I could hardly sleep that night. With the amount of tossing and turning that I did on the bed, I'm surprised that Joel was able to sleep either. Then again, after traveling around town on foot all day, 'pretending' to be in school...he was knocked out from the second he laid out on my bedroom floor clear through to the next morning. I was somewhat thankful for that. I don't think I would have been able to fake a sensible conversation when this Chris situation was weighing so heavily on my mind.
He really just....despised me. All of that flirting and those sweet mushy moments of weakness, that unrestricted desire and that nobility...gone. Literally, in the blink of an eye. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd miss anything about Chris. I always figured I'd dance the tango on the rooftop the day he said he didn't want to have anything else to do with me. But...the strange thing is...I honestly 'feel' his absence. It's like a huge part of me was suddenly snatched away, and it left this big gaping hole in the center of me. It's the kind of thing that made me wonder if I was more than just slightly flattered by all the attention he had been giving me. If those glances in the locker room and playful smiles weren't just a cute way of sparing his feelings. Shit...I don't know what I felt, I just...I hate the fact that he's so pissed at me. More than that, I hate the fact that I'm so helpless to do anything about it. He could really hurt me. He could really hurt Tanner. What are we gonna do? What CAN we do?
Thoughts like these....so very hard to sleep with thoughts like these.
The next morning came way too soon for my tastes. My alarm clock might as well have been a screaming banshee in my ear after so few hours of sleep. There was no rolling over and ignoring it. Besides, Joel was liable to smash my alarm clock to pieces if it went on for too much longer. I hit the button and tried to force myself out of bed. My body felt weak, my eyes were burning, and all I wanted to do was let the warm sheets of this bed carry me back into dreamland for another ten minutes. Just ten minutes. God...it would feel so good. But before long, my mom came knocking at my bedroom door. "Derrick? You awake in there?"
"Yeah....I'm up." I yawned.
"Well get yourself ready so you boys can have some breakfast before you leave." She said, and left to go back to the kitchen.
I heard Joel stretch out on the floor, his muscles and joints popping quietly as he returned to the land of the living. "Dude...I've got the 'hardest' morning wood, right now." He said sleepily.
"Gee, don't get too 'personal' or anything." I swung my legs around to put my feet on the floor, and scratched my head. Even sitting up, the pillow was still calling out for me to lay back down. What a choice to make. Get more comfy sleep...or prepare myself for another full day of social battering and unwarranted detention. Ah, just let me get up and get it overwith. I stood up and grabbed some underwear so I could take a shower. I looked down for a second, and...Jesus! Joel really wasn't kidding! He was sticking straight up under that blanket, and that thing looked like it was ready to go off any second. "Dude! Do something with that, will ya?" I said, pretending to shield my eyes.
"I WILL just as soon as you stop watching me, pervert!" He giggled.
I swatted him gently with my t-shirt as I headed out of the room. "Don't touch anything in here but 'you', got it? Not until your wash your hands."
"Screw that, I'm busting a nut all over your pillow case so you can mash your pretty little face in it when you sleep."
"Ugh! Nasty!" I left the room and got into the shower to clean up. Not that being clean and nicely dressed was going to make much of a difference. I'd still be a target for 'something', I'm sure of it. Chris had protected me a bit from some of their teasing, but I'm sure that word is going to get around fast that he's back to his old self again. And with him out of the way, the other kids were sure to rip into me with everything they've been building up at every given opportunity from now on. This is just NOT gonna be a good day.
When I came back in the room, I was super careful to open the door. Just in case Joel was still in the act of relieving himself. Luckily, he was already up and getting dressed. "Don't worry, I'm done. Don't be a spaz." He grinned. I couldn't help but look around my room as I walked back inside. For a wad of kleenex, or a t-shirt, or a rag...just something that would let me erase the notion that he would actually let loose on my pillow case. "So what's your mom making for breakfast? I'm starved."
"Um...I dunno. Smells like hashbrowns, maybe some eggs." I said, still searching and watching my step.
"Aw dude, that sounds awesome, I could eat just about anything." He looked up and saw me scanning the room before I sat down on my bed. I gave my pillow a long hard look, afraid to turn it over. "Dude, what are you doing?"
"Where did you do it?" I asked.
"You know what. Where'd ya do it?"
"I told you, it's on your pillow, sweetheart." He giggled at me, and I looked at my pillow with a frown on my face. That's when he chuckled outloud. "I'm just KIDDING, Derrick! Geez, how sick do you think I am? I used a sock." Thankfully, I saw a sock on the bedroom floor. "She's got the softest, tightest, cotton mouth in town. Hehehe!"
"I knew I shouldn't have asked."
"Ooh, but it's kinda hot that you did, baby." Joel said, adopting a slightly effeminate posture.
"Mmmm, it would have been hotter if you had let me watch, big boy."
"It might have been REALLY hot if, while you were in the shower, I let your MOM watch!" He couldn't help but laugh when he saw my jaw drop.
"DUDE!!! You are TOTALLY crossing the line now, man!" I said and pushed passed him to get to my closet and get dressed. He can be an extreme weirdo someimes.
We both managed to get to the kitchen table shortly after and scarf down some microwaved waffles and scrambled eggs. My mom had a way of whipping up a full meal out of almost anything if we had enough in the fridge. How she can do that so flawlessly every single day is amazing to me. Especially wth an extra 'guest' draining our food supply even faster than normal. Sometimes, I wonder if she's reaching the point of asking me why Joel is still waking up with us every morning after a week of spending he night at my house. He doesn't exactly live 'close' to this place, and after we had gone so long without hanging out, it didn't make a whole lot of sense for us to suddenly be bossom buddies again. I saw her give us a look this morning, and while it was subtle, I could instantly tell that she knew somehing wasn't quite right with this picture. Luckily for us, she also seemed preoccupied with the towing bill for the car that we left on the side of the road. It kept her mind busy enough to not persue any questions about Joel right away, but another day or two and she's gonna start snooping around for some answers. I've gotta find a way to hide him out a little better from now on.
