Between Frost and Flames
By Lil' Octopus
First day at school where I actually did what the adults in my family have been bothering me about mercilessly with all of the nagging and ridiculing, I got punished for it. Well…I guess I did more than what they wanted. They wanted me to socialize, for me to be more talkative and make friends. Like I really cared about what they wanted me to do; I wanted for me to be me. I can’t honestly say I get my fair share of respect from them, or that I ever have. They never really try to see things from my perspective, and so the more they tell me to do things, the more determined I am to do just the opposite. Except for when my aunt is involved. Like right about…now…
“Why are you late?! Where have you been?!” my aunt barked as she strode out of the kitchen, seething with fury. I stood there dumbly, taking off my shoes as I shut the front door behind me. I tried to appear calm and collected. Besides, I’ve got a lot on my mind at the moment, so it was a bit difficult for me to suddenly adjust back to the role I am expected to take upon returning home.
“What, are you deaf?! You will answer me right now!” she shouted as she flew across the room in a blind rage.
“Uh…I-I was at school, just h-hanging with my friend. We were j-just–”
I hardly realized what had happened when she swung her hand and slapped me across my cheek hard. Twice. It was a shock to my system. I winced and whimpered as I recoiled, throwing my hands up to shield my face. My face became twisted and I squeezed my eyes tightly before peeking through narrow slits. She raised her hand and glared at me through fiery and piercing eyes that threatened more hurt.
“Drop your hands, NOW!”
I didn’t. Instead, I stepped back, cowering right up against the door. My hands tightened and turned into fists. She took that as a sign of defiance.
“You dare?! Well then, come on! Why don’t you fight me?! I dare you to, you stupid child!” She clenched her teeth and I could see fire in her eyes. Now would be the perfect moment for her to breathe it.
Of all the adults in my family, she was the one that instilled the most fear in me. She was the only one who could bend my will, the only one who could control me, ruling me, the other children, and sometimes even the other adults with an iron fist. Just because I was the silent type doesn’t mean it equates with me being the nicest kid around. Sure, I was nice enough, but sometimes my cup overflows and I refuse to obey orders. But that almost never happens when my aunt is involved. She has had a tight hold on me ever since I first knew her.
I shouldn’t have gotten myself into this mess. I should’ve known better than to play with fire.
“No…no…” My voice and arms trembled as I slowly lowered them to my sides like she wanted me to. She immediately saw her chance and struck out, her knuckles grinding into my skull. Like a snake, she quickly snatched my ear and pulled it, twisting it. I cried out in pain as she pulled it toward her and leaning in she said, “You’re lying! What friends? You don’t have any! Why don’t I know them?! Huh?! If you lie to me, you will know my hand!”
“I’m not! I’m telling you the truth! Why won’t you believe me?!”
“Hold your tongue, you ape!” She had lowered her voice to a deadly and menacing tone. “I’m supposed to be the one asking the questions! Lately you’ve been very daring and bold, talking back to me and actually thinking that you’re somebody. You’re filthy, bad, rude, and disgraceful! You are very lucky that no one else is home right now; otherwise I would make sure that they would hear about all of this. Then you’ll realize how embarrassing you are. You should feel ashamed of yourself.”
She shoved me backward, finally letting go of my ear. It felt like it was about to fall off. It was numb and I could barely feel any pain now. My eyes were brimming with tears. They threatened to fall, but I opened my eyes wide to keep them back. But it was pointless. After shoving me back, she reached out and slapped me again, for the third time. It knocked the tears from my eyes. They fell to the floor and the rest began sliding down my cheeks. Despite my predicament, I found it quite funny. I did my best to hold back my grin. She would roast me if she saw me laughing though, assuming that I was challenging her.
“Look at you. So weak and pathetic, standing there crying. Aren’t you embarrassed? Because I am, looking at you like this!” She moved away from me and towards the dining table. She snatched a box of tissues and flung it at me. I didn’t do anything to catch it. I just let it bounce off of my shoulder and tumble.
“Are you just going to stand there?! Pick it up and wipe those tears off of your face!” she ordered, and I obeyed.
I felt miserable and worthless. Twenty minutes ago I felt I had flown over the moon. Now I felt like I had been pulled back to Earth and everything that I’d felt twenty minutes ago was shattered before me. She was right. I did feel embarrassed. I did feel ashamed. I felt like I had awoken from a pleasant dream, only to find myself in a scorched and burnt room composed of what was now brittle wood as black as soot. I felt fear and self-loathing deep in my gut churn and bubble as it forced its way up to my throat. I hiccoughed and hyperventilated. My body shook and the muscles and fibres that covered my bones grew weak at increasing intervals toward disintegration. As I wiped my tears and blew my nose, I did my best to calm down and control my breathing. It was difficult and I placed one hand tightly on my heart as it pounded against my ribcage. With the other arm, I wrapped the other arm around my stomach and hugged myself, trying to regain control and calm down, trying to stop the vomit from reaching my throat.
My gesture and posture had an odd effect on my aunt. She let out a long sigh and groaned.
“Hurry up, we have to get going. Take whatever you need and get in the car. Do you have any homework?”
“Just a bit of math,” I said softly, just above a whisper.
“Louder, I don’t have time for this! I’m losing my patience!” she hissed.
“Just math,” I tried again, this time saying it firmly.
“Then why are you still standing there?!” she hollered, her face twisted with disgust. “Go grab it already! What are you waiting for? You want me to do it for you?”
“It’s in my backpack.” I had taken it off of my shoulders upon stepping through the front door and dropped it by my feet.
“Then take it and get in the car,” she shot back, grabbing her bag. I made sure to get out of her way and stepped out to wait by her red car. Shortly after slipping into her heels, she made her way down the porch steps and unlocked the car. I sat beside her in the passenger seat as she backed out of the drive way.
“You forgot we had somewhere to go, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I’m sorry I forgot.”
“Well, we’re going to be late now. I had to wait for you to get back home and didn’t know if I should check the school or not. I told you to go straight home from school today. You know your mother. She’s not going to be happy when we get there,” she grumbled irritably.
My mother and father, with my older brother in tow, Drake, had just come back from their vacation in the Dominican Republic. My brother, three years older than me, had no interest in continuing with school and so decided that he wanted to make money as soon as he got out of grade 12. I can’t say everyone celebrated his decision, but they had little to no say in the matter. He wouldn’t have it. Not that it really mattered. He wasn’t the type you would expect to see going to college or university.
That puts me in grade 10 and at 15 years old. Drake was always my parents’ favourite. We used to play together and be a bit closer when we were young, but by the time I started school, he seemed to be more interested in roughhousing and bullying me. Eventually though, we became like strangers under the same roof. Well…maybe not like strangers, but we would rarely talk to each other, and whenever we did, it was whenever he was bored and felt like pushing my buttons for his own entertainment. My parents loved him more than me and took him whenever they went some place interesting. They bought him whatever he demanded, and fed him well. I was often forgotten, and I can’t seem to figure out why other than that when I was born they were at the pinnacle of their busy lives. My aunt had to take care and watch over me. She fed me, bought me clothes and books, and sometimes whatever I asked. Many times she would take me out to dinner. But she had a fiery and nasty temper. Even with all the things she gave me, she never really demonstrated any form of intimate love.
I mostly didn’t care if she did or didn’t, but it hurt me whenever she was with her other nieces and nephews. Just by watching the way how she interacted with them, you could tell that she had a lot of affection for them. But not for me, and it hurt. Whenever we would have family gatherings, I would only come up for the food. Other than that, I would just take a trip back to my room in the basement or stay in some secluded area. Even down there, I could hear what they said about me, that I was some antisocial loner; a shy boy, they would call me. They called me weak, comparing me to my cousins who were much more socially active and engaged in wild activities, running and chasing each other through the house. To them I was an outsider. I didn’t even belong in my own family.
“So, who’s this…friend…of yours? And how come I’ve never heard of him?” She cocked an eyebrow, quickly glancing in my direction before returning her attention to the road in front of us as we entered the highway. We drove out of the Brampton suburbs to pick up Drake and my parents at the airport.
“Just a friend, that’s all.”
“Just a friend? For how long? You haven’t had any friends since you moved to this school after your old high school shut down. And what were you doing that took you so long to get back home?”
“He’s a classmate. We’ve never really spoken to each other until today.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know. He just needed some help on his school work, the math homework.”
“I know a lie when I hear one. People lie all the time, even you. And you tend to be a good and sneaky liar. You probably got that from your mother.”
