Love All, Trust A Few, Do Wrong To None: William Shakespeare, Part 1
Four and a half weeks.
That was how long Jake calculated that he and Dylan were blissfully together in a love he had believed was binding and secure and would withstand the capricious tests life threw at people. Before it all fell down around his ears. Before Dylan moved through with the force of a hurricane and shredded him with accusations of being untrustworthy, playing him and telling lies. Lies about what?
Jake didn’t know where Dylan was going with his disagreement. Obviously this Clarence kid had been up to some kind of trouble on campus that seemed to involve him, and since he specifically said ‘the scams he’d created’, as in the multiple, other people must have been hurt by them too. Dylan acted like Jake should have known he was there, but why would he be interested in a stranger? He’d never heard the name Clarence mentioned at school, and they certainly didn’t share classes or live in the same dorm together. Yet, when he tried to defend himself logically, all it did was incite Dylan into making wild accusations.
“You are just as guilty as he is.”
“From my side, it looks like I’ve been played.”
“You said you love me, and fuck you, if this is a lie…”
Jake had always found that hard work helped to settle his mind, so he established himself to the task at hand which was sorting and repacking the boxes of belongings Marcus and Avery had helped him bring down from Madera. His cousin had returned to the patio and gingerly asked if he needed his help once the house emptied, but Jake just wanted to be alone with his thoughts. He heard Avery and Pat return from a morning of grocery shopping but he wasn’t hungry for the pizza they had purchased for lunch.
Jake looked sorrowfully at the box that Dylan had been going through before their fight. His four yearbooks stared at him almost in defiance. He picked up the haphazardly dumped annual Dylan had found Tony’s photo in and smoothed back the page showing the Wildcats varsity baseball team from his senior year. Tony’s grin stared back in him in challenge, and he felt fresh tears dot his eyelashes. How strange that such an innocuous thing as a memory book should lead to so much trouble. It was almost too much to deal with, and he certainly needed no reminders of his loss. Without another thought he picked up all four of his class yearbooks and threw them in the garbage can. Good riddance. He never wanted to see them again.
Dylan had torn away from the Walkers in a horrific mood, speeding and swerving in traffic until Erin threatened to report his maniacal driving to their father. She was shaking by the time she stepped out of his Honda and went directly inside, angry over being forced to come home because her brother was acting like an inconsiderate jerk. Ten minutes after he arrived, the doorbell rang, and there stood Noah and Sage.
“I don’t want to discuss it,” Dylan complained, running his hand through his blonde hair that was already sticking up all over the place. “This is none of anyone’s business but mine and Jake’s.”
“Not true,” Noah huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “You, me, Marcus— we’ve been tight for almost four years. There for each other no matter what. You can’t honestly believe this isn’t going to affect the whole gang?”
“I really don’t give a shit how this affects the gang.” Dylan’s eyes spat fire. He would have shut the door if Noah’s foot hadn’t been in the way. “You might be my friends, but we’re talking about a problem with far more serious consequences than which of us is present when who does what where.”
“Then enlighten us,” Sage begged. “We were on Marcus’ patio listening to you scold Jake from start to finish, and to be honest, you weren’t making much sense. Who the hell is Clarence?”
Dylan’s lips drew into a thin line. “I don’t want to get into this now. Can you two just give me some goddamned space for a couple days? Just go, Noah, Sage, and I’ll call you when I calm down a little.”
As he watched them drive away he heard the song he’d assigned to Jake on his cell phone, Nickleback’s Don’t Ever Let It End, that indicated an incoming call. Grimacing, he considered the irony of the ringtone and pressed the ‘end’ button. Jake just didn’t know how to leave well enough alone. Enough had already been said between them, and all the emotions and words had done was reopen wounds from April that he’d thought had closed long ago. Damn him anyway.
Okay, deep breaths. Dylan tried to think past the red haze of anger that was clouding his judgment. Fact one, there was one boy, and he was almost certain it was only one, who went by two different names. Jake knew him as Tony Holcomb, but to Dylan he was Clarence. He’d only spoken to him once, but that had given him an up close and personal view that left no doubt that the photo in Jake’s yearbook was him. Fact two, while Jake had played dumb to his presence, Clarence or Tony… whoever, was definitely a Long Beach student because Dylan had seen him many times on campus. Dylan was willing to admit that he’d been a little hard on Jake. If they didn’t share classes and the other kid wasn’t in a dorm, he could be telling the truth. Fact three, why was Jake acting so cagey, or was he simply being defensive because of Dylan’s own behavior? Nobody liked being blamed falsely. And that led to the big question; was Jake as innocent as he said?
It wasn’t just Clarence’s harassment in the spring that made him angry, it was also the suggestion that someone would assist him in what looked like a predacious lark and find that kind of thing funny. For the umpteenth time he wondered if the kid had worked solo. This had always been his greatest fear. Could it be purely coincidence that two freshmen who knew each other in the same northern high school would be at Long Beach without being aware? One was a man he hated with a passion, and the other, Dylan loved with all his heart. One was a stalker, the other an innocent bystander; one was abusive, the other, his victim.
