Double or Nothing

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3 - Just Visiting

It was as if someone had slapped me in the face. I was in shock, I couldn’t move. I could hardly breathe. I wasn’t expecting that. In fact, I was expecting the exact opposite. I forced myself to move and sat back in my seat, looking away from the man that had destroyed my life.

‘What’s up?’ Josh asked, looking thoroughly freaked out.

‘There’s a man outside my house. I can’t really face him right now. I don’t know what to do.’ I told him, speaking a lot more calmly than I felt I should be.

‘Want me to get out and ask him to leave?’ Josh asked.

‘No, then he’ll know I’m in the car.’ I said, sighing. ‘Oh God what am I supposed to do?’

‘Can’t Caleb tell him to leave?’

‘No, he’s still at work at the moment.’ I said, shaking my head. ‘However, Max and Leo might be in.’ I pulled out my phone and dialled the number of the landline in the house, hoping for someone to pick up. No one answered, but I thought they might not answer because it’s not their phone.

‘Max, Leo, are either of you there? It’s Ryan, if you’re there please pick up.’ I said, knowing that our machine played messages out loud as they were being recorded.

‘Hey Ryan, it’s Leo, what’s up?’

I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Hey Leo, I need to ask a favour. My dad is currently stood outside, and I’m in a car opposite. I can’t face him right now, could you come out and get him to leave for me?’ I asked.

‘Oh! Of course! I’ll do it now, I’ll see you in a little bit.’ Leo said, he hung up the phone and within a minute I saw him walk out of the door and confront my dad. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but Leo looked furious, and my father looked like he was about to punch something. He swung for Leo, and Leo moved out of the way, causing him to miss and stumble. It looked like he was drunk, which wasn’t a surprise in the slightest. Leo ended up restraining him and physically walking him down the street, pushing him away and around the corner. He watched as my dad walked away and then walked back toward the house. He noticed the car and put his hand up, indicating that it was fine for me to come out now.

I got out of the car and walked toward the house. ‘I’m sorry Leo, I didn’t realise he was drunk.’

‘No worries. I always assume your dad is drunk. It’s how he tends to be most of the time.’ He shrugged. ‘Are you okay though?’

‘I’m fine. It was just really unexpected. He was here a few days ago, but I didn’t expect him to come back. Normally when he leaves he disappears for at least a few months.’ I sighed. ‘I’ll feel better once we’re inside. I keep getting a horrible feeling that he’s going to come back around the corner.’ I shivered.

‘Okay, let’s go.’ Leo put his hand flat against my back and steered me into the house. Leo was one of the very few people who knew my entire history, and why most of my issues existed. I rarely confided in people, but Leo was a good person, and a rather good confidant, in that he didn’t know anyone that I knew, as he lived in a different country, so I knew whatever I told him would never make it’s way back to any of my other friends.

I heard Josh’s car drive away as I walked into the house and I felt bad, as I realised he didn’t know what was going on, really. I felt like I should explain it at some point, but for now he would have to wait. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to go through it all right now without having a breakdown.

I headed into the house and Leo directed me toward the living room and told me to sit down while he made me a cup of coffee. He knew I didn’t drink tea, which is usually the drink of choice for people in shock, so instead he thought a hot drink in general might be a good idea.

‘Caleb should be back soon.’ Leo said, humming to himself as the kettle boiled and he arranged cups.

‘Yeah, once he’s back we are gonna have a night in, order some pizza, watch a couple of movies, if that’s okay with you and Max.’ I told Leo.

‘Yeah, that sounds great!’ He came back in with 3 cups, just as Max came out of the spare bedroom.

‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were back, Ryan.’ He gestured toward the bedroom. ‘I was just tidying up a bit. We showered this morning and the contents of our suitcases basically ended up all over the floor.’

‘Oh, no worries. It’s fine.’ I shrugged.

‘Ryan is in a little bit of a sensitive state at the moment. Would you mind getting me one of the pillboxes from my suitcase please?’ Leo asked.

‘Yeah sure.’ Max nodded and headed back into the bedroom, emerging shortly afterward with a small box, which was translucent, so you could see it was split into 6 different sections. Only one of them had anything in.

‘Remember when you used to have issues and you were on that anxiety medication?’ Leo asked me.

‘Yeah?’ I had a feeling I knew what he was getting at, but I was hoping he wasn’t. The medication I was on, though effective, was also a cause of some major issues as well. I stopped taking it when I left my parents because I felt that I’d rather suffer with the limited amount of anxiety I had from day to day, than deal with the effects of the medication.

‘Well, there is an over-the-counter version, the side effects are really limited, and nowhere near as severe as the ones you had with the prescribed meds. It doesn’t work quite as well, but it’ll give you a bit of a pick me up.’ Leo explained. ‘Just take one, and within the hour you should be fine. The worst it can do is make you sleep.’ He reassured me. ‘Trust me.’ He looked at me and I gulped and nodded. I took one of the pills and popped it in my mouth, taking a drink of the coffee to wash it down. ‘Now we’ll see how you go.’

I was extremely aware that Max was in the same room, and had no idea what was going on. I wasn’t sure if I should explain, at least a little, but it appeared I didn’t need to.

‘Max, I know you have questions, and it’s completely understandable, but now isn’t the time to ask them. Another day, I’m sure Ryan would be more than happy to explain, but at the moment he needs to recover from the past few days, so if you could just let it lie for now, and leave it for another day, I would really appreciate it.’ Leo told Max, walking over to him.

‘Okay. I’m not that insensitive to ask now, anyway, but I can hold off on any questions.’ Max agreed.

‘Thank you.’ I said, directing it at them both.

