Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 29: The Forgotten Door (Part Two)

I dreamt I was in a large room. It was a large white room filled with emptiness, no furniture, no shadows. Just nothingness. I was running, trying to get out of it but I couldn't. I could see a door in the distance and I extended my hand to reach it, but I couldn't – I wouldn't. It was like a part of me wanted to open it but a stronger part of me didn't. Something was behind that door that I both needed and dreaded. Struggling to reach it was all I could do to continue.

And then my father was in the room and he was angry. He wanted to hit me but it was okay because I didn't mind. It was just me. But then Charlie was there and he wanted to hit Charlie too. I got angry and scared. I started crying out. The words didn't make sense but I screamed and screamed until my father let go of Charlie.

And then Charlie fell to the floor and he didn't move, not even from his breathing. I was crying and a part of me died… a part of me died with him.

Hero, it's me, Charlie's voice came from his lifeless corpse. Hero, stop, it's me.

"No," I moaned and struggled. It felt like the world was growing darker as I felt my life slipping away.

"Wake up," Charlie said. "It's okay. I'm still here," his voice sounded reassuring. "I'm still here."

I opened my eyes and the room was gone. The sky was bright though not as bright as I had last seen it. The sound of metal crunching entered my ears. Charlie was holding my head in his arms. He was wiping at my forehead which felt slick with sweat. I sat upright and winced as my behind reminded me of the torture it had endured.

"You okay?" he asked then seemed to berate himself mentally. "Stupid question."

"I'm fine," I said as I rubbed my neck. I looked around at where we were. The sun was far to the west and it felt like the day had been a lot later than I remembered. "What time is it? How long was I out?"

"A few hours," he said. "You really scared me for awhile. When you wouldn't wake up, I almost wanted to drag you all the way to the hospital. Not that I could have." He laughed nervously as if he was trying to lighten the situation.

I sat there, staring at nothing in particular and thinking about everything that happened, everything that had to be done. I didn't understand why my father did what he did. My father loved me. How could someone who loved me do that to me? It didn't make sense. What did I do wrong? Was it wrong to kiss a boy? That wasn't what they taught us at school.

"Hero," Charlie said tentatively. We'd both been quiet for so long, it felt like we were fighting. "We should go soon. It's going to get dark."

"No," I said seriously as my mind worked furiously. We couldn't go home. Not yet.

"Hero," Charlie said meekly. "We should tell our moms what happened.

"No!" I said again more adamantly. Charlie pulled back like I scared him. "I mean we can't talk about this, okay? To anyone. Ever."

"But Hero," he said.

"But nothing, Big C," I interrupted as my imagination ran down roads too dark to describe. If my father could do that to me, his own son, then the things he would do to others – to Charlie – were unimaginable. "We're never going to talk about this again, okay?"

"We can't just pretend it never happened," he reasoned. "Your dad hurt you and he might hurt you again."

"He won't," I said. "My father loves me. I… I just need to figure out why he did that."

"Your dad wouldn't do that if he loved you," Charlie said. "That's not what dads should do."

"What do you know?" I asked a little heatedly. "You don't even have a father!"

Charlie flinched as though I had hit him hard with my words. He looked away as though purposely avoiding my eyes.

"Look," I said, feeling very guilty for what I had done. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that."

"But you did anyway," he said sadly.

"Big C," I implored. "Please, look at me."

At first I thought he wouldn't. But after awhile, he sighed heavily and looked at me. His face was impassive but his eyes showed how much my words had hurt.

"I'm sorry," I said as sincerely as I could say it. "I really am." I reached over and held his hand in mine.

"I know you are," he said and smiled.

I pulled my hand back from his as if his hands had caught fire. I wanted to hold his hand because it felt like the right thing to do, but a part of me wanted to pull away. A part of me needed to pull away.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

I looked at him and a thousand thoughts came across my mind. What would my father do if he saw us there? How would he react if he saw me holding Charlie's hand? I felt dizzy and sick thinking about what might have happened to Charlie if my dad's phone hadn't ring when it did. I grasped my hands between my legs, struggling to keep them there. I couldn't answer because I didn't want to say it out loud.

