I hated him before I even met him. In fact, I hated him from the moment I heard his name. I mean, who the hell has a name like Angel anyway? My mother said it’s his real name, but I didn’t believe her. I didn’t want to know, accept or believe a single good thing about him.
He was a stranger. He was going to invade my home for the whole of the holidays, the only opportunity I get to spend time with my family. He was going to steal my room. And he was going to ruin my life.
I hated him so bad I deliberately left an open tin of cat food under the bed, right in the corner. It had fish in it. Boy did it smell, even after only one day.
I moved absolutely everything out of my room, and into the spare room. It’s a lot smaller than my room, and some of my stuff had to be packed into boxes, but I was damned if I was going to leavy any of it there for him to use. My mother told me I was behaving like a child, and tried to bully me into putting some of it back. No way. I argued that, at almost twenty, I’m an adult and entitled to be treated like one by having my privacy respected, not walked all over, for the sake of some jumped up little prick that happens to be the son of a friend I’ve never met.
After a conversation, during which I threatened to move out, and she threatened to throw me out, we reached a compromise. I promised to be civil to the prick – er, ‘poor kid’ – and she promised not to expect me to spend any time with him, or talk to him any more than I had to. It was an uneasy truce.
The moment I set eyes on him, all my good intentions went straight out the window. My father was helping him out of the car, while my mother hovered around, sickeningly.
“Daniel, for goodness sake give us a hand. Get Angel’s bags or something.”
Yeah. Right. The moment he raised his head and I looked into those huge, baby blue eyes, with their ‘little boy lost’ look, framed with platinum blonde hair —which is entirely natural, the bastard—I hated him more than ever; so much it physically hurt. The look he gave me stabbed straight through to my heart and, if I hadn’t turned and run, I’d have vomited on the doorstep.
I went straight to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror. I’m entirely ordinary. I have blue eyes, too, but they’re nothing like his. They’re a dull, ordinary blue, almost grey, and not very large. My hair isn’t pretty like his, either. It’s kind of… no, let’s be honest, it’s red; ginger, and boy have I paid for it over the years. I’ve often thought of dying it but I’ve never had the guts. I’m under no illusions about it being remotely attractive.
I’ve never been particularly bothered by my looks. I’ve seen the same face in the mirror every day; watched it grow from a cute child into an ordinary man. It’s never bothered me. Now, it bothers me.
Of course, they’d told me he’s a model, quite a successful one, too. At least he was before the accident. I avoided looking him up, but the moment I first saw him, I really wished I had. At least then, I’d have been prepared. No wonder Amy, my best friend, had been hassling me so much, about when he was coming.
I closed my eyes and sighed, taking a deep breath. I could do this. I could cope with a couple of weeks sharing a house with—him. One look at him was enough to make me feel dowdy and inadequate. I hated him more than ever for the way he was making me feel about myself.
“Daniel?” My mother’s voice from outside the door made me jump. “Are you in there?”
“Who else would it be?”
There was a moment silence. I could tell she winced at the tone in my voice. Good. “Come say hello to Angel.”
“We had a deal. I don’t have to talk to him.”
“For God’s sake, Daniel. Would it kill you to say hello?”
“Grow up. We’re in Angel’s room.”
“My room,” I spat. There was silence. I knew she’d gone.
After a few minutes wrestling with myself, I decided to take the high moral ground and say hello, even if it choked me.
He was sitting on my bed, with his head down. My father had gone, but my mother was fussing around him. Was there anything he wanted? Was there anything she could do for him? It was sickening. I stood in the doorway and watched. Angel wasn’t saying anything, just shaking his head, not looking at her.
“The least you could do is say thank you,” I said coldly, and his head jerked up. He gasped and winced, but held my eyes, looking confused. Oh hell, he was beautiful. It was a cold kind of beauty, and it set my teeth on edge just to look at him. It certainly wasn’t a kind of beauty that appealed to me.
“Daniel,” my mother said warningly, but it only made me angrier.
“What do you want her to do, beg? She’s trying her best to be nice to you, and the least you could do is say thank you.”
“I−I−I’m sorry,” Angel spluttered. I smiled inside, at the look of distress on his face. It helped me ignore how soft and sweet his voice was. If I’d noticed I’d have wanted to punch him. He was pathetic enough, without that stupid, saccharin-sweet voice.
