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  1. Jason

    A story I wrote when I was 19 in college, the story revolves around four high school teens engaging in debauchery in their city park and town cafe. Playful and silly, a story for the teens and the high school artists within us and among us.
  2. Part 1 and Part 2

    Part 1 The outside felt like cold ice pins were poking into my face and ice cubes parked on my earlobes. The darkness of this night surrounded us like bees on a hive. The only light that was present had come from the street lights scattered across the park. The smell of skunk wafted through the air, but it was just the pot my buddy Jace brought. My friends here were hungry for its temporary escape. I prefer company, especially on a Friday night, so I sat on one of the benches we shoveled the snow off of and zoned out, taking a whiff of the fumes that hovered around. I decided against smoking...I get hella paranoid. Holding the joint loosely between her two fingers, Isabel took a long drag next to her boyfriend Felix and spoke in her best “high-society” voice. “You’ve got some good weed here, Mr. Wong.” Isabel said. “You have yet to disappoint.” She had poise, legs crossed, her short, wavy brunette hair put into a bun as she sucked in the joint like she was showcasing the best pot in town. Her cinnamon colored skin contrasted with her light yellow winter coat with fake fur on the collar. Standing, Jace put his gloved hand to his belly, covered up in a forest green winter coat, and gave a bow, his spiked up black hair pointing towards Isabel. “Spoken like a true stoner, Isabel darling,” he said, playfully mocking Isabel. Isabel chuckled as she handed the joint off to Leroy, who sat on the bench beside her. He looked as though hadn’t used the stuff before and turned to us as if needing help. “Umm, so I just suck it here,” the greenhorn asked with such innocence. “Yes Leroy, just suck it and hold it in real long.” Jace said being somewhat helpful, but also covertly sexual. “It’s an art: Let it fill you up and take you for a ride.” “...Alright, just don’t tell my dad, okay?” Leroy pleaded, referring to his hot-headed father, Coach Dean, who worked at the school. I wonder what it must’ve been like to be the coach’s son and have no aptitude for sports. Evident by Leroy’s pale white skin, it seemed as though he never spent a day outdoors. He held the joint for dear life and sucked it inside. He blew too quick, letting out nothing but air. “Umm, did I do it right?” Finally deciding to speak, boyfriend of the year Felix coolly responded. “No. Try again.” “Chill, bro.” Jace said, speaking like a hybrid between yoga guru and hippie. “Nature’s sweet nectar will bless your lips in due time.” Felix nodded in annoyance. “Okay,” Leroy said timidly, “I’ll do it again,”. Different from before, Leroy sucked it in from his diaphragm and every nook and cranny of his lungs must’ve been filled with the stuff. Jace moved toward me, then whispered, “What is with this ungrateful shit,” referring to Felix. “This isn’t even his weed!” I looked to Isabel, who noticed us huddled together and probably knew Jace was trash talking Felix. I said, “You might have to get used to this. Isabel said she wants Felix to be more included during our hang outs.” “Then we’ll include him in the food bill later!” Jace spoke loud enough for Isabel to hear and she gave him the stink eye. Jace threw up his hands as if to say, “No offense to your shitty boyfriend.” “Settle down, babe,” Isabel said, patting Felix’s thigh. “Your turn is coming soon.” Felix didn’t verbally respond, but simply placed his hand on hers and looked in her eyes. I felt like I was looking at a cheesy romance. Is this what love is supposed to be like? Stuck in a relationship with some jerk who thought wearing a leather coat in the winter made him cool? I turned to Leroy who exhaled a third time and started coughing up a storm. “Poor thing,” Isabel cried. “Felix, give him a cough drop.” Felix was hiding his chuckles, laughing at Leroy’s predicament. “Babe, he’ll be fine. Tell me when he takes a real drag.” Isabel exhaled in frustration as Leroy kept coughing up a storm. “Here, I’ll take the joint,” I said, holding my hand out for Leroy. “Jace, can you-” “Yeah, yeah.” Jace went through his bag and pulled out a water bottle that surprisingly hadn’t froze. He handed the bottle to Leroy. “It’s okay man, the first time is always the roughest.” I often pondered why Jace got progressively more sexual the higher he gets. Fortunately, his subtle innuendo was going right over Leroy’s head. I handed the joint off to Jace as Leroy took a gulp of the water. Jace smoked and shot out the smoke like a chimney up in the air. He was getting so baked, he’ll probably offer long winded sentences about nothing in the next 10 minutes. “You doing alright?” Isabel asked Leroy. Before Leroy answered, he started hacking again. Felix looked like his head would explode, holding in his giggles. “I-I’m good,” he said, “this is...kinda fun.” I looked at Leroy, somewhat puzzled. Who was he kidding? “Wanna try some more? Jace has plenty.” Leroy cleared his throat. “Sure yeah, I can handle it,” he said in a tone much deeper than his usual voice. Jace handed Leroy back the joint. “Take it nice and slow if you need…” Leroy brought it to his lips, sucked it in, and blew with grace. “Thatta boy.” “Careful,” mama bear Isabel chimed in, “don’t want him to get sick.” Felix wavved his hand dismissively. “A little puff ain’t hurt nobody. He’s fine.” I wondered what these two would be like as parents. “Hey….hey, hey,” Jace kept repeating himself, probably too baked right now to function. “Ya’ll…you two just need to…like, be mellow with it, you know? Just….relaaaax.” As Jace finished his stoner’s dialogue, Leroy began coughing up a storm. Felix was back to laughing. Jace looked at Leroy with glazed eyes and a goofy smile. “Damn, must’ve been a good hit…” “You got this bud,” I said, putting out my hand again. “Here, hand me the joint.” Leroy kept choking as he passed the joint to me. I handed it off to Felix, who, with no hesitation, went right to smoking the joint as if this were his daily routine. “Everybody coughs when they have this stuff, but it’ll go away soon. Take this cough drop cuz you might get a sore throat.” “That’s right, Jason,” Jace said, “See…see ya’ll need to listen to…this man right here. That’s why I love you, Jason. You got us like...Obama got Michelle.” While I wasn’t sure about comparing my relationship with these guys to the president and first lady, I appreciated the reference. Leroy looked up at me as he downed some water and gave me a thumbs-up, his eyes half open. “I think I’m good everyone,” Leroy proclaimed as if he achieved victory. “Good for you,” Isabel congratulated him. We all gave him a round of applause. Felix rolled his eyes. Part 2 The waiter, a gentleman with a deep, southern drawl grabbed the attention of our table and asked, “What would ya’ll like to order?” We stopped by this late-hour café called Destiny. On a Friday night, the patrons are usually drunk, the waiting time is relatively low, and the staff here are saints. Take our waiter for example, who has to interpret the mind of a pothead who was well past his limit. That pot head would be Jace, sitting next to me in our booth. Jace eyed the menu with a dazed look in his eyes. “Ahhhhhh….shoot. I’m…I’m sorry bro. I… I didn’t make up my mind yet. I honestly…didn’t even really look at the menu, you know? I’m…I’m so sorry.” The waiter eyed the rest of us. “Should I come back-” “No, no, no, no, you…stay right here. If you leave…we’ll have to wait longer for our food. I’ll just…take the pancakes.” Leroy, sitting across from me, was dying, his face looking like a bottle of Pepto Bismol. Isabel, sitting next to him, passionately nodded her head, blinking slowly without taking her eyes off Jace as if he said some profound thing that deepened her connection to his soul. Felix sat on the edge of his seat, simply directing his attention at everything around him...but us. “Alright, pancakes for the gentleman. Anything else?” Putting on her most classy voice, Isabel said, “I’ll have the drip coffee, no cream, three packets of sweet n’ low, and a nice, buttery croissant, if you please?” Wait, since