Rain Keeps Falling

Rain Keeps Falling

Behind the high school, secluded from any major roads, there was a football field surrounded by a wide running track. In the far corner the bleachers were surrounded by a fence, which was surrounded by a large, unruly bush. Anyone who didn't mind a few scratches from stray bush branches could slide between fence and bleachers. Their reward was a secluded hiding place. It was the favored spot of juniors and seniors sneaking cigarettes between classes and practices. The friends Domerin Lorcasf made after graduation would have found it ironic that he retreated to this secluded haven for reasons other than smoking. In the clear, cool autumn air, with school an hour finished, the football team plugging away at practice, and the sun burning orange as it kissed the horizon, the smokers had abandoned the bleacher hiding place, leaving it to Domerin and his sole companion.

Domerin leaned against the fence, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his worn black hoodie as he peered through gaps in the bleachers at the football players running up and down the field. His companion peered around the outer edge of their hiding place to get a better look. Her dark brown hair momentarily slid in front of her face and she reached up to bat it aside. They watched the practice in silence for several minutes before the young woman screwed up her face and slowly turned her expression of consternation back on her friend. Domerin dipped his head for a moment so his unruly black bangs would block the dark expression that passed across his face. She looks as though she's going to start asking questions I don't want to answer again.

"Why didn't you sign up for the team this year?" she demanded, not for the first time. "I heard coach was devastated. People have been whispering about it all week."

He shrugged. "I just didn't feel like it this year," he said without looking in her direction.

She snorted but smiled, in the way good friends do when they don't believe what they've just heard. "It's because of your father, isn't it?"

He grimaced. Unfortunately, he was in the presence of the one person who could easily read his facial expressions. There wasn't going to be any escaping a truthful answer this time. "I'd rather not repeat the conversation," he said, dark eyes flickering in her direction. She well knew his father, their relationship and conversations like this one wore a sore spot for him. To further drive his point home, he crossed his arms in front of his chest and gave her a sharp look. "Why aren't you on the cheerleading team this year?"

The young woman made a face that suggested she was no more pleased by his question than he'd been by hers. It lasted only a moment before she smiled and shook her head. "Alright," she said as she plopped herself on the cool grass. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin against them as she peered up at him. "I get the point. I shouldn't have asked. I'll leave it alone."

"Thank you," he replied. After a moment, the dark look melted from Domerin's face, replaced by a wicked grin. "But seriously, Elsie, why didn't you try out for cheer team this year?"

"Oh you!" Elsie squealed. She seized a handful of green grass, tossing it ineffectually in his direction. Domerin lifted an arm to ward it off. Together they laughed as Domerin settled on the grass across from her, his back pressed against the bleacher supports. Elsie shifted, putting her back to the bleachers and her shoulder against his.

"Because it made my jaw hurt, last year, to smile like that," she murmured with a conspiratorial smile that drew a glance from her companion. "And because I'd rather concentrate on my art than being a social status symbol."

Domerin chuckled and Elsie grinned. They fell silent for a time, enjoying each other's company as the cool autumn breeze rustled the trees, sending multicolored leaves drifting to the ground on the other side of the fence. Those who met Domerin later might have been surprised to see him sitting in such comfort with a young woman. Domerin Lorcasf and Elsie Howllend were nearly inseparable during their high school years, however. They'd both caught people whispering about what Elsie would do next year, when Domerin graduated and 'got out of the way', as so many young men had taken to viewing him the past few years.

Elsie was a popular girl. Half the school wanted to date her. She stubbornly refused their offers, however, even going so far as to drag Domerin to his junior prom as her date just so others would stop hounding her. Domerin was fairly sure most of the girls felt the same way about him and viewed Elsie as a similar obstacle to their chances. He didn't care about any of the other girls, though, so it didn't matter to him what they thought. He did care about Elsie. He'd punched a few boys who couldn't get it through their thick skulls she wasn't interested. One of them still had a black eye and a sour look for Domerin whenever they passed in the hallway.

"Domerin?" The soft sound of his best friend's voice broke his reverie and he leaned forward slightly so he could turn to face her. There was something in her tone that indicated she wanted to ask him a serious question, but she seemed hesitant to speak further.

"What is it?" he asked, giving her shoulder a gentle nudge with his elbow. "Come on, you know you can ask me anything. Even about the general, if you really need to know."

"No," she shook her head. "It's not about that. I..." She smiled, but Domerin thought she looked sad. "It's just, I couldn't help but wonder..." She turned to look at him. Something in her gaze almost made him shy away. I'm not going to like this question. I'm going to like it less than her last one. But he gave her an encouraging nod anyway.

