Love All, Trust A Few, Do Wrong To None: William Shakespeare, Part 2
Dylan was fuming as he sat in his lifeguard chair. Coming across Jake in the parking lot at lunch had startled him, but he wasn’t angry at him. He was angry at himself and his childish reaction to Jake’s staring. How could he be so cruel?
Jake looked terrible. His usually-sparkling eyes were dull and lifeless, there was a pallor to his skin that his light sunburn couldn’t hide and his clothes looked loose on him. He almost reminded Dylan of a zombie in a second-rate horror film, and he didn’t need anyone to tell him who was responsible for the changes.
“Hey, Dylan.” He heard a female voice whining below him and looked down at a blonde lifeguard with curves spilling out of her one-piece suit looking up at him seductively. “Your shift is over. Get out of my chair.”
Dylan gathered his gear and sauntered off to the staff bathroom. A pair of his shorts lay folded on the bench, and he quickly remembered the last time somebody was wearing them and who that somebody was. His eyes flew to Jake’s locker, now gaping empty across the way. He groaned.
Opening his own locker he picked up the shorts and something fell to the floor. It was a sheet of lined paper torn from a spiral pad with a half-page note in Jake’s handwriting.
I’m sorry about today in the parking lot. It’s been a couple of days since I saw you and it shocked me. But don’t lose sleep over it because I promise it won’t happen again.
So it turns out I do know Clarence. Just like you suspected, it’s Tony. I never heard him go by his first name before so it caught me by surprise on Saturday. I still don’t know why he started using it in college or what he did to you or why you were up in my shit over him. Keep your secrets because they don’t matter now.
I want you to be happy. Please make peace with Marcus. You two were tight before I came along and messed things up. When I lived in Madera, Dylan and Noah, that was all he ever talked about. It made me jealous, to be honest, over how cool his friends sounded. I want that for you three again.
So anyway, I guess that’s all I have to say. Except, I loved you. I really did and have since I met you.
Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.
A lead weight settled in the pit of Dylan’s stomach, the force of his own actions settling on him over the finality of the note. Surely, Jake wouldn’t be so stupid as to…
His shower forgotten, Dylan threw on a shirt and ran to his truck. He thought about calling Jake but that would only delay his arrival at the Walker home. Maybe Pat, if she was even there, would pick up but he wasn’t sure of his reception anymore.
Marcus answered the door, and his eyes snapped at the sight of a distracted Dylan on his front porch. “What do you want?” He didn’t feel the need to be nice.
Dylan tried to control his breathing and stop shaking, especially seeing how calm Marcus was behaving. His anxiety now felt rather silly. The Walkers’ cul de sac was quiet, and it was a sunny summer afternoon. He began to think he had overstated the meaning of the note. But he wasn’t willing to take that chance. Since he was already here, even if it meant Marcus’ suspicions, he might as well ask just to be sure.
“I stopped by to see if Jake is okay.”
“You really are a prick, Dylan.” Marcus shook his head in amazement. “You kick his ass six ways to Sunday over your stupid little melodrama shit, and then you want to know how he is? How do you think he is? He’s fucked up.”
With reluctance, Dylan pulled out the note. “He left this at my locker at the pool.”
Marcus green eyes ran down it quickly. “So?” Obviously, Marcus didn’t see the urgency, but then his face brightened with knowing. “Oh, so you think…” He began to laugh wryly.
“You give yourself far too much credit, Dylan. Jake isn’t suicidal. He arrived home a few minutes ago and said he was tired so he went to bed. That’s all. I hope he fell asleep. He’s been dead on his feet for five days straight, and I was nearly ready to spike his soda with sleeping pills.” Marcus thought about his choice of phrases and grinned dourly. “No pun intended. Look, my cousin may be messed up, but not to the point of killing himself.”
Dylan turned red and said, “I just wanted…”
“You just wanted what?” Marcus sneered. “To get him off your conscience?” He knew he was delving into Jake’s business when he’d promised not to, but he was tired of Dylan hurting him. Somebody needed to take up his defense instead of letting this guy continue to pummel him for no reason.
“I know you don’t appreciate him, but Jake is one of the sweetest guys I know, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my cousin. He’s loyal and knows how to treat his friends right. He doesn’t go around hurting others for sport like you do. If he says he didn’t do something, he didn’t. He has been under so much pressure because of his mom and dad, and with everything else going on he can’t catch a break.
