Phantom Limb

Chapter 3

Story by Ray




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Something felt different the next morning, even before I opened my eyes. I felt more comfortable, more secure—almost like I hadn’t woken up at all. I felt warmer. And when I did open my eyes, I realized that it wasn’t my imagination for once; I really was waking up face to face with Drake.

He gave me a peck on the nose. “Morning lover.”

“Isn’t that, like, double sarcasm?”

“Good morning Regis,” he tried again.

“Mm, that’s better.”

I glanced over Drake to see his alarm clock, which displayed half past three. Huh. For once, I understood why he enjoyed sleeping in so late. I was just about to tell him that too, when we heard a knock at the door.

“You should probably get that,” I suggested. “At least you’re wearing pants.”

He nodded and went scavenging for his shirt. I stayed under the blankets for a little bit longer. On one hand, I did want to see who was at the door. But on the other, I was just so damn comfy.

Drake gave up on finding his old shirt, took a new one out of his dresser, and asked how he looked.

“Like you didn’t just sleep with another dude? I don’t know, you’re fine, just go. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“I would’ve also accepted handsome,” he mumbled as he left the bedroom.

With some effort, I forced myself out of the covers, stood up, and did a leisurely lap around the room. I picked my jeans up from the foot of the bed, and spotted my shirt off in the corner. But what really caught my eye was something sitting on Drake’s dresser. It was a photograph of four kids. It was a familiar one; I could have described it without even looking. But right then, I wanted to look anyways.

At the right edge of the picture was a scrawny kid with pale brown hair. He had a big, cheesy smile on his face, and I smirked right back at him. I hadn’t changed much since then.

Case in point, the younger me had his arm wrapped around the shoulders of the boy beside him. Not that I was the only one invading Drake’s personal space. To his other side, Iris had tilted her head and rested it against his, so that her long black hair was draped over his chest. I don’t know which one of us claimed him first, but either way, Drake didn’t look thrilled to be given the attention. He just stared into the camera with his ever-defensive eyes.

I couldn’t help but think we belonged in some ridiculous pamphlet about diversity; one picture had captured three races and three sexualities, and to top it off, we were almost getting along. The only thing to throw the balance off was Mason, who was only halfway in the photograph. I couldn’t remember the reason, but he didn’t want to have his picture taken that day, so he would storm away every time the flash was about to go off. There were actually quite a few things I couldn’t remember about that photograph. Where and when it was taken, who it was taken by, what the occasion was; all the things I was too young to care about at the time.

The voices on the other side of the bedroom door snapped me out of the past. Drake was in the living room talking to Iris. Meanwhile I was naked, looking at a photograph of us as children. That little moment of clarity got me moving. I set the picture down and finished searching the room for my clothes.

When I stepped into the living room, Iris was asking Drake about what had happened yesterday.

“We talked,” he answered, giving a shrug. “I’ve just been stressed with graduation coming up, it’s no big deal.”

Iris wasn’t quite looking him in the eyes while he spoke. She smiled, but she crossed her arms. I’d seen that look from her before. She knew something was off, and she was going to figure it out if it killed her.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

Drake and I glanced at each other. If he had a way of escaping the situation, he didn’t show it. We all stood dead still. Nobody said a word. The only movement was Iris’ cheery expression growing more and more forced.

Lying, that was an option. “Nothing Iris,” I could tell her. “Nothing else happened at all.” I could also step back into the bedroom and hope she hadn’t noticed I was there in the first place. There were options, but the stillness felt tangible, and I couldn’t bring myself to disrupt it.

At least Drake could manage another shrug. “You can tell her if you want,” he said, and sat down on the couch.

I stared, telepathically screaming at him, “Which part‽

As usual, his face didn’t reveal a thing, and the stillness was growing thicker again with each passing second. Breathe. I took a seat beside Drake and looked up at Iris. Breathe. I put an arm over Drake’s shoulders, just like I had in the photograph, and I tried to give her the same cheesy smile to match it. The expression she wore didn’t make smiles easy.

