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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
When you know something in your heart, but your world might fall apart if others knew.
To act or hide away?
THAT, is the question.

Submitted: February 02, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 02, 2019



I slammed the car door shut.
“Easy, Todd,” my best friend, Darren, cautioned me. I ignored him and took the stairs up to our flat two at a time. I heard Darren following me at a slower pace. We had just returned from a trip with a group of university friends. We were both in our fourth year of studying medicine. This afternoon’s expedition was supposed to have been a final relaxing chance before exams started in earnest. It had started out fine. We went to the beach to cool off a bit. There was this new girl, Eleanor, a friend of a friend who joined us. The third time she approached me to fish about Darren, I rolled my eyes and told her to ask him herself. Darren was good-looking but a bit tactless and ignorant when it came to women. So, I figured it would only be my duty as his friend to give this girl a reason not to just walk away when he first ignores her. I told her he liked her too. Big mistake, apparently.
She bugged him insistently. He must have finally snapped or something because at one point they started arguing from what I could discern. She pointed in my direction and Darren glared at me and shook his head at her. She left somewhat red-faced. We left too, soon after.
“Why would you do that?” Darren asked in the car.
I decided pretending ignorance would just irritate him further, so I answered truthfully, “Just thought I would help you out, buddy.”
“I don’t want your help.”
“Duly noted,” I muttered and pretty much shut up the rest of the drive home.

I unlocked the door and threw my bag on the floor as I entered our apartment. I walked straight to the kitchen – where else? I heard Darren shut the front door. He came around the kitchen wall, expression still grim.
“Are you really going to hold my match-making against me forever?” I tried teasing away the antipathy.
“Just don’t, Todd. You have no idea what this is about – you think you can just do whatever you want! Well, wake up. Not everything is about you,” he fumed and strode forward, “You don’t know everything. In fact, far from it…”
By now he was but two steps from me, eyes blazing.
“What are you talking about, Darren?” I countered, a bit irritated, but mostly flabbergasted. Darren never freaked out like this, especially not towards me. He took a step closer.
Then suddenly his lips were on mine.
My whole body stiffened. Shock made my heart skip more than a few beats. His face, so familiar to me, suddenly seemed a stranger’s this close. The moment seemed to stretch on and speed up all at the same time. Then my muscles unclenched.
“What the hell, Darren!” I shoved him away.
He dropped his arms at his sides, limp in defeat.
I opened my mouth to say more but could think of nothing to say that accurately described the turmoil inside my brain – anger, disgust, shock, confusion?
He shook his head and shrugged, almost sadly, “I just couldn’t hide it anymore.”
I started turning around.
“I thought you deserved to know.”
I clenched my fists.
“I didn’t mean to – ”
I spun around and punched him in the face.
I had caught him completely unprepared and he staggered back, dazed. The burning on my knuckles only seemed to worsen my anger, though, not dampen it. Darren wiped the trickling of blood from his mouth.
“How dare you?” he spat.
“How dare YOU kiss me!” I yelled back.
“I can’t HELP how I feel!” We were both yelling, I’m wasn’t quite sure why or even why I was fuming in the first place.
“Piss off, Darren,” I scorned and turned to leave.
He rushed forward and grabbed my arm, “Oh no, you don’t get to leave that easily.”
I tried to shake off his arm, but he held fast. So, I roughly shoved him back into the table. The chair clattered to the floor… For a moment we stood motionless…and then the fight began in earnest. Darren landed a punch in my abdomen, doubling me over. I stumbled back, took a shaky breath, then tackled him to the floor. Blows landed on jaws, stomachs and brows as we wrestled. I had always been physically stronger, but that day we were evenly matched. Darren was quicker and fuelled by a ferocity I couldn’t quite understand.
Finally, we seemed to both sort of give up at the same moment. We rolled apart and sat up waveringly. I felt the fight-lust trickle out of my system with every passing second. Beside me, Darren gave a groan and got up. As the adrenaline subsided, I could feel my own injuries start to throb. I rubbed the blood from my left eye. Damn, it hurt. The fridge door opened and closed and then Darren was standing in front of me – a bag of frozen peas in his outstretched hand. His other held an icepack to his bloodied jaw. The fighting had drained all the anger out of me – for now – and I almost felt the urge to laugh at the absurdity of it all – that best friends could bust each other up like this. But then I saw the look in Darren’s eyes. Not teasing, nor angry – but hurt. Hurt that I had hit him. Upset that he had hurt me back…
He dropped the bag into my hands and left. I heard the front door open and slam closed.
Well, shit…

