© 2017-2019 by Teddy S Bower
My gratitude to Tinnean for your invaluable help in beta-reading this story for me. You're the best!
There are times in life when the need to make a painful choice is thrust upon us against our will. Is the choice we ultimately make always right or wrong? Do we always become either the hero or the villain?
Or sometimes, are we just making our mistakes, celebrating our victories, agonizing over our defeats, loving, crying, living, doing the best we know how to do? Perhaps if we knew the end from the beginning we'd decide to live our life differently but then we don't get that luxury, do we? And we never know when a major or seeming insignificant event might set wheels in motion to rearrange our lives for good or for ill.
It was a cool, foggy Friday afternoon in San Francisco, the City by the Bay. Trees were shedding their leaves to fall on the damp streets and sidewalks, soon to be ground into the blacktop by passing vehicles or trod underfoot by hurrying pedestrians with heads bowed against the drizzly, autumn chill, glad the weekend was finally upon them.
On this fall day I was scurrying to my final class of the week along the corridors of Mission Hall on the UCSF Mission Bay Campus, when, unrecognized at the time, a moment came that would begin a sea change in my fractured life.
My phone buzzed in my hip pocket and I paused long enough in my headlong rush to read the text that had just arrived.
I sighed and slipped the phone back into my pocket as I entered the lecture theater and took a seat. As the professor lectured, my mind churned, preoccupied with worry over the turn my life had taken. It would be easy enough to turn my back on it all and walk away. No one would put me down for doing so, but there were important reasons why that was a nonstarter from the outset. There were reasons why I had made the decisions that I'd made. I'd thought the path I had chosen would be getting easier by now but it wasn't. Rather, it was becoming progressively more difficult. I was having more and more trouble compartmentalizing this part of my life, keeping it boxed up and separate from what I considered to be my "real" life.
For the first time ever I entertained the idea of suicide as a solution but immediately rejected the notion. I still loved life too much to take such a drastic step. It would get better. How, I didn't know but I knew it would. It had to.
It wasn't what I was doing or even why I was doing it that bothered me so much, though that most certainly was a contributing factor to my unease. No, it was the deception, the lies, the sneaking around that brought the pain, and the shame, and the guilt. Always the guilt.
Perhaps if I'd known back when I chose this course that it would impact me the way it had I'd have made a much different decision, and in reality I suddenly realized that I should have known. Maybe I'd even ignored my own misgivings and fears, but that was the funny thing about life: sometimes it was the fear that caused us to make choices we normally wouldn't make. Whatever the case, I felt trapped, as if the life was being squeezed from me by a monster.
This monster wasn't external. No, he'd taken up residence within me, reaching out his ice cold, unsympathetic hand to weigh down heavily on my heart, making each beat so painful I wasn't sure if I'd survive, or even if I wanted to. He was taking over my life, and it was difficult to know what hurt more, the emotional havoc he wrought or the shame he induced. The horrifying part was that at times I felt sure the monster was me.
I sighed again, knowing life must go on whether I wanted it to or not. It would be one thing if I was alone, but this was not the case. Someone was depending on me; someone I loved more than life itself.
The clock on the wall behind the bar at the club where I worked read midnight as I nodded to my replacement, turned the till over to him, and headed out into the night. Twenty minutes later I passed my ID in front of the security scanner at the foot of the looming office tower and entered when the door slid open.
The security guard gave an uninterested glance at my badge. "I'm sure you probably know the way by now," he said with a smirk and a wink, waving his left hand in the general direction of the express elevator. I found his demeanor offensive but refused to be goaded into doing something I'd regret later. Instead I pushed the call button, and when the elevator arrived I stepped in and rode it to the top of the tower.
Later, indeed much later, while lingering still in that place between awareness and coma, the reality of where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing crashed into my consciousness. I was awake in an instant, forced to face the stark truth of a world I was coming to loathe. Lying on my side in the bed I was painfully aware of the sleeping presence behind me holding me to his chest, the residue of our coupling still leaking from my body, sticky, and becoming uncomfortable as it slowly dried between us, gluing his genitals to my bottom where he was spooned up behind me.
