David has spent almost a decade living with regrets, and he’s finally worked up the courage to right a wrong from years ago. Just as he’s reconciling with his twin brother, David gets another chance to fix a relationship he screwed up. Even though he bolted out of fear, David has never been able to forget the day he kissed his friend Michael. Now that Michael is in his life again, will David be able to make it up to him? Or is it too much to hope for another second chance?
David sprinkled more cheese on the breakfast casserole and then slid it back into the oven at a lower temperature. He moved to the island and began cutting up fruit to try to focus his energy. He hadn’t felt this unsettled in years. The last time he’d felt anything like what he was feeling now had been his first day of therapy four years ago. That day had been a new beginning, but at the time, it had seemed like the end. The doctor had been so concerned that he’d insisted David check himself in for one night. And one night had turned into a week as he finally let everything out, finally told someone what he’d been through. He and his estranged twin, Alex, had been texting for weeks, and they’d even talked on the phone a couple of times. But tonight … it terrified him.
He’s been open. And kind and patient, considering what I did. He wants us to work all of this out. It’s going to be fine.
Eight years ago, when Alex had confessed that he was gay, David had lost it in the worst possible way. He’d called his twin, his very best friend, a pervert before punching him twice and screaming for their mom. The rest of the day blurred in his mind even now. He’d become hysterical and demanded his parents kick Alex out. But instead, they’d gotten angry at David. He’d been bundled off to his grandmother’s house that very night, and as usual in their family, no real discussion had ever taken place. He’d only worked up the courage to tell his parents the truth about his reaction a few months ago. Tonight, he would finally tell Alex as well.
He dropped the knife because he was shaking. Part of him feared his brother would never completely forgive him. Never really love him again. Another part of him worried about how upset his brother would be once he knew the truth.
The doorbell rang, and David jumped, grabbing the island and cutting his palm on the knife he’d dropped so carelessly. He cried out and grabbed for the roll of paper towels.
“David?” called a muffled voice from the other side of the door.
“Coming!” David rushed over and pulled the door open with his left hand. “Hey, come in,” he said, trying to sound cheerful but knowing he failed at it.
Alex’s gaze went straight to his injured hand. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Just cut myself.”
Alex reached for his hand and pulled the paper towel away. “It’s not bad. You got bandages or whatever?”
“Yeah. Hall bathroom. Under the sink.”
Alex went down the hall and soon returned with the little First Aid kit. He took David by the elbow and guided him to the living room, pushing him to a seat on the couch. And then he was cleaning David’s cut and dressing it, as if there wasn’t eight years of baggage sitting there between them.
“I’m sorry,” David said as he felt tears prick at the back of his eyes. “Those words sound meaningless. Like nothing. They can’t … they just can’t make up for what I did.”
“No, words can’t,” Alex said softly as he looked at his work. “But words are where we need to start.” Alex let go of his hand and gazed up at him, waiting.
Preparing himself for rejection, David said, “I love you. But I don’t blame you if you don’t believe that. Or if you no longer love me. I abandoned you. Hurt you. I ruined everything.”
Alex’s eyes revealed nothing. “You could’ve found me any time you wanted.”
“I have to tell you why.”
“Why what? Why you rejected me when I said I was gay? Hit me and called me a pervert? Ran away and never once tried to contact me?”
“Yeah. That’s why I wanted us to sit down face to face. Alone.” His vision began to blur so he fumbled around to grab a tissue from the table behind the couch.
Alex studied him as he wiped his eyes. “Are you sick?”
“Are you sick? Dying? You’re shaking. Seem scared. I haven’t seen you cry since we were like seven.”
“No. This isn’t about getting my affairs in order or some twelve-step program. It’s about what I did. And why.” He took a breath and tried to push back the tears. “I’ve kept two secrets from you. From everyone. I just told mom and dad a while ago. That’s when mom gave me your phone number.” He settled back on the couch and clutched a pillow, needing something to ground him. “I would get my phone out and stare at it. When I saw you in the park that day, smiling and laughing and looking so happy, I got dizzy. Made myself go over. Yet I was in a daze. No idea what to say or do.” He met his twin’s gaze. “And I know it was painful. Awkward. I was a wreck the rest of the day. Had to go home instead of going back to work.”