I started to put on the shoes that Chris had given me to replace my old ones...but I remembered what he told me yesterday. He doesn't wanna see me in them. Ever again. Sighhhh...so I kicked them off and got my old worn out shoes from the closet. Geez, they looked so much worse now that I had been wearing a decent pair for the past week. It almost hurt my feet just to put them back on. Ah well, what am I gonna do? Go barefoot?
As if Joel had sensed the emotional weight on my shoulders, he asked me, "What's your deal today? You're being strange."
"Just got a lot on my mind, I guess. It's nothing major."
"If you say so. But you've got the same look on your face that my uncle Tim had when the judge sentenced him to an eight year bid up at Joliet prison." He smiled, then looked down at my shoes and raised an interested eyebrow. "Decided to come back from rich boy heaven, I see. Must have been one hell of a crash landing."
"Don't start with me today, ok? I really don't need that right now." I said, and slung my backpack over my shoulder. Surprisingly, Joel backed off with the comments. Something I didn't expect upon my first request. Geez, my face must have really been obvious about my worries this morning. "Sorry. I just....I've gotta go." Joel just shook his head and stepped aside to let me leave. Who knows? Maybe today won't be so bad afterall. I mean, Chris is mad and hurt at the moment, but it can't last forever. Right?
I got on the bus, and took my usual seat. It was hardly as comfortable as my bed at home, but I was tempted to catch a few winks anyway by laying my head up aganst the window. I couldn't get rid of that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It bubbled and churned with every rotation of the busses wheels, eating me alive from the inside. What if Chris actually tells somebody? What if he's soooo pissed at me, that he just...ruins the rest of my entire life in a single day? How am I ever gonna be able to hold my head up in that school again? And what's something like this gonna do to Tanner? I've already seen how his family reacts to people who are....'sexually questionable'. They'll be merciless in their judgements of him, and it'll only get worse when they find out that I'M involved. There's no way that any of this is just gonna disappear. No way at all. I'm just gonna have to deal with his wrath until I can come up with some way to avoid his tricks. And without having him scream my sexuality out to the whole school. Easier said than done, I'm sure.
I was looking forward to having Tanner's warm presence next to me on the bus today. Just a sweet smile from the most beautiful boy on Earth to soothe my senses. I began to feel my usual mellow fit of anxiety when I saw that we were close to his neighborhood. I sat up in my seat, and lightly teased my hair with my fingers as I waited for the bus to slow down. But.....it didn't. We were getting really close to where Tanner's stop was, and I thought that maybe the busdriver's mind was elsewhere, and he was going to slam on the breaks any second now. But he didn't. I caught a very short glimpse of my boyfriend on the corner as the bus whizzed right by him and continued down the street! What the hell is he DOING? I got up out of my seat and walked up to the front. "Um...excuse me? I think you missed a stop back there."
The driver looked at his list and replied, "No I didn't. That stop isn't on my route anymore." WHAT???
"What do you mean?"
"I mean it's been cancelled as of this morning. Now please return to your seat while the bus is in motion."
"But...that doesn't make any..."
"Please return to your seat while the bus is in motion." He said again, and I had to slowly mope my way back to my seat again. There's no way that this is happening. Chris can't just change a BUS schedule....can he? That's impossible! As I plopped back down in my seat, I found my head drooping down as low as it could go without it actually falling off. Now I can't even ride with my boyfriend on the way to school anymore. God, this sucks!
I don't think a bus ride had ever been so long as it was this morning. By the time I got to school, I was literally stir crazy from not having my morning contact with Tanner. I'm sure that he could be driven to school easily, but what the hell was the deal with him being left behind in the first place? Chris is really beginning to play dirty now. I tried to wait around at the front door to see if I could catch Tanner before he got to first period. But it looks like he was gonna run late, and already hall monitors were pushing us 'stragglers' to get to class. Shit...I guess I'll have to catch him later. Hopefully Chris didn't have him 'sent off' to the fucking MOON!
Needless to say, the beginning of the day was dreadful at best. Just as I was hoping to get a break from Chris' technological assault, I got a note in my very first period class to go back to room 207 at the end of the school day for detention...again. But not for ONE day. It was for THREE days! Consecutively. Do any of my teachers do ANYTHING besides look at their stupid clipboards and read to me what it says? Are they complete IDIOTS? Not a single teacher questioned the fact that I've never given a single one of them any trouble before. They just handed me a pass and told me to be there. I couldn't even argue my point long enough to inspire a thought or two as to why this would be happening all of the sudden. I doubt they even needed a reason anymore to send me off. For all I know, they were probably looking down on me even worse than the students, figuring that bad boy behavior was 'normal' for someone from my 'less than golden' background. The worst part was...I couldn't make a whole bunch of noise about it. If I protested too strongly, and they decided to investigate, it might lead back to Mitch. And if it leads back to Mitch, then it'll lead back to Chris. And he's already threatened to out me to the whole school if that happens. So I'm stuck between the apathetic teachers and the mean spirited students, with no real desire to sacrifice it all to make it stop. I don't think I've ever felt so trapped.
"So that's it for today. Your History papers are due on Friday. No exceptions, no late credit. I want them typed and formatted correctly and on my desk at the beginning of class. Understood?" My History teacher could be strict when it came to deadlines. He always made sure to lay down the law just moments before the bell rang. Just as the rest of the class was grabbing its stuff to file out into the hallway, I meekly approached the teacher's desk.
"Um...Mr. Hamlin...I have a bit of a...problem."
"Make it quick, Derrick. I've got another class in five minutes." He said, giving me minimal attention as he gathered his papers.
