An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho


Luke managed no more than a dry croak of a greeting as Todd offered up the nearby beaker, and he sucked at the straw, feeling the cooling liquid slip down his inflamed throat. Finally, he lay his head back on the pillow.

Todd settled his bulk onto the edge of the bed. "Your mom and dad are outside with the docs. They said you were awake and that it would be cool just to pop in to leave these." Todd didn’t seem worried that it was probably going to be a one-sided conversation and lifted a large bag of grapes that he’d rested on the bed when he’d sat down. "Mase is outside, too, with Si, but I couldn't just piss off without seeing how you were doing, could I? The others all wanted to come down as well, but I said I'd best check in on you first."

The others? School friends?

Luke tried to force a smile, but his face didn't easily go there. He hoped Todd would understand, though it was typical of him that he'd have everyone organized. Luke was also suddenly glad he was there; another face that felt normal. He finally gathered his voice, and croaked, "What day…?"

"Day? Today, you mean? It's Friday, of course." Todd frowned, then re-gathered his banter as his face creased into an easy laugh. He popped one of his own grapes into his mouth and chewed. "School's done, though. Hell, you don't honestly think they'd let me out just for an asshole like you, do you! Jeez—you're not that much of a celebrity! We brought Si down from school for your folks. I mean, you might not believe it, but while you’ve been living it up here for the week, the rest of us have had to work.  And, in case you're worried, we saved all your assignments. You might look like crap, but you’re not getting away with it that easily!”

Friday? Four days since Monday? Luke struggled in his head to do even that simple math, though the time he’d been out of it could have been twice that long for all he knew. Todd had tried to sound jocular, but it was a little forced, and Luke could hear an awkwardness there.

“How’s…” He coughed. It was hard to speak and the back of his throat was still sore from the tube they’d taken out. He coughed again to clear the phlegm and gathered his voice.  “How's...Ry...?”

The last he'd seen that day in the Alexis house, it had seemed Ryan had been knocked out cold. Now, even after so many days, it was really only the first time he'd visited the question of what had happened in that kitchen. Maybe his lack of curiosity had just been self-preservation, but now Todd's presence forced the issue to the fore.

Ryan? How was he? Where was he? How come Todd had come to visit, but not Ry?

Alarm bells were beginning to go off in Luke's head. Now that he started to dwell on it, he realized that nobody had mentioned Ryan, not even once in any of the muddled snippets of background conversation he'd overheard. Now, his stomach twisted, and he already was afraid of what was coming, what the answer was going to be to his questions as Todd’s face dropped, the smile with it. Todd's gaze flicked away, and he looked upset.

"Ry...?" Todd stuttered. Glancing backwards towards the door, he seemed to be unbalanced and searching for help. “I thought...they…they didn’t tell you?”

Maybe Todd had come to the bedside with the plan to be encouraging and supportive, but his face crumpled. Todd, who was always so strong. Todd, who’d been their natural leader though all the years Luke had been at the Academy. Todd, who’d always find a way to make it right, faltered in front of Luke and his eyes filled up.

“He's...I…he's gone, Luke.”

Gone? Where? The sickening, painful knot grew in Luke's stomach.

Todd's face twisted in a failing effort not to get emotional, and the grapes were left abandoned on the sheets. “The bastard killed both of them—and one of the cops, too.” He turned away and rubbed at his face, cursing under his breath.

Luke closed his eyes. He had no energy to acknowledge the cold hard truth of who Todd meant by, 'both of them'.

Gone? Dead?

It was hard enough just to know, but he had nothing left in him, no energy or emotion to be able to figure out when or how Ry might have been killed—or make sense of the loss. Maybe it was all just a bad dream, he mused, and he would wake up shortly? Perhaps shutting Todd out would make it go away?

He heard the door to the room open.

“Todd? Are you okay?” From their voices, Luke's mum and dad had hurried in. Todd’s weight shifted from the bed.

"What's wrong?" Luke heard the worried tones of Todd’s brother, Mason.

“I’m really sorry, Mrs. Summers. I didn’t know you hadn't told him about Ryan. I didn’t know what to say—” Even with his eyes shut, Luke could almost see the tears wetting Todd's face, running down cheeks pinched in pain.

“It’s okay, son.” Geoff's voice this time. “Maybe it was best coming from you, anyway. Ryan was your friend, too.”

Ryan was your friend, too. It seemed a surreal dream as it went dark again and Luke drifted away.

