“Playing Detective” by Ryan Keith
Lying back on my bed, I tried to piece things together one by one. Me…gay? That just can’t be. Being in a coma wouldn’t make me stop being gay, and I know I don’t have any sort of feelings towards guys. I admit, Blake is really good looking, but I don't have any feelings for him.
Is that why Lisa broke up with me? She thought Blake and I were a couple?
My stomach rolled, giving me a sick feeling. It can’t be true. I can't be gay. I don’t want to be gay. Everyone would hate me; everyone knows it's wrong. Even I know it's wrong. Even if I were gay, I could fight it, couldn’t I? People can suppress it, I'm sure…but I don't feel any attraction to guys…none at all.
How would I be able to live? Everyone would be talking about me behind my back. I'd get the shit kicked out of me for sure if some damn homophobes found out. Mom and Dad would be… How would they feel? Not too proud, I bet. How would Blake and Todd react? Would Blake care? We go way back…he wouldn't ditch me for something like that. And Todd…he's my brother…he'd support me.
I vigorously ran my hand through my hair, feeling irritated.
I don't even know for sure whether I’m gay or not! I told Blake about that dream while I was in the hospital and he said it didn’t mean I’m gay. And he said the stuff we did together when we were younger was just a normal phase. He doesn’t think I’m gay, but have I been hiding something from him? Did I not grow out of that phase like he did?
I sat up at the sudden thought. Suddenly not so afraid, but at the same time troubled, I opened my e-mails again, going back to the last e-mail I had gotten from Lisa before the accident.
I can’t believe I saw you going into Alley’s last night!
I know the place; of the place, at least. Gay people go there. It isn’t far from the university. She might have seen me on her way to school or on her way back, on a night that she went to study at the library.
People are going to think that’s why we broke up.
I read those words over and over again.
She was worried people would think we broke up because I’m gay. But I'm not gay! That's clearly not the reason we broke up. Before I knew it, my lips were curving into a smile. For some reason, I felt so liberated. Then, I continued reading.
I thought you said you were going to stop all of this “gay” business?
I leaned back against my chair to think of any “gay” business I had. Should I dare ask Lisa? I flew forward and read the e-mail again. I realized I had two options. One of them was that I could simply ask Lisa. But do I dare call her up and ask her how we broke up, and if she knows what I was doing at a gay bar? My other option was going to the place called Alley's. If I’d had “business” with anyone there, someone would eventually recognize me.
I stood up and headed for my closet. It would be really insensitive of me to approach Lisa and ask her why we broke up. I was afraid I'd even break down and beg for her back. From the sound of her e-mail, the breakup might have been mutual. I decided I had to check out Alley's for myself.
"I'm going out for a bit!" I called out before running out the door.
All I heard was the beginning of my mom's objection. I knew if I hung around she'd make me stay, but staying at home in the midst of my confusion was the last thing I wanted to do.
I jumped on the bus that took me in the direction of my university, and the gay bar beyond that. I tried to figure out what I should be hoping to accomplish by going to that place. Anyone could see me going in, but that apparently hadn’t bothered me before. Why should it now?
By the time I got off the bus, I was feeling reluctant to follow though with my half-assed plan.
“You got this far, go for broke!'”
I smiled at the thought of what Hiro would say. For some reason, I felt a sense of confidence wash over me. I flashed my ID at the man at the door and he let me though.
It was not the sort of bar I had imagined. I’d expected to see things really out of the ordinary. There were young guys everywhere. A handful of girls were around, too, but the place was mostly dominated by guys. A few older men were among the crowd, but they were together; friends, I suppose. I’d had a conception of a bar like that being filled with gay old men waiting for some young person they could proposition.
I guess I stood around at the entrance longer than I realized, because someone from behind bumped past me and joined up with his friends. I didn't know where to go, so I headed to the bar.
"What'll it be, cutie?" the girl bartender asked with a wink.
I had imagined some topless guy would be tending the bar, and then I saw one.
There were actually two bartenders, and I felt lucky that I’d walked up to the girl.
"Just a Coke, please," I smiled at her.
After the exchange, I settled at a small table for two, ready to start my waiting game.
The bar wasn’t even half full, but I guess that's what you’d expect at nine at night. It had a different atmosphere than straight bars. I sometimes went with Blake and the gang to have a couple of drinks. I even snuck a drink in between classes now and then; at least I did before the missing six months.
I sat around for fifteen minutes before someone finally approached me.
I felt my heart beat faster. It was like I was getting close to the truth. I didn't realize how desperate I was to remember what I've forgotten.
