TW // Homophobia
Sounds from the street came in through the rolled down window, his black curls blowing in the wind. Jamie had open it so that the cigarette smoke would not flood the interior of the vehicle, but it bothered him that the car horns and the murmur of the people outside wouldn’t let him properly hear the music coming from the speakers. His radio was so old that it could only play tapes. Finally, he decided to throw away the half-smoked cigarette and roll up the window. Music over vice.
A reunion with former high school classmates. It seemed like a plan straight out of an American movie, but it turns out it was something they were doing in very small towns outside London now too. Who would’ve thought?
Jamie fondly remembered his closest group of friends; Alex, the most organised boy he had ever met, Gabriel, the animal lover, Laura, the only girl in the group, Ricardo, the exchange student, Rian, the leader, and lastly, Sam. For Jamie, there was no simple way to describe Sam. Sam was the one who made him laugh the most, he was the one he liked to tease the most. And he was the one who made his hands sweat and his heart race. In short, Sam had been the love of his younger days and Jamie had spoiled everything.
Sam's hands were shaking with anticipation. High school was about to end and he had been working on his parting gift for Jamie for weeks. It was a mixtape that included all the songs that reminded him of his friend when he listened to them. He knew it was extremely cheesy, but he believed that deep down the other boy would appreciate it.
The young man knocked on the door of the old apartment and waited for Jamie to open the door.
“Sammy, what a surprise!”, Jamie exclaimed when he saw his friend.
“Jamie, I've told you a thousand times that I hate you calling me that”.
"I think you don't hate it that much," he replied, pinching his cheeks with both hands. Sam’s face turned as red as a tomato. “Come on now”.
Sam let it go and went with him to his room, where he gave him his gift as soon as he closed the door.
"You are so cheesy, Sammy" he said, even though he was smiling like a child.
That afternoon they spent what seemed like endless hours in Jamie's bed, listening to the tape over and over again. Time passed and they laughed and laughed, remembering the top memories they lived during the last 4 years. They stole kisses and caresses from each other. Neither of them wanted to think of anything outside of that room. Nothing outside of their little bubble.
Jamie had lost contact with all his friends except Laura and Ricardo, with whom he spoke from time to time on the phone and had even seen in some rare occasion in London. Laura was always one of her closest friends within the group. It was with her that he shared his first cigarette and who gave him his first kiss. It was after that kiss that they both decided it was better that they were just friends.
Jamie smiled at the memory.
Soon after 5pm, Jamie arrived at his destination and entered the building, his heart beating out of control. It was ridiculous, at some point he had known these people better than he knew most of his family. But he was nervous.
It's because you're going to see him, he caught himself thinking. He shook his head and pushed that thought away as best he could.
The gym was decorated like a high school gym in Ohio would be on prom day. That made the man think about turning around and running out of there, but before he could, a voice made him stop short.
"CURLY!" Jamie's blood ran cold. Sam was the one who started calling him that when they were 16. But that voice did not belong to his Sammy.
Turning around, he found himself face to face with Laura and couldn't help but smile. Suddenly he wasn't so nervous anymore.
“Laura!”, they merged into a loving embrace. “You have not gained an ounce since the last time I saw you, although I think you have some more wrinkles”, he said once they had separated, touching her face fondly.
“You as loud as ever. It's good to know that you keep your old charms”, she replied. There was no anger on her face, on the contrary, she seemed very happy to see his friend.
Not long after, Ricardo joined them, and as they chatted away, the arrival of the rest of the group interrupted the conversation plenty of times.
Alex had a furniture business and according to what he said, he was doing great. Rian was writing novels and Jamie discovered that he had read several, however, weirdly, he had not placed the name. Gabriel had moved up north and was living on a small farm that he ran with a couple of other workers.
Only Sam was yet to arrive but Jamie did not dare to ask about him, and since everyone knew how the story had ended, the others did not mention him either. Nobody wanted to disturb the pleasant atmosphere that surrounded them.
Suddenly, Gabriel interrupted himself in the middle of a sentence and smiled from ear to ear looking towards the gym door.