He slept again, waking some hours later though it was impossible to tell what time it was as the blinds were drawn. Evening maybe?

Slowly, as reluctant as treacle, he came to the surface once more. He'd had the dream again—a dark nightmare—and was damp with sweat as he broke into the light. He had no idea what he'd been shouting as he broke out of it, but he'd been petrified.

It had been a dream that he'd first had after the birthday party at Stacey's house, and in that dream—that nightmare—he'd found himself trapped in a bathroom that appeared to have a window installed in the door. And beyond the door, seen partially through the window, was something sinister, malignant, raging.

It had only been a bad dream at the time, quickly forgotten, but now, as it repeated itself, it seemed that that same face sought to crush and destroy him for real. In a swirling confusion of mixed, dark emotions, the very real Alexis had, not many days earlier, twisted against him, bellowing unknown words. Just as in the nightmare, the bulging eyes in the pool had judged and condemned him as they'd sunk deeper.

It was a vision he knew would no longer be easily shoved aside.

His dad was over by the window, and, next to the bed, his mum was wearing the same clothes as when Todd had visited, so Luke guessed it was the same day. Leaning over from where she’d been reading a book in a comfortable chair, she rubbed his hair gently.

"It's okay, I'm's just a bad're safe now."

As the fear receded, he turned his head imperceptibly towards the cup and straw as he tried to figure out what was real in his life and what was nightmare.

"Something to drink?" She put the book down, and he accepted the straw, sucking deeply at it.

“The doctor said you could try a little food if you’re hungry. I’ll go let them know, if you want."

He shook his head as she started to rise.

She tried again. "Simon's here..."

As if on cue, Simon pushed into Luke's line of sight, and it didn't help Luke that his brother started crying as he threw himself—albeit carefully—onto the bed.

With all four of them there and together again, maybe it should have been something to celebrate, but Luke could find neither the energy nor the courage to face the question of why he was alive while so many others were dead. He let Simon chatter on inanely, complaining in frustration at first that their mum and dad had made him go to school on Thursday and Friday, and then the next moment passing message after message from school friends. Luke listened with half an ear.

The time passed. A day? Two? It was hard to tell between the sleeps and regular doctor's examinations. He was still sleeping a lot, though the tally of waking hours was creeping up now. Each time he awoke, he felt a little stronger, taking some food at last—some soothing soup that tickled down his throat in the small spoonfuls his mum fed him.

He began to talk more, responding better to the doctors as they continued to prod. The pain in his shoulder remained a dull ache, and was impossible to lie on, but his head had cleared. The pounding headaches were passing, and he was able to take stock more easily.  His insides seemed to kick into gear, too, though his need to take a crap sometime during the night had ended up with his behind the curtain with a male nurse and a bed pan. Even so, he couldn’t help being hungry and was eating more frequently, but after that demeaning experience, he vowed the bed pan would never happen again!

As far as he knew, after Todd, there were no other visitors. Either his mum was keeping them away, or they didn't care. There was no mention of Elliott and Estela, and nobody said anything more about Ryan, either—which was fine, because he didn’t really want to talk about that anyway: So, it was a surprise when he heard the voice of Grace Skerrit at the door to his hospital room.

The better Luke got, the more uncomfortable he became, and during the previous couple of days, finding a good position for his aching shoulder was becoming increasingly difficult. The doctors were pulling him off some of his stronger meds, and he could feel it. Either he lay flat on his back, or, as he was at that particular moment, on his side, resting on his good arm. That way, he faced away from the door and towards the window. He didn't really have the energy to be sociable, even with Grace, so he kept his eyes closed and feigned sleep. It wasn't hard.

"We're about ready to be off." Grace's voice was a whisper and it seemed she assumed Luke was asleep. "We want to make the most of the light Sunday traffic, but we couldn't leave just without saying goodbye, and Toby wanted to see Simon, too."

"Grace, I'm really sorry we haven't been there to help you pack up," Lucy said.

"Don't be silly." Grace sounded surprised. "You've had more than enough to deal with! How is he, by the way?"

"A lot better now, thank God. You know, we didn’t even know if he'd make it at first, but they say he should make a good recovery, now."

"Well, that's great news!" It was the voice of Marcus Daniels, and behind closed eyes Luke surmised that 'ready to be off' meant the three of them were heading down to Florida.

"Ken Milton said it's been tough for the school, though…especially Ryan’s class," Daniels continued. "Ryan was popular and…we all saw a bright future ahead for him."

