Morning came too soon. I forced myself up, and got ready for work, but I heard nothing, only silence and it reminded me how alone I was. I almost started to cry. I wanted to cry, felt like I had to, but I couldn't. No tears came, no sobs, just an empty feeling, as if my heart was the only thing left inside, for I could feel it there, pounding inside an empty chest. I made myself go to work, and at ten o'clock I took a short break, making my way down the hall to the outside. The air was fresh and clean, the sun was shinning brightly and the sky was a deep blue color. It was another beautiful day and right now I did appreciate the true beauty. As wonderful as it all was and as good as it made me feel, I knew I had to get back to work. In a few minutes, Lisa came looking for me.
"Shawn, how are you doing today?"
"Why what was wrong?"
"You know, it's morning, and it's Monday, and those two don't always get along too well. Plus my, ah, my roommate left to go out of town, for the rest of the week, and I'm, ah, not too thrilled about that."
"What made it better?"
"I went outside for a minute. You know the birds were singing, the sun was out, beautiful sky, it all brought me back."
"What are you doing for Lunch today," she said rather quickly. Lisa was all business, and didn't seem like she wanted to talk.
"I brought my lunch." I always brought my lunch.
"Will it keep until tomorrow?"
"I'm sure it will. Why do you ask?"
"I wanted to take you out to lunch today."
"Me? You wanted to take me out to lunch?"
"You up to it?"
"Yeah, sure. I can go."
"Good. I'll be back here shortly after twelve."
"Looking forward to it", I said as Lisa left the room.
"Looks like someone has been a good boy." I turned around to see Jenny smiling at me. I really liked her, but Kelly I wasn't so sure about.
"What makes you say that?"
"Lisa took me out to lunch before, and it was reward for something that I did," Jenny said.
I started thinking about all the different reasons. Hope I didn't do something wrong. If I did something wrong, she wouldn't take me to lunch. I thought harder. Last week she came by and said how good of a job I was doing and something about a meeting on Monday. I remember now. She was going to tell some people about me. That would be cool. I went back to work, wondering what lunch would be like. I was a little excited about it, but time seemed to drag, and the closer it got to twelve, the slower it went. Then I heard some of the machines in the plant shut down. You hardly noticed them from where I worked, but at lunch you could tell it got quieter. I worked just a few more minutes, and then Joe came into the office where I worked.
"Shawn. Miss Lisa asked for you. She wants you to go to the conference room."
"Okay then. Where is it?"
"I can show you." He led me past Lisa's office through some other doors to a section I had never been to. "This is it. Just knock on the door, then walk in."
"You is way to nervous. Miss Lisa had a smile on her face when she asked me to come get you. Just be yourself."
"I'll do my best." He walked off. I stood there at the door. I didn't want to go in, but I had to. I knocked on the door, waited just a second, and walked in. The room was very nice, with lots of paneling, wood shelves built into the wall and a big window at one end. In fact the whole wall was window. There were lots of important looking people sitting at a very long table. Lisa got up and came around to where I was. She put here arm around me and walked me down to one end of the table. We stopped, and she withdrew her arm going across my shoulders and left a hand there on my back. Lisa spoke.
"Sam, this is the young man I was telling you about. Shawn, this is Mr. Shepherd, Sam this is Shawn."
He stood up and shook my hand. "Glad to meet you Shawn. I heard some good things about you today." He still had a strong grip on my hand, then let go and sat down. "Lisa told all of us about what you have done so far. I always like to put a face with a name. We just wanted to thank you for all your good work."
"Thank you Mr. Shepherd."
His attention shifted back to the table. "I suspect, Shawn here knows more about computers than I do." There was a pause. I saw a lot of eyes look up at me, and felt very self-conscience. "I include myself, when I say we all need more training, and I want each of you to think of ways we can improve. Let's break for lunch, everyone back here at two o'clock." Lisa didn't leave my side. Mr. Shepherd got up first and shook my hand again. "Nice job Shawn. You make me proud." He gave me a pat on the back and walked out. Others were getting their papers together. A few of them came up shook my hand, told me to keep up the good work, or nice job or something like that.
"Ready for lunch?"
"Sure am Lisa" We went to a nice place to eat. We didn't talk much about work, but more about growing up in town, about our parents and such. Lisa liked dogs and wanted to hear all about Teddy. I told her all the things that he did, how funny he was. Most of all how he made you feel and how loyal he was. Lisa told me about dogs that she had, and funny things they did, or how they were like a good friend to her. Our food was great, and while we talked I got to know Lisa more like a friend. At one time she worked as a bank teller, and I remembered seeing her when I was with my mom at the drive up window. She even remembered me, but I think she remembered Teddy even more. There was always a dog treat for him when we came by, and throughout our conversation, her fondness for animals came up again and again. When I got home that evening, I saw James's truck in the drive, but he wouldn't be there, and wasn't going to be there all week.
