“Mitchell, I was talking to one of the guys at work, and he said he’d like to meet you,” Christie said as the family started eating.
“NO! How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t want to see anyone!”
Mitchell glared across the table at his interfering sister. She’d been trying on and off for two years to set him up with someone, and just refused to accept that he wasn’t interested.
“Mitchell Walker! We’re here for Scott’s birthday, not for you to fight with your sister,” Mitchell’s mum said, poking her fork in his direction to emphasise her words. “And Christie, stop interfering in Mitchell’s life. He’s gone through enough without you stirring things up.”
Mitchell stood up, his face going red while his gaze narrowed. Irritated, he brushed aside a lock of wavy brown hair that had fallen down over his right eye.
“I’m not staying here and listening to her latest match-making scheme, Mum. I’m sorry, but she’s been told I’m not interested in seeing anyone, and she just refuses to listen! It’s a wonderful meal, but I’m not hungry anymore.”
Mitchell’s quick glance at the others around the table revealed a mix of reactions. His mum was annoyed, as was expected with a family birthday party being disrupted. His dad just looked sad. Christie was staring down at her plate, while her son Scott was watching Mitchell with a wide-eyed expression. It was Mitchell’s brother-in-law’s look that got to him the most. Jeff must’ve known what Christie was going to do, and the pleading Mitchell saw in his eyes was too much for him.
He strode quickly from the room. For a moment, he thought of heading home, but he knew that wouldn’t be fair to his nephew. He might be only four, but Mitchell knew Scott would want his uncle there for his birthday. Instead, Mitchell headed out into the back garden.
He was sitting, legs crossed at the ankles and his back to the gum tree, when his dad went out to see him a few minutes later.
“She didn’t mean to hurt you, Mitchell.”
“But she did, anyway. Why can’t she understand I’m not ready?”
“It’s been four years. Daniel died and we all felt it with you, but don’t you think it’s time you started to live your life again? You’re almost thirty, son. You’ve still got a lot of living to go.”
“Please, not you, too? I loved Dan, and I still love him. I can’t give that up.”
“We’re not asking you to. We all just want you to be happy.”
“Happy?” Mitchell’s laugh had no joy in it. “Any chance of happiness died four years ago.”
His dad looked down at him. Mitchell looked up, but in the shadows he couldn’t make out his dad’s expression.
“How long will you be out here?”
Mitchell looked away, hurt again by the loving tone from his father. He wanted someone or something to be angry at, for taking Dan away from him, but his dad wasn’t giving him a target.
“Call me when it’s time to give Scott his presents. I’ll come in then.”
He was still sitting there brooding forty minutes later when Christie went out.
“I’m sorry, Mitchell. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He shook his head. “It’s not really your fault. I’m just not ready, that’s all.”
He rose to his feet and brushed away the leaves that had stuck to his clothes. “How’s Mum?”
Christie snorted. “The usual. She likes everything to be just right, but we weren’t co-operating. An argument wasn’t in the plan.”
Mitchell gave a short bark of laughter. They both loved their mum, but neither had inherited her perfectionist genes. He took a deep breath before forcing himself to reveal the decision he’d made.
“If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll see this guy, but don’t expect much. I can’t see anyone taking Dan’s place.”
Christie stepped forward and gave him a hug. “Thank you.”
She released him and took a step back. “Scott’s waiting for his favourite uncle to come inside before he opens his presents.”
Mitchell raised his right eyebrow. “I’d better come in, then. I don’t want him angry with me. He fights dirty.”
“Mitchell, this is Tim. Tim, this is my brother, Mitchell.”
“Glad to meet you, Mitchell. Your sister has told me a lot about you.”
As he shook the offered hand, Mitchell gave Christie a frown. He wondered what she’d said, and what she hadn’t. More to humour her than anything else, he’d agreed to meet Tim at Jeff and Christie’s place. They would put Scott to bed early, and then the adults could have a leisurely dinner.
Mitchell was glad Tim had dark hair. He had trouble looking at guys with light hair, because of the chance they might remind him too much of Dan.
“Glad to see you, too, Tim. She’s told me nothing about you at all.”
“That’s not true! Tim, don’t believe anything he says.”
