The door flew open. Eero gave Lauri a surprised look.
“Hey buddy, what are you doing here?”
Before the blonde boy could answer, a girl shot through the opening, grabbed Lauri’s arm and pulled him inside.
“Thank God you’re here, Lauri! Eero has been torturing me since more than four hours now. I feel like my brain must be steaming or something!”
She dragged him into the living room, pushed him on the couch and threw a bag of chips on his lap. “Help yourself!”
The small coffee table was covered with books, note pads and a few crumpled sheets of paper.
Eero dropped himself next to Lauri. “Shut up, Thea! If I remember it right, you came crawling on your knees, begging for help so you will be at least somehow able to pass your exam on Monday. Correct me if I’m wrong though.”
Thea rolled her eyes. “Alright, alright. I’m a looser, you’re my saviour. I owe you big times.”
Eero grinned satisfied. “That’s what I wanted to hear. And maybe next time you will start studying earlier than just three days before the test. I’ve been preparing myself for this since two weeks and I…”
“Swot,” Thea snorted disparagingly. “I have better things to do than wasting my time with maths. And come on, theory of probabilities? What’s the point in learning about that?”
“You learn for life, not for school and I…”
“Exactly,” she interrupted Eero. “I know how to add and subtract and how to divide and multiply. I really don’t need to be able to find out the exact probability of how unlikely it is to win the lottery!”
“Yeah, and you also don’t need it to figure out how unlikely it’s gonna be that you’ll past that test if you go on like this.” Eero replied quietly and grabbed some chips from the bag on Lauri’s lap.
Thea ran her hands through her red hair and straightened her ponytail. She sighed.
“I’m gonna fail anyway. And then I’m gonna have to repeat the year…”
“No way! We’ve been together since first grade and nothing’s gonna separate us! Even if this means we will be sitting here till Monday morning without sleeping. Right, Lauri?”
Eero looked at him.
Lauri had been listening to his friends without saying a word. A little smile appeared on his lips as he remembered the day they had met for the first time.
It had been their first day at school and a fat little boy had shoved Lauri off the swing. Thea had grabbed Eero’s shoulders and pushed him towards the swing so he could help Lauri. She didn’t know Eero, he just happened to be the one standing next to her. Eero helped Lauri getting up and Thea gave him her handkerchief to wipe the tears away and clean his snotty nose. And since that moment, the three of them had been inseparable. Lauri could still remember that handkerchief, a white piece of cloth with little red flowers on it, smelling like washing powder.
“Are you ok?” Eero asked worried when he saw that Lauri’s hands were trembling. “What’s up, man?”
Lauri swallowed hard. There was nothing he wanted more than telling them how he felt, that he couldn’t take it anymore. That he would die if he stayed any longer. He had made his decision. The only way to escape his personal hell was to leave. To leave everything behind. Even if this meant to never see his friends again, the only people he loved, the only people he knew who really cared about him.
He had come to say good-bye. But now that he was here, that he saw his friends living their normal, almost sorrow-free lives, he didn’t dare to tell them.
“Nothing,” he muttered and shoved a handful of chips into his mouth. Coward, he thought desperately.
Thea got off her armchair and sat down on Lauri’s other side.
“Don’t worry, dude. I’ll pass that test, one way or another. I still have some new cheating techniques I haven’t tried yet,” she said and pushed her elbow playfully into Lauri’s side.
He twitched and moaned silently.
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on! Don’t be such a wuss, it wasn’t that hard!” She tickled him.
All of a sudden Lauri jumped on his feet and backed away from the couch. “Don’t touch me!” He yelled.
Thea and Eero looked at him surprised.
“Jesus, calm down, Lauri! What the fuck is…”
Lauri’s eyes stopped Thea. They were full of despair and fear, glistening with tears.
“Lauri, what happened? Talk to us, please,” Eero whispered into the silence that had suddenly filled the room.
