Part 5: Midnight

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“The Untitled CRoys Project”

Aiden

In just one week after moving, euphoria became tangible.

Happiness was his, but once he ignored Fran’s text about Rylan and simply lived his life without anxiety clouding every decision, he felt euphoria. Walking down the street to an insanely small bookstore and finding a childhood favorite. Smoking weed with Tom and his friends over a rowdy game of Cards Against Humanity. Looking in the mirror and not judging himself or knowing anything the day would bring: All euphoria.

Right now, however, this current moment of euphoria was a result of six – yes, literally six – shots of fireball coursing through Aiden’s esophagus in a matter of five minutes.

He hadn’t the faintest idea when he was last so carelessly and happily inebriated. Tom brought Aiden to a pregame with some friends who seemed to have never heard of the word ‘anxiety.’ They laughed, they made each other drinks, they danced about, and they told heartfelt drunken stories of their childhood. Though Aiden used to go out with work colleagues often, he hadn’t ever really experienced such camaraderie.

After the sixth fireball, Aiden blurted, “Part of me still wishes I had tried hetero sex when I was younger. You know? Hindsight.”

Tom’s best San Fran friend, Cassie, in all her black leather outfit glory, gasped, “You still think about vaginas?!”

Tom snorted, causing a ripple of snorts from the others in Cassie’s apartment where they currently sprawled for the evening. Aiden joined in, slightly embarrassed from his admission but mostly amused by his inability to control his randomized thoughts.

Perhaps it was because he was no longer constantly thinking and writing about his own journey – instead deciding to just live it – but he felt much more at ease sharing his life stories with these strangers. Even though Tom knew more of his life since they became friends, Aiden felt a closeness with him he didn’t realize was probably always there, just hindered by his hundreds of emotional walls.

So maybe not thinking about his sister, his problems, his personal writing, Rylan, or dating was considered running away after all. But honestly, Aiden didn’t give a flying fuck. He was twenty-seven years old and he deserved five seconds of freedom for once in his troubled life.

“I was going to suggest a gay bar, but maybe we gotta get Aiden laid in an old fashioned strip club,” Tom mused.

“Let’s just prostitute him on the street,” another, Peter, suggested. “More cost-effective.”

Cassie shot a hand in the air. “Hell, I haven’t been laid in a week so he can have me!” She made a flirtatious grab at Aiden’s ass, though instinct forced him to flinch in response. He masked it with a big smile.

The fourth friend, Jess, emerged from the bathroom having provided ample volume to her hair for the night. “Why are we standing around? Let’s move, people!” She began to push the group out the door. Tom and Aiden were the last to leave, but as Aiden closed the door behind him, Tom whirled around and got close to Aiden’s face. His smooth cinnamon scent from the fireball snuck around Aiden’s being, impossible to avoid.

“Hey.”

Aiden raised an eyebrow. “Hey.”

“Just making sure – you okay to go out?”

The suicide survivor half-smiled and pushed past his friend, ready to never admit he was deeply grateful his former nemesis was looking after him. “Probably not. That’s the point, though, isn’t it?”

~~~

Perhaps it was the oddly frigid Bay Area air, but the brisk aura surrounding the city seemed to sync with the Dentyne Ice level of fresh start Aiden felt after moving. Even the material logistics of him dodging out of his Los Angeles life, such as telling the company that he needed to take a leave of absence, weren’t weighing him down. His boss happily preyed upon the social media opportunities that awaited his viral writer in Nor Cal. Aiden had no intention of blogging on his “journey” for the time being, but there was no reason he couldn’t interview and report on the same issues in a new location. There were people who wanted to be heard, and Aiden’s captive audience could be the ear to those voices.

Five honestly not very long but very inebriated hours after the pregame, the only voice Aiden heard, was his own as he huffed up five flights of steep stairs and whipped the door open to Tom’s dark apartment. Tom had departed from the group to hit up a frequent lover from a staple bar in the Castro, despite complaining about the emotional tug of war it always initiated. Aiden was about to close the door behind him when he jutted his head into the hallway. The surrounding silence made him feel too uneasy, as if he was the only one awake in the city. Suddenly lonely and left behind as he always seemed to end up.

He slurred, “Hello?”

The subsequent lack of anything that happened next spurred him to step into the hallway. Trying again, he whispered more urgently, “Hello…”

Suddenly the stairwell door to Aiden’s immediate left swung open, and into his arms stumbled a taller man with facial hair Aiden knew he would be decidedly less attractive without (intoxication goggles aside).

“Hey you,” the man named Kyle murmured as he swooped his hands around Aiden’s face to plant a sweet kiss. “Sorry, phone fell and ran down the stairs away from me.”

“I get it, I get it,” Aiden dramatically sighed. “You don’t want to hook up with someone ugly but the boner in your pants demanded otherwise.”

“Fuck, not at all, I swear –“

“I was kidding, idiot. Get inside so I can have you.”

Aiden felt a new kind of euphoria from his assertion with Kyle, who he had met while helping Tom’s friend Jess off a table (Kyle had so generously offered to help with the step down, though Aiden knew his true intention was just an introduction). The constant elated sensations since discovering his San Francisco freedom worried him a bit, though. Was he actually becoming free from his anxiety or was this all a placeholder for the moment reality sucked him into his own black hole? Aiden didn’t trust his happiness to last long, though he was making sure to have it be worthwhile before the eventual crash.

Before he’d be alone again.

And then, the next Aiden knew, he and Kyle were unclothed as one entity in Tom’s guest bed. Their eyesight connected, neither closing their eyes to the sensuality between them. Kyle pushed in to lock lips, but in one flash of a moment Aiden felt his own presence melt away. He buried his face in Kyle’s shoulder, hoping to hide the fact his expression desperately gave away Aiden’s need for Kyle to get the fuck out of the apartment.

“You are so fucking hot,” moaned the stranger.

Aiden gifted him a weak moan in return. What the fuck was he honestly doing in bed with someone he didn’t know? There wasn’t a point. The morning would only consist of a half-assed handjob before the stranger went on his no-harm-no-foul way. The passion between the two was completely fabricated, an inaccurate sense of romance. This right here was simple human instinct – primal, selfish, and, as a result, isolating.

The stranger would bounce in the morning without a care, leaving Aiden bereft of some amount of love he had just fucked away.

Ever the drunk gentleman, the stranger helped Aiden finish before finishing himself. No matter the crowding thoughts in his mind, Aiden didn’t have it in his heart to kick the stranger out. Instead, he wordlessly stared into the stranger’s eyes while holding him close, letting the fantasy of sharing his bed with Rylan slowly melt over his reality.

In the morning, the stranger attempted to wake a fake-asleep Aiden to grab  breakfast. Aiden’s middle school theater background came in handy as the stranger believed his farce and gave up, departing the apartment after leaving a business card behind on Aiden’s nightstand. Aiden slowly opened one eye to reach for the card, but decided against it and rolled over.

His week of euphoria was over.

