I was such a twat. The nerdiness I despised in him was what eventually deepened my love for him as I got older and got some sense. Why? Because he was unique. Different to so many people around me and that made him interesting. Exciting. Also the fact that he never changed made me respect him. I admired his strength. His determination to be himself in a world where it isn’t sadly always encouraged to be. And though I was more encouraging to him in the later years of our relationship, in the early years I wasn’t. I wanted him to be like the other boyfriends I seen and looking back I’m glad he didn’t listen to me because he was a far more interesting and fun person to date and subsequently to live with than any of them turned out to be.
My mind is once again brought back to reality by Will’s voice.
“I wish Glen never chose to drive. He’s always been obessed with cars.”
“Sorry. I just can’t stop thinking about him. I won’t mention him again though. I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK. You love him. Your scared. I just can’t … not with …”
“I know. You loved Tristan.”
The past tense makes me want to vomit but I say nothing about it.
“Yeah. How could I not?”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t stay together tonight? Won’t we go crazy been alone tonight?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Is it because you feel you’d be been disloyal to Tristan?”
“No! Look, me and you. That was a mistake! We were both drunk!”
“You wouldn’t be been disloyal to him. Tristan knew it was just the once. He knew we were just friends really.”
“I don’t want you to stay!”
He’s right of course. I would feel I was been disloyal to Tristan with him.
“OK. I’m sorry.”
We sit in silence for a few moments. Those moments feel like an eternity. He eventually breaks the silence.
“I’ll be going then. Take care of yourself.”
He rubs my shoulder. I wince.
“Bye Will.”, I manage to say though I really wish he’d leave now. Quickly.
He gets up.
“I’ll show myself out.”
He gets up and leaves. I rush to lock the door. To lock out the world. To be by myself. To think of my baby. And try to imagine he’s still alive. Just on holiday. Going to walk through the door at any moment.
Our house phone rings. I don’t answer and let the message go to the machine while I slump back on the sofa. It’s from my aunt Alice who I haven’t seen in years. Death has a way of bringing old nosy relatives out of the woodwork.
“Hi Josh. It’s your aunt Alice here. I just heard about what happened Tristan. You must be in bits. Honey, call me when you get this.”
What she really means is call me when you get this so that you can tell me everything that happened. My boyfriend’s death is the worse thing that could happen to me. To her, it’s news. Gossip. Something to have a chin wag about. The idea that someone’s pain is considered a great topic for gossip makes me sick. The idea that my baby’s death is considered a great topic for gossip makes me sick. But I soon forget about her as my mind wanders back to him. And the time I first proposed to him.
It was a breezy day. I remember because I was trying to remember all the small details of the day that I felt would be the start of my life. I had a ring and all. A stunning silver ring. I arrived at his house and he answered the door wearing a grey tracksuit.
“Hi sweetie.”, he said.
Sweetie was a word he used a lot. Mainly for me.
I go inside and we sit on the sofa. Him sitting on his legs. I sighed deeply because I was nervous.
“Are you OK?”, he asked concerned.
“I’m fine. Thanks babe.”, I reply.
“What do you want to do? Do you want to watch Jaws? I found a copy in a charity shop recently.”
“No. Listen, I came over for a very important reason.”
He looked concerned again.
“Oh. Are you ill? Is it life-threathening? Sweetie tell me.”
I speak quickly because he looks so scared.
“No! No, I’m fine. It’s not that.”
He loooks incredibly relieved and he sighs deeply.
“Good. Great. What is it then?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately …”
“That must have been hard.”, he smiles.
I smile back.
“Your so cheeky.”
“Well go on then. You’ve been thinking a lot lately …”
“And we’ve been dating three years now.”
“I know. Have you only worked that one out boy?”, he smiles again.
“You love it about me.”
“I do. In fact I love everything about you. Tristan …”
I get down on one knee. He jumps up.
“Sweetie, what are you doing?”
“More like what are you doing? Why are you getting up like I’m trying to kill you or something?”
“Josh, get up off the floor please.”
I do so but the backs of my eyes are stinging with tears.
“Why don’t you want to marry me?”
“Why didn’t you talk this through with me before you decided to go and propose? Baby, you never even asked me if I wanted to ever get married.”
I roll my eyes. This annoys him.
“What are you rolling your eyes for?”
“It’s always bloody something with you! I assumed you’d maybe want to marry me someday. I didn’t think you’d want to string me on forever.”
“Oh Josh I had never any intention of stringing you on. I just don’t believe in marriage. I have my own happy-ever-after in my head.”
“I want to cohabitate with my partner. I find it more romantic.”
“What? What could be more romantic than declaring your love in front of all your friends and family?”
“What could be more romantic than not?”
“You’ve lost me now. What are you talking about?”
“Been in love and it just been between the two of you. No big day in front of others.”
“But I believe in marriage.”
