The longer he tried to explain to the bartender how he received a misspelled tattoo of the word “triumph” on his left forearm, the more he realized how much more of a triumph it was to survive this conversation than to have survived a suicide attempt.
Of course, he didn’t really believe that. But good lord was it a verbal root canal trying to simplify living a life with the word “trump” engraved in his skin. Was it his fault his inebriated sister wanted to leave a mark of sibling pride on her brother’s body? Technically yes; however, the idea of denying his sister the right to scribble on his arm after putting her through the wringer seemed greedy. Plus, he had come to find the eternal mark endearing. His sister was always with him now, in a sense.
Why the bartender was so intrigued by the damn story remained to be seen. He didn’t seem to be flirting with him, evidenced by the lack of eye contact and willingness to be interrupted by other patrons. He himself, however, could not seem to leave without making sure the bartender was rooted in the facts.
“She graduated high school with honors, I promise,” he said earnestly, hoping this was the sentence to end his captivity at the table. He glanced at the opposite end of the bar, where his friends were giving him an onslaught of one-eyebrow raises. “‘Triumph’ is in her vocabulary. Thanks for the beer –”
“Don’t tell me I worked my way through the crowd to get to the bar for nothing.”
Confused as to who was addressing him, he spun about face to see a handsome man simultaneously out of place at Revolver (see: his starkly colored flannel shirt) and in his element (see: the cranberry vodka in his left hand).
As a West Hollywood staple, Revolver was a fairly low-key bar to run into all types of men. Some nights ran mostly toward an older demographic, but this Saturday night found the bar privy to a younger crowd usually found at The Abbey. All of the plasma screens were projecting music videos for the current hits found during Ryan Seacrest’s morning radio nonsense. Seeing a man in flannel simply didn’t happen too often in the city, though.
A bit disoriented from the immediate jump from the bartender to stranger, he didn’t know what to say to the handsome stranger with the firm jawline and rather large ears.
“Sorry,” the man in flannel said. “Not my best line.” He extended his right hand, the one free of the vodka. “I’m Rylan.”
He accepted the handshake. “Aiden Trighton. Nice to meet you.” Realizing his tone was a wee tight, Aiden threw a smile out on his face. A party trick he became well-trained in in the years leading up to his breakdown.
A hand on his shoulder – Davinia, best friend from college, best dressed female in a gay bar. “Boy, will you stop the socialite kick for a second and get your ass over here so we can celebrate?” Davinia gave Rylan a quick glance-over before adding: “Ryan Reynolds can come too, if he wants.”
Aiden sputtered for hardly a second before the flannel man put up a hand in peace. “I didn’t realize I was interrupting a celebration. By all means, carry on. It was a pleasure, Aiden Trighton.” With that, he dissolved into the crowd as abruptly as he had come.
Davinia led Aiden back to their group. “Who was that?”
“Couldn’t tell you.”
Quite honestly, Aiden tried not to meet too many new people at the bars and clubs. Living in Los Angeles made one aware of the underlying personality many locals shared: the flake, the selfish, the lost. Not that Aiden was any different from the latter. By no means was he done being lost. At least now he had found the long and winding path home. In any case, he never made particular motions to keep in touch with those he met during the witching hours. They never stuck around long enough anyway.
An uncomfortable feeling manifested in Aiden’s mind as he and Davinia re-entered their group. Sudden claustrophobia.
A colleague, Aiden couldn’t focus on who, raised his Moscow Mule. Others in the group did the same as the bar became more clamorous. “Drinks up for Aiden, for proving there’s triumph in sharing your darkest moments on WordPress – not Blogspot!”
Everyone drank their juice of choice while Aiden fake-sipped his beer. He quickly pretended to receive a phone call and slipped outside into the desert-cold Californian air. Past the bouncer was a sidewalk crawling in bar and club-goers slinking about for their next sexual prey (no rape reference intended, so stop it). Aiden quickly leaned against Revolver’s cool, brick wall, closing his eyes for a moment and allowing his hands to take in the soothing chill of the wall’s surface.
Breathe in…breathe out.
One more time, breathe it in, and breathe it away.
Not okay now, but it will all be okay.
Okay. Open eyes.
The busy sidewalk suddenly seemed to bustle less, a form of silent noise taking over Aiden’s senses. His personal calm. His silent, predatory anxiety was retreating, allowing his focus to realign on the man standing in front of him. He wasn’t facing Aiden, though; rather, he simply stood as a part of the crowd and simultaneously distant from it. The bystander who wants to participate but is unsure how to join the stream.
A few heavy seconds passed of Aiden gazing until he broke away. Something made him need to breathe deeply one more time, closing his eyes. When he did, a hauntingly familiar voice reached his ears.
Not okay now.
Aiden opened his eyes.
But it will all be okay.
The man had turned around, revealing himself to be the Man in Flannel. M.I.F. Almost a M.I.L.F. Gender in the way.
Aiden looked at him for a moment, before: “Hey.”
Rylan took a couple steps forward. Not too close; just closer. “That an ‘I’m okay” kind of ‘hey,’ or an ‘Everything is embarrassing’ kind of ‘hey’?”
Shifting his feet, arms immediately crossing, Aiden genuinely quarter-smiled. “I’m okay.”
