FREE FICTION FRIDAY: IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING CH 29: NEON SIGNS

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Hi Everyone,

Sorry for my absence last week – I have no excuse except forgetfulness!

Through the month of March I had my daughter home from the UK for three weeks and so I prepped my posts in advance to free up my time, and clearly three weeks is all it took for me to get out of the habit of organising my free fiction flash!

But like a bad smell….. I’m BACK!!!!!!!

Here’s my flash with the Free Fiction Friday Group!

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IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING

( IYLS )

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SUMMARY

David and Jesse are childhood friends who get separated in their teens but meet up again at university in Newcastle, Australia.

They soon find out that though some things remain the same, other change… oh boy, do they change.

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Previously

And then I did it. Something I’d once promised myself I would never do. I begged.

“Please, Jeremy, don’t do this. Don’t push me away. Don’t give up on me… on us. Please… I can be patient… I can wait. Please give us a chance.” I love you!

“David, I can’t lie to you. I hate the fact that you’re going to have a drink with the guy, but at the same time, you wouldn’t be my Davie if you didn’t do the right thing by him.” His eyes were on his hands as they twined and untwined themselves in his lap, but all I could hear was his ‘my Davie’ and in an instant I was on the floor, kneeling before him.

“Jeremy, you can trust me. I would never betray you, never, and I most certainly wouldn’t do anything to intentionally hurt you, not ever.” I placed my face on his thighs, beyond dignity, beyond pride. “Tell me what you want. Do you want me to go back to my flat afterward, or do you want me to come here?”

“Come here,” he whispered, and I hoped he couldn’t feel the relieved moisture filling my eyes on his bare skin.

*****

CHAPTER 29: NEON SIGNS

“What’s up, David?” I’d been at work for all of thirty minutes.

Man, I really need to learn to hide my feelings better. “Nothing,” I answered, busying myself with chopping up more lettuce. I was finding the rhythmic action of the knife slicing easily through the layers of leaf oddly soothing.

“David, you can’t bullshit the bullshitter,” he replied patiently, his eyes on me as his gloved hands continued to form perfect sized hamburger patties from the huge bowl of minced meat resting on the bench before him. Watching his quick, deft movements, I was convinced he could make them in his sleep, blindfolded, and with one hand tied behind his back. I suppose that’s what years of practice will do for you. “Come on, son. It has to be something to do with Jeremy, right? Have you two had a fight already?”

Bloody hell, do I have a neon sign plastered across my forehead? I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. Blinking rapidly to dispel the sudden moisture gathering in my eyes, I kept my head down and my hands busy, focusing on the lettuce as if my life depended on it. I felt scared, worried, and vulnerable all rolled into one, and I was petrified that one kind word from Howie would send me toppling over the edge and I’d lose my shit altogether. Fuck, David, you’re not nine anymore. You are not going to blubber like a fucking baby.

Howie remained silent, the weight of it heavy in the air, and if a stare could have sound then his eyes on me were a bloody heavy metal drum solo. Over the roaring in my ears I heard the snap of his latex gloves, followed by the tinkle of the bell that hung over the door as he closed and locked it, flipping the ‘Back in Ten Minutes’ sign. Swallowing nervously, I continued to chop furiously.

At the same time as one of his hands came to rest on my shoulder the other relieved me of the knife. “Follow me, David.”

Trailing after him, my eyes on the heels of his scuffed runners, he led me through the beaded curtain to the back room. I watched as he pivoted, my stare now focused on the equally worn toes of his shoes, shaking my head a little as a random thought that he was quite light on his feet for a man in his fifties flitted across the surface of my mind.

Without uttering a word, he drew me in for a hug. It felt a little awkward at first, what with my being quite a few inches taller than him, which saw his buzz cut tickling the side of my neck, but as the warmth of his body and the strength of his arms seeped into me I found myself relaxing into his embrace, bending to lean my head against his shoulder.

“Tell me what you can, son,” he spoke quietly, his big warm hands rubbing soothing circles on my back. “Maybe the old fart might be able to throw a bit of impartial light on things for you. Sometimes we get ourselves so caught up that we miss seeing the forest for the trees, if you know what I mean.”