Or supposedly his victim… that was the sticking point causing Dylan’s chest to tighten in suspicion. What if it was a set-up? They really only had Jake’s word for what Tony had done to him—or even for his father’s abuse. However, Jake did have a legitimate reason for being in Aleppo Park and that was his relationship to the Walker clan. They were upstanding people, even Marcus, and Jake’s mother was Patricia’s sister. He would think they had checked his story about past abuse out to make sure it wasn’t a lie.
Inside, Dylan had to acknowledge that the Jake he knew wouldn’t lie over something like that. The pressure he was under was punishing, what with his parents’ marital woes, trying to please a boyfriend at the same time as keeping his family happy and dealing with the bigotry at work. Add in his father searching for him and making a secret trip north, and who wouldn’t feel like collapsing?
Hmm, could it be Jake’s own grace under pressure that upset Dylan? As worn out as he was, Jake had never entirely lost his cool the whole time Dylan was throwing rapid-fire questions at him. He had stayed composed even as he begged him to explain himself, and he was willing to stand there taking Dylan’s insults instead of snapping and over-reacting like his accuser did. The more stalwart and civil Jake behaved, the more it made Dylan feel small-minded and woefully inadequate. He knew he owed him an apology, and he could almost put himself in Jake’s place and feel bad for him.
But Dylan didn’t want to feel sorry for Jake. There was enough off about his protests that fed Dylan’s anger and made him choose to nitpick and feel petulant. He kept going back to the ‘what if’s, such as, what if a big reasons Jake was in Aleppo Park was to get back at him for challenging Clarence? He wanted to give in to the childish part of his nature that said someone should pay for the bad memories upsetting his equilibrium. He could be reasonable and declare that Jake had nothing to do with Clarence, how it was all a fluke, but that would mean admitting to having made a mistake and begging to be forgiven. Right now, he didn’t feel like eating humble pie. So he chose to stay angry and lock his mercy away and let Jake take the fall.
From her bedroom down the hall, Erin listened to her brother swear at the walls and kick furniture in his anger. Their parents had hurried up the stairs the first time he slammed his door, but Erin got to them first and told them that he and Jake had split up. Eyebrows up but nevertheless apprised, they quietly went back to their regularly scheduled programming.
Erin looked at the cell phone in her hand, wondering what to do. It wasn’t mature, but like many teenagers she got a small thrill in being the one to pass on bad news, and Kelsey did say she wanted to know if something important occurred. Finally she placed the call.
“What?” It was Kelsey’s usual terse greeting, but it didn’t put Erin off.
“You’ll never guess what happened,” Erin gushed, wrapping her arms around a tiger pillow to calm down.
Kelsey could hear Erin’s excitement vibrate through the airwaves and hoped this didn’t turn out to be a waste of time. “What?” she asked again.
“Dylan dumped Jake.”
It was good that Kelsey was sitting because this news was such a bombshell she would have fallen if she’d been on her feet. As it was she gave a little squeal and then had to cough to cover it. “How do you know this?”
Erin was overjoyed by the way Kelsey was in thrall to her news. Yes, she felt a little disloyal talking behind Dylan’s back and a lot guilty taking pride in Jake’s misfortune, but still… “I was there. Dylan saw a picture in one of Jake’s high school yearbooks and it made him mad. I think he recognized somebody from college, but Jake said it wasn’t him, and Dylan accused him of lying to him. So they had this big fight.”
Kelsey clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from breaking out in a riot of laughter. Stupid Jake Nielsen had gotten what he deserved. Still, hmm… This was a very fascinating story and one that could be exploited for additional insurance, so she made Erin retell it, top to bottom.
“Let’s see if I have this right,” she said when Erin finally quieted. “Dylan identified a kid from Jake’s school and said they go to the same college which Jake denied knowing about. He has two different names, so Dylan thinks Jake helped this boy do something bad?”
Erin confirmed the summary, and it wasn’t long before Kelsey was slowly enticing her to disclose every detail. Almost without Erin realizing it, the names came into the other girl’s possession, and Kelsey smiled in sinful triumph. She let Dylan’s sister rattle on for awhile in general gossip as a reward and skillfully doodled around the names until she signed off. Tony Holcomb, friend of Jake from Madera. And Clarence, also from up north. It was the best day Kelsey had had in a long time.
Jake wasn’t surprised when the call he placed to Dylan’s cell rang a few times and then went to voicemail. Jake was the last person Dylan wanted to hear from, but he left a message anyway asking for a call back. “I just want to talk to you and know we’re still okay, no matter what you said before.” He choked up, trying to get the words out, “I love you.” And then for good measure he sent a text message making the same request.
Jake worked through the day, spending extra time on the mindless task of thoroughly arranging his baseball cards. First according to worth and then by player for the less valuable, it took up a sizeable chunk of the day. He was still working when Pat came out at six saying dinner was ready. He merely shook his head to indicate he wasn’t hungry.
