Just a reminder that I'm doing a top 20 bodybuilders of 2018 list on my Twitter page throughout the month. Here's how the list is looking so far...
#20. Brad Rowe
#19. Adolf Burkhard
#18. Elliot Dermond
#17. Derek Lunsford
#16. Igor Illes
#15. Steve Kuclo
Final part of the story coming very soon!
I put the key in my front door, praying that my mum wouldn’t catch me coming back home. Because I’m pretty sure she’d be able to tell that I’d been crying. And she’d definitely know that something was wrong. The coast was clear. But as I rushed up the stairs to my room, my mum came out of the kitchen and started saying something to me. I ignored her, shut my bedroom door, threw my switched off phone on the bed settee in the corner of my room that me and AJ used to sleep on during our sleepovers when we were younger and collapsed onto my bed.
I was no longer angry. All I could feel was like this incredible sadness. It was like a huge black veil had been draped over my world. Curled up facing my wall, I could barely move my head, let alone lift it from the pillow. I felt like I was lying at the bottom of this huge pit, and I had no desire or energy to try and claw my way out. I just wanted to stay there lying in the darkness.
Not long after lying down I fell asleep. It was the sound of Little Cat crying at my door that eventually woke me up. I let her in and she pounced on my bed, meowing and rubbing up against my legs and eventually curling into me. I had no idea what the time was or how long I’d been asleep for. I didn’t really care.
I wondered if AJ had tried to call me again. Or had left me any messages. I was almost scared at the prospect of switching my phone back on to see. I just wanted to block everything out. Put everything on pause for a while. But I knew that was impossible, because all of these thoughts were running through my head, and they wouldn’t stop.
I kept thinking about AJ with Dale, the beautiful, olive skinned muscle guy he’d been with the night before. How Dale had tracked AJ down on Facebook and arranged to come up and go out with him in town while I’d been on my work experience placement in London.
What had they talked about on Facebook? Had they spoken about me? And what exactly had they done on that night out? Had AJ been comparing Dale to me? Comparing what our bodies looked liked naked? Had Dale done things to AJ that I hadn’t? Made AJ feel a way I couldn’t?
Even though I hated Dale for what he’d done, on some twisted, fucked up level, I couldn’t really blame him for wanting to track AJ down. It wasn’t every day that a ridiculously gorgeous, junior competitive bodybuilder strolled into a gay pub, bronzed up and bulging out of his tight, white t-shirt.
Dale, and the two other muscle guys he was with had probably almost fainted when they’d first spotted him. The other two had even tried to entice us back to theirs. Mr Olive Skin had probably had a flash of inspiration when he’d gotten home, jumped on his laptop and found AJ on Facebook. The profile picture of him flexing out a most muscular with his mouth open, shredded and bronzed on stage, sticking out from all of the other AJ’s that had popped up in the search results.
And as much as I hated Dale, for being rude to me in the pub, for tracking AJ down online, for presumably lying about visiting friends in town, just so he could see AJ again, and telling him that shagging him behind his boyfriend’s back was “no big deal” because, apparently, that’s what gay guys do, like a sneaky fucking cunt, I knew that if it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else.
Some other hot muscle guy eager to snap AJ up and steal him away from me, just like I’d predicted would happen the night we were out in London. I just never imagined it would happen this soon. And this easily. While AJ was still very much living in Little Denton. One fucking trip to one gay pub in London and our relationship was fucked.
I kept thinking about what AJ had said about whatever had happened between the two of them. That he was drunk. That it was “barely anything“. That it hadn’t changed the way he felt about me. I kept thinking about how scared and sorry he’d looked. And maybe he regretted what he’d done with Dale? Maybe it was just nothing more than sex? From the way AJ spoke, I got the feeling that that was the case.
But if Dale hadn’t made him feel anything, what about the next beautiful muscle guy who pursued and enticed AJ? Or the next guy after that? How long would it take for AJ to fall for someone else the way he’d fallen for me? Someone who was more suited to AJ than I was? A beautiful, A-List gay with a perfect muscle body, and an amazing personality to match. Maybe AJ and I were just never going to last that long? Maybe someone like me could never really be with someone like AJ Jones? Maybe the universe just wouldn’t allow it?
