Scarred For Life

APRIL 2008

4 MONTHS AFTER SCARRED SOULS

JOSHUA SLATER

I woke to something that had never happened before. 

Damian was pressed up against me, which wasn’t all that unusual. Though he wasn’t normally a big fan of cuddling, he made exceptions for me. 

No, what was unusual was what pressed against my back. 

He’s hard

The observation repeated itself again and again inside my head. 

That means he wants sex after all.

It was suddenly hard to breathe. 

Now, I can finally show him what I’m good at. Besides freaking out at every little thing

I slid my right arm under the duvet and rested it on his hip. He didn’t move. His breathing was still deep. Was that a good sign or a bad one? I inched my hand down, to the front of his pyjama trousers. We always slept in pyjamas. I hadn’t even seen him naked yet. 

But a part of him begged for some attention now, and I would give it to it.

There came a sound from him when I pressed the palm of my hand against his hard cock. It sounded like a startled intake of breath. I wasn’t sure if he was awake or not yet though, so I just kept the pressure and rubbed a bit. I’d always liked it when someone rubbed me when I was hard.

‘Josh.’ His voice was sleep-muffled.

‘Yeah?’ I pushed myself back, flush in against him. I felt brave and decided to take it a step further, so I slipped my hand down his trousers and started rubbing his cock outside his boxers.

I should’ve expected his reaction, but I didn’t.

He pushed away from me so fast that the hem of his pyjama trousers snapped against his skin once my hand was forced free. 

‘What are you doing?’

I sat up and hunched in on myself. 

He was at the foot of the bed, eyes wide and gaze locked on me. He’d drawn his feet up, hiding that part of his body from my view.

‘You wanted it,’ I said, motioning stupidly with my hand.

‘No!’ He jumped off the bed. ‘I don’t!’ And with that, he was out of the room.

I was left there, shaken and uncertain. I heard no sounds, so I didn’t think he was coming back anytime soon. He’d been very upset.

So I dressed quietly, got my journal, phone, and wallet, then left the flat. 

There was a light drizzle outside, and I pulled the hood of my jacket up to protect me from it. I also put my journal inside my jacket so it wouldn’t be ruined. 

It was the journal he’d given me the first night we met and it was precious to me. I’d almost used up all the space in it by now, so I’d need a new one soon, but until then, I couldn’t bear to be without it.

I let myself into my mum’s flat, and then preceded to almost walk right into her.

‘Joshua!’ Her hands braced against my shoulder, presumably to keep herself balanced. ‘God, you near gave me a heart attack there.’

‘I think you’re a bit too young to have one of those.’ I smiled faintly.

She cocked her head to the side. ‘Everything all right? You’re home rather early.’

‘I don’t think so.’

Her eyebrows rose. ‘You don’t know?’

‘I did something.’

‘For Damian?’

I chewed on my lip. ‘To him, actually. It wasn’t appreciated.’ Maybe it was TMI; maybe she wouldn’t even understand what exactly it was I had done. It wasn’t like she knew we hadn’t ever had sex, after all. 

I was pretty sure she believed we were like any other normal couple out there. Everyone believed that. 

But we weren’t.

‘I’m sure it’ll blow over.’ Her touch went from bracing herself, to being a comfort to me. ‘It always does. Just give it a few hours. You’ve got an appointment with Vincent today, haven’t you?’

‘Yeah.’ In a few hours. Which meant I’d have a few hours to kill, all by myself.

‘Good. Talk to him about it, maybe he can offer some insight? It’s better to do that than to tell me all your intimate details, I reckon.’

I chuckled. ‘Well, yeah.’

‘Remember today’s dinner too. Harriet’s nephew is finally joining us. Unless he pulls out at the last minute again.’

‘I’ll be down at the Café by the time Harriet’s off,’ I promised.

