"Here" a short story by Chase

I want people to read a story where LGBTQ+ characters are normalized.

——-

I watched Jay stare at the Manhattan skyline for what felt like an eternity. I heard the cars and trucks down below us passing through, we’re on the promenade. The white noise of it all coming together to make a calming hum, kind of like the one I hear from my apartment. I live in the Jacob Riis Housing Projects in the Lower East Side, I’m trying to spot my building from here but it’s more uptown than I think it is. My sister Noah is probably home with her girlfriend Elly, she’s always over at our place.

“Jay, you good?” I asked.

“I’m livin’ Andy, don’t worry,” They said.

“Okay then, dramatic-ass. You were just staring for while, didn’t know if you were plotting to kill someone or something.”

Jay rubbed their hands together and said, “Bro how’d you know, I gotta move to a different state, dye my hair and change my name now.” They jumped back off the fence, laughing menacingly, and ran a few feet away and struck a dramatic pose.

“I thought you already did some of that though!”

“Oh so you got jokes now? Everyone give a round of applause to this dude right here.” Jay clapped and we both laughed. Jay continued to walk and vogue.

We walked for a bit longer, I asked, “Where do you wanna go next, my friend?”

“Hmmmm, how about Coney Island?” Jay responded.

“What are we, the Warriors?” I asked sarcastically.

“Nowhere to run nowhere to hide,” They sang. “We’re not safe until we get back to Coney, man.”

“Aii. So we out to the Island of Coney. Hopefully nobody will cross us before then.” We walked to Jay Street and caught the F.

I’m most comfortable with Jay, I think they feel the same way with me, but I’m not sure. They can be a really closed off person, which I respect, but sometimes it drives me insane. I tend to overthink everything and feel like I did something wrong or I hurt them. I just want them to express themselves more often, I’d never judge them. Whatever, I start to get irritated whenever I think about it. So anyway, we’re on our way to Coney Island.

“I love being on the train,” I said relieved.

“I know. You say that a lot homie.” Jay said.

“I just find it so calm-”

“Calming!” Jay shouted, they cut me off.

I rolled my eyes and smiled. “Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

They laughed. It was kinda weird hearing that. Recently, Jay hasn’t really shown any type of affection towards me. And even though that wasn’t affectionate at all, that was more than anything I’ve gotten from them in a while. I looked out the window of the train, it was dark for a few seconds, we were just pulling out of the tunnel at Church Ave, halfway there. Other than the train sighing, Jay and I sat in silence. Jay is one of the only people that I am comfortable being silent with. Although I was usually the most comfortable when I was around Jay, that uncertain feeling started creeping in, and I did not like it. I was getting more anxious.

The train screeched as we pulled into the Stillwell Ave. We stepped off the train, and Jay made their way up the stairs to the walkway that stands above the eight tracks. I kept at my own pace, staying back and watching Jay look around and do their thing. After I saw the waves of people crash through the platforms for a bit, I noticed that Jay was standing still, almost frozen, staring toward the faint Manhattan skyline, it wasn’t the first time. I saw them watching the moving trains and the traffic on the highways. Life was just going on. I got a little worried, Jay was looking for a long time. I walked closer and looked at their face. “Jay?” their eyes were a little watery.

“Hm?” they sniffled, rubbing their face. “Oh,” They noticed I was onto them. “I think something went in my eye.” They were trying to cover it up, continuing to rub their eyes. It was pretty obvious that it wasn’t something that went in their eye. But I didn’t want to question it and make them uncomfortable. I learned that Jay will tell me things when they’re ready. “I-uh, I think I should go home now, I think my mom needed me to help her with something.”

“Aight, no worries, I’m getting kinda hungry anyway, I’ll see if Noah is, too,” I responded, trying not to sound suspicious. I pulled my phone out just to check what time it was, I knew for a fact that Noah and Elly already ate something, they’re always eating.

