This is another short story along the same vein as Between Two Haystacks and Dissociation. It was stemmed from insecurity issues. Adrienne Etienne Houseman --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The End She was dead, and I hadn't been there. She was dead and it was my fault. We had loved each other, more than anything, and she was dead. She was dead at least partially because we loved each other, and we couldn't be together as more than the best of friends. She was dead, and I felt like something inside me had dyed right along side her. And I was curled up beside my other best friend, crying harder than I ever had before, in his arms. Andrée and I had met our freshman year in high school in math class. We'd both been shy then, I'd gotten over it, she hadn't. We'd started talking because we were the two honors students in the class, and we'd hit it off. We liked the same books, we followed the same sports teams, we laughed at each other's stupid jokes. I actually hadn't been sure if she was a girl or a guy until near the end of our freshman year. It wasn't my fault, her name was pretty androgynous, and she made an effort to look like a guy, and she acted like a guy. Yeah, OK, maybe I just wasn't that observant. We spent a lot of time together that summer, and I'd developed a massive crush on her. She figured it out, I guess, and she trusted me, but for whatever reason, she decided to come out to me at the end of the summer. I was heart broken, but partially because of how scared she had looked when she told me, I didn't turn away. She was an amazing friend, but she was also one of the most insecure people that I knew. She'd never had someone who was just a friend, on equal footing, in it for the same reasons, before. She'd always been the defender, the big brother, her words, not mine. She always seemed so surprised when she laughed, like it wasn't something that she was used to doing, her smiles were the same way: small and tentative like she wasn't quite sure if she was doing it right. She opened up a lot during our senior year. She started dressing like a girl, changed her style completely. It was really sudden. That's also around the time that her life went to shit. Her parents found out that she was gay, kept her from seeing her girl friend. No one else really knew that anything was wrong. But I was the one who saw her cry, it usually happened when I was driving her home, after we'd been out doing something. Andrée never cried, except for those rare occasions when we were sitting in the parking lot of her apartment complex at midnight, and she really didn't want to go home. It seemed like I was the only person that she could let go enough around to let it out. The first time that she cried on my shoulder like that was the scariest. She'd been very quiet on the ride home, and she'd been clenching her fists a lot. She kept almost saying something and then stopping, then she'd stare out the window at nothing for a while and the cycle would start over. When we pulled into a parking space, she blurted out, "I don't know how much longer I can handle it! Knives have been looking way too appealing recently." I was in mild shock, I yelled at her a little at first, how could she think of leaving friends behind? How could she do that to me? The look of blended gratitude and misery on her face when she burst into tears is one of the most memorable things that I have ever seen. I held her while she cried that night. She needed it, and quite frankly, after the scare she had given me, I needed it. I got pretty good at predicting when she needed to talk and cry in the parking lot. I wouldn't offer anyone else a ride if I knew that she needed that time. It was interesting explaining why the shoulders of my shirts had makeup stains later, but it was worth it. She was my best friend, and I loved her, more than anyone else. As the end of that last summer drew near, the crying got more regular. A week before we left for colleges on the opposite sides of the country from each other, she sobbed, "I'm going to miss you so damned much Mitch, I don't know how I'm going to handle it all without you." Other interesting things came out in that talk. Like that the only problem that she had with her sexuality is that she wasn't even a little tiny bit bi, cause she loved me, and it hurt that she couldn't be attracted to me. That was strange to find out. I kept reminding her over and over to call me, and that we would talk as much as she needed to, even though we'd not be near each other. I think that things started to break when I got a girlfriend. I remember Andrée laughing quietly when I showed her a picture of Emily. She'd whispered, "She looks like me Mitch," and she had been crying. It surprised me a little, but it made sense. I still talked to her on the phone for at least 30 minutes every night. Emily didn't like it that much, I guess that she was jealous of Andrée. Though