Ryan. There was what felt like a long silence, and Luke wondered what they were thinking.

"We've packed the final bits into the U-Haul this morning," Grace said. She sounded like she was trying to change to a better subject. "It's down in the parking lot. How we ever got it all in, I've no idea."

"It's got a trailer, too!" This was Toby’s voice, and he sounded quite excited by the trip ahead. "Marcus is driving it. Mom's following in her car."

"I sold mine to a colleague," Daniels said. "But at least we'll have something to get around in until we get settled."

"Time for a drink before the three of you head off?" Geoff asked. There was a pause during which Luke assumed they were looking at him, as his dad added, "Oh, don't worry about him, he's fast asleep."

"Simon and I can stay here while you go, if you want," Toby said.

"Can you bring me back a Coke?" Simon asked

Marcus said, “We’ll get you something, too, Toby, to drink on the way.”

The four adults left the room shortly thereafter, and Simon and Toby moved towards the sofa by the window—the one that could be turned into a bed. From the position he was resting in, his head partially buried in his pillow, Luke watched them from between his eyelashes. It was the first time he'd seen the two of them together since the summer. In the last few weeks at school, Toby had looked as distant and brooding as Simon had, but now he appeared relaxed—upbeat, even—as he rested a bag at his feet and took a seat.

"So how long will it take?" Simon asked, sitting too.

"To Orlando? About seven or eight hours I think. We'll stop and eat on the way. Marcus wants to do it all today if we can."

"To his parents?"

"Yep—until we can get a place of our own. They've got a big house, and even a pool! Pity I never got to show you on Google Earth."

“What about Gizmo?”

“He’s in the back of mom’s car in a cage.” Toby snickered. “To steal one of your expressions…he’s pissing mad!”

Despite his circumstances, Luke struggled not to smile.

“So, when do you start your new school?”

“Next Monday, a week from now. Mom’ll take me in to enroll this week sometime, though it’s all been set up, Marcus says. He’s going to be teaching in the same place.”


Toby snickered. “No, French, asshole!” There was a pause, then, “By the way, this is for you.”

“Me?” Simon said.

Wanting to see what they were referring to, Luke tweaked open his eyes once more to spot Toby reach for the bag on the floor. Toby drew out a flat object that was wrapped in brown paper. Looking smug, he passed it to Simon. “Go on—open it.”

Simon studied the package.

“Come on…open it, then!”

Setting it on his knee, Simon appeared to pull at a piece of binding tape and then folded the paper aside. Luke could see immediately that it was some kind of frame.

“I got it re-framed last week for you,” Toby said, his mouth creasing into a grin. “It’s taken ages to go through all my studio and pack up what I wanted to keep. It's a bummer I can't take the mural in my room, but we took some pictures of that anyway for my portfolio.”

“It’s the boat, isn’t it?” Simon took the flat object. From its shape, Luke had guessed it was a picture, and now he knew which one.

Toby sobered and looked down at the brown paper package that now rested on Simon’s knee. “I’ve been working on it all week. After what I did, it was the least I could do. I…I know nothing can put that right, but….” He trailed off.

Simon undid the package, folding back the paper until the picture became visible on his knee. Luke knew that it had to be the one he’d picked up from the ground at school after the fire. Somehow, Toby must have got it back.

Simon didn’t react for some time. “It’s good,” he finally said. He pointed at something. “That’s not you, is it.”

“It needed another person in the boat, and…no…it’s not me.” Toby sighed. “I don’t know who it is, but I painted him in for you. Maybe it was a bit stupid, but…anyway, whoever it is, he’s a lucky bastard!”

“Who knows.” Simon wasn’t particularly effusive. “Anyway, thanks for this. It’s nice.”

If Toby was expecting more, it wasn’t there, so his gaze flicked towards the bed. "Is he really going to be okay?"

Simon turned his head to study Luke, too. "I hope so. The doctors say so, anyway."

“Is it true he took a bullet?”

Luke knew his eyes were obscured enough that they couldn’t tell he was watching and listening. He saw Simon nod, and say, “In the shoulder. They say it chipped a bone, but missed the important bits.”

“That’s good, isn’t?" Toby said, still staring. "Has he said anything about what happened?”

Simon shook his head.

Toby seemed pensive. After a few moments, he said, “You’re lucky.”

“Lucky? Him, you mean?”