His aunt folded him into the warmth of her soft body, and he let her hug him tightly. “Marcus told us about Dylan. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but keep your chin up, Jake. It will work out the way it was meant.”
Meant. Jake pondered the word. How was it meant for him to be blindsided by some baseball photograph in a yearbook? A kid who hated him in high school mysteriously turned up at his college to become Dylan’s boogieman and causing mischief for which he’d been blamed and now it had robbed him of the man he loved? He shook his head wearily and stepped back.
“No, Aunt Pat. Whatever was meant surely shouldn’t hurt this bad.”
She sighed and rubbed his arm. “I know it doesn’t look like it now, but it will get better. Let me know if you need anything.”
He nodded, looking out over the back fence down into the deep canyons that ran behind the edge of the community. He remembered being a kid and camping in this back yard with Marcus and Noah, all of them tingling with anticipation over the possibility of seeing the variety of wildlife that came out at night. Coyotes yipped from the hills around them, snakes slithered trails in the dust and an occasional skunk left his fragrant calling card nearby. There were even rumors of bobcats.
But childhood was far behind him, and Jake was now feeling what it was like to be an adult whose heart was breaking. How could Dylan do this to him?
Love was supposed to be about trust. Maybe it was asking too much to expect him to suspend disbelief over the alternate names, but at least give his side of the story a chance and let him defend himself without interruption. Stop hurling false allegations at him when he didn’t even know what he was protecting himself from. Understand that he’d had a rotten week that abruptly became impossibly disastrous under his verbal attack.
Jake was sitting on the patio and staring into the dark at his newly stacked boxes against the wall. He was surprised it was only nine p.m. The back door opened, and it was Marcus holding a plate of food: cheese enchiladas which was one of his favorites, a large helping of Mexican rice and a side of homemade corn and tomato salsa. “Do you want some company,” the older boy asked, setting down the dish on the table next to him.
Jake realized that Pat probably made this dinner specifically for him to help cheer him up, but he had no appetite. When Marcus lowered himself into the chair across from him, he almost didn’t register his presence. Respectfully, Marc waited for Jake to say something, but for a long while he didn’t.
“I don’t know what Dylan requires from me,” he began softly, refusing to look at him and pushing the food to the other side of the table because, even in the outside air, the scent of it was making him sick to his stomach. “He comes over and wants to look at my yearbook, and the next thing I know, he’s screaming at me about Tony having a different name and why isn’t he in the dorm? Hell if I know, but how come it’s important?”
“I don’t know, Jake,” Marcus said slowly. “This is really fucked up. It’s like damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Jake nodded. “That’s how I felt the whole time he was talking to me. There were plenty of wrong answers but no right ones because all he wanted was for me to admit I knew that Clarence kid. At least tell me what he was supposed to have done, and I’ll tell you if I think Tony is capable of it.”
“What are you going to do?” Marcus had one of his rare serious faces on, like he was genuinely worried for him. Jake looked terrible— he was pale and shaky with a pinched look between his eyes that he got when he was under a lot of duress. It was a look Jake hadn’t worn since the first couple of days after his arrival in Aleppo Park, and now in a few short hours, Dylan had put it back on his face. Marcus was so angry on his behalf that if Dylan had been standing in front of him, he wouldn’t know if he could refrain from hitting him.
“I don’t know,” Jake shrugged, his voice so low he could barely be heard over the crickets. “Keep packing my stuff. Finish day camp next week. Go back to school in a month.”
“I mean about Dylan…”
Jake scrubbed his face with his hand. “I know what you meant, Marc. I can’t tell you because it’s up to him. I sent him text messages today and called twice. The second time his cell phone was turned off. Maybe he just has to cool down, but this isn’t a problem that will be fixed overnight, even if he forgives me.”
Marcus startled in irritation. “You don’t need forgiving. It’s him that’s in the wrong here.”
Jake knew this, but he doubted Dylan would see it that way. He simply dropped his head in his hands and struggled not to cry. He’d been in tears most of the day, and his eyeballs felt like sandpaper.
Marcus stood up and put out his hand. “Come on, Jake. You need to get to bed, and I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Maybe you’ll feel better in the morning.”
Jake was all set to argue but decided it wasn’t worth it. Marcus was right; he needed sleep. He let him drag him upstairs and push him into the bathroom to pee and brush his teeth. Then he sat passively on his bed, feeling deep fatigue aching in his very bones, while Marcus threw his sandals in the corner, yanked off his t-shirt and slipped his jeans over his feet. “You’re responsible for the rest if you sleep in the nude, bro.” Marcus cracked a small smile.
Jake had to grin a little too. “Thanks, Marc.”
Marcus waved his welcome as he walked out the door, and Jake pulled back the covers and slipped into bed.
A few minutes later, Pat sighed tiredly, turning off downstairs lamps as she headed to bed. She noted that one of the boys had accidentally left the outside lights on, and when she stepped over to the switch next to the glass patio door she saw the untouched plate of food she prepared for Jake on the picnic table.
