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Wales sat straight up in his bed, all sleep suddenly gone. The soft scraping sound coming from his closet had roused him. He looked around, peering out of green eyes. The room was almost dark with just the faint moonlight streaming through the small windows. He gingerly got up, the cold floor sending shivers through him. As he walked to the closet, his shadow crept behind him seemingly as scared as he was. The scraping sound continued without pause. He hoped that it was not the rats; he hated rats. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door.

 

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

 

“Argh!” Wales cried as he fell back on his butt. Raising his head, he saw his best friend, Chase laughing. “You stupid moron, you almost gave me a heart attack.”

 

“I wanted to surprise you for your birthday,” Chase said with the pout he always used with Wales.

 

“It’s okay,” Wales grinned, “Ten minutes past midnight. You are ten minutes late.”

 

“It’s not my fault if you were sleeping like an ogre. It took me ages to wake you up.”

 

“Excuses, excuses, Mr. Anderson. Anyway, where’s the cake?”

 

Both seventeen-year old boys sat on the bed with a small chocolate cake between them. The cake was finished in a matter of minutes but they sat there talking to each others for hours. They hadn’t seen each other in so long and they had so much to say.

 

“I missed you,” Wales said as he leaned on the bed post, next to Chase.

 

“Me too,” the blond-haired boy said. “Things haven’t been easy lately. But now I’m here. Everything will be fine.”

 

“Yes, everything will be fine,” Wales smiled.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Wales stood by the window. Acres of barren land, with occasional dry trees, spread to the horizon. He wished that at least the view would have been a cheerful one. Chase had left early in the morning. Without him, it felt so lonely here.

 

“Mr. Clarkson,” a nurse said as she entered the room, “it’s time for your appointment with Dr. White.”

 

Wales groaned. He didn’t like Dr. White. After each meeting, he couldn’t remember what had happened and his head ached like hell. He dragged his feet, hoping to stall the imminent meeting as long as he could.

 

“Quicker, Mr. Clarkson,” the nurse said impatiently.

 

Wales sulked as he quickened his pace and walked next to the nurse. They arrived at Dr. White’s office, faster than he would have liked. He clenched his hands so that they didn’t shake.

 

“Wales!” the doctor said cheerfully as soon as the teenager entered the room, “Good morning. Have a seat.”

 

Wales sat down in front of the white-haired man and heard the distinct click of the door being locked behind him. He gulped. He suddenly felt claustrophobic; the immaculate white walls seemed to close in on him. He noticed a small woman with brown hair, sitting in a corner. She smiled at him.

 

“We have Ms. Daisy with us today. She’s an intern we have the pleasure to be with. She is just going to observe and take some notes. There’s no need to worry. So how are you, young man?”

 

“I’m fine,” Wales said meekly as he gazed at his lap.

 

“Glad to hear that. I saw that it is your birthday today. I presume your parents will be coming today. You would like to see them, wouldn’t you?”

 

Wales nodded. He hadn’t seen them for months. The doctors kept him confined to his room and stopped all visits. He didn’t even know why he was here. When he asked, they said that they were checking on various things.

 

“Now if you answer me truthfully, I’ll let you see them,” Dr. White said, “Did you take your medication regularly?”

 

Wales nodded his gaze on his lap.

 

“Look at me and tell me the truth,” Dr. White said louder, “Did you take your pills?”

 

Wales raised his head and saw the gray eyes surrounded by wrinkles boring into his eyes. They reminded him of his mean kindergarten teacher. For every single mistake, she would beat him with that thin cane. She had the knack of knowing if he lied. 

 

“They taste bad,” he whimpered as tears threatened to spill out. Dr. White sighed.

 

“They are only for your good. I told you to never skip your medication. Yet you did!”

 

“They make my head ache. They make me sad,” Wales almost wept, his eyes going back to his lap.

 

“From now on, you will take each pill the nurse gives you in front of her! You will not keep it under your tongue and throw them away. We found the pills in the grass under your window. Do you promise to take your pills?”

 

“I do,” Wales said. His hands fidgeted on their own.

