Phantom Limb

Chapter 9

Story by Ray




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The next two years were great. There weren’t any particular moments that could prove it, but still, it was this intangible feeling that I experienced more often than not. I’d found warmth again.

I could find warmth with Adam. He was a fantastic guy all around, and heat radiated off of everything he did. I told him I loved him. I didn’t completely mean it; just like a missing limb, a shattered heart doesn’t really grow back with any amount of time. But once in a while, while I was with him, I could swear my phantom limb was alive and well. So even if it wasn’t the complete truth, I wasn’t ashamed to tell Adam about the feelings I swore I felt.

Although that was another thing I could find some warmth in: lying. Being a clever deceiver. I didn’t feel like myself when I did it, and since I’d spent most of my life as one pathetic individual, feeling like someone else didn’t feel half bad.

Of course, as myself or anyone else, I could always find warmth in Foxboro. It’s where I belonged. It’s where I could count on finding everything and everyone that mattered to me. And after graduating a year early from Rycroft, it’s where I found work as a lawyer. I’d tried, but in the end, politics wasn’t quite for me. It was too damn boring.

Still, I couldn’t give up on making that difference. I figured if I couldn’t change the world all at once in the most underwhelming process known to humanity, then I could at least try to help people along on a more personal level. Not to mention, there was always the chance of getting some landmark case that really would affect people on a larger scale. Maybe then I could make that difference that Adam was always talking about.

I was worried that he might be upset when I changed my major. Although when I explained to him that I was going after the same thing, but from the bottom up instead of the top down, he just laughed and said that it was the gayest thing he’d ever heard me say. So I guess he wasn’t all that upset after all.

That landmark case never exactly came. As soon as I’d secured my place as another lawyer in Foxboro, I might as well have become invisible to the world. I did what I could to help the town, but really, the town didn’t need much help to begin with. It was already a great place, and all I had to do was keep it that way. Adam congratulated me anyways. He said that even if I didn’t feel like I was making a difference, I was on the right track.

When the summer ended, he had to go back to Rycroft to finish his senior year, and I had to stay in Foxboro to keep my job. We met up as often as we could, and every time, I told him I loved him. It felt less like the truth with every passing week, but I would keep on telling him, as many times as it took to sound like I wasn’t lying. To him, or to myself.

Through all the years, through all the times I felt cold and all the times I found warmth again, and through all the times I told Adam that I loved him, there was still something that I could never seem to get off my mind. And in the winter, that something returned to Foxboro Nowhere. At first I didn’t recognize him. While I drove back to my apartment, which I was sharing with Adam over the winter break, the man was just another face. But there was something off about him. He was standing on the sidewalk, in the far-below-freezing wind, staring at a house. Mason’s old house.

And that’s when it hit me. It hit me like a fucking semi, and I had to slam on the brakes and just sit there, trying to decide if I’d really just seen who I thought I’d seen. Was it him? Was it the one who forced his way into my dreams and my nightmares alike, on any night when I could actually find the warmth to sleep in the wake of his coldness?

Yeah. Son of a bitch, it was.

He’d grown out his hair and adopted a pair of glasses, but the face behind those features was too familiar to mistake for any other. I sat in my car for a minute or two, unsure of what to do next.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to decide at all. When it was clear that I wasn’t going to move anytime soon, he started walking instead. I could have stepped on the gas and gotten the hell out of there. I could have at least locked my doors. But when he started walking towards me, I found the guts to do something even more bold than escaping. I put my car in park, opened the door, and met him halfway. And there we stood, face to face, our breath frozen in the harsh winter.

“You know, for almost four years now, I’ve been trying to come up with the words that could express how sorry I am.”

“And?”

“There aren’t any.”

I tried to be bitter. I tried to show him that I could be just as uncaring as he’d been, and that I didn’t have to show any of my feelings either. I tried lying to him, but all of it was useless. There were plenty of people I could lie to—plenty of people I could go the rest of my life not giving a damn about. But Drake was never one of them.

“If there aren’t any words, then why the hell are you here? Drake, do you know how much you fucking meant to me‽ You were a monster!” I screamed, and I shoved him away, and I staggered back.