But above all else, what hurt the most, was not what would happen, but what AJ had already done with Dale. I still wasn’t sure whether AJ was in love with me. I knew his feelings went way beyond anything he’d known. He’d told me that. I remembered his text to Naomi. He makes me feel things I’ve never felt before. And yet, he’d still gone behind my back and met Dale. Even if he hadn't planned to do anything, which I’m not sure I entirely believe, he’d still lied to me about who he was going out with. He clearly knew on some level that what he was doing wasn’t right.
Maybe there was a deeper reason why AJ had done it? Maybe he was scared of his feelings for me? Maybe I’d been too full on the weekend before, worrying about what was going to happen in the future and when I’d gone back to university? Maybe AJ had subconsciously wanted to fuck things up because it was just easier that way? Or maybe he also knew that, deep down, someone like him wasn’t supposed to be with someone like me?
A gentle knock on the door pulled me out of my thoughts. “Noah?” Fuck. My mum cautiously opened the door. “What are you doing?” she asked, gently.
“I just fell asleep!” I said, irritably.
“Is everything alright?”
“YES!” I snapped.
My mum wasn’t stupid. I was lying on my bed with the light switched off. Of course everything wasn’t alright. I expected her to leave the room, but she wasn’t moving. She was just hovering over the bed looking at me.
“What?!” I said, lifting my head off the pillow again and looking at her.
“Do you think I don’t know my own son?” she said, calmly.
And then she did something I didn’t expect. She put her hand on my leg and for some reason, my eyes watered instantly. I covered my face straight away and did everything I could to hold it in. I couldn’t stand the thought of my mum seeing me cry. I didn’t know why. I think that I wanted my mum to think I was this super strong person. Maybe then she wouldn’t worry about me so much when I wasn’t safe in my bedroom in Little Denton? Because as much as parents want to protect you, they can’t protect you from everything. It’s impossible. They can’t prevent you from meeting people who will hurt you, whether intentionally or not. And they definitely can’t stop you from having your heart broken.
“I don’t know why you always keep things from me, Noah!” she said, sitting down on the bed next to my legs.
I groaned, and took my hands away. I knew my face was a bit blotchy, but at least I’d managed to keep most of the tears in. “Because … your my mum! It’s weird talking to you about certain stuff!”
“Well you don’t have to tell me all the gory details!”
I rolled my eyes. “What do you wanna know?”
She still look concerned, but her face had softened. I could tell she was excited about what was unfolding. “Have you got a boyfriend?” she asked, with a little smile.
“Ugh!” I rolled my eyes. “Sort of!” I honestly didn’t know whether I still had a boyfriend or not.
Her next question surprised me. “Has he done something to upset you?”
“Yep!” I said, a little frostily.
“Is it worth arguing over?”
“YES!” I said, defiantly.
“Fancy spag bol for tea?” she said. Apparently she’d found out everything she’d wanted.
“Go on then!” I said.
She stood up from the bed, and Little Cat lifted her head up and jumped off to follow her. “Try not to wallow too much!” she said, in a light tone.
My mum clearly didn’t understand the scale of what had happened, but that comment still made me smile a little. In fact, I was feeling considerably better than I had done after the chat with my mum.
Before she walked out of the room, she paused to ask me one more question. “This boyfriend. It’s AJ isn’t it?”
I lay my head back on the pillow. I was suddenly too embarrassed to look at her. I didn’t say anything. “I’m gonna take that as a yes!” she said. And just before she walked out, I glanced over and caught her face, which was suddenly wearing this pleased grin. I could barely believe it. I was convinced that my mum hadn’t suspected that something was going on between me and AJ. Clearly I’d been wrong.
I decided I couldn’t ignore reality for much longer. My stomach clenched tightly as I switched on my phone. It was funny though. I’d been okay with ignoring AJ, but as my phone loaded up, I was suddenly really anxious to find out whether he’d tried to get in touch. As suspected, he had. In fact, he’d sent a series of texts, dating back to two hours before. Right around the time I’d left his house.
“Noah come back.”
“I’m sorry! Please talk to me!”
“Just let me know you’re OK.”
