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taking off masks


by JD Davis November 2004

"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” James A. Baldwin

“What the fuck are you talking about? How dare you say that to me? Get the hell away from me!” Stuart’s voice rose in volume as he reddened in fury, his hands curling into fists. Brian could only stare at his friend – his best friend – and then he turned and fled.

‘My God, what have I done?’ he thought frantically as he ran to his car, leaving Stuart standing alone in the car park. He fumbled with the keys, managed to turn the ignition, and took off with a squeal of tires. His breath coming in heaving gasps, he tried to calm down as he hit the evening rush hour traffic. As awful as the scene had been, he was not suicidal. He just needed to get home, lock the door and hide. He had ruined the friendship that had developed between him and Stuart and he couldn’t bear the thought of what would happen.

Stuart watched Brian scurry away as if the hounds of hell were after him. As the car disappeared out of sight, he finally relaxed and released the breath he hadn’t realized he was still holding. He was appalled and needed a few moments before he was calm enough to drive home. Brian had been his best friend and now everything was ruined. How could he have said what he said? How could he throw away a two year friendship in two seconds? The questions buzzed around in his head without answers. Stuart was confused, angry and upset. In fact, he was more upset than anything else.

As he slowly pulled out of the parking lot, Stuart forced himself to breathe deeply, collecting his thoughts as he traveled slowly home. Unlike Brian, who couldn’t get home fast enough, Stuart was reluctant to return to his empty house. It would be empty now; Brian wouldn’t be there waiting for him or coming over later. No more nights of beer and pizza, watching a game on TV or just talking shit; no one to go to the movies with or hang out at a bar. Why the hell had he chased Brian away? Brian was his friend – his best friend. The best friend he’d ever had, actually.

The question he had asked now applied to himself. How could he have thrown away Brian’s friendship in a flash of temper? He was as much to blame as Brian. Brian had trusted him with his deepest, darkest secret and Stuart had rejected him out of hand. Was Brian suddenly a different person now he knew his secret? Not really, Stuart had to admit. He didn’t look, talk or act any differently, did he? Not that he’d given him any chance to talk! And he had looked different, actually. He had looked ill, his face white with shock, his eyes blank as Stuart had yelled at him.

Stuart pulled into his driveway and turned off the engine, but remained sitting in the car. My God, Brian had taken off at a dead run, driving away like a maniac! What if he had an accident? It would be all Stuart’s fault if something happened to Brian. His friend had admitted him into his confidence, had bared his soul, and he had rejected him out of hand. Shakily, Stuart hurried into the house and grabbed the phone. Speed dialing Brian’s number, he waited impatiently for his friend to pick up. Please God, let him be there! Please God, let him be alright! Stuart repeated the phrases as a mantra as he heard the machine pick up. No! He had to be home!

“Brian, it’s me, Stuart. Pick up if you’re there! C’mon buddy, pick up, don’t make me have to start calling the hospitals – oh, thank God!” The exclamation followed Brian’s voice finally answering. He sounded hoarse and Stuart realized with horror that he sounded like he’d been crying.

“What do you want, Stuart?” Brian asked in a dead tone.

“I was worried about you, buddy. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound fine. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I said I’m fine. Thanks for asking. Now fuck off and leave me alone!” The phone was slammed down and Stuart gazed at his handset in amazement. Brian had hung up on him! And he had sounded bad; really, really bad. There was no way he could leave things as they stood, Stuart decided, and returned to his car. It was all his fault that Brian was so upset and he had to make things right.

As he made his way towards Brian’s apartment, Stuart rehearsed what he would say to his friend. He would apologize for his reaction, although he still felt somewhat justified. Surely Brian could understand that dropping that kind of bombshell would cause a reaction? Stuart mulled over this thought and came to the conclusion that no, Brian would not have expected such violence. He had confided in his best friend and it had obviously not been a spur of the moment thing. The words had been carefully chosen and what had he, Stuart, done? Screamed at him and told him to get the hell away! No wonder Brian was so upset.

