“Hey, what about you?” Ally asks before taking a bite of her slice of pizza. They’re sitting in her living room after her trip to DC, going over the list of her exes again and reminiscing about all of the ones who turned out to be a bust.
Colin raises an eyebrow, waiting for her to continue. “What about me?”
“You got a ‘Julie from college’ in your past? As many conquests as you’ve had, any of them with guys?”
“Yeah.” Colin sighs and takes a deep breath as memories flood through him. Warm brown eyes, long, slender fingers sliding over his skin, the way he’d bite his lower lip when he was concentrating, the crinkle around his eyes when he smiled. The taste of his kiss. “Yeah, there was a guy. We were at Berklee together.”
“Ah, yours was during college too, huh?” Ally ribs, but Colin ignores it.
“Yeah. He played piano and I played guitar. It was a veritable match made in heaven.” Colin forces himself to smile in an attempt to deflect. God, he hadn’t been prepared for this. All those feelings, the hurt, the loss, the love, he’d thought he’d pushed it down far enough, thought he’d moved on. Turns out, it’s all just been simmering beneath the surface.
“What happened?” Ally bumps his foot with hers in an attempt to regain his attention.
Colin takes a long swig of his beer before he replies. He remembers the tears in his mother’s eyes, the angry look on his dad’s face when he’d showed up at their house for a family dinner with TJ in tow. He remembers the sting of his father’s words – “I haven’t been busting my ass all these years, working all that overtime to put you through your fancy music school just to have you come home and be a faggot!” – and the sound of his mother, sobbing, as she tried to hold his father back. Remembers the look on TJ’s face just before he’d turned and fled, remembers watching TJ leave and wanting to follow, wanting so badly to follow, but not having the nerve to disappoint his family. Can still hear himself telling his parents TJ was just a friend, that he’s not like that, that he won’t spend time with him anymore.
“I fucked it up. Things got tough and I – I fucked it up.”
“You ever think about looking him up, making things right? Maybe giving it another try?”
He peels idly at the label on the bottle. Yeah, he’d thought about it. Had thought about it so many times, had made plans. Had gone all the way to DC once before he’d chickened out again. And then it had been easier to not think about it anymore, to push the thought away. To let time heal the wound, as the saying goes. Not that it had ever worked.
And then it had been too late. He’d waited too long.
“Not an option.” He drains the bottle, grimaces at the bitter taste swilling in his mouth.
“Aw, don’t be like that, Colin. You clearly still have feelings for him, and maybe now enough time has passed and you can work it out.”
“It doesn’t work like that for everyone, Ally. Some flames can’t be rekindled.”
“How do you know that for sure?”
Colin gets up, drops his empty bottle into the recycling bin. He opens the fridge, takes out a new bottle. Sets it down on the table and heads to the couch instead, where he picks up his guitar and starts plucking out the chords of “Iris.” They’d gone to see City of Angels together, early on in their relationship-or-whatever-it-had-been, and they’d laid out on the grass in the Commons afterwards, talking about life and their dreams and music and everything yet nothing at all, and kissing and touching and watching the sun come up.
“I can’t look him up and set things right.” He hits the string too hard and the noise reverberates through the room. He hasn’t played that song in almost ten years.
He knows it’s not his fault. He and TJ hadn’t seen each other in years by the time it happened, and TJ had always had a weakness for controlled substances. But Colin’s never quite been able to shake the feeling that maybe if he had gone to find TJ, if he’d gone after TJ that day instead of staying with his family like the coward he is, that maybe TJ wouldn’t have fallen into that downward spiral.
That maybe they could have been happy together.
And there they are, flashing through his memory – all those headlines, the BREAKING NEWS tickers on every. single. news. channel.
PRESIDENT’S SON FOUND UNCONSCIOUS IN NIGHT CLUB.
Hammond son overdoses.
TJ Hammond dead.