I found myself nodding and before I knew it I was spilling my guts, my filter conspicuous by its absence. As one admission after another rolled off my tongue, I listened to myself in horror, silently screaming, ‘shut the fuck up, David, shut the fuck up’, but apparently my off switch was malfunctioning because the confessions just kept on coming. I told him everything; mine and Jeremy’s history and everything that had happened since the moment Jere had entered the shop the night of his twenty-first, and as I neared our conversation of that morning, I embarrassed myself further by soaking his polo shirt with my tears.

Sensing my mortification, he soothed me. “It’s okay to cry, son. It takes a strong man to be comfortable with his emotions. Don’t bottle it in or you’ll end up a statistic for men who have heart attacks in their forties.”

Silently, I thanked him not only for his understanding, but for everything he’d done for me over the years, promising myself that one day I’d make it all up to him and let him know how truly grateful I was. I only wished I could hold myself together long enough to do it verbally right then.

“So in a nutshell: you thought he was straight, but it ends up he’s bi and he’s as attracted to you as you are to him, but he’s upset because you had a one-night stand with a guy called Phillip a week before you got together with him. On a side note, David, please tell me you practiced safe-sex. I know it’s been a while between, um, drinks, so to speak, but you didn’t forget the basics, did you? You know… it’s not on if it’s not on!” Heat flooded my cheeks as I nodded into his shoulder. “Well, that’s a relief. So, continuing. You thought you didn’t have Buckley’s with Jeremy, so you said yes to a date with a guy—”

“Laurence,” I supplied quietly, my voice muffled by his damp shirt.

“Thanks. So you said yes to a date with Laurence, and because you take him flying every weekend and have formed a friendship, you feel the right thing to do is tell him of the change in your relationship status with Jeremy face to face. How am I doing so far?”

“Spot on,” I whispered. “Jere doesn’t like him. Says he doesn’t trust him and thinks he wants to get into my pants.”

“Well, he probably does, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a gentleman. If he’s been a friend, and let’s face, a client too, for six months, then I think you’re doing the right thing to tell him over a drink rather than by phone. It’s more respectful.”

“I know that’s how I should do it, but Jere was so upset and angry, and I hate that I’m the one that caused that, and Howie,” I blubbered, a fresh wave of water spilling from my eyes onto his polo. “I’m just so fucking scared he’s going to pull the pin before we’ve even really got started. I… I… I love him.”

“I know you do, son. I can see that,” he murmured, his hands continuing to pat and rub my back in a soothing rhythm.

“This is all new to him, and I know he’s scared and unsure. What if it’s all too much for him? What if he changes his mind?” I sobbed, my stomach knotting at my words. Speaking them aloud was making the possibilities feel all too real—way too fucking real. “He’s a brooder, Howie. I just know he’s stewing on everything… He hardly slept last night ’cause of it, and I’m not there… What if I go there tonight and he tells me he can’t do it? I don’t know what I’ll do if he tells me goodbye.” The last words came out of as a wail, my body sagging under the weight of my fear.

“David, I want you to listen to me and I want you to listen good. As corny as it sounds, you need to think positive. You walk around expecting doom and gloom, then you can bloody well expect to get it. In fact, you’ll get it in spades.” He pulled away from me, his strong hands gripping my shoulders as he gave me a small shake. “You’re asking Jeremy to trust you, well then, you need to trust him too. And you need to be strong for him. He’s going to need you over the coming months. That boy is in love with you, whether he knows it yet or not. I’ve only seen him twice but it was as clear as day to me.” Grasping my chin firmly, he forced me to look at him, his eyes burning into mine as if he was trying to instill his belief through the strength of his gaze. “You’ve always been a distance swimmer, son, not a sprinter. Go with your strengths. Just remember, you are in it for the long haul. You’ve come from behind to win before; don’t give up before the race is over, David. You’ll always regret it if you do.”

*****

Coasting down the gravel driveway, I spied Mrs. Gilmore waiting for me on her veranda, the sunniness of her smile warming me before I’d even had a chance to dismount and approach her. With her head tilted, she watched me lean my bike against her neat as a pin front porch and climb the stairs, her expression sobering as I approached.

