3.You’re still you

Betad by: Charity.

This chapter takes place before the events in the precious.

October 26th

It had been cloudy all morning, but when Eelis walked towards Hydepark around noon, the sun began to peek through the clouds. To be honest, he was nervous without knowing what to expect from the meeting. He was a little early, dressed to go for a run after the meeting. The temperature was close to twelve degrees, but it was quite windy and humid, everywhere was still quite green. Autumn would be much further along in Finland.

He walked with calm steps closer to their meeting place and looked around. It was relatively peaceful in the park, there weren’t as many tourists as in the summer, but of course, there were always some.

The cafe was a white stone building with four columns in front, and a few tables outside. Eelis checked the time; 12:23 pm and walked around the cafe for a while before taking a seat down, wondering which direction the man might come from. He took his cell phone and looked up from time to time until he saw the man and immediately knew.

Eelis got up a little nervously and looked at the insanely handsome man. The woolen coat he wore was open, and there was a warm smile gracing his beautiful features. Because there was hardly anyone there besides him but an elderly couple and a mother with a small child, the man had no difficulties recognizing him.

”Hello, Eelis?” The man asked, stopping next to him, and Eelis nodded. ”Nice to meet you, sorry if I’m a little late,” he apologized.

”Don’t worry, I was just a little early myself,” Eelis smiled and the man, Michael, smiled back.

”Would you like coffee or tea? I thought we could go over there and sit by the pond. The man had a refined British accent and a pleasant voice. He didn’t look like a typical Brit, his skin had a warm, tanned looking tone, his eyes deep chocolate brown, chestnut brown hair that looked natural for him, but on the other hand London was filled with people with different roots in their background. And Eelis reminded himself, it was not like he himself looked like a typical Finn.

”I could have a cup of coffee”, Eelis nodded and followed the man inside. They took the warm beverages with them. Michael had bought a tea for himself that most British seemed to prefer.

The man started the conversation by talking about the weather, it was quite usual and a normal way to start. There was something in the man’s voice and something in his being that managed to relax Eelis before he even noticed. They walked next to the pond, where they sat on a park bench.

”I’ve always enjoyed being close to the water. I guess it’s because I grew up near the ocean,” Michael said, looking towards the pond, raising the cardboard teacup to his lips. ”I find it relaxing.”

”Where are you from?” Eelis asked and the man smiled pleasantly.

” I’m from Plymouth and my father is from Galway, so that’s where I spent many of my childhood summers. Close to the ocean in both places. Where are you from?”

”Close to Helsinki, near the seaside too,” he smiled, a little unsurely, perhaps just because he was nervous knowing why they were there. Nervous about the issues that needed to be discussed.

”Well, we also have that in common,” Michael said gently. ”And then there is why you have contacted me,” he said, looking at him. Eelis nervously raised the coffee mug to his lips and drank, not being able to meet the other’s eyes for a moment. He felt his heart beating rapidly, talking about it was uncomfortable. There weren’t other people close to them at that moment, at least not close enough to hear their conversation.

”I was pretty much your age, even younger, and it went on for quite a long time. Michael began, looking towards the pond before returning his gaze to him. Eelis couldn’t completely shake off the nervousness he felt, nor could he hold the man’s gaze for long. He looked down at his coffee mug a little uncomfortably. ”I know it’s difficult to start talking about it. At first, I didn’t want to talk about it either… There is that wish that you could just push it out of your mind and deny it ever happened, right?” Michael asked and Eelis now glanced at him briefly.

He nodded a little with some difficulty, feeling embarrassed that he didn’t know how to respond. He looked around them, wanting to make sure no one could hear what they were talking about.

”However, it always leaves a mark and that’s why it’s good to talk about it. It’s the only way I find, and you can go through it in small steps. This public place can be a bit awkward to talk about those things, but I think it’s always the best for a first meeting. It is both easier for me and for the person who is looking for peer support… When trust is broken, it is easy to suspect everything and everyone. I believe, however, that I can read people quite well and the first meeting ensures me that the other person is really looking for support, and not…” The man fell silent, but he didn’t have to finish it, Eelis understood.

 He looked at the man who was smiling at him softly before he continued. ”Like now, this brief moment that we’ve spent here, I think you’re being sincere in your reasons for contacting me,” Michael said. Eelis nodded slowly, unable to hold the gaze for long and when he drifted his eyes to Michael’s hands instead, he noticed the ring on the man’s left ring finger.

”Are you engaged?” Eelis asked, to break his silence and at the same time hoping to alleviate the awkwardness he felt.