“Don’t be silly, Angel. You don’t have to say thank you for anything. It’s our pleasure to take care of you for a while. Your mother’s done plenty for me, over the years. Besides, after what you’ve been through you deserve some spoiling. Just ignore Daniel, he’s being unbelievable childish.”
I don’t think Angel heard a word she said. He didn’t take his eyes from me, once. He looked scared, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that; somehow, I’d intimidated him so much there were actually tears in his eyes. My first instinct was to go to him, but I battered it down. It was an act. He was playing up to that lost boy thing again, wanting all the attention. With a toss of my head, I turned and walked away. But that look haunted me.
Amy came round that night. We hadn’t seen Angel at dinner. My mother took a tray up to him. That, of course, annoyed the hell out of me, and certainly didn’t help me feel friendlier towards him. After an hour, Amy abandoned me and sweet-talked my mother into introducing her to Angel. I sat in my room, with my too small TV, and my PS3 balanced on a box, and fumed.
After an hour, a hard knock on the door announced Amy’s entrance. She threw herself down on the bed, tipping up the box on which the PS3 stood. I dived for it, but missed and it hit the floor.
“If you’ve broken it—” I fumed.
“Who cares about your stupid gaming thing? He’s amazing, Daniel. I’ve never met anyone like him before. I mean, GOD, that hair: those eyes.” She fanned herself, and collapsed back on the bed.
Amy turned over and stared at me. “Why do you hate him so much? He’s really very nice when you speak to him, really sweet.”
“Well, I’ve never had a sweet tooth, and just looking at him gives me toothache.”
She shook her head. “He’s been through a lot, and he’s really not well. He could do with a friend.”
“Then he should go out and get one. He’s not going to find one here.”
“Daniel, stop it. You’re a great guy. I love you to death, but I don’t like you very much right now.” With a hard look, she got up and walked out. I was furious. Now, he was taking my friends away from me too? How dare he.
Throwing down my controller, I stormed out of my room and into his. Angel lay on the bed, with his eyes closed, the dinner tray untouched on the dresser. I ignored it.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He almost jumped clear off the bed and hissed with pain, then stared at me, with that same expression of absolute terror on his face. I took a few steps into the room, and he shrank away from me, shaking his head.
“What the fuck’s the matter with you? You’d swear I was going to hit you, or something.”
“I…” he relaxed, and collapsed back on the bed with a groan. “I’m sorry. I just…”
“Forget it. Look… I don’t like you, okay. I’m not going to lie. I don’t like the fact you’ve spoiled my summer, and I don’t want you here, but I won’t hurt you. So… stop looking at me like that.”
“I’m sorry.” Angel closed his eyes, clearly fighting with something, and I had a quick stab of guilt when I remembered he was here because he’d been hurt in an accident. I hadn’t bothered to listen enough to find out what kind of accident, or how badly he’d been hurt. I kind of remembered he’d broken some ribs. That was why he hissed when he moved. Another stab of guilt made me realise every time I scared him, it hurt. Unfortunately, the guilt just made me angrier.
“Just stay out of my way, and keep away from my friends.”
I didn’t see him at all for a couple of days. Angel didn’t come downstairs, and his door was always closed when I passed it. I did wonder what he was doing, though, and I started to wonder what happened to him.
“Mam?” It was the fourth day after Angel arrived. She glanced up from making dinner. There was a flash of coldness in her eyes, that had been there since Angel came. I almost turned around and walked away. “What actually happened to Angel?”
She looked surprised. I was kind of surprised myself. For some reason he’d been on my mind all day, and I couldn’t get that look out of my head.
“I don’t know,” she said, “not exactly. Rachel called me and told me her son had been in an accident, and needed to get away for a while. He couldn’t cope with the pace of life in London… and all the fuss.”
“But what’s wrong with him?”
“Why the sudden interest?”
“I’m not interested, just curious.”
She gave me a hard look, then smiled. “I’m not entirely sure,” she said. “He’s got some broken ribs and he’s hurt his back somehow. He’s in a lot of pain all the time, which is why he doesn’t come downstairs. I think he sleeps most of the time, because of the pain medication.”
