Before Us

Photo by Johnson Johnson on Unsplash

“Oscar! Oscar, open up! I know we didn’t leave things on the best terms, but I’m really worried.” Jason pounded on his ex-fiance’s door with the side of his fist. Sam, Oscar’s coworker, had called to ask if he was alright. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten the memo that he and Jason weren’t on speaking terms. She said that Oscar hadn’t been to work all week, and, well, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Oscar would never miss that much work. He gave a few final knocks before giving up and sitting against the door, his legs out in front of him. 

“Listen, I’m sorry about what happened the other day. I know you didn’t mean what you said, and I didn’t mean what I said. We were upset, and—” He sighed. This was getting him nowhere. “Look, I just want to make sure you’re okay. I know this doesn’t change anything, but I just— I need to know.” He tipped his head back and fell through the doorway, grimacing as his skull thudded against the floor of the entryway.

“Touching,” a familiar voice chimed, and Jason’s stomach sank.

“You suck, Harry.” Jason glared up at him. “What are you doing here anyway? I didn’t think you cared about your ‘annoying little brother.’”

“I’m hurt that you’d think that, seeing as this is all your fault.” God, Jason hated that guy, with his stupid fake salesman smile and his jokes that he thought were hilarious but weren’t funny at all. He offered a hand; Jason pointedly ignored it. 

“What are you talking about?” He pulled himself to his feet.

“You read it.” Harry shoved a sheet of paper at his chest and wandered into Oscar’s living room, where he settled into one of Oscar’s favorite plush armchairs. Jason closed the front door and looked at the sheet of paper in his hands.

I wish today never happened. I wish it was still yesterday and you were still smiling at me all crooked like there was nothing wrong. I wish I could do something to fix it. To fix us. I wish a lot of things, but mostly I wish you were here.

But you aren’t.

Last night is long gone, and so are you.

Jason eased himself into his usual spot on the couch. “What is this?” he murmured, dread settling in his gut. 

“Hm?” 

“What is this, Harry?” 

“I don’t know what you mean.” Harry shrugged.

“You damn well do. What the hell is this, and where is Oscar?” Jason hissed. Harry rolled his eyes.

“Just read it.” He folded his arms and crossed his legs. “Let him tell you.” 

Tell me what? Jason turned his attention back to the note.

I remember when we met, all those years ago. You were sitting alone at lunch and I was new, so it wasn’t as if I had any friends. I remember thinking, “what’s a guy like that doing eating his lunch alone? I bet he plays football or lacrosse or something. He seems like that kind of person.” After all, you didn’t exactly strike me as someone without friends, with your broad shoulders and fluffy hair. But you were sitting alone and I had no one to sit with, so I walked up to you. Why not, right?

“Hey,” I’d said, and I tried to smile, but, I’ll be honest, my mouth felt like rubber and my legs felt like jelly, and I’m pretty sure my heart was palpitating. At the time, I was so confused, but I guess we know how that one worked out, don’t we?

“Hey.” You looked at me with these wide blue eyes and seemed so startled that I thought you were about to burst into tears.

“Uh, mind if I sit?” I glanced at the empty seat next to you, and you nodded. I slid myself onto the bench beside you. “I’m Oscar. Nice to meet you,” I said, before taking a large bite of my sandwich. Food is and always will be the best solution to any problem, and anyone who disagrees with me can go to hell. 

“Jason,” you said, offering a hand, which I took. Together, we ate our lunches in silence. It was comfortable and for once, I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to fill it. It’s funny how well I remember that day. It shouldn’t have been that memorable, I mean we barely said anything to each other. Maybe that’s why it stood out. I don’t know, but I’m glad I remember it. We were so different back then. I wonder what I would have said if I knew how things would turn out.  Would I  Would I have talked to you at all? Would you have let me?

I think I would. No matter how it ended, I’ll never regret what we had. We were special. All the hurt in the world couldn’t change that.

We spent so much time together after that, it was as if we’d known each other our whole lives. At least it felt like that for me. I got to watch you slowly open up; to me at first, but then to everyone. You used to be so quiet, but you deserve to be heard, even if it won’t be by me anymore.

I remember when you told me how your older sister was studying abroad, and how you couldn’t wait to see her again. Your eyes would light up at the mere mention of Amy, and even though you were clearly proud of her, I could tell how much you wanted her to come home. I’m glad I got to meet her. She’s quite a woman. When you told me she was taking you to Spain with her the summer after 11th grade, you were so excited that I didn’t have the heart to tell you that I didn’t want you to go. We’d spent every day together for a year and a half by then, and, well, I didn’t want to go that long without you. Of course, if you hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have figured out how I felt, or maybe I would have, but it would have taken a lot longer. I guess I should thank Amy for that.

