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An Ode: “Mother + Father” by Broods

A time in life comes when you realize you’re truly standing on your own. You’ve left your parents, your family, your friends, your safety nets…all of it behind so that you can chart your own course.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve made a video, or even had the time to make a video, but this is that point in my life. It’s hella scary. It’s hella exciting. And the only thing you can think of is being successful – not just in a career or your dating life, but to simply succeed at being your own person.

Brood’s single “Mother + Father” captivates that moment in time for me. And as quite possibly the last time I’ll make a video (never say never), I wanted to send off the last 7-8 years of my YouTube life with a personal statement.

Yes, growing up is hard to do. Making your own life is hard to do. But that’s what we do, and it’s important to realize you’ll always have your mother, your father, your siblings, your friends to fall back on. Here I focused on capturing little moments of childhood at the beach, something so simply, but something that bonds familial ties so distinctly. The little moments in life are the most precious.

Mom and Dad, this one’s for you…

…since I’m never going to be able to pay you back for the clothes I wanted you to buy for me and then I only wore them once…

With that, I present:

Boston Student Film Fest. Finalists: “The Pulse of the City”

Well this was a pleasant surprise.

My BU Hothouse team and I created a promotional video for Hotel Commonwealth in the Fall of 2013. We heard about the Boston Student Film Festival and decided why not throw ourselves into the mix. Little did we know we’d turn out to be finalists.

We get judged in Boston on March 22 (too bad we’re all studying in LA right now…).

Wish us luck!

Watch the alternative version we submitted below. The voiceover here is provided by Kellan Reck.

One Final Gift: Passenger’s “Let Her Go”

The power of love within the confines of a relationship between two human beings is a beautiful thing. It makes us do absolutely crazy things that are somehow always genuine to the millionth degree. There’s an understanding that both are in this moment together, no matter what.

This piece I created for Passenger’s hit song “Let Her Go” took that idea, and yanked away one half of that love. Death. How can love permeate death? It’s a legitimate fear to not being loved once a significant other dies.

Here, I explored that dynamic between two men in love. The partner who was left behind is still in the mourning stages, and, as the letter from his partner reads, this mourning was completely the work of an illness. His grief is illustrated through the nondisclosure of his face and most of his body. Grief is an interesting concept, as it can be triggered in the most unexpected ways – through happy moments or sad moments or anything in-between.

[RELATED: Go behind-the-scenes of the making of this video!]

But then the video his partner left behind plays, a gift created so that he never has to remember him as sick, “but as someone who is eternally grateful and happy” his partner entered his life. This was the ultimate portrayal of love permeating death. In his final days, his partner wanted to illustrate just how happy in life and the world he was all thanks to their relationship, their love. In the end, love shines through.

No matter the situation, it’s always the most difficult to let someone go. Passenger evokes this with his music and lyrics.

I simply illustrated it through the love of two human beings, and one final gift.

As “Wide Awake” As Katy Perry…With Drugs

Yes, I understand the song is a Katy Perry song. I understand that sometimes her songs aren’t meant to be taken with so much depth. But “Wide Awake” is a whole other story.

“Wide Awake” finds itself pertaining to so many situations in life. The song has so much potential for waking people up to the dangers and aches and pains and even happiness in life.

With that in mind, I crafted, honestly, my absolute favorite music video I’ve ever done. An addiction to drugs that ends exactly how it would if the addict doesn’t wake up. No one is wide awake in this video. I didn’t include a reason for the addiction, because sometimes…there just isn’t one. There isn’t a reason for everything. He or she just isn’t awake.

I hope your eyes are wide open after this one. I put my heart and soul into this.

Katy, lead on…

Video: Katy Perry – “Wide Awake” (HD Music Video)

Date Uploaded: July 13, 2012

Note: The video used to be blocked worldwide, hence the Vimeo upload but now YouTube works!

Intention

A bit of a running joke has emerged in the era of modern dating. A text message reading, “you have a quick second to chat?” more often than not is meant to reveal a nugget of hard or bad truth. Plenty of times, that truth uncovered is the existence of a sexually transmitted infection.

Such a revelation has three forms of reactions: one of acceptance, understanding and an appreciation for being told the truth so proper medical care can be attained; one of disdain, revulsion and heightened annoyance that he or she was put in such a position; and, more rare, one of fetish for being infected.

When Jonah received a text from Dev to call him quickly, he had a feeling that was the reason. Fun fact: turns out he was right. But it wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. Get the meds. Everything always turned out fine.

However, in a not so fun role reversal just under a week later, Jonah had to place the same text to Dev. Jonah, though, didn’t want to talk during work hours, asking if Dev could give him a ring that night.

Jonah didn’t know why he even felt so sure he had to tell Dev what was going on. In reality, they’d only been on one date despite having seen each other multiple times out at bars over a few weeks. But they talked too often and too comfortably for Jonah to keep such a large secret from someone he respected and cared about.

It’s not even a secret, Jonah thought to himself as he crawled onto his bed, fidgeting with his dog tag. I’m making this into too big a deal.

But as was his modus operandi of late, Jonah stopped thinking too hard and pressed on Dev’s contact number.

A ringing. Half a ring –

“Hey there.” Dev’s voice was cheery, albeit definitely a tired cheer.

“Hiya. How was your day?”

Interesting enough small talk ensued for a few minutes before Jonah realized Dev wasn’t pressing him what he was calling about. He was always slightly peeved by people who didn’t do some of the heavy conversation lifting, but he calmed knowing he was the one who asked to talk. Sometimes though, just sometimes he wished someone would put in as much effort as he did.

“So…um, I just wanted to tell you something. It’s not a big deal for you, don’t worry, but it’s just something that if I didn’t tell you I’d feel like I was lying. Especially since I appreciated you calling me last week.”

“It’s okay. You can tell me.”

“The other day I found out…that…my mom’s sick again.”

“Oh. Jonah, I’m so sorry – “

“Yeah so I uh just wanted to tell you. In case I act weird or different. It’s probably the reason.”

“You don’t have to explain anything to me. Unless you want to. You can talk or you can not talk. Whatever feels okay to you. Or I can just keep on filling silence with my own voice.”

In some shape or form, Jonah had hoped that to be what his ears heard. Instead, Dev played fifty questions, asking about all details and feelings, leaving no trivia unanswered. While Dev was right to be curious since Jonah had shared something so personal, he felt as if he was tapped for intel for the sake of having intel. As if for gossip. He didn’t like to think Dev was that person, but he didn’t know why the door had to be flung open when it only needed a crack.

On the other hand, Jonah had a feeling, a hope even, that this admission from him could help them form a stronger bond. They hadn’t been talking very long, but he thought it would be nice to have someone outside his immediate social circle know his circumstances. An objective participant in his life. Who happened to kiss really well.

Not for long. Slowly but surely, Jonah took the thought back in small increments as intimate moments with Dev became less passionate. He always made sure to ask how Jonah’s mom was doing, but there was a level of chore Jonah began to feel in the inquiries. As if there was nothing better to talk about. Than dying.

Wasn’t the point of getting to know someone to, well, get to know more about someone?

This almost became a non-issue as Jonah realized he was making far more of an effort in his own difficult time than Dev was. And he was far too old to put up with that.

While winding down a weekend at Taco Bell, a meal resulting from drunken irritation with his situation, Jonah found his fingers forming a text to the enigma he wanted defined.

Hey. I don’t really know the best way to say this but I’ve been getting mixed signals for a while now, and I don’t really think you’ve been interested in continuing whatever we’re doing. If true, I hope you know I’ve really liked getting to know you, but I wish you’d been honest with me. If not true, I’m sorry for the dramatics but I don’t know what you’re thinking.

Fifteen minutes and a Crunch Wrap Supreme later, a reply came in.

That was a very well written text.

And I know.

Basically I don’t know what I want and don’t think it’s cool to keep talking to you while I figure it out. I didn’t want to do this over text. There’s a lot I’m not saying. Can we meet in person. Not tonight but soon.

With the key word being “almost,” Jonah almost laughed reading those words. His mind was simultaneously shaking with anger. The situation was so cliche and typical, wedging directly in his darkest nightmare. There wasn’t anything else to do but lose control and laugh.

Not only was Jonah having to contend with the eventual slow burn deterioration of his mother’s health, he was battling severe insomnia and attempting to use an unnatural amount of wine to cure it. Throw in feelings for a guy who can’t man up and articulate his own feelings despite having honesty handed to him every moment he asked for it. The combination was going to make Jonah crack. He felt it coming. Mental seams were bursting.

But Dev’s reply did something Jonah didn’t think it would. It almost made him laugh, not at this idiot but himself. Dev had asked to talk further. Jonah didn’t need to. Here he was, stressed about so much without realizing he only had to step out of the equation.

If Dev wasn’t mature enough to vocalize his thoughts on his own, knowing what Jonah was enduring, there wasn’t a point in giving him a platform to now. If Dev wasn’t mature enough to realize earlier that Jonah’s focus should be on his family, not on Dev’s wavering feelings, there wasn’t a point in giving him a platform to now. If Dev wasn’t mature enough to see how selfish he was behaving, trying to remain the good guy, there wasn’t a point in giving him a platform to now.

At the very least, that’s what he should have thought in that moment. Jonah would only have those thoughts months later as he flew home to see his mother.

Jonah left Taco Bell that night, full, exhausted, and annoyed. He sent one more text.

We can talk. Tuesday. My place.