“You come over on Saturday, supposedly to help him, and what’s the first thing you do? You start looking through his high school yearbooks, and then you get in his face demanding answers about some kid he’s never heard of when he’s trying to explain the best he can. You’re calling him a liar and accusing him of playing you. Then you walk out on him for something he never saw coming because, guess what! He isn’t clairvoyant.”
“All he had to say was that he knew that Clarence kid.” Dylan knew he sounded like a whiny kid.
“He does, but is it Jake’s fault he used his middle name all through high school and everyone knew him as ‘Tony’? The least you could’ve done was explain why it was so damn important. If they were one and the same, Jake might have been able to help you, but instead you kept throwing his words back in his face. You went way over the line, and you know it.”
“Can we forget last weekend for a few minutes?” Dylan asked desperately. “I want to make sure he’s going to be okay.
“No, you just can’t act like it never happened,” Marcus insisted sharply. “So maybe you finally came to your senses and realized what you gave up. Have you even listened to any of his voicemails or read his texts?”
“That’s not it,” Dylan tried to insist, although his guts were twisting in guilt. “I…”
Marcus made a pushing motion with his hand as if warding off something distasteful. “Do you want to know what Jake said to me? He said it wouldn’t have mattered what he told you that afternoon because, innocent or not, you needed someone to blame so you chose him. Tell me, why should he answer to you when you just want to make wild assumptions? He was speaking the truth. You’re supposed to love him and believe him. You think he’s protecting Tony? Why would he? They’re enemies. But you wouldn’t listen, and you fucked him over just to make yourself feel better. So great, feel better but know that apologizing isn’t going to help him one bit.”
It sounded as if Marcus had appointed himself Jake’s personal bodyguard, meaning Dylan would probably never get a chance to talk to him alone. “Don’t you think Jake should make that call?”
“Probably, but he’s too hurt to even face you.” Marcus had no intention of relenting. “The best thing you can do is leave him alone and let him forget about you in peace.”
Dylan gasped. Had it really come to the point where Jake just wanted to forget him? Ah, but that was what the note was all about, wasn’t it. Not killing himself. He was saying goodbye. He was doing exactly what Dylan’s conduct at lunch expected of him—to roll back this whole miserable summer and pretend he’d never met Jake. And maybe it would be best, even if the thought did send cold chills down his spine.
Marcus continued. “Obviously, I can’t tell Jake what to do, but if it were up to me, I’d transfer him out of Long Beach State and into a different college so he wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into you at school on accident. If you’re any kind of decent guy, you’ll leave him alone once you return. He’s going to have a hard enough time dealing with his father’s psycho-stalking, and he doesn’t need you busting his ass too.”
Dylan nodded. The truth was, he didn’t want to bust Jake’s ass, at least not in that sense. He wanted to smother him in kisses. He missed him. He missed his enthusiasm for life and how fiercely protective against outsiders he was of their relationship. How he blushed over sex, and the gentle cries he’d make when he came so passionately. And with those thoughts, all the love he’d tried to force out came flooding back in, making the longing almost a physical pain. A chill seized his heart when he considered never seeing Jake again.
He wished there was a way to take back everything he’d said about Clarence because it was starting to feel like a bunch of nothing, at least not important enough to risk his future with Jake over. But he was afraid it was already too late. The note made it pretty clear that Jake was giving up, so maybe he should admit defeat, say it was the best four weeks of his life and be done with it.
He knew it was the cowardly way out and that Jake deserved much more than him slinking away. At the very least he deserved an apology for Saturday’s innuendos and his rude statement at lunch. All of a sudden, Dylan realized that everything Marcus had said about him was the truth. He had used his boyfriend. He had pushed him away for the sake of his own pride, and somehow, it seemed sadder on the other foot.
With the heartrending decision to leave Dylan alone so he could move on with his life, Jake felt a sense of dark freedom. He knew his own cure would be a long time coming, but with plans now made to leave town, it would be a start. He had called his brothers the night before and David actually sounded happy with the idea of Jake living with him for three weeks.
Two days passed. The last day of camp went smoothly, and Jake couldn’t wait to get home. He liked teaching baseball to kids, but in the end, it was just a job. Coach Able had shaken his hand goodbye when he learned Jake would not attend the luncheon the next day, reminding him that he was a fine player and he should consider becoming a P.E. teacher. Coach wished him all the best and they parted as friends.
