Sitting inside, Cameron kissed Andrew's temple only to feel him flinch in the embrace. Mitch watched as tears pooled in the crystal blue of Cameron's eyes as he pulled the fallen angel in his arms closer. Andrew sobbed gently into Cameron's shoulder as he felt the ride of relief, grief, fear and hatred tumbling along inside him. Tyler put his hand gently on Mitch's shoulder who jumped slightly. Vanessa stood away and looked on as one of her once closest friends crumbled before her eyes. The manager came over quietly and asked Mitch if they would like to move into the office. Mitch nodded slightly and walked over to the other two. He spoke in gentle tones to Cameron who in turn whispered into Andrew's ear and then lead him into the office.
The group sat in silence, the only sound filling the room, a quiet yet heavy sobbing out of Andrew. Tyler stood close to Mitch and spoke gently.
"How are you doing?" He asked. Mitch shrugged in reply.
"Come on Mitch, you were with the guy for two years. There must be something you're feeling." Tyler pushed. Mitch snapped his head around and fixed his boyfriend with a level gaze.
"You want to know what I'm feeling? I'm feeling relief and a sadistic pleasure in knowing the cunt's dead." Mitch snarled quietly. The venom in his voice forced Tyler to take a step back, his eyes wide. Mitch returned his attention to Andrew and Cameron, oblivious to the looks of surprise that was reflected on both Vanessa and Tyler's faces. Tyler swallowed and stepped forwards and rested his hand on Mitch's shoulder. Mitch glanced at him and nodded then moved into Andrew's line of sight and slowly approached him. Andrew saw him coming and hung his head, a rapid change of emotions ran across his features and he leaned closer into Cameron, afraid to relinquish the comforting feel of his friend's body. Mitch recognised the movement and stood and watched Andrew evenly, letting him make the next move. Andrew regarded Mitch for a moment, almost as though weighing up if Mitch were a threat. He stepped towards his friend and reached his hand out tentatively, which Mitch reached and and clasped in his own.
"I'm sorry that I betrayed you by going home with him." Andrew said, his eyes cast down. Realisation swept through Mitch as to why Andrew was acting in this manner.
"No matter what Jay told you," started Mitch, "I would never feel betrayed by you going home with him." Andrew's head lifted slightly to peer at Mitch.
"I am, however, hurt that you didn't think you could trust me enough to tell me." Mitch said slowly and clearly. Andrew's head dropped again. Mitch reached out and gently lifted Andrew's head by the chin so they were looking eye to eye. Andrew started to shrink back from the gaze when Mitch's face softened with a gentle smile.
"Though, like all good friends, I'm willing to work past it if you are." Mitch said gently.
"How can you all still care about me when I just ran from you all? I dumped you all because I went home with him and was worried about what people would think."
"Worried about which people?" Came Cameron's voice from over Andrew's shoulder.
"Well, I guess the people in this room. I don't know. Others had to know. Others have an opinion." Andrew said, trying to sort out his thoughts on the matter. Cameron put his arm on Andrew's shoulder who jumped slightly. Cameron didn't release his touch and Andrew turned timidly and looked at Andrew.
"Come home with me?" Asked Cameron. Andrew's head dropped down, cheeks burning.
"I don't know where home is. I can't go on living at Jason's now he's dea... uh... now he's gone. My folks haven't spoken to me since I came out..." Andrew said, his head well confused. Cameron squeezed Andrew's shoulder gently.
"You always have a home with me Andy." Cameron said gently. Andrew looked at Cameron and smiled sadly.
"With wooden ladder and all. Can see clearly from our treehouse to the next." Andrew said quietly. Cameron's face lit up at the memory.
"It'll just be a bastard in winter..." Cameron said.
"When we have to shovel the snow from the floor rather than the driveway." They finished together. Cameron chuckled gently and pulled Andrew to him. Andrew melted into the safe embrace. Vanessa, Mitch and Tyler all looked at each other with confused expressions. There was a gentle knock at the door as it pushed open. Andrew's manager walked in and looked at the five standing around and took in the picture of Andrew with his head buried in Cameron's shoulder. He spoke gently.
"If you don't mind, the police would like a word with you." He said.
"Ok Gus, thanks. We'll be ready in a minute." Andrew said without lifting his head from Cameron's shoulder.
