It was a long ride back to the grocery store. Damien had put on the radio, trying to fill the silence that had fallen between us. It wasn’t like I had nothing to say or nothing to ask. It was just that I didn’t know what to say or ask first.
When we got back to the store lot Damien asked me which vehicle was mine. There were three left in the lot, apparently we weren’t the only people out this late.
“Which one do you think is mine?” I asked.
“That one!” Damien pointed towards the red Dodge.
“How did you know?” I asked, honestly surprised that he had gotten it right.
“I guessed that one because it was the only one in the lot that was a Dodge.” He replied with confidence.
“But I didn’t tell you that I drove a Dodge?” I responded hesitantly.
“I know, I just wanted to believe that you drove one, haha!” Damien said laughing, “Oh crap that hurts!” Damien put his hand to his side, holding his ribs.
“I hope they’re just bruised and not broke,” I said with sincerity, “Do you think we should go to the ER?”
“No, no, I’ll be fine, I just need to crash for the night and get some sleep. The pain will go away in a couple days.” Damien said with what sounded like cocky bravado. He didn’t want to seem weak or make me worry.
Damien reached into his jean’s pocket and pulled something out. It was too small for me to see, but I could hear the crinkling sound of plastic. He then popped something into his mouth and put what sounded like a plastic bag back into his pocket. He reached down to his center console and picked up a bottle of water and took a drink, washing down whatever he had just taken.
He set the water bottle back down and reached up to the buttons on his stereo. Underneath the light of the lamp posts outside the truck, I could see the blood on Freckles’ knuckles as he turned down the volume and then turned it off. I also noticed that his hand was shaking.
He looked over at me and caught me staring at him, “What!?!?” He demanded.
The sternness of his voice startled me and I looked up at his face. He was still aggravated and angry, the emotion of what had just took place still hadn’t settled completely out of his system.
“Nothing,” I said, somewhat nervous about his agitation.
“What was that you just popped in your mouth?” I asked with fear.
“Don’t worry about it.” He said sternly.
“Dude?” I asked with earnest compassion, yearning for him to be honest with me.
“We all have demons.” Damien said solemnly, “Look, I’m sorry I yelled just now, but really I’m fine, don’t worry about me.”
I waited a moment to consider what to say next. He had gone from laughing to freaking out just because I asked what he had taken. I wondered to myself why it was such a big deal. Were they pills? What kind of pills? I decided to drop it for the time being.
“Damien,” I said, “Look at me man.”
He looked up from his hands and stared at me. Every time he fixed his eyes on mine, I felt like he could look inside me and see my thoughts. I wanted to end this night with something positive, but also something very honest and revealing, on my part.
“This is the first time that we’ve ever hung out and despite some of the crazy moments we’ve had, this has still been one of the best nights of my life.” I confessed.
Freckles looked back down at his hands. He moved his fingers in between each other, sliding them together and apart. He was thinking about something. We sat there for a few moments. I didn’t know if I should break the silence or keep waiting for him to find words.
Still staring down at his hands in his lap, he smiled saying, “Dude you really kicked some ass back there.”
“Thanks,” I said, but that wasn’t what I wanted to hear from him, he seemed to be avoiding my confession.
“Maybe we can hang out again sometime? Maybe without the whole bloodshed thing though?” Damien suggested.
“Haha, yeah that’d be cool, I think we get along really well.” I said, hoping he would be more open about his thoughts on the night and more specifically on me.
Another few moments of silence went by. Damien looked up at his dashboard at Megan’s picture.
“Hey, I don’t know if you’ll ever meet her, but if you do, please don’t say anything to Megan about what happened tonight, okay?” he asked.
“Alright,” I said, “That’s not a problem.”
Our conversation was dwindling on pointless, I felt like he was about to call it a night and me still not getting out of his truck was going to seem weird, so I tossed his hat back at him, opened the door and told him I’d message him in a couple days.
He looked content and also very exhausted. I figured he needed some time to collect himself and think about all the things that happened. That if he was secretly into me, that maybe after a few days away from me he’d realize it and be eager to hang out and possibly be more open and honest about how he felt or what he thought of me.