“Come here, Twisted,” she commanded, holding her thin arms out to me. Fuck, am I sending radio signals out in advance now?

Regardless, I found myself walking into her arms and resting my cheek on the top of her head. For all her bird-like frailty there was strength in her embrace. She might look as tiny and fragile as a sparrow, but I knew her heart was as fierce and strong as an eagle, not to mention as irreverent as a parrot’s.

“I love you, Bent,” I whispered into her snow-white candy floss hair, enfolding her gently in my arms.

“I love you too, David, and I want you to listen to me and I want you to listen good.” I smiled into her hair to hear her echo Howie’s words of only a few hours earlier. “Remember your Shakespeare, that boy knew a thing or two about love: ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ Sweetie, unfortunately it’s human nature. We don’t appreciate that which comes too easy to us. Give us something that we have to fight for, sacrifice for, and bleed over, and then we’ll cherish it.” She squeezed me for emphasis. “This is your test, my boy, and you need to prove yourself worthy. You need to be as constant as the North Star. We can’t see it here, but my Daddy took me to London as a girl, and I can always remember him pointing it out to me. It’s the one star that doesn’t move much in the night sky. That has to be you, David. Regardless of what he says or does, how frightened he gets, or how he rebels against what is between you, you have to remain constant and strong. It won’t be easy, but I know you can do it. You just remember; it will be worth it. Promise me, you’ll remember that.”

“Yes,” was all I could manage to choke out, my eyes shut tight against more tears. Regardless of what Howie said, there was no way I was going to turn into a walking waterworks.

“Good, now go before you make an old chook forget herself.” Her voice was a little shaky and I knew she was feeling as emotional as I was, and after giving me one last quick pat, she pushed me away and turned on her heel, calling out over her shoulder. “Don’t forget your scones.”

*****

The headlights of Laurence’s car briefly illuminated the small piece of sanity commonly known as my flat, alerting me to his arrival. A quick glance at my watch told me he was dead on time. Of course, I knew he would be, he always was. For once, I wished he was the type of guy to run late. I wasn’t looking forward to the conversation we would shortly be having.

I’d done nothing wrong, neither had he, but it didn’t change the fact that I would very soon be telling him something that he wouldn’t want to hear, and though my feelings for him were mild, I didn’t relish rejecting him. Stop putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, Sadler. Yep, that’s exactly what I always did and so, although our friendship was relatively new, I hated the thought that something I was going to say might hurt, embarrass, or upset him. Still it had to be said.

Taking a deep breath, I drew myself to my full height, catching a glimpse of my reflection in my front window. Normally, I wasn’t one to pay a lot of attention to my appearance, having been brought up in a household where there wasn’t a lot of money to spare for trendy brand name clothing, and a parent who believed physical beauty was only skin deep and that more time should be spent on developing character. Tonight, however, I’d chosen my clothing carefully—ironically, it hadn’t been to enhance my appeal, but rather to diminish it. My red shirt worn over a white tee and dark jeans was intended to highlight my youth and lack of sophistication. A glance at my hair made me smile—it was a fucking mess, well, it was always a mess, but tonight I’d made absolutely no effort to tame it at all and to say it was a riot was an understatement. Hell, I hadn’t even bothered to shave.

Not wanting to give him time to come knock at my door, I hastily grabbed my wallet, shoving it roughly into my back pocket before grabbing my phone and keys and letting myself out. I didn’t allow my thoughts to linger on the fact I hadn’t heard from Jeremy all day. North Star, Sadler, North Star. The race ain’t over until it’s over. Until the fat lady sings. Despite myself, a smile tugged at my lips at my internal mixing of both Mrs. Gilmore’s and Howie’s pearls of wisdom.