"They want to talk to you guys down the station. I hope you don't mind. Having cops all through here isn't good for business. I'm sorry." Gus said apologetically. Andrew slowly let go of Cameron and turned to Gus and nodded. He started to move towards the door and Gus reached out and rested his hand on Andrew's shoulder.
"You'll be ok Kid. You take time off if you need it. This job will be here waiting." Andrew looked at the older man and nodded.
"Thanks Gus." He said and walked out the door. Gus caught Cameron by the arm and pulled him down.
"Watch that Kid. He's a good guy and doesn't need any more pain." Cameron nodded.
Once inside the apartment, Cameron gently guided Andrew down to his old bedroom. Andrew lay down with little resistance and curled up on his side.
"You want me to wait with you?" Cameron asked and Andrew just shook his head in reponse. Cameron nodded his head and stood and padded gently out of the room. Once he was back down with the others he finally let the facade drop and worry etched itself into the lines of his face which aged within a matter of moments. Mitch stood and reached for his friend. Cameron pulled back away from the touch and sighed.
"Sorry Mitch, I just... I dunno. It's weird seeing him like this." Cameron said in defeat. Mitch nodded gently trying to be empathetic to hsi friend. After a while, Vanessa gently excuse herself and walked down towards the bedroom when she heard a muffled call of alarm. She ran quickly to the door and threw it open and saw Andrew tossing restlessly on the bed. With a final yell he sat bolt upright his eyes wide with fear. He promptly hung his head, ashamed of how he had behaved. Vanessa walked to him and sat next to Andrew. She reached out and gently rubbed his back in soothing circles. Andrew cringed at the touch.
"How can you be kind to someone so messed up?" He asked, not meeting Vanessa's eyes.
"I can because I know you. I know what a good, together person you can be." Vanessa told him gently. Andrew started to sob and Vanessa pulled him to her chest.
"If I'm such a good person, how did I fuck up so badly?" He asked. Vanessa kissed the top of his head.
"Fate's cruel Andy, it just tested you." She told him soothingly. All the response she got was a gentle sob.
"When does the testing stop and the final grade get passed then?" He asked sorrowfully. Vanessa just sat there rubbing his shoulders some more, not knowing what to answer.
When Andrew finally calmed enough, Vanessa laid him back down and kissed his temple.
"I'm going to go get a drink and check on the others. I'm sure Cam will want to come see you too." She said. Andrew just nodded from where he lay, drawing quietly back into himself. Vanessa watched him momentarily before leaving to rejoin the others.
As she entered the room they all looked at her and Cameron started to stand but couldn't decide what to do so lowered himself back to his seat.
"How is he?" Cameron finally asked.
"Wondering why we're all still talking to him." Vanessa said sadly.
"He thinks we should hate him. He's waiting for us to walk out on him." Mitch said solemnly for his seat beside Tyler. Vanessa nodded her head.
"That's the long and short of it I guess." She looked at Cameron.
"How you holding up?" She asked. Cameron shrugged his response. Vanessa put her arm around Cameron's shoulder and kissed his temple.
"We're here for you as much as we are for Andy." Mitch told Cameron who nodded his head.
"I better go and check on him." Cameron said gently. Mitch put his hand out on Cameron's arm and looked at him.
"Don't go pushing love at someone who doesn't trust it." Cameron looked at Mitch and nodded again silently, then left the room.
Walking into the bedroom, Cameron just leant back against the wall and watched Andrew who was sitting with his back against the wall. Andrew regarded him carefully and visibly chose his words guardedly.
"I'm sorry I left Cam. I fucked up." Was all he said as tears started prickling at his eyes. Cameron just nodded at Andrew, not trusting his own voice to come out right. Andrew watched his friend and tilted his head to the side.
"I don't know where I went wrong Cam. I used to... we used to..." He began but his voice trailed off into nothing.
"There are many things from our past that have changed Andy." Cameron replied.
"I still remember the short, blonde haired kid who was tryin' to be cool but only ended up tripping over his skateboard in eighth grade." Andrew said, his eyes glazing over and Cameron sat down beside him.
"I still remember the lanky, skinny kid with brown hair that used to stick up everywhere like he'd just gotten out of bed." Countered Cameron.
