Part 3: What Do You Mean?

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“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Rylan

Nothing induced more of a cringe for Rylan than to kiss Fiona before she went to bed, though she would never know how he tensed his emotional muscles for the moment. There was no spare second throughout the day that he didn’t feel guilty about clouding his true feelings to his best friend, but sometimes being honest with your best friend is the hardest honesty to achieve. Because then the truth is real. And Rylan didn’t think this truth would ever be something he was ready for.

Their touch of lips signaled a brief transition, one that denoted when Fiona’s night ended so she could wake up early for work as well as when Rylan could leave the house to meet up with some “buddies.” If Fi knew exactly which buddies he was entertaining with his presence, she might feel differently about her true love having a nightlife of which she wasn’t a part.

Rylan was fucking lucky, and he fucking guiltily knew it. Fi was that girl who, once you gained her trust, hardly wavered, if ever. She listened, she responded, she loved, and she most definitely cared. Rylan couldn’t bare to let her go because she was his best friend. Without her, he’d lose his compass. He already lost one in his mother. He couldn’t lose Fiona Panecelli too.

As Rylan left their apartment to walk the typical couple blocks down to his car, he reminded himself what was at stake: Stability. He thrived on it, yearned for it.

He got in his car, took off his sweatshirt to reveal a British flag-printed tank, and breathed slowly.

Fuck stability. He needed this. Ignition on.

~~~

He walked up to the Abbey, the easiest club in the world to switch multiple times between being a hetero and a homo. Any form of ‘preference’ was accepted here. Easy enough if he was caught in a situation that warranted his anxiety.

Living in Glendale allowed Rylan to slip into his forsaken identity, as the distance between home and Boys Town kept his facade as a gay man safe from his reality. Though he didn’t make the transition often, he made it enough to easily slip into the nightclub without much of the usual anxiety he had in daylight.

Passing through the gothic arches of the premises, the collage of strobe lights, darkness, and thrashing beats smacked Rylan in the face – and he liked it. It was everything a vagabond adolescent dreaming of sexy figures slinking up and down poles could have wanted. The vibe was hot, the mood was infectious, and Rylan was – scratch that, should’ve been – on the prowl.

Instead, Rylan made his way to the bar, ordered a whiskey sour, and kept darting his eyes around the place, either avoiding every guy’s gaze who came his way or intensely looking for someone in particular. The drink came, the payment went, a soft slap on the ass from a stranger, and then –

There. In the thick of the dense, sweaty, sexy crowd.

The waves of his brown hair were unmistakable, especially when matched with his crooked smile. Their brief and random past aside, Rylan knew he needed to talk to him for real. He began to push through the throngs of men clad in neon tanks to enter the dancefloor. A bass-heavy remix of a Rihanna b-side seared through the air. He ignored the frequent “hellos” and hands grabbing him as he passed, not needing the attention of an essentially worthless one hour hook up. All he wanted was –

“Aiden.”

The object of his desire didn’t turn around, instead continuing to thrash with the rest of the crowd. Rylan put a hand on his shoulder, again shouting above the bass, “Aiden!”

The young man who wasn’t Aiden turned around in slight bewilderment of Rylan’s hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he shouted back, “what’d you say, handsome? I’m Grant.” The random pulled Rylan into a deeply unwanted hug, though the tight embrace did help Rylan’s heart from splintering any further than it had in the last three and a half seconds.

When Rylan didn’t reciprocate the name-sharing: “What’s your name, dude?”

“It was nice meeting you.”

He threw the rest of his drink back, dropped the glass on the floor, and awkwardly shuffled his way out of the crowd into the outside patio. Approaching this bar for round two, Rylan turned his head to find a barely familiar face from months ago. The one who called him Ryan Reynolds. His friend. Aiden’s.

“Hey.”

“Hey cutie, whatchoo doin’ here by yaself?”

“I was hoping someone I knew might be here.”

“Oh my goodness, I love a hot – oh, two vodka sodas please and thank you!” Davinia flashed the bartender a smile before drunkenly refocusing on Rylan’s depressed and increasingly sweaty figure. “I love a hot reunion! Who’s your man candy? He treatin’ you right? Why don’t choo hang with me and my crew…”

As she began to pull Rylan towards her squad for that inevitable Instagram, he sputtered through his anxiety to suddenly admit, “it’s Aiden! Your friend…you know…Aiden…”

Davinia whirled around so fast that the drag queens on either side were whiplashed with some serious hair trauma. “How you know my boy?”

Rylan, caught unaware by the woman’s sudden fierce protection, didn’t know how to be honest without coming off as Aiden’s personal, yet only sometimes, stalker. So he said the only thing that came to mind that was halfway sincere.

“I like him.”

The loyal friend un-narrowed her eyes. “Sorry, baby. I think you missed him.”

Rylan furrowed his brow in confusion as he kept his body thrashing to the hard beats around him, knowing he was only going to be disappointed by what he heard next.