At that point, Caleb walked in the door and, seeing me on the sofa, and my expression, walked straight over to me. ‘What happened? Are you okay?’ He began scanning my body from head to toe, looking for any visible sign of injury.

‘I’m fine, thanks to Leo. My dad was at the door when Josh dropped me home. Josh let me stay in the car while I called the house and Leo told him to leave.’ I explained. ’He’s gone now, unless he came back, but it was just a bit of a shock. He’s never normally back this soon.

‘Oh, God, I wish I had been here, it must have been awful for you. I’m sorry.’ Caleb apologised, looking at me like he needed forgiveness to go on living.

‘No need to apologise, you were at work, you couldn’t have possibly known, and you couldn’t be here. It’s not your fault.’ I told him.

‘So, shall we change the subject?’ Max suggested.

‘Smooth.’ I commented, beginning to feel slightly better. ‘But yeah, we really should. What are we doing about this pizza and movies?’ I asked, looking around at the other three.

‘Well I was thinking we could order a couple of pizzas, pick a couple of movies from our collection, and settle down to a nice night in.’ Caleb suggested.

‘Do you have The Sixth Sense?’ Max asked, looking slightly sheepish.

‘Yeah, why?’ I asked.

‘It’s our favourite movie.’ Leo commented. ‘Every time we have a movie night back home, we always include it somewhere. It’s a pretty major feature in our lives.’ Leo chuckled. ‘It sounds a little silly saying that out loud.’

‘No it doesn’t.’ I told him. ‘It’s a constant. Everyone likes consistency, as a species we don’t like change. In fact, some of us can’t cope with change. And it’s only natural you’d want to do something that’s so constant when you’re somewhere so far from home.’ I shrugged. ‘That’ll be the first movie we watch.’

‘Okay, and afterward?’ Caleb asked.

‘We’ll see how we go. We both have work in the morning, so late nights aren’t exactly on the agenda. If we have time, we can pick another movie, but until we’ve worked out if we’ve got enough time, we shouldn’t worry about it too much.’ I said, sighing. ‘Is it just me or is the room swaying?’

‘Oh crap.’ Leo slapped a hand to his forehead. ‘That’s one of the side effects from the anti-anxiety pill I gave him. It should pass shortly, but until then he’s gonna be pretty dizzy. Ryan, whatever you do, don’t stand up. If you do you’ll fall flat on your face.’ He sighed. ‘Why is he always so susceptible to side-effects?’

‘We don’t know. I never suffer from side-effects, unless they are really potent, but he just seems to get them with everything. Give him an antihistamine and he’ll be asleep within the hour.’ Caleb sighed. ‘Oh well, as long as it wears off in decent time it should be fine. I just wouldn’t advise giving him any more of those pills, not that I’m sure he’ll take any more off you after this.’

‘Guys, the room is now spinning.’ I said, beginning to panic.

‘It’s okay, just lay down and close your eyes.’ Caleb said, coming toward me and moving me so I was laid on the sofa. ‘Breathe slowly and deeply until it passes, you’re going to be fine. It’s just a side-effect. You’ll be okay in a little while.’

I put my hand out and gripped onto Caleb’s shirt. ‘Don’t leave me.’ I whined, sounding somewhat like a scared child.

‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m right here.’ Caleb promised, taking my hand and holding it between both of his.

I slowly breathed, counting each breath until the horrible feeling of spinning slowed, and, eventually, stopped. I didn’t dare sit up for a little while after that, but it wasn’t too long before everything seemed to stay in focus and I felt fine enough to move.

‘Okay, I’m fine, I’m fine.’ I assured myself, more than anyone else. ‘Though it’ll be a while before I trust any medication again.’

‘I don’t blame you.’ Caleb nodded.

‘Someone order the pizzas. I’m gonna stay here and try and not feel like I just got off a rather fast fairground ride, and Caleb, if you could set up the movie, that’d be great.’ I commanded.

‘We’ll order the pizzas.’ Leo said, tugging Max by the arm to the hallway where they could have some privacy. I figured they weren’t actually going there just to have some quiet while they were on the phone, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Every couple needed to have a chat in private every now and then, it wouldn’t be normal otherwise.

‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ Caleb asked me.

‘I’ve dealt with much worse things than a bit of a dizzy spell, Caleb. I’m stronger than you give me credit for.’ I said, shrugging. ‘I’m a bounce-back type of person. I can recover from anything anyone can throw at me.’

‘That’s very true. But you can take your time to bounce back. You’re good at recovering, but you’re also very easy to break.’ Caleb sighed. ‘That didn’t come out right, but you know what I mean. You’re fragile and strong at the same time, and that is confusing for me. I never know when you need help.’

‘I know what you mean.’ I assured him. ‘But you’re concern is misplaced. You shouldn’t be worrying about when I need help, you should be worrying about why I need help. Recovering is only half of the battle, dealing with the problem is the main way to keep me from relapsing.’ I explained.

‘That’s a very good point, and I’ll keep that in mind, but for now, do you need anything?’ He asked.

‘No, but thank you.’ I said, smiling. ‘I may need you in future though, if my dad comes back. I don’t want to face him today, and I have a feeling I’m not gonna shake him quite so easily this time.’

‘Well I’m sure between me and Leo, we can make sure you don’t have to face him if you don’t want to.’ Caleb said, placing a hand on my shoulder.

‘Thank you. Now set up the damn movie and stop going on about it.’ I said, grinning.

‘Yes, boss.’ Caleb bowed and headed toward the TV to set everything up, while I, hesitantly, stood up, hoping I didn’t get dizzy or fall over.

I took a few steps, to make sure I was fine, and then, more confidently, headed into the kitchen to get myself a glass of water. I was inexplicably thirsty and I didn’t want to end up dehydrated, because that would only cause more problems.

