Purple Flowers; Or, How To Get Your Best Friend To Forgive You
Published by G. Wulfing at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 G. Wulfing
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Table of contents:
How To Get Your Best Friend To Forgive You
As she came downstairs, heading for the kitchen, Sophia heard laughter in the front hall. Her younger brother and his best friend had evidently returned from the cinema.
In the kitchen, Sophia filled the electric kettle and switched it on to boil. The guys were still in the hall, laughing hugely. The movie must have been hilarious, Sophia thought to herself. She selected a mug from the kitchen drawer, and then, perplexed by so much laughter, approached the hall, still clutching the mug by its handle.
Her brother Jay, dark haired and blue eyed, was leaning his back against one wall, almost weeping with laughter. Supporting himself with one outstretched hand pressed against the opposite wall, his complexion pink with mirth beneath his light brown hair, was Jonathan, who had been Jay’s best friend for so long that Sophia regarded him as a sort of adoptive cousin.
“Was the movie that good?” she asked them.
“No,” Jonathan told her, catching his breath momentarily; “I mean, it was, but that’s not what we’re laughing about.”
Sophia looked from one to the other. “Well, what was so funny? You look like you’re about to collapse.”
“As we were coming out of the cinema –” Jay began.
“‘Coming out’!” Jonathan giggled.
Jay snorted with fresh laughter, and Sophia had to wait a moment while he recovered.
“As we were exiting the cinema,” he resumed, “we saw this little girl dropping leaves into the gutter, one by one, with this really serious, focussed look on her face, and Jonathan leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Soon my death-ray will be complete!’” – both boys giggled “– which was a line from the movie, you see, and it was so funny …” Jay took a breath. “So we were standing there, trying not to show that we were laughing, because we didn’t want the little girl to be weirded out by two strangers standing there laughing at her, you see; and there was a lady standing nearby, – about Mum’s age, maybe; and she looked at us strangely –”
“Queerly, even!” Jonathan cackled.
Jay gasped with laughter, sliding his back down the wall until he was sitting on the hallway floor. “Stoppit, you idiot … I’m trying to tell her …”
Sophia raised her eyebrows, with a slight, patient sigh, beginning to smile at the guys’ mirth even before she knew what the joke was.
“And Jay said something about the human race being brought to its knees by the power of the death-dealing deciduous leaf,” Jonathan added, while Jay recovered somewhat.
“Okay,” Jay resumed, “so we’re standing there, sort of sniggering and whispering together but trying not to look like we’re sniggering –”
“Sniggering in each other’s ears,” Jonathan supplied.
“Right; and this lady was looking at us strangely, and then she leaned in closer and said –” Jay took a deep breath to stop himself subsiding back into laughter – “‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but – are you two “together”?’”
Jonathan giggled anew, holding his abdomen with one hand while the other covered his mouth to keep himself from interrupting Jay’s story.
“And we looked at her blankly, and then we both realised what she meant … She was asking if … she was asking if we were in a gay relationship! And so Jonathan …”
“I put my arm around his neck,” Jonathan said, through his laughter, “and kissed him on the cheek, and said –”
Jay roared with laughter on the hallway floor, knowing what was coming next. “– ‘Why? Are you jealous?’”
Sophia cackled gleefully.
“And the look on her face … it was just a beautiful moment.” Jay held up his hand, and Jonathan leaned down to high-five it.
“Totally worth being temporarily gay for,” Jonathan agreed.
“What business was it of hers?” Sophia asked rhetorically.
“Exactly,” Jonathan agreed. “What kind of question is that to ask a couple of total strangers?”
“But it did give us an awesome story to tell.” Jay wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand, almost hiccupping in the aftermath of his mirth.
Jonathan reached out his hand, Jay grasped it, and Jonathan pulled him to his feet.
“What did she say after you asked her if she was jealous?” inquired Sophia.
“Well, she looked a bit flustered, and said, ‘Oh, no, I was just asking; terribly sorry’ and she moved away,” Jonathan told her.
“I think you might have freaked her out a bit,” Jay commented.
“Well, what did she expect? She shouldn’t ask a personal question if she doesn’t want an answer.”
Jay nodded his agreement, still wiping his eyes, and gave a hiccup.
“Were you laughing like that all the way home?” Sophia inquired, leading the way slowly back into the kitchen.
Jonathan chuckled. “No; we couldn’t look at each other, ’cause we knew that once we started laughing we wouldn’t be able to stop.”
“I had to concentrate so hard on keeping my eyes on the road,” Jay giggled.
“I was sitting there biting my lip,” grinned Jonathan. “I knew that if I gave so much as a snigger, we’d never make it, because you’d crash the car or something; or if we started laughing before we got into the car we’d never make it because we’d collapse in the street and people would think we were crazy …”
Jonathan and Jay sagged into kitchen chairs, and Sophia re-boiled the kettle, adding extra water for the guys. “Have a nice, soothing cup of tea,” she advised them, tongue in cheek. “It’ll help to settle your nerves.”
“Our nerves are fine,” said Jonathan cheerfully. “I haven’t laughed so much in ages.”
“Exactly; you might strain something if you keep going,” Sophia teased.
“Good point,” Jonathan conceded. He indicated Jay who was in the chair beside him. “And he’s just been kissed on the cheek by a really hot guy, so he’s probably feeling a bit over-excited.” He dropped his voice to a half-whisper on the last words, like a nurse discreetly discussing with another nurse a patient who was within hearing.
Jay shoved Jonathan’s shoulder in token protest, but he was still weak from mirth.
Sophia nodded sagely, controlling the smirk that was pulling at her mouth. “Quite so, quite so. We’ll make it chamomile tea. It calms the nerves.”
On the Friday after next, Jay drove himself to the honey factory as usual. Sticking labels on plastic jars of honey and packing them into boxes before sealing the boxes and stacking them in another room ready for transportation was mind-numbingly boring, but it was a paid job, and Jay was prepared to stick with it and keep earning money until he decided on a career or a course of study.
Jay had quickly learned to keep his thoughts to himself at this place. His co-workers were opinionated enough for twice their number, and were quick to voice thoughts that Jay thought may or may not have been appropriate for a work environment. He supposed that talking about anything and everything – whether or not you were knowledgeable on the subject – was their method of quelling the boredom. Forty-something Quentin was hard working, but macho to the point of crassness, and seemed to be homophobic. Thirty-something Fiona was a man-hunter who occasionally made Jay blush with the inappropriateness of her comments – a fact that Jay was always careful to obscure, as he sensed that he would be teased over it. Twenty-five-year-old Dee rarely seemed to think before she blithely opened her mouth. And so on. As one of the youngest workers at the factory, Jay sometimes thought that the older packers seemed quite jaded. There was not a lot of positivity in the room.
Since all the packers worked in one room, there was no escape and no way of silencing his workmates, so Jay soon found that the best way to deal with it was to often retreat into his own thoughts and let his workmates’ chatter and criticisms wash over him as he quietly kept working. Naturally, this earned him the reputation of being ‘the quiet one’, and occasionally one or more of the other packers would try to verbally prod a reaction out of him. When this happened, Jay kept his responses brief, blandly polite, and uninflammatory, until the other packers gave up or got distracted and he was left alone again.
The talking didn’t stop at lunchtime. Most of the workers stopped for lunch together, and there was only one lunchroom, so Jay’s quietness often lasted until he got home and could be himself again. It was tiresome, but Jay focussed on the work and on the money he was earning and chose to be patient and not to dwell on the irritating aspects of the job. It was a means to an end: this would not be his work forever.
At lunchtime on Friday, Jay and the other packers were eating at the same table, as usual. Jay had found that trying to find a quieter table was pointless: the other packers became puzzled and seemed to feel slighted if it appeared that he did not wish to eat in their company, and it wasn’t worth offending them.
