Better Left Unsaid
Chapter Five

Patrick takes things slow with me. Well, he has to, he's a complete bottom, and I don't have the faintest idea about how to go about being a top. I don't think either of us knows what we're doing. We're polar opposites, completely incompatible, and yet by the time July rolls around again—my twentieth birthday, the one-year mark of the day I'd met him—we're still together.

We don't have sex. We wouldn't be able to make it work, even if we tried. Instead we kiss, a lot, we kiss and hold hands when we're out sometimes and we have this unspoken tradeoff schedule on who holds onto who at night. It's all weird, but it works. And I'm more than fine with just kissing; the idea of having sex—with Patrick or anyone—still fills me with this seeping misery, to say nothing of the scared shitless aspect.

By now I've gone to every gay bar in New York City, shitty ones included. We always go together, I doubt I could face it alone, but together we get hit on and never spend a dime on drinks, and Patrick knows all the decent guys that you can take a pill or something off. He kisses other guys. I never do, but I don't mind, I hang back and watch and kind of smile. He's something to watch. It's even better when he's on E and I've dropped acid, which is pretty much every weekend for a year until one Saturday night I notice how fast my heart is going and get set off on a hallucination about dying. It freaks me out so badly I stop everything for awhile, sticking to the doctor-prescribed stuff.

I don't see much of Dr. Gillespie anymore. By this point Nahla is almost certified as a psychologist, and between her and Patrick, I do all the talking I need to. And I don't need to, not much, not anymore. The past is like a distant memory now, something I only have to think about if Dr. Gillespie asks during my infrequent stop-bys to get my scripts renewed. That's fine with me. There's nothing I miss about how I was last year. Not a thing I wish I could return to.

I haven't talked to Kat and Ray in forever, I'm always missing their calls because I work all week, and Patrick and I spend weekends clubbing till dawn and then sleeping all day. Same with Johnny, same with Jack and Tara—who did talk to me again, it turns out, but thankfully they found a house in Staten Island she had to have and I rarely have to see them. Sometimes, when Patrick and I are lying in bed and coming down, I get hit by waves of guilt about all of them. I know I should make more of an effort. But then I fall asleep, and when I wake up again, things are back to normal. Life is fun, for the first time… well, ever; I love working at the publishing house, which has looked the other way re: my lack of a degree and moved me up to doing copy-editing. I love my apartment. I love the car I bought myself for my twentieth birthday (rendered totally useless by New York traffic during the week and my affinity for taxis on the weekend, but I love it anyway). And I love Patrick, no matter how unlikely our relationship. I know him, really know him, in a way I've never known anyone.

This is why it catches me off-guard when, in February of that year, I come back from smoking outside Tool Box and find him beating the shit out of some club kid.

"Patrick!" I rush them, grab at his shoulders and haul him back. Fucking everyone else, just standing around. He shoves me and I shake him in response. "What happened? What's wrong?" I look at the kid on the ground. He's taller than Patrick, but Patrick works as personal trainer at the gym; he could probably KO most of the guys in this place. He might. His face is freaking me out, it's closed-off and hard, nothing I've seen in the last year and a half. I've never even seen Patrick yell at anyone before.

"Nothing. Leave it alone, Josh." Patrick shrugs me off again, hard. I'm completely fucking bewildered and he's lunging at the kid again.

"Patrick, Jesus!" I manage to grab him again, trying not to look as completely fucking freaked out as I am. "He's bleeding, what did he even do?"

"Don't worry about it." Patrick's bleeding, too, his knuckles. I get hold of his hand and stare at them, look up at him in disbelief.

"You're hurting him—" And then security is there, great timing as usual, and one of them drags Patrick away from me. I lose sight of them in the crowd. The music's kept playing this whole time and everyone goes back to dancing, just leaving the kid lying on the floor. Bleeding. God, what the fuck. I feel stuck in that time warp again, whipping by way too fast and leaving me dazed and staggered when it comes back around to normal speed.

I kneel down next to guy. "Are you okay?" I'm trying to lift his head, see how bad the damage is, and he slaps my hand. He fucking spits at me.