The night was dark and quiet when she stepped out. But what was this? Near the top of the open, square garbage container resting on what appeared to be discarded school papers and covered with styrofoam packing peanuts, more papers and several magazines sat four pristine high school yearbooks.
“Oh, Jacobaby,” she sighed, feeling his hurt. It killed her to see Jake so beaten down. From what her son had said, Dylan had really laid into him with a bunch of ridiculous assumptions. She knew it wasn’t any of her business, but she wanted to march down to the Moore house and grab him by the ear and lock the two of them in a room until they hashed their problems out. Knowing how crazy in love Jake was with him, it frightened her to think how he would handle the situation if Dylan made the break permanent. Her nephew had dealt with so much disappointment in his life so far.
Carefully Patricia lifted the books out of the trash, grabbed up a cardboard box that was the right size and filled it with them. Then she took the box indoors and set it on the shelf of the hall closet, hoping he’d want the books again someday.
Two hours after that, the house quieted around Jake and all he could hear was an owl land in the ash tree in the back yard. He had yet to fall asleep, the events of the day making his head hurt and his eyes hot and gritty.
Why couldn’t you take a moment in time when you were completely happy and seal it in glass so it would never change? He had never realized love could hurt so badly, but he felt the pain of his loss slicing through him like shards of glass. His chest was constricted, almost crushed by the surge of loneliness for a man who was shutting him out of his life with each erased text message and unanswered cell phone call. He ached to reach out and find a way to make Dylan listen to him, to believe him. He didn't know what he would do if he wouldn't.
Dylan’s words came back…
“You are just as guilty as he is.”
“From my side, it looks like I’ve been played.”
“You said you love me, and fuck you, if this is a lie…”
But I’m not lying, Jake whispered to himself, tears dripping down his face again. I swear I’m not.
The last time Jake had looked at the clock on the bedside table was four a.m. but he knew he’d tossed and turned all night. Now it was 8:30 on Sunday morning and he rolled out of bed eager to start his day until he remembered. He had no place to go and no boyfriend to spend it with. He felt like hell and probably looked just as bad.
Curious as to whether twenty hours would make Dylan’s heart grow fonder, he dialed his telephone number.
“Hello?” came the grouchy voice on the other end, one that signified he had probably awakened him.
“Dylan?” he asked hopefully. There was no answer, just a gasp, and then the ‘call ended’ memo showed up on the screen. Well, so much for that idea and the hope of forgiveness.
Jake hopped in the shower, thinking it would make him feel better, and soon after he was back on the patio working on his mess. Now that the first day was behind him, he could say his emotions were more on keel. Not quite so fragile, he was able to reflect more in depth. He definitely didn’t want to do much profound thinking about Dylan because it still made his eyes sting and overflow with salt water. That would probably be true for awhile. Otherwise, he believed he could keep his exhaustion at bay by staying busy. Three nights in a row with little sleep was hell on a body.
As far-fetched as it had sounded the day before, Jake found proof that Tony was at Long Beach State. This didn’t seem possible; the kid Jake remembered from high school was a mediocre student at best and probably didn’t have the grades to interest a university. Maybe that was why he hadn’t thought of it. But Jake recalled how he had just sorted through his small box of graduation mementos shortly before his friends arrived. When he went back and opened up the commencement program now, there it was—Clarence Anthony Holcomb. In three years of attending school together, Jake didn’t know how the fact that Tony went by his middle name had slipped past him. Equally mysterious was why he would revert to using his first one at college. I mean, it almost seemed as if his former classmate was purposely hiding from him.
He was nearly finished with the repacking when Marcus made his way outside. “I’m going to hang with Erin today. Do you want to come with us?”
Jake shot him a mock-scathing look. “First off, I do not wish to be the third wheel on your date with Erin. Second, I’m not going anywhere near Dylan’s house. He hung up on me this morning.”
Marcus glowered. “What did he say?”
“Nothing. I think he answered it accidentally and once he realized it was me he ended the call as fast as possible. But it proves he isn’t in a mood to set things straight between us yet. So no, I don’t want to go out with you and Erin. All I ask is that you don’t get in Dylan’s face and don’t let him bait you into arguing with him.”
Marcus looked at the pale, shaky boy with the hollow eyes, weariness written all over his face as he struggled for calm, and what could he say? As much as he wanted to leave Dylan bleeding in a gutter somewhere, he knew Jake didn’t need more drama. At his wit’s end, he couldn’t handle one single new conflict.
“Okay,” Marcus agreed. “I’m solid, no fighting.”
A short while earlier and now wide awake, Dylan was angry at himself. His ringing cell phone had roused him from sleep, and through force of habit, he had begun to smile when he accepted the call from Jake. Then his memory kicked in of the day before. He heard his ex’s happy cry of ‘Dylan’ and ended the call immediately. He hadn’t paid much attention to his cell phone the night before other than to silence the beeps alerting him of incoming messages, and now he noticed that Jake had texted twenty times since the day before and left five voicemails. He deleted all of them without another thought.