Quentin glanced up. “Who’s this faggot?”
Jay looked, almost automatically, and suppressed a start of surprise. Jonathan was making his way through the large lunchroom, toward their table, wearing jeans, a purple T-shirt bearing an abstract pattern of intricate swirls and flourishes in silver, and, as usual, a necklace: this one was a single strand of amethyst gemstone and brown wooden beads.
Of course, Jay knew that Jonathan wasn’t gay, and nothing about his appearance or deportment was effeminate, but if you were a macho type like Quentin who was looking for someone to pick on … Jonathan had a manner that was amiable and gentle, confident, without aggression, and he was more courteous than most guys: an attractive trait which was often taken for weakness by men who thought they were too virile to treat people graciously. Jonathan had a pierced ear, too, which – Jay had heard – people of Quentin’s generation might regard as a sign of homosexuality …
Jay bit the inside of his lip.
Jonathan approached the table, his countenance relaxed in greeting. Jay stood up and took a few steps toward him so that Jonathan would not reach the table.
“Jay!” Jonathan greeted him genially, beginning to spread his arms for a hug as was his and Jay’s custom, registering, even as he did so, that his friend’s countenance was not welcoming.
“Not in front of others!” Jay muttered through closed teeth.
Jonathan dropped his hands, trying not to make the gesture obvious.
“What are you doing here?” Jay asked uneasily, keeping his voice low and quiet, under the chatter of the lunchroom.
Jonathan shrugged slightly. “I haven’t seen you since we went to the cinema, and I realised that I’ve never seen your new workplace. I worked a half day today, and I was driving past, so I thought I’d come in and see if you were on a break, just in case … but I guess I really should have texted first,” he admitted.
“Yeah, that would have been good,” Jay agreed tartly.
Jonathan dropped his head somewhat, chastened. “Right. Sorry.”
“Um … you should go.”
“Oh.” Jonathan blinked, somewhat taken aback by so blunt and immediate a dismissal. “Um … okay then.”
Jay squirmed slightly, sensing Jonathan’s puzzlement and feeling that some justification was needed. “It’s just that my colleagues are really judgemental, and …” Jay hesitated in discomfort, then muttered through closed teeth: “you look so gay.”
There was a brief pause. Jay looked uncomfortably at the floor, hoping that Jonathan would leave swiftly without asking him to explain himself.
Jonathan dropped his gaze. “Sorry to have caused you embarrassment,” he muttered.
He turned and left.
Once the door of the lunchroom had closed behind Jonathan, Jay sat down in his chair, avoiding eye contact with the others present.
“So who was that?” Dee asked conversationally. “Was he your boyfriend?”
Jay gritted his teeth. ‘Boyfriend’, already?! “No; he’s just a guy I know who has a crush on me,” he lied. If his colleagues thought that he barely knew Jonathan, perhaps the teasing would be short-lived.
“If you don’t want him, I’ll have him,” Fiona said smoothly.
Jay tried not to squirm. “Let’s talk about something else.”
Mercifully, someone else at the table started discussing a recent rugby game, and the conversation moved on.
Jonathan had been invited to a party that evening. He would have preferred to go with Jay – that way he was guaranteed someone to talk to, regardless of who else was there – but since he didn’t know the hostess that well he didn’t feel comfortable inviting someone whom she hadn’t.
Anyway, he thought morosely as he got into his car to drive to the party, apparently he looked too ‘gay’ for Jay to be comfortable being seen with him. Hmph. He would wait for Jay to apologise for that; yes, Jonathan realised in retrospect that he should not have arrived at Jay’s workplace without asking permission, but still the immediate rebuff and Jay’s evident embarrassment at Jonathan’s presence seemed unwarranted and felt humiliating, and the intended criticism of Jonathan’s appearance rankled.
Although, he thought wryly to himself, he had heard it said that gay men tended to present themselves better than straight ones, so maybe he should feel complimented. Not that he would allow Jay to use that as an excuse.
The party was somewhat bigger than Jonathan had expected: there were a few too many people for the size of the hostess’s house; but still the music was good and the atmosphere was fun. Jonathan couldn’t drink any alcohol, because he was driving himself home, but there were plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and lots of food. Jonathan felt more cheerful, and was starting to feel more forgiving toward Jay. After all, anyone could say something hurtful when startled and flustered, and it was Jonathan who had unwittingly placed Jay in that situation by turning up unannounced.
On his way to refill his glass, Jonathan stopped as a young woman with bright red lipstick bumped into him. Fortunately, her glass was also empty. She looked at him with the slightly disoriented gaze of one who has had a bit too much alcohol, and brightened in recognition.
“Oh, hey, it’s you! It’s Crush Guy!”
Jonathan gazed at her, perplexed. “Pardon?”
“You’re Crush Guy. You turned up at work today, and Jay said that you were some guy he knew who had a crush on him. How’s it going?”
Jonathan stared. “He … what?”
“Jay said that you were some guy he knew who had a crush on him,” she repeated slowly, as though it were Jonathan who was drunk. Then she covered her mouth with her hand, with a small, embarrassed giggle. “Oops – was that rude? Sorry!” She giggled again.
“No, um … thanks for telling me,” Jonathan said faintly.
“Okay, so long as I wasn’t rude.” The young woman patted his forearm – or tried to: she missed slightly – as she moved past him and returned, a bit unsteadily, to the thick of the party.
Jonathan changed direction, leaving his glass on the kitchen bench on his way out the door. Once inside his car, he leant his forehead against the top of the steering wheel, gripping the wheel with both hands.
‘Some guy who has a crush on him.’
Was that how Jay spoke of his best friend to other people?
[_Some guy who has a crush on him. _]
An incredibly bitter sensation filled Jonathan.
He sat in the car for some time, wondering whether he could stand to return to the party. He should at least thank the hostess …
His cellphone bleeped, indicating that it had received a text message. Jonathan pulled it from his pocket and read the message.
It was from Jay. I’m sorry about what happened today at work. I didn’t mean to be so rude. I was surprised, and I guess I panicked. Are you angry about it?
Jonathan pressed ‘reply’. Yes I am. F.Y.I., ‘some guy’ no longer has a crush on you.
Jonathan fumed all the way home, with bouts of confused, incredulous hurt thrown in.
Was it possible that the young woman at the party had misunderstood Jay somehow? Was she repeating misinformation? She hadn’t been entirely sober, after all. Should Jonathan give Jay the benefit of the doubt?
But, based on Jay’s reaction to Jonathan’s appearance that afternoon, this disgusting betrayal actually seemed disturbingly plausible.
His cellphone rang in his pocket a moment after he started driving, then again a minute later, but he ignored it. He was driving, and besides, he didn’t feel like talking to anyone at the moment. If the calls were from his parents, he would see them at home soon enough anyway. If they were from Jay, Jonathan had no intention of answering.
Once home, Jonathan texted the party hostess, thanking her for a fun evening and expressing regret that he had ‘had to leave early’. He didn’t explain why.
Then he turned his cellphone off, sat on his bed and brooded for a while.
What on earth had he done to earn Jay’s disownment?
Had his presence and looks really embarrassed Jay that much? So much that Jay felt he had to lie to his co-workers lest they think that he and Jonathan were friends?
[_Some guy who has a crush on him. _]
Jonathan felt floored.
In his bedroom, Jay stared in horror at the text message displayed on the cellphone in his hand.
Yes I am. F.Y.I., ‘some guy’ no longer has a crush on you.
How … how had that happened? How could Jonathan possibly know what Jay had said about him?!
It almost didn’t matter; the urgent thing was to apologise to Jonathan. Jay called Jonathan’s cellphone from his own.
