When I Was … Twenty-Two
by David Heulfryn
When I answered my phone, I couldn’t hear anything. Silence. Then I heard a whimper.
“Jack?” I queried, it sort of sounded like him, but I wasn’t sure.
He didn’t speak, but I started to hear sobbing.
“What’s wrong, Jack?” I grew concerned.
He carried on sobbing, and I waited silently for him to get himself together.
He sniffed, “I’m sorry, Robbie.”
“What’s happened? Are you alright? Has there been an accident?” I was getting quite worried as I had never heard Jack so distraught. I waited while he struggled to find the words.
“She cheated on me.”
I couldn’t get much sense out of him, so I just listened as he slowly calmed down. He had apparently just run out of his flat after discovering his girlfriend a few moments ago.
Eventually, his breathing was less erratic, and he was sniffing away his tears. I relaxed my tense muscles, safe in the thought that he wouldn’t go into a full-blown anxiety attack. But Jack needed his best friend. He needed me, and I felt a pang of guilt for living so far away from him, not being able to be there for him.
Jack had moved to Birmingham, where he had found a job at the Environment Agency after graduating from Aston University. I had found a job as a lab technician in Oxford; it was the first rung of a promising career in research. But this meant we were sixty miles apart. I had also recently moved into a small one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of the city, quite close to where I worked. It was too small for me really, but I was saving up for a deposit so I could buy my first home. I’d not got around to telling Jack my new address yet. I started to feel guilty again. Guilty at the thought we were perhaps drifting apart. Guilty at the thought I’d stopped calling him so often and telling him what was happening with me. Guilty at the thought that someday soon it wouldn’t be me that he calls for help.
In the here and now, it was me that he needed to help him, to take charge and to tell him what to do. But I knew him well enough to know he would just be sitting somewhere, staring blankly into space, not knowing what to do.
“Jack!” I used my authoritative voice.
I heard him sniff. “Yeah.” He breathed into the phone.
“You need to find some place to sleep tonight. Call a friend, a workmate, someone who wouldn’t mind putting you up for just a night. I’m going to book you on a train for tomorrow afternoon. It can’t be sooner as I have to go into work tomorrow, there’s something important that I need to finish. You can then stay with me for the weekend while we sort something out.”
“Okay.” Jack’s voice sounded calmer.
“Go to the ticket counter at Birmingham New Street; the ticket will be there for you. I will meet you this end. And don’t worry.” I added as an afterthought, knowing his mind would be racing until we met.
“It might be a good idea to phone work tomorrow morning, call in sick. You’re in no fit state anyway, so it’s not too far from the truth.”
“Thanks, Robbie,” Jack said again.
Just knowing that he would be seeing me tomorrow calmed Jack.
“I’ll meet you at the station tomorrow, just try and relax and not think too much. We can do all that when you get here. You’ll get through this buddy, I know you will. I know it hurts. It hurts like hell, but you can get through this. We’ll get it all sorted.”
“I just feel…” Jack couldn’t articulate how he felt and faded into silence.
“Any ideas who you’ll stay with tonight?”
“I have a drinking buddy, Jez. He’s not from work, so they won’t all be gossiping about me.”
“Sound great. Look, stay calm and I’ll see you tomorrow. Okay?”
“Yeah, thanks for everything, Robbie.”
“It’s what I’m here for. Now go meet your mate and call me later if you need to.” I resigned myself to the possibility of another distraught conversation with him later.
“Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See ya, Jack. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” Jack replied, and we both hung up.
The next day I arranged to leave work early, once I’d finished what I needed to do, so I could meet his train. I got there early, just in case, but the train was delayed, and I had a long wait. I got myself a coffee from the station café, but there is only so much instant coffee you can drink out of a polystyrene cup; it tasted awful.
With two bad coffees inside me, I wrapped my coat around me and slouched on the bench, settling down for a long wait.
I was jolted from my nothingness by a station announcement and the train slowly rolling to the platform; time seemed to have passed quickly in my blank state. I stood up and waited for the doors to wheeze open.
My eyes glanced up and down the train as I watched people step off the train. Jack was nowhere to be seen.
Then, he appeared. We smiled at each other, but I could see the strain on his face as he struggled to contain his emotions.
I walked over to him and hugged him.
Jack held me tight, rested his head on my shoulder and just broke down again. I could feel his tears rolling down my neck. I brought my hands up and cradled his head, stroking his short dark hair.
I knew people would be watching, but I didn’t care. It was still a rare sight for two men to be seen hugging like this in public, and I noticed a mixture of reactions, from the sympathetic, as they could see Jack was upset, to disgust at two men holding each other intimately in public. Thankfully, Jack’s face was shielded, so he couldn’t see anything.
As soon as Jack composed himself, we walked to my car, so I could take him back to my flat. I expected Jack to make some joke about my old car, which rattled as I drove, but he was silent. So I thought it best not to try and talk to him as he stared out of the window, watching the trees go by as I headed to my home.
