He was beautiful, or at least some people said that about him. I stared at him from across the pool, unwilling to tear my eyes away from him no matter how much I wanted to. In truth, I wasn’t sure what beauty there was in him at all, but that didn’t stop me from searching for it. I had to find it. It was a matter of life and death.
I watched him, with a nearly blank expression on his face that sometimes became a frown. I knew that look. He was thinking of something that was beyond his understanding; trying to figure out what to make of his current situation. Standing as he was on the edge of the pool, trying to decide whether to dive in and learn to swim, or to walk away and to never test those waters. He was nervous, he was scared, and I knew that I had done it.
We were childhood friends, he and I. I don’t know when the friendship began to sour, and I’m not sure there was any single moment in which I began to dislike him, but slowly we had drifted apart. Slowly I had begun to hate the times that I saw him. I began to think that the world would be better off if he weren’t a part of it. I was so dreadfully wrong it pained me to think of how I had once thought of him.
There were things about him that others had said. Things I didn’t want to repeat but which raced through my mind. While some called him beautiful, handsome, or attractive, there were others who said things I couldn’t ignore. They called him ugly, stupid, sometimes even worse things. The one that stuck with me the most, however, was something I wasn’t sure if it were good or bad, but it was definitely something I knew was true. They also called him gay.
I had to admit that I had once hated that word. I had considered being gay to be one of the most terrible things a person could be, and I had hated him for that, but the truth was, I knew I was just reacting out of what I had been taught. The world had made it painfully clear that being gay was wrong, or at least, some people thought so. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the case, but then why did everyone say that it was? In time I came to realize that it was my own insecurities that had caused me to react that way toward him. In time I came to realize that I was in the wrong, and that being gay was completely normal.
Still, I felt that I had to make it up to him somehow. I had treated him poorly over the years since I found out, and probably before it too, now that I thought about it. There were times where I had suspicions, and I had made sure to put him down quickly. I had made sure that I kept him in his place. There was no way I was going to allow one of my friends to be gay when I had the power to stop it.
The problem arose when I realized that I couldn’t stop it, because there was nothing to stop. He was the way he was, and he wasn’t going to change. That didn’t stop me from trying to do something about it, and instead of trying to change him I began to shut him out. I began to push him down and make sure he knew to stay out of sight or I would take more drastic measures.
In a very short time I had traveled the path from friendship, to indifference, to hostility and then to being outright enemies with one of my best friends. As I watched him now, I was so thoroughly ashamed of how I had treated him. His eyes seemed lost as he scanned the scene in front of him. He reached back and smoothed back his hair, scratching his head nervously. I laughed when I realized that I was doing the exact same thing, but then I returned my study to him.
I knew he couldn’t see me from where he was standing. There was enough distance between us that we might as well have been in different worlds, and in truth I suppose we were. My neglect had pushed him so far away from me that I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to bridge that gap. I had begun making some amends, but they were slow in coming, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to go all the way.
While it was true that I had hated him when they called him gay, the truth was I had been forced to face that same reality. I had been forced to admit that I too liked my male classmates much more than the female ones. It was the males that I thought about when my hormones were raging. I knew when he first started to tell me that he was gay that I didn’t like it, but at the same time the same secret was burning within me. Years later I decided to come out, against all odds, but that hadn’t healed the rift between us.
For a while, it had actually made it worse. He avoided my eyes whenever I thought about looking at him. He avoided me, and I became more and more depressed as I thought about what I had done to him. I had done nothing as bullies came after him. I sat back and watched, not having the strength to stand up to them on his behalf. I had watched people ridicule him for something he couldn’t change, and which wasn’t even a problem.
But then I started to realize some of what I had done. I started to come to terms with who I was and what had happened between he and I. Often times these thoughts occurred when I saw him across the pool, or sometimes when I was alone in the privacy of my room. I would think about writing something to him, or talking to him, and on occasion I’d say a kind word and watch as his face lit up with sudden hope.
And there were the days that I gave him encouragement, after having had to face his tormentors. I found him alone and broken and lifted him up, rather than to tear him down as I had previously done. He began to meet my eyes, slowly but surely. As I supported him, he found the confidence he had once lost. He found the strength to face the people who had made his life hell.
I had been one of them, and at first I took the brunt of it, but I had come to realize that it was worth it. I had to make amends. I had to let him see the sincerity of my actions, and that I really had come to accept him. It was hard. It was very hard, considering the amount of bitterness he held for me, but in time we slowly began to patch up our friendship. In time I began to fall for him.
Now whenever I saw him I tended to smile rather than frown, though that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes the bitterness still crept between us, but I was learning to be the friend I needed to be. I was learning to love him for who he was, just as I had come to accept the things about myself that I had once denied. I knew who he was, and he was good. He was beautiful, handsome, and attractive.
