Ned stood by his best friend and unrequited love Jack until Jack died. Now Jack’s son, Thom, is facing his own decisions on life. It’s up to him whether history will repeat itself or whether he’ll listen to Ned’s advice and find a new chance at love.
This story is 8,000 words in length.
© Clare London
“It’s meant to be different nowadays, Ned.” Thom sounded hesitant, but determined. “The world’s getting more tolerant, or so they say. What do you think?”
“You don’t have to let things eat you up inside, hiding how you feel,” he continued. His face was reddening. “You don’t need to feel ashamed or anything. Okay, so maybe that’s naïve, it’s not completely easy, and plenty of people are still so bloody narrow-minded….” He flushed again. “I’m saying this badly. I suppose I hope it’s easier to be different. To choose different paths, yet still have the same opportunities. To be open about it all.” He glanced at me, nodding. “For all of us.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m afraid.” The words were an automatic politeness, but the chill of fear clutched my heart. I looked at Thom’s eyes, and instead I saw Jack’s—the eyes that had met mine, bold and amused and challenging all through my life. He’d roll his eyes when he was sharing a joke: he’d peer at me when he was determined or angry. Like the time he caught me shoplifting after school, and we fought, physically, on the path outside my house. That was maybe the first time I felt his strength directed against me. Even as a teenager he rarely picked fights, but I’d really riled him that day. He gripped me and punched wildly, bringing me to the ground so he lay on me, his face red and sweaty. His hands were so tight on my arms that he bruised me, his heart hammering against my chest, his legs stretched out the length of my own. I’d stared into his face, and all I could remember now after so many years was my plaintive crying, apologizing, shouting at him, trying to calm him down. To make his disappointment go away, to make things right between us, and still the hammering, hammering of his heart against my chest—
“Ned?” Thom was staring at me. He was rather pale. Jack had never been that pale when he was a young man. I remembered his flushed, angry face that day, and the warmth of his skin against mine, a drop of his spittle on my cheek. Neither of us won the fight; it was broken up by our parents, who never understood why we fought in the first place. He never told on me either.
When they came to pull us apart, there was a fierce, astonishing period when we still gripped hard to each other, and then he was wrenched away, still angry with me. In that moment, I knew two things with blinding clarity—that I wanted to keep holding him, but I was the only one clinging to that moment.