Marcus was at work with his father at his garage, and Jake found Pat making spaghetti sauce in the kitchen. He pulled a stool up to the breakfast bar. She could tell something was on his mind, so she put the spicy tomato mixture on simmer and waited.
“You know I love you guys, don’t you, Aunt Pat.”
Patricia frowned. She didn’t like the start of this conversation. “This sounds like bad news.”
“It is, kind of. You and I talked about what Dylan did last weekend.” She nodded, and Jake sighed. “I need to get away from here. Not that I don’t appreciate everything you and Uncle Avery have done for me. But it’s too hard living in the same town where I have to worry about running into him.”
Pat looked aggrieved. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Every night she could hear Jake tossing and turning in bed. He had lost interest in all the activities he once loved and hadn’t surfed in over a week. He didn’t see friends, and his appetite had shrunk to nothing. She knew he was depressed and hoped time would be kind to him and allow him to let go. As much as she adored her nephew, maybe starting over somewhere else was for the best.
“What do you propose?”
“David said I could move into the extra bedroom at his and Penny’s apartment. It will give me an idea of distance so I can choose whether to stay there once school begins if I want to commute and save money. Now that I’m a sophomore, I don’t have to live in a dorm. The best part is that Dad doesn’t know David’s address and I’ll be harder to find.”
Pat smiled sadly. Jake had it all figured out. All except for the part that he was like another child to her and Avery, like their second son, and she hated to see him leave. “Okay,” she sniffed, fighting tears. “But you know we love you, and you can come back anytime, right?”
Jake got up and put his arms around her. He had a lump in his throat too. “I always will, Aunt Pat.”
The sadness was not all for moving away from the Walkers. It was acknowledging that once he left Aleppo Park his relationship with Dylan would be over. Five days had passed since their disagreement, and not once had the other boy shown any sign of reconciling. Jake was thinking that leaving over the weekend would be best for everyone, and that was more than enough time if Dylan wanted to apologize. If not, well, there was only so much leniency he could be expected to extend. He had to learn to live without him for his own peace of mind.
The next morning Jake ditched the final day camp meeting and began to pack. He rued Marcus’ decision in May to make the extra bedroom his own because it was going to take half a day to retrieve his belongings from the four corners and under every piece of furniture in between.
Avery said he could put his surfboard back up in the rafters of the garage until he needed it. He was sure going to miss surfing now that he was so accustomed to spending time at the breaks two or three times a week. He speculated whether it would be better to tell the new friends he’d made goodbye in person or by phone. He didn’t want a lot of drama, and he knew Sage would cry.
Marcus wandered in, looking sleepy. “What’s going on?”
Jake had been dreading this. “I’m moving to David’s,” he said slowly and turned to face him, forcing a smile. “I can’t stay here, Marc. Not when it all reminds me of Dylan.”
His cousin’s face turned hard. “This is so unfair. He’s the asshole, and you’re leaving? He should be the one to avoid the beach and every other place we hang at. You’re out there way more often than he is anyway.”
Jake shrugged. “This isn’t my home anymore, Marcus. Remember, I went to Madera, and his family is here. I’m just a seasonal visitor. So it’s best that I leave.”
He faced Marcus with serious frown. “No, Marc. This fight between the two of you is all wrong. You and Noah and Dylan were tight. I want you to be tight again. I want you to forget about this summer, at least the bad parts, and not hate him. Call it something happening beyond our control that he couldn’t fix. I’ll move past this but only if the two of you bury the hatchet and agree to get along. Do it for me if not for yourself.”
Tears sprang to Marcus’ eyes, and he hated that he was crying. “But you’re my bro, Jake. If I make up with him, it’s like saying you don’t matter. It’s telling him that it’s okay to treat you like that.”
“Please, Marcus. Don’t make me feel worse because I split you guys up too.”
“But Jake…” He looked at his cousin, seeing him dying inside and knew how much it hurt to leave his hometown all over again. He had to give in, if only to let Jake have some peace. Reluctantly they bumped knuckles. “Okay, bro, I’ll try.”
It was all either of them could do.
Dylan was disappointed when he arrived at the rec center that morning and Jake was absent. He heard one of the baseball assistants ask Coach about him and learned that he wasn’t going to attend the luncheon either. Somehow it didn’t surprise him. It seemed as if Jake had gone to ground over the past week, doing his best to avoid Dylan at all costs.
