Love was… jagged.
Love was something sharp, something spiked and topped with poison. It would cut you if you got too close, if you let your guard down enough.
Sammy learned this lesson early, and he learned it well.
His father would come home and get drunk and scream-- sometimes throw things.
How many vases of his mother’s flowers had that man shattered against patterned wallpaper until Sammy had stopped flinching?
His mother taught him, too. Her love was so flimsy. It broke under the weight of his father's anger. She would whisper soft words in a tone like glass, her hands fluttering over Sammy like hummingbirds. Sammy got older, and her voice got quieter and quieter, until eventually she just stayed silent.
On Sundays, the Stevens family packed into their car and drove to the church. Sammy sat quietly through the sermon, even as the pastor spewed hate about abominations and sinners.
Sammy clenched his hands into tight little fists beside his lap.
They always ate lunch together after church, the three of them. His mother tended to chat a bit with the other ladies after the sermon, which made his father angry.
Sammy remembered watching his father stalk away after muttering darkly about getting the car, a warning in his voice. His mother plastered on a smile and squeezed Sammy’s hand, though it gave him no comfort.
Sunday Lunch was typically quiet, because his father got headaches and wanted silence.
Sammy was too young to know it, but these lunches were the first of his experiences with the meaning of the word “stifling.”
After Sunday church and Sunday lunch and Sunday ‘be quiet so you don’t wake your father’ came Monday. And with Monday came school.
Sammy did not care for school.
The work was fine. Boring at times, difficult at times, but mostly fine. It wasn’t the learning that bothered him. It was the students.
See, Sammy just wasn’t like the other kids. He didn’t like the things they liked, didn’t do the things they did. He didn’t fit in. He was different.
In small towns, being different was effectively a target on your back, made with dripping red paint.
Sammy once made the mistake of confiding in his mother about how the other kids treated him, and how the teachers saw but did nothing. Her mother looked down at him with her cheeks wide, spread into something that was more grimace-than-smile. It didn’t reach her eyes. She patted his back a little awkwardly, and told him “You’ll grow out of it.”
Not “they’ll grow out of it.” Not “let’s go talk to the principle about it.” Not “is there anything you want me to do, any action you want me to take?”
But ”You’ll grow out of it.”
Sammy didn’t, though. And Sammy didn’t talk to her about things after that.
He especially didn’t talk to her about his growing suspicion that there was something inside him that was fundamentally divergent from other people. Something wrong.
(There was a lot of talk about the homosexuals. How they were abominations. Sinners. Unholy.
Sammy heard slurs and hatred spewn from the loving tongues of the church, heard it from the children and faculty at school.
Heard it fall from his own mouth like tar, and felt so sick to his stomach afterwards that he hid in the boy’s bathroom for an hour.)
During high school, Sammy was forced to confront a part of him he had been so carefully avoiding. Something he had meant to keep hidden, even from himself. He’d stared into the mirror and hated what he saw.
The very next day, he’d walked up to his classmate Josie and asked her out. She said yes.
(When he kissed her, he felt like a liar.
Like a coward.
He kept going out with her, hating himself for tricking her into caring about him. For wasting her time.)
By the time college came, he had broken up with Josie and resigned himself to finding a new girlfriend in Florida, one who hopefully wouldn’t ask why he wouldn’t have sex with her. He stopped talking to his parents. He didn’t go home for holidays. He never called them, and they never called him.
He didn’t know if they knew about him or not.
(They probably did.)
Freshman year of college was boring. It was a relief to be away from the small town he grew up in, and absolutely blissful to realize nobody here knew his name or his family. But he didn’t make friends beyond a few acquaintances, and he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life.
(He still avoided looking at his male classmates. He never dated, never tried to meet any others like him. He just… kept his head down. And tried not to feel cursed. )
Then he met the Wrights.
As soon as he set eyes on Lily Wright-- her hair cropped short, her eyes rimmed with dark, smudged eyeliner, a fiercely confident expression on her face-- he felt a strange mix of excitement and trepidation.
She, in return, had seemed to make her mind up about him instantly.
“We’re going to be friends, Sam,” she’d told him, sliding into the seat beside him.
