[IN PROGRESS!!] Josh is an American teenager living in London after moving all over the States when he was younger, and determined to make it his home. Meet Michael, the British boy who will help him do so. (BL, some chapters feature explicit content.)


26. Chapter 20 [1/2]

Chapter 20

In which Josh worries and can't wait to be home

Call me stupid — again, that is — but I'd forgotten that it was Good Friday when I decided to go to the swimming pool. It was only when I saw a sign while shopping with Grandma that it suddenly hit me. Guess that explained why the swimming pool had been so quiet. And then it felt as if a brick had been dropped on my gut when I realised it meant that Michael would be leaving for his uncle and auntie's house the following morning. Shit, I had to catch him on Skype when we got home or else I wouldn't be able to talk to him until Monday, probably, and that just wouldn't do. So I texted him when Grandma went to the toilet at one point, saying that I'd let him know the minute I was back home.

I told Grandma about it when we were in the car nearly home so she sent me up to my room after I'd got myself a drink, telling me to hurry and get on the computer — that way, Dad couldn't accuse me of just disappearing and spending my life on the Internet.

I sent Michael another quick text message and opened my laptop, keeping my fingers and toes crossed that he'd be able to come online as planned. If not, I would seriously go berserk during the weekend.

I launched Skype and sat there, tapping my foot impatiently and then letting out a sigh of relief when I saw that he was already online.

"Gosh you're a sight for sore eyes," I said right away when he popped up on my screen.

He beamed at me. "Hi. How are you?"

"I feel great. I went to the swimming pool this morning."

"I see you didn't straighten your hair."

I gasped, running my fingers through my hair for a few seconds and then hiding my face. Fuck, I'd completely forgotten about it.

"I really don't see the problem," he said, sounding amused. "It looks nice. I like it."

"Well I don't. I've never liked those curls and that's not going to change any time soon. Anyway, how have you been?"

"Not too bad. Went to work, came back, had dinner, relaxed; the usual. Did you do anything else besides swimming?"

"Yeah, Grandma took me shopping afterwards."

"That's nice."

"Yeah. I tried to stop her but she ended up buying me some clothes. Some nice T-shirts and a sweatshirt too."

"Oh yes, I'm sure she forced you to try them on," he said with a small smile.

"You don't know her. Once she's got it in her head that she wants to do something, you can't stop her."

That earned me another smile. "Have you… been working on your assignments?"

"You know I haven't," I replied with a chuckle. "I leave everything to the last minute, I can't help it. I'll probably have to do most of it when I'm back and trying to fight off the jet-lag."

"I see my good influence is already wearing off," he said, shaking his head slightly.

"I miss you," I confessed, and I saw his smile falter.

"I miss you too. It's amazing how quickly you can take some things for granted."

We talked for some time, about this and that, and I showed him my new clothes, and it felt so good. I'd missed his voice, his face, and seeing him smile and blush so often. And then he yawned and stretched, and something caught my eyes. There was a fairly large bandage above his right wrist. He had his sleeve rolled up a bit and I couldn't see the end of the bandage.

"What's wrong with your arm??"

He flinched a little and put both arms back down, pulling his sleeves down. "Nothing."


"I'm telling you it's nothing."

"What happened?"

"Please don't—"

"Just tell me what happened!"

He sighed. "I had a bit of an accident at work yesterday."

"Yesterday? And you didn't tell me? When were you going to tell me??"

"It's… it's not that bad. Karen and I made a mistake with the washer and it ended up splashing hot water all over my arm. But don't worry!" he quickly added — surely, my face spoke a thousand words — "We put ice on it for a bit and then one of the owners took me to the nearest chemist and we had it looked at and dressed in no time. They sent me home early and today we were both extra careful when we used the washer. And I have three days for it to get better until I go back next week."

Yes, those three days at his uncle and auntie's house…

"You promise it's not too serious?"

He closed his eyes and smiled. "I promise. It feels more like a sunburn than anything."

"Buy some lotion with Aloe Vera in it. And cucumber extract, that'll soothe—"

"Done already, and I apply it several times a day. You'll see, there'll be no sign of it when you come back."

"Hope so, that's more than a week from now!"

His smile faltered again and he looked down. "I miss you. I don't want to go this weekend. I really don't want to go but I have to, now. Why didn't I tell my parents I didn't want to go this year…"

"I could always… call you on your mobile at some point."

"No, no, no, it would cost you a fortune."

"Not if it's just for a few minutes."

"No, it's OK. I'll take my homework and a book. I'll be fine," he said with a smile. Unfortunately, I could tell that the smile was forced, but it wasn't the right time so I let it go.

We talked a bit longer, but before long he said he'd have to go because his parents were almost done watching TV downstairs and he didn't want either of them to ask what he was doing and who he was talking to. I did my best to play it cool and reminded him that he could text me as much as he wanted or could afford while he was away, but when he went offline I couldn't hold back a big sigh. I was worried. I could understand that he didn't want to go because he might be bored senseless (his uncle and aunt didn't have any children so there wasn't going to be anyone his age there), but he seemed… almost scared. Of what? Of whom? He still tried to hide it but he was on edge and it killed me that I couldn't do anything to help.