"Well… what are we going to do now?" he asked softly when I remained silent.

What were we going to do? I liked Charlie. I liked him A LOT. But I knew what liking him could lead to, what could happen if my father ever found us again doing anything we weren't supposed to. There was only one thing to do.

"Nothing," I said after awhile.

"Nothing?" Charlie asked.

"We made a mistake. I made a mistake by kissing you. I know now never to let it happen again. It's not like it meant anything anyway right? It's not like we like each other that way right?" I glanced at him trying to gauge his reaction. "It's not like… It's not… You're not gay, right? Right?" I asked, almost demanded it, as though putting strength into my words would make them true.

Charlie looked uncertain. He was staring at me almost as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"You're not right?" I asked. For a moment, I remembered my father's words as he pushed me down onto the bed and… and… "You're not a faggot are you?"

He stared at me and for the briefest, most frightening moment, I thought he would say he was. He couldn't be. He wouldn't be safe from my father if he was. "Of course not," he said eventually.

I felt like a knife had plunged into my heart. I knew I shouldn't have hoped for it because no good would have come from it. But a part of me wailed in silence as I heard his words. It didn't matter that I liked Charlie. He wouldn't have liked me back, not in the way I hoped. "Good," I said nodding. The word was painful in my mouth. "Good."

We stared out at the Iron Graveyard, the two of us lost in our own thoughts. I didn't know what Charlie was thinking about but I was thinking of all the things that needed to be done when I got home. The solution seemed to trickle into my mind naturally as though the rest I had gave me the strength to know what had to be done. I had to go home eventually and that meant facing my father and mother. I needed to talk to him. I needed to understand what happened.

"Big C," I said.

"Mmhmm?" he said, his voice sounding weak, as though the life had been drained out of him.

"We're never going to talk about this again after we leave here, right?" I asked, just making sure.

"No," he agreed and looked away. He scratched his eyes as though dust had entered it. "Never again."

"Oh, and Big C?"

"Yeah?" he asked.

"You can't act any different to my dad, okay?"

"After what he did?" Charlie asked venomously. The shift from his almost drained demeanor to angry was startling.

"Big C, just let me fix this okay?"

He glared at me as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. I gave him the most pleading look I could manage and after awhile he relented.

"Good," I said again. Instead of the relief I should have felt, I was pained. But somehow I knew that it was the right thing to do. If Charlie was gay, then I might have been happy. Yet what was my happiness going to mean if something terrible happened to him in the end because of what he was, because of what I was? No, things were better that way.

Loud crunching sounds permeated the air as several large stacks of metal garbage collapsed down in a huge domino effect at the Iron Graveyard. Several people working around the area started running away from the flying debris. On any other day, we both might have been fascinated by it. Yet at that moment, we stared impassively at it almost like we didn't really see the world down there crumbling before us. "We should go," Charlie said after several minutes of chaos passed.

It seemed to take us little to no time to get back. Although we walked, it felt like time hardly passed. Instead of the pain that would stab at me on our way to The Spot, I felt numb as if a part of me was carved out. I dreaded my return home and time seemed uncooperative by making our houses loom closer, faster rather than much, much later.

It felt like we had just decided to go home when we already found ourselves standing in front of Charlie's house. "I don't think it would be a good idea for you to eat over tonight for dinner," I told Charlie as we stood there in front of his house.

Charlie nodded. "Probably not," he said, not sounding very happy at all. "Are you sure about this?" he asked, his voice sounding desperate. "Our moms can help, mine especially."

I shook my head no. "It's for the best," I said. My father wasn't a deadbeat. I knew well enough to know he was always away for a good reason. He was successful and he could get anything he wanted done if he wanted it enough. But more than that, I saw him, perhaps for the very first time, in those few moments he was in my room. I could not find compromise in his eyes. He had that look that said clearly that he always got his way.

Charlie nodded, still looking concerned. "I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said though a part me felt that it wasn't going to happen. He started walking towards his front door when I felt the need to call out. "Big C?"

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Be strong for me, okay?" I asked.

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

I don't know what prompted me to say those words but somehow I knew they were important. "If things get hard… if they get difficult… I need you to be strong for me. To hold on for me. Promise me you'll wait for me, okay?"