I don’t really know how I felt about what she just said, about my mother, I mean. My mother has never been close to me. She’s cold and distant. My aunt here – her English name is Margaret – is the youngest of all her siblings, whereas my mother is the oldest. In many ways they stand as a dichotomous force within the household; a polarity. My mother, a Vietnamese, married my father, an Italian. That makes me and my brother mixed. My aunt never married. She seems to have a thing against men. And besides, I wouldn’t know of any man who could put up with a temper like hers.
“Anyway, you’ve brought your books, so get started on your work,” she ordered. I was about to let out a sigh, but held back just in time. She wouldn’t tolerate any sign of laziness or disrespect from me, from anyone. I still didn’t understand how the other kids love her so much even though she was unbelievably harsh and strict. I guess I’m sort of used to it, but lately, it’s been really hard not to talk back, even though she still scares the hell out of me.
I took out my homework and tackled it like a mission objective. An ominous and threatening silence hung in the car. By now I had gotten rid of the urge to puke, but was still wary of her. She might decide to interrogate me again, and I didn’t want to have to lie. Telling the truth might not be so bad, I figured. The worst she could do is punish and hit me repeatedly, and maybe put me on restrictions or forbid me certain freedoms or activities. Well…maybe it wouldn’t be too nice, losing the little freedom I already had. But if I lied again, things might get worse – if they could get any worse, that is.
I guess I would find out now. I just finished my math homework, which was pretty easy to start with, and after putting away my stuff, she began grilling me, again.
“So, why did you lie to me? You know I don’t like that,” she began, picking up from where we had left off.
“I…I just don’t want to talk about it, please? It’s nothing you need to worry about–”
“You’re not taking drugs, are you?!” she glared at me with heat and anxiety.
“What?! No! No, I would never do that! You know me better than that! You taught me better!” Wow…I dared. I dared to go that far and say that. She tensed up, but couldn’t give me an intense gaze while driving.
“Good. You never know. There are bad kids in every high school, even ones with a whole bunch of smart Indians like yours,” she said curtly.
“Some are Sri Lankan.”
“Whatever. They all look brown to me. And smell like curry,” she snorted. “Is your friend brown?”
“Does he do well in school?”
“He’s the top in our classes. He’s also really good at sports.”
“Is he a nice kid?”
“Yes, he’s really nice.”
“See what I meant when I said you were lying? If he’s smart and the top student, then why is he needing some help in math? If you wanted to lie, a better way would have been to say that you needed help in math, not the other way around.
“Now that you do have him as a friend, you should make sure to get his help in school whenever you need it. But not all of these guys are willing to help. Some hide their success and won’t share anything with you. So tell me, how do you even know he’s your friend?”
“Uh…umm…” I mumbled. Answering her question would require me to tell her a frightening truth, one that I was not ready to tell anyone, one that I was still having a hard time accepting myself.
“What do you mean ‘uh, umm?’ out with it! What are you hiding?”
“W-why do you want to know? It’s n-none of your business. Please stop asking me,” I boldly pleaded.
“WHAT?! Again?! Rude and insolent little ape! If it weren’t for me driving at this moment, I would beat you.” She was back to her old angry self again. What was new?
“Please, Aunty! Why are you always so angry at me? This is something…personal…and I don’t want to talk about it! Can we please not talk about this anymore?”
She clenched her teeth, but I could see she was surprised at my response. I don’t know why I had never tried this approach with her, or why I had started using it now. I guess it was because when I was younger, I felt scared and powerless, like how a slave would never dare speak up or give his opinion freely. I guess I was growing up a little bit now. In fact, I even felt a little older…but was being perceived and treated as an infant.
“There’s something I don’t like about you, the way you’ve been talking to me. You’re growing up. Fine. I realize I can’t control you as much as when you were younger, but I still expect you to respect me. Now, this boy you’re talking about. What is it about him that makes it so personal? What were you to doing together, exactly?”
I wouldn’t budge. I sat there frozen and stared through the windshield, trying to zone out. Eventually she shook her head.
“Answer me,” her voice plain and clear.
“I cannot,” my voice quivered.
A short time elapsed before she spoke. “Fine, I can’t force you. But if you get in trouble because of this kid, then that trouble will be nothing compared to what I will do to you. Not even your mother would stop me…” and then she mumbled, “…as if she would care. Puh!”
What surprised me immensely was how easy that had been. She actually gave up. Not only that, she even acknowledged that I was growing up and sooner or later the hold that she has had on me would eventually be lifted. I…I didn’t understand this sudden change. She was never like this. Knowing her, she would spend the entire day forcing the truth out of me if she had to. I once lied to her when I was younger, placing the blame on somebody else. She came close to believing me, but when she found out I had framed someone, she beat me and made me kneel in a room and locked me in it for a whole afternoon. I admit it was very wrong of me, doing what I did. Even though my mother never seemed to care about me, she ended up having a nasty argument with my aunt. Maybe that also explains why my mother always took her beloved oldest son, Drake, with her and away from Aunt Margaret. She didn’t want him to be ridiculed, to be subjected to humiliation and harsh punishments like the ones my aunt dished out for me.
“But, you will respect me. Do you understand?!” In a way, by ending off with this, it seemed as if she was trying to reassert her power and stature.
“Yes, I understand.”
“Good,” she said simply as she parked the car into the parking lot. The lights were a harsh, yet dim yellow, the space large and stone cold. We swiftly made our way to the stairs and took them up with me following right on her heels. Nothing more was exchanged between us.
“Ethan, take these. Here. This too. And you’re late. What took you so long?”
“Hi Mom, Dad. Sorry we’re late,” I said softly.
“Uh huh,” my mother briefly acknowledged me. She looked over at my aunt with an accusing gaze. “Whatever. Drake, go follow Ethan to the car first. We’ll catch up.”
My father smiled at me before taking hold of his luggage by the handle. “How are you?”
“Same,” I shrugged. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my aunt shake her head. She hated it when people shrugged their shoulders. It was like a sign of disrespect, sort of an ‘I don’t care,’ gesture, in her opinion.
I turned and started heading back in the direction of the parking lot.
“S’up doofus?” my brother smirked.
“Nothing. Why are you calling me that? You know I don’t like it.”
“’Cause you’re younger. What? Can’t even take a joke? Why you so serious, kid?”
“I’ve had a rough day. It’s nice to see you again. But just please leave me alone in peace for a bit, okay? I’m not feeling too well.”
“Awww…I just got back and you won’t even give me a warm welcome? C’mon man! Lighten up? Why are you so serious, huh? Why you so serious?” He grunted and moved toward me, trying to shove my shoulder forward. I ignored him.
“Ah, c’mon, man! Maybe ah shud jus’ teach ya’ a lesson, huh?! Look at me when ah’m talkin’ to ya’!” His voice boomed in my ear.
“Drop the accent, Drake! Quit it! You’re attracting attention! Jeez!” I noticed people turning their heads at our direction. Drake was speaking loudly in a weird accent and we were getting noticed, big time.
“You disrespectful child! Imma strip you buck naked and rape you right in this damn airport and everyone will bystanderism you!” He flared his nostrils, attempting at achieving both a grotesque and humourous image. I was just not in the mood, and by now people had given us their full attention, which made me feel extremely humiliated. It’s one thing for your brother to tease with you, but another thing for him to taunt you and push your boundaries while purposefully making you look bad in front of others. I’m not like Drake. I’m quieter. He’s the loud, obnoxious type. I’m the bookworm. And throughout all of our years together, I’d wished he could at least try to understand me. Even though we’re brothers, we sure don’t appear to be. Not in public anyway. I’m his antithesis, and he’s mine.
“Hmph, well, you suck. You’ve always sucked. Whatever, doofus.”
By now we were in the airport parking facility with far fewer witnesses around. Suddenly, Drake yelped and clutched his head. Margaret had swung and smacked the back of his head. “Ow! What was that for?!”
“For making your brother and the rest of us look bad! I don’t care if you want to make a complete idiot of yourself in front of others. If you want to do that, be my guest! But if you drag us in with you, I will beat you to death! You hear me?!”
Drake had a surprised and incredulous look on his face as he reddened, stammering in anger and frustration. My aunt took notice and pointed directly at his face.
“Look at you. Look at your face! Are you angry? If you touch me, I promise you, you will die by my hand, and my hand alone!” Margaret was seething, as if she was about to torch the place.
“Step aside, Margaret. This is my son and you will not use that tone with him,” my mother intervened, her tone that of ice.
“So then who is this?” my aunt pointed at me. “You allowed him to be humiliated like that?! You baby and spoil Drake too much, it’s no surprise to me that he’s turned out to be nothing but a stubborn and hard-headed kid. The only thing that comes out of his mouth is filth!”