Wishing in vain that the oblivion of sleep would reclaim me I stared through the window. From the vantage point of this penthouse on the roof of the city I could see a 180 degree, panoramic view of the city stretching out below. The towering office buildings of downtown were well lit in the pre-dawn darkness, the Transamerica Pyramid looming large just a few blocks up Clay Street. A little further away in another direction Coit Tower was brilliantly illuminated atop Telegraph Hill, and in the distance beyond that could be seen the lighted towers of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The view should have been awe inspiring, but I found it abhorrent, or perhaps it was I who was abhorrent. I could not help but associate this place, and the man I was with, as representative of what my life had become; a revolving door of debasing acts that served only to bring shame.
The guilt, I knew, would haunt me later but now that the job was done I refused to linger either in the guilt or in this place. As gently as possible pulled myself away from him while he continued to sleep undisturbed. I wondered, in self-accusation, why I was still here. I should never have allowed myself to drift off to sleep in the first place.
After gaining my feet I stood momentarily before the expanse floor to ceiling window, uncaringly revealing the dim outline of my nakedness to anyone in the adjacent tower who might at that moment chance to look up, before slipping into the ensuite where I quickly showered, returned to the bedchamber, and threw on my clothes. Once dressed I hurried from the room, remembering to take the envelope from the bedside stand on my way out.
In the front hallway I paused beneath the grand, lighted entryway to slip on my shoes. While doing so I inspected the envelope, my heart convulsing painfully in my chest as I read the degrading inscription scrawled across the front. I hated it. As many times as I'd been his escort he could at least use my name, but no, he was much too arrogant for that.
The word dropped in my heart like truck-sized boulder falling onto a highway.
"Is this what I've been reduced to?" I wondered, "What about Jason? Our plans? Our dreams? How do I close the lid on this Pandora's Box?"
Jason deserved none of this. Neither did I, come to that. like millions of others who'd come before us, we'd become expendable; the canon fodder of selfish men possessed by a desperate thirst for wealth, fame, power, or religious domination of others.
The monster with his icy fingers of guilt and shame besieged my thoughts again, and I pushed them away almost violently as the doors of the express elevator hissed closed behind me.
I pressed the appropriate button and the elevator began to move, causing that queasy sensation induced by momentary weightlessness as it rapidly picked up speed, taking me away from the embodiment of my desperate choices. During the brief descent I ripped the envelope open, withdrew the greenbacks, counted them, and stuffed them in my front left pocket with a smile of satisfaction, the icy fingers receding, at least for the time being.
Twelve hundred dollars! Combine that with my portion of the fee he'd paid the agency up front, and it had been a very good night for me financially. Better than most, but I'd grown used to good nights. Still, he must have been feeling unusually generous on this night, matching the agency's fee dollar for dollar as my tip. There was no doubt that financially he was a top tier client. His bedside manner might be arrogant and selfish, but thankfully it was benign.
The elevator slowed to a stop. The bell dinged as the door slid open, and I once again found myself in the executive lobby. I nodded to the security guard before taking a seat on an out of the way bench, needing a few minutes to refocus before making my way home. He winked knowingly at me once again but said nothing. This time, rather than being offended, my mind idly wondered for a moment what his story might be, before returning to matters of my own.
I doubt my story, from innocent college boy to gay escort, was much different from that of other young men who'd made similar choices. Sure, there were probably some that do it for a lark, but for me it was a decision of desperation driven by love.
People can scoff at that if they want to but it's true. It had taken an offhand comment from a coworker at the club to set my life on this trajectory. A week and a few curious questions later and I had a phone number tucked safely away in my address book. Six weeks following that, for my first trick, I was given as a high school graduation gift to fun loving young guy from his uncle.
The client I'd just left could hardly be classified as fun, but was easily enough managed, even if he was kind of a prick. Our agency protected us from the worst of our dangerous trade, it's true, and I was deeply grateful for their attention to that and other details. One need only to talk with guys from the other escort services in town to appreciate that fact. It made it easier to tolerate the occasional personality quirks we encountered from clients.