 

“Good. Now, another question. Answer me truthfully. I can tell when you lie, Wales. So don’t try. Did you meet or see Chase?”

 

“No!” Wales said too quickly as his head shot up. His eyes met the gray ones. He couldn’t tell him. Chase told him not to. He shouldn’t tell him. Yet looking at those gray eyes, he felt like spewing out all his secrets. He recalled the pink welts on his hands as the cane mercilessly beat them. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. He kept eye contact for a few minutes. Then, he broke down.

 

“He just came to see me for my birthday,” Wales wept. His knuckles turned white as his hands clutched at each other as strongly as they could.

 

“You shouldn’t see Chase,” Dr. White said, “How many times do I have to tell you?”

 

“He just wished me happy birthday,” Wales wept.

 

“Look at these pictures, Wales,” the doctor said as he handed him a few photographs.

 

Wales trembled as he looked at them. They were pictures of Chase, or someone like him. The person was severely wounded. Several times, he had to close his eyes at the sight of the wide open gashes. He couldn’t look at all of them. The idea of such cuts and so much blood, especially on Chase’s face, made him sick.

 

“This is your friend, Chase. These pictures were taken seven months ago. He was found dead. You were the one who found him.”

 

“No, no,” Wales said louder than his normal tone, “It is not Chase. Doctor, it is not him. I met him tonight. He came to wish me happy birthday. We ate the chocolate cake. We talked. It is…”

 

“Wales, Wales,” Dr White started but Wales had already started shouting.

 

“It is not Chase. It cannot be. I didn’t kill him. I didn’t and he’s not dead. I didn’t kill him,” Wales was shouting as loud as he could, “I DID NOT KILL CHASE!”

 

He didn’t even hear the doctor calling the nurses, the door opening or the ward boys holding him to administer the injection. All he was hearing were the soft whispers in his head.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Who was he, Doctor?”

 

“Wales Clarkson. A sad case. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do something soon.”

 

“So did he kill his friend?”

 

“He didn’t yet he did.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Eight months ago...

 

Wales kicked the old car after banging the hood shut. “A gift for your sixteenth birthday,” his parents had said when they gave him the keys of the old car. But over the past four months, it turned out to be a burden.

 

“What is wrong with it now?” Chase said as he appeared next to him.

 

“The carburetor is overheated. We have to wait for it to cool down.”

 

“There’s a lake over there, near the mountain. Some cold water will cool it down faster.”

 

Wales nodded. He grabbed an empty gallon container for the water. He didn’t even bother locking the car. No one was going to steal this old junk.

 

The distance to the lake was farther than what it had seemed from the road. The trees were so close to each other that it was impossible to make their way through the small space in between them. Wales almost fell by tripping over the roots but luckily, Chase held him. Both boys let out a sigh of relief as they emerged out of the woods. They stood and lost themselves in the view for a moment. The mountain stood majestically with a clear lake lying at it feet. The clouds crowned its peak, testifying to its immensity with thousands of trees witnessing the sight silently.

 

“This is so cool,” Wales said.

 

“Yeah, it is.”

 

Slowly and almost tentatively, both of them made their way to the lake.

 

“You seem oddly quiet today,” Wales said as he filled the container, “You didn’t even talk much in the car. Anything wrong?”

 

Chase remained quiet with his eyes downcast. Wales thought that he didn’t hear him and was about to repeat himself when his friend said, “I have something to tell you.”

 

“Oh. What?”

 

“I don’t know how to say it,” Chase said as he waved his hands frantically. He always did that when he was nervous.

 

“You can tell me, mate,” Wales patted his shoulder, walking back.

 

“Wales, it’s that… How do I say it? I’m…” Chase said with his hand still moving in all directions and after taking a deep breath, he said it. “I’m gay.” Wales looked at him for a couple of uncomfortable seconds and then roared with laughter.

 

“Fucker! I can’t believe that you are trying your stupid pranks on me. We’ve been friends since we are kids, Chase and I know that you aren’t gay. But I am sure this will work on Dennis? Or even Sam…”

 

“Wales, I’m serious,” Chase said as he stopped walking, “I’m gay.”

