What are we going to do?
Luke knew exactly what his brother meant. The same question had been lying heavily on Luke the last half hour.
It was a good question...in more ways than one. First, it was a good question because Simon had asked it. It showed he still trusted Luke, though Luke knew he'd done plenty not to deserve that trust!
First, Simon asking showed he still trusted Luke. It also said Si was still on Luke’s side and they’d face whatever was coming, together. And it also reminded Luke of better times; of the surefire way Si liked to come to him for help and to find solutions when things got tough. Things were back on track between them.
Yep...it was a good question—just one without any good answers.
"I don't know," Luke kept his eyes fixed on Simon's face, gauging his reaction.
"Do you think I should tell them?"
"Tell them what?" Luke guessed at what Simon meant, but asked anyway to buy himself some time.
Simon shifted positions and sat comfortably cross-legged. Maybe, in other circumstances, Luke would have kicked him off his bed—maybe even out of his room—but now, he really needed the company, and he shifted his legs to make more space for his younger brother.
"Maybe I should just tell them that I'm gay, too?" Simon’s answer sounded more like a new question.
Luke took a few moments more to consider it, then shook his head. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Not right now."
"What did they say?" Luke interrupted.
"They..." Simon paused and looked uncomfortable. "They're being a bit...weird about it."
"Weird? Weird like how?" Luke felt twitches in his belly, his worries taking on more substance.
"Like...I dunno..." Simon frowned. "Dad came to find me after you'd left to get the X-ray. It was a bit tense. I'd shouted at them and...well, it didn't go down well."
"You shouted?" Luke tried to visualize the three of them haranguing each other in this room after he'd left. "What did you say?"
"I told them I knew about you, but that you were gay, not sick." Simon's mouth twisted and his tone turned a shade bitter. "Jeesh, what the hell's wrong with them?! Maybe if I just tell them I'm gay, too, they'll get off our backs?"
"No, don't. Not yet." Thinking it through, Luke became sure of himself. "It'll just make it more complicated."
“It’s not a good idea. If you tell them you are, too, they’ll be twice as upset. Right now they’re probably afraid to say too much to me because I almost died, so they’ll take it all out on you. Just wait.”
Simon didn't look convinced, but he still nodded.
"I’m really sorry."
Unsurprisingly, Simon returned a frown, as the statement hardly connected well with the previous conversation. Luke continued.
"I.... Well, I was awake...earlier...when Toby was here."
They went back to watching each other, and Luke could see Simon processing it, thinking the idea through to its logical conclusion. Si was good at that. A slow flush developed and spread across Simon's face. His voice was husky when he spoke.
"It doesn't matter."
Luke shook his head and closed his eyes. His brother's reaction screamed that it bloody well did! Yet Luke was exhausted...too tired to know what the right words were. He was no counselor.
"He did something."
“I said it doesn't matter.” Simon was adamant.
"It does matter. I should have been there for you. I should have—"
"No." Simon was firm as he overrode Luke. "No, it doesn't. Not right now. Probably never." His voice softened. "I don't need to go back there. It’s over, and I want it to stay that way. Ask me about the wolf sometime."
"I said sometime...not now." Simon smiled, and for Luke it felt like a weight lifting off his shoulder, seeing how his brother was handling whatever it was. All Luke needed now was a new shoulder!
Simon rested his chin in his hands. "So what are we going—"
"—to do?" Luke completed. He shrugged, a one-shoulder shrug, and still had no answers. "Wait and see, I guess. There's the funeral on Thursday, Mel said. Getting through that's going to be tough enough."
"Do you think they'll even go?" Simon asked.
"Mum and Dad?" Luke frowned. A week ago there would have been absolutely no doubt. But now...? "I dunno. Probably. Either way, they can't stop me from going."
He felt the ache in his shoulder as well as his heart. He'd need to find someone to drive him there, if it came to that. Maybe Mel if he could find her number. Ella would know it.
"I'm going, too." Simon's tone was adamant. "Maybe Elliott can take..." He trailed off and looked awkward.
Luke closed his eyes again.
Simon deserved a better explanation than he might have picked up by listening through the door, however tough it was going to be for Luke to go through it again.
“You were listening at the door, right?” Luke asked. “When the cops were interviewing me. You heard it all?”
“What you heard, that was how it was. I told them the truth. But…”
But there was more.