Lauri opened and shut his mouth a few times, trying to start. He wanted to tell them but it was hurting too much. He couldn’t hold back his tears anymore and turned away. He was sick and tired of always being the pitiable and weak one. He didn’t want them to see him cry.
Thea and Eero stared at their friend’s back that was shaken by sobs. Then they looked at each other, both not knowing what to say.
Eero gasped. “Don’t tell me he has done it again!” He shouted out in shock.
Lauri’s only answer was another fit of sobs.
Thea got up and carefully approached the weeping boy.
“But you said he doesn’t do it anymore,” she whispered. “You said he hasn’t done it since last summer! You said he’s leaving you alone!”
“He hasn’t touched me since then but he’s been humiliating and treating me like shit ever since. Sometimes I even wished he would beat me up again instead of this. Bruises heal easier than what his words do to me,” Lauri muttered, his back still facing Thea and Eero, who had gotten off the couch now as well.
“Today when I came home from school… I don’t really know how it all started… but it ended up with me yelling at him when he suddenly hit me. He punched me over and over again, he was like in extasy. I tried to defend myself and when I finally managed to push him to the floor, I ran away.”
“Oh Lauri,” Thea mumbled shaken and softly pulled him into a hug.
He leaned his head against her shoulder and cried into her shirt. Eero wrapped his arms around both of them.
“Bastard,” he gnarled angrily, “we have to do something!”
Lauri rose his head and pulled up his nose. With one hand he wiped across his face and looked at his friends.
“I know what I’m going to do.” He swallowed. “I’m here… to tell you… that I’m leaving.” There, he had said it.
Thea and Eero gaped at him.
“Oh, come on, what do you think where you’re going? Be realistic!” Eero told him.
“I thought about it a lot. I’m going somewhere north. It’s summer, I can sleep outside. Maybe I can work at a farm or something,” Lauri explained quietly.
“But what will you do about him? He can’t get away just like that! You gotta go and tell the police!” Eero shouted out furiously. “You’d rather leave us than trying to get him in jail? I thought we were friends!”
Immediately he regretted what he had said. He was just struck by all this, he couldn’t believe he was about to loose one of his best friends. “Sorry,” he added quickly.
“It’s ok. You know, I thought about it but what is there the police can do? Even if he gets arrested, my step father is the only relative I got! They will take me to a foster home. And from what I heard, I’m sure I’m better off on my mown. Don’t worry. I will survive. I survived until now, so I guess I’m used to it, right?” He tried to smile but it didn’t really work out.
Thea looked into his eyes for a while. Then she said, “If you’re going, we’re all going.”
“Thea, this is none of your business, I have to deal with it on my own.”
“Remember when we promised we’d always stay together?” She asked with a serious voice.
Lauri sighed. “We were nine years old!”
“She’s right, we promised. And as for me, I never break my promises,” Eero added.
“Guys, you can’t do this, you are crazy,” Lauri tried to convince them. But somehow he knew that they already had made their final decision.
“Well, we never said we were normal,” Thea grinned. “Eero, pack a few things, I’ll be right back.”
Ten minute later Lauri and Eero heard a car honking outside of the house.
“Who’s that?” Eero asked and stepped to the window.
Thea was standing next to a car, one hand reaching through the open door to honk a few more times.
Eero and Lauri looked at each other. Eero sighed and shrug his shoulders.
“I’m not sure if I really wanna know where she got the car from.”
“Hurry the fuck up, guys!” They heard her shouting.
“Ok, let’s go.” Eero grabbed his backpack, they left the house.
“Where did you get the car from?” Lauri asked surprised.
Thea grinned. “My aunt is on holidays for two weeks and she asked me to water her flowers. She left all her keys at home.”
“You stole it from your aunt?” Eero asked shocked.
“I prefer calling it ‘to borrow’. And after all, I left a note telling her it’s an emergency.”
“You are aware of the fact that none of us has a driver’s license nor are we old enough to drive, aren’t you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Eero, relax. We just gotta be careful not to get pulled over by the cops. And now, get in the car!”