“Okay, that’s enough! Let’s just get into the car and go home! We just got back and already some sort of trouble is starting up again,” my father hollered. The entire exchange involving my aunt threatening Drake, and the duel between my aunt and mother, was not in any language my father would have understood – with him being Italian and having no comprehension of the Asian dialect – and he was only able to tell that the exchange was not welcoming, but rather hostile.
Without a word, both women eventually tore their eyes from each other and took their seats in the car before the rest of us got in. The ride home was dead silent. My mother sat in rigid form, whereas my aunt was visibly trying to contain herself from erupting.
Before I left for home that day, I was at my locker following the end of last period, grabbing my books, when I turned and saw Jared taking a sip at the water fountain nearby. Jared was a really nice boy, but he was not one in my world. We had the same classes, but had never really spoken to each other with the exception to a few hellos once in a while when it felt appropriate or whenever we made eye contact.
I noticed that he had been standing there for an awfully long time. I began feeling curious and from a slit in my locker, I studied his features with more attention to the fine details than I had ever been able to. I loved his hair cut; it looked fresh and clean. He had a slender yet powerful frame. His skin was of a smooth milk chocolate complexion. It was perfect. I didn’t understand how he didn’t seem to have any blemishes. He was really…I don’t know. Handsome? Pretty? Gorgeous? Beautiful? He’d been dating this girl in our class in September, but for some reason they stopped being together not long after I began at this school. They’d stopped hanging around with each other and he’d been on his own for a few months now. Still, he took it in stride. He brushed off any comments or questions like it was nothing important, and handled it in a simple manner. But he never really gave any straight answers.
I’d done my best to stay away from him ever since I’d first met him. He made my heart race, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had developed a huge crush on him. I noticed that he would glance at me every once in a while during class, always catching me looking at him. I would hastily jerk my head away and pretend to be looking at something else, while cursing under my breath for always getting caught like that. The feelings that I struggled to contain grew to a point where it hurt to see him anywhere nearby. The feelings were almost strong enough to make me approach him, to actually start some sort of conversation. I so wanted to talk to him, to know him, to have him talk to me.
He hung around with the other more social kids. He was a bright student, always getting top marks. He also dominated the playing field whenever it came to sports and gym class. He wasn’t the best there but he was among the top. He was a team leader and played his best. He never left anybody out when there was a game, and he tried to help everyone play well. He was well liked and seemed to know everybody…except me. For some reason, the same way he would catch me giving him a dreamy gaze in class, I would sometimes catch him looking at me from the corner of my eye. Even though he seemed to always go from person to person, making conversation and all, he rarely came up to me. Whenever he did, he seemed to have this nervous look in his eyes, shuffling his feet and darting his eyes back and forth. Maybe it was my turn to start speaking up instead of waiting to be spoken to…
And he was still standing by the water fountain, drinking. He must have been really thirsty. Feeling daring and having worked up my courage, I decided to head over and take a sip myself, that is, after he had finished.
He looked up at me when I walked over and pulled his smooth lips from the liquid arch. As he pulled his hand from the button, I noticed it had some sort of a dark black spot on it. I never got a good look at it to make out what it was, but I knew he had been sporting it every once in a while lately, ever since Valentine’s Day. He smiled adorably as he lifted his head to meet my gaze.
“H-hey Ethan. How’s it going? Gonna do anything tonight? It’s Friday, finally.” He gave a crooked grin, but his eyes betrayed him. He seemed a little nervous.
“I don’t know. Maybe have a little snack and do some reading. I have a few chocolate bars at home, so I might treat myself to them.” I shrugged. I pushed myself to give more than just a simple and boring answer. I wanted to say a little more, anything. I wanted to sound…open…inviting…I don’t know, really…
“Mmm! That sounds good! I think I have some chocolates in my locker. Well…I have a bag, actually, hehehe. Tracy gave ’em to me. I think she was trying to get me to ask her out though,” he grinned, and again his eyes betrayed him. It was easy to tell that he was extremely nervous. He looked unsettled, as if he was trying to talk while thinking about something perplexing. Yet I couldn’t figure out why he had just confessed that to me.
“Oh, no no, it’s okay then. They’re yours; she gave them to you as a gift. I shouldn’t take any, really.”
“Well, I’m not going to eat all of them, so they’re going to go to waste! Besides, think of this as my gift to you. It’s not nice to decline a gift from someone, even if it’s nothing special like a bit of chocolate. So have some, or else you’ll hurt my feelings and they’ll go to waste.” He gave me a wink. Woah…wait, what? He winked at me? Nah, he was just teasing, just playing around with me. Why was I getting ahead of myself here? Jeez…
I let out a sigh and a small, timid chuckle. “Okay, alright then. Thanks Jared.” I gave him my best beaming smile. He responded with a nervous laugh and allowed his eyes to linger on mine for a little too long, longer than what was considered…normal between two friends, let alone acquaintances.
“Okay, come by my locker,” he said gently, as if sharing a secret. I followed behind him, but then he slowed down.
“C’mon, walk beside me,” he said with an encouraging smile.
“Haha, okay, alright.” His eyes followed me as I joined his side and together we made our way past a row of lockers until we reached his.
“Here we are. Just let me take the lock off.” Within a few revolutions, it was off and he opened the door. He took out a red net that held chocolate hearts wrapped in pink. Wow…Tracy sure wasn’t beating around the bush! She really had wanted him to ask her out or something!
“How about we find a better place to eat these by ourselves!” he snickered. “Oh right, I also have a bag of skittles here.” He quickly reached out for it with the marked hand. “Where do you suggest?”
“I don’t know, anywhere you want to go. I’ll follow.”
“Okay then.” Jared stopped and thought to himself for a moment. “Why don’t we just go sit by the benches outside the school, under the library windows? Nobody hangs around there.”
“That sounds fine by me,” I smiled.
“Okay, cool. Let’s go,” He had this excited and nervous look in his eyes. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but should I get the opportunity, I might just ask him what the matter was. It was making me concerned.
By the time we made our way over to the benches and sat down, he was visibly shaking. It was a warm day in the first week of May, so I knew he couldn’t have been cold.
But if he wasn’t cold, then I was. What I saw next when he struggled to open the bag of chocolates was, very clearly drawn in black marker, the letter ‘C’ on his right hand. I felt a chill run through me and had my eyes glued to his hand. He smiled a little when he noticed that I was looking.
“What is it Ethan?”
Oh boy…I loved the way he said my name. He made it sound special. He made me feel…like a person. Like I was someone who was worth something.
“Oh, um…what’s that on your hand?” I knew exactly what it was and what it stood for, but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it. It had to be something else! It couldn’t be…could it?! No…no it can’t be!
“Erm…it’s…it’s nothing. I just felt like drawing stuff on me, see?” He showed me his other forearm and it had random letters drawn all over on it. “See? I just sometimes feel like drawing stuff on my arms when I’m bored.”
I knew it. It was nothing, nothing like I thought it was. My sudden hope was now quickly dissipating. But I couldn’t help but try asking again. I wanted to make sure there was no way he could be another kid like me. No freaking way.
“But…why is the letter ‘C’ on this hand on its own? You also don’t have anything written on your right forearm…does it…mean anything?”
“No…no it doesn’t…um…why, does it mean something to you?”
I hesitated. Blinking several times, I stammered and said, “Umm…N-no…well…maybe, I mean, I thought it was something else but…never mind. It’s not important.” I tried putting on a smile, but I knew he could see through it.
Jared suddenly sat up straighter and took in a deep breath. His eyes started to reflect something like hope, and he fully turned himself to face me.
“What does it mean to you?” He said, his eyes questioning me. “What does it mean to you?”
He had suddenly turned the tables on me. Now it was his turn to question me. I didn’t know what to do. His intense gaze penetrated my soul. I shook like a leaf. No…could it be true? Could he really be…but never in a million years would I have ever thought…I…what could I do now??! What was I supposed to say??!
“Just…erm…something from a…website I know of…” I stammered. I had given him the truth, but remained vague. “I-I, erm…sometimes draw a little ‘c’ on my finger nail. I couldn’t do what you did, drawing it on the back of your hand like that…”
“So…do you actually…you know…” his eyes never left mine as his paused and whispered, “read…the…the stories?” Oh my dear boy…he knew!
Very slowly, I shakily nodded my head. My throat was dry and I tried to gulp to wet it.
“Oh…oh Ethan,” his eyes glazed and locked on mine with an intensity I had never seen nor felt ever before. And he said my name in that beautiful way again. Oh Jared…
“Jared…this is…for real, right?”
