WARNING: contains themes of homophobia and racism.
Lyle Webber was a respectable man. He spent his whole life working hard and getting his hands dirty; always pulling me out of trouble and lying to my Pa. He was my best friend, the closest person to me in the world, a friend and a brother all at once.
He had hands the colour of coffee beans; all rough and callous from working outdoors, nails nibbled down to the flesh and scratches on his palms. They were smaller than mine but somehow large enough to take the pain away; large enough to grab the baggage off of my shoulders and toss it aside.
He was kind. Surely kinder than me. He had nothing in the world but he handed it to me as though it was everything.
My name is Armand and I am forty-five years old. I have thought about him every day and I will think about him every day for the rest of my life. I am cold and I am alone and I am burdened by the fact that I did nothing when I could have done something. I did nothing when he would have done everything.
My name is Armand Doyle, and this is not the story of how I loved Lyle Webber. This is the story of how I killed him.
Lyle Webber was the son of a man that my Pa used to tell me had saved his life. I never learned his name, not even from Lyle, but Pa must've owed him a favour or something because one day he turned up on our doorstep.
I was ten years old. I'd been playing out in the garden, running about and climbing trees when I noticed them walking up the driveway. After brushing back my hair, I'd raced over to the doorstep and greeted them myself.
"Why'a got no shoes?"
The man had stared at me with a slight smile, the boy standing in front of him staring at his feet.
"Ain't no reason ta be ashamed of that," I'd amended immediately, noticing the stricken look on the boy's face. "Pa makes me wear mine. Says I'll get splinters if I don't."
The boy had simply glanced up at his father, who placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and smiled slightly. "Your Pa about, son?" he had asked gently, his voice awful rough for someone of his age.
It was about then that Pa had come outside and shooed me up to my room, and when I grew bored of throwing the ball about I'd cracked my door open and peeked down at the living room. I couldn't quite hear them, but eventually I'd heard the door slam shut and my father had called me down.
"Armand," he'd shouted, "you ought to come down here and meet someone."
It hadn't taken me long to race down the stairs and into the living room, and immediately I saw the boy standing by the window.
"What'cha looking at?" I'd demanded, walking over to the window and ignoring Pa's warning. When I was beside him I peered out, and I could see the outline of his father walking away in the distance. "Where's he going?"
No one answered; just continued to watch him walk away. I didn't know he'd never walk back. I don't think Lyle knew, either.
We grew up together. The only difference was that Lyle would spend a lot of his time working out in the garden, and he called my Pa Mr Doyle instead. Some days he'd spend all day outside, even when I asked him if he wanted to play. When I asked Pa why that was he'd always say the same thing. "That's the way the world works, kid. You ain't always gonna like it."
Some days Pa would have visitors. Ladies — dressed up all nice in their long skirts and blouses, and they'd treat me real sweetly and offer for me to sit down with them. I'd always be huffed, feeling more like a man than the young boy that I was, but when I asked whether Lyle could join us Pa would send me a look that told me to shut it.
They'd look so disgusted, too. Glance at him up and down, eyes lingering on his bare, muddy feet.
"That's just Lyle," I'd explain. "He don't like wearing shoes."
Lyle would look at the ground and head back outside, and the women would look over at me with an odd look on their face. "Aren't you a sweet one?" they'd say, giving me a smile that made my skin crawl. "Ain't no reason to treat him like that, though."
Later on they'd head up to my Pa's room and I'd walk outside to join Lyle, not liking the noises they'd make when they stayed. One time I sat down on the grass and Lyle joined me, and we'd sat there together picking the grass out of the ground and staring at the sky.
"Why don't they like you?" I'd asked eventually.
Lyle had sighed, glancing down at his feet and rubbing at them with his fingers. "Cause o' my colour, Armand," he'd said. "I ain't like you and your Pa."
Lyle had snickered, glancing at me quickly before turning away. "You're awful dumb for a twelve year old, Armand. World ain't always the way you want it to be."
Eventually the sky had grown dark and I'd placed my head against his shoulder, leaning against him and looking up at the stars. "Ain't nothing different about you, Lyle Webber," I'd said eventually, before letting out a hearty yawn. "They're all jus' being dumb."
He had stayed silent, plucking the grass from the ground and throwing it away with the wind. "Think Pa's done with that lady?" I'd asked after a while, pulling away from his shoulder to look at him.
He'd snickered again. "Your Pa sure likes them ladies."