“Yeah, it was pretty bad. I was fucked up the rest of the day. Didn’t go back to work myself.” Alex tilted his head. “What are these secrets? You look like you need to tell me before you throw up or something.”
David laughed, the sound broken and nervous. He felt pretty damn sure he would throw up soon. “I … I’m …” He groaned and shut his eyes before blurting out. “I’m gay, too. But I knew when we were fifteen.”
The silence was stifling, and David made himself open his eyes. Alex sat motionless, staring down at the couch cushion between them. After nearly a minute, Alex licked his lips and asked, “What’s the other secret?” He took a deep breath and added, more harshly, “What in the fuck could be bigger than that?”
“I didn’t tell you or anyone else because of something that happened.” He paused as he tried to think of the best way to start. “Do you remember … Eric Draker?”
Alex looked up at him and nodded. “Yeah. Why?”
“He caught me looking at him one day. He got me to admit I was checking him out. Everyone knew what our parents were like. So conservative and exacting. If I’d known they’d be more open minded. If I’d had any idea they would be okay with me being gay, the way they were the night you came out, then what happened next would never have happened.”
“What happened?” Alex said, sounding breathless. His anger seemed to shift a bit. “David … what did that asshole do?”
Bile came up David’s throat, and his stomach lurched. “Hang on.” He bolted up and ran to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before he vomited.
A few minutes later, he sat back on the bathroom floor and looked over to see his brother sitting on the edge of the tub looking worried. Alex stood and dampened a facecloth before handing it to David.
“I always hated that guy. Knew there was something fucked up about him.” Alex’s fists clenched. “Tell me what he did to you.”
David leaned his head back against the cool tile of the wall. “He said he’d tell mom and dad I was gay. Convinced me they’d kick me out. Hate me. That you’d hate me. That everyone at school would look at me funny. That I wouldn’t be allowed to be on the basketball team or be allowed in the locker room. All kinds of shit.”
Silence fell again. Alex inched closer and touched David’s shoulder. “I’m no expert here, but you’ll feel better if you get it all out.”
“When I told them, Mom cried. Dad got angry. Said he’d have gone right to Eric’s parents if he were still alive.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “He’s dead?”
“Yeah. I had no idea until the night I told them. He killed himself apparently. Up in New York. Over four years ago. The family tried to hide it, but word spread eventually.”
“Might be best. I’ve got a feeling I’d have ended up hunting him down after tonight.”
An odd smell hit David. “Shit, the food’s burning.” He tried to get up, but Alex shook his head.
“I’ll get it.” He left the room and came back a minute later. “Cooking my favorite, huh?”
“Yeah. It ruined?”
Alex shrugged one shoulder. “Cheese got a bit crispy on top. Doesn’t matter. I don’t think I can eat.”
“Yeah, me either.”
Alex sat back down on the edge of the tub. “Can you keep going?”
Slowly, David nodded. “He said he’d keep quiet if I’d be his boyfriend. His secret boyfriend. So I said yes. I liked him, thought he was hot. We would meet when we could. Fool around. Before long we started fucking.” David took a deep breath and looked up. “I know what you were probably thinking when I first started this. That he raped me. But that wasn’t it. The abuse was emotional. Psychological. Things were good when we were touching. He never hit me, was never too rough. But the moment it was over, he changed. We didn’t talk much. Didn’t do things together. And then one day, I went to our secret place and found him with a girl. Fucking her. She was riding him, straddling his lap. And they were kissing.” He paused and took a breath, trying not to go back to that moment. He’d worked too hard to get past it. “At that moment, I realized Eric had never kissed me. Not once. It was always me sucking him or jerking him off. Or him fucking me. I’d been so excited about doing things with a guy that I didn’t even notice how he was treating me.”