The call rang for a while, then went to voicemail. Jay bit his lower lip anxiously, and hung up without leaving a message. He was too flustered to think what to say.
He re-read the text message, half hoping to realise that Jonathan had been joking; but there was nothing – not a smiley face, nothing – to hint that Jonathan was not genuinely angry.
Jay gathered his thoughts and called Jonathan’s cellphone again, this time so that he could leave a message.
“Jonathan, it’s me. Look, I’m really sorry. Whatever’s happened, whatever anyone has told you, it’s not — I didn’t mean it. It was just — I got freaked out and I panicked. I’m sorry. Please call me back when you get this.”
But there was no call from Jonathan that night, nor the following morning. Jay texted Jonathan twice before he went to bed, thinking that perhaps the sound of the text-message alert would cause Jonathan to check his cellphone and find the messages that were waiting; but there was no response.
On Saturday morning, Jonathan was in the kitchen, trying to assuage some of his bitterness with coffee. He had received Jay’s messages, but was too angry to respond to them. No one else was awake yet: Jonathan’s parents typically slept in on Saturdays.
The first mouthful of coffee was always the best, Jonathan decided, as he felt its hot, caffeinated deliciousness spreading through his veins.
As he took his second mouthful, the telephone rang. Jonathan answered it. “Hello; Brenner residence.”
“Hey, Jonathan, it’s me.” It was Jay’s voice.
Jonathan hesitated for a second.
Then he gave a brief, disgusted sigh, and hung up the receiver.
Jay stood still, the cordless telephone in his hand, shocked.
Jonathan didn’t hang up on people. That was … too abrupt, too rude, for Jonathan. And that sigh … that disgusted, ‘oh, it’s you: I really can’t be bothered speaking to you’ sigh.
Jay hung up, then entered Jonathan’s number again. This time there was no ringing tone: instead, the insistent, long bleeps of the ‘engaged’ signal met Jay’s ears.
Jonathan had taken the telephone off the hook.
Either that or someone else had telephoned Jonathan right after he hung up on Jay. Jay strongly suspected that he knew which was the more likely of those two scenarios.
Jay put the cordless telephone slowly back on its stand, feeling somewhat stunned. How angry was Jonathan? He and Jay had had disagreements and the occasional misunderstanding before, but nothing serious, and Jonathan had never reacted like this.
Jay swallowed, gazing stupidly at the telephone as though it held the answers. It stood there, black and streamlined and perkily upright on its stand, and gazed back at him with its little blank square screen of a face.
The first nervous pricklings of panic stirred underneath Jay’s heart.
Jonathan was seriously, genuinely angry with him.
Jay did not dare try to call again later in the day. He didn’t want to be hung up on again. Instead he decided, that afternoon, to e-mail Jonathan.
In the e-mail, he tried to explain that he hadn’t really meant to accuse Jonathan of looking effeminate, as such, but that his co-workers were nosy and opinionated and inescapable, and that he had panicked. He mentioned Quentin’s attitude as an example, omitting what Quentin had actually said when he set eyes on Jonathan: although it might have been helpful in making Jay’s case, Jay didn’t want to give Jonathan anything more to be angry about. Jay explained that he didn’t know how Jonathan had heard the ‘guy who has a crush on me’ statement, but he had certainly never meant for Jonathan to hear it, it was another panic-induced thing that he had said to his co-workers to avoid them getting the wrong impression; and of course he hadn’t meant to make people think that Jonathan was gay, it had all just been a stupid mistake, so couldn’t Jonathan please understand that and forgive him …?
When he re-read what he had typed, Jay realised that it sounded like he was making excuses. He squirmed a little, inwardly. Well, that was the truth: it had been a stupid, panicky mistake, and he was sorry. If Jonathan couldn’t accept that, then …
Actually Jay didn’t know what would happen if Jonathan couldn’t accept his apology. But surely, surely Jonathan would get over it eventually. Even if he stayed angry for a while, surely at some stage he would forgive Jay; maybe roll his eyes and call Jay an idiot for a while, but eventually … Jonathan wasn’t a sour, grudge-holding type.
How on earth had Jonathan known what Jay had said after Jonathan had left, anyway? Could he have been listening outside the lunchroom door and have somehow heard Jay’s comment amidst all the other chatter in the room?
Or had someone from work passed on to Jonathan what Jay had said?
But no one had seemed to recognise Jonathan when he arrived at the honey factory. Therefore, presumably, no one from Jay’s workplace knew Jonathan, so how could they have been in communication …?
Jay wracked his brains for an answer, but kept thinking that if Jonathan would only talk to him, Jay would find out soon enough. Surely Jonathan wouldn’t avoid him forever.
That afternoon, upon checking his e-mails, Jonathan found an e-mail from Jay, with the subject line ‘I’m really sorry’.
He deleted it without opening it.
Rarely, as far as he could remember, had he ever felt this angry for this long. And certainly never with Jay.
But the betrayal tasted vile. So very, very vile.
He wondered, every now and then, what he had done to make Jay think that disowning him to Jay’s work colleagues and spreading lies about him were somehow permissible. – A mere glitch in the programming of their friendship. It was incomprehensible.
There were moments when Jonathan could scarcely believe that he was even in this situation; that Jay could possibly have done such a thing; that it wasn’t just some ridiculous nightmare that was somehow seeping into his real, waking life. Everything seemed normal; his parents were unaware of anything being amiss; the furniture was where it was supposed to be, water wasn’t flowing up, the house was still standing solidly, the sky was blue, there were no clowns or zombies or demons, everything was fine and normal … except that he wasn’t hanging out with Jay as he often did on a Saturday, and whenever he wondered why this was, he remembered that Jay had somehow done something inexplicably crazy and hurtful.
And in those moments, Jonathan almost didn’t know what to do with himself. Betrayed by Jay. How could that even happen?
On Sunday morning, Jonathan’s mother knocked on his bedroom door. Jonathan turned down the volume of the music playing on his computer so that he could hear her.
“Jonathan? Jay’s on the telephone for you.”
Jonathan hesitated. He had no desire to take the call – though the thought of yelling at Jay was becoming tempting – but he wasn’t keen for his parents to know that he and Jay were not on good terms. They would be concerned: Jonathan had no siblings, and no nearby cousins, so Jay and his family had become almost an extended family to Jonathan.
A few possible courses of action flitted through his mind, and then the obvious solution occurred to him.
He went to his bedroom door, opened it, and casually took the cordless telephone that his mother held out to him. “Thanks.”
His mother went on her way, and Jonathan took the telephone into his bedroom, closing the door.
Then he hung up.
Jay groaned aloud. There had been a long pause after Mrs Brenner had greeted him and happily agreed to fetch Jonathan for him; and then the line had gone dead. There were other possibilities, but Jay was sure that Jonathan had hung up on him again.
This was becoming nerve-wracking. Jonathan was still angry, after almost a whole weekend.
There was no help for it: he would have to go to Jonathan’s house and see if he could persuade Jonathan to talk with him directly.
He wondered if there was any point in waiting until this afternoon; maybe Jonathan would relent and call him back.
Jay dallied for about an hour, just in case Jonathan hadn’t meant to hang up on him, or had a change of heart, before deciding that such hopes were futile and he might as well just go.
Less than five minutes later, he drove into the Brenners’ familiar driveway. He bounded up the steps to the front porch, knocked on the door, and waited.
There was no sound from within the house, so he knocked again. Still there was no response.
Surely, even if Jonathan was ignoring him, Mr or Mrs Brenner would answer him …
Were all the Brenners out?
Jay knocked again, loudly. A minute passed, and then Jay’s cellphone beeped. It was a text message from Jonathan. I know it’s you. Go away.
Jay’s shoulders sagged, and he gave a grunting sigh. Jonathan would have recognised his car immediately.