I remember when you first kissed me. Or, well, I kissed you. Amy managed to bring you back in one piece, and I met you at the gate, because that was allowed back then. I was so happy to see you, and we were hugging and, well, it just sort of happened.

But then, before I could panic, you kissed me back.

You kissed me back and my heart sang. I know it sounds silly and cliché, but it did. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. You pulled away and you had this dopey smile on your face, and it was so different from the crooked one that you use when I say something stupid or make a dumb joke (you know the one I’m talking about), and I’d never seen anything like it. It was perfect, and you were perfect, and everything about that moment was just perfect. I miss it. I miss you.

I know you probably hate me right now, and this little letter journal entry won’t even reach you. Why would it?

Jason swallowed the knot that was forming in his throat. “He thought I hated him?” He looked at Harry, who was pointedly staring at his feet, his lips pressed shut. “How could he think that?” Harry didn’t respond, and that was confirmation enough. “What did you say? What did you say to him? What did you do?”

“Just keep reading.” 

“No! You’re going to answer my goddamn questions! Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? I could never hate him. I messed up over and over and he stood by me! He stayed with me when everyone left. He’s the reason I’m—” Jason took a steadying breath. “I could never hate him.” He didn’t know what else to say. Oscar was just… always there, no matter what. How could he have thought that Jason hated him?

Harry didn’t respond, and Jason turned back to the letter with trembling hands and blurry vision.

You still want kids and I still don’t. We want different things, and even if I could take back what I said (lord knows I want to), that won’t change. I wish it would. More than anything, I do. You said you wanted me to be happy; to find someone who wants what I want. I shouldn’t have gotten so upset, but you have to understand why.

I knew that I couldn’t do that. There will never be anyone who wants what I want because all I want is you. I know that’s super cliché or whatever. I don’t care. You’re it for me, Jason. It’s always been you, and it’s always going to be you.

Wow. All of these words and I still haven’t gotten to the point. Big surprise there.

Jason chuckled.

You would have laughed at that. You always laughed at my jokes, even the stupid ones. 

Well, here it is: I can fix it. Everything that’s wrong, I can fix it. I know you probably wouldn’t believe me, or you’d tell me it’s a bad idea, but hear me out. Harry told me about a guy who helped a friend from his office, Colin. He told me Colin was having trouble accepting his son, who had down syndrome. After spending the day with that guy, he was the biggest advocate for equality and awareness anyone had ever seen, or at least that was what Harry said. He said he’d never seen the guy so happy. I know Harry isn’t exactly the most trustworthy guy, and his friends have always been kinda sketchy, but maybe “this guy” could make me want what you want. I know it’s probably a lost cause, but I have to try. Harry says it can get intense, so I’ll see you soon, if it works. If not, well, I’m so sorry. I’m leaving in the morning; Wish me luck. I love you.

Oscar.

He still loves me, Jason thought. It shouldn’t have come as that much of a relief, but Jason’s chest felt a little lighter at the thought. Oscar loved him. But Oscar was gone, and Harry knew something about it.

Jason peered over Oscar’s letter at Harry, who was scrolling on his phone. He didn’t have to be a genius to know that Oscar would never have thought he needed to change for Jason. He didn’t have to be a genius to know this was all Harry’s doing.

“Where is he?” Jason growled. Harry’s head snapped up, and he tucked his phone back in his pocket.

“I actually don’t know. See, that friend of mine was only away for a day, and well, as I’m sure you can tell from the letter, it’s been a lot more than a day.” He stood up, his hands clasped in front of him. “Frankly, I’d assumed the two of you had reunited and were enjoying some, how to put this, rigorous extracurricular activities.” Jason made a face. “But then, I came by to, you know, water the plants, take care of things here, do my thing, and I found that.” He gestured to the note. “Next thing I know, you’re knocking on the door, pouring your heart out to nothing, and I’m wondering how long to keep you hanging.” Jason got up and began to walk away, note still in his hand. “Wait, where’re you going?”

“To find him.”

“But you don’t know where to start! You don’t even know where to find Colin!” Harry piped, worming himself between Jason and the door. 

“I don’t need your help. I need you to get out of my way, and stay there. You’ve done enough.” Jason took a step forward, so they were chest to chest. “Move.” Harry did, and he had the decency to look scared out of his wits. Jason got into his car and drove to Harry’s office. 