“You don’t believe in cohabitation?”, his voice was hopeful.
I didn’t want to disappoint him but I knew I had to be honest with him.
“No baby, I don’t.”
“Then we’ve got a problem, haven’t we?”
“I guess so.”
He sat back down and gestured for me to do likewise. I did so and he took my hands gently in his.
“I don’t know what to say Joshy.”, he spoke softly.
“It’s OK Tristan. It’s OK. If you don’t want to marry me, that’s your decision to make.”
“Are you going to leave me?”
“I don’t know. Are you going to leave me because I proposed?”
“No. I’d marry you quicker than let you go.”
Of course that was Tristan in a nutshell. He would do anything to keep us together. Even go against what he believed in himself. I began to cry. He started to wipe my tears in his fingers.
“Oh sweetie, don’t cry. Please. I never meant to hurt you. I’ll marry you. Yes then. Let’s do it.”
I speak through tears.
“No baby. Stop. I’m crying because your so considerate. Your allowing me to pressurise you into doing something you don’t want to do because you love me but baby, I’m not like that, I won’t pressurise you.”
I was to regret my words a year later.
I meant it at the time. I really did. It was just seeing Will and Glen get married changed my mind about not putting pressure on him. But that was in the future at this stage.
He took me in his arms.
“Josh, your the best you know.”
“No honey, you are.”
I didn’t tell him about the ring that day. It would have made him incredibly guilty for turning me down because it cost me money. Me spending too much money on him was never something he was comfortable with which I hated because I’d have bought him the earth if I could.
I’m brought back to reality again by my answering machine. It is my uncle Michael who lives in the south of France with his wife Anna. Another one I haven’t seen in years. Another joining in for what I’d say they see as the second act of the play: After Death.
“Hi Josh. It’s your uncle Michael. Alice called to let me know the sad news about your friend. When is the funeral? I hope to get over. Both me and Anna do.”
My friend? He was more than my bloody friend! When’s the funeral? They both hope to get over? For a bloody piss up! They couldn’t give a shit about me or Tristan. They actually met him once. At my sister’s wedding. Michael spent the whole time once he got drunk trying to convince me I was going through a phase.
“Tristan’s been my boyfriend for four years. I’d die without him. It’s not a phase.”
“But kid, it’s just hard to come to terms with.”
Though Tristan had experienced ignorance in his family with his da, I never had before in my family.
“Yeah, I mean if Karl or Joe had been abnormal like that I’d have kicked them out.”
I feel like punching him but it’s my sister’s wedding. I don’t want to be punching our uncle on hers and Ben’s big day. Besides he’s drunk. It doesn’t excuse his prejudices but I don’t go around punching drunk men.
“Of course your right. I’d kick out my sons too if they were abnormal.”
“But your one of those yourself?”
“No I’m not. I meant if they were straight.”
Of course I don’t mean this. I’m not a prejudiced person against anyone of any sexuality so consequently I have no preference for what sexuality I want my children in the future to be but I wanted to get back at him.
“But they wouldn’t be abnormal then.”
“Neither would they be if they were gay.”
“I’m not the only one who finds your behaviour disgusting.”
“I’m sure your right. In fact I’ve met a lot of that type.”
Tristan arrived over to us.
“Hey.”, he said with his usual shy and warm smile that he had in social situations.
“That type, what do you mean by that?”, Michael asked ignoring Tristan.
Tristan’s eyes twitched in curiousity.
I wanted to say scum. It’s what I’ve always thought of people like that but you can’t, can you? As much as you want to tell people like that what you think of them you can’t. Someone has to be civil or things would descend into utter chaos. And it’s obvious their not going to be the civil ones.
“Negative people.”, I simply say.
“What’s going on?”
“Isn’t your father ashamed of you?”
I can see tears well up in Tristan’s eyes. My uncle has hit a nerve with him.
“I’m ashamed of him too.”, Tristan manages to say through tears.
I take him in my arms.
“Your father’s telling you the truth but you don’t like the truth do you? We’re not supposed to talk about how vile your acts are. But it’s what everyone thinks.”
I want to scream that it isn’t. That I know numerous really cool, unprejudiced straight people and that our acts are not vile. But instead my mind is took over with protecting and defending Tristan. I don’t care if through it, the wedding day is destroyed. Nobody hurts my boyfriend and gets away with it.
“You want the truth since you seem so fond of it. OK then. Your an alcoholic and you have no feeling for anybody. Your scum of the earth. Nobody actually sees you from one year to the next as you live out there in your loveless marriage …”
“Sweetie, it’s OK. Stop please.”, Tristan says protectively because he’s scared I’ll get punched.
“What did you say?!”, Michael demanded.
“He said nothing.”, Tristan said quickly.
“Stay out of this you gabby poof.”
And all thought of don’t hit a drunken man went out the window. I swung for him but Tristan caught my arm.
