You’re twelve; a quiet, bashful albeit creative and friendly twelve year old. The pubescent redhead you’d spied on at the mess hall; swallowing what seemed like all the food the cook had cooked that morning, was over at the golf course; his movements graceful, agile and fluid. You never held much fascination for the sport; always preferring any game where running was involved. Though your ‘choice’ was only due to the Colonel’s persistence that any man; particularly one who was on his way to serve in the army, and most particularly his son, had to be the champion quarterback in army school. That was the way you’d always lived; listening, accepting, doing and never questioning your father’s words.
The redhead looked over and saw you and proceeded to walk towards you; all the while munching on a candy bar he’d fished out from his pocket. Even back then, you wondered how someone who always ate like a starving man could stay so thin. He sat next to you, the thin, tall teenager; smiled and shook your hand. Visiting his uncle, who was the cook, he said, since it was summer vacation. You explained about how you lived with your father; how you’d moved all over the country, from base to base. You spoke about this, you spoke that; and from that moment on, Reid Oliver became your friend.
You’re sixteen; and you stared with an equal mix of anxiety, amusement and fear as Reid, on winter break from medical school, flirted unabashedly with a guy they’d just met when they were roaming about lazily in Central Park. It had never bothered you that he was gay; but if your father ever found out about your best friend….
Best friend. You could certainly call him that. Though older than you; even though your correspondences over four years had been limited to more number of phone calls than actual meetings, he was your one true friend until now. You were so different than him; he being everything you were not: secure, confident and free in the way you did not feel you ever would be. He felt about medicine the way you felt about movies; though he’d detested the comparison, stating that his profession certainly didn’t put him to sleep. And that’s what he did on all the occasions you watched one of your classics together; fallen asleep. You didn’t seem to share any common ground with him. Your favourite sport was football; Reid’s was chess, him claiming that he didn’t get what was so amusing about kicking a ball. He’d always been forthright and brutally honest; you being awkward and tongue-tied on most occasions. Sarcasm was his forte; it was something at which you sucked. Your favourite Harry Potter character was Snape; since you loved the complexity of his actions and felt for his predicament. Reid loved Ron since he was a brilliant chess player.
You shared your feelings with him; about how you wanted to go to film school, and how your father wanted you to join the army. He’d sympathized; all the while insisting that you go on with your aspirations, and to deal with your father’s wrath later. He’d never really understood that part about you; the part which craved for your father’s pride, and acceptance.
You were the first person he came out to; stating his sexuality with a calm, carefree, unapologetic air. You remember how, once; a mutual friend had asked why you two were not ‘together’. You spluttered that you were not gay; Reid smirked and said that it was because you were a clueless dunderhead. You thought of your father; of the feelings that had questioned you over the years; and the way you shut them out; all due to your fear of the man who raised you.
You remember your father thundering to your room one day; and demanded what was going on between you and Reid. He’d seen the fag, he spat out, outside a gay bar in town. You assured him that you were not gay; all the while feeling your heart bleeding; breaking with your father’s words; for you’d surely known what was about to come. He threatened that if he so much as heard a word about the boy; he would disown you; cut you off from your only family. You remembered how you wept in your bed that night; and how you ignored all further calls from Reid; refusing to meet him; deliberately vanishing whenever he was in the same place as you. You would not forget the agony you’d felt when the calls and visits stopped gradually; and Reid Oliver slipped away from your life.
That Summer; you left for Oakdale, Illinois, clutching your internship letter from WOAK, and only the memory of your lost friendship; unaware that your life was about to change; that you would never be the same Noah Mayer again.
* * *
He’d sauntered into the room; in all his bossy and impatient glory; and you fell over yourself with your awkward manner; him brushing you away, neither of you knowing that you were to be the focal point of each other’s lives from that moment. Your less-than-impressive entrance into his life was soon forgotten in the wake of his feelings for you. You in turn battled with your own conflicting feelings; as you noticed and admired things about Luke that, surely, no ‘normal’ man would: like the way he smiled; light falling on his blond hair and giving it an ethereal, beautiful glow; the curve of his mouth; the sound of his laugh; how cute his dimples were and how much you wanted to look into those amber eyes and drown in those swirling pools of green and brown.
Your panicked self waved the danger flag and found the only way to redeem itself for its traitorous thoughts; sleeping with your only other friend: Maddie. Deep down, you knew it had been all wrong; but you convinced yourself saying that it was your first time; and that it would get better. You introduced her as your girlfriend to a crushed Luke; who revealed his feelings for you, and though your heart somersaulted with glee at his admission; you brushed him off with the same comment you’d given your father when he’d enquired about you and Reid. You brushed off too; your own want and frustration, by soaking in the praise and love you rarely ever received from your father, which you’d basked in when you introduced your ‘girlfriend’ to him. You told yourself that your father’s approval was enough; that your misguided affections would soon wane away.
But what you hadn’t counted on was how your heart seemed to be determined to overthrow caution. You hadn’t counted on falling into Luke’s arms; how your heart seemed to be doing flip flops; and how, if Maddie hadn’t come in, you most definitely would have leaned in and…
For every blow that treacherous organ dealt to you; you paid back double: you decided to move in with Maddie, convincing her to go to college with you, pouring words of devotion into her ears that must have been directed elsewhere, surely.
And Luke; unwaveringly joined your heart to fight with you; for you. He wanted you, wanted something that had been missing in his life until that point; and that day as you looked at him as he adjusted your tie; looked into those beautiful, large, open eyes; his mouth so close; surely nothing else would have made sense than to lean in and capture those lips for a kiss. And that’s what you did; your first moment of freedom after so long ago. It would remain the single most momentous deed of your life.
You fought feebly still; it was now more of a formality really, for you wanted this too. You wanted Luke. And so it was that with your second act of recklessness; all passion and warmth and urgency and tongues melting into each other, your father caught you. You still vividly recalled the dread you felt, and even the odd feeling of relief that he knew; consequences be damned.
You had never felt as happy as that brief time when your father had apparently accepted you and your budding relationship with Luke. The last time you’d felt anything even marginally close to this was during your escapades with Reid. You brushed off thinking about Reid; because it was too painful; and instead focused on the impending fishing trip with the two most important people in your life.
* * *
Numb. There was no other word that would express the way your insides felt. Luke, your Luke was lying in a hospital bed, put there by your own father. Luke, looking so fragile and small and yet almost unbearably beautiful, trying to convince you that it was not your fault, that you were free to walk away. And it was then that your moment of stunning clarity came; you were going to do this. You didn’t want to fight for the affection of a misguided father anymore.
And that was more or less what you’d told your father when you went to meet him in prison. And then Luke had come in, the sight of him in a wheelchair still tugging at your heartstrings. He’d wheeled in; and boldly and emotionally asserted his love for you. You stood in stunned silence; for even though that was what you were: in love; you could not say it. Not just yet. But you could show it to Luke. And so you’d turned your back on the Colonel; walking off with your boyfriend, your being filled with hope that things could only get better.
* * *
And things did get better. Luke healed; slowly, but surely; your patience and determination playing perfect foil to his frequent moments of despair and embarrassment.
Soon he abandoned the wheelchair; using crutches; and his confidence grew. Your relationship too intensified; and you finally knew that this was what true happiness was all about. You gave a card to Luke for Christmas, the few words you’d written telling him everything you’d been unable to voice. He looked into your eyes and admitted that he was so in love with you; and you breathlessly muttered, “Same here”. His resulting smile was all you could see as you leaned in for a kiss under the mistletoe; and in a faraway corner of your mind, you saw Reid smirking, muttering that it was about bloody time you did what you wanted.