He texted back, Please can we talk? Please?
He pressed ‘send’, and looked hopefully at the front door before him.
Less than a minute later, a reply arrived.
No. Get lost.
Jay almost sniffled. Jonathan never said things like that.
Hopelessly, Jay knocked again, but the door didn’t open. He waited on the porch for twenty minutes, leaning against the side of the house, in the hope that Jonathan would relent, but to no avail.
Eventually he sighed, and made his way back to his car, looking back at the house twice in case Jonathan was near a window.
He drove home unhappily.
Perhaps Jonathan needed time to cool down. Perhaps if he gave it a couple more days, then tried to make contact again …
On Monday morning, a distracted Jay made his way into the locker room at the honey factory to deposit his bag there before starting work. He barely noticed Dee doing the same until she spoke.
“Hi, Jay,” she began, in her customary breezy tones. “I bumped into your friend on Friday night. Like I litchrally bumped into him.” She gave a small, light-hearted giggle.
“‘Friend’?” Jay echoed vaguely, not paying much attention.
Then he suddenly understood.
He stared at Dee.
“Yeah, the guy who has a crush on you. He turned up here on Friday at lunchtime. Remember?” Dee was glancing at him as she put her bag into her locker, but she didn’t seem to register Jay’s shocked countenance. “I was at this party on Friday night, and we litchrally bumped into each other. I didn’t recognise him at first, and then I realised that he was your gay friend.”
Oh, save me, thought Jay.
“So I said, ‘Hey, you’re Crush Guy!’. And he didn’t realise what I meant – I don’t think he recognised me – so I told him what you’d said about him. I thought that might have been a bit rude of me, actually – I’d had a couple, you know – ” she lowered her voice confidentially, inclining her head toward Jay even as she rummaged in her bag – “but he didn’t seem too bothered. He said it was fine.”
Dee closed her locker door, her water bottle in one hand. “It was a good party, actually. Felt a bit fried the day after, you know, as you do, but it was really good.”
Jay glowered at her. “You —!” he blurted quietly in frustration.
Dee looked back at him with puzzled innocence, taken aback by Jay’s suddenly apparent emotion. “What? … Was the ‘Crush Guy’ thing bad?”
“‘Bad’?!” Jay reined in his outrage. “Yes. Yes, I do consider it bad.”
“Why though? Doesn’t he know that he has a crush on you?”
Jay gulped down more anger, and the sudden instinct to throttle Dee. “No, Dee, I don’t think you understand. He’s — You shouldn’t tell people what other people say behind their backs.”
Dee looked even more confused. “But you didn’t say anything bad. He’s a guy you know who has a crush on you. How is that bad?”
Jay sputtered mentally, fumbling for a response that did not involve him having to confess that he had lied about Jonathan.
Dee was apparently still trying to work out what she had done wrong, but Jay could see that she would soon lose interest and move on. “Ohhhh – does he not know that you know he has a crush on you?” she asked eagerly.
Dee placed her fingers over her mouth, with a look of mingled sheepishness and surprise. “And now I’ve told him. Oops.” She gave a slight, guilty-schoolgirl gasp and giggle combined. She patted Jay’s arm in both apology and reassurance. “Well, at least it’s in the open now for both of you. You two will have to work it out from here, but I hope you end up happy. Both of you.”
She left the room to begin work. Jay stood alone, not sure what emotion he felt most strongly.
By the time Monday evening arrived, Jay had decided that he needed some help. If nothing else, he wanted to vent, and he wanted to be assured that this was not the disaster it currently appeared to be, and that Jonathan would forgive him eventually.
Jay did not want to discuss the situation with his parents, as that would involve confessions and, most likely, lectures of the kind that only parents can give. Fortunately, Sophia was wise, sensible, and, as older sisters went, decent.
Jay knocked on her closed bedroom door.
“Enter,” came his sister’s imperious directive.
Jay opened the door, entered, and closed it gently behind him. Sophia was sitting on her bed, propped against pillows, reading a book that reclined against the slanted lap of her raised knees.
“Um … Sophia …”
“Yes?” The blonde regarded him with a professorial expression over the top of her book.
“You know about relationships, right?” Jay asked slowly.
His sister’s gaze, which had briefly returned to her book, now looked at him with sharp inquiry. “What kind of relationships are we talking about?”
“Just ordinary ones. I mean, not boyfriend/girlfriend type relationships.”
Sophia pursed her lips slightly in thought. “I suppose it could be said that I know about them. Why do you ask?”
“Because … I’ve kind of done something dumb, and I don’t know how to fix it,” Jay confessed slowly.
Sophia regarded him even more thoughtfully, slowly closing her book. She sat up, cross-legged on her duvet, and cocked her head at her brother, holding his gaze. “And you think I can help?”
“Probably,” Jay said sincerely.
Sophia patted the bed before her, inviting Jay to sit down. Jay perched uncomfortably near one corner of the bed, side-on to his sister. There was a pause as Sophia regarded him.
“We can’t talk like that,” she decided. “Come on, if you want my advice you have to sit here properly. Turn around and face me.”
Jay obeyed, copying his sister’s cross-legged pose with a little difficulty.
“Tell me the whole thing,” Sophia told him. “Just get it all out. I won’t say anything until you’ve finished.”
Jay nodded. “Okay.” He took a deep breath.
“Jonathan turned up at the factory on Friday. He didn’t tell me he was coming, he just showed up in the lunchroom at lunchtime. And he was wearing a purple T-shirt.”
Sophia raised one eyebrow, nonplussed.
“Jonathan has his ear pierced,” Jay explained, “and you know he often wears necklaces, and he’s just got this manner about him that isn’t … well, it isn’t super tough and masculine. He’s kind of – really nice to people. And there’s this guy at work called Quentin who’s really butch and macho and hates anything that’s even remotely feminine, and he saw Jonathan first and said, ‘Who’s this faggot?’.” Jay gave a brief sigh. “Which was so – dickish, but I knew that if he realised that Jonathan and I know each other I’d never hear the end of it. He’d go on and on about my ‘gay friend’, and probably start calling Jonathan my boyfriend, and all the others would go along with it, and argh …” Jay covered his face with his hands for a second.
“So I stood up before Jonathan got to the table where we were sitting, and he looked like he was going to hug me, so I told him not to in front of the others. I kept my voice down so that people wouldn’t hear us. I asked Jonathan what he was doing here, and he said that he hadn’t seen me in a while and he hadn’t seen my new workplace, so as he was going past he thought he’d come in and see if I was on a break. Then he added that he probably should have texted first, and I said that that would have been good. So he said, ‘Right; sorry.’ Then I – I said that he should go. He said, ‘Oh, okay then’, and … I sort of felt that I had to explain a bit more, so I said that it was just that my colleagues were really judgemental and that he just – he just looked – he just looked so gay.”
Sophia raised her eyebrows, but did not interject. Jay continued.
“He just caught me off-guard! And I was worried that they’d think we were both gay. So then he left, saying that he was sorry to have caused me embarrassment, and I sat down with the others again. And Dee asked me if Jonathan was my boyfriend. I said that he wasn’t; he was just a guy I knew who had a crush on me.”
Sophia’s jaw dropped slightly.
“Go on,” Sophia prompted.
“And I felt kind of bad about it, so I texted him that evening to apologise for making him leave. Here, I may as well just show you what I sent.” Jay pulled his cellphone from his pocket, and showed Sophia the text message.
“Then this is what he replied.”
Sophia’s eyebrows rose again. Jay answered her unspoken question. “I called him immediately, but his phone rang for a bit and then went to voicemail. I hung up, then called again and left a message saying that whatever had happened, I was sorry; I hadn’t meant it, I’d just freaked out and panicked. I asked him to call me back when he got the message. But he didn’t call, and I texted him twice before I went to bed, but there was just no response.” Jay shrugged unhappily.