To hell with breathing, just go for it.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re in a relationship.”

Silence. She took a few small steps backwards. When she reached the door she broke into a run.

“What was that about?” Drake asked, staring at the empty doorway.

I was at a loss. “She was fine with me being gay, and this is kind of exactly what that implies. But she seemed, like, really upset there.”

Drake shook his head, and then stood up. “I’ll be back in a second.”

He followed her outside, leaving me alone to wonder what the hell was going on. A lot of questions went through my mind. Was Iris that opposed to two guys being together? Did Drake know something I didn’t? How quickly could a day go from perfectly comfortable to nerve wracking as hell?

But something more practical occurred to me while I sat there by myself; Drake’s parents had guns. That meant Drake had guns. They weren’t locked up, they were kept in the master bedroom’s closet. He’d shown them to me once. I glanced at the front door, and hoped I would have enough time.

My hair stood on end when I went into his parents’ room, even if I was the only one in the house. Opening the closet door, I saw that it was just as I remembered: a pistol, a rifle, and plenty of ammo for both.

I didn’t bother with the bullets, because I figured they were useless without the guns. Instead I grabbed both firearms and closed the closet, trying to make it look like I hadn’t even been there. In an ideal world, I would return the guns the day before Drake’s parents came home, and I would be the only one to know they were even missing. I went down to the basement and wrestled the washing machine away from the wall, then stashed the guns in that narrow gap. At a glance, nobody would notice anything out of place.

I got to the top of the stairs just as I heard the door opening, and I dove for the couch, hoping to make it look like I hadn’t moved an inch. If Drake had taken just a few more seconds, it might have worked.

“You alright?” he asked as he stepped inside. He gave me a look, something between confusion and amusement. At least it was better than most of the looks he’d given me the day before.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I answered. “So what was up with Iris?”

“She sort of had a crush on me. It was a long time ago. I thought she was over it, but apparently not. Anyways, we sorted it out.”

I nodded. It didn’t shock me. Less than an hour ago, I’d been holding photographic evidence that her feelings for Drake might have lasted as long as mine. And that’s what worried me.

“Are we still…”

“You don’t even have to finish that. Of course we’re still together.”

Since school was already over, Drake and I decided to spend the day at his house. I called my mom to tell her who I was with, and that I’d be with him for at least the rest of the week.

She was the only family I knew. I had no siblings to speak of, our distant relatives didn’t keep in touch that often, and there wasn’t even the mention of a dad. It was just me and her, and I think that’s why she was hesitant to let me leave home so suddenly. But she was smart, and as the phone call went on, I think she began to understand. I’m not sure which parts she picked up on, but she got enough to know that I wasn’t just trying to spite her. In the end she said I was old enough to make my own choices, even if she didn’t care for them.

The rest of that Tuesday was predictable, but that didn’t stop it from being one of the better days that week. Of course, the details fall into two categories: incredibly disinteresting and incredibly intimate. Suffice it to say, I would choose that day over any other to live over and over again, for the rest of my life.

Somehow we managed to wake up before seven on Wednesday morning, and Drake drove us to school. On the way we listened to the radio, and the host had some things to say about the recent events in the world of rock.

“What’s up everybody, this is Armageddon Radio! If you haven’t heard the news then you’ll have to show me the rock you’ve been living under, because it must be a big one. Another member of Flashpoint Zero has gone a bit too mental. This time Jace Jeck has split from the band, and she’s insisted that she might not be back for a while. Rumors are unclear, but it sounds like she’s gone into complete hiding. Not sure what that’s all about.

“Flashpoint Zero has cancelled their upcoming tour, leaving thousands of fans including myself pretty bummed. But hey, love her music, love her message, hope she gets well soon. Until that happens we’re playing nothing but Jeck. If you’re listening Jace, this one’s for you; hope it means something. Stick around.”

“Well that sucks,” I said as Behind the Shades came on. It was one of Flashpoint Zero’s first songs. I’d never paid attention to what it meant, but after hearing the first few lines, I understood why they would play it. “They’re like, my favorite band.”