On Easter Sunday, Grandma roasted a leg of lamb at lunchtime and served it with potatoes and French-style flageolet beans, and I was in Food Heaven. And then there was ice cream with a box of cookies (which I'd got used to calling 'biscuits' for the past few years) and of course she gave me a chocolate egg that I'd have to eat before we went home because it wouldn't fit in my bags, so by the end of it I was so stuffed I didn't want to move from my chair ever again.

But because I was a good boy and I didn't want the scales to scream at me once I got back home, I grabbed my phone, my earphones and my coat and went for a walk in the afternoon. It felt good to get some fresh air and walk around the neighbourhood — there was a nice park a little ways away — and the loud music helped clear my head a bit and stop constantly worrying about Michael. I would have gone swimming but I wasn't even sure if the pool would be open, and all that food might have made me sink anyway.

Somehow I managed to walk for about two hours and when I got home Grandma was already talking about what we'd have for dinner. Seriously, the woman was a Food Machine… She was only planning a 'simple salad', as she said, and we'd all get as much or as little as we wanted. Except that she was still planning to prepare so many different ingredients we were all going to end up with full plates anyway…

I went upstairs and played the piano for a bit — Mom and Grandma came to listen for a while — until it was time to start dinner preparations and I went to help. I was in the middle of peeling carrots when I got a text message. From Michael. Looking at the clock, I saw that it was just after seven, which meant midnight for him. He'd already texted me to say he was going to bed over an hour before. Something wasn't right.

"can you please call"

No capital letter, no question mark. No one else would have noticed but I knew Michael always wrote his text messages properly. Always. Something wasn't right at all.

I washed and dried my hands as quickly as I could.

"Sorry, I have to go. Got to call Michael right now," I said, grabbing my phone and running upstairs. Even if they'd protested and tried to stop me — which they wouldn't have — for once I wouldn't have listened.

I went to my room, turned the light on, closed the door behind me, sat on the bed and dialled Michael's number with trembling fingers.

The phone rang only once and then I heard a soft: "Hello?"

"Hey there."

"Hey. Thank you for calling. I'm sorry—"

"Don't apologise. Like I could ignore that message… What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm— I'm sorry for…" I heard him let out a very shaky sigh, "… for not being able to deal with all this."

"What do you mean? What's all this?"

Another shaky sigh. "You, me… us… my family. I just—"

And then I heard the very last thing I wanted to hear from him on the phone: a sob. Oh fuck. Oh no, no, no. I don't think my heart could have hurt more if someone had run a knife straight through it. This couldn't be happening.

"Oh please, no, Michael…"

That only got me another sob, and then another, and I was scared he'd hang up but thankfully he didn't. He cried for… I don't know, a minute, five, ten? Hell, I wasn't going to check the clock and tell him to hurry up! I think he must have pressed his face against his pillow for a bit because he sounded very muffled, and that only tug harder at my poor heart. I felt myself on the verge of tears and nearly gave in a couple of times, but I had to be strong.

"What can I do?" I asked after a while, feeling at a total loss.

"N—Nothing," he said, sniffling, and then he let out a long sigh. "I'm all right. I just— I needed to let it out. I feel better now."


"I'm all right. I just can't wait to be home."

"But what happened in the last two days that's put you in this state?"

There was another soft sob. "It's nothing in particular. It's just… my Dad and Uncle have… many views I don't share. And it's hard… to sit there and listen to them ramble on and on and— They just don't realise how offensive they are, and everybody else just… sits there. And the worst part is that it… it wouldn't even occur to them that I might find these things offensive, that I'm having to repress myself all the time…"

He broke down again for a bit and I just sat there, breathing hard and clenching the fist that rested on my leg.

"Why didn't you tell me it was this bad? I could have—"

"There's nothing you could have done…"

"Why did you go then? You're nineteen, for fuck's sake!" I said, momentarily losing my cool. "You don't have to go to a family gathering if you don't want to. Even if that means you have to survive on toast for a few days, it's not like it'll kill you!"

Thankfully, he found that funny and laughed a bit. "I know what you mean," he said after another sigh, "but my family isn't like yours. I'm not like you. I can't… break away from people's expectations. I'm not brave enough."

"For fuck's sake, Michael! Do you really think your mother would give a damn about thoseexpectations if she knew the state you're in right now?!"

There was a fairly long pause. "I don't know…"

I sighed and admitted defeat for the time being. "Will you be OK?"

"Yes," came the immediate reply. "I think I just needed to let it out. Talking to you helped a lot. I'm sorry, I don't even know how long—"

"Don't even worry about that. S'not like it'll happen again, right?"


"We'll talk tomorrow once you're home?"


"Oh by the way, I was thinking… We're landing around seven in the morning next Saturday. I'll probably be jet-lagged like Hell but… you want to spend some time together after you finish work?"

