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The Talon House

On The Bank


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On The Bank

by Nick

"We need to take a break, David." Those words pierced my heart with the force of a sharp knife and left me speechless in the presence of my boyfriend, my best friend. Aaron Twine was breaking up with me, and to put it bluntly, I was shocked. I didn't know why, but I was too shaken at the moment to ask. In fact, all I could do was gasp and tremble as tears welled up in my eyes. All around us, people were sitting together and enjoying their day, but not me. Not on this day.

Lunch at Panera Bread wasn't an odd time and place for Aaron to break the news to me, I guess. We rode our bikes to Panera every day after school and ate. I know that two in the afternoon isn't exactly lunchtime, but for us, it always was. We skipped lunch at school just so we'd have a reason to be alone for an hour.

That was the way we extended our day together before we had to go home and face our real lives. Not that we had bad lives at home. But we did have closeted lives, and taking time for ourselves at the end of the day to sit across a table and share a sandwich and a sweet tea was an ideal way to steal another hour before we had to go home and play a part neither of us liked.

I'd like to say that my parents were open minded and accepting of everyone, but that would be a lie. In fact, I heard my mom on the phone one time with one of her friends, talking about how absurd she thought gay marriage was and how homosexuality was sick. It was at that moment that any hope I had of coming out to my parents was dashed, and I knew I'd have to live a lie until I was on my own. Even then, I reasoned, I wasn't so sure I'd have to courage to come out to my parents.

My dad was the kind of guy everyone loved to be around. Our garage door was always opened, and their always seemed to be a car with the hood up in our driveway. My dad was a mechanic by trade. He opened his own shop when he was in his early twenties and had so much business that he had to open three more shops within five years. By the time I was born, he had ten shops in our area, and they were all open late every day.

My parents, Dave and Kelly Bates, weren't changed by their success. We lived in a nice neighborhood, but it wasn't new. My mom drove a brand new Camry, but that was something they'd recently gone out and bought. Before that, though, she drove the same minivan we'd had since I was a baby. It wasn't too worn out, but it wasn't the nicest vehicle on the block, either. My dad washed it every weekend and it was my job to clean it out and vacuum the carpet and floor mats.

Instead of trading it in, my mom and dad gave it to a young couple at our church. They had just gotten married and had a baby on the way. It was obvious that they were struggling, so my parents invited them to dinner at our house one evening and asked them to accept the van as a gift.

"If anyone asks, we'll say you bought it from us," my dad said with a smile. "But it's yours."

I was pretty proud of my parents for that. I'd never known them to be selfish, but at the same time, I guess I'd formed an opinion about them based on assumptions that I had. They were almost a mystery to me because I only saw them as my mom and dad. I never took the time to scratch below the surface and examine their character.

I was an only child. I wasn't spoiled, and sometimes, I wondered if I had been a mistake. My mom and dad seemed to be mesmerized with each other, but I never felt like I belonged for some reason. The connection they shared was magical, almost as if they fed off each other's energy. When they were together, they were making some type of contact. If they weren't holding hands, they were leaning into each other or making eye contact. I never saw them fight. In fact, I'd never even seen them argue. They were always on the same wavelength.

When I got home, I went straight to my room to lay on my bed and cry. No one came to my room to check on me, and I didn't expect them to. I had a lot of homework to finish, but at the moment, I couldn't find the will to sit up, much less concentrate on my books. Through my tears I looked straight up at my ceiling and focused on the spackling that served as some sort of decoration. When I was little I would gaze up at it in the mornings and let my imagination run wild. I would envision it as a small city that was populated by little people I couldn't see, but I knew they were there. The spaces between the spackle were roads, and the spackle itself was houses.

I sighed and sat up in my bed when it started to get dark outside. Dinner was probably done already, but my guess was that my parents decided to let me finish my homework so they could eat by themselves. They'd done it so many times before that I was used to it, but at the same time, I really resented it because it made me feel even more left out than I already did.

I don't think they saw it that way, though. Dinnertime in our house wasn't the formal affair it was in other homes. Sometimes I would end up at the table by myself while my mom and dad ate in the garage while he worked on a car. Other times, they would bring my food to the living room and let me eat in front of the TV while they ate at the table by themselves.

I never made it out of my room for dinner that night. Instead, I stayed in my room and sobbed over Aaron. He'd been one of the only sources of affection I had, and now that was gone. I wanted to call him, but I was afraid that if I did, he'd reject me again, and I couldn't handle that.