As they say in film scripts: beat.
“So, Aiden Trighton, why the lack of celebrating?”
It was one of those questions that bared a legitimate need for pause. Aiden did not have a straight truth as to why he needed to leave his friends. Not that being alone was a reflex, but the issue seemed to revolve more around Aiden’s lack of interest in being celebrated. He tried to off himself. His writings were only honest reflections of his experience, not necessarily worthy of accolades. Did honesty deserve celebration? Should he feel the need to be celebrated for his honesty?
“Fuck if I know.”
“Can I ask why you’re supposed to be celebrating?”
Aiden didn’t have to live up to the truth all the time, though. “Some writings I’ve put online have captured a bit of an audience lately.”
Rylan, now a few more steps forward, slowly teetered on his feet with his hands in his pockets. Everyone behind him on the sidewalk appeared out of focus – ghosts in the jubilant night.
“You certainly know how to capture an audience.”
For some scarily unknown reason to Aiden, the two’s eyes were locked; chance of finding the key be damned.
“I doubt that.”
Flannel man smiled a tiny smile. Then put his hand out. Aiden’s eyes flitted back and forth between Rylan’s eyes and his hand multiple times. After a decade of hesitation, Aiden clasped his hand against Rylan’s. Flannel man used the shake to bring Aiden in for an embrace. Aiden was instantly enveloped in a warm scent, one he yearned for the second Rylan stepped away.
“I hope you stay viral.”
Aiden couldn’t breathe again.
But it will all be okay.
One more smile and the flannel disappeared from sight. The sidewalk slammed into focus. Aiden backed up against the cool brick wall of the bar, looking for anything to sober his more-feelings-than-alcohol-intoxicated mind.
Ironically enough, when push came to shove, the decision to take his own life never brought the word suicide into his mind. All Aiden could think about was fixing the problem. The problem was himself. The solution had nothing to do with incorporating a tragic categorizing of the action. Aiden just wanted to be free.
Freedom, however, wasn’t so easily accomplished through his blogged experiences. More than ever people asked him why he felt the need to commit suicide, why he didn’t want to be a part of his friends’ and family’s lives anymore, why he didn’t want to continue living the one life he was given.
The fear that no one would clear their head and just listen to him swirled around his psyche as he walked through Echo Park’s 3rd Annual Walk to be Heard. Once his blog went viral, the publishing company Aiden worked for jumped at the chance to sponsor this year’s event, unfortunately culminating in an even bigger fear of his: speaking to a crowd. A mass of people that had already been touched by the fingertips of the depths he brought himself back from.
What if he couldn’t say what he had already committed to in writing?
A rush of green and burst of light-up Sketchers slammed into Aiden, resulting in a sudden loss of balance and personal acquaintance with the pavement. Aiden laughed as he hugged his rambunctious nephew and rolled on the ground.
“Aiden, ohmigosh – Chase, honey! You can’t do that to Uncle Aiddie!”
Aiden took his attention away from the fervor of the three year old to his approaching sister, who looked more worn down carrying a picnic basket than Aiden was being thrown to the ground.
The brother stood up to hug his sister. “Hey Fran. Good to see you, babe.”
“I regret naming him Chase every other day.”
Chase ran off to a nearby patch of grass to, well, chase a butterfly.
“You just have good foresight.”
Fran, a current brunette despite her ginger origins and a freckled face only a certain Easy A actress could outdo, slightly tilted her head and smiled with her eyes to acknowledge her assistance in helping him “fix the problem” in a more healthy way. Gifted since birth with foresight. Being the younger sister had its advantages.
She fixed one of the lame duck spikes in Aiden’s hair. “You ready?
Aiden looked at her. He didn’t know if he was supposed to be ready for this. He wasn’t ready for blogosphere fame, nor did he anticipate it when he posted his story.
“I was drunk when I hit the ‘submit’ button.”
“That was behind a computer screen. Anyone can do that. You’re about to speak honestly in front of a good chunk of people. You’re physically sticking to the words you wrote, and that’s the strongest thing a man can do.”
Air left Aiden’s lungs.
Not okay now.
“I’m so proud of you.”
But it will all be okay.
Aiden stared past his sister at her little child running as carefree as the butterfly he chased flew higher and higher into the obviously sunny skies above.
“Hey.” Fran clasped her hands softly around Aiden’s face to bring him back from his encroaching fears. “I’m here for you. Talk to them like you talk to me. They only want to know it’ll be okay, too.”
He nodded. “Are mom and dad coming?”
The sister refused to break eye contact. “I said that I was here for you. Don’t let them into your head now.”
“I know. I just…wish they were here for some reason.”
Fran pulled her older brother in for a hug. Comfort.
“What definitively matters is you are here, Aid, and you are here for these people.”
The two siblings held each other in silence for a few minutes. Recollecting on the strength they shared and the fresh lives they had ahead without their respective demons. A short, poignant familial moment only shattered when an eager event coordinator approached Aiden with at least twelve smiles on his face.
“Right this way, sir. We’re all very excited to hear your story.”
Once at the podium on stage, Aiden took a deep breath, surveying the beautiful day that encompassed him. Two months since that chilly night at Revolver had brought on the bright colors of late spring that he loved. Everyone around was naturally happy. That’s how humanity should be, he thought. Naturally happy, no strings attached.
