Tibial sat again, on the hard plastic of the train seat, watching the scenery passing by. Yesterday it had been interesting, to watch the mountains and rolling hills fade into distant smudges in the background, to see nothing for miles except clouds, trees and large bodies of water.
Now, even that was gone, and it was all blue horizon sky, chasing the glittering ribbons of dark asphalt under the heat of the late summer sun. It was so flat and open. Different from what he was used to but not terribly interesting and Tibial felt himself beginning to doze lightly under the swaying of the cars and the gentle rhythm of the wheels underneath him.
He hadn't slept well the previous night, having to constantly rearrange himself in his chair to find a semi-comfortable position. He didn't fall asleep properly until the early morning hours when he found himself mysteriously transferred from his chair into Chad's bed. He had woken alone and found the bed's former occupant standing outside smoking. Mia had been quiet and meek, almost like she was embarrassed by the other night. She had offered a token, insincere apology that morning, which Tibial accepted with the same amount of sincerity. They were just play acting at civility now, both feeling the desperation of their situation. Mia was afraid of pushing Tibial away, afraid of being left alone and pregnant and Tibial was afraid to push her away, afraid that it might bring another rebuke from Chad, a rebuke which confused and frustrated him. Why did Chad care about his relationship with Mia and why the hell was he on her side anyhow?
Tibial had a deep sinking feeling in his stomach, someone who had the feeling they were about to get dumped.
Chad's words spoken in the jail--I love you, no matter what--seemed so far away now. They had been strong words, spoken in what was thought to be the shadow of a forthcoming death. Were they meaningless now?
I love you, no matter what...
Tibial rested his head on the glass of the window, continued to watch the scenery fly by until his eyes were too heavy to remain open. He had to make a decision. Soon, he knew or he would run the risk of losing them both.
* * *
After two days on the run, Chad wanted three things. Cigarettes, which he had. To paint, which hopefully he would get soon. Tibial, the one thing he wanted most of all. It was possible that he would never get to have him.
He took out another cigarette as he sat on the curb of a small motel in the middle of a small, quiet town, much like the one they had just left two days ago.
It was obvious to Chad what should happen. He was the only wild card in this equation, had been from the start. And given an ultimatum, like the one Mia had issued, given the right kind of push he just didn't know--didn't know if Tibial would choose him.
And if he did, would he be making the right choice?
It would not be the best choice to make, when one considered the circumstances. Tibial had a wife and a child, a family waiting for him if he wanted it. That was what Mia had planned when she broke him out of jail.
A wife and child versus an older lover and an illegal relationship. If Tibial did chose him what would happen, where would their future lie? Would they go down the same path again and again? Who would want that?
As if his thoughts had called the teen, Tibial came out and sat down next to Chad in the deepening twilight.
"Let me have one," Tibial said quietly.
"A cigarette. Let me have one."
"They're bad for you."
"You smoke them."
"You're too young."
"I'm old enough for you to fuck. Give me a damn cigarette."
Chad flipped open the lid of the empty box. "I'm out. Sorry."
Tibial sighed. "Me too."
Tibial grinned bitterly. "Hates both of us, I'm sure, but me the most." He stared at his feet. "She ordered two rooms. She said she wants me to leave her alone for a while, so..." Tibial shrugged, and then glanced at Chad out of the corner of his eye. In a quiet voice he asked, "Do you hate me?"
Chad glanced at him. "That's an unfair question."
"I know. Answer it."
"I don't think I can hate you. You know that."
"Do you blame me?"
"There's no blame here. I think we all made some bad decisions."
"I decided to come with you, didn't I?"
Tibial didn't say anything in response, just took a long deep breath, then stood up and walked away. Chad pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket, lit it and smoked as he watched the night around him darken into black.
* * *
Tibial tilted his head back, letting the water beat against his face and neck. It felt good to have a hot shower after being on the road so long. Relaxing. Soothing his body as his heart ached.
Chad had hurt his feelings. Again. But he supposed he deserved it. Chad didn't hate him, no, but he was angry with him and regretting staying with him. Would he have preferred Tibial letting him die alone, in jail, after running off with Mia? How could he?
Tibial washed quickly. He was so fed up with all of this. All he wanted to do was make everyone happy, make everything work out and no matter what he did; he ended up making it worse. Tibial felt so confused, didn't know what to do. He just ended up hurting other people no matter what.
Maybe he should just leave. Run away from both of them. Take care of himself and let Mia and Chad fare for themselves. But his conscience wouldn't let him leave Mia, his heart wouldn't let him leave Chad. Which is what got him into this whole dilemma in the first place. Mia wanted him to make a choice. And even though he hadn't said anything, Tibial knew that Chad wanted him to make a choice. Tibial didn't know what choice was the right one. The one he could live with.
He turned off the shower, dried off and pulled on his pants. His clothes were beginning to get dirty and he needed to buy some new ones, as soon as he figured out how to get some money. They were pretty far into the Midwest by now so maybe they could stay here a little bit, and Tibial could find a job. Or, if Chad wanted to go, Tibial could go with him. Leave Mia here if she wanted or bring her with them if she wanted to follow along.
Tibial smiled as he flopped down on the bed and laid his head down on the pillow. He had just made a decision, just like that. He chose Chad. Whether Mia would carry on without him or not was her decision to make, but Tibial had made his. He loved Mia, yes, but he loved Chad more. He loved Chad like he had never loved anyone else, never could love anyone else.
