Chapter 23 – The Boy Next Door
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Chapter Twenty-Three – The Boy Next Door

Waking up the second time, and this time in his own body, but in a similar hospital bed, proved to be an even more difficult an experience than the first time. One thing he noticed right away was that everything was hurting. Hey, it had been nice to be Alex, then, right? No pain that time.

C’mon, is that the only thing you can think of?

You know it’s not, and don’t you dare do the thinking for me.

I’m your brain, remember?

Then I’d rather be brain dead.

“Hey, hey, Mr. Malis, look who decided to join us,” a man in white spoke, almost startling him.

This was another doctor than the one from before, but just as affable, it seemed.

“Could you please tell me how you are feeling?” the man pulled a pen out of his chest pocket and began scribbling something down on a pad.

“Everything hurts like hell,” he mumbled.

The doctor laughed.

“That is a good sign. We are all very relieved to see that your body doesn’t seem to have been affected irremediably by the accident. We will do some check-ups to see if everything is in working order, and then I think you’ll be able to take some visits. A lot of people are waiting to see you.”

“No!” he almost shouted.

The doctor looked at him, a bit disconcerted.

“Your parents were hard to convince not to sleep in the hallway, you know? And your friend, Aron …”

“Can’t you just tell everyone I’m still in a coma?” he blurted out.

Now the doctor wasn’t smiling anymore.

“Why would you possibly want that? I should call the counselor, then,” the man put the pad under his arm.

“No, no, no, I was just joking,” Carter hurried.

Spending hours in the company of an understanding woman who was just going to nod and smile at him while he recalled the dreams he had used to have when he was five, was not exactly an idea of how he wanted to spend his time, now that he was awake.

“Hmm, you seem to have quite a strange sense of humor, Mr. Malis,” the doctor said. “But I will give you until tomorrow since it’s late now, anyway, and I took care of sending everyone home so they could rest in their own beds. But tomorrow,” the doctor wagged the finger at him, “you will receive visits, young man. And, depending on how all the medical tests turn out, we might even let you return home before the week ends.”

Was this doctor in need of this particular bed? Why did he seem like he could not wait to send Carter out the door? No, no, he was just being paranoid there. Probably he had rained on the dude’s parade, since the doctor had seemed so happy to see him awake, aka alive and kicking.

So, he needed to get ready to face the music. What the fuck was he going to do? What the fuck was he going to say to Aron? Was he going to face Alex, the douchebag, too? How much did that guy know, anyway?

And it just fucking hurt everywhere.


“My baby,” his mother hurried to embrace him, the moment she put foot in the room.

All right, it wasn’t like he wanted to cry, but his mom’s familiar perfume, and how tightly she was squeezing him, were making him feel grateful. For a moment, he could forget about the stupid body swap, and the shitstorm that was going to start, the moment he had to face Aron, and especially Alex.

His father was next to hug him, even though his mom had been hard to convince to let him go.

“You will come rest and recuperate at home,” his father spoke.

“But dad, I need to go back to my apartment. There are … some plants in there,” he mumbled.

Were they? He could not remember. Maybe that cactus one of his ex-girlfriends had given him, saying that it might be the only thing that could survive in his house.

“I think Aron took care of watering them. He also paid the bills that came in your mail while you were …”

“In a coma,” Carter said quickly.

He was pretty certain someone of his behavior had to be off. He had forgotten to ask how long he had been gone from the world of the conscious because, basically, he knew. He also didn’t act surprised enough, as he had heard the nurses and the doctor mentioning at least once, while gossiping about him being quite a strange patient.

“But, wait, how did Aron get into my apartment?” he questioned.

“He used the old key you gave him. He said that he hoped you hadn’t changed the locks.”

Oh, right. Aron had a key to his apartment, because he had been the one to give him one. Back when they were still best friends, joined at the hip, as their parents used to joke. Yeah, if there was one person in the entire world he could trust with his life, that had to be Aron. Whenever he went on vacations, Aron was the one to come check on things at the apartment, so of course, he still had that key.

“You will return to your normal life, don’t worry,” his father spoke. “But allow us to have you close for a little while.”

“What? No trips scheduled lately to Antarctica?”

He knew he wasn’t fair. But he was still upset with them a little. His mom’s smile turned into a straight line. His father’s eyes filled with guilt.