He didn’t need to say a word to answer my question. All he had to do was gently take my hand in his. He took my hand in both of his and slowly nodded his head.
“Ethan, I…I had always thought I was the only one…never would I have ever thought…” his voice trailed off. He began shaking hard and the tears started rolling. I was taken aback at his sudden display of emotion. My world had changed. My head was bombarded with thoughts and I had trouble thinking straight. The most beautiful boy in my class was actually…like me? Gently, slowly, I pulled him into my arms and hugged him tightly. I don’t know where I got the courage to do that, but it felt right, and he needed me. And I so wanted to touch him, to hold him, to comfort him.
He wrapped his arms around me in a desperate and suffocating grip. “Ethan…I…I had always hoped you would be like me, but…” he suddenly pushed himself from me, keeping his head bowed. “I…I have to tell you something. It’s been eating me up, and I think I’m going to explode. If I don’t tell you now, then I might never be able to. I have to tell you something, and if you hate me for it…then I understand…I’ll…leave you alone…”
“Jared, you’re scaring me. What is it? I would never hate you. Ever! Tell me what’s been bothering you. I’ll listen.”
“Okay…just…I need to pull myself together here. How…how do I say this? How do I start?”
“Start in the middle if you need to. Or at the end. You don’t have to start from the beginning if you don’t know how to yet.” Where were these words coming from? I never used to be able to communicate and express myself to this degree, especially to such a beautiful boy that I had fallen so desperately for.
Jared’s hands shook like mad; his breath was jagged. I held his hands and squeezed them. It must have given him either hope or courage, because when I did that, he looked up at me and said, in a voice that quivered like a feather, “I really, really like you, Ethan. I’ve felt something like…love for you ever since I first saw you. I can’t stop these feelings. They’ve been growing every day. I…I feel something like love for you. And I’ve always hoped that maybe, just maybe, you might feel the same way about me as I do for you…but…” He took in a painful breath, as if injured. “It’s okay if you don’t though. I can leave you alone if you want me to. But please…please don’t tell anybody else about me. Nobody can know about what I’ve told you. Please keep this a secret. I’m…sorry, I…I should go,” he looked like he wanted to take back everything he had just said. He looked so scared, so sad. He face twisted as the tears flowed harder and faster, his breathing uneven and constricted.
This was beyond everything I could ever hope for! I couldn’t believe my ears. This was all so…surreal. I had never thought he was like me, and then for him to not only come out, but tell me that he liked me…loved me…it…it was almost too much. I never deserved any of this. I’m nothing but a worthless nobody. But if that was what he really felt for me, then I would have to tell him the truth about what I felt for him and comfort him. I didn’t think my feelings for him were anywhere near what he felt for me because I never felt myself worthy to have these dreams and affections, always trying to dismiss them as pathetic and wishful thinking. This was difficult for me to comprehend, and it was difficult for me to accept that this handsome boy…was in love with me. But now I knew and I had to say something before it was too late.
“NO! Please stay, Jared. I…” I took in a deep breath, and uttered, “I like you too…” I said it. I couldn’t believe I actually said it! His eyes widened, still brimming with tears, and searched my own for the truth, for any sign of deception.
“Do…you really mean that, Ethan?” he whispered.
“Y-Yes. I do.” I bowed my head, feeling more nervous and scared than I had ever felt in my entire life.
“Oh! Oh Ethan…I…I’ve always hoped for this…” he stared straight into my soul even though I was too scared to meet his eyes, his face only inches from mine.
With both hands, he reached out and held my cheeks, tilting my head up to meet his face.
“Can I, Ethan?”
I silently nodded my head. My heart raced and beat faster than it ever had before as those inches decreased, the space shortening and the closeness magnifying. He leaned in and our lips met, his warm, soft and strong lips grazing mine, and though we hardly knew how, together we learned and flew to the moon, reaching for the stars…
…But I had to go. I had already stayed far too long. I didn’t want to leave him, to pull away from his lips, his warm embrace. I longed for the contact we shared and I then decided to stay a little longer, sharing and allowing myself to be consumed in my, our, first kiss. And I held his hand and we sailed for Jupiter.
“Oh no! These are pretty burnt! Shoot!” I gasped.
“Ah, fuck. C’mon, let’s put them up higher. Turn the fire down,” Drake said. I quickly turned the knobs to lower the flames and examined the chicken legs.
“Why is this so hard? The insides are still raw and all.”
“Dunno,” he shrugged. “Well, you’ve got a bit more to go, but they’re callin’ me over. If you need any help, just ask my dad or something, ’K?”
I let out a frustrated sigh. How was I supposed to do this all by myself? It wasn’t easy, and I was doing a bad job. I shouldn’t have volunteered or shown any interest. I wanted to learn how to barbeque, especially because I didn’t know how and I thought it was not only pretty neat, but so I wouldn’t look useless all cooped up in my room. I was starting to feel a little pathetic and didn’t want the attention one gets for being different. I guess I just wasn’t good at being invisible. Or…maybe by being invisible, I just made myself more pronounced. I’m not entirely sure where I got the motivation from.
“Fine. Do whatever you want,” I grumbled under my breath.
“Jeez, what’s your problem?! We’re doing it ’cause I’m back, so I really shouldn’t be helping you out in the first place. I was just being nice, but if you’re gonna go all apeshit and pissed at me, then fuck you.” He threw his pair of tongs into the box that once contained the chicken. “And don’t get yourself burnt,” He hissed, without looking back at me as he walked away to our other cousins and three other guys his age that he had invited over. I’d seen them around some, and I knew they knew our family. But I’d never been introduced to them; my brother didn’t think I deserved to get to know his pals.
On their little trip, they had celebrated Drake’s birthday lavishly. Now that they were back, they were going to do it all over again, but this time with family. My aunt had gone out the other day before I came home late and bought a bunch of chicken and beef to be barbecued, marinating it and all.
Everyone was around and about socializing. The adults talked and laughed together in the living room, while the kids were off either running around and fooling with each other outside by the driveway, or making a ruckus in the basement, which was where my room was located. Had I been hiding in there, I wouldn’t have gotten any peace and quiet. At least I was out back by myself. I was pissed Drake left me like that, but I wasn’t surprised. What I was really worried about, though, was barbecuing the pieces of meat right. Already I had burnt way too many of them. I sure hoped nobody would mind too much. My father should’ve been helping me out. I didn’t even know where he was right then.
When I finished, I put the barbecuing stuff away and gathered the meat back inside to put on the dining table. The table was all laid out, but we wouldn’t start until maybe another fifteen minutes. My aunt came over to check out my job at grilling them.
“What is this…woah! What?!” She was stunned. “This is all burnt and black! Wh-What is…how are we supposed to eat this? Look at this! Do you think this is edible?! It’s toxic! This is disgusting! Do you know how much I paid for this? Do you even know how expensive this all was?! You can’t even do this properly!” She was so mad. She grabbed up a piece and waved it at my face. “Do you think people can eat this? Do you know how embarrassing this is? We have guests and family over! You think we can just feed them poisoned and burnt food? This is not meat, it’s coal! Do you know how bad that makes me look in front of everyone? You should be ashamed of yourself! Maybe now you’ll learn the meaning of shame and embarrassment! I can’t believe this! I’m exhausted from running around and taking care of things, then I come down here to find all of this, to find out that you’ve destroyed everything! What’s wrong with you?! Just what’s inside that thick skull of yours, huh? Tofu?!” She emphatically knuckled my head to get her point across. I winced, but stayed put. I began sweating heavily and felt hot all over. I was getting nervous. The weight of guilt and shame weighed heavily upon my shoulders.
“This is a waste, my money was wasted. I shouldn’t have let you do this. And even worse than you not knowing how to cook this properly, your father and brother should have been there to teach you! Where were they?! I told that idiot father of yours to look after you, and where did he go? Just like how the ape and your mother left you for me to have to look after. I have no idea where he is, but when I find him…and why didn’t you look for him yourself to ask him to check up on you, to see if the stuff was okay yet?” My aunt was absolutely horrified and her voice rose with every word. By now, she had everyone’s attention. I bowed my head in shame and great embarrassment. I was humiliated, and I felt ill.
“You stupid…demonic thing! You’re good for nothing. All you do is go to school, come back home, eat, shit, and sleep! That’s it; you’re useless.” She threw her hands up in the air.
Quickly noticing that most people had quieted down to hear what was going on between us, she grabbed me by the arm and jerked me after her as she stormed off. Taking me to the backyard, she threw me out and marched back in. I could see her through the window, and soon saw that she grabbed up a bunch of the burnt meat and angrily threw it into the garbage.