"Lonely night, man?" the guy asked. He was probably around my age, but it was hard to tell.
I was lost on how to reply. If he did know me, how should I bring up the subject of the last time I was there?
Apparently, the guy noticed my predicament. "Speechless, eh?" he said, taking a seat. "The name is Andrew Fornes. What's yours?"
I felt anger boil in me as the fool sat without my permission.
"Does he- that I-… BASTARD!" I thought with rage.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" I asked coldly.
He winked and sat back a bit. "I don't think so, but would you like to?"
"I'm waiting for someone," I lied without hesitation. "Going to be here shortly."
I wasn't aware where that had come from. My response had been almost automatic.
"That's a shame," he said with a fake frown. "Well, if it doesn't work out, do you want to give me a shout?"
"No chance, man. I'm not gay," I told him.
"Well then, you're in the wrong bar!" His features weren't so kind anymore. He stood up and walked away.
I was bewildered. Somehow, I had known what to say, and stayed calm. It was like I had done something like that before.
“I must have broken quite a few hearts here with that line,” I said to myself.
I felt myself smiling but forced it down. I had no intention of giving false signals. Smiling might cause another wrong person to approach me.
I left the bar around eleven when it seemed that nothing was going to happen. The place was much more packed by that time. Before I got out, I had already denied several others. I was flattered that they approached me, but I’m straight. I knew that, by then. It was impossible for me to be gay. My attraction to girls is always accompanied by a fast heartbeat, incoherent words, and lack of coordination. That's how I acted when I first met Lisa, and any other girl I’ve been interested in, for that matter. With those guys, who were easily as good looking as models, I felt nothing. I am straight!
So, I had one less worry, but still no clues about why I had ever been to that bar.
I suddenly felt like a detective. I have to become one to solve my own mystery. I really can’t depend on Detective Conner. He's pretty much set on pinning the death of that Kyle guy on me. Nurse Green at the hospital heard him telling me that I kept calling out “Kyle” while I was having that dream, but she said she was there and she heard me calling out “Kyle who?” Why didn’t Conner tell me that? Was he trying to put wrong ideas into my head?
I hate this. It’s like playing a game with half of my brain missing. I feel like I’m useless at putting these stupid clues together. Out of everything I’ve found out, none of it has anything to do with the accident.
"Kelly!" Dad called out when I returned home.
He strode into the front hallway with a mask of worry on his face.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Son, you can't go running off in the middle of the night like that. You just got out of the hospital. And besides that, I told Detective Johnson that we would tell his department when you’re leaving the house and where you’re going. Remember, there’s still the possibility that someone wanted to kill both you and Kyle Usher, and the cops promised protection for you."
"Nothing is going to happen, Dad!" I answered back furiously as I kicked off my shoes. I wasn’t mad at him; I was mostly just frustrated with everything.
"Think of your mother, then," my dad whispered. "She's worried sick about you, Kelly. She didn't think you'd ever come out of that coma. She's really fragile right now, and will be for a while."
The anger in me died away. Dad is always able to diffuse Todd’s or my anger in an instant.
"At least for now, bear with her, okay? She knows she can't stop you, but she just needs reassurance that you'll be safe. Telling her where you're going would really put her worries to rest. Next time just tell her where you're going, okay?"
I felt pretty shitty. Dad was right, and I should have known Mom would be worried sick about me. It was like I was acting like a kid. I nodded and Dad left me alone in the hallway.
I heard him talking to my mom in the kitchen as I headed up. I could hear her crying and couldn't bear it. I’d probably made her cry for the last three hours.
I wanted to check my e-mail before I went to bed, so I opened my account and waited for any mail to come in. I really didn't expect to have a new message, but the sound went off and I opened the new letter.
Lincoln here. Glad to see you're better now. Don't know if you remembered or not but you asked me to make your bro a fake ID. If you don't remember well don't worry about it. There was a problem with the one I gave you for your brother. It worked at some places but not at other places. I promised to get him a new one. Well it was done a while ago but I haven't given it to you yet since the accident thing happened. Thought this would be the last thing on your mind but just want to put it out there that it's done. You or your bro can pick it up anytime. Remember, if you know anyone else who needs ID’s send them to me. Tell your bro too.
"Fake ID!" I almost shouted. I really don't remember it happening, but it must be true. I remember Lincoln making me a fake when I first entered Springfield U. Blake and I couldn't get into anywhere without being twenty-one. I must have asked Lincoln to make one for Todd, recently.
At that moment, Todd knocked on my door and entered my room.
"Hey, Kel," he said as he took a seat on my bed.
"Hey, Todd, what's up?"
