The rest of the day went much like the beginning only I just did not care anymore. I went home feeling empty and dead, not even bothering to fend off my parents lecturing me for about an hour. Not until the end, though, when they began to bring the conversation back towards Elijah. That’s when they hit a nerve. I yelled at them that he and I were no longer an item, so they could stop their worrying. I then excused myself and went to my bedroom without waiting for their reply. Dave was already in there, and I was so not dealing with him so I went outside instead, sat by a tree I used to visit as a child, and didn’t bother to stop the tears as they came. I hated crying but at the same time, I knew, with great annoyance, that the only way to get over …him…was to go through this grief, if that’s what you want to call it; I don’t really have a better term for it.
At least this time the tears ebbed fast. It wasn’t long after that that Autumn sat next to me and without a word pushed a button on her phone. I listened, increasingly bewildered by what I heard. Elijah was going after Zach? I realized this was the same conversation he had told me he’d recorded, and the brief glimmer of hope I’d gotten disappeared like smoke.
“It was set up,” I said numbly.
Autumn looked at me with utter shock.
“Obviously, Autumn, he set that up! He’s a good actor.”
“Luke, you fucking idiot, he didn’t know I was recording! How could he possibly set that up if he didn’t know anyone else was recording?”
“I’m sure he banked on someone recording, someone close to me, who’d—”
“Lucas Michael Sullivan, don’t you make me smack some damn sense into you! You know damned well that Elijah did not set this up! You’re just scared of trusting him again! You’re always so fucking quick to lose faith in anything and then you’re so stupidly stubborn about it!
“He didn’t fucking know I had recorded it until I told him so later on! He was shocked, and then he looked relieved because you wouldn’t believe him but he saw that there was a chance you just might believe me. He wants you to believe me. Luke, actor or not, he is not fucking faking this. He loves you. He’s not the one lying! His friends are, and you know damn fucking well that it checks out because they’re the ones who have constantly given both you and him a hard time for dating each other; you more so than Eli. It makes sense they’d try to break you up! Don’t let them win! You belong with him, damn it! You know you do!”
Oh, god, I was so confused.
My phone buzzed then. It was Eli. It said only two words:
I looked at Autumn, then at those words, then at Autumn again. My heart desperately wanted him back. I had been so happy…
I let out a tortured whine.
“You can waste your whole life away because of ‘what if’,” Autumn began quietly.
Elijah came around the corner of the house and headed our way; my heart leaped…just like always. He was shrouded in sunlight and so god damned beautiful. Everything within me cried out and screamed at me to go back to him. There’d never been anyone I’d loved the way I’d loved him, and somehow I knew there never would be.
“Or you can take a few risks and enjoy the rewards that life gives you,” he finished. He held up his phone. “Autumn texted me to come over; I swear I didn’t set this up.”
I swallowed hard, so very, very, very torn now. I wanted to forgive him. I mean…wait…there wasn’t anything to forgive, actually, right, since he hadn’t been lying. Ugh! Confusing!
Logic was very loudly screaming at me not to make this same mistake. Put up the walls; they protect me best and I’d never have to feel this way again if I just stayed behind the walls. However, I also knew that if I did that, I’d never know love again, and I think deep down I knew the one who could best show me that love was the guy standing before me, pleading with me to take him back.
Autumn pressed a kiss to my head, got to her feet, and left us alone. Elijah looked uncomfortable standing before me as I slowly got to my feet.
“I’m so confused,” I admitted to him quietly.
“I don’t blame you.”
I wanted him, I wanted him so much. It really didn’t help that he was still standing in a spot of sunlight that had peeked out from behind a cloud, and his black hair shined with slight bits of red. When he looked up at me, I swear the blues in his eyes were deeper. In them, I saw the love he felt. The love I felt. A love that there was no way he, even as a good actor, could possibly fake.
And suddenly I knew.
…But I had to really make sure.
“You swear…you swear to me that the bet was never a thing?”
“I swear on everything, Luke. I do wish you had more faith in me than that, I’ll admit, but I don’t blame you for it. They were very convincing.”
I took a step towards him. “I’m…terrified.”
“I know you are. I know it’ll take time to heal, to trust me again. I’m willing to wait until you’re ready.”
Some of my heart came back together. My soul was slowly taking up residence again. The pain was ebbing. The confusion was ebbing. The lump in my throat was gone. The anxiety, however, remained, as anxiety tends to do.
I took another step towards him.
“Please don’t hurt me.”
“You’re a treasure to me, Luke, meant to be protected at all costs and cherished even more so.”
I took another step. I knew I was falling again, and part of me was pissed that I hadn’t learned a damned thing. At the same time, there was no fucking stopping this, just like there’d been no stopping it the first time. I think he knew it was happening.
“Will you catch me?”
“I will.” So earnest.
I took the final step that put me directly in front him, and despite all logic stating I shouldn’t…I took that leap of faith.
“I love you.”
His eyes held mine and did not waver one millimeter as he replied:
“I love you, too, Luke.”
I touched his cheek, and in that moment emotions just poured out of me. Tears came out of nowhere as I grabbed him in a hug. I think they were tears of joy, of relief; the pain was gone. The world didn’t look so damn bleak. Life no longer felt pointless. I would not die alone after all.
