Everybody’s Wounded


Chapter 17



It explained a lot, I guess, Bran having a gay brother.  His quick and easy acceptance of me.  His insight.  His concern.  But it didn’t explain his hostility to Josh.  And Josh didn’t seem to want to offer any explanations either, and he had to have noticed. 


Our plan was to go to a restaurant near the condo for breakfast, and then head back and spend the morning working.  As he drove, Josh was silent and thoughtful.  I waited for him to say something, but when he didn’t, I finally had to ask.  He didn’t say anything for awhile, just kept driving towards the restaurant. 


“He was just there,” he said finally, pulling into a parking space.  “The gay community here isn’t exactly huge, and it’s centered around the university.  Even though I didn’t go out much, I pretty much knew everyone who wanted to be known.  So after Graham left, Matt was just there.” 


I felt a stab of jealously so sharp it surprised me.  I mean, I’d initially thought of Josh as a player, and then I’d realized that that was really just his cover.  He’d said there’d been no one since Graham…  Two years…  Forever…


“So you and Matt were—”   Fuck.  The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them, and there was no way to take them back.


For a moment, he continued to stare out the windshield into quiet Sunday morning.  “What?” he asked finally.  “Lovers?”   Then he turned and looked at me oddly.  “Were you and Luc?”


“No!  Yes.  I don’t know… Shit.”  Now I turned away from him and stared out the passenger window.


“Exactly,” he said softly.


I felt his hand on my shoulder, but I continued to look out at the sidewalk.  


“Look, Scott,” he said.  “I’m 24.  That pretty much means that I come with a past.  You know about Graham, which believe me, is the worst of it.  But it’s not everything.  I had a bit of a wild period after that.  Careful, safe―but a little… wild.”


Neither of us said anything for a long time.  I know it’s stupid, but I kinda felt like I’d been sucker punched.  I mean, I couldn’t believe how much that bothered me, thinking of Josh wild, with some random guy.  It just didn’t seem―right.  It just didn’t seem like Josh.  Not the Josh I knew.


Finally, I felt his fingers dig a little deeper into my shoulder.  “Look at me?’


Slowly I turned, and met those green eyes.  His face was unreadable.


“I’m not especially proud of it, but it happened, ok?”


I nodded slowly.  “So Bran’s brother was―part of that.”


“Yeah.  But that’s all.  He’s a nice guy and he was there, ok?” he said.  “Other than that, there just isn’t a story there for me.”


I nodded slowly.  It didn’t really explain Bran’s reaction, but I was prepared to let it rest. 


Then Josh continued.  “The thing is… the story I don’t have about him… doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have one about me.”


I studied him carefully.  The calm face.  The green, green eyes. 


“For me, what happened with Matt was brief, superficial, completely physical..  I went to his room a few times.  We fooled around a bit.  That’s all.  It didn’t mean anything to me besides, well, you know.  Company and a little… relief.  To be honest, nothing meant much to me at that point.  I was too much of a mess.”


“You don’t have to tell me this,” I said.


“No, I don’t,” he agreed.  “But if you and I are going to try to have any sort of relationship, it’ll be easier in the long run if I do―especially since you're friends with his brother, and Matt may be coming back here.”  He shrugged.  “I really didn’t have any idea that he didn’t graduate.  That was a year later, I was long gone.  It can’t possibly have had anything to do with me.”


He sighed.  “The thing is―and I don’t imagine Brandon knows this, and he doesn’t need to know this―but Matt had been through a pretty wild period of his own.  That’s why I knew him.  Everyone knew him.  He had a real reputation when he was a freshman, though he calmed down a lot the next year, which I guess is when Brandon showed up.”  


He looked away for a moment.  


“Do you remember what I told you, that first night you stayed over?  What I don’t do?”


I nodded.  “Yeah.  Sympathy sex,” I said, and I couldn’t help but smile.  “Or broken hearts.”


He turned back to me then and smiled, just a little, the fine line of his mouth softening as it curved upward. “Exactly.  And Matt Kozinsky is why.”


I looked at him curiously.


