A better place:

Someone once told him that you go to a better place when you die, so he hit them, right in their lying face, is what he told the authorities, but he still got a fine. He just has that look, the look of someone who wants to be saved.

I saw it the first time I met him, I saw it in his face every day, but I know that no one can save him, he wants to save himself. He told me once, he just told me why he had to save himself, I said nothing, I never mentioned the look to him, he knew he had it and he knew I saw it, there was nothing to say.

"I think I should tell you," he said seriously, I looked up from the book I was reading, I used to get motion sickness from reading in a car but not anymore. "I have an aneurysm."

What do you say to that? I can only assume it cannot be helped, otherwise it would have been, and he wouldn't have that look, but I know that what drew me to him when we first met was that look, the look that said he needed to be saved.

"Thank you for telling me," was all I could think of to say, I still cannot think of anything better.

We met when I was nineteen, he was twenty, and it was his birthday.

I was just sitting there, staring dejectedly at the bottom of a beer glass. It had been empty for a while and I was wondering whether I wanted to part with the necessary amount of money to get more.

He was pushed into a seat next to me, he didn't seem to appreciate it but the man with a hand on his shoulder was not giving him an option. "A drink for the birthday man," the other guy said, a bit too loud.

I felt sorry for this man sitting next to me, and I hadn't seen the look, out with someone like that on his birthday. "Vodka and cola," he said quietly to the inquiring look the bar tender was giving him.

There was trouble in that relationship, those two, I knew it just from looking at the other man's face, he knew that there was trouble, he just didn't know what to do. Now I know that he was the sort of person who tried to make up for ignorance with zeal, but that night it was getting him nowhere.

"Happy birthday," I said to the man next to me.

He looked at me and I was blown away, it was that look, I couldn't deal with it, it was all I could see of him for a long time. "Thank you," he said quietly.

I looked back at my glass and decided that I did want to spend the money necessary to get drunk. The bar tender came back with his vodka and coke, and put it in front of him. He thanked the bar tender, who then gave me a look that asked if I was ready to give him more money.

"Can I get another of these?" I asked the bar tender, who took my glass and refilled it.

I drank that glass a bit too fast, but I had no problem with that until the other guy asked: "Trouble?"

I didn't want to tell the other guy, but I have never been good at being rude, or even blunt, so I wasn't sure what to say. I shrugged, shrugging has always worked for me when I don't want to be direct but I don't want to ignore the person.

That was either what the other guy was expecting or he just didn't care, I think he didn't care but maybe I am pessimistic. The other guy sat down on the other side of him from me and ordered his own drink, still slightly too loud. I assumed at the time that he was already a bit drunk, but he wasn't, he was slightly deaf and hadn't gotten used to it.

The other guy certainly got drunk though, it didn't take him all that long either. Within an hour the other guy was practically dancing. I had talked to him by then, and been interrupted by the other guy, and tried to avoid violence.

After they had been there an hour and a half I left, I said goodbye to him but not his friend. We didn't meet again for quite some time, I had almost forgotten them by then, just an irritating man in a bar with his friend for a birthday.

More than a year later I met him again, completely coincidentally, we literally ran into each other, or, more accurately, I was pushed into him. "Good to see you again," he said quietly, the same way he spoke when I saw him last, that was probably why I recognised him, he looked different this time.

But that look was still there. "Yeah," I said, forcing the friends I was with to hang around and speculate. "It has been quite a while."

He closed his eyes for a moment. "Four hundred and sixty three days," he said, and then he noticed the look I was giving him. "I have a good memory for important things."

Did that make me important? "I don't doubt you are right," I told him, because he seemed like the sort of person who knows things. "But I have to go, I'm hanging out with friends."

"Fair enough, I have to go as well, I am looking for someone," he said, still quiet.

"Until next time then," I say.

"Another four hundred and sixty three days," he replied, and then he turned and left.

It wasn't me that was important; he and the man he was with broke up that day.

But it wasn't another four hundred and sixty three days, it was more like two days.