“What?” Simon sounded cautious.
“When I left the house—our house, I mean—after I’d dropped you off after school, I just needed time to think. I went to Starbucks.” Luke began to relate the journey he’d taken that had finally led to death and destruction at the Alexis house. For his part, Simon listened quietly as Luke spoke about leaving Starbucks, knowing he should go and talk to Ryan—and recalled what happened then.
“What I was most mad about was that he was Damon!”
“What? Who? Who’s Damon?” As Luke expected, Simon looked blank.
“Damon is…was…Ryan.” Luke went on again to explain the online friendship that had gone so spectacularly wrong. And how it had turned out that the fictitious Damon was actually Ryan. “That’s why I hit him in the parking lot. I know it was pretty crap, but it felt like he’d been lying to me all that time, taking advantage of me.”
“So then what happened?”
Luke paused before answering, then returned a wan smile. “He’d accepted he was gay since before we met—before we arrived here from England,” he murmured, not answering the question straight away. “All that time, and he never said.”
“I never guessed.” Simon shook his head slowly, and Luke felt the sense of wonder that he could see in Simon’s face.
“Nobody ever guessed,” Luke said at last. A thought formulated that took strength as it grew in his head. “And I want to keep it that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“If it doesn’t come out, then the guys at school don’t need to know, and I don’t plan on telling them. If Ry can’t defend himself anymore, I’m gonna do it for him.” His voice began to crack as he spoke and his eyes filled up. “We don’t tell them!”
Simon stared at him, then unexpectedly, he leaned over and kissed Luke on the forehead. “That’s because you’re the best brother and friend in the world,” he said to Luke’s look of bewilderment.
Luke scrubbed his eyes and returned a weak smile. It felt good to have a purpose. He sighed. “Ry wanted me and him to be together. He was pretty…clear…about that!”
“Clear? What does that mean?” Simon didn't miss a thing.
“We’re not going there.”
“But Elliott? I thought that you were—”
“I told Ryan that…” Luke found himself slipping back in his head to those few moments when Ryan had made him choose. Choose him or choose Elliott. Maybe some would say it never should have been like that. “He wanted me to choose between him and Elliott, and—”
“And?” Simon remained poised, but his face showed nothing.
“I told him no. I told him that I was with Elliott. It wouldn’t have been right to just to dump him…and I really like Elliott…and I guess I was still a bit pissed off by the whole Damon thing.”
Simon studied Luke for long moments, waiting to see if there would be any more. When there wasn’t, he leaned in again and left another kiss on Luke’s forehead.
“Yew! Enough with the kissing already!” Luke grimaced as he wiped his forehead, though he saw the funny side of it as Simon giggled.
“That was for being the kind of somebody who’s not a jerk!” Simon said. “You did the right thing. So what about Elliott? He came to see you.”
Luke winced and his mood changed as he looked away. “I told him to go away.”
“You might think I’m not a jerk, but it doesn’t feel like that. I like Elliott. I liked Ryan, too. I should have done more to try to help save him. I should have done more for you, too. Sometimes I think I’m not a nice guy at all.” Luke began to feel miserable again. “I let people down too much. I need to be a better person, to be stronger and I told Elliott he’d be better off with someone else. At least for now. We’ll probably never see him again.”
* * *
Extract from Luke's notes:
I realize it's been a while since I last sat down and wrote anything.
I got as far as I did in telling my story, but I got stuck. All writers get stuck now and again, don't they? Maybe I ran out of steam, or maybe I just had a lot of other stuff going on. I dunno, maybe part of the truth is that I couldn't face it, and I just couldn't find the energy—or the courage—to write about the end of the rainbow?
I tried all the things you're meant to do: taking a break, reading, stepping away from your tale in a hundred different ways to wait for the words to begin flowing once more, to find the belief in myself to go back there once again.
Anyway, the time finally came, and I started writing again.
Back to the story....
The following day after Si and I had talked, everyone said how much better I looked. They only saw the outside, and there it was true, I was getting stronger, fast. The doctors said I was making great progress and could take more visitors if I wanted. They thought I could even be discharged within a couple of days and just come back as an outpatient after that.
The ankle? Well, it turned out to be a hairline fracture; it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but bad enough to still warrant having to be tightly bandaged, and I had to wear a special boot for a month. Great!
