I hesitated at the door, my hand clenched into a fist, hovering just inches from the blue-painted wooden frame.  All the way over I had been resolute, determined that I would knock on the door, that I would see Seth’s parents.  I had spent three hours at home, sat in my bedroom, determined that I would not allow my guilt to get the better of me, but now I had arrived I found myself paralysed, my emotions overwhelming me.

 

A voice inside my head screamed at me to turn and run away, to flee before they saw me, but I could no more do that than I could knock on the door.  I was lost, just as I had been for the past week, trapped in an endless cycle of grief, anger and self-loathing.  Though I knew my best friend’s parents shared my feeling, though I was certain they were about the only people on Earth who could truly understand how I felt, though I knew they didn’t blame me for what had happened, I just couldn’t face them.

 

I didn’t deserve to be in their presence.

 

I dropped my hand to my side and was about to turn, to walk away, when the front door swung open.  My mouth fell agape, my eyes bulging as Mr Henderson appeared in the doorway.  He hadn’t seen me, his head still turned towards the living room, towards where his wife sat solemnly on the sofa.  I wondered if I had time to run before he saw me, if perhaps I could duck down the passage that ran along the side of the house, but before I could take even a single step he turned towards me.

 

Seth’s father took an involuntary step back, his entire body jerking as his eyes fell on my.  His hand swept up to his chest, clamping down above his heart, his eyes widening at the sight of me.  For a moment we simply stared at one another, he temporarily too stunned to speak, me unable to find the words, my mind blanking.  Back in my room I had rehearsed over and over again what I would say to him, but now that he stood before me I couldn’t remember a single word of it.

 

“Jordan!” he gasped, finally breaking the silence.  “You scared the hell out of me!”

 

“I’m sorry,” I apologised, slinking back from him.  “I didn’t mean to.”

 

“I should certainly hope not,” he responded, even managing a brief, reassuring smile.  “Well, that certainly woke me up.  What are you doing here?  Or, more importantly, where the hell have you been?  I had expected you would have been over here long before now.”

 

“I just…” I began, launching into one of my carefully rehearsed replies, but as I heard the words in my mind I realised just how contrived they sounded.  I would be offering him an excuse to appease him when the truth was really what he wanted.  In all the time I had been friends with his son, Gary Henderson had only ever asked one thing of me – that I be honest with him.

 

I could almost hear him saying those words, the words that had stuck with me ever since. 

 

‘I would rather you answered me with silence than with a lie.’

 

He’d spoken those words to Seth and I when we were eight, maybe nine.  We had been playing in his back garden when I’d kicked a ball through the greenhouse window.  In the two hours between the accident and his father’s return home we had worked hard to find a way to pass blame for the damage onto someone or something else, conceiving of everything from a bolt of lightning from the sky to a psychotic episode from the neighbour’s cat, but finally we had simply decided to deny all knowledge.

 

It took Gary just twenty minutes to notice the damage and just a couple more to confront us about it.  Of course, we both stuck rigidly to our stories, telling him we hadn’t been in the back garden all day and knew nothing of the broken glass.  He asked us over and over again, giving us both ample opportunity to come clean, but we stuck with our deception even when we both knew he saw through it.  Finally he fixed us with a look of undisguised disappointment and muttered those fateful words.

 

‘I would rather you answered me with silence than with a lie.’

 

For two weeks we didn’t speak of the incident again, but every time I saw him he had that same disappointed look.  Finally, when we could take it no more, we went to him, confessing the truth and fully expecting to be punished, but his response was more damning than any punishment he could have given us.  He told us that he already knew we had broken the window, that boys will be boys and at times accidents happen, but it was the lies that hurt him most.

 

“I guess I should have come around sooner, but I didn’t know what to say,” I admitted, bowing my head.  “I felt…I don’t know.  I just didn’t feel right coming here after what happened.”

 

“I can understand that,” he nodded sombrely.  “You feel guilty for what happened and quite frankly you should.  We all should.  Ultimately it was Seth’s choice, be we all played a part in his reaching that decision.”

 

I nodded, bowing my head even further, ashamed that I’d even thought of coming over.

 

“Come in,” Gary invited.

 

“I really should get going,” I muttered miserably.

 

“Nonsense,” he stated firmly.  “You are welcome here at any time, Jordan, but you are never more welcome than today.”  He glanced over his shoulder at his wife again before stepping outside, leaning close to me, talking to me in a low voice.  “Judy isn’t handling all this particularly well,” he said, nodding back towards his wife.  “She hasn’t even…she won’t even talk about him.  I don’t know if she’s blaming herself or if she’s just too angry, but she needs to deal with her emotions or they’ll eat her up.  I think that maybe it might help her if she could talk to you.  Hell, I know it couldn’t hurt.”

 

I wanted instantly to refuse, but I knew I couldn’t.  Over the years Judy Henderson had been like a second mother to me, at times someone I talked to more easily that my own mother.  She’d been there for me when Beth Carson dumped me and broke my heart, when my grandmother died, when I got suspended from school for fighting with Andrew Thomas.  Through every crisis and trauma, both minor and major, she’d been there, always offering support, a kind word or just a shoulder to cry on.  How could I refuse to return the favour during her hour of need?