It took me half an hour to clean my wounds and get the blood out of my shirt collar. Not because I was necessarily hurt that bad, but because every time I moved, my ribs ached and the cut over my brow kept splitting open and bleeding into my eyes. I pulled the stopper from the bathroom sink and watched the pink water swirl away. I cringed when I looked into the mirror. I had one massive shiner and a split lip. Not to mention the bruises I was sure would start appearing over my ribs and stomach by evening. Who knew Darren had it in him? I knew Darren was capable of fighting – he and I often boxed together at the gym, but he just didn’t have the personality to get into brawls. I had seen Darren handle drunks and keyed-up guys just itching for a fight at parties with more patience than some mothers had for their children. I had teased him about it, once or twice, but in truth I had always been secretly impressed. The restraint that took earned my respect way more than actually beating up those idiots. The fact that he had lost his cool today, told me volumes about how serious this predicament was. Ah, yes…the predicament. I’m not a good people-reader but I was pretty sure I knew what had happened. Darren was presumably… well, gay…and apparently interested in me.
Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, so I had no experience as to how I should handle it or what to do next. I had no idea where Darren had disappeared to. I hadn’t heard his car, so I assumed he had walked to wherever that was. I briefly thought of the possibility of Darren doing something harmful to himself but quickly dismissed the notion. I knew Darren. He wasn’t the type. Also, his state of mind when he had left seemed angrier than upset to me. Nobody jumps off bridges out of anger.
I finished, stood up awkwardly and returned the now defrosted peas to the freezer. I shuffled to the sofa, fell down and started flipping through channels without really taking anything in.
I wasn’t upset that Darren was gay. No really, my parents were both very open-minded people and we had one or two gay family friends. That part didn’t faze me. You are who you are, my mom always said, you don’t try to change me, and I won’t try to change you. What upset me was the kiss. Why would he ever do that? We’ve been living together for years. Surely, he must know that I’m into girls? His way of ‘coming out’ had been super inappropriate and I planned on telling him that. I suddenly thought back over the past few months, revisiting every potentially awkward scenario where I might have ‘led him on’ or behaved inappropriately. Sure, we slapped each other on the back now and then, worked out together and occasionally spent mornings in our boxers, but it had never seemed ‘excessive’ in any way… I promptly decided this kind of thinking was futile and concluded that if it hadn’t made me feel awkward then, it didn’t have to now. I cringed when I thought of potential times when I might have made a degrading joke or insulted some gay character on television. Darren was still my best friend – nothing had changed there – and I never intended to hurt him. I made a mental note to watch what I said more. I checked the clock. Darren had been gone for three hours now.
I jumped off the couch, instantly regretted the quick motion, and went to the fridge in search of food. All that punching and adrenaline had apparently left me starving.