“I tried to call him on Saturday morning, but he hung up on me as soon as he heard my voice. So I e-mailed him on Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t get a reply.”
Jay gave a brief sigh. “So I called him again on Sunday morning; Mrs Brenner answered and said she’d get Jonathan for me; there was a big pause, and then the connection was broken. He hung up on me without even speaking to me. So I waited for a while, just to see if maybe he’d change his mind and call back, but he didn’t, so I figured I just had to go and see him.” Jay related what had happened on Jonathan’s front porch.
“Then …” Jay swallowed. “At work this morning, Dee told me that she had met ‘Crush Guy’ at a party on Friday night.”
Sophia’s countenance illustrated that she understood immediately what had happened.
“She said that she had literally bumped into him. She said that she’d ‘had a couple’, and I think she realised that she’d been insensitive, but she said that Jonathan had been fine with it.” Jay related that morning’s conversation with Dee.
“Only she must have said ‘some guy’ at the party, rather than ‘just a guy’ which is what you had originally said,” Sophia supplied perspicaciously, “because Jonathan quoted ‘some guy’ in his text to you. – Not that it makes much difference.”
Jay nodded. “She must have. I definitely said that he was just a guy I knew.” Jay sighed, and shrugged uncomfortably. “So that’s what happened.”
Sophia nodded slowly for a moment, arranging all the facts in her mind.
Then she looked straight at her brother, and squawked, “You jerk!
“You first-class, grade-A, level sixty-nine jerk! You jerky, jerkity, jerkfaced jerkpants! No wonder he’s not speaking to you! You’re despicable!”
“I know!” Jay squirmed. “I know it was bad! Now tell me how to fix it.”
Sophia wasn’t finished. “I could slap you! You and Jonathan have been best friends for years. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. You” – Sophia poked a finger emphatically at her brother – “spread lies about him and made him look pathetic. He’s the best friend you’ve ever had, and you insulted him and disowned him in front of your work colleagues. You – suck.”
Jay swallowed, hanging his head. “I know. … He was wearing a purple T-shirt with a silver swirly pattern on it, and …”
“So you disown your best friend because of a colour?”
“I just didn’t want people to think that we might be gay!” Jay protested. “He’s such a – well he’s kind of – he’s a pretty-boy!”
“Oh, so because of his looks he gets to be punished by his best friend?” Sophia asked acidly.
Jay squirmed again, hanging his head.
“I’ve heard people who’ve seen you two together ask if you’re gay. I’ve heard you two joke about it.”
“Yeah, but these people are my colleagues. I have to work with them, every day, for hours on end, and they’re really judgemental.”
“Whose opinion means more to you? Theirs or his?” Sophia challenged.
“Well, his, I guess, but …”
“Actually, I think your own ego means more to you. You didn’t want to have to put up with crap from your work colleagues, so you threw your best friend to them instead.”
Ouch. “B-But I – no I didn’t! I didn’t mean for them to hate on him instead of me, I just didn’t want to make it easy for them to pick on us.”
“You mean on you.”
Jay opened his mouth to protest, but no words came. His sister was right.
Sophia shook her head. “None of this holds weight. Instead of standing up to your work colleagues, instead of defending him and yourself, you told a lie and sacrificed your best friend’s reputation in order to save your own. You threw him to the dogs so that the dogs wouldn’t come after you. Because of you, his reputation is shot.”
“No it’s not,” Jay objected half-heartedly.
“‘Crush Guy’?” Sophia said pointedly.
“Hey, that’s not my fault!” Jay protested.
“No, it’s not your fault if some drunken doofus bumps into him at a party and repeats to him what you’ve said about him, and she did make it sound marginally worse than it really was. But it is your fault what you say about him in the first place.” Sophia shook her head again. “This might be salvageable, but it really depends on how much he loves you,” she said frankly.
“All right, I get it, I know it was bad! I don’t need you to tell me how bad it was, I came to ask you how to get him to talk to me again.”
Sophia thought for a long moment.
“Send him flowers.”
“‘Flowers’?” Jay echoed in some surprise.
“Because flowers are expensive and frivolous. They’re grovelling. They’re also not the kind of thing that guys typically send to each other. You need to show him that you’re prepared to damage your own reputation in order to apologise for hurting his.”
Jay contemplated this. It did make sense.
“But … what if he thinks that I’m trying to buy his forgiveness?”
Sophia shook her head. “You tried a lot of other avenues first. The fact that the flowers are coming after you’ve tried numerous times to talk with him indicates that the flowers are just another kind of message.”
Jay assimilated this. Then he hesitated.
“… What if it doesn’t work?”
Sophia shrugged. “You’ll never know if you don’t try it.
“If you let him go without trying everything you can to get him back, it’ll seem like you dumped him deliberately, or like you didn’t really care that you hurt him. And that will be even more insulting than hurting him in the first place.”
There was a pause.
“You seem to know a lot about this,” Jay observed humbly.
Sophia shrugged. “It’s called being a good communicator. You have to be aware of how other people interpret the signals you’re sending.”
Jay nodded thoughtfully.
“So the signal you have to send to Jonathan,” Sophia concluded, “is that you’re begging the best friend you’ve ever had to forgive the worst friend he’s ever had.”
Jay bowed his head meekly.
“And make sure you tell him,” Sophia added, “that you understand if he never wants to speak to you again.”
Jay blinked. “Um – why?”
Sophia rolled her eyes at such obtusity. “Because, jerkpants, you have to make it clear to him that you understand how much you’ve hurt him.
“And by the way, Jay,” she added, “if he dumps you, you will totally have deserved that.”
“But come on!” Jay protested. “You said yourself that we already get people asking if we’re gay.”
Sophia shook her head incredulously. “You don’t get it, do you, jerkpants? It’s not what the consequences were, it’s the fact that it was you – you, of all people – who caused them! We expect crap from strangers occasionally. People are jerks; it happens. We don’t expect betrayal from our friends!”
Jay gulped. “Right.”
Jay thought long and hard about what Sophia had said.
And the more he thought about her words, the more convinced he became that she was right on every count. He was a worthless friend. After all the things he and Jonathan had done together, all the things they had done for each other, why had he done this to Jonathan?
How could he have disowned him like that? How could he embarrass his best friend so badly, making him look pathetic? What had Jonathan done to deserve such a slap in the face? Jay knew that his co-workers were gossipy, especially Dee; anything that was said to them would end up all over town by evening. And Jay had practically hurled Jonathan at their feet.
It was idiotic, cruel, and selfish.
And it was weak. Instead of having the gumption to defend himself and Jonathan, Jay had shown a complete lack of courage. He had been faithless to someone who should have had his total loyalty.
If their positions had been reversed, Jay would have felt exactly the way Jonathan evidently did.
Sophia was right. If Jonathan never spoke to Jay again, it would be no worse than Jay deserved.
On Tuesday, Jay asked to be allowed to finish work an hour early. The manager said she couldn’t let him off early that day, but that on Wednesday afternoon he could finish an hour earlier than usual.
So Tuesday was one more day for Jonathan to be angry. Jay thought, without much hope, that maybe that wasn’t a bad thing: maybe giving Jonathan time to cool down, as had been Jay’s earlier plan, would be beneficial.
On Wednesday afternoon, Jay hurried out of the honey factory and drove straight to the nearest florist’s shop. He went up to the counter and greeted the shop assistant. “Hi. Um … I need an apology bouquet.”
The assistant nodded. “Do you have anything particular in mind?”
Jay shook his head, opening his mouth to say ‘Not really’, but an inspiration struck him. “Actually … what do you have in purple? Maybe with silver?”
