It was Wednesday evening when out of the blue I got a call from Ali, the last time I saw her was more than a month ago at the party we had after moving into the apartment. She’d introduced her boyfriend James and I guessed the two of them had been off doing their own thing, anyway I was less close with all the girls these days.
She didn’t waste time with small talk, you know, the usual ‘how are you? What you been up to.’ No, her news was much too important. She explained slowly and carefully, making sure I heard everything and understood. Josh had contacted her, that was amazingly good news, why he contacted Ali and not me or Aaron, I didn’t know, but they had always been close friends.
He is staying with a cousin, Frank, who has a guest house on a tiny island called Inishmore, which is somewhere off the west coast of Ireland. He told her that he needed to get away, that he doesn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. She was very serious when she added that he needs to be left alone and his only reason for contacting her was so she could tell us he was OK.
His cousin Frank had apparently talked to Josh’s dad and he agreed it was the best thing for Josh. I think, she told me, that he was close to a sort of breakdown, she added that she didn’t know why, or what had happened and that she did not want to press him for any details. She was just pleased to know he was safe and to be able to pass on the news to us.
How could she know what had happened, I thought, but even knowing more about Josh’s recent encounters, his coming out to his brother, arguing with his dad, sex with Adam, I still didn’t, I was sure, know the full story. I felt sad that I had not been the person he contacted, that he didn’t want to talk to me, but I also realised I had not been perhaps the best friend that I should have been.
I thought though, even if I hadn’t met Zack and moved out, I still probably wasn’t the person he could confide in. He had afterall had a crush on me, he was probably hoping, no, not probably, certainly hoping that I felt the same. Or at any rate he was struggling with his feelings for me, which is why after the party he had spent the night talking to Calvin. Now I should respect his wish to be left alone and just hope he would sort himself out and get in touch, I didn’t want to lose him as a friend.
Zack was going to be late back from college so I texted him the news, Ali said she would call Aaron, so everybody would know Josh was safe.
* * * * * *
It was not long after the phone call from Ali when the bell rang and I scooted down the stairs to see who it was. When I opened the front door, standing there was a boy of maybe 15 or 16, it’s always difficult to tell an age exactly, well it is for me at least. I just stared at him a second or two, he was cute, nice looking, had on jeans and a sweatshirt, I thought it’s Adam number two, in a replay of earlier events.
“You must be Mikey,” the boy said. It wasn’t even a question, he knew who I was, but I’d never seen him before. I must have had a sort of curious expression on my face, because he introduced himself. “I’m Lucas.”
I suppose he thought I should know who he was, but I didn’t. “Lucas?” I repeated his name as a question.
“OK,” he said. “I get it, you really don’t know who I am.” It was a statement and he was right, I didn’t.
“No, I’m sorry, should I?” I smiled, trying to show I wasn’t being obtuse on purpose.
“I guess not,” he replied smiling back. “Knowing my brother, he wouldn’t even have told you I existed.”
Now it took a few moments to register. “You’re Zack’s brother,” I said. “You’re right, I didn’t know Zack had a brother. Come on in.” I opened the door wide to let him in. “Top of the stairs,” I said. “But maybe you’ve been here before?” I added as he led the way up to the attic.
“Once only,” he said. We arrived at the door at the top of the stairs.
“Go on in,” I told him. “Zack’s not back from college yet, if you wanted to see him.” He went in and I followed. “You can wait for him if you like.”
He sat down on the bed and I just stood there looking at him. He did have some of Zack’s features, but actually he reminded me more of Tom, a similar height and build, but without the ear rings. “Can I get you a drink?” I asked.
“You got a coke?” Lucas replied.
“I think so,” and, yes, looking in the little fridge there were two cans of coke. I got two glasses, some ice and poured out two cokes, handing one to Lucas.
He sipped his coke and then looked up at me. I’d taken my place on the stool, he was really very cute, I thought.
My thoughts were interupted when he spoke. “I really came to see you.”
Now this is interesting, why would Zack’s little brother, who I’d never met and didn’t even know existed until right now, come to see me. “Zack told you about me, I guess?” I asked him, not sure if he knew we were a couple, that we lived together, not sure of anything at all.
“It’s OK,” Lucas replied. Maybe I had a slightly worried expression. “I know you live with Zack, I know you’re a couple, it’s cool, my brother tells me everything, we’re very close.”
“So what did you want to see me about?” I asked.
“It’s difficult,” he looked serious. “Zack told me about you, but because I don’t know you, I have no idea what you’re like, what sort of person you are.”
“Well perhaps now you’ve met me, you have a better idea and we can get to know each other, I’m nice.” I smiled at him and he grinned sheepishly. “Hey,” I said, suddenly thinking. “I’m not coming on to you. I just meant to get to know each other as friends, family.”
“I’m not gay, anyway,” he looked at me, I think he was about to laugh.
“OK, now you’re making fun of me.”
“No, sorry, but you looked worried when I said I came to see you and not Zack and you looked even more worried when you thought that I might think you were trying it on with me…” There was a silence. “You look kinda cute when you’re worried.”
“Haha,” I said. “So what do you want to see me for?”
“To tell you not to take advantage of my brother, not to hurt him, to make sure you’re serious, because he’s already been hurt, because we’ve been through stuff together, because I need to make sure he’s alright, we look out for each other.”
“Wow… Lucas, I love Zack, he’s the first boy I’ve met and I would never hurt him, I promise.”
“I think I believe you,” he said.
“You should, I mean it,” I told him.
“You know Adam don’t you?” Lucas asked changing the subject.
“Yes I know Adam,” I replied.
“He hurt Zack, he hurt him a lot, I don’t like the guy.”
“I’m sorry about that, but I’m not Adam.”
“Zack has probably told you nothing about our childhood, has he?” Lucas looked at me with sad looking eyes. It seemed he easily jumped from one subject to another, but it was true, I knew nothing about Zack, his family or his childhood.
“No, like you said, he doesn’t talk about himself much, although I did get him to open up about Adam.”
“We lived, I still do, with our dad. As a family we’re poor. Our mum, well, we never knew her. Our dad is the only person we have. He is very strict as fathers go. Maybe because he had to bring two boys up on his own and thought he needed to keep everything under control.” I listened silently to what Lucas was saying.
“Sometimes he drinks a lot. He always says he has his reasons, and maybe he does. I wouldn’t call him violent, but like I said strict. So it hasn’t been easy for us.”
“What exactly does strict mean?” I asked him.
“It means,” he replied. “That if we got out of line, did something we shouldn’t have, whatever, he’d take his strap to one or both of us. We pretty much got beaten regularly.”
That was a revelation, it was a shock to hear, my dad had never laid a finger on me, I could only imagine what it was like living your childhood fearing a beating for something or other.
“Don’t talk about this with Zack, OK?” Lucas was looking me straight in the eyes.
“Of course not,” I assured him I would say nothing.
“He doesn’t talk about this stuff for a reason, and of course,” he added, “our dad doesn’t know he’s gay.”
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