when did Isabel drink coffee? And what is she doing drinking it at ten o’clock at night?! Leroy, not maintaining any form of composure, cackled. “I’ll…hahaha, I’m sorry, this is so hard.” He held the menu up to his face like he was hiding overbearing shame. “I’ll have what Jace is having…hahaha!” “You won’t be disappointed, my friend,” Jace said, giving him a wink. The waiter said, “Sounds good, and what about you two gentlemen,” directing the question to Felix and I. “A blueberry muffin and orange juice would be cool,” I said. Felix put his arm around Isabel, looking at her directly. “Me and the lady can share that veggie omelet you all have,” Then he turned to the waiter. “You’re doing good for yourself, man. Keep up the good work.” The waiter smirked. “Thank you, I’ll be sure to...” Keeping from laughing at our faces, the waiter headed toward the kitchen passing the dark brown wood tables, blood red cushions, and orange, fluorescent lights that beamed above the tables. The sounds of smooth jazz played across the cafe while the smell of coffee and bacon was wafted around. Felix said, “It’s so nice in here,” as he looked around. “Look at the lights.” Jace and Leroy craned their heads to the ceiling, but when I looked at Felix, it didn’t seem as if his attention was focused on the lights at all. Instead, his eyes were directed at the oil canvases that decorated the restaurant’s walls. Isabel massaged Felix’s arm, whispering to him, “Too much to smoke, honey?” She coddled him like he fell and scraped his knee on the sidewalk. I could throw up. Jace announced, “So…everyone knows how to eat at classy places like this, right?” Isabel nodded in the affirmative. Leroy’s eyes widened, like he was being made privy to some well kept secret. Felix looked bored silly as his half open, bloodshot eyes stared holes into Jace. “Let me demonstrate: remove the silverware from your napkins, and place the napkins onto your laps, see?” He showed us how to do each movement, everyone staring at his demonstration. Did they pop some E in the bathroom while I wasn’t looking? “Now ya’ll try it.” Leroy picked up his napkin wrapped utensils and started using his hand to move it around like it was flying, making airplane sounds. Felix stared at his napkin and utensil set as if he thought it would levitate onto his lap. Isabel played along. “I appreciate your teaching of the lower folk, Jace,” she said as she straightened her napkin on her lap. “It’s hard to find sophisticated individuals like ourselves.” As Felix’s eyes drifted back to the oil paintings on the walls, I was reminded of a talk with my creative writing professor this morning. “Arts programs are just a dying breed these days,” he lamented. I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone’s thoughts were about that. “They say the creative writing program is ending this year,” I said. Jace’s laughing at Leroy stopped suddenly. His index finger that pointed to Leroy dropped sluggishly. Isabel frowned as she looked attentively towards me, Felix’s eyes following hers. The only sound at the table was Leroy’s helicopter sounds as he flew his utensils around. He stopped once he became aware of the silence. “Bro,” Jace said, nodding his head in disbelief, “you’re kidding?” “How do you know?” Isabel inquired. “Who told you? Mr. Tyler?” I nodded affirmatively. Isabel bit her lips. “...What other programs did he mention?” “I didn’t hear of any others…” Isabel and Jace, while somewhat relieved, had somber looks on their faces. Isabel sighed. “Oh Jason.” “I wonder sometimes,” I said, “do you think art really matters anymore? If it’s so damn important, why do they keep taking them away? What will happen after we leave? Next thing you’ll know it’ll be your photography classes, Isabel, or Jace’s drama classes. Maybe next the painting classes. It’s like they don’t care.” Jace looked down at the table. “I don’t know what I’d do if they took away drama. They could, shudder, make it into an after school program!” “And that doesn’t take into account that we could have jobs or little brothers and sisters to take care of,” Isabel said. She nodded. “It’s too bad, Jason.” The drunken chatter around us filled in the silence. A woman in front of our table hollered with laughter, throwing up her hands up in joy while a man on the table across from us complained about his food. What was he expecting, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles? “...So what?” Leroy asked. Excluding Felix, the three of us looked at Leroy. “I mean really, so what you guys? I honestly could care less for art classes and all that junk. Dad says there ain’t nothing to gain from art. It’s just pictures on a wall and stupid novels we read in class. We don’t need art in schools. You can just draw and write or whatever at home. What’s the point?” “The point is, why should we?” Isabel responded. “If I want to take my photography classes at school instead of home, what concern is that of yours?” “It’s a waste of time! What is photography class going to do? Teach you how to take pictures of the flowers on the schoolyard? And Jason” - he said looking directly at me - “I mean, come on man, I’ve read your writing. You don’t need a stupid art class to learn how to do that. That’s what English classes are for. Honestly, who needs them?” Jace leaned back in his seat with his arms crossed. “And to think I shared my joint with you.” Isabel seemed done with the conversation then and Jace had frustration and betrayal written on his face. Before I could open my mouth to respond - “Whaddya think, Felix? You into that sissy shit?” Jace’s face contorted. When Isabel and Jace looked ready to tell this dude off, Felix said, “Shoot, I do art myself.” Did I hear this dude correctly? I had to pinch my arm. “I love painting. Been doin it since I was a little kid. I wouldn’t go to Greenville High no more if I couldn’t do it.” Jace eyed Felix suspiciously while Leroy looked to be shifting nervously in his seat. Isabel smiled proudly and rubbed Felix’s back as she looked straight at Leroy. “You know that mural we have on campus?” Leroy nodded. “Arguably, the best defining aspect of our campus, though the administration won’t admit it. It is a painted image of Cesar Chavez, an important figure in mine’s and Felix’s history as Mexican people, as well as all of yours. There is his face with fields of brown and green painted in the background, and the workers whom he marched alongside of for rights and liberation. “Administrators love to show it off to incoming students and industry officials while slashing art programs year after year. They also fail to mention that one of Greenville’s own had been it’s creator. That creator would be Felix.” I don’t think I was alone as I looked at Felix, jaw dropped. Jace was picking his up off the floor. “Wait,” Jace said, “that was you?” Felix shrugged with a smirk on his face. “Took me a few weekends. They didn’t want me missing class time. If I can get a weekend outside the house, I’m all for it.” Leroy didn’t speak. Jace’s face looked like he couldn’t believe it. Felix turned to Leroy then. “I saw Coach looking at my work the other day too. Heard em’ say ‘it ain’t too bad.’ Said it must’ve been drawn by some amateur off the streets.” Felix brought his arms to the table and leaned forward, looking straight at Leroy. “Make sure to tell Daddy Dean that ‘amateur off the street’ is me.” Stunned in his seat, Leroy’s skin was flushed as his eyes looked at all four of us before directing them to the window. Safe to say his high is gone. “Here’s everyone’s food and drinks.” Much to Leroy’s relief, the waiter returned with our meals. Jace stared down his pancakes and began to slowly devour them, paying no mind to our earlier conversation. Felix took his arms off the table, looking at Isabel who seemed so pleased with him. For someone whom I never cared for, Felix blew me away. This dude has let us know how indifferent he was towards us at almost every turn, and yet, his very soul was tapped, igniting a fire within him that I’ve never seen before. For once, I actually saw Felix, and I saw the eyes of every other high school student. The ones who say, without reservation, that art is their love, and that is one thing they have that makes school worth going to.
  3. sophistry

