Jesus, I totally could have Ubered over there by now. Jasper sighed in annoyance and checked his phone yet again. I probably still could…
It had been over half an hour since Phoenix promised he was “on his way” to get him, but his house was only fifteen minutes away. What the hell could be taking so long?
Jasper was so eager to get to his brother’s house and spend more time with Tam… Especially after what had happened the night before. His lips curled into a smile at the memory. He knew it would take time for things to truly go back to normal between them. But it was such a relief to know that after all the months spent apart, they were finally headed in the right direction.
Jasper nearly jumped at the sound of the opening hotel room door. He’d forgotten that Phoenix had the other key.
“Took you long enough.” Jasper’s annoyance was half genuine, half teasing as he spoke.
His brother’s smile seemed oddly forced. “Sorry… Lost track of time, I guess.” Phoenix shrugged and took a seat on the edge of the bed.
Jasper eyed him uncertainly for a moment. “And apparently forgot you had a phone too.” He replied, shaking his head. “You could’ve told me you were almost here… Or had me meet you in the lobby or something.”
“Yeah… sorry.” His brother apologized once more. “I was kinda distracted.” He admitted.
Jasper said nothing. Something was definitely up. Phoenix was acting so… weird. Almost like he was hiding something.
“Alright… What’s going on?” Jasper asked with a sigh.
“What do you mean?”
“Why are you being so…?” He gestured vaguely in Phoenix’s direction as he spoke, unable to find the right word. He shook his head before continuing. “Look, you remember what I keep telling you, right? That you can always talk to me, no matter what… And I know you, Phoenix. I can tell something’s up.”
Phoenix hesitated before replying. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind this morning.” He admitted at last. “You know me and Gigi have been having a lot of, uh… ups and downs, right?”
Jasper nodded. Mostly downs, from the sound of it, he thought sadly. But he chose not to voice the thought aloud.
“Well, last night things were kinda weird… So I got some coffee with a friend before I came to get you, and we talked about it. Gave me lots to think about.” He shrugged uncomfortably.
Jasper did not doubt his brother’s story, but it still felt like there was more to it. Something he wasn’t telling him. But what? Jasper thought back to his conversation with Tam the night before, and a suspicion slowly entered his mind.
“This ‘friend’ you got coffee with… It wasn’t Lola, was it?” He asked softly.
“So what if it was?” Phoenix’s tone had a bit of a harsh edge as he replied. “Why is that such a big deal?”
“It’s not. I was just wondering.” He lied. He hadn’t expected his brother to react so strongly. The last thing he wanted was to fight with him.
Phoenix sighed. “Nice try. But I know you too, Jasper. What gives? Why does it matter if I saw Lola this morning? We hang out all the time…”
Jasper considered his next words carefully. “I know you do. And it sounds like she’s been a really great friend to you and stuff, but… Is it really the best idea to hang out with her so much? Especially to talk about Gigi…?”
His brother rolled his eyes at his words. “Come on, Jasper. You sound just like Tam…” Phoenix’s eyes seemed to widen slightly. “Wait… that’s it, isn’t it? You guys have totally been talking about me, haven’t you?”
“Maybe a little.” Jasper confessed. “We just wanna make sure everything’s… okay with you and Gigi…” He muttered awkwardly. That wasn’t what he’d really wanted to say, but they were the words that had chosen to come out.
“Well… Things aren’t okay. You know that.” Phoenix replied seriously. He didn’t seem angry any more, at least. “And every time I start to think things are okay, I find out they aren’t…” He paused for a moment. “But what does that have to do with Lola?”
Jasper stared down at the carpet for a moment. Ugh… I didn’t wanna have to talk about this… But maybe it’ll help him understand. He took a deep breath before finally answering.
“I never told you all the details about what happened that night at the party, did I?” Jasper asked. “The night Tam broke up with me.”
Phoenix shook his head.
