Author's note: I am not gay (hell, I'm not even a man) nor am I a religious person, so I will not even pretend to understand the struggles that these groups may face. This story is purely for fun and not meant to offend anyone.
The embrace could have gone on forever, would have gone on forever but Christian had to step back slightly in order to look at Aaron, really look at him. He had too many dreams that toed the line between fantasy and reality that he could not trust what he had seen. So while keeping his eyes locked on Aaron's, whose tear filled blue eyes matched his own brown ones, he again added touch to the equation. His hands caressed Aaron's face ever so gently, almost as if he were afraid that this was all an apparition. Then, adding more pressure, he continued his tactile journey down his neck, across his shoulders and down his chest. Chris could remember all of these parts with such vivid memory from their one glorious night together that he briefly closed his eyes to allow those memories to wash over him. Only this time the experience ended in happiness and love instead of pain and guilt. When he opened his eyes, he found that his right hand had stopped over Aaron's heart. He could feel that valiant little muscle dancing beneath his palm. All of the sudden, reality seemed to slam against him so forcefully that he momentarily lost his breath. 'Oh my God. This is really happening.' Looking back into Aaron's eyes, which were filled with so much love and maybe a dash of confusion, Chris said,
"You're real. You're alive."
Aaron exhaled a laugh despite the seriousness of the moment. Since touching down in LA, he had been riddled with doubts about this reunion. Despite his newfound confidence gained after hearing that song, he couldn't help remembering how he had left Christian. He didn't know of anyone who had reacted positively toward the apparent rejection and abandonment of someone else not just once, but twice. Hurt, pain and, worst of all, rejection from the man he loved, were the nightmares he wrestled with during his flight over. And perhaps those emotions, those reactions were still to come. But, for right now, all of that didn't seem to matter with Christian standing in front of him like a tortured soul who had finally found his reason to live again.
Smiling radiantly, Aaron answered, "Yeah, I think I finally am."
Smiling just as brilliantly and through the tears that had finally escaped and were trickling down his face, Christian finally remembered the fate that he had thought had been handed down to Aaron and the subsequent hell that he had been in for the past few weeks. His smile faded and his eyes filled with wonder and bewilderment.
"I thought that…I thought…so many horrible things." Too many questions and emotions were swirling through his head, begging to be released, that complete and coherent sentences could not be formed. One question, though, seemed to resonate louder than all of the rest. So, placing his hands again against the sides of Aaron's face, Chris asked quietly,
Ha! Well, that was a loaded question if Aaron had ever heard one. What hadn't happened? Where would he even begin? The details of the events that had occurred after leaving Christian and Salt Lake were so painful, depressing, heart wrenching and devoid of hope that even he hadn't had the time or even the energy to truly understand the impact that it had on his psyche. How could he expect Chris to understand his journey and to help him sort through his feelings? Now was not the time or the place to open himself to such vulnerability. Not when a whole restaurant full of patrons, not to mention employees, were explicitly staring at them, straining out of their seats to see and hear how the drama would unfold. Aaron easily evaded the question for now by stating,
"It's a long story. I could come back after work if you like…"
Christian blinked in realization at his current surroundings. He let his hands slowly drop from Aaron's face while embarrassment flooded his face at the emotional scene he had just played in front of this audience of regulars at Lila's. Oh, well. No time like the present to publicly shed his old reputation. Onlookers be damned, he would not let Aaron out of his sight.
"Fuck. No! Shit. Stay. Please. Sit down. I have to go back to work. Are you hungry? I could get you some fries. Do you like fries? Carlos makes great fries."
During the middle of Chris' rambling, Aaron started to laugh; I mean really laugh for the first time since his whole horrid ordeal began. The tension was beginning to melt away. Returning wasn't a mistake after all.
"I'm fine. I'll stay. At least I'm not the only anxious one. Trust me. I'm not going anywhere."
Relief flooded Chris' face as he led Aaron back to his stool at the bar. Questions could be answered later. For right now, he was just happy that Aaron was alive and hopefully back in his life again. The rest really didn't amount to a hill of beans.
"Ok. I'll try to get off early tonight. Meanwhile, just relax. Talk to Andrew. He can tell you some great stories about his wild days, " Christian said, winking over at his eavesdropping friend tending bar.