“Just give it time,” Drake said, entering the parking lot. “I’m sure they’ll get back together before it even sinks in that they broke up.”

As he searched for a spot to park, I asked if he would be okay.

“I’ll be fine,” he promised. “At least for today. Besides, even if I did want to do something, I left my guns at home.”

If it was a joke, I wasn’t laughing. “Son of a bitch, you thought about bringing them, didn’t you?”

“Well I didn’t, did I?”

“Fair enough. But in the future, something more than just, ‘It would take fifteen whole minutes to drive home and back,’ should be stopping you.”

We got out of the car and went our separate ways. I didn’t talk to many people that day. I spent my time in class staring at nothing, and my time between classes avoiding eye contact in the halls. I couldn’t look at any of them, knowing what somebody was probably wishing upon them at that very moment. I hadn’t done anything against them, but still, I felt guilty to be among them.

When it was time for lunch, the only time Drake and I had together in school, we sat at our usual table with the usual people. Iris gave me and Drake a smile as we sat down. I smiled back.

“Drake, ya queer motherfucker!” Mason yelled. “A little late to drop out, isn’t it?”

Drake’s poker face blew me away. Calm as ever, he responded, “Don’t be so confident, you’re stuck with me for another few months. And call me queer all you want, just don’t shout it for everyone to hear.”

“True, wouldn’t want people thinking I’m friends with a fag.”

“Fags are fantastic, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Drake said. Iris cast a glance at him, but he continued. “They can’t reproduce which has to help the planet out, and you’ll never meet a nicer person than one who wants to fuck you.”

“I’ll give you that,” Mason said with a chuckle. “But seriously, it’s fucked up.”

“Have fun playing hard to get; us fags love a challenge.”

“I’m serious man, knock that shit off. And what the hell do you mean ‘us’?” Mason questioned. Drake shrugged, and Mason drew the line. “That’s it, I’m outta here.”

He stood to leave, and Iris asked Drake what he was doing. Drake started to explain, but was cut off when I shouted, “Hey Mason!”

“Yes, Queer Motherfucker Two?” Mason inquired as he turned back towards the table.

“Since you’re gonna tell people whatever you want to anyways, tell them the truth.”

With those words I pulled my lover into a kiss. A kiss in front of Iris, Mason, the lunchroom, and what might as well have been the world. Drake managed to pull away within seconds, but the point had been made.

Mason pointed at us, made his thoughts on the event clear to everyone within earshot, and walked off. Iris, Drake, and I sat in silence for the minutes that remained before the bell, and nobody came close to breaking it. I was locked in place, just like I had been after the first time we’d kissed.

I couldn’t help but overhear conversations from other tables. They whispered about what had just happened, but the part that threw me off was how they returned to unrelated subjects, as if their social media and video games were the most interesting things in the world. The same world that had just swung open the doors to something meaningful, only to have them slammed back shut by somebody’s latest post and another person’s high score. I didn’t know whether to be pleasantly surprised by the lack of caring or genuinely offended by the exact same thing.

When the bell rang and most people stood to leave, I whispered an apology to Drake. He said it was okay, but that he needed some time to think. As I left the lunchroom, I noticed that Iris was sharing a few words with Drake as well, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. Maybe I should have.

I waited by the front door for Drake after school. I watched my classmates pouring out of the building, hundreds of them, and I felt that guilt again. How could someone want all of these people to die? I picked faces out of the crowd, faces of people I’d been around all my life, and tried to put myself in Drake’s shoes. I tried to find a reason to kill them.

The first face that caught my eye was Adam’s. He’d lived in Foxboro since middle school. I hadn’t said two words to him in six years, but I’d seen him plenty of times in passing. He was leaving school alone that day, which struck me as odd, because he always seemed to be with at least a couple of friends. Whenever he was with them he was a complete goofball, but alone, he seemed to keep to himself. Either way though, he wasn’t hurting anyone.

But those were my own observations. I had to find something to despise about him. I had to want him dead.