 

“I’m not sure that I would be the best company for her,” I told him.  It wasn’t exactly a refusal, and nor would it become one, but at least it was a way to let him change his mind of his own accord, a way of telling him that I would most likely do more harm than good.  After the way I’d hurt his son I was surprised he was even willing to consider allowing me close to another member of his family, particularly one so vulnerable.

 

“I don’t think any of us are especially good company right now,” he nodded.  “Even so, you have always been like a son to us and right now I think that’s exactly what Judy needs.”

 

“If you think it will help…” I sighed resignedly.

 

As if to answer, Gary stepped back, beckoning me inside with a gesture of his arm.  I hesitated for just a moment before accepting his invitation, reluctantly stepping through the front door.  As I started to move further into the house, Gary caught my arm, holding it softly but firmly, keeping me from moving any further inside.  He tugged me gently, guiding me back a step, pulling me nearer to him as he leaned towards me.

 

“I need to go out,” he said in a low voice.  “I have to go over to the funeral director’s.  I shouldn’t be too long there – they just need me to drop off a cheque.  I was about to go and see if one of the neighbours could sit with her, but seeing as you’re here I would be grateful if you could stay until I get back.  I really don’t want Judy left alone right now.”

 

“Sure,” I agreed, sighing heavily.  While I was willing to oblige him I couldn’t help but feel as though he had trapped me.

 

Gary smiled at me before releasing my arm.  I watched as he turned and walked to his car, standing in the doorway as he climbed in, as he started the engine, as he backed out of the driveway, all the while feeling as though I was somehow being abandoned.  One when his car disappeared from view did I close the door behind me, resting my head against it and taking several deep breaths before turning, ready to face my best friend’s mother at last.

 

She was gone.

 

The living room was dark, the curtains probably having been closed for several days.  On the sofa lay a crumpled pile of blankets and a couple of pillows, clear evidence that either Judy or Gary had been sleeping on the sofa.  I knew that I could only conclude from it that someone had spent the night there, but something told me that Gary had slept there for the past week.  It became his residence whenever the couple fought and while I knew they were not exactly fighting there home was hardly a happy one.

 

Dirty dishes and cups littered virtually every surface in the room, several even abandoned to the carpeted floor.  It was fair to say that the house was a mess, dirtier than I’d seen it in all the years I’d been visiting, but given the circumstances I couldn’t exactly blame Judy for not sticking to her normal routine of twice-weekly cleaning or Gary for not taking the reins from her.  A part of me was almost tempted to clean for them, but I knew the only reason I was even considering it was to avoid having to talk to Judy.

 

I stepped into the living room, certain that she must have gone through to the kitchen, but when I heard a bang upstairs I knew exactly where she was.  Once again I froze.  I had agreed to sit with Judy, to stay in the house until Gary returned, but not once did I consider the possibility that I would have to go back upstairs.  The very thought filled me with fear, misery, evoking a memory I would have given almost anything to erase from my mind.

 

There was no way in hell I was going back up to Seth’s bedroom.

 

Not after last time.

 

Not for a long while.

 

At the same time I knew I had to.  It wasn’t just that I had promised Gary that I would watch out for his wife, it was also that I knew eventually I would have to go back there.  As much as I hated the idea of returning to that room, reliving the experience of my last visit, I knew that sooner or later it was something I would have to do.  Perhaps that was why Judy had gone up there.  Perhaps she was trying to get me to face my demons.  Or maybe she just wanted to feel close to her son again.

 

I climbed the stairs, but with every step the memory grew in my mind, becoming more vivid, playing out like a movie.  I was climbing the stairs to his room just as I had eight days earlier, seeing exactly what I saw that day, but the feelings I had were very different.  That day I had been angry, furious, in fact.  That morning my anger had been directed towards Seth, but as I had climbed the stairs that afternoon it had been myself I was angry with.  I had been picturing my friend’s face as I said all those horrible things to him, as I told him I never wanted to see or speak to him again, as I told him I wished he was dead.

 

When I’d said those things to him I’d felt justified.  I was livid, enraged by him, and at the time I had even believed I had hated him.  As the day had worn on my anger had begun to fade as I thought about my friend, about how much he really meant to me.  I had gone to his locker after my last class, but he’d already been and gone, departed for home.  I had walked slowly over to his house, wondering just how I was ever going to make it up to him, how I could ever apologise for all the things I’d said, how he could ever forgive me.

 

The front door had been unlocked when I arrived, just as it always seemed to be when one of the family was home.  I had looked around downstairs before calling up to Seth, but there had been no answer.  I knew he was angry with me, that I was probably the last person he would ever want to see.  I almost considered leaving, but something drove me onwards, compelling me to climb the stairs to his room.  With every step I had chided myself, scolding myself for every harsh word I had spoken to him, knowing that I had not been a very good friend to him.