“I know your been provoked but that’s assault baby. Stop. He ain’t worth it.”
“Baby?”, Michael sniggered.
“Do you like him calling you baby?!”
“I do actually, yeah because that’s what couples do. And I am proud to have this man as my boyfriend. He’s worth a million of you.”
I could see Tristan smile softly. He took my hand gently in his and started to lead me away. Michael was still rambling in the background but we didn’t listen to him. We walked outside and stopped on the steps of the hotel. He put his hand up to the side of my face.
“I think you deserve to be rewarded Mr. Hero.”
I could feel an erection starting in my pants.
“Sounds good to me.”
He smiled cheekily.
“You know I thought it might. Come on.”
He pulled me back inside the hotel to get a room for the night.
When I woke up the next morning on the sofa, I winced. I knew that there was going to be a long day ahead and I didn’t know how to cope with that. I hadn’t slept in our bed last night because it didn’t feel right without him there. The idea of sleeping in our bed in our room was too much for me to bear. My mobile phone rings. I fish it out from the sofa where I left it before I went to sleep. Well more lying with my eyes closed in deep thought about him and in a surreal way about his death. My dad’s name flashes up on the screen. Oh shit. I never told him. Ringing anyone went out of my mind. It was consumed with Tristan and disbelief. I answer the call.
“Josh Oisin just told me about Tristan. I am so sorry son. I’m on my way over now.”
Oisin is Tristan’s younger brother. Really lovely guy.
“Yeah. I’m sorry dad for not telling you. I didn’t think …”
“Oh son, don’t worry about that. It’s understandable.”
“Da, I can’t believe it. I keep expecting him to walk through the door. I keep forgetting he’s dead.”
“I know. I got an awful start when Oisin told me. Tristan. My god. Tristan.”
“I never said goodbye.”
“Da, I’m scared.”
“This is going to sound selfish.”
“I’m scared of not been able to cope without him. I shouldn’t even be thinking of myself right now.”
“You were a long time together. It’s natural to feel that way.”
“But it’s so selfish. Not that it’s new. I was always so selfish towards him when he was alive too.”
“No you weren’t.”
“I was. I wanted him to be a certain way because I felt ashamed of him. Only last week I was thinking about how we couldn’t afford a holiday because he’s a student. He was good to me. He was trying. Why couldn’t that have been enough for me?”
“Josh stop beating yourself up about all this. Tristan loved you. He wouldn’t like to see you like this.”
“I know he wouldn’t. Because he was good. Gentle. Kind. I was a terrible boyfriend to him. He should have chose Jay.”
“He didn’t though, did he? That means something. He wanted you.”
“I know. The poor guy. Jay could have made him happy. They were similar.”
“You made Tristan very happy. He was a strong young man. If he wasn’t happy he wouldn’t have stayed.”
“But I was awful to him. I always wanted everything a certain way. What I thought was perfect. I was so stupid. Everything was perfect as it was. I never told him that. Just berated him about everything.”
“He loved you son. I remember having a chat with him at Christmas. You should have heard how he spoke about you.”
“I know. He was goodness personified. But I hurt him over and over again. Da, I hit him once.”
I have never told dad this. He hesitates before he speaks. He is obviously shocked.
“It’s in the past. Don’t think about that now. Son, I’m arriving at the flats now.”
“But dad, I hurt him.”
“I know Josh. I heard what you said.”
“It was when he wouldn’t marry me the last time.”
“He forgave you.”
“He shouldn’t have though. He should have told me he never wanted to see me again.”
Tears are now pouring from my eyes through agonizing guilt tearing away at my insides.
“But he didn’t. He made his choice. You have to respect that he chose to forgive you. He had his reasons for doing so.”
“He could have done so much better than me.”
“No he couldn’t have. He was lucky to have my son. And believe me Josh, he knew it too.”
“I don’t believe you dad but thank you.”
There’s a knock at the door.”
“You can end the call Josh. I’m at the door.”
I giggle through tears at the image of him at the door on the phone to me.
I end the call and go to answer the door. When I see my dad, I instantly hug him tightly and he wraps his arms around me like his usual, comforting, tight hug only more comforting and tighter than ever before. I am glad to see my dad. I need him right now so badly.
“Oh Josh, it’s going to be OK. I’m here now son. I’m here now.”
“I loved him dad. I loved him so much.”
“I know you did. I know you did.”
“I need him dad. I need him. Why? Why?”
“Shhhh, it’s going to be alright. I’m going to look after you and from where he is he’ll be looking after you too.”
“I don’t believe he can look after me. I don’t believe he knows anything anymore. And he was so lively. Adventurous.”
“I know he was.”
We stop hugging.
“Come on in dad.”
He comes in and I shut the door.
“I’ll put on the kettle for us Josh. Sit down kid.”
I sit down on the sofa and he goes to make the tea.
“Da, do you think he is looking after me from somewhere?”