72 Hours

Ava opened her eyes and sighed. The room was already bright this morning. She always forgot to pull the shades down before climbing into bed, but so did her sister. They were sharing the same room during their stay at home. The same bed, too. Their parents had turned their mid-life projects towards renovating the space where their children used to have nightmares, last minute homework struggles, and Harry Potter reading marathons.

She rolled over to look at her phone and find nothing new of note on social media. Not that anything in anyone else’s life was of much importance to her these days.

It was fifteen before nine in morning. Woke up just in time to see her sister off back to her life in Vermont for a week or two before she returned here in Massachusetts for the holidays. Ava slid her legs over the side of the bed, wiping crusties from her eyes. With the other half of the bed empty and hurriedly made, Laura must already have been out in the living room.

Ava stood up, taking a moment to stand and stare out the window at her childhood backyard. A land filled with more memories than she’d ever comprehensively remember.

The bedroom door opened as Laura pushed in, looking a bit startled.

“Hi – “

“I think you’re going to have to move your flight to today.” Laura’s voice cracked in an unmistakably sad form.

Ava’s heart sank as she quickly processed what exactly Laura said to her. Her flight to Los Angeles was tomorrow. But she had to go back today. Come back tomorrow.

Tears filled both their eyes as they struggled to find a way to communicate something, anything to each other. Instead, they stood at opposite ends of the bed, looking just past each other.

~~~

Having successfully moved her flight out of JFK to later that night, Ava found herself being driven to the train station not long after she said goodbye to her sister. Her mother had been mostly silent on the drive, until:

“You and your sister have had the best father. He really was the greatest man.”

They spent the next hour sharing stories. Ava began to realize there were so many questions she hadn’t even thought to ask. She asked them. Where her parents met. Who pursued who. If their parents had liked them together. She felt power in the information, as if that power was an antibiotic to calm for the whirlwind journey she was putting herself through.

When finally parked at the station, Ava hugged her mom for several minutes until she knew she needed to get to the platform or her journey would be for naught.

“I love you, mom. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Ava closed the car door, weekend bag slung over her shoulder. As she walked away from her mother’s car and put her Bluetooth headphones in, she began to tremble. All the information in the world wouldn’t be able to cure it.

~~~

Ava opened her eyes and sighed. As the train pulled into Grand Central Terminal, she slowly tilted her head left and right to check her surroundings, realizing she was still living the unfortunate events she lived all of two hours prior.

Disembarking onto the platform, Ava adjusted her headphones to fit securely in her ear. A slow synthline began to pulse as a new song began to play from her phone. A vocoderized vocal gently hummed lyrics underneath the pulses, almost matching the steps Ava took towards the main hall of the terminal.

Stepping into the vastness of the hall, swarmed by travelers of local and foreign destinations, Ava found her feet holding their place on the floor. Her gaze traveled toward the mural of the celestial ceiling as the vocoder raised an octave. Though she knew she should’ve been starting her journey toward the subway to make it to the airport in time for departure, she found herself pausing to take in what was one of her first New York memories with her father as a little girl. Her father forever marveled at the wonders of the terminal. Its beauty within the architecture. The technological wonders of its many moving pieces, both human and railroad as one. She took a deep breath, vaguely comprehending the permanent fact that her father would never set foot in Grand Central ever again.

The synth dropped out behind the vocal in Ava’s ear, leaving an airy hum to accompany her as she left the terminal for the unknowing crowds of the sidewalk.

~~~

The sun was far past setting when Ava settled into her seat on the airplane. She was proud to beat her goal of traversing the city for the airport in just forty-seven minutes. A small victory in a period of life where she didn’t feel in control of anything.

After quietly popping two sleeping pills, Ava found herself asleep for the next six hours until landing in Los Angeles at the prime time of midnight. She slipped out the aircraft with nary a word to the smiling flight attendants who had not a clue her need for a lack of smiles.

One quick walk brought her to her car service at the airport drop off. Her driver may have introduced herself, but Ava resigned her human contact to just herself, staring out the window at the cold, brightly lit buildings that lined the 405. An melodic acoustic sound flowed from her headphones, a cover of a song she once heard in a television show. There was something in the strumming of the familiar song that Ava felt differently in her soul tonight than when she first heard it.

A warm tear quickly fell down her face as she set foot out of the vehicle at her apartment. From the outside, it almost looked like a foreign place. No longer home. Her heart was elsewhere.

Her phone buzzed as she unlocked the door. Settling down on her extraordinarily comfortable couch, she brought her phone in sight. Sighing that its clock read one in the morning. One eye open, she saw the vibration was for a dating app notification.

The last things ever to be currently on her mind were the flaky panderings of Angelino men. A need to know the unknown compelled, though, and she slid open the notification to see who had messaged her: a handsome guy, just a few years older, whom she had spoken with a couple weeks prior.

“Hey Ava. Location says you’re close. Back in town I assume?”

“I am. Just eight hours. Back to the airport in the morning.”

“It is the morning. Things good with you?”

“Don’t make me answer that question.”

“I don’t want to make you. But I’m a stranger with open ears if you need them.”

Perhaps it was her nocturnal delirium, but something about this digital chat in the online moonlight came across very intimately. Despite the intense pressure on her eyelids to slip closed, the idea of talking to someone not related to her own personal tragedy was highly tempting. She wanted to feel close to someone instead of feeling like floating matter in the empty universe of her apartment. She wanted anything to make her feel remotely at ease.

Ava was about to close out of the app, when she clicked back on her nighttime suitor.

“My dad is about to pass away, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

She closed the application, turned off her phone, and closed her eyes for an empty slumber. When she woke up, she was no longer on the couch but in her bed.

~~~

Moments after Ava’s mother picked her up from the train station, she found herself passed out in the passenger seat. The rumble of the car as it caressed the hospital’s driveway woke her, and she immediately felt guilty for not sharing conversation with more world-weary mother.

The two walked hand-in-hand into the building, up the elevator, down the hall toward her father’s room. Ava gently placed her bag of belongings on the floor and sat on the edge of her father’s bed.

Her father, at the slight movement of Ava’s body on the bed, opened his eyes. “Hi Dad. I’m finally back, don’t you worry. Laura will be here again soon, too. We’re all going to be here.”

“Hi ladybug.” He gave her a faint smile before surrendering to his slumber-inducing medication.

Ava, for the briefest of half-seconds, met her mother’s eyes before looking away, both at capacity. The weight of Ava’s journey descended upon her in a heavy haze. Her eyes burned as tears brimmed at the edge. She held them back, unsure how to keep her world spinning within the world at large.

Yeah

Parents of an older generation aren’t necessarily known for their superior texting capabilities. They might not even know how to return a text message in the first place, only knowing basic functions to unlock their phones in order to place a call; even then, “how do I find my contacts?”

Nothing is more predictable, though, than a child of any age rolling their eyes when they receive that parental text, a simple “call me” meaning old traditions of communicating with one another through vocal cord vibrations had to be used instead of mindlessly writing vague words sent into the ether. An actual conversation using mouths was expected from the elders, hashing out a dialogue one party believes could’ve been had in three text bubbles as opposed to twenty minutes of catching up.

I received that text, a simple “call me,” during work one summer Tuesday. I knew it would rub around in the back barriers of my mind if I didn’t just get over it and see what technological issues with Apple TV my parents were having that they needed so desperately to call me. Alas, I ducked out into a quiet part of the hallway, thinking it’d be a good spot to dramatically hiss instructions on how to type a password when the moment arose.

A ringing. More ringing. A click, followed by a loud crinkle suggesting the phone on the other end of the country had been dropped on the floor.

“Hi Dad.”

“Hey Lucas, sorry about that. My, uh, stupid fingers. I couldn’t feel them.”

“The neuropathy still strong?”

“Yeah…” A pause, as if there was something more he wanted to say. Except he repeated, quieter, “Yeah.” There was a tiny hint of frustration in his voice, almost like he felt fault letting the numbness affect him more than he wanted.

I glanced around the hallway I was standing in. Still no sounds around me, just from the elevator doors opening and closing at the opposite end.

“So, what’s up? Did you ever find your dad’s camera you wanted to show me?”

“No, I haven’t had a chance to look in the basement. I know I have it somewhere. Are you busy? Do you have a second to FaceTime with your mother?”

I knew then. I didn’t know what I knew, but I knew. No one point blank asks to group chat as if there wasn’t really a shot to say no.

“Yeah sure, I’ll hang up and give you a ring.”

I sighed, knowing that connecting over FaceTime was always an issue and now would be an even bigger connectivity issue as my parents’ shaky wifi made this impending difficult conversation even more difficult. But that’s what you do as the child. You wait patiently and do the best you can.

A ringing. More ringing. Even more ringing. Couldn’t someone have chosen a more pleasurable ring sound?

Blurry faces appeared on my cracked screen, both trying to cram in the mere inches a phone’s screen provides. It wasn’t worth explaining to hold the camera further back. When else was I supposed to take advantage of my parents by screenshotting their pixelated, smooshed faces?

“Hi guys.”

“Hi Luc. How’s it going?” my mother asked. The glare of the large window behind her washed out the details of her face, though I could see her small eyes looking towards the floor beneath her.

“Oh you know, things are dandy. Counting down the minutes until I can sleep. Been a long week.”

“You can say that again.”

A small silence. A bit deafening combined with the heated sensation I felt on my back.

“How was your appointment, Dad?”

Mom was looking sad, a few of her fingertips covering her lips. Dad looked straight through the screen to lock eyes with me. His face too, washed out. Almost erased.

He sighed. “Mmm, not too great, Lucas. Not too great. Kind of got some bad news.”