The fact that we’d never talked, that wasn’t a bad place to start. How could that even happen? For six years we’d known each other’s names and seen each other at least a thousand times, but we’d never had a conversation—not once. Did he care that little about me? Did he only see that I wasn’t strong and fast like his athletic friends, and assume I must not be worth the time?

No. No, probably not, since I’d never taken the time to talk to him either. So what else could I blame? What else would Drake blame? Maybe society. Once in a while he would start these philosophical conversations about anything from language to physics to existence, so society was in the realm of possibility. It was society’s fault that Adam and I hadn’t had a conversation, because society told us that it was weird to talk to strangers, and society is made up of people; if the people went away, then the bullshit of society would disappear.

I shook my head, clearing that train of thought from my mind. Maybe I was getting somewhere with it, but I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t want to kill Adam no matter how hard I tried. If anything, I wanted to go talk to him. It would have to be some other day though. I’d been standing there trying to get myself to want him dead for at least ten minutes, and he was nowhere to be seen. And neither was Drake.

I tried texting him, but he didn’t respond. I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer. Despite the circumstances, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. His phone could have been dead, or silenced. Shaking my head once again to clear up any lingering thoughts of murder, I started walking to his house. While going through the parking lot, I noticed that his car was already gone, and I felt like an idiot for having waited around for so long.

Drake’s car was in his driveway, and from a block away, I could see him standing outside and talking to a familiar figure: Mason. They weren’t in each other’s faces or at each other’s throats. They were simply standing a respectful distance apart and having what looked to be a relaxed chat. Together they left the driveway and started walking, both of them oblivious to me.

I followed. It was nosey, but it was something I felt obligated to do. After all, Drake had shown he wasn’t the most stable, and Mason didn’t seem like the type to keep people from doing something stupid. Sneaking around didn’t feel completely moral, but with so much at stake, it felt more right than wrong.

They were easy to follow. I stayed a block behind them, and they didn’t even glance back. Mason pointed out a direction at literally every street corner. I was no expert tracker, but somehow, I was comfortable assuming that he led the way. Before long they got to where they were going. It was a house I’d never paid much attention to, and after Mason knocked at the front door, the two disappeared inside. Not much could be said about the house from a distance, although as I got closer, I didn’t even have to step onto the lawn to make out the sound of rock and roll.

I stood on the sidewalk. Following them through public streets was easy enough. It was impolite, but it’s not like I was breaking any explicit rules. There was something about the step off of the sidewalk that felt more mischievous. I looked at the house the way I’d looked at Mason’s car. My foot hovered above the driveway the way my hand had hovered on that beastly hood. One breath. Two.

Yeah, I could conquer this one.

I walked up to the house. The curtains were closed, and as I got closer, I could hear that Armageddon Radio was still committed to blasting Flashpoint Zero. They were the only rock station Foxboro ever got, so in addition to bracing myself for Mason, I also got ready to hear the same band for as long as the host felt like playing them. I glanced around. As far as I could tell, the house didn’t belong to anybody I knew. If I knocked, I would find Drake and Mason on the other side. But somebody had to have let them in, and if I knocked, I would have to face whoever it happened to be. It might have been someone friendly, like Iris, or Drake. It also could have been someone I was at odds with, like Mason, or Drake. Or maybe it was a complete stranger, like Adam. Like Drake.

Three breaths. Four. A pause, and eventually, a sigh. I sat down on the front steps. Fuck it, I didn’t have to conquer that one anyways. They would leave sometime, and I could confront them then.

I listened to a muffled version of The Ballad of No One as it emanated from the house. I suppose I understood why Armageddon Radio was playing that one too. Earlier, they’d played Behind the Shades because it was a song about standing up in the face of opposition, and it might motivate Jace to get back together with the band. Similarly, they played The Ballad of No One as I sat there, unwilling to face an unknown obstacle, because that song was also about standing up in the face of opposition. And then failing miserably. And then wondering what the point of trying was in the first place. So I understood that they were playing The Ballad of No One to make me realize what a dumb choice I’d made by following Drake and Mason to the house to begin with.