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Eero muttered while he and Thea put his stuff into the trunk. When he was sure that Lauri was in the car, he whispered, “We’re not really gonna run away for ever, are we?”
Thea shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s enough if he gets out of town for at least over the weekend. Maybe we can think of a better solution.”
“Hey, just in case, I brought my maths book.”
Thea just rolled her eyes and got behind the steering wheel.
They had been driving for two hours now, the sun had started to go down. Eero, sitting on the passengers seat, was balancing a small radio on his knees and turned the little black wheel to search for a decent radio station.
Lauri sat in the back and watched the landscape fly by. They hadn’t talked much since leaving the city and Lauri was glad about that. He needed some more time to think about the recent events before he could talk about it openly. Right now, his mind was a mess.
The wind that blew through the open window caressed his face. The last warm sun beams of the day warmed his skin and he could smell the smell of freshly cut grass. Usually that reminded him of the beginning of summer holidays, six weeks of freedom he would spent with his best friends. And though it was summer and he was, so it seemed, somehow escaping into freedom from his old life, together with his best friends, that feeling of happiness that came along with the smell of cut grass on other days, didn’t come up. His mind and soul were too agitated.
“Hey, turn up the volume!” Thea shouted from the front seat. “I love that song!”
”I’m frightened to move,
I’m frightened to speak
and I would kill for a good nights sleep.
I’m feeling, I’m feeling dead,
can't remember my own name,
I think I go insane.
Can’t remember my own name,
I think I go insane.” *
Lauri closed his eyes and listened to Eero and Thea singing along. He was a fan of the band and had heard this song at least a hundred times but he had never really paid attention to the lyrics. He sighed.
How come people write songs that say exactly what you are feeling, he thought. But no, I’m not frightened to move. I’m not frightened to speak, he told himself. I did it, I left it all behind. I left my stepfather and the nightmare called home.
But the thing with the good nights sleep was something he really wanted. His stepfather didn’t only make his life hell, he also haunted him in his dreams.
And the part about going insane… Oh well, he thought, who’s sane anyway?
“Let’s stop at that gas station to buy something to eat. And then I think we should look for a place to stay over night,” Eero suggested and tore Lauri out of his thoughts.
Lauri heard his stomach grumble. Only now he realized how hungry he was.
“Great idea,” he agreed.
They stopped to by food and drinks, then they drove on a few more miles until they spotted a nice little lake surrounded by trees, not far from the road.
Eero collected some dry wood and lit a small fire. Lauri and Thea spread out sleeping bags and unpacked what they had bought before.
They ate, the radio was playing and for a while they chatted about this and that, just laughing around and enjoying each other’s company.
Thea and Eero had decided not to talk about Lauri’s situation until he was ready to do so. And Lauri was grateful for that. He knew that repressing his problems wasn’t the solution but right now he was content the way it was. He felt just like a normal boy who was camping with his friends. And normality was what he longed for the most at the moment.
The sky wasn’t really dark due to being so far up north but still a few stars were sparkling. Lauri watched a dragonfly that was buzzing along the shore when his attention was drawn to the song that was playing on the radio.
”I don’t care if it hurts,
I wanna have control,
I want a perfect body,
I want a perfect soul,
I want you to notice
when I’m not around,
so fucking special, I wish I was special.
But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.”*
Lauri sighed out loud.
“What?” Thea asked.
Lauri played with a piece of a dry branch. “Nothing. It’s just that song… somehow it feels like it was written for me.”
Eero chuckled. “Why? Cause you’re a weirdo? Well, we all know that! Doesn’t need a song to tell us again.”
Lauri threw the piece of wood at Eero. “Idiot! I mean, you know that feeling, that you don’t belong here, that you’re different and that you feel like a creep,” he tried to explain. He felt that the light-hearted atmosphere tended to turn into melancholy. He swallowed. “What ever. Never mind.”
Thea laughed. “We’re teenagers, we’re supposed to feel that way. That’s nothing unusual.”
She started to dig for chocolate in Eero’s backpack and pulled out a book. She stared at the cover.