“No…you.” Toby sounded wistful. Luke could see that Toby was still looking in his direction, so he kept his eyes closed and remained still as he followed the conversation.

“I…well I always wished I’d had a brother.” Toby said. He paused, then snickered. “Even a sister would have been better than nothing!”

Simon did laugh this time. “You? A sister? Can you even imagine it!?”

“Okay, maybe not…” Toby chuckled. He added, “Did he ever know about us?”

It was an unexpected question and Luke’s ears perked up further, wondering what Simon would say now about the relationship he wasn’t meant to know anything about.

“Of course he knew. He always knew.” said Simon. Luke could hear the shrug in his brother’s steady voice. Maybe it wasn’t hard to confess now that Toby was leaving for good. Simon added, “He knew everything.”

“Everything?” There was a pause, then, “Did he know about what happened? What I did to you…when I hurt you? Did you tell him?”

Luke studied the pair through his half-closed eyes. This was the closest he’d ever got to knowing what had happened between Simon and his boyfriend. He wondered what ‘when I hurt you’ meant.

Some of the confidence dropped out of Simon’s tone. “No. I wanted to tell him, and I probably should have, but…”

“But what?”

“I tried, but he….  The time never seemed right.”

“But—” Toby sounded pained.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Simon interrupted. He wrapped up the picture, and leaned it against the sofa. “I’m past all that. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Luke closed his eyes to retreat into darkness. He was shocked. Something had happened between Toby and Simon. Something that Toby was to blame for…and something that Simon had tried to tell Luke about, but that Luke hadn’t taken the time to listen to.

There was a light tapping at the door, and Luke was familiar enough now with the slight squeak of the handle to know that it was opened moments later, even though he couldn’t see that direction.

"Hello, Simon." The voice was soft and, with its complicated accent, all too familiar.

"Elliott?" Simon's tone carried a frown. "What are you—"

At the sound of Elliott’s voice, Luke warmed with a mixture of relief and pleasure. For the briefest of moments, all the joy he’d experienced at times when he and Elliott had been together came rushing in; the flirting fun and the the relish at knowing he was about to start dating a guy that really had his attention.

"I saw your mom and dad downstairs,” Elliott murmured to Simon. “They said he was asleep, but that you were here, and I could pop up to see..."

"Oh. Yes, I think he might be asleep, but..." Simon paused.

Luke’s delight was short lived. So much had gone wrong, was confusing. Behind tightly closed lids, he groaned silently at something he just didn't know how to face quite yet.

"...but you're welcome to stay a bit if you want," Simon continued.

"Thanks." Elliott closed the door behind himself.

"Come on, Toby. You said you wanted something to drink before you start off down to Orlando—"

"But I thought—" Toby sounded whiney.

"Come on...let's go." Simon's overriding voice and the turning of the squeaky handle placed him at the door.

"You might as well bring your stuff...we can still talk." He sounded determined, though whether it was to get Toby out of the room, or to force Luke to talk to Elliott, Luke didn't know. It appeared that Toby was placated as he shuffled out after Simon.

The door closed behind them, and moments later, Luke felt the movement of the hospital mattress as Elliott settled onto the bed, close enough that Luke could pick up that familiar aroma of aftershave. It brought with it too much emotion, and a tear trickled from Luke's eye. If he was hoping Elliott would continue to think he was asleep, he'd just blown that away. And anyway, pretending not to be awake now was just more deceit. What his hurting heart cried for was to reach up, hold onto Elliott and let it all out, but neither his head nor his aching frame would allow him that freedom

There was silence for long moments, then a soft voice. "Hey ya doing?"

 Luke turned on to his back and wiped his eyes with his good arm. His reply was husky. "Not good."

“I heard you had a pretty crap week…Mom and Dad say hi, by the way.” The light tone came with a hand that touched Luke’s face, brushing at the sliding tears. Luke couldn’t help jerking away at the touch. He carried far too much guilt for such easy, caring gestures. Awkwardly, he tried to sit up. With his eyes now open, Luke found himself being watched by somebody he liked, somebody he was glad was there—but he still didn’t know what to say to Elliott. He couldn't keep eye contact for long, but it was long enough to see the furrows of confusion creasing Elliott's brow.

"I saw your mom and dad downstairs," Elliott repeated. Uncertainty crept into his voice.

"I heard," Luke muttered. He lapsed into silence, staring at the white sheets, but only visualizing the blood and the grime of his own failings. His whole life was a failure, and everyone he touched got hurt.