But the moment we were inside my flat, and the front door closed, the floodgates opened, and Jack grabbed me in a tight hug.
“I’m sorry,” he kept sobbing. All I could do was hold him.
Eventually, he was calm enough to explain what had happened, and we sat on my sofa, next to each other. I put my arm around his broad shoulders, his head lolled against my neck.
“I thought she was the one.” He sniffed, “I really thought I would ask her to marry me. I loved her so much.” I could see his shoulders shuddering as he subdued his sobs.
Jack explained how he came home early the previous evening. He’d bought his girlfriend a bunch of flowers to cheer her up as she said she was sick and stayed off work. He wanted to surprise her. But they both got a nasty surprise as he caught her in their bedroom with another man. He’d caught them having sex. Jack screamed and ran out of the flat. The next thing he did was ring me from a phone box.
His mate, Jez, had let him sleep on his sofa for the night, and he just slept the moment he lay down. He didn’t call me again that night. I was glad he rested as he would have been exhausted, mentally and emotionally. When he woke in the morning, he went straight to the station and hung around until his train came.
Jack couldn’t face going back to the flat they shared; I could understand why. So he came to me in nothing but the clothes he was wearing yesterday.
It was the classic university love story. Jack had hooked up with Carla while in university; they graduated together and decided to move in together. They were inseparable at the beginning, and she was all Jack could talk about when we spoke. Although Jack was happy with the relationship, It seems Carla was not. When I first met them on one of my few trips to see Jack, they did appear happy, but the last time I saw them was about six months ago, and Carla was somewhat distant. I thought she may have just been tired or under the weather. But in hindsight, it seems that she had not been happy for some time.
“I can’t go back to that flat.” Jack declared, “I can’t sleep in that bed again, not knowing that she was unfaithful to me in that bed.” He shuddered at the thought. “And I bought that fucking bed!” I heard the anger in his voice.
I made us a coffee. We talked for over an hour. Despite him still loving her, Jack knew the relationship was over; he slowly came round to the fact. He could never trust her again.
Jack did most of the talking. I just gave him my thoughts and opinions. But any choices that needed to be made would be his. I would support him no matter what he decided.
Jack seemed a lot better now. It was out of his system, the relationship was over, and he now had the struggle to come to terms with it. However, Jack grew agitated when he thought about where he would live and how to get another flat when they were joint tenants on the one he shared with Carla. He didn’t have any close friends nearby to stay with for a few weeks, and he certainly couldn’t afford a hotel for a couple of weeks.
“We can sort that out later. When you’re thinking clearer.” I calmly whispered in his ear, rubbing his shoulder like a parent consoling their upset toddler.
Jack peeled himself off me and grabbed his half-drunk lukewarm coffee from the side table. “Thanks,” he said, sounding almost himself again. “Do you mind if I stay here a couple of nights?” He asked.
“You don’t ever need to ask. I will always be here for you, and there is always a space for you in the bed or on the sofa.”
“Thanks.” He turned to look at me. “I need a bed tonight. That sofa I slept on hurt my neck.” Jack rubbed his neck.
I leant forward and kissed his forehead. “I will always be here for you, whenever you need me. I just wish I could take the pain away.”
Jack was one of those people that couldn’t have a casual relationship. The moment he went out a girl, that was it, he gave his heart and was committed. In some ways, it was sweet how he could fall in love so easily, but in other ways, it was a pain as when they broke up, he would be an emotional wreck for days, weeks, months even.
“Do you have anything stronger than coffee?” Jack asked me as he chugged the last dregs of lukewarm coffee from his mug.
It was only late afternoon, but Jack was determined to get rat-arsed tonight.
“Red or white?” I smiled at him.
“White.” He drew a deep breath. “Do you mind if I take a bath, I slept in these clothes last night, and I’ve had them on for nearly three days now.”
“Sure.” I got up to show him the bathroom. I put the plug in the bath and started running the water.
Jack was a little bigger than me, more thickset, but I thought some of my sweatpants and one of my baggy t-shirts would fit him.
“Throw your clothes on the floor; I’ll stuff them in the wash and get you some clean ones,” I called to Jack as I tested the temperature of the water as the bath filled.
Jack started to pull off his clothes when the bath was ready, while I left him to open the wine.
When I came back to collect his dirty clothes, he was lowering himself into the bath. The water was hot, and he was slowly lowering himself in, letting his skin get used to the heat.
“I can put more cold in if it’s too hot for you,” I said.
Jack laughed. It was nice to hear him laugh. “Too late for that. I’ve already burnt my balls.”
I grabbed his clothes and watched as he eventually rested on the bottom.
“You must be made of asbestos if this is how hot you have it.” Jack looked at me as I stood holding his clothes, bundled in my arms.
“I must be used to it. I love it hot. I can just lie back for nearly an hour. It really relaxes my muscles.”