I was in a bar, a common occurrence for me, what was different about that day was that I was with only one friend, and I was in a gay bar, which was a bit weird for me. The guy I was with gay and he wanted to talk to me in private, which somehow involved going to a gay bar.

I was a bit fuzzy on the details, mostly because it was less than half an hour since I had woken up and I only had an hour before I had to go to work. There wasn't a lot of talking. I got a coffee, which was convenient, the place I usually went didn't do coffee, and I sat in a booth with my friend.

"For some reason I had the impression you wanted to talk to me about something," I said tiredly, staring into my coffee and half wondering why it was making my face hot.

"I did," he told me.

"But not anymore?" I asked, looking away from the coffee and wiping my face.

"I'm not sure you are in any condition to listen to me anyway," he said, looking around.

"I'm listening now, aren't I?" I asked him.

"You are," he replied.

I stopped talking and sat there for a while, staring into my coffee. "You know I'm not gay, right?" I asked him after a little while.

"Dude, I know," he told me, looking a bit embarrassed. "It isn't like I was coming on to you."

"I only meant I can't really be your wingman here," I said, drinking some of my coffee.

"I don't really need a wingman anyway," he said.

"Ok," I replied, drinking more coffee.

We sat there for almost a whole minute before it hit me. "Wait..."

"What?" he asked, not seeming particularly interested.

"Why am I here if it serves no purpose?" I asked him.

"You're my backup," he said. "If I don't appreciate someone's attention I can just say that you are my boyfriend."

"I feel like our imaginary relationship isn't going to last long," I told him, checking the time, I knew it would take about twenty minutes to get to work from there, so I could stay for around half an hour.

"Probably," he replied, still looking around. "But I don't know that I will need you for all that long."

Someone sat down across from us, I didn't know anyone here, so I looked up. I couldn't even say anything, the look was too much for me to deal with yet again. "I guess four hundred and sixty three days was a bit generous," he said, still quiet.

"It seems that way," I replied after a moment, recovering.

"You know this guy?" my friend asked.

"Debatably," I told him.

"I guess I'll leave you to it," he got up and walked over to a man who he had been staring at for a while.

I drank my whole coffee, probably the scolding hot drink was what woke me up more than the caffeine, but at least I managed to perk up a bit. "How's it going?" I asked him.

"Debatably," he said, it was not a reply. "I guess that is the best word for it."

"We've met but we haven't introduced ourselves," I said. "I figure that makes it debatable."

"Debatable indeed," he replied, I didn't mean it as a hint so I guess he wasn't taking it as one.

"Did you find the person you were looking for the other day?" I asked, for lack of anything better.

"I did," he said. "But it turned out to not be a worthwhile endeavour."

"A shame," I said, not sure that it is true, but it seems the best thing to say.

"Debatably," he said. "But that is beside the point, I wouldn't have guessed that you were gay."

"I'm not," I told him. "Apparently I am that guy's backup," I gestured in the direction of my friend at the bar.

"Backup," he repeated the word like it interested him, I knew that he was aware of the meaning. "Seems reasonable, attractive man like you."

It was hard to tell if it was a joke, he didn't change his tone when he said it. "He chose a bad time for it though," I told him, choosing at the time to ignore the remark. "On one of the three nights a week that I work."

"You have a night job?" he asked, looking almost interested.

"Yeah," I tell him. "But it is only at night because the manager is an insomniac, and a bit crazy."

"If he can't sleep then why does it matter what time of day?" he asked me.

"That is where the crazy comes into it," I told him. "He is nocturnal, he can only sleep when there is sun shining on him."

"That must suck in the winter," he said with a smile.

"No joke," I started. "He migrates."

The man across from me grinned. "He follows the sunlight?"

"In all seriousness," I told him. "Halfway through the year he moves all the way to the other side of the world pretty much, because summer is starting there."

"So you only have a job in summer?" he asked.

"No, in winter he just sends me the work so I can do it whenever I want," I told him, not sure why I am sharing all this with a man I don't really know.