The assistant pointed behind Jay to a bouquet of deep purple irises and various other purple flowers, set with a few strands of sparkly silver beaded wire, in a purple, cardboard, vase-like box tied with silver ribbon. “Something like that, perhaps?”
Jay almost smiled. “Perfect.”
“And do you need a card to go with them?” the assistant suggested.
Jay selected a card that – conveniently – had a photograph of purple irises on it. He bought the flowers, managing not to wince at the cost, and drove toward Jonathan’s house. Partway there, he pulled over on a convenient verge in order to write on the card.
He carried the flowers to Jonathan’s front porch, glancing up at the house with mingled apprehension and hope, but there was no movement from within. He left the flowers on the porch, without knocking. It wasn’t raining or windy, so the flowers would be fine there until someone – hopefully Jonathan – discovered them.
I’m really, really sorry. I’ve been totally stupid and selfish. I understand if you never speak to me again, but please know that I really am sorry.
Jonathan crouched on the porch and gazed thoughtfully at the card for a moment, then at the purple bouquet before him.
Eventually he decided that he couldn’t really leave the flowers sitting on the front porch, so he took them inside and set them down on the kitchen table. Then, realising that his parents would be home in half an hour or so, he hid the flowers in his wardrobe so that he wouldn’t have to explain them to his parents.
Finally, that evening, after sitting on his bedroom floor and staring at the bouquet on his wardrobe floor for some time, lost in thought, he went to his computer and retrieved the deleted e-mail with the subject line that said ‘I’m really sorry’.
Jay’s cellphone beeped. He picked it up, half hoping that it would be from Jonathan in response to the flowers.
It was. Jay read it eagerly.
I got the flowers, and your e-mail. Do you want to come over to my place and talk?
A smile broke over Jay’s face. He could scarcely text fast enough. Yes! When?
The reply came back promptly. Now’s fine.
Excellent, Jay thought happily. Sophia’s advice was good. He texted back, Great. I’ll be there in 5 minutes.
He wondered if Jonathan would offer him dinner, but he didn’t like to ask. On his way past the kitchen, he grabbed a couple of muesli bars out of the pantry. He would eat them in the car.
Jay bounded up the steps to Jonathan’s front door, and knocked with more exuberance than he had intended.
Jonathan opened the door promptly, and regarded Jay levelly.
Jay had been hoping for forgiveness. What he saw in Jonathan’s face informed him that he was not yet forgiven; Jonathan was willing to talk with him, but not necessarily ready to go back to being friends. Much of Jay’s exuberance dissolved.
“Hi,” he said, with some hesitance.
“Hi,” Jonathan returned evenly. He stood back to let Jay in, and closed the door behind them.
Jonathan waited while Jay removed his shoes, then led the way upstairs to his bedroom. He sat in the swivel chair at his computer desk, and Jay tentatively took his usual position on the bed, uncomfortably aware as he did so that he and Jonathan usually sat on Jonathan’s bed together.
“So why are you sending me flowers, Jay?” Jonathan inquired evenly.
Jay inhaled. This was his chance to apologise in person.
“Jonathan, I’m really sorry. What I said to you at work was so dumb, I’m – I’m just really sorry. My co-workers are really judgemental and – and prejudiced and – I just panicked. I have to work with them all day every day, and I could just imagine the teasing and the comments and everything that I would get, and I freaked out. It was dumb. Selfish and so stupid. I was horrible to you, and I had no right. I’m sorry.”
Jonathan nodded thoughtfully. “So you panic, and I get called ‘Crush Guy’.”
“It wasn’t – Dee didn’t say it right. What I said was that you were a guy I knew; Dee made it sound worse than it really was.”
“So what did you call me?” Jonathan asked icily.
“I – I said – that you were just a guy I knew who – had a crush on me,” Jay fumbled, not daring to make eye contact with Jonathan.
There was cold, deadly silence. Jay shrivelled inwardly.
“So – how did Dee make it worse, exactly?” Jonathan inquired, in tones like an ice pick chopping into a glacier.
“She said you were ‘some guy’ I knew who had a crush on me,” Jay mumbled, in a tiny voice.
“Oh,” said Jonathan. “Oh. Well, that’s totally different. It’s obvious that she completely misunderstood you and totally changed the meaning of your words. There’s a whole nuance’s difference between ‘just a guy’ and ‘some guy’.”
Jay wished, more than ever, that he could go back in time to that lunch break at the honey factory and slap himself in the face before any of these mistakes came out of his mouth.
Jonathan shrugged with his hands, shaking his head helplessly, and turned in his chair toward the computer on his desk. “I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. I can’t believe any of this has even happened. This is so incredibly dumb.” He gazed at the paused game displayed on his monitor.
Jay was silent in miserable shame.
“So what am I to do now, Jay?” Jonathan inquired, turning his gaze back onto Jay. “How long before the whole town thinks I’m both homosexual and chasing after someone who isn’t interested in me? How long before my parents start asking me if there’s something I need to tell them?”
Jonathan turned his chair to face him. “You brushed me off in front of others. You insulted my appearance. – And don’t tell me that gay men dress better than straight ones, because you meant it as an insult. And then, to avoid being teased and mocked by your co-workers, you told lies about me. You lied about our friendship, you lied about my sexual orientation, and you made me seem like the kind of person who doesn’t know when he’s not wanted.
“Yeah, I know that I should have texted before turning up at your workplace, and I’m sorry, but that was a mistake in courtesy, not a betrayal of trust!
“And by the way, if I were gay, Jay, you would have just rejected my advances and humiliated me in front of others. How’s that for dickish?”
“I’m sorry,” Jay whispered helplessly.
Jonathan stood up, and advanced on Jay a couple of slow steps. “If my looks embarrass you, Jay, then I’m sorry. Maybe you should stop hanging out with me, if you’re worried about what people will think. Is that how it is? Are you going to dump a fifteen-year friendship because your new workmates are overly prejudiced? Is everything we’ve done together nullified by a purple T-shirt in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
Jay gulped again, feeling a lump materialise in his throat.
“Actually,” Jonathan went on, “I’m not so worried about people thinking I’m gay. That’s not what really stinks about this situation. Who cares what they think?” Jonathan shrugged, beginning to pace around the room. “So strangers wonder if we’re gay. Who cares? We used to joke about that, Jay, do you remember? So people accuse me of not being macho enough because of the way I dress; so what? I can deal with those idiots. What I hate is my best friend betraying me to save his own skin!”
“Jonathan, I’m sorry!” Jay begged. “It was stupid and I’m sorry. Please, forgive me.”
“I had no idea you could be so spineless!” Jonathan exclaimed cruelly. “I thought that, of all the people in the world who would stand up for me, and – and be solid with me, you would head the list. And why didn’t you, Jay? Why was it, again, that you lied about me? Oh yeah, that’s right: it was because you didn’t want to be teased. No one was threatening to cut off your head if you didn’t disown me; you just didn’t want to have to deal with your co-workers’ mockery.”
“I work with them for hours on end, five days a week!” Jay pleaded. “We’re all in the same room; there’s no escape! They’re tedious enough as it is; they could make my life miserable!”
“Then STAND UP TO THEM!” Jonathan roared, from across the room, grey eyes alight with anger. “You spineless little nobody! How could you do this to me?”
Jay saw light glinting on the beginnings of hurt, angry tears in his friend’s eyes.
“The fact that I never imagined you’d ever do something like this is the reason why it stinks so much that you did! Of all the people in all the world …”
Jonathan let the sentence trail away. There was a long pause.
“I’m so sorry, Jonathan,” Jay whispered, hanging his head. “I wish there was something I could do to make it better.”
Jonathan folded his arms, slumping his back against the far wall of his room, regarding the carpet.
