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Declan lay, in bed, awake.

The last thing he wanted was for this day to begin. Although he had grown to learn from his fellow inpatients and rehab itself, he couldn’t shake the shame of having to spend his eighteenth birthday within the confines of this rehabilitation center. To think, a year ago, he was cursing Gable’s name for not giving his birthday enough attention… Hell, a year ago, he was completely healthy.

The ceiling mocked him. Yelling expletives at him, shaming him of doing this to himself.

“Why,” It screamed at him, “why did you have to go and fuck everything up?”

He covered his face with his pillow almost as if to smother himself. The piercing reprehension slammed him deeper into the mattress he laid upon. He began losing control, as he sunk further into the seemingly endless abyss.

He couldn’t breathe, his ears resonated with the shrieking emanating from the ceiling, the mattress began to envelop him. The ceiling began to close in on him, the thunderous roaring grew nearer… Nearer.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” A choir awoke him.

He inhaled deeply, his eyes wider than a deer’s before it meets an untimely death at the hand of an oncoming vehicle. He looked around. He could see people all around him. As he surveyed the room again, he realized he was surrounded by his fellow inpatients. His chest slowed, a huge smile formed on his face.

Perhaps, it was that he hadn’t been crushed by the ceiling, but he felt almost relieved to be around all of them; even the ones he’d grown to loathe. They sang to him, and distributed party favors. Cupcakes, juice, and the like.

He felt the warmth radiating from them. They were sincerely happy for him, and that was more than he could say for any of his other friends. More than he could say about his own parents. Would they even call today?

“Just meet me outside of the movie theater,” read the message.

Declan had been running around Rio Rojo, foraging and shopping for the perfect present for Gable’s birthday. After much deliberation, he decided on Taylor Swift’s new CD, a few shirts, and, last, but certainly not least, ten bottles of his favorite cologne from Adex Inc.

He, smoothly, pulled into the parking lot of the theater, and made sure to park somewhere recondite. He and Gable had become much more vigilant about the secrecy of their relationship, since having to defuse the situation with their friends a few weeks back. Had it not been for Emeli, they wouldn’t even be talking to each other anymore.

Gable’s car slid up next to him. He got out of his, and got into it.

“Happy seventeenth birthday, Gabe.” Declan smirked coyly as he handed him two gift bags.

Gable’s eyes lit up. He wasn’t big on celebrating his birthday, or on getting presents, but this meant more to him than he could have ever fathomed. He grabbed Declan from the back of his neck and pulled him in for a kiss.

He began to look through the gift bags like a child would on Christmas morning. His eyes glowed with sheer excitement, independent from the fluorescent street lights shining down upon them. Every time he’d produce something from them, he’d give Declan the warmest of smiles.

“You done good, babe,” Gable kissed him again, “Thank you so much.”

Declan beamed with pride; his confirmation was all he needed.

“I’m glad you liked your present. At first, I had no idea what to get you, which is why…”

“You remembered what I told you I was wearing at that party!” Gable smiled and shook his head, “You’re so good to me.”

They kissed again.

“Well, I don’t mean to spoil this moment, but I have to get back in there,” he looked down at the presents, “Robert and I are here… On, kind of… A double date.”

Declan furrowed his brow.

“No, it’s not what it sounds like,” he reassured him, “you know… Robert… He’s… I mean… You know how socially awkward he is. I’m just here for support, and that girl brought her friend… It’s nothing, I promise.” He kissed him again.

“Okay. Robert is lucky to have a friend as selfless as you.” Declan smiled towards him.

Gable looked at Declan. He wished with his every fiber in his being that this all could be simpler. He wished that there wasn’t such a strong social stigma against homosexuality. He wished that he and Declan could runaway, and never come back… But that was far too egregious of a solution. He knew that.

“Shit… Shit…” Gable began to mutter as he saw the reflection in his rearview mirror; Robert and the two girls they’d come with were walking back towards his car, “How’d they know where I parked…” He hissed.

“Is everything okay?” Declan looked at him, worriedly.

“Fuck.. Get in your car, and drive,” Gable urged him, “Hurry!”

Declan obeyed his instructions. He briskly got out, climbed into his unlocked vehicle, turned on the engine, looked at Gable one last time, and drove off in huff.

“You’re kidding, right?” Karen raised her eyebrow.

Declan had his arms resting on the table, crossed. He sighed, shook his head, and placed his chin upon them.

“I don’t know much about him, but he sounds like a piece of shit, thus far,” she sat back in her seat.

He should’ve known back then that Gable was a deeply conflicted individual. Be that as it may, his faith in him had remained unwavering. Almost as if he’d let their summer charge his lungs and mind with half truths and empty promises.

“Did he explain himself?” She probed.

“To an extent, but I never really brought it up. The excuse he gave me was enough.”

“What was that?”

“That he didn’t want them to see me, lest they brought up questions he wasn’t ready to answer.” He shrugged.

“I’m so over you shrugging.” She observed.

He desperately needed to work on that; it was an involuntary tick. Dr. Anderson must’ve noticed by now, as well. It wasn’t as if he had made any effort to ever hide it.

“Well… Alright,” She squinted her eyes, and pointed her spoon at him, “What did he give you for your birthday?”

Declan’s heart sank. He could remember that day vividly.

He had been waiting all day for one text. His text. He began wondering why Gable had yet to wish him a happy birthday. Wasn’t the point of being in a relationship actually having someone to share occasions like this with?

He paced around his room, waiting… Wishing… Longing for Gable to text him. All he wanted was one text message. He’d begun to realize that he couldn’t ask much out of him, and that he was better off lowering his expectations; to treasure what little he gave, but this? This was nonsense.

It wasn’t until a while later that Gable’s name flashed on the outside screen of his phone.

Happy Bday,” was all the text read. He snapped it closed, without missing a beat.

How could he be so insensitive? His head prickled. True, that’s all he wanted, but, now that he’d received it, it seemed like too little, too late.

He shook his head as he walked around his room. His phone, the closest thing to him, was what took the worst of the beating. He threw it against the wall, and melted onto the carpeted floor.

Tears of frustration coursed down his face onto his quivering chin; Gable’s insensitivity dug into his stomach like a dirty dagger infecting his organs. His heart hurt, as if it were being ripped out of him; he didn’t deserve this.

Why was he letting him get so underneath his skin? Why was he so reliant on his validation? It was ludicrous that someone could have so much influence on his emotions.

It was silly, for him to let this affect him so, but he allowed the tears to accrue into a river of desolation. He wallowed in his immiseration into the darkest hours of the night, before he rested his eyes and floated into a deep, sullen, slumber.

“Seriously?” Karen cocked her head, “That’s kind of pathetic, you can’t let someone get to you like that, Declan.”

The corners of Declan’s mouth pulled downward. It was true; it was incredibly immature for him to have let minutia such as that get to him on such an emotional level. Here he was, in rehab, whilst there were people dying elsewhere in the world. It was incredibly self-involved of him.

“I know that now,” he conceded.

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