“Sammy,” he corrected instantly.
Lily grinned. “I’ll take that as an enthusiastic agreement.”
She was right to do so.
She took him home with her a week later, and Sammy stood awkwardly in the entrance of the apartment she shared with her brother as she yelled for him to come meet her friend.
Then Sammy saw the most beautiful man he’d ever seen, and it was like the floor had dropped out from under him.
(Sammy didn’t believe in love at first sight. Infatuation, maybe. Attraction.
But not love.
Still. What Sammy felt upon seeing Jack-- that was as close as it got.)
Jack was over six feet tall, with dark eyes and black hair, and skin that looked gold when the sunshine hit it. He was incredible.
And they were gay. Both of them-- gay and wonderful and closer to happiness than Sammy had ever thought possible for people like them.
Meeting the Wrights was a revelation for Sammy. They become his companions-- everything they did, they did together. He moved in with them seven months after meeting them; shared a greasy pizza in celebration of their new roommate. It was good. It was so, so good. He could finally be himself. He could finally figure out who that person actually was.
(It was almost as if all along, for Sammy’s entire life, he had been waiting for something. He had been holding his breath. Anticipating when things would start to make sense, when they would really and truly begin.
He didn’t have to wait anymore. He’d found what he had been longing for. It was them.)
His feelings towards the Wrights shifted, though. Lily became his best friend, replacing Jack. Jack, who had become something...else.
Sometimes, Sammy would catch Jack looking at him. He always looked away as soon as he’d been caught. But then… Then he’d look back. And he’d smile at Sammy, his face flushed but pleased. Like he was happy that Sammy saw him. Happy that Sammy knew.
It made the already fragile excuse for a heart in Sammy’s chest beat wildly, as if it was proving that it did, in fact, know how.
He spent several nights agonizing over his relationship with Jack. Surely, Jack didn’t feel the same. To assume he did would be ridiculous. But then Jack would say or do something for Sammy, something so tender it would rock Sammy to his core. And Jack would just shrug in that adorably awkward way, rub the back of his neck, and act like it was nothing. Like that was just something people did for one another.
(Before meeting Jack, Sammy hadn’t known what it was like to be in love. But after?
After, it was like every cell in Sammy’s body knew something he didn’t: that there were two reasons to function.
Keep Sammy alive.
See Jack again.)
Of course, something had to give, one way or another.
Lily was out of town for the weekend, so Jack and Sammy had the apartment to themselves. Jack looked at Sammy across the breakfast table as Sammy ate.
“Hey, Sammy,” Jack said, his voice low.
Sammy looked up, flicking the hair out of his face. “Hey,” he mumbled, his mouth still full. He made eye contact with Jack while he spread jam on his toast, and his hand slipped, covering his hand in strawberry spread.
Sammy tutted, glancing around for a napkin, but Jack just reached out and grabbed Sammy’s wrist. He leaned forward, bringing Sammy’s hand closer to his mouth. Then he licked the jam off of Sammy’s hand, and Sammy’s brain short-circuited.
“Jack,” Sammy squeaked. “...What are you doing?”
“‘m seducing you,” Jack replied. “Is it working?”
Sammy couldn’t speak, so he nodded.
Jack gave a small little grin then, as if he’d been nervous, and was pleased to know everything was turning out alright. It only made Sammy fall harder. He brought Sammy’s hand back to his mouth and pressed a kiss to it.
Sammy stared at Jack for all of three seconds before launching himself across the table, displacing his plate and the jar of jam, and causing Jack to shriek and fall backwards in his chair.
They ended up sprawled on the ground in an ungraceful heap. Sammy managed to pull his head from the floor, and he grimaced at Jack.
“Sorry,” he said, cringing.
Jack just looked at him, another small smile dancing on his lips. “Don’t be. I liked it.”
Sammy kissed him.
(Lily got a bit of an unfortunate surprise when she came back early from her trip two days later.
Sammy couldn’t bring himself to care all that much. Not when Jack still hadn’t stopped looking at him like he’d hung the moon.)
The thing was-- the thing was-- everybody had been wrong. All those people who thought they knew about love, everyone in Sammy’s past spewing vitriol about the gays. None of them knew anything. Love was not jagged. Love was not bitter, or sour.