UGH! I threw my phone on the bed in anger. Of fucking course I’m not OK, I thought. I decided that I wasn’t going to let him know anything. He could just sit there and fucking squirm.
Ignoring AJ was surprisingly easy, even when he text me the next day to ask if we could talk. I even took a little comfort in knowing that I hadn’t done anything wrong. Knowing it was all him. AJ was the one in the wrong. He was the one who’d fucked up. Even though it hurt like hell. Even though I felt like I’d never be happy again.
There were moments over the next few days when I questioned what I was doing. Brief occasions where doubt set in and I wondered if there was just the slightest possibility that I was overreacting. I mean, I got it. A lot of gay couples do mess about with other guys. And it’s no big deal as far as they’re concerned.
And if they’ve chosen to do that, and both parties are happy with the arrangement, then that’s great for them. But for me, I wasn’t sure such a thing would work. I was in love with AJ, so why would I want to be with anyone else? How could the rush of any quick blow job with a random guy in the toilets of a club compare to having sex with the man I knew and loved and worshipped?
“Oooh, he’s finally come out of his room!” my mum said one afternoon as I was getting a drink from the kitchen. I rolled my eyes and said nothing. I really wasn’t in the mood.
“Can I just ask you a question?” she asked, cautiously.
“What?” I replied.
“Whatever AJ has done, is it worse than what that Reece Miller did to you at school?”
I scoffed. “YES!”
She narrowed her eyes. “Hmmm. Well did AJ say he was sorry?”
I looked at her in confusion. “Yeah?!” I replied, like that would make any difference.
“Well, that’s something!” she said.
What a stupid comment to make. Whether he was sorry or not was completely beside the point. An apology didn’t excuse what he’d done.
“I’m just saying,” my mum began. “That Reece Miller never apologised for telling everyone at school that you were gay, did he?”
I could sort of see her point. Reece, who was supposed to be my best friend, fucked me over and felt no remorse. But I’d always kind of known that he was a prick anyway. AJ on the other hand. He was sweet and good hearted and genuinely cared about me. He’d done one bad thing and was sorry for it. To be honest, though, I wasn’t really sure what was worse.
Over the following days I continued to ignore AJ. I was still so hurt by what he’d done, but as more time passed, I began to miss him. I kept thinking about everything that had happened over the previous few months. Even right up to a week and a half earlier when we’d been in London together. That amazing weekend in London.
I started to miss being cuddled up to him on his bed. I started to miss our cute, funny Facebook messages. Joking with him about me being a future shredded muscle freak. I started to miss being sat next to him in his car. I started to miss kissing him, the way he made me feel and the person I was when I was with him. Possibly the best version of myself there’s ever been.
I started wondering how he’d been doing. Imagining his mates at Scorpio’s and his concerned work colleagues at Tesco asking him if he was okay, because he didn’t seem like his usual self. I pictured him lying on his bed feeling down about what had happened. Regretting what he’d done and feeling awful that he’d hurt me. Wondering if and when I was going to reply to his texts.
And what if all this was just pushing him away? Surely there would be a point where AJ would give up? Where his pride would get the better of him and he’d stop trying to get in contact with me. God, maybe he’d even start texting Dale? Maybe he was doing that already?
I thought about the conversation I’d had with him in the hotel room in London about giving up on him too easily when we’d stopped being friends all those years ago. Was that what I was doing now?
There was one thing that I knew I could do to try and attempt to make myself feel better. One thing that had happened over the summer that I could try and put right. So one afternoon, while still ignoring AJ, I sat on my bed, picked up my phone and scrolled to a contact I hadn’t used for a while. Someone who I’d actively, and wrongly, been ignoring for weeks, and composed a text.
“Hey Eddie. I hope you’re okay. I know I haven’t been in touch for a while and I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry for that. You are such a great guy and we had some really fun nights together but if I’m being completely honest, I met someone else. I didn’t expect it to happen. And it took me by complete surprise. I guess it was just easier to ignore you, which I know was really wrong and (again) I really am sorry for that. I understand if you don’t want to talk to me again, but I thought you deserved an explanation. x”
As soon I pressed send, this huge wave of relief washed over me. I knew I’d done Eddie wrong, but maybe this would help to make up for it? Or at least make him think that I was a little less of a dick than he probably already did. I kind of had a feeling that Eddie would reply to my text. I wasn’t wrong. Not five minutes after I’d text him, his response came through.