Why did I even volunteer to do this? Why did I get myself into this mess? Indeed, I felt utterly ashamed. I felt pathetic. It was all my fault and as I huffed in panic, my stomach became upset. I had done something they had always wanted me to do – get out of my room and be more engaged with the world. To some extent I did. I went out and volunteered to take care of the barbecue, getting a head start since all of the men who knew how to do it would show up late. My father was not in sight and so I started without him, with a few tips and pointers from Drake.
Another thing that slipped into my thoughts, which only served to make me feel worse about myself, was that I knew that other kids cooked at home. I knew that other kids had to make the meals for their families, and that they did a great job. It was just something that was expected of them. I’d been over at other families’ parties whenever my aunt would take me, and I’d seen the kids out grilling stuff before. They did a damn fine job at it, too.
What made me feel utterly horrible about this entire situation was that it was entirely my fault. I was to blame. I should never have even touched the stuff. Once again I was reduced to a great sense of humiliation and shame. I promised myself that I would never volunteer to do anything I didn’t know how to do. I was so stupid. Everything my aunt has ever called and said about me was true. I’m a bad person. I messed up big time. Why was I so stupid?! What was wrong with me?!
“Hey kiddo, what are you doing back here? Are we going to eat yet?” I heard my father behind me.
No…oh no…my eyes started burning. No. Not now. I would not let myself cry, I couldn’t! I would not let myself look even worse than I already did. Oh, why did he have to come now? I needed to get away from all of this…
“Where – Were – You?!” My aunt marched across the yard. She had a pot of a few other burnt pieces and flung them by my father’s feet.
“What kind of man are you?! You’re good for nothing! You were supposed to help him! Where were you?”
“What – I was sleeping! I couldn’t sleep last night from the jetlag! Nobody woke me up and told me it was time! How was I supposed to know? I was exhausted!”
“You’re dumb and useless just like your son, both of them! I shouldn’t have let either of them touch the food! They don’t know anything. I already told you what you had to do, and you just had to–”
My father examined the burnt pieces of flesh on the grass. “Oh, come on! It’s not that bad! And you’re throwing it all away! Don’t blame the kid for this!”
“Oh really?! If you think it’s so good, then why don’t you pick it up and eat it?! Go on! I am not going to have this on my table! Do you know how embarrassing and shameful that would be?! Why don’t you eat it then, if you think it’s so good?! It’s nothing but coal! Do you know how much money I wasted?!”
“Margaret, what is wrong with you? You’re always angry! You can’t ever be a happy person, not once!”
“That’s because I’m rightfully angry, I’m–”
“Why can’t you just forgive and forget! This is meant to be a happy celebration! If it’s that bad, I’ll order–”
“You just shut your mouth! I’ve heard enough!”
“MARGARET!” my mother’s voice sliced the air like a cold steel blade. She had somehow managed to come out without even making herself heard. She always had that talent. She could sneak up on you without even trying. It came naturally for her.
“You will hold your tongue and get inside. Dinner is starting and your behaviour is unacceptable. We will go back in as if nothing has happened and you will calm yourself.”
“What makes you think I’m going to listen to your orders?! I stopped doing that long ago, and I won’t be starting again anytime soon!”
“You do realize that this party is primarily for Drake’s birthday. How do you think he’s going to feel knowing his aunt is having one of her fits on his special day? I swear you must be demon possessed or something. You embarrass me, sister; you embarrass all of us.”
My aunt didn’t even say a word. She just stiffened her back and shoulders, turned away from us, and started walking through the side and to the front of the house. I wondered where she was going.
“And you.” Mother jabbed and dug a sharp fingernail into my chest. “You’ve made this evening into a disaster. You will sit at the table and eat with the rest of us, and know just exactly what it feels like to be a humiliation. You humiliated me, and now you will know what that feels like. I want you to pick out the worst pieces of…” my mother stammered as she glanced at the meat lying on the grass, “…this stuff, and eat them. I want you to be the fullest person when you leave the table tonight. Do you hear me?”
It was almost impossible to talk. I felt suffocated and my heart ached. When I spoke it was an embarrassing struggle and it frustrated me. “Mom…I’m very sorry, b-but…I-I don’t really feel like eating right now? I don’t think I…” I choked out, but my mother cut me off.
“Yes you will. I will not accept no for an answer. Now walk,” my mother ordered in an icy yet almost neutral tone, with little inflection. I had no choice. With my head bowed, I made my way back through the screen doors to find my place. Realizing that there wouldn’t be enough seats, as was usual, I stood by the dinner table to wait for it to begin. Then I would grab a plate and go over to the coffee table by the couch. My parents followed me in and took their seats at the dinner table amongst the adults.
“Alright, now that we’re all here, let us say grace. Vince?” my mother motioned to my father.
I bowed my head but did not close my eyes when my father said a few words of thanks and prayer. When he was finished, my mother spoke first.
“I invite everyone. Please dig in. The meat is a little bit burnt – forgive my son, Ethan. It was his first time. There are plenty of other better things here. The pasta is really good.”
I sank in my chair and wanted to disappear. I felt so…so horrible. Some of the adults tried the meat but pushed it aside and were visibly disgusted, making sour faces and instead going for other dishes. Some of them remarked on how dry and tasteless it was. My mother responded by apologizing for her sister, Margaret. Some of the kids at the other table took a bite. They hated it and made it clear to everyone around them what they thought of it. When they started asking around to figure out who had grilled it, I couldn’t contain myself and allowed tears to streak down my face. I was such a fool – crying because of a bunch of little kids. My brother occupied the far end at a second table with the other kids and they seemed to be having a great time, eating and teasing, laughing and joking with each other. I sat at the coffee table on my own as there were no more seats or space at either of the two tables, not that I really cared. The adults – be it guests or my other aunts and their husbands – eventually picked up conversation and resumed their jovial banter.
Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I swiftly left, having eaten almost nothing, took the stairs, skipping every other step, and shut myself in the bathroom before anyone, especially my mother, could notice my departure. I was not only reduced to tears, but I felt reduced to a helpless child. In this house, in this family, I never truly knew what it was like to be a normal teenager. I’ve always felt like I was 7 years old.
My goodness, what would Jared think of me if he saw me like this; if he saw what kind of a person I truly was like at home? I wouldn’t allow that. I couldn’t. It was too humiliating. Why did he feel the way he did for me anyway? I didn’t understand. Jared didn’t deserve me. I was nothing to him, even though he needed me. Could I face him tomorrow? Maybe I’d be there for him until he pulled himself together and then maybe he could find some other boy. I still didn’t understand why he’d told me what he had, why he felt that way for me. I felt far less than inadequate in being his friend, let alone his lover. I wanted to just disappear and be forgotten. Maybe once we got back to school I should tell him we couldn’t be together. But could I really do that?
For the rest of the evening, I sat on the lid of the toilet seat and wept bitter tears. I told myself I deserved this punishment and I smiled bitterly, congratulating myself for being such a screw up.
I didn’t see my aunt return for the rest of the weekend after she strode off. Later that night I found out through overhearing that the house my mother wanted was already built and finished. They would start moving into it by the weekend. She would leave this house to my aunt, even though it was pretty big for the two of us. I was content with having my room down in the basement and didn’t want to move up into the rooms on the second floor.
Back at school on Monday, I felt a sense of both dread and anticipation. I looked forward to seeing Jared again, but I was conflicted. When he walked into our first period class that morning, flashing me with a bashful but bright grin that lit up the room, a war raged within me. I didn’t know what I should do. I realized what I wanted to do was push him away, but could I really do that, to either of us? I mean, we’d just got to know each other a few days ago. Was now a good time, or was it too soon and sudden?
Why exactly did I want to do this? Because I thought myself unworthy of his love, unworthy of anything. And I had to prove to myself that that was true.
School today was a half-day due to parent-teacher interviews taking place from the afternoon to the evening. I never got around to telling my aunt, but after the first time she went when I was in first grade, she showed no interest and felt it a waste of her time. If my marks were low, she would take care of it with her hands.
We would be dismissed from school before lunch and we would be free to go home then. I realized that not in a single class did Jared sit anywhere close to me, so it was impossible for us to speak to each other. By lunch time though, Jared immediately came over to stand beside me. He had a skip in his walk, and his face shone gloriously. He looked more beautiful than ever before. Today, he had the letter ‘C’ drawn on his hand again, but this time it was in red marker.
“Hey Ethan. You look nice today,” he complimented. I didn’t look nice. My clothes were ordinary. My face was…ordinary at least. Or rather, I hoped.
“Hi Jared. I’m not wearing anything special though,” I said.