The agency was also strict, even solicitous concerning the sexual health of their escorts, demanding monthly testing, not only of the client, but the escort as well. Barebacking was prohibited in all cases except where the client had a history of testing clean over a period of at least eighteen consecutive months, the most recent test dated within less than seventy-two hours of the sexual liaison in question, and every one of the tests administered by the agency's own testing facilities. Violation of agency health standards was grounds for dismissal of the escort and an across-agency blacklisting of the client. Tonight was not my first bareback encounter nor would it be my last. My manager knew that I preferred such clients whenever available, not because it was my thing but because I needed the money. The price was high for the client and not every client was willing to pay it, but enough of them did and I was able to work that fact to my financial advantage.
Rising at last from the bench, I stepped out onto Clay Street, its aging cobbles plainly visible even in the dimness of the city at first light. I briefly considered crossing into Sue Bierman Park to watch the sunrise but decided, what with twelve hundred dollars in my pocket, that it was an ill-advised plan. It was bad enough just being on the street with that kind of cash in one's pocket at five-thirty in the morning. Instead I made my way to the west end of the block, turned left onto Drumm Street, and made walked the short distance south to Market Street where I waited in the chill half-light of the early morning for the Muni. When the bus arrived I sank gratefully into the first seat I came to, glad to finally be heading for home, and hopefully letting go of my worries for a few hours.
As the bus worked its way up Market Street I watched disinterested as we passed the various San Francisco landmarks. I noted the huge, lighted Pride Flag as it hung limply on its pole, and snorted at the irony, thinking its limpness an accurate portrayal of my own, limp life. A few short minutes later the bus drew to a halt at my stop half a block below our modest home overlooking The Castro.
As the sun's rays peeked above the distant Berkeley Hills, I climbed the stairs to the front door of our small home. It was nothing fancy but the view from our front window looking east across the city toward the bay and beyond was spectacular. The place had been a joint graduation gift from his parents and mine and had been chosen for its proximity to UCSF where both of us had been accepted to our chosen course of study, he in Epidemiology and me in Clinical Research. Their plan had been that we would share the accommodations while pursuing our graduate and postgraduate degrees. Once we'd completed university and gone our separate ways their suggestion was that we sell the property for a healthy profit with the idea that it would give each of us a financial boost with which to launch as men and as professionals.
Just before the start of our sophomore year our plans were shattered. Neither of us had yet reached our twentieth birthday when, with swift and cruel result, the hammer fell. A former high school friend, with a seeming innocent and offhand remark, had inadvertently let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Prior to that, in our parents' minds, we had been nothing more than best friends. Now, with their strict, Roman Catholic backgrounds, we were lower than the low and had not only been disowned but also cut off financially. Thankfully when they'd purchased the place they'd put the title to the property in our names, never dreaming we'd disgrace their good family names, or we'd have lost our home as well. As things stood however, we owned it free and clear.
It soon became obvious that our dream of attending and completing university together had been shattered but we were determined to make a go of it. Love was enough. It would have to be, because other than our home, love was pretty much all we had between us.
In the end we agreed that I would complete my education first and he would work full time, taking classes as he could in order to maintain his credits. When I'd graduated he would return to school full time while I worked and completed my postgraduate degree, part time. Maybe times would be a little sketchy for us but we'd be together and we'd be okay.
Unfortunately we found ourselves, as millions of other young men and women around the world did, in the midst of a deep, global recession. Jason couldn't have bought a job let alone find one. Hell, there were graduate PhDs who were flipping burgers just to keep themselves fed. Finally, out of desperation we agreed that he'd join the Marines for a two year stint, and we'd see how things went from there.
We saw little of each other over the next six months but when he came home on leave at the end of that time we were able to spend a glorious two weeks together. Although we couldn't do it legally, Proposition 8 having been passed by California voters a couple of years previously, he became my husband and I his as we committed our love to each other for life. He'd just had his twenty-first birthday. I was only a few short weeks behind.
When his leave was over we parted with tears and heavy hearts. He spent the next few weeks in intensive training at Camp Pendleton and was then deployed. He left, a normal and energetic, red-blooded American boy and returned three months later a broken, traumatized shell, having lost his legs and his manhood to an IED in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
We were shattered, of course, but even so, our love remained undiminished. His courage and determination were heroic and an inspiration to me. He more than managed most of the time, but the PTSD, the injuries, and the emotional devastation of his emasculation had their impact on his life, and on ours.