I didn’t miss a beat. Actually, I surprised myself with how I just blurted it out, considering how badly I reacted the first time. “It’s back, isn’t it?”

The word “yeah” in print doesn’t accurately depict any depth of the sadness my father’s voice evoked. It doesn’t illustrate the tired tears in my mother’s eyes. It doesn’t paint in the shallow breaths I had to force myself to take in order to fully process what information was just given to me. The word “yeah,” when written, doesn’t do justice to the powerful moment that changed the course of three family members’ lives. However, that’s what was said, and it said everything I needed to know about what was ahead.

The word “yeah” in a text message wouldn’t have given me any of that. So, when I finished with my parents, I took a deeper breath and called my brother.

Somebody Else

“I’m reminded that I should be getting over it.”

I haven’t created a video since September 2014, a moment where I thought I was putting the solo producer ambitions of my adolescence and college years behind me. Almost three years have passed, though, and I’d still feel a nag in my subconscious to constantly visualize the music floating in and out my ears. Emote the story and life of lyrics being sung via my car’s stereo from the mouth’s of artists around the world.

And then I heard that one lyric (above). I couldn’t stand the urge anymore. I picked up my relatively newly refurbished camera (thanks Amazon) and sought out the lovely Alex Daugherty to help me make sense of what I was trying to accomplish with The 1975’s “Somebody Else.”

To be fair, I really hadn’t a clue what I was looking for in terms of scene composition. I wanted something stylistically serene, yet also something amorphous and aesthetically pleasing. I chose a beach at random along the Pacific Coast Highway; it was mid-January and I was fully aware no one else would be present to ruin the serenity. The stillness of the beach was important: it represented the quietness shared by two people in love and simultaneously falling out of it. It’s only them in their relationship. No one else.

All said and done, the process of cutting together the pieces which I collected not knowing how I wanted them collected was the most enjoyable part of this experience. In getting my groove back, I had a blank slate.

The black/white sketch filter proved to be an imperative feature of the emotional journey I attempted to tell (up to you if I was successful). Nothing is black and white in a relationship, but either party probably sees it that way. There’s one person’s perspective (as black) and there’s also someone else’s (as white). It flickers back and forth. White changes to black, vice versa. It’s ever-changing…so are we, in tandem with each other.

Many thanks to The 1975 for giving me a platform to express.

Many thanks to you for watching.

Part 10: Happy

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Fran

Fran was thinking about time. Almost two years had passed since that fateful day in Echo Park when Aiden failed to deliver the speech he wanted. Just over one year had passed since both her and Aiden’s father passed. About twenty minutes ago, Fran left her big brother to find her seat in the auditorium. She spotted Tom next to an empty seat, waved hello and made her way to him.

“This is it!” Tom exclaimed after they shared a warm embrace.

Fran smiled. He was right. It was time.

~~~

Fiona

Fiona was forever fascinated by how much effect time had on personality and human emotion. With time came new feelings, new perceptions, new history.

As she entered the auditorium at the Hilton Chicago, she took a moment to look around her. Take in everyone that was gathering for this one moment. To hear one person’s story. Sometimes, she realized, all it took was one person to inspire.

“Where’s our seat?” A male voice startled her.

Fi turned around to see Aaron walking towards her. After a quick hug, she pointed to an empty row nearby. The two walked over and saw a familiar face sitting in the third seat next to them.

She gave a small smile and took her seat, Aaron flanking her. Still marveling at how much time has changed her for the better.

Fiona took both men’s hands and gave them a squeeze. She was happy.

~~~

Aiden

Aiden was far from happy. He had tried so hard over the past few hours of getting dressed, brushing his teeth, and running around like an insane person to not get his crisp, Granny Smith green button down dirty before he took the stage; but, of course, as he walked around backstage, his Starbucks cappuccino pulled the ultimate revenge.

Shit on before, shit on always, he grumbled in his head.

He heard the moderator begin introducing him to the auditorium, resulting in a burst of all too real armpit perspiration. Aiden fumbled for his phone, rushing to submit his final blog post so it would hit as the conference began. He figured he had about twenty-seven seconds left.

Twenty-seven seconds to end his digital journey and begin a real one.

His eyes whizzed over the entire post. Rethinking its title, “Free,” Aiden paused momentarily while his cursor hovered over the ‘publish’ button. With this, he was effectively ending his self-therapy. He subconsciously always knew he posted to strangers simply to see his feelings in cold, hard words. Now, he was taking what he’d unintentionally done for others and bringing it to reality. Words to actions.

It would all begin with a click. Aiden breathed out and released his final words to the internet.

“…please welcome to the stage, Mr. Aiden Trighton!”

~~~

Clapping. Then, dead silence, something he both loved and abhorred, but this moment brought on more of the latter. The brightened stage lights made it difficult to make out Tom and Fran in their seats, but he supposed he shouldn’t rely on the two of them in this moment. Today was all about standing on his own.

With an imaginary slow motion effect applied to his feet, Aiden walked into the light, a smile just as bright as the fluorescents above him worming its way across his lips.

He took the microphone off the podium, fingers trembling but palm steady.

It will all be okay.

“It will all be okay.”

All eyes firmly on him.

“Those were the words I used to think to myself when I felt a coldness settling in my heart, into my mind, as if I was being suffocated by my own belief that I couldn’t survive a simple social interaction. Or that there wasn’t a point to survive it. .

“And that makes a guy sad. There isn’t another word for it. Being forever locked in a spiral in your own mind is more intoxicating than five Red Bull vodkas.”

There. In the shadows. Fran’s eyes glimmered through the spotlights, nodding in solidarity with her brother. Tom, next to her, his handsome face slightly, crookedly smiling. His family.

“Still, though, I told myself it will all be okay. Despite the new pressures of coming out as one of those god damn homosexuals, despite all the old pressures of being the son who was never going to amount to anything great, I repeated those words as the only effort I knew I could make to save myself.

“But that wasn’t enough, I guess. Words to yourself aren’t enough. Almost five years ago, I let the sadness take the driver’s seat. I watched myself become the coldest I’d ever been. I didn’t know which part of me was the real me. I became lost in myself as I tried to juggle parental expectations, sibling expectations, romantic expectations, social…any expectations.

“I chose to end my own life, because I knew I didn’t matter. Expectations were the only reason I saw to live, and I couldn’t fathom how that would be enough for me. I wanted to live in my own light, not a spotlight someone shone on me. But who the fuck knows how to do that?”

Aiden swallowed. It was around this moment he anticipated his anxiety to come crashing in, accompanied by the deep silence to cut him in pieces.

“Someone, something didn’t think that was the course I was meant for, because my sister Francesca found me as I felt every ounce of energy draining from my body.”

Some anonymous human started clapping in the back of the room. A few others joined in. Aiden’s voice cracked as two tears crashed from his eyes.

“I almost didn’t get to see my nephew grow up. I almost didn’t get to see my sister become head nurse. I almost didn’t get the chance to be at peace with my late father. I almost didn’t get to experience falling in love.

“To those of you in this room who are where I was back then, be selfish for a moment. Think of everything you could possibly experience were you to leave us today. Not what others want you to experience – what you want to experience. No nephews or nieces. No sibling or familial accomplishments. No peace. No love. You will feel none of it in your bones.

“How shitty does being that selfish make you feel?”

Gasps in the audience echoed as another voice from behind Aiden responded, “Pretty shitty. You do know how to make a suicidal human feel guilty.”

Aiden chuckled at how dramatic Lyle’s entrance was. He turned to embrace his friend, thinking how much had changed since they first met that day in the tower. Then, Lyle might as well have been a floating exoskeleton of the man he didn’t think he could be. Now, with a year of counseling behind him, the San Franciscan was taking charge of his life, joining Aiden on his national suicide prevention tour to inspire, to understand, and to reflect.

“Hey,” Aiden retorted jokingly, “friends who stop friends from jumping off towers can be shitty to each other every once in a while.”

Lyle turned to the audience. “Please excuse my foul-mouthed acquaintance. We’ve become quite used to airing our dirty laundry in front of everyone and anyone.” With that and a gentle nod from Lyle that he was okay to proceed alone, Aiden began to step back behind the curtains to watch Lyle tell his story.

The second he was backstage, a hand grabbed him and pulled him away into the dark. Warm lips that fit perfectly in his pressed against his own, the initial shock instantly melting to Tom’s loving grip.

“My turn to be selfish,” joked Tom.

“You scared the shit out of me.”

“You liked it.”

Aiden glanced down, where Tom’s finger was ever-so-slightly grazing his left forearm. The misspelled ‘triumph’ tattoo. It felt earned, for once.

“I did.”

Also, for once, he found himself being honest about his feelings. Evolving a relationship with Tom was never in the realm of possibility, especially considering their rocky start as friends all those years ago in college. After his father’s passing, Aiden had realized he needed to let go worrying about anything, an important step in regaining control of himself.

Tom enabled him to do just that. His first stint in San Francisco when he ran away had proven how easy it was to be around him. To share his feelings with him. Share a life with him. It all felt natural. Nothing was forced or out of control.

As Aiden kissed Tom back in the darkness, he felt an equilibrium set in.

Moments passed as the two stood in silence, listening to Lyle share his truths with the crowd. Waiting for Aiden’s cue to return.

“Ready to bring it home?”

“I’ve never talked about my dad before. Not like this.”

Aiden felt his shoulders being gripped. “Aid, you’ve come so far. I may not have known your father, but there’s no chance he wouldn’t be proud of everything you’ve become. Everything you’ve stood for. He’s made peace with you, too.”

Still a bit unsure, Aiden sighed as Lyle called for him to come back out. Tom squeezed his forearm and gave him a good shove into the lights again.

A smattering of clapping wormed his smile out again. He took his post next to Lyle as his microphone switched on once more.

“Couldn’t get rid of me!”

Lyle grinned. “I bet that’s what you said to your parents when they saw you in the hospital.”

Horrified laughs emerged from the audience, but Aiden cackled. He found it so easy to be crude with his past nowadays. His shit was his shit. If he couldn’t laugh about it, how else was he supposed to move forward?

“Too soon, dude. Too soon.”

“Aiden, we have about five minutes and twenty-four seconds left. What do we think we should leave these good people with?”

“I bet they’re wishing we would leave them with some Dominoes, but I’m not that rich so…” Aiden was just able to make out Fran’s distinctive laugh in the crowd. “But in all seriousness, there is one thing I’d like to say. If there’s anything I want all of you to walk away with from hearing myself and my dear friend here, it’s this…”

The spotlights above accidentally dimmed  for a brief moment, allowing Aiden’s eyes to habitually pick out one face in the crowd. One he hadn’t seen in thirteen months. He knew that hard jaw anywhere. He had once longed to see it daily for the rest of his life: Rylan.

Wow.

Sitting next to his ex-girlfriend Fiona, Rylan’s gaze was studiously focused on the presentation screen behind the duo. Almost a bit too focused. Aiden’s pause must have broken it, though, because suddenly Rylan’s piercing stare matched his own.

The world froze, giving Aiden a moment to marvel at how time had eased the electricity between the two. Rylan was now, shockingly, just a simple, uncomplicated piece of his past…a piece of the puzzle that was the journey he took to get to this stage.

Rylan gave Aiden a small smile of assurance. A signal: they would forever be aware of the influence each had on the other. Forever grateful to the other.

And that’s all it was meant to be. Time, too, had given them an equilibrium.

“Um…sorry.” Aiden shook his head. “Could these lights be more distracting? I don’t know how Sutton Foster does it on Broadway.”

Looking directly at his old not-so-confirmed flame, Aiden delivered the only message that truly mattered to him. “There’s something to be said about experiencing life. Feeling alive. Awake. Present. My father’s death just one year ago jolted me out of my relapse, awakening me. I discovered what it was to love another. I learned what it was to feel loved in return. My father taught me how to love myself – something I will never be able to show him appreciation for, because I decided to be selfish and withdraw from my family and friends.

“I know what it’s like to feel as though every facet of your being is in disorder. A chaos that will never clear. A haze that threatens to ensnare. Don’t let this wonderful world pass you by. Call yourself awake. You don’t know what’s ahead, which, yes, is scary. That’s the exciting part.”

He noticed Rylan wipe a tear away. Fiona rested her head on his shoulder. Fran’s clasped hands were pressed against her lips.

“Live to explore those possibilities. Believe in possibility. Your life is untitled.”

Rapturous applause and cheers all blurred as Aiden and Lyle took their bows, the former retreating backstage.

Before he found Tom’s arms, Aiden looked behind him one final time. Rylan was standing up, mouthing to him, “Thank you.”

Aiden shook his head. He owed Rylan more than he knew. “Thank you.”

 

Part 9: Silver Lining

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Rylan

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.

Part 8: When We Were Young

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

The sweat was probably pouring out of every orifice in his body as if the newly shoved-upon anxiety over his father’s death was forcing his pores wide open like a master clench. It hurt to swallow air.

Aiden had never moved so quickly in his entire life, including the time he ran across the desert at Coachella to make it to Florence + The Machine’s set on time. But while at Coachella he was conscious of everything around him as he flew to his destination, Aiden was very much in a trance as he slid through endless sidewalks to make it back home to Tom’s. His entire body was numb. An empty brain whirring away with no thoughts to give but one: Home. Home. Home.

“Keep up.”

This was said to the one aspect of the situation Aiden couldn’t shake, no matter how in shock he was. Lyle had registered complete bewilderment as Aiden stormed from the coffee shop, commanding him to follow but not to talk. Aiden didn’t care that forcing a suicidal human to follow him and his confused grief across the city was wildly absurd, but he wasn’t about to abandon the poor guy. Slightly tactless, even if the absurdity outweighed it.

However, Lyle didn’t respect the silence clause of Aiden’s command as he constantly wondered aloud where they were going and why. Aiden continued to huff along at an accelerated pace, eyes only on the final destination. If one extra thought was to drip into his stream of consciousness, he would surely collapse from overload.

“Look out!”

Aiden’s glaze returned to reality just in time to get out of the way of an incoming biker. He jumped out of the way, bumping into Lyle who latched onto his arm. The body contact felt foreign to Aiden, oddly, but the second it happened he realized all he wanted was a hug.

He took a few deep breaths, staring at the ground. Lyle stood in front of him, still holding onto his arm.

“Dude, you have to tell me what’s happening.”

An eternity of breathing passed before Aiden looked into Lyle’s cocoa eyes. Intense gaze meeting intense concern.

“My dad died.”

Lyle pulled Aiden into a deep hug. The saved hugging the needing-to-be-saved.