“Hey Noah. Wow. Good to hear from you. Well I won’t lie, I was pretty gutted when I didn’t hear back from you, but hey, these things happen and I guess we didn’t know each other for that long. But I think you’re a great guy too, and I’m not really surprised that you met someone. I mean, you’re so fucking sweet and endearing. (And handsome too - obviously!) Whoever he is, he’s a lucky guy. I guess you’ll be going back to uni soon, but maybe we can still be friends? x”
I felt a huge wave of warmth as I looked at Eddie’s text. He really was a great guy. And even though being friends with him seemed like a really nice idea, I had a feeling that that wasn’t going to happen. That once I’d gone back to university, we’d lose touch. Still, I did what was expected and replied to Eddie, thanking him for being so understanding and telling him that I’d really like for us to still be friends. But before I finished composing the reply, Eddie sent though another text, which completely surprised me.
“Hey again. Can I just ask? The guy you’re seeing. Is it your hot bodybuilder friend AJ?”
Fuck. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t help but smile at Eddie’s text. At the cute way he’d described AJ, and also the fact that, just like my mother, Eddie had clearly been able to tell that something had been going on with us. The whole thing also gave me an unexpected buzz, while also making me think, once again, about the boy I’d spent the summer falling in love with.
It was the sound of something outside my house that initially woke me up that night. Half asleep, and unsure of whether I was dreaming, I ignored it. But then the light from my phone screen lighting up fully woke me up. It was two am and AJ was calling me. No doubt probably drunk. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that felt excited about the fact that he was calling. Just seeing his name on my phone made my insides flutter.
He hung up, and I put my phone back down beside me. And then it lit up again. AJ had sent me a text message. Two simple words which made my whole body jolt. I was panicked. Surprised. But also kind of excited too.
What. The. FUCK?!
And then I heard something hit my bedroom window. And then again. What the fuck was AJ doing? Was he throwing stones at my window? I lay dead still for a moment, my heart thumping.
And then I suddenly heard my parents stirring from the next room and my dad’s voice and fuck, a panic shot through me.
I thought about quickly texting AJ to warn him. I guess my pride was very much still in tact at that point, though, because I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I heard my parents frantically climbing down the stairs. Shocked and nervous at what was unfolding, I sprung up in bed, and tried to listen to what was happening. I heard my dad confronting AJ and being stern with him. I heard AJ desperately saying “I want to see Noah!” I hated how upset he sounded. I felt like crying. I had never wanted to hear or see AJ upset. I had never wanted anything bad to happen to him ever.
A part of me judged him for the incident. It was such a reckless thing to do. Coming to my house drunk, throwing stones at my fucking window. But at the same time, I don’t know, there was a part of me that liked it. It was crazy and irresponsible. And so dramatic. But it also felt oddly romantic. Him being so out of his mind and desperate to see me that he came to my house in the middle of the night. It was a like a scene from a film.
He text me the next morning.
“Hey. I’m so sorry about last night. I was drunk and I just wanted to see you. I understand if you don’t want to see or talk to me but I fly out to Ibiza tomorrow. I’ll be at home pretty much all day if you want to come round and talk. Tell your parents I’m sorry.”
I looked at the text on my phone, and something finally broke inside me. I was ready to talk to AJ again.
I’d never seen AJ looking so nervous than when he opened the door to me in his bright red Scorpio’s Gym hoodie. Not even the first time I ever saw him standing in the playground on his first day at my school. I was still angry at him. And definitely hurt. But I couldn’t deny that seeing him again, for the first time in over a week, made my insides flutter. Despite what AJ had done, he still gave me those fuck off massive butterflies.
But even though he looked nervous, I very much got the impression that AJ was pleased to see me too. He was covered up, but I could tell from his face and his hands that the bronzed competition tan from almost two weeks had all but faded. His hair was starting to grow back too. As sexy as his shaved head was, I couldn’t deny that I missed his old haircut.