Elijah held me tight to him, my heart’s silent sentinel as I cried out the last of the conflict within me. Oh, I hated how much I cried, but at least I knew with Eli I needn’t worry about being judged. He would want me expressing all emotions and he would be there for all of it. There was a new piece of sure knowledge that had been born from this conflict, knowledge that I held no doubts about whatsoever:
Eli was mine. All mine. Through the good times and the bad, he was absolutely mine.
When emotions settled, I calmly, and without a word, led him by the hand into the house, to the living room, onto the couch where (don’t go getting any ideas now) we watched reruns of a mutually-liked show (and cuddled).
My mom walked in on us about two episodes later (so, two hours later) and stopped with a gasp. I think because she was just shocked to see him after my outburst earlier, since he and I were literally not doing a thing except cuddle.
“I thought you two broke up.”
More like hoped we’d broken up. I could tell they weren’t okay with me being gay. Though, I really don’t get that. So what if I was a boy who liked to date, kiss, make love with (someday) other boys (with Eli)? There was nothing wrong with that. Why didn’t it simply matter if I was happy or not??
“Luke!” my still-favorite-person-despite-what-happened (Eli) exclaimed, snapping his fingers. I blinked.
“What?” I asked, matching his urgent tone.
He gave a look of you don’t need to sound so sarcastic.
“You zoned out there. You okay?”
I decided to be honest and stood up to address my mom (doubling it as an answer for him), facing her as I prepared to speak.
“You know what, no, I am not okay. Basically, I’m getting punished because I didn’t come out to you and dad right away.”
Eli got to his feet and stood beside me. I felt the familiar thrill when he took my hand and interlaced his fingers with mine.
Mom looked confused.
“I don’t understand, Luke. That’s not why we’re mad. You’re being punished for sneaking around behind our backs, going out on dates without our permission, not because you’re gay.”
“Actually, mom, I wasn’t sneaking around. I told you who I was with, and what we were doing. Eli and I literally did all the stuff I told you we did. The only part I left out was that on occasion we would kiss, or cuddle. If walking for a distance, we would hold hands as we are now. I merely didn’t tell you I was dating him.”
“You really don’t get the problem, Luke? You lied to us.”
“Oh for the love of—No, I didn’t!! And I didn’t come out to you because I feared exactly this would happen.”
Dad appeared, having heard us.
“What’s going on in here?” He looked at Eli, then saw our linked hands and went on the defense. “What are you doing here? When’d you get here? How’d you get in?”
“Our son doesn’t think he’s being treated fairly,” mom explained to him seconds before Eli answered my father’s questions.
“Luke took me back, sir, shortly after I got here about two hours ago. Those hours were spent right here in this room doing nothing more than cuddling with someone who means the world to me, while watching our mutually favorite television series; your son led me into the house. I did not break in. I have not stolen anything. Well.” He looked at me. “Other than Luke’s heart, that is.”
“No, no…I gave that to you.”
Eli blinked in surprise as he realized this. Then he smiled that beautiful smile of his and looked back at my dad.
“I have not stolen anything. And frankly, it is wrong what you are doing. You seem to think you’re punishing him for, as you put it, sneaking around behind your backs slash lying to you when he literally never snuck around. He simply chose not to disclose a part of his life that he wasn’t ready to share yet. It is entirely up to him when to come out, something that was taken from him not just once but twice. The first time was when I made a mistake early on in our relationship which accidentally outed him to the whole school, which he took in stride. I was blessed by his forgiveness for that. Then your other son, his own brother, outed him to you for sheer revenge. Luke was not ready to come out, and what do you immediately do? You punish him for it. You don’t seem to get that you’re punishing him for being gay, and that right there is wrong. Being gay is not a problem. Being gay is not a sin. Being gay is not dangerous.
“More than anything, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, your son needs support, he needs love. He needs his god damned family. He is not a freak of nature. He should not be treated differently just because he doesn’t follow the societal defaults. All that should matter right now is that he is happy with his life; that he is with someone who helps keep him happy in his life.”
Silence greeted his speech. I actually had no idea how my parents were taking the news, or the emotions they were going through, because all I could do was stare at Eli and marvel at this stunning human being standing beside me; the love of my life, my true love, my destiny. I couldn’t believe I’d almost thrown this away because his friends had hit a sore spot.
“Thank God you’re stubborn,” I said to him, a hand cradling his face, thumb lightly tracing his lower lip while his love-laced gaze studied mine.
“What do you mean?”
“You never gave up on me when I was furious at you.”
He smiled slightly.
“You’re worth fighting for, Luke.”
My heart melted into a damn puddle…how dare Eli do that to me (I mean this in jest, of course).
I put my arms around his neck.
“So are you, Eli, and I owe you the hugest apology for not fighting for you, too.”
Eli pulled me to him.
“I’m sure with time I could learn to forgive you.”
I tensed. Wait, had I—
His smile told me he was just teasing, that I’d already been forgiven hours ago.
I sighed heavily.
“You’re gonna kill me, dude,” I muttered at him, immediately enjoying the responding smile on his face.
“How about a kiss to make it all better?” He offered, leaning in.
Oh, I accepted within milliseconds and it…was…heaven.