That would be as good a place to start as any.

***

When Jason got to the office, he was a sight to behold. After stewing in his car for the whole ride there, he was ready to do anything to find Oscar. He was only okay with the two of them going in opposite directions because, presumably, they’d both be able to find someone else and be happy. That couldn’t happen if Oscar was dead in a ditch somewhere. Which he wasn’t, because he’d be absolutely fine. He would. Jason would find him, and he’d be completely okay. 

Jason went straight for the stairs and climbed to the level where Harry’s company was based.

A young man with blonde hair sat at a cluttered desk, invested in something at his computer. The office looked like every other office in existence, complete with boring decorations, an ugly carpet, and employees that looked very dead in the eyes. The sooner he could get out of here, the better. Jason waited impatiently for the receptionist to finish up whatever he was doing on his computer. When it seemed as though that wasn’t going to happen, Jason cleared his throat. The receptionist looked up, and his mouth was stretched into a thin line. Apparently, he wasn’t having that great of a day either. 

“Can I help you?” he asked, his tone harsh and biting. 

“Yeah, I’m looking for Colin.” Jason shifted his weight and scanned the office. 

“Third cubicle down that way.” The receptionist gestured to the right, and Jason hurried to where he was pointing. 

He didn’t know what he expected Colin to look like, but it certainly wasn’t this. The man was moderately overweight, with hippie hair, and a beard to go with it. His suit and tie were neatly put together, although his desk was covered with a multitude of papers. 

“Colin?” Jason stepped closer to him, and he looked up.

“That’s me. What can I do you for?” he drawled. Jason rubbed his neck, self conscious.

“Uh, I’m looking for Oscar. Sinclair. Harry said he talked to you?” Colin nodded.

“Told him about the guy who changed my life. Why?”

“He’s . . . missing.” Jason’s voice shook a little. Colin raised his eyebrows. “Do you know where he went?”

“Well, I don’t know how I feel about just giving away information for free. Man’s gotta pay the bills,” he said, leaning back in his chair. Jason rolled his eyes and dug through his pocket. He pulled out a wad of crumpled ones, a few fives, and a tenner, and set them on the desk.

“Here.” Colin looked over the money, and nodded appreciatively.

“Here’s the address, but I don’t know if he’s still there.” He wrote something on a scrap of paper. “I hope you find him.” Jason nodded, grabbed the paper, and booked it out of the dull office. Just being there was suffocating his soul.

***

The address led him to a part of town he’d never been to before: the land of rich people and country clubs. Houses bigger than some apartment buildings he’d seen lined the streets, each more extravagant than the last. Each had a garage that could easily fit 2 or 3 cars, which was why a solitary red SUV, parked outside a large brick building, drew Jason’s eye. Its bumper was decorated with a sticker that read: Have cats, will travel. Jason recognized it immediately. 

It was a good thing the streets were empty of cars and pedestrians. Had there been any, Jason more than likely would have hit one with the way he swerved. He braked and put the car in park. Before he knew it, he was jogging towards the SUV, his keys left in the ignition. 

“Oscar?!” He peeked into the car windows, but it looked completely normal. The cheap car smell still hung from the rear-view mirror, along with a little plush dodo bird. Oscar always had this obsession with dodo birds. The cupholders were still full of spare change, and Oscar’s old school backpack still sat on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

Jason spun on his heel and made his way to the big brick house. It was worth a try. He rang the doorbell.

“Coming!” Someone said from inside. There was a ruffling sound inside the house, and the door opened. A middle-aged woman with black hair and ochre skin stood in front of him, her arms crossed. She didn’t look pleased to see him. “Can I help you?” 

“Yeah, uh, I’m Jason. My um, friend, he left his car out in front of your house.” Jason pointed to Oscar’s car. “I was wondering if you’d seen him.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. 

“Oscar!!! Someone’s here for you!!!!” Jason jumped, and his heart rate spiked. Oscar was here. Jason found him. What was he supposed to say? Hi, I know we didn’t end well, but then you disappeared and I’m still in love with you so I came to find you? Absolutely not. Before he could come up with anything coherent, Oscar was in front of him, and his mouth dried up. 

“Jason? What are you doing here?” 

“I . . .” Oscar’s eyes were wide and expectant. “Sam was worried. Said you hadn’t been to work in a week. She asked me to check on you, so I kind of tracked you down. Sorry for uh . . . sorry.” He turned to leave and walk back to the car. What else did he expect to happen? He didn’t even know how to be around Oscar anymore. Part of him screamed that he should turn around, find some way to make it work between them, but he knew that was foolish. Coming to this house was a big mistake. 