“Is he going to get better soon?”
My mother shook her head, looking disappointed. “So that’s it. You want to know how soon he’ll be out of your hair.”
“No, that’s not it. I just… I just want to know.”
“No, he’s not going to be better soon. It’s going to take weeks for his ribs to heal and the pain to be bearable.” Her face softened. “He must be going through hell—all alone and in pain.”
“He didn’t have to be alone. He could have stayed home, with his family. They probably have a big house, and servants to take care of his every need.”
“Daniel. Don’t be so quick to judge, and make assumptions.”
“You were the one who said he was a successful model. Don’t they pay well for that? I bet they do.”
“Money isn’t everything, Daniel.”
“That’s enough. The fact is, he didn’t stay with his family; he came here – for me to take care of. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem.”
Yet again, I stormed out of the room, after a discussion about Angel. He was such a disrupting energy in my house.
Afire with righteous anger, I stormed up to his room and opened the door. I heard him laugh. He had a nice laugh, a lovely laugh. I hated it.
Amy lay sprawled across the bottom of the bed. She looked up. “Oh, hi Daniel. Have you decided to stop being a prat now? Come in, we’re playing monopoly. Want a game?”
“No, I do not want a game.”
“Then what do you want?” she asked, her voice suddenly cold.
“I…” I didn’t know what I wanted, not really. “I just want him to go, to stop ruining my life.”
Amy burst out laughing, while Angel just looked stricken. “For God’s sake, Daniel. Grow up and get over yourself.”
I fumed, and turned to leave.
“Wait.” I turned again, to find Angel struggling to get off the bed.
“Stop it, Angel. You’re going to hurt yourself. He’s just being a bitch; he’ll come round. Angel, he’s not worth it.”
Ignoring her, Angel paused, sitting on the side of the bed, with his head down. Then, gripping the corner of the table, he hauled himself to his feet. It obviously hurt him. When he managed to stand upright, he tried to walk across the floor without limping. When he was close, he stared into my eyes and swallowed hard. He looked scared – but proud.
“I’m sorry, Daniel. I didn’t mean to ruin your life. I didn’t want to come here, but my mother insisted. Don’t think I don’t feel bad about imposing on you and your family. I don’t know you and… but your mother has been so kind to me and I−I want to be friends with you, Daniel. I’d hoped —” He shook his head. “I don’t want to ruin your summer, or take your room, or steal your friends. I just want to be left alone, I want to be…. I just want to be….” I was angry, when tears filled his eyes.
“Oh, here you go again, turning on the waterworks. Poor little Angel, so lost, and hurt, and in pain. It’s a great act. You’ve taken them all in. Well done. But you’re not taking me in. You’re a spoilt little bitch who’s used to everyone fawning over him and telling him how beautiful and wonderful he is. Don’t expect that from me. I can see right through you and—” Unconsciously, I’d reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. He gave a cry of sheer panic, and jerked back. Yelling with pain, he ground his teeth, then pushed past me and ran for the stairs.
“Angel! Wait!” Amy pushed roughly past me, and ran after him. Great job, Daniel, you’ve played right into his hands.
But… Try as I might, I couldn’t hold on to the anger. My mind kept replaying that look on his face. The look of terror and intolerable pain – physical and emotional. It made me feel sick.
After a few moments staring into the room, thinking of that look, I sighed and ran after Amy.
I found her in the street outside, looking around. “Where did he go?” Amy turned on me, furious.
“You fucking arsehole. What the hell do you think you’re doing? How dare you speak to him like that, when he’s never been anything but nice to you?”
“How dare you hurt him like that?”
“How…? How…? What? What did you say?”
“I said I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” There was less sting in her words, but suddenly I wanted there to be. I wanted her to be angry with me, because I was angry with myself.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
“Yes you did.”
“Yes, I did—but not that much. Why does he keep looking at me like he’s scared of me?”
“Because you’re scary.”
“I am not.”
“Daniel! He’s so small and delicate—”
“He’s taller than me.”
Amy sighed. “He may be taller than you, but I‘d be surprised if he weighed more than half you do. You’re big, Daniel. You play sports, and you work out, and you’re just… big. You’ve always been big. Most of the boys around here are intimidated by you.”
“What? You mean the ones that call me carrot head and ginger nut?”
