Broken Halo

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Sylvester had already expected to see his young neighbor arriving in the late afternoon. This would be the fifth time in the past ten days that twenty-five-year-old Alex had decided to pay him a visit. Sylvester would always be in the garage whenever Alex showed up and said hello. The thirty-three-year-old African-American man would depend on his home gym to reinvigorate his wellbeing. This time, he used his dumbbells to keep his arms as potent as possible. Once he saw Alex on the driveway, Sylvester immediately took off his earplugs and turned off the audio from his smartphone.

“So what brings you here?”

Alex shrugged his shoulders as he stepped inside the open garage. “Oh, nothing…I’m just checking out your home gym. It looks nice.”

Sylvester raised an eyebrow. “It’s the same as before. Nothing’s changed.”

“I know. I’m just interested in getting one myself.”

Alex didn’t exactly look like the type of person who would willfully perform a daily exercise plan. The blond-haired man was slim, though it did in fact assist him with his charming exterior. Sylvester himself had become the exact opposite of the younger white man: muscular arms and legs, broad shoulders, long dreadlocks, and abs that women would swoon over. Sylvester had already taken off his shirt, revealing his chest guaranteed to hypnotize those who felt intrigued by his personality as well as his internal drive.

Alex looked as if he tried to search for an abrupt answer. He opened his mouth and closed it again right away.

Sylvester asked, “Is there a problem?”

Alex shook his head. “No, no problem at all. I’m just here to get away from home and take a walk.”

“I thought you’d just come back from work at this time.”

“Yeah, you’re right. But I just needed some time away from home. That’s all.”

Alex began to observe something other than the home gym. The younger man had set his attention on Sylvester’s upper body. He stepped a little closer while keeping his gaze on human flesh.

Sylvester’s curiosity began its cultivation. “So how’s work?”

Alex suddenly looked up at Sylvester’s own eyes. “Oh, everything’s moving smoothly at the store. I’m still looking for that raise, though. I think I’ve got a good chance this month.”

“That’s good to know. So how’s the wife?”

Alex’s smile grew a little smaller. “She’s doing fine.”

“Is she at home?”

“Yeah…she’s at home.”

Alex lowered his head down. “I don’t think she’s in a good mood today.”

Sylvester wanted to bench press, but Alex became a distraction. “What happened? Is she mad at you about something?”

“No, not at all. I wouldn’t be the one who would ruin her day.”

“Then what is it?”

Alex delayed his response for a few seconds. “Uh…you know what? I don’t want to talk about it.”

Sylvester understood. “Okay, it’s no big deal.”

Something about Alex just didn’t seem right especially on this day. The neighbor slowly slid his fingers across the pull-bar that lay on the table. The frown of his face would most likely signify desolation concealed by inauthentic merriment, at least according to Sylvester. He watched as Alex let out a long sigh through his nostrils.

Sylvester asked, “What’s bothering you? Just tell me the truth. We don’t have to hide secrets forever.”

Alex still had his eyes on the pull-up bar. “I’m not going to have a good night at home.”

“Why? Does it have anything to do with your wife?”

Alex closed his eyes for a moment. “Forget that I ever said that. I’m just feeling a little down after a hard day’s work.”

“You just said that nothing went wrong at work.”

Alex slowly nodded. “Yeah, I said that. I may have exaggerated a bit.”

He turned his head and gazed at Sylvester, but not in the eyes. The white man eyed him from top to bottom. He stepped a little closer while looking a little amazed by something on Sylvester’s body, perhaps his bare chocolate-colored chest.

The black man felt more suspicious than before. “You’re confusing me. You say one thing, but then you mean another. Make up your mind already.”

Alex almost hesitated. “All right, you want the truth? I just came here to see how well the pull-up bar works.”

“It works fine. I just bought it a few days ago.”

“Can you show me?”

Sylvester just went along with it for now. “Follow me into the hallway.”

He led Alex inside the house and stopped at the end of the main hallway on the first floor. He set up his pull-up bar on top of the entryway and the demonstration commenced. He lifted himself off the floor and decided to do ten consecutive pull-ups right in front of his guest. Alex stood still in the corner, watching his continuation of his unstoppable athletic abilities. Once he finished Sylvester dropped down on the wooden floor.