‘I’ll meet you both there.’ She stepped in close and placed a kiss on my cheek. It wasn’t often she did that; mostly she kept to hugs. Intimacy was difficult for her, too, after all. So I appreciated the gesture all the more. ‘I have to dash. I’m a bit late for work this morning.’

‘Okay.’ I stepped out of the way. ‘Have a good day.’

She smiled at me as she brushed past. 

‘You too, everything considered.’

Instead of going to my room, like I’d planned, I curled up on the sofa. I put the telly on for background noise, but I didn’t pay particular attention to it. I had too much on my mind, like how big an idiot I was.

I knew Damian didn’t like sex, that he didn’t want it, and just because he’d been hard, I’d pushed the issue. How many times had he told me he wasn’t interested in sex at all?

I was, though. Or at least, I thought I was. 

It had been so long since I’d had sex that I’d almost forgotten what it felt like. But I had been good at it. I’d been having it since I was a young boy, after all, though that hadn’t been by my choice.

I snapped the rubber band on my wrist. I wore several of them on both my wrists, by Vincent’s suggestion. Apparently, snapping them made the same sort of pain as cutting did. I wasn’t so sure, but it did help the agitation at times. Though with the cutting, actually seeing the blood helped too, along with the pain from the cuts themselves.

I didn’t want to slip up, though. I’d been doing so well the past months, since I got out of hospital. I didn’t want to go down that road again, though I knew it would be inevitable eventually. 

I was weak—after a while, I just couldn’t stop myself.

The clock ticked up on the wall. Still hours until I would be seeing Vincent. 

Dammit

What was I going to do until then?

Vincent’s office was spacious, with a wide oak desk on one side of the room and a sofa on the other big enough for at least three people.

‘Morning, Josh. How’re you feeling today?’ Vincent stood from behind his desk and came over to sit in the chair opposite the sofa, which I had sunk down on. 

I had my journal clutched to my chest and I could see his eyes taking it in.

‘Not so good.’ Honesty was important. Vincent couldn’t be of any help if I wasn’t honest.

‘Has something happened?’ He had a notebook perched on his knee, but his focus was solely on me.

‘I did something really stupid to Damian.’ I looked down at my fingers clenched around my journal. ‘I don’t even know why I did it, as I know it wouldn’t be received well, but I just thought…’

‘What did you do?’ Vincent prompted, when I trailed off without saying anything else.

This would be awkward, after all. Vincent was Damian’s best friend’s brother. They had known each other long before Damian and I had even met. 

‘Something sexual.’

‘And he didn’t like it?’ Vincent knew we weren’t having sex. I told him everything, after all.

I shook my head. 

‘He freaked out.’

‘What happened afterwards?’

‘He left the room. I left the flat.’ I put the journal down beside me on the sofa, then wrung my hands together.

‘Why did you do that?’ He made a small note now, but I couldn’t see what it was.

‘He didn’t come back into the room, so obviously, he didn’t want to talk. He pushed me away. I think he was horrified about what I did.’

Vincent tapped his pen against the notebook thoughtfully. 

‘Why did you do it in the first place?’

‘I woke up and he was hard. I thought maybe he was finally ready. He wasn’t.’ I hung my head in shame.

‘Do you remember your problem when you first came to see me?’

‘Hmm?’ I frowned in confusion.

‘About how you were forced to do something you didn’t want to do, but your body betrayed you by liking it a lot of the time?’

Andrew’s abuse. Sex with Andrew

How could I ever forget? 

‘Ye-yeah.’

‘Maybe it’s a bit like that for Damian? He doesn’t want sex, which he’s been vocal about, but his body might betray him sometimes by reacting in certain ways. Maybe it’s his body that horrifies him when it goes against what he wants? Not you.’

I blinked several times. 

‘Maybe.’ It sounded legit. ‘But he just left the room. He didn’t even say anything, just that he didn’t want it.’

‘Maybe he was embarrassed? Don’t we all get embarrassed when our body does something that goes against our wants and needs?’