"Christ!" I jerk back, gaping. For the first time in a year, I'm back in my own little version of the Twilight Zone. "I was just—"

Up close he doesn't look like such a kid, I don't know. His face is unreadable to me, but I was never great at guessing ages, anyway. He gets a look at me and eases up a little, sitting up and spitting blood onto the floor. What the fuck, Patrick. "Sorry. I'm sorry." He coughs hard, red spraying the inside of his lip. I stare at him in horror. "I thought. Sorry."

"What the hell happened?" I look up, checking the direction security had headed in with Patrick. He's not in sight. My heart is still racing from the way he'd looked, totally unlike the guy I've been sharing a bed with for practically two years. The guy on the ground swallows and tries to get up, but he stumbles over into me, falling so hard against my shoulder it almost knocks me over, too.

"Nothing," he mumbles into my shirt, struggling to pull back. "I mean, sorry—God, I'm dizzy."

"Hey." I hold him away from me a little, bracing him by his upper arms, and get myself up onto my heels so I can get him on his feet. He's skinny as anything. Well, club kids usually are. "I'm going to take you to the doctor, you're bleeding like. Well. You're bleeding a lot." I hesitate, totally unsure. I don't know whether I should check on Patrick. Honestly, I don't really want to. I don't know why he'd be making this kid bleed. "Uh, I'm Josh."

"Daniel." He's standing but he's leaning on me, eyes closed. God, Patrick, what did you do? I realize too late that I can't take him to the doctor, the doctor will be closed at this hour, duh, Josh. Well, there's the hospital in East Harlem.

"Can you walk?"

He opens his eyes and looks at me, these steady light blue eyes, like Patrick doesn't have him coughing up blood. "I would so rather be hearing that under different circumstances."

I stare at him for a minute, and then it hits me, like a brick, and I end up jostling him all over the place as I snort and laugh like a moron. I'm still not used to really laughing, always sound stupid as hell when I'm startled into doing it. Daniel's grinning a little when I finally look back at him. Brave guy. I wonder again how old he is, how high up the age barometer you have to get before you can grin and bear it when someone beats you into the floor.

I get us a taxi. Patrick doesn't show in time and my phone stays silent; maybe he's been arrested, or held for questioning, or something. The whys of it keep bugging me, but in the backseat of the cab Daniel's gone scary-pale, so I concentrate on stopping him from vomiting all over me and keep my nagging questions to myself. He's a little better by the time we get there. The ER is a hellzone, though, late-night Friday injuries, and the guy at reception shoves an icepack at us and tells us to take a seat.

"How're you doing?" I ask Daniel inanely, once we're seated under a television playing muted CNN. He shrugs, holding the ice pack to his jaw and looking off somewhere in front of us. And all of a sudden I'm wary. I'm not totally sure why I'm here, I wish Patrick was, I don't know why I haven't called him to see—

"Is that your phone?" Daniel asks. I look down to see it lit up in my shaking hand, bleeping electronically. Text message. I slide the cover down. Patrick, as if on cue.

at home with N -got kicked out of TBX.

I stare at it. Part of me is looking for the notification that says it's just part one of two, like this message was actually long enough to be split up, but I mean, that can't be all he has to say. I snap the cover shut and look at Daniel.

"That was my boyfriend that kicked your ass," I say, forthright for once. He winces away from me a little. "What'd he do it for?"

Daniel frowns at a meth addict twitching across the aisle. "Isn't that something you should ask him?"

"I'm asking you."

Next to the addict a woman is shaking coins out of her change purse. I'm watching Daniel and he's watching her, and suddenly his eyes widen and he shakes his head a little, mouth parted with some kind of realization.

"I have to go," he says. This makes me feel guiltier than it should, but I'm not letting him leave just because he doesn't want to answer my question. I grab the armrest on the far side of his plastic chair. My arm forms a kind of makeshift stanchion to keep him in place.

"I'm not going to kick your ass."

Daniel startles slightly. The corner of his mouth hitches just barely upwards. "That's not the problem."

"Well?"

He slides down in his seat a little, eyeing my arm contemplatively. I think he's trying to figure out whether he can slink right under it. He can't, I won't let him. "Look, I can't afford this. I don't know what I was thinking. I was too dizzy to think. I'm fine now."

"Dude, you're coughing blood." I keep my arm right where it is. "It's fine, I've got it."

