The room stayed dark and quiet. The drips stopped.
I decided I wasn’t strong enough to be alone, grabbed my keys and coat, and hit the unlit road. My motivation wasn’t very strong- I didn’t know where to go. I stood there a moment looking around. I was alone. No one direction seemed more suitable for wandering than the next, so I just put a foot in front the other and went where my body went. The movement helped. Occasionally I would hear a scream, a shout, an orgasmic wail, a child, an animal, or the wind. The storm had passed it seemed. Rain and thunder were done. It wouldn’t be long before the electricity came back.
At about the four-mile mark, nearing the Gamble Forrest that lead to the Dippler River and then ran along the Goldcoast Tracks, I realized that my sight was adjusting to the pitch black and I could see the edges of things. I stopped in front of the hedge of trees that seemed to cower over me, un-intimidated by my presence; in fact, they seemed almost eager to greet me, swaying hellos in the wind. I approached further until I was inside them and they engulfed me. The Forrest had its own soundtrack and seeing became a more difficult feat. I walked with arms held out in front of me, palms out to high-five the tree-trunks.
I had never been this far from my home before. Once, when I was five, I had wandered off and my guardians thought I had been taken. The authorities found me two days later trailing an ice cream truck on my tricycle. No one could explain where I had been in the hours between. Apparently I told them some tale about a green monster with a purple house that floated in the sky until eventually they stopped asking.
I stopped walking, suddenly hit with exhaustion, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but I’d forgotten, with all the chaos, that I hadn’t slept in four days. I hit the muddy, leafy ground with a thud and closed my eyes. I wondered if anyone else was in the woods with me- if they would find me and try to kill me or wonder if I would try to kill them. I wondered why so many killings happened in the woods, but then remembered the how dark it was and how few people came into them. I thought about Emmitt and wondered how he was faring in his home and became suddenly concerned it was one of the ones that got burnt down. I really should have walked there instead, but then, what if he was perfectly fine? Snuggled in bed with his new lover, Brandon? No, that would have been too humiliating; me caring—him…not needing my care.
With that thought, my brain switched over to sub-conscious sleep and on auto-pilot, I reached for my keys, suddenly sure I was walking into my house after a long night of drinking at O’Malley’s with Emmitt. He was right behind me, guiding me with his strong and steady hands- never much of a drinker and I the opposite. We manage through the door and he spins me around to take advantage, lips on lips, hands below, we rock. A boat—for some reason, we’re on a boat, but it makes perfect sense because I thought I felt us rocking and here we are on a boat. The waves swell to frightening heights and he holds me and tells me, “We’re going to get through this.” I believe him. “We’re going to get out of here alive.” I hold on to him and kiss him hard.
Something hits my head, a wave I suspect, but when I open my eyes it’s an acorn and the sunlight burns. I’m alone on a damp Forrest floor. In the distance I can hear shouting and music. I’m thoroughly confused and take a minute to sit myself up and remember the last 24 hours. The storms, the riot, the black-out, the wander, the Forrest. Emmitt. Just a dream. I stand up and dust off. I look back towards the shallow opening of the Forrest, I hadn’t made it very far in. I look to the other end of the Forrest, dense—seemingly unending. I start walking back the way I came.
When I get back into town, I see the electricity is back on and the authorities are busy supervising the reconstruction. There are bands playing on almost every block and kids screaming over open fire hydrants in the street. I reach my house, but am not yet ready to stop walking. There is something in the air—an energy, a lightness, a happiness. It’s as if the entire town has collectively not only weathered an exterior storm, but also cleared their own individual storm clouds within. We all were walking a little higher on our feet.
Before I knew it I had reached Emmitt’s house, wholly un-burnt as it was, and felt strangely compelled to knock on the door. I stood there a good fifteen minutes just staring at the house until some kid blasted me with a water gun in the back of the head. I whirled around and the kid flashed me a huge, toothless grin. I laughed and pretended to lunge at him while he ran off down the street. When I turned back around Emmitt was standing there in his bathrobe with a cup of coffee.