The sound of a car door opening greeted my ears, but upon seeing me heading toward him he shut it again and waited for me. Head on, and in the faint glow thrown from Mrs. Gilmore’s porch light it was difficult to discern the make and model of his car, but from his many trips to the airfield I knew it was a silver-gray Mercedes C Class Coupe. Nice. Real nice. After having admired it on many occasions I would now get to finally have a ride in it, even if it was only the once. Absently, I wondered if he came from money seeing as he wouldn’t have earned much doing missionary work in Africa. As I reached for the door handle, I heard a faint click and realized he’d partially opened the door for me. My stomach fluttered uncomfortably, and I hesitated for the briefest of moments before easing myself onto the soft leather of the seat.

“Hey, David,” he greeted me and I noted, not for the first time, the cultured tone to his enunciation. Yeah, most certainly comes from money.

“Hey, Laurence,” I returned, avoiding his eyes by concentrating on strapping myself in. “Okay, so now it’s your turn to drive,” I teased, resorting to my old coping mechanism for any awkward or uncomfortable situation—humor. “I am at your mercy, be gentle with me.”

“Haha, very funny,” he snorted, turning the key over, and I smiled as the engine purred into life. Yep, it definitely purred.

In a way, it was a disappointment that the journey was going to be so short as the car really was a pleasure to travel in, but at least if he took the letdown badly I wouldn’t have far to walk to get myself home.

He’d informed me during our brief trip to the foreshore vicinity that we were having drinks at the Dockyard and dinner at Il Grifone, both of which were situated on the Boardwalk along the harbor. Biting my lip, I refrained from telling him that I wouldn’t be joining him for dinner—that could wait until I’d bought our first round of drinks.

Laurence was a conservative driver, which didn’t surprise me, and I couldn’t help thinking the power of the V6 engine humming away under his bonnet was a bit wasted on him. I’d have loved to have been on the freeway in her and really opening the throttle, instead we were stuck on an inner city street with a fifty kilometer speed limit. No wonder the car felt like it was champing at the bit.

Luck smiled on us, and we managed to snag a park about one hundred meters from our chosen venue, which was the first of the bars and restaurants located on the well-known eat strip.

Eager now to get the dreaded conversation over and done with, I climbed the half a dozen stairs quickly, heading straight to the bar. Thankfully there wasn’t much of a crowd, being a Tuesday night and still relatively early.

“What’s your poison, Laurence?” I asked, reaching into my back pocket.

“Hey, put that away,” he said, indicating the wallet I now had clutched in my hand. “I asked you out, this is my shout.”

“No, this one’s on me. I insist. What’ll be?” Maybe it was silly, but because I was about to tell him I couldn’t date him, I didn’t want him to spend any of his money, especially not on me.

“I’ll have a beer, whatever’s on tap,” he answered, shaking his head at me, but thankfully not arguing the point further.

With our schooners in hand, we made our way out to the bench style tables that were polished to a warm honey hue and could easily seat three people abreast along their length. Several lined the veranda area of the bar, offering a beautiful view over the normally busy harbor. The sun had almost completely set, turning the skies a dark lilac gray and the water a deep purple. The opposite shore was dotted with lights that twinkled and revealed the shadowy outline of the dockyards. That’s what I loved about the harbor; during the day there was always something to watch with the tug boats guiding in the coal ships, or boats sailing with their pristine white sails and colorful spinnakers, and at night the myriad of lights turned it into an almost magical place.

Hanging back a little, I waited to see which side Laurence would choose to seat himself at so that I could choose the opposite, and having settled myself on the stool, I took a fortifying sip of my beer.

“You don’t have good news for me, do you?” Fucking hell, what’s the go today? Does everyone have a ringside seat into my brain?

Looking down into my drink, I squirmed a little on my seat as if the movement would somehow ease my feelings of discomfort, and for one split second, I was tempted to crack a joke to relieve some of the tension that suddenly filled the air between us.

But he deserved better than that.

He deserved my honesty.

“No,” I spoke quietly, raising my eyes to look at him steadily.

“Jeremy? Your childhood friend?”

“Yes.”

“You said he was straight.” His gaze remained on me, unflinching in its regard, and I felt my cheeks warm a little under his intense scrutiny.

“Turns out he’s bi,” I replied, making myself hold firm and return his stare.