“I don’t know. I believe he is.”
“I hope he is. It’d mean I wouldn’t be completely facing life without him.”
“Comforting, isn’t it?”
“It really is. It means I might be with him again.”
I can hear concern in my dad’s voice.
Of course I know instantly what he is worried about from the tone of his voice because I have thought of it. Though not in terms of been with Tristan again because I don’t believe in the afterlife. But to get away from the pain. I have no life without him. I’m trying not to be selfish and to think of my dad and my mum and my siblings but it’s very difficult not to end my life because without him I feel like I’m living but that life is over anyway. I exist but I’m dead inside. He didn’t just take a part of me. He took the whole of me with him. I don’t want to be here without him. I don’t believe in heaven, hell and purgatory in the traditional sense but I know my heaven was with him and now my hell is without him. I don’t want to worry my dad though or to have an inquisition from him.
“Yeah. Someday.”, I replied in as convincing a voice as I can manage.
It seems to do the trick as my father speaks now unconcerned.
“The kettle’s boiled.”
“I’ll bring the tea in soon.”
I hear the pouring of water before dad rustles in the Tea bag box for Tea bags.
I then zone out to the noise and think of the first time I made Tristan a cup of tea.
I was terrible at making it but I wanted to be the perfect boyfriend and I natively felt that I would be if I could make him tea. I’d seen Will make tea for Glen. And I followed suit as usual. It was six months into our relationship and we were on our way home from school.
“Tea?”, he smiled.
“Yes. Tea. It’s what a good boyfriend’s supposed to do.”
“Really?”, he asks still smiling.
“Yes. Will made tea for Glen.”
He tried not to laugh but he burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry sweetie.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Just how when Will and Glen do something we have to.”
“Well they’ve been together three years. We can learn from them.”
“Or we could always do our own thing.”
I rolled my eyes.
“What?”, he giggled.
“They know more than us.”
“Can you actually make tea?”
“I made it once before for my dad.”
“Did he drink it?”
“Of course he drank it. He brought it to bed with him.”, I said indignantly.
“OK sweetie.”, he smiled.
“Make me the tea if you want.”
We arrived at my house where we were greeted by my dad.
“Hey boys. What’s your plans for the evening?”
“Well first of all I’m going to make Tristan tea.”
“Really?”, my dad asked in surprise.
“Yeah. Like I made for you once.”
“Oh yes. It was … lovely son.”
Tristan smiled and I wondered whether my dad actually drank my tea that time.
“Well I’ll get a cup for you. Sit yourself down Tristan.”
“Sit myself down. Does Will let Glen sit down too?”
I gave him a dirty look while my dad smirked.
“I’ll go and get the tea.”
I went to get the tea in a huff to be honest. In my head, I was only trying to be a proper boyfriend to him but he was making fun of me and I didn’t like it. Tristan and dad had started a conversation but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Just muffled sounds. I set about my task feeling important to be completely honest. I was an incredible boyfriend even if he was a jerk, I was thinking. Still he was a cute jerk, I knew. I boiled the kettle, put some hot water in a cup and dipped the tea bag in the water. Then pulled it out again. I then proceeded to add lots of milk but no sugar. Tristan was very insecure about his weight from early on in life and was always making sure to keep it down. I should have been the considerate boyfriend. I should have been telling him that he was beautiful as he was. But instead I was just ashamed of him. Poor lad. I didn’t exactly give an easy time in a lot of ways. But back to the tea incident for now. I brought the cup of tea out to him.
“Where’s dad gone to?”
“He’s gone next door. Mrs. O’ Keefe needs her hedge done.”
Mrs. O’ Keefe was our elderly next door neighbor. My dad often did a few odd jobs such as cutting the hedge or mowing the lawn free to help her out.
“Oh. Well here’s your tea.”, I said sitting down beside him on the sofa.
“Sweetie, is it meant to be that colour?”
“What colour? What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s very light looking.”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t drink much tea.”
“You did let it draw?”
“Like leave the tea bag in for a bit?”
I wasn’t about to admit that I hadn’t.
He began to sip the tea.
“What do you think?”
I could see he was ready to vomit.
“Lovely sweetie. Lovely.”
I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. His face was involuntarily grimacing. I took the cup off him and set it down on the coffee table next to the sofa. I then gave him a long, lingering kiss on the lips.
“What was that for? Not that I’m complaining.”
“You’d do anything for me, wouldn’t you? Even drink that!”
“When you kiss me like that, can you blame me? It’s a small price to pay.”
“Can you make tea?”
“Yes. But if I made you anything I’d make you coffee.”
“Well you said you make tea when your a good boyfriend so I’d make coffee because I’m a bad, bad boy.”
Of course he wasn’t. He was somewhere in the middle but I liked this playful, sexual side he had. It was flirtatious, it was hot.
“I suddenly like coffee.”