After a long moment, he said flatly, “You could go out with me.”
“Go out with you?” Jay echoed blankly.
“Yeah. Why should only one of us have his reputation ruined?”
Jay baulked slightly. “That … seems a little extreme, don’t you think?”
“Oh, so you tell the lie, but I’m the one who suffers the consequences?” Jonathan glanced up at Jay briefly, but did not hold his gaze, as though Jay were not worth the effort required to do so.
Jay squirmed, fidgeting on Jonathan’s bed.
“What are you going to say the next time your co-workers see us together? You’re the one who said that I have a crush on you. Do you want me to help them believe your lie?”
Jay gave him an apprehensive glance. “You wouldn’t …?”
Jonathan shrugged. “I’m not the one who has anything to lose. You already took care of that.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll go out with you,” he conceded reluctantly.
“And by the way, you’re paying.”
Jay’s shoulders sagged. “Oh, come on, this isn’t a licence for you to extort things out of me!”
“Why not?” Jonathan shot back. “If I’m going to suffer under your lies, I might as well get something out of it.”
Jay gulped. He had no reply to that.
“I guess this comes under the category of ‘be careful what you wish for’,” Jonathan remarked acidly. “You told a lie, so let’s make it come true, shall we?”
He approached and stood close in front of Jay, and glared into his eyes. “If you’re going to throw me to the dogs, I may as well drag you down with me.”
“Jonathan, I’ve apologised a million times …”
“But I still think you don’t get it,” Jonathan murmured. There was a hard, icy gleam in his grey eyes, which Jay had never seen before. “I have never been hurt so badly by anyone as I was by the one guy I thought would always be on my side. So if that’s all I am to you – an inconvenience to be covered up with lies – then I’ll show you how inconvenient I can be!”
Jay swallowed, holding his friend’s gaze. “Jonathan, this isn’t you,” he said softly. “You’re not the kind of person to want revenge like this.”
“And you’re not a backstabbing liar!” Jonathan snarled at him. “And yet here we are!”
“I know you’re angry, and you have every right to be, but really, is dragging me down with you going to solve anything?” Jay reasoned pleadingly.
“No! Nothing can solve anything,” Jonathan said bitingly. “Nothing can solve the fact that my best friend spread lies about me and pretended I was nothing to him.”
“I wish I could undo it,” Jay pleaded.
“So do I.” Jonathan glowered at him for a few seconds. “But you can’t.”
There was a pause.
“So don’t make me think that you’re still trying to save your own hide,” Jonathan ground out. “Even though that would be true to type.”
Jay hung his head.
“Okay, you win,” he said quietly, after a moment. “I’ll go out with you, and I’ll pay.” He swallowed. “What do you want me to say if – if anyone asks about us?”
Jonathan gave the bitterest of smiles. “Tell them what you already told them.” He paused briefly. “I’m some guy who has a crush on you, remember?”
Jay gulped. Tears were prickling at the backs of his eyes. In all the years that he had known Jonathan, he had never seen him like this. Good-natured, amiable Jonathan whom everybody liked …
Sophia looked up from her book to see her brother leaning against the doorjamb of her bedroom door, a look of defeat and misery on his countenance. “What happened?”
She saw Jay gulp. “He wants me to go out with him.”
Sophia stared at him, baffled.
They sat on Sophia’s bed, and Jay recounted his conversation with Jonathan.
“He’s so angry. I’ve never seen him like that. I didn’t think he could be that angry.” Jay rubbed his eyes, almost tearful.
“Do – do you think he’ll forgive you?” Sophia asked hesitantly.
Jay shook his head. “I don’t know.”
There was a long pause.
“What do I do?” Jay asked faintly.
Sophia shrugged. “Go out with him. … Be extra nice. Defrost him slowly. And be patient. Anger is like a storm; you can’t stop it, you can only wait for it to work itself out.”
“What if … he doesn’t forgive me?” Jay mumbled unhappily.
Sophia gave a slight sigh. “Then you will know that you tried everything you could to get him back.
“Once you have done that, it is up to him. You are responsible for letting him know that you’re sorry for what you did, but he is responsible for whether or not he forgives you. You can’t make him forgive you, but you can at least show him how sorry you are.”
Jay nodded slowly.
Then he sniffled. Sophia saw her brother’s blue eyes become red-rimmed, and she stroked his near shoulder firmly to comfort him.
“I can’t imagine you two not together,” she remarked, aware that such a statement was as likely to reduce Jay to tears as it was to sound reassuring.
Jay sniffled again. “Me neither.”
“Hopefully,” Sophia said after a moment, “Jonathan can’t either.”
Jay nodded, swallowing, having won the victory against his tears. “Maybe I should hold that thought.”
Jonathan had dictated that the two of them would have dinner at their favourite bar and restaurant. He had also informed Jay that Jay would be picking him up and driving them both to the restaurant. When Jay arrived at the Brenners’ house, Jonathan was waiting for him on the front porch, wearing the purple and silver T-shirt and the amethyst and wood necklace.
Jay was thankful that Jonathan was waiting for him outside the house, so that he did not have to go inside where Mr and Mrs Brenner would almost certainly see by his and Jonathan’s demeanours that all was not well. He was barely able to meet Jonathan’s gaze, and they drove in silence.
As usual, on a Saturday night the restaurant was well patronised. They could have gone somewhere more private, of course, but Jay guessed that Jonathan felt there was little point in making Jay go out with him if nobody saw them together.
As they headed toward the bar to place their orders, Jay’s heart bounded into his mouth.
Dee was standing at the bar, several metres away.
“Oh, save me,” whispered Jay in anguish.
“Save yourself,” Jonathan hissed quietly. “It’s what you’re good at.”
Jay winced, closing his eyes for a second.
Head bowed slightly, feeling beaten, Jay followed Jonathan to the large, horseshoe-shaped bar. Dee was chatting away animatedly to somebody, and there were several patrons between her and Jay and Jonathan. Jay hoped vaguely that Dee would not see them, but he knew that the chances of that were slim. Jonathan might even catch her eye deliberately.
Jonathan asked to see a cocktail menu, and selected a cocktail for himself and Jay. As they turned away from the bar to find a table, out of the corner of his eye Jay scanned for Dee. He saw her glance toward them: she had spotted them as they moved away from the bar.
Jonathan led the way to a table for two some distance away from the bar, and Jay had just enough spirit left to hope that Dee would be busy with her own evening out and would not approach them. Uneasy seconds ticked by, and Dee did not appear. Jay could not meet Jonathan’s gaze. He studied his menu, feeling painfully conspicuous and embarrassed, trying to reassure himself that he and Jonathan had shared a table for two a dozen times and that no one looking at them would think they were gay just because they were sharing a table, and dreading that the next time he looked up he would see Dee.
The cocktails, when they arrived after a few minutes, were very pink and flamboyant, in eye-catching tall glasses. Jay saw a satisfied gleam in Jonathan’s eyes, and guessed that Jonathan had deliberately selected the most girly-looking cocktails on the menu. The same friend who had, on previous occasions, exerted tact or even misdirection to save Jay from embarrassment was now intentionally humiliating him.
And suddenly Dee was at their table.
“Hi, Jay! – And friend! How’s it going?”
At least she hadn’t said ‘Crush Guy’, thought Jay morosely. Even Dee had enough sense to register that that had been insensitive.
“I know you from somewhere,” Jonathan said thoughtfully, as though he didn’t vividly remember bumping into Dee at the party.
“I work with Jay at the honey factory,” Dee explained. “Don’t I, Jay?” She elbowed Jay in the shoulder chummily, before turning back to Jonathan. “And we met at Julia’s party.”
“Ah, that’s right.”