“Maybe, but that’s not what I was talking about. I’m talking about you. You look…” he turned around to make sure no one was watching us “…you look really good. You always have,” he whispered shyly.
I blushed furiously. “Thanks Jare…”
“Mmm…I like it when you call me that. I’ve been thinking about you a lot since Friday. Well…actually I’ve been thinking about you ever since the beginning of this school year,” he grinned. He reached out, but then pulled his hand back. We didn’t want anyone finding out about us.
I looked into his eyes and forced a smile onto my face, but he sensed that something was wrong.
“Ethan? Is everything okay?” he voiced suddenly became worried, his brow furrowed in concern.
“I…I need to talk to you. In private. Is that okay?” I asked timidly, my voice shook.
“Yeah, yeah of course. Do you want to go back outside to the benches again? Under the library windows?”
“Yeah, that would be good.”
“Okay,” he squeezed my shoulder. I saw worry in his eyes. “C’mon.”
We already had all of our stuff with us, so we didn’t need to visit our lockers. I started shaking as we made our way back to that spot where my world had changed just three days ago. Did I really want to do this?
Jared sat down close to me, our hips touching. He searched my eyes with a question, his worried smile an attempt to encourage me to speak. When I felt my voice wouldn’t shake, when I could finally trust it, I spoke.
“Jared…I…you’re a very special person to me. You make me feel whole. You’re the first person who has really shown me that you love me when I thought I was unlovable. But I…I’m not sure if I can be that person for you. I’m nothing special, and I don’t even know why you feel this way about me. You…you deserve someone better, and I don’t think I can be that person. I’m sorry Jared. I love you too, I just…I just don’t think I know how to love when I myself am unlovable.” I voice couldn’t go on and it cracked. The first of many tears made a trail down my cheek. I felt drained.
“Then we’ll learn together. Please don’t leave me Ethan. I love you. If you leave me I don’t think I would be able to go on living. Please Ethan, don’t do this to me. We’ll get through this. Please rethink what you just said.” Tears of his own brimmed in his eyes as he fought against his face contorting into a heartbreaking frown. No…what was I doing? I was hurting him. I was destroying him.
“I’m sorry Jare…I…just don’t think I’m worthy of having your love. You deserve so much better.”
“But you’re all that I want! I want all of you, everything. Both the good and the bad. I love you for who you are. Even your imperfections. Please don’t push me away Ethan. Please? I need you,” his voice cracked with the emotional strain and I realized I couldn’t do what I was doing. I would destroy him just to prove that I deserved the label of worthless. It was purely selfish on my part.
I sobbed harder, and when he saw that no one else was around, he cupped my cheeks in his palms just like the other day, stroking them tenderly and gently with an angel’s touch, and kissed away my tears, one by one. I raised my hand, using my thumb to brush his own away once he had taken mine.
“Please don’t leave me Ethan. Please stay. Let me help you.” He breathed in sharply. “Do you love me?”
“Oh Jare…you know I do.”
“I love you, Jare.”
“And do you believe me when I say that I love you for all that you are?”
“I…I’m trying to.”
“I would never lie to you, and especially not about this!” He continued stroking my cheek as he kissed one eyelid and then moved to place a gentle kiss on the other. “Trust me.”
“I’m sorry Jare…I…I need you, too.” I realized I couldn’t do this to us. He really did love me. “I’m sorry. I won’t leave you. I’m so sorry,” my voice cracked and wavered as I gave it my all to say what had to be said. I collapsed into his embrace and we melted into one that afternoon on that bench.
He held me and stroked my hair gently. I breathed in his precious scent and clung to him for all that I was worth.
“Shhh…everything’s going to be alright now. I’m here now. We’re together. We’ll get through this. Just trust me. And try to trust yourself, okay?” he whispered into my ear, stroking my back to calm the convulsions, the shudders.
“I’ll try,” I breathed in reply.
When the last of the tears fell, and once I had regained my composure, he took my hand in his and looked deep into my eyes, searching for my soul. I looked into his brown eyes and saw compassion and love.
“I feel like there’s something more that you haven’t told me; about why you feel so worthless. You can tell me anything, you can trust me. I want you to know that you aren’t worthless. You mean the world to me, even though we just got to know each other. You are worth it. I’m asking you to try loving yourself, to see that you are worth something.
“I love you, and I’ll never tire of saying it over and over until you believe me. I love the way you talk. I love your voice, your hair, how you’re just so smart in class…”
“Then…” I couldn’t help but ask, “why have you…avoided me, ever since I first came here?”
Jared very slowly turned away and bowed his head in shame, but he still held my hand. “I did it because…because I was scared. When I first saw you, I began having these…feelings. I didn’t know if I was…” he looked around, and seeing that we were not being observed, even though we knew we were secluded, he whispered, “…gay…but I knew that my feelings for you were real. I’m not entirely sure if I like other boys. Just you. You’re special. You’re different. And I was scared; I didn’t understand what my feelings meant at the time. It was really hard not to look at you in class, because you were just…beautiful. And it scared me whenever you would catch me looking at you. I didn’t know if you felt anything for me. I could only dream about it. I felt so lonely. I wanted to be with you, I wanted to get to know you, but I was too scared to do that… until three days ago on this bench.
“I’ve been watching and learning about you in our classes for a long time, and it was just eating me up. I didn’t know if I could risk telling you about how I felt for you. But even if I wanted to, I just couldn’t find the right moment. We were almost never together, alone, and whenever we were, I would get too scared. But now you know; now I know, and we’re together now. And I want to say that I’m sorry; that I’m sorry for avoiding you, for not getting to know you sooner, for not being brave enough to talk to you.
“I want to be with you through the thick and thin. Will you let me be with you?”
I couldn’t believe it. It all made sense now. We didn’t, couldn’t talk much the other day because I had suddenly realized that I was late getting back home and we quickly departed. But now I knew. I understood now. How could this amazing boy have so much love for me and carry it in his heart for so long? Why was I so lucky?
“Yes,” I nodded. And though I had never dared to initiate such tender physical contact, I leaned in and kissed his soft lips. I rested my hand on his neck and heard him whimper gently into my mouth.
In a silent language, he gently grazed my teeth with his tongue, silently asking me to allow him passage, to give him entrance. I welcomed him into my warm opening as his tongue probed and slid against mine. He was slow and oh so gentle, his tongue encouraging me to participate, to lose all fear and worry and succumb to passion. Slowly, I slid my own against his, and our tongues danced together. I worked up the courage and pushed my way into his mouth and was enveloped and welcomed into his moist sanctuary, his sultry insides. The sensation was indescribable, and I whimpered and shook. I trembled as he combed his fingers through my hair. He gave a gentle moan into my mouth as we continued our deep kiss. My breathing increased rapidly and my heart expanded and beat harder and faster with every second that flew by. As we leaned into each other, I felt his heart beating, beating for me. Our hearts beat together as we melted into one.
We both jerked and hastily pulled away, looking around for the source of the honking. What I saw made my blood run cold; my hair rose and I had a look of horror. Off to the side was Margaret’s red car. She opened the driver’s side door and stepped out.
“Oh no! Th-that’s my aunt! She must have seen us!” I gasped. He began shaking as soon as we had pulled away and he was at a loss of words. I began hyperventilating and wanted to run away, but I was rooted on the spot. My legs went slack and my eyes widened with fear.
Margaret stood by the car, leaning on the front passenger door. She observed us both but displayed no emotion. Maybe she hadn’t seen us kissing. Maybe she didn’t know. Oh god, I hoped she didn’t! I couldn’t let her know, ever! But why was she here?!
“Ethan, we have to go somewhere. Hurry up and get over here.”
I looked at her with more fear than ever, and then turned back at Jared. He stood and helped me up. I don’t know what happened next, but he must have helped us walk over to my aunt.
“Are you Ethan’s friend?”
“Yes Ma’am, I am. My name is Jared.” He put on a brave face and stuck out his hand. My aunt rarely shook people’s hands, and so hesitated as she took his. “How are you, Jared?”
“I’m good thank you. And you?”
“I’m fine. But we have to go now. It was nice meeting you.” My aunt made the exchange brief and motioned me towards the front seat.
“Nice meeting you too, ma’am.” Jared turned to me and gave me an encouraging smile. “Goodbye Ethan. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Bye Jared,” I whispered shakily. As I took my seat, I kept my eyes glued to his, and struggled to pull away from him emotionally as we drove off and he waved at me.
The car ride was silent. I kept my head bowed and avoided her eye contact. I didn’t know where we were going, but we definitely weren’t heading in the direction of home.