Charlie looked confused, as though he couldn't really understand what I was saying. Nonetheless, he nodded. I, in turn, nodded back at him and made my own way back home.


The house was empty when I got back. My dad must have stepped out and my mom must have been delayed somewhere. She should have been cooking the spaghetti with meatballs by then but the kitchen was as cold as I'd ever seen it.

I made my way to my room. I was glad my stomach was empty because I might have hurled its contents after seeing the scene again. My bed sheets were stained with blood, my blood. My father's old gift, the bent pipe that had saved his life, was on the floor. Its sharp edges were red with blood as well.

I looked around the room, committing the sight to my memory. This is what happens, I decided. This is what happens to people who were gay. This is what happens to boys who like other boys. This is what happens, I repeated to myself, to them. I couldn't be gay, not anymore. I couldn't let my feelings for Charlie show as long as my father was around. It didn't matter anyway. Charlie wasn't gay. He would never return the feelings I had for him. He was stronger than I was. I would not let anything happen to him just because I was weak.

I pulled off the bloodstained sheets and folded them in my arms. I needed to be strong. I wiped away any of the blood that had made it to the floor. I picked up the pipe gingerly in my hands and wrapped it in the blanket. I then took off my clothes. My favorite Chicago Bulls jacket was stained with my blood. Streaks dripped down from where the fabric covered my pants. Two large patches of red stained the front and as I gazed upon the drops pulled down by gravity, I had the urge to cry. It almost looked like my jacket was crying with me.

I needed to be strong. Looking away, I folded the jeans. The fabric was darkened by blood and a part of me wondered how it was possible for me to have lost that much and still be walking. But there wasn't enough time to work out that question. I placed the jacket on my table and went to the kitchen to get a trash bag. I placed the bed sheets, my shirt, my briefs, and my pants in them. I hesitated when I picked up the jacket. I loved that jacket and I didn't want to part with it. I was tempted to wash it but I was afraid something bad would happen. Perhaps my mom would notice blood in the washer. Perhaps something else would go wrong.

No, I couldn't wash it. But I also decided not to throw it away. I was going to keep it. I loved that jacket too much to throw it away. So I went to my cabinet and looked for an old box of clothes. My mom never threw mine away in case I had future brothers. It hadn't happened yet and I very much doubted it ever would. I looked for the most out of the way box I could find and placed the jacket neatly in between some clothes I owned when I was about seven years old. I figured I'd take it out the following day to hide it somewhere else.

I got fresh sheets and placed them on my bed hoping that my mom wouldn't notice they had changed. It wasn't about just keeping it from her. I wanted to understand how my father could do that to me. He had shown nothing but love for me in the last eleven years. I felt that I deserved to know from him and him only. He was away a lot but he was always there when it mattered. Nothing, nothing, in my past before that day would ever make me think that he was capable of hurting me like that. And him doing so made me thing that maybe… just maybe… I had done something wrong to deserve it.

I took a quick shower and wore fresh clothes, picking out darker shades in case the blood hadn't fully dried. I then lifted the trash bag that contained all the evidence of the terrible event that happened in my room. I grasped it tightly in my arms. I gave a cursory look at the scene of the crime to see if anything was out of place. Everything looked ordinary. Everything looked innocent.

I went back to the kitchen and took the trash out of the dispenser. I rushed to the back of our house where the garbage was kept and placed both trash bags in the trashcan, my trash bag underneath the kitchen garbage. I hoped my mom would not bother to check the contents before giving it to the trash collector.

I froze when I heard a door snap shut inside the house. I listened carefully, uncertain if I wanted to go back in, if I was ready to be alone with my dad again.

"Derek?" came the gentle voice of my mom. "You home, honey?"

"Yeah, mom," I yelled in return, relief flooding in me. "I'm out at the back."

Her head peeked out the door. "What are you doing?" she asked amiably.

"Just taking out the trash," I said as innocently as I could.

Her eyes almost fell out. "My son… taking out the trash without me telling him to do it? What did you do wrong this time?" Her voice was friendly though so I knew she was just kidding.