I headed back into the living room to find that Max and Leo had returned, and were chatting to Caleb, talking about what had happened in the past couple of years, and how things were now and having a general catch up. I couldn’t help but feel slightly left out, as I wasn’t included in that conversation, but I didn’t let it show. I just smiled and walked back to the sofa.

‘Everything ready?’ I asked.

‘Pizzas are ordered.’ Leo confirmed, smiling at me. ‘We were just having a catch-up with Caleb, swapping stories. We’ve had almost as much drama as you two lately.’ He joked.

‘That’s not all that difficult. It’s been relatively quiet since we moved in together. It’s before you stopped coming here when all the problems were here.’ I said, shrugging.

‘Very true.’ Caleb nodded. ‘I’m glad we’re past that now, though. That was a really difficult time.’

‘Indeed it was.’ I nodded.

‘Yeah, I could see the strain on you both.’ Leo nodded. ‘I mean, I wasn’t here all the time, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that there were a good few things that were wrong.’ He shrugged. ‘I’m glad you’re both in a better place though, it makes me happy to see you guys so settled and at peace.’

‘We’ve always been better together.’ I said, shrugging. ‘And the problematic element in my life is gone, mostly.’

‘I can see that.’ Leo nodded. ‘And I’m glad you’ve gotten away from it all.’

‘Well I haven’t met either of you before, but you look very happy together.’ Max commented, smiling.

‘That’s because we are.’ Caleb told him, and smiled at me, and for the first time that day, I beamed wholeheartedly.

‘So, what shall we do while we wait for the pizza?’ I asked, looking at the other three.

‘Well I don’t want to start the movie just yet, as I don’t want us to get interrupted at the start because of the pizza arriving.’ Caleb said, voicing my own thoughts. ‘So how about we just catch up for a little bit, you missed most of what we were talking about, Ryan, so if there’s no problem with Max and Leo, you can catch up with them while I make the drinks.’ He suggested.

‘Sounds like a plan.’ Leo nodded, and Max agreed.

So that was how I started listening to a long story of intense drama including a rather evil step-father, 2 big moves and an amazing re-connection. By the end I was almost in tears. Somehow it was both tragic and beautiful, and the happy ending was perfect. I felt like I was listening to a fairy tale, more than a recollection of actual events.

‘Wow, that’s… Amazing. I’m so happy for you guys.’ I told them, there was a lump in my throat as I spoke.

‘It’s been a rough ride, but we’re much happier now.’ Leo said, smiling at Max.

‘It really has been an insane year and a half. But things are so perfect now, and I’ve never been happier.’ Max said, beaming.

‘I’m so glad things have worked out, it’s so great that you are happy now after everything that’s happened.’ I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, to no avail.

A knock sounded at the door and Max got up. ‘I’ll get it, it’ll be the pizza guy.’

‘Oh, we should get the money for it, how much is it?’ I asked.

‘Don’t worry, it’s on us. You paid for the taxi last night, which I’m sure cost more than 2 pizzas.’ Max assured me, smiling. ‘It’s not very fair to make you pay for everything.’ He said, walking towards the door.

Once the pizza had been set on the table, and Caleb had came back with drinks for us all, we settled down to watch the movie. We turned the lights out, to give it more of a cinematic experience, and I pressed play on the remote.

By the time the movie had finished, and we were all full of pizza and milkshakes, it was getting late, so we decided not to watch another movie, as Caleb and I had work in the morning, but we told Leo and Max that we were happy for them to do so if they wanted to. They decided against it, and instead retreated to the spare room where they were staying. They weren’t going to sleep straight away, but they had brought laptops with them so they could keep in touch with everyone from home, and now was as good a time as any, as everyone would be awake at this point.

Caleb and I got into bed, and I fell asleep within minutes. The work day, the issues with my dad and the anti-anxiety pills and hearing the story of Max and Leo had me thoroughly exhausted.

The next morning I woke to my alarm, feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead. I showered in the morning again, something rapidly becoming a habit, and once finished got dressed and headed into the kitchen to find Caleb had prepared our lunches again. He was becoming somewhat of a culinary constant. I didn’t want to rely on him making my lunch every morning, but it was likely to become that way anyway, at the rate he was going.

‘Do you know what Leo and Max are planning to do today?’ I asked him.

‘No idea, but I’ve left them a note asking them to avoid the Cathedral, as I want us to take them there this evening. I think it would be something interesting we could all do together, because we’ve both been living here for some time, and neither of us has been before.’ He shrugged.

‘Sounds great, we should definitely do that together.’ I nodded.

‘Well, have a good day at work, and I will see you this evening. I should be finishing earlier today, hopefully, so I might even be home before you.’ Caleb informed me.

‘Oh, good. Well I’ll home the same time as usual, assuming Josh gives me a lift again.’ I said, shrugging.

‘Yeah. See you later.’ He kissed me on the cheek and I smiled.

‘Bye. Have a good day!’ I called as I walked to get my jacket. I walked out the door and, as I had guessed, Josh was waiting for me with the engine still running in the car.

‘Morning.’ I said, smiling, as I hopped in the passenger seat.

‘Morning.’ He said, pulling away from the kerb.

‘How was your evening?’ I asked him, trying to get some conversation going. I was beginning to tire of silent car journeys.

‘Pretty quiet. We just stayed in and watched some TV, yours?’

‘We had pizza and watched a movie, but there was a little drama. You were there for the issue with my dad, and then I took an anti-anxiety pill and got a massive dizzy spell, so that was interesting, and then Max and Leo told me about what’s gone on with them recently, which was a rather interesting story.’ I recounted the evenings events with a kind of awe.

‘Oh. Speaking of which, obviously there’s some issue with your dad, is it okay for me to ask about it?’ Josh asked.

