4.You’re still you

On Monday, Sarah joined his company as naturally as before. She didn’t mention his panic attack, which Eelis was grateful for.

”My friends were terribly jealous when I sent them that selfie,” Sarah grinned. ”They asked a lot about you,” she added, and Eelis smiled a little. At the same time, he couldn’t help but wonder whether agreeing to the photo was a good idea after all, but… perhaps he was just overthinking it.

”My father was also happy when I told him that I’ve met a new girlfriend,” he smirked a little. He had talked to his father on the phone the day before. Told about Sarah and talked about meeting Michael too. His father had sounded relieved, asked again about Christmas and when he would come, how long he would stay, but he hadn’t known what to answer.

”Does your family know that…?” Sarah asked quietly.

”Yeah… They’re all okay with it, always have been,” Eelis answered, and Sarah looked at him curiously. ”So, they won’t be expecting you to visit them as my bride-to-be, it would be more of a shock to them if…” he smiled as his voice trailed off.

”Wouldn’t it be nice to shock them a bit,” Sarah teased him, ”such a gorgeous woman after all,” she tossed her hair and flashed her eyelashes that had some mascara in them.

Eelis chuckled. ”It would be interesting,” he admitted. However, Eelis was almost certain that his father would take it more as a sign that he had finally lost it after his trauma and would drag him to talk to a professional.

The feeling of it was so certain, that it raised a new appreciation for his father. He had always accepted him. His father had never questioned whether he was gay or just going through a phase, never suggesting he should at least try dating girls.

At that moment, he felt a strange ache of longing in his chest. Even though he felt unease by the thought of going home, facing the prying eyes of the neighbors and all that.  At the same time he knew how much his family wanted him home, so maybe… Maybe he would just go, maybe Michael was right, right with the statement that it had to be faced, no matter how uncomfortable it felt.

On Wednesday, they were at the canteen together.

”James seems to be interested in you,” Sarah said quietly as they ate and Eelis felt a tug of anxiety in his chest.

”Oh?” He asked, moving the food around with his fork, casting her a look from under his brows.

”Yeah… He stares at you a lot… And I heard he’s gay too. He’s quite handsome, isn’t he?” Sarah smiled.

”Hmm…” Eelis shrugged. ”He’s handsome, but I’m not interested. I don’t understand why he’s still staring, I assumed that he would understand… He came to my workplace on Saturday, I told him I’m going on a date with you.”

”He’s staring because you’re breathtakingly handsome, Elis.” Sarah grinned. ”But if you want, I can play the role of your girlfriend.”

”Hey, even though I have panic attacks from time to time, I can hold my own, trust me,” Eelis laughed. ”If he suggests something again, I will let him down easy, without lies. It would be silly to ruin your chances of dating by pretending that we’re a couple. You get interested looks too, I’ve noticed,” he smiled at her.

”I know you can hold your own,” Sarah said with a small smile. ”I don’t know… Right now, I’m not interested in dating…” She sighed, ”it can be a bit …overwhelming”

Eelis looked at the woman curiously and wondered if there was something else behind that abortion story. However, this probably wasn’t the right place or moment to start asking questions. ”I understand,” he said instead. 

”Will you go shopping with me this weekend?” Sarah suggested.

”I have work on Saturday, but maybe after that?”

”Okay, and maybe after shopping, we can go out for a drink  or two?” She asked excitedly.

”After that last time, it’s pretty brave of you”, Eelis laughed once more and raised his water glass to his lips.

”Yes, it’s better to jump straight back on the horse, and now I already know the route to your apartment.” Sarah teased in a friendly matter which Eelis didn’t mind.

”We’ll see,” he replied smiling amusedly at her, grateful for her friendship.


The house was a little further from the center, a quiet residential area. From the looks of the buildings, they could easily be at least a hundred years old, and the small garden in front of the house was beautifully maintained. 

Michael had said that it worked as a shelter for young people, mainly representatives of sexual minorities, men, women, and non-binaries. For those who had experienced similar traumas and didn’t really have their support network behind them. For those who had difficulty starting a new life on their own.

Michael met him at the door. ”Welcome,” he said and smiled. ”You can leave your coat there.” He advised and pointed to the coat rack. Eelis glanced at the man’s feet, he was wearing shoes, and this was the strangeness he had trouble getting used to. Why on earth did these people want to walk around with shoes inside their homes?

