Once - a story by Hylas


I love him.

I love Tom more than anything else. That’s why I didn’t say anything.

We had been together for three years now. The best three years of my life. Probably the best three years of my life ever. That’s not something you throw away that easily. Especially when it’s him… and it’s me.

You see, I’m not exactly in his ‘league’, if you get what I mean. Tom is beautiful… and more. Sensitive, thoughtful, loving, kind, funny, vulnerable, confident, everything anyone could ever want in a guy. Everything I’m not, at least not physically. I’m… well you really couldn’t phrase it in any other way – I’m ugly.

I get reminded of that every day when some random hot guy puts the moves on him. As soon as they see him kiss me, they go all wide-eyed before they can cover it up. The prince charming was kissing the frog! And no, I don’t feel smug at all when they do that. I feel… small. Reminds me of a time as a kid when my aunt trampled on a little inconspicuous plant (well… weed really) as she was gushing to my mom over how her rosebushes were blooming gorgeously this year. I was a kid and didn’t particularly care about the roses, but I could still remember clearly almost crying out as she stepped away, leaving the mangled remains of the quite dead plant.

Because I knew I didn’t deserve him. He loved me, I love him (and do take note of the tenses there), but that really doesn’t erase the fact that guys like him weren’t supposed to be with guys like me. There were times when I would daydream that there was no one else in the world, but me and him. And he’d just love me and I’d love him, and it’d be alright.

But yeah…

From the corner of my eye, I saw him approaching me. I reached down into the sea and splashed my face with water to wash away the tear trails. I sat down on the wave-combed sand, not caring if I was sitting in three inches of seawater as well. I waited for it to end.

I love him so much.


We both have a mutual friend named Mark. I wish I could say he was a lowlife douche, but he’s really not. If anything, he’s like the perfect clone of Tom, if you just changed the coloring a bit. Tom had dark Irish looks. Mark was blond in a weird (and irresistible) cross between surfer dude types and Vikings. They both were extremely intelligent and really good guys.

Before it happened, I used to get random thoughts of how in an alternate universe, they would be destined for each other. They just fit. Like jigsaws, like a key in a lock, yin and yang, whatever.

Well… as it turned out, I didn’t need an alternate universe.

They knew each other from work. I got to meet Mark when he first came into Tom’s company. Being the only other gay guy there, Tom was determined to become good friends with him. I liked him a lot. He really was a lot like Tom, except of course, that he didn’t share Tom’s mysterious attraction to me. He was never uppity about it though, like a lot of Tom’s other friends. He didn’t even seem to look shocked when Tom introduced me as his boyfriend of three years. He smiled and shook my hand. He also actually included me in the conversation, again, unlike Tom’s other friends who would barely acknowledge me and spend the whole evening trying to flirt with him right under my nose.

I genuinely liked Mark a lot and felt happy that Tom finally another friend of the quality I wished he stuck to more often. We hung out with him regularly along with our other friends after that and before you knew it, he had become one of the fixtures of our lives.

Thinking about it, maybe I already recognized the signs back then and just didn’t want to see it. But then again, maybe it really didn’t start until that night. It’s hard to imagine Mark plotting like that, much less Mark and Tom. My Tom. It probably really was just… fate.

When it happened, it was a Wednesday. I usually hung out with some coworkers after work on Wednesdays and Tom with his since we both didn’t work Thursday mornings. You see, we didn’t exactly run with the same circles. We were both huge nerds, but he was a sexy nerd. He had friends from all walks of life; I had friends who basically were replicas of the same people I hung out with in high school.

That night I had a headache. James, one my coworkers, had started another heated ontological debate, I usually enjoyed that, but I wasn’t in the mood for hot-headed scientists with a hammer pounding away inside my skull so I left the pub two hours early. Caught a taxi home and stumbled into a pile of clothes on the living room.

My headache cleared immediately as I followed the trail of clothes to the bedroom, forcing myself not to think of anything. One glance through the open bedroom door was all it took for it to come back full-force.

I left. Took a long walk to the waterfront and sat watching the waves. The breakers smashing into the concrete like angry ghosts in the pitch-black night.

I suddenly felt so tired.

I know I should have been angry. Furious really. Instead I just felt… exhausted.

It was ending.

I knew it would someday. I’m old enough to know how the world works for people like me. I knew it even before I said yes to him. I had suffered through disappointment after disappointment in my younger years that by the time I reached twenty I had never dared to dream further than what tomorrow could bring me. The world didn’t owe me anything and I didn’t expect anything, I took what it gave me grudgingly and made the most of it.

It still hurt.

I realized I was faced with a choice. I could end it now and walk away or I pretend it never happened until I was actually forced to acknowledge it.

Guess which path I picked?


I spent the next few weeks after that hoping against hope that it was a one-time thing. I’m also a guy and I know things can get out of hand really quickly when two guys are horny like that.

Wishful thinking, I know. After the initial quiet, it became clear to me that it was something more.