“I told you I was a mess, that it couldn’t mean anything to me.  But I think it meant something to him.  I stopped seeing him as soon as I realized that.  It didn’t seem right, like I was kind of leading him on, letting him think there was some possibility something good could happen between us.  In fact, I stopped the wild bit altogether.  He really cleared my mind.  I owe him that.  But I don’t know what happened to him beyond that.  I didn’t even really know him that well, and I only went back with him a few times.”    


He gave me an odd, rueful little smile.  “It’s not like we even fucked.”


I met his eyes and nodded.  I knew what he was telling me.  Two years, he’d said.  No one since Graham, he’d said.  I’d believed him then.  I still believed him.


“Anyway,” he continued.  “That was over the end of my senior year.  I didn’t see Matt after that.  I didn’t see anyone.  And you know the rest.  I finished my degree, got a job in Halifax, buried myself in it for two years, and then came back here to do my Masters.  I started to go to Rainbow this fall―something I’d hardly done all the time I was with Graham.  Started to flirt with the boys a bit.  Met you.  That’s all.  Ok?”


I recognized his words for what they were: a startling burst of honesty.  The bare bones of a story, stripped to their emotional core, but clean and pure and honest.  And that, I realized, was exactly the way I thought of Josh.  He was a man stripped to essentials, to his emotional core.


And that was why, in a bizarre sort of way, he needed protection.  Emotional protection―especially from the Grahams of the world.  Because otherwise he was helpless against giving up everything of himself.  It didn’t matter how hard he tried to keep himself separate, no matter how hard he kept that beautiful face passive and unreadable.  The core of him was just too clean and pure and honest.


I turned to him, took his face in my two hands and stared into those incredible green eyes.  For an instant it was like we were poised just there, suspended, on the edge of some blade, some precipice, some secret.  I stopped, just short of a kiss, waiting, breathing, my mouth soft and asking nothing.  


His was so close to mine, our lips a breath apart, and we inhaled each others air.  And somehow, somehow, I knew that this would be an incredibly important kiss.  For him and for me.  It promised to be so much more that just a meeting of lips, there, in a parked car, on a deserted street, on an early Sunday morning.   


It was a kiss that promised…. something. 


It was a kiss that promised … everything.


And finally, finally, I relaxed my hands so that only my fingertips touched his face, just barely.  My eyes were on his, lost in his.   And then I touched my mouth to his, my lips open just a little, and stopped. 




 Offering him my mouth… my breath…


Offering him my heart. 


Some guys, I’m told, don’t kiss during casual sex.  Some, I’m told, don’t kiss at all.  I can’t imagine that myself―and yet, I understand it.  I mean, in some ways, kissing can be so much more… intimate than sex. 


I mean, you are always yourself. 


It’s like… there is always a point when sex, no matter how tender and how loving, becomes purely physical―even if it’s just for those few seconds of actual orgasm when your world shrinks to sensation, and everything and everyone else is lost.  Even if it’s just for those few seconds, there is always that point when you disappear into it, even when your lover is intensely there at the brink and intensely there as the breath comes back to your body.


But a kiss―a kiss can stay complete intimate, completely shared, even at its most intense.  Not that it always does.  I mean, I know that there are kisses that are empty, and kisses that are selfish, and kisses that take, and kisses that are only sensation.  But they don’t have to be.  Kisses offer the possibility of complete, knowing, aware connection.  Kisses offer the possibility, breath to breath, heartbeat to heartbeat.


It seemed to me in that instant, poised as we were on that breath,  that I’d learned a lifetime of lessons about kissing in those few weeks.  Goodbye kisses.  First kisses.  Deeply, deeply sexual kisses. 


And then, earlier that morning, the incredible gift of Josh’s yielding kiss, the mouth offered, so softly, so completely, as we’d stood perched in the window, looking down on the ocean.  


I had given so many kisses.  Met so many kisses. 


And this time, this time, it was not my kiss to give.  This time, I offered my mouth to be taken.


Josh’s breath was slow and hot and sweet, and for an instant that’s what there was from his mouth to mine, just that hot, slow, incredibly sweet breath.  For the longest time, a heartbeat, a million, he stayed perfectly still, suspended in the breath between us, caught in the gaze we held.  And then finally, finally, he leaned into me, ever so slightly, and took my mouth.  He entered me slowly, almost tentatively, and at first I could taste his uncertainty. 