The luncheon was boring with a decent enough meal but lots of canned speeches about how the program couldn’t survive without its assistants. Some awards were handed out in the various sports. Jake received a commendation for doing such an exemplary job at short notice after coming in on the eve of day camp to pick up the slack for the kid who suddenly quit.
Dylan was voted the ‘parent’s favorite swim teacher’ causing one of the other pool instructors to snicker. “At least we know he didn’t buy the vote,” and he made a lewd gesture that had the rest of the table laughing.
The ceremony couldn’t get over fast enough, but it was almost 3:30 by the time the last prize was bestowed. Dylan was not in a good mood as he whipped out his phone while walking to the parking lot. Again he thought about how much of a habit that hanging out with Jake had become, and now that he wasn’t around, he was bored and lonely.
“Noah,” he shouted when the phone was answered. “How are you doing?”
Noah hesitated at first. He, Luis and the Caldwell twins had moped around Aleppo Park for the past week feeling out of sorts and trying to put their heads together to work for a solution. Sage, since she came across as the most sympathetic, was keeping in touch with Marcus who was fuming mad with his former bestie, Dylan. He reported that Jake was a wreck and had no interest in much of anything except pining for his ex-boyfriend. He was losing weight and his environment had shrunk to day camp and the Walker home, mostly in his bedroom.
Noah and Sage were almost to the point of wanting to stage an intervention between Jake and Dylan except for the fact that nobody thought they could persuade the two of them to sit down together in the same space. However, the vote was close to unanimous that this was Dylan’s fault for unfairly climbing all over his boyfriend’s ass on Saturday. It was unclear what, if anything, Jake had done wrong.
Noah hoped that Dylan’s willingness to hang out for the first time all week meant he was ready to open up. Obviously, the kid at college, Clarence, was very upsetting to him, and the picture he had seen in the yearbook made him suspect Jake was part of it. Knowing the Nielsen boy as well as he did, Noah doubted there was any validity to Dylan’s fears. The faster this was cleared up, the faster the crew could begin to repair what Dylan had broken so they could all be friends again.
Noah suggested meeting at 7:30 since his parents were going out. Dylan was there on the dot, all smiles and goodwill and jumping in excitement after nearly a week, and Noah let him in. He and their three friends were as glum as if they were attending a funeral.
“Uh, hi guys.” Dylan looked at the lackluster faces staring back at him from Noah’s family room couch and chairs. Sage’s eyes were red indicating that she had been crying, but she was sensitive to others’ hurts and it bothered her that Jake refused to speak to anyone. Spencer didn’t want to hear any excuses from his former water polo teammate; neither he nor Luis had been present at the Walkers when the fight took place, but the stories were bad enough, and his sister giving in to tears made him uncomfortable. The same more or less was true for Noah, and that this was all Dylan’s fault, in his own opinion, didn’t endear him any.
“Am I walking into an interrogation?” he tried to joke when nobody seemed very enthusiastic at the sight of him.
“That sort of depends on you,” Sage answered with a squeak as her eyes brightened with tears again. “We want to know what’s going on between you and Jake before Marcus rips your head off. We miss you guys. All of you.”
Dylan looked surprised. “You aren’t hanging out with Marcus and Jake?” One of the reasons he’d stayed away was because he thought the crew had gotten together and decided to exclude him.
Luis shook his head, and Noah made a disgusted face before saying, “Have you seen Jake at all?”
Dylan swallowed hard, remembering the last time he caught sight of him. Three days before in the parking lot at the rec center. “Just in passing at camp. We’re on opposite sides of the center.”
“Oh, there’s a good excuse,” Spencer sniped, narrowing his eyes. “We can’t get close to him, but you won’t take the few extra steps to make sure your ex-boyfriend who is falling apart because of you is okay?”
Dylan threw up his hands. “Okay, I can see where this is going. What do you want from me?”
“You can start with the truth, Dylan,” Noah said in a severe tone, shaking his auburn hair out of his eyes. “Tell us who this Clarence kid is and what he did to you. After that, explain how Jake ties in to him, because even though I heard your swearing and accusations last weekend, I am still confused.”
Dylan looked at his friends and knew the time for secrets was over. He was tired of hiding, and in truth, this went along with the entire coming out situation he had avoided up until the month before. He was so lucky compared to other gay teens to have such a tolerant and sympathetic family, because he’d heard the stories. Jake was only one example.
“Fine,” he agreed, taking a seat on the end of the couch and slipping his flip flops off his feet. “I’ll tell you everything if you answer one simple question for me. How do you know Jake is telling the truth about what happened to him with his dad?”