~~~

Fran

Fran prided herself on being a very patient person. Between raising Chase by herself when deadbeat Dean left them both to make dollars by stripping (the most accurate LA-stereotype she’s ever heard) and working in a building of the sick and perpetually needy, Fran had developed over time a meditative thought process to keep her cool, to stay in check.

In this moment, however, Fran didn’t give a flying fuck. LAX was the worst fucking airport on the planet, and she wanted everyone to know it by blasting her car horn.

“Mommy, what does it mean when someone sticks a finger up at you?”

Fran whipped her head to the right to see a Brentwood wannabe doing just that. “Oy,” she muttered. “Dunno, sweetie. Doesn’t seem very nice. Why don’t you keep reading your book?” The second Chase focused his attention back on his book about grizzly bears, Fran returned the gesture to her airport rival.

An eternity later, Chase was excitedly shouting and doing his own pointing (albeit with a different finger) as their car pulled up at Terminal 3 where Aiden was dutifully waiting for them. A hard mix of solemn, stoic, and happy plagued his expression. Getting out of the car, Fran wordlessly shoved her favorite and only brother/best friend into a tight embrace. Aiden returned the favor, only making room to smush Chase into the middle of the family reunion.

The trio piled back into the car, Aiden relegated to the backseat as Chase played his own version of “Game of Thrones” by acquiescing the front seat for himself and for himself only.

Aiden was clearly avoiding her gaze, so Fran made sure to stare at the rearview mirror until they locked eyes.

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Hi.”

“Welcome home.”

“Mm. Mind if I close my eyes for a bit? I…I just –“

“Sure thing. We can talk at home.”

~~~

An hour and twenty minutes of traffic later, the Trighton family pulled up to Fran’s place. She turned the key to cut the engine and slowly got out of her car. The street seemed quiet today, trees gently swaying in an equally gentle wind. The sun was just beginning it’s nocturnal descent, leaving the sky a warm mix of soft yellows and pinks. For one moment, the world was calm to the Trighton’s.

Chase bolted from the car to the front door, searching out the spare key taped underneath the grotesque Chia-pet he had proudly grown himself a couple months earlier. As he ran into the house, he called for Aiden to follow him and see his new turtle stuffed animal.

“I named him Toots!”

Fran saw Aiden not following. He was simply standing next to her car, staring at nothing in particular around him. The life in his eyes was gone.

She started to approach him. Apparently that was a catalyst, as Aiden took that moment to lurch to life and tread into the house. Fran felt her eyes flutter with a tear or two and followed suit.

“Chase, honey, can you give me and Uncle Addy a minute, please?”

The forever happy child zoomed out of the room, content to go read a book. Fran gently took Aiden’s arm and led him away from the stairs to the living room. She sat him down, hand in hand. She had to be the big sister, even if she was never meant to be. She had to control her sadness for the sake of her brother. She had to keep this family together.

“Aid.”

Aiden was clearly struggling to keep his eyes on her. His eyes were darting in directions she didn’t know possible, all while his body ever-so-slightly vibrated out of control. Telling Chase the news wasn’t nearly as bad; there was no way a child would be able to comprehend this type of tragedy. Nor would there be an ounce of care. Aiden was the complete opposite. All the strength she might’ve needed for Chase and herself she had saved for her older brother.

“Aiden, look at me. It’s just me. Your sister.”

She placed her hand on his right cheek, gently guiding his gaze to meet hers. Just as they met — ring! — the house phone shrieked to life.

“Mommy! Phone!” came from above.

“What the fuck…” she muttered furiously as she flew to the source of the most inopportune noise.

She yanked the phone out of the kitchen. “What?!”

“It’s me.”

“Oh.” Guilt flooded her. Too much was happening right now. She was losing control. “Hi mom.”

“Hi honey.”

“Hi.”

Silence. Julia broke it with a raspy voice, hints of former sobs creaking through the breaks in syllables.

“How are you? Is Aiden home?”

“Yes, he is. We’re okay –“

“Put him on the phone, please.”

“Mom, he’s not –“

“Please, Francesca.”

A tear trailed down her face as a surging moment of the past, one that encompassed all the anger from being put second to Aiden’s issues and emotional instability albeit one that was not as overpowering as concern for Aiden’s well-being, bubbled forth. Fran took a breath of all depths and blinked the tear away. Don’t fail now. Not after everything. They need you. They’ll always need you.

“Okay.”

She handed the phone to Aiden in the living room. “Sorry, Aid.”

“No, please don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

A compromised moment between the siblings passed before Aiden took the phone, hand trembling. He placed it on speaker mode.

“Mom?”

“Addy.”

“Hi, Mom.” A voice crack.

“Oh, Addy. I miss you so much.”

“I’m right here, Mom.”

“I can’t wait to see you. Can you do something for me, please?”

Fran locked eyes with Aiden. It never took long for Julia to ask for some sort of service. Aiden looked genuinely terrified.

“Mom…”

“Speak about your father for me at the service. Say something nice about him. I think it would be a very good thing for everyone to hear.”

“…Say something nice?”

Fran gripped her brother’s arm. She was furious with her mother, but she hoped gripping Aiden’s skin would let him know that she already understood what he was about to say. That she supported him and his words.

“Yes, honey, something nice.”

And then Aiden paused, giving Fran a moment of concern. She had no idea what Aiden was processing. Was he falling back into his dark place? Was he resorting to his isolation? She didn’t know which way the road was curving and it immediately made her panic.

Aiden shook Fran’s grip, took the phone off speaker, and put the phone to his ear.

“Okay. I’ll say something nice.”

With that, he ended the call and stood up. He gave Fran the briefest of small smiles and went upstairs. Fran watched her brother silently go, wondering exactly what happened in San Francisco and if Aiden had somehow discovered an inner peace.

That’d be too easy, she thought.