I took him in, nothing more, just accepted his penetration, until I felt him tremble.  Then I did as he had done, and softly, very softly, sucked at his tongue until he sighed, and I relaxed against him, and the kiss continued an impossibly long time. And somehow it seemed that he was taking what I offered—the welcome, the kiss, my heart.


In a way, it seemed like such a small act of offering up.  Yet it scared me a little, holding myself back like that, letting him take me.


He tasted like hope.




After breakfast, we headed back to the condo for a few hours.  While Josh settled in to work, I called my uncles.  I was able to speak with Ben for a few moments; Ry was with his Mother.  The final visitation was to be that afternoon.  The funeral was the next day.  


“How is he doing?” I asked Ben, whose strong, calm voice was, as always, an anchor, a rock.   


“He’s doing ok” he said.  “It’s hard for him – especially since he and his father were really just learning to talk to one another again after all those years.  But at least they got that far.  It would have harder, I think, if they had still been… estranged…”


I thought about that. 


“It seems so sad,” I said finally.  “Kind of… pointless that they started to reconnect and then didn’t quite.”


“No, Scott,” said Ben softly.  “Don’t think that.  It’s pretty much what Ry is saying right now too, but it’s not right.  It wasn’t pointless at all.  The fact that his father was even willing to try will mean the world to Ry.  Sometimes it’s not what we achieve that matters.  It’s just the willingness to risk it.”


That’s one of the things I like most about Ben: how he is serious with me, how he never treats me like a kid.  He never really did.  He’s a blunt, straight forward man, but also a very sensitive one. 


 We talked a minute longer, and I promised to spend an evening with the two of them over Christmas.  I didn’t tell him about Luc.  He had enough on his mind to worry about with Ry.


“And Scott?” he said, just before hanging up.




“Remember what we talked about, ok?  These guys in your life?  We’ll talk about it at Christmas.”


I was sitting at Josh’s desk, and I found myself looking up, out the door into the living room.  Josh was lying back in his leather recliner.  He was reading a journal, and had a yellow highlighter in one hand.  On the table beside him was a mug of coffee and his open laptop.  He looked up just then, his eyes met mine, and I didn’t so much smile at him as become suddenly aware that I was smiling for him.  It was nothing really, just a quick little pause of recognition.  His right eyebrow quirked up, his mouth softened a little, and then he returned to his reading. 


“I remember,” I said.  “You were right.  I think it’s… resolving itself.”





We got to the hospital just before two.  Robert had called an hour earlier to say they’d been held up by an accident on the highway and were running late, but expected to be there by 2:30.  When Josh and I made our way to Luc’s room, we found the door closed, so we went to the nursing station for information. 


“Are you family?” asked the young woman at the desk.


“No,” I told her. “We’re friends.”


I hadn’t said anything to Luc about Robert coming, so I didn’t say anything then either.  I’d talk to Robert about how to handle it when he got there. 


She nodded.  “Surgery’s booked for four o’clock,” she said.  “They’re just prepping him now.  You can see him in a few minutes.”


“Surgery?”  I felt Josh’s arm on mine.


“Yes.  Our ORs are pretty booked tomorrow, and the plastic surgeon’s booked in Halifax.  He’s decided to go this afternoon.  They’re just prepping your friend now.  You can see him in a few minutes.”


She sent us to a small waiting room down the hall.      


Josh had gone in search of coffee when Robert arrived.  There was no mistaking him as Luc’s brother.  I’ve told you what Luc looks like, described his tall, narrowly-built frame, his fine-boned, almost delicate face, the shock of his black curls.  Robert’s shorter, maybe 5’10, with a much stockier build, and his features are coarser.  He also has a nose like mine, one that’s obviously made contact with a few immovable objects in its time.


The resemblance was in the voice, the cautious smile, the hair which, though mid brown, was the same mess of unruly curls.


And, of course, in the eyes. 


Robert had those same pale, intense Siberian eyes.  Looking into them I remembered suddenly Josh telling me that all four of the Bedard brothers had those eyes.


 “You Scott?” he asked as he strode in.