 

“No, you aren’t,” Wales smiled.

 

“I am.”

 

Wales looked at Chase. It would have been so easy if it was a simple joke. But Chase’s serious face said that it wasn’t. How… Shaking his head, Wales just walked away. Chase jogged behind him, completely silent. Once they were on their way again in the car, no one said anything.

 

“Please say something,” Chase said as they stopped at his house.

 

“What do you want me to say?” Wales snapped, “You’ve got this stupid idea in your head that you’re gay when you are not!”

 

“I wish it was so easy but being in denial doesn’t help. Your friend is gay and you need to deal with it,” Chase said, getting out of the car.

 

“Gays can never be my friend.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Wales watched as Chase entered the canteen. He knew that everyone at the table was looking at them. Both boys looked at each other and then, Chase sat at an empty table. Wales continued with his lunch.

 

“What’s happening between you and Chase? For the past four days, each time Chase came to sit at the table, you left without saying any word,” Dennis voiced what was in everyone’s mind. Wales remained silent.

 

“Come on, man. You have to tell us. You can’t remain silent. We are your friends. We have the right to know,” Sam added.

 

“Yeah, last week, you two were like the best buds but now?” Cecilia said.

 

“What happened, sweetie?” Stacy, his girlfriend asked.

 

“Will you guys please leave me alone?”

 

“No, we won’t because you are acting like a jerk!” Sam said.

 

“So, I’m the jerk?” Wales shot back, his anger rising.

 

“What he meant is that without any explanation, it seems like you are being unfair to Chase,” Stacy said as she held his hand.

 

“Tell us what happened.”

 

“Come on, man.”

 

“We need to know.”

 

“We are your friends.”

 

“Tell us what’s wrong.”

 

“What’s wrong?” Wales snapped, “Chase is gay. He’s a fucking homo. That’s what’s wrong,”

 

He realized that even the other tables were looking at him. Fuming, he stormed out of the canteen.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“What’s your problem, Clarkson?” Nikki said as she cornered Wales at his locker.

 

“What do you mean?” Nikki wasn’t much of a friend. She was closer to Chase. Right now, she looked angry enough to chew his head off.

 

“In the canteen. What the hell did you just do?”

 

“They were all pestering me. I couldn’t take it…”

 

“Couldn’t take it?” she said though her gritted teeth, “So you out your best friend? Are you really stupid or just Asshole of the Year?”

 

“Look, I don’t care about you or your friend. Now, get the hell out of my face.”

 

“I always thought you were a jerk. But today, you proved to be the biggest bastard in the whole school!”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

By the next morning, Wales’s outburst in the canteen became common knowledge. Such was the power of gossip in high school. However each time Wales heard it, it was more than the truth. Some said that Chase had tried to jump on Wales, that he was having sex with the English teacher to get good grades or even that Wales and Chase were a couple and had broken up.

 

Wales was already in English class when Chase came in. Both ignored each other. Wales continued talking to a friend. He saw the guys sitting at the back snickering amongst themselves while eyeing Chase, who by then had take a seat in the front of the class.

 

“Get your masks out boys,” one of them said loudly, “You don’t want to catch the gay flu.”

 

Everyone broke into laghter, even the girls. Wales joined in, even if he hadn’t found it that funny. Precisely then, the English teacher, Mr. Chan entered the class. The laughter died out. It was the same boring English Literature class, which no one cared about except a few. Amongst them was Chase.

 

“So what do you think about this particular scene?” Mr. Chan said and the same hands went up, “Yes, Mr. Anderson?”

 

“I think Shakespeare is using this scene to bring Portia closer to the readers. She’s described as wealthy, beautiful, virtuous, elegant and obviously intelligent. She is kind of the perfect woman.”

 

“Too bad you can’t appreciate her,” someone said from the back of the room and a fit of laughter broke out.

 

“Shut up, back there,” Mr. Chan said.