“So did I convince you enough?”

Alex smiled. “It’s really inspiring to watch you do your thing. I don’t have to wonder how you stay so fit, because you just do it and nothing else.”

Sylvester gaziantep escort pushed away strands of his dreadlocks away from his face. “I’d say that you’d grow a little jealous when chicks dig a guy like me, but then I forget that you’re married.”

Alex took a few steps forward as he kept his eyes on Sylvester’s abs. “I’d be jealous, anyway. I wish I’d have muscles like yours.”

“All you have to do is work hard for it.”

“Yeah, and I get to be like you. But I know that it’s impossible. I’m always working.”

Alex didn’t stop gazing at Sylvester’s chest. “I do wish I had a body like yours, though. It would make me feel so much better.”

Sylvester didn’t do anything when Alex started to touch his chest with his fingers and slid them slowly across the skin. “You know something…I really do envy you. You have everything that a man could ask for. You’re a good man. I can feel it.”

He brought himself closer to Sylvester and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I wish I can feel you just a little more.”

It didn’t surprise Sylvester at all. The African-American man always had a fondness for other men. Alex’s actions did, however, put him in his own bewilderment.

“Why are you doing this?”

All of a sudden, Alex pushed himself away from Sylvester and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t have done that.”

Sylvester gave him a solemn glance. “This doesn’t have anything to do with your marriage, is it?”

“I think it’s time I leave. I’m really sorry about this. It’s not what you think. Just forget that I ever did that.”

Alex turned around and returned to the garage. Sylvester followed him and watched him leave the driveway to head straight for his house, which was only two blocks away. Sylvester never thought that a man like Alex would have accepted a sudden attraction for other men. Either he still hid in the closet or a personal dilemma led him away from his conventional desires. Either way, Sylvester needed time to understand the white man’s motives.

* * *

When he made it home, Alex had second thoughts once again about making his way inside. He stopped on the sidewalk and saw that the lights on the other side of the living room window remained active. He walked around in a circle on the sidewalk. He remembered the last time he and Lois (his wife of the same age) had a casual conversation. It didn’t end on a high note. Now, he felt conflicted. A repeat of Lois’s most recent outburst would definitely be something to be upset about. Alex slid his fingers across his blond hair. He never expected his wife of three years to change so much. He sighed as he decided to face his fears, even if it could cost him his freedom for the night.

He opened the front door and walked inside the house. He found her at the kitchen table, reading a magazine. She looked up and gave him an inquisitive stare, a common trait this time around.

“So where have you been? Have you been walking around the neighborhood again? You know you’re just wasting your damn time when you do that. Why be so alone when I’m here waiting for you at home?”

Alex replied, “I’ve been having some quality time with one of our neighbors. Sylvester’s been showing me how to exercise properly.”

She stood up from her chair. “Why would he teach you something that you don’t even have time for?”

“I might be able to exercise when I have the time. I need more muscles.”

Lois narrowed her eyes. “What you need is to come home on time so that I don’t have to worry about where you are. Why do you keeping doing this?”

Alex had to prepare himself for this. “We’re adults. We can handle a little off-time. It’s not my fault that you can’t face a little reality here and there.”

“Don’t blame this all on me! YOU’RE the one who isn’t thinking clearly. You actually think that you’ll have enough time to jog and use some stupid barbell? This is why you have so little friends. It’s because you don’t use your brain!”

“Stop treating me like I’m sort of lowlife!”

“Or what? You’ll punch me in the face? Do it. I dare you! Do you know what happens to men who punch women in the face? Do you want me to tell you what happens to them in prison? Do you want me to share even the most gruesome details?”

Alex shook his head. “I wouldn’t listen, anyway.”

“You never listen. That’s the problem.”

The woman’s typical eruption of fury lasted until dinner. Until then, they didn’t speak to each other. They just stayed in separate rooms. Alex spent his time alone in the living room, while Lois spent her time elsewhere. He didn’t know where she was in the house, and he didn’t care. He sat on the couch trying to suppress the incoming despair that would ruin his opportunity for a steady recovery. He had to fight back tears while grabbing hold of the armrest as tightly as he could. He wanted to ask why his own wife would say such deplorable things. But he knew that as soon as he would start with the first question, she would lash out at him once more. He buried his face in his hands. The paradise that he had longed for had departed from this house and would seldom check back for a temporary holiday.