"Nothing," I said as my mind tried to find any reason to make my actions less than out of the ordinary.

"You must be excited for your dad coming home, huh? Want nothing to interrupt your time later?"

"Yeah," I said clinging to the reason she offered, "I am."

"Your dad should have been here by now," she said as she walked back to the kitchen. "Must have run into some unexpected traffic." She paused as her eyes landed on something that caught her attention. She walked briskly to the living room and picked something up from the floor.

My heart beat madly against my chest. Had I forgotten something? Had I dropped something in my rush to get the evidence away?

"Is your dad here already?" she asked as she stared at the item in her hand. Her back was turned to me so I couldn't see what it was.

"Uhm, I don't think so," I said as I tried to keep my voice as steady as possible. "I was out with Charlie so I wasn't home."

"Hmm…" she said. "Well, it seems he already got here earlier because I think this is for you." She then turned to me smiling, a giftwrapped package in her hand. It was about the size of one of those big bottles of Coke. It also had a shape similar to it. "It says to Derek from dad." She handed it to me smiling. "He must have just gone out for a bit. I wish I could have been here to welcome him home but I got held back at that district conference."

"Oh," I said trying to sound interested. I grasped the gift tightly in my hand, resisting the urge to throw it at a wall. "How was it?"

She looked at me, smirking incredulously. "Are you actually interested in knowing what I do at work?"

"Not really," I said sheepishly.

She laughed and ruffled my hair. "Might as well. It was a boring affair really. Each school was trying to sell itself as the best. They really should just give up as long as we're in the running." She winked like she was sharing some deep secret.

"You're not gonna cook?" I asked as she took out several packages of food with a restaurant's label on them.

"No," she sighed. "I just bought some takeout for tonight. I was certain I wouldn't have enough time to cook enough food for my very hungry boys. I'm sorry but there won't be any spaghetti tonight."

"By the way, about Big C…"

"Yeah," my mom said as she transferred what looked like calamari to a plate. "His mom called."

"Oh?" I asked nervously.

"Yeah. She says Charlie wasn't feeling well so they're going to have to skip dinner tonight." She smirked at me. "Don't think you'll be eating all of this. I'm bringing some of it over next door."

"Of course not," I said.

"You okay, honey?" she asked. "You seem tired. Are you coming down with something too?"

"No, I'm fine," I said as she placed the back of her hand on my forehead.

"You and Charlie haven't been doing anything I should know about, have you?"

"Nope, nothing you need to know about," I said. Well, it was true.

"Good," she smiled. "Because there's nothing you can hide from me so don't even try."

"I wouldn't dream of it," I said. She was only half-listening to me by then for she was distracted looking outside the window.

"Your dad's home," she smiled. I could hear the unmistakable sound of a car pulling into the garage. Noticing my lack of enthusiasm, she said, "well, don't get too excited to welcome him home."

I smiled at her and reluctantly got to my feet to open the door. I tried my best not to wince as my legs ached. I think I managed it well enough.

By the time I got outside, my father was closing the door to his car. He had a small white envelope with an airline's logo in his hand. He paused as he saw me standing there by the door. For a brief moment, I had the wild impulse to run but a part of me knew well enough that doing so would be stupid. My father stared at me with heavy eyes as though he was weighing me in some way, deciding what he wanted to do with me. It made me distinctly uncomfortable.

On any other day, I would have found myself running into his arms, asking him where he's been, looking around for my present… But not that day. Not anymore. I knew that those kinds of days had lived their lives to the end.

I stepped aside making as much room for my father to walk into the house. I hoped he got the message clear enough. I wasn't going to run to him or give him any form of affection, and my spot would make it impossible to accidentally brush against me in any way. If he wanted to touch me, he would have to reach out to me first.

I kept my eyes on him the whole time as he finally walked towards the door. He paused right in front me, staring down as though asking me unheard questions. He had this look that may at one time have made me avert my eyes quickly as though he was silently reprimanding me for something I did. But I stared back at him adamantly, unwilling to show that I was afraid even if in truth, all I felt was fear.

Finally, when it seemed to have gone on for too long, my father walked into the house without so much as a word. He left me standing there by the doorway, almost as though it was where I belonged.

