. It's why I like you so much." He grinned, punching me playfully in the shoulders. But his expression grew more serious when I didn't respond to his teasing. "Okay, okay... You're a good guy, Rick. Sometimes even a bit TOO good. Remember when you set all the mice free from our science lab back in our sophomore year? You told me you felt bad about them being caged up and experimented on like that."

"Yeah. They ended up feasting on our class project. Ungrateful bastards." I laughed despite myself. "You didn't snitch on me though. Thanks."

"Heh. I'd never snitch on you, bud. Anyway, yeah, you're a good person. I'm saying that honestly. I wouldn't be surprised if you get canonized when you die." He chuckled.

A comfortable silence descended on us and I took the opportunity to lean against him. Cliff automatically draped an arm around my shoulder, pulling me tighter against him. Hugs and closeness were never a big thing for Cliff. I mean, most boys would rather punch each other blue and black than show real signs of affection, but Cliff... Cliff was special. He understood the value of hugs and he never hesitates to give one, gender be damned. It was why I was convinced that he was gay. Only gay guys are that sensitive, right?

He's got to be gay! Otherwise... I don't know... A sad sigh escaped my lips as I leaned my head against him.

Cliff broke the silence by resuming the earlier topic. "Which brings us back to the question - Rick, you're a saint. I really can't imagine why you'd get thrown out of your house." He took a long pull off his beer before asking. "So what did you do, Rick?"

I pulled away and met his calm gray eyes.

"Promise me..." I started then broke off. No, whatever his reaction it had to be totally his own. I can't make him promise to something he didn't even yet understand.

"Promise me what?"

"Never mind."

"You come in here drenched, literally accost a sleepy-eyed moi, tell me you just got booted out of your house... come on, dude. It's me!" He tousled my hair playfully.

"Umm.. yeah. I know, Cliff." I mumbled. "That's why it's difficult."

"That bad, huh?" He raised one eyebrow then sighed. "Okay. I promise I'll listen to every word first. That fair enough?"

"No. No promises." I shook my head. "Okay, I'll tell you. But no promises, alright? I need to know your honest reaction, anyway."

Cliff gazed at me in bewilderment then shrugged. "Okay."

Once again silence descended on us as we finished off our beers. It wasn't anymore a comfortable one, though. The apprehension that Cliff might not take my confession well was starting to get through to me, while Cliff was obviously worried as hell about me. His hand was lightly running up and down my back, eliciting shivers of comfort from me.

"Cliff..." I began. "Argh...Fuck this!" I crumpled the empty can of beer and tossed it into the trash bin beside the stairs. "I don't even know where to start!"

I can't do this with Cliff holding me! Despite all my senses screaming in protest, I stood up and climbed back up the porch. The wooden planks beneath my bare feet felt cold. Everything was cold, actually. Everything was cold away from Cliff. I faced the darkened window into the Stuarts' living room and leaned back against the porch railing. "Cliff, you've always been there. In my life, I mean."

"Doh. Of course." Came the muffled reply from the stairs.

"I don't know when it started, Cliff... but almost two years ago, I realized that..." My voice trailed off. I wasn't ready for this! Fuck! Why did I have to pick today to out myself?!!

"Realize what?"

"Cliff, you've got to understand this isn't a choice, okay? It's just what I am. So please don't blame me, okay?"

"Er... okay?" I heard Cliff give an exasperated sigh as he stood up. He climbed up unto the porch and stood leaning against a post. I could feel his eyes on me as he said, "Rick, you're not making any sense. Why not just say what you did wrong?"

"Everything." I answered without hesitation. I turned my back to him to avoid his scrutiny.

"That bad, huh? Just what does 'everything' mean exactly?"

I realized I was gripping the railing so tightly that my knuckles were turning white. I let them fall back down my side before replying, "Exactly that, Cliff. Everything."

He didn't reply so I pushed on, "My whole life, Cliff. It's a joke."

"It's not, okay? Just tell me whatever made you think that. Get it ov-"

"I love you." I whispered, barely loud enough for him to hear it.

"-er with... WHAT?!" I didn't turn around at his exclamation. I could already feel panic rising from within me like some nameless old god. "What the fuck, Rick?!"

"I love you, Cliff. If I could, I'd ask you to marry me."

"Are you insane?!' He sputtered. "You've got to be kidding, right? Come on. Stop fucking around. We need to sleep, ya know, we can't do this the whole night! This is supposed to be serious, dude. Just say it already."

"I really love you, Cliff." My eyes hurt, but I resisted the urge to rub them. Actually, my chest hurt more... this really wasn't going well. Not well, at all.

"Does that mean you're... you're a FAGGOT?" It wasn't really a question. I knew that he knew that too. I could hear the angry accusation in his voice. "RICK! Are you a FAG?!"