‘I guess.’ I’d sure been. All those countless times the sex with Andrew had been good. It had taken Vincent ages to make me believe it hadn’t been my fault, that I shouldn’t have to be embarrassed over it. The body liked what it liked, no matter what the mind thought of the matter. ‘Do you think we’ll ever have sex?’

‘I don’t know. Depends on how open he is to it. Do you want to?’

‘Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.’ I wrung my hands together again. ‘I’ve had sex after Andrew was taken into custody. I have been with other people and it has been good. But I don’t know. I guess I like my life now, even if it is one without sex. I’ve got a boyfriend, I’ve got friends, I’ve got my mum. Got everything I need, really. Is sex really that important?’

‘That’s for you to figure out, Josh.’

How could I figure something like that out? My mind was a mystery to me still, and I couldn’t even control my emotions. How could I figure something like that out all by myself? 

‘Is sex something that’s required of relationships? What’s so special about it, besides the fact that it feels good? Lots of other things feel good too.’

Vincent regarded me calmly. 

‘People feel closer. It’s the ultimate form of intimacy. Or so they say. But that’s not to mean that people who have sex are closer to each other than people who don’t. Everyone is different; not one couple is the same.’

‘So, we should do what’s right for us?’

‘Exactly.’ He smiled, like what I’d just deducted was a feat worthy of applause. ‘If you do what you think is standard and “normal”, then you won’t be truly happy, will you? Do what feels right for you, for both of you, and you’ll both be happier for it.’

‘So a relationship without sex is okay?’

‘If that’s the right thing for you, then of course it is.’

‘People are going to think we’re freaks. People already think I am.’ I reckoned anyway. No one had ever said it to my face. 

But people kept out of my way at college, like it was all my fault Mal had killed himself. Like they knew all my dirty little secrets and wanted nothing to do with it.

‘What do other people have to do with it, Josh?’ Vincent asked gently. ‘Isn’t your happiness the main focus? Don’t care about what others say. I promise they’ve got skeletons in their closets they don’t want to come out either. You don’t have to share anything about your relationship if you don’t want to. A relationship is private, especially what goes on in your bedroom, and if you want to keep it that way, that’s your right.’

‘Only share what I’m comfortable sharing.’ I paraphrased what he’d said so many times before when I’d been in tangles over one thing or another. I reckoned he was right. My private life was mine, and no one else’s business. ‘I should apologise to Damian.’

Vincent only smiled at me again.

‘I did something stupid. I can own up to it. It wasn’t his fault.’ I knew my disorder, I knew I had it easy to blame everything on other people, but I’d been with Vincent for almost three years now, and I’d learned a thing or two. 

Like to take the blame for things that obviously were my fault, even if it was humiliating.

‘How does that make you feel, Josh?’

‘Stupid. Ashamed. Like I’m an idiot.’

‘Don’t be so hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.’

True, but… 

‘But not everyone blows them out of proportion.’

‘Not everyone has borderline personality disorder,’ Vincent countered easily.

I clenched my fists together. 

‘I hate being such a mess.’

Vincent bent forward, gaze locked on me with an intensity that hadn’t been there before. 

‘You are doing better, Josh. I remember the first time you came into this office, broken and cut up and unable to deal. You have come such a long way: you need to know that. The old you would’ve instantly turned to the razor—‘

‘I almost did,’ I interrupted him. ‘But I left home early and wandered around for a bit and it helped. These helped too.’ I pushed my sleeve up a bit to show him the rubber bands, though he already knew they were there. I’d been wearing them for a couple of months now, after all.

‘Don’t you see? The old you wouldn’t ever have taken a walk or snapped rubber bands. The fact that you do now shows just how far you’ve come. You should be proud of yourself.’

