Outted at thirteen, Orin Merritt left home after high school hoping to escape the hell his life had become. Ten years later when a tornado destroys his childhood home and kills his parents, Orin finds himself in an entirely new nightmare. One he can't run away from.
Blaming himself for failing the two people who always loved and supported him, he returns home and confronts his past in the person of his one-time best friend, Thomas Kennett. Thomas not only rejected him when Orin came out, he led the group that tormented Orin into leaving.
As he struggles to deal with his grief, Orin also labors to fulfill the pledge he made to his parents before their death. In the process, Orin learns that sometimes when you go away to find yourself, you leave the answers you're looking for behind.
"Orin, I won't." Thomas stood a bit straighter and his eyes lost the sad, pleading shine. "I won't hurt you again."
"You can't promise that. Things happen." Orin watched as his words dragged Thomas back from the brink of hope.
"If you truly believe that, then there's nothing I can do. You have to believe there's a chance or else I can't prove it."
"That's not what I'm telling you." He locked his gaze on Thomas's. "If I say yes, I'll have to take down the walls I surrounded my heart with to keep it safe. Once it's gone, I won't be able bring it back if I get hurt. Not now.
"So what I'm saying is, think about what you’re asking me to risk. If you really love me, ask yourself if are you willing to risk what will happen to me if you can't keep your promise."
He knew how unfair he'd been, but self-preservation had been a skill he'd honed over the past fifteen years. He needed Thomas to know just how serious the repercussion could be for his actions.
"Orin, I . . . I . . . how . . .?" Their faces were inches apart, and Thomas moved in for another kiss.
This felt different than the first—less urgent, but no less intense. Orin trembled at the leap he was about to take. When they stepped back, Thomas rubbed his thumb across Orin's cheek.
"I do love you, Orin. More than I can say. So much, that I'm not willing to risk what will happen if I fail you again. I don't have that right."
Thomas's lips quivered and the tears welled at the bottom of his eyes. He kissed Orin's forehead gently.
"Good-bye, Orin. Please be happy." Without looking back, Thomas walked to the front door, opened it, and walked away.
Andrew Q. Gordon wrote his first story back when yellow legal pads, ball point pens were common and a Smith Corona correctable typewriter was considered high tech. Adapting with technology, he now takes his MacBook somewhere quiet when he wants to write.
He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his partner of eighteen years, their young daughter and dog. In addition to dodging some very self-important D.C. 'insiders', Andrew uses his commute to catch up on his reading. When not working or writing, he enjoys soccer, high fantasy, baseball and seeing how much coffee he can drink in a day.