Tim laughed. “Well, there’s not that much to say about me, anyway. I can’t make too much up, either, or Christie will correct me.”
“Do you guys want a drink before we eat?” Jeff asked.
“Just water for me,” Tim said. “I’m driving, so I want to watch how much I have.”
“I’ll have a beer, thanks,” Mitchell said. There were advantages in living within walking distance of his sister and brother-in-law. Jeff, in particular, had been a rock after Dan had died. Mitchell had spent more time than he cared to remember bawling his eyes out in his brother-in-law’s arms.
Dinner went smoothly. Mitchell didn’t say a lot, but no one put pressure on him, so he was content. Tim talked about work and sports, joined by Christie for the former, and Jeff for the latter. Mitchell felt Tim watching him, but kept most of his attention elsewhere.
Afterwards, Mitchell found himself alone with Tim in the lounge room. Christie and Jeff had chased them out of the dining room while they cleaned up.
“So...” Tim said as they sat at opposite ends of the couch, facing each other. Mitchell had deliberately placed himself at an angle to prevent Tim from getting too close.
“So...” Mitchell echoed.
Tim reached into a pocket and handed over a piece of paper. “While I remember, here’s my phone number. Feel free to give me a call at any time.”
Mitchell took the paper and stuck it in a pocket. He intended to throw it away as soon as he could.
“Your sister told me you’ve been single for a few years now. She seemed worried that you haven’t been going out for a long time.”
Mitchell bit back his first response. It wasn’t Tim’s fault that his sister was sticking her nose into his affairs, or lack thereof.
“I was in a relationship for several years, and then it ended. I haven’t been ready to try to start a new one.”
“She said he passed away.”
Mitchell nodded and turned his head away. He knew Tim was trying to be sympathetic, but it wasn’t working. It was coming over as crass.
“How...how did he die?”
Mitchell jumped up from the couch and glared down at Tim.
“I know why you’re asking. You just want to know if it was AIDS, don’t you? And then you’re going to wonder about me. Well, fuck you! I’m out of here.”
Mitchell stormed towards the door.
“Wait, that wasn’t what I meant!”
Mitchell ignored Tim and left the room. Without bothering to say goodbye to anyone, he headed out the front door.
Walking on automatic, he relived that day at the beach. Dan had gone back into the surf after Mitchell had decided to lie down and work on his suntan. They’d found themselves an almost private stretch of sand, with only a couple of surfers down one end, while they were at the other. Mitchell was drifting in a warm daze when he heard shouts from the surfers. He sat up and saw them pointing out to sea, and then noticed that Dan was nowhere in sight. Standing, he was able to make out a small figure, far out in the water, much further than was safe.
They told him afterwards that that end of the beach was notorious for rips, but there were no signs to warn visitors. Dan had been swept out to sea and drowned. His body was recovered the next day.
Mitchell looked around and found himself outside his house. Still shaking from both the memory and the incident that had triggered it, he decided against going inside. He headed for his local pub, instead. It wouldn’t be busy at that time of the night, and he’d have a chance to drown his sorrows.
Mitchell entered the bar and sat down on the nearest stool. A figure in a dirty brown coat with the collar turned up was slouched over a beer, two seats down from him. A few fragments of blonde hair escaped from the black baseball cap he was wearing. The young student working behind the counter was the only other person in the room.
“What’ll you have, Mitchell?”
He stared for a moment at the bartender before responding. “Get me a beer, Gary.”
Gary raised an eyebrow at the angry tone, but wisely stayed silent. Mitchell was ready to be violent and was just looking for an excuse. The quick return of an amber-filled glass left him without an outlet.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Gary asked.
“No,” Mitchell said, but then relented. “My sister’s trying to set me up with someone.”
“I’m not ready to go through that again. She just won’t listen to me!”
Mitchell took a gulp of beer and then slammed the glass down, causing some of his drink to splash onto the counter.
Gary edged away. Mitchell didn’t care. He didn’t need anyone to listen to him.
“They don’t understand, do they?”
The softly spoken words hung in the air for a moment before Mitchell realised the other drinker had spoken. He glanced to the side, where the guy was still hunched over his beer.
“No, they don’t.”
Mitchell took a sip of his beer.