Tom is one of those guys who can’t lie. I mean he tries, but he fails miserably. I always knew when he was lying because his whole body radiated guilt when he does it. He knows he’s hurting me and he’s sorry he has to. That almost made it better for me. Almost.

He started coming home late. He started feeling too tired to make love to the point that we went whole months without doing anything more sexual than a kiss. All the things those corny love songs whine about really. Used to think it was all a load of bullshit.

But yes, he stopped bringing me flowers.

Mark was the same. He obviously was in the same dilemma as Tom. It was subtle but he started treating me a bit too kindly. Like the family cow you know you’ll have to slaughter soon.

Still I didn’t say anything. I blocked it all out. All that mattered to me was to be by Tom’s side for the waning days of our relationship. Heck I didn’t even miss the sex. All I needed was at least the ‘official’ right to hug him in public, to cuddle with him all night, the little pecks goodbye every morning, the ‘I’m home’ kiss… That was all I want. That was enough for me and I’m not exaggerating. I just needed him close to me.

Every night I’d hug him just a little bit tighter. Every day I’d find myself just staring at him from across the room, trying to commit every little thing about him to memory because I know memories will be all I have soon enough. The way he smiled, the way he held his coffee cup, the way he loved to just sit by the window when it’s raining outside and hum softly to his favorite songs. It didn’t even annoy me to notice that he was usually in high spirits when he came home and slowly become quieter and quieter in my company. I was now the raincloud ruining his sunny skies. At least for the first couple of hours he was still the Tom who used to love me.

He was obviously, happily, deliriously in love with Mark and I was the complication he didn’t know what to do with. I know he still loves me in his way and he didn’t want me hurt.

Oh fuck you, world.


The elephant in the room was finally acknowledged six months later… by breaking a vase.

Yes, I know - six months. Six whole months, and just as I was finally managing to deal with the twinges of conscience at holding back their star-crossed love. Just as I was finally learning to fool myself into thinking that everything was alright and that Tom still loved me, I went ahead and broke a fucking vase.

This time it was a Monday and I just got promoted so I left work early. For the first time in six months I was a little happier. I skipped the celebrations wanting just to get home and give Tom a long hug. I let myself into the house and noted his laptop case on the table. I got a beer from the fridge and hurried up the stairs to find Tom and tell him about the good news.

I didn’t notice the moans drifting from the half open bedroom door until it was too late. I had a glimpse of tangled sheets and two perfect men in each other’s arms, oblivious to the world around them. One dark and one light, and both so perfect I could cry. I stood transfixed at the doorway, staring at the love of my life making sweet love to the love of his life. I couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn’t anything. Thankfully, seems like they couldn’t either. I must have stood there for half an hour with my heart being torn slowly out of my chest, but they didn’t even notice me. When the pain got too much, I finally managed to gasp a sob and force myself away from the door.

I slipped quietly downstairs. My eyes were filling up with tears so quickly I could barely see, but I still didn’t have the guts to just end it just then. Fate did it for me when I reached up with an arm to wipe the tears away as I was nearing the front door. My sleeve brushed the flower vase in the foyer. It fell with a hollow boom on the floor.

I stared stupidly at the shattered pieces as I heard scrambling upstairs. I was too heartbroken to think clearly, so it was only when I saw Tom hurrying down the stairs half-naked and barefoot when it dawned on me that I should have left quickly. I heard his voice catch as he called my name.

For what it was worth, I wrenched the door open and ran.

And ran.


So here we are. Tom found me an hour later sitting on the sand, my pants already getting soaked in the incoming tide.

“Hey.” He said tentatively.

“Hey.” I looked up at him, and smiled sadly. I wished I could say that I looked like a tragic heartbroken hero just then. I didn’t. I looked like I always did, only much worse. I have the kind of features that just makes me look hilarious when I’m crying.  But my emotions have run their course, and the torrent of tears had stopped. For the first time in a long while I felt at peace… kinda.

He sat down next to me and I noticed that he’s still only wearing pants and still barefoot. We stared out in silence at the sea for a while. The stars started to wink into existence one by one over the bay before I finally heard him quietly say “I’m sorry.”

I lowered my head and watched the waves swirl around my ankles. “Me too.”

He looked up. “For what?”

“I’ve known for a while.”

He glanced at me sharply in surprise before his expression melted into pained regret and he looked away. “How long?”

“Six months.” I confessed.

“Why didn’t you confront me back then?”

“Because I’m a coward.”

He looked back at me again. His eyes were glistening with tears in the reflected dancing light of the waves. “No. I’m the coward. You should’ve thrown me out then, you had all the right to. Why didn’t you?”

“Because I love you, Tom.” I smiled at him sadly. It was my one chance at happiness and I didn’t want it to end so soon, I added in my mind but didn’t say it out loud.

He picked up a pebble from the sand and examined it while he sobbed quietly. “I don’t deserve you.”