The crowd stared back at him.
He glanced at his sister in the crowd. A gentle head nod of confidence given in return.
“Usually when someone says hello, you should greet them back. Didn’t your mothers teach you anything?”
Laughter. At me? With me?
“My mom didn’t teach me that, actually. She, uh, didn’t teach me too much at all.” The laughter swiftly silenced itself. “Sorry…that might have been too real too fast…” He swallowed. “Um…I mean…”
Aiden’s eyes flitted in every direction possible before landing on Chase, who surprisingly locked eyes with his uncle. His innocence was so powerful right now, forever shaping fresh existence until he was no longer hidden from the dangers of the world. Aiden’s nephew was lucky he had a parent who would always protect him from himself.
“Whatever,” he blurted. “My parents were always in my life…in their own way. I found myself, oddly, without safety in the arms of the two human beings who gave birth to me. To this day, I do not know why that is, and that uncertainty made me attempt to take my own life when I was twenty-four years old.”
An immediate and insane ringing zipped into Aiden’s ear when he realized how dead silent the world around him was. The crowd was staring intently at him, waiting for him to speak his truth. And it was in this moment of simultaneous silence and ringing that he realized he didn’t have a truth to share, or one that made sense to anyone else but him. They wouldn’t understand. No one ever understood him.
Fran mouthed: “Breathe.”
It won’t all be okay.
“I’m sorry. I can’t do this. Not yet.”
As if he was having an out of body experience, Aiden swiftly descended the stage steps while his heart stood still at the podium. The eager event coordinator was too ready for disaster and immediately blew a horn to signal all walkers to head to the starting line.
Confused and pitying murmurs could be heard from behind the stage where Aiden went to sink on the grassy surface of the earth. His vision wasn’t blurry, but he wasn’t trying to maintain any clarity on the world surrounding him. Head pounding, heart dripping into his mouth…Aiden felt disgusting for ditching what was supposed to be the most openly honest and freeing experience. He felt belittled by himself. Worthless.
Fucking fuck, what was wrong with him?
He could hear Fran’s distant calls to him as she ran over with her son. When Aiden finally turned his head to find guidance in his sister, he not-so-subtly mumbled, “Holy shit.”
Behind Fran, his parents were walking away from him towards the parking lot.
Also behind Fran but walking towards Aiden was a familiar man who once wore flannel.
With nowhere to physically hide as everyone would witness him doing it, Aiden forced himself to focus on his breathing and not look at anything but what was right in front of him. Of fucking course Lawrence and Julia and Mystery Man would appear at the same time at one of the most currently vulnerable moments in his life. Why the fuck did his parents actually show up? Why weren’t they saying hello? I fucking disappointed them again, that’s why, he thought.
Aiden quickly gave Fran a reciprocated “what the hell” stare while simultaneously eyeing Rylan in the background to halt him in his tracks.
As his sister threw him into a tight embrace, “Did our parents really listen to me trash them in front of a crowd and then not mention to my face I trashed them to a crowd? And subsequently watch me burn faster than the meteor that wiped every fucking dinosaur on the planet?”
“I think they’ve done more shocking things than acknowledge the truth about the situation. Aiden, forget this. You tried your best. No one thinks less of you.”
Aiden opened his mouth to speak, then reconsidered. A long painful moment in his heart passed before asking, “Do you think I disappointed them again?”
The two of them sat against the stage without realizing a pile of dirt was beneath them instead of grass. The two watched Chase in the distance, showing no signs of tiring out. Fran lay her head on Aiden’s shoulder and sighed. “I don’t have an answer for you.”
“I sense a theme emerging.”
Fran noticed Aiden accidentally, almost distractedly, making eye contact with Rylan.
“You know him?”
“I think so.”
“What’s to think about – you know or you don’t.”
“Go talk to him. He’s a cute one.”
“Oh please, Francesca, don’t go there now. I’m a mess.”
The sister shoved her brother Flannel’s way just as the walk marshall shouted for everyone to gather on the trail to begin the mile. Fran watched as Aiden numbly walked over to Rylan, using his fake-smiling skills to thank those who congratulated him on his speech.
The two men stood in front of each other. Rylan pulled him into a hug almost immediately.
“Long time no see,” he said.
“Yeah…for sure. Did you, um, know I would be…here?”
“I was actually just taking myself for a walk. You know, enjoy the weather.”
“LA never has weather like this.”
Rylan smiled. “And I happened upon the crowd. Thought I’d see what the commotion was. Didn’t realize you were such a fire-starter.”
Aiden self-consciously grinned. “I don’t know what to say.”
The event marshall sounded a horn again, commencing all the walkers to begin their walk of solidarity. Rylan gestured to them.
“I think you’ve spoken enough today. In a good way. Shall we?”
Aiden raised an eyebrow. “You want to walk?”
“That’s what I came for. I didn’t say I had to do it alone.”
The two slowly meshed into the line of walkers. Intrigue and confusion clouded Aiden’s attention, forcing him to miss Rylan silence his own incoming phone call from Fiona.
“I’m sorry if that was hard. Being up there.”
“I’m used to fucking up. I’ll get over it.”
A soft silence.
“Was that your family? With you by the stage?”
“That it was.” A grimace. “That it was.”