“One day I’ll make you like coffee a whole lot more.”
“How about now?”
“Your dad’s only next door!”
“Her hedge is huge. Not the only thing that is baby.”
I began to unbuckle his belt and he shoved my hands away.
“Josh stop. I said someday.”
“Oh your so boring.”, I moaned.
“I’m sorry. I’m just not ready. Are you mad at me?”
“No I’m not mad at you.”
I was fuming with him. I was dying to get down his pants.
“Do you want to lie your head in my lap?”
I wanted to ask him if I could lie directly on his penis but I refeigned.
Obviously been able to read my mind he placed my head on his knees and began to stroke his fingers through my hair.
“What is this? Making up for not having sex with me?”
“Something like that.”, he smiled.
The touch of his fingers going through my hair was the most glorious feeling. Gentle strokes. Gentle fingers. The fantastic feeling of been that vulnerable and helpless to him. It was humiliating and yet exhilarating. And I was glad I’d washed my hair the night before.
“Have you ever …”, he began.
I knew what was coming. I wished he wouldn’t ask.
“Have you had sex before?”
“No.”, I replied and hoped my answer sounded convincing.
I’d had sex quite a few times before. In fact I had a bit of a reputation amongst the cooler people at school. Thankfully Tristan wasn’t one of the cool gang so I got away with him not knowing.
Tristan pulled his hand free from my hair.
“Sit up Josh.”
I winced. Obviously my answer hadn’t been convincing. I sat up reluctantly.
“Yes?”, I said, well more whispered.
“Don’t lie to me. I know when your lying.”
“Maybe there was one guy …”
“I said don’t lie to me.”
“OK. There might have been quite a few guys.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Quite a few?”
“Yes.”, I replied weakly.
His face was like thunder. It was so stern. I was convinced I was going to be bent over his knee and smacked the bum of or something.
He stood up and paced the floor a few times. It made me nervous and uneasy.
“Baby, could you sit down?”
“I’m baby for now, ain’t I?”
“Don’t be like that. I like you. They were all before you.”
“And I’m one in a long list.”
“No. I never made tea for them.”
His facial features softened and I could even see the trace of a smile.
“They weren’t boyfriends Tristan. It was just sex. Your my first boyfriend.”
Well, that part was true. He sighed and sat back down.
“C’mere sweetie. I’m sorry.”
I moved closer to him and he took me in his arms.
“What are you sorry for? You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“I didn’t mean to get so angry with you. It’s just the idea of them with you.”
“You were jealous?”
I kissed him gently on the lips.
“You don’t need to be. They haven’t a patch on you. Tristan, I think I know the answer to this but are you a … virgin?”
He looks down at the floor awkwardly. I take his hand in mine gently and rub it reassuringly.
“I, um …”
“Take your time.”
He sighed deeply. I rubbed his hand more reassuringly.
“Yeah. Yeah I’m a virgin. Do you mind that?”
Of course I didn’t mind. The idea of taking his virginity was a challenge I was up for. In his own time of course. I was feeling something I didn’t understand. I’d never felt it before. With other lads, I’d respect if they didn’t want to have sex with me but I didn’t feel the same protectiveness that I felt for Tristan. Of course what had happened was that I’d fell in love with him. I’d fell in love for the first time. I just didn’t know it yet.
“Baby, of course not.”, I say softly.
He takes hold of my head and kisses me passionately. It was a mix of gratitude and love on his part.
“I love you Josh.”
I kissed him gently. He looked hurt but I looked away to avoid his glare.
“Do you want to watch a movie Tristan sweetheart?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No baby, it was sweet. I just …”
“Don’t feel the same way. It’s OK.”
“I feel something. I don’t know what it is. I want to protect you.”
He smiles but doesn’t say anything and snuggles into my side.
“OK, what movie do you want to watch?”
“Whatever you want to watch.”
“We could watch a musical if you have any.”
I’d rather knock myself out with a rock.
“Maybe State Fair or something.”
“My dad owns that.”
“Oh. Does he? Cool.”
“Yes. My dad loves musicals. He tried to get me to like them when I was younger too. Bringing me to see them, showing me the film versions. It didn’t work.”
“So what do you like?”
“Reminds me of my dad.”
“Your dad seems nice. Why do you dislike him so much?”
“Oh it’s a long story.”
“He seems to accept you.”
“Oh good for him.”, he says quite sharply.
He then sighs and rubs my hand.
“I’m sorry Joshy. I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s hardly your fault sweetie.”
I take him in my arms gently.
I didn’t know what else to say. It was the first time I’d got an inside into the strained relationship between Tristan and his dad. They always seemed to get on well whenever I’d be over at their house and Tristan’s dad was always really nice to me. Obviously there was more to it than met the eye. That or Tristan was been dramatic. And me been never the most encouraging of his, I decided in my head it was the latter. It’s weird really. Your supposed to believe in and encourage those you care about but I at this stage didn’t believe in Tristan or encourage him in any way. But I did care about him. A lot more than I even knew.