“Oh honestly!” Sage sulked, crossing her thin arms. “Is that what this shit is all about, Dylan? I saw the bruises on him the day after he arrived when we went surfing.”
“So did I,” Noah said. “He wore an A-shirt under his shortie to cover them up as best he could, but they were there. “Stomach, back and jaw.”
Dylan looked at Spencer and Luis who were glaring back, but they had seen them too. There was no denying it now. Jake had not lied about his father, meaning he’d almost definitely told the truth about Tony. Dylan knew he was in a world of trouble, and explaining his story to his friends was just the beginning of the groveling he was going to have to do.
He blew out a long breath. “I might as well…”
By the time Dylan was a sophomore at Long Beach State he no longer struggled with his sexuality much. He knew he was gay. On the advice of his uncles, Chris and Bruce, he was careful who he told, but his roommates knew. One of them, Troy, was gay too which was, in fact, the big reason they agreed to share a dorm. They were not paired romantically, just good friends. There was safety in numbers, and Troy’s current boyfriend wasn’t comfortable living with him because he wasn’t fully out yet.
Through Troy, Dylan met other gay students on campus. Some became good friends and they shared a variety of interests. There wasn’t anybody he actually felt an attraction to; after all he still had at least one foot near the closet depending on circumstances. By the second semester he was friends with a loose coterie of young men, some who dated. Looking back now, he was surprised that it didn’t include Jake. Well, considering his upbringing, maybe not so surprising.
It was in the spring and began small. A senior in a committed couple, a friend of friends, had received an anonymous e-mail with pictures of him and his boyfriend together, kissing as they parted to go to their separate classes. Except for the fact that someone was snapping photos of him without permission, it didn’t bother him—he was fully open about his lifestyle. But his lover, who was afraid of any hint of homosexuality getting back to his ultra-religious family, nearly had a heart attack when he saw the corresponding message: ‘What would your friends at home think if they saw you like this?’
The situation escalated rather quickly after that. Gay men were being targeted by some prankster getting his kicks by taking pictures of them, in couples or just friends touching each other in a semi-intimate way, and sending them through snail-mail or the anonymous library electronic system. Or in the logical next step, attaching them to student bulletin boards around campus, which was almost worse. It even reached the point where fake messages arranging meetings went back and forth, and it all seemed to be a practical joke, but hardly harmless.
Some of the pictures listed e-mail addresses of parents and siblings, showing there was a potential for sending them home. Students were threatened by bigots, four young men were hospitalized after beatings, and the administration, while trying to help, didn’t know where to look for the elusive photographer. Accusations flew back and forth, and it was difficult to tell who was most hurt; the couples themselves or the non-photographed who were accused of being the person behind it.
The stalking went on for over three weeks, mostly of upperclassmen and almost exclusively within the theater arts, music and engineering programs. Friends of Troy’s, neither of them out anywhere but at school, got caught up in the maelstrom with their photos taken, and they almost broke up over it. Only this time it was a little more personal for Dylan. He was in the picture. Well, part of him was.
The others stared at Dylan in astonishment. “So, you’re telling me that some student up at your school was going around targeting gay couples by taking their pictures and leaving them all around the campus?” Luis asked.
Dylan nodded. “One day I was relaxing at a table on the cafeteria patio with my roommate and several of our friends when he introduced me to a new couple he’d met through a university LGBT-community activity. A couple days later a picture of the two of them showed up on a student bulletin board. I knew when it had been taken because my clothing was in the actual photo.”
It was just a casual get-together, but the smaller man had been perched in his boyfriend’s lap while Dylan sat close by. For some weird reason his attention was drawn to this tall, muscular teenager with black hair who was taking photos on his cell phone camera. The shots seemed totally random—he would catch a single shot of what looked like background, and then he’d zero in on a group like Dylan’s friends. A singular thought had flashed through his mind that this would be a rather ingenious way to target people without them knowing.
“Hey,” he had asked around the table at the time. “Who is that kid with the cell phone taking pictures?”
One of the group had come back with a name: Clarence. “I don’t know him, but I think he’s in one of my classes.”
And then sure enough, a few days later the picture popped up on a bulletin board. Even though he was not the image’s subject, seeing his arm, shoulder and hip visible off to the side of the photograph was a sobering experience, one that would have bothered him greatly if it was him and some other kid kissing or sitting entwined together. Even knowing the day and time they had been photographed was scary when he recognized the scenery behind them. And he remembered Clarence.