“You should be careful with who you kiss in public. Especially if you’re kissing another boy. You never know who might catch you together.”
I gulped and shrank into my seat, my breathing becoming difficult and jagged again. Oh no! She had seen us, had caught us together! What was going to happen now?! My world as I knew it would end. She wouldn’t let me live with this. She might tell the rest of our family! Possibility after possibility ran through my mind as fear coursed through my veins like poison. I couldn’t live anymore. My life as I knew it would be over, and it had just started…
“Oh, will you stop shaking like that?! You’re just like your uncle. I knew you’d turn out to be like him. I could already tell from when you were still a child. Everything from personality to mannerisms, and now sexuality. I can’t believe it…”
Huh?! Wait…what did she just say? I had an uncle?! But since when?! I had never heard of having an uncle before. This came as a shock and my curiosity was piqued. I had to find out more.
“Uncle? Since when did I have an uncle?”
“You never did. When I still lived in Vietnam, he was disowned after he was caught kissing another boy back when he was a young teenager just like yourself. I was a little girl at the time. He was just like you. He was quiet, and he kept to himself. The only time I ever saw him happy was when he was with this other boy, the boy he loved. They were very much alike, and one day I caught them naked together in his bedroom. Our parents weren’t home at the time, so it wasn’t a surprise that they would take the opportunity to be doing…that.
“I didn’t understand what all of that meant at the time. But what I came to know was that boys were only supposed to like girls, and if a boy liked another boy, he was going to have a hard life. One day, your mother saw them together in a secluded area among the trees and since she was older than him and had already taken the laws of who should love who to heart, she called my father and he flew into a rage when he saw them kissing. He beat both of them up brutally, until the other boy’s father came over and pulled him out. My father – your grandfather – fought with the boy’s father then, too.
“My father wasn’t that easy. He could have just thrown your uncle out, but he didn’t. He cursed my mother’s womb for giving birth to a sick monster and beat her too. Then, for the next two days, he continuously beat your uncle until he could walk no more. Your uncle was tied to a tree at the back of the house. If I was in his situation, I either would have tried escaping or killing myself. He did neither, and on the fourth day, he died of his injuries.
“The people of our village knew of this, but they couldn’t do anything to stop it. It’s not like how we could just pick up the phone here and call the police. Anyway, after you uncle died, my mother and I were the only people in our family to sneak to the back of the house to bury his body. Imagine, a mother and daughter burying their own son and brother. It shouldn’t have been that way.
“None of my other sisters cared about him. He was my only friend. I hated my father and sisters for taking him away from me and your grandmother.” She
glanced at me to gauge my reaction. She hated my mother, but that wasn’t news. What was news was my having an uncle. A dead uncle. Who was just like me. I sat there lost in my thoughts, silently thinking, but not comprehending.
Margaret laughed bitterly. “I guess you could say I became a very angry person then. The next day at school after we buried him, the girls were scared of me for having a gay brother. Except for these two girls who loved to bully and bother me. They’d always bullied me but I’d never done anything to stop it. They made fun of me out during recess and called my brother names. I lost it. After that day they would bother me no more. I grabbed the first girl by her hair and jerked her head back so hard she fell to the ground flat on her back and stayed there frozen, crying silently. Her friend started yelling at me, so I scratched her face until it bled.”
I couldn’t believe all of this. This was too much. But it was all starting to make sense…
“I love my nieces and nephews, but you were different. I didn’t know how to handle you. I had no place in my heart for your mother, and you were growing up to be just like my brother – your uncle. I didn’t know how to deal with you.”
“So…so you don’t hate me for liking…boys?”
“Not anymore I don’t. I didn’t understand it then, but now I’ve just given up on trying to make sense of things. I talked to an old friend after I left the stupid party for your idiot brother. We talked about you, we talked about your uncle. But mostly, we talked about me.”
What did she mean? What was she saying. As I looked over to my aunt as she gripped the steering wheel with both hands so hard that I could see the whites on her knuckles, I thought I saw a tear slide from a corner of her eye. She wiped at it angrily and muttered to herself something I couldn’t understand. Why was she…crying? It disturbed me to see her like this. I had never seen her crying before, and I didn’t know what to think of it. I couldn’t honestly say I’d forgiven her for how she had treated me. What I could honestly say was how I felt. It was a mixture of pity and contempt, sympathy and antipathy.
“Where are we going?” I asked, changing the somber subject matter.
“I want you to meet that old friend. He was your uncle’s lover. I thought the last time I would ever see him was back in Vietnam before the war. Who would’ve known he’d come here too, and to the same city?”
“How did you find him here?”
“I saw him when I left the other day. I was sitting in a food court trying to eat, and then he saw and recognized me. You’re here because he’s the only person I know who can answer any questions you might have…and maybe undo some of the damage I’ve done.” What exactly did she mean by that?
Margaret turned the car and parked in front of a little house. It was newly built, as were most of the homes here in Brampton. It was made of beige stones and the curtains and blinds were pulled back to let in the sunlight.
“Here we are,” she said as she shut off the engine. I decided to take a chance and said something that was meant to be a question, but I phrased it entirely differently. It came out as a subtle way to get her to answer a question.
“Thank you for not being angry at me.” I kept quiet, looking away at her in case she made me take back what had slipped from my lips.
“Don’t thank me.” She shook her head hard. She clenched her teeth, but they couldn’t stop the angry, guilty tears from running down her face. “I’m a monster and you know it. Don’t pretend it’s your fault. If there’s anything you could do to make me feel better in your pity, then do this: don’t forgive me. Your forgiveness would mean nothing if I can’t even forgive myself first.”
She grabbed a tissue from the back and wiped at her face, then blew her nose violently. She avoided my gaze. Her change of heart made me all the more uncomfortable. I still didn’t understand. Was she crying because she’d become emotional from recounting her brother’s and her past? Was she crying because she was angry, and at whom or what? Or was she crying because she genuinely felt…guilty…or responsible, for the things that happened? Or was she angry at herself…for how she had treated me all of these years?
“Go up to the door first, I’ll be behind you.”
I just sat there, staring at her, not knowing if I should do or say anything more. Eventually I unbuckled my seatbelt and moved to open my side door.
“Your parents will be moving this weekend into their new home. Soon the only two people left in our house will be us. I suggest you bring over your friend, Jared. I wouldn’t like seeing you all by yourself, all cooped up in your room alone. And…” she paused for a moment. “If you both want to, he can sleep over…in your room,” she said and blew her nose again and cleared her throat. “It’s about time you’ve made some friends, even if this one’s closer than what most would expect as a first. Just…be careful.” Stepping out of her car, she had trouble making eye contact with me and instead stared straight at the front door up the porch.
“Go on. I’ll be right behind you.”
I wasn’t exactly sure I knew how I felt for Aunt Margaret. It was difficult. I finally began to understand her, albeit just a little bit. There was a lot that still confused me. I felt a vicious and cold whirlwind of emotions, while my heart bled and dangerously glowed with fire. I was sad and angry. After that car ride I could never look at her the same way. I could never look at myself the same way either. She had a role in it, and so did Jared, especially Jared. And even that man I met.
It was now Saturday, five days from that eventful car ride.
That man I met had taken an English name: Nick. I can’t exactly place my finger on why I felt apprehensive at first, but somehow he had managed to get me to soften up a little; for me to be a little more responsive, I guess. He was informal and seemed interested in letting things sort of happen; allowing me to feel comfortable and relaxed around him. My aunt was rarely a part of our conversations later on, and he took on a sort of role model or mentor position, gradually. We both eased into our places. He told me a lot about himself and my uncle. Within only a few days, he had slowly gotten me to like myself a little more, to smile a bit, and to see that I wasn’t the worthless child that I grew up believing myself to be. I still had problems believing that I wasn’t worthless…but I have just started, and it’s a work in progress. I’ve always had to respect and fear adults and so I’ve always been more of a child than a teenager. I hardly could comprehend rebellion, so I guess he had an advantage – that I wasn’t going to fight back or be apprehensive as much; that I wouldn’t be someone tough to work with. Then again, maybe I was too trusting, too naïve. For the first time he allowed me to grow up a little more, to be a teenager. I still, even now, feel like a little kid, but now I’m starting to think for myself as an individual. I began visiting him afterschool. My aunt encouraged it anyway.
But now that I’m starting to see myself as more than a little child wincing at every adult’s gaze, I’ve begun feeling anger and hatred when I realize that I was wronged and that things weren’t always my fault. What was difficult for me was to feel justified, had I lashed out, due to my aunt’s sudden change of heart. I don’t know what happened to her, but she ended up being the one cooped up in her room. Her anger was still there, and I could still see her trying to contain it from exploding, but I could also see that most of it was directed at herself. She sometimes burned up, only to then throw herself out of my reach, shutting herself in her room upstairs like it was some sort of dark tower where entry was forbidden. She became quieter too.