 

Sure, I’d had every right to be angry.  Seth had lied to me, deceived me, but he hadn’t done so maliciously.  He’d done so out of fear.  I’d known that immediately, but still I had only considered my own selfish feelings, paying no heed to the look of fear in Seth’s eyes, ignoring how weak and vulnerable he appeared.  My words had reduced him to tears, but rather than feeling sympathy as he wept I had felt satisfaction, as though I was paying him back for some wrong he had done me.  Of course, that wrong existed only in my mind.

 

Regardless of my reasons for saying what I had said, as I climbed the stairs I knew I had to make it right.  He was my best friend, my brother, the only person in the world I knew with absolute certainty I could always rely on.  I knew that he had regarded me in much the same way, but I had shattered that image with my response, destroyed our friendship with a few harsh lashes of my tongue.  I needed to make it right, to mend the damage, to give him the support he had sought from me.

 

As I had reached his bedroom door, I had paused, my hand resting on the door handle.  I don’t know what made me stop, why I had hesitated, but for a couple of seconds I just couldn’t move.  Perhaps on some subconscious level I already knew what I would find inside or perhaps I was just displaying my normal cowardice, afraid to face the music.  Either way, it took me a few seconds to pluck up the courage to push down the door handle and open the door.  When I did I felt as though my whole world had come crashing down around me.

 

I paused at Seth’s bedroom door just as I had eight days earlier, my hand hovering over the door handle, pain erupting within me.  My head had been aching since I arrived, but now that pain spread through my body, nausea clamping around my stomach, a stabbing sensation in my abdomen and chest.  Even worse that the physical pain was the emotional turmoil I felt, the guilt, the anger, the misery, all emotions that were now familiar to me, but never had I known them all come at me so vehemently at the same time.

 

I felt as though I was going to be sick or maybe pass out, the world around me spinning as I pushed the door handle down.  I held it there for a moment, using it to support my weight, but then I released it, allowing the door to slowly swing open.  I almost screamed as once again I saw him, tears flooding my eyes, disrupting my vision as I gazed at him.  He wasn’t there, I knew that, but in my mind’s eye I still saw him hanging there, his desk chair lying on its side on the ground, Seth’s feet dangling over a metre above the floor.

 

My eyes moved upwards, climbing his body towards his face, pain tearing through my body as I saw the makeshift noose around his neck, a section of blue rope cutting into his neck.  I dropped my eyes, unable to look anymore.  I didn’t move as I had before, but in my mind I saw it all again.  I felt as though I was watching myself as I ran to him, throwing myself beneath him and pushing him up, trying to loosen the rope enough for him to breathe, but I just couldn’t.  My body was shaking too much, my limbs too weak to support him.

 

I grabbed the chair, snatching a pair of scissors from the desk before climbing onto it, frantically slashing at the rope in an effort to cut him down.  I heard him again, heard his body crash to the ground, the sickening thump it made as it landed, flopping limply onto the ground.  I saw myself drop down beside him, almost falling from the chair in my haste to get to him, my knee cracking against the ground, pain shooting up my leg.  I had ignored the pain, focussing instead on tugging the rope free from his throat, pulling at it until it loosened enough to slide it over his head.  I saw myself breathing into him, pumping at his chest, desperately trying to bring my friend back from the dead.

 

“Jordan?” the voice was weak, quiet, but loud enough to break me from the memories.

 

I wiped the tears from my eyes, clearing my vision enough to see Judy sat on Seth’s bed, staring at me through cold, empty eyes.  Once her eyes had been filled with life, but now they were dead, all emotion stripped away as her mind battled to cope with the pain she felt.  I took a step into the room, momentarily intending to go to her, but I held back, knowing that I had no right to seek comfort from her, even if that comfort was found while trying to ease her pain.  I deserved to suffer, so I stayed in the doorway.

 

“Hi Judy,” I said meekly, bowing my head, refusing to look at her.

 

“When did you get here?” she asked me.

 

“About ten minutes ago,” I told her.  “Gary said you might like some company.”

 

“Come here,” she invited, patting the bed beside her.  “I haven’t seen you in a while.  How are you?”

 

I entered the room, sitting on the bed but keeping a respectful distance from her.  Even so, she shuffled closer to me, moving over until she was close to me, until our legs touched, until she could wrap her arm around my shoulders.  I fought the urge to move away from her as I fought back my tears, struggling to contain my emotions.  I had no right to display any pain or guilt in her presence, not when the pain she felt mush have surpassed my tenfold.

 

“I’m doing ok,” I lied.  “How are you?”

 

“Numb,” she told me.  “To be honest I haven’t really felt anything for days.  I just…it’s all been a terrible shock.”

 

“I know,” I nodded, turning away as a tear crept from my eye.

 

“Did you know?” she asked me, her tone sharp.

 

“Know?” I replied, aware of what she was asking but stalling for time.

 

“Did you know he was gay?” she clarified.  “Did you know he was going to do this?  I keep going over it in my mind, trying to remember every conversation I had with him, but I just can’t recall seeing any signs, anything that would have given me even the slightest clue.”

 

“He told me that morning,” I admitted.  “I…I didn’t react well.”

 

“I can’t say that I blame you,” she nodded.  “I don’t think I would have reacted much better.”

