|He hasn't stopped knocking on my door even though I've told him to go away a million times already.
"We need to talk," he says. "Come on, bro. Please let me in."
I groan and cover my head with the pillow, unwilling to listen to that cajoling voice as it calls to me. My body still trembles from what I have just seen, my mind refusing to make sense of the jumbled images which continue to run in an endless loop.
If only I hadn't left school early perhaps I would have been spared the agony of witnessing such an event. I'm not sure what's worse - actually seeing them or knowing that they had been using that couch in our living room as a place for their activities. What would mom say if she found out about that? What would mom and dad say if they found out about...him?
"Please open the door," he's saying, and I detect the slight desperation in his tone. "Won't you hear me out at least? Come on, Jakey. You're the only one I can trust now. I'm...I'm scared alright and I need to talk to someone. Please Jakey...wanna hear me out now?"
I sit up slowly, staring at the door as if hoping the incessant knocking will stop and he'd just go away. But how can I ignore him? How can I say 'no' to a guy who's been my role model growing up? Hell, I still want to be like him when I get older. He's always been the cool one - a great soccer player with tons of awards to his credit. He's smart and gets good grades. He has tons of friends who love to hang out with him and yet he always makes time for me – his 'annoying' little brother. He never gets too mad with me even when I know I'm being a pain in the ass and he's always helped me out of troubles I have gotten into. He sticks up for me most of the time and makes me look so much cooler than I really am in front of my friends.
So why? Why did he have to go and do something like this to ruin that image?
I scrub my eyes quickly and take a deep breath. I can't ignore him forever and I'm sure he'll find a way to get into my room anyway.
"It's open," I mutter and promptly lay back on my bed, reaching for some comic beside me to feign interest in. I hear him make his way in, my heart pounding loudly within my chest as the door closes behind him. Suddenly, I feel afraid even though I know it's silly to feel that way. I can feel his gaze on me and my cheeks burn behind the shield of the comic book, wondering what he sees and what he plans to do now.
"Must be really interesting," he says, the mattress dipping beneath his weight as he sits at the foot of the bed.
"Yes, it is." I'm ashamed to hear my trembling high-pitched voice. I sound like a frightened twelve-year old!
"...since you're reading it upside down."
Blushing to the roots of my hair, I turn the comic book the right side up and force myself to continue, only to yelp a little as he takes it away from me. I sit up quickly, hands outstretched in near desperation.
"Give it back, Jared! I was reading that...!"
"We have to talk, right?" he says with a small smile, those blue eyes of his filled with an emotion I can't quite explain. "I know you're confused..."
"Like hell I'm confused!" I suddenly yell back, unable to stop myself even if I tried. My eyes are burning again and I swear if I start crying, it's going to be the most embarrassing moment of my life. "Why, Jared? Huh? Why? I thought you were into...that you liked...what about Amy, huh?! Don't you like her anymore? Did she do something to make you...change?"
"I don't get it! I don't get it at all! You're not supposed to be like that, Jared! You're supposed to be perfect!" Damn, the tears won't stop. "How could you do something like that, huh? Why did you have to go fuck everything up?!"
"Don't touch me!" I scream, scrambling away from him and suddenly wishing I hadn't. The pained look in his eyes is like a dagger being thrust into my heart. But I can't help it. I just can't. To think he'd touch me with those hands...those hands which he used on that bastard! I can't deal with it!
"I'm sorry," he finally mutters as he lowers his hands and clenches them into tight fists. "But I don't want you running away from me, Jakey. It's still me. I haven't changed at all. Just because I...you saw..."
"How long? How long have you been hiding it?"
He lowers his head and then runs fingers through his hair - a thick mass of raven locks which add to his charm and appeal. "It's been two months now..."
I die a little inside. "Two...two months?" I croak weakly. "You've been with that...for two months?"
"Believe me when I say it just...happened, Jakey." He looks at me again, his eyes pleading for my support and understanding. "It's not like I've been hiding it for years and years and suddenly just came out with it, but..."
"Mom will have a bird," I mutter slowly. I feel dazed, disoriented...lost.
"I know but..."
"Dad will flip."
"Jakey, I know that but..."
"All your friends...what will they think?"
"I don't really care what they think. I don't care what anyone thinks to be honest."
I lift my gaze to his, surprised to find him looking determined and yet scared at the same time. "Jared..."
"I'm gonna tell mom and dad tonight," he says, giving me a smile that looks more like a grimace in my opinion. "I know they're not gonna take it too well but it's a chance I'll just have to take."