When I got home, Noah and Elly were watching a show and laughing, yelling out lines. I could hear them through the apartment door while I made my way down the hall. I smiled and unlocked the door. They were tangled up on the couch, giggling. “Hey it’s Andy!” I saluted to them, they continued to watch TV and laugh. I walked past them and into the kitchen to heat up food. My phone buzzed, thinking it was Jay, I quickly grabbed it off of the counter, but it was stupid spam. I was confused, usually Jay lets me know when they’re home, but they didn’t text anything today. Maybe they had to pick up something for their mom on the way home. I would’ve texted them but I didn’t want to bother them, I thought it was best to give them space. So I pushed myself to get off my phone so I wouldn’t obsess over it. I joined Noah and Elly on the couch and ate my food, they could tell I was feeling off. We watched the show for a few hours. I checked my phone every once in a while, and of course like I always do, started to overthink about what could’ve been going on with Jay.

The whole weekend flew by and Jay still didn’t text or call. I was trying to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t overthink. I guess I’ll have to wait until I get to school to see them.

I get to school, sit through classes I would rather not be in, deal with people I’d rather not deal with, and finally it was time to go to lunch, I shoot down the stairs to the cafeteria and I sit down at the end of our table, waiting. I keep rotating my phone on its sides and corners, bouncing my leg, I was getting antsy. I keep waiting for my phone to vibrate or make a sound, hoping it’s Jay calling or texting me saying that they got held up with a teacher or something, just anything confirming that they’re at school today. Just to know they’re okay. This continues.

They missed two days of school in a row already, this is really not like them. I’m still waiting at our table and Jay never showed. I walk back up to class every time and wait for school to be over.

Almost four days with no communication at all, wouldn’t that make any normal person worry? I started getting bad images in my mind and shutting and rubbing my eyes hard to stop them...Always thinking of the worst things, I freak myself out.

I get home and even though I’m trying to focus on homework, I’m walking back and forth in my room. I’m in agony, I can’t be patient, I grab my phone and call them. “Hello? Jay?”

“Ohh what’s up Andy? What’s crackalackin my G,” they started laughing really hard.

Huh? “What’s so funny? I haven’t seen or heard from you in mad long. What’s going on? You good?” I felt lost. There were loud sounds in the background.

“Ah yeah, man, yeah I’m fine. I’m fine, man, yeah don’t worry about me.” They kept laughing.

“Yo, Jay...are you high?”

“What-nah dude, I’m just-well-uh. Yeah, just-just a little bit.”

I’m so confused, Jay never smokes or drinks. “Why? Why are you high?” I asked, starting to get frustrated.

“Yo Andy did you see the game last night, pretty crazy, ya boy-”

“Nah shut up, quit playing and please just tell me what’s going on with you,” I demanded. I came off a bit harsher than I wanted to, but this was really bothering me.

Jay snapped, “Damn, get off me, will you? You’re not my mom. I don’t have to explain myself to you. Peace.” They hung up.

I was really irritated. I mean, I wasn’t that shitty to them. I just wanted to know how my friend was doing. But now I don’t even know what this means. I mean, what kind of shit was that? Jay never smokes or drinks. And they sure as hell never blow me off like that. Whatever, I’ll be here when they’re ready to talk. I threw my phone on the bed and I left it alone. I can’t even focus on homework anymore, forget it.

A few days go by and Jay texts me, they asked how I was doing. I texted back “meh.” They were acting normal, as if nothing had ever happened, like they never ghosted me, like they never acted weird. I want them to actually tell me what’s going on instead of playing these games. A couple of hours had gone by, I checked our conversation and saw that Jay had opened my message and didn’t respond. Aight. I shrugged it off, trying to not let it bother me, I was too stressed. But me being me, of course, I had to text them again to check in, even if it was them who left me on read. “Good night, hope you’re good.” It felt weird to even write a text like that, even though we’re good friends. It felt risky and I don’t know why. I sent it anyway because it felt right. I guess I was afraid they would think I was being annoying.

After a couple days, I got a call from Jay’s mom, Iris.

“Hello? Iris?”

She cleared her throat, “Andy, good morning. I uh, I have something to tell you. Um...” Her voice broke and she started crying. She continued talking but all I heard was ringing in my ears. It was all mumbling, I couldn’t hear clearly. I just...didn’t know what to do, think, or say. Everything just stopped but at the same time everything was spinning. I think I dropped my phone, I blacked out, too.