~~~

Aiden

Sunshine slammed into his face through the window the next morning. He had quickly forgotten how harsh the Angelino sun was, thus quickly remembering the power of the star in the southern part of the state.

He rolled over in Fran’s guest bed, surprisingly not feeling too tired despite the multitude of events over the past few days. Instead, he felt as if the sun’s warmth was already inside him. Aiden felt like Aiden, but not the Aiden of old. He felt like the Aiden he was supposed to become.

His eyes trailed over to the floor, where pages on pages of scribbled notes were sprawled. He had spent all night writing “something nice” for his father’s eulogy he was supposed to deliver later today. Anxiety-ridden flashes of memory from the suicide walk he had failed to successfully deliver saddled his mind as he poured everything he knew into those words. These words, however, felt different. They felt different from the words he had poured into his blog to thousands of people.

These words not only felt honest, but pure. As if the one thing that had been blocking him for years and years, even before his suicide attempt, was suddenly dissolved.

A buzz from his phone. Aiden rolled the other direction to view the text.

Hey, it’s Lyle. Saying hello. You’ll do great today. Just wanted to thank you for everything. Tom helped me find a clinic to work through my issues. You both saved my life. xx

He smiled ever so slightly and wrote back.

You saved me, too. 

~~~

Prior to this moment, Aiden had always perceived death as a roadblock. An emotional blow to the psyche to remind you that you were finite. At a moment’s notice, it could all end. He took his own potential death, now almost four years ago, as something that was supposed to hurt those around him who had hurt him; i.e. his parents.

However, today marked a new perception. As Aiden was gestured to to take the podium at the church where his mother had set up the service, he walked firmly with a purpose, no longer scared of the crowd of family and friends around him.

Death was about honor. If he had easily given himself up to the stars four years ago, he would’ve robbed himself of the chance to do something honorable with his life. Something small. Something large.

“Something nice.”

Those two first words rang throughout the church with a hint of surprise from the attendees at Aiden’s relatively cheery tone. He noticed Tom in attendance, a couple rows behind his family, giving him a proud smize with his eyes. He also realized Fran’s face was struggling to maintain composure as she oozed concern for her brother. Aiden gave her a gentle nod to let her know he could do this. Julia cocked her head, as if half-intrigued, half-anxious what her usually unstable son was about to say. No matter, though. Aiden was alive today.

“That’s what my mother told me to say today. Something nice about my father, Lawrence Trighton.”

He clocked Julia placing her hand on Fran’s knee for stability. Even Chase was intent on listening to his uncle.

“There was a moment, not long ago, that if I was asked to say something nice about my father, I probably wouldn’t have done so in the slightest.”

Aiden almost chuckled out loud at how white his mother’s face became.

“When we were young, my father used to make me feel as if I would never amount to much outside of the things he himself had accomplished. Which, to be honest, wasn’t much in itself. Moderately successful car salesman in Los Angeles? Cool, dad. Cool.

“He would look at how easily my sister Francesca floated through school, as she found ease in being social and involved in every activity, even if it meant practicing soccer while practicing her Spanish and Latin. As if one language wasn’t enough, Fran, my god!” He winked at his sister as a couple nervous church-goers chuckled. “And that’s why my sister has a beautiful life, balancing an amazing, life-saving career with her beautiful, life-saving son. Because she had support, and she learned not to waste that support but to hone it and turn it into self-sufficiency. My sister learned to live her life being whoever she wanted to be.

“My father, instead, took my weakness, my anxiety, and thought the best way to raise me was to make me see how my anxiety made me hurt Jenna’s feelings in the second grade because I wouldn’t play with her. How it made my teachers scared to use the wrong syntax in a sentence for fear I’d become a recluse. How it made my own parents afraid and unhopeful for their own child’s future.”

Julia shifted uncomfortably in her seat. This clearly wasn’t what she anticipated, hoping for Aiden to conform to her will like he usually did. Aiden wished she would realize there was always dark before dawn. The same applied for her here.

“But now,” Aiden continued, smiling sadly at his mother and sister, “I understand. And I’m not angry anymore. For once in my twenty-seven years of life, I’m no longer angry.

“Being a parent isn’t easy.” Aiden wagged his finger at his nephew. “Chase, are you listening? This part is important.” A couple grins from the crowd emerged. “Not easy at all. You’re constantly, and I mean every waking moment constantly, worried about your child: what he’s eating and if it’s healthy, who she’s befriending and what influence they have on her, what career she’ll eventually choose and if it will be enough to support her, what woman or man he’ll finally settle down with if at all… I thought I had anxiety, but it was nothing compared to that of my parents’.

“My father did his damnedest to make me see that I had no reason to be afraid of everything, most of all myself. He knew that if he told me what he was doing, I wouldn’t understand the point of being alive. Not that I’ll ever fully understand what it means to be alive, but after coming close to losing that feeling once before, I have an inkling of how precious it is.

“I needed to learn that my anxiety was a manifestation of absolutely nothing. I was hindering myself for no reason. Pushing myself inside myself because I was scared of myself. Of what I could be.

“So, Mom, this is what I have to say. This is my something nice.”

Tears began to stream down his mother’s face, as if she was finally seeing her son come alive for the first time. Fran and Tom were beaming.

“My father was an honorable man. He changed my life. Thank you, Daddy. You showed me how to see the world without the chains I thought it had. You showed me how to be myself. Thank you for allowing me the chance to live freely, and…”

He suddenly found himself without air in his throat. Salty water immediately curated in his eyes. He closed them and took three deep breaths, trying to maintain composure. When he opened them again, he found Chase at his side, holding his leg. Aiden picked up his nephew and held his face against his neck. It felt good to hold the little kid. He missed him when he was up north.

Aiden turned back toward the crowd, and whispered:

“Thanks, Dad, for not hating me when I thought I hated you. I love you.”

Chase took that moment to smush Aiden’s cheeks together. “I love you too, Uncle Addy!”

~~~

“What the fuck, that was amazing.”

“Tom! Language!”

Fran jokingly hit Tom’s shoulder as the two of them, with Aiden in the backseat accompanying Chase and saving the child from the profanity, drove back to Fran’s place. The group was in a relatively jolly mood following Aiden’s successful speech.

“Whoops, he’ll learn to like that word.”

“Not yet he won’t!”

Fran parked the car and slowly rolled up the window as she muttered, “Oh fuck.”

“Fran!”

“No – look.”

She pointed at the front door before Aiden and Tom climbed out of the car. There, on the front steps, sat a man with a large bandage on both wrists.

“Who’s that?” Tom asked. “That’s damn creepy.”

Aiden breathed in deeply, knowing this eventually was supposed to happen. Just before he opened the car door, he stated quite clearly for his friend, “His name is Rylan.”

Part 7: Talk Me Down

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

Unfortunately for Aiden, Tom’s front door was insanely creaky. With his sneak-out cover probably blown to a waking Tom, Aiden ran down the stairs of the building and sharply took the first turn he could to get off the street. The last thing Aiden wanted today was to talk about his feelings after what was supposed to be a healthy hook-up. He didn’t even want to think about it himself.

A vibration in his pocket. A text from Tom: Where you off to so early, my god…”

Ignoring it, Aiden stopped in a coffee shop. He stared at the relatively bougie menu (see: the herb-crusted egg and salmon croissant sandwich) for a time before ultimately choosing a protein-laced breakfast smoothie. Once the elderly barista handed him his order, he stepped outside and continued to shift down the street.

Aiden turned corner after corner, meandering through the streets of the city without any perception of where his feet were gliding. Halloween was nowhere in sight, but the nine-year-old boy who once terribly dressed as a ghost for the holiday was now actually a ghost. Not a thought flickered in his mind as he breathed in the bay air. Aiden was determined to flush out anything in his mind that had to do with himself. All that needed to remain were the simple functions of ordering food, swiping a credit card, and eating said food.

Another vibration, another text: You know I’m going to send a search party of gays if you don’t text me back. Inefficient plan but highly amusing.

He decided it was better to turn his phone off. Trying not to be insane and melodramatic, he could still only believe that if Tom really wanted to get in touch with him, he would try calling instead of simply texting. Too bad that his friend would realize it too late.