“Do you want to watch Rocky then?”
“No Tristan babe, your fine.”
“I don’t mind.”
He obviously did but he didn’t want to stop me watching it.
“I seen them so many times. Do you want to watch State Fair?”
“Would your dad mind? With it been his DVD?”
“He told me to use them to impress you. He’s so pleased I got in with a musical nerd.”
“He likes me?”
“Yeah. Totally. Says you remind him of him when he was younger.”
“That’s cool. I like your dad too.”
“So will we put this DVD in?”
“Are you sure you can survive it?”, he smiled.
“I can try. Endurance is something I’m blessed with growing up with a dad who loved musicals.”
“OK. Put it in.”
My mind was thinking other things and a smile curved at the side of my lip. He smiled. He read my mind.
“The DVD Josh. You horny geit!”
I flashed him a cheeky smile.
“The DVD. Of course.”
I went and put the DVD on and cosed up to him on the sofa.
“Who’s your favorite character in this anyway?”
I couldn’t believe it. Of all the characters in the film, the pig!
He giggled. Oh man, from early on I loved his giggle.
“He’s sweet. And he has a story of ambition and love and friendship.”
“What? I missed that.”
“With the old man, they were friends against the world at the state fair. They had a burning ambition together to win. It was so admirable. And then he met the little girl pig there and he fell for her and it was adorable. We can all take so much from their relationship.”
I laughed out. He grinned.
“Well it’s how I feel Josh!”
“I know! That’s why I’m laughing. You have got to be the only person I know that reads into the pig’s storyline.”
“Crazy, I know.”
“Yeah. Really crazy but massively adorable too.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah. You care about animals. That’s a great quality. Especially with all the cruelty towards those innocent creatures in the world.”
I didn’t tell him how I’d been in with a bad crowd when I was about thirteen. We’d go around knocking at doors and running away or prank calling people or we’d break windows of shops. But one day it went from juvenile wrongdoing to pure evil and I knew I had to get away from these people. It was one Halloween and Mitch who was the head of our gang put a rocket up a dog. A tiny little Chihuahua. Long-haired. I’ll never that dog’s face. I tried to stop him but it was too late. The dog went up into the air. After that, I moved away from them. I don’t kill animals. That’s not me. I realised I wasn’t simply with a bunch of people who’d only make prank calls or damage property. They’d damage animals and possibly people too someday. Before that I was of the opinion that anyone who cared about animals a lot was soft and not good soft. After I seen it as a good thing to be caring about animals. The gentleness in Tristan for animals was in complete contrast to the cruelty I had seen my former friends bestow upon that poor innocent dog. And his gentleness made me love him even more.
“Yeah. It’s horrible. Their just defenseless. People can be so cruel.”
“They can be.”
“Did you ever own a pet?”
I had been planning on getting a dog but after the incident with the dog, I couldn’t. I’d just have kept seeing the dog’s face and I couldn’t bear it. I even winced when I seen dogs out and about especially long-haired Chihuahuas.
“I had a dog for ten years. He died last year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that babe. What was his name?”
“Thank you. Lucky. I called after the little ditzy dog in 101 Dalmatians. That dog reminded me of me.”
I thought of Lucky in the film. Ditzy and brave. Yeah, I’d go along with that.
“I must get that and we can watch that next time.”
“Oh there’s your pig.”
We began to watch the pig in his opening scene.
I’m brought back to reality by my dad coming in with the tea.
“Son … tea. Are you alright?”
“Just I’ve been trying to get your attention for a few minutes now.”
“Sorry dad, I was far away.”
“Thinking of him?”
He hands me the cup of tea and sits beside me holding his cup of tea. He puts a loving arm around me.
“I’d say you have a lot of memories to choose from.”
“I do. I was thinking of the time I made him tea.”
My dad smiles.
“Oh yes. The poor lad.”
“I just thought I was been the proper little boyfriend. I tried to be that to him.”
“I know and you didn’t fail at that either.”
“That’s sweet of you to say dad but I don’t know. I was cruel to him. I never took his side in anything. I always put him down. It took me a long time to appreciate his uniqueness. That that was what made him interesting.”
“He forgave you all that Josh. He didn’t hold that against you.”
“He accepted me for me. I couldn’t do that for so long.”
“But you eventually did.”
“Yeah but by then I’d messed with his self esteem. He was only getting it back when he … well you know.”
“Yeah. You don’t have to say it.”
“I loved him though.”
“I know you did.”
“But I never showed him I did enough and I will always regret that.”
“He wouldn’t want that.”
“I know he wouldn’t. He’s so good. But I feel it and I feel it worse because he was so good.”
“Josh, this always happens after someone dies.”
“Lamenting things. The guilt sets in.”