"Don't do it! Dad...Dad will kill you!"
"I can't keep hiding it forever, Jakey," he says quietly. "Living a lie is going to be so much worse, believe me."
"You can't," I whisper, my voice breaking as I lower my head in misery. "You just can't..."
"Yes, I can, Jakey, and maybe one day you'll come to understand my feelings too."
Before I can stop him, he moves closer to me again. He wants to hug me but I cringe and press myself against the headboard, shaking my head rapidly, seeing those arms – arms that I had always thought strong and capable – now wrapped around another man's waist. I can't let him touch me anymore. He's tainted now. He's no longer the perfect older brother I've always thought he had been.
"Jakey...please...just for a second. I need you..."
"No! Go to him then!" I cry, pushing him away from me. "Go to him! Let him give you all the hugs you need! Don't touch me! Ever!"
I can't look. I can't look into that face that's now filled with an incredibly deep sadness. I can't bear to listen to his harsh intake of breath, the choked sob that escapes his lips as he pulls away from me. Suddenly I feel cold – a deep bone-chilling cold that makes me shiver uncontrollably. I can hear him rising to his feet just as the garage door opens to let in my parents' car. They are back and now the real test begins.
"I thought..." Jared begins in a voice that's barely audible, but I can still hear it and the words will continue to haunt me for as long as I live. "I thought you of all people would understand me, Jakey."
He leaves my room with a quiet click of the door behind him but I'm still wound up like a wire, still shivering, my ears straining to listen to the conversation that's about to take place – if it does happen at all. I expect he'll wait till dinner to tell my parents the news and I try to force myself to relax. Perhaps I can persuade him to change his mind by then, to make him see that this is all just one big mistake. Am I being selfish in wanting my brother all to myself? Perhaps. He's the only one I've got and I can't bear to think that I'd lose him to another guy!
Realizing that the heavy sensation in the pit of my stomach is my urgent need to pee, I begin to swing my legs off the bed, only to feel my balls shrivel in fear as the first piercing scream is heard.
It's quickly followed by my father's deep bellow of rage. Now voices are being raised – my father's and Jared's (oh how similar they sound when angry) – something being smashed, my mother's harsh sobbing, some more bitter words exchanged and then footsteps pounding up the stairs. I remain frozen on my bed, my bladder nearly bursting with the urge to release its contents and yet I'm too terrified to make a move. I don't want to go out there. I don't want to see the bitter war that's being waged over Jared's decision. I stiffen as I hear footsteps outside my door, my heart pounding fiercely, my palms sweaty, my breathing becoming more constricted and painful by the second. But to my relief they move on and the subsequent slam of Jared's bedroom door tells me that he's locked himself inside.
I can breathe again but like the coward I am, I refuse to leave my bed. I'll just have to hold this in for as long as I can.
I don't want to see anyone. I don't want to think of anything. I just want to forget this day had ever happened. Perhaps if I fall asleep and open my eyes later, things will be back to normal. Jared will be straight again and we will all hang out and have fun like we usually do. I crawl beneath my blanket and cover myself from head to toe, trying my best to block out the incessant pounding on Jared's door.
My parents want to speak to him but like me, he's doing his best to ignore them.
When I eventually open my eyes, it's dark outside. My only source of light comes from the streetlamp outside my window and it only causes my room to look like a mishmash of shadows and shapes. I sit up slowly and rub my eyes, feel my stomach cramp up in pain and quickly scramble out of bed to go to the bathroom.
The silence in the house is thick and suffocating, and as I take a quick peek out my door and down the hallway, there's no sign of anything out of place. For a moment, I entertain the thought of the events of the afternoon as being nothing but a dream and feel a small smile of relief on my features as I make my way to the bathroom and finally relieve myself.
As I wash my face and hands, I realize that perhaps falling asleep was the best thing yet. I feel level-headed now and can think more clearly. I suddenly have the urge to see Jared tonight and even though I know how much he hates to be bothered when asleep, I just want to sit and talk with him, to be sure that he hasn't actually 'changed' his ways. He'll probably tell me it's all just one big joke and he was just messing around with us.
I walk silently down the hallway, my bare feet noiseless on the carpeted floor. I stop before his door and hold my breath, licking my suddenly dry lips and forcing moisture into my parched throat. What if he doesn't want to speak to me? What if he hates me now for pushing him away earlier?
No, no, no! It was all a dream, right? A joke! And besides, Jared won't...he couldn't ignore me forever, could he?