Two hours of walking and sitting in various places around the city, Aiden came upon Pier 15. Home of the Exploratorium. As a child, Aiden loved museums where everything was interactive, everything was touchable, and everyone was exploring. He realized that growing older had made everything less interactive and more solitary. Not everything was worth touching. Not everyone wanted to explore the world, or at least had the capacity to.

Aiden took a seat on a bench outside the museum and took stock of the crowd around him. The world may have five oceans, but the entire planet was a sea of people swarming its circumference day in and day out. All together at once, yet simultaneously all alone in their own trials and tribulations.

I’m pathetic, he thought. Here he was, fresh off of getting laid, living in a brand new city, loved by his friends and his sister (sometimes appreciated by his parents), and alive when he shouldn’t be, yet he was too busy moping about how miserable and lonely he felt despite it all. He couldn’t win. The lonely was always there no matter what.

However Aiden knew that was the point, taking a big sigh as he watched a young Indian woman walk by with a protective surgical mask covering her face. She violently coughed into it, as if it was some higher power’s way of reminding Aiden that he, too, was sick. Not necessarily physically or mentally sick; it was emotional. It was something he had to explore himself. Only he could find his way out.

With that, he reached for his wallet and sought for the Exploratorium, in hopes of finding inspiration despite a relatively overpriced ticket.

~~~

Three hours of mingling among the museum’s children later, Aiden emerged from the building having forgotten he turned his phone off. He could barely remember life before cell phones, but the past few hours made him wonder if the world would be a better place if everyone took themselves off the grid for a period of time to actually experience the world.

Aiden walked away from Pier 15, a brisk air flowing around him and a half smile on his face. His first smile of the day.

See? I can be okay by myself.

As he kept sauntering and closing his mind to his worries, his eyes caught sight of a tower in the distance. Intrigued, he changed direction and began to make his way.

Maybe this was the way to overcome his loneliness – by accepting it. Accepting that he was meant to be alone. Loads of people lived alone, technically. Nuns. Monks. Some priests… Aiden rolled his eyes. I guess the only way is to pick up a religion and run with it.

But wasn’t that a selfish life to live? Closing himself off to a point where no one else mattered but himself?

Aiden didn’t want to disappoint or upset anyone, but maybe that was his price to pay for letting his younger self get to such a dark place. Maybe loneliness was his punishment for his selfishness in trying to take his own life.

Maybe he could convince himself that a planet full of people could suffice as his extended family, and he himself could be his only close family.

The art deco tower grew closer and taller in vision as Aiden realized Fran would probably push him from the top of said tower if he ever completely disappeared. If there was anyone who would get revenge on someone who simply wanted to make her life better, it was Fran. Determined to a T.

He realized he was unsuccessfully numbing his thoughts by running in circles inside his head, deciding for the remainder of his walk to the tower to instead hum an early 2000’s Snow Patrol song. Busy himself.

The Coit Tower was known for it’s three hundred and sixty degree view of San Francisco, notably beautiful on those bright and sunny days the city was surprisingly currently having. Aiden wanted to see the city for what it truly was, so he began to climb the tourist-prone stairs that would lead him to the top.

As a writer-on-hiatus, Aiden was embarrassed at how easily the view took his breath away.  Maybe it was induced by the serenity he was attempting to invoke in his being, but seeing the blue horizon mesh with the lush greens and stark grays of the Bay Area’s dual nature/urban aesthetic was truly a sight to behold.

“Amazing, innit?”

Aiden spun around to find he wasn’t the only one taking in the tall views. There, on the railing, was a man, roughly his own age with an insane head of shiny, prestine, chocolate hair and an Adam’s apple that could feed the world. No, he wasn’t standing behind the railing as good citizens do. He was on it.

He walked in on a man about to jump.

What the fuck was it about Aiden that led him to end up in the presence of every suicidal person on the west coast? This was probably why he was supposed to be lonely the rest of his life: So he could still empathize with all those about to die and make them feel at ease, possibly saving their lives.

I’m not a fucking savior. Jesus Christ, why is this happening to me?

“Guess it’s not so amazing,” the man said.

Aiden breathed through his nose. “Are you okay?”

“Just okay.”

“Been better…?”

“A long time ago.”

Aiden took a step towards him. “I can relate, dude.”

The man turned away to stare out at the city streets below. “Nah, you probably can’t. Most people can’t. But it’s okay. That’s how life works, you know? Always figuring the shit out for yourself.”

Aiden blinked. “I can relate, dude.”

“You here for the view too?”

“Aren’t we all.”

A crow hopped over to squawk in the conversation, but the man waved it off.

“Just not today,” Aiden added.

“Why not?”

“Tried years ago. Shit’s exhausting.” He turned about face and went to a different ledge to look out elsewhere. He had no idea if the man was continuing to move closer to the edge. Aiden hoped he wasn’t but wasn’t too hopeful he had it in him to stop what might be the inevitable.

Silence from him. Aiden quickly glanced back, suddenly praying with all his might that his new acquaintance didn’t complete his mission.

But there he was, now off the railing. Leaning against it, rather, staring directly at Aiden. Simultaneously saddened and piercingly interested.

“Hi,” he murmured. “Name’s Lyle.”

“Aiden Trighton.”

Lyle extended his hand. Aiden walked across the tower to accept the shake, clocking the man. Despite his aggressively molded hair, Lyle seemed disheveled and rather nervous. That, coupled with his crooked jawline and crinkled eyes, put him on an temporary do-not-cross list. If he learned anything from last night, now was not the time to be making new male “friends.”

“Probably inappropriate to say,” Lyle continued, “but it’s nice to meet you.”

“is it?” Aiden raised an eyebrow.

Lyle slid his back down the wall to sit on the ground of the filthy concrete floor. Aiden turned his back to Lyle as a couple of people made their way to the top as well. To the casual passerby, Aiden was intent on taking in the sight. Instead, Aiden was desperately trying to find a way out of his situation. He should have just left with the tourists when he had the chance, but they came and went as Aiden uncontrollably found himself planted in place.

Private party for two again. “Well…?” Aiden wondered aloud.

His new partner in self-crime looked at him in surprise at the continued engagement. “Well what?”

Aiden nodded his head in the general direction of the tower railing.

Lyle sighed. “I’ve got no one.”

“Technically we only have ourselves, always.”

“No. Physically no one. No family. No friends. No ties to anywhere. I’m an actual fucking ghost among the living and I can’t take it anymore!” His voice was rising with an undercurrent of extreme duress. Aiden recognized this was Lyle’s precipice. He could fall over either side of his mental cliff at any moment. Every word Aiden said was crucial and possibly misconstrued in Lyle’s mind.

“Technically, I’m your friend now that you caught me up here.”

Lyle blinked slowly. “Don’t think that’s how it works.”

“Friend is an arbitrary word. It can work however you want it to.”

“Bullshit and you know it.”

Aiden forced a laugh, despite that noise being the last he wanted to make in this circumstance. “We’re friends because you noticed my bullshit.”

Lyle inadvertently cracked a crooked smile but hid it as he caught himself.

“Don’t make me laugh.”

“Because then I’ll talk you out of it?

“Yeah.”

Aiden shuffled his feet for a moment before subtly rolling his eyes and sitting next to Lyle.

“I don’t think we should talk up here anymore.”

He noticed an ever-so-slight nod of agreement from Lyle. Aiden stood (annoyed that he had just sat down) and offered to help up his new friend. Lyle accepted the gesture, and they began their silent descent from the top of the world.

~~~

Finally, with the click of the Starbucks’ bathroom door, one fucking moment alone.

Aiden had told Lyle he hadn’t peed all day and was thus about to combust, giving him at least five minutes of peace. He realized no matter how hard he tried to seclude himself and be on his own, the world was always going to find some fucker to throw in his path. Lyle equaled his current fucker, and not in the sexually gratifying way.

With that understood, he pulled out his phone to turn it on. Immediately, notifications for five missed calls from Tom and eight from Fran appeared. Voicemail galore.

“Jesus,” he muttered as he dialed his sister. “Can a bitch just live his life…”

And then – “Aiden! My god, where the fuck have you been?”

“Busy, sorry, are you okay? Is Chase okay?”

A silence. A different kind of silence from his sister.

“Aid.”

“Fran…what’s wrong?

His eyes began to tear up out of habit. He wasn’t ever going to be alone after what came next; he was almost positive.

“I’m so sorry, Aid. Dad died in a car accident last night.”

Part 6: Let Us Move On

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Fiona

Like every one of the seven billion and counting humans on the planet, Fiona had a weakness. The entire drive back to the hospital through leaving Rylan’s side with Aaron to the waiting room, she couldn’t stop jumping to the conclusion that the gay bar promo card was much more than a pity hand out on the street. That, together with seeing Aaron’s hands clasped around Rylan’s just as she walked in, drove her paranoia that her loving boyfriend was, well, no longer her boyfriend. Probably no longer loving, either. She needed something to believe.

Something firm. Anything.

Fi stared out the window as Aaron sat across from her in a firm, purple waiting room chair. She avoided his knowing blue eyes, aware that if they met she’d be forced to talk to him. Her mind was too far in thinking the love of her life was now a homosexual, and somehow it was Aaron’s fault.

She felt a surge of heat course through her skin, her temples pounding. What if sexuality had nothing to do with it? Rylan could easily be caught up in a drug ring and she’d have no idea. Anything was possible, but these were the facts in front of her at this moment, and it’s all that made sense. All she craved was clarity.

Fiona sighed, letting her guard down for a brief moment…just enough to make eye contact with Aaron.

As if on cue: “You okay?” he asked in a hushed voice.