“They think that we can turn it off and just forget about it.”
Mitchell stared for a moment at the other guy, then returned his attention to his own drink. Some of the emotion raging through him eased as he found a kindred spirit to share his suffering.
“They don’t understand. They’ll never understand what I feel,” Mitchell said.
An unspoken agreement passed between them. They’d share their pain, but without looking. Each was speaking on his own.
“You can’t turn off a love, or dump it at the side of the road. It’s there inside you and you can’t get rid of it.”
“Exactly!” Mitchell said. He nodded his head as yet another piece of pain at losing Dan ran through him.
“They tell us it’s time to move on, to leave our lost love behind, but we can’t do that, can we?”
Mitchell took another swig of beer before responding.
“No. I’ll never forget Dan. I lost the love of a lifetime when he died.”
“The only way to leave it behind is to leave part of ourself behind, too. It just can’t be done,” the stranger said.
Mitchell went to take another mouthful of beer, but found the glass empty. He wondered for a moment how it’d gone so quickly, but decided it wasn’t important. He raised the empty glass to signal to Gary that he wanted another.
“There’ll never be a day when I don’t think of him,” the other guy said.
“Same here. I could never cheat on him by looking for another. He can’t be replaced.”
There was silence for a while, broken only by the sound of another beer being poured and then placed in front of Mitchell. He handed over the money, thankful that the bartender was staying quiet.
“You can never replace love.”
Mitchell nodded as memories of his days with Dan welled up.
“You shouldn’t have to. Love is bigger than that,” the stranger added.
Mitchell broke their unspoken agreement and glanced at his companion. He didn’t understand what he’d meant.
“While I’ll love him forever, he’s not the only love in my life. I’ve had others, and I’m sure I’ll have more.”
Mitchell returned his attention to his beer.
“I won’t. I can only love one.”
He tried to block out what the other guy was saying, but the words found their way in, despite his wishes.
“I’ve loved many. I’ve loved my parents and my sisters. I’ve loved my brother-in-laws and all their children. I still love them, but that doesn’t take anything away from my special one.”
“That’s different. It’s not the same,” Mitchell said.
“I’ve found that love is infinite. It’s not something I have to portion out. I’ve got enough love for all of them. I don’t have to take love away from Peter to love Paul.”
“That’s a different love. I’ll never feel for another what I felt for Dan!”
“And that’s exactly right. Every love is different. Each is unique and personal.”
Mitchell downed what was left of his beer. He’d been expecting to share his sorrows, and that expectation wasn’t being met.
“Don’t give up your love for Dan, but don’t use that as an excuse for hiding from being able to love again.”
Mitchell frowned at his empty glass while he pondered those words. His mind busy, he signalled for another drink. He wondered if he’d been hiding. He was peripherally aware when his companion left, but he sat there, slowly sipping his new beer.
He’d been badly hurt when he lost Dan. Reluctantly, he agreed with the other guy’s statement: he’d been hiding because he was scared of making himself vulnerable again.
Grudgingly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper with Tim’s phone number. He’d been rude, and he needed to apologise. He got out his phone and laid it on the bar.
“Gary, do you know who that other guy was?”
The bartender looked up from where he was cleaning glasses. “Sorry, Mitchell, I’ve never seen him in here before.” He paused for a moment and then put down his cloth. “Wait a second. He paid with a credit card. I’ll just check.”
Mitchell punched in Tim’s number, but hesitated before hitting the call button.
“Here it is. Hey, that’s a coincidence. He’s got the same last name as you!”
Mitchell shrugged. “Walker isn’t that uncommon a name.”
“He’s Daniel Walker. That name sounds familiar, for some reason.”
Mitchell stared, unable to say anything. He struggled to believe what his heart was telling him, his mind refusing to accept the name of the guy he’d been talking to. Dan had said he’d take Mitchell’s name if they ever got married.
Looking down at the phone in his hand, he gave in to the omen and decided to take a chance. He hit the button.
“Tim? It’s Mitchell. I’m sorry, I was an arsehole tonight. I’d like to make it up to you, if I can. Are you free on Friday night?”
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form – physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise – without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
This story is dedicated to my good friend, Kel.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.