“I sense a story.”
“You sense my life.”
Four and a half seconds.
“So…you’ve heard enough about me. What’s your story?
“Not much to tell, I’m afraid. Born in Fresno. Survived. Moved here six years ago.”
“Not all of us have a near-death experience to anchor the drama of our own lives.” Two seconds. “Sorry, that was harsh.”
“A bit. But yeah I almost died.” A moment. “Doesn’t that make me more macho than you?”
“Have you seen these arms?”
“Are you really showing off your clearly exercised arms to me while questioning my masculinity?”
“Am I required to ask another question in response?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
Chuckles. Then too long of a pause.
“What brought you solo to Revolver that night?”
Another laugh. “I want to say ‘I don’t know,” but I know you won’t be satisfied with that answer.”
“You don’t need to satisfy me, just tell me the truth.”
“Felt like riding solo. That’s all.”
“Do it often?”
Three seconds. “Depends on the day I’ve had.”
“What type of day would that be?”
“Dunno. Sometimes you just want a change of pace, you know?”
“I can understand that. Go solo, on the prowl for bottoms. Go with friends, on the prowl for an orgy. Being gay is so easy.”
Almost immediately: “I’m not gay. I mean, I am, just –”
“Should I be concerned?”
“What do you mean?”
“Because you showed up alone at a gay bar, and you showed up alone here, both times running into me, both times being cagey, both times looking really fucking cute. That’s why I’m asking if I should be concerned. For my life.”
“You think I’m cute?”
“We’re not talking about that right now.”
Passerby: “We’re all proud of you, sir. Thank you for being here and doing what you do.”
“Thank you. That means a lot to me. Truly. Enjoy the walk.”
“That was nice of her.”
A shrug, then a head tilt.
“Do you want to know why people commit suicide?”
“I’m being serious. Do you want to know?”
“Because we feel not only quintessentially alone, but actually bereft of seeing the future. Of seeing what we meant to anyone else, including ourselves. Because no matter what nothing seems honest. There’s no point to live if honesty isn’t tangible.”
“I’m sorry, Aiden.”
“I’m not asking you to be. I’m asking you to tell me the truth, because this is weird.”
“I should go.”
“You do you.”
Aiden didn’t bother to watch Rylan exit through the park behind him. He kept walking forward. One look back, and he’d end up back where he was three years ago – living in a world of dishonesty.
That’s not to say it wasn’t tempting, though.
Nothing induced more of a cringe for Rylan than to kiss Fiona before she went to bed, though she would never know how he tensed his emotional muscles for the moment. There was no spare second throughout the day that he didn’t feel guilty about clouding his true feelings to his best friend, but sometimes being honest with your best friend is the hardest honesty to achieve. Because then the truth is real. And Rylan didn’t think this truth would ever be something he was ready for.
Their touch of lips signaled a brief transition, one that denoted when Fiona’s night ended so she could wake up early for work as well as when Rylan could leave the house to meet up with some “buddies.” If Fi knew exactly which buddies he was entertaining with his presence, she might feel differently about her true love having a nightlife of which she wasn’t a part.
Rylan was fucking lucky, and he fucking guiltily knew it. Fi was that girl who, once you gained her trust, hardly wavered, if ever. She listened, she responded, she loved, and she most definitely cared. Rylan couldn’t bare to let her go because she was his best friend. Without her, he’d lose his compass. He already lost one in his mother. He couldn’t lose Fiona Panecelli too.
As Rylan left their apartment to walk the typical couple blocks down to his car, he reminded himself what was at stake: Stability. He thrived on it, yearned for it.
He got in his car, took off his sweatshirt to reveal a British flag-printed tank, and breathed slowly.
Fuck stability. He needed this. Ignition on.
He walked up to the Abbey, the easiest club in the world to switch multiple times between being a hetero and a homo. Any form of ‘preference’ was accepted here. Easy enough if he was caught in a situation that warranted his anxiety.
Living in Glendale allowed Rylan to slip into his forsaken identity, as the distance between home and Boys Town kept his facade as a gay man safe from his reality. Though he didn’t make the transition often, he made it enough to easily slip into the nightclub without much of the usual anxiety he had in daylight.
Passing through the gothic arches of the premises, the collage of strobe lights, darkness, and thrashing beats smacked Rylan in the face – and he liked it. It was everything a vagabond adolescent dreaming of sexy figures slinking up and down poles could have wanted. The vibe was hot, the mood was infectious, and Rylan was – scratch that, should’ve been – on the prowl.
Instead, Rylan made his way to the bar, ordered a whiskey sour, and kept darting his eyes around the place, either avoiding every guy’s gaze who came his way or intensely looking for someone in particular. The drink came, the payment went, a soft slap on the ass from a stranger, and then –
There. In the thick of the dense, sweaty, sexy crowd.
The waves of his brown hair were unmistakable, especially when matched with his crooked smile. Their brief and random past aside, Rylan knew he needed to talk to him for real. He began to push through the throngs of men clad in neon tanks to enter the dancefloor. A bass-heavy remix of a Rihanna b-side seared through the air. He ignored the frequent “hellos” and hands grabbing him as he passed, not needing the attention of an essentially worthless one hour hook up. All he wanted was –
The object of his desire didn’t turn around, instead continuing to thrash with the rest of the crowd. Rylan put a hand on his shoulder, again shouting above the bass, “Aiden!”