Not three days later he was leaving a science lab when he thought he recognized the boy ahead of him, and he hurried to catch up. “Clarence,” he called, and the kid stopped and waited for him.
There was nothing unique about him. He was as tall as Dylan and slightly bulkier with spiky dark hair and brown eyes flecked with green. He had a curious look on his face because, not knowing the student who had hailed him by sight, he was eager to discover his business and get on with his day.
“I saw you near the cafeteria last week,” Dylan stated. “You were using your cell to snap pictures, and on that same day two friends of mine had their photo taken and and now it’s all over campus.”
Clarence threw him an apprehensive glance that he quickly covered up with a sneer.
“So what! I mean, I take lots of pictures. That doesn’t mean it was me catching your faggot friends in action.”
Dylan thought that was a very odd remark. He narrowed his eyes. Very odd indeed, especially considering that he’d said nothing about the subjects of the photos being gay. To be fair, Clarence might have guessed, but his response made Dylan at first suspicious and then bold.
“Are you the one who is harassing gay couples by taking pictures of them and posting them all over the school?”
Clarence stared at Dylan and grinned like this was the funniest joke in the world. “That would make me some kind of evil stalker, right? Some fucked up dude?”
“Are you admitting it?” Dylan asked, astonished.
“Lots of students take pictures all over campus,” Clarence said simplistically, trying to laugh it off. “You have no right to accuse me of anything and no proof. I’m no stalker, but I’ll tell you what. If I come across anyone else with a cell phone camera I’ll send them in your direction.”
Clarence had walked away with sort of a jittery laugh, but Dylan felt sure he was lying. What iced the deal was that the harassment ceased immediately thereafter, but it left a lot of the gay community at the university feeling paranoid.
“What happened to Clarence?” Luis asked, scratching his knee.
“Nothing,” Dylan said bitterly. “It was my word against his, and by the time someone took me seriously, the harassment had ceased and his camera memory card was wiped. Nobody could find any record that he’d mailed pictures or even kept a list of names. It really pissed me off because a lot of innocent people were hurt. Kids switched colleges or dropped out because of him.”
Dylan stared through the patio door for a few moments without speaking. “Then last week I found Jake’s yearbooks from his high school up north. Clarence’s picture was in the one from his senior year. It was a team photo of his baseball squad, and there he was, standing right behind Jake.”
Comprehension dawned on Sage’s face. “So you’re saying your Clarence is Jake’s Tony?” Dylan nodded.
“But why would you think Jake had anything to do with that mess?” Noah asked skeptically. “You heard him the evening we all got together drinking. Tony hates Jake for trying to kiss him. Jake said he hadn’t spoken to Tony since the party.”
Spencer, who had only heard some scattered rumors about the kissing incident, was catching on quickly but he was shocked. “You didn’t believe him? He’s your boy, Dylan. If you can’t trust your own boy…”
“I know,” Dylan said miserably, running his fingers through his pale hair. “I should’ve, but I panicked. All the ugly shit came back like it was yesterday. Then when Jake started saying Tony couldn’t be Clarence I got mad. He didn’t know where Tony was, and I thought he was lying… or hiding something. It looked like some kind of set-up between them, and I…”
”Fuck it, Dylan,” Noah interrupted angrily. “Do you know how Jake’s father found out he was gay?”
Dylan shook his head. “Jake just said he found out.” He was rather surprised because in all the time they had known each other, the subject never came up.
”Some anonymous student at Long Beach State emailed pictures of Jake kissing another boy.”
Dylan stared at Noah like he was a ghost as the words sunk in. He could see it happening like a movie in front of him.
“Pictures of your college friends sent to them and put up on notice boards,” Noah jeered. “Pictures of Jake mailed to his dad. Now you tell me why that sounds so similar.
”Only in Jake’s case, somebody already knew he had a homophobic father. Tony had a grudge against Jake, and what better way to pay him back than to send proof that his son was gay so he would be severely punished for it.”
Of course, that Clarence and Tony were the same person was as clear as day, but Jake had nothing to do with it except he was just as much of a victim as all the rest of the guys who had unwittingly been part of the harassment the previous year.
“It seems to me,” Sage hypothesized, “that this could have worked one of two ways. Either Jake was the target, and Tony took pictures of other couples to hide what he was doing, meaning the sender would have to be familiar enough with Jake to know he was at Long Beach, right? Or Tony got lucky when he snapped Jake and that other boy.”