“Wait.” What? Jason didn’t stop walking though he wanted to, his brow set, and his mouth flattened into a determined line. He had to do this. They weren’t going to work, and there was nothing he could do about it. Talking about it would just make it harder. “Jay, hold on.” He increased his pace. “Hold on! I need to talk to you!” There was a crash, and Jason finally turned around. Oscar was sprawled halfway through the front door with one shoe on, and the other one hanging from his foot. “I still need to talk to you.” Jason fought back a chuckle and walked back over to help him up, his stomach doing somersaults. He didn’t want to, but at the same time he did, and he hated it. 

“Here, up you come.” He offered a hand, which Oscar took.

“Thanks. Listen.” Oscar rubbed his arm. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of it. This was all my fault, and—, and what I said—“ He looked down, trembling. 

“Hey, stop.” Jason cupped his face and caught his gaze. “It’s no one’s fault. But . . .”

“But what?” Oscar tiltied his head in confusion.

“I read your note.” He paled. 

Oh.” A car came screeching down the quaint suburban street. Jason didn’t have to think too hard to figure out who was driving. Harry was always the worst driver of the three of them. He cursed. Harry parked close enough to Jason’s car that both he and Oscar winced. 

“. . . did you know he was coming?” Oscar sent a nervous glance Jason’s way. 

“I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“What the hell, Jason?!” Harry slammed his car door. “I thought we were in this together!” Jason clenched his jaw.

“I believe what I said was, ‘Get out of my way, and stay there,’” Jason responded. Harry winced.

“You wound me,” Harry said, bringing a hand to his forehead. What a jerk. Jason felt a hand wrap around his. A twig snapped under Oscar’s foot as he stepped forward.

“What are you doing here, Harry? I told you not to follow me.” Oscar set his jaw, and Jason felt a warmth bloom in his chest. It vanished when he realized what Oscar had said. 

“I didn’t follow you, I followed him. And it’s not my fault you decided to stay here for a whole week!” Harry threw his hands out. “What was I supposed to think?” 

“Hold on! I think someone needs to explain what’s going on. You knew where he was and didn’t tell me?” 

“I actually didn’t know—”

“Shut up Harry.” He pulled his hand out of Oscar’s grip and turned to face him. “And you stay here for what, a week?! And you don’t even call the office? I don’t expect you to call me whenever you take an unplanned sabbatical to the land of rich people or whatever, but your coworkers are worried about you, and they shouldn’t have to call me to know where you are. Now I’m just trying to get over you, which is stupidly hard, by the way, and I think I deserve an explanation.”

Oscar met Jason’s gaze, and he just couldn’t be angry. He never really was, and he thought Oscar knew that. “Maybe you should come in.” Oscar nodded to the door, still open.

“Yeah, okay.” Jason followed Oscar into the house. Harry did too, but Jason pretended not to notice. Harry didn’t deserve his attention. Oscar led them through a hallway that was decorated with antique picture frames. They looked older than the house did, although just barely. The hallway opened to a large living room. Shelves lined the walls. Where there was a surface to spare, it was covered with anything and everything, ranging from jewelry to pocket watches to letter collections, each meticulously kept. A vintage couch and armchair set stood in the middle of the room, gathered around an ornate coffee table, although that term seemed too drab for the work of art before him. The woman who answered the door leaned against a doorway that led to another hallway. She approached Oscar with a worried glance and whispered something into his ear.

“Sorry, I’ll be right back.” Oscar and the woman disappeared down the other hallway, leaving Jason and Harry alone. Of course. 

“Sooooo—“

“Shut up Harry.”

“Is that all you’re capable of saying?” Jason sent him a death glare. “Fine.” There were a few moments of blissful silence, and Jason prayed Harry wouldn’t break it. But then he did. 

“What do you think about this place?” Harry ventured. Jason put his hands on his hips. 

“Why does it matter? Oscar and I are broken up, and that’s not going to change. The only reason I’m here is to get answers.” Jason pursed his lips. It was a lie, but it didn’t matter.

“Wow. I thought the reason you were here was because you were still in love with my brother, and you wanted to get back together.” 

“No.” Jason looked straight ahead. If he couldn’t see Harry, he might be able to ignore him.

“Guess I was pretty far off.” Harry shifted his weight. “You’re not even curious to see if it worked? You could have everything you want.” Jason chewed his lip. Harry was right. But at the same time, he wasn’t. 