He continued to study me for a long moment, a slight frown causing a V to form between his dark blond brows. His words when they finally came were soft, so soft that I needed to lean in a little to hear them. “Be careful, David, be very careful. He just might break your heart.”

I wanted to be angry with him for his words, but his tone held no sign of superiority or condescension, only sadness and concern. “Why? Jeremy would never hurt me, not intentionally anyway.”

“He may not be able to help himself,” was his cryptic response.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? If you have something to say, Laurence, then please, just spit it out and stop talking in riddles.”

“You and I, David, are gay. We know what we want, what we’re attracted to—”

“Yes, so, what’s that got to do with me and Jere?” I interrupted, wanting to get the conversation over and done with.

“Jeremy wants both, he’s attracted to both. I know there’s a saying about bisexuals, that it’s the best of both worlds, but I’m not convinced of that.” His voice took on a musing tone, his eyes on his fingers as they painted lazy circles in the condensation that coated the glass of his schooner. “Maybe it’s true when you’re young and single. It would certainly double your chances of scoring, you would think.”

Suddenly, I was certain I didn’t want to hear his next words, but it was too late and I sat as still as a statue in my seat, as if skewered to it by his theories.

“But in a long term monogamous relationship? I have my doubts. Then, I think, it may well be torture. When a bi was with pussy for a while, would he secretly be craving hard angles and planes, firm muscle and cock? And yet, if he was with cock, would he be missing soft curves and breasts?”

I wanted to argue with his logic, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of a single thing to say to refute him. My tongue felt thick and cumbersome in my mouth, and the little seed of fear that had been planted in my gut that very morning sprouted its first offshoot. The bitter acid of doubt rose in my throat, burning it, and I gulped down a mouthful of beer in the hope of washing it away.

“I’m sorry, David, I shouldn’t have said that.” My eyes flew to his face searching it for any signs of insincerity, and found none. “What would I know? I’m not bi, have never been in a relationship with someone who is, or even known anyone who professes to be bi, for that matter. It’s all just theories… bit of a weakness of mine, I’m afraid,” he murmured, turning his face to look out over the dark waters, a faint blush coloring his cheeks.

“I’m probably too young for you anyway,” I blurted, instantly regretting my outburst when I saw a pained look pull at the corners of his mouth. Silently, I cursed Jere for planting the idea in my head to begin with. Even if it was true, and I most certainly didn’t think that, there’d been no need to voice it.

“I’m turning thirty-one in September. You?” he asked, his head tilted.

“Twenty-one in July,” I croaked feeling my embarrassment hijack my cheeks. “I’m sorry, Laurence. I don’t know where that came from. I suppose, I just don’t get why someone as well-traveled as you would be interested in someone who’s seen next to nothing of the world like me.”

His smile didn’t reach his eyes and there was a weary quality to his voice which made me feel bad. He was obviously disappointed. “Don’t under-estimate yourself, David. You’re smart, funny, well-read, and… you don’t really want to hear that kind of stuff from me, do you? At least, not now.” He inhaled slowly before exhaling in a quick gust. “Come on, drink up. I’m guessing you don’t plan on having dinner with me and your guy is probably staring at the clock waiting for you to call. Speaking of which, I’d better phone Roberto and let him know we’re cancelling.”

We both took hefty slugs of our beers as he waited for his call to connect. From the sounds of the conversation he was speaking to the owner, Roberto, himself and they appeared to be good friends.

“Okay, old friend, okay!” A pause while he listened to the man on the other end. “Sure, why not? But not your homemade grappa. The last time I let you talk me into that I woke up at midday the next day curled up on one of your lounge chairs by the pool with some bimbo groping me!” He laughed quietly at something that was being said to him, his eyes apologizing to me for the continuing conversation. “Yes, well she may have been your cup of tea, but we both know, she wasn’t mine. Anyway, I have to go now, I’ll call you and we’ll tee it up. Okay? Ciao.”

Pocketing his cell, he smiled a little awkwardly at me. “Sorry about that. Roberto and I go way back, and well, let’s just say, he’s a very generous host.”

“That’s okay, um… sorry for cancelling on you at the last minute. I just didn’t think it was right to do it over the phone.”