This horrible, sick feeling churned in my stomach as soon as I walked into AJ’s bedroom. I knew why. I was remembering what had happened the last time I’d been in this very room. I had always loved being in AJ’s bedroom so much. In fact, upon until a week before, it was probably my favourite place in the world. A place I felt safe, even. A place where I could be the boy I loved exactly the way I wanted to be. To kiss him and touch him and do all the things I wanted to show him what he meant to me. But now that place was tainted. Like someone had taken a knife to something I loved and etched a big scar right across it.
“Are your parents really mad about last night?” AJ asked, as we sat on his bed. My stomach was tightening in knots through nerves.
I gave a little shrug. “My mum seemed okay this morning. She just sort of gave me this disapproving face. She knows about us by the way.”
“Really?” AJ asked. He looked surprised, but not worried like I imagined he would have. He even looked a little pleased.
I nodded. “Nothing gets passed my mum!”
AJ’s face softened and he smiled a little.
“How you been doin’?” he asked, suddenly looking nervous again.
I shrugged. “Pretty shit!” I said honestly.
AJ looked at me with these sad eyes. “I kept thinking I was gonna see you at the leisure centre. Well, more like hoping!”
He looked at me with this hopeful, almost desperate look. I melted. Just a little. Then there was silence and everything suddenly felt tense again. I knew this was my chance to get some answers.
I looked down at my hands. “So why did you do it?” I asked, calmly but solemnly. I only looked up at him once I’d asked the question.
AJ made a little painful groan and pressed his fingers into his forehead. Like he was beating himself up. “I don’t know,” he said.
“That’s a shit answer!” I said, still calmly.
He sighed. “It just sort of happened,” he said, chewing his bottom lip and looking at me with that desperate look again.
Ugh! I could feel myself getting angry again. Just thinking about AJ with Dale. Beautiful, olive skinned, built like a brick shithouse Dale. But I needed to know more. My mind wouldn’t rest until I did.
“Did he come on to you?” I said, less calmly.
AJ nodded. “Back at his mates house after the club.”
And there it was again. That sick feeling churning in my stomach. “Why did you even go back?” I asked.
AJ shrugged. “Well, he lived in town. It was cheaper and easier than getting a taxi home, I guess.”
“Did you want something to happen?” I asked, suddenly feeling like I might start to cry.
“No!” AJ said, defiantly. “I mean I could sort of tell he fancied me. I mean, I think most of his friends did. But he knew I had a boyfriend. Then his mate went to bed and we were sitting on his settee, and that’s when he came on to me. He took me by surprise. That’s when he told me that it was different for gay guys. That lots of couples in relationships mess about with other guys. So I went along with it, but not for long. I freaked out and told him to stop.”
I hated the images that were going through my mind. Of AJ being out with Dale and his mates and all of them fawning over him. Of them going back to someone’s place. Of the two of them sitting on his friend’s settee, Dale coming on to him and AJ going along with it. Of them kissing. AJ kissing another guy. And things developing. Dale’s hand being on AJ’s leg. AJ wrapping his arm around Dale’s waist. The two of them touching. Dale sliding off the couch and kneeling down as he undid AJ’s belt buckle. Fuck. I decided in that moment that I didn’t need to know any more details of what had happened between them. It would do nothing but torture me.
Knowing AJ had freaked out and asked Dale to stop whatever he was doing though was, at least, one small comfort. That was if AJ was telling the truth, of course. I’d never had any reason not to believe him before I read that text message from Dale that day. I wanted to believe that AJ wouldn’t lie to me. But I couldn’t really say that I was certain he wouldn’t.
I looked away from AJ to his bedroom wall. The picture of Blaine Holton, jacked and huge in competition condition while squeezing out a most muscular pose staring back at me. For some reason, I was finding it hard to look at AJ in that moment. Perhaps it was because I now had an image of him and Mr Olive Skin kissing and fooling around with each other on some settee in a flat in town implanted in my brain. AJ had told him to stop. But he had still done it. Whether he was drunk or not. He’d still wanted to mess about with that beautiful muscle guy. He’d still wanted to be with someone who wasn’t me.
“There’s one thing I don’t get though,” I said, still looking at Blaine Holton rather than AJ. “You said you didn’t plan to do anything, but you still lied to me about where you were going that night!” I said. I finally looked at AJ. His face just as fucking gorgeous as ever. He didn’t look so nervous anymore, but he still looked distressed.