“How long had it been going on?” Alex asked.
David looked up, knowing Alex was going to be shocked. “Almost two years. I caught him like a month before you told me you were gay.” He sat up a bit more. “I went to his house the day after I’d caught him with her. Told him what I’d seen. And he laughed. I thought he’d slipped up, but no. He’d wanted me to see. Wanted me to know that, once he got some pussy, he wouldn’t need me anymore.” He shifted his weight on the floor. “He called me every homophobic name in the book. Called me a whore. A pervert. Said I was disgusting for letting myself be fucked. An idiot for thinking two guys could do anything more than get each other off.”
Alex actually lowered himself to the floor and looked David right in the eye. “I want to ask why you didn’t tell me, but I’m too astonished.”
“Yes. At the fact you were able to keep it from me. You were having sex. Secretly meeting someone. A guy we never hung out with. And I saw nothing. Knew nothing.”
“We were careful. Met maybe three or four times a month. I was scared of being caught.”
“But … two fucking years!” Alex yelled.
David winced. “Are you mad?” The question sounded idiotic, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Yes! At him!” He closed his eyes, groaning. “And you.” Opening his eyes, he shook his head as he looked down at the floor. “Fuck.”
When Alex didn’t say anything else, David said, “I didn’t love him. I wasn’t that dumb. I knew it was just sex, yet … I guess I thought he felt a little something for me. The way I did for him. Going to Gran’s after my freak out was actually a good thing. Seeing him every day was making me crazy. And you paid the price for it. By the time I had my head on straight, it had been almost two weeks. I was scared to see you. To see mom or dad. I didn’t want to come home. And that’s why I picked a college as far away as possible. I just…” David closed his eyes.
“Ran away,” Alex said, his voice harsh and full of pain.
David opened his eyes. “Yeah.”
Alex took him by the shoulders and jerked him up into an awkward hug. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you fucking tell me? I’d have killed that piece of shit.” One hand tightened against David’s back. “I’d have helped you deal with it.”
David clutched at his twin when he felt him shaking, soon realizing they were both shaking. “I don’t know. The longer I waited, the harder it seemed.” He let out a shuddered breath. “I’m sorry.”
Alex let him go and looked at him, wiping at his own tears. “I’m pretty angry with you right now. We lost all those years. We were both hurting. And we didn’t need to.”
“I know you’re hurt. By everything. But I want to make it up to you. Somehow. Some day. As long as it takes.”
Alex sat back on his heels. “I don’t even know what to say. I can’t stay tonight.”
“That’s okay. I doubt either of us could eat anyway.” He cleared his throat. “I know I just dropped a lot on you. And I’m not making excuses. Just trying to explain what was going on with me.” He reached out and took his brother’s hand. “What I did was wrong. And I know it. All of it was wrong. The secrets. Staying away. I’ve been in therapy for four years. All the doctors have been pushing for this. What I just did.”
“I can’t keep talking right now.” Alex drew his hand away. “I need to go, okay?”
David nodded, simply glad Alex wasn’t yelling at him. There seemed to be hope for them, a hope he’d felt building these last weeks as they slowly tried to reestablish their relationship through random texts and awkward phone calls. “I understand.”
Alex stood up. “You okay? To be alone, I mean?”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. I’ll call you. In a few days. Maybe we can try tonight again.”
Alex exited the room, but then he came back. “I love you, too,” he said in a low voice. “But it’s gonna be hard to really trust you now.”
David nodded. “Got it.”
Alex gave a slight nod and then rushed from the apartment, the door slamming behind him.
David made himself get up. He washed his hands and face, and then he forced himself to go back into the kitchen. He covered the casserole and slid the fruit in the fridge and then leaned on the counter, staring at the tiles. Relief washed over him, even as he still felt a flutter of nerves deep in his stomach. Everything was out in the open now, and the future was in Alex’s hands.
I don’t blame him for not trusting me. I don’t deserve his trust. Or his love.