 

“I wish…” I began, but the words caught in my throat as a sob shook my body.  I fought to regain control, struggling to suppress my emotions until finally I could get the words out.  “I should have done something.  I shouldn’t have been so angry.  Maybe if I’d just talked to him…”

 

“Seth did what he thought was best,” she told me, her voice devoid of emotion.  “Perhaps a kind word from you might have stopped him, but I think you need to forget about whether you could have stopped him and start thinking about whether you should have stopped him.”

 

“How can you even ask that?” I demanded, my head spinning towards her, my eyes filled with fury.  “He’s your son and he…”

 

“My son is dead,” she sighed, shaking her head as though to dismiss my words.

 

“But he isn’t…” I began.

 

“My son is dead,” she repeated emphatically, patting me on the knee before pushing herself to her feet.  “As much as it pains me to admit, he is better off dead than living as a pervert.”

 

I watched her as she walked from the room, my mouth flailing, unable to produce words, unable to say anything.  I was stunned.  I had always known Judy as a warm, loving woman, a woman who was devoted to her family.  I knew her religious beliefs were important to her, but I never thought for one minute that they would be more important than her own child.  As she disappeared into her bedroom I turned away, feeling a subtle mixture of rage and disgust, shame that I had never seen how heartless she could be.

 

I allowed my eyes to drift around Seth’s bedroom, soaking up every detail, seeking out every small object that reminded me what sort of person he was.  He was no saint.  At times he could be temperamental, even unreasonable, but he had a good heart and when it came down to it I was proud to call him a friend.  He was funny, caring, sweet, gentle and fiercely loyal.  Did it really make a difference to me when he told me he was gay?

 

As much as it shamed me to admit, it had made a difference.  My words to him had been spoken in anger, his revelation shocking me to the point where I couldn’t stop them from flowing out, but my anger was borne out of the deception I perceived he had perpetrated against me.  He had just told me he was someone other than the person I believed him to be and that shook my faith in him.  Though nothing I’d said was a direct result of his sexuality, I couldn’t deny that it did change how I felt about him.

 

I loved him like a brother and to my dying day that would never change.  His sexuality hadn’t made me think any less of him, but instead had aroused feelings of fear.  Fear for him.  As that day had progressed I realised that I was actually afraid for him, afraid for his future, afraid for how he would be treated.  Never had I imagined his parents turning their backs on him – perhaps if that thought had occurred to me I would have been more cautious in the way I spoke to him – but I knew there would be others who would abuse him, both verbally and physically, simply because of who he was.

 

His sexuality did change how I felt about him.

 

It made me feel more protective of him.

 

I just wish I’d realised it sooner.

 

As I contemplated my behaviour that day my eyes fell on his bedside table, on a small envelope resting against his alarm clock.  I had seen it that day.  I could remember looking at it as I waited for the ambulance to arrive, but I hadn’t attached any great significance to it.  Now I reached for it, hoping that I would find inside something written by him, something that would allow me to hear his voice in my mind as I read it.  I picked it up and turned it over, finding that the envelope had already been torn open, probably by his mother or father.  I reached inside, pulling out the letter from within and holding it in my hands.

 

For a few seconds I simply stared at it, too afraid to open it, too afraid to read what was written within.  Somehow I knew what it was, that it was his final letter, his suicide note.  I knew that reading it would only torture me, punish me further, but didn’t I deserve to be punished for the way I had treated him?  Perhaps if I had supported him as I should have he never would have resorted to such a drastic measure.  I needed to know why.  I needed to know if he blamed me.  I needed to know if he hated me.

 

I carefully unfolded the letter, lifting it up so I could read it, the tears pouring from my eyes before I even saw the first word.  As I read my tears came harder and faster, my body shaking as it held back the sobs that tore at me, pained emotions that fought to break free.  I forced myself to read it anyway, knowing that any pain I felt was well-deserved, that never would it compare to the pain my friend had felt when I turned away from him.

 

‘To my friends and family,

 

I’m so sorry I had to do this, but I hope you can understand.  I’m gay.  I’ve tried so hard not to be, but nothing I do seems to make a difference.  Mum, Dad, I know you would never be able to accept me.  Mum, I’ve heard you say so many times how God hates gays and how they’re all going to Hell.  I know suicide is a sin, but if I’m going there anyway I may as well go before I cause you any pain or embarrassment.

 

I hate myself and if I could change I would, but I was born this way.  I don’t know what else I can do to fix this.  Being me is just too hard.

 

Seth’

 

 

*      *      *

 

 

I collapsed onto the bench, my body and mind both exhausted.  I felt as though I had run a marathon and sat through a six-hour exam in the same day, as though if I endured any more pressure, any further exertion, I would drop down dead.  I knew though that I couldn’t sit around for long.  I had been walking for over an hour, an arduous journey made for a single reason, a quest for atonement that I could not turn away from.

 

It had been my mother who had finally persuaded me to do what I already knew needed to be done.  After my visit to Seth’s house and my conversation with Judy I had run hope, throwing myself onto my bed and sobbing harder than I ever had in my life.  When my bedroom door opened and my mother entered the room I had wanted to hide my tears from her, feeling shame that at sixteen I was weeping like a little girl, but I had neither the strength nor the will to even turn my face away from her.