I could hardly be proud

‘I’ve got a disorder that will never go away. I’ll always be like this.’ I motioned to myself, splaying my hands over my chest. ‘I won’t ever change. I will keep swinging from one mood to the other, jumping to conclusions, have this black-and-white thinking, and be unable to deal normally with anything.’

‘Being borderline is part of who you are. It won’t go away, but you can always do better, Josh. You are doing better.’

‘But I have to struggle with it every single day for the rest of my life.’ I buried my face in my hands. ‘That’s why the suicide rate is so high. Because people just can’t deal.’

‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ Now he was alarmed. 

I’d alarmed him. 

Great.

‘No.’ I shook my head for emphasis. ‘I don’t want to die. I’ve got a good thing in my life now. I don’t want to leave him. And Mum and I are close, and I’m studying for my A-levels, and I want to do something with my life. It’s just hard. Everything’s so hard.’

‘If life wasn’t hard, what would be the point in living it?’

I snorted. 

‘Challenge makes us stronger.’ Something else he’d said at one time.

‘It does. And your whole life has been a challenge. You deserve something good in it, but you know what that means? That means you’re strong. You survived something that many wouldn’t have been able to. I’d say that’s pretty strong, all right.’

‘I’m scarred for life for it, though.’

‘Your scars tell a story. A story of how you’ve suffered and how you pulled through.’

I let my hands drop and finally looked back up at him. 

‘It sounds so noble that way.’

‘It’s the truth, isn’t it?’ He cocked his head to one side, regarding me.

‘The ugly truth, perhaps.’

‘Truth is rarely pretty.’

I had to concede. 

‘Now, that’s true.’ The truth of my childhood wasn’t pretty—it was horrifying. 

I would never get over it and I didn’t think my mum would, either. 

I’d never in my entire life seen her as emotional as the day she’d found out what her husband had been up to for years and years behind her back. She’d thought he’d been a loving, devoted stepfather who’d allowed her to focus on her career. 

How very wrong she’d been.

But one good thing about it all was that Mum and I had got close afterwards. We hadn’t been before. 

She’d spent all her time at work, leaving Andrew to raise me. 

I knew she felt guilty still, but I also knew she loved me, and we were good. So good. She’d do everything for me. 

I’d do everything for her. And for Damian. 

Because I loved him—and he loved me, too, and I should learn to listen to what he said instead of jumping to my own conclusions like that morning. 

I owed him a pretty big apology.

Apologies were easy enough on paper, but when I got the Café a bit before five later that day and saw Damian behind the counter, my courage failed. 

So I fled down the hall to the back room, without so much as looking at him as I passed.

He’d been busy with a customer, so he might not have even seen me.

I sank down on the sofa to wait for Harriet and my mum. Harriet hadn’t been out front when I came in, but she might’ve been in the kitchen.

The door opened behind me and I jumped up with some apprehension, kind of expecting Damian. 

It wasn’t him, but an auburn-haired lad my own age. There was no question who he was. The resemblance to Harriet was uncanny. 

‘You must be Chad.’

He stared at me. The only way I could describe it was predatory. Then he strode up to me, pushed my shoulder so hard I slammed back against the wall, and then he pressed up close. 

‘You can have me.’

The meeting with the wall knocked the breath out of me, but it didn’t stop the confusion I felt. 

‘Wha-what are you doing?’ I swallowed heavily, nerves twisting my stomach and my hands fluttered in front of me. I wasn’t sure I dared or was strong enough to push him away.

He gazed at my arms, then grabbed both my wrists without preamble and forced them wide and up against the wall.

‘Ph-please,’ I begged in a small voice. 

He was hurting me. He had when he’d first pushed me, and his grip on my wrists now was tight.

‘Like to beg, do you? That turns you on?’

I was so far from turned on. ‘Please don’t hurt me.’ Better to beg instead of try to fight. It was always worse when I fought. I’d learnt that the hard way. 

‘Hurt you? Oh, love, I’m not ever going to hurt you. I’m going to make you feel so good. Like you’ve never felt before.’