It was satisfying, fulfilling. It was like a fruit, fresh and invigorating and full of sweetness.
And how could being gay be wrong, when there was Jack-- wonderful, miraculous Jack-- who was everything Sammy was not, who was brave and kind and easy-going, but who was gay as well?
If Jack was going to hell, Sammy fully planned on tearing the whole place down, just for him.
(Unfortunately for Jack and Lily, Sammy’s heart was hungry. It got so greedy. It took too much.)
Jack and Sammy moved to California, and Lily did not.
Sammy slipped easily back into his old ways-- playing the part of the Heterosexual Non-Monagamist. He suspected it gave Jack whiplash, with how quickly he slipped into character.
Sammy got used to fear, and Jack got used to acting.
Whatever it took to make their dreams come true, right?
Jack was gone. Jack was gone. He was gone, and Sammy was not.
(He’d lost Lily. He’d lost Jack. Sammy was all alone. Part of him whispered that this was how it was always supposed to be.)
Sammy moved to King Falls, and he felt like he was carrying around a gaping hole in his chest.
It was like someone had dropped a cannonball right through his middle, and he was living in the constant fear that someone would notice, would see right through him-- and they, somehow, would know.
(Ben was a sculptor. He had his clay and his tools, and he was smoothing out the most jagged parts of Sammy.
Not filling him in.
Just… just smoothing him out.
He hadn’t had a real best friend since Lily. Since Jack.
It was nice. Ben was… Ben was good.)
(Watching Ben fall apart at the seams was uncanny. It was like watching himself, a year and a half ago. Desperate and angry and afraid.
Only Ben wasn’t like Sammy. He was strong. Ben made a plan, and Sammy made wishes.)
Emily was returned safely. Ben’s heart was broken all over again, in an entirely new way, but at least… At least Emily was safe.
Sammy feared that was more than he could hope for Jack.
Lily Wright had changed in the decade-or-so since he’d seen her in person. Her edges were so much sharper, but she was still just as smart, just as ruthless.
Sammy had never been on the receiving end of those qualities before. Not like this.
(He bore her hatred willingly. If it helped her find Jack, he would have borne any amount of pain or abuse.
Besides. It was nothing he didn’t deserve.)
He fired back with his own quick tongue, and tried not to miss her too badly.
There was a time to continue on, and there was a time to give up. Maybe Sammy should have given up long ago. He couldn’t crack it. He’d failed Jack.
Maybe he truly was cursed.
Even Lily couldn’t do it, couldn’t save him. And Ben-- blessed, wonderful Ben-- had tried his best to change Sammy’s mind.
But Sammy was always stubborn, wasn’t he? Pigheadedness was his fatal flaw.
(Or at least, it nearly was. Things changed. He was starting to see things a little differently, these days.)
Recovery was different for everybody, Sammy knew.
Still, it was interesting to find that for him, part of recovery was firing barbs back and forth with Lily. And not even in an antagonistic way. It was almost like they were friends again.
Then, of course, they were roommates again, which really put a stop on the whole ‘friendship’ development.
(Sammy left an extra jar of overnight oats before work. Just in case.)
(Devoting himself to Jack’s safe return was not a feat he could have done alone, obviously. To find that so many people wanted Sammy-- and Lily-- to have Jack back, it was honestly astounding.
Sammy had never been so cared for in his life.
They continued their work. It was difficult and confusing and it left them feeling hopeless and afraid-- a side effect of the book, likely-- but it was worth it. For Jack, it was worth it.)
The time came. Many of Sammy’s worst nightmares came true right before his eyes. But also--
His wildest dream.
Jack lay peacefully on the hospital bed, his eyes closed.
Sammy comprehended things, now. Looking back on the entirety of his experiences, on everything he’d learned and fundamentally misunderstood-- he got it.
It was as if his whole life so far had been spent in anticipation for this moment-- a single breath held for decades, every muscle in his body tightly wound until the moment of exhalation. The culmination of every hurt and sorrow, every joy and triumph. It all led here. To him. To them. His family.
Jack opened his eyes.