"I'm so sorry I couldn't meet you earlier," I heard my mom say from the kitchen. "The conference went on forever. Had I known they'd over-extend that badly, I would have asked John to send in a replacement for me."

"That's fine," my father replied. I heard a chair skid across the floor as though someone had taken a seat at the kitchen table. "I had other matters to attend to anyway so I was kept busy most of the afternoon."

"I hope you're hungry," my mom said. "Derek, honey, come in here and wash your hands. It's time to eat."

I sighed at the strange normalcy of their conversation. It was like nothing had happened earlier in that very house. I knew that my mother was unaware of it but I wondered for how long. During the moments that I got rid of the evidence, a part of me hoped that I would forget to clean one item up that would somehow give everything away to my mom. I wanted her or anyone really to take the burden of what happened off my shoulders. I wanted to forget and pretend that nothing had happened and that everything was fine.

I walked into the kitchen right into my father's piercing stare. I could guess some of the things that might have been going through his mind. I knew he was probably wondering why I had not told my mother. Certainly she wouldn't have been as blissfully friendly if she had known. Yet her obvious ignorance of what happened clearly surprised him. Like I did at the door, I stared right back at him even while I was seated down.

I didn't know the word for it then but I know well enough now to say he had a most appraising look on his face. It was almost like he was seeing me in an entirely new light.

"What's with all the long faces?" my mom asked as she joined us with the final plate of food "You two look like you've been fighting."

"Of course not," my dad said with a quick smile. "We're just keeping a secret it seems."

"Oh?" my mom asked, intrigued. "What is it?"

"Well, it wouldn't be much of a secret if we told you, would it?" my dad replied.

"Derek will tell me," my mom said turning with a smile. I had a feeling she was trying to bribe me or something. "Won't you honey?"

I stared at my father wondering what he was up to. Was he daring me to tell her? If so, why? Then it occurred to me that this might somehow be a test, a test to see if I was what he had thought me to be or perhaps something else. I turned to my mom and tried for the best mischievous smile I could manage. "Guys only I'm afraid." Well, it was true.

"Oh, you're no fun," she said, pouting enjoyably. Seeing my mom look so happy made me certain that not telling her was the best course of action.

The rest of dinner was arguably light. My mother did most of the talking. Her work encouraged her to talk a lot and it sort of carried over to her family life. Mostly she asked my father questions, things I would have been interested in normally. But at that moment, I didn't bother to ask because I didn't care for the answers.

As soon as I was done, I asked to be excused. My mom asked me again if I was really feeling okay, noting how silent I was throughout dinner. I said I was fine and left the two of them for my room. I closed the door behind me and went to the window. I was hoping to see Charlie there, to let him know that I was okay. Unfortunately, his room was dark and I couldn't see any sign of him being in it.

I took the chair and sat it by the window, watching and waiting for Charlie to come to his room. I wanted to ask him what I was supposed to do (even though that would have been impossible without making the whole neighborhood hear). Was every weekend with my father going to be that tense, that awkward for the two of us? How long could we keep it up before my mother suspected something? If she ever found out, what would she do? More importantly, what would my father do? I couldn't bear the thought of him hurting her as he hurt me.

There was a knock on my door and for a moment I was tempted to lock it.

"Derek?" came my mother's concerned voice.

"Yeah?" I asked.

My mom opened the door, frowning. "Why'd you close the door, honey? Are you sure you're feeling alright?"

"Yeah," I said, trying to think of any reason she would accept. "I was just trying to give you and dad some privacy."

She smiled fondly and walked over to me. She ruffled my hair as she spoke. I might on any other day have pulled away from her but at the moment, it felt like what I needed. "Oh you don't have to worry about things like that, hon. You didn't have to leave the table just for that."

"I didn't," I said, staring out the window.

"You're worried about Charlie, aren't you?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said. More than you'll ever know.

"You know you can tell me anything right?" she said. "I'm your mother. If anyone should understand and sympathize with you, it would be me."

I looked at her kind and encouraging face. I entertained the idea of explaining everything to her, about me, about Charlie, about the movie and what dad did. I wanted to tell her everything. She was my mother after all. But then my father was my father. I never dreamt that he would do the things that he did. Why would my mother be any different? How could I truly know that she wouldn't have done the same thing to me?

