Warning: This work of fiction contains sexual contact between two males. If you are opposed to reading something like that, or if it is illegal for you to read this type of material in your area, please leave.
Besides Ry, I was the first person to ever ride in his car. I was more used to riding with Ryan than I was with my parents. The passenger seat was mine whenever I rode with him and I was comfortable riding with Ry, even knowing that he’d been in three accidents since he’d gotten his license and with my fear of big metal moving things.
I wasn’t comfortable when I got into the car that day, though. Not even a little bit. Ryan’s knuckles were white against the steering wheel and his nostrils flared every time he inhaled. I could hear him grinding his teeth and his entire body was visibly tense. I won’t lie; he looked fucking scary. And the fact that I knew all of his anger was for me had me contemplating tucking and rolling out of a moving vehicle.
My stomach was in knots. I felt sick with every breath I took in and my mouth was all sandy again. And I knew that whatever conversation that Ry and I were about to have was going to be awkward as hell, but...I couldn’t just walk away from it. If there was a chance, however small, that Ry and me--that we’d be okay--I was taking it.
I was going to kick Shane’s ass for kissing me in front of him. Or...probably not, but I was going to do something. I definitely wasn’t going to let it go. He was just...a dick for doing it. I mean, I get that Ryan already knew about me. Hell, he even knew about Shane and me together, but...it just wasn’t the time. I wasn’t sure it ever would be. Christ, I wasn’t even comfortable talking to Ry about...being...gay, I was definitely not ready to kiss someone else in front of him. And Shane knew that. He knew and I couldn’t figure out why he’d done it. Ryan wasn’t ready to see it. I wasn’t ready to do it. And Shane was fucked up. End of story.
“You kissed him,” Ry said through clenched teeth as he drove, staring straight out at the rode.
I didn’t know what to say to that. Technically, Shane had kissed me but I didn’t think that little fact was going to calm Ry down any so I kept it to myself. Besides, it was convenient to blame it all on Shane, but I knew some of it was my fault. I could have pulled away. There was probably at least a few seconds where I could have stopped him before he made any contact. I didn’t.
“Ry...” I said, because it was the only word I could think of that I didn’t think would piss him off enough to drive the car straight into a telephone pole.
“You kissed him,” Ry repeated, like he needed to make it clear how unbelievable he found the entire situation. He sounded...almost disgusted, which is probably why I jumped on the defensive.
“I know,” I said, voice low. “I was there.”
“Fuck you, Jake,” Ryan snapped and I winced, gripping my seat when the car swerved violently as he turned to look at me. He righted the car almost immediately, but I was back to contemplating my whole ‘tuck and roll’ idea.
“He’s a guy,” Ryan went on in a tone that implied he thought he was telling me something I didn’t already know. “And you...Jesus, you actually kissed him like you’re...” He shook his head and he sounded...lost. Completely lost and I was pissed at him, but--I don’t know how to be an ass to Ry when he sounds like that.
I sighed. “I’m...I don’t,” I started slowly, cautiously. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Ryan.”
Ry snorted, derisively. “Yeah? Me neither.”
We were silent after that. Ryan went back to staring at the road, brow furrowed and I...I didn’t know what to do. Denying the whole gay thing wasn’t even a possibility anymore, not with Ryan. And I couldn’t go back, even if it was. Not just because of Shane either. I couldn’t go through it all again. Even if I did convince Ry that I wasn’t gay, I’d have to deal with all the shit again later when he found out it was a lie.
I just...didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t know what to say and as much as I’d hated feeling hopeful, I hated the hopeless feeling I had in the car even more. I didn’t know how we could be...okay again. Ryan wasn’t budging and I didn’t have any moves to make. I didn’t have a clue as to what to do. So I just sat there, silently, waiting for Ryan to get to his house.
But our street came and went and Ry didn’t even glance back when he missed the turn. I looked at him questioningly, but I didn’t think it’d do much good because he wasn’t looking at me. He didn’t need to be though. Ry answered my question before I had a chance to ask it.
“Chloe’s waiting at my house,” he said, flatly. “I don’t want to talk to you with a fucking babysitter or whatever.”