”Married,” Michael answered calmly, smiling at him. ”With a man, yes,” he added. ”He has been my support. I’ve hit rock bottom; I’ve gone through a whole range of emotions and our path hasn’t been easy. But we’ve gotten through it, together.”

Eelis was silent and took a sip of his coffee. He thought of Misha.

”Do you have someone?” Michael asked and Eelis was silent for a moment before answering.

”I had. We broke up before I moved here.”

”Is your breakup related to why you contacted me?” 

”In a way, yes,” Eelis admitted. ”He isn’t the one who hurt me though.”

”Would you tell me who did?” Michael asked, but just then an older woman walked a little closer with a little boy, who started looking for small stones hidden in his pockets. ”This might not be a good time,” Michael said quietly and looked towards the little boy who threw the first flat stone into the water where it bounced on the surface of the water for a moment before it sank. Eelis saw the man smiling warmly as he observed the boy.

”I loved that as a kid,” he said. ”Well, if I’m honest, I still do. It’s one of my hobbies, looking for suitable stones. My husband thinks it’s a bit silly, but I think one should never feel too grown not to play.”

Eelis smiled a little and looked toward the child. ”I’ve never been good at that. Though I admit, I’ve only tried it a couple of times,” he confessed. ”But I agree. It’s good to maintain a certain level of playfulness.”

”It’s surprisingly relaxing. For me, it helps with anxiety. All bad thoughts put aside, and I just focus on how I can throw the bread stone so that it jumps as many times as possible,” Michael smiled. ”I believe we all have our ways. Do you have anything?”

Eelis thought for a moment. ”Running,” He answered and looked towards the woman, probably a grandmother, and a child, who started walking towards the cafe.

”It’s a good way,” Michael agreed. ”I don’t really care about running, I prefer to walk. I take long walks almost every day. I also ride, that’s another thing that relaxes me. The company of horses relax me, many use riding as a form of therapy. Have you ever ridden a horse?”

”I’ve sat on a horse, does that count?” Eelis chuckled and looked at the man, who gave him a warm, friendly smile. ”I don’t know why I didn’t try riding independently. My grandparents owned trotting horses, I used to sit on the back of one as a child and my grandfather would walk it. I was a bit horrified.”

”Another common thing, my grandparents also have a horse farm in Ireland, nowadays my father’s brother has taken care of it. But I have my horse here, or not here in town, but a short distance away, where we usually live.” Michael was silent for a moment and brought the mug to his lips. ”It’s a little calmer here now,” he noted. ”It’s always a bit strange to open up to outsiders, I understand that. And on the other hand, it can be easier to talk to someone a little more distant or at least someone who can relate to what happened than those closest and dearest to you,” he smiled a little, a certain sadness in his eyes that Eelis could relate to. ”It really helped me when I went through my own experience with a person who understood all the nasty and conflicting emotions associated with it.”

Eelis felt uneasy, his heart was beating fast. He looked around nervously. ”We don’t need to talk about it here if you don’t feel comfortable.”

”I guess I’m just feeling a little… awkward, or nervous talking about it,” Eelis confessed.

”That’s understandable,” Michael said with a sympathetic tone. ”I was seventeen myself when I met the wrong man. I ran away from home with him when things were difficult. He spoke beautifully, promising me everything my young mind could dream of, everything I thought I needed. But his words were all a lie, a carefully set up trap and the reality was completely different,” he fell silent for a moment. ”The man who helped me out was broken in his own way, that relationship was… subjugating… I just didn’t know how to recognize it as bad after that previous experience.”

Eelis was quiet and relaxed a little. ”I was seventeen myself when I started dating my ex-boyfriend,” he sighed. ”He was Canadian… We moved in together too quickly and…” Eelis shrugged.

”Jealous?” Michael asked.

”Yeah. Really.”

”My ex was too. He claimed to love and… Well, I don’t doubt that he believed he did. But not everyone knows how to love, they…” Michael trailed off and shrugged. ”He was broken… But he was broken in a way that I couldn’t have fixed, and nobody really could, because he didn’t realize it himself early enough.”

”What happened?” Eelis asked, hesitating a little because he wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to ask, but wasn’t that what they were here for? That he would hear that someone else was… that he wasn’t weird and… That he wasn’t alone… wasn’t crazy with his thoughts.

Michael was silent for a moment and tasted his tea. ”I left him, and he didn’t like it. Because he had saved me once, he believed it meant that I was his, that I owed him, and that… However, you cannot own anyone, regardless of what you have done or given to another. You cannot own another person. He um… organized revenge, there were other men there too…” Michael’s voice trailed off. ”I was kidnapped and… Well,” he shrugged. ”There’s no need to say it out loud. I survived, even though I believed it was the end of me, at that moment and at times since. And it was hard, terribly hard, I won’t deny that. But it is possible to experience something so terrible and survive it. Not everyone can do it and few, if any, can do it alone.”