"Well, each to his own," he looked around and seems to spot someone. "Speaking of which, I must depart."

He stands, I check the time and follow suit. "I have to get to work," I said, mostly to myself, I am running two minutes late.

"Until next time," he said.

"It seems to me that there is as easier way of going about that," I said. "But I don't have any time right now, so, until next time."

"You don't have two minutes?" he asked.

I checked the time. "I am now four minutes late, you remember when I said he was crazy?"

"I do, you had better run for it," he said.

It wouldn't be the first time. "See you," I told him.

I said goodbye to my friend at the bar and actually did have to run a fair distance, I was seven minutes late by that point you see. I made it to work right on time, which was the only good way to do it, but I was puffed out for a little while.

He was waiting outside for me, I knew he was waiting for me. He was sitting against the base of the building, staring out into infinity, or maybe into zero. It was the look on his face, it wasn't the look of someone who wanted to be saved, it was the look of someone beyond saving.

I know I fell in love when I saw that face, there was something so profoundly wrong with ignoring it, with not being captured by his complete despair. He sat there and stared into zero as I sat next to him, right up against him.

It took him a long time to see the world again, and even longer to notice me sitting with him. "For some reason I thought you weren't gay," he said.

"I don't think it matters," I told him.

I've known him for nineteen years, I have been in love all that time, people don't get that love doesn't have anything to do with sex, and these days can you really say that sex has anything to do with love?

None of it matters to me, I have spent nineteen years in love with someone I don't know the name of. "Nineteen years," I say it quietly, I know he isn't sleeping but I don't want to disturb him, not now.

"Nineteen years," he says it just as quietly. "You are the only person who has stayed with me for so long."

"But it doesn't matter that I am the only person," I tell him, I know he knows that but sometimes we talk to make ourselves feel better. "It matters that I stayed."

"And I love you for it," he says, his voice is getting quieter, I knew it would.

"You have stuck by me for nineteen years, even when everyone else left me all alone," I say, I can feel tears in my eyes, I knew they couldn't be far away.

"You were only alone in yourself," he says, he knows that I know that, but talking makes us all feel better. "I was there for you."

"And I love you for it," I tell him.

He reaches out a hand, covered in tubes and wires, or maybe it is my imagination. I take a firm hold of his hand. "I'm not leaving you," I tell him, knowing that I am lying.

"I won't let you leave me," he tells me, his voice is quieter still, I can barely hear him over the machines.

The tears are rolling freely down my face now, I can feel them dripping from my chin and I can see them landing on the bed sheets. His eyes are dry, he doesn't cry, I was with him when everyone left us all alone, and he didn't cry.

But they wouldn't release me for almost four months. I could never see nothing like he did, I always saw infinity, I saw the limitless world and it has always scared the hell out of me. Because all I can think is… is that…

"Don't cry," he says, I can't see through the tears.

I can't stop myself, it is all I can do not to howl and cry like a child, like a widow.

"I will never leave you," he tells me, he has told me this before, but he has never sounded so sure.

"I will never let you," I can hear myself, but still I can see nothing.

We stay like that for a long time, I hold his hand tightly in both of mine and I cry for a long time, and he is silent, as he was a long time ago. He lies there and lets me cry for him, he is the one who is sad here, I am crying for him more than for me.

Eventually the sound of the machines was all that could be heard in the small room.

"Nineteen years," he says.

"Nineteen years," I reply.

"And you never needed to know," he says it thoughtfully. "You never asked.

"It didn't matter," I tell him. "I knew that you were a man without hope."

"It matters now though, doesn't it?"

He is right, the only reason I am here is because I was there when it came down to it, I would never have found him otherwise. Once it would have helped, but it was not a problem, it was an inconvenience at worst, not a real problem.

"Nineteen years," I say again. "You never asked either, you never needed to know."

"It didn't matter," he tells me. "You were my saviour."

"It has been so nice knowing you," he says. "I'm Desmond."

"My world, it has been so good to know you," I tell him. "I'm Von."

He silent, as he always has been, and now, as he always will be.