Confused, hurt, and in so much emotional turmoil, Fiona only stared him down, keeping her tears at bay. Now was not the time for them. Now was the time to be strong.

“Fi.”

She opened her mouth, but closed it in a huff. Fiona pushed her hair back and blurted, desperate for answers, “You had something to do with this, didn’t you.”

Aaron let his thinned, brown hair fall in front of his face. “I’m sorry? That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

“Don’t lie to me, Aaron. I’ve known you too long. Just fucking…fucking end this. I need something to go on.”

“Fiona, how could you believe I had something to do with this? You think I’d help Rylan kill himself?”

Why was everyone trying to make her seem stupid? She was starting to feel more rage than compassion. She could feel it in her marrow. The heat was everywhere. “No! But you don’t go around holding guys’ hands, yet there you were five minutes ago, holding my unconscious boyfriend’s hands like they were the only fucking things on Earth you wanted to hold!”

A few sly stares from other waiting room inhabitants came their way. Fiona didn’t care. She was beginning to feel played, beginning to feel a conspiracy or secret coming to light.

Aaron shifted so they sat next to each other. He lowered his face as he put his face near hers.

“Yes.”

“Yes, what, Aaron?”

“Yes, I held his hands. Because I’m damn near terrified for him. And can you blame me for not wanting to let my friend slip away?”

Fiona’s brow trembled as she struggled with this possible truth, that Aaron was just being a good friend. Being compassionate. Who she wasn’t right now.

“This doesn’t make sense.” A crack in her voice. “This shouldn’t have happened.”

A single tear careened down her left cheek. Aaron brushed it away and put his lean arm around her, adding to her warmth with his maroon fleece sweatshirt.

“It makes some sense to me,” he whispered.

Fiona’s eyes sharply met his.

He continued: “I don’t know as much as you think I know. But I can maybe explain some things if that’s what you would like me to do. Honestly, I hate myself very much for letting it get to this point.”

“Tell me.”

Aaron removed his arm and stared straight at the floor, feet nervously tapping the clean tiles. “I want to tell you this might be hard to hear. That this might come as a complete shock to you.”

I was right.

“Or it might not.”

Oh my god, Rylan’s actually —

“Rylan’s gay. Has been his whole life. Will never accept it. Will always fight it.”

Fiona stared blankly at nothing in particular, not letting on that she was simultaneously caught between screaming and breathing relief. She had an answer. Confirmed.

“Okay.” One word was all she felt strong enough to say.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “You know I’m not, right?” Silence forced him to color his tone with anger at being misunderstood. “Fiona, listen to me. I had nothing to do with what happened here. I was only doing what I was asked of me.”

In a monotone voice: “You could’ve done more. More than I could.”

“Rylan’s the one who made a fucking pass at me! Remember my housewarming party? When we went outside to smoke? He fucking kissed me the second we were alone. No hints. No warning. He was there. I pushed him off immediately, Fi. You have to believe that.”

“I don’t know what to believe since the man I’m supposed to love is lying in the hospital for trying to take his own life, all because he’s simply, secretly gay.” Those last few words took on a dangerously low, barely audibly tone. Then: “So what happened?”

“Dunno if you recall, but I agreed to go on a run with him the next day, knowing full well he was going to try to undo what happened. He tried to tell me he was just wasted and thought I was you, which we both now know is bullshit. I told that to him then. I said he could talk to me anytime he needed someone to listen –“

“You mean to hear the lies he told me.”

“I meant –“

“You mean to help him carefully construct the shell of a man I thought I knew one hundred percent.”

“Fiona, all due respect, but shut the fuck up.”

Her face broke her stoic expression so dramatically, the ground shook.

Aaron continued to defend his good friend. “You try living with something about yourself you know is true, but have tried in every way, shape, and form to prove it isn’t. To change. And then to suddenly realize there’s no way out. Do you have any idea how isolating that is? To know you’re stuck with being someone you don’t want to be?”

“I can’t believe you’re saying I’m in the wrong here, after everything –“

He gave her a look of pure disgust, eyes practically turning black. “Who the hell did you become in the last twenty-four hours? What happened to the woman who stood up for her mother’s right to get a fucking green card? Your best friend, the love of your goddamn life, is fighting for his life, and all you can think about is being betrayed? I know it’s much to process but holy shit, Fiona, I thought you’d have a mind to understand. Fucking empathize. Deal with the entropy.”

The entire room was sneaking glances at them every other second. Fiona couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She felt herself becoming numb to everything around her. Sounds became silent. Faces became blurred. Her mind shut off.

She stood up. Aaron grabbed her hand.

“Fiona. I’m still here for you, too.”

With no glance back, the numb girl, who just a day ago had her entire life together, left the building. The warm air outside swarmed her body, though she immediately felt stone cold. Fiona reached her car, slowly climbed inside and shut the door with a soft click.

A deep breath, a single tear, and a loud scream later, she punched her fist against the car glass, blood immediately coating her angry knuckles. Her veins pulsed, pushing out against her weary skin.

Fiona sat alone for the next two hours.

~~~

Rylan

He never went to church, but now Rylan definitely believed in divine intervention. No matter how hard he tried – or wished he could – pursue Aiden, it never worked in his favor. Now, at possibly the weakest moment in his relatively short almost-ended life, Aiden was here. Standing in front of him.

Well, Aiden’s sister was. And he’d take it.

Not that Fran would’ve known it. She assumed he was panicking in seeing her before him as he awoke, but his convulsions represented quite the opposite reaction. He couldn’t believe after all he’d been through that, one way or another, Aiden had somehow been thrust his way.

His elation seemed to gloss over his current situation, ironically enough. Rylan could hardly pay less attention to laying in a hospital bed with a plethora of tubes attached to his forearms. All he cared about was fate throwing him a bone.

Meaning that he was supposed to live. Meant to live.

Rylan slowly shifted his weakened left hand to touch Fran’s. Fran took it as a sign to sit down.

“How are you feeling?” she murmured. The crinkles by both her eyes seemed fresh. Rylan hoped she wasn’t too worried about him.

He nodded fervently in response.

“Is it okay if I talk to you?”

Another nod.

Fran stroked his fingers softly, as Fiona used to do in the morning post-coital. But then she added to her soft touch a potent, jarring question that made him cold: “Why did you do this to yourself?”

In this particular moment, Rylan knew exactly why he did it. But was he going to tell Fran that? Absolutely not.

“I’m embarrassed,” he mumbled.

Fran looked off for a moment at the awful eggshell walls, musing. “Aiden was mortified after the fact. He was almost mute for two weeks. Never looked anyone in the eye. Hardly ate. Vomitted every day. Awake during the night. Slept during the day.”

Rylan stared at her until she met his gaze.

“Look, Rylan. I don’t know you at all. Just your name and that you have some fascination with my brother. And I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Aiden’s gone.”

A sharp intake of breath hurt. “…Gone?”

“No, not gone gone. He moved away.”

And suddenly his every nerve stung. “Oh.”

“So you need to let him go. Before you end up like Aiden was years ago. You’re too close to the precipice. You could lose everything if you don’t respect yourself and yearn to live. Please. I don’t want whatever you think of my brother to hinder anything about your life. I want you to be free.”

He looked away from her. His head was spinning. This conversation was going lightening fast in a direction he hadn’t anticipated.

Fran reached into her purse to pull out a piece of paper. She took a pen from Rylan’s nightstand and wrote something on it.

“Here,” she said, handing him the paper. “I want you to call me if you need to get away from…all of this. One hundred percent serious. I know that it feels like you’re alone. But you’re not.”

Still numb with the news that Aiden had left, Rylan watched Fran begin to step away. He desperately longed to tell her why he was so hung up on Aiden. Why this one man he barely knew had caused such a terrific storm of a magnetic pull.

Instead, he blurted, “I’m sick.”

Fran turned the face Rylan, her face showing warmth and understanding towards the lost man. “We’re going to get you better.” She began to leave again, calling to his assigned nurse to attend to him.

Rylan then sat alone for the next two hours.

Part 5: Midnight

“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

In just one week after moving, euphoria became tangible.

Happiness was his, but once he ignored Fran’s text about Rylan and simply lived his life without anxiety clouding every decision, he felt euphoria. Walking down the street to an insanely small bookstore and finding a childhood favorite. Smoking weed with Tom and his friends over a rowdy game of Cards Against Humanity. Looking in the mirror and not judging himself or knowing anything the day would bring: All euphoria.

Right now, however, this current moment of euphoria was a result of six – yes, literally six – shots of fireball coursing through Aiden’s esophagus in a matter of five minutes.

He hadn’t the faintest idea when he was last so carelessly and happily inebriated. Tom brought Aiden to a pregame with some friends who seemed to have never heard of the word ‘anxiety.’ They laughed, they made each other drinks, they danced about, and they told heartfelt drunken stories of their childhood. Though Aiden used to go out with work colleagues often, he hadn’t ever really experienced such camaraderie.

After the sixth fireball, Aiden blurted, “Part of me still wishes I had tried hetero sex when I was younger. You know? Hindsight.”

Tom’s best San Fran friend, Cassie, in all her black leather outfit glory, gasped, “You still think about vaginas?!”

Tom snorted, causing a ripple of snorts from the others in Cassie’s apartment where they currently sprawled for the evening. Aiden joined in, slightly embarrassed from his admission but mostly amused by his inability to control his randomized thoughts.

Perhaps it was because he was no longer constantly thinking and writing about his own journey – instead deciding to just live it – but he felt much more at ease sharing his life stories with these strangers. Even though Tom knew more of his life since they became friends, Aiden felt a closeness with him he didn’t realize was probably always there, just hindered by his hundreds of emotional walls.

So maybe not thinking about his sister, his problems, his personal writing, Rylan, or dating was considered running away after all. But honestly, Aiden didn’t give a flying fuck. He was twenty-seven years old and he deserved five seconds of freedom for once in his troubled life.

“I was going to suggest a gay bar, but maybe we gotta get Aiden laid in an old fashioned strip club,” Tom mused.

“Let’s just prostitute him on the street,” another, Peter, suggested. “More cost-effective.”

Cassie shot a hand in the air. “Hell, I haven’t been laid in a week so he can have me!” She made a flirtatious grab at Aiden’s ass, though instinct forced him to flinch in response. He masked it with a big smile.

The fourth friend, Jess, emerged from the bathroom having provided ample volume to her hair for the night. “Why are we standing around? Let’s move, people!” She began to push the group out the door. Tom and Aiden were the last to leave, but as Aiden closed the door behind him, Tom whirled around and got close to Aiden’s face. His smooth cinnamon scent from the fireball snuck around Aiden’s being, impossible to avoid.

“Hey.”

Aiden raised an eyebrow. “Hey.”

“Just making sure – you okay to go out?”

The suicide survivor half-smiled and pushed past his friend, ready to never admit he was deeply grateful his former nemesis was looking after him. “Probably not. That’s the point, though, isn’t it?”