Simon was back at school, so I never saw him during the daytimes, and Dad went back into work for what was just meant to be the mornings...but...well, mostly it was just me and Mum.
Secretly, I think I wanted her, or Dad, or both of them to confront me—if a confrontation was what it was going to be—about being gay, to demand that I explain it to them. I was even ready to listen to them tell me I could be fixed, that it was all in my mind. A phase.
Maybe they didn't have the courage, either, as we all seemed to use my poor health and difficult circumstances as a reason to avoid any unpleasantness. There were no more visitors, even though I could see multiple texts and missed calls from Elliott on my recently returned cell phone.
To me, it looked like Dad had a funny look in his eye when he told me Elliott had been asking after me. Maybe I was wrong, but I wondered if they'd looked through my messages when I was asleep and figured it out?
Thankfully, nobody talked about going back to school.
I was looking forward to going home and dreading it all at the same time. The hospital was safe. Nobody had been able to get at me here, and I’d been able to stay behind the protection of being 'the patient'. I did what I wanted when in that bed, and if that didn't involve talking to anyone, all the better!
Home? Home brought back some normality, and with that would blossom 'family' conversation and the inevitable demands for an explanation.
On the plus side, I was planning to have a proper bath at home. I’d grown sick of the demeaning bed washes, and even Monday's shower had been humiliating. The male nurse that supported me was a nice enough guy, and it was just another job to him, but the whole thing was still crap!
The way I saw it, I knew I had to go home at some point anyway, so figured I might as well get it over with, and I pushed hard and left the hospital on Wednesday morning armed, amongst other thing, with a pair crutches to help me hobble around. Though with my shoulder still the most damaged part of me, I could only bear to use a single crutch.
* * *
Geoff pulled the van smoothly into the drive and killed the engine. He glanced into the rearview mirror to see Luke staring out of the van’s window to where his car was parked. He and Lucy had retrieved it from the Alexis house the previous week, though until Luke's shoulder was healed, he wouldn't be allowed to drive it.
At least he’d eventually be able to drive. He'd been lucky, the doctors had said. An inch lower and the bullet would have sliced through some major nerves and even blood vessels. As it was, they hoped he would make a full recovery. A real miracle!
What was it that they’d coined in the papers that had been tracking the triple homicide? 'The boy who’d lived...'
The media had been hot on the story for days immediately following the shooting, and had they angled for an interview with Luke, and if not him, then his parents. Of course they'd refused, and after a few days the story had cooled off as other news captured the public's attention. Still, Geoff flicked his eyes through the mirror towards 'the boy who’d lived', relieved that the media weren't camped on the front lawn waiting for them!
"Here we are! Welcome home, sweetheart!" Lucy slid back the side door and hopped out from where she’d been sitting next to Luke.
As Luke shuffled across, Geoff got out, too, and made ready to help if needed, though it felt like Luke had gone out of his way to refuse much of that these last few days. That said, Luke was getting around well enough now, though whether he could manage the stairs in the house was going to be another matter.
"It’s fine. I can manage!" Luke muttered, waving them away as Lucy fussed.
Feeling a touch helpless again, Geoff stood back. Maybe it was a good thing that Luke was showing that he was coping, but Geoff knew that on another front, he himself wasn’t. He and Lucy had agreed that they would sit down together with Luke and talk through the whole gay thing. However, with him working again, there just hadn’t been the right time for that. And as each day passed, it had become more and more awkward.
Simon opened the front door of the house and came hurrying out. He’d been at school that day—much to his annoyance as he knew Luke was coming home—but there would have been no point in Simon hanging around all day for the amount of time it took to get Luke discharged. Todd Quince had brought Simon home and dropped him off. Simon was still in his school stuff, so he probably hadn’t been in that long. He made a mental note to thank Todd—he’d gone out his way several times to help this last week.
With them watching from a discreet distance, Luke put his good foot onto the ground and slowly edged off the seat, balancing himself on his crutch. He was unable to hide a grimace, but covered it quickly as Simon stepped in to help. Yet again, Geoff felt like a spare part as Luke seemed happy enough to lean on his brother as he got his balance.
Soon, Luke was making towards the front door, and Lucy hurried ahead to open it.
"I'll bring the stuff," Geoff called after them. "Can you give me a hand here, Simon?"
There were several things to carry in, and doing that was better than doing nothing. Awkwardly, Luke hobbled away, and Geoff and Simon picked up the various bags and parcels that they had brought back from the hospital.