 

Chase didn’t say anything for the rest of the class, not even answering the questions. He just sat there. After the bell, he left the class first, even before the teacher. At the end of the day, when Wales made his way to his car, he saw Chase standing there.

 

“Hi,” Chase said nervously. The black-haired teenager didn’t return the greeting. “Wales, can I have a ride? Someone slashed the tires of my car. And I can’t take the school bus. It’s going to be hell.”

 

He looked close to tears. Wales was about to say yes, but then he looked around and saw the students staring at them. Many were sniggering and pointing fingers at them.

 

“No,” he said, “And please go away. I don’t want people to think that I am gay like you. And don’t talk to me again.” Saying that, he got in his car and drove off.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Wales had thought that in two or three weeks, the whole craze would have died out. Instead, it kept increasing. Each week, things happened to Chase which kept him in the spotlight. ‘Fag’ was sprayed in pink paint on his locker, he was shut in the cubicle of a toilet, and someone threw condoms at him while he was eating in the canteen. The staff were trying to help him, at least some were. It only fueled the hype.

 

Wales was glad that his name had disappeared from the rumours. No one remembered that he was the one to out Chase. He was back to his normal days, except that there was no Chase in them. One Friday, Nikki came up to him while he was walking to class.

 

“Hello.”

 

“Hello,” he replied coldly. He hadn’t forgotten their last conversation.

 

“Wales, you need to talk to Chase,” she said. “He is in a terrible state. He needs your support.”

 

“I’m no longer his friend.”

 

“Did you know that he had received several death threats throughout the last two week? We tried to register a police complaint but no one’s taking us seriously. Teenage stupidity, they are saying. Everyone at his house knows and things are not fine at all. And then, all these things are happening at school. He needs you.”

 

“I don’t care about him.”

 

“I can’t believe this. Chase always told me about how close you two were. He said that you were his brother. That’s why he told you about his secret. Do you know what he said when I told him not to tell you? He said that he trusted you more than himself. I had hoped that he was right. Unfortunately, he was wrong.”

 

Wales started at Nikki as he recalled all the moments he had spent with Chase. Could it be that he was being stupid? Perhaps, Chase really needed him. He shook his head to clear the crazy thoughts. He shot back, “I don’t give a damn about you and your fag friend.”

 

Nikki slapped him. “I would prefer to rot and die than have a friend like you.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Wales lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Nikki’s words were still haunting him. The meaning of what she said sunk in. Death threats? They were probably only a prank but Chase would have definitely been upset. Chase… It felt like the name of a long-forgotten friend. Without realizing it, he removed the photo album from the drawer next to the bed. He flipped to the middle- his sixteenth birthday.

 

Smiling, he removed the picture he was looking for. Chase and he were sitting on the hood of the car he had just received. Both of them were grinning like two fools, thinking about all the adventures that had been unlocked with the car. Flipping the picture, he saw three words in his own messy handwriting- ‘best friends forever’. And then, the words ‘best friends’ were lined through and above it, written in Chase’s neater handwriting- ‘brothers’.

 

Wales realized what had changed - his way of looking at his best friend. Chase was still that goofy boy, just going through a difficult situation. Putting on his shoes and grabbing his car keys, he went to meet Chase, who needed his ‘brother’.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Chase’s house wasn’t too far from Wales’s but the road was always jammed. And so it was at this moment. Wales sat in the car, smiling. He had been a real jerk these last weeks but now, everything was going to be fine. He was lost in his thoughts when the phone rang. It was Chase.

 

“Hi Chase. Guess what…”

 

“Wales, please help me,” Chase said from the other end of the line. He sounded very scared. “Someone’s knocking at my door very loudly.”

 

“Chase, perhaps, it’s someone you know. There’s no need…”

 

“No, no! You aren’t getting it. I saw one of them hide a knife in his shoe when they got out of the car. They are going to break in soon.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes,” he wailed, “I’ve seen them following me for days. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to scare them. But now, they are here. I tried to call everyone- mom, dad, Nikki. But no one’s picking the phone. The cops aren’t taking me seriously.”