“Ah, forget it,” he waved. “Just take me home and stuff me with food or something.”

He was too old to be mad at his parents. It was too late anyway to change the past, and the truth was he loved them, with all their exploration trips and everything.

“Clementine has made so much of all your favorites. She sent a ton,” his father said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t …” his mom began.

“Mom, don’t worry,” he said brightly. “I want to go home with you.”

“Aron will come to see you a bit later. He is still at work.”

“Can’t you take me home now?” he said, hoping that there was a way to be checked out from the hospital without the need to see Aron.

“The doctor says that in a couple of days, we should be able to do that,” his father said. “And why don’t you want to see Aron? Are you still upset with him for marrying Alex?”

Dad, you have no idea.

Yeah, Aron fucked me.

C’mon, it’s mom and dad! Are you a frigging idiot? And Aron fucked ... Alex, practically.

Ah, so you didn’t feel a thing when he went down on …

Seriously. Not now.

“Aron took care of everything, right?” he said morosely, looking down at the pristine sheet and trying to link his fingers.

“Yes, he’s generous like that,” his mother said. “We want to pay him back everything, but he insists so much that we should not. I don’t know how we are going to proceed, without hurting his feelings.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll pay him back,” Carter said.

“Son, it’s a little thing we want to do for you,” his father said.

They were burdened with so much guilt that Carter didn’t have it in him to look at them.

“Yeah, but you two will have to put up with me until I go back to my apartment, so I think that’s enough punishment,” he joked.

“Ah, don’t talk like that,” his mother embraced him again. “We would love to take care of you.”

“Seriously, mom, dad, as you can see, I’m in one piece.”

“But you’re hurting, and the doctor says that your shoulder will need some physical therapy to get back the way it was. Thank Heavens you’re well, otherwise.”

Yeah, apparently, he was well. Now the only problem that wasn’t well was that he was supposed to see Aron.

“Aron’s parents will also come to see you later.”

“Ah, so they come with Aron?”

Now that was a bit of a relief. He wasn’t going to have dirty thoughts about his best friend with adults in the room. Adults? What was he thinking? He was an adult, too. Apparently.

There was a short exchange between his parents that wasn’t missed on him.

“What?” he asked directly.

“Aron will just come earlier than his parents.”

Oh, of course, there was Alex to consider. Ah, fuck, was the fucker going to be in the same room with both Aron and he? That was going to be the most fucked up reunion of a threesome in the history of all reunions. And in the history of threesomes. Because, basically …

Ah, his head was hurting.

“Will he come with his husband?” he asked in a meek voice.

Now his parents looked down, and his father even frowned a little.

“Well?” he pressed.

“Ah, actually,” his father started, but the man looked like he had trouble getting the words out.

“Alex caused quite a scene yesterday after you woke up,” his mom spoke, setting her chin high, in what looked like a gesture of defiance towards someone that wasn’t there.

“A scene? Why?” he asked.

There was not so easy for anything to make his parents troubled. But now that was how they looked.

“He seemed such a fine young man when we saw him while you were still in a coma,” his mother said, the lines of her face modifying like she had just been forced to swallow an entire lemon. “Caring, understanding. But the things he said yesterday … Carter, just know this, no matter what you hear. We do not believe a word.”

“Of course, it would help if you told us what happened,” his father intervened.

“I don’t need him to say anything, I know my son,” his mother said in a tone that stood no opposition.

“Wait, what, I mean, why did Alex cause a scene? What did he say?” Carter tried to straighten up in his place.

“That boy,” his mother shook her head.

“He told Aron that you pushed him in front of that fire truck,” his father said, seeing that his wife was too upset to speak the words.

Wait, what?

C’mon, we don’t like the guy, but still.

But what the actual fuck? I mean, let’s see …

We still don’t remember?!

Did we …

No, that cannot be. I refuse to believe that.

“So, what happened, son?” his father asked.

“I … I don’t remember,” Carter whispered.

How could he be so … No, no, that couldn’t be right.

“So, will the police come to take me away?” he asked, after a short moment of stunned silence. “I mean, once I manage to walk on two legs.”

“No, definitely not,” his mother said energetically. “There is nothing to sustain Alex’s words, and so far he hasn’t filed a complaint.”

“What does … what does Aron say?” Carter gulped.