We said our goodbyes and I closed the door on his truck. He waited until I got my car door open and he drove off. I pulled out my phone to check the time, 12:30 AM
There was no way I was going to work the next day. Not only would I have barely any sleep, but I was sure I looked rough as hell and by morning I’d be bruised and swollen. I decided that I’d call in sick.
I got in my car and headed off to my apartment, I wanted to shower and crash, I felt like I could probably stay in bed and sleep until Monday afternoon. I flipped on my overhead lights to look at how bad my face and hands looked. There was drying blood across my knuckles that had ran down between my fingers and dried. Some of the blood was mine and some of it belonged to the guys we left laying in that bar parking lot.
I glanced up into my rear-view mirror to see what my face looked like. It hurt and under the dim light, certain places on my face looked darker, I could see a couple small cuts as well. I knew by morning there was going to be some swelling and bruises. I told myself to put some ice on my face before going to bed and that maybe then it won’t be quite so bad. I wondered if Damien would be doing the same thing. And then I wondered about his ribs and why he got mad so quickly when he realized I was paying attention to him popping pills.
His hands were shaking and even though I initially figured that it was a post-adrenaline reaction, I spent my drive home wondering if it was some form of withdraw from a drug addiction. Mood swings, shaking hands, secrecy, a plastic bag of pills, it started to sound like drug addiction to me and I became very concerned. Freckles, the man I held in such high regard and practically worshiped, was the victim of a drug addiction? That thought was hard to accept.
It made me worry. I started pondering that if it was an addiction, how long had he been addicted? Did it start after Megan called off their engagement? What kind of pills were they? Has he tried to get help, does he even want to get help, can he be helped? I knew things about addictions, known people that suffered from them, but I had never actually helped anyone through one before. Would Freckles open up to me about it? Would he let me in and allow me to help him? Does he know it’s a bad thing, does he even want to stop?
I shook my head and brought myself back to reality. I didn’t even know if he was addicted to anything, I was jumping to conclusions. I told myself that I needed to keep my thoughts to myself until I knew more. I decided that I’d continue observing his behavior and try to draw more concise conclusions before saying anything to him about it.
By the time I got home, got cleaned up and laid down in bed with the light still on, I was so sore. I laid there staring up my ceiling for a while, replaying the whole day in my head. So much had happened, it felt like an entire week had passed. The night before I laid in the same bed and wondered if I would ever see Freckles ever again and here I was not only having seen him, but I spent an entire day in his company. Playing, talking and laughing, subtly flirting and even fighting along side him. Hands down the best day of my life.
Looking around my room I spotted my henley laying at the end of my bed, I had forgotten to throw it in the laundry basket. I sat up and grabbed a hold of it. I was about to toss it across the room when I realized that it smelled like Damien.
I had spent so much time with him the material absorbed his scent. Whether it was soap or cologne or his deodorant, or whatever it was, my shirt smelled like him. I pulled it in closer to smell it again, the scent molecules caused a chemical reaction in my brain and I felt comforted. I flipped the switch to off, on my bedside lamp and laid back down into the darkness, my shirt wadded up on my bare chest. I closed my eyes and imagined Damien’s face. I took a few deep breaths and fell asleep, hoping to be with Freckles again in my dreams.
I awoke suddenly, somewhat disoriented I rolled over and looked up at my alarm clock, it read 3:18 AM. In my peripheral vision I caught the flashing light on my phone signaling that I had a new message or notification. I reached up and pulled it off the night stand, lit up the screen and saw that it was a new message. I swiped the icon and brought up the message, it was from Damien:
That was it. Nothing else. I couldn’t even tell if it was a cheerful or solemn text. Tone is so hard to interpret in writing, especially when there’s no punctuation at the end. I noticed the time on the text said he sent it over an hour ago. I took a moment to consider whether I should reply or wait until daylight.
I decided to reply, my curiosity about his intentions compelled me to, “Hey man, what’s up?”