 

She had sat down on the bed, stroking my hair until I calmed enough to tell her everything, to explain why my best friend had chosen to take his own life, to tell her all that I had said to him, to recount my conversation with Judy, to tell her about Seth’s note.  My mother listened in silence, saying nothing as I spoke, just letting me get it all out.  When I was finished she maintained her silence for a while, digesting all that I had told her, thinking before replying, before telling me what I already knew but so desperately needed to hear.

 

She told me many things, not all of them easy to hear.  I think the hardest part was when she told me how ashamed she was of me for my reaction to Seth, how she thought she had raised a more understanding and tolerant son.  I tried to explain to her why I had reacted the way I had, but even as I offered my reasoning I knew that they were just feeble excuses for behaviour that was quite simply unforgivable.  Before I was through I even admitted that I was wrong, that I had behaved atrociously towards someone I had dared to consider a friend.

 

I knew then just how worthless I was, how I had betrayed one of the most important people in my life, but even as the self-pity began to overwhelm me, my mother slapped me right out of it.  Oh no, she didn’t actually strike me.  She didn’t have to.  She never has.  She has this way about her, this way of talking that can have more impact than a blow to the skull with a sledgehammer.  With just one quick lash of her tongue she could silence me, rebuke me, reduce me to a shuddering pile on the floor or just make me see reason.

 

When she had finished saying what she had to say, when she and I both agreed on what needed to be done, she had offered to drive me, but I had turned down her offer.  I told her that I would use the walk to think, to decide on exactly how I would handle it, to contemplate how I would seek my redemption.  She hadn’t argued with me, simply helping me up, handing me my shoes and coat and escorting me to the front door, telling me that if I needed a lift home afterwards I was to give her a call.

 

Despite what I had told my mother, I couldn’t think about what I was going to do as I walked, my mind too busy replaying that day again, the conversation between Seth and I that morning.  I went to his house that morning to walk with him to school as we always did, but when I got there I found that he was already gone.  I suppose that put me in a bad mood right away, but when I found him less than thirty minutes later, sat on a bench on the edge of the school playing field with tears in his eyes that anger seemed to dissipate instantly.

 

I sat down beside him and threw my arm across his shoulders, but he shrugged free of my embrace, refusing to allow me to comfort him.  He seemed small, weak, scared, a timid shadow of the friend I had know most of my life.  It scared me to see him like that.  I demanded to know what was wrong, perhaps being a little too heavy handed, but I was terrified that something bad had happened to him.  I had watched his mood swings for months, seeing that he was becoming increasingly morose, but I had assumed that it was nothing more than teenage hormones.  Hell, I was prone to a few mood swings myself at times.  Besides, as far as I was concerned we were best friends and if there was something seriously wrong he would come to me about it of his own accord.

 

That morning, though, I could see for myself just how depressed he was.  He refused to talk at first, but I used every dirty trick at my disposal to force it out of him, to make him tell me what was wrong.  I used the friendship card, I used threats, I pleaded, I even got angry with him, but it was during that anger that he finally broke and blurted it out, announcing his sexuality to me and half-a-dozen others within earshot.  After he’d said it he’d looked terrified, looking from me to the others who had heard, knowing that by the end of the day everyone would know he was gay.

 

I can’t explain all the conflicting emotions I felt in that moment.  I was angry at those who had overheard him and wanted to threaten them to keep them quiet, but at the same time I was angry at Seth for having been so careless in the way he had announced it.  I was afraid for him, understanding the pain and fear he felt, but at the same time I was afraid for myself, wondering if others would think I was gay simply because I was friends with him.  I understood why he was so afraid to tell me, but at the same time I felt betrayed, as though he didn’t trust me enough to share such an important part of himself with me.

 

Above all, though, I was scared.  I felt as though the person standing before me, the person I had know for over a twelve years, was a complete stranger.  I felt as though I had been pushed out of his life, kept from truly knowing him.  I felt as though we no longer had anything in common, as though he had instantly changed into someone completely different.  I could see the pain he was in.  I could see how scared he was.  Still, it was the selfish emotions that won out, that forced my reaction before I even had time to think.

 

“You’re a fucking fag!” I had screamed at him, repeating his revelation and announcing it not just to those who had already heard, but to everyone within earshot.  “You’re a fucking disgusting fag!  Get the fuck away from me you freak!  You make me sick!”

 

I hadn’t meant any of it.  I hadn’t even known I was going to say such despicable things.  The words came as much as a surprise to me as they did to him, but before I could take them back, before I could make amends, he was gone.  I was shaking as I walked to my first class, pride refusing to allow me to acknowledge that I had been wrong until later in the day.  I had heard people talking about him, some saying how disgusting it was, but many more saying how they felt sorry for him.  It was when I heard the latter group that I realised just how badly he had needed my support, but that realisation had come too late.