“You are not going to believe this, but Sam has finally grown”.
The group of friends turned to look where Gabriel was looking. Jamie felt the air escaping from his lungs and he gasped for a second.
They were all together again ...
Fags, cock suckers, pussies ... those were just some of the insults that Sam and Jamie knew they would receive if someone discovered their relationship. And that was not the worst. Someone could even beat them up, throw stones at them or who knows what another outrage.
The truth was that none of the seven friends were too popular in high school; Jamie wore huge glasses, Sam was short and had asthma, Laura was an immigrant, Ricardo had an accent, etc. Ultimately, the bullies on duty did not need any more reasons to mess with them, so they had decided to keep their relationship a secret. And although they were not that subtle around their friends, they had never done anything official.
It was the last day of class. The air smelled of summer, of freedom. The teenagers were planning the next few days with excitement. Afternoons at the movies, maybe steal the car from one of his parents and go away with a pack of cigarettes and a few beers ...
However, Sam was not that excited. The boy's family had decided to move away and they were planning on leaving the same day he finished school. The same day.
The group of friends was finally leaving through the main doors of the building when they heard Ben, bully nº1, say loudly: “Luckily, the fag is leaving town now for good. We don't want people to think that their kind is welcomed here".
Laura stopped short and turned to them.
“What did you just say, Ben?”
The bully smirked.
“I said, how nice it is that, the fag”, this time he pointed to Sam directly, “is leaving, once and for all”.
Gabriel, who prided himself on always staying out of trouble, stepped forward and hit him right on the nose.
“Shit! This bastard broke my nose!”, Ben looked at his friends desperately, holding his nose, with his hands already stained with blood. “Do something, you bloody useless fucks”.
And so they all began to fight. Most of them did, anyway.
After a couple of minutes, the teachers were already separating them. Sam took his inhaler out of his backpack and put it in his mouth. The teachers were yelling at them but he didn't hear anything, he just looked at his friends, somewhat between grateful and worried. And then he realised that Jamie was not there. He looked down the road and saw the boy riding his bike away.
That was the last time he saw Jamie until...
…30 years later.
Sam approached them, smiling. It was true that he was much taller, although he was still just as thin. His eyes fell on all of them except for Jamie. It felt like he was totally invisible to the other man.
However, when he approached the group, he greeted them all warmly. Well, he at least said hi to him and it was amicable. Much more than he had expected.
The conversation flowed pleasantly and although Jamie refrained himself from making his typical jokes, when he participated in the conversation, Sam smiled kindly.
Jamie felt terrible. He didn't think he deserved any of those smiles. He didn't think he deserved to have those sweet brown eyes even meet his. It felt good, he wasn't going to lie to himself, he had missed him so much, but he didn't deserve it.
He knew he'd been a real wanker back then and he'd wanted to apologise for years, but he'd never had the courage to do it.
He was no longer paying attention to what others were saying. He couldn't take his eyes off Sam. He needed to clear things up with him.
What brought him back to reality was seeing Sam leave for the catering table. He followed him without saying a word.
“Can we talk?”, Jamie asked when he reached the other. Sam jumped but didn't look at him.
"Haven't we been talking all afternoon?"
"I mean you and me alone, Sammy" the nickname slipped out.
Sam finally looked at him, but Jamie wished he hadn't. All the anger he had expected to see that day shone in his eyes.
“Do not say that ever again”.
For the first time in his life Jamie did not know what to say.
Sam kept walking but instead of approaching the food table, he went outside. Jamie took it as his cue to follow him and talk.
Outside, Sam was waiting for him, leaning on the railing, looking out at the field where they used to do PE when it was sunny, all those years ago. Jamie moved to his side.
For a long couple of minutes, neither spoke.
"I'm sorry," Jamie finally said.
More silence. At another time, a silence between the two would have been comfortable and relaxed. That day was fraught with tension. It was like a bomb waiting to explode.
“Did you get that? I said I'm sorry. I really am sorry, Sam. You have to understand that”.
“Okay”, replied the other man. “Apology accepted. Can we go in now?”