I took my eyes off him before I lose control and try to hug him. He looked so… lost. As bad as it was, I knew I was the one who had to make the decision for him. I stared up at the sky.

“Remember when you first met me?”

“On the roof of Sammy’s house at the party, yeah.” I could hear the faint smile in his voice. “You were staring at the sky then too.”

“Remember what I said?”

“Yes.” He threw the pebble out to the dark water and followed my gaze up at the bright twinkling lights in the sky. “You said you hated the stars.”

“I never answered you when you asked me why.”

“I figured you meant you hated Hollywood stars or something.”

“No. I meant those. Stars.”

He was genuinely puzzled now. “Why?”

“Because they’re beautiful.”

“You hate them because they’re beautiful?” He scoffed.

“Yeah, and so far away. And even if they are all quite toasty… they’re cold to me.” I turned away from the sky and met his puzzled gaze. “You’re a star.”

His face grew sadder as he slowly realized what I was saying to him.

“You’re beautiful, Tom. You’re everything I ever dared to dream of back when I didn’t know better.” He looked away. The water was now almost waist deep. I sighed and got up from the sand. Offering my hand I hauled him up with me. We trudged back to the concrete esplanade in silence. I perched myself on the still warm planks of one of the ersatz benches there and continued, “I don’t deserve you.”

“Oh cut that crap. I was the one who-“

“Remember when you first suggested we make it official?” I cut him off. “You kinda expected me to jump all over you saying yes.” I chuckled at the memory. “Instead I ran away. Couldn’t really blame you though. I mean, look at me.” I gestured at myself. “And look at you. Any other guy would’ve said yes on the spot.”

“But you did say yes eventually.” He countered.

“Yes.” I admitted. “But I did it knowing that this would happen. I realized it was my only chance to ever really fulfill one of my dreams. I loved you so bad and I was shit scared that you loved me too. Me. Just when I had finally given up on that dream too.”

“I really did love you.” He said quietly. “I still do… in a way.”

“I know, Tom.” I suddenly wanted to hug him so bad.

Before I could think twice, I had wrapped my arms around him tightly. Wordlessly I began to archive this moment. I closed my eyes and buried my nose on his neck. I breathed his scent, still sweaty from making love with Mark and running after me, mixing with the heady salt of the sea air. I felt his warmth, wishing for a moment to just become part of him, to somehow sink into him and become part of him, even if it meant losing myself. All the love I felt for him, I poured into that hug, willing myself to empty. I know he felt it too because he hugged me back almost as hard as I did. Almost.

It was a long time before I could finally bring myself to think again. But then I panicked at the thought of letting go of him for the last time and held on some more. All in all, I think I clung to him for the better part of an hour. Silently saying goodbye to him and all my dreams.

When I finally had enough courage to let go, I did it abruptly before I could change my mind again. I stood up and walked out to the edge of the esplanade and stared down at the waves slowly beginning to lap again at the incline.

“Thank you, Tom. For everything.” I looked back at him and smiled. “It was the happiest three years of my life.”

“It was for me too.” He replied without meeting my gaze.

“Mark’s a good guy. I like him. He reminds me of you.” I mused after a moment. “Does he love you?” I asked.


“Do you love him?” Try as I might I couldn’t stop my voice from breaking as I waited for the answer that I knew already.


I went back to his side and gently caressed his soft black hair. Slipping my hand down to his jaw, I cupped his chin in my hands and looked him straight in the eye. “Then go.” I prodded gently.

“But what about you?” He looked at me desperately.

“I’ll be fine.” I laughed sadly. “I got through fine without you before, Tom. I won’t go crazy or kill myself or anything.”

I turned away when I recognized a very familiar expression start to creep into his face – pity.

“Seriously, Tom.” I forced a false joviality into my voice. “Life treats me like shit, I know, but I love life. The world is beautiful, and even if it breaks my heart in the end, I’ll take whatever little pockets of beauty it can give me. You were the best of those. Thank you.”

Tom suddenly stood up and kissed me hard on the mouth. I kissed back fiercely, desperately, hanging unto his lips like a drowning man. When it was over, he held me again for what seemed like forever before quietly walking away. I turned away from his retreating form. I didn’t know if he looked back at me or not. I didn’t want to know. My mind was looping three words over and over that I couldn’t say out loud for fear of holding him back – I love you. It became a battle for self-control as I forced myself not to curl up and cry my guts out as his footsteps slowly receded up the road back to the house, I need him to know it’s okay. I need him to be happy.

Suddenly I could see the rest of my life stretching away in front of me like a vast featureless plain. I was leaving the last oasis I was ever going to stumble upon. I didn’t feel this way when my teenage crush decided to beat me up when I confessed my feelings for him. Nor did I feel this way when my parents disowned me forcing me to go through college on scholarship grants alone.

For the first time in my life, I was truly scared.

But hey, I consoled myself, at least I can say that I loved and was loved.

I can say that I lived.


But holy shit, I was scared.