“He called us and told us about what his husband said. But, just like us, he doesn’t believe it,” his mother said without hesitation. “He spent a lot of time apologizing for his husband, as, apparently, he believes that Alex will try to make a huge scandal out of this. Also, he thinks Alex is just exaggerating.”

“From a logical standpoint, what he says is not sustainable by facts,” his father spoke, clearly the more cool-headed in the family at the moment. “If you had been the one to push him, you would have escaped unscathed. And that is definitely not the case. From the two of you, you were the one who got hurt the most. It is a miracle you didn’t suffer permanent damage, doctors say.”

“My son would never push someone in front of a car,” his mother said energetically.

“So … Aron comes to see me without letting Alex know?” Carter barely made out the words.

It was so sweet of his parents not to believe an iota of what Alex had said. Even more impressive was that Aron didn’t believe his husband.

“We do not know,” his father replied. “Aron can use his own head, don’t worry, son.” 

“And Alex seemed hysterical, according to what I heard the nurses speaking,” his mother added. “So much so that he needed to be medicated. But they did send him home, and probably he made Aron’s life a small hell for the entire night.”

He should have felt better after hearing that Aron was on his side on this. But yet, he still felt miserable, and like there was a huge claw inside his chest trying to pull his heart out. Or maybe it was somewhat lower, and that strange claw was trying to get to some other organ, like the hawk who was feeding on Prometheus’s liver for all eternity.

How was he going to face Aron? Even if Aron didn’t believe Alex? The fact that he had been involved in that accident, along with Aron’s husband, was extremely weird. So something must have happened between them. But trying to push the guy in front of a fast moving car? No. He could not stand the guy, but no. Unless he had suffered through one moment of temporary madness and he had done what Alex was saying.

Yet, his father’s clear and analytical mind was right. How could have someone trying to push another person in front of a car ended being the one hurt? Now he was trying to run a 3D simulation in his mind, like the ones he had seen on TV.

Whatever Alex says, it’s shit and you know it.

Yeah, okay, but what the fuck did happen? Can’t you remember?

Nope. That part of the hard drive seems to be blank.

You’re a human brain, not a computer.

Okay, but I still have nothing where that memory should be.

He wasn’t sure he could face Aron, nonetheless. What was Aron going to say? He would have to admit to not remembering a thing, which practically left Alex the only one with the recollection of the event.

“Could I just skip seeing Aron today? I don’t think I can talk to him. He’ll want to know the truth,” he admitted in front of his parents.

“Carter,” his father said. “Avoiding your best friend is not the solution to whatever you are thinking right now. And you didn’t push that young man in front of a vehicle. It’s plainly absurd and impossible.”

“Okay,” he mumbled.

What had Mark told him that one time? That he should say ‘no’ once in a while?

“Actually,” he said, “I was the one in a coma until yesterday. I think that Aron won’t be that disappointed if I’m going to see him … sometimes later.”

He had said almost all the words in a heartbeat. He kept his eyes down, expecting his parents to insist.

Eh, what do you know? No holes in the sky.

After a short moment of silence, his mother spoke.

“It’s all right, dear,” she patted his hand. “I am sure he will understand.”

“Are you … going to tell him? For me?”

“Of course,” his mom nodded. “But make sure that you thank him properly. Actually,” she said, after a second, “we should be the ones thanking him. The only thing you need to do right now is to rest and get back on your feet.”

Good, his mother understood him. He murmured some thanks and let himself embraced again.


It felt nice to be back home. The house was still familiar, regardless of how much of his childhood he had spent more at Aron’s house than at his. He sat on the porch, inhaling the fresh smell of evening. Even in the faint street lights, he could still make the silhouette of the huge oak in the yard, overlooking the neighbors’ lawn.

“I still recall that day like it was yesterday,” his mother sat next to him, and handed him a cup of hot chocolate. “The day when you met Aron, the boy next door,” she said with a small laugh. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack seeing you getting down from that tree, on Aron’s back. He was, back then, much taller than you. And stronger. I’m definitely glad you’re not a scrawny kid anymore.”

She caressed his back.

“You never were one to complain, not even as a little kid, but I’m sure you were afraid that day. I didn’t know if I should scold you or hug you, the moment Aron put you down. Or if I should sign off all the family wealth to the neighbors.”