    These are so sweet. Thank you for sharing this with us! Tony is so lucky to have this precious poetry written for him :).
  4. Chapter 7

    I see Devan and Stefan being really good supports for each other as the story furthers along! I'm still playing with the idea of what direction I want to take their relationship :).
  5. Chapter 6

    Thank you for your feedback RJ! When I read my current and past material, I realize how much easier I find it to write about difficult times. Maybe it's a strength of mine to tap into those moments? I would like to include more pleasant, joyful moments for these characters. Hopefully I find that balance as I write this story!
  6. Chapter 5

    Thank your continuing to read! Yes, Jesse is going to take some time before being privy to what Devan is going through. Thankfully, Stefan is intuitive and can offer his support to get him through :).
  7. Chapter 7

    Devan had been in a daze these last few days. He sat himself on a park bench and watched the clouds pass. It seemed as though time simply moved forward and Devan went through it absentmindedly, numbly. The rent was due, house cleaning needed to get done. Even the most stressful, time-sensitive tasks at work seemed to not phase Devan in the least. Very few family members reached out, asking about his brother. The ones who did were sent to his voice message system. It didn’t help that Devan found himself unconsciously being reminded of Leroy every time his phone rang. The change in his demeanor didn’t really concern him. Devan was all too familiar with death and the changes he goes through when it occurs. Then his phone rang. Devan listened to it for awhile, tempted to let it go to voice message. He pulled it out of his pocket, looked at the caller ID, realized it was a number he didn’t recognize, and hit ignore. The trees swayed around him as a cool breeze brushed through. Birds chirped and the voices of children grew louder from the playground. The phone rang again. Devan pulled it out of his pocket and realized it was the same number as before. A little frustrated from the caller’s stubbornness, he answered. “Hello,” Devan said, unable to veil his irritation. “Is this Uncle Devan?” Devan registered the voice and sat in silence. It was Jade. “Uncle Devan?” “Oh Jade. Yeah, it’s me. How have you been holding up?” “I’m okay. How are you?” Jade’s voice sounded as distant as it was when they last met. “I guess I’m...not really sure. Are you alright being at your great aunt Katherine and great uncle George’s place?” “It’s fine.” Devan couldn’t gauge whether Jade was being purposefully guarded. He was unable to offer much more to the conversation in the form of comfort and was frustrated at his inadequacy. What could’ve led her to call him in the first place? And as he opened his mouth, Jade said, “I didn’t see you at the wake.” Devan’s face contorted. “The wake?” “Yeah. Great auntie Lorraine said she tried to call you a few days ago.” Devan realized that not only had he been sending his calls to voicemail, he didn’t listen to them either. “She did huh? Guess I must’ve deleted her voice message on accident or something. Do you know when Leroy...your father...is being buried?” “This Saturday.” Whether Jade picked up the lie about the voicemail or not it didn’t come out in her voice. Devan realized that would be the least of her concerns. “Are you coming?” Devan pondered the thought and he sensed an immediate resistance on his end. How does he face these family members he hadn’t seen for years? Did they know what happened to Devan? Why didn’t anyone reach out to him sooner? And to go to this funeral and present himself to these people like nothing had happened, for a man he already had complicated feelings for, made the idea of going even less appealing. Then Devan heard Jade’s voice again. “Uncle Devan?” He had to make a choice quick. He couldn’t think only of himself, he had to think of Jade too. “...I’ll be there. You know what time it is?” “10am. It’s at the funeral home Gram and Grandpa were buried. I’ll see you there, Uncle Devan.” “I’ll see you too, Jade.” Jade hung up. Devan held the phone in his palm for sometime and stared outward, looking at everything around him. His awareness of the sounds amplified. The voices of the children screaming with joy, the whistling wind. And he realized Saturday was not far away. He heard the organ music just outside the funeral home. Devan recalled coming here once before. He had arrived at the doorway for his parents’ funeral when he was twenty one. Rather than enter inside, his demons caught ahold of him. His parents’ screams, the day they disowned him when they sent him off alone in the world. How could he attend their funeral? And just as a family member witnessed him on the funeral steps, he ran way. That would be the last time any family member had seen him, before his brother’s death. Now he stood on the steps by the doorway again, feeling hesitant to enter. He wore clothes he hadn’t worn since the days his parents took him to church in his Sunday best, a black suit, white suit shirt and black tie with black slacks and shoes. The trepidation he had being there seemed to magnify and paralyze him. He breathed before entering inside. He walked slowly through the dark hallway filled with the colors of dark brown and velvet. Cranberry colored candles were lit on the tables that stood against the walls. He walked steadily in and approached two individuals speaking in the hall. One of them turned to look it at him, and his lips stopped moving. He stared at Devan before the individual he was speaking to also turned to his direction. He identified the two as being cousins of his. Their stares were disarming, but Devan trudged forward. He couldn’t leave now. He walked past them and approached the entry way. He entered a dimly lit room with stained glass. Many of his relatives were present: cousins, aunties, uncles, and great grandparents. He found Jade near the pulpit, not speaking. Uncle George had his hand on her shoulder. As he moved forward in the room, some eyes came his way and they each repeated what the couple before had done, staring without words. A mix of apprehension and tension filled the room. Devan felt himself sweat. It was then a woman and man slowly approached him. Devan noticed the caution in their steps. “Devan, dear?” The woman said, not appearing to be sure. Devan realized it was Auntie Gladys. Devan nodded. “Devan, it’s been so long.” The woman, with her gait that had her swaying side to side, came up to Devan and opened her arms. Devan embraced her and they stood there for what seemed like minutes. When they pulled apart, Devan noticed the tears in her eyes. “You’ve been missed, darling.” The man moved closer to Devan then. “Hey little man. It’s your Uncle Charles.” Devan didn’t recognize the man at first, but realized it had been due to the man’s aging. Deeply set wrinkles on his face, his hair having grown and become more gray. He realized he hadn’t seen this man in a decade. “Nice to see you Uncle Charles,” Devan said. He looked back at the pulpit to find Jade looking his way. “We should talk, sweetheart.” Auntie Gladys placed her hand on Devan’s shoulder, and slid it off slowly. Uncle Charles nodded to Devan and the two walked elsewhere. Devan realize the scene had attracted the attention of other family members who hesitated to do the same, whether out of fear or indifference. Relieved, Devan found a seat nearby. He immersed himself in the music and waited patiently for the service to began. “Brothers and sisters,” the pastor said in the mic. “If you can take your seats, we’ll begin our service honoring the life of Leroy Robert Johnson…” The eulogies were spoken by Devan’s great grandparents who he hardly knew. They spoke of Leroy when he was a child and teenager. They never knew him as an adult. None of the family members did. As the eulogies progressed, the family spoke of the man who had such promise ahead. He was their shining star, the boy who would become a basketball player in the pro leagues. The family was careful when they spoke of Leroy’s life, leaving out the parts that would’ve surely tainted his legacy. To preserve his image, they left out the part of the story where his brother had a child at age nineteen, his parents forcing him to marry a woman he didn’t love. Working towards being a basketball star was unachievable when you had bills to pay and a family to take care of, curtailing Leroy’s dream to work towards being in the NBA. By the time he got himself together, it was already too late and Leroy had become too old at twenty five to enter the NBA. This, Devan knew, is what led to his brother’s drinking. Without any other aspirations and having lost the one dream he had, his brother had lost the will to live. He became chemically dependent on alcohol. His wife was fed up with his disinterest in getting help and fled from him and her daughter. The rest of the family was nowhere to be found, seeing their shining star fall to Earth so tragically. Maybe it was their guilt that brought them here today. Jade never went up to the pulpit. In addition, Devan was never asked to speak either. The family may have wanted it that way, lest the two who knew Leroy the best would expose his skeletons. The daughter who watched as her father deteriorated before her and the abandoned brother whom the rest of the family tried hard to forget. The pastor spoke his closing remarks and the organ began playing again. The words spoken today were honest enough. Everyone stood and approached the pulpit for one last viewing. Jade was one of the first to approach. She looked at her father once more. Auntie Katherine held her shoulders for support. The line didn’t seem to move. When Devan looked over, he could see Jade staring at Leroy with those same vacant eyes. The auntie, unsure of Jade’s stoic posture, tried moving her along. With some prompting, Jade began to walk away, but not without looking back at her father even as she was exited from the building. Folks gradually started moving in line again. Devan felt his heart race as he approached the pulpit. The pastor stood to the side and locked eyes with Devan. The pastor hesitated, gave him a nod, and looked away. Devan’s anger surfaced as he recalled this man, back when he was a teen, offering