The young man who wasn’t Aiden turned around in slight bewilderment of Rylan’s hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he shouted back, “what’d you say, handsome? I’m Grant.” The random pulled Rylan into a deeply unwanted hug, though the tight embrace did help Rylan’s heart from splintering any further than it had in the last three and a half seconds.
When Rylan didn’t reciprocate the name-sharing: “What’s your name, dude?”
“It was nice meeting you.”
He threw the rest of his drink back, dropped the glass on the floor, and awkwardly shuffled his way out of the crowd into the outside patio. Approaching this bar for round two, Rylan turned his head to find a barely familiar face from months ago. The one who called him Ryan Reynolds. His friend. Aiden’s.
“Hey cutie, whatchoo doin’ here by yaself?”
“I was hoping someone I knew might be here.”
“Oh my goodness, I love a hot – oh, two vodka sodas please and thank you!” Davinia flashed the bartender a smile before drunkenly refocusing on Rylan’s depressed and increasingly sweaty figure. “I love a hot reunion! Who’s your man candy? He treatin’ you right? Why don’t choo hang with me and my crew…”
As she began to pull Rylan towards her squad for that inevitable Instagram, he sputtered through his anxiety to suddenly admit, “it’s Aiden! Your friend…you know…Aiden…”
Davinia whirled around so fast that the drag queens on either side were whiplashed with some serious hair trauma. “How you know my boy?”
Rylan, caught unaware by the woman’s sudden fierce protection, didn’t know how to be honest without coming off as Aiden’s personal, yet only sometimes, stalker. So he said the only thing that came to mind that was halfway sincere.
“I like him.”
The loyal friend un-narrowed her eyes. “Sorry, baby. I think you missed him.”
Rylan furrowed his brow in confusion as he kept his body thrashing to the hard beats around him, knowing he was only going to be disappointed by what he heard next.
What the fuck was wrong with himself, he couldn’t figure out. Sliding down the slippery surface of the wet tiles of his shower that same night, Aiden realized that entire conversation with him at the walk had torturously revolved in his head for the past month and a half. No actual sight of him, though. Just constant visions of someone who wasn’t supposed to matter to him.
Aiden didn’t close his eyes as his shower head dumped tears on his skull, drops that stroked every inch of his weary face. He didn’t let himself succumb to actual crying. Instead, he focused all of his freefalling energy into watching a stereotypically confused ant climb up the tiles. It slipped every half second, but it kept trying.
Aiden wondered if the ant cared that it was incessantly failing at escaping its prison. Probably not, he thought. A fleeting flash of empathy afterwards proved that he desperately wanted the ant to care. So he could care. So he could get the fuck out.
The ant fell to the ledge of the far end of the shower. Just like it, the past month and a half of obsessing over a pathetic guy who couldn’t admit his own sexuality in this day and age was a freefall into his old ways. However, this time, suicide was not an option. Fran would be happy to know that suicide wasn’t anywhere close to being added to the list of ways to get Rylan out of Aiden’s head. Aiden, on the other hand, was livid. Rylan’s secrecy and clouded intentions irked him to no end, and knowing that stupidly dreaming of a future with such an attractive man who lied pushed him further towards the darkness he worked so hard to climb out of.
He was self-aware that he still hadn’t learned to communicate properly. Aiden knew he might probably feel better if he talked to Fran or another of his closer friends about what was in his mind. But the entire scenario felt pathetic. Small. He saw a guy twice in his life who was more question mark emoji than human. So what?
But Aiden was wired to know the truth at all costs. He couldn’t live without it. He wouldn’t live without it.
I need to know the truth, he thought as the ant finally regained its footing to try its Everest climb again. Aiden slowly reached up behind him to turn the shower knob off, then opened the door. The ant stumbled from the noise and movement but, though Aiden didn’t see it, still climbed its way out.
Davinia pulled out her clearly used iPhone (fingerprints galore) and proceeded to pull up a webpage in Safari. Aiden’s blog. The most recent post read, “Hiatus.” “Here’s your proof. He’s moving to San Francisco for a bit. Taking some time for himself, which, if I know him at all after our days in college, the boy desperately needs.”
Rylan could only stare at that word: “Hiatus.”
“You okay, hon?”
“But he’s coming back, yeah?”
“Ooh boy you got bit by some bug somehow someway! You glowin’!”
Rylan couldn’t help but smile. That’s how looking at Aiden made him feel…but this was so fucking stupid. Why was he standing here talking to a stranger about his feelings? He lost out. Again. Better to go back home to what he knows. Fiona. Her smile, her forever cherry-kissed breath. Emerald glinting eyes that crinkled when she laughed. Love he could never reciprocate.
Because he could never be honest with her.
No one would ever know him like Aiden did. And what does that say about himself, knowing Aiden knew him only two days out of his twenty-nine years of existence? But Aiden picked up on it all so quick, so fast. And Rylan couldn’t share one simple truth with him. It was so easy, and he blacklisted his own heart.
He then realized this is what the purest form of isolation felt like.
“I’m sorry, I have to go. Sorry I bothered you.”
“You okay, baby?”