He took a shower, and when he opened the bathroom door, Erin was waiting to get inside. Dragging her make-up and a hair dryer with her, the difference in her routine showed she was getting ready for something special. “Marcus is taking me to the early matinee and then to lunch,” she told him when he asked.
Dylan groaned in defeat. The last person he wanted at the house was Marcus Walker.
“Too bad, so sad,” Erin protested at his grumbling. “Just because you dumped Jake doesn’t mean my life ends too.”
Dylan was about to announce that he didn’t dump Jake when he was caught up short, realizing he had. He rubbed his eyes tiredly at the thought of what was coming. Yeah, there would be raised voices and Marcus would most likely want to punch him in the face on his cousin’s behalf. He didn’t feel up to defending himself. The farther away he got from yesterday’s argument with Jake, the weaker his position seemed but he wasn’t about to admit it.
Typical of his sister, Erin wasn’t ready to leave when her date showed up in his mustang, and Dylan had to answer the front door. “Marcus,” he greeted with a somber nod. There were no bumped knuckles or slapped backs.
“Dylan,” the other boy returned stoic-like, eyes raking the scowling face. They might as well have been strangers.
“Erin will be down momentarily,” Mrs. Moore called from the kitchen where she was up to her elbows cleaning the oven.
Awkwardly they stood on either side of the front door, silent. Dylan was loath to invite him in, especially because he could see Marcus was barely hanging back from speaking his mind. The tension built until he thought he was going to rupture.
“Has Jake come to his senses yet?” Dylan finally bust out in irritation.
“Come to his senses?” Marcus stared at him, incredulous, and then chuckled darkly. “Probably not in the way you mean. I think he’s asking himself what he ever saw in a loser like you.”
“Loser, huh? I’m not the one…”
“Shove it, Dylan. I promised Jake I wouldn’t fight his battles for him.” He looked up hearing noise at the top of the Moore’s staircase, seeing Erin checking through her purse, and he lowered his voice. “I’ll say this much, though. Jake is in the worst shape I’ve ever seen him, and that is all on you. Not even a beating from his dad broke him like you did.”
Dylan winced and looked at his feet. Luckily for him, Erin swept by him with a sweet smile only for Marcus, and they hurried away. Dylan hastily grabbed his car keys. He didn’t know where he was going but he had to get out of the house.
He drove for a couple of hours before ending up at San Onofre State Beach around late morning. Sitting on the bluff in the parking lot overlooking the ocean, he searched himself and tried to make some sense of his thoughts. Dylan had let his emotions drift the day before, but today they needed to be faced. He rewound his inner recording device to the argument, and what he remembered made him feel really awful. He saw Jake’s disorientation and misery and knew he was the reason why.
Shit, he had been so insensitive to the younger boy. Sage and Noah were right. He had lit into Jake and never let up once, not even when he begged him for a chance to catch his breath. It was Dylan who kept throwing out vicious barbs and accusing him of… why did he even do that? Even his little sister had recognized that he was coming on far too strong, but he didn’t listen to her either. He just kept pushing Jake until he nearly had him in tears, and when common sense began to creep back in to tell him to shut the hell up he didn’t listen. He just walked out like Jake meant nothing to him.
What did he feel for Jake? Dylan still loved him, of that he was sure, but it was as if they were being pulled in different directions and smothered by the weight of his guilt. Was there any coming back from that kind of treatment? Even if he got down on his knees and apologized to Jake, he didn’t think so. To be called a liar, a player and evasive was the worst kind of hurt, but there was nothing to back up his claims. Truthfully, Jake wasn’t any of those things. Could anything be salvaged from their relationship? Dylan’s heart told him that his baby was everything to him, but after the day before it no longer seemed like enough to keep them together… which was his own fault.
How could he help Jake understand the chaos Clarence had caused without hurting him? There was still a part of him that feared Jake wasn’t all he claimed, and the only way to make certain was by asking more probing questions. It all boiled down to whether his father had abused him the way Jake said, like if that was the truth, it would make the story about Tony true too. But opening up the inquiries again would be adding insult to injury, tantamount to confessing that he didn’t trust him, and wasn’t that what love was about?
Nobody ever said it was easy, but why did he have to make it so much harder on the two of them by running off at the mouth when he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about? Like a train wreck that just keeps going, one car banging into the other all the way down the track, he still wasn’t even done with his stupidity. He knew his retort to Marcus about Jake coming to his senses was going to get back to him, and it was going to twist the knife even deeper into the wound. Maybe, deep down, he wasn’t worthy of Jake.
At the Walkers, Jake was thinking the same thing. His boxes were repacked, and Avery had promised that if he was willing to leave them on the patio for a day or two, he’d try to find a place in the garage for them. Jake knew at some point he was probably going to have to rent a small storage unit on a permanent basis. His lodging for the upcoming school year was now in flux with Dylan out of the picture. They had planned to get a small studio or one bedroom apartment together, but under the circumstances, Jake couldn’t see living with him even if they did make up.