Fifteen minutes passed, and Armageddon Radio’s host hadn’t lost any enthusiasm since that morning. “Still no update on Jeck,” he announced, “but here’s to hoping everything’s on the up and up. Next is an Avalon C-side you probably didn’t know about, eloquently titled, All of the Reasons Nicholas Kennedy is a Filthy Expletive Rat. Ain’t that the truth. We’ll be here all day, playing nothing but Jeck. Stick around.”

I nodded.

Half an hour in, and I remained vigilant. Mason wouldn’t win this one. When the host came back, he was still just as committed to his words. “We can wait as long as it takes Jeck. I have nothing to do and you have nothing to prove. Up next, I don’t know, let’s put Flashpoint Zero on shuffle. Whatever song happens, happens. Stick around.”

Drake wasn’t a bad guy. He was lost, but not bad. I trusted him.

At the hour mark, the host came back on, asking, “How much longer is it going to take? Jeck, we love you. Yote and Sharyn must be losing their minds worrying about you; about the band. What’ll it take to end this? Up next is Invictus. They didn’t write it, but lucky for us, someone happened to be recording the one time they played it. Stick around.”

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

Drake really did cling to his principles. For better or worse, Mason wasn’t going to talk him into anything. Not a chance.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed

He hid it so well, too. When he stared into the fire, the only reason I worried was because I knew him. And when he opened up just a little, just enough to tell me what was on his mind, he didn’t even back down. He acknowledged his mistakes, the faults in his reasoning, but damned if he would back down. He had to be the victor.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid

He had to be the victor no matter what. The mean monster Mason lay defeated. Troubles with his parents had been buried years ago. Even his emotions were demolished in the pursuit of being the victor over his own damn self. What would he destroy to conquer them all again?

It matters not how straight the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

I knocked at the door. I got no response so I knocked harder, until I was ready to smash the door off of its hinges, because I knew Drake would win any fight thrown at him, and I knew that Mason had all the wrong fights to offer.

Armageddon Radio quieted down. “What is it?” someone asked from inside. I would recognize the depth of Drake’s voice, or the unevenness Mason’s. The person on the other side of the door was a stranger.

“Let me in. I need to see what’s going on in there.”

“Sorry, I don’t know you.”

I knocked again. “Hey! What if I know someone in there, then what?”

There was a pause. “Who do you know?”

“Drake Reddick, he’s… a friend. I saw him go in there with Mason.”

Another pause, followed by, “Hang on a second.”

I raised a fist to knock again, but decided against it. I stood waiting on the porch for another minute before the door swung open and the relentless victor came stumbling out.

“Regis!” Drake exclaimed with a smile across his face, wrapping an arm around me.

“I’m real sorry dude,” a younger teen said. He was the one who’d been speaking earlier. “Him and Mason were down in the basement alone, and me and Cody knew they’d be drinking but we had no idea—”

“It’s alright, it’s alright. Just try to make good choices, okay?”

He nodded, and so did his friend standing behind him. They asked me not to tell anyone they were there, as though the thought had even crossed my mind. If I was going to call the cops about anything, it wouldn’t be some place where underage drinking happened; it would be about the underage drunk guy I had to help back to his own house.

Having practically carried him for the last third of the walk, I laid Drake down on the couch.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Drake, what were you thinking back there?” I questioned, but only got an incomprehensible mumble in response. I sighed, and continued, “I just hope you’ll be okay… do you think you’ll be okay?”

A look of sorrow spread across Drake’s face. Just uninhibited sorrow. I don’t know how much he drank, but for it to make him so open, the amount must have been damn near lethal. He grabbed my arm and said he was sorry.

“Hey, we’ll get through this,” I assured him. “Compared to some other things, it’s not a huge deal. Was this your first time drinking?”

His brow furrowed. “Not the beer. Iris.”

“What about Iris?” I asked, matching his expression.

“We did… I’m sorry Regis,” Drake said, and he leaned forward to give me a hug.