him no support when he came out to him as gay. The pastor simply warned him, “Do away with your sinful desires, for your kind will be sent to Hell.” He felt sick having this man anywhere near him, but it would only be for a few fleeting moments. When his turn in line came to view his brother, his breathing stopped. There was Leroy. His face was made up like most corpses are during funeral services. Leroy’s face seemed unreal. Devan couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his brother and only somewhat recognized him. In a twisted way, he relished in the fact that he could see his brother once more. Devan took one last glance, then walked out the door. Outside in the open, family members were talking and comforting one another. Devan was alone, until he saw Jade. Jade stood speechless in between Uncle George and Aunt Katherine. Aunt Katherine kneeled down, talking to her face to face, but Jade wouldn’t give her a reaction. Devan walked forward, and Jade would see him. Her piercing gaze was locked on him as though he was the only one there. Aunt Katherine turned to see who Jade was looking at. Jade removed herself from her aunt and walked toward Devan. Aunt Katherine and Uncle George looked on. They stood two feet from each other. Devan’s eyes were filled with concern as he looked at Jade who wouldn’t speak. Without thinking, he walked up to her slowly. Her eyes widened, unsure of what Devan was about to do. He held out his arms, crouched down to her level, and embraced her. Jade at first, wouldn’t move. Then her arms rose from her sides and encircled Devan. They were the only ones who understood each other at that moment. No words were spoken as they held on tight. Taking a break from Jesse’s antics, Devan invited Stefan over to his place to hang out the next day and watch a movie. He took the day off work, citing bereavement, and kept himself inside. Stefan was hesitant to be in Jesse’s presence after their last night out. “This is really good, Devan,” Stefan said, eating a meal Devan prepared himself. “You really know how to cook.” “I can throw down if I need to,” he replied, grabbing his plate from the kitchen. “It’s cool to do something other than being out all the time.” “Seriously. To be honest, I’ve been needing to separate from the club scene for awhile. Is that fine with you?” “Of course, man. I don’t have much here, but we can make do.” Stefan noticed Devan’s drinking and interest in partying was waning, much to his surprise. It relieved him. Consistently being surrounded by alcohol and intoxicated men was a mix of maddening and saddening, though he never admitted to Jesse and Devan that he felt either of these things. “Have you talked to Jesse? Jesse’s been texting and calling about going out since that night. I’ve been telling him I needed a break, he was upset of course. He also said you haven’t been responding to any of his texts.” Stefan put down his knife and fork. “I don’t know Devan. Ever since that night, I can’t even look at him.” “You’ve been pretty heated about that.” Devan placed his plate on the table and sat next to Stefan. “Don’t get me wrong, that was really fucked up of Jesse. But, we don’t really know the full story.” “What else do we need to know though?” Good point, Devan thought. “I’m just saying man, I think we ought to talk to Jesse, figure this out. Don’t want to make any immediate conclusions.” Stefan shrugged at the idea. Devan rode hard for Jesse, but Stefan wasn’t entirely sure why. Devan began eating as Stefan turned back to the movie. A character had lost their life. A funeral scene appeared on the screen. The camera showed the interior of the church and when Devan looked back at the movie, he imagined himself there, present alongside these actors and characters. “Sad huh?” Stefan commented. But Devan didn’t hear him. Devan sensed something was strange. The camera moved to the center, showing the pulpit up front as it gradually moved closer to the casket. Devan’s dread crept up. He became afraid to see inside. Stefan noticed Devan becoming very focused on the screen. Torso leaned forward, hands clasped together. His mouth was agape, as though in a trance. “Devan?” Devan kept watching the screen closely. Eventually the camera would come just a few feet from the casket. To add to Devan’s fear, it was open and he seemed to be back at his brother’s funeral again. He heard a woman crying. The camera zoomed into the face of the character who died and, to Devan’s horror, the face was Leroy’s. Devan gasped for air as he threw himself away from the TV screen and his back slammed against the back of the couch. Stefan, startled, jumped a few inches away before leaning over to Devan. “Whoa Devan! You freaked me out.” Stefan tried to grab Devan’s attention, but Devan seemed trapped in his trance. A heavy sweat appeared on his face. He turned to Stefan, then rushed himself to the bathroom. “Devan!” Devan went into his restroom and threw up in his toilet. He dry heaved. When it ended, he flushed the toilet got himself up to the sink, and washed up. As he did so, and the water kept running, he felt warm tears release from his eyes. He looked himself in the mirror and began to cry. Stefan, hearing the sobs, entered the restroom down the dark hall. He approached slowly, reaching the entrance to the restroom. He first saw the sink halfway full, the faucet still running, and Devan crouched on the floor, sobbing in his arms. Stefan walked into the restroom slowly. He came down to the floor and spoke gently. “Devan.” Devan flung his head up. Stefan was speechless as he looked him. He saw Devan’s bloodshot eyes, his glasses sitting on the bathroom sink. The tears flowed like rivers down his tortured face. “Leroy.” Devan said. Stefan didn’t understand, and Devan could see it in his expression. “My brother...my brother’s dead. That fucking piece of shit, after everything he did.” Devan slammed his fist into the wall. “What’s wrong with me, Stefan? Why am I crying for him?” Devan continued to sob. Stefan’s hand unconsciously covered his mouth. He opened his arms and pulled Devan into him. And they both held each other, neither of them even thinking to let go. Stefan had Devan’s head in his lap, massaging it as he slept. The two were back on the couch and the sun was starting to set. The TV was off, and Stefan sat in the silence as he took in everything that happened. Devan’s brother had passed away nearly a week ago, and Devan was only now telling him. He wondered if Jesse knew? More than likely not. Stefan knew nothing of how to care for a grieving friend, but hoped that his presence was enough. Devan’s phone rang. Devan’s eyes shot open. Stefan grabbed for the phone quickly and shut it off. “Don’t worry,” Stefan said, “I turned it off.” Devan’s tired eyes slowly closed shut and his head once again rested on Stefan’s lap. “You’ve carried this for so long, Devan. It must’ve been really difficult for you.” Devan said nothing, though he acknowledged Stefan’s words. The silence of the apartment was calming. Stefan’s touch seemed to make Devan feel lighter and cared for. Devan had these complex, contradictory thoughts about how he’s supposed to feel about his brother’s passing. He needed someone to understand and hoped Stefan was willing to try. “Back in the day,” Devan began, “I used to go to Leroy’s practices at his high school. I never liked sports, my father used to give me a lot of grief for it, but I always went to watch my bro play. Whenever it was Friday, he’d take me out to get something to eat with the money he was getting working part time at Fast Paced. Leroy was the big bro every kid wanted. He’d come pick me up from school, chase the bullies away. He was my hero.” Stefan listened. He couldn’t believe this. He couldn’t understand how these two Leroys were the same person. Devan continued. “I know you and Jesse know Leroy based on his phone calls. But man, that never used to be him, Stefan. Maybe If we lived in a different place or a different household, I don’t know. There was so much more to him.” Devan swallowed hard. Stefan’s hands froze on Devan’s hair. “One day, my mother found out I was gay. She told my father, and all hell broke loose. He saw me in the kitchen, grabbed me by my collar and slammed me against the wall. My mother screamed for him to stop...Then Leroy came in. Without asking any questions or worrying about what our father might do to him, Leroy confronted my father and told him to put me down. Leroy wouldn’t allow anyone to hurt me, not even my father.” Stefan was astounded. “I had no idea, Devan. I don’t get it, what changed? How did he become who he is now?” Devan’s lips curved as he sat with that question. It didn’t seem so easy to answer. Stefan rubbed Devan’s head some more. “Leroy didn’t know I was gay when my father attacked me. He had already moved out by then. With our family and their influence over us, he was convinced that I was something to be separate from. He had so much promise, he couldn’t let his faggot brother get in the way of that. Even when my parents decided to kick me out, he wouldn’t let me stay with him. I guess he could never forgive himself for it, he was already going through so many other things.” Stefan assumed Devan was speaking of Leroy’s alcoholism. “Your parents, Devan. Did they really kick you out?” Devan nodded. He turned away and stopped speaking. His anguish, while still hard to process, had quelled. Stefan’s hand laid stiff on Devan’s head. He understood. He understood why Devan remained empathetic towards Leroy, despite what he put him through the last few years he was alive. He could finally understand why Devan always had Leroy’s back. And that was all Devan wanted, someone to know the real Leroy. Stefan said, “I wish he would’ve had the chance to see you now. He would’ve been proud.” Devan looked up at Stefan and appeared mesmerized. With those words, Devan began unraveling the messages from his childhood that sadness and pain were something to hide. His need to be guarded, his need to be a “man”, and to cover up his emotions, were no longer necessary. The burden was lifted. Devan looked out the window. “It’s about to be night time. Don’t you have to be home?” Stefan nodded. “I’ll stay as long as you need.” The sky begin to fade into darkness and Stefan never left.
  8. Chapter 6