”Would you like something to drink, coffee, tea, or maybe cocoa? I make really good hot chocolate, even if I do say so myself,” the man smiled warmly.

”Thank you, I’d be happy to taste it,” Eelis answered and followed the man to the kitchen.

”Please, sit down,” Michael gestured and Eelis did, allowing his gaze to wander in the cozy-looking kitchen before looking out of the window next to him. The leaves of the tree behind it had started to change to autumn colors, the day was gray with a feeling of rain in the air.

”Do you live here too or is it only… your workplace?” Eelis asked with an unsure voice, still lacking his former confidence with small talk

”I don’t live here permanently but I do stay here regularly, working as a support person. Many of the young people we help have a very difficult past and not necessarily anyone to lean on. When I’ve been able to help them, it’s helped me too.” Michael replied while preparing the hot chocolate. ”When you’re going through something so terrible, it can be a helpless feeling…like everything is ruined and nothing makes sense… The thought that life has been broken and wasted, what is there to be done with the broken pieces that are left?” Michael looked at him and Eelis smiled a little, easily recognizing the thought.

He heard noise from the corridor and looked a little worriedly in the direction of the door. Soon a younger, slender boy with a pale face and blue hair appeared in the doorway. ”Sorry, I didn’t realize that…” The boy muttered nervously as he glanced at him and then at Michael.

”It’s all right, don’t worry, we’ll go upstairs in a moment. Do you want some chocolate too, Jacob?” Michael asked and smiled gently at the boy, who glanced at Eelis a little timidly.

”No, thank you… I just thought I’d get some water… I’ll go to my room then.” The boy said quietly and cautiously walked towards the fridge. Eelis moved his gaze to the window, sensing that his presence unnerved the other.

”Is everything okay?” He heard Michael ask the boy.

”Yeah… Everything’s fine…” the boy murmured. ”I’ll leave you alone…”

”Talk to you later, Jacob,” Michael said, and if the boy answered, he said it so quietly that Eelis didn’t hear. The footsteps drifted away.

”There are currently three young people living here who have experienced similar things as we have. Then some still visit here regularly, but have already moved to live on their own,” Michael said handing him the mug with the hot beverage. ”Let’s go upstairs where we can talk in private.”

Eelis followed the man upstairs and looked around. ”There used to be an inn on the premises here. We bought this place a few years ago with my husband and turned it into a shelter. There is two other adult support staff here, and we take turns in spending the night here with the young people.”

Michael opened the door to a room that was more like a library or sitting room than an office. The room had a small sofa and an armchair, a small coffee table, and a decorative fireplace. There were a lot of books. ”Please, take a seat,” Michael urged, pointing towards the couch, sitting down on the armchair himself.

”Do you like to read?” Michael asked, noticing him looking at the books.

”Yeah… Lately, I’ve been reading quite a lot.”

”I love reading, a momentary escape from the inside of my head to another world.” He continued and brought the cup to his lips. ”I put a little chili in it,” he said with a smile, putting the cup down. Eelis raised one eyebrow, he had heard of chili in cocoa or chocolate but had never tasted it. He raised the cup to his lips slowly, and tasted it, it was different but good.

”Tastes good,” he praised, getting a smile from the older man.

”Would you like to tell me more about your experience?” Michael asked, and the uncomfortable feeling spread once more. Eelis held the warm cup between his hands, looking down at it.

”Not really,” he chuckled mirthlessly and looked up at the man who smiled encouragingly. ”But I guess I have to try.” He then said and thought about where to start.

”He’s dead, my ex I mean,” Eelis finally said. ”And that other man is dead too…” He tapped the surface of the cup with his fingers and looked away towards the window. ”The other one who was involved… in the abduction…shot a man in front of my eyes, a man who tried…” Eelis bit his lip. ”The neighbor I tried to run to, he tried to help and… I think, or… I should have realized, they had guns… That man… I should have realized that…”

”You blame yourself for that man’s death?” Michael asked and Eelis was silent for a moment.

”Without me, he would still be alive,” he said, raising the cup to his lips.