He sighed. “The thing is, Noah. This whole gay thing. It’s so new to me. And every time you’ve taken me to a gay place, it’s been so much fun. I mean, that night we were out in London. All the attention I was getting. And then those guys coming up to us. I loved it! And I know they were only talking to me because of the way I looked. But it was still fun!” he explained, shrugging.
“So when Dale asked me if I wanted to go out in town, I thought, “Yeah, I really wanna go!” It felt exciting. I mean, when you first started going out on the gay scene, seeing guys, having boyfriends, whatever … didn’t you find it really exciting?”
“Mmmm. Yeah, actually!” I replied honestly. And I really had. Suddenly, what AJ was saying was starting to make sense. I hadn’t considered any of this.
“And I knew you wouldn’t have liked it if I told you what I was doing. I knew you’d be funny with me. Like you were funny with me that night in London. And I suppose you could have come with me. But … I dunno. I mean, what we have. It’s so fucking amazing. And so special …”
Fuck! I was starting to melt again.
“But I think I liked the fact that this felt separate to that? Going out to gay places. Making new friends. And you didn’t exactly look comfortable with Dale and his mates that night. I mean, you said he was a dick to you!”
I scoffed. Even though what AJ was saying was making sense. Even though I was completely getting it.
“And it really wasn’t about Dale! I mean, I probably would have gone out with anyone who asked me. You know me, I’ll talk to anyone. Especially when I’m drunk!”
“I get what you’re saying!” I said, nodding.
“I was actually kinda hoping to run into that really camp guy who asked to feel my biceps in the toilet that night! He seemed really fun!” he said.
I felt myself softening. AJ’s mouth started to curl into a little grin. “I was maybe gonna squeeze a most muscular in his face. Just to see his reaction!”
And that was it. I felt my mouth curling into a smile and I gently shook my head at him. I hated that AJ was making smile. But I also kind of loved it.
“Oh, and I actually think you were right about Dale!” he said.
I felt a sharp twist at the mention of that name, but I was excited to see where AJ was heading. I raised an eyebrow at him.
“I think he is a bit of a prick!”
My heart fluttered. I furrowed my eyebrows at AJ, curious as to why he’d come to that conclusion, and also a little suspicious that maybe he was just saying what he thought I wanted to hear.
“I mean, he was alright at first. But then he made some comments about some of the people in the pub. Like, really mean things about the way they looked.”
Ugh! I scoffed. “Sounds about right!” I said.
“And he was just so … arrogant!”
“Well, I could have told you that!” I said to him, feeling myself starting to smile again.
“I’ve known less arrogant bodybuilders giving it attitude on stage! Even Blaine Holton’s not that arrogant! And he’s about three times as big. And twice as hot!”
I smirked, but something twisted in my stomach. So he had thought Dale was hot? And then I remembered that when I’d first spotted him, before he’d been a prick to me, before he messed about with my fucking boyfriend, I had thought he was hot too. Whether he was a prick or not, he was a beautiful man. Ugh. I hated that. I wanted to live in a world where good hearted people were beautiful and dicks like Dale were butt fucking ugly.
“He’s been texting me too!” AJ said.
Fuck. I felt myself tensing up again. That was something I did not want to hear. I shook my head gently and turned my head away from AJ again.
“I’ve ignored every single one. I think he’s got the message.”
And then I softened, while thinking, Ha! Fuck you, Dale, you fucking prick. I cautiously looked back at AJ, who was biting his bottom lip and looking at me with this hopeful expression. Like he wanted me to just give in and say that all was forgiven.
“But you still messed about with him!” I said, calmly.
“I know!” he groaned. And he suddenly looked sad again.
Something came to me in that moment. What AJ had said about the whole gay thing being new and exciting to him, maybe that wasn’t just limited to going out on the gay scene? Maybe having sex with other guys was as equally exciting to AJ? After all, I was only the second guy he’d ever been with. Maybe that was the real reason he’d messed about with Dale?
“So is that what you want?” I asked AJ, cautiously.
“What?” he asked me, clearly confused.