Amy gave a little smile. “Well… yeah, but when was the last time they did that?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been away and I—”
“They haven’t done it for years, not since you topped 6ft and bulked out. Face it, Daniel, you’re big and strong and… and Angel’s not. You’re angry with him, and give him the look of death every time you’re in the same room. No wonder he’s scared of you.”
“But I wouldn’t hurt him.”
“You just did,” she said, exasperated with me.
“It’s not me you need to say sorry to.”
“I know, but he isn’t here is he?”
“No, because you scared him off, and now he’s goodness knows where, hurt and in pain, scared and—”
“Alright, I get the message. Let’s go find him. You go left and I’ll go right.”
There’s a park just around the corner. Somehow, I knew that’s where he’d go. The lure of the cool green trees, and the smell of distant water always lured me, when I was sad or scared.
The evening was cool and fresh, and if I hadn’t been feeling like such a shit, I’d have enjoyed the walk .
He was curled up, with his back to a tree, sobbing. I heard him before I saw him, and it made my gut hurt. I was afraid to go near him. This was my fault. I did this.
“Angel,” I said softly, trying not to scare him again. I did though. His head jerked up and he cowered away from me, forcing out another yell of pain. He crumpled, with his eyes tight shut, breathing hard.
“I’m really sorry. I mean it. Amy’s right; I’ve been a complete shit, and I’m sorry.”
Slowly, Angel’s breathing calmed, and the terror in his eyes faded. “I’m… I’m s… sorry, Daniel. I d−didn’t mean—”
“I know. I know you didn’t. I was spoiled and selfish and stupid. I’m sorry. Can we start again?”
For a moment, Angel looked suspicious, as if he was waiting for me to hurt him again. When I held out my hand to him, he shrank away from it. “Take it. I won’t hurt you, I swear.”
Reluctantly, he took my hand and let me help him to his feet. It was a struggle for him, and I was surprised how brave he was. It hurt a lot, I could tell. When I was seven I cracked a rib falling out of a tree. I remember how much it hurt – and that was only one.
When he was upright, I carefully put my arm around him, and helped him limp back to the house. My mother was on the doorstep.
“What the hell’s been going on?”
“I….” I began, shrinking from the look in her eyes.
“Daniel’s been very kind to me, Mrs Hancock. I was being silly, and ran away. Daniel came to find me and helped me home. I’m very grateful to him.”
My mother narrowed her eyes. “Why did you run away in the first place?”
Angel turned his head to look at me. He gave a little smile, which I couldn’t help but return. “It doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all fixed now.”
“It is?” My mother still looked suspicious, especially when Amy turned up.
“You found him. Thank goodness. What the hell did you think you were doing?”
“I’m sorry, Amy,” Angel cut in, even though he knew full well she wasn’t talking to him. “I won’t do anything silly like that again. Daniel helped me.”
Amy, too, narrowed her eyes at me, and I shrugged.
“Alright, well—whatever happened, you look exhausted. Oh my God, you’ve got mud all over your jeans. Help him upstairs, Daniel. You’re going straight to bed. I’ll bring you some dinner in a while, then you can take your pills and sleep. You look terrible. Your mother will kill me if you get ill.”
“I won’t get ill. I’m fine; better than I’ve been for ages.”
That was the beginning of something I couldn’t quite call friendship but was, at least, a civil relationship. Amy and I spent a lot of time in Angel’s room, playing games with him. I brought my game consuls back in, and was shocked Angel had never played any of them. It wasn’t such a sweet life in the ivory tower, then.
I was surprised by more than one thing about Angel. He looked like an angel, but had a wicked sense of humour. He had us in stitches all the time. He was brave, too. Sometimes it was more than obvious he was in awful pain, but he wouldn’t admit defeat until he absolutely had to. Often, it was Amy, or my mother, who forced him to take his pills. Then he’d fall asleep, and Amy and I would creep out of his room and go to mine. That was about the time I started to think of the rooms as ‘his’ and ‘mine’ rather than ‘mine’ and the broom cupboard.