"You just get home?"
I nodded. "Went to do a little investigating on my own. I'm pretty sure I can probably piece this together faster than that asshole Conner who keeps harassing me." I felt safe in telling Todd that. I knew he'd do his best to help, and I needed all the help I could get. He would remember things I did before the accident. Anything could turn out to be a clue.
Todd didn't say anything, but looked like he was considering something.
"By the way, the guy who made your fake ID e-mailed me. He said he made a better one."
From the looks of it, Todd was surprised I even remembered Lincoln.
"Didn't know I ordered you a fake through him, but I can see why. You're at the age where you should be doing stuff like that, right?" I said, jostling him up a bit.
He gave me a proud smile. He enjoys it when I acknowledge him for something like that. Todd is growing up. He deserves fun with his friends. I honestly think restricting the drinking age to 21 is overboard. I used to wish we lived in Canada, where it’s legal to drink at 19. That makes it easier to use a fake ID if you’re a senior in high school. It’s easy enough for me, now that I’m in college.
"Have you gone to any clubs yet with that?" I asked.
My little bro blushed and I felt like howling with laughter.
"Don't tell me you haven't been able to go yet?" I grinned.
"I can't go alone, and my friends backed out on getting one. They were scared of being caught."
"Your real name isn't even on it," I laughed. "Oh well, at least you can go to the bars with Blake and me sometime."
I remembered the bar I’d just come from and decided Todd could probably piece things together better than I could.
"Hey, ever heard of a place called Alley's?" I asked.
The smile froze on Todd's face. I guess that place is fairly well known around town.
He looked troubled and didn't meet my gaze. "Isn't that like a gay bar?"
I realized why he was looking so worried. "Don't worry, I'm positive I'm not gay. It's just that Lisa sent me an e-mail about me having some business I had to attend to at that bar. She seemed upset because she was worried that it would ruin her image. I mean, her ex-boyfriend comes out of a renowned gay bar. It would look bad. Of course, I can't remember…"
Apparently, that was too much information for Todd. It looked like he’d seen a ghost. I felt a chuckle coming up, but I pushed it back down.
"You went to Alley's?" Todd asked, looking horrified.
"Well, I guess I must have, but I can't figure out wh-…why are you looking at me like that? I told you I'm not gay. I'd know if I was, man!"
"I didn't say you were," Todd replied worriedly.
"Sorry, I shouldn't snap at you like that," I apologized. "I thought maybe you could help me out a bit. Do you know anything about why I would go to a place like that?"
Todd shook his head.
"I guess not. Well, anyway, I went there tonight. I thought maybe someone who knew me would recognize me and tell me what the fuck was going on. But no such luck. Can't give up now, though. Something is bound to happen there if I keep showing my face. Maybe I'll be able to remember some things."
"You can't go back there!"
I was surprised by Todd's strong objection. "Why not?"
It took a while for Todd to answer. I thought it bothered him that I'd be going back to the gay bar.
"Someone might think you're gay," he said quietly.
I felt grateful for Todd's concern, but what people might think was the least thing I was worried about. "Todd, at this point I really don't give a shit about what people think of me, ‘cause if I don't figure out something soon, that asshole Conner is going to somehow pin Kyle Usher’s death on me. I'd rather deal with rumors than go to jail and be someone's bitch. Quit looking so scared! I'm not going to jail, man. I'll figure it out before then. If you hear anything suspicious, or know anything, a little help is better than no help at all."
I watched my brother for any other odd reactions. He was acting really strange about the whole thing.
"Hey, mind coming with me next time? We’ll go pick up your new ID. It wasn't too cool for me tonight when a guy approached me. I guess that was the other proof I needed to know I’m not gay, though. I sorta felt repulsed. I mean, I have nothing against gay guys, but…yeah, you understand."
For the first time since I’d mentioned Alley's, Todd smiled. "I'd rather not…"
"Fine, if you feel that uncomfortable about it," I told him. "Honestly, you'd think you're gay, or something,” I said jokingly. “I'll ask Blake to go with me. He’s trying to figure out this whole mess, too. I should give him a call. It's about time we compare notes, because I could easily have one part of the puzzle he needs, or vice versa."
I turned to my computer and opened up the messenger to see if Blake was online. Todd stayed quietly in my room for a couple more minutes and then left. Todd had been acting weird, and I wished he would tell me what was really bothering him. He used to come to me every time something had him upset.
"You actually listen to this stuff?" I ask the older boy. I’m lying perpendicular to Kyle and resting my head on his stomach. The rhythmic motion of his breathing is relaxing and at the same time…intimate.