His boyfriend’s behavior only went to prove how flaky love was and why he shouldn’t be so trusting. If Dylan supposed that Jake had faked his love and lied about the way his father and Tony had treated him, what did that say about the sincerity of his affection? How could Dylan profess love but have such shallow feelings for him? Not believe him?
Jake was so hurt that he hadn’t trusted him, but a day apart from the first trauma, he was becoming angry, both at his ex-boyfriend and at himself. How naïve to think somebody would care that much for him. It was blind stupidity to believe in the fairytale that love covered a multitude of sins. Ha! Love wouldn’t even let Dylan listen to him without shouting him down and making the facts fit his fiction. Another one of life’s shitty examples learned painfully.
Jake was surprised when his alarm went off the next morning indicating that the weekend had slid into a new week. He dragged himself from bed, unprepared to spend the day at the rec center and the chance of running into Dylan. It was the closing week at the day camp, and he wished like anything he could have called in sick. But two of the other assistants were only at half-status; Evan had sliced open the palm of his hand in a home accident, and Whitley was hobbling around with a groin injury. It just wouldn’t be right to skip work to feel sorry for himself, and so he showered under cold water hoping it would wake him up and nearly burned his tongue on two cups of scalding coffee for the caffeine boost. He had yet to get a decent night’s sleep.
Over the past two weeks Jake had gotten used to sharing rides with Dylan. That, of course, was not going to happen today, and Jake waited until he could put it off no longer before leaving the house. He planned to show up at day camp at the last minute to avoid seeing him, and sure enough, Dylan’s Honda was already in the lot. He parked his truck on the other side and hurried to the baseball diamond.
Coach Abel gave him a speculative glance upon his arrival, and Chance asked if he felt okay. Jake was sure he looked as bad as he felt, washed out and dragging, but he smiled grimly and said he’d be fine. They put the boys through their paces, and even the children seemed to sense he wasn’t quite with it. But what could he do? He let his mind drift as he tossed balls back and forth and automatically corrected batting stances and base positions.
He was getting ready to break for lunch when the coach sidled up to him. “You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, Jake,” the man ventured in a friendly fashion. “Is there anything I can do?”
Jake gave him a warm smile because he seemed sincere. “No thanks, Coach, just some bad news from home.” It wasn’t a complete falsehood. “I’m dealing with it.”
Abel clasped his shoulder. “Okay, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”
“Thanks,” he said in a bewildered tone. Would wonders never cease?
Jake rushed off to the parking lot to get away before Dylan showed up. He headed for a small taco shop in the opposite direction the two of them usually traveled for meals and ordered a soda and a single fish taco which was all his stomach felt it could handle. Choosing an anonymous small table under the awning on the sidewalk he reflected how this was the first minute he’d been alone since awakening on Saturday. He stared out at the noon hour traffic and sighed.
He missed Dylan. He was nearly positive that the older boy wasn’t reading his texts or listening to his voicemails. It was like he no longer cared. Two days, and Jake thought his world was falling apart. Two days, and he bet Dylan was carrying on, life as usual. Jake hadn’t made Dylan feel small and insignificant by ambushing him from all sides until his head was spinning and then just dumping him. It sucked.
Careful, that hint of longing was usually enough to start the tears flowing. His eyes burned fiercely, but being out in public let him keep the waterworks at bay. He could feel his depression deepening but anger was as good as an open venue to push it back. Dylan had treated him badly and he was going to focus on that and not the gigantic hurt that soared through him.
The most important thing at this point was to find out the truth. Jake was morbidly curious over what Tony had done, why he changed his name for college and what it was about his behavior that made Dylan blame Jake just for knowing him. He halfway recognized that Dylan was scared, and he hoped the facts would soon come to light to make him see that Jake had nothing to do with anything. Even if they didn’t give him his boyfriend back, Jake had to let go of his anger over Dylan’s stubbornness. He wished he believed in crossing his fingers, but fate had been a bitch lately.
That afternoon, Jake found himself on the cement path wending from the ball fields past the large swim complex and leading to the lot where his truck was parked. As he passed the pool, he felt inexplicably drawn to the spot outside the staff showers where he used to wait for Dylan to finish lifeguarding. He heard shouts and, looking up, there was Dylan’s tanned, muscular back and shoulders framed against the canvas of the tall lifeguard chair at the edge of the pool, his white-blonde hair shining in the sun. Just for a brief moment he allowed himself to watch him in secret as he blew his whistle at a group of rowdy boys who were recklessly shoving each other into surrounding swimmers. Jake turned miserably away, nearly running around the corner of the building to his Ranger in the parking lot and home.
“Whoa, dude.” One of the off-duty guards leaned against the ladder of Dylan’s stand, gazing up at him through dark shades, his nose coated in Badger Balm to ward off sunburn. “What’s the matter with you, today? You’re whistling everyone.”
Kids screaming noisily and splashing too much water at each other or roughhousing or dangerously running around the perimeter, Dylan blew his whistle over and over again. As a matter of principal, he was known as one of the more laidback lifeguards, but today the kids were especially bothersome and he didn’t care if they hated him.