Rylan bulleted. He needed to get the inevitable over with.
Eyes opened on too bright windows because the curtains were never shut. Body rolled over to see no companion.
Rylan. Where was he?
Before she stepped out of bed with the energy of a teenager who took five miles jogs in the morning, Fiona stared at the vast space of vacant bed surrounding her. She knew Rylan so well after seven years together that she didn’t have to question him hanging out with the “crew” while she went to bed. Why should her early-rising nursing responsibilities have to prohibit him from having a social life? At the same time, did he have to go out so damn often?
Rylan was a restless soul. Fi knew that, and that’s what she loved about him. Having been born in Taiwan and living her life in six countries before having met Rylan and settling in California, she knew all too well that some people, including herself at one time, just needed to be out living. Just living. Doing whatever felt fulfilling.
Did it worry her that Ry seemed more restless than usual over the past couple months? Of course. She’d be stupid not to. He’d mentioned work-related stress in trying to move up the corporate ladder for the firm, coupled with a strong longing to return to his days of the art curating he did in Brooklyn. Fiona, however, thought she was doing the best she could to help him through that. To support him in whatever needs he might have.
Fi knew that she might be seen as whipped or overbearing to other couples, but she understood herself to simply be caring. Let a bitch take care of her boyfriend.
Which is why it was a bit ironic that she fell to her knees and immediately passed out when she stepped into the bathroom that morning to see Rylan bleeding out from his wrists. Both of their eyes locked on each other’s as they folded shut to subconsciousness.
She always believed in three kinds of pain. Just three, nothing more.
The first kind was the easiest to describe: physical pain. The pain felt when your physical human body had been damaged or harmed in a clearly visible manner. Whether it be a scrape on the knee from falling off a tricycle after first learning how to ride, the piercing moans when recognizing the onset of appendicitis within your stomach, or being shot in the face for simply being in the wrong alley at the wrong time on a drunken night home, physical pain was the easiest to diagnose and to cope with.
Fiona’s second form of pain recognized as a nurse was a bit more problematic: emotional pain. She tended to see this in those visiting the hospital patients, not just the patients themselves after they realize what trauma they’ve been through. While most physical pain, if lucky and watched upon by the heavens above, healed over time, emotional pain was much more likely to linger in both one’s conscience and subconscious for the duration of life. That image of the car barreling towards you and your loved one just before her mortality was snatched forevermore, the sense of utter failure and isolation when you realize your paralysis is real and normal human motion will never again be in your grasp, the despair when the narcotic overdose that landed you in the ER has pushed your family completely out of your life – all of it lends itself directly into the category of emotional pain for its eternal scars on how you emote in the future.
The third and final type of pain Fiona denoted was the most difficult and troublesome of the three, as she could never exactly put it into words, even after the multitude of patients she’d tended to throughout her career. That is, until she herself was standing over her loved one, Rylan Jackson, as he lay asleep in his starkly white hospital-standard bed.
The devoted and visibly shaken girlfriend turned at the sound of her own name. A fellow nurse she didn’t know had arrived to check in on Rylan. Normally most guests would be asked to spend a few moments in the waiting room at this time, but there was no way in hell Fiona wasn’t going to milk her career privileges and stay by Rylan’s side.
This moment in her life was truly the third form of pain: the pain of the unknown.
Fiona, in a way, had made it one of her life’s mission to put into perspective the demon that was the Unknown. She figured once she had her answer, it would be easier to care for her patients and provide the best possible guidance and support. However, she was currently trapped in the Unknown’s tight embrace without having a single clue what was making her numb. All breath had been knocked out of her when she saw Rylan bleeding his life away. She was unsure if she would ever have clarity as to why.
If Rylan didn’t wake up, there would be no why. Because only Rylan knew why.
Suddenly overtaken by that sole word – Why? she kept taunting herself – Fiona slowly made her way to the uncomfortable florally patterned chair next to her boyfriend’s bed and stared at him. She ignored the nurse’s duties while the plague of “why”s pushed her deep into an angry place. A painful place.
You idiot. What the actual fuck, Rylan? What did you hate about your life so much that you couldn’t talk to me? Was I not enough for you? Did I push you to this place? Weren’t we always honest with each other? That day I made us late to your parents’ dinner because I thought you had gotten me pregnant…that day we promised to always tell each other the truth. I never wavered. We fucking promised! Look where the fuck you are now. Don’t you fucking dare do this to me. You’re not leaving me like this. I’ll bring you back just to strangle you myself, if I have to. This ends on my terms, you got that? I fucking love you too much to let this end on yours.
A single tear rolled out of each of Fi’s eyes as her anger transformed into confusion and devastation once more. The nurse, finished with checking the vitals he needed to, gave Fiona a brief nod of support before stepping out of the room.
Fiona pushed her chair closer to Rylan’s bedside and was about to take his hand in hers, when she decided against it.
She raced home for a quick shower, leaving Rylan in the care of their mutual friend Aaron. Fi had attempted to contact his father, but the nursing home said such news might send the elder man back into the psychotic break he had just been recovering from. Fiona and Rylan had known Aaron well for a while, ever since he was once their neighbor many years ago. He was her next best lifeline, with Rylan’s mother helplessly watching from her grave from the ground.