The thing is, I truly did love him still, desperately so, but his medical needs and the resulting bills were staggering. Yes, the VA covered a lot but he needed more than they could provide in a timely manner and in some cases would provide at all. To our way of thinking his care should never have been a matter of question but for some reason it was. Along with others who'd been similarly affected, we were involved in a class-action litigation. The law firm we had engaged was working on contingency, but it would take years with no guarantee the case would be decided in favor of the plaintiffs, and he needed help now.
Furthermore, if we were ever going to make a life together I needed to complete my education and he had every intention of completing his. I had to work, and Jason's medical expenses had to be met. I was still enrolled at UCSF, now into my senior year. I was working part time but my wages and bartending tips, good as they were, even when combined with his disability pension did not cover our needs.
I keyed the lock to the front door of our home praying that Jason's night had been restful. Most of the time they were but I worried about him when I couldn't be there. He was still somewhat fragile and far too often his world would turn unexpectedly upside down. A simple vehicle backfire or another sudden sound would trigger his PTSD. Sometimes the phantom pain in his missing legs would escalate to near unbearable levels. He'd been fitted for prosthetics but continuing issues with extreme tenderness in his left stump prevented their use for extended periods of time. All of these things caused both of us some amount of concern, especially if he was home alone.
"That you, Justin?" I heard his energetic voice calling from down the hall as I opened the door and entered. It seemed that he'd had a good night and I was immediately grateful.
"Yeah, Jason, it's me!" I called back trying to show at least some enthusiasm in spite of my physical and emotional exhaustion. From habit I did the sign of the cross and thanked my patron saint that it was a Saturday.
Jason rolled into the front room, a smile on his face that lit up our home. His muscular upper body easily manhandled the chair through the hallway and around the furniture as he rolled his way toward me. When he stopped in front of me he eagerly reached up pulling me down to his lap, greeting me with an affectionate hug and a loving kiss that I was only too willing to accommodate. He held on to me, stroking his hands through my hair, whispering endearments in my ear.
We'd fallen hopelessly for each other on an early September day of our sophomore year of high school in far off Brattleboro, Vermont. His love had never lessened. In fact it was exponentially stronger, as was mine for him. This morning however there seemed to be something extra in his greeting. I could sense it. It at once thrilled me and reminded me of my own, despicable guilt. His manner this morning, loving and genuine as it was, was also typical of times past when he wanted to talk with me of more serious issues.
The monster I'd been holding at bay began to reassert his hold on my heart.
"I wasn't sure whether it was you or the PT aide," he said, "You're later than usual this morning. Did you have to pull extra duty after a late party at the club?"
"Yeah, something like that. You know how Friday nights can be at that place," I replied with a sigh, slipping heavily onto the end of the couch in exhaustion.
He rolled up beside me taking one of my hands in his own. With the other he reached into the fanny pack he always kept around his waist and handed me my cellphone.
"You left it here when you came home to change before work," he told me, his voice showing a slight nervousness, confirming the fact that he did, indeed, have a more serious matter on his mind.
His words left me cold, the guilt wrapping its monstrous icy fingers around my heart.
"I thought I'd lost it at school yesterday…" I drifted off into frantic thoughts, fighting down panic as I spoke, hoping that it didn't show. I dared not ask the question that was now central in my mind.
"Someone called," he said conversationally, "I picked it up. I don't know why." He answered my unspoken question. The icy fingers began to squeeze. My efforts to fight them were futile.
"Oh?" I couldn't bear to ask more. My eyes closed involuntarily seeking refuge from contact with his own.
He pressed his hand more firmly around my own, his thumb rubbing across my knuckles. It had always been an act of tenderness on his part. At the moment however it seemed incongruously wrong. I wanted to withdraw from his touch but I couldn't. I wouldn't. In spite of everything, I loved him more than life.
The icy fingers waited, neither strengthening nor loosening their grip.
"Yeah," he replied flatly, "I wish that I hadn't."
The silence crashed about in the room as it lengthened, seeming interminable.
"Justin?" he asked quietly after what seemed an eternity.
I couldn't speak, my vocal chords frozen into immobility. I started to tremble. The icy fingers of the monster squeezed. My heart was breaking, bits of it flaking off in frozen little pieces
"Justin? Please…? Please, just look at me?"