I waited and waited, it felt like forever. I figured he must have fallen asleep waiting for my reply. I felt bad, he must have wanted to talk to me and I let him down. I wanted him to feel like he could talk to me at any time, day or night, about anything he wanted to talk about.
Laying there with my phone in hand, I stared up at the ceiling in the pitch black. In the silence I could hear the subtle hum of my refrigerator as it came on, the kitchen was down the hall from my bedroom. At this time of the morning there was no traffic outside passing by my apartment, no emergency vehicle sirens, no honking horns, no dogs barking. Nothing, but the silence. As if from just wanting to hear something, my ears began to ring.
The screen on my phone lit up with a new text message, but it never made a sound. I swiped the screen and looked up at my notification bar and saw that I had my phone set on silent. No wonder I never heard my phone when Damien sent me that previous text. I turned on the volume and opened the new message from Freckles:
“Didn’t know if you’d still be awake, just wondered if you felt okay, my ribs still hurt.”
I really hoped that his ribs were not broken or cracked, he had made it sound like he was fine, but he brought it up again that they hurt. I wondered if the pain was keeping him awake.
I replied back, “No worries about me. Man are you sure you don’t want to get them checked out, is it keeping you awake?”
“Might be, I’m not sure. Just a lot going through my head too, so multiple things.” Freckles replied.
“This is completely unrelated, but have I mentioned how happy I am that you type using proper grammar and spelling? Lol” I typed back, hoping it would amuse him and possibly take his mind off his troubles for a moment.
“Hahaha, glad u like dat! U cee, I’s gots a kolledge edjucashion!” Damien replied.
“Lol, smartass!” I laughed, thankful that my distraction was working.
I sent him another text, “I came up with a nickname for you.” My heart began to race. I had never mentioned his nickname before, but I yearned to call him by it. He had no idea that I called him Freckles for the past few years, but I wanted the chance to call him that to his face. Using it in a text was a baby step in that direction.
“Shorty?” He asked.
“Lol, no knucklehead, I’m gonna start calling you Freckles.” I said.
“Haha, Freckles? Sounds kinda gay!” Freckles replied.
I should have expected him to say something like that, it was in his nature to do so. But no matter how much he down played it or made it seem odd, I think deep down he liked it. Not so much the name, it could have been any name, I think he just liked the idea of having a nickname because it was a term of endearment. It was a way of telling him that I liked him, without actually saying it directly and he knew it.
Damien continued, “Well, could be worse I guess, at least it’s not Skidmark, Buttercup or Moobs.”
“Lol, why would anyone call you any of those names? You know what, never mind, I don’t want to know!” I replied.
“Haha, no reasons at all! So what should I call you?” He asked.
“Dude, I don’t know, you gotta come up with that on your own, that’s the point of a nickname, it has to be given by someone else, it’s like a token of admiration, a symbol of friendship.” I said, encouraging him to put some thought and sincerity into it, but expecting some oddball name.
Damien never replied to my last text, I waited a while and then passed out. Throughout the entire day he still didn’t reply to me. I went back to work the next day and kept checking my phone, waiting for a reply. Not necessarily about the nickname, but about anything. I just wanted to hear from him.
By the time I got home from work, I decided that I couldn’t wait anymore and I sent him a message, “Hope you’re feeling better.”
I expected some kind of response, but he didn’t reply. In fact, two days of no contact, turned into a week. I sent him another message, “Hey bro, hope all is well with you, hit me up soon.”
Still, there was no reply and one week turned into two weeks. I became very worried. I didn’t know if he had decided to blow me off and never talk to me again or if something bad had happened to him. I felt that old familiar ache in my chest. I waited years to talk to him, only to have him taken from me again when I had grown attached to him. Things had been going so well and then just nothing.
I had debates in my head about it, I told myself that he wouldn’t just stop talking to me, he wouldn’t do that to me, we had a good connection. Then I told myself that he caught on to me and realized that I was into him as more than a friend and he was not okay with it or that maybe he liked me as more than a friend and it scared him that he felt that way and decided to back off out of fear what might happen or what others might think if they found out.