‘It is, but I plan on explaining everything to you at some point, just not yet. At the moment I’m trying to remain as emotionally stable as possible while Max and Leo are here, and recounting my history is likely to cause me some problems. I’ve never been good with it, and telling people about it often ends in me having a breakdown, so if you don’t mind, can we put it off until next week at least?’

‘Sure, of course.’ Josh nodded. ‘I’m not going to push you to talk about it if it’s gonna cause an issue. I just wanted to know if it was a topic I should avoid or not.’ He shrugged.

‘It’s not too awful to talk about some things, but explaining the whole lot takes some time, and it’s not the best of stories. But I will explain it to you, but I would appreciate if you could be patient, just for now.’ I said, just as we arrived at work.

‘No worries, I can wait.’ He said, smiling at me.

‘Thanks, I appreciate it.’ I opened the door and got out of the car as he got out the other side and locked the doors.

We walked into the office and, as usual, I made our morning cup of coffee. I sat at my desk and looked through my emails. There wasn’t really all that much to do that day, but I tried to keep myself busy. I went at a slower pace than I had the past few days, and managed to stay busy all day.

When I got home, Caleb was already there, and was planning with Leo and Max as to what we were doing that evening. We ended up going to the Cathedral together, as we had planned that morning, as Leo and Max hadn’t gotten around to visiting it by that point.

‘Ew, creepy. Gargoyles.’ Max said as we approached the Cathedral.

‘They’re not all that creepy. They could be if they moved though.’ I chuckled.

‘They’re just weird. I’ve never liked them.’ He shrugged. ‘I think part of it might be from watching Gremlins as a kid, though.’

‘Yeah, that might put you off gargoyles a little bit.’ I mused as we walked through the doors.

It wasn’t quite as interesting as we expected. From the front it looks almost like a museum, however when you walk in you realise that it is, essentially, just a big church, which was still active. Of course, it was huge, and old, and quite amazing really, but none of us were very religious, so it proved of little significance to us.

We left after looking around briefly, not paying all that much attention to any of the details. It wasn’t quite as interesting as we thought it would be, so instead we decided to go for a coffee and have a bit of a chat.

‘Well that was a let-down.’ I sighed, looking around for the nearest café.

‘Yeah, it wasn’t all that great. Everyone makes it seem like it’s the biggest attraction here, but I’d much rather go somewhere fun.’ Caleb shrugged. ‘Maybe it’s just us.’

‘Yeah, but at least now we know, and we didn’t waste too much time in there.’ Leo said, trying to put a positive spin on things, as always.

‘Yeah, that’s true I guess.’ I agreed as we walked toward a café.

‘It’s good that we went though, we gave it a shot, it wasn’t our thing, so we left. Now we can say we’ve been, even if we didn’t really enjoy it. It’s one of those things where you are like the only people in the city who haven’t been, but now you have, so you don’t have to feel out of place.’ Max said. ‘If that makes any sense, I think I may have just confused myself.’

‘I get what you mean, don’t worry.’ I said, patting him on the shoulder, being jokingly condescending.

‘Glad someone does.’ He said, chuckling a little.

‘What can I get for you boys?’ Asked the woman behind the counter at the café.

‘I’ll have a latte.’ I said, looking to the others.

‘Cappuccino for me.’ Caleb added.

‘Mocha for me.’ Leo said, after scanning the menu.

‘I’ll have a latte as well.’ Max said, getting ready to talk out a wallet.

Before he had chance to take his wallet out, however, Caleb had already paid the woman and handed over his rewards card, which she scanned and gave him the receipt, which basically pointed out that the next drink he ordered would be free, if he used the points on his card.

‘That’s always a nice thing to happen.’ He said, smiling. ‘I basically have a free drink waiting for me to redeem it now.’

‘Yeah, it’s always great to get something for free.’ Max agreed, smiling.

‘It’s a rarity now as well. Getting anything for free is becoming increasingly unlikely.’ Leo said, shrugging. ‘But at least things like this still exist.’

‘You say that, but a lot of shops over here have a kind of rewards system for frequent shoppers.’ I argued.

‘Oh really?’ Leo asked, raising an eyebrow. ‘That’s quite surprising really, but I guess it’s a pretty good thing for them to do. I mean, getting something on top of what you have actually spent is pretty good.’

‘Yeah, it is.’ I agreed. ‘And it happens everywhere. We have rewards cards for cafés, supermarkets, bookshops, game shops, allsorts really. Some of them are hardly ever used, but the points stack up, so it’s good to keep them and eventually redeem them for a voucher or something for free or something. It’s always really great.’ I explained.

‘Yeah, I’ll bet it’s great when you get to that point and realise you have what is essentially free money to use in a shop you like.’ Max said.‘So, what are we going to do with the rest of the evening?’ Max asked, looking around at me, Caleb and Leo.

‘I don’t really know. We’ve seen the Cathedral, which was the main plan. I didn’t have a back-up plan.’ I admitted.

‘We could always do something that’s generally fun, like go bowling or something?’ Caleb suggested.

‘Sounds like a plan.’ Leo nodded, and we all agreed.

So not long after leaving the café, we were all stood looking down a bowling alley wearing odd shoes and feeling the different weights of various bowling balls.

After some deliberation, Max took his turn, using a ball he had decided was a good weight for him. He swooped toward the alley and swung his arm, letting go of the ball just above the lowest point, and watching as it rolled down the alley, knocking down 7 of the 10 pins.

He picked up another ball and carefully contemplated his next move. He looked at where the remaining pins were gathered and took aim. He repeated the motion, but span it too far in one direction and the ball fell into the gutter, rolling down and dropping off at the end.