But she couldn’t worry about Aaron right now. She needed to get in and out of the house to return to Rylan’s side for when he awoke. Aaron had told her to take was much time as she needed, but the longer Fi was away from her best friend’s side, the more unfocused and dangerous the world became.
She tore into the bedroom, grabbing the first pair of underwear, the first T-shirt, the first pair of pants she saw before running into the bathroom and stripping her tragedy-tainted clothing. She threw them out the bathroom door as if contaminated and contagious. Slightly true: Whenever the image of Rylan’s slumped body near the tub popped into her head, the memory made her want to immediately vomit.
Fiona hesitated before throwing herself into the shower. Blood still remained all over the floor. His blood. Spilled blood. She gingerly took a moment to take a large step over the lava to get into the shower, however —
“Shit!” she howled as she lost her grip on the slippery tiled wall, forcing a foot to slide through Rylan’s lost fluid. Simultaneously disgusted and terrified of the gore, Fiona controlled her fall to land in the shower. She hit her head against the wall and landed with an echoing thud.
The shower remained off as Fiona remained in the tub, naked and alone, and cried out tears of failure.
In perfect ruin, Fiona clutched her utterly vulnerable body, hoping the feeling of holding herself would dilute the pain even if just for a moment. Sitting still, but in complete freefall. The emotional whiplash she’d experienced in the past six hours had depleted any fight left in her. It was all too much, too fast.
What signs had she missed? How did she not know anything was wrong with the one person she thought she knew better than anyone else? Did that make her a terrible human being? Was her love for Rylan not enough? How many questions could she keep asking before one fucking answer was thrust her way?
One final sob forced a realization. Fiona wasn’t going to get any answers brought to her. She was going to have to do the leg work herself to understand what was happening around her. There may not have been much fight left in her, but that didn’t matter. She was still expected to fight.
The loyal girlfriend wiped away the ugly amount of snot at the bottom of her nose before reaching for the shower dial. A quick, determined scrub with soap and five minutes later and Fiona was back out, fully clothed in something more fresh. She needed to pull herself together, if not for Rylan, for herself.
To ease the pain.
A new fearlessness and confidence washed over Aiden during his first week as a new resident of the Bay Area. He’d been to San Francisco plenty of times throughout his childhood, but the thought of starting fresh in a new city – at least for now – seemed to provide Aiden a constant stream of comfort, freedom, and happiness.
Happiness. Something he wasn’t necessarily the most used to feeling.
A large part of his new found attitude was due to his temporary living situation. Aiden’s admittedly sudden decision to sojourn in Shaky Town only succeeded because his old college acquaintance Tom Steele was millennial-prosperous enough to have a guest room in his apartment. Convenient for Aiden, perfect for Tom who needed to fill a void in his life post-breakup from his boyfriend who decided to start dating women again after being a homosexual for the better part of the past decade.
Ironically, Aiden and Tom weren’t close in school. They met freshmen year under not-so-ideal circumstances when they both realized they had been dating the same idiot. Two years of bickering and immature boy drama later, they entered senior year on a cautiously optimistic note, having put the past behind them. The post-grad years brought them closer, having run into each other multiple times when they visited the others’ city. Aiden learned to appreciate Tom’s desire to dramatize everything, and Tom learned to appreciate Aiden’s cynicism.
And it was their opposing personality quirks that each needed right now. Tom needed Aiden to support his notion that all men were garbage. Aiden needed Tom to tell him that Rylan’s issues were actually as insane as he believed. It all conformed into Aiden’s guest room mooching.
Sister Fran wasn’t pleased when she heard her of brother’s getaway plans. Voices raised between the two when Aiden first flat-out told her he was leaving. Little Chase wasn’t so thrilled either, throwing his stuffed stegosaurus at Aiden as he got in the car to drive away.
Since Aiden’s first attempt to end his life, she had kept him close at all times, always afraid he was going to run away and off himself in solitude. Her nursing job kept her on edge, having seen terrible tragedies happen to every type of person. She and her colleagues frequently mused on how many suicidal teenagers were admitted in the pediatric ward she worked in, which kept the memory of Aiden’s darkest moment forever fresh in her mind. However much Fran always worried about a relapse though, Aiden somehow knew he could never go back to that dark place again. He was scared of getting close to that dark place, but somehow he trusted himself to have more control. To understand his hindsight.
Aiden reassured his sister and nephew that he was going to be back. He didn’t use the word “soon,” because he didn’t know how much time he would need to empty his mind of Rylan and his clusterfuck of a life; but Aiden knew he’d come back home. He’d never be able to leave his sister behind. However, Fran still didn’t understand why he needed to leave in order to gain peace of mind. Her concern was the inspiration for his, for now, final blog post: “Hiatus”…
…Which Tom was currently reading as Aiden, fresh from a cold shower, walked into Tom’s overly modern living room.
“Dude,” Tom muttered. “Your readers literally adore you. You’re actually a Tumblr queen.”
Aiden snatched Tom’s iPad away. “Oh shut up. You know I don’t even know how to use Tumblr.”
Tom snatched it back. “That’s beside the point. You honestly wrote a piece about moving to the other homo city, and you get back thousands of comments about how genuine and relatable you are. How is that even real? If you had any vocal talent, you could be more internet famous than Troye Sivan.”