I opened my eyes, seeking to look anywhere but into his, yet drawn inexorably to the one place where I'd always found safety, knowing that this time the safety they sought would elude me.
Our eyes met. His were overflowing with tears.
Seeing those tears destroyed me. The icy fingers completed their work in one final, painful squeeze. My heart froze solid breaking into arctic chunks. My blood, now chilled, refused to flow through my veins.
My shame was complete. I could only mumble, barely above a whisper, "Oh, Jason... I... I don't know what to say."
His eyes, though filled with obvious emotional pain, continued looking into mine, never wavering in spite of his tears. His thumb continued to stroke my knuckles in that loving gesture he'd never shown anyone but me.
My eyes were now overflowing with my own tears. I could no longer look into his so I looked down watching his thumb as it worked. I tried to withdraw my hand but he held on, refusing to relinquish me to the grief that was filling me.
He spoke quietly, his voice unexpectedly reassuring.
"I've known for a while now, Justin. Do you understand me? I've known, okay? It doesn't change anything."
I heard what he said and was incredulous. How could it not change things? I was a monster, a betrayer, a cheater, a fraud. Wresting my hands forcefully from his, I stood abruptly and strode to the window where the rising sun was chasing the gloom from every nook and cranny of the city, lighting my face and body as I stood there looking out.
Undeterred he continued to speak, rolling his chair up behind me slowly as he did so. I refused to turn at his approach, fearing, I suppose, that if I did so he would see the reality of the monster I knew myself to be.
"I know why you're doing what you're doing," he continued as if I'd not cut him off and turned my back on him. "Do you think that I'm blind? I see the medical bills. I see your pay stub. I see your college expenses. I know what it costs to live in this city. You've never tried to hide these things from me."
I stared silently out the window, refusing to acknowledge his words or his presence. I was angry. More angry than I'd ever been in our relationship and I didn't know why. I'm not sure how much time passed before I abruptly turned and stepped around him. Without meeting his eyes I headed down the hall. I opened the door to our bedroom, entered, and closed it behind me. Our bed was made up, tidy as usual, and I crossed to sit on it.
I knew I had no right to be angry but I was. He'd done nothing. In fact, although I hadn't given him the grace of hearing him out, it appeared as if he had already forgiven me, a fact which I found appalling given what I'd done. Suddenly it dawned on me that I wanted him to be angry. It was what I deserved, that and being kicked to the curb, but he wasn't doing that and… and I was angry because he wasn't and I didn't know how to handle that.
While I stewed in my anger I began to look around the room, taking in all the little things that represented us and the life we'd built together.
On the dresser was a picture of us taken at our Junior Prom. It was a candid shot taken by a classmate as we'd danced a slow dance, his head was resting in the crook of my neck, my arms were around his waist pulling him in close. To keep various sets of parents in the dark about their offspring we'd double dated a couple of girls who were also partners, but once at the prom we'd paired off as real couples and had a great time.
Leaning up in a corner of the room were a pair of walking sticks we'd carved from driftwood picked up on the beach the summer after our high school graduation. We'd taken two weeks that summer, when we first moved west to San Francisco, and camped out on a remote stretch of beach. A three-mile hike was required just to reach it. We'd carried all our food and gear in on our backs and spent the entire time camping, hiking, fishing, sunbathing, and making love, never seeing another soul the entire time. It had been glorious.
The room, our room, was immaculate, most of which was his doing in spite of his injuries and struggles. Every inch of it reminded me of him, of us. It even smelled of him. I picked up his pillow, holding it to my face. As I breathed him in I wept at the enormity of my failure and my betrayal.
I wasn't sure how long I sat there stewing but eventually it dawned on me that he loved me. Still. In spite of everything. I knew, in that moment of realization, that if I wanted to save our relationship I needed to do the adult thing and talk to him. Heaven only knew if we could weather this storm but I owed it to myself, to us, to him, to try; to fight for what we had, because losing each other was unthinkable.
When I returned to the front room he was sitting almost exactly where I'd left him, perhaps a foot or two closer to the window, but there nonetheless, his shoulders slumped in apparent discouragement. Wondering if my intended overture was coming too late, I stood at his left side gazing with him out the window across the city, waiting for one of us to say something.