    Thank you for reading, Parker. I was actually worried if I was writing a story that maybe lacked the lighter moments that every story needs to have balance. Your comment is noted. I definitely want to add more pleasant and healing moments within the story so it doesn't seem like the characters are living exceptionally difficult, joyless lives. Your feedback is appreciated :).
  9. Gone Too Soon!

  10. Chapter 6

    “Yass! A double shot of vodka cranberry for me please!” Jesse spoke loudly and obnoxiously to the bartender at Juniper. Stefan and Devan looked embarrassed. The group went out on a Tuesday night, an undesirable day of the week to be out on the town. Days passed, and Jesse has been wanting to go to the clubs and bars more frequently than usual, drinking more and more each time. While there have been interventions and pleas to keep him from going out so often, Jesse was stubborn. Drinking was another means of ignoring his relationship. If he always came home drunk, or stayed away from home, he wouldn’t have to explain to Nikolai his concerns for their partnership. Jesse would act as if the relationship would fix itself, or made it seem as if he wasn’t in a relationship at all. “Jesse, I think you should tone it down a bit,” Stefan said. “You’re starting to get the attention of the whole bar-” “Stefan girl, lighten up” Jesse said in slurs, “Let me just get my drink.” The bartender, appearing impatient, handed Jesse the drink. “Six dollars,” the bartender said. “Keep the change.” Jesse slid over a twenty dollar bill that fell down near the bartender’s feet and grabbed the drink. He walked off clumsily. Devan, Stefan, and the bartender looked at one another. “Sorry.” Stefan said as though responsible for Jesse’s behavior. “He’s...been drinking a lot.” “Yeah,” the bartender said matter-of-factly. “Do yourself a favor: take him home, or he’s gonna be kicked out of here.” The bartender walked off. Stefan and Devan followed Jesse to the VIP room, where he gulped down his cranberry vodka to it’s last few sips. Stefan felt uncomfortable watching Jesse become so inebriated. “Damn, we already finished the Stolichnaya and have to buy our own drinks? Ugh, Nikolai was being cheap today with this VIP room.” “We need to go,” Devan said. Jesse put down his drink, his face showing confusion and apprehension. “Excuse me?” Devan’s patience ran out, and he couldn’t hide his irritation. “You’re drunk, and the bartender is already talking about needing to kick you out.” “WHAT?!” Jesse became enraged and lifted himself from his seat. “He thinks he can escort ME out? Oh, I’ll show him-” “Jesse!” Stefan pleaded as Jesse was on his way out the VIP room. “Please, let’s just go. Don’t do anything you’re going to regret-” Jesse’s eyes swung over to Stefan. “Regret?” Jesse laughed condescendingly. “What exactly am I going to regret? Telling this no-name that he’s talking to the boyfriend of the man who’s responsible for that extra cash he gets in his paycheck each week? Who else is this nobody gonna get to pay their bills every month? You can miss me with that.” Jesse flew past the two to the first floor of the club. Stefan looked at Devan with panic in his eyes. “What do we do?” Stefan asked. Devan shrugged. “Let his ass get kicked out. Stefan was dumbfounded. “Devan.” “That’s the only way he’s gonna learn, Stefan. Jesse says he doesn’t like to be treated like a kid. Well, time for him to get a lesson on what being grown means. Let him fuck up.” Stefan’s worried expression didn’t leave him. He seemed unsure at first, but felt the urge to go after Jesse on the first floor. So he did, having a hurried pace as he went down the stairs. Devan watched him go. He then walked into the VIP room, sat on the couch, reached for his vodka, and drank without concern. Stefan got to the first floor and looked at the bar. Everything seemed to be business as usual. Stefan had a sinking feeling. He walked up to the bartender that Jesse had paid earlier. “Hey, has Jesse been down here?” Stefan asked. The bartender nodded. “I haven’t seen him.” Stefan was confused. He looked around the bar, first and second floor, and couldn’t find any sign of him. He even checked the smoke area, but had no luck. As he was beginning to head back to the VIP room, the men’s bathroom door was opened by another patron exiting and Stefan thought he saw someone who looked like Jesse inside. Jesse looked to be smiling. Stefan went over to the bathroom and opened the door. He then closed it shut immediately. His eyes must’ve deceived him. The image, having been etched into Stefan’s mind didn’t go away. Still in the VIP room, Devan was watching the TV screen. After taking those first sips, Devan grew disinterested in his drink and left it on the table. He saw Stefan coming up the stairs slowly. Stefan looked pale. Devan got up from his seat to meet Stefan halfway. “What did he do,” Devan asked, reading Stefan’s face. Stefan looked up from the floor and looked at Devan’s face. “He was...kissing someone in the bathroom.” Devan looked surprised, then laughed. “Wait Stefan, but Nikolai isn’t here.” “I know. It wasn’t Nikolai.” Jesse met Stefan and Devan who had exited the VIP room. Devan let Jesse know that Stefan and him were leaving and offered to pay for Jesse’s cab home. Jesse joked and laughed to himself as they stood on the curb waiting for the cab. Neither Devan nor Stefan even managed to make a smirk. Devan looked at Jesse with pity in his eyes, covering up what seemed like disappointment. Stefan didn’t even look his way. Jesse figured they must still be upset at his drunken antics and didn’t pay them no mind. When the cab arrived, Jesse declined Devan’s offer to pay for his cab, asserting that Nikolai’s card will pay for it. And he was off, back to the condo. Nikolai read a book in the living room of his place under a cream colored floor lamp. He sipped his tea, then heard a fumbling of keys at the door. His eyes quickly glanced there, then back at his book. Jesse stumbled in, a wide smile appearing on his lips. “Hey boo,” Jesse slurred. Nikolai didn’t look up. “Drinking I see,” he said, turning the page of his book roughly. “How’d you know? Haha.” Jesse laughed maniacally and wobbled over to Nikolai, planting him a kiss on the cheek. Nikolai moved his face away. “You reek of liquor. Go clean yourself up.” “Why? We’ve had some good times drinking before. Go pour yourself something to-” “I do not want to drink. Now if you’ll excuse me-.” Jesse pulled the book out of Nikolai’s hands so he could read over the title. “The Great Gatsby...haven’t read that since high school.” “Give me back my book, Jesse,” Nikolai said, his hand stretched out to receive it. Jesse giggled. He slid the book in Nikolai’s hands. Nikolai shook his head. “What is wrong with you? ” “I wanna make love!” Jesse said in a begging tone. “Let’s get you out of your clothes.” Jesse messed with Nikolai’s robe. For some reason, his drinking had made him starve for affection. He was hungry for Nikolai. Why not forget the shortcomings they have and fuck away their feelings? Nikolai removed Jesse’s hands off him. “Stop this, don’t touch me. I just want to read.” Jesse pulled himself off in frustration. “Do you have a problem with me?” “A problem? I told you I wanted to read. I don’t want to sleep with you.” “Why!?” Nikolai took his reading glasses off and looked in Jesse’s eyes. “Jesse, why do you continue to only sleep with me after you’ve been drinking?” Jesse was belligerent. “What? Okay, you’re tripping. Sex is sex, now take off that robe-” And before Jesse could reach for it, Nikolai blocked him with his hands. “I told you not to touch me.” Jesse pulled his hands away and rested them at his sides. His look of fury hadn’t dissipated. “And do you really feel that way, Jesse? Do you feel that making love to me when you’re drunk or making love when we’re of sound minds the same thing? Do you have the same feelings after both?” Jesse stared on. “Jesse...what’s going on with you? Please, just tell me. I’ll do whatever you need me to do. Please.” Nikolai’s pleading unsettled Jesse. He looked in Nikolai’s eyes and for the first time, he experienced a tinge of guilt. He saw what he was doing, he saw how he was hurting Nikolai. This man who he met on that cruise and made the decision to pursue Jesse out of every other man that was there that day. How Nikolai persisted through it all even when he could’ve went for someone else. Even when Jesse was at his most difficult to love, Nikolai stayed. Jesse thought to feel remorse, but settled for feeling nothing at all. “So I guess we’re not fucking huh?” Jesse turned from Nikolai and headed up the stairs, deflecting that part of himself who saw the pain he caused. Nikolai looked worryingly on, left his glasses on the side table. “Jesse, wait.” Jesse stood at the bottom of the stairs, turned around and looking defiantly at Nikolai. Nikolai rose from his seat and walked over to Jesse. He put his hands on Jesse’s cheeks. “Jesse, I love you. I love you with all my heart. I want to take care of you and I’ll give you everything that I have. But...I need to feel loved to.” “Are you saying I don’t love you enough?” “No sweetie. I’m just saying that I could use a little more.” Nikolai rested his head on Jesse’s chest. Jesse was unsure what to do at that moment except cradle it. The two stayed in that position for awhile. Jesse felt Nikolai’s weighted body press on him, like he carried a heavy load Jesse couldn’t or wouldn’t see. Finally, Nikolai rose his head up. “Get in the shower. I don’t want to sleep with you, but at least we can snuggle, hmm?” Nikolai kissed Jesse’s forehead and he walked slowly up the stairs. Jesse stood on the bottom step for some time as he looked around the living room, illuminated by the lamp Nikolai was under sometime ago. He walked over to it, turned it off, and followed Nikolai up the stairs. A few days later, Jesse knocked on the door to a room at an apartment complex he hadn’t been to before. A feeling of uncertainty and thrill rushed through him. A few seconds later, the door opened and the person he was wanting to see stood before him. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long,” Jesse said. Filiberto smiled and opened the door wider, inviting Jesse in. Jesse observed the place. Maple wood flooring, black colored appliances and dark granite countertops. A ceiling fan was above them, illuminating the space. A small television was built into the wall and a music video played on the screen. His eyes continued to wander as he said, “Nice place, my dear.” “Thank you.” Filiberto closed the door and Jesse got a better look at him. He wore a scarlet sweater and black sweatpants. Jesse thought he dressed quite casually. He noticed the once unfilled holes in Filiberto’s ears had been filled with small, black taper earrings. Filiberto also had his hat off, revealing short cut hair. “Have a seat on the couch. Want something to drink?” “Hmm, got any of that hard stuff?” Filiberto laughed. “I got Malibu and I got tequila.” “Let’s do tequila.” Filiberto walked to the kitchen while Jesse sat on the couch, it being a navy blue with a dark wood coffee table standing in front of it. Jesse relaxed as he took a good look at Filiberto’s behind. “Tequila huh? Are you sure you can handle tequila, J?” “Now you’re giving me nicknames.” Filiberto brought over two cups with a bottle of el Jimador. “Guess you didn’t get all the T about me, Filiberto. Had you done your homework, you’d know I can hold my liquor.” “Haha, fair enough.” Filiberto filled the cups halfway with tequila, and Jesse’s mischievous smile returned. Filiberto sat the bottle down, took a seat next to Jesse and brought up his cup. He gave Jesse the gesture that he wanted to clink. They did, and both took their gulps. “Mmm, so Mr. Filiberto, what made you think of me today?” Jesse asked. “You’ve came to mind a few times these last few days.” “Oh really? Well, if I’m being honest, I was thinking about you too.” Filiberto eyed Jesse as he sipped more of his drink. He pointed to the TV. “What kind of music you like?” “Reggae.” Filiberto raised one of his eyebrows. “I wasn’t joking! If you don’t have that, we can listen to R&B.” Filiberto smiled and turned the channel to an R&B station. “What R&B artists you listen to?” He asked. “I could go all day. Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Brandy, Monica-” “Monica huh?” “Yes, honey. Play ‘First Night.’” Filiberto pushed a few buttons and First Night by Monica started playing on the TV. “First Night...Is this a message to me?” Jesse laughed. “Well, this ain’t our first night, is it?” Jesse noticed Filiberto’s arms stretched out along the back of the couch. He leaned his body to the side, facing Filiberto, and began massaging his arm. His eyes traveled over Filiberto’s body. “Well Filiberto, judging by our last meeting and that bulge in your pants, I’d say you’re into black men?” Filiberto bit his lips. “I don’t discriminate. I know a hot dude when I see one.” “Good answer.” Jesse removed his hand from Filiberto’s arm and grabbed for his tequila. “Damn, you don’t take your time do you?” Jesse gulped his drink down and looked to Filiberto. “And I could use a refill too. I see you got some ways to go with yours.” Filiberto smirked and leaned over to the table. He grabbed his drink and finished it off. Jesse mentally gave Filiberto a seal of approval. “Round two?” Filiberto poured the cups halfway full again and the two clinked cups. “I was wondering,” Jesse began, “Have you played the homewrecker before, or is this your first time around?” Filiberto, knowing Jesse to speak boldly and without tact didn’t seem rattled by the question. He held his tequila in his hand. “No, I haven’t done anything like this before.” “Really? Have you been in a relationship?” “Once before. While in college. We were together for a year.” Jesse realized that was nearly how long Nikolai and himself have been together. Filiberto drank more of his tequila and looked at the music video playing. “He was the first guy I had been serious with. Cuz he was my first boyfriend, I was a little naive. He told me all this shit about getting an apartment together, getting married. He told me I was his first love, and I thought he was mine too.” Filiberto paused. Jesse cradled his drink in his hand, paying close attention. “Next thing you know, five months into it, a friend told me he was sleeping with another friend of mine. I didn’t believe her. There was no way this dude could’ve done something like that to me, not after all the things he’s said. “Then it happened. I was chilling with my friend and we heard some noises in the apartment above. We laughed about it. Being on the bottom floor, hearing your dorm mates above you having sex. It happened all the time. It was even funnier because I knew it was another buddy of mine’s room and I wanted so bad to call him out on it later. But...it stopped being funny. Unfortunately for my old buddy, the walls were too thin, and I heard both of their voices.” Jesse held in his breath. “I didn’t know what it meant. I got up, went to the elevator, and pushed the button to the next floor. My friend that I was chilling with was trying to convince me not to do anything crazy. And just as we exited the elevator, the door from the room above us opened. And out came my friend...and my boyfriend at the time.” Filiberto laughed bitterly. “I was so pissed. I socked my friend in the face and was about to go after my ex before the friend I was studying with pulled me away. Man, I was fuming. I was lucky not to get suspended. My ex-friend was too embarrassed to explain how he got his black eye, and my ex kept his mouth shut. I still remember it like it was yesterday…” Filiberto’s thick eyebrows furrowed. He wasn’t angry, as far as Jesse could tell, just sad, like he was back in school again, watching the man he loved slip away. Jesse put down his drink. “Do you hold it against me, Filiberto?” “What do you mean?” “You’re fooling around with a guy that’s in a relationship now. Does that not bother you?” Filiberto shrugged. “Naw. I don’t believe in relationships anymore. Guys our age, guys at any age, they cheat. My ex, he made promises he shouldn’t have made. And he strung me along like the naive little kid I was.” He turned to Jesse then. “You’re young, Jesse. You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do. I’m not mad atcha. Just know what you’re getting into.” Jesse looked to the floor then and Filiberto finished the rest of his tequila. “Next song?” Filiberto spoke, but Jesse had been distracted and took a moment to respond. “‘At your best, you are love,’ by Aaliyah.” Filiberto pressed a few buttons, and Aaliyah’s smooth vocals came out of the speakers. Jesse remained in thought for awhile, then noted the lyrics of the song. “Maybe not the best song to play right now.” Filiberto laughed. “This is fine.” He turned to Jessie. Jesse was staring at Filiberto’s lips. Filiberto turned his body towards Jesse and moved closer to him. He massaged Jesse’s back. “After we were interrupted in the bar, I think there was something we didn’t get to do that I’ve been meaning to do since I saw you.” “What would that be?” But Jesse already knew the answer. The two of them edged closer to each other and began to kiss. Filiberto’s hand grabbed for Jesse’s neck while Jesse’s hand grazed down Filiberto’s back. FIliberto’s lips were warm, the taste of lime and tequila lingered. Jesse separated his lips from Filiberto. “Take off your shirt.” Filiberto smirked. He pulled off his shirt slowly and threw it to the floor. Jesse just stared at Filiberto, who had a broad chest and shoulders. His belly looked soft and smooth. He had a full view of his tattoo, an eagle, on his right arm. Filiberto lifted himself up and straddled his legs over Jesse. They continued kissing, the both of them gripping and pressing against each other tighter, biting each other’s lips and playing with each other’s tongues. Jesse pressed his lips onto Filiberto’s pecs while his hands grabbed Filiberto’s ass. His tongue licked Filiberto’s nipples and his lips sucked each pec. He bit and played with them, hearing Filiberto respond with moans. He loved hearing him moan. “Fuck Jesse,” Filiberto said in a breathy voice. “You like that?” Jesse pulled away from Filiberto, and Filiberto lifted Jesse’s shirt off. He had that same hungry look he had in the stall at Sam’s. He kissed Jesse from the neck down, eventually getting in between Jesse’s legs. He kissed Jesse’s belly, and began unbuckling his belt, pulling off his pants, and seeing the bulge under Jesse’s underwear. The two grinned at each other. “You look like you’re gonna hurt me with this.” Jesse rolled his eyes playfully. Filiberto fingers played with the band on Jesse’s underwear before being pulled down. Filiberto grabbed Jesse’s member before inserting it in his mouth. Jesse caressed Filiberto’s head, bit his lips and resisted the strong urge to moan louder. Filiberto kept sucking on him and he resisted the urge to come. When Filiberto was done, he came up to kiss Jesse again. Pulling away, Filiberto was grabbing something from his pocket. He brought out lube and a condom. He opened the condom and gave it to Jesse while he took off his pants and underwear. When Jesse was ready, Filiberto straddled him again, and Jesse entered into Filiberto slowly. Jesse watched Filiberto’s face, whose eyes were closed and mouth was agape. Once Jesse was fully inside Filiberto, his hands caressed Filiberto’s waist. Filiberto opened his eyes. They looked at one another. Filiberto put his hands around Jesse’s neck and they kissed each other tenderly. Before Jesse knew it, he had passed a point he could never return to.
  11. Chapter 5