"It's about the report for Friday, sir. I might need...a day or two extention on it. JUST a day or two..."
"No extentions." He said firmly.
"Wait...you don't understand..."
"I understand perfectly. You want an extention. I'm not giving you one. It sounds like you're the one who's having trouble understanding."
Geez...HE'S in a good mood today. "Mr. Hamlin...I don't have a way to type it up or format it by Friday."
"The school computer lab...it's only open until five o'clock during the week."
He took a sip of his coffee. "And? I don't see the problem."
"I have..." My eyes drooped a bit, "...I'll be in detention for the next couple of days after school. I can't make it before the lab closes."
"I certainly hope you aren't using your time in detention to justify being late with your homework, Derrick. If you're in detention, it's your own fault. So find some way to work around it."
Dammit! "I can't...."
"Why don't you just use your computer at home, and get it finished?" He asked me, sounding slightly frustrated.
"I don't have a computer at home, sir."
"Well can't you just 'get' one? Get a laptop or something. You can find one 'cheap' for about five or six hundred bucks." Did he just say 'cheap'?
"Mr. Hamlin, I don't HAVE five or six hundred bucks!" I started to raise my voice, but lowered it again to beg his conscience to understand my position. "Please...I can't...I can't just go out and 'buy' a computer. My mom and I are barely making ends meet as it is. I'll do the report, I just need a couple of extra days to finish it." He gave me a look, and I could already tell that he wasn't gonna budge on this. "Mr. Hamlin, I'm one of the best students you've got in this class. I worked my ASS off for you. Can't you just make this ONE exception to give me the same chance as everybody else?"
"You already have the same chance as everybody else, Derrick. And they have the tools they need to get the work done. I can't give you special treatment over the other kids just because you landed yourself in detention. I'm sorry." He closed his books and stood up from the desk to get to his next class before he was late. "I suggest you get together with a friend and use their computer instead."
He motioned for me to head for the door so he could lock the classroom up behind us. And I rolled my eyes...defeated, yet again. "Sure...I'll just go to one of my many good 'friends' in this place and borrow their computer. Thanks a lot for understanding." I grumbled sarcastically, not that it had much of an effect. Mr. Hamlin wouldn't care either way. He locked the door and walked away without so much as another word. My head just ached from being stressed out over so much at once. I leaned up against the wall as many of the other kids passed me in the hall, and just...removed myself from the picture for a few moments. I didn't wanna be here. I didn't wanna play this game anymore. 'Just BUY a laptop', he says. Oh gee, why didn't I think of that? Yeah, I'll just buy a six hundred dollar laptop so I can participate. And after that, I'll buy myself a Ferrari to drive myself back and forth to school every day instead of riding the bus. And then I'll buy enough groceries so my mom and I can both go to bed on a full stomach for a change. All I need is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars to be worthy of playing with everybody else. That way they'll give a shit whether or not I'm able to keep up. I'm sure it'll all be great.
Just then, a small group of girls walked by me giggling, and the boy behind them pointed down at my shoes. "Damn, dude! You want me to shine those for ya?" And they laughed at me as they walked away. "What a loser." I pulled one of my feet back and sorta hid it behind my leg, as though that was gonna do any good. Yeah...some days it hurt. Other days...it REALLY hurt. It's hard to hold your head up when the people with half your heart have twice as much pride.
I don't even wanna 'fit in' anymore....I just wanna be left alone.
I suppose I'll talk to Tanner and use his computer to work on my project. I know he'll be happy to have me over, and it will be awesome to spend some time together, even with his barraccuda bitch of a mother in the house. I can just see the look on her face now. Like, 'Oh...it's your friend again. Come to siphon away some more of our valuable time and money. Let me get your poor friend some crackers and water. That is what their kind eats, isn't it?' It's become so hard to look that woman in the face without wanting to stab her repeatedly with something sharp. But I guess I can bear the humiliation for a few hours this week to finish my report. If I let my grades slip now, my semester is gonna totally go to shit. And this school isn't gonna let me stay if my grades slide too low. I hate needing Tanner to do stuff like this for me. I feel like such a user for asking all the time. One day...I swear I'm gonna live better than this. One day I'll have enough money to make things easy. At least easier than they are now.
I briefly caught a glimpse of Tanner in the hallway before lunch and called out to him. He seemed relieved. It made me feel such a level of peace to be able to connect with his warm gaze for a moment or two. Everything about him was a comfort to me, and I felt myself physically relax as he hurried over to say hello. "Dude, what happened this morning?" I asked.
"Chris evidently got Mitch to send out a typed message to the school office that was supposedly from my dad. It said that I was cancelling my bus service and would be driven to school from now on."
"What? Can he do that?"
"At this school? Sure. Parents get personal drivers for their kids all the time. The note had a faked signature on it and everything. So I've got to get my dad to straighten it out. It could take up to a week to be put back on the bus route."
"How can they just put an order through without checking up on it first?" I couldn't believe this was actually happening.
"Unfortunately, these parents around here can make quite a lot of noise if they have their requests questioned. They're used to getting their own way and having people bend over backwards for them all the time. The people in the main office don't wanna deal with them, Principal Payton certainly doesn't wanna hear about it. So instead of being verbally ripped apart by snobbish mommies and daddies on a power trip, they just put everything through as it comes in." Tanner said, and he could see the hurt on my face for even getting him into this. "Derrick, it's ok. Really. We'll fix it."
"No. I'LL fix it. I'll fix it today. Don't you worry." I said. "Come on, let's get something to eat."