Eventually the time seemed right to speak. I reached over and placed my right hand on his left shoulder seeking that familiar touch that my knowledge of us as a couple told me we both craved. At my touch he tilted his head and rubbed his cheek against the back of my hand as it rested on his shoulder. My heart leapt yet faltered, unable to believe that things could ever be the same between us.
"How long have you known?" I asked quietly, my gaze still focused somewhere out there in the city.
His response was subdued, almost whispered at least for the first few words but gained in strength as he spoke, "I think I've known since the day you made the decision."
"Something changed. I can't say what. It just changed. At first I figured you'd decided to leave me and were just waiting for the best time to throw me away," he paused, considering his next words, "…but you never left."
"Jason, I… I… Leave you? I would never do that… If you knew what I was doing, why didn't you say something?"
I felt rather than saw him lift his head to look at me. I didn't return his gaze and he turned back toward the view of the city beyond the window.
"What was there to say? Should I have accused you of something? What good would that have done? And while we're asking questions, why couldn't you have talked to me instead of sneaking around behind my back, fucking everyone, and god knows what else?" His voice rose in pitch and intensity as he spoke, almost shouting by the time he had finished.
His anger was so intense I withdrew my touch. My heart plummeted as the icy hand of the monster once again squeezed unmercifully.
"Do you hate me, Jason? I can't blame you if you do. I just… I didn't know what to do. You needed more than I could provide. I… I just didn't know what to do…"
I couldn't continue and slumped to the loveseat, wracked with sobs. All the tension, all the stress, all the shame and self-loathing, all my love for this man sitting here in the room with me, all of it, and I was no longer able to cope. I'd done all I could, the best way I knew how and it had all been wrong.
He rolled his chair to face me and once again reached out taking my hand, caressing my knuckles in that familiar, soothing gesture I'd come to know as a symbol of our security. I looked up then, into his beautiful, love-filled, blue eyes.
"Oh, my dear, beautiful Justin. No, I don't hate you. I could never hate you. I… I love you. I hope you know that. I'm sorry I yelled. I was wrong to do that. I just wish that you'd trusted me enough to talk to me about things, you know? It may not have changed anything but at least we'd have been communicating. Don't you think honesty is more important than whatever it is that we've been doing?"
He paused a moment, his facial expression indicating an inward conflict before his expression resolved and he continued, this time reflectively, "Perhaps I'm as much at fault in this as you are," he observed, "I knew… and I said nothing"
My heart swelled in hope, and in love for the man sitting before me. So brave. So strong. Stronger and braver than I could ever hope to be. My rock. The one thing that always kept me sane and able to love.
"I know I already asked this, Jason, and I hesitate to ask again, but I need to know. How did you know? How did you find out?"
He looked at me then down at our entwined hands for a long moment before returning his gaze once more to my eyes. "Well, like I said, things changed between us. It may have been subtle but it was there. I also noticed that I was receiving the services I needed. The PT aide, the increased frequency of the various therapy appointments, the meds the VA said I didn't need and the university doctors said I did. All of it added up, but the real tell was when you came in one morning and hid several thousand dollars in cash in your nightstand. You probably thought I was asleep," his smile was wry, "From there I just kind of figured it out."
I lowered my eyes, first to our hands, then to the floor beside his chair as my gut started to crawl once again from the guilt I still felt. On the one hand I knew we'd be okay as a couple but I also knew that we still had some work to do to ensure that reality and I was determined that I would do what it took to get there.
"Jason," I said lifting my eyes back to his face, "I hope you understand that I love you more than my own life. I know my actions say otherwise and I can't help but wonder how you can possibly love me after what I've done…"
He looked into my eyes and smiled, then loosened his grip on my hands. He turned his chair until he was once more facing the window, his profile lit by the bright morning sun that warmed the city.
"Do you remember, Justin, how it felt when our parents rejected our love, and us? Do you remember how devastated we felt even though we were expecting some sort of negative outcome if they ever found out?"
I rose from the loveseat, pulled the ottoman up beside him, and sat. The two of us gazed through the window. Some distance below, we could see the Pride flag at Market and Castro, waving lazily in the morning breeze.