she got irritated at how much time I spent with Alex too. Alex had always sort of been the third wheel hanging around with Andrée and I. He was quiet, but his shyness and Andrée's had been completely different. Where she literally seemed scared of people, and incredibly insecure, he was just restrained, naturally quiet. He thought that I was being stupid to date Emily, but silly me, I didn't listen to him. Emily dumped me, three months after we started dating. She yelled at me for not caring about her as much as I cared for Andrée or Alex. She yelled at me for using her to replace "that lesbian bitch." That's when I snapped at her, when the accusations were leveled at me, it didn't bother me nearly as much, but one bad word about Andrée, and I was yelling back. It probably would have devolved into something much worse than just yelling if Alex hadn't come in and kicked her out of the room. But that fight is what probably led to Andrée dying. I told her about it over the phone that night, told her too much I guess. Andrée had always been so insecure, and hearing that she must have thought that I was angry at her for messing up my love life. I'm so oblivious sometimes, I didn't even notice. When Alex woke me up in the middle of the night he was yelling, "Fucking call Andrée now you idiot! What did you do?" "What? It's four in the morning." "She just called me apologizing for messing up our lives so much, saying good bye, telling me to take care of you, call her now, there's no way that she would listen to me, you might be able to get her to not do anything stupid." I rushed then, grabbing my phone, calling her. Her voice was wavering when she answered, she said, "Don't hate me..." and then there was a crashing noise. I heard shouting, and then a different voice was on the phone. "What's going on? What happened to Andrée?" I knew that I sounded hysterical. The girl on the other end said, "Who is this, who was she talking to?" In a voice that sounded far too controlled. "It's Mitch." "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." "What? What is it?" I was panicking a little by this point. "She's dead. She slit her wrists." I completely broke down then, Alex took the phone away from me. I heard him talking to the girl on the phone quietly for a while, but I couldn't understand any of it. She was dead, she was dead, she was dead... When Alex picked me up off the floor, I latched on to him like a burr. He was the only one who had any idea what I was feeling, he'd been around us enough. He got me into the bed, and he stayed there just talking to me, nonsense, when I wouldn't let go. I'm pretty sure that he was crying too, but he took care of me. I was in total shock. I was still curled up against him the next morning, and he was still holding me, rubbing my back in little circles, murmuring random things under his breath. I looked at him then, he was staring down at me looking concerned. He'd always been the stable head of the three of us, but I knew that he was grieving too, that I had just added to his worries. "I'm sorry for falling apart on you last night," I whispered, I was so horse, that I couldn't have spoken more loudly than that if I had wanted to. He brushed some of the matted, tear stained hair out of my face, "It's alright Mitch, I think that I'd have been more disturbed if you hadn't freaked out." He put his head down on my shoulder and actually cried then. It was strangely familiar holding Alex while he cried, even though I'd never done it before. While he cried, I thought about Andrée, just let my mind wander on the subject of her, and let my eyes wander around the room. I latched on to the image of the three of us at some theme park. I was standing in the middle, goofy grin on my face, with an arm draped around each of their shoulders, they're both looking at me with the exact same look on their face. That had been taken six months ago. The last thing that we had done together before we left for schools. Alex and I together, and Andrée all alone. That picture was surrounded by others, most of them were of the three of us, though there were some of all the possible pairs, and a few of just Andrée, and one of just Alex. I remembered her reaction when she had seen this collection of photos gathering on my desk back home. She'd stared at it for a while, and then she had reached out and brushed her fingers against the picture of Alex, "When did you get this one? He looks so sad." It had been the summer before our senior year. Andrée had been busy a lot, with taking a college class and all. So Alex and I had hung out a lot, gone and done things the two of us. I used to carry a camera with me everywhere. And this was one of the results. I had been walking back from buying us tickets to some movie, and I saw Alex sitting there like that, not really looking at anything, looking sad, and I had had to take the picture. I hadn't quite known why. Andrée