Geoff felt discouraged. The truth was, he was making a totally crap job of all of this!
Effectively, ever since he'd regained consciousness and then had been interviewed by the police, Luke had shut both him and Lucy out. Yet Geoff could see that Luke and Simon were still talking; that seemed clear when he and Lucy had got back from a quick bite on Sunday evening to find Simon perched on the bed and the two boys in a deep discussion. Yet when Geoff and Lucy came in, they clammed up, and Luke soon went to sleep.
He and Lucy had talked about it on several occasions, trying to figure out the right thing to do. They had a son who was gay, and it had become like the elephant in the room that nobody wanted—or had the guts—to talk about. Even on the way home, a journey which should have been something to celebrate, they had made most of it in silence. It was hardly ever like that when they were in the van. Usually in such a lively family as theirs, somebody had an opinion about something, and the chatter was constant. But now…?
Passing through the front door with bags in both hands, Geoff saw that Luke was already laboriously making his way upstairs. Just below him, Lucy stood guard and she caught Geoff’s eye as he came in the door. He shrugged, interpreting the frustrated glint in her look. Don't touch meant don't touch! After seeing Simon become so distant and detached after he’d been in the hospital, it felt like they were losing Luke in that same way now, too.
"Any objection if I take a bath?" Luke asked as he worked himself up another step. He'd got the sense of it now and was moving more quickly.
"If you're sure..." she replied. She glanced Geoff's way. "Dad will find the waterproof covers for you to keep your bandages dry. "Hon, I think they’re in the black suitcase."
“I can find it,” Geoff said.
Lucy brightened as she made plans. "A nice hot bath and then what about some lunch?"
"Yeah…maybe," Luke said.
It was hardly enthusiastic, Geoff mused, but if the last few days were anything to go by, Luke hadn't lost his appetite. It was better than nothing.
"I'll be up with it in a bit," Geoff said, meaning the waterproof foot covering. "Do you want me to bring you a drink?"
Near the top now, Luke stopped and turned slightly. His face seemed to soften. "Actually, a mug of tea would be nice."
At last! A little bit of the old Luke, and less of the sullen, introverted, reticent kid that Geoff hardly seemed to know anymore. The gay kid…
He turned his eyes away in case Luke could see his confusion.
Tea? He could do that, at least!
"I'll get the kettle on, then," he said, turning once Luke reached the landing at last. He seemed able to manage the stairs satisfactorily as he made his way to his room, though Lucy followed close behind. Geoff moved towards the kitchen, calling back over his shoulder, "I'll bring it up in a few minutes."
He filled the kettle and plugged it in, then opened up the back of the house to let in some fresh air, standing at the door and looking out into the garden as he battled with his thinking. Getting nowhere with that, his eyes drifted across the backyard. The grass was long after nearly two weeks, and the garden looked a mess.
It wasn’t the only one!
"Hon, did you find the waterproof?" Lucy's voice drifted from hallway.
Shit—he couldn't even do that right!
"Just getting it now. I was putting the kettle on," he said, though he'd stood there long enough that the kettle had already turned itself off. "If you can make the tea, I'll find it."
They passed each other in the hallway, and he knelt down by the front door to start hunting through the black suitcase for the waterproof. After a few moments of fruitless searching, he looked up to see Simon gazing down on him.
“Glad to have Luke home?” Geoff asked, trying to sound positive. Simon shrugged, so Geoff added, “I’m sure he’ll be on his feet soon enough. Just the funeral to get through.”
Luke had been adamant about that—he was going, and would drive himself there if he had to! Geoff had tried not to get into an argument about it, though he and Lucy weren’t convinced Luke was up to it. But, in the end, they had agreed that they would all go. Geoff was hardly looking forward to it.
Simon leaned against a wall. “And then it’s over, is it?” The question was pointed.
“You don’t know where the waterproof is, do you?” Geoff replied, sidestepping both the question as well as the sudden ill temper splattered across his youngest son’s face. He went back to rummaging through another of the various bags.
“Ah, here it is.” He lifted the carefully folded item out of where it had been slipped down one end of a case. “I’ll just pop this up to Luke.”
“I’ll take it,” Simon said, taking it from him. “I mean you don’t want to catch something, do you!”