~~~

Aiden

What the fuck was wrong with himself, he couldn’t figure out. Sliding down the slippery surface of the wet tiles of his shower that same night, Aiden realized that entire conversation with him at the walk had torturously revolved in his head for the past month and a half. No actual sight of him, though. Just constant visions of someone who wasn’t supposed to matter to him.

Aiden didn’t close his eyes as his shower head dumped tears on his skull, drops that stroked every inch of his weary face. He didn’t let himself succumb to actual crying. Instead, he focused all of his freefalling energy into watching a stereotypically confused ant climb up the tiles. It slipped every half second, but it kept trying.

Aiden wondered if the ant cared that it was incessantly failing at escaping its prison. Probably not, he thought. A fleeting flash of empathy afterwards proved that he desperately wanted the ant to care. So he could care. So he could get the fuck out.

The ant fell to the ledge of the far end of the shower. Just like it, the past month and a half of obsessing over a pathetic guy who couldn’t admit his own sexuality in this day and age was a freefall into his old ways. However, this time, suicide was not an option. Fran would be happy to know that suicide wasn’t anywhere close to being added to the list of ways to get Rylan out of Aiden’s head. Aiden, on the other hand, was livid. Rylan’s secrecy and clouded intentions irked him to no end, and knowing that stupidly dreaming of a future with such an attractive man who lied pushed him further towards the darkness he worked so hard to climb out of.

He was self-aware that he still hadn’t learned to communicate properly. Aiden knew he might probably feel better if he talked to Fran or another of his closer friends about what was in his mind. But the entire scenario felt pathetic. Small. He saw a guy twice in his life who was more question mark emoji than human. So what?

But Aiden was wired to know the truth at all costs. He couldn’t live without it. He wouldn’t live without it.

I need to know the truth, he thought as the ant finally regained its footing to try its Everest climb again. Aiden slowly reached up behind him to turn the shower knob off, then opened the door. The ant stumbled from the noise and movement but, though Aiden didn’t see it, still climbed its way out.

~~~

Rylan

Davinia pulled out her clearly used iPhone (fingerprints galore) and proceeded to pull up a webpage in Safari. Aiden’s blog. The most recent post read, “Hiatus.” “Here’s your proof. He’s moving to San Francisco for a bit. Taking some time for himself, which, if I know him at all after our days in college, the boy desperately needs.”

Rylan could only stare at that word: “Hiatus.”

“You okay, hon?”

Nope.

“But he’s coming back, yeah?”

“Ooh boy you got bit by some bug somehow someway! You glowin’!”

Rylan couldn’t help but smile. That’s how looking at Aiden made him feel…but this was so fucking stupid. Why was he standing here talking to a stranger about his feelings? He lost out. Again. Better to go back home to what he knows. Fiona. Her smile, her forever cherry-kissed breath. Emerald glinting eyes that crinkled when she laughed. Love he could never reciprocate.

Because he could never be honest with her.

With anyone.

No one would ever know him like Aiden did. And what does that say about himself, knowing Aiden knew him only two days out of his twenty-nine years of existence? But Aiden picked up on it all so quick, so fast. And Rylan couldn’t share one simple truth with him. It was so easy, and he blacklisted his own heart.

He then realized this is what the purest form of isolation felt like.

“I’m sorry, I have to go. Sorry I bothered you.”

“You okay, baby?”

Rylan bulleted. He needed to get the inevitable over with.

~~~

Fiona

Eyes opened on too bright windows because the curtains were never shut. Body rolled over to see no companion.

Rylan. Where was he?

Before she stepped out of bed with the energy of a teenager who took five miles jogs in the morning, Fiona stared at the vast space of vacant bed surrounding her. She knew Rylan so well after seven years together that she didn’t have to question him hanging out with the “crew” while she went to bed. Why should her early-rising nursing responsibilities have to prohibit him from having a social life? At the same time, did he have to go out so damn often?

Rylan was a restless soul. Fi knew that, and that’s what she loved about him. Having been born in Taiwan and living her life in six countries before having met Rylan and settling in California, she knew all too well that some people, including herself at one time, just needed to be out living. Just living. Doing whatever felt fulfilling.

Did it worry her that Ry seemed more restless than usual over the past couple months? Of course. She’d be stupid not to. He’d mentioned work-related stress in trying to move up the corporate ladder for the firm, coupled with a strong longing to return to his days of the art curating he did in Brooklyn. Fiona, however, thought she was doing the best she could to help him through that. To support him in whatever needs he might have.

Fi knew that she might be seen as whipped or overbearing to other couples, but she understood herself to simply be caring. Let a bitch take care of her boyfriend.

Which is why it was a bit ironic that she fell to her knees and immediately passed out when she stepped into the bathroom that morning to see Rylan bleeding out from his wrists. Both of their eyes locked on each other’s as they folded shut to subconsciousness.

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