"I...I can't. My lunch has been switched to a monitored study hall in the North wing. I have to be there." When Tanner said the words, my heart literally broke. Right then and there. Chris was systematically stripping away EVERY single moment that we had together. With the exception of the quiet time we'd be forced to endure from opposite ends of the room in detention after school. "Look, I'll find you before detention today. We'll talk. Ok?" Tanner's soft hazel eyes warmed me up inside with their concern, and as he brushed some of his light brown locks back out of his eyes, his hand reached out delicately to grab mine for a moment. There were other kids in the hall, so it couldn't last for more than a second or two. But that one moment was an eternity for the both of us. His fingers were so soft, so loving...it was the most beauty that I had experienced all day. "We'll get through this. Chris just needs to cool down a bit."
"This isn't fair. He can't just...make all of these changes without somebody noticing. Somebody has GOT to see that he's totally blackmailing us!" I said in a near panic.
"I know, Derrick. I know. But for right now we've gotta keep or heads until we can figure out what we're gonna do. Ok?" He said, and just then the bell rang. "Shit, I'm late. I've gotta be there for attendance or they lock the door. I'll find you later, ok? I love you." He released my hand...and suddenly all of the color in my world began to fade again. The further he got away from me, nearly running to his 'study hall' on the other side of the school...the more I felt his absence. And that's when I began to get angry. Ok...so Chris wants to play games. Fine, he had himself some fun. But I'm going to see to it that this stupid little project of his comes crashing down around him. And SOON!
By the time gym class had rolled around, I was just a brain impulse short of punching Chris in the face and letting him work THAT out! I found myself marching down to that locker room with a vengence, ready to confront him head to head on all this. You can't imagine how aggravated I was when I saw him sitting on a bench, lacing up his sneakers. I angrily stomped my way forward, and I didn't care who was watching, I wanted answers, and I wanted them now. However, by the time I had gotten anywhere near him, a few of his random cronies stepped in the way. Johnson, the boy who had thrown my shoes in the trash last week, was right in the middle...grinning at me with a sickening smirk. "Whoah, whoah! Where's the fire, fag boy?" He said.
Chris looked over his shoulder at me for a moment, his eyes hardening instantly, and then he simply went back to getting dressed for class. "Get out of the way, I need to talk to Chris."
But the group of boys only tightened up their position. "Sorry, kid. But right now, Chris doesn't want to talk to anyone."
"He'll talk to me..." I said, moving forward, and Johnson put his hand on my chest to stop me.
"He doesn't wanna see anybody, bitch." The biggest of them said. "Especially you."
"Get your hand off of me!" I said, slapping Johnson's hand away. This was, of course, before my brain was able to process the fact that any one of these guys could probably pound me to dust singlehandedly with little to no effort if they wanted to. I think my anger had just gotten the best of me.
"You don't GET it, do you, junior? The free ride is over. He's tired of being seen with a loser like you. So why don't you pack up your 'hobo stick' full of clothes and go change in the girls locker room where you belong? This place is now officially off limits to you."
"Can you just stop being an asshole for a minute and let me see him?" I said, trying to move forward again. This time, I got a hard shove backwards, and the whole group stepped forward.
"You see....NOW you're starting to piss me off!" Johnson hissed through gritted teeth. "Get the fuck out of here! GO!" He shoved me again, and this time, when I pushed back, he slammed me hard up against the lockers! The impact rattled the walls, and the wind was knocked out of me instantly. My backpack fell off of my shoulder, and one of them brutally kicked its contents halfway across the locker room floor. "Hey, Charley...keep an eye out for Coach Parker! I'm gonna fuck this little punk up once and for all!"
I was still trying to catch my breath when he grabbed me by the front of my shirt, and I knew that I'd be lucky to get in a punch or two once he started wailing on me. This was definitely gonna leave a mark.
"Hey Johnson...don't worry, I got it." Chris said. Thank God. I wasn't looking forward to visiting the hospital anytime soon.
"What? Aw, c'mon Chris...just let me take a swing on this little sissy!" Johnson had his fist raised, ready to hit me with everything he had, but Chris got up from the bench and put a hand on his shoulder.
"I said I got it. Go on. Give us a minute." Chris' voice was calm, but I could still taste the venom in it. He might have just saved me from getting my ass kicked, but I doubt he did it for any other reason than he wanted me to suffer through more of his daily tortures. If I got suspended, I doubt he could reach me at home. Then again, for all I know, he might have Mitch reroute a fucking plane to crash through our roof.
Johnson let go of my shirt and slowly lowered his fist. It was one of those times that I was glad the others held Chris in such high regard. "You know what, slug? Today's your lucky day. But who knows what's on the menu for tomorrow?" He gave me another sudden push into the lockers, and stared at me, his face only inches from mine. "Catch you later, geek."
"Yeah, keep your eyes open, stud!" Said another boy as he pushed my head to the side.
Each of the boys took a litle poke at me on their way out, telling me to 'watch my back' in the days to come. Chris' little brat pack of bullies might have listened to him this time, but I'd hate to meet up with him when he's not around. I wish I was strong enough to beat the living shit out of each and every single one of them. It was humiliating enouh to have to tolerate their snide remarks and embarrassing insults. But to have them physically push me around without really having much of a chance to fight back...that just makes you feel like less than nothing. I think I can see why some boys end up bringing 'guns' to school.
I kept my head down until they were gone, so as not to provoke them any further. And as soon as they left, Chris approached me. He still had his shirt off, still smelled sweetly of soap. But he was nowhere even remotely close to smiling. "You wanted to talk...so talk."
"So you got your jerk friends to protect you now? From little old me?" I said with a sniffle.
"Like I need it, twerp." He replied.
"Chris..." I lifted my eyes for a second, and what I saw in Chris' expression was so confusing. So undefinable. "...Hasn't this gone on long enough? Aren't you sick of taking your anger out on us?"
He gave me a hurt look. "Us..." He whispered to himself.