Elliott tried again. “I got your message that you couldn’t make it to the airport, and I called a few times after dropping off Es—to your mobile and your home phone—but, there was never any answer. I came over to your place on Tuesday afternoon, but there was nobody there. I thought maybe you’d all gone on holiday or something. I…I wasn’t sure what to think.” Elliott sounded awkward.

“It wasn’t until the next day that I found out what had happened through Trish—your friend Kieran’s girlfriend. She asked if I’d heard anything from you. Hell…when I found out the details, it was a complete shock!” Elliott glanced around the hospital room and grimaced as he shook his head. “Then it was all over the papers, too.”

“The papers?” Luke frowned. Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was. It felt like he knew less about what was going on than anybody! Elliott’s finger touched Luke’s hand—just a brief contact—though this time Luke didn’t pull away. He would have liked to have held a hand, but Elliott didn't offer it.

“I finally managed to get through to your mom on Thursday night,” Elliott said, “but she said I should leave it for a few days if I wanted to come visit. I left you messages, but—”

Elliott’s eyes strayed to the door. Maybe he was being careful. “I know they don’t know anything about us, so…well, I tried to be patient, but it was killing me not knowing how you were doing. It must have been awful... We've all been worried for you. Even Es..."

He tailed off as Luke continued to stare at the bedding, offering nothing back. Elliott may have texted, but even if he did know where his phone had ended up, he wasn’t sure what he would have said in reply. He’d had days to think about it, and could only come to one conclusion: he was a waste of space, a useless piece of crap—someone who'd cowered at the back of the room the day they put Ryan—his best friend—into a hang, and then watched the fun like all the rest of them. A guy who couldn't even find the time enough for his younger brother to see that something was badly wrong. Why the fuck would anyone want to be his friend, let alone his boyfriend?

"'re probably not up to any of this,” Elliott murmured. “Maybe I should go...?" He made to stand, but Luke grabbed his wrist. Whatever else, he needed to explain.

“No…it’s okay, don’t go…it’s just me.”

Elliott settled again, though Luke knew he was giving mixed messages.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Elliott asked at last.

Luke's dry voice burst out before he could stop it. "I just don't know what's right anymore."

"I don't understand?"

"He'd still be alive if it wasn't for me."

Elliott frowned. “Come on-—you know that’s not true.”

“What would you know?”

Luke’s reply was abrupt, but Elliott didn’t react in a like manner. Instead, he said, “So tell me.”

"He was gay, okay..." Luke said. He hung his head as though it were a confession. "And I fucking killed him!"

"Ryan? Gay?” Elliott blinked in confusion. “I...I don't understand. You never said. And what do you mean you killed him? You're not making any sense. You didn’t do anything!”

“Fucking right I didn’t! I let them hang him!” Luke knew he wasn’t making any sense to Elliott, but it hardly mattered.

“ two were together?" Brushing aside what must have sounded like a madman, Elliott looked and sounded uneasy now. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"No, it wasn’t like that. I told you, I only just found out about him. He managed to get hold of my phone that day and saw the texts we’d been sending back and too.”

“Oh.” Some light of understanding crept into Elliott’s face. “He found out about us?”

“We had a fight, but then he turned out to be Damon.”


Luke knew again that he wasn’t making any sense, and that Elliott had a right to look confused, but he had no energy just then to try to explain the whole thing about Damon Jamieson. Instead, he just said, “I went round to his place to try to sort it out—to talk to him. That was when I called you. It was then he told me he was gay, too.”

“So then what happened?”

Luke’s face reddened as they came to the crux of it. “We were only getting go swimming. I'd only just found out about him." He found himself babbling as it all blurted out. "He...he...wanted to be with me and I...I didn't know what to do when he— His father...I couldn't get out..."

Elliott froze and he flushed. "You were...having sex…and he caught you?"

"Of course we weren't! No! It wasn't like that!" Luke paused a beat and felt sick. Having sex? He might have well of been! He'd stood there in front of Ryan with a serious fucking erection, and now he felt cheap. And his discomfort at carrying that guilt obviously showed.

"So what was it like then?" Elliott muttered. The flush was spreading under his white tee. "What am I supposed to think?"

"I can only give you the truth," Luke said, trying not to get angry with either Elliott or himself. "There isn't anything else. I've known him forever and...and he wanted to be with that…I didn't know what to think.”