“It’s all right, David. Truly it is. Come on, let’s make tracks.”

We walked in silence to his car, and it was only as we both buckled up that he turned to me and asked, “So am I taking you back to your place or dropping you at Jeremy’s?”

“My house, please,” I whispered, suddenly feeling very shy. I turned to face the passenger window, watching his reflection, my gut giving an uncomfortable, guilty wrench when I saw a look of sadness settle on his features. I felt terrible that I’d given him encouragement by agreeing to go out on a date with him. Logically, I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong by accepting, and had Jere not revealed his mutual attraction, I probably would have had a great time with Laurence, but having said ‘yes’ only to just as quickly follow it saying ‘no’ made me feel like a bastard. There was nothing I could do about it—I couldn’t give him what he wanted, but there was absolutely no joy or relief in knowing that I’d hurt him.

The Mercedes ate up the road like a child sucking up a strand of spaghetti, seeming to reach my street in record time despite Laurence’s staid driving. Braking gently, the tyres made a gentle crunching sound as they came into contact with the gravel of the driveway. “David, let’s forget tonight ever happened, or that I asked you out. We had the beginnings of a friendship before that and I certainly don’t want to lose that… besides, I still need you to take me flying.” He smiled a little shamefacedly as we both silently acknowledged his fear and I knew it would be a huge step backward for him to start with another pilot.

I hesitated, trying to find the right words to reassure him, but he obviously mistook my reaction for something else. “Please don’t worry. I won’t say or do anything inappropriate to make you feel awkward. We’ll just go back to how we were a week or two ago. Okay?”

“Sure, Laurence. I’d like that. So Sunday, usual time?”

“My shaky legs and I will be there,” he joked and I could see the effort he was making to put us back on our old footing and so with a final smile, I let myself out, giving him a quick wave before I loped down the drive to my front door.

Once inside, I only stopped long enough to grab my bag, which I’d packed earlier. God only knew if I’d need the change of clothes and toiletries it contained—maybe Jeremy would tell me to take a hike—but I was going with Howie’s advice and thinking positive.

Letting myself out, I made quick work of locking my door and unchaining my bike and with quick, practiced hands, I strapped my gear to the rack before throwing my leg over and pushing off. It was only as I crossed the footbridge over the creek and the cool night breeze cut through the thin layers of my shirts that I realized I’d forgotten to put a hoodie on, but there was no way I was turning back to get one now.

Jeremy was only five minutes away. For five minutes I could feel cold.

Gliding to a halt in front of his terrace house, I was relieved to see the faint glow of lights peeking through edges of the timber venetian blinds framing his front windows. At least, it would seem, he was home.

Quietly, so as not to disturb his neighbors, I pushed my bike down the side path and re-chained it, eyeing my backpack. Deciding that standing on his doorstep with it clutched in my hot little hand was assuming too much, I left it strapped to the rack. I reasoned that if Jeremy wanted me to stay I could always come back out and get it.

Suddenly my nerves got the better of me, and all the fears that I’d managed to push down with the help of Howie and Mrs. Gilmore, and the distraction of having to deal with Laurence came back to hit me tenfold. Please don’t let him have spent the day brooding and coming up with umpteen reasons why he shouldn’t be with me. Holding my hands out before me, I felt frustrated to see they were shaking. Fuck! Enough, David. Enough. North Star. North Star.

Putting purpose in my step, I strode to his front door and pressed the chime, my hand going to my hair. I told myself it was to brush it back from my face, but deep down I knew it was really to help with my nerves.

The door was thrown open with such force, I took a half step back in surprise.

*****

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Yes. Yes. I know! I’m evil!

I hope you enjoyed this chapter and will forgive me my teasing!

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4 responses to “FREE FICTION FRIDAY: IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING CH 29: NEON SIGNS

  1. Ok, I don’t mean to sound like a whiny child but……please tell me there will be more David and Jesse. Did I miss something about you taking a time out from Free Fiction Friday’s? I know you are busy. I was just checking. I’m just a fan. Don’t mean to be a bother.

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