With one last lingering touch to Aaron's cheek, he reluctantly walked off into the direction of the kitchen. When he reached the spot where his recently spilled mess had already been swept up, he took a look at all the people who were still caught up in his soap opera-like life. With a mumbling of "fuck it," he turned around and swiftly stalked back to Aaron, who had the decency to look surprised before Chris grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him in for a kiss. A kiss of promise and love and, yes, tongues. While shorter than what they both would have wanted to share, the proper messages were sent and received.
"I love you, too," Aaron responded verbally. "Everything about you."
"Good. Then you weren't just using me for sex," said Christian, his eyes twinkling.
He planted one more firm kiss on Aaron's mouth before going back to work. He had nearly made it to the swinging doors of the kitchen when Lila stepped out to stand right in front of him.
"Young man, where do you think you are going? You weren't thinking of leaving our guest alone, were you?"
Gesturing towards his uniform, Chris answered, "But I have to get back to work."
"Nonsense. I have already called Steve and he has agreed to finish your shift. Seems you two are now even. I have also taken the liberty of calling you a cab. Now, why don't you take our angel home, with you."
Needing no further encouragement, Chris thanked Lila and while walking back to Aaron, took off his apron and slapped it down on the bar in front of Andrew.
"Be a doll and put this in the back for me," he said and turning to Aaron stated, "Seems I have been given the night off. Let's get out of here."
Aaron stood back up and collected his one bag, his sole possession. He couldn't believe that his whole life now fit in this small satchel. 'I guess this is what happens when you start a whole new life. You leave all the other baggage behind,' he thought. While walking next to Christian and out the restaurant, Aaron turned around to flash a real, honest smile towards Lila. Without even knowing it, she had turned his world right side up again. Not only did she unwittingly reunite him with Christian, but she also opened up her arms and her heart and treated him like family. And he had been truly lacking that kind of love for a while.
While outside waiting for their cab, Aaron was desperate to reach out and touch Chris, but was unsure of the response. Sure the reunion was sweet, but he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop; to finally face the consequences of his actions. The responsibility was taken away from him when the cab finally pulled up and Chris grabbed him by the hand to lead him to it. Even when they were both safely stowed away in the vehicle, neither one let go of the other. Seemed that they both needed that constant connection to tether them to reality.
When they pulled up to the light at the intersection at Lila's, Aaron looked out the window and smiled as a memory resurfaced.
"This is where I first saw you. I was coming from the airport, looking out the window and trying to make sense of the randomness of this big city, when we stopped at this light. You were outside, busy waiting tables and yet you looked up at that exact moment to find me looking back."
Chris leaned across Aaron to look out his window as the cab pulled away. "I knew that I had seen you before! I remember. I still don't know what possessed me to look up but when I did, all I remember is this fresh face, your face, and thinking, 'There's another newbie sacrificed to my great city.' And yet you were different, I could tell. I don't know what it was, but what I do remember is you blushing," Chris said, taking his free hand to poke Aaron in the arm. "Just like you are right now."
Turning his face away, Aaron said, "Man, I have got to stop doing that."
Turning Aaron's face back towards him, Christian said, "No, don't. It's refreshing. It's probably what first attracted me to you. The people in this city are way too conditioned. Honest reactions, now that is something new."
A silence engulfed the backseat of the cab, and because Aaron couldn't determine whether this was comfortable or uncomfortable, he cast his eyes downward and asked,
"So, where do you live now?"
"Oh, I live about ten blocks away from Lila's, with this guy Steve. Not as big as the old place but the other apartment almost had too much space to get lost in. Somehow, I feel more comfortable here."
And here really was here because the cab had stopped in front of this modest but pretty complex. Christian got out to pay the fare but found that Lila had already put it on her tab. Somehow, he would find a way to repay that wonderful woman. Walking up to his front step to unlock his door, Chris grandly pushed open the door and declared,
"Welcome to my humble abode."
Aaron walked across the threshold and found the light switch while Chris continued,
"Not as vibrant as before, I know."
"I like it. It's you," Aaron decided. And it was. The walls were toned down but still colorful. And pictures in frames dotted the apartment surfaces. There was substance, real substance, to this place.
"The new and improved me," Christian clarified. "Most of the decorating was done by my roommate. The straightest guy you will ever meet but his motto might as well be 'I'm not gay, but I play one on TV.' Do you need anything? I need to go take a shower. Get out of these clothes. I'll only be a few minutes."
Because that was as long as he could be away from Aaron right now. The paranoia of losing him again was still strong. He only hoped that a night of sleeping, just sleeping with him and waking up the next morning near his slumbering form would quiet his demons.