He met my eyes, and I could see that he knew. There was no hatred there, and for once the bitterness was gone entirely. His eyes sparkled with amusement and confidence. He was ready to take on the world. He was ready to dive in and swim, and I knew for a fact that I’d be right there with him.
A lot had changed for him when he had met his first boyfriend. What a day that had been! As much as I had been trying to heal his wounds, his boyfriend had done as much work or more. There was no doubting that the two of them were deeply in love. Every day that I saw them together, looked down at their hands clasped tightly or noticed them kiss and show their affection for each other, I couldn’t help but smile.
They were clearly in love in every sense of the word. He had found his purpose; he had come to accept himself and find another who loved him for who he was, and that was the best thing I could possibly imagine for my childhood friend. While it was a possibility that he and I would never patch things up entirely, I knew that he was happy with the direction his life was headed, and that was good enough for me. We had become the best of friends again, and I was certain we would be together for the rest of our lives. With his boyfriend in tow, of course. We couldn’t leave him behind!
I moved to smooth back my hair on the other side, and laughed when he did the same thing. The smile lingered on my face after I let my hand fall, and I continued to stare into his eyes. I nodded at the confidence I saw there, the determination to live life to its fullest. I couldn’t believe that I had ever thought life would be better without him, and I drew such strength from those eyes that I was ready to face the world and everything in it with him.
A door opened behind him and I couldn’t help but grin as his boyfriend stepped through. He slid up behind him and wrapped him in a hug, kissing his neck before he whispered into his ear.
“Hey, boyfriend,” I heard from my side, feeling the warmth of the gorgeous boy against me. Though I was still naked from the waist up, my skin had mostly air-dried from my shower, and I was glad he wasn’t afraid of damaging his tuxedo as he pulled me back against him. “How long are you going to spend in here staring at your own reflection?” My boyfriend asked as his face joined mine in the mirror, the pool of light and glass reflecting is handsome face. He kissed my cheek and continued staring forward. “You’re not becoming obsessed with another man, are you?” My boyfriend asked with a giggle, “Even if it is yourself, I might start to get jealous.”
“I’m sorry. I guess we just needed some time alone,” I said as I turned my head and kissed him on the lips before looking back at the boy reflected in the glass. “Don’t worry,” I continued, patting his cheek. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes. I love you.”
“I love you too,” He said, kissing me on the cheek again before he pulled away. “I’m excited to see you in your tux.”
I gestured to my naked torso and down to the towel wrapped tightly around my waist and said with mock defensiveness, “What you don’t think I’m good like this?”
“Oh? Yes, I love you like that,” my boyfriend replied, wiggling his eyebrows as he laid a hand on my bare chest, just above my nipple. “But they won’t let you into the Sweetheart’s Dance like that, and I want this to be a night to remember.” He pushed in close, slowly moving his mouth to mine as he continued, “I can’t wait to tell the whole school how beautiful, handsome, and amazing I think you are.”
His last words were breathed out onto my lips as he kissed me slow and sensually. He extended it long enough that we were both out of breath by the time he let go. His eyes sparkled with the feelings we had just expressed without words, and as he pulled away from me I knew that it was only temporary. He stepped back through the door and closed it behind him softly, giving me the privacy to get ready the rest of the way.
I glanced back at the tuxedo that hung from the hook on the wall behind me and then back to my reflection in the mirror, the boy across the silvery pool; the portal of glass which held him distant from me. I winked at him and chuckled, and then I began to dress in my tuxedo. I took my time, despite knowing that my boyfriend was waiting on me. I wanted everything to be perfect; every last detail to be in place before I stepped out and into yet another new chapter in my life.
This dance would be the first time that my boyfriend and I were out together in public. It had been a long road to get us there, but we were ready. As I put on my tux I thought about that road, and all the bumps that had been along it. We had survived so much together, and there would never be a doubt again that he was the one for me. He had come when I needed him most, and had healed me where I was broken. He had made me start to like myself again.
With him, I knew I could face my tormentors, those who had made me think that the world hated me, and that I should hate myself as well. The question, however, wasn’t whether I was strong enough with my boyfriend, the question was whether I was strong enough with myself.
The last thing I worked on was my hair, and as I again settled in front of the mirror, I took one more look at the boy on the other side of the glass. I reached out tentatively with my fingers, watching him reach out to me with equal longing, and as my hand rested against the glass I met his eyes; my childhood friend whom I had pushed away, the boy that I had hidden behind bitterness and hatred, was staring back at me.
And his eyes held forgiveness.
And his eyes held confidence.
And his eyes held love.
I finished combing and styling my hair as I continued to stare into his eyes, knowing that once and for all the wounds were closing. I was ready to dive into the waters of life; I was ready to test the waters and swim rather than walk away. I loved myself, and I was certain I could take on anything now that I knew who I was. It didn’t matter what the world thought, and it didn’t matter what the haters said.
I am me, and I am awesome.
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