It feels like I am walking towards my own funeral as I enter the mall and walk closer and closer to the escalator at the far end. Better it be the one on the far end than the one that leads directly to Bookstairs. Any minute that I can put between me and the conversation I have to have with Patrick is crucial to me. I need to wrap my head around what I will tell him. How I am going to tell him. How I will confess to what I have done and how I have betrayed him.
I almost can’t bear the thought of losing him as the green signage of Bookstairs come into view and the sanctuary I have loved so much feels like a mausoleum I am coming to so that I can die in a way. There, between the most famous love stories ever written, I will become one of the biggest tragedies of love that ever failed.
Smelling the books as I walk in the door of the bookshop this time doesn’t make me feel safe and secure like usual. It feels like they are mocking me. That the love stories with their loving titles are screaming to me from the shelves, telling me that I will never be able to have what they hold.
“Afternoon Cory,” Mister Graham says making me look away from the romance section and rather turn my attention to the front desk.
“Hi Mister Graham,” I say. I can almost imagine that my voice sounds a little grainy. “How are you?”
“Been good Cory. Stephen King just released a new book that I’m trying to get through,” he says holding up the book in his hand, revealing the blue cover. “But enough about me. Your friend is waiting for you over in the young adult section.”
His last sentence make me feel like I am drenched in water from head to toe. Ice cold water that seeps through my clothing and my skin before settling deep inside me and making me want to freeze over.
“Thanks,” I mumble and Mister Graham’s wink is just enough to give me the courage to push through the shelves, walking down the shelves to find Patrick sitting on a couch with a book in his hand which he puts down the moment I reach him.
“Hey sexy,” he says as he stands up, moving closer to me for what I think might be a kiss, but I hold out my hands in front of me, keeping him at bay. I have no right kissing him after I have sucked of someone else. No right at all. If he still wants to kiss me after he has heard what I did, and I am pretty sure he won’t, then at least it’s up to him and the kiss would be an honest one.
“I need to talk to you Patrick,” I say feeling so very sorry for the confused look in his eyes. The last thing I wanted to do was play with his emotions, but here we are. I did exactly what I thought he would do to me in the end.
“You don’t look good Cory. Are you sure you’re okay?” Patrick asks, his eyes scanning over me as if he is looking for some scar or blood that would explain why I am acting the way I am acting.
“No I’m not,” I answer. “Could you sit down? Please?” I ask, and when he complies I take a seat on the ground in front of him.
It feels right sitting on the ground at his feet, looking up at him. He should be looking down at me. I am a horrible person that should not be allowed to be on his level.
“Cory, just tell me what’s going on,” he says, a frown appearing on his forehead and his fingers starting to struggle through his curls. “You’re actually scaring me.”
“So you know about what’s been going on with my family right?” I ask, feeling the tears sting behind my eyes, but I promise myself I won’t cry. Not this time. I am not going to do anything that might influence Patrick’s decision. He needs to decide to dump me without feeling guilty about it.
“Yeah, but that’s sorted now. Your mom is living with your aunt and you’re coming to me for a bit?” he says.
“It’s not that easy Patrick. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems when it comes to me. That’s why you should have been the smart one. You should have stayed far away from me. I should have been smart. I should have pushed you away before I had the chance to hurt you,” I say, feeling the tears coming but swallowing them back once more.
“Cory… I don’t… I don’t understand,” Patrick mutters, looking like he wants to lean in for a hug, but I shake my head, making him sit back again.
“My mom doesn’t have a job anymore. She wants us to leave town, maybe tonight still… I don’t know Patrick. I don’t know… And I didn’t want to leave you behind. I couldn’t just leave you, but then I did something to try and stay… Something so bad that you won’t want me anymore now…” I say this time not being able to keep the tears from coming, allowing them to run freely over my face.
“What did you do Cory?” Patrick asks. It almost looks like he has tears as well, but at least he’s isn’t running over his face yet.
“I took Jaycee up on an offer he made me. I said okay… They have… It’s kinda like being a prostitute. So I went there. I went to Jaycee for help so I could feed my family and get us a place to stay and still be with you,” I say allowing more tears and a sob to rip through me.
I wait for Patrick to reply but he just sits there, staring at me without saying a word. The tears still building up in his eyes as well, but I can’t read what he is thinking. I don’t know if he hates me or what is going on inside him.
“I had a client this morning. I wanted to get paid so badly… I wanted to help my mom and I didn’t want to leave, and I wasn’t thinking at all…” I cry.
“So what happened between you and this guy?” Patrick asks, his face almost neutral. “I want to know every single thing that happened.”
“He was sucking me off in a dark room while he was fucking my mouth… The lights were off. It was so dark Patrick. I was so scared. What if he killed me? But I did it. I didn’t want to get turned on, but I just responded. But we stopped. It stopped before it could go further,” I choke the words out, getting it out of me like it was some kind of dirt.
“Why didn’t you finish it?” Patrick asks.
“Because he stopped. I said his name. It was someone we knew,” I cry further, so wanting to feel Patrick’s arms around me at this moment, but knowing I will probably never have that privilege again.
“Who’s the guy?” Patrick asks.
“I can’t tell you… I promised,” I answer.
“To hell with it. Tell me who it is Cory. If you want me to listen to this, to hear how my boyfriend sucked off someone else, I at least deserve to know who he is,” Patrick says, this time tears actually running over his cheeks.
“Mister Watson…” I whisper. “It was Mister Watson.”
“As in the vice principle?” Patrick asks.