I held him back by the shoulders, and I asked him, “You did what? Tell me what you did with Iris.”

“She kissed me. After school today, before Mason and I went to that place, she kissed me. I didn’t kiss her back, but, I kinda liked it,” he confessed, and then he lost whatever remained of his consciousness.

Unbelievable. Drake rested his slumbering head on my lap, and I sat there, staring down at the complete mess of a teenager who I loved.

He could conquer anything. He did conquer anything. There were no lines and no limits. So I worried about what he considered a victory.

Drake opened his eyes later that day. I’d moved to the wooden chair nearby, and when he spotted me, I think he got that locked feeling I was so familiar with. He just stared at the ceiling for a second, and then closed his eyes again. I stood and moved my chair closer to the couch. He winced at the piercing screech of wood scraping along the floor.

I rested a hand on the side of his head, and asked if he was awake.

He opened his eyes to a squint. “Yeah, kind of. When did you get here?”

“Do you remember anything?” I asked.

“My head remembers it. My mind is a little fuzzier.”

“Do you really not remember what you did?”

“A little? Shit, I don’t know. How much did I tell you?”

“You can’t be serious. All of it, I hope.”

Drake raised both hands to his ears, protecting them from the volume of my voice. I felt like I was whispering, but he didn’t look like he was acting. Uncovering one ear, Drake asked, “The beer?”

“Found out about that one first hand.”

“Iris?”

“Yes, that too.”

Drake lowered his hands back to his sides. “So what now? I assume you’re pissed off.”

I leaned closer to my significant other. Not quite my friend. Not quite my boyfriend. Significant other felt vague enough. “I thought I knew you. I thought I knew why you did things, even if I didn’t always agree. Now I’m just not sure. We’re not breaking up; we need each other way too much for that. But something needs to change.”

“If it helps, you and this hangover have convinced me not to drink ever again in my whole damn life. That was my first time, and obviously it didn’t go well.”

“Good. Now what about Iris?”

“I don’t know man. You think you’re confused? Spend ten minutes in my head right now, then try to tell me you’re confused. I’ve always kind of liked her, but not on a level even close to you. Maybe I really did like the idea of being kissed by a girl, just to see what it was like. Hell, maybe I just made a stupid mistake because I lost the ability to control my own life. Fuck, my head!” Drake yelled. He stood up, walked to the kitchen, and started getting a glass of water.

I placed a hand on his back. “Hey, I forgive you, okay? Earlier with Mason, that was just a mistake. I wasn’t there with Iris, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one too.”

Drake downed the glass of water and slammed it on the counter. With flickering eyes, he told me, “You have no idea how much that means.”

We embraced, and Drake rested his head on my shoulder. We stood in the kitchen, swaying back and forth, simply existing in Foxboro Nowhere. Being wrapped around the person I loved, I couldn’t help but relax. I like to think Drake felt the same way.

The daylight passed, and under the cover of night, Drake and I found ourselves at a playground we used to frequent when we were younger. We sat on the swings, joking and talking and remembering.

Moving leisurely back and forth, I said, “You know, I miss this sometimes.”

“Miss what?”

“Being kids, being simple. The biggest problem in the world back then was when Iris scraped her knee and insisted she’d never walk again.”

“Or when you and Mason completely stopped talking to each other?” Drake asked.

“Heh, yeah. I kind of forgot when our contempt used to be pretend.”

“Remember when we used to not kiss?”

“Ugh, wasn’t that awful?” I said with a smile, giving Drake a light push. We both rocked side to side, laughing like we’d never swung in our lives. Looking up to the cloudy sky, I remarked, “I’ll admit, some things about growing up aren’t so bad.”

Drake looked up with me and agreed. “Yeah, some things are good. But you know what sucks? This is such a nice night, I’m with the love of my life, and I’ve never felt more suicidal. It just feels like this would be such a perfect last moment.”

I reached out and took Drake’s hand, as both of us continued to look up at the dark clouds. “Well I’m not letting go of you for a very long time, so enjoy the moment all you want.”


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