Eelis swallowed, he was feeling unreal. ’There were other men there too’ the words echoed in his mind, and he stared down at his coffee cup in confusion.

”Those experiences are personal and painful. People cope in different ways and even though the experiences may involve similar things, they cannot be completely compared. I mean, the amount or duration of the evil may be different, but the scars that are left can be just as deep. The most important thing is to know that it is possible to survive, and it helps to talk about it out loud. You don’t need to say the details. But it… It helped me at least to speak it all out to someone who understood.”

Eelis looked at the park, people walking a little further away from them, normal people. An older woman had bought the boy, who had just thrown stones into the pond, ice cream from the cafe, and the boy’s giggles caught his attention.

”I was kidnapped too,” he finally said. ”It happened in the winter; my ex had met that other man in prison… It feels crazy when you say it out loud. So crazy that sometimes it doesn’t feel real. And sometimes all this, other people…” Eelis furrowed his brows. ”It feels unreal to be here because there were several moments when I was sure I was going to die… It feels absurd to be sitting here, looking at other people over there and talk about it like you’re talking about the last book you read.”

”It’s an absurd feeling,” Michael agreed. ”From my own experience, it’s been more than a decade, it often feels like it happened yesterday, and on the other hand, a lifetime ago. However, it is always present, and it has changed me. Life could have gone very differently, but it didn’t, and in a way, when I accepted that, it became easier. I don’t mean that you should accept the horrors that the people who hurt you have done, but that it has happened to you.” The man smiled faintly.

”The past cannot be changed,” Eelis said and looked towards the pond.

”Yes… It’s a shame that real-life Gyro Gearloose’s don’t exist, I admit that I often dream about it. That you could get a time machine to travel with and say to your younger self; no, don’t do it!” Eelis looked at the man, who had a small grin on his lips, but there was a certain look in his eyes, the one that Eelis recognized and understood.

”Gyro Gearloose, huh?” he repeated, smiling at the man with the same gentleness he had previously offered him. ”Yeah…that would be great,” he agreed and wondered what moment he would return to. The first time with Misha? Or moments before that… If he would have… made himself smarter and…

”My friend and I joked about what characters we would be in Duckburg, it was part of our way of coping when the reality was so horrible. He wanted to be Goofy, I guess I would have been Mickey,” he laughed a little. ”What would you be?”

”God, I don’t know… At least not the …hm I don’t know his English name… The lucky one, Donald’s cousin…Hm… on second thought, would be great to be him though, ” Eelis answered with a slightly crooked smile. ”But in truth, if it was more real, I guess Donald… Who tries too hard and fails,” he shrugged. ”I haven’t read Donald Duck’s in years. My dad does order it for my siblings, but I think he’s always the first to read it. He just doesn’t want to admit that he orders it for himself,” he grinned.

”I’m ordering it, just for myself,” Michael chuckled. ”That… Well, I guess it’s like throwing stones, a memory from childhood when everything was good. The memory of a friendship that kept me sane…” Michael paused for a moment and raised the teacup to his lips. ”What happened, changed things. Things I wanted and how I imagined my future to be. The experience stole a lot away from me and … It’s hard to understand it. And on the other hand, now I’ve been able to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Without it all, I might not have met my husband. Without everything, I wouldn’t have been able to help someone else… And… of course, I would choose that other life if I could, the one where I wouldn’t have experienced what I experienced… But, since I can’t, since there are no real Gyro Gearlooses and no time machines, it’s easier for me to accept and be happy that I can offer help, that I can use all that crap I experienced as strength.”

Eelis was silent and thought about it. ”I would like to be able to do that… use it as a strength.” He agreed and met the man’s gaze.

”I’m ready to help you with that,” he said, ”If you want my help?”

Eelis was silent for a moment and thought about it. He looked at Michael, already feeling much more relaxed than what he had felt earlier.

”I want to,” he decided.

”In that case, next time we could meet indoors, in my so-called office, where it’s easier to talk. Well, the office sounds awfully official, it’s more like my own library…” Michael laughed and shrugged. ”A place where you can talk in peace.”

”Hmm… When would be okay for you?” Eelis asked.

”Next week, on Sunday, if it’s not inconvenient for you. Around this time?”

”Next Sunday works fine,” Eelis agreed.

”Great, I’ll send you the address later today with a text message.”

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