    I appreciate you bringing up PTSD, JP. You're perceptive. This is the beginning of Devan unpacking some past and current trauma that will be developed further as the story moves forward.
  12. Chapter 5

    These characters definitely have some challenges ahead. Thank you for reading :)!
  13. Chapter 4

    Yes. Chris knows to manipulate, especially someone he knows inside and out. Who knows what damage he's already done.
  14. Chapter 5

    Devan came in late from work. He decided against texting Stefan and Jesse to see if they were up, wanting nothing more than to sit himself on his couch and remove himself from the world. He sat on the cushion in the living room, turned on his TV, and started playing a movie. He heard sirens outside his apartment window, then listened to them fade in the distance. The darkness of his apartment, with only the light from the TV providing any illumination, was calming for him as he imagined himself falling asleep. Before he could do so, his phone rang. Devan didn’t get phone calls at midnight. He pulled it out and checked the caller ID. He brought the volume down on his TV and put the phone to his ear. “What?” He said. “Wh- Who you think you talking to, nigga? Don’t ‘wh-what’ me-” Devan could hear the slurring in the background. “Why are you calling me?” “Sh-shiiiit, I-I don’t need a reason to call your ass.” “If you don’t have anything to say, I’m hanging up the phone, Leroy. I’m tired-” “-he-hey, I’m warning you. Don’t be coming near me, my daughter, my-” “I’ve heard this before. Don’t call me anymore, man. I’m hearing the same shit everyday now. I’m hanging u-” “-Don’t be hanging up on me faggot! I-I’ll kick your-” Devan shut off the phone and stuffed it in his pocket. His skin boiled and he was restless. He shut his eyes with his hands balled up in fists. He sat in the same position for some time. Just when he thought he garnered a sense of calm, he heard his phone ring again. His eyes shot open. At that moment, he replayed in his head all the phone calls, the voice messages, the threats. The ringing in his phone became the ringing in his head. He pulled his phone from out of his pocket, not bothering to look at the caller ID. He rose up from the couch, squeezed it in his hand, and hurled it at the wall above the TV. The phone shattered and the ringing ceased. Devan remained standing, only to find the faint sounds of a ringing phone still held in the air. Then it grew louder. His hands enclosed his head, then covered his ears. He crouched down on the floor, his hands still cupping his ears. He stayed there till the ringing would end. “This one’s pretty cheap,” Stefan suggested. Devan and Stefan were in a cell phone store the following day. Fortunately for Devan, Stefan stopped by his place when he didn’t hear from him in the morning. Stefan handed the phone to Devan. “It’s not too bad,” Devan said, looking at the outer case without trying the phone out. He placed the phone down and kept walking around. “What are you looking for?” “Ehh, I’ll buy just about anything with a good price.” Stefan watched Devan looking at phones, lacking any commitment to any of them. Prior to breaking his phone, Devan had received an alert through his email. He checked it and saw the message: “Your account is below your chosen amount.” And with his wall needing repair, Devan could tell he would be strapping for cash these next few weeks. “There’s a lot of cheap phones in here, Devan. Try comparing two or three.” Devan seemed to only partially listen. He picked up another, a basic flip phone. He opened, closed it, then decided, “I’ll just get this one.” Stefan shrugged as he walked with Devan to the register. “At least you won’t have to hear from him anymore.” Devan handed the phone over to the clerk. “Yeah, guess not...” The two exited the store. Clouds blanketed the sky. A light rain fell through the air. Devan appeared miserable, and Stefan couldn’t help but wonder why. “You never told me what happened.” Devan kept walking forward, staring into the distance. “There’s nothing to tell.” “Devan...you’ve been pretty out of it this morning. Then there was your phone and that dent on the wall-” Devan turned to Stefan looking ferocious. “Can you just-” He paused. Stefan stared at Devan. “Just drop it, man. Please?” Stefan looked to the ground like he was being chastised. Devan took his eyes off Stefan and he started walking forward, soft raindrops pelting his face. Stefan trailed behind him for awhile before catching up. “I-I’m not trying to make you upset or anything. I’m just worried about you.” Devan was engulfed in his anger and his shame. He must’ve looked so pitiful, having thrown a phone against a wall like he was a baby having a tantrum. Stefan’s words hardly made him feel better, like Stefan was the parent consoling his son. “Don’t worry about me, Stefan. I’m sure you got enough on your plate.” Devan wandered around in the dead of night, the rain having stopped. Stefan and himself had parted ways, and he found himself traveling directionless across town. He felt horrible after blowing up on Stefan. He thought to apologize, but his shame got in the way. Devan looked at his surroundings and realized that he had stumbled into his childhood neighborhood. His old home had experienced neglect and decay. Once beautiful houses had been abandoned, forgotten. Overgrown weeds, dead gardens, and grass blanketed the lawns. As he walked further on, his parent’s home would come into view. The house would be to the left. A feeling of hatred had become him. He stood before it, his hands balled up into fists again. The home was unoccupied for it’s inhabitants had past sometime ago. The home was riddled with graffiti. Devan looked into one of it’s windows from the sidewalk, peeking into the room that was once the dining room. He became aware of a woman’s voice that played in his head. “And once you leave, you can never come back.” Devan felt a cold sweat trickle down his neck. He looked at another window then, this one leading to the kitchen. This time a full-blown memory was produced. He was a teenager, and large, calloused hands grabbed him by his collar as he was shoved into a wall. A woman’s voice screamed, “Stop it, James!” The man was beside himself. His eyes looked terrifying. The man looked as though he could’ve taken Devan’s life. Devan shook his head to bring him back to the present. He gave the house one last glance, then walked on. Devan would find flashing lights in the distance. Colors of red and blue appeared then disappeared. It was not uncommon for emergency personnel to be on this side of town and paid it no mind at first. He continued on, but had a foreboding feeling that made knots in his stomach. Despite the distance, it seemed as though the flashing lights were coming from the front entrance to another home he knew all too well. Once a block way, the foreboding became apparent. Standing before him were two police vehicles, a fire truck, and an ambulance. Everything was eerily still with the exception of the lights. Devan’s anxiety kicked up a notch. His movement seemed to be much quicker. Without thinking, he inched further onto the property before being stopped by a police officer. “Excuse me sir, emergency personnel only,” the police officer said. Devan didn’t fight the man, but stood still. “Sir, I’m going to only ask you this one more time-” “What happened,” Devan finally said. “Was somebody hurt?” “That isn’t something we can disclose-” “This is my brother’s home!” The officer was momentarily stunned before resuming. “Sir, emergency personnel only. Can you please move to the curb?” Devan realized his efforts were fruitless, but before he turned around, he noticed another officer escorting a young woman from the home. Devan watched the two come down the driveway passing between the patrol cars. The officer spoke to the teenager, who had her head down and didn’t seem to really be listening. “Sir, this will be my final warning.” “Jade?” Devan said the name so weakly that only the officer could hear. The officer turned in the direction that Devan was looking. Devan projected his voice further. “Jade.” The teenager looked up and turned. She stared at Devan. She had long black braids and wore a jean jacket, gray tee shirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes. Her body had been the average size of any teenage girl, bust, legs, and hips only beginning to mature. Her small arms were stiff. She had a vacant look to her, unblinking, like she’d been in a trance. “Uncle Devan?” she said, her voice sounding distant. “Daddy’s gone.” Devan and Jade stood on the sidewalk. Jade stared at the grass, expressionless. Devan was able to get a closer look at the girl. He could see that she hadn’t cried, didn’t exhibit any sad emotions behind her gray eyes. She had the same chestnut skin tone that Devan had. She seemed to have inherited his eyes as well as she wore black rimmed glasses. She had full