“Just stop it!” Geoff found it hard to keep the hard edge out of tone as Simon needled him.
“You could at least talk to him!” Simon flared back immediately, though he kept his voice down. “He’s gay, not a pervert. Lots of guys are gay. Why can’t you just accept it?” Not waiting for an answer he stalked away up the stairs.
Geoff watched him go and grimaced. Getting home didn't seem to be solving many problems! The truth was, it was more complicated than Simon was trying to make it. Geoff wasn't a bigot—despite what Simon might think—but accepting that Luke was gay, then making an adjustment for that wasn't easy. He and Lucy needed time for that, yet trying to handle the boys in the middle of it all was tough.
The truth was, he didn’t know how to handle either of his sons just then.
“Hon, we have to deal with this,” murmured Lucy, stepping out from behind the kitchen door. It was obvious she’d been listening. “We can’t keep pretending nothing’s wrong!”
“You really think I don’t know that?” Nettled by Simon’s reaction, Geoff bit back with more frustration than he should.
“Hon—” She looked aggrieved and he retreated a little.
“Sorry…I just don’t know what to say to him now. It was a mistake to go back to work when we should have been—” Geoff didn't go further as his eyes turned towards the top of the stairs knowing that either of the boys could be listening. She got the message and flicked her head.
He followed her into the kitchen, and she closed the door and went back to making the tea, waiting for him.
“We have to talk to him," he said. "Or more to the point, maybe he has to talk to us? And sorry if I blew up at you. It’s not your fault.”
She put the pot down and turned to face him.
“Hon, it’s not your fault, either. Maybe it’s not anyone’s fault. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Our first concern was always to get him well, and then get him home. Let’s just give him a bit of time to get settled, but then you're right...we have to talk.”
“Do we know anyone who can give us some advice? We could sure do with it right now.”
“Maybe Grace might have been able to help…but she’s gone now. Even so...do we really need a counselor?” Lucy didn’t look convinced. “Maybe we need to talk to him ourselves? Try to understand it. Let me just pop up with his tea and see how he's getting on with his bath.”
“Let me take it,” Geoff said. “Just in case he’s…you know…already in the bath.” He took the mug and blanked his unspoken thought. Worried that his mum might see him undressed? If Luke was gay, wasn’t that all the other way around, now?
He climbed the stairs slowly. Understanding sexual orientation when it was…different…was tough. How did you understand something that came right out of the blue after sixteen years?
He could hear voices coming from Luke’s room as he reached the landing. Still, he tapped on the bedroom door before going in. Luke was sitting on his bed in his boxers, and Simon was helping take off the special boot. He unclipped it and eased it free. Underneath, the tightly wrapped bandaging would stay on for several weeks. From the bathroom, Geoff could hear the sound of water filling the bath.
"I brought your tea. I did knock." Warily he studied the two of them as he placed the mug down on the bedside table. "Everything okay? Anything I can do?"
Anything else Geoff might have wanted to say waned as both of them stared at him with expressions that were full of mistrust. Would anything ever get better? It was beginning to feel that what they needed was a minor miracle to achieve that!
"It's fine," Luke said. “Can you leave, I’m about to get in the bath.”
Geoff left the tea and pulled the door shut. What he had seen had left him feeling awkward—shaken, even—by the idea that he’d made his son feel ashamed. By the appearance of something that was nothing—undressing for a bath with another guy in the room—Luke had been discomforted. Humiliated by what he believed his dad would be thinking.
No, no, no!
This wasn’t what either of them wanted! He wanted to tell Luke, but then just didn’t seem the right moment. When in God’s name would there ever be a right moment?
Maybe God was listening after all as, once Geoff had made his way back down the stairs feeling like he'd blown his chance of starting a good conversation with Luke, there was a knock at the front door. He was of half a mind to ignore it. If it wasn’t some reporter again, then it was probably the neighbors, and he could do without any of them right now.
“So…are you going to get it?”
Even Lucy sounded irritated with him, and he held back a retort. Pushing the bags out of the way with his foot, he crossed the hall to answer the door. Opening it, his eyes widened. It wasn’t whom he was expecting at all!
“Brigadier Buford …Alice…?” He blinked at the couple as they waited solemnly on the front step. They were dressed formally—him in a suit, and she in an ankle length skirt with a simple blouse which was covered by a jacket.“Come on in, please" Geoff said immediately, opening the door wider.