At The Edge Of Hopelessness

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Everybody Knows.

Reuben pushed Milo against the wall as their tongues fought for the dominance. This was not supposed to happen. They were fighting. They were arguing. Reuben had told him that this will never happen again yet he was the one that initiated it. He was the one that came up to Milo’s face – breathing roughly while Milo kept his composure. He was the one who yelled at his face – called him a ‘faggot’ and told him that he was nothing like him. He was the one that did everything to get a reaction from him so that after this was over, he could once again put all the blame on Milo – after all, that’s what he has been doing for the longest he could remember. Each time they had sex together, Reuben would inculpate Milo for seducing him.

The very first time when Reuben and Milo first kissed months ago, it was not Milo would drunkenly kiss his best friend, it was Reuben. He didn’t mean it to happen but seeing Milo with another guy in the bathroom – was surprising for him, he didn’t know Milo was gay. No one knew but that night, seeing him with another boy was hard to watch, not because Reuben was disgusted but because he was jealous. He doesn’t know what he was jealous of when he has a beautiful and supportive girlfriend, but he was – so he pulled the random guy from Milo, dragged him to the bathroom stall, and kissed him – which Milo gladly returned.

Reuben tears Milo’s shirt off his body. A soft grunt escaped Milo’s mouth and it just stirred more emotions in Reuben. He roughly traced his hands over Milo’s slender body. His lips found Milo’s neck. Reuben grabbed Milo by his neck and pulled his face up, so he could have clear access to his neck. His tongue rolled over Milo’s Adam’s apple. Milo rolled his eyes closed while letting out another moan. This was happening again. Milo brought his hand over Reuben’s groin and felt it hardening under his hand. He hastily removed Reuben’s shirt and threw it away. Milo took the charge from Reuben, pushed him off him before slamming him on the wall. His lips locked against Reuben’s as they both fight for intimacy.

Milo undid Reuben’s pants and slides his hand in his underwear, just at the time the door of the room slammed opened – welcoming the loud shriek of laughter before absolute silence. The two men averted their widened eyes at the door to see some more of Donna’s friends – looking them with his eyes out of the socket. Milo and Reuben were busted. Nothing they would say would make up for the compromising situation they were in – nevertheless, Reuben had to react – he had to.

Reuben gasped and pulled Milo’s hands out of his underwear and pushed him off as hard as he could. “Take your hands off me, you faggot! You see a drunk man and start making advances of him!” Reuben spat – while a thunderbolt Milo gaped at the man, he was sharing a passionate kiss hardly a minute ago.

Milo clenched his hands into a tight fist. “Man, what the fuck?” He gritted his teeth as he shoved Reuben.

Reuben always does this – he sleeps with Milo and ends up blaming him for luring him into sleeping with him, but this time he was doing it in front of a couple of Donna’s friends. Reuben manically wipes the sweat off his face. He took a few steps back from Milo and glanced at the unknown faces looking at the two of them – none of them saying anything. They were just staring at two semi-naked men. The fact that Reuben had a hard-on was burningly embarrassing for him, while Milo didn’t mind his at all.

Reuben lunge forward and after a mere second of hesitation, he flung his fit right into Milo’s cheek, “You fucking faggot!” he yelled out.

In the present, Austin’s eyes traveled through the menu as he sat with some of his friends and Leah in a small restaurant. On the right of Austin sits Leah with her hands on her lap and her eyes fixed on the table while she was engaged in a conversation with Patrick, who sits on her right. On Austin’s left sat Josephine, she was chatting with Paris. Nathan sat right in front of Austin and was busy talking to his sister.

It was Austin’s birthday today. His friends decided to treat him to lunch and planned that later they will take him out for a fun night at a local club – after all, it was his twenty-fifth birthday and Saturday night at the same time. He might have agreed to come to lunch, but there is no way he will be going out clubbing. He doesn’t go to clubs.

Austin sighed as he had trouble deciding what to order. Leah could hear him mumble under his breath – something he does when he is unable to make a decision.

She heard him exhale sharply and let out a chuckle, “Austin, you turn twenty-five today and still finds it hard to decide what to order,” She teased him.