"Yes, I do remember," I replied as I considered his question, "Even though we knew it was a likely eventuality, it still hurt like hell. Family honor, old money, stiff New England spine and all that aside, they were our family. They were supposed to love us because that's what family is and does, and when they didn't, it was devastating."
He turned to look at me and held my eyes with his own for a long moment before turning once more to the cityscape outside the window. "Yes, that's exactly right. It's what family is and does. You asked how it is that I can love you. Well, it's because even though I know where that money comes from, what you do to make it happen, I could still see how much you loved me. I think it's impossible for you to hide it. I see it in your eyes every day. I feel it in the way you touch me and the way you hold me when I'm having a bad day. I can't miss the way you kiss and caress me or how you comfort me. I see the pain my condition causes you, and still you love me. Any other gay, twenty-two-year-old would have been gone long ago but you're not. Even though you did what you were doing you were also here, devoted to this broken, messed up, emasculated shell of a man day after day, and I love you for it. I always will. Like I said, I understand. In my very bones I understand, Okay? I know that what you did, you did because you felt you had to, for me, and honestly, I'm at peace with that."
Our eyes met and as they did, I remembered well that day in the quad at Brattleboro Union High School when we fell in love. I'd never forget how, as we looked into each other's eyes, it seemed as if we were drawn in, seeing deep into each other's soul. That was when we knew we were destined to be together. The level of communion we shared in that moment was beyond anything either of us had ever experienced. It was how the current look affected us. I was incredulous that this man, who I felt like I had betrayed, was big enough and understanding enough that he was capable of looking beyond the act to see the driving emotion behind it, the desperation, the love.
"Come here!" he said rolling over in his chair to the other side of the room and parking it in front of the couch, "Sit!"
I walked over and sat.
Rolling up close in front of me he took one of my hands in each of his, "I know you feel like you've sold your soul to the devil. I know you've got a lot of shame and guilt that you're carrying but I'm here to tell you right now, don't! Please don't! Both of us were wounded on that godforsaken road in Afghanistan. I lost my legs and my manhood. You feel like you've lost your way but you haven't. Not even close. You're doing what you're doing out of love. I know that, do you hear? I understand… And I love you for it."
He launched himself into my lap where he threw his arms around me kissing me anywhere he could find to kiss me. Our tears mingled as we cried and held onto each other.
When I was able once more to speak, I whispered into his shaggy brown hair, "I'm so sorry, Jason. I'm sorry that I didn't trust you with this burden. We should have talked. I should have talked to you. I didn't… and I'm sorry. No, it may not have changed the outcome but at least we'd have been on the same page without the sneaking and the secrets. You deserved so much more and I'm so incredibly sorry. I love you for your understanding and your forgiveness."
I was crying again. Tears of sorrow, relief, pain, and most of all of love. They streamed down my cheeks as he held me all the while shedding tears of his own.
"You've been so strong for me for so long, Justin. Let me be strong for you, too. You don't need to do this alone. We'll make it through life together in spite of everything. I know we will because we still have our love."
I could only nod my head as he held my cheek to his own.
We're making love this morning, and yes, it is making love. Though it pains me to say so, I've been fucked and used by many men, but loved by only one. I'm with him now on our couch as the mid-morning light floods our living room. He's facing me from his favorite position on my lap. We're kissing, caressing, touching, whispering endearments, shedding the occasional tear. He's resting his forehead against mine communing with one another's souls through the love filled pools of our eyes.
For the first time in many months my burden is lifted. The icy fingers have at last loosened their grip on my heart and have vanished. My heart marvels that I'm with this incredible man. He's the only one I've ever loved, the one I've been with since we were kids. Between us we share so much love, contentment, and peace. He's the man who owns my heart. I know some people search their entire lives for this kind of relationship. In that respect maybe we're fortunate, but if so that fortune is not to be found in luck, or in an act of lust purchased with a wealthy man's wallet. No, it is only found in the commitment it takes to weather the storms life sends our way.
This story is part of the 2018-2019 story challenge "Recovery". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 4 January to 25 January 2019 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
This challenge is to write a story based on the recovery of one or more of the cast from a dark place. There is no picture. Instead we are looking for tales which are able to paint a dark word picture and show recovery and hope.
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