Instead of Harriet’s nephew with his mop of auburn hair, I saw sleek, dirty, blond hair and dark eyes behind a pair of glasses. Those were his words, he’d used them so many times to try and subdue me. He often said it before he pushed me down on a bed and had his way with me.

Hips thrust forward, a hard cock lining up against my crotch. 

My breath caught in my throat, fright making me tremble from head to toe.

I heard the door open, voice drifting in—familiar voices.

‘Do you mind?’ he snapped. ‘We’re kind of busy here.’

All I could see was Andrew, him forcing me to do things I didn’t want to be a part of. 

‘Mum,’ I whimpered, her voice having stood out.

‘Chad, let go off him.’ Harriet’s voice, coming closer.

‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ His grip around my wrists tightened further.

‘Let him go!’ That was Mum’s voice, all demanding and serious. 

I saw her hand in my line of sight, grabbing onto Chad’s upper arm, and then she shoved him away from me.

His grip around me disappeared and so did the feel of him pressed up close and personal.

Mum turned to me, arm going around my shoulder. 

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ 

I peered at her, but she wasn’t facing me. Her reprimand wasn’t meant for me.

‘No, what do you think you’re doing?’ Chad was full of rage now as he glared at Mum. Then he spun towards Harriet. ‘And you! What do you think you’re doing? Disrupting us while we were in the middle of something. Stop ruining my life!’

Harriet took a step back, startled. ‘Chad, I’m not—‘ 

But he ran out of the room before she could get anything else out.

‘Come on.’ Mum guided me towards the door too.

I still shook from head to foot, memories of Andrew blurring my vision.

Directly across from the break room was the door into the kitchen and that was where Harriet’s nephew had run.

‘Chad!’ I heard Harriet cry out and Mum ran to catch up with her. ‘Chad, what are you doing?’

I peeked in too, and Chad stood there, jabbing a knife at Leslie, who worked both in front and in the kitchen.

‘This is what you want, isn’t it?’ Chad turned the knife on himself, pressing it against his neck. ‘If I do this, you won’t have to deal with me anymore. No one will have to deal with me anymore. My mum did it, so why can’t I?’ 

Blood started to trickle from where the blade pierced skin, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Blood had helped me survive for as long as I had. Blood and tears and knives and razors.

‘Chad, no!’ Harriet sobbed, while I heard Mum’s muffled voice on the phone. 

She was turned away from me, so I couldn’t hear what she was saying. It didn’t matter anyway; I still stared at the blood.

Chad closed his eyes. ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’

Was he talking to Mum? She was the only one speaking now. Or maybe he wanted Harriet to quit sobbing?

‘Chad?’ Harriet took a hesitant step forward.

‘I said shut up!’

‘Please give me the knife—’

‘Shut up!’ Chad backed away, towards the doorway leading out behind the counter. 

The doorway where Damian stood, regarding everything coolly. 

His eyes met mine over Chad’s shoulder, and I didn’t know what I looked like, but he must’ve seen something because his eyes widened a fraction.

Chad sobbed now too, and then things happened quickly. 

Damian grabbed his hand, trying to wrench the knife from it. 

Chad jerked back, surprised, then his despair was replaced with rage again.

‘Don’t touch me! You fucking bitch!’ He tried to pull his hand out of Damian’s grip, but he didn’t stand a chance. ‘Let me go!’ 

Damian had a hold of the knife and Chad was vibrating where he stood. His arms shot out and pushed Damian so hard against the counter that the sound clattered through the room.

Then someone else was in there, pinning Chad to the floor: a big, muscular man dressed in a paramedic’s uniform. 

Chad flailed against being restrained and he screamed

Another paramedic had entered with a gurney, which they somehow managed to put him on, and then he got restrained around both wrists and feet.

Harriet hurried over to his side, tears still streaming down her face. ‘Chad, it’s going to be okay.’