Finally reaching the apartment, Stuart rang the bell, then knocked loudly. When the door remained firmly closed, he knocked again and yelled Brian’s name. The door of the apartment next door cracked open and an elderly woman looked out.

“He’s not in,” she said. “He left about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Do you know where he went?”

“No, but he had an overnight bag with him, so I assume he’s gone away for the weekend.” Stuart kicked at the door in frustration and the woman hurriedly closed her own door and he heard the click of the deadbolt. She probably thought he was some kind of dangerous maniac. Brian must have left immediately after he hung up.

Stuart returned home in a foul mood. Brian had run out on him, not giving him a chance to apologize. Well, fine! He didn’t need Brian, he had other friends. He would call Jim or Mark or – or somebody!

After several calls, Stuart’s mood had not improved. It was Friday night and his friends were all busy doing something else. Having to answer questions about Brian hadn’t helped either. People wanted to know why he wasn’t doing his usual Friday night thing with Brian and he hated having to make excuses. He kept having to explain that Brian was away for the weekend and no, he hadn’t known in advance, and no, he didn’t know where he’d gone! Damn the man, why had he run off like that!

* * * * * * * *

After the longest two days of his life, Stuart pulled into the office parking lot and looked around for Brian’s car. He had tried calling Brian repeatedly but the answering machine kept picking up and he didn’t want to leave a message. He had just wanted to make sure Brian was there, that he was okay, that he would give him a chance to explain and apologize: but Brian had never answered, not even late on Sunday night. So now Stuart planned to seek him out and make him listen. There was no sign of Brian’s car, however, and Stuart finally had to get to work.

When it became clear that Brian was not coming to work, Stuart became angry. His frustration was such that he was snapping at his staff and his colleagues were avoiding him as he walked around looking like a thundercloud. No one had heard from Brian; there wasn’t a message from him; he had apparently disappeared into thin air. Stuart’s good intentions about repairing the friendship disappeared in a red mist of anger and betrayal. Brian should have been there to let him put things right and Stuart felt increasingly aggrieved that his friend had not conformed to his plan.

* * * * * * * *

Stuart looked at his desk calendar with mixed emotions. A month had gone by without any contact from Brian other than his letter of resignation. When Stuart had heard about that he had totally lost it. He called Brian every name in the book, yelled at anyone who brought up his name in conversation, and brooded in silence when he was alone. The fury had lasted for days and then had faded to a cold anger. People knew not to mention Brian’s name in his hearing. One of his colleagues had tried to get Stuart to talk about what had happened with disastrous results. Even pointing out how badly Stuart was behaving achieved nothing. He had become cold, unfeeling, and no one had seen him smile since Brian had left.

Stuart missed Brian terribly. He had become used to his friend’s presence in his life. They had known each other so well that they hardly needed to talk to communicate. They had finished each other’s sentences, predicted reactions to situations and known what the other thought on practically every subject. Stuart was lonely, living a twilight existence without joy; an empty exercise of breathing in and out, sleeping, working, eating, sleeping again. And there was the constant undercurrent of anxiety. Where was Brian? Was he okay? Was he happy? Did he miss Stuart? And always, during those first few weeks, when Stuart’s mind conjured up that particular question, he felt the anger returning. How dared Brian just walk away and leave him? Why couldn’t he have stayed and just given Stuart time? Why wasn’t he there so Stuart could apologize?

As time passed, Stuart’s anger finally died and he did some hard thinking. His thoughts were not pretty and he sought refuge in alcohol. Night after night he would drink several beers, hoping to silence the insistent thoughts and dull his senses enough so that he could sleep through the night. He was rarely successful. The germ of an idea slowly formed in his troubled mind. He resisted it, fought with himself, grew angry and then depressed, but the idea would not go away. Stuart finally had to accept what his heart had known for a very long time. He loved Brian. He had probably loved Brian for as long as he had known him.

And Brian had loved him. He had told him so.

© j.d. davis 2004

Do you want a sequel? E-mail me JD Davis and let me know!