 

“Don’t panic, don’t panic,” Wales said to both of them. “Lock yourself in your room. With a knife to protect yourself. I am going to call the cops. And I’m on my way. So don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine.”

 

“Yeah,” Chase said dejectedly.

 

Wales ended the call. He realized that he was shaking. He immediately called the cop.

 

“Hello, is this the police?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“My friend is in serious trouble. Someone’s trying to break in his place. His life might be in danger. Could you…”

 

“Is he Chase Anderson?”

 

“Yes,” Wales said and he heard a loud sigh.

 

“Look, boy. We’ve no time for your sissy problems. We got jobs to do.”

 

“No, you listen to me,” Wales said as he felt his temper rising, “Checking on other people is your job. So you’ll get yourself to my friend’s place. Because if something happens to my friend, believe me, you’ll be very sorry. You can’t even imagine what I’ll do to you. My friend needs help. He needs your fucking help!”

 

Wales cut the call. As his temper faded away, he realized that he shouldn’t have shouted at the policeman. Now, he would never come to help me. He leaned his head against the steering wheel. This couldn’t be happening. It was his entire fault. First, he outed, and then he left Chase alone in school and now this. He wished that everything was back to the way it had been at the start. He didn’t even notice the tears rolling down his cheeks.

 

He looked around and saw that the cars still hadn’t moved much. He got out of his car. He had to get to Chase, even if he had to go on foot. He started walking. Images of Chase and what could have been happening filled his mind. He thought about the guys and the knife. Soon, he was running toward Chase’s place. He didn’t care how far it was. His friend’s life was in danger. Several times, he felt like stopping. His body demanded it. But he kept going. He had to keep going. After a long thirty minutes, he arrived at Chase’s place, drenched in sweat. The door opened as his fingers pressed against it. He gulped and went in the house.

 

“Chase?” Wales said, “Chase, are you here?”

 

His steps resounded loudly in the silence. He prayed that everything was fine. He hoped that Chase was safe.

 

Wales stopped in his tracks as he entered his friend’s room. On the floor, Chase’s bloody body laid. Wales fell to his knees at the sight of severed fingers and wide open gashes. In the wall, in red, it was written: “The fags die!” Without even realizing, he fished out his mobile and called the ambulance. His mind didn’t even register what he said on the phone. Everything faded to a faint buzz. All he could see was his friend on the floor.

 

“Chase? Chase?” he said as he crawled to his blond-haired friend. “Don’t worry. The ambulance is on its way.”

 

He frantically checked for Chase’s pulse and heartbeat. Their absence confirmed what the cold skin had said.

 

“No, no, Chase, wake up!” He shook his friend, his hands smeared with blood, “Chase, please wake up.”

 

This couldn’t be. Chase couldn’t die. It had to be some kind of nightmare. Why was he not waking up? It was then that voices erupted in his head. Voices that had never been there before. Soft whispers that went through his body and touched the real him.

 

‘It is you. You killed him…’

 

“No, no…” Wales said as he shook his head.

 

‘Your stupidity, your bigotry, your insecurity…’

 

“No…”

 

‘You killed the only person who loved you more than anyone else.’

 

“No! I didn’t. Chase, wake up and tell them that I didn’t kill you.”

 

‘You killed him.’

 

“No, I didn’t kill him. Chase, please tell them. Please tell them. I didn’t kill you.”

 

‘All he did was to consider you as a friend. He was always here for you. But you?’

 

“No…"
 

‘You killed your best friend’

 

“I didn’t kill him. I didn’t. I didn’t…”

 

Suddenly, the paramedics entered the room. One of them came to Wales.

 

“Are you…”

 

“Please tell them that that I didn’t kill him,” Wales said as he gripped the man’s collar, “I didn’t kill him. He’s my best friend. Why would I?”

 

“You...”

 

“I didn’t kill him. I DID NOT KILL HIM! I DID NOT!”

 

Suddenly, blackness closed in.

 


Thank you, BK and Sharon. Without your help, this story wouldn’t have been the same.


 

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