"No, I'm fine. Take your time." Aaron was relieved that Chris' needs were stated casually and not in a sexual manner. He was still caught up in a storm of confusion, and wanted, no needed, to be taken seriously. Aaron aimlessly looked around the apartment, just taking in the new environment. He wasn't sure which pictures were of Christian so he picked up one randomly. He smiled slightly at the two in the picture. A young woman was holding a child of about two in her lap. With that shock of dark, mussed up hair, there was no doubt who this child was. 'I wonder if his mother was supportive of her son and his sexuality.' So lost in his thoughts and his own inner turmoil that he didn't hear Chris come up behind to peer at the picture that had so captured his attention.
He finally gave himself away when he said, "You know, I still talk to her. My mother. It's not the same as before, but hell, it's still some kind of connection."
Reverently tracing his finger along the frame of the picture, Aaron said, "I would give anything for that. My mother won't even look me in the eye."
His heart breaking for the man in front of him, Christian put his arms around him from behind and placed his head on a strong shoulder.
"God, Aaron, what happened?"
Aaron placed the picture down and walked away from the embrace to sit on the couch. Chris followed suit and sat down next to Aaron, far enough to allow thoughts to be collected but near enough so that if Aaron needed him, he could just reach over.
"Walking away from you that morning was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. Looking down at you, I knew that I had finally found something that I had been lacking my entire life. Peace. With my life, my choice, and myself. I didn't know if I would ever experience that again after I walked out of that room. The pull to wake you up so that you could persuade me to not return home was so strong, but I knew that I had to confront this next leg of my journey. This ordeal was created from my own doing, and now I had to go home and face the consequences; and I had to do it alone.
"During my entire flight to Idaho, I conjured up worst case scenarios. The reactions of my family, my community and my church. Drawing upon the strength of your convictions and the proud attitude that you project to the outside world, I was confident that I could handle anything that life had to throw at me. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the look of shame on my mother's face. The one person on this earth who is supposed to love me unconditionally could not even look me in the eyes. It was like she didn't even recognize me. Homosexuality had somehow deformed me in her eyes. She had gone from the person that I had felt the closest to someone I couldn't even touch. After that moment, I didn't even fear going home to my father or anyone else. Nothing could be as devastating as that cold expression of my mother.
"At home, I stayed out of my parents' paths and only ever really saw them during dinner, a meal served up with tension and disappointment. Most of my time was spent in my room alone. My parents thought this was a time of reflection on my errors and repentance of my sins. In reality, I was trying to piece back together my shattered life using all new pieces. Religion, sexuality and you. All of these had to be put together in such a way that made sense to me, that made me happy.
"I guess a week after coming home, I was finally brought up against the members of my church. I was absolutely terrified. This group of men were about to take away the foundation of my entire belief system. Even though every day, since admitting my attraction to you, I have been struggling with my faith, I still felt that I had a solid base to stand on. Now the rug was literally being pulled out from underneath me. But sitting in that cold, sterile room in front of the church members led by my father, being admonished for something as heinous as revealing my true self, I had an epiphany. This was not a church that I even wanted to belong to anymore. The God that I believed in had an enormous capacity to love. I was a good and honest person who deserved to be accepted by others and by God.
"Although I was starting to come to terms with my rejection of the church, my parents could not understand the choices that I had made. I got the cold shoulder any time I tried to bring up the subject, which, honestly, wasn't very often. The fear of hearing something that I wasn't ready for always held me back, but the silence was slowly killing me. One night, I decided to confront my mother, at least about her treatment towards me. I got much more than I bargained for out of that conversation. So many ugly things were thrown at me that night. It's like she had been bottling all of this up inside of her for so long and it finally exploded. She told me about you and some bet that you had made."
Christian, who had been absolutely silent throughout Aaron's tortured monologue, cast his eyes downward in shame and quietly muttered "fuck." Desperately, he tried to explain himself.
"You know, that bet had no bearing on my feelings for you. They were genuine. It may have led to our initial contact, but I knew that after our first couple conversations, I was flying solo. What we had together was real and honest and beautiful. Don't ever doubt that."
"I think I knew that deep down, but I had such a loose grasp on my life at that time. I really didn't know what to believe anymore.
"My mother went on about the possibility of forgiveness for a singular act of homosexuality but not the lifestyle. She said forgiveness from God, but I knew that she also meant herself. That rejection was the final blow. My mother would never accept me for who I was. I walked away from her both physically and emotionally, for what I believed to be the last time.