I stood up and offered my hand.  “Yeah.  You’re Robert?”  I was careful to pronounce it the French way, with the accent on the last syllable, and a silent “t.”


He nodded, looking me over.  Then he shook my hand.  “What happened to your face?"


I looked at him blankly, and he raised his hand and pointed at the side of my jaw.  Then I remembered.  It was hard to believe, but just 24 hours ago I had been a province away on a cold, hard rugby field, battling for the national championship, and I looked it.  My face was bruised and scraped, and I had a cut on the edge my chin that was held together with three Steri strips.  So much had happened in those 24 hours that I’d totally forgotten.


“Rugby,” I said.


“You on the St G team?”


I nodded. 


He introduced Angie, his fiancée, a pretty girl almost his height, with golden eyes and soft red hair.  We sat down, and I filled them both in with the little I knew of the upcoming surgery.  And then, we just kind of looked at each other warily. 


It took a while, but finally he got out what he needed to ask. 


“Tell me what happened.  How did you find him? “


I’d already told him, about the phone message, and, of course, he’d received a message of his own.  I explained it again in more detail, how I’d intended to stay over an extra night with my uncles, and then ended up going back with the team.  How I’d happened to notice the light flashing on the phone in my room―a phone I hardly ever used. 


The fact that I got the message in time was just… luck.  Or fate.  Or who the fuck knew?   


“What exactly did he say to you?” Robert asked.


“Most of it was kinda… private and personal,” I said.  “But it was clear that he expected it would be… over when I listened to it.”


Robert’s face tightened.  “Did he say why?”


I thought about it.  “Not really.  I mean, kinda.  He said it was because the way he was had caused you―your family―so much pain.  I figured that meant because he’s gay.”  I shrugged as Robert winced, and shook his head.  “He also said he’d always known he would take this road, that he couldn’t keep living like this, that he’d been planning it for a long time."   


For a moment, it looked like Rob was going to cry.  I didn’t ask what message Luc had left him.  I didn’t feel the need to know.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  Angie was leaning close to him, rubbing his arm lightly with her hand.


Before any of us could say anything else, Josh came into the waiting room, a cardboard coffee cup in each hand.  He came over and we all stood up.  He handed me a coffee and offered Robert his hand.


“Hi, Robert.  Angie,” he said, but his eyes kept glancing at mine.


Robert looked surprised.  “Josh?  What are you doing here?  Weren’t you working in Halifax last I heard?”


Josh nodded.  “I’ve been back here since September.  Doing a Masters.”


It was interesting watching Robert and Josh react to one another.  Josh, of course, had the advantage of being prepared.  Robert was clearly stunned, and there was a definite wariness to his words and to his body language.  He wasn’t hostile so much as… careful.


“Actually,” I said to Robert, “it was Josh who found Luc.  The first thing I did when I got the voice message was call him, tell him to run downstairs to Luc’s place.  It was really foggy last night.  By the time I got a cab and got to the condo, Josh already had the ambulance there and they were working on him.  Josh is the one who really got to him in time.”  


“Then I need to thank you both,” Robert said. 


“It was luck,” I said.   


“Still.  If you hadn’t—”


“Don’t,” I said.  “I know.  Believe me.  I’ve thought about it.”  I felt Josh’s hand on the back of my neck, and I relaxed a bit.  The gesture wasn’t lost on Robert, and his eyes widened slightly. 


“You can’t blame yourself for this, Scott,” he said softly.  “I told you it wasn’t the first time.  Surely he told you that.”


“Yes, but—"


“Um.  I don’t quite know how to ask you this but – how close are you to my brother?  I mean—”


“We’re friends,” I said.  “I’m his friend.”


I felt the pressure of Josh’s fingers tighten, and then he dropped his hand.  He held the second cup of coffee out to Robert. 


“Take this,” he said.  “Angie and will go find some more.”  


I caught the quick glance and barely perceptible nod Robert and Angie exchanged before she went off with Josh. 


“I’m sorry,” Robert said.  “That wasn’t very… discreet.  It’s just―I couldn’t tell from Luc’s message.  He said―he said he was in love with you.  I thought perhaps you and he were… together.”