I hadn't understood what he meant by that but I'd thrown the grass at him anyway, before leaping up off the ground and running away. He'd chased after me, laughing loudly as he'd grabbed me 'round the waist and threw me to the ground.
Eventually Pa had come outside and called our names, and we'd brushed the dirt and grass off our clothes before heading over.
"Always getting into trouble," he'd muttered as we passed him. "You kids'll be the death of me."
One day in summer I'd asked Pa if he would take us out into town for ice cream. At first he'd refused, but after a while of begging he'd eventually agreed. "Time for you to learn your own lesson, Armand," he'd said with a slight frown. " I ain't gonna be around much longer to protect you."
When we'd made it into town I was excited, and I'd raced all the way down to the ice cream shop without stopping. "Hurry up, Lyle!" I'd shouted. When I glanced back to see where he was he was walking a slight distance behind my Pa, staring at the ground with his hands tugging at his clothes.
"Why're they all looking at us?" I'd asked when Pa had caught up. And they were. Every single person we passed seemed to stare us down; eyeing my Pa and I before their eyes would trail over to Lyle.
"Ain't got nothing better to do," Pa had said, before he'd pushed open the door to the shop and stepped inside.
I'd ordered my ice cream straight away — a double scoop with chocolate and vanilla. The lady had given me a smile, even letting me have sprinkles for free on top.
When it was Lyle's turn she'd given him a look before turning away. "Ain't no place for your type," she'd said roughly. "Beat it."
I started to speak back at her when my Pa shushed me, grabbing me by the collar and pulling me outside. "Hey!" I'd protested, batting his hand away with my fingers. "We ain't got Lyle his ice cream!"
Pa gave me a fierce look, telling me sternly to be quiet as we began to walk away. People stared the whole way, and I began to grown angry at the looks that they were giving us. "Quit it!" I'd shouted loudly, startling a few of them.
Pa had grabbed me by the collar again and dragged me away, back towards where his truck was sitting across the road. "Mind your mouth, Armand Doyle," he'd ordered, giving me a fierce look. "You can't go 'round talkin' to people like that."
I'd pouted angrily. "They were lookin' at us."
Pa had slapped the back of my head. "There ain't nothing wrong with just looking."
Eventually we began to drive back home, and I'd glanced at Lyle to find him staring out the window sadly. "That lady was awful mean," I'd told him, and he'd turned to look at me with wide eyes. "Ain't nothing wrong with you, Lyle Webber," I'd promised him again.
He let out a sigh and turned away, glancing out the window again. "Hey," I'd prodded, tapping him on the shoulder. "You want the vanilla side? I don't like it all that much."
Lyle pulled his eyes away from the window to look at me with a slight smile. "Okay," he'd said quietly.
I could feel Pa's eyes on me in the rear view mirror the whole drive home.
"The world ain't gonna like you two," Pa had said on his deathbed. When I asked why, he'd responded with a slight frown. "Whole world's gone colourblind."
I was eighteen by then, and Lyle was just off twenty. Pa had been sick for a few years, having maids watch over the house all day as he stayed in bed. The maids had been of the same skin colour as Lyle's, and they were awful nice to both of us. I liked them for that.
"Don't act dumb, Armand Doyle," he had added, giving me a look. "You know what the world's like by now."
And I did. I was old enough to know why they didn't like Lyle; why they wouldn't serve him at the store or let him ride the bus. I was old enough to understand the way the world was and I didn't like it; didn't like that they said that we were different, he and I, that we weren't the same.
Pa had died a few days later. For a while I hadn't known how to go on, and I don't think Lyle knew either. "Ain't nothing left but you and me now, Lyle," I'd told him one night as we sat outside. I'd placed my head on his shoulder again and I was leaning into his side, trying not to think of the fact that Pa was gone and that my words were the truth.
"Guess it could be a lot worse," he'd said after a while. When I'd shoved him he had snickered, shoving me back and rolling over, jumping up onto his feet and running away. And I had chased him, just like I always did, chasing after normality and my childhood and Lyle all at once. And the whole while I could feel the ghost of my Pa looking down at me, watching me run about, all the while with that same look on his face.
"World ain't gonna like you two," I could feel him repeating to me.
But right then I didn't particularly like the world either.
I had gotten a job at the store in town. The man that ran it had known my Pa, and after I'd told him my name he'd hired me right away. "Good man, your Pa," he'd said, scratching at his beard as he looked me up and down. "Hard worker."