He had made his choice.
His choice was Chad.
* * *
Tibial wasn't planning on falling asleep. He had wanted to go out and talk to Chad, tell him that he loved him and he wanted to be with him, that he was sorry to hurt Mia but he didn't want to be with her like he wanted to be with him. He wanted to go and find him and start making plans. But he was so exhausted, physically and emotionally, that he fell deeply asleep when he laid down to rest for just a minute.
When he woke up it was full dark and Chad's hands were all over him, his voice hoarse in his ears, telling him to wake up.
"What?" Tibial started to say, but was muffled by Chad's mouth over his. Tibial kissed him back, his body already starting to respond to Chad's touch. He didn't fully understand what was going on, but at this point he didn't care. It hadn’t been that long since Chad had kissed him, touched him, but it felt like ages, felt like forever and now Chad was all over him, and it was everything Tibial could do to just take it in.
Tibial opened his mouth under Chad’s, tongues brushing and rubbing against each other as Chad’s hands slid over the teen's warm skin, down his back, over his ribs, down his stomach. Chad’s hands unbuckled Tibial's pants and they broke the kiss to pull them off.
“I want you so bad,” Chad said, his voice hoarse and strained. “Goddess, Tibial, I love you so much. So much it hurts.”
The pleasure that Tibial felt at hearing those words doubled as Chad's hands continued to explore, to touch him, stroke him. Tibial's lips pressed everywhere he could get them...Chad's face, his shoulders, his chest. Tibial held onto him, held on so tight his arms ached, kissed him, held him, moved against him. He wrapped his legs around Chad's waist when he felt that familiar burning pressure of Chad entering him. Tibial pressed against his lover, moaning and shaking until orgasm flowed slow and hot and sweet through him. Tibial kept his arms around Chad, not relaxing his grip even after it was over and Chad was stroking his back and petting his hair and softly telling him to go to sleep. Tibial fought it even though he knew it was futile, knew that sleep was returning, coming to steal him away. But he wanted a few more minutes awake, to lay here with Chad pressed close against him, feeling the slight rise and fall of his chest against him, their hearts thumping together. This was what he wanted, for the rest of his life.
"I love you," Tibial said sleepily.
Tibial stood outside, in the motel hallway, rolling a cigarette in between his fingers. He had found it, that morning, when he had woken up--warm, still tired and alone. He pressed it in between his lips, struck a match and lit up the end of it. He inhaled a lungful of smoke, coughed it all back out before lifting it to his lips and trying again, his eyes watering. The burn against his throat was a slim comfort but at this point Tibial would take whatever he could get.
The cigarette he was smoking had been lying on top of a sheet of paper...Chad's goodbye which had been short and cruelly impersonal.
Try to be happy with her.
I love you.
If what he was feeling right now was love, he never wanted to feel it again. Ever. He had heard the term heart broken before, but he didn't feel like his heart was breaking, not right now. He felt more like his heart was dying, slowly and painfully, growing sicker with every beat, spreading a poison throughout his body so that everything hurt, even breathing.
Tibial closed his eyes and exhaled smoke. Everything hurt, so it was better to just let his mind wander into that careful dim white space where nothing existed. No love, no pain, nothing.
He heard a door creak open and Mia stepped out of her room. Tibial glanced at her, and then looked away.
"That's unhealthy," Mia said, eyeing the cigarette in his fingers.
"Just gone. Left early this morning." Tibial took another drag on the cigarette before extinguishing it. He forced his voice to be steady. "He's not coming back."
"Are you sure?" Mia sounded surprised, a little skeptical.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Figure it out," Tibial snapped, surprised but cruelly satisfied with the venom in his voice. "He's left, gone, out of the picture, are you fucking happy now?"
"So he left and you stayed."
Tibial was about to respond that he wasn't given a fucking choice, that all of her whining and bitching had driven Chad away, out of his life, but then stopped.
Mia thought he was here of his own volition. That he had chosen her over Chad. Here was an opportunity. He could tell her the truth. Stop the lies. Stop the deceit. Leave her and find his own way, try to figure out if he could make it on his own.
Or he could let her think it was his choice. He could stay here and try to be a father, a husband. Have a family. See if the memory of Chad would dim and fade away. See if he could drown it in Mia.
"Yeah," Tibial finally said. "He left. I stayed."
Mia came to stand beside him, placed her hand tentatively over his. "Are you alright?"
Mia looked at him for a moment. "I know how you felt about him. I'm sorry that you are hurting. But I'm glad you decided to stay. It means a lot to me." Mia bit her lip. "Do you want to stay here for a while? I think we've gone far enough to be safe. We can find a place to live, get jobs. It can be a clean slate for us, a fresh start."
"Okay." Even as Tibial said the words, he could feel his throat snap shut, wetness developing in his eyes. He closed his eyes, pressing his fingertips against the lids, trying to hold it all back. The hurt, the anger, the frustration, the grief. Missing him, missing him so much.
Mia slid in against him, wrapped her thin arms around his torso. "I know," she whispered. "I know you're hurting, I know. It's okay. You made the right decision, I'll prove it to you, I'll prove it. I promise." She tilted her face up, kissed him. "I'll be the one to make you happy."