“Eero, I can’t believe you really brought this!”
“What? I just thought you might wanna use a few spare minutes to repeat what you have learned earlier!” Eero defended himself.
“Screw maths,” Thea snorted and with one pitch, the book flew into the lake. It stirred up the smooth surface of the water, then it floated peacefully away from the shore.
For a moment they all stared silently at the book.
Eero gasped. “You did not just do that!”
Thea shrugged her shoulders. “Obviously I did.”
“But… you can’t… that’s school property… you gotta go and get it!”
“Me? No way, I don’t want it! Get it yourself!”
“But you threw it…”
Suddenly Lauri pulled his sweater over his head and shouted, “The one who’s in last is a looser!”
Then he ran towards the water, kicking his shoes off an getting rid of his pants while running.
Thea and Eero looked at Lauri, then at each other. One second later they both got up, stripped down to their underwear and jumped into the lake.
“I was faster!”
“No, I was!”
“Shut up, you both came in at the same time,” Lauri interrupted them, grabbed the book and threw it back next to the camp-fire. “I think I should seriously consider taking over David Hasselhoff’s spot in Baywatch.”
“Oh yeah,” Thea laughed sarcastically, “rescuing a book, rescuing a human being, there’s not much of a difference.”
“Are you trying to tell me that I would suck as a lifeguard?”
“I’m not trying to tell you, I’m telling you straight away. You would suck as a lifeguard. The only reason you wanna be in Baywatch is Pamela Anderson and her two enormous buoys!”
“That would make it three reasons then,” Eero snickered.
“You guys are so dead!” Lauri shouted out and splashed water at his friends.
Within seconds a wild water fight had started. They tried to dunk each other’s heads under water and wrestled playfully.
Eero had just pushed Thea down and wanted to continue with Lauri when Lauri yelled, “Hold on, Thea isn’t coming back up!”
“Cheap trick, buddy, you don’ really think I’m falling for this, do you?” Eero grinned.
“No, seriously, look!”
Eero let go of Lauri and turned around. They stared at the spot Thea had been before. Nothing.
“Fuck,” Eero mumbled.
Then they both dived into the water, searching for the girl, coming back up every few second to take deep breath.
“Yo, guys, practicing for Baywatch, huh?”
The shout stopped them. They swirled around and stared at Thea who was standing shoulder-deep in the water only a few meters away.
“Gotcha!” She laughed.
Lauri and Eero, being too relieved that she was safe to be angry, glared at her.
“You’re so paying for that!”
Both stormed towards her, trying to dunk her at the same time.
And suddenly it happened. Feeling the warmth of each other’s slick and tangled bodies in the cold water, changed the previously happy and care-free atmosphere into something different. Lauri saw Thea shivering when Eero’s breath stroked over her neck. They were all so close. He looked into Eero’s eyes, then into Thea’s and both had the same expression of excitement and desire he was feeling himself.
But as fast as this moment had come, as fast it was over. Almost at the same time they spread into different directions, laughing at each other, continuing to splash water into the other’s faces.
They had almost crossed that borderline that could, at the worst, destroy a friendship. What they had was too precious and they wouldn’t risk it with pushing the limits.
They didn’t even have to talk about it, without words they all knew they silently agreed.
They got out of the lake, warmed themselves up at the fire and kept on chatting and listening to the radio.
Later they snuggled up to sleep next to the fireplace, Lauri in the middle. Still he didn’t know how his life would go on but right now he was happy to be here with his friends. And he was sure, at least this night, he would get some good nights sleep.
A yell tore Thea and Eero out of their sleep. Both sitting up, rubbing their eyes, they found Lauri tossing and turning around, his eye lids fluttering heavily, muttering something they couldn’t understand.
Eero glanced worrying at Thea. He softly touched Lauri’s shoulder.
“Lauri, wake up!”
The blond boy ripped his eyes open. Breathing heavily he starred into the sky.
“You were dreaming,” Thea whispered in a comforting tone.
