The Hard Way by L.M. Brown
Not so much a male/male story as a gay themed story.
"Hey, fag, where ya going?"
Owen's books fell to the floor and the loose pages of his report scattered across the corridor. "Fuck!"
"No thanks, fag. You're not my type."
Owen bent down to gather up his belongings.
"Look at that, the fag's sticking out his arse for you, Seth."
Owen stumbled to his knees as Bryce shoved him in the back. "Why don't you just fuck off and leave me alone?"
Bryce laughed loudly. "Ah, look at that. The little fag's crying. It looks like he needs a big, brave boyfriend to come rescue him. Are you sure you don't want the job, Seth?"
Owen didn't wait to hear the rest of the taunting. He picked up the last of his things and shot off down the corridor like a scared rabbit.
It was the third night running the nightmare had plagued his sleep. At least this time he was prepared, and he leaned over the edge of the bed to vomit into the plastic basin he'd borrowed from the kitchen.
Once he was sure there was nothing left in his stomach, he grabbed the cloth from the table and wiped his face.
The knock on the door startled him. "Mom says you need to get up or you're going to be late for school." His sister shouted her message through the door before disappearing into the bathroom opposite with a loud slam.
He didn't want to go to school today. He didn't want to go back there ever again. He was a coward and he knew it.
One kiss with his best friend.
One bad decision that he couldn't undo.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were supposed to be graduating in just a few weeks' time. How had things gone wrong so fast?
* * * *
"Seth, I've got something to tell you."
Seth looked up from his text book. "What's up?"
Owen continued to stare at the computer his parents had bought him for Christmas, nervously picking at the label on the edge of the tower. "I…"
It wasn't like Owen to be so jittery. Even as children, he had always been the more confident of the two of them. Seth was the one who tended to stumble over his own words whenever he had to speak in class. Suddenly, their roles had been reversed.
"What is it?" Seth prompted.
"Oh fuck. This is way harder than I thought it would be."
Owen stopped tearing at the computer label and ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm gay."
"Fucking hell, don't make me repeat it. It was hard enough to say it once."
"You're joking right?"
Owen shook his head. "Are you going to be okay with it?"
Seth shrugged. "I guess. Why are you telling me now, though?"
"Because we're supposed to be going to college together, rooming together, and I thought you'd want to know before we got there."
Owen turned back to his computer and Seth returned to his text book. They worked away quietly for another hour until Seth yawned and declared it time to head home before his parents sent out a search party.
Owen stood up to walk him to the door. Seth was juggling his books when Owen leaned in and brushed his lips against those of his best friend.
The contact barely lasted more than a couple of seconds. Seth pushed him away roughly. "What the fuck?"
"I guess it's true what they say about fags. They throw themselves at every guy they meet."
"Seth, no! It's not like that."
"Then what is it like? You just fucking kissed me."
"I didn't think. I'm sorry."
"Just stay the fuck away from me."
"You won't tell anyone, will you?"
"I think I should. After all, what if you decide to grope other blokes round the school? The least I can do is warn them about you."
"Seth, you can't!"
Only Seth had. He'd told all their friends and the news had spread through the school like wildfire. The students had turned on Owen like a pack of rabid animals, taunting him continuously for weeks. And Seth, Owen's best friend, had not only stood by and let them, he'd joined in and encouraged them.
"Honey, you're going to be late for school." His mother poked her head round his door and spied the basin immediately. "Again? Oh dear. Maybe you should stay home today."
"I can't. I need to go and get it over with."
"If you're sure?"
Nodding slowly, he forced himself to stand up without falling down and got himself ready to face the rest of the school.
* * * *
No one spoke to him as he walked down the corridors. Instead, everyone seemed to be whispering and pointing at him. He felt like a pariah. It was no more than he deserved.
His friends had deserted him, perhaps unwilling to be tainted by association. He supposed it should have been expected. It wasn't like he was particularly close to any of them. He had only really had one true friend throughout his time at school. Now he had none.
He grabbed his books from his locker and entered the classroom at the last second. He slipped into his seat with his head down, unwilling to meet the eyes of his classmates.
He spoke only to answer when his name was called, wishing the day was already over. Except it was only just starting and the worst was yet to come.
The entire student body filed into the auditorium immediately after the register had been taken. First period had been cancelled for the day. He would rather have been in class.
The principal stood at the podium and waited for everyone to settle down so he could tell them why they were there. As if the entire school didn't already know.
His mind wandered as the principal droned on.
* * * *
"Seth, can you come down here please?"
"I'm in the middle of something at the moment," he called back downstairs.
Seth sighed and quickly typed a 'be right back' message to the online buddy he was chatting with. From the tone of his mother's voice, it sounded like he was in trouble for something. He sluggishly made his way to the den.
"Seth, come sit down."
Seth frowned when he saw his mother's tear-stained face. "What is it? What's happened?"