"Uh, no. Seriously. Thanks, but no."

"Look." I stare at him till he looks at me, his dark hair covering his eyes. It's stuck to his forehead in sweaty clumps and he's sickly pale. Especially against the dark red of his mouth, stained with the blood from before. "This is—it's Patrick's responsibility. He's paying for it, I'll settle up with him later." This is a lie, but Daniel doesn't need to know.

"Is this like a common occurrence for you two?" He adjusts the icepack, winces. "One of you kicks the shit out of someone, the other one plays Good Cop?"

"No. Christ, no. I've never so much as seen Patrick get angry at anyone before."

"Yeah, well, you must not see much of him," Daniel mutters.

"Excuse me?"

He finally looks at me again, eyebrows raised a little. His pale skin looks green-tinged under the fluorescent track lighting. "From what I've seen of him, he doesn't seem like the mellowest guy."

"Patrick's great," I say defensively. I practically move my chair further away from his. "Whatever he thought you did, it must have been pretty fucking terrible."

"Yeah. Okay."

This annoys me for no reason I can say. I don't know why I give a shit, he's just some random kid from a club, no one I have to see again after tonight. I don't know why his opinion of Patrick matters to me. "What did you do to him, anyway?"

"I didn't do anything."

It's my turn to snort. "Right, he just gave you a black eye for fun."

"Have you been dating very long?"

I glare at him, I can't help it. "Over a year and a half." I sound smug, I know I do. This kid is getting under my skin and I can't do a thing to stop him, which makes our relationship timestamps feel like something that'll even the playing grounds.

"And it doesn't bother you that he spends his free time beating up other guys?"

I exhale annoyance. "Okay, he doesn't spend his time doing it, it's not like a hobby. I told you, Patrick never even gets angry—you fucking up once doesn't mean—"

"I wasn't talking about me."

"What are you talking about now?" I practically yell this at him. It's four in the fucking morning, with nothing to fuel it my adrenaline has long worn off. I want to go home and crawl into bed with Patrick, not sit here playing mind games in the middle of hospital bedlam with some smartass kid-perhaps-man. "Patrick—"

"Patrick beats the shit out of guys in the park for their drugs. Every week," Daniel says tiredly. "Him and a bunch of other guys from that gym he works at. I was staying with this friend of mine. Chance. Your boyfriend's little group put him in a coma for three days."

Words swell up inside of me so fast I have no chance to comprehend what's coming out of my mouth. "That's bullshit!"

"I saw them. He took Chance's sweater, he was wearing it tonight, I wanted it back—"

The sweater. God, Patrick came home with that sweater two weeks ago, said he'd just gotten it at Barneys, but it was worn-in and soft to the touch. I'd figured it was preworn or something, I—fuck, what am I thinking, this is Patrick.

"Patrick split his knuckles open on you tonight. He's never had anything like that before."

"Then I guess I caught him without his brass knuckles," Daniel says snidely. Or maybe not snidely, when I listen closer there's something beneath it, threat of helplessness or choking up or something. My stomach drops like it's made of iron.

"He wouldn't," I say. "He fixed my life—I've slept with him, for Christ's sakes. He wouldn't hurt a fly."

"I just wanted the sweater," Daniel answers dully.

I don't know what to say. We sit in silence for long minutes, the hell of the ER rising and falling all around us, while I struggle to formulate a remotely intelligent answer.

"Okay," I try finally. "Let's say I believe you. When does all of this supposedly happen? Patrick's home every night, right after work."

Daniel's shoulders lift a little in a shrug. "He got Chance on a Monday night."

"Okay, see, it couldn't have been Patrick," I say, too fast, way too smug. "Patrick works till eleven every week night."

"Dude." Daniel meets my eyes again, eyebrows drawn down over his, looking tired and hurt and sorely unimpressed with me. "It doesn't matter to me if you believe me or not, okay? I know who hurt Chance, and I know who just threw me down on a bar floor because I was on to him. If you want to tell yourself it's not your boyfriend, that's really not my business."

"He works," I repeat stupidly. Daniel looks away in evident irritation.

"Yeah. I guess you go by his gym every single night to see if he's there? I guess you're well-aware of the fact that it closes at ten."

I freeze. "No. No, they don't."