 

That morning was playing again in my mind as I climbed to my feet, my legs carrying me the rest of the way to my destination.  I hardly realised when I entered the building, my vision fogged as I climbed the stairs, as I walked down the corridor, but as I opened the door to Seth’s hospital room the world suddenly became clear again.  It was the sight of him that brought me back to reality, the pain I felt when I saw him lying on that hospital bed, the remorse that seemed to consume me when his eyes met mine and I saw real fear in his face.

 

He looked even smaller than he had that day, so timorous and fragile.  We both knew that if I said a single harsh word to him it would push him over the edge, but it was only I that knew that no harsh words would be forthcoming.  Seth seemed to shrink into his bed, his eyes flooding with tears as he anticipated the abuse that would come from me.  I think perhaps he even expected me to help him finish what he had started eight days earlier, to end his life for him.  It shamed me to think that I had done anything to inspire fear in someone I cared about so deeply.

 

“Wha…what are you doing here?” Seth rasped, his throat still recovering from the effects of his suicide attempt.

 

I took a step into the room, but as I did so he flinched.  I stopped, wincing, wondering if I would ever be able to make amends for what I had done, if I would ever be able to restore his faith in me.

 

“How are you?” I asked him, my voice trembling as I spoke.

 

“Do you care?” he retorted, though there was no force to his words, no strength to his voice, just beleaguered resignation.

 

“I do care,” I told him meekly, a pounding ache building inside the front of my head as I struggled to find words to try and reassure him.  “I…I’m sorry.  I just…I wanted to…fuck…”

 

“You coming out too?” Seth asked me, a crooked smile forming on his face.

 

I frowned at him for a moment, but then I realised what I’d said and I found myself smiling too.  It seemed to dispel the tension in the room as we both grinned, his a broken, slightly forced smile, mine nervous and wavering.  “That’s not what I meant,” I told him with a nervous laugh, but no sooner were the words out of my mouth than his smile evaporated.

 

“I didn’t think you did,” he stated, his voice sharp and cold.  “I was just joking.”

 

“So was I,” I said quickly.  “Look, Seth, I’m sorry.  I really am.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  If you want me to leave then…”

 

“Have a seat,” he instructed, nodding towards the chair beside his bed.

 

I moved hesitantly over to the chair, no longer certain that I wanted to be in the room with Seth, but knowing beyond any shadow of a doubt that walking away would spell the end of our friendship.  He was angry and insecure, certain that I had abandoned him and worried that I would never be able to accept him.  I knew him too well.  I knew that if I walked away I would hurt him and once I did that his defences would go up.  He would shut me out of his life to stop me from hurting him further and never would I be able to break down that barrier.  I was lucky that it wasn’t in full force already, that he was even giving me the chance to talk to him and mend our tattered friendship.

 

I sat down, immediately leaning towards the bed, towards my friend, telling him through my body language that I still cared, that I was willing to make the effort.  He glanced at me briefly before looking away, turning towards the window to hide his emotions from me.  He knew that I could already see how vulnerable he was, but he wasn’t about to show me lest I exploit that weakness, use it to cause him more pain.  It hurt that he would even think he needed to hide his feelings from me, but it was my fault that he felt the need to do so.

 

“I…I don’t know what to say,” I said, bowing my head and frowning.  It had never been difficult for me to talk to him, but now it seemed almost impossible, as though I just couldn’t find the words.

 

“You could always call me a disgusting fag again,” he suggested bitterly, craning his neck so that I wouldn’t see the pain in his face.

 

“I’m sorry, Seth,” I replied miserably.  “I really am.  I don’t know why I said that.  Well, actually I do know, but none of the reasons make any sense and none of them excuse what I said.  I just…I’m really sorry.”

 

“So you’ve said,” he responded.

 

“I…I never thought that…why did you do it?” I asked him.  “Why did you try and kill yourself.”

 

“Not because of what you said, that’s for sure,” he replied, his voice cracking, a sure sign that he was close to tears.

 

“I hope not,” I told him.  I reached for his hand, hoping to connect with him again, but he snatched it away from me the moment my fingers made contact with his skin.  “I hope you know I was just angry.  It’s no excuse, but you should know that I didn’t mean any of what I said.”

 

“I should?” he asked incredulously, his head spinning around towards me, his teary eyes glaring at me accusatorily.  “How the fuck am I supposed to know that?  The way you spoke to me, the way you looked at me…you fucking outed me to half the school!”

 

“I know,” I nodded, resisting the urge to bow my head, hoping that if he could see my face he could see the shame and remorse I felt.  “You would be perfectly within your rights to tell me to go to hell and say that you never want to speak to me again, but…I’m really sorry Seth.  I know that doesn’t make up for what I did…”

 

“Not even close,” he stated.

 

“I just…can you ever forgive me?” I pleaded.

 

“Can you ever accept me for who I am?” he countered.  “Can you accept a gay best friend?”

 

“I…” I began to answer, but hesitated, knowing that I had to give his question more thought, that I had to be entirely honest in my reply.  He opened his mouth to speak again, but I held up my hand, silencing him.  “I don’t know,” I answered honestly.  “I want to say that it doesn’t make a difference, but…I know it doesn’t change who you are.  You didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be gay.  It’s who you’ve always been.  If it makes a difference then the problem is mine, not yours, and it’s up to me to deal with it.”