“It’s nothing. That group of boys in the corner,” he indicated with a lift of his chin. “They won’t stop pushing people in.”
The beefy lifeguard laughed. “Yeah well, that’s part of the attraction of a pool. Say, are you working the rest of the summer?” Day camp ended on Friday, but some of the swimming teachers were manning the pools until college resumed.
Dylan shook his head. “No, I need some time off, but I put my name in just in case somebody gets sick.”
He was rethinking this decision. Dylan had assumed that he’d be spending a lot of time with Jake after their jobs ended. There was a little over three weeks left of summer vacation, plenty of time to surf and make love and see films and make love and play video games and make love. Now, all had changed, and those three weeks stretched out interminably before him. Noah had been right on Sunday; breaking up with Jake affected not only himself, but everyone else he used to call best friend. He had already lost Marcus over this, and he wasn’t sure the rest of the crew wasn’t right behind.
It wasn’t that Dylan was jealous, but Jake had quickly made inroads with his and Marcus’ friends. He was an adventurous and awesome surfer, always laughing and fun to be around with a good head on his shoulders. He didn’t take offense if his plans were shot down because somebody else came up with a better idea, and he had even handled the hassle with Kelsey with diplomacy. These were traits he cherished in him, and now they slapped him in the face because, in the eyes of his friends, Jake was a victim and he was the bully. Jake was also open and honest, and somehow that left a sour taste in his mouth. He had chosen to overlook the best part of him on Saturday when they were fighting, and it was going to cost him.
Dylan felt eyes on his back. It wasn’t unusual because in the pool everyone either respected or feared the lifeguards, and with his lofty seat, nobody could miss him. He twisted his head but nobody was there. He caught a flash of a tanned male leg below cargo shorts turning the corner on the other side of the pool fence. Shrugging, he went back to work.
It was well after midnight and Jake had been sound asleep for maybe forty minutes when a bolt of panic brought him wide awake and sitting up in bed. He knew what it was that scared the daylights out of him; it was the feeling his life was falling apart and he would end up alone. He would never wear the label of wuss, but having Dylan by his side had made him feel nearly invincible, like he could fight off anything, even his father’s bigotry. Without him, he was just Jake.
As much as he chose to deny his feelings, he was in love with Dylan, and not just a shallow, adolescent crush type of love either. He was frantically in love, his passion so hot that to consider being apart from him was like death. Jake felt the fabric of his life shredding in agony, ripping his guts out to realize Dylan was no longer a part of it… and no longer wanted to be.
Jake sighed as the screen on his cell phone told him that his call had ended. Again. Dylan never answered his phone anyway. Just as he was certain that his voicemails and text messages were probably being disposed of, unchecked. It felt like the older boy was playing games, but to Jake it was deadly serious. It was now Tuesday, and they were no closer to finding a common ground. He was nearly ready to resort to begging.
The morning at day camp went well enough and he had spent a few minutes shooting the breeze with the other baseball assistants before heading out for lunch. He was just getting the driver’s door of his truck unlocked when Dylan emerged from the path leading to the pool and sauntered towards his CR-V.
Jake, who hadn’t laid eyes on his boyfriend… well, ex-boyfriend, since their argument three days before, could only stare in longing across the sixty yards separating them. He knew he should get the hell out of there. Pretend not to notice or care— just get in his Ranger and drive away. Do anything but be caught gawking at the man he loved and missed with all his heart. But it was like he was anchored to the ground.
He looked good, Jake thought, but then this was Dylan. He never had a bad hair day in his life. It wasn’t like his whole world was fucked up by false accusations and questions he couldn’t answer. Then Dylan lifted his head and saw him.
For a microsecond their eyes met, and Dylan’s lit up in cerulean warmth that rivaled the sun. A smile had just begun to tug at his lips when he seemed to realize it was Jake he was looking at. Instantly he shut down, his face impassive as the blacktop they stood on. His bearing went stiff and cold, and his hands curled into fists like he wanted to punch him.
“Take a picture, Jake, it will last longer.”
Jake turned beet red. Still rooted in place, the only part of his body seemingly able to move were his eyes, and he shifted his gaze down to the loose gravel, odd bits of food wrapper and a flattened Starbucks cup littering the ground. Just as paralyzed was his voice, but he wouldn’t have been able to come up with anything intelligent to say anyway. His brain was mush, and he couldn’t recall a recent time in his life where he’d been so mortified.
He heard Dylan climb into his red SUV and roar away, and that seemed to give impetus to Jake’s feet. But he didn’t go to his truck. He stumbled across the asphalt, slipped through the shrubbery on the far end that separated the center from the municipal park and found their secret picnic spot. His body dropped onto the springy lawn, and he made himself part of the silence, Dylan’s ugly words bouncing around his head like a pinball machine.