“Well, you know me and Tam got into a huge fight that night, right? And it kinda felt like the last straw or something. There’d been so much shit just piling up for months… and that was basically what pushed me over the edge.” He explained.
“I get it.” His brother replied softly. “But I don’t –”
“As soon as I got to the party, I found a spot in the corner and just started throwing back drinks.” Jasper continued. “Pretty smart, right? Mama and Papa would have been so proud…” He muttered sarcastically.
Erik and Rubi had taught him all about the dangers of addiction. And he’d tried so hard to be responsible over the years when it came to alcohol… But he still slipped sometimes. And that night was no exception.
“Anyway, I was sad and mad and drunk as hell when this hot guy walks over and sits next to me. I never even got his name… But he could tell I was upset. And he asked me what was wrong.” Jasper smiled slightly in spite of himself. “He was the only person at that party who actually gave a damn about how I was feeling. And he didn’t even know me. And it felt so damn good to feel like somebody actually cared.”
“And… that was the guy who you…?” Phoenix asked softly.
Jasper nodded. “I gave him my huge sob story about Tam and the fight and how hard things had been. I basically spilled my soul to the guy. And he listened.” He shrugged his shoulders for a moment. “That was all he had to do. And a few minutes later, when he made the first move, I didn’t back away. I let it happen. And honestly? It felt good.” Even after all this time, it pained Jasper to admit it out loud.
“I felt more connected to that stranger at that party than I had to Tam in months.” He continued. “But I knew I had to stop. I knew it was wrong. So I didn’t let it go any further… But in the moment, part of me almost wanted to.” He confessed sadly.
His brother nodded slowly. “I know you still feel awful about what happened… But what’s important is that you’ve learned from it. And Tam’s finally forgiven you, hasn’t he?”
“He has… But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.” Jasper replied. “All of that happened with some random guy I ran into at a party… But imagine how much worse it could’ve been if he wasn’t a random guy. What if he was a friend? Like… maybe an attractive, single friend?” He eyed Phoenix significantly as he spoke. “One I’d already been confiding in for months…?”
He could tell by the look on Phoenix’s face that he’d finally understood what he was getting at… And that he wasn’t too happy about it either.
“You can’t be serious, Jasper. This is totally different!”
“Yes! How can you even say that? I’d never do something like that.” He insisted almost desperately. It was rare to see Phoenix so defensive and upset.
Jasper bit his lip. “Yeah, well, I never thought I would either…” He replied softly.
“What, so am I not allowed to have friends anymore or something? Is that what you’re saying?” Phoenix shook his head in frustration.
“Of course not! I just think… you should be careful or something. That’s all.” He explained.
His brother let out a heavy sigh before replying. “Look, things are pretty bad with Gigi, okay? You know that. And when you and Tam are back on the other side of the ocean, I need someone else I can talk to… And Lola’s really, really good at listening.”
Jasper’s voice was pained. “I know.”
“And Gigi’s always off hanging out with her friends too.” Phoenix continued. “I’m not doing anything she isn’t doing. So I don’t see what the big deal is.” It was almost hard to tell whether he was trying to convince Jasper, or himself.
“I know she does it too.” Jasper replied gently. “And I’m not trying to say you guys can’t have friends, okay? I just… I think you guys should be talking to each other about this crap, y’know?”
“I’ve tried, Jasper. So many times.” Phoenix sounded so defeated. “And honestly? As awful as it sounds, I’m just… tired of trying. Like, so fucking tired. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.”
Jasper’s heart sank. Tam had been so certain that they could help Phoenix and Gigi work toward fixing their marriage… But the more Jasper heard, the more he started to fear that it was simply too late.
“Phoenix… Listen to yourself.” Jasper’s whisper finally broke the silence.
“This is awful. You guys can’t keep going on like this…”
“Trust me, I know.” He repeated. “I just don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
For a moment, it almost looked like Phoenix wanted to say something else.
But he didn’t.