‘Damn it.’ Max sighed, walking back toward the benches. ‘I’m really bad at going for one side.’ He muttered.

‘Don’t worry, I think we’ll establish how bad we all are soon enough.’ I told him as Leo took his turn.

We all took our turns and Max then returned to the alley looking a lot more confident in himself. Caleb and I hadn’t exactly done very well, and Leo had pretty much matched Max’s score.

Max took his next turn and so it kept passing around the four of us until, eventually, the game ended, and Max was declared the winner, with Leo following a close second, then a big gap with me and Caleb at the other end.

We didn’t really care all that much, as we just figured it was a bit of fun. We had some laughs and joked about various things and were happy just to be doing something where we could just relax and be with people we liked hanging out with. We knew we weren’t very good at bowling, so didn’t see the point in getting competitive about it.

We headed back home after that game, realising that by the time we got back, we’d probably have enough time to sit and chat for a little bit, before Caleb and I headed to bed for work in the morning.

When we got back, I noticed a figure stood outside the door. I took a deep breath, told the others to hang back a little, and walked toward them. Of course, it was who I expected.

‘Ryan! I’ve been trying to get hold of you for days!’ My dad said to me.

‘I don’t see why. Normally after you leave you’re gone for months. Why are you still here?’ I asked, almost spitting the words at him.

‘Because I need your help.’ My dad finally admitted what he’d been wanting all along, and I had expected it.

‘Well I don’t need you, and I don’t want to help you.’ I said, dismissing his request. ‘Now, I’ve made myself clear, and I expect you to understand that. I don’t want you here, I don’t want to see your face ever again after everything you’ve done, now leave and don’t come back.’ I told him.

He looked at me like I’d shot him. ‘Ryan, please...’ He said, softly.

‘No. You lost your right to ask me for help a long time ago. You should have thought of that when you raised your fist to me. You should have thought about it before you sold my stuff and blamed me, you should have realised that I wouldn’t be here for you when you needed me, because you, father dear, are a vile, poisonous person, who I hate. Now get away from my house.’ I told him, pointing in the general direction of away from me.

Surprisingly, he didn’t say another word, he simply walked away, and we all headed into the house.

‘Go you!’ Leo said, giving me a hug when we got inside. ‘You did it. You stood up to him.’

‘I did, didn’t I?’ I breathed, I was in shock still. I had never managed to stand up to my dad in my entire life, but that was somewhere between exhilarating and terrifying.

‘I’m so proud of you.’ Caleb said, smiling at me as he pulled me in for a hug the moment Leo had released me.

I breathed deeply, calming myself down and coming to the realisation that I had a power. I had an ability to use words in a way I’d never thought of before. I could tell people what I really thought of them. But I knew it wasn’t something I should do regularly, or for kicks. It was something I should keep for when I needed it. I wasn’t a mean, person, but my dad deserved that.

We chatted for a little bit before Caleb and I headed to bed, leaving Max and Leo watching TV.

That night, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. It took me a long time to get to sleep, and when I did finally fall asleep, I didn’t stay asleep for very long. I kept waking up at random intervals until my alarm went off and I got out of bed, not sure I was completely awake enough to do much.

I showered and dressed, and walked in the kitchen to Caleb doing his usual morning routine of making lunches.

We wished each other a good day, and I left, with my lunch and my jacket, to go to another day at work. I was still tired, but I tried not to let it show.

‘You’re quiet this morning.’ Josh commented on the way into work. He seemed to be getting used to me talking more during the car journeys to and from work.

‘I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep all that well last night.’ I shrugged. ‘It’s not a big deal. Some nights I just have difficulty sleeping.’

‘You really have everything wrong with you don’t you?’ Josh asked, chuckling slightly.

‘Meh. I have issues. I try not to let them get to me though. There’s more to life than self pity.’ I shrugged.

‘Oh yeah, totally. I mean, I have massive respect for you. A lot of people in your position would just sit moping for days on end.’ Josh clarified. ‘I’m sorry, I’m being offensive again aren’t I? I don’t mean to! I just say things and though I mean well, they kinda come out wrong and get me into trouble. It’s really not a good thing, but most people seem to understand and are generally fine.’ He sighed, tying himself up in knots to try and explain himself.

‘Relax. It’s fine.’ I told him as we walked into the office. ‘I’m not going to bite your head off for it. I don’t think I even have the energy to, to be honest.’ I sat down at my desk and Josh went to make the morning coffees instead. I was hoping for a quick pick-me-up, but I wasn’t sure it would work. Caffeine could only do so much for a person.

‘Here you go, hopefully it will wake you up.’ Josh said, smiling.

‘Yeah, with any luck it’ll help.’ I nodded, taking a sip and instantly regretting it. The coffee was still seriously hot, and it burned my lips. I grimaced and put the cup down, leaving it to cool while I checked my emails and flagged the more important ones to be dealt with immediately.

I systematically worked through all my emails that day until my inbox, for the first time since starting at the company, was completely empty. I sat back and looked at the empty inbox with pride and a sense of achievement. It didn’t last long though, as within less than a minute, another email came through, and then another, and then another. That was an unusual amount of activity, but it all seemed legitimate, so I got to work once again.

Eventually the day ended, and though I didn’t get to completely empty my inbox again, I was very close by the end of the day, and figured I might be able to achieve it the next day again. Josh drove me home and I arrived and collapsed on the sofa.

‘I want to sleep for a week.’ I informed the room, which happened to have Max in it. Leo was in the kitchen, I could hear cups being moved.

‘Long day?’ Max asked, sounding sympathetic.

‘Try no sleep and a long day.’ I groaned, rolling over to face the back of the sofa, my back to the rest of the room.