So many questions and not a single answer. I felt heartbroken, I felt abandoned, I felt like I had allowed myself to trust him too quickly, I allowed him in and let him get to me. See parts of me that I didn’t allow others to bear witness to. I was open, honest, loyal and trustworthy and he just threw me away like trash. I fought by his side, I had shed blood in his defense and yet for some reason he decided to shove a dagger in my heart.
Besides all of that I felt stupid. Stupid because he had a girlfriend, a fiance to be accurate, and that even if he liked me as more than a friend, we could never be anything more. I wasn’t about to be his friend with benefits, his affair, his way of getting back at his fiance for calling off the wedding.
I told myself that he was straight. Every time I thought of him, I would reinforce the idea that he was straight and that having feelings for him was a waste of time and emotions. At times I thought that I even hated him or that I wanted to hate him; bitter and angry that he just up and walked away, ignored me as though that day and night we spent together meant nothing to him. I didn’t understand how he fooled me so easily into believing that it meant something to him. He just used me for attention.
Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and reach for my phone, in the desperately hopeful belief that he had messaged me while I was asleep. That just like that first night, maybe I had left my phone on silent and just never heard it go off. And every time I was disappointed to see that I had no new message.
This man with blue-green eyes, amber hair and freckles had stolen my heart. Not to keep it and protect it, but to take it away from me and throw it away after his amusement was sated. It wasn’t the first time someone had broken my heart like that, but of all people, I never imagined that Freckles would be just another douche bag.
One night during my weeks of waking up in the middle of the night and checking my phone, I decided to look Damien up on Facebook. He had told me his full name and gave me his number. I had hoped that would be enough to find him and that his profile wasn’t completely private.
I did a search and found him, I recognized his face in the profile photo. Thankfully not much was hidden on his profile. I scrolled down to his wall to see when he posted last and what it was about, hoping to find answers.
There were answers, just not the kind I wanted to read. He had some posts about going to work, posts about seeing Megan on the weekends, a post about getting some new part for his truck, just normal, general posts that you see on everyone’s wall. No mention of his ribs, no mention of any life crisis that would keep him from contacting me. I had my answer for sure. He had truly thrown me away.
I crawled out of bed and stumbled over to my window. I pulled apart the curtains and looked up at the night sky. Unlike every other night, I no longer had to think about Damien with worry or concern, about where he was, what he was doing and if he ever thought about me at all. Clearly, I no longer existed in his mind.
The moon was bright and nearly full. I looked across the sky and I could see a few glimmering stars speckled from one side of my window to the other. The sky was clear, but the glass in my window fogged up from my warm breath. Summer had come to an end and the cooler temperatures of mid-September had come.
I could feel my throat tighten and my eyes began to well with tears. I put my palms up against the glass in the window, the coldness of it reminded me that I was alive in this moment. That even though the pain made me want to retreat back inside myself the way I did as a teenager, the coldness brought me back to the present moment and only in that moment was I alive. Everything before it no longer existed. Freckles was a memory.
Under my breath I told myself that I was a pussy for being so upset about him. I told myself to man-up and get over it. He wasn’t the honorable guy I thought him to be. He used me and betrayed me, he was no longer worthy of remembering.
The time that I had spent with Freckles and his now absence, made me realize just how alone I was. I had spent years trying and hoping to find someone worth sharing my life with. And of the people I had dated, both girls and guys, I never had the same intense feelings for them that I had for Damien.
Those years ago when we met, apparently without his knowing, in that Subway restaurant and our chance meeting again years later, somehow convinced me that it was destiny. That I saw him only briefly and was then brought back together again to learn about each other because we were meant to. That we were meant to be together. It was dreamy and wishful and possibly even delusional. If I’ve learned anything from love, it’s that the human heart is an irrational thing that convinces us to travel down any path and believe anything if it brings our heart closer to being lifted up by a hand that is not our own.
Sometimes that hand holds us with compassion, but more often than not it crushes us.
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