Jack

Despite the fact that for a whole month I have been inundated with assignments, notes and books, Aiden always had a place in my thoughts. If I let myself look away for a second, here he was. I could think about his eyes for half an hour.

I call Laura (I usually don't call home often) and in between I wonder how Brent and Aiden are doing. Her voice instantly changes to a sly one.

"Are you still on it, Romeo?"

I would have strangled her over the phone, I swear. For being right.

"They left," she says, without waiting for my answer.

"What?" I even sit up in bed, I feel uneasy.

"Well, yes, they were not going to stay with us anyway. Brent is a student."

I totally forgot about it. And I never asked about his school.

"And where did they go?"

"How do I know?"

Judging by my anxiety, I was hoping for something else. As long as I knew that they were on the farm, and I could come back at any time, to see Aiden, to talk to him, I was rather calm. And they just left.

"And you didn't take their number, or address or something?"

"Why would I, dear brother?" Laura asks, as if genuinely perplexed. She will not pity me.

"Okay," I say. "I have to go," I hang up.

And I'm not going anywhere. Just examining the ceiling.

It's better this way, this was the last thread, and it had to be cut off. And it has been. I haven't sorted anything out for the past month, I haven't thought anything through. I just put everything on pause.

That's enough.

I get out of bed.

I must move on. I won't think about it anymore.

I sit down to work. I take as many additional tasks as possible, I dive into them. But progress is evident. I've never been so diligent, and now I'm one of the top students.

In the evening I allow myself to relax – I order pizza and sit in the living room in front of the TV.

There is a knock at the door, I take money from the table to give it to the delivery man, but it's not him.

"Hi. Long time no see. Are you busy?"

Sean smiles broadly, this is his trademark smile. He is tanned and seems to have lost weight and grew taller. I haven't seen him since we broke up.

"What a surprise," I say. "Come in."

Behind Sean, the pizza delivery man appears.

Sean is already getting comfortable on the couch in the living room.

"I wanted to surprise you," Sean says and, without asking me, take a slice of pizza. Yes, he is that unmannered. It doesn't annoy me. I sit down next to him and also take a piece for myself.

"Well, tell me how you're doing," Sean says.

"How am I doing? Everything is the same as you see."

Sean looks around the room and looks sideways at the hallway.

"Is anyone else here?"

"I live alone, if that's what you mean."

Sean stares at me and licks his lips.

"Come on, Sean, just say what's on your mind. I know you wouldn't just come for no reason."

He narrows his hazel eyes.

"Okay, you're right. I'm still embarrassed to ask. I need a place to stay for a couple of days. And, as luck would have it, I couldn't reach anyone else but you."

Sean is two years younger than me, his father died when Sean was 14, so he matured quickly. If he asks for help, he really needs it. And we're not strangers, although sometimes it seems that mutual history can estrange people more than no history at all.

"You can crash on the couch," I say.

"Really? Is it ok?"

"Sean, stop this pseudo-polite bullshit. Had you been worried about such things, you wouldn't have come to me at all."

Sean grins and takes another slice of pizza. We watch TV and talk. He asks about Laura, about how I spent the summer. I am not telling him anything new. This evening is like any other with him three years ago. We liked to be together, it felt good and it was calm. A kind of quiet haven.
I try to remember how it all started with Sean...

We met at the university at some festival, we talked from time to time. Then... he had nowhere to live, and I invited him to stay with me. He refused several times, offered me money... But I also pursued my goals there. When we had become friends, and I started to like him. I felt really comfortable around him. That was why I offered him to stay with me. Sex happened on the second night. I don't remember who started it. We came to our senses in the morning.

Sean told me that he had noticed me long time ago, that he was looking for an excuse to get to know me. That he liked me.

In short, it happened by itself. I liked spending time with him, we talked a lot, we had common interests in music, in movies, we went hiking, had sex, cooked – in general, right off the bat, I was in a committed relationship.

It lasted two and a half years. I had a feeling that Sean and I were stuck at some stage or started with the wrong pace... In the end, Sean said that something important was missing in our relationships. And he could no longer deceive me or himself. Well, he didn't deceive me, I felt so too, I just agreed to live without this "something important." Maybe I just liked being with someone. Moreover, I can't say that I didn't love Sean. The relationship seemed simple, but in the end it was not quite true.

We broke up peacefully, he left, I stayed. And I haven't seen him for two years. I missed the way we were together, but gradually I got used to it. And then I stopped thinking about Sean.

Now I am even glad that he is here. Recently, I began to feel my loneliness more acutely. Although, perhaps I confuse it with some other feeling.

Sean goes to sleep on the couch and I go to the bedroom.

"You know what is where," I tell him before leaving.

"Yeah. Turn off the light."

I reach out for the light switch.