"I know, mom," I said and I kissed her on the cheek. "But I'm okay, really."

She looked at me and I got the feeling that she knew I wasn't entirely being truthful yet she didn't want to push it. "Okay," she said. "But always remember that, okay? I'm always here if you need to talk to me."

"Sure, mom," I said. She hugged me and said goodnight. She ruffled my hair one more time until I finally pulled away. She left my room laughing as I continued my wait for Charlie to appear at his window. I heard the door close behind me.

"Derek."

My body froze at the sound of his voice. Warily, I turned around to see my father standing there, the door behind him closed. Images of everything that had happened earlier flooded into my mind. Despite my efforts, I couldn't keep my voice steady. "Yeah?"

"Come here son," he said as he sat down on my bed. "It's okay," he said when I kept staring at him, unmoving. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Not with my mother in the house, I wanted to retort but I held my tongue. I walked over to him and stood in front of him, though not too close. "What do you want?"

He stared at me and for a moment I thought he was going to hit me. But eventually he relaxed. "I need to ask you something."

"What?" I asked curiously despite myself.

He took a deep breath. "First, I need you to understand that it is very important that you be honest with me now, okay? Don't be afraid to say what's really on your mind. Don't be afraid that I will hit or hurt you because I won't, okay?"

"Okay," I said.

"You understand how important it is that you are truthful with me, right? It is perhaps the most important thing you can do now."

"Okay. I'll be honest," I said though I added silently depending on the question.

"Are you," my father said, putting great burden on each word, "or are you not gay?"

I stared at him. After everything he did to me earlier, he had the nerve to ask me that then.

"What I mean is do you like other boys?"

"I know what gay means, dad."

"Of course," he nodded. After a few moments, he asked, "so, are you?"

I wondered what I should say. The obvious answer was yes but then this was my father asking. The things he did to me earlier, he did because he caught me kissing Charlie. The things he did, he did because he hated gay people. It was pretty clear that he hated "faggots". So was I supposed to admit then that his own son was one of those people he hated so much? No, that would have been stupid. More than that, it would have been dangerous.

"No dad," I said. "I'm not."

"Are you sure?" my father asked. His voice rose a little as though he was excited and just barely controlling his voice.

"Yes dad," I said. "What you saw earlier wasn't really who I was. I… I made a mistake."

"You have no idea," my father said as his whole body relaxed and he actually laughed out loud, "how glad I am to hear that. I thought I was going to have to disown you."

"Dis-disown?" I asked. Once more, my voice shook against my will.

"Yeah," my dad said happily, not noticing the change in my voice. "I'm not going to have a faggot for a son. I am so relieved to know that you're not one of them." He reached out and pulled me to him, hugging me to his chest. I sort of passively let myself get pulled in. I didn't think I had the strength to resist even if I tried to. "I'm so sorry I had to put you through that earlier. I didn't know for sure. Had I known, I wouldn't have done any of that to you. But I suppose I'm glad you know now."

"Know?" I asked, my voice feeling weak.

"What happens to faggots, of course," my dad said as though he was glad to finally have that conversation with me. He pushed me away from his chest so we could look at each other. "All faggots do are… well you might not understand this yet at your age but all they do are screw like rabbits. Someday you'll know what that means but what you went through earlier was something like that. You don't want to ever experience something like that again, do you?"

I shook my head violently no.

He nodded satisfied. "Something you need to understand and remember son is that in our world, gay people aren't important. For instance, how many gay people do you know became famous? Hardly any. And those that do, they're not important enough to truly make a mark in society other than as outcasts. And Hamptons are not outcasts. When you're old enough, you'll realize and appreciate how reputable our name is in the business world. You'll realize how important we are in getting things done. One day when you join me, you will be famous. You will be important. People will want to be you. Do you think they'd want to be you if it turned out you were gay? No, no they wouldn't." He paused and frowned at me. "Why do you keep flinching?"

"What?" I asked, not realizing I was doing anything of that sort.