"YES! US! Me and Tanner! Get over it already!" I was still angry at the helplessness of the situation. Still so unbelievably enraged that he would threaten my whole existence by exposing me in front of everybody else when I would have NEVER told anybody about him and his feelings for me. But, through all of his frustration and all of his wicked intentions...I could still see him hurting. It was in plain sight whenever his eyes connected to mine. "Chris...please. I just...I just want this to stop."
"I'm not finished yet."
"Why? What else could you possibly do to hurt me?" I said, and this time, it was Chris' eyes that dropped down to look at his feet. "Dude, what I did was....really fucked up. I know that, and I'm sorry. I lied to you because I already had someone special and I was trying so hard not to hurt you." I said softly, and for a moment, I thought he might be listening. "Chris, you did some really beautiful things for me. We had some awesome times together, and I loved every minute of it. You showed me a side of yourself that I didn't even know existed, and I really appreciate that person for everything he is inside. But....Chris....I'm in love with someone else. Someone who makes me feel...special. I promised him my heart and he promised me his...and we're just happy together. Truly happy." The words left my mouth softly, and when Chris raised his head again, a single tear ran down his cheek. "Please understand that. Please?"
Chris wiped the tear away, and said, "You have no idea....how 'little' that means to me right now."
"No sweetheart, you had your chance to give your little pathetic speech. Now it's my turn." He growled. "Let me tell you what I see. I see a scared little boy who fucked around with the wrong boy's heart, and now he'll say anything to get out of being punished for it."
"No! It's not like that..."
"Yes, it's exactly like that. It has to be. It's the only thing that makes sense." Another tear fell from his eye, as his voice began to tremble with a mixture of pain and anger. "Because...I can't bear to think that there was ever a time when you actually cared for me. I wouldn't be able to take it if I thought for one second...that just a small part of you actually loved me at all." He sniffled a bit, the damn almost ready to break, and he did his best to shut it all down.
"I know you don't 'hate' me, Chris. Not as much as you pretend to." I said. "Please...if you love me...then please stop hurting me. Just let me go."
Chris thought about it for a second, and then slowly turned his back on me. "Don't bother getting dressed for gym. You're going back to detention." He muttered softly.
There was a long moment of silence between us. I just...stared at his back while he hid his face from me. "You can't even look at me, can you?" I asked, with no answer. "Then you really are a heartless son of a bitch. You know what? After all those wonderful things you said to me, after all the sweet things you did for me...I was actually pretty flattered. I honestly thought that I had misjudged you completely. Heh, you really had me fooled, Chris. I had you wrong all along." I told him. "There's really nothing to love about you at all."
He slipped his gym shirt over his head, still facing the other way. "You can pick up your detention pass from Coach Parker out on the field..."
"FUCK YOU!" I shouted. "You know, with all of these schedule changes and detentions, somebody is gonna figure out that none of this adds up! Sooner or later, you and Mitch are gonna get caught!"
"Then I suggest you and your 'fuck-buddy' get together and think about how you two are gonna do everything in your power to keep that from happening, huh? Because you know what happens if anybody finds out." He said, and then closed his locker and locked it. He took two steps towards me and looked me in the eye. "You're right, you know? I still love you, Derrick. I love you soooo much. To the point where I feel I'm 'poisoned' by it. You'll always be the most beautiful boy in the world to me." Then he added. "But if you think for one second that that's gonna stop me from telling your secret...you're wrong. Because hurting you is all I've got left to hold on to at this point. It's the only reason I get up in the morning anymore." He said, and used his fingertips to brush some of my blond locks away from my eyes. "I don't hate you, Derrick...but give me time. I'm warming up." He left me in that locker room by myself, sulking in a corner, waiting to wake up from this nightmare. The game had already been won, and there was no way for me to defend myself. I couldn't get through his anger, I couldn't appeal to his conscience, I couldn't even trigger the love he once had inside for me. There was nothing else for me to do. With a heavy heart, I picked up my scattered books and papers, and shoved it back into my backpack, slinging it over my shoulder. Back to Room 207...and another 40 minutes of quiet time.
The rest of the day was long. Excruciating, to put it lightly. And just as the school day was coming to an end, I still had more detention to look forward to. Tanner and I did meet up briefly outside of the door, but were hardly allowed to say more than hello to one another before we were sucked into the detention hall by the monitor and told to separate. More time to think. More time to wallow in misery. More time to pray for a swift solution. More time to have those prayers denied. Detention is just a temporary prison created to bore the living shit out of anybody inside. The biggest entertainment was seeing a student secretly toss a paper airplane or launch a spitball. Outside of that, the whole damn place was a tomb for the spirit. I was ready to jump out of the window by the time it was over.
"Do you wanna ride home?" Tanner asked me with a stretch. He had almost fallen asleep twice in detention, and I was nodding off every ten minutes. But there's no sleeping either. So the monitor kept an extremely close eye on us, banging on her desk or slamming a drawer whenever she saw us getting comfrtable. I can't take much more of that place.
"It's....it's far, Tanner. I can probably catch the #302 bus and just walk the rest of the way home."
"Don't be silly. I'm not going to have you walk all that way and pay money for the bus when I can just have you dropped off." He said.
Sighhh...I'm being a leech again, aren't I? "Are...are you sure? Please don't go out of your way if..."
"Shhhh! It's done." He said, and gave me a sweet smile. The way his sparkling eyes could just land on you so softly...it was like a religious experience. Despite everything wrong in my life at the moment, he had the uncanny ability to instantly take it all away. I fell in love with him over and over again 100 times a day, and each time was a completely different sensation. It never took much to remember why he was my first and only choice.
We started walking out to the place where his driver would be waiting for him, and I said, "I don't know if I can stand another couple of days in that place. It's seriously driving me mad."
"Well, at least I got some homework done in between naps. Not like I had anything else to do."