‘Well, mister, you’ll just have to have a nap and then be perky and happy, because Max and I are treating you and Caleb to a meal this evening. So go to bed, we’ll wake you up in an hour and a half for you to get ready, and then we’ll go out.’ Leo said as he walked into the room.

‘Why an hour and a half?’ I asked.

‘Because 90 minutes is the optimum time for a sleep cycle.’ Max told me. ‘It’s sleep psychology. We spend 90 minutes in each cycle, there are like 5 stages we go through in each cycle or something, and the last one is REM sleep, when it’s easiest to wake us.’ He explained.

‘Of course it is. I remember reading about that, but I completely forgot.’ I sighed as I got up off the sofa. ‘Well make sure you wake me up.’

‘Oh don’t worry, we will.’ Leo told me, as I walked into the bedroom.and undressed. I climbed into the bed and fell asleep almost immediately.

A little while later, I was gently shaken awake by Caleb, who was looking at me rather sympathetically. ‘Wake up, mister. You need to get ready, we’re going out to dinner.’ He told me.

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. I felt sluggish, but I had a feeling that I would perk up shortly, which was good. I got out of the bed and started looking through the wardrobe for something to wear. I picked out some clothes and put them on, slowly, while Caleb went to inform the others that I was getting ready and shouldn’t be too long.

Within around 15 minutes I was ready, and headed out to see the others. I wasn’t quite as tired by this point, and my energy was beginning to come back to me. I rubbed my eyes to clear them of the weird goo stuff that always seemed to accumulate while sleeping, and walked, with the others, to the front door.

It turned out, Max and Leo had hired a taxi to take us to one of the better restaurants in town for us to have a good meal together. They were definitely spending more than they should be, but they didn’t seem to care, so I left them to it. I didn’t really know their financial situation, and wasn’t really interested enough to ask about it, I was just happy to be spending some time with friends.

We all ordered our meals, and I ordered an espresso to be brought to the table as soon as possible. A shot of espresso would likely help my body wake up, and I didn’t particularly want to fall asleep face down in a plate of carbonara.

They brought my espresso within minutes, and followed up with the general drinks. I had ordered coca-cola to drink with my meal. I didn’t drink alcohol, so wasn’t interested in the wine menu, and other than the espresso, I couldn’t face another cup of coffee that day. I was beginning to think my blood cells had been replaced with caffeine by that point.

Luckily, the espresso did it’s job, and by the time the food came I was my usual, chatty self. Though I had to prepare myself for a major caffeine crash later in the evening, but that would be perfect for me to fall asleep with that night, so I was almost glad that I knew that was coming.

We ate and chatted and when we were finished, Max asked the most amazing question I had heard all day.

‘Dessert?’

We looked through the dessert menus and I picked the millionaire shortbread cheesecake with ice-cream and chocolate sauce. The others didn’t go quite as lavish, Max went for a brownie with ice cream, Leo chose a slice of chocolate fudge cake and Caleb went with an old fashioned banana split.

Of course, once desert was over, we were all ready to burst, so Max and Leo paid, after a lot of protesting from Caleb and I, and then we left. We headed back home in another taxi, which was probably a good idea because at that point walking home seemed like an impossibility for me, at least.

We got home and I shook my head. ‘I’m sorry guys but I’m going straight to bed. I’m tired, and I have work in the morning. Thanks for an amazing meal, but if I don’t go to bed now I’m going to fall asleep standing up.’ I walked toward the bedroom after Max and Leo had assured me it was fine, and not long after I was joined by Caleb. I climbed into bed and he said something to me, but I didn’t quite hear what it was, because I was already in the grips of sleep, and couldn’t focus on the outside world. My eyes fluttered shut and I feel into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The shrill sound of my alarms startled me and I sat, bolt upright, in bed. I breathed and turned my alarm off, getting out of bed and heading straight for the bathroom. I could feel that today would be a better day. I was more awake, more alert, and raring to go. Once showered and dressed, I picked up a banana out of the fruit bowl that was sat on one of the counters and headed outside with my lunch, made by Caleb as usual, and my jacket. I got into Josh’s car and smiled.

‘Good morning!’ I chirped.

‘I’m losing track with you. Good night’s sleep?’ He asked.

‘I had an excellent night’s sleep.’ I informed him, smiling.

‘Glad to hear it.’ Josh chuckled, driving away toward work.

‘So, how was your evening?’ I asked him.

‘It was fine. Liam seems to be warming more to the idea of the four of us spending some time together. He seems to have gotten over his jealousy and is now more interested in actually spending time with you guys and getting to know you. I think he’s finally realised that we’re just friends, even if we did become quite close in a short space of time.’ Josh told me.

‘Oh, well that’s good news. I was beginning to worry about him, but the other day seemed to go quite well, so I’m glad he’s showing more of an interest now.’ I smiled, everything seemed to be improving.

‘Are your guests enjoying themselves?’ Josh asked me.

‘Max and Leo? Oh yeah, they’re having a great time. We went out for a meal last night, it was amazing. They actually took me and Caleb out to thank us for letting them stay and stuff, and they took us to this amazing restaurant, and it was great.’ I smiled.

‘They sounds like pretty amazing people.’ Josh commented.

’They are. I mean, I know Leo is, I don’t know Max all that well, but Leo really loves him, and if that’s the case, he has to be great. Leo isn’t the type to fall for a bad boy.’Once I had gotten home that day, I had a chat with Max, Leo and Caleb, suggesting that we go out sometime with Josh and Liam, after much deliberation and explanation, everyone finally agreed that it could result in a fun time, and I called Josh to ask him about it.

Josh eagerly agreed, and told me he would speak to Liam about it, and let me know later that evening.