When I had arrived back home Lyle and I had celebrated. It was just us in the house now — us and the memories of Pa, and maybe for him, the memories of his dad walking down that old driveway. I'd tried to convince him to go for a job too but he'd simply given me a look — the same look my Pa always had, and told me flat out that he'd get turned down every time. Instead we just celebrated my own achievement, breaking out the whisky from the cupboard and sitting out in the grass.
Eventually we were left there looking at the stars again, like we always did, except it was his head laying lazily against my shoulder for a change. The air had been cold but huddled together we were alright, a bottle of whisky sitting by our side and warming our stomachs. "Just you an' me," I'd whispered, missing Pa.
He'd glanced up at me with a slight smile. "Ain't nothing wrong with that."
Stanley — the old man that ran the store, began to drive me home each night after work. Each night he would kill the engine and glance over at the house, before turning to give me a slight look. "Must get awful lonely living in that house by yourself," he'd commented idly one night, eyeing the house in the distance.
"Naw," I'd told him, unbuckling my seatbelt. "I got Lyle with me."
He'd given me a look then — a mixture of disgust and uncertainty, before reaching up to scratch at his beard. "You mean that black boy," he'd said in response, turning around to give me a stern look. "You shouldn't be hanging out with his type, son."
I could feel myself growing angry, but I'd forced myself to calm down and give him a polite smile. "In all due respect though, sir, Lyle's my best friend. Ain't got nothing else but him no more."
Stanley had frowned, eyeing me from the corner of his eyes before letting out a sigh. "Watch yourself, boy," he'd said. "People might start thinkin' you're queer."
I hadn't quite understood what he'd meant by that, but the tone of his voice was clear. And instead of speaking up as I should have, I had simply thanked him and hopped out of the car, walking over to the house as I heard him start his engine and drive back away.
One night I'd spent too much time drinking, sitting outside with the bottle resting against my legs as I looked up at the sky. I suppose I had been looking for him, looking for Pa in the night sky, and with every failure I had taken another sip of whisky.
Eventually Lyle had joined me, pulling the bottle out of my hand despite my protest. "Don't act dumb, Armand," he'd said sternly, glaring at me and pushing me down. "Ain't no reason for you to be actin' this stupid."
After placing the bottle of whisky inside he had walked back out to sit down beside me, keeping his distance as he settled down on the grass.
"The world ain't all that pretty," I'd said after a while, my words slightly slurred as I glared blearily at the sky.
"'Course it is," Lyle had said, turning to look at me with an odd look on his face. "Why d'ya say that?"
I'd given him a look. "Don't know how you can think differently, Lyle Webber. Not with folks treatin' you like they do."
He had sighed, resting his head in his hands as he glanced out around us. "Don't matter to me no more," he'd muttered quietly.
When the silence got to be too much I'd huddled up against him, and he'd stiffened slightly before allowing me to relax against his side. "Why you being silly, Armand?" he'd said sternly, but allowing me to lean against his side anyway. "You've turned into a right loon."
I hadn't responded, simply lowering my head as I pressed my palm against his shoulder. When he'd turned to look at me I'd kissed him — short and sharp before I'd burst into tears.
Lyle had simply let out a sigh, pulling me against his side and patting my back as I cried. "Don't you go doin' that," he'd said quietly. "World ain't gonna be be pretty if you do that."
I picked up smoking almost a year later. Every time Lyle had caught me with a cigarette he would sigh like I was a disappointment, and then he would drop down beside me and place his hands on his knees.
"You're too old to be actin' this dumb, Armand," he had said to me late one evening, when the air was particularly cool and the sky was littered with stars. "That stuff ain't good for you."
Blowing out a puff of smoke, I had lowered my eyes towards my feet. "Ain't got nothing to live for no more, Lyle, n'you know it."
"Don't you go sayin' that," Lyle had said fiercely, more angry than I'd ever heard him. When I had turned to look at him I was close enough to see every line on his face — every whisper of age time had left on his skin, the light of the moon reflecting off of his dark eyes. It had struck me then how badly I wanted to kiss him again, how much the stars were making me remember the tears and everything awful; the roughness of his lips and the way he'd comforted me afterwards.
I realised that I didn't have nothing else — no family and no friends, nobody but Lyle, and I couldn't even see Pa in the stars no more, and I could feel the cigarette burning my fingers like a warning, a don't go there; a reflection of Stanley's eyes in the front seat of his car.
Watch yourself, boy, he had told me. But that was the thing — I didn't know what I was supposed to be watching for, why everyone was always warning me, why they all thought I was doing something wrong. And I had started to cry then, the cigarette falling from my fingers, dropping onto the aged porch step where everything had first begun. "There's somethin' wrong with me, Lyle," I had told him, voice quivering as I dropped my face into my hands.