Not from him.

Aaron and I first met in the seventh grade. My eyes were starting to open about a lot of things in my life. Chief among them was my sexuality. I was gay, and I knew it. I just wasn't sure I wanted to be gay. I loved looking at other guys, and I even took pleasure in commenting to myself that I thought someone was cute. I'd done that most of my life, but I didn't know what it meant until I looked around and realized that there were openly gay kids at my school, and they were saying out loud the things I was keeping to myself.

Aaron had just moved to the area, and he seemed to gravitate toward those same kids. I was too intimidated to even dare myself to be openly gay at school, but not Aaron. He almost immediately came out, and I was a little shaken by his bravery. He was so fine, and I was drawn by him in so many ways. He had spikes in his hair and three earrings in his left ear. One in his lobe and two at the top, in the cartilage. He bragged that he was going to have one in his tongue one day, too, but I hoped he wouldn't. I thought he looked just right the way he was.

His jet-black hair spiked so perfectly, and it seemed to shine with energy. His skin was olive toned, and he had the cutest smile I'd ever seen in my life. He was beyond flamboyant, too, and very out. I felt like he was the luckiest guy in the world for some reason. Maybe it was because he had the courage to come out, or because his parents let him dress how he wanted to. I wasn't sure yet, but I knew he had a glow to him that I envied.

When he actually talked to me for the first time, I felt my heart flutter with a million butterflies that had occupied my belly. Once those butterflies were gone, though, I realized that I could find the courage to be out and proud too. Of course, I hadn't found the courage to come out at home, but I could do it at school, and that was a huge step for me.

Things just seemed to evolve for us from that point on. A month after I came out, I was at a party with him and he kissed me. We shared a dance on the floor with a crowd of gay couples, and I knew I'd found a home and a place where I belonged for the first time in my life. After a while, Aaron and I were a couple that everyone knew about and had gotten used to. When we moved on from middle school to high school, there was nothing that changed. We had to deal with a few upperclassmen, who thought they were morally obligated to make snide remarks, but we paid them no mind and in time, they seemed to fade to black.


The next morning I got on my bike and started my ride to school. Typically I would ride to Aaron's house, split a Pop Tart with him, and we'd ride together the rest of the way to school. I felt so empty as I pedaled along the side of the road I lived on, thinking to myself that something was off. Of course something was off. I was skipping the route I would normally take and instead, had chosen a more direct route to school.

My entire trip was miserable, and marred by the thoughts I had circulating in my head. Aaron never answered me when I demanded to know why. Well he had, but I didn't feel like he was telling me the truth. There had to be someone else, I thought. I just wondered who. Was he someone I knew? Was he cuter than I was? Maybe he was having sex with Aaron.

I doubted the last part. Aaron and I both talked about sex, but we decided that we were going to wait. For what, we weren't sure, but we were waiting. I knew how strongly Aaron felt about not losing his virginity, so I was able to put the thoughts of him sleeping around behind me with no trouble at all. Still, I was left without an answer as to why.

I'd honestly never skipped school before. I wasn't sure what the consequence of skipping school would be at home, but I knew it would be frowned upon at school. I'm still not sure what possessed me to do it, but at the last intersection I would have to cross to get to school, I made a sudden left turn and pedaled as hard as I could, anxious not to be seen by the truancy officer I knew would be patrolling the area. My heart was racing and my legs were trembling with uncertainty and even fear, but I didn't turn around.

Not far from our neighborhood there's a river with a walking path near its bank. In fact, the only thing separating the path and the bank of the river is a thick brush and a line of trees that one could easily see through in most parts. There was one part, though, that was thick and inaccessible to most, mainly because it was on private property. I wasn't sure who owned the property, but I loved to trespass there with Aaron. It was a secret place where we could be all alone, where we could kiss and cuddle without worrying about being caught by our folks or seen by nosey friends. In the middle of the trees was a small clearing that seemed to be there by design. It was so private, so secluded and so peaceful that nothing else seemed to matter when the two of us were there.

I made my way through the wild, unkempt brush until I reached the clearing. I leaned my bike up against a stump, tossed my backpack down and sat Indian style, leaning against a tree and closing my eyes for a moment. The air was crisp and I could hear the chirping of birds all around me, a sure sign that Spring had arrived. When I opened my eyes I let out a long sigh.