When husband and wife went to bed, they lay facing away from each other. Alex lay on his side and didn’t close his eyes just yet. With the lights turned off, he stared at the empty white wall in front of him. He wished he could hold his wife in his arms as they slept through the night. Unfortunately, Lois would fight against it, seeing as how their relationship had taken a slow progressive turn for the worst.

Alex finally closed his eyes. He didn’t let his nightly reverie take control of his five senses. Instead, he imagined himself outside, wandering through the streets of Fullerton all alone at night. At this time, Southern California would be a stunning display with its gold-colored street lights. Deep within his imagination, Alex saw himself running away from Lois, who still had a choice of words for him. He spent his time taking a casual stroll through Fullerton’s metropolitan district. There, he spotted his neighbor in a random alley. Just the mere sight of Sylvester in his black t-shirt and blue jeans brought a smile to Alex’s face. Alex ran for him and gave him a hug. Sylvester wrapped his arms around his waist. Alex didn’t feel remorse as he and his neighbor hugged each other in the darkness. Alex could hear Lois’s voice calling out for him, but he didn’t want to listen. In his mind, he never felt so content to be caught in someone’s tight cuddle.

Alex opened his eyes to find himself in the same bedroom as before. He turned his head to see that his wife had already fallen asleep. Even if she had her back turned, he could hear her breathing through her nostrils. Alex closed his eyes again. This time, he let himself lose consciousness and drift off into an eight-hour reverie. For a moment, he had regained his high spirits just by imagining Sylvester hugging him with his thick and beefy arms. To protect him from distress that has lasted for two-and-a-half years.

* * *

It didn’t get any better on the next day. As soon as he came home from work, Alex dreaded the moment that he opened the front door and stepped inside the silent yet lethal space where Lois would prepare for the absolute worst for him. As he brought out his set of keys from his pocket, his right hand started to shiver. He had to take his time turning the key to unlock the front door.

Once he was inside his home, he saw a change of scenery in the living room. The movie posters that he had hung on the walls were torn down. Bits and pieces of paper lay scattered on the carpet. Furthermore, his Blu-ray collection on the shelves became non-existent as all of the plastic cases also lay on the floor, some of which had been opened and the discs themselves discarded. Alex tightened his fists. He had already predicted Lois’s current mental state. He had to watch out for her mood swings. He felt fortunate that he wasn’t present in the room when the carnage had taken effect.

Alex took a deep breath as he collected the torn movie posters and threw them in the trash can. But before he could pick up his Blu-ray discs from the carpet, Lois had arrived with a stern look in her eyes. Alex tried to ignore her while putting his Blu-ray movies back on the shelves. She stayed still at the entryway to watch him clean up after her sudden outburst.

She asked him, “Are you mad at me?”

“Of course, I am. This shouldn’t have happened.”

Lois stayed calm as she said, “You should have stopped me. This couldn’t have happened if you stopped me.”

Alex tried to hide his frustration. “How would I do that? I just came home. You’re not making any sense.”

It didn’t take long for Lois to change her tone. She pointed her finger at him and said, “Don’t try to question me. Just listen!”

Alex tried hard not to lash out at her. “Stop thinking that I’m some sort of loser. I’ve supported you all the way, and this is how you repay me?!”

“I’m surprised that you can say that with a straight face. You never said anything about my job, my friends, not even my family.”

“I’ve always been there for you! Stop lying to yourself!”

Lois picked up an ash tray from an end table and threw it at him. It hit him on the shoulder. “Don’t shout at me! I hate it when you do that! You don’t deserve to have an opinion. You’re just pathetic, and that’s it!”

She picked up a glass from the coffee table and made her husband the primary target. Luckily, Alex dodged the incoming projectile by crouching down at the right moment. The glass broke just as it hit the wall.

Alex kept his composure unaffected by verbal aggression. “Please don’t do this again. I can’t take it anymore.”

“If I’m this way, it’s your damn fault!”

Alex walked away without saying another word. He moved right past his wife and left for the patio. He could hear her screaming, “Oh, is that what you’re going to do? You’re just gonna run away from me? How does it feel to be a coward? You stupid wuss! You’re not a man. You’re a little boy. A worthless little boy! You’re a piece of shit! You’re a fucking miserable piece of shit!”