Jack leant back and pushed his backside forward. The water sloshed around, a little going over the side and onto the bath mat.
I left Jack and popped his clothes into the washing machine. Then, I grabbed the bottle of white wine I had opened a few moments ago and a couple of glasses.
I took the bottle into the bathroom and poured Jack a glass of wine. He took it from me with his dripping hand he had pulled out of the bathwater. I closed the toilet lid and sat down. I looked at him, a grown man in my bath. The water was clear as I had run out of bubble-bath. Jack looked at the wall as the warm water soothed his body and relaxed his muscles.
Jack was my best friend, and I loved him. I hated to see him hurting, and it frustrated me when I couldn’t do anything to take that hurt away.
I smiled and chuckled a little.
“What’s funny?” He smiled. I was glad to see that sweet smile again.
“I was just thinking about when we were younger. You would disappear to get changed whenever we had a sleepover. Now, look at you. Stark bollock naked in my bath while I’m sitting and looking at you.”
“I must be a late developer, unlike you. You didn’t care who saw you naked. What did you call it, your winkie.”
I laughed. “Well, I think many more people have seen my winkie than yours.” I looked down through the clear, steaming water, his submerged waist, his lush black pubes and his thick uncut cock, which rested on his loose balls. His cock and balls swayed with the motion of the water.
“How come you never made a move on me? Don’t you find me attractive?” Jack became subdued again, pensive.
“You’re my best friend. We’ve known each other since we were five years old, before either of knew about boy or girlfriends. I don’t want to ruin what we have. I love you, Jack. If I didn’t know you and I saw you in a gay bar, I would definitely hit on you and bring you back here and fuck you hard on my bed.”
Jack smiled as he imagined me fucking guys.
“What we have is better than sex, higher than sex. I love you like a brother,” I paused, “no, more than that, like a twin brother who I would kill to protect.”
“Really!” Jack was shocked.
“If it was the only way, yes. But there are always better ways.” I wanted to put a reassuring hand on his arm, but I was too far away, and he was holding his glass of wine. He took a slip out of nervousness.
I saw a tear roll down his face.
“I love you too, Robbie. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I tried to sound bright. “I’ll go get a towel, you get clean, and we’ll finish the wine on the sofa.”
I left him alone and sat back on the sofa. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat and stared into space. I let my mind go blank. It had been a tough few hours.
Jack came padding in with the towel wrapped around his waist. I’d forgotten to grab some fresh clothes for him, so I shot up and dashed to my bedroom.
I threw some baggy sweats and a t-shirt at him. I was surprised when he dropped the towel and dressed in front of me. I beckoned him over and handed him his wine.
The evening was a blur as we finished our third bottle of wine. We were laughing and joking like nothing had happened. I momentarily fell asleep on the sofa and was jolted back to life when I slid onto Jack, knocking my head against his.
“I’m going to bed.” I slurred. As I stumbled to the bedroom, I started stripping, leaving a line of clothes behind me. I was naked when I reached the bed and just fell on it. I passed out.
I don’t know what woke me. It could have been my splitting headache, my full bladder or the noise coming from the living room.
I remembered that Jack was with me, so I assumed he was on the phone with someone. From what I could hear, it was his girlfriend. I hated to walk in on their private conversation, but I was desperate to pee. Finally, I couldn’t hold it any longer. I had to disturb him.
Still naked, I crept into the living area. It was very dark. It certainly wasn’t morning yet. I saw Jack standing by my window, his back was to me, so I sneaked into the bathroom to relieve my bladder.
“I thought we were good… why did you do it… I love you, Carla.”
There was silence.
“But I still love you… Can we try to get through this?”
I didn’t flush the toilet. I was hoping to sneak back to bed.
“Wasn’t I enough for you? What did I do wrong? What can I do to get you back?” Jack was wildly gesticulating. He wasn’t holding the phone.
I noticed his silhouette as he turned and paced the room. He was naked. I knew better than to speak to him or try to wake him up. He was having one of his sleepwalking episodes. This time it seemed he was acting out a conversation he wanted to have with his girlfriend.
All I could do was leave him alone. So I silently went back to bed, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, not with Jack pacing around having phantom conversations.
After another half-hour of reasoning to a ghost, Jack got into my bed. He snuggled against me.
“I knew you would come back to me. I love you so much, Carla.”
Jack held me so tightly that I couldn’t move. I could feel his cock against my arse. I felt it slide along my crack as it lengthened. Jack pulled me closer to him, and then I heard him snore in my ear.
I fell asleep in his arms, my arse cradling his cock.
When I woke in the morning, Jack was on the other side of the bed. My head throbbed, and I dressed before taking some painkillers. When Jack woke, we started sorting things out. I spoke to Carla on the phone. She was already moving her stuff out of their flat.
Jack could now find something else and give notice on the flat.
“But I’m buying a new fucking mattress as soon as I get back. No way am I sleeping on that one again.” Jack was adamant.
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