"Hampton men don't flinch," he said. He suddenly looked dubiously at me. "Are you sure you're not gay, Derek?"

"Of course not, dad," I said. In a stronger voice, I added, "I'm not!"

He stared at me and for a moment I got the impression that he was seeing through my lies. "Well can you work on that then? I can't have a son who flinches at every little unpleasant thing, you understand me? Can you work on it, son? For me?"

"Of course, I can, dad."

"Good," he said, though some of the excitement from his eyes seemed to have gone away replaced by a more suspicious glint. "Do you know someone named Chase Andrews?" He waited while I shook my head no. "Well, he's your mother's brother who lives in California."

"I have an uncle?" I asked.

"No," my father said vehemently. "He may be your mother's brother but he is not your uncle. He is a faggot and you will never be related to him in any way, you hear me?"

I nodded my head even if what he said didn't really make sense.

"Well, when I found out later on that he was a faggot, I worried that your mom might have carried some of his bad blood within her. I love your mother very much. And it pains me every day to think that you or your future brothers and sisters may end up diseased like him. That's why I was so worried when I saw you do what you did earlier. Do you understand?"

"I'm not gay, dad," I said as though saying it again and again would make it true. "I'm not gay."

He looked at me as though trying to look deeper within, to find the secret behind my words. I imagined an invisible wall trying to keep my father out. It felt silly but it was all I could do as I stared back at him.

"Son," he said after what seemed like forever, "You know that I love you right? I just did what I had to for your own good. In the end, it'll make you stronger and better."

"I know, dad."

He smiled but something about it felt insincere. "Well then, now we just have to figure out what we have to do about your friend."

"Big C?" I asked.

He frowned at my mentioning of Charlie's special name. "Yes. It's clear to me that he has some undesirable influence on you. We most certainly cannot continue having him live next door to our house."

"But he's not gay, dad," I said in a panic. My mind worked furiously looking for anything to say. "He won't even talk to me until I realize the mistake I did."

"Oh?" my dad asked seemingly surprised.

"Yeah," I said latching onto the hope spurned by the lie. "He said he couldn't be friends with me if I was gay."

"That wasn't the impression I got from him earlier," my dad said. "Seemed to me he was reacting oppositely."

"He wasn't," I said trying to put power and confidence behind my words. I didn't realize then that it was the start of what my mother would later notice about me. It was the first time when my words would sound exceptionally convincing as though anything I said was to be taken as fact and should simply be followed, as though I could speak nothing but the truth. "It was just me being stupid. Besides, our moms are great friends and mom would be quite unhappy if we make the two of them part."

My dad nodded as though he could find the logic in my words. "I suppose…"

"Dad," I said. "He's not gay. I'm not gay."

My father looked at me as though he was struggling to believe yet couldn't put the doubts aside. "We'll see."

"What do you mean?" I asked feeling that his words carried more meaning that they normally would.

"I have a special project to do," he said and for the first time I could ever recall, he averted his eyes. "I might be away for a few months. Very busy work with construction and planning. I booked a flight to New York for tonight."

"You're leaving?" I asked.

"Just for awhile," he said.

"What about mom?" I asked.

"She knows," he said. "I spoke to her after you left the kitchen. She understands that my work can sometimes make me really busy."

"But why do you have to be away for a few months?" A part of me was berating myself for even asking but I thought of my mom and how happy she always was when he was home – how happy I used to be when he was home. It was silly – no actually, it was foolish – of me to think that things could go back to the way they were. But again, the man talking to me was the father who loved me for eleven long years. I couldn't believe that he would just change and be gone just like that.

"New York is really far, son," he said.

"It hasn't stopped you before," I said.

"Well, things change," he said as he looked at me intently. "When you fled earlier today, I thought…" he paused as though to consider the matter further. "Well, it doesn't really matter what I thought. What matters is I've accepted a grand project which will keep me away for awhile. I simply cannot lose focus because of how important the work involved is."

He bought those tickets earlier. He bought those tickets after what he did to me. Was he running away from what he did? Was that it? My throat felt tight as I spoke. "Are you leaving because of me?"