I press my ear against the door, perhaps hoping to hear the familiar low humming sound of his computer or some song playing on his radio, although it would be at its lowest volume, or that familiar snore of his. But the longer I listen, the more uneasy I begin to feel. There's an unusual silence in the room and it's beginning to worry me a lot.
"Jared?" I whisper against the solid wood of his door. "Jared? Are you in there? Are you awake? Jared?"
Even as I speak, my fingers are tightening around the doorknob and twisting slowly, aware that not knocking is bound to get me a good scolding or a cuff to the head...IF he's still in there that is.
Of course he's in there! Where the hell would he go?!
"Jared...?" The door opens slowly (a part of me wishes it would have been locked) and I hold my breath, waiting for him to pounce out of the shadows or to lift his head from the pillows to tell me to 'get the fuck out of his room!' But tonight, there is nothing – nothing besides the cold draft from his open window...
(First warning bell goes off in my head. Jared HATES sleeping with his window open)
...his neat bed...
(Second warning bell...for all his achievements, Jared is not exactly the neatest guy in the world)
...his shut-down computer and a silent radio. I stand like a zombie in the middle of the room, my mouth becoming drier by the second, my heartbeat racing faster and pounding harder, my eyes burning, stinging with the tears which are bound to fall soon.
No! No, it can't be!
I run to his bed and pull off the blankets and pillows. He's got to be hiding in here somewhere! He's fucking with me that's what! He thinks he can pull this stunt and get away with it, but he's joking! He's got to be joking! My breathing harsh and rapid, I fall to my knees and search beneath the bed.
Dashing to his closet to open it, my eyes scan the rows of shirts and pants. I can see a few clothes have been taken out of it and looking at the top shelf, that black carry-all bag of his is no longer there either.
No! He's just fucking with me! He's got to be!
I run to the window and stick my head out, the cold night air like a thousand icy needles against my fevered skin. Looking down at the crushed bed of flowers – flowers that were my mother's pride and joy - the broken stems and leaves are an obvious blow to her creativity and hard work, a sign that things have really come to a painful end.
No...oh God no!
Sliding to the floor, a low miserable moan of suffering escapes my lips as I curl up in a fetal position and squeeze my eyes shut. He's gone. I know that now. It would be stupid and childish of me to assume that he's somewhere else in the house, in the basement perhaps, hiding away and licking his wounds. But I know better. I know that when Jared Sawyer sets his mind to something he sticks with it and damn the consequences.
But what about me, huh? What do I do now? What can I do without you?
Without Jared, I'll become invisible. I've always basked in his glow, content to follow his shadow and to walk in his footsteps for as long as he'd let me. He was my shield, someone I could always rely on when things didn't go my way. Without him, I'll become a husk, an empty shell of my former self. I'll become a nobody again – going to school and not recognized as 'Jared's kid brother' anymore since there's no Jared to be compared to now. My parents will go through the motions of taking care of me but they won't care as much. Oh, they love me just enough but they've always loved Jared more in my opinion. With him gone, I know my life is going to be a living hell. This house will no longer be the same and I know that deep down inside, I'll always blame myself for it.
"You couldn't even say goodbye, you jerk," I whisper in the silence, needing to muster some anger at him for what he's done but even that seems like a weak excuse to me for I have the feeling that he did come to see me one last time. But it was a dream – the door to my room being opened quietly, his shadow lurking as he watches me for a long time, his hesitation as if wondering if he ought to come in or not – an inner struggle with himself, before he shakes his head slowly and closes the door again. Yes, it had been a part of my dream.
On my hands and knees, still crying silently, I crawl into his bed and pull the blankets around me, inhaling his scent while wishing and praying to God that he'd return soon. When he does, I'll ask him to forgive me for my actions today. I'll let him hug me for as long as he wants. I'll let him talk for hours and I'll never interrupt and call him boring. I'll even let him steal some of my comic books – as many of them as he wants. I'll let him call me a dork or jackass whenever I piss him off. I promise not to tattle on him when he steals an extra piece of mom's cake. I'll help him wash his car when he's dead tired after school. I'll go see him at his job at the supermarket and keep him company if he wants. I'll let him beat me at the combat video game he so sucks at. I'll continue to play any sport he wants, even though he makes me look like a wimp most of the time.
I'll let –
I'll let him –
I'll let him be a big brother to me again.
I'll become the best little brother he's ever had.
I'll finally tell him how much I really, really do love him, and that even though it's going to take a while to get used to, I just might be able to come to terms with his choice in partners.
I'll do that and so much more,
If only, if only, dear God, if only you bring him back home, safe and sound to me.