‘Let me go! Lemmego lemmego lemmego!’ His screams were so loud that I wanted to put my hands over my ears to try and block them out, but I couldn’t get myself to move. I was frozen in place. ‘I’m going to fucking kill you!’

They started wheeling him out.

‘Go with him!’ Mum pushed gently on Harriet’s shoulder, which seemed to break her free of her own frozen stance. She ran to catch up with them.

Once Chad’s screams had died down, everything seemed too silent. 

I fell against the doorway, barely managing to hold myself up.

‘Josh!’ Damian was at my side, arms going for my side, helping to keep me on my feet.

I leant against him heavily. ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!’ I buried my face in his neck.

‘Are you okay?’ I heard Mum say, a bit away.

‘Ye-yeah.’ Leslie didn’t sound okay though, as his voice shook. ‘What was that? I mean, I know what it was. It was Harriet’s nephew, but I’ve never seen him like that before…’

‘He’s mentally ill.’

I turned my head to the side, so my cheek rested against Damian, but I could see the two of them. ‘What’s wrong with him?’

‘His mum was bipolar, so I reckon he is as well. It’s hereditary, that one.’ Mum glanced between us. ‘I think we’ll close up now. I don’t think any of you should stay here after what just happened, and Harriet will agree to that. I’ll go deal with the customers, you just gather yourselves, okay?’

Leslie nodded and turned to the sink, where he preceded to wash off the board he’d been cutting on. His hands trembled so bad that I was afraid it would clatter to the floor, but he managed to hold on to it.

‘What happened?’ Damian pushed me out from him, holding me an arm’s length away. His gaze searched me intently. ‘Did he do anything to you?’

I nodded quickly. 

‘He tried to-to—‘ I couldn’t get the words out. ‘I don’t want it, either,’ I said instead. ‘This morning, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think. I don’t want it. I don’t. I’m not ready—’

‘Hey.’ Damian cupped my face in his palms, breaking off my rambling. ‘It’s okay.’

‘It’s not.’

Mum strode back into the kitchen, all business like only she could manage after such an ordeal. 

‘Take him home,’ she told Damian. ‘And Leslie, go home to go your family. I’ll close up here.’ She shooed all three of us into the break room without giving us room to argue.

I was glad she took charge.

There was nothing I wanted more than to go home with my boyfriend, and I took the opportunity she gave us and clutched it close.

‘Will you tell me what happened?’ Damian thrust a mug of tea into my hands and sat down close to me, giving me a worried look.

I sipped said tea slowly. 

‘He tried to force me into sex.’ He’d kept asking me on the way home, but I hadn’t wanted to get into it in public. Keeping our affairs private and all that. ‘And I flashed back to Andrew. It was horrible. I’m not ready for sex, after all. I just… I’m okay with you not wanting it. I don’t want to experience what I did today again, in any sort of setting, with you. I just don’t.’

Damian drew in a deep breath. ‘About this morning…’

‘I shouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry I made you mad. I just didn’t think.’

‘I wasn’t mad at you,’ he protested. ‘I was embarrassed and mad at myself.’

Just like Vincent said

‘Why? It’s perfectly natural.’

‘Maybe it is, but I hate it. Whenever that happens, I can’t stand it.’

I threw him a wry look. ‘Why don’t you just wank off? It’ll be gone in a moment then. And it’s good.’

No.’ He rubbed at his forehead. ‘I don’t want to.’

‘How do you know that unless you try?’

‘How do you know you’re gay unless you try having sex with a woman?’ he countered drily.

I subsided. 

He had a point.

‘Some things you just know, and I know I don’t want to have sex. Maybe it’ll change in the future, but as of now it’s a big no-no for me. And whenever something like this morning happens, I feel like shit, because it shouldn’t happen when I have no interest in it.’

I removed one hand from around the hot mug and put it on his forearm. 