Seth stood up and headed back towards the door. "I told you last week, we're not speaking at the moment. I know you see him like a second son, but I'm not going 'round there."
"Seth, please sit down."
"Mom, friends drift apart all the time. I'm going off to college soon and I'll make new friends there. Owen has his own life to live. He wants different things than me. It's for the best."
"Oh, Seth." His mother sobbed into her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. "Owen's dead."
Seth was sure he had misheard. "What?"
"Owen's father just called. He knew you'd want to know. You were like brothers."
Seth shook his head. "He can't be dead. I just saw him in school a few hours ago."
"I'm sorry, Seth. There's no mistake."
Seth slumped down into the chair. "What happened? Was it a car accident or something?"
"I'm sorry." Seth watched his mother break down into even more hysterical sobs than before. He could barely make out a word she was saying. Or maybe he just didn't want to hear the word that told him everything he needed to know.
* * * *
"…this tragic loss of a promising student, one who had his whole life ahead of him."
"Shut up!" Seth shot to his feet as he shouted at the principal, who was looking back at him as though he couldn't believe someone had dared to interrupt his speech.
"Do you have something to say, Mr Gardiner?" the principal asked.
Everyone in the school was staring at him. Seth, who never spoke out in class unless he was forced to, had the undivided focus of everyone in the school.
"Yes, I do," Seth finally replied. He squeezed his way past the other students and walked up to the podium. The principal looked unsure, but he stepped aside to give him the floor. Seth looked out over the crowd of students and teachers, unable to focus on any single person and instead concentrated on the small scratches on the podium itself. Finally, he gathered himself together to say what he had to.
"Some of you will already know that Owen was my best friend for most of our lives. He was the confident one, the one with the balls to go for what he wanted. I only ever saw him nervous once, and that was the evening he came out to me."
Seth could hear the whispering of the students as well as the teachers behind him. He cast a glare over his shoulder. Everyone already knew what had happened and why. There was no point in hiding the truth when it was already out in the open.
"I didn't lose Owen last Friday night. I lost him weeks ago. My only friend is dead and gone and I'm all alone here, trying to figure out what went wrong. Only, I know what went wrong. I'm a coward. I was afraid of what would happen if everyone knew I was friends with someone who was gay. I was scared they'd think I was gay too. So when Owen kissed, me I freaked out. Then I told everyone what had happened and helped to make Owen's life a misery. It's my fault he's dead, and nothing I can ever say or do will ever change that."
Seth glanced up at the students and saw some of his other so-called friends, not one of whom had bothered to call him over the weekend after the news had broken. None of them appeared particularly bothered about Owen's death. Bryce was whispering and snickering with Ivan on the end of the row. Why had he ever cared what their opinion was? Who were they to him? They weren't his friends, not really. Only Owen had really known him. He had known him better than anyone else. Seth knew that no one would ever know him like Owen did.
"Owen killed himself because of the way I treated him after he came out to me. I hope that, somewhere, he knows how sorry I am for what I said and did over the last few weeks. I know most of you won't care about my guilt and will think it's no more than I deserve, and you'd be right. I'm the one who'll have to live with this for the rest of my life and let me tell you, it's absolute hell."
Seth looked over towards his classmates, catching the eye of each of them in turn. "I wouldn't wish this particular hell on anyone, so I'm going to ask you all to do what I didn't, and take the time to think about what you're saying when you call someone a fag or a queer. When I look back on how I treated Owen, I'm ashamed of myself. He didn't deserve to be treated like that, and I sure as hell didn't deserve a great friend like him."
With that parting shot at Bryce and his buddies, Seth stepped away from the podium and walked off the stage, out the side door, and into the fresh air.
The Following Fall
"Hi, I'm Mitch, are you Seth?"
Seth looked up from where he was unpacking his clothes and cramming them into the set of drawers that had certainly seen better days. "Yeah. Are you my roommate?"
Mitch tossed his bags onto the second single bed. "Yes, unless you kick me out and demand a new roommate like the dick I was supposed to be rooming with did."
"Why did he do that?"
"I told him I was gay. Are you going to have a problem with that?"
Seth shook his head. "No, no problem at all."
Mitch, faking confidence just a moment before, looked visibly relieved at his response. Seth smiled and glanced at the photograph of himself and Owen taken during the summer of the previous year. Mitch followed his gaze. "Oh, are you gay too? Is that your boyfriend?"
Seth picked up the picture and lovingly traced the frame. "No, to both questions. I'm just a guy who learned to accept others the hard way."
"It sounds like there's a story behind that."
"Yeah, but not today. Today is a day for looking towards the future, not dwelling on the past."
My apologies to those who were expecting a sweet or sexy romance here. But the prompt took me in a different direction. The story isn't one that's sweetness and light, it is (hopefully) one that is more reality based. Because in the real world not everything turns out right in the end and not everyone gets the happy ending they deserve.
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