"I hear a trip down memory lane." Said Mitch from the doorway. Cameron turned and motioned for Mitch to join them. He held up his hand motioning that it wasn't necessary. Cameron motioned again and Mitch came in and sat with them.
"We'd been in high school for about two weeks. Two kids who had nothing in common apart from the fact that they were both attending the same high school." Began Cameron. "I was trying to be cool and make the right moves for these girls at school. I'd been practising these tricks on my skateboard for at least a week. I was finally going to do them. I went to jump on this rail and grind along. I got the jump part right, I fucked up the grind though and landed flat on my arse. These girls thought I was a hoot. Short runt who was flat on his arse in jeans that were three or four sizes to big. I was sitting on my arse, face flaming red when this hand lowers in my face. I look up and I've got this lanky kid offering me a hand up. I knocked his hand out of my way. The kid just shook his head and shrugged then started to walk away. I was left sitting there, my ego in tatters and the first person to offer me a hand walkin away scuffing his shoes as he walked. I felt kinda stupid so shook myself off, got up and jumped on my board going after him. He turned this corner and disappeared and I was sure I'd made a mess again and I probably wouldn't see him again." Andrew snorted and shook his head.
"Mind you, if he'd looked to his left, I was walking into the bathroom. I saw someone tryin' to do it for the girls and was pulling off looking like an absolute idiot pretty well. The girls fairly much saw the same thing. Then I saw him land flat on his arse after his trick didn't quite work. Don't let him tell you the jump worked, it didn't. The two front wheels lifted after an inch off the ground then come crashing back down and him landing backwards off it." Andrew corrected. "I felt bad for him sitting there, his pride obviously taking a battering as the girls walked off laughing at him. I went and offered him a hand up. His smacked it out of his face like a little kid and mumbled something about not needing some 'God damned good Samaritan hand up' and being able to do it himself. I shrugged and walked off. I scuffed my shoes badly as a kid, I couldn't be bothered lifting my feet. I heard the skateboard hitting the ground and shook my head knowing he was ok and ducked into the bathroom to take care of business before home room. He didn't even cross my mind again."
"I didn't cross his mind again until I came hurtling out of no where with three guys after me about a week later. I sent us both flying. The other guys looked at us on the ground and sniggered at us and made some comment about being back down on my level and finally having a friend down there." Cameron continued.
"Ok, I was walking out of history and was fairly much asleep and didn't hear anything until I hear these guys yelling about some punk giving them lip and they'd get him. Next thing I know I've got this lump collecting me and sending me to the ground. I went one way, my bad went the other and somewhere in the middle was the not so talented skateboarder. The others looked at him, then at me and one said that he should stop trying to take others down to his level. I looked at him and arched an eyebrow and told him that he really needs to stop meeting me when he's on the ground or I wouldn't believe he could achieve any higher."
"The second time I meet the bastard and he insults me. I couldn't believe it. I'd chased this guy to apologise for being a prick to him when he offered me a help up and he tells me that I should get off the ground. I looked at him and just burst out laughing. He managed to get himself to his feet and then offered me a hand up again. This time I was smart enough to take it and he helped pull me to my feet. We talked and both had lunch then so went and got something to eat together. We started to hang out at lunch and shit. My friends thought he was a little odd and a bit of a loner." Cameron remembered with a wry grin.
"I thought his friends were abosolute fuckwits. They were so into trying to outdo each other with girls and sports. He was trying to impress them and be what they wanted and fit in with his cool friends that he didn't realise he was just as good without them. He started to bag him when he started to spend more time with me during ninth grade. He didn't tell me why he was hanging around more until the end of summer. He came over and he was in this black mood. The storm clouds were gathered and he was in a right mood. We went out and sat in my tree house. He was ranting about something and I finally called him on it and asked what the hell was wrong. He was halfway through this rant and he stopped suddenly and then just burst into tears. All I could do was kinda wrap my arms around him and tell him that he was going to be ok." Andrew said looking at his friend and noted, for the first time, that their current situation was a direct reverse of his memory. Cameron sensed his friends thoughts and pulled him in closer.