“I can’t tell him how sorry I am now. I wish I did and I never did.”
“But dad he didn’t.”
“Josh, go back in time to the night before last. Were you guilty then?”
“No. He was here. I never thought about it.”
“And before you went to work on the day and he to college what happened?”
“He told me he loved me and gave me a little cuddle. It’s weird. We never really did that since the early days of our cohabitation.”
“I don’t believe in faith but yeah, that’s what it felt like.”
“I know right now you don’t feel your going to get through this but you will. I will help you get through it.”
“Thanks dad. I let him down so much when he was alive. I’m going to do it again.”
“What do you mean?”
“With the funeral. It’s Friday. I forgot to say.”
“I know. Your head’s all over the place understandably. Don’t worry about it. I’ll help you.”
“I don’t want it to be completely formal. He was unique. Different. Special. I have to make it each of those things.”
“Bringing his interests into it.”
“He’ll love that.”
A slight smile comes on my face.
“Yeah he would wouldn’t he?”
“You’ll do him proud son. And remember one thing.”
“The most important thing to him would be that you were there. I know when I go my main concern will be that you, Gillian and your brother and sister are there.”
My mind drifts to the first funeral we attended together. It was my aunt Tina’s. We were only dating five months. Arriving at the Church in two black suits I thought we looked like the Blues Brothers. My dad is a huge fan.
“Were you close to your aunt?”, he asked.
“No. I only met her the once.”
“And whose side is she on?”
As we entered the Church we noticed Tina’s husband Ross and her two grown-up daughters sitting at the top of the Church. All around us there was whispers.
“That’s the husband.”
“He’s was real estate but they say he’s bankrupt now.”
“The girl on the right is his eldest. She went out with Jimmy Crayford’s son for a bit before they moved to America.”
“That girl’s his youngest. She’s mousey.”
I looked at Tristan and my heart swelled with pride. Here he was in the middle of all these people with a look of genuine compassion on his face as he looked at her family.
“God love them.”, he said simply.
“Yeah.”, I replied.
“I’ll just sit down the back. You go sit with your family. I’ll see you after.”
I pecked him gently on the lips and we parted for the funeral. As I walked to my seat I heard further whispers.
“Yes, that’s Gillian’s and Luke’s son. He’s gay.”
I held a smile from my lips. I’d just kissed a man. Talk about pointing out the obvious.
“ Gillian’s and Luke’s son is gay. I wouldn’t say the parents were pleased but what can you do? He can’t help it.”
I wanted to tell this old busybody that my mam and dad were no prejudiced twats, that nothing needed to be done and I was proud of my sexuality but I couldn’t really at a funeral.
As we stood outside after with my parents, this particular busybody went by. Tristan broke into a chat with us.
“My mate is straight. I wouldn’t say the parents were pleased but what can you do? He can’t help it.”
The woman stopped in her tracks.
“Excuse me?”, she said.
“Sorry?”, he feigned innocence.
“What you just said …”
“Oh yeah, my friend James. So many problems between them at the moment.”
“But with his parents been straight, why are they against him been straight?”
“Oh his parents are gay. Truman and Jack.”
“Oh. OK.”, she leaves.
“Sorry everyone. I just had to. My story isn’t true.”, he said.
I can see my parents try to hold in laughter.
“Well I knew that. You don’t have a friend called James and you took Truman Capote’s and Jack Dunphy’s names. But wow that was cool.”, I say giggling.
“No your grand.”, my mum assured him.
“Ethel’s always saying things. Was she at it again?”, my dad enquired.
“Yeah.”, I smiled.
My dad gave Tristan a warm smile as if to say Thank-you-for-looking-out-for-my-son.
I think that even though my dad liked Tristan before, I think in that moment he really liked him and thought he was good for me.
“What are you thinking of son?”, my dad says bringing me back to life as it is now.
“Oh aunt Tina’s funeral.”
“And Tristan’s heroic moment?”
“He was the first and only person to stand up for one of mine.”
“But surely Ray and Amber have too?”
“No. Actually they don’t. I’ve never seen it anyway. And I’ve heard them passing by people making snide comments about the other two of my three musketeers. I do the standing up for them myself.”
“I had a good man, hadn’t I?”
“He was that.”
“I wish I knew how good when he was alive. I guess that’s hindsight, isn’t it?”
“How’s mam keeping?”
My mam is in a coma. She has been for the last year and a half. She had a stroke. I think back to the time I found out. I was at home with Tristan and we were watching Eastenders. I was chastising him. What else did I do to the poor guy?
“I really don’t think you should be going for journalism.”
“Your a working-class boy. Your getting above your station. It’s bad enough that you watch the ballet and operas at Christmas and watch catwalk shows on YouTube. Now this.”
“But I don’t anything’s above me. Or anyone for that matter.”
“Oh your nativity never ceases to amaze me. They’ll never accept you.”
