The headache tortured me all night. And in the morning, the first thing I hear is Ted's voice. More precisely, at first his astonished whistle.
"It looks painful," and he immediately pokes his finger in the most painful spot on my cheek. I jump up on the bed.
In the mirror I see a bruise at the bottom left corner of my jaw, right where Mark's fist hit. I'm still mad at him. But I can't really put into words the reason for my anger. I want to call him a traitor, but I cannot understand why.
Well, he is gay... so what? The mere thought that Mark was sleeping with this "Ian" twists my guts, and my jaw starts to hurt even more, although I have already swallowed a handful of painkillers.
Am I so angry that he didn't tell me anything?.. For seven years we lived under the same roof, but he didn't tell me. Okay, he didn't tell me from the start, I was a fourteen-year-old brat, but then, when I finished school, Mark could have told me. Or we have never been close?
Or it was me who refused to notice anything? I was a teenager, but not an idiot! Although... I was too absorbed in my own tragedy to notice anything else.
At thirteen I lost my parents, at fourteen I lost my older brother. And I was completely alone. I would have been sent to some distant relatives, whose names and faces I did not know, but Mark had agreed to become my guardian even before my brother died. Mark and my brother were close friends. But I could never imagine that in the end Mark would be my only family. At twenty-two, he took over the care of me. I... I dropped out of life for two years. I stopped talking, stopped going to school. I don't know exactly how Mark got me back, but he did it.
And how did I repay him?.. Perhaps he was right not to trust me.
Great... guilt, that's just what I need. Neither painkiller nor ice will help from it... But there is a much simpler and wiser way.
This time I prudently call. Mark's voice sounds aloof, but he agrees to meet. I go to the apartment again. Mark meets me in the hallway and immediately goes into the living room. I sit down opposite him and stare at the floor for a long time, occasionally rubbing the bruise on my cheek. I seem to hope to get him to apologize first, but Mark stubbornly remains silent.
"I wanted to apologize for... my behavior that day... I shouldn't have yelled at you... I shouldn't have said all these things," I say without changing my intonation. These words were difficult for me. Mark and I rarely fought, but I never crossed the line. Probably, this is how adults should behave in my opinion.
Mark does not immediately respond to my apology. Perhaps he also played this conversation in his head more than once. Finally he nods. But this awkward feeling is still between us. I can leave now, but then, in fact, nothing will change between us. Do I want to change something?
"So... my brother... knew about you?" I say, looking away.
"He did," Mark nods calmly. It seems to me that the awkwardness has decreased a little. "He was the first to whom I told. He was the first to understand me and even supported me."
"And you and he were... um..."
"No. Did it bother you that much?"
"No, but... just... And that one... in pajamas... he's your..."
"And you love him?"
I got carried away, but Mark's calmness and the fact that he was answering my questions seemed to have untied my tongue. But upon hearing this question, Mark raised his eyebrows for a second in surprise, but still answered:
"I would never sleep with someone for whom I feel nothing."
"Enough about that."
I can't blame Mark, I've gone too far in my inquiries. Has it become easier for me?.. It's hard to say. When someone you have known for so long suddenly turned out to be not quite who you imagined them to be, it is always difficult to accept.
We lived together for four years, he took care of me. He raised me, did homework with me. I took him as... I don't know, a replacement for my father and older brother rolled into one. And it's always like this with your parents, you often think of them in a certain way, as if they have one goal in life - to take care of you. And no interests, no temptations, and no sins. And you try to escape from their care, then you offend them with indifference. I think that here I am no different from most of my peers. But still, Mark was neither a father nor a brother to me... It's hard for me to imagine how at 22, when he himself was probably full of plans and hopes, he took responsibility for a teenager?.. Probably, the ability to make such decisions means to be an adult?
And what do I want to change now?
My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Mark left me alone. From the voices coming from the hallway, I knew it was Ian.
No, I'm not that sensible...
I get up from the couch.
In the corridor, I said goodbye and went out. As the door was closing, I heard Ian said:
"What's for dinner, Mark?"
And Mark answered:
"Whatever you'll make."
And he smiled like he never smiled at me. They were on an equal footing. They had something in common that I did not have with Mark.
At that moment, I suddenly felt that I was alone. My parents died, my brother too. I had only Mark, but I never felt "how much" he is my family, until this door closed in front of me, and I was on the doorstep all alone. When you have a brother by blood, there is a thin thread between you that binds you, which seems to oblige you to love each other and support at all costs. And although many neglect this, and there are many brother-haters among people, this thread exists. This thought always gave me hope, that... That I would never be alone, because there was someone with whom my blood bound me. Mark and I were not bound by blood, he was not obliged to love me. And when I realized this and felt my loneliness. I really wanted to go back to this apartment so I could grasp this illusory feeling of family.
I couldn't sleep that night. I thought about how to get back to my room, which I had left with such joy only three months ago. I could break a rule and be evicted from the dorm. But I didn't want to get onto too much trouble.
I thought I could wait for the vacation, but having this Ian around required more decisive action from me than waiting. So...
How could I forget about the really simplest way!? I just have to lie! I can tell Mark that I was evicted and that's it. Mark is unlikely to check my words, but I can return home, make up with Mark and keep this pajama-man from constantly hanging around Mark's neck.
I fell asleep only in the morning and slept through the first two classes. After the last lecture, I rushed into the room, where I began to pack my things hastily. Ted caught me doing this.
"Well, damn it, I just started to think that you are normal, and you decided to rob me." Ted always speaks in the same voice, so it is impossible to understand when he is joking and when not.
"I'm not robbing you! I'm just leaving the dorm. I'm going back home."
I somehow did not come up with an answer to this question. But probably I will be asked it more than once.
"Well... um... just... I have the opportunity to live at home, and I would like to take advantage of it."
"It's strange to hear it from someone who sang about his freedom at every party." Ted sat down on a chair and looked sideways at my bag.
"It turned out that freedom is not all that I want."
I liked my own words and I even smiled. Ted just shrugged.
"And I, then, have to get along with some new freak."
"You never told me that I was a freak!"
"Well, who says such things in the face?! I'm not an idiot!"
"You've just said that to me!"
"I didn't say anything!"
Ted asked me not to tell the supervisor that I was going home for good.
"Now the holidays are starting anyway. Stay there for a week, and then you'll see. Maybe this week will be enough for you and you will happily run back to your dorm." Ted said, and I had to admit there was common sense in his words.
It was four o'clock when I arrived at Mark's doorstep. Mark usually returned after seven, but I was afraid that I would run into Ian again. It is clear that he liked me no more than I liked him.
Fortunately, no one was at home, and I happily stretched out on my bed. It was so weird. It was all familiar and old, but I experienced every moment in a new, acute way.
Mark came every day at seven, we had dinner, often in front of the TV. Then I got tired of it. We often dined separately. But now I wanted this evening to be just like one of that past. After all, something has changed in me.
I made a rather tolerable dinner and sat down to wait for Mark. But he did not show up either at 7 or at 8. The meal went cold. At 12, completely upset, I went to bed.
Probably, Mark stayed with Ian... This thought again deprived me of peace. It tossed and turned in my chest, hurting me. And I fell asleep only in the morning.