"I'd been a prick to everyone for weeks. Most of my other friends had told me to shove off and sort my shit out. That or they wanted to know what was wrong and weren't content to just let me be and come to them when I was ready. Andy just let me do my thing and waited patiently. I got pissed with the others and they'd pushed me hard this day and I went to see Andy. I was halfway through my rant about it when he finally turned and asked what the hell was going on. The bluntness that he'd finally asking is what broke it. I couldn't hold it any more. I broke down that day and told him that my parents were seperating and that I may have to move. That when he looked at me and told me I was being an idiot. There'd always be a home with him. Even if we had to live in his treehouse. We may have a wooden ladder but in summer we'd be able to see from our treehouse to the next. It'd just be a bastard in winter..."
"When you'd have to shovel snow from the floor rather than the driveway." Finished Mitch, remembering what he'd heard previously in the managers office. Andrew and Cameron smiled sheepishly at Mitch.
"As it was, Cam ended up staying with his mother and not moving away. His father went west somewhere and kinda disappeared from the raydar. Cam used to spend more time at my place rather than his own. My parents thought it was great. They didn't have to worry about what I was up to because I always had Cam to look out for me. Sports had been kinda to him and he was a strong kid. Broad shoulders, big growth spurt and was all toned and athletic and shit. I used to go to all the games and cheer for him. Then I'd cheer louder when he got clobbered." Andrew smiled softly to himself at the memory.
"With a friend like him, who needs an enemy?" Grinned Cameron. "There was one night that we were staying at my place. My mother had left her smokes out and her lighter. It was like this super special lighter, a ronson or something. We managed to snag it and a cigarette. We snuck out the back door and we hid around the corner where she couldn't see us. It took like three attempts to work out how to use the thing. I was like the shit because I worked out how to work the thing, so Andy had to take the first drag. When we were sure it was lit, Andy stuck it in his mouth and sucked back. The end lit up this bright orange and this stream of smoke went past me. The next thing I know Andy was coughing his lungs up tellin' me he wasn't having any more."
"The shit was nasty. It was a fucking menthol man. Stuck it in my mouth and it was like someone put this bad tastin' mint in a tube and lit it. Burnt my throat and made my eyes water. Couldn't help but cough to get that shit out. Cam stuck it in his mouth and took like this big drag off it. He coughed so much on it that he threw up a bit. We threw the thing and crept back inside. His mother was standing at the back door and just put her hand out and Cam looked guilty as sin. He stuck the lighter in his mother's hand. She just grinned and said we probably wouldn't do that again."
"Bitch had stood there and watched us. We weren't as out of sight as we thought. We weren't as quiet either. She heard us talkin' about tryin' it from the next room so thought it'd be interesting to watch. She laughed when we left the room, we could hear her from my bedroom where we went and hid in shame." Cameron said, his lips curling into a half smile.
"We used to behave around my folks but would get up to all kinds of shit at his place. First smoke happened there, first time getting trashed. Even our first arguement. Even my first kiss." Admitted Andrew. Mitch looked at Andrew in surprise then at Cameron.
"Don't look at me, it was Troy." Said Cameron, his hands in the air. He lowered his arm around Andrew's shoulder who shook timidly a little then leant back against his friend. Mitch nodded his head at the pair.
"We were inseperable from that day I helped him off the floor. Did nearly everything together from the good, the bad and just the plain out stupid. I thought my parents were going to explode the night the pair of us turned up at their place in the back of a police cruiser. We'd been out at a party and were on our way home. We were more than a little drunk. Written off I believe is more the apt description. We'd been running along hollering out and being louts. Anyways, there'd been a disturbance involving a group of young guys in the area. The cops were doing a patrol and came across us. We were being a little loud and they stopped us. They realised we were drunk when Cam threw up in the gutter behind the car." Andrew said. Cameron turned a crimson red.
"We'd gone through nearly a bottle and a half of tequilla, what did you expect? Sobriety?" Asked Cameron.
"The cops loaded us in the back of the car and drove us home. The cops walked us to the door to make sure we weren't going to take off again and cause more problems for the neighbors. My father opened the door and saw the cops with us kinda leaning on each other behind them. They assured him that we hadn't caused any problems, we were just drunk and they wanted us to get home safe. Dad got us inside and hit the roof. My mother stopped him saying that it was useless yelling because we could barely stand let alone comprehend what we'd done considering our state. He told us to get out of his sight. We high tailed it to my room and collapsed on the bed together. My mother got her own revenge the next morning. We were forced to get up about eight that morning and were sat down to a serve of extra greasy bacon and eggs, sunny side up. Cam sat there and downed his plate and started stealing off my plate. I gave it to him and bolted for the bathroom and lost my stomach contents. Dad wouldn't let us go back to sleep and made us go shovel the driveway. Wouldn't give us anything for the hangover either. We made it until about seven that night and passed out again."