”You didn’t pull the trigger, Eelis” Michael said. ”That man would be alive if the man who shot him hadn’t pulled the trigger.” Eelis met the man’s gaze. ”It’s easy to blame yourself for things that… Well, for which you’re only a part of the chain that led to how things turned out, but for which you shouldn’t take responsibility of. You didn’t bring them there, they came there to hurt you, and in that situation, you only did your best to survive,” Michael took a small pause before continuing.

”You are not responsible for that death, but I do understand that way of thinking, I have also blamed myself for the fates of others. If I hadn’t been so broken and scared, if I had spoken up earlier and exposed the perpetrator, there would be others who would have been spared from the man who abused me for a long time in the beginning.” Michael was silent for a moment before continuing.

”Question, do you think I should bear the blame for not having the courage to speak up right away?” Michael asked in a calm tone and Eelis looked at him and shook his head.

”No,” he admitted.

”I admit that, like you, I carried that guilt for a long time until I learned to let go of it. But since you see that it does not belong on my shoulders, then wouldn’t it be good for you to show yourself that same mercy?”

Eelis thought about it. ”I guess, but it’s easier said than done,” he smiled back faintly. ”Every night I wake up with nightmares about what happened and… I wonder if it’s possible to get rid of them?”

Michael looked thoughtful for a moment before answering. ”I can only answer for myself, and the truth is that I still have nightmares about my past. Not so regularly, but… Sometimes those memories surface very strongly,” Michael shrugged. ”However, with time they have turned easier to tolerate, maybe also a little easier to manage. At first, I could be afraid to go to sleep, but not anymore. I may realize in a dream that it is a dream and wake up.”

Eelis nodded, feeling a little discouraged that he might never be able to get rid of those horrible dreams. 

”If you’ve tried to push all thoughts of it aside during the day, your subconscious will dig them up at night. That’s why it’s good to talk about it,” Michael continued.

Eelis nodded and was silent for a moment. ”Would you tell me more about that relationship of yours?” Michael asked and Eelis sighed, tasted the chocolate, and cautiously started to talk about Chris. It felt weird, still a little awkward, but when he talked it gradually got a little easier.

”He blackmailed me… Took pictures of me naked and um… when I gave him oral…” Eelis finally said, troubled. ”Those pictures have spread and … it’s disturbing … That’s why I changed my name and wanted to move here,” he confessed to the man who seemed to understand his conflicting thoughts about Chris very well. Michael was silent for a moment.

”I understand that it’s stressful,” Michael said. ”I don’t know, maybe it will be easier if I tell you that there are such… pictures and videos of me as well,” he said quietly. Eelis looked at the man in surprise.

”Some of them are very questionable, and I honestly don’t know for sure how many there are and where they are circulating. I don’t think I want to know. Many are filmed when I’ve been drugged, so they might show me accepting the situation, I honestly don’t know. Then there are those from where you can see that it is not voluntary, and of course, some of them have been taken down by the police, but I don’t think they’ve managed to get all of them.” Eelis looked at the man silently and in shock. ”It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Nowadays, I don’t really go to gay clubs or such, so I hardly come across situations where the issue might come up. Nowadays, there are so many videos that I believe or want to believe, that very few people see them.” Michael was silent for a moment. ”So, if it helps, you’re not alone.”

The man’s experience must have been much worse than his, – Eelis thought. And even though Michael had said not to compare, he couldn’t help it. He thought about the things Michael had told and probably left a lot more unsaid. And he felt like asking more about it, he wanted to understand. He would have liked to ask what kind of relationship Michael had with his husband, was it sexual? Was it normal, whatever normal even was? Could you relax enough if… you had experienced something so terrible. Something that would go beyond even his understanding. For several years, several men who… Eelis felt a little sick just thinking about it.

Still, the man sitting there close to him, looking quite calm and sane… Nothing outwardly gave any indication that… Well… it probably didn’t show by looking at him either. There were many questions, but it seemed far too early to ask them.

However, as he sat there, carefully unraveling pieces of his own experience and listening to more pieces of what Michael had experienced, he dared to think about Misha and their relationship. Could it still be possible to rebuild a relationship that would satisfy Misha? Could he recover enough to be in the kind of relationship that Misha longed for, where sex would be a part, an important part?

Eelis wasn’t sure but for the first time in months, he allowed himself the chance to think about it.

A/N: What do you think was a good talk? Is Eelis ready to let Misha closer already?

chapter 5



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