Leah remembers how much it used to stress him out. It is very hard for him to order among so many options. He always enters an eatery with the thought of ordering something different but each time, he ends up ordering the same thing again.

Austin rolled his eyes without looking at Leah, “It is hard for some people, okay?” He mumbled. His friends around him chuckled.

Austin doesn’t celebrate his birthday, he always found birthday celebrations unnecessary. When he and Leah were younger, their parents would throw them birthday parties, where Leah used to wait for the day – Austin would want it to pass quicker. Since he was a child, he found sitting with a cake with burning candles dripping the wax on the icing and people singing to him while he sat looking at their faces, not sure of how to react. He always found the entire process highly irritating. Not to forget, people eat cake that someone just blew over didn’t sit well with him. Therefore, when he grew up – he strictly asked his mother and sister not to get a cake for him. Since he entered his teens, on his birthday his family would take him to a nice restaurant for his favorite meal and give him his birthday present.

Since the shooting incident at Emmett’s birthday party, Austin had completely stopped celebrating his birthday altogether. His birthday comes only three days before Emmett’s and it always brings out the sweet-bitter memories of that year. For his last birthday, before he lost his friends, Austin went out bowling and played video with Emmett, Milo, and Reuben. They didn’t do anything out of ordinary. There was no cake, they ordered pizza like they usually did. They only wished him a happy birthday and that was all it. They spend the day like they usually do. That is one last memory of him with his friends where they were just four normal guys. That was the best birthday he could ever have.

And then three days later came Emmett’s birthday – he was reluctant to go to a party that someone as egocentric as Donna had thrown, but Emmett forced him to come and he did. It can be written down as the worst day of his life – not just his but for everyone present at that party. Since that day, Austin finds it hard to be a part of any party. During the rest of his university life, never once did he attend another party. He might not accept this to others but he is scared for life from going to one.

Austin’s eyes traveled to the people he along in a circle. He calls them their friends, except he is not close to any of these. His definition of friendship changed over the years. Austin has learned to be reserved – only maybe his life made him so. He has so much on his plate, that the thought of making friends or hang with the ones he had doesn’t often cross his mind. With his expenses, helping out his mother, paying for Leah’s treatment, and his never-ending student loan – he had conditioned himself to work and work only. Even when he is unable to give his new friends his time, they still managed to take him out on lunch for his birthday – he felt special in a way.

Austin was lost in his thoughts when he felt a hand over his that was resting on the table. He turned his head to look at Josephine looking at her with a smile, “Everything okay?” She asked him softly. A gentle smile stretched on her lips. Austin could hear his friends and sister chatting along – laughing and what he hoped – were having a good time.

Austin smiled back at her and nodded his head, “Yes, I was just thinking,” He shrugged dismissively. Jo chuckled, “You think a lot. Give your brain a rest, Austin.” She replied playfully.

Austin grinned and opened his mouth to answer her when his eyes fell behind Jo and all the words dissolved in his mouth. A few feet away from the table he sat around with his friends and sister stood the person whom he didn’t see in the past five years. The last time he saw him, he was at the airport with his hand intertwined with his girlfriend, fleeing away along with her while leaving his life back home to start anew. It boils Austin’s blood when he thinks about how contemptuous Emmett behaved before he left. He didn’t stay for the funerals. He didn’t stay to know how Austin or Leah were doing. He just left because at that time Emmett was being selfish.

Austin didn’t mind him being selfish at all – he never did. It was Emmett’s choice to leave, but the way he cut him off his life – the way he distanced himself from everyone. It still makes him furious and that is the reason why when Austin saw Emmett standing there with his hands stuffed in his pockets, his shoulders hunched and a deep crease lined on his forehead – Austin wanted to do nothing but to pound a punch at his face.

Emmett saw the frown on Austin’s face. He saw the way he flared his nostrils. From how much he knows Austin, he knows that his friend wanted to beat him black and blue right in the middle of the busy café. Austin didn’t stop glaring at Emmett, he curled his hands into a tight fist. Jo brought her eyebrows together and turned around to see an unknown man standing at a little distance, looking back at Austin, but that man didn’t hold a glare but looked at Austin with glossy eyes. Soon the rest of his friends moved their perplexed gaze at Emmett – suddenly he felt like he was under a spotlight.