"Okay."

"You are really fucking annoying, you know that?" My hands are shaking even harder than before as I pull the cover back off my phone. I need a cigarette. Maybe a really strong drink. "I'm, I'm going to prove it to you, just wait," I tell him, stabbing at the buttons for information. The operator patches me through to Patrick's gym and I wait. I'm staring grimly at the blood on Daniel's shoes as it rings.

One minute later I'm hanging up so clumsily that I drop my phone into my lap and let it sit there, beeping loudly. Daniel reaches over and into my lap, catching me too off guard to even be scared of his touch in time, and he hangs it up, eyes looking dark in his face this time.

"Well?"

It's my turn to stare at the meth addict, I won't so much as glance Daniel's way. "It doesn't mean anything."

"Okay."

I look at him after all, I'm sure he's mocking me, but he doesn't look at all amused. He looks sorry and unhappy, looking across the room at nothing. God, his jaw is swollen.

"Is it every night?" I whisper thinly.

"Not every night." We're both fixed on the addict now. I'm sure he'd be basking in the attention, if he wasn't on the verge of violently expelling everything he's put in his body all week. "I was watching them for awhile, there. There's no pattern. I think they just do it when they're looking for drugs." Disgust twists heavily throughout his words, an unspoken implication of great boyfriend you have there.

"I can't believe this," I mutter. I really can't, but then, I don't particularly want to, either. It's Patrick, tiny, flamboyantly gay Patrick, who whipped off his jeans for me to wear within two minutes of meeting me and slept next to me and surprised me with E and a picnic on my living room floor, all at once, on Valentine's Day. We didn't eat much of the picnic, we never ate much of anything. But he'd made it all the same.

"It probably doesn't make you feel any better, but it's not like you're the first guy in the world this has happened to."

I glare. "How so?"

"How often do you think women know their husbands are rapists?" Daniel volleys back instantly. "How many husbands know their wife purposely killed their kid?"

"That's bullshit. You always know."

"You don't," Daniel says softly. "You're pretty much proof of that.

I don't know what to say to that, so I don't say anything.

---

"We should have brought donuts," Daniel remarks out of the blue.

I'm squished down on a bench in Central Park, freezing my fucking ass off in the late-night February chill and trying to look incognito. I doubt it's working. We're both wearing sunglasses at night and Dan's slouchy blue zip-up comes practically to the knees on me.

"What?" I hiss at last, busy trying to fold the sweater's cuffs up over my wrists. Daniel keeps fidgeting beside me, pressed against my side for warmth, and every time he moves another jet of icy air blasts past him.

"Cops always have donuts on stakeouts."

"We're not cops. And this isn't a stakeout."

"Oh. That's right. I forgot, we're just enjoying the stars on this lovely subarctic evening…"

"Look, loudmouth, when you agreed to show me proof I didn't think it meant you'd be complaining all evening." I shove him, gently. He'd sprained his arm when Patrick had jerked him to the ground, and it's still in a sling—I can't see it beneath the black jacket he's zipped up over it, but I know it's there, the empty sleeve dangling loosely at his side like a constant reminder of what we're here to prove right. Wrong. Whatever.

"Agreed? You practically twisted—shh," he interrupts himself suddenly, sitting up straight while his eyes get wide and intent. They look silver in the dodgy moonlight. "There they are."

I follow his gaze and spot a small pack of skinny guys in hooded sweatshirts, longlegging it towards a guy headed towards Sheep Meadow. It's dark, but I'd recognize Patrick's body anywhere, wearing his awful skinny jeans and, yeah, one of my parkas. I swallow in distaste automatically, because it really matters that he's wearing my coat while he beats on someone. Up until now this had been—not quite fun, but almost, like a game we'd been playing, pretending we were gonna see something. Now, well.

"D'you wanna follow?" Daniel asks, gruff, though I can still hear the disgust clear in his tone. I swallow the bile in my mouth.

"No. Do you still have my phone in your pocket?"

"Yeah." He gets it out and starts to hand it to me, then hesitates, probably thinking I might call and warn Patrick. I snatch it from him anyway. Call the cops. Daniel doesn't say a word the whole time, not like me or anyone I'd ever known, who would sit here with I-told-you-so eminent on their lips.

