He honestly never meant to be someone reminiscent of a stalker. It just happened. Feelings make people do things they wouldn’t normally do, and Rylan had been the host to a multitude of them over the past months.
But never had he ever met someone like Aiden. Someone who manifested genuine feelings.
Of course, that was not to discredit everything in life he had shared with Fiona. She was his best friend, more emphasis on the “was” these days. Being with Fiona had broadened his interests and his capabilities in more ways than he ever thought, something he’d never be able to thank her for enough. What was missing with her was that feeling. The one he knew would burn inside his heart until the flame grew larger. Fiona was comfortable to him, but Aiden had made him see the spectrum of life.
Aiden also made him see the cat in the middle of the road just before narrowly hitting it. Aiden swerved the car to avoid the feline, which flew under a parked car at the last moment possible. The small chaos threw Rylan’s thoughts into a unorganized hurricane, making for a few seconds on claustrophobic silence and as his forever crush drove him home after suddenly appearing on his doorstep. He had meant to talk to Aiden’s sister, Fran, but noticed her in the window giving him a nod of approval as Aiden walked him to the car. What that approval was exactly for remained to be determined. Rylan knew romance was out of the cards, though that warm feeling inside wouldn’t quit him from asking what he knew he shouldn’t.
“Did you ever like me?”
He regretted it the moment he said it. He felt like a child, shrinking away at any potential response.
Aiden pulled up to the intersection of Beverly and Wilshire, slapping his forehead as he realized he had driven the two of them straight into parking lot traffic due to an awards show just down the street that evening. Fucking Los Angeles.
The traffic gave Rylan hope of more time to clear the air. He wasn’t on a time constraint. He could breathe.
“Sorry, that was a strange, sudden question to ask.”
“No, no,” Aiden sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been through a lot of…turmoil? Is that the right word? A lot of turmoil over the last few days.”
“I’m sorry to hear it. Can I –”
“My father just died.”
“Shit, man, are you serious? Shit, of course you are. Shit. I’m sorry I even showed up. I shouldn’t be here right now.”
Rylan fidgeted like he was about to climb out the window of the gridlocked car. Aiden raised his voice.
“Can you not, please? You’re fine. I’m here.”
Rylan didn’t know how to get out of the awkward conversation corner he had pegged himself in, so he just glanced out the window, sweating everywhere and wishing it wouldn’t be obvious to roll the window down. Gone was the confidence of that cold night at Revolver, months ago, when he first approached this ideal soul mate. Gone was the intrigue he displayed in appearing at Aiden’s suicide walk speech. All of that had been replaced by the new Rylan. A fresh Rylan. One hundred percent honest, albeit one hundred percent scared and confused.
But Aiden saved him from his thoughts in admitting, “Yeah dude. I did like you. In a fucked up way.” He paused, and for a moment Rylan thought things would turn towards his favor. Then Aiden added, “I cried in a shower for you. I didn’t even know you.”
“You can now, though.”
“Dude.” Aiden held Rylan’s bandaged left wrist in his own hand. “You need to know yourself before you can know others. And you better believe that I know that better than anyone.” By his tone, Rylan had an inkling that was something Aiden needed to remind himself every day as well.
He nodded and took his wrist back. He knew Aiden didn’t mean to make him feel ashamed for what he did, but Rylan couldn’t help but feel an immense amount of remorse for the seemingly unnecessary drama he caused those around him. He had friends texting him left and right wondering where he had been, if he was okay.
But that’s why he showed up on Aiden’s doorstep.
“I just want to know that I’m okay.” Rylan’s voice cracked. “I can’t tell what’s real anymore.”
“Not to sound rude, but did you think I was the only person who could help you with that?”
“Yeah, that sounds rude.”
“You came out of nowhere, Rylan. Shady, noncommittal, confusing. I used to be all of those things, and I know how destructive that was to others. It pushed me to the razor four years ago, among other things.”
Rylan suddenly gripped the edge of his seat with the intensity of a madman. Maybe Aiden didn’t understand him after all? Maybe everything he had done for him was a mistake…
“I didn’t know what else the fuck to do! My entire life has changed. I don’t even know who I am. What I am. Who I’m going to be. Who am I going to be with? Do I even have friends anymore? Do I even like myself anymore?”
“Rylan, shut up!”
Aiden hit the breaks on the three miles-per-hour speed they were going in the jam and whipped his head towards his half-acquaintance.
“This is going to be the most challenging moment of your life, but you need to get a fucking grip on yourself. Starting fifteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds ago.”
Rylan nodded the slightest of nods, gently coddling his wrists after realizing the painful stress he had placed on them after accosting the seat.
This wasn’t how he had pictured any future conversation going with the one guy who made him feel special. Then again, the past few months hadn’t gone to plan either. Triple again, Rylan hadn’t ever really had a plan ever since he felt himself spiraling into isolation. He knew he needed to calm himself and focus. If he was ever going to get to a better place with himself, it needed to start in any given present moment. That moment was now, with the person who ignited the fire that started it all.
“I need your help.”
Aiden tilted his head, and kept his car moving in the slow direction of the traffic. “I know you think you do. And I’m not saying I won’t ever be here to talk.”
Rylan’s eyes could only find the ground. A small bout of sadness crept into his heart.
“However,” Aiden continued, “you’re only going to get the support you need from those who truly understand what makes you happy.” A pregnant pause. “Fiona may not be happy with you right now, but she’s still there for you. She won’t walk away.”
He sniffed a bit, which surprised Rylan. Aiden actually did care about him, after all.
Aiden wiped a tear from forming in his right eye. “We never got to know what made each other happy. I don’t think we will. That’s not how our story goes.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because I instigated something extreme within your soul…your heart. Something that helped you realize who you always were. Something that pushed you to all of your limits. It’s not fair to you, or me, frankly, that that is the foundation for us. You need to take some time and explore what makes you into Rylan. Explore the world as the true you. Then you’ll truly know what makes you happy here. You won’t feel alone. Fiona’s your constant. Not me.”
Suddenly, one of the traffic lights switched to green and traffic plowed through. Always a surprise when it happened, always a relief.
Rylan didn’t feel the need to respond. He knew Aiden was right on some levels, but he couldn’t help but feel as if Aiden was the only one he would ever meet who could speak to him so clearly.
Maybe that was the point, he realized. Aiden couldn’t just be the only one.
And then Aiden was pulling up to Rylan and Fiona’s place. Rylan quietly opened the car door, stepping out with one last glance at Aiden.
“I really appreciate everything you and your sister have done for me.”
Aiden put his hand out to take Rylan’s. They clasped for a moment.
“I appreciate you, too.”
Small smiles from both ended the conversation. Rylan got out of the car and watched Aiden drive away into the dimming light of the sky. He accepted the idea that Aiden’s final four words to him were all he ever really wanted to hear. And that made him happy. After everything he endured, he understood what it felt like to be appreciated, knowing he actually mattered.
And despite that silver lining, unbeknownst to him, Rylan would only ever see Aiden once more.