"So what was your first fight about?" Asked Mitch. Andrew looked at Cameron.
"Belinda. She was a cheerleader at school. Tall, blonde and gorgeous." Cameron said. "I'd been wanting her for ages but had never said anything to her. Didn't know how to actually. Andy pushed me towards her one day. She smiled and said hello. He then invited her to join us for lunch. He was a complete ignorant to it but she would join us for lunch but not for me. She was gunning for the resident homosexual. Of course, at this stage we didn't realise he spoke fag fluently. He thought he was doing a great job of working on getting her interst in me, not realising she was interested in him. I thought he was being sneaky and using me as an excuse to get near her. We had a few drinks at my place one night. I accused him of being a scheming bastard and using me to get his end in. He had no idea and I thought he was just playing dumb. He asked what I was on about. I toldh im that if he wanted Belinda to just go for it and to stop fucking with me. He told me that I was paranoid. I lost it at him and went off at him."
"Truth is he flattened me. I had a black eye for two weeks. His mother screamed when she heard something and came in and saw his fist connect with my eye. Troy burst in the room and dragged Cam off while she tried to mother me and take care of me asking what the hell was going on. I told her it was just a misunderstanding and ended up telling her that he thought I was after this girl he wanted. She laughed her arse off at it. I didn't know what was so funny at that time but found out later." Andrew said with a wayward grin at his friend. Cameron smiled at the sight of his old friend shining through the battered exterior.
"Troy had dragged me off to the lounge and asked what the fuck was going on and why was I fighting with my best friend in my mother's house? He tore shreds off me saying that he thought I'd been raised better. He didn't know what had gotten into me. He read me the riot act then threw the book at my head for good measure. He then told me I'd best get my arse back into that bedroom and sort things out with Andy before I fucked up everything between Andy and I. I sat there, jaw set and pouting. He ended up hoisting me over his shoulder and carried me into bedroom and uncermoniously at Andy's feet. He was at my side in an instant going Troy for dumping me on the floor like that. It's then I realised just how strong our friendship was. I'd just given him a black eye and he was tearing shreds off my older brother for hurting me. He just shook his head and left the room. I couldn't even meet his eyes any more. Found my feet really interesting. Andy was standing at my CD collection and found two copies of a CD I had. He'd given me a copy for my birthday and didn't understand why I had two, if I didn't want his copy I could have told him and he'd exchange it. I stopped and turned bright red. I told him it was because I never listened to his copy so there was no chance it'd get damaged. He asked me why I'd do some shit like that. I told him it was because he gave it to me. He put the CD down and turned to look at me."
"I asked him why the hell he thought I was making moves on Belinda. He told me that he'd seen the way we'd laughed together and the way she flirted with me." Andrew said, continuing with the story. "I laughed at him. He looked away and I had to stop him from fleeing the room again. I told him there was no chance of me ever touching Belinda. He looked at me and asked why. I looked him in the eye and told him there were two reasons. One was because he was the one who wanted her and that the other, which I thought he realised, was that I was gay. He looked at me and didn't say a thing. I'd been terrified of telling him and coming out to him. He just stood there and didn't say anything. I thought it was all my terrors coming true that he'd just walk away from me, not want to know me anymore. I picked up my bag and apologised and tried to get around him. He just reached out and grabbed my arm as I walked by and looked at me."
"I've never seen such absolute terror in someone's eyes as I saw that moment. His eyes went wide and he started to pull away and I gripped his arm harder. I then pulled him and tried to squash him with a huge hug. I told him I didn't care and that I was glad that he'd told me. He started sobbing into my shirt. He told me how terrified he'd been of telling me. That he was scared that the one person he actually gave a fuck about in the work would disappear on him. All I could do was hold him while he let it all out. I felt like a right royal fuckwit for not seeing it and not supporting him more. I kissed the top of his forehead and just held him close. Belinda eventually realised that Andy wasn't interested in her and started to finally notice me. We were at a party and Andy had wandered off to talk to someone and she cornered me. She had her tongue in my mouth and she whispered something and it made me stop and I asked her to repeat it. She looked ashamed and wouldn't. I told her that they were my pants and not Andy's and that if she wanted into them she'd have to go there direct, not through me. She huffed at me at took off. Apparently she banged her way through three guys that night." Cameron said, his past floating through his mind, leaving a light trace of bitterness tracing his features.