"Why don't you look at me the way the other boys do?"

The sensation he felt at her words was rather like slamming into a brick wall. He felt as if he'd been driving at highway speeds and slammed into a cement barrier. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as a chill worked its way up from the base of his spine. He'd spent the last three years praying Elsie would never ask him this question.

"Ah..." he stammered, avoiding her gaze for a moment. He shoved his hands back into his pockets and muttered, "Shit." Another moment passed. He secretly hoped she'd forget about what she'd asked, but he felt her eyes burning into the back of his head.

Finally he sighed. "I thought you liked the fact that I don't treat you that way?" There was a hint of desperation in his voice. He silently begged her not to press the issue any further, afraid she wouldn't like any of his answers.

But when he turned to face her, he found a similar look on her face, as if she needed he answer to be complete. He'd so rarely seen her act this way, it caught him off guard. He didn't know what to do. Normally, on the rare occasions she pushed him too far, he would walk away rather than let the conversation continue. He sensed taking that action this time would wound her deeply.

"Is there someone else you like?" she pressed when he didn't answer. Domerin thought she sounded dismayed.

"What?" he asked incredulously, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the entire conversation. "No! What are you-"

"Then why?" she insisted, leaning closer, looking at him in such a way he felt her eyes could see straight through to his soul. All the breath rushed out of his lungs as if he'd just been punched in the stomach.

Shit. He sighed and took a deep breath. "Because, Elsie, I don't like girls. I've never been interested in girls."

She seemed to deflate. Some unseen quality rushed out of her all at once, though Domerin was at a loss as to what it might be. She slumped against the bleacher support and sighed. When she spoke again, Domerin thought she sounded relieved. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" she asked.

Again he shrugged. "I... I don't know." Because it's private. Because it's another sore spot where my father is concerned. But he didn't say either of those things. Instead he said, "I guess I hoped it wouldn't ever matter."

He looked up when she made a soft sound, shocked to see tears rolling down her cheeks. Before he could figure out what was happening, she launched herself at him, burying her face in his chest, one hand on each of his shoulders. "Of course it doesn't matter!" she exclaimed, fingers digging into his flesh even through the thick layers of his clothing.

But if it doesn't matter, why is she crying?

He hesitated, then reached up and pried her fingers free of his shoulders. Gently, he pushed her away until he meet her eyes again. He let her see his confusion. What had he gotten himself into? Every instinct told him to run, yet he forced himself to stay. He squeezed her shoulders. "Elsie," he said softly, not bothering to mask the fear in his voice. "What's wrong with you? What's gotten into you? Why are you...?"

She stared up at him, the look in her eyes so strange he couldn't tell what emotion gave birth to it. He stared back, wide-eyed and open-mouthed for a moment. Then he released her shoulders and got to his feet, brushing stray strands of grass from his jeans. "If you're upset..." he started to offer to leave but she rushed to her feet and stood in front of him, her arms spread wide as if to catch him. He made no effort to brush past her, instead waiting for her to offer an explanation.

"Don't go," she pleaded. She sounded more like herself, but a fresh wave of tears flowed down her cheeks. "I'm not angry. I… I'm sorry, Domerin." She sniffed. Dropping one arm, she scrubbed at the tears on her cheeks. "It's just… I can't help it. I love you."

He shrunk away, taking a half-step backward before he caught himself. His heart pounded in his chest, preparing him for flight. He felt as though he were wrestling a wild creature that would sink sharp teeth into his neck should he let his guard down for a moment. What do I say to that? He'd never imagined this situation. He thought he was safe with Elsie; safe from the fawning and the flirting and the fluttering eyelashes and expectation that he'd someday have to break down and date someone. He felt blindsided. Elsie wasn't like the other girls. It was incredibly unfair that the one person he'd considered safe had put him into the situation he'd worked hardest to avoid. Fate sure as hell has a cruel sense of humor... He wanted to tell her she was sixteen; that they were both too young. That it was impossible for them to understand what love was about. Hadn't she ever noticed his lack of interest? Wasn't it obvious he wasn't looking for that kind of a relationship? He was half-tempted to demand she repeat the statement, half-convinced he'd misheard. But he didn't.

He just stood there, staring at her, a helpless look on his face. What do I do now? He honestly cared about Elsie Howllend, but only as a friend. Almost like the sister I never had. He didn't want to lose her friendship, but couldn't figure out how to salvage it. He feared anything he said would be wrong. What do you do when someone tells you they love you and you can't answer in kind?