Everything in the world changed, everything seemed to be ending. The only friend I have killed themselves, and I didn’t know until it was too late. I didn’t get to do anything that could’ve stopped them, I don’t even remember the last time I said “I love you” to Jay. Holy shit, is it my fault? I was the one who gave them a hard time for not speaking to me, but I was also the one who cared so much and stuck by their side. I don’t know. I was the one who respected everything about them. I’ve been there for Jay. I don’t know. I thought I showed them that I’m here for them, well wait, now it’s "was”. Shit, it’s was now, everything is past tense now. It’s too late for anything now. Now is just terrible. A world without Jay. A world where everything reminds me of them. Oh fuck, for the rest of my life I’m going to be saying cringey shit like, “Oh, one of my old friends loved those,” and “Damn, my friend would’ve liked this,” And everybody is going look at me with pity, this is so stupid. I don’t even know what to think. I’m yelling at myself. I’m getting really angry and I don’t know why. I’m being so selfish right now. I should just be thinking about Jay and what happened. I should’ve stayed on the phone with Iris and consoled her. I shouldn't have been so mad at Jay. I need to get out of here. I just need to get out of here.

I’m gonna be alone without them.

Teary eyes, blasting music, blurs of subway stations, neighborhoods, and people flash by, somehow I make it to Coney Island. I sluggishly step off the train, hesitant. I walk to the middle of the platform and I don’t know which way to turn; if I turn left, I go up to the walkway where Jay and I stood, where I saw them cry, where I didn’t hug them or ask what was wrong. If I go the other way, I face the world, I face the water, the sand where we used to sit, those memories. Looking at the beach makes me want Jay around even more. I should have done something sooner, I should have asked what was wrong a long time ago, when I first noticed they were acting different.

But that’s ripped away from me, nothing feels the same. It’s only been a few hours after I found out and I am already extremely emotionally drained and exhausted. This place that I used to escape to is filled with the emptiness I feel now. My stomach feels like it’s been torn out. I have not stopped crying since Iris called me. I feel so lost. I’m gonna be alone without them.

I’m in my room now, sitting on the floor against my bed, tossing a crumpled up piece of paper up and down. I’m trying to focus on something other than crying, but the tears keep rolling down my face. My head hurts from the congestion and the sobbing. I throw the paper ball at the other end of my room where it meets used tissues. I hold my head in my hands. Tears run down my hands to my wrists where scars are, and past them, down to my elbows. Maybe if only I texted Jay before they...well.

I hear Noah and Elly cooking, they have the TV on as background noise, they’re both talking about how their day went. They started speaking softer, and their conversation was probably about me because I got a text from Noah saying, “We know what you’re going through is really hard and we’re here whenever you need us. We’ll leave some food for you on the counter. Come have it whenever you’re ready. We understand that you’ll need time and maybe some space as well. Whatever you need, I can make it possible. We’ll be on the couch watching TV. Love you.” It comforts me, but I still can’t stop crying.

The sound of Iris’ voice on the phone keeps echoing in my mind. When she started to cry, the static and ringing of silence, again. It pounds in my head. I grab a piece of paper and a pen. I start scribbling away at the page, almost ripping through it. Tears stain the blue lines and make them bleed. The thoughts haven’t stopped. The page is torn and it looks insane. My cries got louder, Noah came in and pushed the papers away, sits next to me and hugs me while my limbs go weak, I collapse into her arms. She speaks, strokes my hair, and breathes slowly. I start to mimic her breath to calm myself down, taking me back to the thing we used to do when we were younger when things got rough, the tactic we used for both of us to calm down. It felt like I was in her arms for hours, I probably was.

I don’t remember the rest of that night. I just know it was really tough to get through. I guess I actually don’t remember the rest of that month, either. However, my relationship with Noah is better now, it feels like I have her around again. But it really sucks that it took a shitty thing to happen for us to get close. I wish something else would have happened instead, so I would still have Jay. Things just kinda happen, there is no reason behind it, and what we can do is learn from them. When someone that you care about kills themselves, you have no idea how to feel about anything. People never really forget those people, even though that’s everyone’s fear, to be forgotten. It’s an interesting thing. I felt extremely lost, for a really, really long time. Even though I was lost, having Noah and Elly around helped a lot. We sorta created an environment where we communicate more about anything. From the smallest to biggest situation, someone should be there for you. Everybody needs somebody to be there for them. You just gotta tell them, ‘I’m always here.’

-fin