He hesitated long enough for me to know the truth without words. "No, of course not. But you don't have to worry. I'll be watching. I will have people check on you regularly. I'll even make sure that that Charlie boy really is being truthful. If I ever get a whiff of him being a faggot, I'll make sure he's out of here at once." He smiled like he was giving me the biggest treat in the world. And then his face grew serious, almost despondent. "I just can't be here right now. Do you understand?" He sounded so sad I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"I don't," I said honestly.

"Hopefully, you will someday," he said as he hugged me to him. He even kissed me on the forehead. "I do love you despite how unlikely that may seem. I just want you to grow up with a good life, a perfect life that no one but my only son deserves."

And with that he stood and left my room. It was the last time I would see him for years, even if he said he would be away only for a few months. Every time I would ask my mom where he was or why he couldn't come home, my mom would always just say he can't.

I closed the door to my bedroom. And I waited for the sound of his footsteps dying away. I could hear him and my mother talking though I couldn't understand their words. Finally, the sound of his car starting permeated the wall as a distant hum until eventually even that died away.

I turned towards my window as a light came across the fence. Charlie walked into his room with Mrs. C close behind him. She hugged him close to her as though trying to make him feel safe and protected. I got the impression that they had a long talk about something though I didn't know what. She left for a moment and Charlie turned towards his window. He walked quickly to it and smiled as he saw me standing by my window watching.

I smiled back, yet felt a sadness wash over me. Charlie, my best friend, could never be anything more than a friend. Even if I waited, even if I kept my emotions in check, nothing could ever happen because my father would be watching, waiting to see if there would be any sign that Charlie was anything but what I told him.

Mrs. C came back into the room and hugged Charlie again. She looked up at me and gave a smile. I noticed it wasn't a happy smile. It was sad like she knew something and it was upsetting her deeply. She pulled Charlie away, and with a final wave, he was in bed. Soon, she turned the lights out and left the door slightly open, the way he always liked when he was younger.

I half-hoped he would get out of bed so I could continue looking at him but he didn't. He must have fallen asleep. I couldn't even if I tried. Too much was happening in my mind. Too many questions were unanswered. Too many worries were demanding my attention.

I collapsed onto the seat by the window, feeling totally drained, totally exhausted. What was I supposed to do? My father would be watching. How could I keep my feelings for Charlie hidden? What if they somehow caught me doing something that gave me away? That would get Charlie into trouble. What if my father sent him away somewhere I'd never find him? What if he did that rabbit thing to him as well? I couldn't stand the thought. I couldn't. I wouldn't ever let anything ever happen to Charlie, especially not because of me. Not because of me.

I fell to the floor in a silent heap. I felt my fingers twitch as if desperate to reach out to anyone, to anything. My head lolled as short breaths came like jagged cuts into the silent room. Silent tears poured from eyes. I didn't have the strength to wipe them away. It all felt like it was too much. As if I couldn't take it. As if my young mind couldn't handle it. I remembered everything, everything about Charlie. I remembered all the times we had fun and all the times I felt something more than friendship. It felt like a part of me was ripped away as my thoughts changed and my feelings disappeared. It was though I had lived two separate lives, one where Charlie was a friend and another where Charlie was a friend and more.

I saw all those memories changing before me, not only out of desperation but also of sheer will, to save someone even if I couldn't save myself. Somehow my mind took every feeling, every emotion from every memory and buried them deep within, in a room no one, not my father, not even I would ever find. And I closed it shut with an impermeable door, white with a brass handle, plain and simple as my life would eventually turn out to be.

I closed it and turned my mind away from it, to forget I had ever liked Charlie, to forget that I had ever loved him. My mind was stripped of everything else until all that was left was Charlie… just Charlie.

I woke up to the bright rays of the sun with a peaceful, serene and empty feeling. I wondered why I was on the floor. Almost immediately, an answer came to my mind telling me that whatever the reason was, it wasn't important and that I should just forget.

And forget was what I did.

I sat up and felt an odd pain in my behind. Again I asked myself why and again I felt the same feeling wash over me that it wasn't important and that I should just forget and move on. There were other things to do, other more important things to worry about like what I was going to eat and what time Charlie was coming over. Everything, I told myself, was fine.

Everything was just fine.

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