Reason returned slowly. He caught his breath. His mind started working again. Finally he decided the best course of action was simple honesty. It had always worked before. He took a deep breath and moved forward again, holding up his arms as if in surrender.

"Look, Elsie, I'm sorry. I really am. But you have to understand, I don't feel for you the way you feel for me. I can't. I'm not wired that way." He struggled to find the words to express his thoughts. "I've never been interested in girls… Never found them attractive, never been interested in this kind of a relationship with a girl." He sighed, sounding and feeling defeated. "I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression."

She shook her head vigorously. "You didn't." She seemed to be struggling with the same emotions he had a moment before. Guilt flickered across her face, followed by horror. When she regained her composure, she stumbled forward. Domerin reached out one arm to catch her shoulder and steady her. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears in the last bright rays of sunlight. Her damp cheeks bore light streaks of dirt.

"I understand," she said. "I do. Honest. You are who you are. And, I guess, that's why I..." She fell silent and looked at the ground.

"It doesn't change the way I feel about you," she finished when she glanced up at him again. She wore a wild, desperate sort of look on her face that Domerin understood too well. He clamped his jaw shut, gritting his teeth hard. Please don't do this to me again Elise. Please stop asking these terrible questions. But the look on her face was so pathetic, so full of longing, the words tumbled from her lips before he could find his voice.

"Couldn't you..." she begged, sobbing, "Couldn't you love a girl if it was me?"

The sun was setting, the sky dimming as it sunk below the horizon. Domerin was drowning in that golden sea, the chill wind like icy fingers that clawed at his heart. His best friend, the person he cared about most in the world, save perhaps his mother, was begging him to love her. It stung. He felt as though he stood in the center of a hurricane, buffeted by the gale-force winds, unable to keep everything he cared for from blowing away. Is there any hope now of salvaging this friendship?

His mouth opened but no sound came out. The look he gave her was every bit as desperately pathetic, but there were no tears in his dark eyes, only sorrow. "Elsie," he finally managed, "I'm sorry. I... I can't give you what you want."

She smiled, but it was the saddest expression he'd ever seen. She nodded and kept nodding, as if trying to convince herself she understood his answer. She uttered a soft sound that pierced his chest like a knife. Should I leave? He took a tentative step closer. Before he got any further, Elsie spun and pressed her face into his chest, her tears soaking the worn old hoodie.

Domerin hesitated, still at a loss. "I don't know what to do," he said softly.

Elsie snorted and Domerin thought he caught a hint of her usual humor. Perhaps she wasn't as upset with him as he thought. "Just hold me," she pleaded softly, "until I stop crying. Please."

Slowly, awkwardly, he lifted his hands and laid them on her back. He patted her shoulders. Her arms snaked around his waist and she clung to him so tightly she threatened to squeeze the air from his lungs. Finally, he slid his arms around her shoulders and cradled her against his chest, trying not to let her sobs break his heart.

Eternity passed. The sun slipped below the horizon. The sky dimmed. The streetlights flickered on. The floodlights that lit up the football field at night filled the stadium bright as day while the players finished their practice, packed up and departed. Domerin sat with his back against the bleacher supports, Elsie's face cradled against his chest, a large wet spot in the center of his hoodie. He glanced down at her when she calmed, brushing stray strands of brown hair away from her face. When she didn't stir, he realized she'd fallen asleep. She looked peaceful now. What's going to happen when she wakes up? What's she going to say then?

Sighing softly, Domerin lifted Elsie into his arms, trying not to wake her as he carried her to his car. When he had her buckled into the front passenger seat, he closed the door and stood for a moment, leaning against the car's cool metal exterior, his head braced against his arm. He willed his mind to clear, blocking out the wind, the trees, the soft flutter of dead leaves, the damp spot on his hoodie and his shirt underneath, the sleeping girl in his car and the unpleasant conversation from a few hours earlier. Finally he muttered, "Damn it...," crossed in front of the car, settled into the driver's seat and started driving.

****

He was halfway to the Howland house when the girl in the front seat stirred. She blinked as she came awake and sat forward as if startled, gasping as her eyes darted back and forth. It was obvious she didn't know where she was. Domerin's dark eyes flickered in her direction. He slid one hand off the steering wheel long enough to brush her knee. "Hey," he murmured, his eyes still on the road, "it's okay. You're in my car."