"Ain't nothing wrong with you, Armand," Lyle had told me fiercely, hand coming to rest gently upon my shoulder — a reminder that I wasn't alone. And that was the thing, and always had been the thing; that Lyle was there and nobody else, that time passed and people died and stars disappeared but Lyle was always there beside me, an ever-present colour in my life, the best friend I had in the whole wide world. Something had swelled in my stomach then, almost akin to loneliness but fiercer — scarier.
When he'd pulled his hand away and my cries had turned into ragged breaths I placed my head against his shoulder, longing to look beside me and see my childhood again, but when I turned to look there was nothing but an aging man beside me. I wasn't a little boy no more with his head resting against his friend's shoulder, I was a lonely man resting upon everything that was left of his life.
I had placed my hand on his then. Tentatively, 'cause I had known that he wouldn't like it, his knuckles and skin calloused and alarmingly dark under mine. He had looked up at me as soon as my skin touched his, and I could see the fear reflected in the back of his eyes, the [i]watch yourself, boy[/i] that didn't have to be spoken. But I knew that he wouldn't pull away — that he never would, because Lyle was the only person that never had.
I should have known as soon as I saw the look in his eyes that I'd killed him. Should have felt that fear myself, should have found it consuming me, but I was and always had been a dumb and selfish boy. All I knew was that with the hand under mine the loneliness began to bubble away, becoming a dry emptiness in my stomach, and that I believed that Lyle and me would always be just that — Lyle and me.
But I was wrong, because that look killed him.
"You ought to kick him outta your house, boy," Stanley had told me one night as we sat drinking whisky at the back of his store. His cheeks had been flushed red with heat and his words were slightly muddled together, his breath reeking of alcohol as he continuously took swigs from the bottle. "That black boy. You're gettin' too old to be puttin' up with folk like him."
"Don't make no difference to me," I'd told him earnestly. "Lyle ain't been nothin' but a good friend to me my whole life."
His eyes had flickered with disgust as he looked at me, raising the bottle to his lips and taking another swig of whisky. "People been talkin' about ya, boy. Wonderin' why you're hanging about with his type. Ain't gonna cause you nothin' but pain. That boy ain't no friend to you. He's scum."
"Naw," I had told him. I knew that if Pa had been there he would've slapped me on the back of his head, but the familiar childish sense of frustration had built up inside of me until I'd burst. "He ain't scum. Lyle's my favourite person in the world. He ain't nothing like you say he is."
He had spat at me then. Short and sharp — his eyes uglier than anything I'd ever seen. "Should'a known you were queer," he muttered furiously. "Get the hell outta my store, boy. And don't you think about comin' back."
It had happened in the middle of the night. The sound of cars pulling up outside the building, the echo of voices filling the cold and quiet house, loud and angry. I had heard shouting; it had woken me up from my slumber, and I had raced out of bed and down the stairs right away.
"What are you doing?" I had asked Stanley when I found him outside, and he had simply shoved me to the side with a furious glare.
"You stay outta it, boy, or you'll end up like him."
Fear had started to build up inside of me, my chest tight with panic, my thoughts becoming frantic as I watched him shove past. "What are you doing?" I had asked again when the next few men passed me, only to receive more ugly glares as they shoved their way past, one of them spitting at my feet.
I think a part of me had known what was happening before I heard it; had known what they were there for, what they were going to do. And I had stood there — shaking in the cold breeze, unable to move and unable to make a sound, only beginning to cry when I heard him shout.
He had called my name. Quickly and loudly, followed by the sound of his yelps, echoing across the night, in my ears over and over again, never ending, the loudest thing that I had ever heard in my life.
Eventually the sound had disappeared. I could feel the breeze frigid against my skin, the tears as they dribbled down my cheeks, the fierce thumping of my heart inside my chest. I had realised then what I'd seen in his eyes that night; the same resignation that I'd felt when Stanley had told me to stay out of it, the acceptance that it would never be okay — not for us. That my hand on his was a promise of death. That I'd lead him there myself.
My lower lip had trembled. I'd never felt so numb in my life, so empty and so cold. I could hear them descending the stairs, knew that it was over, and yet I still couldn't move. Not even when they passed me, blood on each of their knuckles, not even when they'd spat at my feet. I had just stared at the house that I'd grown up in, knowing that what lay inside of it was the thing that I should have feared all along.