"Yes, I'm gay." I answered quietly.

A ringing silence descended at my words. A vast emptiness that seemed to stretch forever. A rift slowly opening. An abyss between me and the world I knew. Taking me away from all the things I've ever loved. Taking me away. "Cliff... please..." I couldn't stand it anymore and I found myself turning around to face him, tears already making their way down my cheeks.

Cold. The small flame of hope I had nurtured through all these years flickered momentarily at the sight of his eyes then died.

His eyes had gone a cold steel gray with anger. But that wasn't what hurt the most. It was the way he had taken a step away from me, his whole body poised for flight. It was the way his lips curled into a grimace, midway between a sneer and disgust. It was the words that came out of his mouth next: "Get the hell out of our house, faggot."

Cliff hates me.

Why? It wasn't supposed to be like this! No! Oh God... please, no! Not him.

It was too late, I knew. Too late...

Despair wrapped her frozen fingers around my heart and ripped it out of my chest. A bottomless pit yawned open from where my heart had beaten once. Emptiness so profound, a pain so sharp that I had to clench my teeth to stop from crying out. I think my knees gave way, because I found myself curled up tightly against the cold, hard planks.

"Did you hear me, fag?"

Emptiness resolutely advanced within me. I could feel parts of myself vanishing quietly in its wake.

"Ohmigod! FUCK! I can't believe I even let you touch me! You fucking, lying pervert!"

The threads linking me to this world broke off one by one as the vacuum spread and enveloped my senses.

Why me?

What have I done against you all?

Why me?

God, why had I been born?

I was a child again. Innocent, bewildered. Not understanding why I was different. Why I was unwanted. I didn't do anything wrong.

Why did it have to be me?

"..therfucking Piece of Shit! I'm calling the police if you don't get out of my..."

I felt myself withdrawing deeper. Following the hollow echo of despair's footsteps as she went deeper into my soul. I watched her gloat over my innermost self. Felt her reach her ugly hands and grab.

Inside my head, I started screaming.

"..don't ever want to see your freakface again or..."

There was no escape. Not in life. Not in death. No escape.

I struggled to free myself from her. Struggled to regain a foothold back into life.

I was screaming.

"...forget we were ever..."

She smiled.

I was screaming.

"...kill you, you underst..."

Strange, her smile was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. The smile of despair. She rocked me gently in her arms as I continued struggling.

I was screaming.

"...get the fuck away from me, Rick, and don't, DON'T ever come back here again."

Goodbye, Cliff.

Hush now...

My screams faded into pitiful whimpers.

Hush now... I know a way out, child.

Despair leaned over and kissed my soul, taking away the last vestiges of myself with her.

At last, I was empty.

A warm breeze was stirring the blades of grass around us, creating ripples of silver in the vast green ocean of the prairie. A lone cloud sped past the impossible blue of the sky, looking remarkably like a sheep.

"Look, Rick." Cliff raised an arm to point at it. "I bet the shepherd’ll be coming along soon."

I laughed and snuggled closer against his warm chest, "My thoughts exactly."

A brief burst of his characteristic laughter sent down pleasant tremors against my cheek, then his hand resumed its earlier pastime of stroking my hair. "Rick?"

"Hm?" I replied dreamily, still on the lookout for the shepherd.

"I love you." He declared simply.

I smiled and turned my face towards his. "I know." I murmured but didn't add anything more.

The moment of silence stretched on as he obviously waited for me to say more. I stifled a giggle at his expression. Like a child expectantly waiting for ice cream. Only this time, the ice cream vendor is just a wee bit crueler than your usual ice cream vendor.

"Rick..." Cliff moaned. "Come on..."

I laughed then sat up and leaned over him. I held his gaze in mine before plunging down and kissing him softly on the lips. "Of course, I love you, Cliff. Don't ever doubt that."

"Mmhmm." He mumbled against my neck. He gave me a deeper kiss before pushing me away in mock anger. "You still take your time letting me know, though. I dunno... Sometimes I think you're an asshole."

"Oh my heart!" I gasped in mock pain. "You've wounded me. I think I'll have psychological scars forever! You... you... DICK!"

We collapsed together in laughter, our arms somehow finding their way around each other again. When our laughter subsided, we were back to our favorite position; my head resting on his chest, our arms around each other as we stare up at passing clouds.

"Interesting choice of words." Cliff remarked.

"Purely coincidental, I swear." I replied soberly. I successfully swallowed back another fit of giggles and I was once again dreamily enjoying the perfect day... with a decidedly idiotic grin plastered on my face.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman walking past us, probably mid-twenties, judging from her shapely curves. She was clad all in black with a veiled hat covering her features. I trained my gaze on her until she disappeared behind one of the countless grassy hills in the undulating landscape.