"I can't help it," he says, with a chuckle. I feel his body move and feel his hands run through my hair. "I grew up with him, and I really like his songs."
"Aww, come on, Bryan Adams? My mom used to listen to that," I joke. I turn my head slightly to look into his eyes. His kind, embracing gaze catches me and refuses to let me look away.
"Are you making fun of me?" he asks with a hint of edge to his voice.
I feel an indescribable mixture of joy and excitement flow through me. "Of course not. I'd be way too scared to make fun of a gangster."
"I'm not a gangster," he says in a low voice, "and I'm done with that stuff…"
"You're such a good liar."
I feel Kyle's fingers stop and he breaks away from my stare.
"How much do you know?" he asks sadly.
"I know you've been lying to me," I whisper. Kyle closes his eyes and I know I’m right on target. "And Mark seems to know much more. He's not that great at keeping things secret, especially when he slips up and I grill him for more. He's a good friend. You should have seen what's-his-face. He looked like he was going to shit an egg. I don't like him as much. Kind of scary, you know?" I’m trying to be funny, but it doesn’t look like Kyle is picking up on it.
"Todd, I don't know what to say…" he finally says as he looks down at me. “It’s good money, and I can't just walk away from it all, you know? I need to survive."
"But your new job is enough, isn't it?" I know it’s hard for Kyle, working almost three jobs, but I know he’s better than some of the people he’s involved with.
"It is...but, man, it's not enough to really get out of this, you know? It's just enough to survive. I want more for myself," he says gloomily.
I understand perfectly. Kyle is a proud man. A man with dreams and ambition. If he had the opportunity like me, he'd easily become successful. I know what he does is necessary. I just hate the fact that he has to associate himself with the wrong people.
"I'd like to help, but I'm just a kid," I tell him.
"You're not 'just' a kid. You're much more than that; to me, anyway. I want to do this by myself. I'll stop, just as soon as I can work something out. I'm getting sick of this illegal shit. Well, what I’m doing now is not really illegal, anyway."
"But the people you are friends with are doing something illegal, and you might be guilty just through association."
Kyle stares at me hard. I’m mesmerized and can’t look away. After another moment, he releases a sigh. "Then I'll stop. I’ve been looking for a reason to quit. I think I’ve found a good enough reason."
I feel overjoyed, but I’m at the same time curious. "Oh, really? Let's hear this reason."
I notice the scarlet shade Kyle is starting to darken into. I can hear the rapid beating of his heart, and his breathing is going off rhythm. "I'm not telling you."
"Are you blushing?" I ask. I sit up and turn to him. "Tell me!"
"No…" Kyle says bluntly.
"Please!" I beg. I give him my most pitiful look and it seems to work. He can’t keep looking at me.
"Shut up! Leave me alone," he says, trying to hide his face. I can tell he’s smiling, and I’m enjoying it way too much.
"Make me," I retort with defiance.
In an instant, I’m on my back with Kyle pinned up against me. I feel my heart speed up and I’m suddenly lost in my lover's eyes.
Without warning, his lips are pressing against mine with such delicacy. I feel my body shudder. I’m in heaven.
I tore away from the dream like it was a nightmare. I couldn't breathe. My face was soaked with tears. A pain so sharp tore at my bare chest. I was gripping my shoulder as tight as I could, scraping my nails across the skin, hoping that would overcome the pain that pounded within.
In a flash, the pain subsided, and I was left with the burning sensation under my fingertips. The only sound besides my pounding heart was my clock radio. I clamped my eyes tightly closed, trying to block out everything. It was too much. My body refused to move. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't.
Instead, I sat on my damp sheets, holding my scratched shoulder and letting the song's emotion overcome me.
"Wherever you go,
whatever you do, I will be right here, waiting for you.
Whatever it takes, or how my heart breaks, I will be right here waiting for you"
"So, tell me again why I'm here with you?" Blake asked for the millionth time. “You know our asses are dead if your dad finds out you lied about spending the night at my house so he wouldn’t have the cops trying to protect you.”
I grinned at him and tried to keep him from going sour. "You’re here to keep gay guys away from me, and to help me piece this stuff together. You know that I think this place has something to do with everything, and especially with why I had that guy Kyle in my car that night."
"If Lisa knows why you were here, why not just ask her?" Blake asked as a couple of guys passed our table and winked at us.
"Sick!" Hiro said excitedly. "Did you guys see that? We're like gold in this place! If I ever need someone to stroke my ego I’ll know exactly where to come."
"And why did we bring Hiro?" Blake asked.