One day, I was sitting in the living room, watching television. My parents were out and Angel was fast asleep. We’d been playing a game on the PS3. He’d got a bit over-excited, and ended up in a groaning heap. I had to force him to take his pills, then sat with him while he fell asleep. It was a strange time. We talked quietly about what life was like in London. It was clear he loved it, but it wasn’t easy. He promised one day, he’d take me on a shoot, and introduce me to his friends. I took it all with a pinch of salt, but it was pleasant to hear.
I was still thinking about it, as I relaxed in front of the television, how pleasant it was; how pleasant he was. It surprised me to find that somehow I’d gone from hating him so much, to actually quite liking him. It wasn’t as if he was ever going to be my best friend or anything, but at least I could tolerate spending time with him. No, not tolerate, enjoy.
Suddenly, I was jolted out of my musings by a scream. Then another, and another. My heart pounding, I took the stairs two at a time. I don’t know what I was expecting, when I wrenched open the door of Angel’s room, but I guessed it involved a knife and lots of blood.
It was, very quickly, clear Angel was still fast asleep, and dreaming.
“Angel, Angel, wake up. You’re dreaming. Wake up.”
Although the screams subsided to horrible, heart-wrenching whimpers and sobs, Angel didn’t wake, and was starting to scare me. He was obviously hurting himself with his thrashing, and I couldn’t understand why the pain didn’t wake him up.
“Angel, please wake up, please.”
I shook him carefully by the shoulders and, suddenly, his eyes flew open and he screamed again, throwing up his arms in a defensive gesture, that almost knocked me off the bed.
“Angel, it’s me. It’s Daniel. You’re okay. You’re just dreaming.” Gasping with pain, he finally began to relax, and the pain hit him. He turned on his side, grabbing handfuls of sheets and sobbing. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I’d rub his back or something, but as soon as I touched him he threw himself into my arms and clung to me.
“Ssh. Ssh, you’re okay. You’re okay. Stop doing that, you’re hurting yourself.”
“D−D−Daniel,” he sobbed and clung to me even more tightly. “S−s−safe.”
“Yes, you’re safe. Fuck, that must have been one hell of a dream.”
Very, very gradually Angel calmed down and eventually collapsed, exhausted, by the dream and the pain.
“Are you okay now?”
“Okay? I….” Angel was sinking under the exhaustion, and the drugs that were finally kicking in… or kicking back in. There’s no way I was going to let that happen. After the scare he gave me, at the very least I was going to get an explanation.
“No way. Don’t you dare go to sleep. You’re going to tell me what just happened. What the hell was that dream all about?”
“It’s okay, Daniel. Okay. I’m safe now.”
“Yes, you’re safe, but I need to know what you’re safe from. What are you safe from, Angel?”
“People who hurt me.”
He gazed at me with that lost and dazed expression, that didn’t make me angry anymore. In fact I felt…something… protective. I wanted to tear the face of anyone who’d hurt him.
“Who hurt you? What did they do?”
His eyes, which had been drooping, snapped open and he shook his head. “No. No, it’s okay. It’s over now, all over. I can’t… I don’t want to…” He was falling asleep again, but jerked awake when I touched him. “What…? What…?”
“Ssh, it’s okay, Angel. I’m just worried about you. I want to know what scared you so much.”
“What do you care?” he grumbled, and turned his head away. I brushed the hair out of his beautiful face and… Wait. What? Since when did I start to think of him as beautiful? I mean, he is, but….
“I care,” I said, and it came out all kind of husky and soft, as if I meant it – really meant it.
Angel turned his head to look at me, and there was an expression of shock on his face. “What? Why?”
“You’re my friend, aren’t you? Of course I care about my friends. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t?”
“Friend?” There was a time when I’d have hated him for that lost, confused, expression but, this time, it hurt my heart.
“Of course, friend. I know I haven’t always been nice to you, but you’ve kind of… grown on me.”
“I have?” He smiled, and his face lit up. That hurt my heart, too.
“Yes, you have, and I hate to see you like this. You’re a mess.” He looked away, blushing. Hell, even his blush was beautiful, even when his eyes were swollen from crying and his face streaked with tears and snot. “Come here.”
I wriggled up the bed so I was sitting against the headboard, and pulled him into my arms. At first, he was stiff and resistant, but at some point he seemed to collapse inwards, and let himself relax against me.
“Are you alright now?”
“Are you going to tell me why?”