Elsie breathed a soft sigh of relief and settled. Out of the corners of his eyes, he saw her tension melt away. She shifted to a more comfortable position and they sat in silence for awhile. The streetlights passed, their light forming bright streaks though he wasn't driving very fast. His eyes scanned the side of the road, looking for the familiar turn that led to the Howllend house. He felt he should say something – anything- but had no idea what it should be. Instead he concentrated on the road signs, though he had the names of each street memorized.

Finally, Elsie drew in a deep breath. "I had the strangest dream…" she said, casting him a sidelong glance.

She didn't elaborate; she didn't have to. The conversation, her uncontrolled tears, the whole thing was like a dream to him too. He knew what she was doing. For a moment, he was tempted to tell her it had been a dream, that she shouldn't worry over something that never happened. I can't do that. I can't pretend something this big isn't real. It would eat away at us. It would destroy that trust we both value so much. If he lied, even though it may have been kinder, he'd destroy what was left of the relationship they were both trying to salvage.

"It wasn't a dream," he said softly.

He saw her face in the mirror. She was staring out the window, a solemn frown on her face. He didn't find the silence awkward, but he couldn't figure out how to break it either. He turned down the road that led to her house.

He was about to pull into the driveway when she turned to him. "Domerin," she said haltingly, "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. I shouldn't have pushed… Can we just-"

Domerin pulled the car into the driveway and set the engine to idle before he turned to her. It was too hard to talk about this while driving, and he didn't want to take any risks, even so close to her house. When the car came to a halt, he shifted in his seat to face her.

"I don't want to lose our friendship, Elsie. Neither of us is going to forget what happened tonight no matter how hard we try. If we aren't honest, we're going to make everything worse."

"I don't want to lose your friendship either," Elsie answered, her tone meek, her posture hunched as if she were attempting to hide. Guilt ruled her expression. If they didn't work things out, he knew she would blame herself.

"If you're content to go on as things were, knowing I don't return your feelings-" he started.

"I don't want to change you, Domerin," Elsie insisted, leaning across the space between them, putting both her hands on his arm. That gesture reassured him more than anything and some of the tension leaked out of his muscles. He didn't realize until that moment how tense he'd been throughout the situation.

He offered her a reassuring smile, relieved to see the gesture mirrored on her face. "That's good," he said. "I'm not sure it's something I could change in the first place. But Elsie, I don't want you to change either. If you think things have to change in light of our earlier conversation…" he drifted off. He knew he didn't need to explain the consequences.

She rubbed his arm, nervously, as if she were trying to avoid lifting her fingers to scratch an itch. "It won't bother you?" she asked. Domerin thought he caught a hint of a blush on her cheeks in dim light. "Knowing how I feel, I mean. Knowing it might not change."

"I don't know, Elsie," he admitted. "That's going to depend on you."

"I just want things the way they were. The way they always have been." She gulped, taking back her hands and folding them in her lap. "I wouldn't act like the other girls do. Not normally!" Now he was certain her cheeks burned red. She bit her bottom lip and examined the floor at her feet. "I guess I sort of did tonight, didn't I?" she asked, sheepishly. "I won't ever again, Domerin, I promise. I wouldn't violate you like that."

He smiled a genuine smile. That was exactly what he wanted. "I know," he reassured her. "Besides, what you did tonight wasn't like what they do. It was… weird." He offered her a sheepish look of his own. "You scared the shit out of me."

With a nervous grin, she slapped him lightly on the shoulder. Then she took a deep breath and gave him a serious look. "So, we're still friends?"

He nodded.

"Then you have to make me a promise too." She leaned across the space between passenger and driver seats and laid her head on his shoulder. Had it been any other girl, he would have shied away from the touch. Had it been five minutes earlier, he might have shrunk away from the contact. But she was Elsie again, the Elsie he knew, his friend and confidante.

"What kind of promise?" he asked softly.

"Promise that, in a year, when you graduate and go away to do whatever it is you intend to do… Promise you won't forget about me. Even after next year, no matter how long it is before we see each other again, promise to remember me."

"I could never forget you," he promised, his voice soft.

"Good," she declared, apparently satisfied. She sat up, reached for the door, paused as if she thought better of something, then leaned back in his direction and planted a kiss on his cheek. It wasn't the first time she'd ever done that, but it did send a shiver down his spine now that he knew how she felt about him. She followed it up with a grin before she slid out of the car. "Thanks again, Domerin. For everything."

He waited, as he always did, to make sure she got safely into the house. Elsie's mother stood framed in the light that spilled out the front door and waved to him, as she always did. He smiled and waved back. When the door closed, he backed out of the driveway, sighed softly to himself and began the short drive home.

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