"I can't even do that. My biggest project this week is a history paper that has to be typed, formatted, and printed...I won't even be able to get to the computer lab until Friday, and that's when it's due." It made me cringe to ask, but I had to do it. "Tanner...is it ok if I came over and used your computer for a few days? It won't take me long to finish, honestly."
"Sure you can. Why even ask?" He said with a shrug. "You can come over today if you wanna get an early start on it. Sascha's cooking stuffed peppers tonight, I think. You'll love 'em. You can have dinner with us and we'll take you home afterwards. Cool?" He never had an issue with sharing anything of his with me...but it really sucked for me to not ever give anything back. Anything of real value, that is. I know they say that love is the most precious gift you can give and all...but it's really not enough when you want to do so much more.
"Thanks Tanner....." I mumbled softly, barely above a whisper.
As we climbed into the back seat together, Tanner looked over and saw the gentle pout on my face. He already knew what was bugging me, but he didn't really make an issue of bringing it up. He just took a hold of my hand and said, "I'm glad you're coming over, Derrick. I could really use the company." He gave me a smile, and I gave him a half grin in return. Then he whispered, "You know...it's gonna be hard to keep my hands to myself long enough for you to do homework, right?"
"Hehehe..." I should have known better than to crack a smile around him.
"Ahhh, there's the laugh that I was looking for." He said, and although we remained pretty quiet for the rest of the ride to his house...he never once let go of my hand. Never once.
We went in through the front door and were starting up the steps to his room, when I heard his mother's voice coming from around the corner. "Tanner, honey? Is that you?" My spirits sank directly into my shoes, and I found myself involuntarily rolling my eyes.
Tanner was quiet for a moment, and his hand moved up to rub the small of my back. "Yeah, it's me. I'm just gonna go up and do some homework, ok?"
"Well, Sascha's almost done cooking. You should really eat while dinner is still hot..." His mother came walking around the corner, martini in hand, and Tanner took his hand off of me. "...Oh..." She said, that disgusting tone of false politeness creeping into her voice like so many times before. As much as I hated that woman, I never felt so small as I did in her presence. "I didn't realize you had your...friend with you." She tapped her long fingernails on her glass for a moment, and then said, "Tanner...can I speak to you in the kitchen for a second, please?"
Then, almost as if he was being protective of me, I felt his hand rise slightly to timidly land on the small of my back again. It wasn't any big event in most people's eyes, but to us it was a shocking display of...dare I say it...affection. "Mother...we have a lot of work to do." He said.
"It will only take a moment. I'm sure Derrick won't mind." She replied, and slithered her way into the kitchen, fully expecting her obedient son to follow her without any further comment.
I could only imagine what awful things she was getting ready to say to him. I could just imagine. But Tanner said, "Go on upstairs and turn the computer on, k? I'll be up in a sec."
"Don't get yourself in any trouble because of me, ok?" I pleaded.
"I'm not in trouble. It's nothing. Honest. Just start booting everything up for me. The password is 'Akira'." He said with an adorably shy smile and a wink. It was almost enough to make me feel better. Almost.
I went half way up the steps as he walked into the kitchen. Him and his mom spoke quietly, but I could tell that it was a heated conversation. It was the same old shit. With her trying to convince him that I'm some rancid piece of undesireable street trash, and him trying to defend me as well as he can without letting it slip that we happen to be in love. I didn't have to hear a single whispered word to get the gist of it. So I just shuffled my way up the rest of the stairs to his room, turned on his computer, and waited for him to join me.
His entire mood had changed whenhe entered the room. He barely looked at me. He seemed a bit hurt, but frustrated beyond belief. When he finally closed the door and raised his stare to meet my own, he said, "We're just gonna eat our dinner up here when it's ready. Ok?" Jesus, she doesn't even want me at the same table as her? Or maybe Tanner just put his foot down and that was the best way for him to rebel within the limits that he was allowed. Who knows?
As the computer warmed up, Tanner was pacing back and forth in a heated manner. I could almost feel the warmth of his anger from across the room. Whatever his mother said to him...it must have been pretty insulting. Great. I've been here all of five minutes, and I'm already screwing things up. "Are you ok?" I asked.
"I can...I can go if you want..."
"No!" He snapped. "You're not fucking going anywhere! She's just being pigheaded and stupid, and I'm NOT gonna let her talk down to my boyfriend!" He said, pacing even faster. "She never listens to me. I don't understand why she can't just stop being so fucking cruel all the time and just leave us alone. How can she be so mean?"
"You know...this was a bad idea. I'll find another way to do this." I said, standing up from his computer chair.
"Derrick, no. Stay. Please?"
"Your mom looked mad."
"I don't care. You're not her guest, you're mine. And I say you get to stay. Ok?" He said, looking into my eyes. "Ok?" He said a bit louder. I nodded, but I honestly didn't want to be here if the beast downstairs was so determined to toss me out with yesterday's garbage. "I love you." He said, and he kissed my lips softly, his hands resting on my cheeks. I never realized how much Imissed the pleasure of his kiss until I was connected with it again.
It was brief, and we both had a lot on our minds a the moment, so it's not like we could really enjoy it as much as we usually did. But just being able to press my mouth against his feather soft lips was a relaxing moment. We stopped immediately when we heard a light knock at the door. "Yeah?" Tanner called out, and their maid Sascha opened the door. She peeked in, and then brought us a tray with two plates full of food on it. "Aww, you didn'thave to do that, Sascha. I would have come and gotten it."
"No, no, it's alright. I'm happy to do it." She said, and gave me a caring smile as I sort of shuffled myself into a corner and tried to pretend like I wasn't even there. "Both of these plates aren't for Tanner, you know? Come on, eat." She waved me over, and I bashfully came over to where they were standing. Damn..it smelled delicious. My stomach started rumbling the second a whiff of it hit my nose. I love my mom's makeshift breakfast and dinner, and I was pretty used to eating leftover diner food...but this was something completely different. It was almost exotic in comparrison to what I've been eating the past month or so. "Here, tell me how it tastes." She said, digging in with a fork and lifting a hearty mouthfull up to Tanner's lips.