I found myself sorry that I had come to the river, and my mind started to ponder the trouble I was in for skipping class. I looked at my watch, taking note of the fact that it was after eight o'clock, way too late to change my mind. School starts at seven twenty five, and second period was about to start. I just shrugged, stood up and grabbed my backpack, resigned that I had made a huge mistake. I figured that if nothing else, I could make it to school in time for third period and tell them that I was too sick to make it on time. I made it off the private property and back out to the walking trail. I got back on my bike and pedaled toward the end of the trail, hoping to make good enough time to get to school before the bell rang for third period. I actually smiled a little at the thought of being brave enough to cut class, and I wondered if I'd be able to do it again in the future. As I rounded the corner from the trail to the road that would lead me back to school, the answer to my question stood in front of me, dressed in a light blue warm up and causing me to brake fast and drop my feet to the ground.

"David Christopher Bates, what do you think you're doing here?" my mom demanded, her outrage and shock showing in her voice and on her face. "Why aren't you in school?"

I stood still, shocked and silent. I couldn't answer her because I didn't know what to say. I was busted, and for the second day in a row, I was too shaken up to speak.

"Well?" she asked pointedly.

I gulped and shook my head, not sure what I should do. At that moment, I felt like I had the pressure of a hundred thousand pounds crashing down on me, and despite that crushing, debilitating pressure, I still had to find a way to cope and deal with the demands that everyone seemed to be making of me. Aaron was demanding that I just accept that he didn't want to be with me anymore. My parents were demanding that I live my life void of any form of affection from them, and I was making demands of myself. I was demanding that I live in the closet. Demanding that I act straight when I was truly flaming gay. Demanding that I not break down and show my neediness to my mom and dad, in spite of its glaring presence.

Now there was a new demand being made of me. My mom was demanding an explanation. She wanted me to tell her why I was leaving the trail at eight fifteen instead of sitting in second period AP Literature, which was where I was supposed to be. She wanted the truth, too, but there was no way I could just tell her. If I was totally honest with her, I'd have to come out, and that was a non option. I wasn't sure how my dad felt, but I knew my mom was a homophobe.

Instead of answering her, I gave up. I folded my arms on my handlebar and rested my head so I could at least break down in comfort. I could feel my body shaking as my sobs grew stronger, and I knew what my mom was thinking. She was probably sure I was on drugs or something, because I never cried in front of her. I was strong, and even in the face of the rejection I felt from my parents, I held my head up and my bottom lip steady.

"David, I want you to look at me," she said in a serious voice. "We need to go home and we'll talk about this. But I need you to calm down and come with me."

That was it. She didn't console me or even offer me a pat on the back or shoulder. I lifted my head and straightened my arms, bringing my right hand up to my eyes to wipe the tears away, then I did what I was told.

The walk seemed to take forever. We rounded the corner to our block and our house came into view, and I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hadn't given any thought to what I was going to say to my mom, or even my dad. I figured I was going to have to make something up, though, and fast, because my dad's work truck was in the driveway. As we approached the yard, I saw my dad on the walkway to the front porch, sweeping around the potted plants, and I hung my head in shame.

"Look who I found leaving the trail," my mom said to my dad impatiently.

"David," my dad exclaimed in obvious shock. "What were you doing down there, bud? What happened to school?"

I brought my eyes up to meet his before I answered, but again, I couldn't find my voice. Instead, I shrugged sadly and hung my head again, on the verge of tears.

"You need to go to your room, son," my dad said in reply. I got off of my bike and handed it to him, then I did what I was told.

I spent the first forty-five minutes in my room crying by myself, wondering what I was going to do. I was under so much pressure, and I needed some kind of release. Even if they weren't helpful, my tears relieved a little bit of that overwhelming pressure. I knew my sobs were at least as loud as they had been when I broke down earlier, if not a little louder, but at least no one could see me.

Given my parent's track record, I was halfway expecting them to let me be. Heck, it would have been better, I reasoned, because there was no way I could tell them that my spiral into despair started the day before when my boyfriend of three and a half years dumped me with no explanation. That I had come home from school the day before and cried myself to sleep, and that if they had bothered to at least call me to the dinner table, they would have known I was falling apart all by myself.