"We didn't hit another rock until we finished senior. I was accepted here no question, Cam didn't want to go to college. We spent more and more time together as the summer went on before school started. He helped me pack up my room and buy everything I would need for college. I didn't know what I was going to do, I was leaving my best friend behind. During the last week I got to a point where I'd just look at him and feel the tears build. I was never pushed about it and I certainly never said anything. I was falling apart inside. I'd always had Cam with me for the last five years. Never had a moment when I was unsure and didn't know where Cam was or what he was doing. The final day came and I had to leave. I couldn't meet his eyes until I was getting a final box from my room to load into my car. He cornered me in my room and made me put down the box and asked what was wrong. I still wouldn't meet his eyes. He eventually forced me to look at him. I looked at him and started to sob. I told him that I was leaving the best part of my life behind and that I didn't know what I was going to do without him. He pulled me close as we'd always done and rubbed my back. He told me that there would always be a home waiting for us where ever life took us. It may not have a wooden ladder, it may not be able to see into the next treehouse but home is where the heart is and so he'll always be waiting at home for me. Eventually I pulled myself together and loaded the box into my car. I said my goodbyes to my folks who went inside leaving Cam and I outside. I hugged Cam again and reminded him that he better keep that home looking good because he'd never know when I was coming by. He nodded and hugged me again then pushed me to the car telling me to fuck off or I'd never go. I got halfway down the street and got a text message. All it said was 'I love you too dickhead, have fun at college'. I nearly turned the car around, but instead kept going knowing it was the only choice left."
"I spoke to my folks and Cam every night for the first few days then Cam told me to stop running up the bill and that to only call him once a week unless I needed him. I felt abandoned by him completely. Talking to him kept me sane and on the level. I then got my study timetable and called him to tell him about it. He told me to tell it to him slow so he'd know when he could call me. He wrote it down and told me if I called during any of those times I was dead because I wasn't allowed to skip classes. I told him I wouldn't and stuck to it. I didn't skip one class. The first week was a killer but I was doing ok. I called him about it and he sounded distracted by I let it go. I was happy just to be speaking to him. The weekend went by and I went to some bar and had a drink. Nothing major, spent a lot of it back in the dorm. That was fine by me, I didn't need friends, I had Cam waiting for me back home. The following Monday was a killer and I was struggling and wanted to just talk to Cam so called him that night. He brushed me off and said he was busy and would have to call me back. He never did and that wasn't like Cam. I waited for his call Tuesday and got nothing. Wednesday I got really pissed off because he still hadn't called. It didn't occur to me to call him because I'd never had to chase him before. I was steaming by Thursday, I walked out of my freshman psych class and stormed straight on by him. I never saw him until next thing I know I'm in the air being thrown across a shoulder and being carted down the hall. He finally put me down and looked at me. I called him every name I could think of."
"He tried to hit me and all he did was thump my chest a bit. I did as we had always done and held him while he got it out. He finally pulled himself together and stood back and looked at me and asked why I was there. I asked him why they hell he thought I would leave him to go through all this on his own. That's why I had brushed him off and why I hadn't called him. I'd been setting up the apartment for us. I moved him in here that afternoon." Cameron said indicating to the walls that surrounded them. Mitch nodded his head. He smiled at his friends who were both sitting lost in thought.
"Then I came into the world and it got interesting?" He asked. Cameron nodded and Mitch smiled softly.
"So now you know our past. That's why I won't leave him and he won't leave me." Cameron told Mitch who nodded back and kissed both of them on the head.
"For now, be there for each other. I have an ebony goddess running riot somewhere in the apartment with my boyfriend." Mitch said and left the room, pulling the door softly closed behind him. Cameron leant over and kissed Andrew's forehead.
"I meant it, I won't leave you. I love you." Cameron said. Andrew nodded gently and kissed Cameron back.
"I love you too." Andrew replied.