"Yeah, love?"

"Did you see her?"

"Yes, of course." He replied, unconcerned.

"Who is she?"

"Despair." He replied.

Despair... despair... why do I have the feeling that I should be feeling something at that word? It was there. Something dark that stepped back lithely just out of my reach. Something I wanted to remember and forget at the same time.


That way lies pain.

"Where's she going?"

"Oh, I dunno... reality, I guess." I didn't find anything strange at all with his answer, but something about MY reaction felt as if I really OUGHT to find something unusual about it. It made perfect sense, however... strange. Cliff plucked a single blade of grass and started tickling my ear with it.

"Stop!" I squirmed against him chuckling. "Stop it, or... or I'm never gonna kiss you today again!"

"Aww..." Cliff dropped the leaf quickly then gathered me tighter against him. Playfully, he rained a smattering of kisses against my nape before whispering gently against my ear, "I'm sorry."

I tried, but I still couldn't let go of the earlier topic, "She scares me."

Cliff turned me around against him, kissed me deeply, then held me against his neck. "Don't be. I'm here. I'm always here."

"I know that but..."

"She lets us stay here, Rick. So she can't be that bad."

"Huh? Really? Well then... we should thank her someday." I mumbled against the fragrant hollow of Cliff's neck.

"Nah. She's always busy. I think she already knows we're grateful, anyway."

"She must be a pretty nice lady." I whispered as I started licking the beads of sweat along Cliff's adam’s apple.

"Yeah, she is." Cliff replied, biting back a moan as I started to trail my kisses down his chest. "So... when do I get my next kiss?"


Nurse Sarah Hsien didn't quicken her pace despite the almost hysterical tone behind the voice.

"Nuuuuuurse!!! Quick!!"

She noticed a smudge of soot around one of the teacups. Frowning, she stopped the trolley as she daintily wiped it clean. Still taking her sweet time, she pushed open the door through Ward G. Without looking around, she immediately held up a warning finger.

"NUUR-" The wail that was about to issue from the throat of an elderly woman stopped abruptly at the sight of the warning finger.

"Good morning, Jessica!" Sarah greeted cheerfully before she turned her attention to filling one of the teacups from the thermos. "There, that's for you." She set it on the low table beside the woman's bed.

"Nurse..." The old woman's voice dropped down to a conspiratorial tone. "I think that boy is crazy. He was laughing at me again." She reached for the teacup with a rapid but surprisingly dexterous gesture. Not a single drop spilled as she brought it to her lips in one single swoop and took a measuring sip.

"Careful, it's still hot, Jessica." Sarah warned.

"He wants to be my boyfriend." Jessica whispered, ignoring Sarah's warning. "He wants to be my boyfriend but I already have a husband, Nurse! I have a husband! His name is Jonathan!"

"I know, Jessica. I know." Sarah replied soothingly.

With that, Jessica shot up from the bed, teacup and all, and rushed out of the room. Sarah already knew there were none, but her eyes still involuntarily searched the bed sheets and the hospital floor for any spilled drops of tea. Jessica never, EVER, spills her tea. One of the wonders of the asylum.

She turned her gaze unto the other occupant of the room.

And here was another, she told herself. Smiling dreamily on the bed was a handsome young man in his early twenties. Achingly handsome that it broke her heart every time she looked at him. What a waste.

Sometimes, she liked to imagine stories of how and why the guy got here. More often than not, it involved convoluted stories of cheating girlfriends, manipulative relatives, and hired gunmen. And always, always... it ends in tragedy that lands the poor man in an insane asylum.

She sighed sadly as she got up and brushed away a lock of brown hair that had fallen over the man's forehead. His eyes drifted open gently, like a child coming awake. They never did, though. Never awoke. As far as Sarah could tell, they never saw anything before them.

His eyes were a light brown that would have been ordinary in any other person's face. But on him, they were like flames burning in the distance on a cold, starless night. Beautiful. He was beautiful.

She sat down on Jessica's bed, facing him. She liked looking at him. True, she felt sorry for him most of the times; but when she was in the room with him, looking at him, she felt strangely... envious. The expression on the guy's face could only be described as happiness.

Happiness, in all its forms - contentment, bliss, love, freedom... it was all there. Staring at that expression on his face made Sarah feel like she should be the one pitying herself. The guy was obviously happy... wherever he is.

Sarah shook her head to clear her thoughts. Plenty of time to daydream when she takes him out for his thrice weekly walk later. For now, it's time to take care of business. She went over and started checking him for bedsores.

Written on the tag on his wrist was the only thing Sarah knew about this guy's past. His first name...



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