“So,” Dee said chattily to Jonathan, “you guys are having dinner together! Did you finally persuade this guy to go out with you?”
Jay could have dropped dead with humiliation.
Jonathan merely smiled. “You could say that.”
“So is this your first date?” Dee asked inquisitively.
Jonathan raised his eyebrows slightly at Jay, directing the question to him.
Jay fumbled mentally. He could go along with the lie he had created, and lose Jonathan’s good opinion forever, or he could tell the truth and admit to this walking gossip-machine that he had lied to save himself, in the knowledge that that information and any implications thereof would be known to all his workmates within days.
“Um … actually … um … Jonathan and I have known each other for quite a long time,” Jay faltered.
“So … this isn’t your first date,” Dee said, seeking clarification.
“Um … not exactly …” Jay squirmed.
Dee looked puzzled. “Oh. But the impression I got was …”
“Yeah, I know the impression I gave. It wasn’t exactly true.”
“Oh.” Dee considered this. “Yeah, that does actually make more sense.”
Jay blinked. “Huh? It makes more sense?”
“Yeah. Well, I mean, he came to your workplace uninvited. That means that either you’ve known each other for a while or he’s really keen on you.”
“I’d lean toward the former,” Jonathan drawled pointedly, and took a sip from his cocktail.
“So how long have you guys known each other?” Dee asked conversationally, glancing from one to the other.
“Um … forever, really,” Jay confessed. “Our parents took us to the same preschool, and then they started taking us to play at each other’s houses … so, pretty much all our lives.”
“Oh, you’re childhood sweethearts!” Dee crowed delightedly. “That’s so awesome!”
Oh, save me! Jay could have crumbled into dust. He groaned inwardly. “Um, no, not really. We’re friends.”
“Oh.” Dee absorbed this. “So … you’re not dating?”
Jonathan looked straight at Jay, silently informing him that this was Jay’s question to answer … and a rock for him to break himself upon.
“No,” Jay said weakly. “We’re just friends. Best friends, actually,” he corrected himself hastily.
Dee looked puzzled. “So – why did you say that he was just some guy who had a crush on you?” she asked shamelessly.
“Because I’m a jerk,” Jay admitted frankly.
He half expected Jonathan to say, ‘And how!’, but Jonathan said nothing.
“I didn’t want Quentin and all the rest of you to think that we were gay and tease me about it. So I pretended that I didn’t know Jonathan. I’m a jerk.”
Oddly, Jay could almost feel himself breaking on the rock.
“Oh, you don’t want to worry about Quentin,” Dee said dismissively, making a brief shooing gesture with one hand. “He’s always like that.”
“I know,” Jay said pointedly.
“The rest of us are all good with whatever,” Dee continued carelessly. “And we don’t think you’re a jerk, Jay.”
“I do,” Jonathan supplied helpfully.
“Oh, he’s all right really,” Dee cajoled.
“Yeah, he’s great when he’s not being a backstabbing liar,” Jonathan agreed lightly.
Dee opened her mouth in surprise, as though despite having just been told what Jay had done it had not actually registered with her that Jay had lied and betrayed. “Is that what he was? Is that what you were?” She looked to Jay.
Oh, this woman! Jay could barely suppress an eye-roll. Confirmed: she did not think before she opened her mouth.
“Yes,” Jay said firmly. “I lied about my best friend and made him look pathetic in order to save myself from being teased by my workmates. That makes me a backstabbing jerkity liar.”
There was a brief pause. Even Dee did not know what to say to this.
Jay could almost feel his spine snapping, and yet it felt oddly satisfying because it was what he deserved. For the pain he had visited on Jonathan, being broken on a metaphorical rock was just.
Then Jonathan tapped the table for attention. “You know, Dee, I’m starting to dislike gossips almost as much as I dislike backstabbing jerkity liars. I know I thanked you when you told me at that party what Jay had said about me, but I’m sure you know that telling me still wasn’t a good thing to do.”
Dee regarded him with bewilderment, startled to find herself suddenly under examination.
“Jay won’t say this to you, because he’s too polite, but I don’t work with you, so I can say it: learn to keep your mouth shut. Don’t be a gossip.”
Dee gaped at him. “Excuse me? Me?! A gossip?”
“You’re an amazing gossip,” Jonathan assured her. “People who gossip end up without friends, Dee, and that’s bad enough; but it’s worse when you hurt other people’s friendships because of stuff that you’ve said. I’m not saying this to be nasty or to upset you, I’m saying it because it’s true.”
Dee stared at him in affront.
“Also, a bit of sensitivity would go a long way. You know, a bit more tact and discretion. But if you can’t be sensitive to other people, at least don’t gossip about them. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“But – I was drunk!”
Jonathan gave a slow nod of acknowledgement. “That doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for your own actions.”
“But – I was only repeating what he said!” Dee pointed her thumb at Jay.
“Yes, and he shouldn’t have said it. If he shouldn’t have said it in the first place, that’s all the more reason for you not to say it. If you say something dumb, do you really want other people to make it worse by repeating it?”
Dee seemed to fish for words for a few seconds.
Then she turned abruptly and left their table, offended nose in the air.
Jonathan sipped his cocktail. Jay rested his forearms on the table and sank his head wearily onto them. There was a pause.
“You work with that?” Jonathan asked wryly.
“Yup,” Jay said heavily, with a kind of grim cheerfulness, without lifting his head.
“Wow,” Jonathan sympathised ruefully.
There was another pause, shorter this time.
“Well,” Jonathan began slowly, “at least it’s easier to ignore a gossip who obviously feels resentment towards the subject of her gossip.”
Jay raised his head slightly to look at Jonathan in puzzlement.
“What I mean is, the fact that she now dislikes me – and therefore, by extension, probably you also – means that anything she says about either of us will carry less weight.”
Jay had to think about that.
“This is actually really good,” Jonathan remarked, tapping the base of his cocktail glass. “Have you tried yours yet?”
Jay hadn’t, so he did. Jonathan was right: it was rather delicious.
“I might let you bring me here again,” Jonathan said breezily.
Jay was rather afraid to ask, but he dared to. “So … does that mean … you think you might forgive me?”
Jonathan considered. “‘Forgiveness’ is a strong word. Perhaps if all goes well tonight you might consider yourself on probation.”
Something inside Jay relaxed. He started to smile.
“I might even let you hold my hand later.” Jonathan smirked mischievously.
Jay buried his face in his hands, and made a noise that was somewhere between laughing, groaning, and sobbing.
To his delight, however, he heard Jonathan chuckling.
17 June 2012 – 19 March 2013.
About G. Wulfing
G. Wulfing, author of kidult fantasy and other bits of magic, is a freak. They have been obsessed with reading since they learned how to do it, and obsessed with writing since they discovered the fantasy genre a few years later. G. Wulfing has no gender, and varies between twelve and one hundred years of age on the inside, and somewhere in between that on the outside. G. Wulfing lives amidst the beautiful scenery of New Zealand, prefers animals to people, and is in a dedicated relationship with theirself and hot chocolate.
G. Wulfing’s author page at Shakespir:
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Jay and Jonathan have been best friends since they attended the same preschool. They’re so close that some people who see the young men together think they’re a gay couple. It’s hilarious, according to Jonathan and Jay. Until, one day, in order to spare himself the mockery of his unbearable and somewhat homophobic workmates, Jay panics and says something really, really bad – a lie that could make Jonathan’s life very difficult. Jonathan is furious at this betrayal, and Jay realises that he will lose his lifelong best friend in mere days if he can’t find a way to apologise enough. Featuring purple flowers, pink cocktails, nosy work-colleagues, and a brutally frank older sister, 'Purple Flowers; Or, How To Get Your Best Friend To Forgive You' is a short story set in present-day New Zealand.