Once inside the full force of his absence was there, and the emptiness inside me got bigger, till my heartbeat echoed like a great canyon. That sound faded away, and as I listened, I heard another sound, much louder than my heart beating. It was the sound of crying, but I was the only one in the room. The tears that wouldn't come that morning did. The boy I loved was gone, but worse than that, I wasn't sure if he loved me or if he would ever love me. I wasn't sure why I thought that, but no mater how hard I tried, I couldn't get it out of my head. I couldn't imagine life without him, but those very thoughts, the thoughts without him, were all around me pulling at my heart, sinking, sinking me into a deep sea. I wanted to give him my love, but I didn't know how, nor did I know if he would reject me. What I wanted was so far away, so distant, that miles or even light years could not express that distance. Why did he have to be gone at a time when I need him so badly? I listened for his voice, or any other sign that he was there, and I felt myself reach out to touch him, and to hold him there in my arms, but there was nothing there to feel, nothing for me to take hold of. I had searched my soul for answers, but found none. I sought out to find the strength within me, only that was gone too. Now with no energy my searching seemed in vain, as I felt the last glitter of hope fade away, and disappear into a timeless empty space. That chasm of empty space was inside me now. It was a place where the light of day would try to make it self known, but the darkness would overcome it, and swallow it whole, like a whale swallows a tiny piece of plankton. My since of being, my reason to live, swallowed up with it, leaving nothing behind. There was no significance to anything, nothing was important, everything black. My life had come and gone and no one would really know me. Maybe I was never there, that it was all in my mind and only my mind, and I was the soul owner of my existence. The world was around me, but they couldn't see me, only I could see me. I wasn't really there, it was all in my mind, everything was in my mind, and now there was nothing left.
I heard a knock at the door, and I used my last once of strength to get up, as I slowly made my way to the door. When he saw me, he held out his arms to give me a big hug. It wasn't the hug I needed, because at that point only James could have given me what I truly needed.
"Why are you crying?", my Uncle asked me.
I shrugged my shoulders as he held me out at arms length, scanned my face for details, but he would have to look inside me to see what he was searching for. His round face quizzed me for answers but I left no clue for him to guess. He hugged me again, and then gently led me to the couch where we sat down to talk, only I couldn't. I tried to say something, to let him know what was going on. Even if I knew what to say to him, the words wouldn't be enough. I had no way to express what I was feeling inside.
"Come with me, you need to get out", he said. "I came over to take the Chevy out for a drive, do you want to go? I held my head down limply, I felt nothing but tears. He stood up and picked me up like a raggedy Ann Doll, for he was much bigger than I. He gently guided me out, and to the driveway.
"You wait right here," he said, as he went into the garage to get the car. Soon he was backing out, and exited the car to put the top down.
"Lets go to town and get some ice-cream," he said. It wasn't a question, nor was it a demand. Simply it was a statement that I responded to without thinking. There wasn't much thinking going on inside, just wind and open road in front of us. The wind blew my hair in every direction, and was in my eyes and in my ears. I didn't know where the wind was coming from, or where it was going to, only that it was all around me, surrounding me. It was a welcome feeling, very natural, and liberating. It was like starting over again, leaving behind fear and darkness, but the emptiness remained.
We made our way into town, down familiar streets, with familiar sights and smells. I was barely conscience of getting out of the car, as if I had been drugged. I felt eyes upon me as it was my turn to order, but again no words came out of my mouth. My Uncle must have ordered for me, because as we sat down, there was a small bowl of chocolate chip mint in front of me. As I began to eat the numbness started to wear off, and reality began to settle in. What I was keeping inside me was about to become exposed, and there was nothing within my power to keep it from happening. I could feel a question was coming, and soon. I waited to be drilled for reasons and answers for my tears. I thought he was about to say something but he didn't. From nowhere, without prior thought, I stumbled into a question, a question for him. I didn't think I would ever speak again, but then there it was, my voice, talking, saying words my mind wasn't even aware of. The words sprang forth, and before I had a chance to take them back, to think about what it was I was saying, it was over. There was no going back, no way to pretend that I never said them. Perhaps I was beating him to the punch, asking before I was going to be asked, but for whatever reason, I asked him how do you know when you're in love. It was a serious question, and my Uncle knew it. He could have spouted out some standard answer, but he didn't. Instead he thought while he ate his ice cream. Hours of time seemed to pass by, and I thought maybe I dreamed it, that I would wake up in my own bed, never to have said those words to him. Maybe I really hadn't said anything at all, but then I could see he was about to say something, I could see it in his eyes, thoughtful they were, looking at me, searching me out to see if I was ready to listen.