"N— No. I mean… It's better if you rest. You'll need to, especially if you have homework to do on Sunday. Besides," he added before I had time to protest, "Claire wants me to go to a… to some gathering with people from school on Saturday night. I said I'd go with her… but I'm not so sure now."

I kind of surprised myself when I said: "You should go. Might be good for you."

In normal circumstances, I don't think I would have wanted him to go off to some party, but Hell, he needed the distraction. And seeing his best friend probably wouldn't hurt either, even if he didn't tell her anything.

"I don't know…"

"Go on! You'll get to do something different. And talk to Claire. You have to go 'cause I want you to say hi from me anyway. And I'll… I'll see you on Monday morning for breakfast, OK? Knowing me, I won't be able to even see anything in focus on Sunday. And I'd like to be able to see you in focus after almost two weeks. We got ourselves a deal?"


"You should sleep now. It's getting late for you."

"You're right. And this must be costing you a f—"


"OK. I'll hang up then."

"OK," I said, my heart suddenly racing for some unknown reason. It felt like there was something I should say before he hung up, but I didn't know what. I could tell him I loved him, maybe that was my chance. Seemed like he needed to hear something like that. OK, that was my chance, right? It was easy, all I had to do was—

"Josh?" he said, pulling me out of my musing again.



Oh shit, he wasn't about to say it, right? Right?? Shit, shit, shit! I squeezed my eyes shut, tried to ignore the way my heart was hammering in my chest, and told myself that once he'd said it I'd say it right away as well.

"… thank you for calling."

My eyes snapped open and I think I skipped a few heartbeats. I heard myself say: "No worries. Sleep tight," but I was so disconnected that it felt like somebody else entirely. And then he was gone and I remained where I was, unable to do anything other than turn my phone off.

That… hadn't gone as planned at all. What the Hell had happened? I couldn't help feeling extremely disappointed, even though I knew it wasn't fair. I just… I'd been so sure. I could have sworn he was about to say it. Had I made the whole thing up or had he changed his mind at the last second? And if so, why? Had he almost blurted it out and realised he didn't mean it? Did he not feel the way I did? Did—

I put my phone down, hit my forehead with both fists a few times, took a deep breath and counted to five. There was no point getting myself so worked up about it. Michael was upset and it just wasn't fair of me to put extra pressure on him. My gut clenched in a very uncomfortable way when I remembered him crying. I'd known for some time now that something wasn't right, but I hadn't realised it was that bad. How could I have not seen it? I was afraid that he would fall apart soon and God oh God I hoped I was there with him if or when it happened. If he was going to cry again, I wasn't just going to be on the other end of a phone call. Hell, even if it meant showing up unannounced at his house, I'd be there with him, dammit!

I guess I didn't manage to compose myself as much as I thought I had because Mom and Grandma both stopped what they were doing and looked at me when I walked into the kitchen.

"Is Michael all right?" Mom asked right away.

I shrugged, trying to play it cool. "Yeah."

She didn't buy it. Of course she didn't buy it.

"He's just… worried about… family… stuff," I said, grabbing a red pepper and slicing it.

Neither pressed me for details because they knew I'd talk if I needed to. I guess I did need to talk, but at the same time I knew that I'd start worrying even more, so it was best to… not ignore it but just put it aside for a bit, until I was back in London and could deal with it properly.



The second week went by in much the same way as the first. I rested, ate good food, went swimming a few times, went out on outings, 'fought' with Grandma whenever she wanted to buy me something… Good stuff. Michael had seemed better when we'd spoken once he was back home, which had helped calm me down a lot, and once he'd started going back to the coffee shop he'd seemed back to his old self.

Still, I was very happy when Friday morning rolled in and it was time to pack my bags. I could have done without the extra hours we spent at the airport since Granddad always insisted on getting there godforsakenly early, just in case, but I understood his point…

As always, I didn't sleep for a single minute on the whole flight but started nodding off when everyone was waking up and the flight attendants were bringing breakfast, and finally gave in the taxi taking us home. Still, that wasn't even an hour so I was properly fucked when we did get home. Mum made coffee and tried to get me to drink stay awake with them, but all I could do was text Michael that we were home, take my shoes and jeans off and collapse into my bed. Which, off course, fucked me up even worse, but I was used to it, it was always like that.

Mom let me sleep for a few hours and woke me up around two in the afternoon so I'd eat — because, obviously, I was a kid who couldn't take care of himself — and I spent the rest of the day in a haze, sat on the sofa and doing my best to stay awake. I skipped dinner and went straight to bed at eight, and of course I was up at dawn the following day.

I spoke to Michael once he was up and dressed, many hours after me. We didn't speak about much but he did say he'd had an OK time the night before. He didn't care much for his old schoolmates and wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been for Claire, but seeing her had done him some good. Which was, of course, good to hear. Forget good, it was great. Amazing. Even off my face with jet-lag, I was still worried about him and couldn't wait to see him.

Tomorrow couldn't come soon enough.



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