Lauri sat up and covered his face with his hands.
“He was here… he was shouting at me… beating me…” he muttered with a trembling voice.
“Shhh,” Eero caressed his back soothingly, “that was only a dream, he’s not here, you are safe.”
Lauri’s body was shaken by sobs. “He will always be here! No matter how far I run, in my dreams he will still be with me.”
Thea moved closer and carefully pulled his hands away from his face. “Lauri, listen, I promise you, he will never ever do you any harm again. Whatever it takes, we will be there for you and protect you.”
“Yes,” Eero moved closer to Lauri’s other side and wrapped his arm around his waist. “You can always count on us.”
He gently wiped some tears off his friend’s cheeks.
Lauri was still shaking with fear. There he was, with his best friends by his sides comforting him. And still he felt left alone. He wanted to feel them closer, he needed to feel them closer.
He reached for Eero’s and Thea’s hands and hooked his fingers with theirs.
And again, no words were needed. Eero and Thea looked into his feverishly sparkling eyes, his glance filled with despair, fear, insecurity, longing.
Thea softly stroke a strand out of Lauri’s face that had been stuck to his skin, wet from tears and cold sweat. When her lips met his, he eagerly invaded her mouth with his tongue. Then he turned towards Eero who had been nibbling gently on his neck. Thea watched her two best friends kissing and he thought that this was maybe the most beautiful thing she had ever witnessed.
What had seemed to be totally wrong just a few hours ago, now was the only right thing to do. If this was what Lauri needed, to know that he wasn’t alone, that he was loved and that there were other feelings for him than pain and hate, then Eero and Thea were willing to do anything, to give him everything they could. Without hesitation.
Sometimes borderlines had to be crossed.
Singing birds woke Lauri up. He carefully freed himself from Thea’s embrace and saw Eero sitting at the shore. He got up silently and put some clothes on. Then he joined his friend.
Eero looked at him. “Hey.”
For a while they just sat next to each other and watched some dragonflies dashing over the lake’s smooth surface.
“You know,” Lauri suddenly broke the silence, “I’m not gay.”
Eero smiled. “Neither am I.”
Lauri didn’t know why he had said it, it had just blurted out of him. Maybe because he felt like he had to say something about what had happened last night. But the way Eero smiled made him realize that nothing had changed. He sighed relieved.
“I love you… in a friendly, brother-like way, that is,” he added quickly.
Eero chuckled. “I love you, too. In a friendly, brother-like way of course!” He tossed some pebbles into the lake. “I thought about a few things. You can live at my place, I’m sure it’s ok with my parents. If you eventually decide to stay in Helsinki, that is.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that, really. I just can’t go back right now, I need some more time.”
“That’s alright, we’re not in a hurry.”
“Guys, I’m starving!” Thea shouted from the back. “Let’s pack things up and go get something to eat.”
They had breakfast at a little restaurant they had come across on their way further up north. Now they were back in the car, driving on.
Lauri was on his usual spot on the backseat, Eero was playing with the radio.
Lauri’s head was leaning against the frame of the open window. He closed his eyes that had started to flicker from the bright sunlight. He thought about last night. He had expected that there would be at least some kind of awkwardness between them today but on the contrary, nothing had changed. Except that he maybe felt even closer to his friends, that he maybe loved them even a bit more.
A song on the radio caught his attention.
”Oh, it’s such a perfect day,
I’m glad I spend it with you,
oh, such a perfect day
and you just keep me hanging on,
you just keep me hanging on.” *
Lauri let himself carry away from the violins, from the piano.
And then, there it was again, that smell of freshly cut grass. And this time his whole body was filled with joy. For the first time in quite a while he felt completely happy.
He knew all this wouldn’t last for ever. They had to eventually return soon. But for now, he was happy with what he had. In front of him the open road, with him his friends who he loved more than anything else, and on his face, a mild summer breeze.
* the lyrics are from ‘Die laughing’ written by Therapy?, ‘Creep’ by Radiohead and ‘Perfect day’ by Lou Reed