“Can you not with the comparisons? And if you actually read it, you’d know it was about more than moving here.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I didn’t say that.” Tom stood up to make some tea, clanking the teapot unnecessarily loudly as he filled it with water. “I just don’t understand why you share your feelings with the world about taking time to evaluate your life and get the response back that you do. Shit feels too private to me.”
Aiden scrolled through comments ranging from “You just convinced me to go to SF” to “Bro’s gotta get over himself,” before admitting, “It doesn’t feel too private – it is too private. But that’s why I write. I can articulate…or express…myself in ways I can’t with an in-person interaction. The thoughts in my head ring loud and clear, but I can’t verbalize it, only type it. And I never did this for the response, though now that there is one, I’ve felt a purpose I didn’t feel before. All I wanted was to see my thoughts on the page and understand myself. Now I can do good with it. I can help others.”
The couch crasher sighed. “What now?!”
“You think too much. I gotta get you laid.”
Giving a glance over to Tom, Aiden realized his friend was chugging his mug of tea. “…Did you even let the water boil?”
“Lukewarm is better.”
“You’re a disgusting human.”
Tom faked a horrified expression as Aiden returned to his room to throw on clothes appropriate for enjoying a night out in the city. Looking at himself in the mirror, Aiden forced himself not to pause to stare at his reflection. He even didn’t hesitate when glancing at his suicide scars like usual. He wanted one night to forget the bullshit, forget the past – and he was going to succeed whether Life liked it or not.
“Aid, what are you wearing tonight?” Tom yelled mid-tea slurp. “Better be something slutty.”
Aiden was half a second from responding when he saw his phone light up with a text from Fran. Happened to walk by – that cute guy from the suicide walk is in the ER for trying to take his life. So sad.
Tom appeared in the doorway, throwing a box of condoms at his friend who seemed frozen in place. “Yo, you gone mute?”
Another moment of genuine, panicked hesitation, and then –
“Pick a shirt for me to wear. Let’s get trashed.”
Something caught her eye before she left the house. Fiona turned to the small table beneath the Home Goods-purchased silver mirror by the door. Next to the handwoven bowl she had savored from her trip to Zimbabwe many years prior was a promotional card, one meant to provide, according to the overzealous neon font, free admission to a new gay bar on the Sunset Strip when it opened next weekend.
Fiona turned the card over in her fingers a couple times before placing it back on the table. It was funny, she wondered as she caught her reflection in the mirror, how Rylan was a much more outgoing, sociable person than she ever was. It was partially why she was so attracted to him in the first place; he could expand her world more than she could ever know. Though a world traveler, she relied on Rylan to keep her in tempo with the city and always fulfilled in life. His wide social circle of everyone from coworkers, to college friends, to the gay scene, to the Valley scene helped her with her introverted tendencies.
What made it so funny, though, was that it was not she who was lying in a hospital bed for attempting to take her own life. It was Rylan. The extrovert himself was damaged beyond sight, and besides angering, upsetting and confusing her, that fact was simply illogical.
One more glance at the bar pass card and Fiona stepped into the sunlight. She quickly texted Aaron she was on her way back to the hospital, misspelling multiple words as the illogic distracted her. As she got into the car and began to drive, Fiona suddenly understood that Rylan’s internal damage was a whole piece of him she didn’t know, rendering her boyfriend farther away emotionally than she had realized. Their relationship wasn’t what she thought it was. It all had to be reevaluated in the wake of Rylan’s actions.
As she finally approached the hospital after enduring typical Angeleno traffic, Fiona realized her relationship with Rylan would have to be reevaluated a third time in the wake of not just his actions, but his thoughts and truth. Nothing from here on out was going to be the same for them. Fiona maintained her composure though, sitting in the car for a minute after parking to stare at herself in the rear-view mirror. Her steely green eyes stared back at her. Whatever happens, she declared to herself, you are going to get answers. And you are going to be okay.
A hazy, beautiful light faded into view, as if his vision was a personal noir film. Where was it coming from? He couldn’t shift his view to anything else, his eyes stuck in place. The light eventually filled the scope of his sight, but nothing clarified…until a squeeze. Where? To the left. Farther south. Soft. Warm. Intimate. A second squeeze, and a gentle rub. Hands. Remember hands. A hand on his.
Clear reality slammed into his line of sight as his eyes took on a life of their own and snapped open. Bright whites everywhere, but still the warm hand.
His eyes trickled over to the left to make sense of the voice. Wasn’t female. Focused vision made clear a man was at his bedside. Shaggy, sandy hair. Clean face. Sharp blue eyes. Latin tattoo, Semper fi. His mind put the pieces together and popped an answer out.
“You weren’t supposed to pull this shit again,” Aaron murmured.
All he could manage out of his dry, crusted mouth was, “I’m sorry.” And then, almost as if on cue, he again succumbed to unconsciousness as Fiona appeared in the doorway.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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, 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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
“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.”
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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?!”
“Oh.” Guilt flooded her. Too much was happening right now. She was losing control. “Hi mom.”
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 –“
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.
She handed the phone to Aiden in the living room. “Sorry, Aid.”
“No, please don’t.”
A compromised moment between the siblings passed before Aiden took the phone, hand trembling. He placed it on speaker mode.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.”