“I know,” he said. “You don’t have to tell me because God, I know. I’m not here to ask for your forgiveness, since there’s no one in the world who deserves it less than I do. I’m here for your peace of mind. I’m here so that if there’s anything you have to do to forget about me and move on with your life, you can do it. And if there’s not then I can leave, and you’ll never see me again. I’m sorry Regis. I know that words will never come close to expressing it, but God dammit I’m sorry.”

I didn’t know what to tell him. All those countless hours I’d spent picturing this moment, and I didn’t know what to tell him.

“Drake, I don’t even know who you are. I like to think you’re the person I was friends with for so long: the one who was always there, the one I could trust, the one who I loved. Everything was perfect man. What were you thinking?”

“Do you really want to know?”

There was something in his expression. It was the same thing I’d seen when he confessed to kissing Iris, and it looked just as sincere as the last time. It was shame, and it was regret. I could only hope that he meant it.

“Yeah,” I answered, “I really do want to know. Let’s go back to my place and talk. It’s fucking freezing out here.”

“Okay. Whatever you want. Although, I hear you’re living with a certain someone who might not be thrilled to see me.”

“Adam. He’s out with his brother and some friends, and they shouldn’t be back until morning. Come on, let’s go.”

I turned and got into my car, and he walked the other way to get into his. Along the drive, I had a moment to reflect on everything. The moment wasn’t long enough, but even if we were driving across the country, it never could have been enough time for me to sort everything out. He was back. The monster was back, and I still couldn’t say whether or not I hated him.

When we arrived at the apartment, Drake and I sat down on either end of a couch. The situation felt so familiar that I almost cried.

“So,” he said. He faced me, but kept to his side of the couch. “What do you want to know?”

“For starters, I want to know what the hell was going through your head that day. Why didn’t you go straight to the school? Why drag me into it? I’ve tried to figure you out for so long now, but I can’t, so go ahead and tell me.”

“Because I didn’t want to be accountable. I know it’s a shitty thing to say, but in the end, I trusted your judgment a hell of a lot more than I trusted my recklessness. If it’s any consolation, you didn’t just save the lives of a bunch of strangers; you ended up saving mine too. Maybe you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. You saved me.”

“How? How did I save your life?”

“You really think I pictured myself living through that day? One way or another, that was supposed to be it for me. But you made me see that it didn’t have to be like that.”

“And what happened after that? Where have you been for the last three years?”

“Out west. Nevada mostly. There’s really nothing too interesting about it. A few stories worth telling, but none as life changing as what happened right here in Foxboro. I’ve made it a point to live a boring life since then. I don’t drink, I don’t talk to people much, and hell, I don’t even watch TV. I guess you could say I was meditating; I wanted everything I thought to be mine, not the influence of something else. And I think it helped. I’ve mellowed out a lot since then.”

“So why are you back? Why now?”

“When I left Foxboro, I promised myself that I’d come back some day. The reasons then were nefarious, no doubt. But the idea stuck, even after the reasons changed. By the time I mellowed out, it was because I hoped coming back would be courteous. I’m not here to try and screw up everything you’ve worked for while I’ve been gone. Hell, it sounds like you’ve moved on just fine without my help, so congratulations on that. I’m not even being sarcastic, because goddamn, that’s something I sure as hell haven’t done a great job with. But I’m back now because I built up the courage to face you again. I fucked up, and I’m sorry, and I want to make it up to you however I can.”

“You want to know what you can do to fix this?”

“Name it.”

“Don’t disappear again,” I said, reaching out and taking hold of his arm. “On the day when you held that gun to my head, I’ll be honest, I was wishing you would just go away forever. But it didn’t even take a full day before I was wishing to see you again, no matter what the reason was. You meant the world to me Drake, and it might not be the same as before, but you still do. For fuck’s sake man, I love you.”

The room blurred as I spoke, and I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. When I did, I caught a glimpse of Drake doing something I never thought he was capable of; he was sobbing. He was showing complete, genuine, goddamn emotions. I curled up against him. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders, and for a while, we just sat there. He thanked me over and over again, saying that he didn’t deserve it. I told him to shut up, since there was no one in the fucking world who I would be more willing to give another chance, but it didn’t stop him from repeating how he felt.