It was time to face hard, painful facts. Dylan didn’t love him anymore. In fact, going by what he’d just witnessed, Jake was fairly certain he hated him. However you wanted to label it, Dylan had moved to a place that was beyond his reach. The venom spewing out of his former boyfriend’s mouth wasn’t from a man who would be willing to logically discuss Saturday and work towards an amicable resolution. It wasn’t even that of a man who would allow Jake to crawl to him on hands and knees and beg for Dylan to forgive him and take him back. It was the language of someone who never wanted to lay eyes on him again.
Jake could feel his very essence drying up and turning into a piece of frozen granite at the thought of losing Dylan forever. He knew it was unmanly, but when the tears began to spill down his cheeks, he allowed himself to cry for all the memories. His first vision of Dylan on the side of the Moore’s pool that May night with those electric blue eyes edged in silver and luscious lips so right for kissing. Surfing the breaks several times a week as they became friends, their good-natured rivalry over who was better on their sticks, and the bright early-June morning when Dylan had saved him from drowning.
How frightened Jake had been to come out to Dylan and the rapture a week later when the other boy had announced that he, too, was gay; they had immediately fallen for each other. Their first date had been here in this exact spot with falling leaves and jokes over pickles when Dylan leaned in a kissed him softly, and how unique he tasted. Italian dinners and kisses up against the truck, movie dates and holding hands, swinging on the playground. Learning to let go at Dylan’s house and shattering his inhibitions with hot sex in the pool showers.
Jake could almost feel Dylan’s lips on his, sucking softly at his tongue, and yearning stabbed at him. That long neck with all those soft spots perfect for nibbling on as he raised gentle bruises to mark him as his own. The silky skin he would trace with his fingers, the planes and grooves of his well-developed pectorals and abdominals. His adorable nipples he liked to suck and bite. Bodies sliding together, skin to skin, each part meshing with its counterpart. Even here in the quiet park, he could still feel the teasing way their cocks had slipped together side by side in the shower as they tumbled towards rapture, and it made his quickly growing erection tent his shorts. He ached with desire.
Could it be that only ten days ago Dylan was in his arms at the cabin, and they were writhing on the floor in front of a stone fireplace in the throes of orgasm? An even more tender thought came to him of snuggling under the quilt on the porch swing as they exchanged vows of love and forever in the midst of a thunderstorm? The boy was his, and it felt right, like the puzzle of his life was suddenly solved and Dylan was the missing piece.
Something evil had come along to shake the box without putting the lid on because now the pieces were scattered and lost. Just like Dylan’s love for him.
Jake furiously wiped at his eyes as another bleak notion came back to him. He’d once made a promise to his cousin that if he and Dylan ever began fighting and split up, he wouldn’t want to come between friends. Unfortunately, that was exactly what he’d done, although not intentionally. However, the thought of breaking up Marcus’ crew felt like a shot of icy water in his veins. These guys—all of them, had been fast friends for years, and who was he, a newcomer who only had the designation of being part of Marcus’ family, to move in and bring them trouble? It would be wrong of him not to go to his cousin and plead with him to forgive Dylan. It would be wrong for Jake to stay in Aleppo Park.
Adam and David, his older brothers, had both offered him a temporary place to live until he went back to college. The last day of the final session of camp was in two days. On Friday, the permanent recreation staff was hosting a catered luncheon for the assistants after their last morning meeting. It wasn’t mandatory, and Jake probably wouldn’t go because he couldn’t bear facing Dylan, especially not after today. With three weeks left before he reported back to Long Beach State, getting out of town and away from the stress of conceivably running into him would help tremendously. He would just have to learn to mask his emotions if he accidentally met up with Dylan at school. His broken heart would heal. Time heals all wounds, right?
Jake considered another option, a peace offering as such, but he didn’t have time to sit and ruminate. Lunch was almost over, and he ran for his truck. He always kept a spiral notebook or two stashed under the seat, and he thoughtfully penned a short letter. Now, where to put it, and again the answer came.
Jake hustled through cleanup after the day campers left that afternoon, storing bases and balls with a zeal that surprised the coach and the rest of the assistants who had gotten used to two days of his sluggish lack of enthusiasm and going through the motions. But Jake was in a hurry to get finished without running the risk of another encounter with Dylan, and when the last bat was in the cart he sped away with the barest of goodbyes.
At lunch, Jake had remembered that his staff locker in the pool house was still loaded with his gear and should be emptied. Positive that there would be no more sexy showers for the two of them after Dylan’s lifeguarding shifts, he had no intention of ever using the facilities again. He headed for the locker room and lost no time in cleaning out the space. He shoved clothing, both clean and dirty, towels and grooming products into a large sports bag.
There in the far back of the locker where he remembered stowing them were the nylon shorts Dylan had let him borrow one afternoon when his only pair of clean cargoes had slid off the shower bench and gotten soaked. Pulling them forward, he shook out the wrinkles and folded them into a nice, neat square. Into the pocket he slipped his note before setting them down in front of Dylan’s locker. Quickly, he removed his combination lock from the locker door with shaking hands before walking away without a backwards glance. He was doing the right thing. The only possible thing.
(To be continued...)