"I missed you, Jack," Sean's voice sounds in the dark, but I leave the room without answering.

Why is he doing this?

Is he bored and lonely?

Before going to bed, I remember that about a year after the beginning of our relationship, Sean confessed to me that in fact he'd had a place to live, he just had needed a chance to get closer to me.

Is it possible that he decided to do the same trick again?

The next day the TV wakes me up. Sean had a habit of turning the TV on to wake up. I go to the kitchen, Sean sleeps with his head covered. The bathroom door is ajar and water is running. He might have forgotten to turn it off. I look in there and see Sean in the shower. Still not fully awake, I try to figure out why there are two Seans in my home. Then it dawns on me that I mistook a crumpled blanket for Sean in the room.

While I'm thinking, my eyes are wandering over his body. Sean is ripped now. He stands with his back to me, he does not see me. And he masturbates.

Well, at least someone has a good morning...

I go back to the bedroom.

I vividly remember how good it was with Sean. In fact, everything I know about sex I learned during our relationships.

This picture made me a bit aroused. Before, we never closed the bathroom door. So we were constantly late in the mornings...

I stay in the room, Sean leaves. I start to work on my projects, after I go to the university, where I stay late. When I get home, I feel a tempting smell from the kitchen.

"Hey! Finally! Food is getting cold!" Sean declares resentfully from the doorway.

I change and sit in front of him.

"I wanted to thank you for your kindness," he says, and puts a bottle of wine on the table.

I smile wryly.

Sean cooks well, but he is no match for Laura. However, I eat with pleasure and drink wine. Seriously, has a time machine been invented yet? It's like I'm living in my past. And if so, then I would like to choose a different time. About a month and a half ago.

I promised myself to stop thinking about it. And I still think.

I think what Aiden would look like now in Sean's place. How would I feel then?

Sean talks and talks about what he has been doing for the past two years. It turns out that he traveled all over Europe, lived in New Zealand, but came back.

"I think I'll never be the same," he smiles and sips his wine. "When you live one day at a time, everything seems brighter."

It feels like he reproaches me for something. I am the lord of boring everyday life while Sean cracked the secret of true happiness.

"Why came back then?" I ask. Sean licks his lips and squints.

"Wherever I went, whoever I met, I kept thinking about you."

I am silent, I just look at him without even being surprised. He continues:

"I thought we were missing something inside, but we were missing outside. On the road, in other countries, I often thought that if you had been with me now, it would have been perfect. You and I got bogged down in everyday life too quickly, and I never wanted such a routine, and you too, I remember what we talked about. So I was thinking that we could give it another shot. You're finishing your last semester, and we can go anywhere. What do you think?"

I'm smiling.

"For you, the last two years have passed like a party, and my life went on as usual. Why do you think I'll drop everything now and go with you?"

"Because I know you, Jack. Without hesitation, you let me into your house, yesterday we had a good time, now we are having dinner, like these two years never happened, right?"

I shake my head. Maybe it looks like it, but the feelings are completely different.

"Do you have someone?" Sean asks. My gaze changes and Sean understands my answer.

"No," I say.

"Lies. Is it serious?"

"Stop playing shrink. You think you can see right through me, but you can't."

Sean doesn't say anything. He washes dishes, I thank him for dinner and go to the shower. I turn my face up to the water stream and hear someone else entering the bathroom. And now there are two of us in the shower. I remember this feeling from the past. It tickles the nerves, teases and excites. Sean runs his hand over my body.

"You saw me this morning, Jack." He kisses my shoulder. "Doesn't stir up any memories?"

I turn around and push him against the wall. Just like in these very memories. I don't mind the pleasure, but looking at Sean, I stop.

I can't. Maybe below the waist I don't mind, but I can't... Sean wraps his arms around me, pulls me towards him. And I think about Aiden. I'm stuck in the past.

All this has already happened.

All this is in the past.

But there is one big difference between my memories of Sean and of Aiden.

Memories of Sean exist as if isolated from me. I re-watch them like an old film that has nothing to do with me. Memories of Aiden are alive. They are attached to me and continue in the same way as my life continues. And they are drawn to the future, because this story is not over yet. It is not over for me.

I push Sean aside and get out of the shower. He looks at me in surprise. I lock myself in the bedroom.

Sean knocks on the door.

"Jack, what's the matter? You wanted to... Let me in."

Well, yes, I did...

I know that no one'll get hurt, no one'll ever know about it. I don't betray anyone. But somehow I feel otherwise. I will know. And I've already done a lot of stupid things. I don't want to add up to my collection.

"No, Sean."

"You don't like me anymore?"

I open the door, he stands naked in front of me .

"Really? Are you out of your mind to ask such a question two years after you left?!"

"Well, I'm back! You have no one. Are you mad at me?"