"I went up to my room and thought about my options. I was battling depression and abandonment, and I felt that I had come to a serious crossroad in my life. Either live unhappily for the rest of my life…or don't. Unfortunately, at the time, I thought the latter was my only reasonable option. This may come as a surprise to you with my religious beliefs, but with an Exacto knife, I tried to end my life."
"I know," Christian admitted.
Aaron looked at him with a confused look on his face. Chris developed this strange, haunted expression as he continued his confession.
"I called your house." At Aaron's surprised reaction, he added, "twice. I had this desperate need to talk to you. You had left so quickly and quietly, I just didn't understand. I frantically searched for your number and probably called all of the Davis' that lived in your city until I finally found someone who pointed me in the right direction. When I talked to your mother that first time, I got a small glimpse of what you must have been dealing with at home. Of course, I wasn't really paying attention to that at the time. I was just so excited that I had finally found you and maybe next time I would actually hear your voice. The second time that I called…God, that conversation still haunts me, even now, knowing that you are sitting in my living room. She told me about you and the razor blade. Looking back, I realize that she never said that you were dead, just that she had lost you and that I was to blame. With that one sentence, my world literally stopped. In my head, in my heart, you were gone from my life forever. I would never see you, talk to you, or touch you again. The mere thought was absolutely devastating, but the fact that I actually had to live through this horrible truth…I didn't know how I would survive. My friends tried to help, but they could not understand how a relationship that lasted for that short of a time could have impacted me in the way that it did. They had never seen me in love, and they certainly couldn't handle the pain or even the guilt that accompanied the loss of that love. Late at night, when I thought that no one else could help me, I prayed."
Towards the end of his story, Aaron had closed his eyes at the pain that was radiating from Chris' voice. He had also grabbed his hand to assure Chris and himself that he was here and that everything was going to be fine. When Christian revealed that last truth, Aaron opened his eyes and cocked his head to the side in bafflement.
Chris explained, "I may not believe in God, or at the least the same God that you believed in, but, Aaron, I did believe in you. I knew that wherever you were, you were the only one who could save me from myself."
Aaron smiled at the faith that Christian had in him, but also at the faith that he had in Christian. Chris was stronger than he thought he was, and Aaron knew that he had survived because of that strength.
"After walking around here with only half a soul, I finally took the advice of a friend and decided to seek closure. I went to visit your mother. Surprising, I know, but we had some unfinished business. I could tell that I was no more welcome on her front porch than the local leper, but she was nothing if not surprised that I had come to see her. You see, I had something that belonged to you that I thought she should have. Your pocket watch and my apologies. The act may not have made me whole again, but I felt that I could finally start to heal."
"I wish that I could have been there for you. They finally released me from the hospital after they patched me up and realized that I was no longer a danger to myself. My parents immediately placed me in this correctional facility where they physically and emotionally tore me down so that they could build me back up as they saw fit. I could not go back home or anywhere else for that matter so I complied to stay there. One night, I was working on yet another tedious task meant to break me, when I heard this beautiful voice drifting up through the pipes. I thought that I recognized it, so I rushed downstairs to the source to find Julie on the television. She was singing this amazingly heartfelt song, and as I stood there listening to the lyrics, I wondered how she could possibly know that much about me…about us."
"My journal," Christian interrupted. "A lot of her lyrics were taken word for word from my journal. The rest was just simple observation. When I found out, I could have killed her for going through my most private thoughts and making them public, Now, I guess, I'll have to apologize to her again."
"I guess you will. That song brought me back here. I realized that you were hurting just as much as I was. I voluntarily left the center, grabbed what money I still had access to, and hopped a plane to LA to find you. After trying your apartment, your old apartment, and finding you no longer there, I was literally at a loss. Then I remembered that Ms. Montagne had given me her card and promised me a meal, after I had sat down and talked to her one day. She was really the only other person that I knew here, and I decided to take her up on her offer. And, of course, that is where you found me."
His story finally finished, Aaron only had one more confession to make. "Despite being with you here now, I still feel so lost, like I just don't belong anywhere anymore."
"You do belong," Chris assured Aaron. "With friends and family who will always love you for who you are. You will always have a home here, with me," Christian said, reaching over to grab something off of the end table.
Placing his key necklace around Aaron's neck, he said, "I promise that you will never feel lost again."