Once inside the backyard, Alex leaned against the wall and kept himself hidden from the kitchen window.

He could hear Lois scream from the kitchen. “Come back inside or I’ll kick you out for good!”

He wanted to stay outside, away from her malevolent tendencies. His entire body started to shiver. He yearned for his wife to revert back to her original form, the one where she provided support and complete affection. Two-and-a-half years of maltreatment would break any man apart, especially if it originated from someone he loved. He wanted to leave this place. He would have gone to a friend’s house, but they would never believe his stories. They would just tell him to laugh it off and just find the strength to defend himself. He would visit his parents, but they would see him as a pitiful creature destined for failure. Only one person would understand what he went through all this time. Without delay, Alex left the backyard and headed for the side gate. He didn’t want to tell Lois where he would run off to for the night. He just wanted to see Sylvester again.

* * *

Despite what transpired in his house, the afternoon walk had grown calm and free of annoyances. The clear blue sky blended well with the warm summer breeze that managed to ward off negative thoughts in his brain. The entire suburban neighborhood generated everlasting tranquility. Alex welcomed the environment, the natural refreshment that eased his pain and suffering.

When he reached Sylvester’s residence, his SUV had been parked on the driveway. Alex breathed a sigh of relief. He knocked on the front door and waited for Sylvester to open it. When he opened it and revealed himself on the other side, Sylvester wore what Alex had already envisioned: black t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.

He gave his neighbor a little smile and asked, “Can I come in?”

Sylvester looked curious. “What brings you here?”

“I just want to spend time away from home.”

Sylvester may have understood because he backed away and let him inside. “What happened?”

Alex could feel his frustration trying to fight back against the protective shell in the form of his skull. “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to relive it again.”

“I understand.”

Alex stared at the other end of the main hallway. “So have you been working out today?”

Sylvester nodded. “I sure did. I completed everything for today.”

“Can I see the home gym again?”

Sylvester almost hesitated. “Sure, why not?”

He led Alex back into the garage via the door on the opposite end of the hallway. He turned on the fluorescent lights that hung on the ceiling. Alex stood right in front of the equipment that gave Sylvester opportunity for a longer and healthier life. He began to touch the solid surface of the barbell. Just the sight of the equipment made him feel safe and secure. His wife no longer gave off the appropriate vibe that guaranteed him safety and support.

“I’m so weak.”

Sylvester remarked, “Why are you saying that to yourself?”

Alex was on the verge of tears. “I don’t know what to do anymore. Lois is driving me crazy, and no one is there to help me. I sometimes wish for a miracle.”

“How bad is it?”

Alex closed his eyes to conceal their watery surface. “I wish for someone to protect me from my afflictions.”

He could hear Sylvester taking a few steps forward and saying, “I’m willing to help you.”

Alex finally had tears to shed. “I like the sound of that.”

He turned around to see Sylvester standing right in front of him. Alex, who was only a few inches shorter than Sylvester, couldn’t stop starring at the black man. He appeared so charismatic and confident.

Alex wiped away the tears in his eyes. “I want something from you.”

“What is it?”

“Let me see your bare chest again.”

“And what would be the point?”

“It’ll make me feel a whole lot better.”

Sylvester slowly raised an eyebrow. “Will it, now?”

“Let me see.”

Sylvester took one step back and took off his shirt before setting it down on the cool concrete floor. Once again, Alex found himself thunderstruck by the other man’s hefty abs. He almost licked his lips while observing the powerful formation denoting exceptional health.

“You have no idea how good it makes me feel.”

Alex raised his arms and laid his fingers on Sylvester’s hairless chest. The ruggedness felt warm and comforting. Alex drew deeper breaths as he slid his fingers further down. Overwhelmed with a new sensation unforeseen by any standards, the twenty-five-year-old man leaned over and kissed the dark skin without hesitation. Sylvester’s physique helped Alex forget about his troubles. As a matter of fact, Sylvester’s overall appearance helped feed his reprieve as well as his curiosity.

Alex let out a long sigh. “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I can’t help myself.”

He rested his head against Sylvester’s shoulder and wrapped his arms around his waist.

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