There's sirens after a bit, not too long. When I hear them I stand up without looking at Daniel.

"You wanna get a bite to eat?"

"Are you okay?" He asks. I'm surprised enough to turn, take in the genuine concern in his eyes. My stomach wrenches—dangling coat sleeve and he still cares—but I smile.

"You're the one with a black eye, kiddo," I manage heavily. "C'mon, let's go eat."

---

Patrick calls for bail money when I'm sitting numb in the living room with Daniel, eating overcooked Thai and watching a kiddie TV show that would be great if I was high. I grapple for the correct response and finally settle for just letting it ring and ring. I'm chickenshit, I know it, but when you've got as much neurosis behind you as I do you get a ready-made excuse or two for not being too hard on yourself. I'll deal with it if he turns up. Well, when he turns up. I'm jittery already from the thought, my thigh bouncing in agitation, and when the show starts a father/son segment I jump up abruptly.

"Do you party?"

"No," Daniel says, bewildered by my random behavior. "I mean, once, but—"

"Here, do some with me." I go practically shooting across the room, spinning the combination lock on the briefcase Patrick and I keep on the mantle—yes, seriously, you don't know what a good drug-keeper it is—and popping it open to study what we've got inside. There's rustling behind me and when I glance back to ask Daniel what he wants, what he'd done before, he's standing up and looking at me uneasily.

"E?" I ask.

"It's okay, I mean, I'm good. I don't need anything." He stands there looking all uncomfortable and suddenly I realize what all this is about, start laughing.

"Dude. This isn't some weird plot Patrick and I cooked up, okay? I'm not going to like, poison you or something." I grab a tab of E out and hold it up, giving him a crooked little grin. It's kind of exciting, this, like being someone's first or something. "Look, I'll prove it. We'll share."

"I really don't—"

I split the tab in two with my teeth anyway and cross to him, flicking the half on my tongue at him so he can see, then swallowing it down and holding his out. He doesn't make a move to take it, so I grab his wrist and put it on his palm, giving his hand a little push upwards towards his mouth afterwards.

"C'mon, Dan." I'm smiling already. E for me is half psychosomatic; the second it's on my tongue my muscles relax, knowing I'll be flying high soon. "It's good shit, I promise."

He hesitates, his blue eyes fixed on mine, then slowly brings his half to his lips and swallows it. It's almost weird, he doesn't seem like the type to give in to peer pressure, but it's not like I'm not getting what I wanted. What I wanted? I don't know what that is. A replacement for Patrick, maybe; how misguided and desperate of me. I want Daniel to lighten up and believe I'm not the culmination of the creeps I might hang around, I want Daniel to be fond of me, close to me, in a bizarre nonsensical way. Who knows why I care. Who knows why it's Daniel I want, when I barely even know the guy. Because he's here, I guess.

"How long will it take to work?" Daniel asks, taking me out of my thoughts. He looks really nervous and it's endearing, completely cute, making his unreadable face seem younger.

"Not long. How old are you?" I've wanted to know this since I first saw him, but somehow never gotten around to asking. It seems like a likely question now that he's standing in my living room being all drug-virginal. My delivery probably isn't the smoothest, but it's not like I care at this moment.

Daniel hesitates. "I'm almost seventeen."

"Seventeen?" I yowl before I can think twice of it. Shit, I could go to jail for this. It's like being Kay. That strikes me as funny, almost, despite the grim reality of the situation. "How did you even get into Tool Box?"

"I look older, I know the bouncer, some guys think I'm hot. I don't know. How old are you, twenty-seven?" He's not serious, just mocking the way I'd reacted. I think, anyway. I hope. I realize belatedly that he's still wearing his coat.

"I'm twenty," I say grudgingly, oddly fixated on him wearing a jacket inside my place, like he's about to bolt at any minute. Dan is making some pointed comment about how I'd even gotten the drink I'd had at the bar, but I'm not paying attention, I'm thinking about how he said he'd been staying with his friend. Chance, Chase, Chester. Something. I wonder what that means. "Are you dating that guy? Your friend with the sweater?"

"Chance?" Chance, right. Daniel starts a little, smiling and blanching and shaking his head all at once. "No. I'm not… dating anyone," he says carefully.