"Love can mean so many different things, and it affects us all differently. It all depends on how the relationship begins. When you both love each other, and you both know it, you can feel it building inside you, growing, and filling you, as you see the same things going on inside the other person. Suddenly nothing else in the world matters, except this other person, so much so that you feel like your floating through life like a dream. A secret love on the other hand, can be menacing, ripping your insides apart. You want so badly to tell them how you feel, but you don't know how, or if you can." He went back to eating his ice cream, done with his short speech for now, leaving me to respond. I was hoping he would have something more to say. A long drawn out speech would have been the simplest solution for me, one that required no input, but he didn't say another word, and the silence felt so awkward, that I felt compelled to say something. It was up to me, and no matter how much I wanted to ignore his words, I couldn't.
He seemed to already know what was going on inside me, for his words were spoken as if they came from my own heart. I finished my ice cream, and looked out the window, knowing how I needed to be careful with my words, so that he wouldn't know I was in love with a boy. But even those thoughts had become a secret to themselves, a secret even I didn't know about. I had become so empty inside that even the feelings I had for that boy had become detached from me, and I began to speak hypothetically, completely removed from the situation.
"Like you said, I don't know how to tell this person that I love them?"
"Well do they have any idea about your feelings?" He said catching my gaze as I looked back at him. "I think so," I said, "or maybe they don't, it's hard to say."
"So you haven't spoken about love with this person yet?
"Not exactly. I told him that I loved him as a friend, but that was all." Then I realized what I had said, how I said him, not her. Now he knew what I had kept a secret, and I felt my face get hot, as if it were on fire, but my Uncle was calm, didn't laugh, nor did he look at me like I was crazy. I thought for a moment that I got it by him, and that maybe he didn't catch what I said. Maybe I was in the clear, and began to breath a little more normal, but still, I could hear my breath inside me, each one deliberate, as if it might be my last.
He looked me straight in the eye, and said, "It's James, isn't it?" All I could do is nod my head yes, and the tears started streaming out of my eyes, as the hypothetical boy, became real again. He got up to go outside and as I stood, he placed his big hand on my shoulder, coaxing me outside. I got out to the car and broke down crying, all over again, but I wasn't sure how I was crying, because I had already cried so much, I didn't think there was anymore of that left inside me. Throughout my life I always cried, more than any other boy, and I knew that, but I didn't know why. The past week, I cried more than ever, but this time the tears were different, they were tears of relieve. He was the first person to know what I had secretly kept inside me, something no one else knew of till now. How I thought it would be the end of the world if any one else were to know, but in a way I felt better. He held me in his arms for a minute, till I gained back control, then he opened the door for me to get in.
"How did you know? I asked with tears still in my eyes.
"Shawn, I've watched you grow up, saw you when you were just a little guy. You've always been sensitive, but at the same time, isolated yourself from others. The summer we worked on cars, I got to know you even better, and you were always quiet, never reached out to anyone. The last time you hugged me you were eight, and not until I gave you the Jeep, did you hug me again." I shook my head yes, agreeing with him. "Then when you and James came over the other day, you put your arm around him a couple of times, and I never saw you do that before. You were very warm to him, but it was more than that. It was the way you looked at him, your eyes gave you away." I shook my head yes again, still unable to speak. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that you should worry about."
"But he's a boy, I love another boy."
"It's okay. He's another humane being, and if you love him and he loves you, then nothing else matters."
"But I don't understand. How can I love another boy?"
"You love him don't you?"
"Do you feel it in you're heart?"
"Yes more than anything else in the world! Don't know how or why, even fought it for a while, but I can't ignore it anymore. I know that I love him." I looked over at my uncle, there was a pause, he was thinking about something.
"Have you told your parents?"
"Well you tell them when you're ready, I won't say a word."
"Thanks, I don't know what to say."
"Don't need to say anything. You just try to find some peace within yourself."
"I'll try," I said weakly.
"Shawn, I can see what this is doing to you. If you want, I'll talk to him for you."
"Thanks," I said. "I'm not sure about that."
"Well, it's better coming from you. Please son, talk to him about this." I nodded my head yes, agreeing that somehow, someway I had to talk to him.
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