‘It happens to every single bloke out there, I reckon, unless they have problems that prevent it. Like erectile dysfunction.’

‘That would be preferable.’ It came out bitterly.

I felt really, really shitty. 

‘I won’t ever do it again. I promise. I swear.’

‘If that is something you need, Josh, then—’

‘It’s not!’ I interrupted quickly, afraid of what he’d offer. He certainly wouldn’t offer himself, and if he’d been about to say I was free to go find it other places, I didn’t want to hear it. ‘I swear to you, Damian, it’s not. I’m perfectly happy here with you. There’s nothing more I need.’

‘But you say you like it.’ He seemed miserable all of a sudden. His hands clenched atop his knees.

‘I also liked doing drugs the few times I tried it, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep doing it.’

He cast me a wry look. ‘You’ve done drugs?’

‘I’ve done a lot. Many things I’m not proud of or that I didn’t like, some that I did like, all to try and escape from my shitty life.’ I squeezed his arm. ‘But it’s not anymore. Shitty, that is. My life is good now, in no small part thanks to you. I have no need to try out new things, bad things, sexual things. I’m happy.’

‘I am too, you know, happy with the way things are.’ He turned a bit so we were both sitting sideways in the sofa, facing each other. ‘I like what we have. We can be together without that.’

‘Yes, we can.’ I put my mug on the table and instead took both of his hands in mine. ‘But like your body betrays you, it also happens to mine. I can’t promise I won’t wake up with a boner, because it’s just the way it is. It’s bound to happen, and happen often. It has happened many times. I’m just wired that way, like most blokes.’ I bowed my head. ‘And even if I’m okay with no sex, I am probably going to spend some time with my right hand, because I think it’s good and it’s relaxing.’

‘That’s okay,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I don’t expect you to be completely celibate. Just to know that I don’t want any part of it.’

‘I hear you loud and clear.’ I leant in close, letting our lips hover only inches apart.

He tilted his head forward, just the right distance, and our lips slid together in a soft, chaste, brief kiss. 

‘How are you feeling after what happened with Harriet’s nephew?’

‘Traumatised.’ I smiled to tell him I was joking. Well, halfway joking anyway. ‘I’m going to have to use a few therapy sessions for this. I didn’t see him in that room, you know. I saw Andrew. Chad was being forceful, like Andrew used to be, and I flashed back to it.’

Damian leant in, his cheek pressing against mine. 

‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s not your fault. Who could’ve known he’d be like that? Besides, it’s not his fault. If he’s got a mental illness, he can’t help. I have one, so I should know.’ I leant into him, thankful for the silent support. ‘Andrew didn’t have a mental illness. He was just a lowlife scum using a child for his own pleasures.’

Damian pulled his hands out of my grip then proceeded to wrap both arms tightly around me. He didn’t say anything, just held me for several minutes.

I closed my eyes and enjoyed the comfort he gave me. 

‘I love you so much,’ I whispered.

‘Love you, too.’ He didn’t say it often, which made it all the more special when he actually did.

As it was, it made my stomach flutter, and now I was the one clutching him close.

Today had been a bad day, but as long as I had him at the end of it, things would always be better. He made me better and every day I got to spend with him was a day I would always cherish.

No matter what kind of stupid things I did, he was always there. I hoped he always would be, too.

I headed down to the Café the next day, right in time for Leslie’s shift to start. I found him in the kitchen, where he stood in front of the counter, staring at the array of knives hanging on the wall in front of him.

‘How’re you doing?’

He whirled around, startled. 

‘Oh. Hi.’

‘Hey.’ Maybe I should’ve made my presence known before starting in on the questions. ‘You all right?’

Leslie’s eyes darted towards the knives again. ‘I keep thinking about yesterday. That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. He just jabbed it at me.’

‘It wasn’t his fault.’ I pushed away from the doorway. ‘He’s ill.’ I felt the need to defend him, even after what he’d done to me. That hadn’t been his fault either, but a result of his illness. ‘I know what it’s like to not be in control of one’s own mind, though I’m not like him.’