She laughed again.

Yes, he remembered that day well, too. For some obscure reason, he had decided that climbing the huge tree was an important stepping stone for his 7 year old self. That hadn’t gone that well, and when he had looked down, from the vantage point he had conquered with much difficulty, he had suddenly thought that it was okay for some people to live in trees. He had been ready to join that new species.

He closed his eyes to relive the episode.

“How did you get up there?”

A voice was coming from below. He looked down, and stared at a boy who might or might not have been his age. Even from that height, the boy looked gigantic, at least in his eyes.

“I just put one hand and foot after another,” he gave what might have been a pretty philosophical answer for that age, provided that a 7 year old Carter knew such words and their significance. He didn’t.

“I’m coming, too,” the new boy spoke and decidedly, began climbing.

“No, stay down!” Carter shouted.

Well, he was not going to admit that he was afraid. Not in front of another boy his age.

“Why?” the boy asked, stopping his climbing.

“It’s my tree,” Carter said with what he hoped to have sounded like a conversation stopper.

“There’s plenty of room,” the boy had said matter-of-factly.

Great, and now his realm as a tree person was invaded.

“What’s the password?” he asked, in a serious voice.

“The password?” the boy asked, but continued to climb.

“Yeah, no one’s allowed here without the password.”

He didn’t have a password. He had just come up with that idea.

“I don’t know it.”

“Then you’re not allowed,” Carter said, feeling victorious.

“Can I guess it?” the boy asked, now almost close to the branch on which Carter was sitting, or better said, clinging for dear life.

“Guess it,” he replied.

There was no way the boy was going to guess the password since the password didn’t exist.

“The password is …” the boy seemed to contemplate for a while, “password.”

The password is password? Carter stared at the other boy. Well, yes, the password was password, because that was what it was, so …

“Okay, you’re allowed,” he concluded, after a short internal struggle. His sense of justice won.

The boy pushed himself up with ease. He had to be at least one head taller, if not more, Carter examined him, while trying to pretend he was cool about being stranded up there. Well, now the both of them were stranded in the tree.

“Do you think tree people eat acorns?” he asked the other boy.

“I don’t think you can eat acorns,” was the prompt reply.

“I can try. You should, too. We’re tree people now.”

“We are? I’m Aron, what’s your name?”

The sudden change in topic took him a bit by surprise.


“You just moved here.”

Yes, that was correct, but what did it have to do with eating acorns? As the self-entitled ruler of the new tree people realm he had in his care, he needed to secure a source of food.

“Yes. How do you know you can’t eat acorns? Did you try?” he asked.

“No. But oaks don’t make fruits,” Aron said.

“Acorns are fruits. They are the oak’s fruits. I read it in a book.”

Aron seemed impressed with his knowledge.

“Was it a funny book?”

Hmm, was it? He didn’t know the right answer to that one.

“I have books at home. With superheroes,” Aron made a large arc with his arms.

“Superheroes how? I mean, why aren’t they just … heroes?” Carter wondered.

Aron stared at him, and pondered the question with all the seriousness he could muster at that age.

“Because all heroes have powers, but superheroes have superpowers,” Aron replied promptly.

He liked that answer. It made perfect sense.

“Does your book with acorns have superheroes?” Aron asked.

“No. Just other kinds of nuts,” he said.

“But was it cool?”

Hmm, these questions were hard.

“Yes,” he decided, not really knowing if his answer was the right one.

But he hoped it was going to impress Aron.

“Cool. Then I’ll come to your house, and you can show it to me.”

“I can’t,” Carter said promptly.

“Why?” Aron looked at him.

“Because I live here now, and here I don’t have a bookcase.”

Aron took a small look around as if he was checking for a bookcase.

“How long have you been living here?” Aron asked.

“It’s only been …” Carter consulted the wrist watch his mom had given him on his seventh birthday. “44 minutes.”

“Can I live with you here?”

“Only if you can eat acorns.”

“Do you eat acorns?”

“I haven’t tried.”

“My mom makes a cake.”

“Why?” it was Carter’s turn to ask.

“It’s my birthday. I know! Come to my birthday!” Aron shouted enthusiastically.

“I can’t. I live here now,” Carter explained.

“And where do your parents live?” Aron asked.

“There,” Carter pointed at the house.