That made me think hard about my relationship with them, and I found myself feeling bitter. I had almost no memory of them being affectionate with me. The last time my mom had hugged or kissed me was when I was about nine or ten, and I had absolutely no memories of my dad even saying that he loved me or was proud of me. Maybe he didn't feel that way about me, or maybe he did but not the way I always wished he did. I wasn't sure, but I was sure that the new set of tears I found myself wracked with were caused by my realization that my relationship with my parents hadn't changed; it was always f***** up.

A light knock at my door prompted me to lift my head from my pillow and try to pull myself together before I got up to open the door. I found myself looking up at my dad, who was holding a plate with a piece of toast with butter and strawberry jam spread across the top. He held it out for me, so I accepted his offering and walked it to my bed, sitting down and carefully placing the plate next to me, not wanting my toast to slide off.

"You know, the sooner you eat that the least likely you're going to be to spill it," he said with a nervous smile as he took a seat at my desk.

"I'll be careful," I said in a small voice, afraid that he'd detect my sadness, as if he couldn't see it in my red, puffy eyes.

"So do you want to talk about it?" he asked, looking unsure. I sighed as I reached down for my toast, bringing it up to my nose to inhale the fragrant combination of toasted bread, butter and jam before I took my first bite. "Mom said you were pretty upset at the trail."

I looked over at him, making eye contact and thought about what I wished he would do. I wanted him to sit next to me on my bed and wrap his arm around me. I wanted him to tell me that everything was going to be alright, that my mom and dad were there for me no matter what. I wanted to come out to him and for everything to be okay.

Sometimes words pop out of our mouths and we don't know where they came from. I've seen it a million times in other people. They were inspired by their emotions, not their logic. I always figured that I had more control than that, though. I was on guard almost all of the time, especially at home, because I felt like I had to be. But sitting across the room from my dad, I must have lost control because the words spilled out that I never thought I'd have the courage to say to my parents.

"Do you love me?"

The look of shock on my dad's face seemed to come over him in waves. He sat up straight in his chair, resting his right arm on the smooth surface of my desk, took a deep breath, and blinked a few times, as if he were thinking about my question. To say he looked uncomfortable would be an understatement. Indeed, he looked bewildered.

"Do I love you?" he said, repeating my question as if he were appalled that I even had the nerve to ask. He stood up and walked my way, then he motioned me with his index finger to stand and face him. He used that same finger to bring my face up so that I was facing him, eye to eye, then he spoke again.

"Do you have to ask, David?" he asked, sounding almost hurt. "Look around this room, son. I've been working to give you everything from the day you were born. How could you not know how I feel about you?"

I gulped hard and but maintained eye contact with him, determined to answer his question.

"You've never said it," I said quietly. "Mom never says it either."

"Sure we do," he said in a dismissive tone. I shook my head and struggled to fight back another set of tears, trying not to break our stare. My dad seemed a little put out at my revelation to him that neither he nor my mom told me they loved me.

"Well we do, son, and I know we tell you we do," he said, trying to counter my point, but his tone was less than convincing. "Maybe you just haven't noticed."

There was a long, awkward moment of silence between us for about a minute. During that time, I let my tears fall freely again and let my chin rest on his finger, which was still supporting it. I know it was odd, but my dad's finger under my chin was the first contact I'd made with him in a long time, and I felt like I wanted it to last as long as I could. Finally, my dad's words broke the silence.

"What do you want from me, son?" he said resignedly.

"I don't know," I sobbed.

"Sure you do," he said softly.

"Do you know?" I asked him, and he nodded. "Then give it to me."

It was weird at first. A whole new experience, really. I had vague memories of my mom hugging me, but none with my dad. When he wrapped his arms around me, it felt forced at first. I held my arms against my chest, probably because I still needed that barrier at first, but I pulled them out and wrapped my arms around his chest and all of the sudden, it felt natural.

"I love you David," he said as I pressed my cheek against his chest. "I always have and I always will, okay?"

"I love you too," I said through my tears, trying to swallow the lump in my throat but having no success. "Am I grounded for skipping school?"

"You bet," he said, tightening his embrace a little before he let it go. "Why don't you come out to the living room and we'll talk to mom, okay?"

"Okay," I said, reaching down to pick the plate up from my bed before I followed my dad out of my room.


"So you really went though with it?" Aaron asked, his head resting on his propped up right hand as he lay next to me in the clearing we snuck off to.