Leslie dropped his gaze. 

‘I guess you would. And I know, but it’s just—it was horrible. And it happened so unexpectedly. One minute I was chopping onions, the next someone wrenched the knife out of my hand and jabbed it towards me.’

I would’ve taken that experience instead of flashing back to Andrew’s abuse, but I didn’t say it out loud. I could imagine it wouldn’t be a good feeling to be threatened by someone with a knife. It’d been awful to watch, too.

‘I’m going to leave you to work. I just wanted to check if you were doing all right.’ I turned away.

‘That’s really nice of you.’ Leslie hesitated for a moment. ‘Hey, Josh?’

‘Yeah?’ I turned back around.

‘Do you want to meet up one day when I haven’t got work after school?’ He looked at me with what I took to be a hopeful expression.

‘Yes!’ It came out too quick and too loud, but at least it showed just how much I wanted that. Leslie had become somewhat of a friend in the last few months, but we hardly ever spent time together one-on-one. ‘I would like that, yeah.’

‘Great.’ Leslie smiled.

I left him there working. 

His boyfriend, Spencer, was out front. I waved my goodbyes to him as well, not stopping to chat as he was busy with a customer.

When I got home, no one was there.

It was funny how I’d started to think of Damian’s flat at home. I didn’t officially live there, though I spent more time here than back in Mum’s flat and my own bed.

I sat cross-legged in the middle of Damian’s bed. I’d been sleeping in it for months—and we had only been sleeping. With anyone else, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. They would’ve expected sex initially, and all the nights to follow. 

But Damian didn’t. And I… well, I wanted it sometimes, but after being without for so long and being with someone who didn’t want it, it wasn’t really something I craved. 

Actually, the thought of trying it again now after the experience yesterday, scared me. I would never have to worry about flashing back to my past with Damian, though.

The front door opened and closed, and then Damian came into the room. He put his book bag down against his desk, smiled at me, then turned to his closet. He wrenched his jumper over his head, which I now realised was wet.

‘It started raining?’

‘You surprised?’ He turned halfway around to grin at me. ‘This is London.’

My eyes fell to his chest, and the big scar going askew down from chest to hip. Both my hands involuntarily went underneath the sleeves of my own jumper, feeling my own scars. 

Both of us were scarred, inside and out. We had scars that would never go away.

Damian’s chest was quickly covered by a T-shirt. He didn’t like to show off his naked skin, not even to me. His bare upper body was the most of him I’d seen.

‘Do you realise we’ve been together over eight months now?’ I lifted my head to smile at him.

He gazed at me, brushed his tee down, then came over to stand on the floor in front of me. 

‘Time sure flies.’

‘It does.’ I leant over, he leant down, and our lips met in a soft kiss. ‘I lucked out with you, you know.’

He chuckled. 

‘You must be the only one who thinks so.’

‘What I think is the only thing that matters.’ I pulled him down on the bed, the element of surprise the only reason I managed to topple him over in the first place. He was broader, taller, and stronger than me.

Chuckling again, he rolled over onto his back. His arm stretched out towards me and I quickly took the invitation, lying down next to him with my head propped on his bicep. He curled his arm around my shoulder, holding me in place.

‘I lucked out with you too, you know. Not many blokes would put up with me and my inability to, well, you know.’

Honestly, that must be easier to put up with than my borderline disorder. 

‘Know what I think?’

‘What?’

‘I think we might be made for each other.’

It startled a laugh out of him. ‘Cheesy.’

‘But true.’ I honestly believed it. How else could two people fit so well together? Be so okay with each other’s quirks and disorders and sexualities?

‘Maybe you’re right.’ Damian turned over, burying his face in my neck and holding me tight with both arms.

I knew I was. I’d lucked out with him.

We’d both lucked out.

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