He couldn't even back up fast enough to keep her from shoving it in his face. Hehehe, in fact, the second he opened his mouth to protest, he was being force fed. I smiled as I watched him react to the spices in it, but he nodded and agreed that it was good. "Mmmph...yeah...s'good..." He said, trying to chew it all before he choked on it. I couldn't help but giggle a bit, as I know she did it on purpose.
Then she smiled and told us, "You know, between you and me, I'm proud of you. Both of you. Your mother is a good woman, but she doesn't see things with her heart like she's supposed to." Then she said, "There is a saying...'Faithful friends are beyond price. No amount can balance their worth.' You're a good boy, Derrick, from what little I know of you. And from the way Tanner sticks by you. So hold on to that, no matter what anybody says. A friendship is to be celebrated, not defended. Ok?" She reached out to ruffle Tanner's hair while he grinned playfully, and we heard his mother call from downstairs.
"I have to serve dinner now. I'll leave you two to your homework. Be good now, ok?" Sascha folded up the tray and took it back downstairs, closing the bedroom door behind her.
Tanner turned to me with a smile, and this wave of....I dunno...'joy' just seemed to flood into my system. And I couldn't help but giggle gently in return. "She's...nice. I like her." I said.
"Well, I'm glad you like SOMEBODY in this house."
"I'm glad somebody likes ME in this house." I chuckled. "So....are you gonna let me know how that tastes, or not?" Tanner picked up his fork to scoop some onto it, but I told him, "Unh unh...I didn't say you needed a fork. I said I wanted to know how it tastes." Tanner blushed the cutest shade of pink as he got my hint, and he walked over to me to slide his arms around my waist. And he kissed me deeply on the lips. The kind of kiss that we were used to. The kind we could enjoy. The kind only he could give me. My sweetheart. He looked me in the eye as w rubbed our noses together lightly, and I asked him, "Ok, can we eat now?"
"I take it I passed the 'taste test'?" He grinned.
"With flying colors." I gave him another peck on the lips, and then said, "Now get out of the way, I'm starving."
We spent the evening up in his room without any further interruptions. I got a lot done on my homework while Tanner sat on his bed with his earphones on to give me some peace and quiet. He was finishing up some school work of his own, but every now and then I'd look over at him, and his lips would call out to me with their smooth and soft appearance. Hehehe, I'd creep over to his bed while he wasn't looking, and by the time he saw me out of the corner of his eye, I was already leaning in for the kiss. I could taste his smile on my lips, as he limply laid back and let me take advantage of him. Sometimes it would just be a quick minute or two, and sometimes we'd make out for a full ten minutes before I forced myself to get back to work. The last time though....his tongue just felt so good against mine. His soft body just melted into me like a warm marshmellow and I just couldn't hold him tight enough. But it was getting dark, and I knew that I'd have to be going soon. My mom would be home any minute, and it never took her long to start worrying about me. It would be especially bad if Joel was trapped outside with no way to get in. It was hard to pull away from Tanner's embrace, but I managed after only five more minutes of wrapping our tongues around each other.
We rolled onto our backs and stared dreamily up at the ceiling for a bit. There was this...beautiful silence betweenus. This truly comforting quiet that made me feel so at home. Especially when he reached down once again to take a hold of my hand. I'm not sure how long it lasted, but when he finally spoke, it almost seemed like an unnatural interruption to the moment. "Derrick?"
"I was thinking....about stuff."
I smiled. "About stuff? Hehehe, could you be a little more specific?"
He sighed, and then turned to look at me for a moment. His eyes traced every inch of me, and he leaned forward to place an angel's kiss on my lips. "About us. About everything that you mean to me. And about...how much I love you more than anything in this world. I'm soooo lucky to have someone you like you, and sometimes...it feels like I'm dreaming all of this. I'm just scared that I'm gonna wake up one day and find out that none of this was true." He said, and he kissed me again. "But..." He started. "...I've also been thinking about Chris...and my mom...and all of the people who don't know about us. And I wonder if maybe...maybe things could be different. For us, I mean."
I wrinkled up my forehead for a moment. "I'm not sure that I follow you."
"There really isn't any easy way to say it, but...what if....we came out at school?"
"Wh.....what?" I said, feeing a sudden shiver run through me from head to toe.
"What if we told people how we felt about each other? I mean...it's really the only weapon Chris has to use against us. And my mom might actually back off if she knew you were my boyfriend and not just somebody I was 'hanging around' with. I mean...what if...what if it makes things better?"
I sat up in the bed and felt a heavy weight dropping into the pit of my stomach. My hands started to tremble at the mere thought of it. "Tanner...I don't....I don't know about this."
"I know baby, I know it's....'difficult' to think about. But...what if we did it? My cousin Jackie did it, and she says it's nowhere near as bad as anyone thinks it's gonna be. It just takes an adjustment. But after that...you and me, we'll be free."
My heart was racing, my nerves tightening up to the point where they were about to snap in two. It was a terrifying suggestion. Something that I didn't want to deal with. Not now, not ever. "Do you know what you're saying?" I asked.
"Yeah, I do. I'm saying that we won't have to be afraid of Chris and his terror tactics anymore. I'm saying that I don't have to hide you up in my room or in the basement everytime you come over to the house. I'm saying....Derrick, I'm saying that maybe I'll get the chance to kiss your lips and hold your hand whenever I feel the urge. And not just when we're alone."
"I don't know about this..."
"I'm not gonna force you to do anything you don't wanna do. But...just think about it, ok? It won't be easy for me either...but it might be better for both of us if we just...'force' people to deal with it. You know?"