"So he's your roommate, then?" The E's starting to hit. My limbs feel tingly and warm, Daniel looks remarkably fabulous, but then that might not be the E. I try to brush off the thought with a self-conscious grin, as if he could see what I'm thinking, but it keeps buzzing around my head like a troublesome fly. Daniel sinks down onto the couch and touches his face a little wonderingly.

"No, not a… roommate." Out of nowhere he kind of giggles. I make my way across the room to him and fall onto the couch, too, leaning into his side. I just want to smell him. My hit wasn't big enough to give me any real effect, I'm just happy. Breathing in the smell of his neck, which I've unaccountably buried my face into. Daniel doesn't seem to mind. He smells clean. And good. Not like most club kids. It takes a minute for me to realize he said no and then I snort a laugh into the skin of his neck awkwardly, too uncoordinated to lift myself off of him.

"So what is he?"

"A, a friend." Daniel's touching the back of my hair, his fingers explorative and questioning and curiously unselfconscious. "I'm kinda homeless," he laughs. Whoa, that's not funny. Well, it's a little funny because Daniel's laughter is contagious, but mostly it's just fucked up. Not even seventeen.

"How can you be homeless?" I push myself off of him finally, bracing myself upright with a hand on his shoulder. He looks at me kind of starry-eyed and I stare back, looking at his hair, clothes. He doesn't look homeless. He's too clean, too well dressed. "Where are your parents?"

"Ummm, back home." He moves my shirt aside a little and stares in total fascination at my collarbone, nothing I pay much attention to. My vague high has receded a little, leaving me trying to figure out the puzzle of the kid in front of me.

"Where's that?"

"Oh. In the epitome of acceptance and love that is the south," he says, taking his fingers off my shirt and frowning at it. "I, uh, ran away, I guess you'd say." I get the feeling he wouldn't be telling me this if I hadn't have plied him with drugs like a pedophile. As it is his skin is flushed and he looks hot, so I take it upon myself to start unzipping that stupid jacket. Daniel looks down to watch me do it.

"You're hot," I say by way of explanation.

"You too." I'm the one who's flushing now, opening my mouth to say what I'd really meant, but Daniel leans in impetuously and kisses me before I can explain. His lips are soft and it's not… bad, but his aim is off, hampered by the way he'd closed his eyes before he lunged. I kind of sit frozen in shock, but it doesn't last long; Daniel pulls back and goes so red I'm a little worried.

"Sorry, I didn't—I don't know why I did that, sorry, sorry, I don't know what I was thinking—" He's babbling apologies so fast I can't get a word in to tell him it's okay, it's not like I mind, and he's on ecstasy anyway so it's not exactly his fault, so I just sit and stare at his face as he stammers and find it weirdly endearing. It's cute that he's so flustered, like I'm going to turn him in to the cops or something. I get mad at Patrick all of a sudden. Not like I hadn't been already, but really mad now, pissed that he'd been beating on some defenseless homeless sixteen year old, over something as stupid as a sweater. Daniel lapses into an awkward silence, staring down at his lap with his face still all red, and I touch his arm and talk before my common sense kicks in.

"You can stay with me."

---

Asking Dan to move in isn't the best idea I've ever had, but it isn't the worst, either. Nahla's graduation is coming up fast and she's already making plans to move back home to Colorado. I'm going to need a roommate. And as roommates go, Dan is a fairly feasible option. He's not quite charming enough to be a sociopath and not quite awkward enough to be a run of the mill serial killer.

Besides. It might be good for my karmic scoreboard to do something for a homeless teenager, like finally paying forward what had been done for me in a guy taking me into his place after a couple weeks of knowing me.

Jack gets all tight-lipped about it, thinking Dan is going to rape me in my sleep or something. I doubt it. Since the kiss he's barely done more than pick a piece of lint off my sleeve, and he doesn't even want to move in till he meets Nahla and realizes I associate with normal people, too. And then Tara predicts he'll rob me blind. I don't especially care if he does, it's all. Material. And in a weird way it'd be like charity, I guess, spreading the crap I have to the New Yorkers who'll end up buying it off a blanket in an alley somewhere.