Surprisingly, I got a text from Josh not long after telling me Liam had happily agreed and we could all go out on Saturday.

I sent him a quick confirmation text and assured him that the four of us would make our own way to wherever we were meeting, as we wouldn’t all fit in his car, to which he agreed.

By this point I was quite eager about the whole situation, old friends and new friends together with myself and Caleb. It would definitely prove to be an interesting evening, if nothing else.

Of course, when Saturday arrived, I realised that it wasn’t the smartest idea I’d ever had.

By that point we had agreed a time and place, and the four of us arrived slightly early to the bar where we were meeting, before going bowling, playing pool, and then returning to the bar for a final chat.

We were sat in a booth when Josh and Liam arrived, and I greeted them quite enthusiastically. At this point, everything was fine.

They sat down, we got some drinks, and we started chatting, And this was where problems arose.

It quickly became clear that, while Leo and Josh were quite chatty types and would happily talk to most people, Max and Liam were not so eager to talk to strangers. There was some effort needed.

Without speaking to each other, Caleb and I were both on the case. I got talking to Liam, while Caleb struck up a conversation with Max, we didn’t want them to feel left out or uncomfortable, and with any luck we’d be able to merge the conversations and get them talking to each other.

That didn’t end up happening.

Instead, I ended up with everyone wanting my input on something and being split between three conversations, and trying not to explode with sheer frustration. I had Max asking me about whatever he and Caleb were talking about, Josh asking me how long I had known Max and Leo and my original conversation with Liam was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

Liam, luckily, didn’t seem to mind that I was breaking off from him to say quick things to the others, and then remind them I was talking to him and return to our conversation. He was a genuinely interesting guy, and I didn’t want to abandon our conversation, or make it appear that I was doing so, and so I returned every time.

As we were about to leave to go bowling, Liam pulled me aside quickly.

‘I appreciate what you did back there.’ He told me, smiling.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘You talked to me so I wouldn’t feel left out.’ He replied.

‘No, I talked to you because you’re interesting. I kept talking to you by choice, I wanted to talk to you. I will admit that I started the conversation hoping to get you talking to other people, but I was more than happy to remain talking to you because I was interested in the conversation.’ I explained. ‘Don’t think that I was only talking to you to make you feel better.’

‘Oh. Well I’m glad to hear it.’ Liam’s smile widened and I nodded. ‘Now let’s go, we don’t want to be starting rumours.’ I winked at him and then walked away, heading towards the doors of the bar and stepping out into the evening air.

There was a chill in the air, and I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my jacket. Before I could say anything, though, Caleb had already removed his own jacket and was holding it out to me.

‘Thanks.’ I said, smiling as I put the jacket on, it was leather, and smelled of him, and I always loved wearing it because of those 2 facts.

When we spent periods of time apart, he would give me this jacket to keep for the time, and I found comfort in it. Caleb had a comforting presence, and having his jacket was like having a part of him with me all the time.

Within minutes, any tension that had built up because of the situation in the bar had released, and I was breathing normally. I felt thoroughly relaxed and ready to continue the evening’s events.

The next place we went to was a bowling alley. We spent some time getting shoes and setting up with the correct names and we all got something to drink before getting ready to start.

As there were six of us, I knew it was going to lead to an interesting scoreboard, probably with myself and Caleb on the bottom.

We took turns starting with Caleb, then going to Max, Liam, Josh, Leo and then, finally, me.

We each took our turns, and I began to realise that I wasn’t doing completely dismally, but Caleb was still bringing up the rear. I was somehow ahead of both Josh and Max, Leo and Liam were above me, though, and Caleb was falling very far behind. Luckily, everyone seemed to be having fun, including Caleb, who was celebrating with me about how well I was doing rather than focusing on his own low score.

It took us around 45 minutes to finish the game, and the leader board had remained in the same order for most of the game. I came in at a respectable third, Liam was first, followed by Leo, and then below me was Max and then Josh, and finally Caleb, who still seemed rather impressed with his own score, as it was a personal best for him.

After bowling we headed to the bar that Caleb and I had been to with Josh and Liam the previous Sunday to play pool. We were prepared for the fact that there were only 2 tables, in that we would play winner stays on, so we would have 2 people on each table, and the losers would swap with whoever wasn’t playing. However, if someone won more than 3 games in a row, they would swap instead as it would be unfair that they were playing every game. It seemed an elegant system, and worked quite well.

We played a total of around 10 games of pool before sitting down to just have a drink and a chat, though we didn’t bother keeping score of who won the most games, or anything like that, as not everyone played the same number of games and, though the system worked fine, it wasn’t completely fair.

This time we managed to get people talking to each other, so Caleb and I weren’t required quite as much as no one was too reserved about talking to other people within the group. Of course, part of that was because they had slowly gotten around to talking to each other over the course of the evening. ***

Again we stepped outside and the chill was evident. The night was beautiful, though. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the air was crisp and clean, stars filled the black void above us, and the moon hung full and bright in the night sky. I was awed by the night, I had never seen one so perfect. It was amazing, and I was sharing it with some wonderful people.

I moved over to Caleb’s side and spoke quietly so only he could hear me. ‘Shall we go to the park?’ I asked. Leo looked over at us but didn’t say anything. I noticed a rueful smile playing around his lips though.

‘Sure, let’s get Max and Leo back first though.’ Caleb agreed.

So we headed home, dropped Max and Leo off and told them we were going for a walk, just as a couple, we tried to explain to them that, though we enjoyed their company, we needed some alone time, and they understood completely.

We took an old picnic blanket with us and headed to the nearby park. I spread the blanket out across the grass, and Caleb and I laid on it, looking up at the infinite void beyond.

‘It’s amazing.’ Caleb whispered, not wanting to break the mood.