~~~

Fran

Not having Aiden’s and her parents to rely on for support, Fran was knee-deep in worry for her brother. Aiden had been gone for about a week and a half, and she hadn’t heard a peep from him since. His Instagram was blowing up with tourist-y images galore, but nary a word in edgewise as to how he was actually surviving.

And Fran was livid about it.

After all the fucking bullshit she had to deal with on an almost daily basis for the past God-knows-how-many years, Fran expected one fucking update or at least a fucking hello. Was this the extravagant gratitude she was going to receive for helping Aiden save his own life years ago – an almost-Irish goodbye?

As Fran slipped out of the hospital to pick up Chase from his play-date, she realized half of the truth rooted in the fact Aiden was one-third of her life, her son  and herself being the final pieces of the pie chart. Without Aiden, she didn’t perpetually feel as if she needed to keep tabs on his emotions and mental state. That’s not to say she didn’t want to, hence her rage over being cut off. She wanted to know everything that was happening to him, everything that seemed to be making him so happy six hours north. Fran felt left out, left behind with her beautiful child and soulless parents. Stuck with the life Aiden no longer wanted to be a part of.

Observing Chase in the backseat of the car as she drove back to the hospital, Fran wondered if Chase cared at all that Uncle Aiden hadn’t been around to horribly-but-cutely rap fairytales to him. It was by far Chase’s favorite moment of the week, something that kept Fran subtly always jealous at Aiden’s ability to be good with kids in ways she wasn’t; but Chase hadn’t inquired about Aiden once. She wished she had his innocence again. A clean slate.

Fran clutched her son’s delicate hand as they walked into the building. She gave it a bit of a squeeze as flashes of her fight with Aiden popped into her head.

“You’re not going to get the clarity you need! You’re tired of the fight, that’s it. That’s no excuse to pack up and forgo your life!”

“Maybe because I’m the only one doing what we both wanted – get out of this soul-sucking vortex of loneliness away from our family and that fucker who knocked you up.”

“Don’t you fucking dare, Aiden. Don’t you dare say that to me after all I’ve been through for you.”

“Then fucking come with me!”

“Aiden, don’t you get it? We don’t get to be clean again –“

“Mommy?” Chase’s munchkin voice interrupted Fran’s sad memory.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“You didn’t push the button.”

Fran quickly glanced around her, unaware they were standing in the elevator going nowhere. “Oh, I’m so silly. Don’t you want to push the button?”

Chase ran behind his mother, pulling on her scrubs in fear. “No, Mommy, no! I don’t like them.”

The mother humorously sighed for her son’s sake. This fear of elevator buttons had recently come out of nowhere. She still amused by every irrational fear children concocted out of thin air. “How come, baby? Why don’t you like them?”

His muffled answer was spoken into his clothes.

“I can’t hear you, silly goose!”

Chase whimpered. “…Lots of people touch them. They’re dirty.”

Of course. The latest phobia of all things dirty came courtesy of an insane television commercial for Mr. Clean, where the dust came to life as miniature pigs. And Chase did not like pigs. Not at all.

The two of them debated the cleanliness of elevator buttons and how they could overcome this truly serious impediment as Fran brought Chase to the daycare. She left him on the crucial point that all dirty items could probably be cleaned someway, somehow. Chase kissed his mother goodbye, and Fran made her way back to the elevator despite having work to do on her current floor.

She pressed the button for the first floor. A serene woman stated, “Emergency Room.”

Fran exited the elevator, heading down the hall and stopping at an occupied bed space. There, an Asian woman and a man stood over the exhausted, fragile man with tubes attached to his body. Calmly, she asked the duo if she could check the man’s vitals in silence. They solemnly exited, and Fran pulled the space’s curtain around her. She took in the hospitalized man who was breathing steadily in his unconscious state…until one of his eye’s hinged open.

Fran placed her hand on his. “Rylan. Hi.”

“…Hi.”

“My name is Fran. I’m Aiden’s sister.”

Rylan rose to consciousness probably much more quickly out of shock than he should, causing him to violently thrash.

“Rylan, please, it’s okay. Don’t do this. I want to help you.”

He thrashed a bit more, but grew tired as his moaning subsided. His darkened eyes met Fran’s, terrified as he realized the variables and unknowns of his future were rapidly multiplying.

Fran gripped his hand. “I want to help you,” she breathed. “And I need you to help me.”

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