“No,” I said softly.  “But I think he hoped that.  And maybe I gave him reason—” 


I looked towards there door from which Josh and Angie had just left us.  


“But you want to be with Josh,” said Robert.


I met Robert’s eyes, wondering what I should say.  I mean, it was none of his business, and yet...


“Yes,” I said softly.  “I want to be with Josh.  I care about Luc very much, but—” 


Shit, this was hard.  Robert was so different from Luc, though the voice was the same, and those pale, Siberian eyes.  “And I tried with him.  I tried, but—" 


Shit.  What was I supposed to say?


But Robert just nodded.


“And what about that artist?”


“He’s gone,” I said.  “He left two years ago.”


It was like a weight lifted off Robert’s shoulders and his entire body language changed. 


“Good,” he said. 


I didn’t really know what to say.


It was Robert who broke the silence.  “Do you think that’s why he did this, because of you and Josh?  Are you blaming yourself?”


I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t want to believe it was my fault and yet, despite what Luc had said in his message, I had to believe that it was part of it.


“Because that’s not it, you know.  I told you.  He’s done this twice before.  Twice.  Before you even met him.”


I nodded, but didn’t say anything.


“Did he tell you about Daniel?”


I shook my head.  “He said something about 'poor Daniel.'  And he told me once there was a boy… a boy he thought had loved him, who hurt him very badly, someone who was then badly hurt himself.  I assume that was Daniel?”


Robert looked thoughtful.  “It’s not my story to tell,” he said, “but it’s not fair to you not to have at least the bare facts."


I looked at him curiously.


“It happened three years ago,” he said.  “Luc was 15.  Daniel was a year younger.  He was a neighbour. They’d been friends forever.”


I nodded.  So I was right.  I’d had a feeling I knew how this would play out.  The straight best friend, the wrong word, the wrong gesture—


Fuck, if only it had been that easy!


“Daniel was a big, strong kid,” said Robert.  “A lot like you, actually.  Athletic.  A lot of muscle.  A really good hockey player.  Looked couple of years older than he was, certainly a couple of years older than Luc.  And aggressive.  Luc was older, but Daniel was always the one in change, if you know what I mean.”


I nodded.


“Well, it seems they were a lot more than friends.”  He shrugged.  “None of us had any idea.  And then one day Daniel’s father came home unexpectedly and caught them fooling around and, well, the shit hit the proverbial fan.”


So I was wrong.  I exhaled sharply.  “Poor kids,” I said.


“Worse than that,” said Rob.  “Daniel’s father was a brute, and, it turned out, a total homophobe.  He went crazy, blamed it all on Luc as the older boy.  Forbade Daniel to have anything to do with him. 


“Daniel―I don’t know.  I guess he was afraid of his father or something, but he dropped Luc completely.  Luc was just crushed.  He tried to talk to him at school one day a few weeks later, and I guess there were some other boys around, and Daniel got angry and just… attacked him.  It was bad.  The other boys had to pull him off.  Luc was never much of a fighter and he was hurt.  Concussion.  Broken wrist.  Cracked ribs.”


“Oh, my God,” I said.  “Poor Luc.”


“Poor Daniel,” said Rob sadly.


I looked at him in surprise.


“Poor Daniel?”


He held my gaze for a few heartbeats.


“Poor Daniel,” he said again.  “He hanged himself that night.”






By the time Josh and Angie returned with more coffee, the nurse had given us permission to see Luc.  Robert and I had agreed that I would go in first to tell Luc that Robert was there.  I asked Josh to go with me. 


It was a mistake, but I was still reeling from what Robert had told me.  I thought it would be better to have him there with me. 


I was so wrong.    


Luc was propped up in bed, his left hand lying across his lap, palm up, heavily bandaged.  His eyes were closed when we walked in, and I called his name softly.  For an instant, when his eyes met mine, his face seemed alive.  Then I saw him register Josh’s presence, and he seemed to sink back into himself again.


“Hey,” I said.


He closed his eyes and didn’t answer.


I went over beside the bed, looking down on him.  The wild curls looked so black against the pillow, and he just looked so sad, so broken.  Barely aware of what I was doing, I reached for his good hand, though it too was bandaged.  It didn’t respond to my touch.