lips she had inherited from her father with a piercing on the bottom right of it. He couldn’t figure out where she got her broad tip nose and assumed it came from the mother. “Jade,” Devan finally said. “Do you want to talk?” Jade held her left arm and began swaying side to side. The wind picked up. Devan closed his lips and folded his arms in contemplation. It was as though she hadn’t heard him at all. “Jade?” She didn’t look up. “I just came home. I didn’t see him when I came in.” She spoke slowly and precisely, practically robotically. “I walked upstairs. Then I told him goodnight. I didn’t get a response back, but I’m used to that already. I stayed in my room for a bit. I went over to his room. I was mad cuz the internet wasn’t working again. And then…” Jade trailed off and stood in silence. Devan braced himself to hear the rest. Jade never looked at him. “He threw up and...it was still in his mouth. He wasn’t moving. I called 911. They came through the door and I took them to his room. They were checking what’s wrong, and they said...he choked on his vomit...three hours ago...” Devan had no words. Jade looked to Devan. Devan saw how she gave him the up and down, then stared back at the lawn. Devan thought it unsettling to be unable to comfort his niece. Even his own feelings towards this loss seemed unreachable to him. What was he supposed to feel? What did he need to say? “Jade,” an officer called out. “Your ride is here.” “Ride?” Devan said. “Great auntie Katherine came to get me.” Jade said. Devan looked over to see a woman in plainclothes on the scene, talking to an officer. She appeared frightened, yet somber. An older man, likely Uncle George, sat in the passenger side of the vehicle, frowning and eyeing the scene. “Will you be okay, Jade? Are you okay staying with them?” “Yes, I’ll be okay...” The two fell silent. Devan looked at Jade hard, wanting so much to tell this girl that it would be okay, when it wasn’t. That he wanted her to stay with him, but understood he was practically a stranger to her. Don’t ever come near my daughter. Did Jade ever hear the way his flesh and blood spoke to him? Does Jade “know” about Devan? Does she care? The thoughts paralyzed him, and before long, Jade was walking away. “Bye, Uncle Devan.” Devan took a few steps forward. “Okay Jade. Hey, if you need anything, just - just call me alright?” Jade nodded. When Auntie Katherine saw Jade she broke into tears, her arms wrapping around Jade tightly. Devan stopped in his tracks. Auntie Katherine let go and led Jade to the car, where Uncle George’s elbow stook out of the car window. They got in and Devan watched as the vehicle drove away, the red and blue lights no longer reflecting off the car’s exterior. “Mmm, someone’s glowing today,” Jesse said, winking at Stefan. Stefan made a nervous smile and looked down. The three friends got together to spend some time in Fast Paced, a 50’s style diner with black and white tile flooring with baby blue and black booths. The Temptations played in the background and a jukebox that no longer worked sat in the corner for display. “Don’t be coy! What’s been happening with you? No call, no text.” “Sorry about that.” He said “sorry,” but didn’t mean it. Stefan couldn’t take his smile off his face, feeling a reassuring warmth all over. “Chris took me on a date yesterday.” “Oh did he? And what were you two doing? Being nasty I see…” Stefan laughed. “It was a nice time. We had lunch and fed each other at this lookout point. It was like our first date. He held me in his arms and we talked about our first kiss. Damn…” Stefan trailed off and looked to be reminiscing on his seat. The date made the night prior practically meaningless in his eyes, that he didn't bother to mention it to Jesse and Devan. As long as Chris was lavishing him with affection now, there was no need for them to worry. “It was like falling in love with him again.” Jesse shook his head. “Look at you getting all gushy on us! Mmm, I ain’t mad at you though. I’d be ignoring you two too if I had me a nice, fabulous date with a hunk like Chris.” As opposed to humoring him like he had in the past, Stefan’s face became serious. “Hey Jesse, you have a boyfriend.” “Yes, I know I do, but you have to admit he’s a bit on the older side, right?” Stefan thought that wasn’t the point. Jesse had chosen Nikolai and has remained with him regardless of the age difference. Devan, having been present this whole conversation, offered no words. “Being in a relationship is hard work, girl. You know this.” “Have you talked with Nikolai about our conversation we had?” Jesse looked visibly uncomfortable. “No, but what’s the rush? Anyway, enough about me. How are you doing, sulky?” Devan stayed silent, having hardly the energy to respond. “How has that flip phone been working out for you?” Devan shrugged, “It’s alright. Get’s shit done. That’s all I need it for.” Stefan looked at Devan with concern. Jesse rolled his eyes. “I also heard that your phone didn’t break cuz you dropped it in the toilet, if you catch my drift.” “Jesse,” Stefan said worryingly. “Naw! Devan came out with us but just wants to sit there and pout like his cat didn’t come home. What’s going on with you-” “I threw that shit against a wall, okay? My fucking broth-” Devan stopped in mid-sentence. An avalanche of repressed anger rose from within him. Devan had to take a step back and realize he was directing his anger at someone who was no longer alive, no longer worth wasting energy for. Devan was not ready to admit to his friends what happened the night before. He calmed himself and exhaled. “I got upset at some bill I needed to pay. I’m already strapped for cash, so I flipped out. I broke my phone, and now I’m using this.” Devan pulled his new phone out, and looked over it’s exterior. He looked at it with glazed eyes. Jesse seemed convinced. “Devan honey, if you're having money issues, why didn't you say so? You know I can get Nikolai to pass a little change your way." "Thanks, but no thanks. I'll be alright." Devan's pride wouldn't allow him to take handouts like that. If he needed the money, he'd rather suffer in the struggle of getting it than beg his friends for it. "Well, I guess it’s a blessing and it’s a curse. I bet you haven’t heard from that damn drunkard of a brother of yours, now have you?” Devan’s senses had overloaded. He watched Jesse’s mouth continue to move, but heard no words. He was no longer at the table, but instead, taken to a time when he lived in his parents’ home and his brother was still around. Memories started playing like home videos in his brain. He felt the inside of himself give in completely. “Devan?” Devan remained in a trance-like state. A touch on the shoulder would bring him back to reality. The hand belonged to Stefan. Jesse repeated himself. “Are you okay sweet-” “Bathroom.” The words tumbled out. He moved quickly to the nearby restroom. He went to the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. He started talking himself down and repeating phrases. Then he wondered why he was talking to himself at all. He had an urge to cry, but it quickly faded. He dared not cry, not for him. He stood there for who knows how long. He didn’t bother looking at the time on his phone. He lifted himself up afterward and washed himself at the sink. He left the restroom and returned to the table. Stefan and Jesse stopped speaking when he arrived. “Are you okay?” Stefan asked. Devan looked at them both. “Yeah. Just haven’t been feeling well.” Jesse’s eyes widened. “...Are you sick with that stomach flu that’s been going around?” Devan nodded. “You poor thing! We didn’t have to go out, Devan. My mama’s got a good soup for that!” “Do you need anything from us?” Stefan asked. Aside from not being alone, Devan couldn’t think of much else. He feared having only his thoughts to keep him company, and he needed last night not to be the topic of conversation. “I’ll be alright.” He stretched out his arms and patted Jesse and Stefan on the backs, forming somewhat of a smile. “Thank you, the both of you. I’m glad you’re my friends.” Stefan and Jesse looked at each other. Jesse shrugged, grabbed for his drink and sipped through the straw, laying his head against Devan’s shoulder. Stefan looked at Devan’s partial smile, and just as quickly, Devan looked away. Stefan thought Devan’s eyes were glistening. He felt a squeeze on his shoulder from Devan’s hand. And when he saw the look on Devan’s face again, watching him painfully bite his lower lip like he was trying to gnaw it off, he saw the look of a man who was trying desperately not to fall apart.
  15. Chapter 4

    Thank you of reading, RJ. Yes, it's scary to think about how individuals do this to the intimate others they have in their lives, and in Chris' case, someone he's had in his life for ten years. Your comments and affirmations are truly appreciated. Thank you again :).

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