Noah shook his head. “You’re a real dumbass, Dylan. At the risk of saying ‘I told you so’, I knew this was all fucked up. Jake isn’t the kind of guy who would get off on hurting you. He’s in love with you and too decent to act so underhanded. You should’ve come to us last weekend, and we could have saved you all this trouble. Why didn’t you ask me?”
“I don’t know.”
Damn, he had really, really screwed this up. False accusations all over the place, intimidating Jake like a bully, refusing his apologies when Dylan was the one who should be begging forgiveness… If Jake even would speak to him again, it was doubtful he’d listen or try to understand. And forget taking him back. Dylan didn’t deserve Jake’s mercy. He didn’t deserve him. His boyfriend was so hurt and broken, and he’d done it to him on purpose.
Dylan was still sitting in a daze when he vaguely heard Noah’s cell phone ringing. There was a short conversation that quickly became more urgent, and then Noah hung up.
“Goddamn, Dylan,” Noah exclaimed sternly, tossing his cell on the table. “When you fuck things up, you really fuck things up.” Everyone looked at him inquiringly. “That was Marcus. Jake’s leaving Aleppo Park.”
“What?” They all talked at once. Dylan could only sit there, his eyes huge, wondering when the bluebird of happiness decided to shit all over him. Then he realized he’d done it to himself.
“Jake is moving in with his brother, David, who lives in Venice Beach. Maybe as early as late tomorrow afternoon.”
Sage began to cry again, and Dylan dropped his head in his hands and groaned.
Noah continued, looking straight at Dylan with a scowl. “As Marcus put it, Jake says he can’t stay here, because it’s your home now, not his. Everything reminds him of you, and he’s afraid of accidentally seeing you around town. I can’t say that I blame him either.”
“So what do we do?” Luis piped up. “Jake is a cool homey. He can’t leave.”
Spencer looked at Luis while keeping one eye on Dylan. “We can’t do anything. The only person who can is Dylan, and I’m not sure he’s going to pull it off.”
Dylan cleared his throat nervously. “I’ll talk to him.” Thinking about the ugly comment he’d made on Tuesday, he allowed, “I know why he’s so upset, and it’s all my fault. Even if I have to beg him, I’ll try to get him to change his mind.”
“I told Marcus I couldn’t speak freely and I’d call him later,” Noah added. “I plan to tell him about our talk. You know he isn’t going to be happy, Dylan.”
Dylan let himself smile grimly. “I don’t expect him to since he told me to leave Jake alone. But that’s not completely up to him. The only way I’m backing off is if Jake tells me to.”
“So, tomorrow morning?” Spencer asked, looking at all of them. “You’ll talk to him tomorrow?”
“Yeah.” Dylan’s voice was low and guilty. Afraid… No, make that panicked. Everything rode on convincing Jake that he was sorry and was an asshole who didn’t deserve his love. Knowing he would probably never believe him nor forgive him, but he had to try. “Tomorrow.”
The Walkers and Jake were up early the next morning. Pat rounded the doorway into his bedroom where he was still collecting his gear.
“We’re going out for pancakes,” she hinted slyly, hoping he’d be encouraged to eat something substantial. “Blueberry.”
Jake smiled at her. “No thanks. I have too much to do.”
“Okay,” she teased gently, giving him a kiss and wishing again he wouldn’t leave. “You’re giving up some great pancakes.”
They left, and the house was so quiet. His cell phone rang, and the caller was Noah. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Not a whole lot, Jake, but I was wondering if we could come around in a little while.”
Jake got a suspicious feeling. “Come around?”
Noah sighed. “Look, okay, Marcus told us you’re going. We all… Sage, Spencer, Luis and me… we just want to say goodbye. Is that alright?”
Jake tried to relax his tense shoulders. He knew to be fair that he should give his farewells in person, wish them all his best, promise it wasn’t forever. Otherwise, everyone would feel badly. “Okay.”
Noah promised to be over in half an hour and hung up. Jake went back to his packing.
The doorbell rang, and he strolled downstairs, a packed box in hand that he left near the staircase. Nonchalantly he unlocked the front door and stood back to open it.
Jake looked up at the familiar voice in shock. A big person blocked the sun. Actually, two big people. One of them grabbed his collar.
It was his father.
(To be continued...)