I smiled at our Japanese friend, who was watching the gay population with fascination, as if he was doing a science experiment.
"Because you told him we were coming here, remember?" I shook my head. "He insisted on coming with us."
"Well, it's not fair that I never get to hang out with you guys. I mean, how long is it since you came out of that coma? And how many times have we gotten to hang out for more than ten minutes?" Hiro complained. "Besides, this is so cool!"
I was glad that Hiro wanted to chill with Blake and me, and he was right. Since I got out of the hospital, I really hadn’t been hanging out with my friends. Even though we were at Alley's, it still felt like we were hanging together in our normal way. I was thrilled that even Marcus decided to join us after Hiro spread the news to him of what we were going to do.
"Yeah, but next time let's not come to a gay bar to hang out. My beer has a weird taste to it," Marcus complained.
The last time I had seen Marcus was when I was leaving the hospital, and even that seemed like a long time ago.
"In Japan, if the sake tastes bitter it means you have a conflict within," Hiro said with such seriousness. "Maybe someone's been in the closet for too long…"
Our table exploded with our laughter, with the exception of Marcus, who was glaring spitefully at Hiro. People turned in our direction and we seemed to attract even more wandering eyes.
"Let's keep it down," I said, lowering my chuckle. "I don't want to draw too much attention. Imagine what people will think if they see us."
"I'll tell them to go fuck themselves," Marcus swore as he took a healthy chug of his beer.
"Anyway," Blake said, still smiling, "as I was saying, wouldn't it be easier to just ask Lisa?"
I was hesitant in telling them, but out of everyone I know, I trust those guys the most. "I'm trying to avoid her. We broke up, and I know she feels weird being around me. She probably knows I don't remember the breakup, and I'd rather not get her involved. I caused her enough problems, it seems."
"I knew you still liked her, man," Hiro said with confidence. "You never really told us the details, so we know nothing about your breakup, either. You just came in one day and announced you and Lisa had split."
"Yeah, well, all I know is that it was mutual. At least, I think it was, so I guess it's for the best."
That was good enough for them, and I was glad they didn't dig for more. It was like a regular hangout with my buddies, except we were in a gay bar.
Like I’d expected, no one approached us to flirt. I was happy and was glad I had brought my three friends. It seemed so long since we had been able to do something like that. I had missed it.
"Hey, isn't that… the nasty detective guy?" Blake asked suddenly.
I turned to where he was pointing and sure enough, Detective Conner was standing at the bar talking to the shirtless bartender.
"Yeah," I said, as Detective Conner turned to me and stared for a good minute before he started to walk in our direction.
"Now, this looks suspicious. I must say, it’s not working in your favor," he said as soon as he reached our table.
I was starting to get sick of his threats and accusations. With Blake, Hiro and Marcus there, I felt a sense of safety. I hadn’t even looked away as he approached.
"Didn't know you swung this way, sir," I said with defiance.
Marcus and Hiro exploded into laughter, leaving Blake and me to stare challengingly at the detective.
Detective Conner was great with his eyes, because he immediately stopped Hiro and Marcus from laughing.
"Let me guess, you found another clue and you couldn't wait to try to pin something on me, so you searched every bar in Springfield to seek me out," I said with an edge.
He just watched me. "Be that as it may, it's my job to draw conclusions."
"Is it your job to accuse the victims?" Blake retorted.
I noticed Blake sink a bit in his seat when the detective’s eyes cut across to him.
"Actually, I did discover something new," Conner said.
"And here it comes," I spat. "Instead of coming up with half-assed conclusions, why don't you do your job and gather facts? What do you do, wait to hear that someone else has noticed something? Do you sit in a room trying to fit together the most obscure events? Do you even take the time to consider that maybe you’ve overlooked something?”
It shocked even me that all of that had come out of my mouth, but Detective Conner didn't even budge.
"Actually, while doing some extensive investigation on Kyle Usher, one of the things I found out was that he came to this bar quite often. The bartender told me that Kyle and two friends were seen having an argument with someone on the night of the murder."
"So now you’re calling it a murder?" Blake asked. Marcus and Hiro were totally silent and just taking in the scene.
"Well, the bartender couldn't give me a precise description of the fourth party in that argument, so I asked him to call me in case that party came in here again. I must say, I’ve been quite upset at not being called for all these weeks. I was certain the mystery boy would come by here again, and I was right," the detective concluded.
"So he's here?" Blake asked, looking around.
I felt myself swallow.
It couldn't be…
"Still going to pretend to be innocent, Kelly?" Conner asked in a harsh voice.
"You’re the one Usher had the argument with on the night of his death."