Aron took a long look in the direction Carter was pointing.

“And they let you live in the tree?”

“They don’t know yet.”

The babysitter had just left early, telling him to behave until his parents got home. She had seemed so much in a hurry to leave. But he had gotten bored, so he had climbed the tree.

“Will you tell them?” Aron asked him.

“When I see them,” Carter replied.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come to my house and eat cake? All my friends will come. I know you live here, now, but you can come visit, right?”

That was something Carter needed to process. Technically, people visited foreign countries all the time. Like his parents. Going to Aron’s house to have cake was like that.

But that didn’t change the fact that he had no idea how to get down.

Cake and visiting a foreign land, on one side.

Not knowing how to get down, on the other side.

“I can take you down,” Aron said.

“What? Why?”

Aron just shrugged.

“And I can take you back. Since you live here.”

Ah, that made sense.

The trip down on Aron’s back was horrific, as his mother’s shout, as his parents pulled their car in the driveway.

Carter shook his head. But he hadn’t had cake that day. His mother had grounded him, on basis that he had done something dangerous, no matter how much he had tried to explain to her about his ambitions of becoming a tree person.

Yet, that evening, his mom had made a pie for him and hugged him, which had made him a bit confused about what being grounded meant since it had never happened before that day.

“Aron has always been there for you, hasn’t he?” his mother spoke softly.

“Yeah, he has,” he spoke, his throat dry.

Not only when they had been 7 years old. Later, too, in high school.

“Why do you hang out with that Carter guy, Aron? He’s a weirdo,” a girl commented.

Carter stopped right around the corner, waiting for Aron’s answer, his blunt nails digging deep into his palms, his breath hanging by the next words that were going to come out of his best friend’s mouth.

“Carter is not weird,” Aron’s stern reply came right away. “He is very smart. And he sees things we don’t see. You know, like he has a deeper understanding, a different one, of everything.”

The girl made a small sound, to illustrate her disbelief.

“That guy says magic should exist because it would totally be easy to demonstrate. Don’t tell me you believe in magic, Aron,” the girl laughed.

“I believe in friendship,” Aron said back, in a curt voice.

By the way heavy steps were heard walking away, Aron must have left the girl standing there without another word.

Aron had been more than just his best friend if he was to think about it. He had basically taught Carter how to behave less like a weirdo, like that girl had said. And not by pressing Carter to be different, but by dragging Carter everywhere with him and teaching him by example. He could still be plenty of weird, aka himself, when he was with Aron alone. Otherwise, he knew exactly what to say and how to behave, although it had often felt like a learned lesson, not something coming from within.

“You should let Aron come see you,” his mother interrupted his train of thought. “You can’t be still upset. I know I shouldn’t bother you with this,” she hesitated for a second, “and we never talked, but why were you so upset Aron got married?”

I can’t tell you, mom. Really, I can’t.

You can’t tell yourself.

Shut up, can’t you see I’m busy?

Doing what?

Soul searching.

“I will see Aron,” Carter exhaled. “And I should get back to my own apartment. I need to get back to work. If I lazy around your house too much, I might forget all the programming I’ve learned in my life,” he told his mom. “Plus, you two should go on your expeditions and such.”

His mom’s hand was warm on his shoulder.

“All this time, we told ourselves that you would be okay,” she said, with regret deeply set in her voice. “That you’re smart, brilliant, and mature for your age. It is our fault,” she sighed. “A kid should not find ways to cope with his parents always away from home.”

“Mom, I’m not a kid anymore,” he protested. “And you were right. I am okay.”

“That you seem to be,” his mother replied, squeezing his shoulder lightly. “But I cannot help but feel that we should have been an important part of your life, and we only filled that sparingly.”

“Don’t worry. I wasn’t lonely.”

“You had Aron,” his mother said simply. “I remember how we tried to convince you to come with us on our expeditions, those that weren’t in places with extreme conditions, and that you could learn for school remotely, but you just said ‘no’. Just so you know, my boy, that is not something a mother takes lightly,” she laughed. “Especially since you told me you could not leave Aron alone. Your father agreed that we should not force you and take you with us. We were lucky to have the Ruskin family as our neighbors. We still are,” his mother looked over, at the neighboring house, as if she could see Aron’s parents, standing in the lawn, like actors waiting to take their rightful place on a stage. “They are a bit upset you so far refused to see Aron. At least you had nothing against us having them over.”