Seven o’clock, another three hours later, I thought of Darren, not for the first time. Where would you go for six hours straight? He had left without his phone, leaving me no way to contact him.
 I had finished some work in the meantime and even did the dishes. I couldn’t deny the growing sense of unease in my stomach. Any trace of anger I had felt was erased by mounting worry.
I tried focussing on the anatomy exercise in front of me but found my mind wandering constantly. Finally, I gave up, grabbed my car keys and headed for the front door. I flipped through potential places I could check in my mind, refusing to think of bridges or police stations. Just as I reached for the doorknob, though, it turned. The door opened and there stood Darren – as bloody and bruised as when he had left. My stomach untwisted with relief and I let out a breath I didn’t realise I had been holding.
“Jeez, Darren!”
He started at finding me right there in front of him, then seemed to notice the keys in my hand.
“Leaving?” he asked scratchily.
“Yeah, I was just about to come search for you, you idiot. You’ve been gone for hours!” I explained somewhat scathingly. I hadn’t meant to sound mad, but as often happens when you get a fright, you come across harsh rather than concerned.
Darren blinked in irritation but before he could respond, I added a little kindlier this time, “I was afraid you’d gone and done something stupid.”
His only response was a surprised “oh” as the implication of my statement settled in.
“You look like shit,” I answered, unable to think of something else to break the slightly awkward moment.
He lifted an eyebrow – as if to say that’s really what you think the best thing to say to me right now is? I ignored his look and retreated into the kitchen. The wound cleaning supplies were still lying there on the counter. I switched the kettle on for warm water and fetched some more cotton wool from the bathroom closet. When I walked back into the kitchen, Darren was just pouring some of the boiling water into a bowl and adding antiseptic. I dumped the cotton wool next to him and took a seat too.
Soon the water was stained dark red. I recalled seeing him leave with an icepack and asked him about it.
“Oh yeah… Huh. Must have put it down somewhere and forgot it.” He continued cleaning dried blood from his hair and face. We sat in silence a while longer.
“You go to a bar?” I ventured. It’s what I would have done.
He actually smiled for the first time and answered, “I wanted to, but then I realised I stormed out without my wallet. Comes from being childish, huh?”
I lowered my head, rather shamefully, and retorted, “Well, I didn’t exactly give you a chance to go about it like an adult – punching you and all…”
He let me anguish a second longer and then sighed deeply.
“I didn’t exactly handle the situation in the best way either, so let’s just call it quits?”
“Sure,” I nodded, glad to hear some of Darren’s familiar manner creeping back into his voice.
On this happier note, I felt I needed to address the elephant in the room and so I quickly blurted out, “I don’t mind you being gay, Darren. Really, I don’t. That’s not why I punched you. You know why I punched you.” I gave him a meaningful look. He stirred uncomfortably. I continued, “So let’s just put this whole thing behind us and carry on, okay? Nothing changes – you’re still my best pal. Can we do that?”
He seemed genuinely surprised by my offer, which hurt a bit. He nodded with a grateful smile.
“So you don’t want me to move out?” he reconfirmed.
“No, idiot,” I retorted then added with a snigger, “You know I can’t afford the rent on my own. He laughed – and just like that, the awkwardness dissolved between us, at least for a while. That night we ate dinner in front of the television as always and spent the rest of the evening preparing for class the next day. I potentially had some hospital rounds to do, so I was packing my coat and scrubs when Darren walked into my room just before eleven.
“Todd?” he said.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“I just…”
I looked up from my backpack at his tone of voice. He stood there, leaning hesitantly on my doorframe, left eye turning a nasty black by now.
“I just wanted to say, thank you – for not writing me off, that is. You’re a true friend and I’m incredibly sorry I almost botched that.”
I didn’t know what to say but realised he probably didn’t expect something in return anyways, so I simply smiled and threw my box of surgical gloves at him. He caught it expertly.
“You have hospital tomorrow?” I asked.
“Nah. Just tutorials for me.” He threw the box back.
“Guess we’ll drive separately then,” I conceded and bid him good night. I felt satisfied at how everything had turned out in the end. I was positive this would be a minor bump in our friendship, soon to be forgotten. I finished up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed. Soon I heard Darren’s door close as well.
That night I lay in my bed, though, struggling to fall asleep and quiet my mind. Just before I finally felt my last tendrils of consciousness slip away, I was thrown by a sudden vivid recollection of the feel of Darren’s lips on my own, firm, sure…good.
Then, I slept.

© Copyright 2019 Alex Sanders. All rights reserved.

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