“But you like him?” Elliott pushed. There was a pause as he must have realized that the verb tense was awkward.

 “Of course I liked him,” Luke said, eventually. What was the point in denying it?  “But I told him no. I told him I was with you. But then his father burst in. And now Ryan's fucking dead because of me."

Elliott looked relieved, though still cautious. "Okay, I believe you. Sorry. But you can't blame yourself for any of what happened. Come on...we can get past this." He took hold of Luke's fingers, maybe knowing he could quickly let go if there was movement at the door. There was a long pause as Luke studied the fingers that gently rubbed his own. It was only the second time that Elliott had ever touched him in a way that meant something. The first time had been seven days earlier—a week that had changed everything. He wanted more, but…he just didn’t deserve it.

"I can't," Luke said, He extracted his hand and the fingers slipped away. “Not just now. I need some time.”

“Time?” Elliott couldn’t hide the disappointment. He let his hand linger nearby on the bed. “I don’t—”

“It’s not you, honestly, it’s me.” Luke cringed at a phrase that had always felt like trite claptrap, but was actually how it was. “When I could have done something, I didn’t. I froze and I let him down. If I’d have done something, maybe I could have got the gun and stopped it. But I didn’t and now…now he’s dead because of me. And now I don’t know anything anymore.”

"Hey, come on,” Elliott persisted with a plaintive voice. “It wasn't your fault. You mustn't—"

“You weren’t there!” Luke’s anger stayed whatever Elliott was going to say next. “I need some time to sort things out—not about you, but about me. I always thought I was—” He stumbled over the idea that he’d always believed he was some kind of selfless, nice guy, and then pressed on. “I never thought I’d stand by and watch someone I cared about get hurt. I need to find myself.”

“What does that mean?” Elliott murmured. “What about us?”

Luke turned his eyes away. “There can’t be an ‘us’, not right now at least. If I can’t…” He shook his head painfully, unable to put it into words. “This is really something I need to find on my own. I’m sorry, but I need some time.”

Elliott’s face fell. “Don’t say that.” His voice was whisper soft. “Don’t push me away. We can deal with this together. Don’t wall yourself off.”

“I’m not like you.” Luke reached out and brushed against Elliott’s still hand, hoping to make it feel less like a rejection. “You’re strong and steady, I’m not. I failed him—twice. Probably a lot more than that…I don’t know. You can say I didn’t, but you didn’t see what happened. Ryan fought back, for himself, to be who he was. And he fought back for give me a chance. He….”

The tears wouldn’t stay back as Luke finally let out the awful truth of his actions. “He… he told me to run and I did. I ran, and I left him to die. I’m… I’m not worth your time, Elliott. Find someone better.”

“Luke… I… you’re right, I wasn’t there. But you can’t judge yourself on that one moment.”

“I know—but Ryan cared more about me than himself. All I cared about was saving my own worthless...” Luke scrubbed at eyes that prickled with growing pain. “You can say it’s okay, but it’s not. For me it’s not. I need to be better. Not just for you, but for myself. I need to know that if…when I commit to…to you or anyone else, I won’t let them down. I can’t say that right now.”

The silence between them extended and Luke felt more of a shit than ever—made even worse when he finally looked up and saw a tear on Elliott’s face.

“Sorry.” Elliott seemed upset with himself more than anything…which actually made Luke feel worse to the point of almost saying ‘the heck with it, come here’!

“I understand, but I don’t…I don’t want to give up on you or us.” Elliott scrubbed away the wetness. ‘You’re the first person I’ve opened up to in a while…since…” He didn’t continue, but Luke got the picture—one that hung on the wall in the Carter’s dining room. Was he destined to always mess up people’s lives?

“Just give me some time.” It broke his already fragile heart, but when Luke looked inside himself, he didn’t like what he saw. Others might think he was a cool guy, a nice guy—the special kid who came from England, who said all the right things and went to a top-notch school. He’d always felt he was better than everyone else, but what Luke now saw in himself, he could barely tolerate. Being around Elliott, who always stood tall, knew who and what he was and wasn’t afraid to be real…it was too hard. It also wasn’t fair to Elliott. He had a right to be able to depend on his boyfriend, and Luke had learned the hard way that he wasn’t that person.

“Can we still be friends?”

Luke nodded, not trusting his voice.

Elliott stroked Luke’s hand one last time, then eased off the bed. “I’ll call you,” he said. With that he left the room.

Only then did Luke turn into the pillow and give in to the tears.