When things got less emotional, Drake took his arm off of me. “Like I said, I’m not here to try to ruin anything. Based on what little news manages to escape Foxboro and get all the way to Bellpond, it sounds like you and Adam are happy together.”

I nodded, and adjusted myself so I was back on my side of the couch. “Thanks, I… I got a little carried away there. But yeah, things between me and Adam have been good. It doesn’t change the fact that I still want you around though. As a friend of course.”

“Of course,” Drake repeated. “We were friends for years. I’m sure we can make it work again. Right?”

I nodded, almost automatically. Like it was some obligatory response. But when I thought about it, it just made me want to laugh. Drake and I, friends again. Unbefuckinglievable. I made an involuntary noise, and at first it felt like laughter. But as it came out, some of the weeping still reverberated through it, and so it became this meek little sound that was just perfect for how I felt. Finally I just told him.

“All those years we were only friends drove me crazy, you know that?”

He sniffled, and let out a pathetic little chuckle of his own. Shaking his head and smiling, he said, “Me too man, me too. So what now? You’re in a relationship, and not to mention, your job depends on the public thinking you’re an honest person.”

“Nobody has to know,” I said, and as soon as it came out, I felt that little buzz in my chest. That feeling that seemed almost unreal, but had to be something, because it also felt so damn satisfying.

“Somebody would catch on,” he insisted. “We’re in Foxboro, ground zero, the exact worst place for me to hide. I’m amazed that nobody’s come breaking down that door already.”

“Tell you what. I’ve got a friend in Sienna. I lived with him for a few years, super laid back dude. His name is Bradley. He lives on his own now, and I bet you could stay with him until Adam goes back to Rycroft.”

“Regis,” Drake said. “Please, just don’t. I’m serious about not screwing anything up. If you want me around, then you can be damn sure that I’ll be around. But I won’t let myself screw up your life. Not again. I’m not worth that.”

“You—”

“No. I’m flattered, but I’m serious.”

I was dumbstruck. “Drake, don’t you understand? You’re worth everything to me. You’re my somethingness.”

It was an impasse. Before seeing him again, I was never quite sure how I would feel if he came back. Once he was around, I was dead set on keeping him close. But evidently, he was dead set on the opposite.

“At least stay here for tonight,” I pleaded. “Tell me one of those stories you mentioned. I’m dying to know what you’ve been up to.”

“Alright,” he said. He settled in on the couch. “I’ll tell you about the one anomaly: the one interesting thing that happened.”

He saved a man’s life. That was the story. He’d found a man in the desert, and the man was bleeding, and Drake saved him. There was more detail in Drake’s version. A lot more detail. But conveying the simple irony of Drake saving someone from death is a story unto itself.

Drake said that he ought to get going before it got too late. I insisted that Adam wouldn’t be home until morning, but Drake wasn’t willing to risk it. He said he would still be around. I promised that I would hold him to his word as we said our goodbyes.

Before he left my sight, I had to give him a hug. I couldn’t help myself. He was back. The love of my life was back, and I never wanted to let him go.

He stepped outside, drove off, and I was left wondering when I would see him next. Days? Weeks? Hell, ever?

I laid in bed for the night, just thinking. But for the first time in a long time, the thoughts that kept me up at night weren’t unpleasant. I didn’t want to sleep, because if I did, I would lose that buzz of comforting ideas. Even if he wasn’t there at the moment, and even if he never came back again, he was alive. He hadn’t dissipated into nothingness, never to be seen again. He was alive, and he was the friend I’d loved, not the monster I’d resented.

When morning came, it brought a hungover Adam along with it. I feigned sleep as he collapsed into bed. I was happy to see that he’d come back just fine, but I preferred to stay in my head for a little while longer.

There were so many things I wanted to figure out. How could I keep Drake close without anyone else knowing? What would happen in the long run? Should I tell Iris about any of it? What was going to happen with Adam?

It was this last question that bothered me the most. He was curled up right there beside me, with his head under the blankets, trying to hide his senses from the sunlight. Here was a human being with his own thoughts and emotions, and as far as he was aware, everything was going great in his life. We said we loved each other. Even if we didn’t always mean it, we at least had some reason for saying it. He was a great guy, and I really did care about him. I really didn’t want to hurt him.


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