I shrugged. “To mess about with other guys. An open relationship type of thing?” I said, looking down at my hands.
“NO!” he said, earnestly. “I don’t!”
I looked up at AJ. He looked so sincere. I was softening again. Here’s the thing. I did believe him. But I wasn’t quite convinced that what happened that night wouldn’t happen again. One night when I was back at uni, completely unaware that AJ was meeting some guy off the Internet, maybe an Eddie type, just as a friend, but getting a bit tipsy and something happening between them.
“I really wanna touch you, but the last time I did that you almost kicked me in the face!” AJ said, playfully.
And that really made me smile. There was no hiding it, either. I shook my head and looked up at the ceiling, annoyed with myself that he was making me laugh.
“Don’t mess with Noah Cook!” he said, cheekily. He shuffled his foot along the bed to mine and wrapped his toes over mine and fuck, I melted. I tilted my head back against the bedroom wall, giving in, letting AJ touch me.
“Are we okay?” he asked. I closed my eyes. I wanted to forgive AJ. So much. But everything still hurt so badly.
I looked at him. He was looking at me with these pleading eyes. And then something happened which I hadn’t expected. He shut his eyes tightly and screwed up his face and whimpered. AJ was starting to cry, and desperately trying to hold it back. Fuck. And seeing AJ hurt, I suddenly wanted to cry too. I hated seeing him upset.
I didn’t even think about what I did next. I shuffled over to him and placed my arm around his shoulders and AJ wrapped his arm around my waist and buried his head into my chest, letting out a few whimpers, still trying to hold it back.
I squeezed him tightly and buried my face into the top of his head. It felt like ages since I’d touched him in that way. Even though it had been less than a week. In spite of what he’d done and how he’d hurt me, I just wanted to protect and comfort him in that moment. As a boyfriend. As a friend. As someone who just cared about him.
“I hate that I hurt you!” he said to me, his face still buried in my chest. “I’ve been going crazy!”
While I’d been feeling heartbroken that week, AJ had clearly been going through his own type of personal hell. I realised something in that moment, as I gripped onto AJ tightly. Something I think I’d always known. That, ironically, despite having more than a few extra pounds of muscle than me, despite being physically stronger and bigger than me, and the majority of twenty year olds for that matter, emotionally, I was the stronger one out of the two of us. I think I always had been.
We stayed like that for a little while. Just holding each other on his bed and not talking. We didn’t say much else for the remainder of the time I was there.
“Did you get your suit sorted for the wedding?” I asked AJ, as I stood in his hallway next to the front door.
He groaned and rolled his eyes. “Yes! That was a fucking nightmare! It’s way too long in the arms.”
I smiled at him gently. “Shouldn’t be such a monster then!” I joked. AJ gave me a warm grin but his eyes were still sad. I wondered whether he was going to try and kiss me before I left, but he didn’t. We just gave each other a prolonged hug at the door and I told him I’d see him when he got back from Ibiza.
It almost felt like a relief when AJ was on holiday. Knowing that things were on a temporary pause. I didn’t contact him and he didn’t contact me. Neither did I expect him to. It still hurt me. What had happened. What he’d done. But what AJ had said in his bedroom that day had made so much sense. About going out with Dale because the gay scene was new and exciting. And even though I had had my doubts at the time, in retrospect, I believed what he’d said about not planning to mess about with Dale. About him coming on to AJ and him freaking out about it and asking Dale to stop. I knew he was telling the truth. And even though it still killed me, even though I hated the fact that he’d done something with another guy, I hoped that I would be able to forgive him. Even though it would probably take a little time.
I had thought about the day that AJ got back from his holiday in Ibiza weeks before it had happened. When everything was still so good between AJ and I. I’d imagined how happy I would feel on that day. How much I would have missed him. And how excited I would be at the prospect of seeing him again after a week apart from each other.
When that day actually arrived, I felt none of those things. Instead, I felt nervous. Anxious, even. Because AJ being back in Little Denton meant having to face up to the reality of what was going to happen next between us. Having to find out whether we could make things work.
After what had happened over the previous few weeks, it was hard to know whether it was my turn to make the first move, or AJ’s. I kept wondering whether I should text him, while wondering whether he’d text me. By the end of the day, none of those things happened.