 

“That’s all well and good…” he started, but once more I silenced him with a gesture.

 

“What I do know is that you’re my best friend,” I continued.  “You’re like a brother to me.  Closer, maybe.  I don’t want to lose you.  I…I want to be here for you and if you’ll let me I’ll try.  I want to understand and if you’ll help me I’m sure I will.  I just…right now I don’t know…”

 

“You feel like I’ve been keeping this from you,” he stated.

 

“Yes,” I agreed, “but I understand why you did.  It was something you had to deal with and until the time was right…”

 

“The time would never have been right,” he informed me.

 

“No,” I conceded, “I guess not.  I know I’ve got no right to ask you this, but can you give me another chance?”

 

For a moment Seth said nothing, his face contorting into a pensive frown as he considered my request.  I thought that maybe he was trying to find the words to tell me exactly where to go, but finally he spoke, putting me out of my misery.  “Let me ask you a question,” he said.  “Why does it bother you that I’m gay?”

 

“I don’t know,” I admitted.  “I mean, I suppose it shouldn’t.  No, I know it shouldn’t.  It’s just…I really don’t know.”

 

“Do you think that I might fancy you?” he asked.

 

“Do you?”

 

He blushed, turning his head away from me.  “I used to,” he confessed.  “I used to have this crazy crush on you, but that was a couple of years ago.  What can I say?  You’re cute and the bond we had…I guess I just got confused by what I was feeling and thought I was in love with you for a while.”

 

“I never knew that,” I told him.

 

“Does it bother you?” he asked.

 

I thought for a moment, considering my answer once again, but I found that my response was easy.  “No,” I said.  “I suppose it should, but it doesn’t.  I mean…I guess…shit…I love you.  You’re the best friend I’ve ever had and…fuck…I’m not good at this emotional crap.”

 

“So I see,” he nodded, though there was amusement in his eyes.

 

“Git,” I grinned at him.  “Look, I don’t care if you like me that way as long as you know that I…I know this doesn’t need saying, but I just can’t…I mean…”

 

“You’re straight,” he finished for me.

 

“Yeah,” I nodded.

 

“You’re right,” he told me.  “It didn’t need to be said, but I understand why you said it.  Besides, I’m over all that now.  I felt that way for all the wrong reasons.  I’ve realised now that you’re just not my type.”

 

“Why not?” I asked before I could stop myself.

 

“You’re impossible,” he half-chuckled, half-coughed.  “You’re not interested in me in that way, but you’re getting upset because I say you’re not my type.”

 

“Not upset,” I smiled.  “Just curious.  What is your type?”

 

Seth hesitated for a moment.  “You know that guy at school, Ollie West?”

 

“Him?” I frowned.  “He’s a geek.”

 

“He’s kind of cute though,” he protested.  “I mean, he could do with some better glasses and maybe a few tips on skincare, but there’s just something about him.”

 

“Each to their own,” I laughed.

 

Seth smiled at me, fixing me with a long, deep gaze.  As I looked at him the first thing I noticed was that the initial fear and hostility I had seen in him had gone.  I knew that my words had not been entirely forgiven or forgotten, but both were well on the way.  The second thing I noticed was…well…nothing.  It seems strange to comment on noticing nothing, but it seemed significant that when I looked at my friend I saw exactly what I had seen before he’d told me he was gay.  I didn’t expect him to suddenly sprout horns or anything like that, but for some reason I expected to see something different about him.

 

Maybe I was just expected to look at him differently, but all I saw was the person I’d known for the majority of my life.  Sure, I knew something about him that I hadn’t know for most of our friendship, but did it really change anything?  Did it actually make a difference?  A voice in the back of my mind kept telling me that there was a difference, but if one existed I couldn’t see it.  He was still the same person, just one who had been a little more honest about himself, someone who had begun to confront his inner demons.

 

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Seth asked, shifting uncomfortably.

 

“Just trying to work out what’s changed between us,” I answered him.  “More precisely, I’m trying to see if you’re any different to the way you were before.”

 

“And?”

 

“I don’t know,” I told him.  “I mean, I don’t see any difference, but I feel like there is one.  Nothing significant, just…I don’t know.  A subtle change, maybe.”

 

“A change like perhaps I’m not hiding a big piece of myself away anymore?” he suggested.

 

I nodded.  “That might be it.  It’s strange.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about you, but…I guess we all have secrets and even though I may not exactly like this particular one, I’m glad it’s out in the open now.”

 

“Do you think my parents will ever come around?” he asked me, changing the subject suddenly.

 

“I don’t know,” I admitted.  “I mean, they love you and I’m sure that’s not going to change…”

 

“If they love me so much then why haven’t they been here?” he demanded.  “Eight days I’ve been lying in this bed and neither of them have even set foot through the door.  I wouldn’t even have known my Dad’s aunt had died if it hadn’t been for my cousin coming to see me.  If they can’t bring themselves to see me after I almost died then how are they ever going to come around?”