‘It’s awe inspiring.’ I agreed.

I felt his hand as it grabbed mine and our fingers interlocked as we looked up at the vastness of space, and for a brief, shining moment, I felt like I was on top of the world. Capable of anything. Like I would never be questioned again. Like I could achieve anything. For one moment I was someone who was going to get their dream job, jet set around the world, do amazing things and meet amazing people and all of it was because of the man next to met and how he made me feel. Without him, by this point in time, I would be a nervous wreck, with no ambition, no friends, very little personality and a whole load of anxiety.

We laid there for a while, until I realised that if I laid there any longer, I was going to fall asleep.

I sat up and Caleb moved closer to me, wrapping his arms around me. I got caught up in the moment again, despite knowing that we should probably leave soon.

After a few more minutes we got up, folded the blanket up and left. We walked back to the house and went to bed. Max and Leo were watching TV, but we were tired after a long week and wanted a relatively early night.

I awoke the next morning and realised Max and Leo would be leaving that evening. It was sad, but I knew they needed to go, and was grateful of the time we had spent together. So naturally, that morning, I was clinging to Leo telling him not to leave and to stay with us forever.

‘Ryan!’ Leo laughed. ‘You know we can’t stay here!’ He pushed me off and I sighed.

‘I know, it’s a shame though.’ I huffed.

‘We’ll come and visit again sometime.’ Max reassured me. ‘We’ll try and organise it once a year or something.’

‘Well that’s better than nothing.’ I nodded. ‘Though I still wish you could stay longer. It’s been great having you guys here, we’ve had a lot of fun.’

‘That’s true. Just stay in touch, yeah? You have our email addresses and stuff, and if we’re ever awake at the same time, I’m sure we can do a video call or something.’ Leo suggested.

‘Yeah, maybe. It’s like the next best thing I guess.’ I shrugged.

‘Yeah, well until we come back, it’s the best we can do.’ Leo told me, before hugging me. ‘It’s nice that you want us here, and don’t think we won’t miss you guys, we’ve had a great time, but we have a lot to go back to, and we can’t abandon everything to stay here.’

‘I know.’ I shook my head. ‘It’s just me being silly.’

‘We have had a great time though, and it was great meeting you both. You made me feel so welcome, and you took me into your home and now I feel so comfortable here it’s amazing. You guys are great.’ Max said, hugging both me and Caleb.

‘I’m glad you feel that way.’ Caleb said to him. ‘Our house is your house. You’re both welcome whenever you want, I know it’s a long journey, but next time you come over, you can stay here again if you want to. We’ll always welcome you with open arms.’

‘Thank you, we appreciate it.’ Leo said, smiling.

‘Well it’s the least we can do considering you’re travelling thousands of miles to get to us.’ I said, laughing a little.

‘Well, that is true.’ Max joked, nudging my shoulder with his own. ‘It’s worth it though.’ He added, smiling at us both.

‘Best compliment I’ve ever gotten.’ I sang, walking into the kitchen, away from the living room. I had a feeling that if I stayed there I was going to get emotional, and I hated doing that in front of people.

After a few minutes, Caleb came to check on me, leaving Leo and Max discussing their travel plans in the living room.

‘Are you okay?’ He asked me.

‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ I sniffed, dabbing at my eyes with a tissue. ‘I just got a little emotional, you know me, I try not to get all blubbery in front of people.’ I shook my head, and continued wiping my eyes.

‘Oh come here.’ Caleb said as he walked over to me and gathered me up in his arms. ‘Dry your eyes, mister, this isn’t a crying time.’

‘I know, I just can’t help it.’ I sniffed. ‘I’m somehow both happy, and sad, and it’s confusing and I’m a bit of a wreck.’ I shook my head. ‘Why am I always like this?’ I asked of no one in particular.

Eventually, I calmed down and we headed back into the living room and got back to discussing the journey of Max and Leo.

We had decided we’d just stay in today until they had to leave, so we put a movie on and stuffed our faces with snacks and drinks.

In the end we watched 3 movies and ate a whole load of food including pizza, ice cream and a truck load of biscuits and crisps. Then, it was finally time to say goodbye. Their taxi was going to be arriving within a few minutes, and we needed to say goodbye properly. I knew it would be difficult, but I still needed to do it, so I hugged them both, told them to keep in touch, and to let us know they got home safely. I smiled as they walked toward the door with their cases. Caleb and I waved to them from the doorway as they got in the taxi, and watched as it headed down the road.

I stood there for a few moments, staring at where the taxi had escaped from my field of vision. I was transfixed for some time before I finally snapped myself out of it and headed inside, closing the door behind me. Caleb gave me a hug and reassured me that everything would be fine, that they would keep in touch and be back next year, and I let him. It wasn’t easy to convince me that everything was fine, but I was sick of resisting the positivity people tried to instill in me. I was tired of seeing all doom and gloom and convincing myself everything in the world was wrong. I wanted this blind happiness that everyone else had, I wanted to believe things would be okay, despite evidence otherwise, I wanted to be able to relax and not get emotional every few minutes. I was tired, so incredibly tired, of being sad.

So I stood there, clutching the back of Caleb’s shirt, and allowing myself to believe, for one shining moment, that everything was going to be okay. That one year from now they would be here again, that everything was going to work out as planned. I wasn’t going to be cynical, or destructive, or upset, I was going to be positive, and happy, and believe in the goodness of the people around me. Because, although I have had some crap things happen in the past, not everyone out to get me. Some people were honestly good, and I had to remember that.

Shortly after Max and Leo had left, Caleb and I headed to bed, as no matter what, we still had work the next morning, and would have to get up early. I found it difficult to get to sleep that night, but after a while I fell into a deep sleep.

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