“Angel, please tell me. You scared me, really scared me. What happened to you? Why are you so scared?”
Angel wriggled so he could look up at me. I could tell it hurt him, but he didn’t care. He blinked a couple of times, and licked his lips. I had no idea, then, why it made me feel so strange inside.
“They hurt me,” he whispered, and squeezed his eyes shut. It sounded as if it hurt him to speak.
“Who hurt you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
He shook his head. “No. They were…. There were….” He bit his lip until a droplet of blood oozed down his chin.
“Don’t Angel. Please don’t. If it’s that hard, don’t tell me. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“No,” he whispered, shaking his head. “I want to tell you. I need to tell you; to tell someone.”
“Haven’t you told anyone?” I can’t believe that something terrible had happened, and he hadn’t told anyone. Hell, if something bad happened to me, half the community would know. If I didn’t tell, my mother would.
“Only my mother—a−and the doctors at the hospital, of course. That’s why she sent me here. I think…. I don’t know whether….” He stopped and took a shaky breath.
“Whether… whether she was… ashamed of me.”
“Ashamed? Why would she have been ashamed?”
“Because…. Because I….” He squeezed his eyes shut, and his hand gripped my wrist so hard I had to bite back a yelp. “Because I didn’t fight them. I just… I just let them…let them…do….”
“Ssh, Angel. It’s alright. You don’t have to be afraid with me. I’m not going to do anything bad to you, or say anything bad, and I’m sure as hell not going to be ashamed of you. I’m sure your mother isn’t either.”
“I… she… I think… I think she is. That’s why she sent me away. Why would she send me away, Daniel? If she loves me, and she isn’t ashamed of me, why did she send me away?”
“I don’t know. I…. my mother didn’t tell me. She just kept saying it was a favour for a friend, and you needed somewhere quiet to rest and get better. She said you wouldn’t have got that in London.”
“I could have, Daniel. I could have been with my mother, and my friends, and… and, I could have.”
“Okay, well maybe we can get my mother to call your mother. I’m sure she doesn’t know you’re feeling like this, and she’d be mortified if she did.”
“No. No you can’t do that. You can’t… You can’t… I don’t want her to know.”
“To know what? That you’re hurting? She really should know.” I thought about it, and got angry. It’s something that had never occurred to me. It just hadn’t entered my head to wonder why his mother would have sent him away, and not come with him. I mean, if I was hurt like this my mother wouldn’t have let me out of her sight. I remembered all the times she’d told me to go easy on Angel, to be a friend to him, because he was all alone. I didn’t listen. I was too full of righteous anger. Except, it wasn’t righteous. I should have listened.
“Okay,” I said, holding him as gently as I could. “I won’t do anything you don’t want to do, nothing at all. I promise.”
He blinked again. His eyes looked sore. They were wide, and kind of shocked. They were very blue… beautiful. And there I was again, thinking how beautiful he is. I remember my mind being dividing into two. Half of it was thinking how beautiful his eyes are, and the other half was asking why I’d even noticed. I think, at that point, I was pretty much out of my mind altogether. Something about Angel’s pain had unhinged it.
Finally, Angel really started to relax, and turned his face into my shoulder. I put my arms around him, very carefully, and rested my cheek on the top of his head. His hair was really soft. When I got close, it looked like it was made of some pale gold metallic thread.
I thought he’d fallen asleep, and it shocked the hell out of me when he spoke. It was nothing, though, to how shocked I was when I heard what he said.
“They raped me, Daniel. The beat me up and raped me. I was so shocked… It came from nowhere. I was just walking, and then I was… I was on the ground, and I… I don’t remember very much, but I know I didn’t fight them. I just let them do what they wanted to me. I felt… I feel….”
“Don’t say it, Angel. Just don’t. You did what you had to do. If you’d fought them, they might have killed you. They must have been crazy to hurt you like this. They wouldn’t have cared if they’d killed you. If you’d fought—”
“They thought they had.”
“Killed me. They thought they’d killed me. I heard the police talking to my mother, after they caught the men. They thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. There were a lot of times when they thought I was asleep, and I wasn’t. When they caught them— the men, they… they told them—the police…. They said that−that they only left me because they thought I was dead. If…. If…. They would have… They…”
He started to sob again, and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t speak to him. I had nothing to say, I was in shock – total shock, frozen and useless.
