It was the start of December and the first semester of University was almost over. In that time, James, Amelia, Shaun, and Harris had grown close; they either did everything as a group or couples or triplets; they went to the pub, clubbing, shopping, exploring, studying or sitting in the library preparing for their exams and completing their coursework. James and Harris had become best friends and nothing had ever been mentioned about that night. Harris had kept the unspoken promise made between them that night that he would wait until James brought it up before talking about it. For James, it was always at the back of his mind. Every time he saw Harris, that night dashed across his memory, but he couldn’t talk about it. He’d sit in his room, trying not to think about it, but would just end up obsessing about his feelings and about how he had to deny them.
He’d knelt in the Cathedral pews with the several other sinners who had come to prayer during the day when there is no mass.
‘Please Lord, rid me of these sinful thoughts,’ he begged. “Please Lord, rid me of these sinful thoughts.’ He repeated that over and over again. There was no response. That and the conversation he’d had with Nathan continued to fist fight within his mind, each one trying to win over the other. James couldn’t deny that every time he saw Harris, he felt in a strange way, safe and happy. He knew he had to make a real decision before it shredded him to pieces.
It was a particularly callous night, with clouds shrouding the stars, threatening to wipe the city in snow. James flicked up his collar and stepped out from the warmth of the library into the frozen wind; his breath visible like smoke off a bonfire. He walked down through the city centre to the docks, just like he had on many other occasions since moving here, only tonight was different. He usually walked alone, trying to organise his thoughts into mental boxes, but like his room, they remained in a mess but slightly more organized than before.
Over the past few months, Collins had been trying to challenge the way they saw the World. Obviously, he would teach them the course but either at the start of the lecture or in the last ten minutes, he would throw out a question to them just to make them wonder. One particular time was just before a lecture on Wuthering Heights ended and they all knew a question was coming and it came in the form of ‘If God stood before you, what would you ask him?’
The issue with these questions was that many in the group didn’t care about thinking differently and always gave generic, dull answers and there was nothing different here. ‘Why did he let bad things happen?’
Shaun’s question was ‘Why did he make the human race so stupid?’
It got a few laughs, but it was what came next, which shocked the room, James especially who had silently thought ‘Why did you make me like this?’
Harris said, ‘Do you mind kneeling?’
Everyone in the room immediately looked confused, including Collins, who asked, ’Why would you ask that?’
Harris remained calm and almost cheerful, but with an essence of threat in his voice. ‘So I could walk up behind him and put a bullet in his skull.’
James crossed the road and walked down the cobbled street, passed the International Maritime Museum and up to the black railing that guarded the edge of the River Mersey. He dipped his hands into his pockets, hoping they would be protected from the cold as he waited. She always made him wait except when she had to be on time. Not that he minded too much because it gave him a little more time to sort out his mind.
Another thing Collins had been doing with them over the past months was trying to make them think about their futures. This should be an obvious thing to do being a university lecturer, but it had thrown James into a tailspin. He had always wanted to be a teacher like his parents and knew he wanted to teach English. However since Collins had introduced the idea of a journal, James had discovered a new talent he had (well according to Collins it was a skill he was talented at): Writing. James had been writing little stories for years, but he had never considered actually attempting to be a writer until Collins had asked to read some entries from all their journals and had pulled him aside at the end of one particular lecture.
‘James, you have a real talent here. I’m sensing a lot of Hemingway and Orwell in your writing, even if you don’t have the technical abilities nailed down.’ He said, sitting across the desk from him. ‘I think that if you wanted to, you could become a fantastic writer.’
The wind flew down the passage, flipping the tails of his coat around his legs. He’d been thinking hard about the idea of writing for a career. He’d always felt the compulsion to write short stories and he did continually have the urge to write a novel but hadn’t yet found the time and also hadn’t considered it a possible career path. He had finally found someone who believed he could succeed as a writer.
‘It’s fucking freezing out here.’ Her voice broke through his thoughts.
Amelia rushed over and cuddled him, for warmth rather than affection.
‘What’s up?’ Since they had lived together, she had come to know him almost as well as Nathan and could always tell when something was wrong.
They linked arms and started strolling down the path, tiny snowflakes descended onto the cobbles before vanishing.
‘Collins thinks I should be a writer.’
‘Okay, and do you want to?’
‘I’ve never really thought about it. I mean, I’ve always wanted to write. It’s like I can’t stop myself, I just find myself scribbling things down or casually typing something on my computer. It’s never really an intentional thought. I just end up doing it.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘I don’t know. I just always wanted to be a teacher.’
‘You’re overthinking things…Again.’
‘What do you mean again?’
‘You overthink everything!’
‘This… you and Harris-‘
‘What do you mean me and Harris?’ He interrupted.
‘Jesus, James. You clearly like him and yet you let the opinions of others dominate how you feel.’ She stopped walking and twisted him to look at her. ‘Nathan told me you admitted that you liked Harris and the only reason you haven’t accepted your feelings is because your scared of what others will say.’
A sudden swell of anger passed through James at the knowledge that Nathan had told Amelia about the conversation they had had, but it only lasted for a few seconds before he realised that maybe, just maybe they were both right.
‘James. It doesn’t matter what your parents say or what a priest says or for that matter what anyone says.’ She pulled his hands from his pockets and held them before him. ‘It’s your life. If you live it the way you want and not the way others want you to then you can’t go wrong.’
‘I’ve noticed on nights out who you look at,’ She said.
James looked away, staring at the cold stone cobbles. He knew as well.
‘James, I’ll love you for who you are, not who you are pretending to be and I hate seeing you trying to be someone else, so fucking stop. Please.’ She smiled and hugged him hard.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, not just to his body, but to his heart as well.