My mother, on the other hand, had been drifting away for years at glacial speed. But over time that distance had become too great. Both my mother and father never really got to spend much time with me when I was just a baby. When I was born they were at the pinnacle of their busy lives. They had already gotten really close to Drake, and so favoured him over me. I learned that my aunt was thrust with the responsibility of taking care of me. She preferred being on her own and I guess that my existence took away some of her freedom. I spoke about that with Nick. He said it wasn’t because of my existence, but that it was because of my mother not being there and giving me up to someone else, and because of my aunt’s mindset and her regret over her poor treatment of me. It’s strange to think of it that way, but it’s starting to make sense. Like I said, it’s a work in progress.
The next day at school I met up with Jared and told him everything, because I felt I could trust him and felt that his feelings for me were genuine. It was still hard to accept that he felt so strongly about me. He sort of got a panicky look on his face when I told him that my aunt saw us kissing, but quickly told him that she was okay with it. From there, he had to take in a whole lot more, the bit about my uncle and all. Then I finally worked up the courage to invite him over for dinner the coming Saturday, and asked if maybe…maybe he could stay the night. I’d never had a friend over for a sleepover. I’d never really had a friend to begin with. And how exactly did sleepovers work anyway? What exactly were you supposed to do? Anxiety hung around my neck and constricted my throat. It was at my place too…so I was afraid of what he would think of me if I didn’t know what things we should do together. I was afraid of his expectations; that he would maybe feel a bit different about me.
Jared was the only person my age that I knew from around there that knew of Comicality and had read a number of the stories on his site. Ever since I first found that website, it had become my number one place where I got my reading material. My aunt initially didn’t know how to react to my sudden shift from reading novels to going on the computer often. Well…maybe often was an understatement. I could tell she didn’t like it, but she couldn’t find anything else for me to do, so she left me in peace to read Comsie’s stories. I’d read almost everything, and I’d come to highly respect the author and the things he’d done for other writers. I’d learned a great deal from the stories. I’d never written anything, and I was too afraid to contact him. Jared seemed to be catching up in his reading lately. He’s also proud to sport the ‘C’. I really enjoyed the times when we would talk about the stories. He was the only person I could talk to about…so many things. It was liberating. I felt safe around him, like he was my protector, my armour.
I heard the doorbell ring. My aunt went out to grab some food, so I skipped up the stairs to see who it was and to open the door, hoping and yet nervous about seeing Jared. He stood there with his backpack, a bashful grin on his face, as I opened the door to invite him in. He was so adorable. I gave a shy smile and stepped aside, looking down at my feet. I closed the door behind him once he stepped in.
“You are so cute!” he excitedly whispered. “Is your aunt here?”
“She just went out to get some groceries. She’ll be back in a–”
He took me by surprise and embraced me before I could finish. He gave me a deep and passionate kiss that made my knees so weak that I succumbed and almost completely fell into him. He staggered and took two steps back to support my weight. I kissed him tenderly and stroked his cheek. I felt his breath escape between his lips as he ran his arms oh so gently up my back, and then slowly, almost cautiously, down to my waist. I had missed his touch and was desperate to have him hold me. I panted heavily between those tiny fractions of time when we pulled apart, only to be rejoined in our lip lock. Once again, our hearts beat for each other through our trembling young chests. I breathed in deeply, taking in as much of his wonderfully sweet aroma as my lungs could hold, before breathing it out, only to replace it with more. His hands lingered on my hips for just a moment longer before he felt my stirring and growing bulge as he slowly lowered his quivering hands down to cup my cheeks. His touch was electrical, and realizing my member’s so sudden physical response, I ashamedly jumped back. I was more than embarrassed. I was mortified! I had never been so close to someone so that they actually felt my hardness through my pants.
“Hehehe…someone sure seems happy to see me!” he said, but then reached out immediately and held my hands, his eyes searching my face, his brow creased with worry. “Hey…it’s okay. Please don’t be embarrassed. I feel the same way about you too,” he whispered huskily, and he leaned in, allowing me to feel his throbbing member against my own as both of us tented the front of our pants, our excitement trying to fight a way to the surface. At that moment we looked straight into each other’s eyes as we were overcome with powerful emotions. Our young bodies melted into one as our fibres trembled with otherworldly sensations. We still had clothes on but even that could not stop the stimulation. His lips met mine once again, and he instinctively fell into a rhythm as he slowly ground his hardness against mine. Sexual urges and desires coursed through me as he let out a gentle high pitched whimper in ecstasy. It was ethereal.
“Oh..uh…J-Jared…w-we...mmm…uhhh…” I struggled to speak coherently. My voice was husky and my throat felt dry. “W-we…oohhh…we should maybe…maybe to go my room first…?”
He suddenly pulled away and had a look of extreme guilt, suddenly hit with a wave of insecurity. “Oh..oh shoot, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry…” his eyes fell to the floor as he nervously shifted from foot to foot. “I shouldn’t have been too…excited…I didn’t mean to be that intense. I should settle down first. I’m sorry for that,” he apologized profusely. It was adorable, but I wouldn’t have any of that.
“Hey, I really liked that too. I just…wanted for us to be in a more private place.”
“I-I’m sorry Ethan. If it’s okay, I’d really like for you to show me your room,” he gave a timid smile. I held his hand delicately in mine.
“Yeah, of course. You’re my guest!” I chuckled.
He smiled a small smile. “I’m sorry about that Ethan.”
“Oh, please Jare, don’t be. Besides…” I felt my face flush red as I whispered into his ear, “I really liked that and was hoping that maybe we could do it again soon.”
That brought back the radiance to his face and turning to me, he gave my cheek a little peck as I nuzzled into his smooth neck for a moment, enjoying the safety and warmth it provided. Then, once we had regained our composure, I led the way down to the basement where my room was.
When my parents and Drake lived with us, they took the bedrooms upstairs. There were only three bedrooms up on the second floor and so they had to build another one for me in the basement. My room was very plain and simple. It was tidy too. My aunt was adamant that I keep it clean and organized, and I guess you can say that I was used to having it that way as well. Jared looked around and took it all in. There was a very tiny window at the very top of the wall right up near the ceiling. It let in the orange sunset and filled the room with a beautiful and romantic orange warmth that welcomed an beckoned. He sat on the white sheets on my bed and patted beside him, telling me he wanted to have me sit beside him. He had a goofy grin as I plodded over and took my spot next to him.
“I have something for you,” he began as he reached into his pant pocket.
“What? But I don’t have anything for you,” I said in surprise.
“Yes you do. You gave me a place in your heart and invited me into your home. I have a little gift for you. It’s just a small gift, and it was the least I could give.”
“But you’ve given me so much already in these few days…”
“Hush.” He put a finger to my lips. “It’s nothing really. Just something neat I got. That’s all. But I want you to have it.” Pulling his hand out, he placed a keychain in the palm of my hand. It was a Letter C Rainbow Keychain, with the rainbow ‘C’ on a white circle and behind it, he had very carefully carved out: ‘E & J’ inside a heart. It was a very small, simple, but beautiful and meaningful gift.
“Oh…oh wow…I…thank you! I…I don’t know what to say…” my voice trailed off.
“I knew you were a big fan of his works, so I gave you this, thinking it to be neat…but I put my own thing to it by carving out those letters,” he bit his lower lip and peered into my eyes.
I choked and an unexpected tear fell from the corner of my eye as I leaned in to kiss him once more. Our lips only grazed each other’s before we were interrupted by the opening of my bedroom door.
“Oh! Uh, sorry!” my aunt yelped. She had a bewildered look on her face and didn’t know how to react to what she had just seen, the sacred intimacy between us. “Dinner’s ready. You boys can come up now. And it’s nice to have you here Jared.”
“You may call me Margaret. Don’t take too long now,” and with that, she pressed her lips together, shut the door, and hurriedly walked off to head up the stairs.
I hadn’t realized that I had held my breath the entire time until I quickly deflated and breathed in deeply. I felt shaky, but was soothed to tranquility when Jared pulled me to him, my back resting on his front, with him rubbing little circles on my chest to get me to relax.
“I can’t believe she caught us again!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, but don’t worry,” he said as he bent down and turned his head to meet my eyes. “We’ll have all night to make up for it, my love.” And that last kiss was replaced with a complete, fulfilling, and tender one that made me beg and hunger for more.