The sudden silence among Austin’s friends didn’t sit right for Leah, who traced her fingers over the wooden table before she voiced her concern, “What’s happening?” She mumbled softly – her question aimed to Patrick, who glanced at an equally confused Leah. He glanced at Emmett and then at Austin, who were staring at each other – where Austin didn’t look pleased to Emmett again, Emmett looked nervous under Austin’s glares.

“Ah – Austin and this guy are engaged in an intense staring competition.” Patrick drew Leah a picture, but she couldn’t grasp the entire situation. “Austin’s winning,” Patrick whispered.

Leah knitted her eyebrows together, “What guy?” She wondered aloud.

Emmett recognized her voice before he noticed her sitting among the rest of the group. His eyes immediately travel to her. Her eyes were fixed at the table. Her eyebrows were knitted together. Perplexity drips off her expressions. This was the first time Emmett seeing her without her sight. She looked lost. Leah looked different to him. Her hair was still long like before, but she had most probably dyed them as he doesn’t recall them being chestnut-colored. She looked much different to him - although her features were the same as he remembered but still something seemed different about her – maybe it was the maturity. It was reflecting through her face. Emmett’s heart sinks in his stomach as he recalls the last interaction with Leah. He was slightly drunk that night yet he remembers clearly the words he spoke to her and then the last time he saw her.

Emmett stood in the middle of the busy café – the hustle and bustle of his surroundings tone down as he recalled hearing gunshots after gunshots. He remembered looking around people running, pushing, and crying. He vividly remembers the groans and bellows of the injured. He remembered skipping through the dead. He couldn’t make much sense of what was happening. His eyes were looking for anyone who needs his help and then saw her. Leah sitting on the floor with her Alesha resting her head on her lap. As Emmett rushed to help the girls, he saw that Alesha was shot in the throat and Leah had her hand pressing against the bullet wound as the blood gushes off her an unconscious Alesha.

The gunshots were getting louder and louder – the shooter was getting close to them. Emmett kneed down beside Leah who was bawling her eyes out while her entire body was shaking. “Alesha,” she kept on mumbling. While everyone else in the room was trying to run downstairs to save their lives. Leah stuck to Alesha’s side. “We need to go,” Emmett spoke painfully as he felt like his heart was beating in his mouth. “Leah, she is gone! You need to come with me!” Emmett yelled at Leah while shaking her by grabbing her by her shoulders. Leah glanced down at her friend to see her mouth ajar and her eyes opened and still – somewhere between now and when Emmett rushed to her help – her friend had stopped breathing or moving. She died in her arms.

Emmett recalled how Leah kept shaking her head, refusing to move so he forced her to stand – he pulled her up on her feet while she resisted and trashed her feet around. There was a window beside them – it was opened. For a minute he thought about jumping off the space and save both their lives but they were on the second level – they will be severely hurt if they do so, so he held on her hand tightly and pulled her towards the staircase. They needed to get away before the shooter shows up and shoot them.

Emmett remembered rushing downstairs while others pushing and trying to get ahead of them. He remembered reaching the first level. The way to the ground level was blocked by the panicking and terrorized people, who were desperately trying to save their lives. Emmett believed that they could hide in one of the rooms and with that thought he dragged a petrified Leah along with him – holding her hand tightly in his. Just before they try to reach the room at the end. Emmett heard several gunshots.

He remembered feeling numb and light-headed before he felt the pain. His legs gave up and he fell. “Emmett!” He remembered Leah yelling his name before she let out a shriek. He didn’t see the bullet hit her, but he saw the blood on the side of her neck. The next thing still mortifies him to this day, in front of his eyes, he saw her losing her balance and falling out of the casement before he lost the battle to complete darkness.

He didn’t realize that he had zoned out until someone slammed their shoulder to his while walking past him. He looked at the table where Austin and Leah sat with their friends and saw Austin getting on his feet.

Austin clenched his jaws, “Party’s over,” Emmett heard him saying to the rest of the group before he stood on his feet and strode right past him – not even sparing him a glance.

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