had grinned that little lopsided grin of hers at me when I told her this story. "And you say that you never look at boys..." I'd changed the topic rather quickly at the time. I used to be homophobic, before meeting Andrée, she changed my outlook on a lot of things. And there was no way that I could be anything but straight. At least that is what I thought. Andrée had teased me a lot, and eventually I had listened a little: I'd noticed what I was doing, like that she commented when she caught me staring at other boys. I started catching me doing it too. It bugged the hell out of me, I had managed to reach the conclusion that it was fine for other people to be gay or bi, but I wasn't allowed to be. I knew that she and Alex used to talk a lot when I wasn't around too. I hadn't really been able to guess what they had to talk about so secretly, so I was a little surprised when Alex came out to me during our senior year. I'm a little oblivious sometimes, I really never would have guessed that he was gay. Funny thing is, finding that out is what made me seriously start to doubt my own sexuality. The first few weeks at college, Alex seemed to have a running, "Mitch, stop hitting yourself in the head," soundtrack going on. I'd smack myself in the face every time I noticed myself checking out a guy, I never would have let on to either of them what was going on though, Andrée would have been too smug. If I could have her back with us, I would tell them both and be happy to hear her laugh at me. I thought that it had all been resolved when I started dating Emily. I had a girlfriend, so I must be straight. Yeah, that lasted all of a week into when I was dating her. When I noticed how irritable Alex was around her. I started not hanging out with them at the same time. I checked in on this with Alex, making sure that everything was OK, and it startled me when he gave me a hug and thanked me. It was like a slap in the face, the realization was so sudden. Alex had hugged me a few times before, but this was the first time since he had come out to me, and I'd been thinking about a lot of things since then. I tried to deny my reaction, I had Emily, everything was perfect, but I had to admit to myself, at least a little, that I had a crush on Alex. Andrée killing herself was traumatic, and I didn't have a proper handle on my emotions. I knew then, with a great deal of certainty, that I loved Alex just as much as I loved Andrée. He was still holding on to me, though he had stopped crying mostly. He looked where I was looking. "I never noticed that you had a picture of me in there." I nodded sheepishly, I didn't quite know what to say yet. He sighed, "That was summer before we were seniors, isn't it?" I nodded. "I was so worried about coming out to you. I almost managed it a dozen times that summer. I just couldn't." I finally found something to say, "Why not?" "Because I was afraid that you would turn on me. Or that you'd suddenly be uncomfortable around me. Thank you." I hugged him tighter. He had actually cared what I thought. He was looking at me funny now. I really didn't know what to say, this wasn't really the time to give him this sort of revelation. "On the phone, she said that I should ask you something, and I'm not sure if it's a good idea or not." "Ask, it was one of her last wishes." "How do you feel about me?" The words were rushed, and I was pretty sure that I was gaping at him dumbly. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have." "No, Alex, it's OK," my words were stumbling, but she was reaching out from beyond death giving me a push in the right direction. "I like you a lot. I - she always teased me about it - I didn't really realize until recently that I'm bi." There was something a little bit different about the way Alex was holding me. I think that it had something to do with a hand that had slipped up into my hair. He looked so scared, so unsure of himself, so worried. There was longing in his face too. I leaned forward so that our foreheads touched. He closed his eyes, and I just concentrated on breathing. I leaned in and brushed my lips against his very tentatively, when he kissed back, I was relieved. We started crying again then. Andrée had managed to set this up even though she just couldn't handle it anymore. She had always been able to do more for her friends than for herself. Neither of us went to classes for the next few days. We spent a lot of the time curled up on my bed, talking about Andrée, trying to remember the best memories we had about her, and occasionally kissing, it was the last thing that she had given us. A few weeks later, Emily saw us holding hand in public. She flew off the handle, and you know what, I didn't care what she thought anymore. Alex was the only one who could really understand where I stood in all this. The only one who's soul had been touched by Andrée's as much as mine had. The End was just a New Beginning.