When he finally calmed down, he went to sleep very quickly, and I just sat and held him, still frozen.
I was still sitting there, hours later, when he stirred and snuggled into me. He threw his arm across my waist, making sleepy little noises. I’d heard my mother come in ages ago, but she hadn’t come upstairs. We were alone. I felt alone. I was scared. I didn’t know what I was going to say to him.
“Mmm,” he sighed, and stirred again. I watched as his nose crinkled, his tongue slipped out to lick his lips, and, finally, his eyes fluttered open. At first, he looked utterly confused, his eyes wide and lost looking. Now I knew why. I knew why he’d looked so scared when I yelled at him, why he cringed away when I was intimidating him. I felt sick; sick with myself for having hurt him like that.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I didn’t know why, it just happened.
“Sorry about what?”
Angel’s brow knit into a frown. “I… don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry about what happened to you, sorry you were hurt so much. I’m sorry I hurt you, too. I’m sorry I was such a—“
“Don’t.” Angel looked stricken. As soon as I mentioned what happened to him his eyes, widened every further and a horrible expression crept into them. He looked sick; sick with himself. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice choked. “I shouldn’t have told you. I just… I felt safe with you, Daniel. I thought you wouldn’t hate me, that you wouldn’t feel sick every time you look at me, that—”
“What? What on earth are you talking about? No one feels sick when they look at you. How the hell could they? You’re so beautiful.” Now where did that tone of voice come from? It must have been to reassure him. It must have been. Because it couldn’t have been…anything else.
Angel shook his head, and turned his face away. “I’ve seen their faces, Daniel, their eyes when they look at me. The doctors, my mother, my friends. They’re sickened by me, and they’re right. They’re all right. I’m spoiled. I’m... dirty.” I’ve never been so shocked. Not even when he told me what happened. Did he really think that?
Carefully, I put my hand on his face and forced him to turn to me. “Don’t say things like that. Don’t ever say things like that. It’s not true. I can’t speak for anyone else—although I don’t think it’s true anyone thinks that about you—but I don’t. I don’t think you’re spoiled, or dirty. If anyone’s dirty it’s the bastards who did that to you.”
Angel shook his head. “You’re wrong. Even if it’s true… that you don’t think it, everyone else does. No one’s going to want me now, not every my own mother. If she can’t bear to look at me, how can anyone else?”
“I can. I can bear to look at you.”
“But that’s different. You’re just… You’re….” He looked up at me, and I’ve no idea what he saw, but it stopped him in his tracks. “But you… you don’t like me,” he whispered. “You’ve never liked me. You… you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you, Angel,” I said softly. “I don’t think I ever did, not really, and I know for absolute sure I don’t now.”
“But you don’t… you don’t… and no one’s ever going to…. No one will ever… will ever… will…” I stopped his words with a kiss, and I don’t know who was more shocked. I mean, I wasn’t and he wasn’t… at least he’d never said he was. And I didn’t… and he didn’t and… Angel stopped my spinning thought with another kiss, and it snowballed from there.
Of course, no one thought he was dirty. The only reason his mother sent him away was because she was scared he’d be hurt by the backlash if anyone found out, which they didn’t. And the only reason she looked at him the way she did, was because it hurt her to see how much he’d been hurt, and she couldn’t bear the fact she was so helpless. She hadn’t protected him, and she couldn’t help him.
We were both shocked, again, when we told everyone about us. It didn’t seem to come as news to anyone. The only ones who were truly surprised were… well, us.
For a long time, we stumbled like blind men, but, step by step we found our way. Angel was true to his word. He took me to London and introduced me to his friends. The media storm over us was scary, until they lost interest and, not long after, Angel retired.
He enrolled in the same university I went to, a year behind, doing a degree in art. He used his contacts to promote his work, and opened a small gallery that’s doing very well. I put my business degree to good use helping him build the business, and today, we’re attending the formal opening of our third gallery. It’s the biggest and most prestigious so far. I put my hand into my pocket and finger the small velvet box, thinking about the gold rings it holds and how far we’ve come, how we’ve moved from hate to love, and how I’m going to spend the rest of my life proving it to him.