“What?”. Jamie was confused. He knew that this answer was not sincere, Sam's words were full of hostility. He really wanted to fix this.
“You heard me. I forgive you or whatever”.
“Sam”. Jamie took the other man by the shoulders, so they were face to face. “I know what I did was shitty, okay?”. Sam looked at him in silence. “I should have defended you, I should have stood up for you, for us ...”
"Stop," Sam interrupted him, escaping from Jamie's grip . Jamie lowered his arms, devastated. “I don't even know why I went out here with you. I have nothing to say on the matter. It's been 30 years, for crying out loud!”
“Have you not thought about it for the last 30 years? Not even once?”
Sam laughed, wryly, and turned to go back inside.
“Sammy, come on ...”
Sam turned abruptly and his fist went straight to Jamie's face, hitting him with a blow he would never have been able to deliver when he was 17 years old.
“I told you not to call me that again!”
“Fuck! Where have you learned to hit like this? Have you been training for our reunion?” Jamie looked at him and couldn't help but smile a little.
“You never knew when to shut the fuck up”.
Sam's breathing was agitated, it looked like he was going to need his inhaler. Years ago, Jamie would have carried a spare inhaler for him in his pocket.
“Come on, I'd rather have you hitting me than behave like a robot without feelings. Come on, hit me again”.
"I'm not going to hit you again", he gave him a little push, "do you want me to talk? And what do you want me to say? Yes, of course I thought about it, about you, for years. First it hurt, then I thought I hated you. But at some point, I was fine. It was easy to forget about you once I put the good memories aside and focused only on how you behaved that day and after”.
“I was a coward”.
“Yes, a fucking coward”. Sam went back to the railing. He seemed somewhat more relaxed. “Why did you do it?”
Jamie went back to stand beside him. He thought about his answer for a moment and sighed.
“I have already told you. I was a coward. I was afraid of being discovered. Above all, I was afraid of what my father would do if he found out”.
“You think I wasn't afraid? I never asked you to shout from the rooftops that you were gay. I just wished you would've stayed, like the rest of the gang".
“I know you were afraid. I was selfish, I have no excuse. Running away was easier so that's what I did”.
Sam ran a hand through his hair. Jamie watched him carefully. The years showed around his eyes, but he was still as attractive as he was 30 years ago. Even more so.
“Why didn’t you try to talk to me? You disappeared”.
“That night I went to your house. I guess I already knew it was too late. Deep down I knew you'd be gone. I didn't know how to face you. I cried sitting on your front porch for hours”.
Sam giggled. “You cried?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Pussy”, Sam laughed again. Jamie couldn't help but laugh too.
“Okay, I deserved that one”.
“And the punch too”.
“Yes, and the punch too”.
After another silence, this time less awkward, Sam turned to Jamie.
“I forgive you”, this time it sounded sincere. “I guess after how much I loved you, I could never really hate you”.
“Wait, did you just say you loved me?” Jamie interrupted him, surprised.
Sam looked at him incredulously.
“You're kidding, right? Of course I loved you!”, now he was smiling. It was as if he remembered the feeling that filled him all those years ago. “I even made you a mixtape, c'mon".
“Oh… but you never said it”.
“I didn't think it was necessary”.
“I suppose not. It would have been nice to hear it anyway. I didn't heard it much growing up, you know my father wasn't very affectionate”.
“I suppose I could have told you”.
They both looked out into the courtyard again. Jamie suddenly smiled.
“What is it?”
“I came all the way here listening to your mixtape”.
Sam raised his eyebrows to his hairline. “Are you for real? You kept it?”
Jamie laughed out loud. “DJ Sammy, always knew what songs to win me over with”.
Sam blushed. This time he didn't say anything about the nickname. “Could we… go listen to it?”
Jamie nodded immediately, before the other man changed his mind and regretted it.
That night they spent endless hours listening to the tape over and over again. Remembering anecdotes from their high school years, and telling each other new stories that had happened during the last 30. They both felt like they were 17 again in Jamie's old bed. Not caring what was happening outside of that car. Not caring what was happening outside of their bubble.
For at least a night, everything was fine again.