By the end of the second day, when I’d still not heard from AJ, I was starting to get this horrible feeling that something wasn’t right. So I composed a text. “Hey. How was the holiday?” I hovered my finger over the send button, wondering whether I should press it. Fuck it, I thought. And the text was sent.
Nothing came back. Not half an hour later. Not an hour later. Not even a day later. And that awful, sick feeling in my stomach only got worse. It was funny, because I had been fine before I had sent that text message (I guess that’s called having your head in the sand). But once I’d reached out to AJ and he wasn’t responding, suddenly I was incredibly anxious and eager to hear from him.
I text him again the next day, asking if everything was okay. When nothing came back then, either, it was abundantly clear what was going on. AJ was ignoring me.
I couldn’t believe it. After everything that had happened. After he’d messed about with that prick. Lied to me. Hurt me. After he’d spent a week desperately trying to get in touch with me. Coming to my house in the middle of the fucking night. After he’d explained everything to me in his bedroom and tried to get me to forgive him. Cried in front of me. After I’d held him in my arms, he was now doing this. Just ignoring me. Not facing up to me, or his feelings. Like an absolute fucking coward.
What had changed since I’d left his house the week before? Was it because he’d cried in front of me? Or it some kind of payback for me ignoring him that week? Was it just one huge pride thing? Or had something happened in Ibiza? Had he messed about another beautiful muscle guy? God, with another girl, even? Had he realised the past few months with me had just been one massive mistake and he no longer wanted to be with me, or any other guy for that matter? Or had he just come to the conclusion that me and him just weren’t meant to be? Still, whatever it was, I deserved to know. It was completely unfair for him to do this to me.
Something inside of me snapped. I gave AJ one more day to respond to me. When nothing came back, I sent him another text.
“AJ. What’s going on? I’m not playing this stupid fucking game with you. I’m coming round to see you.”
It was time for me to take action again, just as I’d done that day in AJ’s bedroom when I’d confronted him about his drunken messages after that night out with Naomi and Eddie, where he’d all but confessed he had feelings for me.
I had no idea whether AJ would be in, but when his house was in sight and I saw that his car was missing, I got my answer. His mum’s car was in the drive though. I had to see her, so that AJ knew my text had not just been an empty threat. So that he knew I wasn’t going to let him get away with treating me this way.
I was nervous when I rang the doorbell and my heart was racing, but something was overriding those nerves. It wasn’t so much anger. More just sheer determination.
His mum answered the door. “Oh, hello, Noah!” She was smiling at me, but she looked a little weirded out. She could obviously sense that something wasn’t right. Suddenly the nerves had taken over my determination. “Is AJ home?” I asked, meekly.
“He’s at the gym, love,” Mrs Jones informed me, looking at me with this confused and concerned expression.
AJ probably hadn’t even seen my text. “Oh.” I suddenly felt really awkward. “I’ll just text him later!” I said, suddenly desperate to get away.
“I’ll tell him you came by,” she said. “Bye, Noah.” She gave me one of her warm smiles. This one didn’t fill up quite as much of her face as it normally did, though.
I walked away from AJ’s house. I probably should have felt deflated. But I didn’t. Somehow, I knew I’d done enough.
It was about an hour later, when I was sitting on my bed at home, that AJ Jones finally text me back.
“I’m sorry, Noah. I can’t do this anymore. I had a lot of time to think in Ibiza. I hate that I hurt you so much. I know I fucked up. I could tell from last week when you came round that things weren’t going to be the same with us. I think it’s better in the long run if we just end things now. It probably wouldn’t have worked with you being in London anyway and I don’t wanna risk hurting you again. I’m sorry. This is killing me. AJ x”.
I threw my phone down on the mattress and picked up my pillow, wrapping it tightly around my face as I cried into it. I don’t really know why I hid my face. It was like I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, even though there was no one else was in the room. I remember thinking that it was one of those moments I’d never forget. Like a scene from a film that sticks in your mind long after the end credits roll.
But it’s funny, because I also remember thinking how there was a strange sort of beauty about the whole thing. In breaking down. In letting go. In feeling like my heart was breaking over and over again.