Tanner was laying next to me, looking so cute, so concerned, so angelic. It was hard to not fall under his spell. But....what he was asking me to do was a huge leap of faith for me. HUGE! What if things get WORSE? What if we get beaten up everyday? What if his parents completely disown him? What if Chris only finds another way to totally humiliate us, and it's even worse than before? And my MOM! Oh God, how long will it be until my mom finds out that her little boy was a homosexual. After all that money she spent, all that time, all those late nights at the diner, sacrificing so much of herself for my benefit...what is she gonna think when I give her the disappointing news? I don't....I don't think I can handle this right now. Not at all.
"I've gotta go. It's late." I said. It was the only way for me to escape the conversation. Hopefully Tanner will forget all about this tomorrow and we can find another way. ANY other way. Coming out of the closet in an environment where they already hate and ridicule me is not an appealing solution at all. Even though I loved him with all my heart...could I really do something like that? Could I completely flip my entire life upside down for our relationship...and not resent him for it later? I don't know. And right now, I don't think I'm willing to risk it.
I couldn't really tell if Tanner was disappointed in my reaction or not. Somewhere between loving me unconditionally and wanting what he thought was best for us...was this no man's land of confusing emotions and supportive masks that we each wore for one another's benefit. But he didn't really make a fuss about it. In fact, when we got back into the car for his driver to take me home...he held my hand the whole way back. The two of us remained in that back seat, fingers clasped together, feeling the warmth of his soft palm against mine. It was...you know...'nice'. Really nice. I tried to force myself to imagine what it would be like to do this all the time. I tried to make myself believe that it would be grand if we could be this close all the time without having to hide. Without having to watch what we said, or cover up our actions, or try to keep from staring at one another for too long for fear that someone else will see. What if? That was the big question, wasn't it? What if?
When the car got to my house, Tanner gave my hand an extra squeeze and smiled warmly at me. "I'll see you tomorrow?" He asked.
"Sighhh...Room 207, as always." I grinned, and he giggled a bit. "Later." I tried mybest to say 'I love you' with my eyes, and I know he got the message. But he was right, it wasn't the same as saying it outloud. It would have been...a cool way to end the evening.
He returned the sentiment. "Later." And I shut the door, letting him drive off into the night without me. I missed him already.
I came in through the back door and saw my mom sitting at the kitchen table balancing out bills and the funds we had to pay them with for this month. She always had a stressed look on her face when it came to this particular activity. It was painful to look at. "Hi mom." I said quietly.
"Hey honey. You're home awfully late. Where have you been?" She asked.
"I went over to...Tanner's house...for a while..." My voice trailed off into nothing. My mom was sitting right there in front of me, head down as she tried to figure out how to keep the lights and the heat on while still putting food on the table. The question stayed swirling around in my mind. What if? What if, what if, what if? I felt a tremble in my knees as I found myself trying to dig deep enough to find the courage to even MENTION the idea of being gay around my mom. I was staring at her from the corner, quaking inside. What if? Shit...no...this is stupid. You are NOT doing this, Derrick! Life is good, don't fuck it up! We can...we can live just fine in the closet. It's not like it's anybody else's business anyway, right? So why should I have to come out to anybody? Ever?
"I don't know what to do about the car. I'm going to have to get it out of there before they start charging me shelter fees, and I really can't afford that. I might be able to get an extention on the phone bill, but only for another few weeks or so. Sighhh...I'm gonna have to take another extra shift or two every week. Just until the car is fixed and paid for. I figure I've got some vacation time coming up, maybe I can take that right after and...rest for a bit. How's that sound?" She looked up at me, and saw me shifting from one leg to the other, lost in my thoughts. "I'm sorry, honey. Don't mind me, I'm just thinking outloud. Is there something on your mind?"
Say it! No! No wait...don't say it! Say something else first! Ask her about her day, and then....then....tell her..that you have 'something' you wanna tell her...and then...no wait! Don't say ANYTHING! Don't say anything at all! Keep your mouth shut and just go to bed! We can do it later! Or never! Whatever! ARRRGH!!
"No. I'm..I'm ok. Just tired, that's all." I said, silently relieved, but angry at myself, for chickening out at such a crucial moment.
"I know the feeling. I swear, I've worked at that diner for so long I could run that place myself. I'm practically furniture in that place. Even customers ask me, 'Geez! Don't you EVER get a day off in this place?' I hope it pays off someday." She grinned.
"That's...that's great." I said, still unable to move. The emotion was welling up in the back of my throat, cutting off my air supply. I couldn't say it. I honestly couldn't say it. I had to get out of there. I had to run away now. "I'm...I'm gonna go to bed, so..." I started to walk away, but she called me back.
"Oh wait! Guess what came in the mail for you today?" She smiled, and I peeked back around the corner as she picked up a big envelope. "The school sent my 'star' student his achievement award today. It came pressed flat and everything, look at it." She held it up proudly, and I glanced at it briefly before trying to back away towards my room again.
"Wow...that's...awesome." I said.
"I think Mrs. Munch next door has some old picture frames in her basement, so we can hang this up in the living room. I want everybody to know that they are stepping into the house of a true scholar in the making." She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to give me a big hug around my shoulders. "I'm SO proud of you, baby. So proud." She kissed the top of my forehead and let me go. I felt like a fraud. A total fraud. I lowered my eyes and tried to work up a somewhat decent grin. She's proud of me. She's really depending on me to be something special...and I'm just not. I'm nobody. Less than nobody. And when she finds out the whole story...
There won't be anything left to be proud of.
"Thanks mom. I'm going to bed. I'm really beat." I said, and sulked my way to my bedroom. Just needed time to lay down and think, that's all.
I'm keeping my mouth closed. I don't need to spoil what's left of my life. I'll find another way. I will.