“Yes, but it wasn’t his fault. He stopped the moment he found out who I was,” I say, trying to protect Mister Watson, wishing now that I never uttered his name. “And he took me away from there immediately. He says he is going to get Jaycee out of there to. He even said that my family could come and stay with him for a while till my mom gets a job or something.”
I didn’t know that I decided to take Mister Watson up on his offer until the moment the words left my lips. I didn’t know that protecting him and keeping his secret would possibly also be the only way to ensure that my family doesn’t end up on the street for much longer. It only dawned on me now that Watson was getting something in return. There are strings attached to him helping me and my family. The strings are me keeping his secret and him being able to live his normal life like he always have along with his secret one.
“I always knew he was gay,” Patrick mutters. “Well at least it was someone who didn’t hurt you. Someone who knew you.”
“Are you going to break up with me now?” I ask, wanting this to be over. I have said what I needed to say. I can already feeling my heart break, feeling a massive pain in my chest and the feeling of never feeling happy again.
“Why would I break up with you?” Patrick asks, wiping the tears from his face and sitting forward so that his face is only inches from mine.
“Because of what I did. Because I almost had sex with another guy for money,” I answer him, trying to wipe my tears as well, but it seems that they just won’t stop coming.
“Because you did what you thought was right to keep the people you love together?” Patrick asks. “How can I be mad about that?”
And with that he is holding me as sob after sob rips through my body, a never-ending ocean of tears streaming over my face as he kisses me on my cheeks, on top of my head, and everywhere he seems to manage to find space while my face is pushed into his torso.
“I’m not leaving you Cory. I am never just leaving you. I have seen a side of you I want in my life. A person who would put themselves aside and sacrifice almost anything for the ones around them,” Patrick continues, stroking a hand over my back.
“He takes after his father,” a voice behind me says. “And now boys, you are going to listen to an old man telling you what to do next.”
Mister Graham must have overheard everything we had been saying as he steps out from behind a shelf, shocking both of us before he sits down on the couch Patrick had been occupying just a few moments ago.
“When you have found a love that’s willing to do anything to be with you, but one that’s also willing to walk away if they think it can save the other one… It’s then that you know you have found true love. I was just a boy of twenty when I met my true love. It was here in the bookshop. She walked in with what I assumed was her mother. Dressed all fancy and uppity. But she was the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. I helped her buy some books. I remember the first book she bought. Alice in Wonderland. I found it odd for her age, but I would later come to know it was her favorite and that she owned multiple copies. The next day she came back to the bookshop, but this time she was alone. We started talking and I asked her if I could court her. She said yes and so a love story began. About two years of courting later I asked her to marry me, at which point she decided to break up with me. You see, she wasn’t honest from the start with me. She had complications in her teen years that led her to have her womb removed, so she would never have been able to bear me children. She didn’t tell me this when she broke things off, but I knew she loved me. I just knew it. So I didn’t give up. I went to her house every day after work and I stood there with roses the one night, chocolates the next, a limited edition of Alice in Wonderland the next. With each one I wrote the same note to her, telling her that I loved her before leaving it at her doorstep at midnight and walking home,” Mister Graham tells the story, tears welling up in his eyes as well. Patrick and I listening without interrupting him.
“It was almost five months later when I received a letter from her where she asked me to not come to her house again. That she was getting married. I was devastated and I fell into what you kids call depression. Back then I just thought that I was dying of a broken heart. I respected her wishes and didn’t go again, but it wasn’t the last I heard of her. Her mother never really liked me. Her father was a banker. A rich man. I was the son of a bookshop owner in a mall that just opened up. I didn’t have degrees and lots of money behind me, but still, she came and said she needed to speak to me. She told me that my darling was going to marry a man forty years older than her because she felt like she wasn’t worth it. She told me that my love couldn’t have children and that she didn’t want to put me into a position of keeping her out of pity and guilt. But you know what. She was enough for me. I climbed on my bicycle that very afternoon and went over to her house and refused to stop knocking until she opened the door. We got married two weeks later and never looked back,” Mister Graham finishes, this time tears running over his cheeks along with ours.
“The moral of the story? Sometimes you hurt people by trying to protect them. Everyone should have a choice to decide what they want and who they want, and when they have decided, no matter the past or the present, they should look into the future and hold on to one another.”
“That’s beautiful Mister,” Patrick answers, wiping the new tears from his face. “Are the two of you still married?”
“In a way yes. She died five years after we got married. The complications came back. They called it cancer. I called it the devil that tore us apart. But I still visit her every day. I walk to the graveyard after work and read Alice in Wonderland to her before I go home. Sometimes I take some roses too. She really loved pink roses,” Mister Graham answers looking upwards at the ceiling as he speaks. “Now, Cory, you are going to do something for me.”
“Anything,” I say trying my best to stop crying.
“I want you to come and help me out here at the bookshop over weekends. I can’t pay much, but it will be a start for you and it would help me spend more time with me Sylvia, reading to her,” he says as he stands up from his chair. “I would consider you saying yes a huge favor.”
“With love,” I answer, trying my best to put a smile one my face, knowing full well that he doesn’t need me here, but that he’s trying his best to help.
“And you young man,” he says pointing at Patrick. “Cory owns a very valuable book that was gifted to him a while ago. A signed copy none the less. Help him sell it to get him back on his feet.”
I register immediately what book Mister Graham is talking about. The signed copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory he gave to me.
“I can’t… That book is too special to you,” I say.
“You can’t eat a book boy. You can’t eat a book,” Mister Graham says with a mysterious smile, all the tears gone, before he turns around and leaves us alone in the back of the shop.