An hour must have passed. My lips were blue and my hands were still trembling. Eventually I had sat down on the floor, my legs crumbling out from beneath me, my hands crashing against the gravel so fiercely that I began to bleed. When I had looked down at my hands, they were covered in blood, and I imagined that it was his.
I had as good as killed him myself.
I thought of his dad walking down the driveway and realised that I'd walked away from him too. Felt my head lolling to the side, wanting to rest it against his shoulder, seeing the fear in his eyes like a bullet, the watch yourself, boy, the knowledge that he was gone. I had thrown up all over the pavement, the taste in my mouth disgusting, and as I reached up to wipe away the spit I'd brushed blood against my lip. It made me vomit all over again, until I was numb and dizzy and alarmingly alone on the gravel.
I had looked up at the sky, but I couldn't see either of them.
"World ain't gonna like you two," I had felt Pa saying in my ear.
I'd never hated myself more in my life; it bubbled like lead in my stomach and lead me into oblivion.
"Ain't nothing wrong with you, Lyle Webber," I'd said for the last time in my life. "People gotta realise that morality ain't black and white."
I'd spoken the words just as I'd laid him down on the grass, tears of self hatred mingling with his blood, dripping onto the grass where we'd once watched the stars. His body was bruised and covered in cuts, hand marks around his neck, his coffee-coloured eyes wide open and lifeless. I imagined him in his room, listening to them storming up the stairs — heard his shout of Armand, recognised his resignation to his own death. It had made me cry harder, knowing that he wouldn't have fought back — knowing it because I'd seen it in his eyes, seen him give up; had placed it there myself.
I hoped more than anything that he knew that I loved him. That as they had stormed up the stairs, when he had realised that I wasn't going to save him, he had known it as well as ever. That he had recognised something in my eyes that night, just like I'd recognised something in his, recognised that I was dumb and I was selfish but he was my favourite person in the world and I had nothing else. I never would have nothing else.
He would have saved me but I hadn't moved. Maybe that was why he had been scared all along.
I hadn't wanted to bury him. For a moment or two, I had sat down beside him, pretending that his eyes weren't lifeless, that we were children again, and he was beside me as real as ever. "World ain't all that pretty," I had spoken out loud.
This time he didn't fight back.
Time went on. When I'd walk around town I'd get shoved to the side and tossed about by blokes much larger than me, some of them laughing and spitting at me feet. "Queer," they'd call me, their faces shrivelled up with disgust. I didn't know how to tell them that I wasn't. I didn't love nobody else — just Lyle. And if I had to love a bloody carcass of a man for the rest of my life, then love him I would.
Some days I'd sit alone at the old house and I'd look up at the stars. I'd try to look for them — Pa and Lyle, but there were so many up there that it was hard to tell. Sometimes I'd have too much whisky and I could feel him sitting beside me, his head on my shoulder like the ghost of a memory. And I could swear he was really there — swear I could smell him and feel him, but when I'd look there would be nothing but distance.
I'd never felt so lonely in my life.
When I was thirty-eight, I had married an old widow. Her name was Lorraine, and her first husband had died in a horse accident. We both knew that there would never be love between us, because we both were holding on to ghosts, but she had moved in with me at the old house. We slept in separate beds, and some days I would tell her about Lyle, and she would tell me about her husband. We were friends in the fact that we had no one else, but when nighttime came she would retreat to her room and I would walk outside and sit under the stars, and imagine that he was there with me.
I'd imagine Pa, too. Wonder if he had known it all along, even on his death bed — had known that I'd kill Lyle from the start. I thought of all of the warnings, thought of all that I'd ruined, and I would weep until I'd fall asleep where his bloody and bruised body had rested. When the sun rose I would open my eyes and I would be in the same place that I had always been, and I would start another day, lonely and sad; emptiness ever present inside of me.
Lyle was and always would be the best part of my life. People had walked away from him his whole life, and if I could right now, I'd be running towards him. Lyle Webber was not a black man. He was not the colour of his skin. He was the only thing that gave my life colour — bright and bold; pale and transparent once he was gone.
I see him in the stars. He sits as a ghost in my palm; as a memory pressed against the lines in my fingers. I watch over him and I hold him dear and I hope that he watches over me too.
Lyle and Armand appeared to me as I was in class one day, and I knew straight away that it was a story that needed to be told. I worked and I worked until I felt as though I had done them justice, even though I'd only be writing a few hundred words a week. I do not consider this a 'slash' - it is a story about love and friendship in its most deep and raw sense, and doesn't require any labels. Feedback would be lovely!