"That's not the point. And could you cover yourself? Please!"

Sean frowns.

"I don't understand you, Jack."

"I don't understand you too."

"Okay, okay, maybe it looks like I'm rushing things..." He pauses and swallows nervously. "But you know me, I'm not very patient especially when I want something." Sean looks me straight in the eyes. I don't say anything, and silence seems to put pressure on Sean, squeeze words out of him. "I want us to get back together, Jack. I want you back."

Now I feel pressure of silence too. Did I think of it? Long time ago. Did I want it? Maybe.

Do I want it now?..

No.

I don't want to hurt Sean. But despite the loneliness, the thought of being with anyone now seems unpleasant. With anyone, but Aiden...

"I..." I start to talk, searching for the right words. "I don't think it'll work."

"Why not?"

I look him in the eyes and I don't want to say it but I want to clear things out even if it hurts.

"I don't love you. And I don't want to start over."

Sean's eyes darken.

"I'm sorry." I add in vain attempt to soften my words. He purses his lips and nods several times, goes into the room and dresses. Maybe, he's packing things.

I follow.

"Look, it doesn't mean you have to leave. You can stay if you really have nowhere to go."

"If we're being honest," he says, something like despair in his voice. "Yes, I have nowhere to go, but that's not even the point. I just…"

Sean sits down on the sofa.

"I feel so stupid..." he grins bitterly and then looks up at me. "You hit me hard with "I don't love you". Have you got no heart?!"

I can't understand if he's joking or hiding his pain.

"I just wanted to clear things out." I say firmly, Sean's glancing at me.

"Well, that you did..." He rubs his forehead. "I guess I should apologize for the..."

"Drop it. No need to apologize. Just don't do it again and you can stay on a couch. Ok?"

Sean purses his lips and looks at me thoughtfully.

"So you are like that now?"

"Like what?"

"No fun and no play?"

I don't have anything to say at once and Sean adds: "Or you don't want me because I'm your ex?"

"What? No! Shit... Sean, can we drop the topic?"

Sean stares at me for several moments and then breathes out loudly.

"Okay, as you wish."

"Are we cool?"

"Yeah... we're cool."

I can see Sean's resentment or something similar, but I don't want to press on. We were close in the past, we never left problems unresolved, never kept secrets (I think), and it seemed natural. But now I don't want this intimacy with Sean, I don't want to know all his feelings and thoughts. I'm ok with him staying on my couch and being my friend, but I don't want more.

I go to bed, and on the way out, I ask if I should turn off the light for him. But instead of answering, Sean says thoughtfully:

"I shouldn't have left you, Jack. It was the most stupid thing in my life. I didn't know what I was looking for, and in the end I lost something important."

I don't even know what to say to that.

Sean gets a job as a bartender in a cafe, I continue to study. Sean doesn't start talking about us, there's no more awkwardness between us. I don't know how hard it is for him to be my friend, and not lover. Could I live like this with Aiden?

Most likely, I would climb the walls every night. But Sean is different or his feelings are different.

We usually have dinner together, watch TV and go to bed. To our respective beds.

Sean shows me a piece of paper at dinner. It's a napkin from the cafe with his portrait drawn on it with a ballpoint pen.

"Cool, right?" Sean smiles. "A guy made it in a couple of minutes! He is a water. Young and cute. Girls adore him, but he's kinda shy and very quiet. Only if he was a bit older, I would..." He laughs and puts the portrait away.

Aiden immediately pops up in my mind. I have never seen his drawings.

I thought that with time distance between us would grow and I wouldn't think about him so much, but exactly the opposite happens. It's getting more and more dreary with each passing day.

"Jack," Sean tries to get my attention. "Are you all right?"

I nod.

"Listen," he says seriously. "I understand, two years have passed and all that, but you have never been like this before. If something happened, you can tell me, I'll try to help, you know. It hurts to see you like this."

"What?"

"Somebody's ill or... dead?" he softens his voice. "Tell me what torments you. Lighten your soul."

It seems strange to me to talk about my longing for Aiden with Sean, who wanted to get back together.

So I'm lying.

"I've been tired lately, a lot has piled up. My father wants me to come home right after graduation to help him with the farm, but I'm not sure. And it seems so stupid. I didn't need a diploma to work on the farm."

"Well, your father definitely can't make you work on the farm, you are big enough to think for yourself. He will grumble, but he'll come around eventually. I remember your old man."

I only grin.

Two months have passed. And today Sean told me he wanted to move out.

"It was harder than I thought," he says.

"What exactly?"

"Living with you," he smiles sadly. "I realized that there are really no chances. I must move on. And plus now I can afford to be on my own again." He winks and smiles.

I don't know what to say, and Sean adds: "Wanna see my place?"

"Sure. Why not?"