“Aron is … just something else,” Carter said softly.

“Carter, I’ve never asked you … but could it be that you are in lo …”

“Mom, stop worrying,” Carter stopped his mom from saying it out loud.

She smiled as if that was the only confirmation he needed.

“I will go back to my apartment, and I’ll contact Aron. I need to pay him back for the medical expenses, so don’t worry anymore.”

He kissed her gently on one cheek and got to his feet to walk inside. How the hell was he going to face Aron? But it was not like he could avoid the guy indefinitely.


It was quite strange to move around his small apartment, like a few weeks had been enough for him to forget it how it was like living there. The place felt too cramped, which had never bothered him before since he was against wasting space. And, while his home seemed too small for him, his own body seemed too large.

And clumsy. He was ready to blame it on the fact that he was still undergoing physical therapy for all the muscle cramps he was still suffering from, but that was not it. Being Alex Ruskin, if only for a little while, had left its mark on him.

But the devil always lay in the details, and not the big things were bothering him. Not the fact that he was no longer a twink with no hair on his body, who moved nimbly and definitely could suck himself, if he wanted to.

It was the sensation in his left ring finger. Or, better said, the lack of a certain sensation. While being Alex, he had found it natural to wear the guy’s wedding ring, and it was rather weird that he would miss having it on his finger. Too often his attention was drawn to the naked finger, like he was always expecting to see something there.

He needed to call Aron and sort out everything.


Look who decided to rear his ugly head.

I’m always here, thinking.

Yeah, but not what I commend you to think.

Could we just stop beating around the bush? What are we going to tell Aron?

Nothing about the body swap, that’s for sure.

We can’t say anything about Alex the cheater, either.

It’s for the best just to keep our mouth shut, and make polite conversation.

Like what?

We can talk about the weather.

With hesitant hands, he took his phone from the table. Aron was not among his contacts, which he had erased a day after Aron’s wedding. But he knew the guy’s phone number by heart. The old one, and the new one Aron got after the New Entertainment incident. Since Aron had gotten his old phone from the scumbag reporter, Carter decided to go for that one.

“Hi,” he mumbled.

His throat was dry, his palms were sweating, and the simple word he managed had sounded twisted, like spoken by someone who was drunk.

“Hey, buddy,” Aron’s voice came through, exhilarated and relieved. “How are you? Is that pain medication in full swing then? And how’s your shoulder? The doctor told me …”

He needed to stop Aron.

Fuck, I can’t do this. It hurts just to hear him.

You have no choice. You don’t want him to hate you, right?

How come there’s no ‘us’ in this?

Frankly, I think you’re doing this to yourself, and I don’t want to be part of it.

“No, no, I mean, I still take some pills. Some are rectangular. I think. I mean. Aron, listen, I need to pay you back,” he spoke, this time without drawling the words like someone on too much ibuprofen.

“Ah, don’t worry about that,” Aron said energetically. “When can I come see you?”

See me? Why?

“I need to see you,” Aron continued, this time his voice getting deeper and serious. “You can’t avoid me forever. I can’t stand it. I won’t allow it anymore. My mom and dad told me you’re okay, but I need to see you with my own eyes.”

“Why?” Carter asked the only thing he could think of.

A big question mark was stretching all over his brain, marking every nervous cell.

“Because I need to talk to you, and I can’t do it over the phone.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Both. I don’t want people overhearing our conversation, for once, and I also want to see you. Say yes.”

He gripped the cell phone hard in his hand. Aron was the same as always. Whenever Carter got caught in a long string of questions, Aron was always there to suggest the correct answer.

“Yes,” he replied.

“That’s great! I can come at your place after work today. Is that okay with you? Have you started working?”

“Yeah, but I can take a break,” he admitted. “I work from home,” he needed to explain.

Redundant information? Stilted conversation?

We’re not handling this well.

Oh, fuck, we’re heading towards a huge ass disaster, aren’t we?

Yeah, but …

Aron wants to see me. He will. End of story.

There was a short pause at the other end.

“I can barely wait to talk to you,” Aron said gently. “It’s been too long. Just … know this, Carter. I’ll always be your friend.”

He didn’t even say goodbye, and just cut off the conversation. There was just this much he could handle.