"Yeah," I said with a smile, I was resting along side him, my head flat on the ground.

"How was it?" he asked with a warm smile of his own that made me glow.

"I don't know," I said honestly. "I guess it was a little weird, but it felt good, you know?"

"Yeah," he said a little forlornly.

"What's wrong?" I asked nervously.

"I'm sorry for how I treated you, David," he said emotionally. "I never meant to hurt you."

"It hurt at first, Aaron," I admitted. "But I think I like this."

"Me too," he said, lifting his head from his palm and settling down, flat on his back. "Can I still hold your hand?"

"You'll always be allowed to do that," I said, reaching over with my left hand to accept his right hand.

"I'll always love you, David," he said quietly.

"I'll always love you too," I replied. "That's never going to change. You'll always be my best friend."

I felt his grip on my hand tighten, so I turned to look his way and gazed into his smile. He didn't have to say a word, because I already knew how he felt. I felt the same way, even though we didn't verbalize that part of our feelings.

"Are you going to date?" he asked somewhat hesitantly.

"Maybe," I answered. "What about you?"

"Not yet," he told me. "I still need some time."

"Yeah me too," I almost whispered, turning my head so that our foreheads made light contact.

Things between Aaron and I weren't the same. I knew that. They could never be the way they were before because we both changed without realizing it. I had embarked on my own journey, and so had he. We were together when it happened, but we couldn't see it. Well, I couldn't see it.

Aaron could though. He was perceptive enough to know that our journeys took us down separate paths, and that the only way to save our friendship was to end our romance. I didn't get it at first, but sitting alone in the living room with my mom and dad opened my eyes to what was happening to me. I had a different need than Aaron had. In fact, I didn't even know what Aaron was looking for anymore.

I had grown so comfortable with him that I took him for granted. I didn't want him to grow, I wanted him there for me. I was so needy and relied on him so much that I had forgotten how to be there for him. I forgot that he had hopes and dreams too, and that he had to chase them. When he finally decided that it was time for him to take care of his needs, to live his life and to deal with his own issues, I was so wrapped up in what I needed that I didn't get it.

But what Aaron gave me the day he broke up with me, at least temporarily, was a gift. He made me face my reality instead of turning to him for the emotional stability I needed to be able to ignore it. I had to deal with my life because I couldn't hide from it anymore. I found myself unable to cope with the facade I was living and I had to be up front with my mom and dad.

Not about my homosexuality, but about my needs as a human being. I needed to be a part of their lives. I needed them to touch me, to love me. But before that could happen, I had to tell them that I needed it. It hadn't been in issue before because I never let them know that it was an issue.

Of course, some of that was their fault. They were my parents, and I was their child, not the other way around. But maybe I had to shoulder some of the blame too. I wasn't exactly the kind of person to walk up and hug my parents, or to tell them I loved them. So maybe I could have done something to change things between us earlier, but who's to say?

And things didn't just change overnight between my parents and I. I noticed a few subtle changes, but they didn't exactly shower me with affection all of the sudden. I guess the biggest change I noticed was that they touched me more. My mom would rub my back every now and then, and even hugged me sometimes, and my dad took to resting his hand on my shoulder or wrapping his arm over it. It wasn't an emotional geyser, but it didn't have to be.

I came to realize that dinner time in our house was always going to be an informal affair. A four course meal in front of the TV or in the garage was better than no meal at all, I guess. To be honest, I was able to look back and see that I was making a big deal about something that was happening in our home long before I came along.

Would I ever come out to my mom and dad? Maybe, maybe not. I knew that if I ever did, it was going to be the most trying moment in my life. It wasn't important, at least not yet.

What I did know was that if I ever did, I'd have Aaron by my side through it all. The greatest gift he gave me the day he broke up with me was the preservation of us. Not us, but us. Our friendship. It was a new feeling, but it was one I liked. We didn't have to be a romantic couple anymore, because we were always going to be together. We were best friends, just like we'd always been.

Right there, on the bank of the river, I knew I was going to be okay. I would go home and still be closeted, but I wouldn't wonder anymore. I wouldn't have to go to my room and cry all alone. I wouldn't have to cry at all. My journey wasn't over, but it was a lot easier to navigate. It was easier because I was able to break down walls that my parents and I had built. It was easier because I felt like I could see what was ahead of me. It was easier because at that moment, on that river bank, I was holding hands with my best friend.

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