~~~

Perhaps it was the oddly frigid Bay Area air, but the brisk aura surrounding the city seemed to sync with the Dentyne Ice level of fresh start Aiden felt after moving. Even the material logistics of him dodging out of his Los Angeles life, such as telling the company that he needed to take a leave of absence, weren’t weighing him down. His boss happily preyed upon the social media opportunities that awaited his viral writer in Nor Cal. Aiden had no intention of blogging on his “journey” for the time being, but there was no reason he couldn’t interview and report on the same issues in a new location. There were people who wanted to be heard, and Aiden’s captive audience could be the ear to those voices.

Five honestly not very long but very inebriated hours after the pregame, the only voice Aiden heard, was his own as he huffed up five flights of steep stairs and whipped the door open to Tom’s dark apartment. Tom had departed from the group to hit up a frequent lover from a staple bar in the Castro, despite complaining about the emotional tug of war it always initiated. Aiden was about to close the door behind him when he jutted his head into the hallway. The surrounding silence made him feel too uneasy, as if he was the only one awake in the city. Suddenly lonely and left behind as he always seemed to end up.

He slurred, “Hello?”

The subsequent lack of anything that happened next spurred him to step into the hallway. Trying again, he whispered more urgently, “Hello…”

Suddenly the stairwell door to Aiden’s immediate left swung open, and into his arms stumbled a taller man with facial hair Aiden knew he would be decidedly less attractive without (intoxication goggles aside).

“Hey you,” the man named Kyle murmured as he swooped his hands around Aiden’s face to plant a sweet kiss. “Sorry, phone fell and ran down the stairs away from me.”

“I get it, I get it,” Aiden dramatically sighed. “You don’t want to hook up with someone ugly but the boner in your pants demanded otherwise.”

“Fuck, not at all, I swear –“

“I was kidding, idiot. Get inside so I can have you.”

Aiden felt a new kind of euphoria from his assertion with Kyle, who he had met while helping Tom’s friend Jess off a table (Kyle had so generously offered to help with the step down, though Aiden knew his true intention was just an introduction). The constant elated sensations since discovering his San Francisco freedom worried him a bit, though. Was he actually becoming free from his anxiety or was this all a placeholder for the moment reality sucked him into his own black hole? Aiden didn’t trust his happiness to last long, though he was making sure to have it be worthwhile before the eventual crash.

Before he’d be alone again.

And then, the next Aiden knew, he and Kyle were unclothed as one entity in Tom’s guest bed. Their eyesight connected, neither closing their eyes to the sensuality between them. Kyle pushed in to lock lips, but in one flash of a moment Aiden felt his own presence melt away. He buried his face in Kyle’s shoulder, hoping to hide the fact his expression desperately gave away Aiden’s need for Kyle to get the fuck out of the apartment.

“You are so fucking hot,” moaned the stranger.

Aiden gifted him a weak moan in return. What the fuck was he honestly doing in bed with someone he didn’t know? There wasn’t a point. The morning would only consist of a half-assed handjob before the stranger went on his no-harm-no-foul way. The passion between the two was completely fabricated, an inaccurate sense of romance. This right here was simple human instinct – primal, selfish, and, as a result, isolating.

The stranger would bounce in the morning without a care, leaving Aiden bereft of some amount of love he had just fucked away.

Ever the drunk gentleman, the stranger helped Aiden finish before finishing himself. No matter the crowding thoughts in his mind, Aiden didn’t have it in his heart to kick the stranger out. Instead, he wordlessly stared into the stranger’s eyes while holding him close, letting the fantasy of sharing his bed with Rylan slowly melt over his reality.

In the morning, the stranger attempted to wake a fake-asleep Aiden to grab  breakfast. Aiden’s middle school theater background came in handy as the stranger believed his farce and gave up, departing the apartment after leaving a business card behind on Aiden’s nightstand. Aiden slowly opened one eye to reach for the card, but decided against it and rolled over.

His week of euphoria was over.

~~~

Fran

Not having Aiden’s and her parents to rely on for support, Fran was knee-deep in worry for her brother. Aiden had been gone for about a week and a half, and she hadn’t heard a peep from him since. His Instagram was blowing up with tourist-y images galore, but nary a word in edgewise as to how he was actually surviving.

And Fran was livid about it.

After all the fucking bullshit she had to deal with on an almost daily basis for the past God-knows-how-many years, Fran expected one fucking update or at least a fucking hello. Was this the extravagant gratitude she was going to receive for helping Aiden save his own life years ago – an almost-Irish goodbye?

As Fran slipped out of the hospital to pick up Chase from his play-date, she realized half of the truth rooted in the fact Aiden was one-third of her life, her son  and herself being the final pieces of the pie chart. Without Aiden, she didn’t perpetually feel as if she needed to keep tabs on his emotions and mental state. That’s not to say she didn’t want to, hence her rage over being cut off. She wanted to know everything that was happening to him, everything that seemed to be making him so happy six hours north. Fran felt left out, left behind with her beautiful child and soulless parents. Stuck with the life Aiden no longer wanted to be a part of.

Observing Chase in the backseat of the car as she drove back to the hospital, Fran wondered if Chase cared at all that Uncle Aiden hadn’t been around to horribly-but-cutely rap fairytales to him. It was by far Chase’s favorite moment of the week, something that kept Fran subtly always jealous at Aiden’s ability to be good with kids in ways she wasn’t; but Chase hadn’t inquired about Aiden once. She wished she had his innocence again. A clean slate.

Fran clutched her son’s delicate hand as they walked into the building. She gave it a bit of a squeeze as flashes of her fight with Aiden popped into her head.

“You’re not going to get the clarity you need! You’re tired of the fight, that’s it. That’s no excuse to pack up and forgo your life!”

“Maybe because I’m the only one doing what we both wanted – get out of this soul-sucking vortex of loneliness away from our family and that fucker who knocked you up.”

“Don’t you fucking dare, Aiden. Don’t you dare say that to me after all I’ve been through for you.”

“Then fucking come with me!”

“Aiden, don’t you get it? We don’t get to be clean again –“

“Mommy?” Chase’s munchkin voice interrupted Fran’s sad memory.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“You didn’t push the button.”

Fran quickly glanced around her, unaware they were standing in the elevator going nowhere. “Oh, I’m so silly. Don’t you want to push the button?”

Chase ran behind his mother, pulling on her scrubs in fear. “No, Mommy, no! I don’t like them.”

The mother humorously sighed for her son’s sake. This fear of elevator buttons had recently come out of nowhere. She still amused by every irrational fear children concocted out of thin air. “How come, baby? Why don’t you like them?”

His muffled answer was spoken into his clothes.

“I can’t hear you, silly goose!”

Chase whimpered. “…Lots of people touch them. They’re dirty.”

Of course. The latest phobia of all things dirty came courtesy of an insane television commercial for Mr. Clean, where the dust came to life as miniature pigs. And Chase did not like pigs. Not at all.

The two of them debated the cleanliness of elevator buttons and how they could overcome this truly serious impediment as Fran brought Chase to the daycare. She left him on the crucial point that all dirty items could probably be cleaned someway, somehow. Chase kissed his mother goodbye, and Fran made her way back to the elevator despite having work to do on her current floor.

She pressed the button for the first floor. A serene woman stated, “Emergency Room.”

Fran exited the elevator, heading down the hall and stopping at an occupied bed space. There, an Asian woman and a man stood over the exhausted, fragile man with tubes attached to his body. Calmly, she asked the duo if she could check the man’s vitals in silence. They solemnly exited, and Fran pulled the space’s curtain around her. She took in the hospitalized man who was breathing steadily in his unconscious state…until one of his eye’s hinged open.

Fran placed her hand on his. “Rylan. Hi.”

“…Hi.”

“My name is Fran. I’m Aiden’s sister.”

Rylan rose to consciousness probably much more quickly out of shock than he should, causing him to violently thrash.

“Rylan, please, it’s okay. Don’t do this. I want to help you.”

He thrashed a bit more, but grew tired as his moaning subsided. His darkened eyes met Fran’s, terrified as he realized the variables and unknowns of his future were rapidly multiplying.

Fran gripped his hand. “I want to help you,” she breathed. “And I need you to help me.”