“Fancy seeing you here,” He said. “Make it through the night okay?”
“Yeah. You?” I asked.
We stared at each other, neither knowing what to say next. Too many things had been said in the past and there were too many things we could still say, but since we weren’t together anymore, it didn’t really matter, did it?
“Well…” He started, turning back to go inside. “Have a good one.”
“I still love you.” I blurted out. It surprised me, but it seemed I was no longer in control of my motor skills. “I had a dream about you last night. We were on this boat that was getting ready to capsize and you held me and told me that we were going to get through it, that we would survive and I believed you. When we kissed-“ I couldn’t believe that I was crying, but I was. “-I can’t help it. My god, Emmitt. I can’t help but love you, no matter what we’ve been through. I need you. Please.”
I could tell he was looking at me, but couldn’t bare to bring myself to meet his eyes. Children had stopped what they were doing to watch as well and I accidentally made eye contact with one of them. The child gasped as if he’d just seem a man beheaded and then ran off. The tears wouldn’t stop rolling down my face.
“Come inside,” Emmitt said.
“He’s gone out to help with the reconstruction,” Emmitt explained.
We sat at the dinning table and I watched his hands slowly journey across the tabletop to land on mine.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t come here to say that. I didn’t know I was going to say that. I didn’t know I was going to come here. I’m just, you know, sleep deprived.”
“I understand,” Emmitt said. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No. I shouldn’t stay, you know…. I should… go.”
“It’s just coffee.”
“Well, alright. But just, forget what I said, would you?”
“Forgotten.” He said, pouring me a cup.
We sipped our coffee in silence. I wanted to die. I couldn’t believe myself.
“You can’t just forget what I said- I mean, I said I still love you. You can’t forget something like that. I show up out of nowhere and tell you I need you- I begged! You don’t forget something like that. You’re going to laugh about it with Brandon later and years down the road you’ll tell this story to someone you want to impress- look at you-you who made someone so crazy in love with you-“
“Okay, stop it. Enough!” Emmitt said, with a strange forcefulness.
“What gives you the right to assume I would tell Brandon, let alone anyone about this? What gives you the impression that I would ever talk badly about you behind your back? I loved you, too, you know? That was real. And I never speak badly about the people I’ve loved. If you knew me at all… Jesus.”
He seemed genuinely hurt. I had no idea I could still elicit such a reaction from him. He put on his reading glasses and I finally met his gaze, the lenses somehow providing enough of a shield for me to not be completely under the spell of his beauty. For the first time, this close to him, after several months apart, I noticed three gray hairs in his right temple. I smiled tenderly.
“What?” He snapped.
“My god,” I said, “We’re growing old.”
His hand subconsciously rose to cover the offensive grays and then he lightened.
“Well, I certainly am,” He said, “Though I can see no evidence of this on you.”
“It’s hit me in different… areas.”
We laughed and I clasped his hand.
“I thought we were going to do this together.” I said, choking up again. “I have to admit, it’s hard to go it alone.”
“It’s only been 7 months, Gregory!” He laughed, “You’re such a drama queen.”
“I know. But I can’t help thinking- knowing even- I’m never going to feel about anyone how I feel about you. I’ll be alone. And here you have Brandon… and I have all these years of decaying ahead and no one to face them with.”
“No. Don’t. It’s not your problem. You’re happy- so… You are happy?”
“So, you’re happy with Brandon and I’m just… accepting my reality the best that I can- by making a fool of myself. That’s all. But, don’t worry about me. I’ll get used to it.”
“You’ll meet someone,” He said. “You’re too handsome and loving and smart and wonderful not too. You’re heart is so big- You’ll fall in love again. You’ll see.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” I offered, though I didn’t believe it for a second.
I rose to my feet and saw myself out as Emmitt watched. I could hear him crying when I shut the door. I felt good about that, because even if I did fall in love again, I’ll never forget what I had with Emmitt and I finally felt validation that Emmitt would never forget it either; what we had was special. Which, in the end, may not be everything, but it sure is something to hold on to.