“No. I couldn’t. Because even if he suddenly does want kids, even if that were to change cuz of this, it wouldn’t be real.”

“But imagine it! You, him, a kid on the way . . . That’s as real as it gets.” Jason shook his head.

“If Oscar were to change his mind cuz of some old-age voodoo or something . . . I don’t think it would actually be him. I think it would be close, but that’s not the man I fell in love with. I fell in love with someone whose kids are his cats, who’s self aware enough to know what he wants and what he doesn’t.” He looked at his feet. “The man I fell in love with would never change himself for someone else.”

“He’d change himself for you.”

“He shouldn’t.”

“Why don’t you let him decide that,” a voice said from behind, and Jason jumped at the proximity. “Sorry.” Oscar walked to one of the plush chairs and sank into it. He gestured for Jason and Harry to do the same, which they did. “You wanted an explanation, so you’re gonna get one. First, I just wanna apologize. This place has virtually no service, and I haven’t left the premises, so I haven’t really been able to call anyone. I’m sorry you guys felt you had to come out here to check on me, although I appreciate the sentiment.” He turned to Jason. “I need you to understand, when I wrote that note, the night before I left, I was in a really bad place. In almost every sense of the word. I really didn’t think anyone would find it, much less read it. I mean, why would they? I thought I’d only be gone for a day. But, when I got here, Steph, I believe you met her earlier—“

“Charming woman.” Jason nodded. Oscar smiled.

“Very. She helped get me sorted out, and, well, helped me make some good changes.” Jason’s blood ran cold.

“You didn’t . . . Please tell me you didn’t.” Oscar shook his head.

“I didn’t brainwash myself into wanting kids, no. That really was a bad idea,” Jason didn’t miss the way Harry looked down, his cheeks pink. “Instead, I did something that hurt a lot more. I got over you.” His voice shook, and Jason wished he could crawl into a hole and hide. 

“You . . . got over me? In a week?” Jason rested his head in his hands. What was he supposed to do with that? There were so many things he was expecting, but never that. Oscar nodded somberly. 

“Don’t get me wrong, the first three days I spent here, I was no better than a puddle on the ground. But, something about this house . . . I don’t know. It does something. I don’t really know how to explain it. Steph mentioned something about ley lines and healing properties.” He shook his head. “I don’t really understand it. All I know is that you want me to be happy, and I want you to be happy, and I can’t do that if you’re all that I think about.” Tears began to well in Oscar’s eyes. They were already falling from Jason’s. “I will always love you, but I can’t always be in love with you. I’m so sorry.” 

Jason looked at the ceiling, where delicate support beams held up the roof. He looked at the gold leaf on the mantle above the fireplace. He looked everywhere except Oscar because he wouldn’t be able to survive seeing the look on Oscar’s face. 

“ . . . Uh guys?” Jason snapped his attention to Harry. “I’m gonna go. I think I don’t need to be here for this, maybe you guys have some things to work out amongst yourselves, I don’t know. Oz, I’ll see you later. Jason, hopefully, I will not. Good chat. See ya.” Harry was gone faster than he appeared. 

“God I hate him,” Jason said. Oscar chuckled sadly.

“I know. So, uh, what do you think?” He looked in his lap while he waited for Jason’s response. 

“I— I don’t know what to say, Oz . . . I love you, you know that. I do want you to be happy, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. I think maybe I should go too. I don’t think I can see you anymore. If not for your sake then for mine. I can’t—” His voice broke, “I’m not gonna be able to do this if I see you, cuz, well, you’re you and I’m me, and I look at you and think ‘there he is, I love that dork.’” Oscar chuckled. “I don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry.” Jason got up and started walking to the door. 

“Wait.” Jason turned around, and suddenly, Oscar was there, and he was kissing him like he’d never get to again, which as far as either of them knew, he wouldn’t. Jason wanted it never to end, and yet he knew if he didn’t pull away now, it would only hurt that much more. He took a step back, though he loathed to do so.

“What was that for? I thought you were ‘over me’.” He raised an eyebrow. Oscar thought for a second.

“I wanted something to remember you by.” 

After a second, Jason turned on his heel and left Oscar in the house. He got into his car, drove home, and called his sister, just like he always did when he didn’t know where to start. Getting over Oscar would be one hell of a challenge, and he’d need some help if he were to ever pull it off. 

About Charlie Beauregard 396 Articles

Charlie Beauregard is a senior at Clayton A. Bouton High School.