But Dan doesn't rape me (or Nahla, for that matter) while sleeping, and he's fussy about even taking a cup of coffee without asking permission first. He spends a couple of months on the daybed in our office. Then spring hits New York like a sledgehammer and Nahla's packed up the last of her bedroom.

"Well," she says, standing in the front hall as movers carry boxes of her things past us. Dan is lurking a little bit behind me and I'm trying not to look as sad as I feel, since she's psyched to finally be going home. Still, I've been sharing the apartment with her for just under two years now. It's like pulling off a bandaid and taking half the scab with it. "I suppose this is it."

"I'll miss you," I offer, awkward with all the things I should maybe be saying right now. Thank yous, I'm sorrys, I hope you don't regret spending this much time with a crazy freak like mes. I'm trying to formulate some remotely articulate combination of them when Nahla laughs and hugs me, liquid-eyed.

"I'll miss you. Take care of yourself, and you too, Dan," she says. I watch the bangle on her wrist swing as she wipes the back of her arm across her eyes and then turns swiftly, almost running out the door. I know, she doesn't want me to see her cry. "Bye."

"Bye, 'La," I answer, more than a little wistfully, even though she's already way down the hall. I can feel Dan hesitating behind me before he touches my shoulder so gently I can barely feel it.

"Are you okay?"

One of the movers nods at me before he pulls the door shut behind the others. That'll be the last of it. I take a deep breath and then turn around to face Dan's blue eyes, all big and concerned. It makes me smile in spite of myself.

"Let's go buy you some furniture," I say.

---

As it turns out, Patrick is a problem I never have to deal with. He gets prosecuted for six separate attacks he's been pinned to and ends up having to do time for it. Sarah stops by to tell me. I can still hardly believe it, but it's, it's a lesson, I guess.

And Dan fills up any hole he's left, easily. We attempt making ridiculously elaborate meals and go for Chinese when they fail, watch movies, hang out at clubs. More often than not, I can talk him into using with me. Before long he's my best friend. Someone who sits up with me in the living room long after we should've been in bed and looks at me through the dark while we talk about the most wonderfully random things. I never feel the need to tell him about Kay, and I never ask why he'd run away from home. I guess sometimes I maybe miss laying with Patrick in bed, since Dan never spends a night anywhere but Nahla's—his—bedroom. But cuddling with someone on a couch isn't that bad, either.

Other than that, life goes on pretty much the same as ever. Well, except for one thing, I guess. One day I'm sitting at work reading over a new book we're producing, and the subject matter is close enough to my own experiences for an idea to reach out and smack me. I always liked to write. But for some reason it never occurred to me to try writing my own book.

So I do.

I don't want to quit my job, not yet; I like what I do, and it's totally possible that I'll suck at writing novels. I've never tried anything but short stories. So instead I take all of the vacation time I haven't been using for the last two years, and I give it a shot. And, to my surprise, it works. The story of Kay and I comes out on paper and I—it'll sound weird, but I learn from writing it down. I realize how much less we had than I thought we'd had, how juvenile and superficial it all was; a couple of teenage boys thrown together with the tenuous bonds of sex keeping things together. And how fucking… cruel Kay always was. It's kind of an ironic thing to say, coming from me, but when I sit back and look at the finished product, the things his character does lay stark and painful on the pages, nothing I can look away from. I end up having to edit the hell out of it so it's not so blatantly our story, but in the end, it's—kind of worth it. I have a book, a book that doesn't suck, a book that I actually somehow manage to get published.

Dan and I walk into Barnes and Noble the day it's released, and there it is. Sitting on the shelf, Mirage scrawled across the front in jagged font. (I thought 'Mirage' was the most apt word I could use to summarize the relationship I'd had with Kay.) Dan very deliberately uses his finger to underline my name on the cover, and then we grin at each other like kids.

Tara's throwing me a party next week. Not that I asked for one, but there you are. Still, Dan and I have our own celebration that night, partying in gay bars all across the city till we end up in the apartment with some club kid. Dan is still up with him when I stumble into my room and collapse on my bed, grinning at the ceiling so completely that, for a minute, it's like being fifteen again, before Ontarios's legal system brought everything crashing down around me. For the first time in…. years, everything is kind of right again.

That thought firmly fixed in mind, I fall asleep.

--FINISHED.