 

“I really don’t know,” I said, taking his hand and holding it tightly.  “I wish I could give you guarantees, but I just don’t know.  Maybe in time they’ll accept you.  Maybe they won’t.  Either way, you have to focus on you now.”

 

“How can I focus on me when I don’t even know what’s going to happen to me?” he demanded miserably.  “The doctor’s say I can go home at the end of this week, but I don’t even have a home to go to.  They’re making me have counselling, but if I don’t have somewhere to go they’ll probably put me in some institution or…”

 

“That’s not going to happen,” I told him.  “I was going to wait until…well…there are some things that need to be worked out first so I don’t want you to get your hopes up.  I shouldn’t really say anything, but…”

 

“You’ve never been able to keep a secret in your life,” Seth finished for me, forcing a smile.

 

“I suppose there is that,” I nodded, chuckling quietly.  “I talked to Mum earlier and I told her everything.  I know it was your secret to share, but…”

 

“Damn right it was,” he said, though there was no malice in his voice, just resignation.  “So she hates me too then.”

 

“Not at all,” I told him.  “Actually, she gave me a right ear-bashing for the way I treated you.  She also said that if your parents didn’t want you home you would always have a place with us.  Now she would need to talk to your parents first and I guess she would also need to talk to your doctors, but you’re sixteen so…”

 

“She wants me to come live with you?” he said as though he didn’t quite believe it.  “Why?”

 

“You’re family,” I told him.

 

“And you would be ok with that?”

 

I nodded.  “Absolutely.  Look, Seth, I won’t pretend we don’t have a lot to talk about and a few issues to resolve, but when it comes down to it you’re still my best friend.  The real question is whether you’d be ok with that after the way I treated you?”

 

Seth nodded, fresh tears forming in his eyes.

 

“There’s something else too,” I continued.  “I know we’ve got a guest room – your room now, I suppose – but I was wondering if you wanted to spend your first night out of hospital in my room.”

 

“You definitely don’t need to do that,” he told me.  “I believe you when you say you’re going to be ok with this.  You don’t need to prove it.”

 

“I’m not trying to,” I said.  “I just thought maybe you might need some support the first night.  Maybe the first couple of nights.”

 

“OK,” he nodded, forcing another smile.  “Thanks.”

 

“It is on the condition that you don’t try and make me gay, of course,” I said, grinning broadly at him.

 

“No promises,” Seth laughed.

 

I shook my head.  “Oh well, there are worse things to be.”

 

We lapsed into silence for a few moments, both of us lost in our own thoughts, me thinking about how close I had come to losing my best friend, he doubtless contemplating his future, his parents, his life in general.  It angered me that his parents could turn away from him so easily.  Sure, I had turned on him when first he told me, but they were the two people who were supposed to love him unconditionally, who were supposed to be there for him regardless.  Instead they turned their backs and left him to believe there was no one in the world who cared what happened to him.

 

It was going to take a long time for those wounds to heal, but I knew in that moment I would be there for him whenever he needed me, that never again would I turn my back on him.  So he was gay.  So what?  There really were worse things he could be.  He had never hurt anyone.  There wasn’t a malicious bone in his body.  I couldn’t deny that I wanted him to be straight for a whole host of reasons, most of them not selfish ones, but he wasn’t straight and that left me with only two options.  I could learn to accept him or I could lose my best friend.  Given those options the choice was an easy one.

 

When I looked up at him again I saw that Seth was brooding, his eyes darkening as he contemplated the pain he had endured, the way his parents had abandoned him and the difficulties he would face in the future.  I squeezed his hand, shaking him from his thoughts.  When his eyes met mine I offered him a friendly smile and though he tried he could barely muster a smile in return.

 

“Are we ok?” I asked him, making no effort to disguise the hope I felt.

 

“I think we will be,” he sighed.  “Thanks for coming, Jordan.”

 

“What are best friends for?” I asked, squeezing his hand again.

 

“Being pains in the arses most of the time,” he quipped, smiling a little more freely this time.

 

“I try my best,” I grinned at him, but after a moment I allowed the grin to fade, switching to a frown instead.

 

“What is it?” Seth asked.

 

“It’s nothing,” I told him.

 

“Jordan, tell me,” he insisted.

 

“Well, it’s…if you’re going to live with me, there’s something I really need to ask you first,” I said with a solemn voice.

 

“What?” he asked me, looking worried.

 

“We’ve been friends since we were four years old, so I need you to be honest with me.”

 

“Of course,” he nodded.

 

“It’s just…” I paused, fighting to hold back the smile that was fighting to break out, failing entirely.  “Do you really think I’m cute?”

 

Seth gaped at me for a minute, momentarily stunned by my question, but finally a grin spread across his face.  “I think you’re a real asshole,” he laughed, punching me in the shoulder.

 

 


 

 

 

You

You've read my story, now give me something to read.

Click the feedback button above and leave a comment in my forum.

 

Back to My Story Page

The Authors Haunt Author Directory

The Authors Haunt Library

The Authors Haunt Home

 

 

Stories, Poetry & Content © 2011 Rob Hawes

 

Site Layout and Graphics © 2011 Rob Hawes