“Oh thanks Josh, that’s made me feel so good about myself!”
“I’m not trying to hurt you …”
“Oh don’t worry your not! If I worried about everything you said I’d be in therapy by now.”
I was worried about him. That he’d be rejected and he’d get hurt. I didn’t put it across quite right though.
I took his hand in mine.
He pulled his hand free.
“You always bloody are, aren’t you?! Well let me tell you something for a change. You can be the most insensitive person sometimes. Do you ever see Will and Glen putting each other down like that? Their for each other. Why the hell can’t you be for me sometimes? I think you can do anything. Why aren’t you for me?”
There was a knock at the door.
“I’ll just go and get that. Honey, I am for you.”
“You are in your arse.”
“Don’t be like that please.”
“I’ll be whatever fucking way I want to be.”
I ignore him and go to answer the door. It’s my sister.
“Josh, it’s about mum.”
“What? Is she OK?”
“Can I come in?”
“She’s not dead is she?”
“No. Can I just come in?”
Tears were building up in her eyes. I let her in and shut the door. On seeing her tears, Tristan got up and put his hand on her left shoulder gently.
“Amber, what’s wrong?”
“It’s our mum Tristan.”
“Sit down.”, he said and helped her to the sofa before rubbing my hand gently.
“Sit down there sweetie.”, he spoke gently.
I did so and he sat on the coffee table in front of us.
“She’s had a stroke Josh. She’s in a coma.”
I felt my world crumbling. It was sad and surreal. I was in a painful trance.
“What? A coma?”
Tears fell from my eyes. I could feel Tristan’s take my hand gently in his.
“Yes. Da and Paul are at the hospital with her. You weren’t answering your phone and neither was Tristan …”
“We lost the chargers sweetie.”, Tristan said.
We were always doing that. Amber knew that too.
“I figured that’s what happened.”
“Is she going to … ?”, I began.
“We don’t know at the moment honey.”, Amber said and the two of us began to cry further and hug each other tightly.
“I need to get to the hospital.”
“My car’s outside. I’ll drive you.”
“Thanks sis. Tristan, will you come with me?”
“Of course sweetie.”
At the hospital, I met my dad and brother. Their eyes were red. We all hugged each other tightly. Tristan and Amber were standing behind us. He had his arm around her.
“Which room is she in?”, I asked.
“Two rooms down on the left. Son, it’s going to be a shock. She’s hooked up to all these machines.”, Da said.
I felt sick. The idea of my mam lying helpless in a bed hooked up to machines by wires and could possibly die was almost too much for me to take. This was a woman who only two years ago had bungee jumped for charity. I put my hand back feeling for Tristan’s hand. He took it tightly.
“OK. Let’s go.”
We walked down to the room. I stopped outside and subsequently he stopped behind me.
“Are you OK sweetie?”
“Am I OK?! Are you serious?!”
“I’m sorry baby …”
“My mam is in a coma! What a bloody stupid question!”
“I’m sorry …”
“No I am. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It was a stupid question. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. It’s hard to know what to say. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t know if I can handle this.”
He put his hands on the upper sides of my arms. He spoke gently.
“Look at me.”
I looked at him.
“I’m here for you. And I will hold your hand the whole time we’re in here. I know your hurt and your scared but you’ve got to be brave for your mam now.”
“Why? She’s not even going to know I’m here.”
“They say people in comas can hear you talking. Just speak to her.”
“You’ll be holding my hand?”
“I’ll be holding your hand.”
I breathed in and out deeply. Tension filled my body and my voice.
“OK. Let’s go in.”
Tristan took hold of my hand and we walked into the room. My mam was lying there motionless. I instantly wanted to leave. The image was too much for me. Too painful to bear. But I knew I had to do this. She’s my mam. And he was holding my hand. I could get through this.
“I’ll get you the chair in the corner sweetie to sit down on.”
“Yeah thanks Tristan.”
He picked up the chair and placed it beside the bed before helping me into it and reholding my hand again.
“Mam, it’s me Josh. Tristan’s here too. We lost the chargers again. That’s why we’re late. Amber couldn’t get through to us. Yes, I know you said we ought to be more careful and keep them together …”
I turned to Tristan.
“What am I doing? Talking about all this everyday stuff. She can’t hear a word I’m saying.”
I put my head in my hands. He took me into a hug from the back.
“Your doing great Josh.”
“No I’m not.”
“You are. Go on. You can do this.”
“That’s it. In your own time.”
I sighed twice before I spoke.
“Mam, I love you. Don’t die on us. Da at his age can’t live on takeaway food. You know that as well as I do. Come on mam, your the best mam I could ever have asked for. But your even more than that. Your my friend too. And Amber and Paul feel the exact same way. And Tristan he needs someone he can talk about books to. Don’t you Tristan?”
“I do Gill.”
“See, the world needs you. We all need you. Stay with us and come back to us.”