The blue hospital gown he was wearing had come undone, and his neck and collar bones were exposed.  All I could see were the fading marks my mouth had left on his skin, down his neck, down beneath the faded blue gown.  I turned to Josh, and I could see that his eyes too were fixed on them. 


I wanted to cry.   




He still said nothing.


I felt Josh’s hand on my shoulder.  “I don’t think I should be here,” he said softly.  “I’ll wait for you outside.”


I just nodded, unable to look away from Luc’s face. 


The room was silent then.  I didn’t know what to say.  After a long while, I felt Luc’s hand stir and then his fingers clasped mine.  He opened his eyes, and finally that beautiful Siberian gaze met mine. 


I thought my heart would break. 


“I’m sorry,” he said.  His voice was little more than a cracked whisper.


I tried to smile, but I thought of his poor hand and a dead boy, and the strength of a smile eluded me.  I wiped the tears away from the corners of his eyes.  I was so afraid to do or say anything that might upset him.  So I just talked, very quietly.  I told him that Robert was there, that I hadn’t told his parents, but that I’d had to call Robert.  He said nothing, just watched me with those eyes.


Finally, I told him I had to go, that Robert would come in.  He closed his eyes and nodded, and I leaned over and kissed his forehead gently.


“I do care about you,” I said.  “I care about you very, very much.”


He said nothing, and his eyes stayed closed.





Afterwards, while Luc was in surgery, all I could do was pace.  Robert and Angie left for a couple of hours, go back to Luc’s condo and grab a nap.  I couldn’t bring myself to leave.  Josh stayed with me.


All I could think of was Luc’s hand. 


His left hand, the hand I’d felt that night in his room.  It was his left hand, over and over, because his right hand had been wrapped around my neck.  It was his left hand that I had taken in my right, my larger, stronger hand, holding it to my heart, guiding it down, over my chest, down, to my belly, down, begging him to touch me.  It had been me, me, with my stronger right hand, pushing his fingers down, against and around my cock.  His left hand, his uncertainty, how he had pulled back, how I’d held it, held him, whispered in his ear, guided him back… 


And how I’d taken it to my mouth afterwards, licked his palm…


What if the surgery wasn’t successful?


What if his fingers tightened, curled, could not move to his will?


I thought of him at the piano, the way those long slender fingers had danced and rippled over the keyboard, how he had been lost in the notes, lost and found, and truly himself… 


And then those same slender fingers wrapped in mine, wrapped around me, for pleasure, my pleasure.


What had I done to him, guiding that hand?


What had I cost him?


What did I owe him―and how could I ever make it up?


I felt Josh behind me but I pretended not to, even when he said my name softly. When I felt his hands lightly on my shoulders, before I could stop myself, I shook him off.




I turned to him then, but it was too late.  All I saw was how he withdrew from me, how he closed up again.  Was it just this morning, just a few hours ago that I’d surrendered my mouth to him?


And now, and now—


Why is it all so fucking hard? 


Why can’t relationships just move… forward?  Why does every step forward always lead to two steps backward? 


Why does it all hurt so much?


I swear I wanted to reach out, to apologise, to throw my arms around him, but somehow I just couldn’t do it.  It wasn’t just that we were in a public waiting room.  It was that… I don’t know… I just… I found myself thinking of Luc’s hand on the piano keys.  Of them on my stomach.  Of my larger, stronger hand, guiding him, making him…  


Of the marks my mouth had left on his neck. 


Of the pain in Josh’s eyes when he’d seen them. 


I was just so consumed with guilt.


And Josh and I…


Josh and I were so new with one another, so new to one another.  We still had little more than what we were, and what we said, and how we touched.  Just that, at face value.  Not yet the secret wordless magic, the hidden language of glance and gesture and caress.  It was all still so new, so incredibly tentative.  


But I did know that when I shrugged him off like that, it was a slap to him, and when I turned to apologize he had already shut me off.  His face just closed down, and I knew that he’d gone to that calm, still place where he takes his strength and nothing can hurt him.


He gave me a funny half smile, turned from me and walked away, graceful and elegant and contained.  And I realized just how fragile it all was… how very, very fragile.


Luc’s heart.


Josh’s heart. 


My heart.