I can’t even begin to express how reassuring that wasn’t.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked trying to keep the panic out of my voice. I mean...it’s not that I was afraid Ryan would actually hurt me. He was mad...really mad but even with how disgusted he sounded every time he spoke to me or how pissed off he looked whenever he glanced in my direction--I knew he wouldn’t actually hurt me. Not badly anyway. If we fought, it’d be fair and it’s not like he’d leave me for dead.
No, I wasn’t panicking because I thought he might lash out on me or anything. I was panicking because if he didn’t want Chlo hearing what he had to say--it couldn’t be good news. I hadn’t really allowed myself to consider the possibility that Ryan and I wouldn’t be friends anymore, not really. It was such a ridiculous thought, I wasn’t sure I knew how to consider that possibility. Ryan was my best friend, he always had been. I didn’t know how to move away from that and the thought scared the shit out of me.
“I have community service today,” Ryan answered after a minute. I’d almost forgotten I’d even asked him something. “You’re coming with me. We’ll...’talk’ there.”
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes for a moment and turned slightly in my seat to face Ry. “If you’re going to tell me to get lost, that’s all you’ve gotta say. I don’t need any big explanation. Just two words; ‘fuck off’ and I’m gone.”
Ryan chewed his lip as he thought about that but he shook his head after a minute. “I don’t know what I’m going to say yet,” he said simply. And that was enough to keep me from feeling completely hopeless and the two of us were silent the rest of the car ride.
Impossible Dream--where Ryan has his community service--is in a big, bright red building with the words ‘Impossible Dream’ written in giant orange letters on the side of the building with bright yellow stars all over the place and I always get a headache if I look at it too long. I’d been there before because my mother shops there at the second hand store at least once a week to see what she can find for less than a dollar. She always has a blast. Impossible Dream always made me want to vomit. The place smelled like sweat, rotten food, and horse shit. I swear it smelled like horse shit. Or, what I imagined horse shit smelled like, I’ve never actually seen a horse except on TV.
Whatever, the point is, I always hated the place. When Ryan first told me he’d be doing his community service hours there, I felt bad for him. I felt even worse for him when he told me what he’d be doing--going through the donations, making sure they were clean, checking expiration dates on donated food, and throwing out what couldn’t be recycled. I remember asking Ry why he couldn’t just clean up litter or something. Trash seemed more sanitary. Seriously, if the stuff smelled bad after it was cleaned, I didn’t ever want to know what everything was like before.
Unfortunately for me, I was about to find out. When Ry went around to the back of the building to sign in for his two hours of slavery that day, he jerked his head back at me and told his supervisor I’d be volunteering.
What a bitch. I didn’t even get a chance to object before someone in a pair of grungy coveralls handed me a pair of thick gloves. “You’ll want these,” he said, smiling from ear to ear. “It’s always nice to see young ones stepping up to help out on their own.”
It only made me feel guilty for a second. The guilt vanished when Ry took me inside the back door and down some steps to a basement full of semi-toxic waste. It definitely smelled just as bad as I thought it would.
I understand that donations can’t be brand new, but you’d think people used the place to dump their trash for free.
“Uhm,” I said, looking at my gloves a little helplessly. “Ry...about this.”
“Don’t be such fag...” He froze, frowning and shook his head. “I mean...I meant...” he sighed. “Fuck it, just put on the gloves, Jake.”
I glared at him for a second but I gave up before long. He wasn’t even looking at me to see the glare so there wasn’t really a point. I sighed and slipped my hands into the gloves.
“If it’s not broken, keep it,” Ryan said, ripping open one of the black garbage bags that sat along the back wall and dumping the contents on one of the tables in the center of the room. “The rest is tossed. Food goes in the red crates. Everything else goes in the green. Trash in the black. If it needs to be washed, it goes in the orange. Got it?”
“Whatever,” I muttered and I stepped up to the table. “I thought you wanted to talk, Ryan.”
He got right to work, acting like he didn’t hear me and when he finally did speak; I’d almost forgotten that I was waiting for it.
“I don’t...” he sighed, looking frustrated. “I don’t know how to talk to you.”
It almost sounded more like a question, than a statement but if it was, I didn’t have an answer for him. I wasn’t sure how to talk to him lately either, which was...a little scary. Ryan was the only one that I’d always known how to talk to. He was the only one that always understood me. He understood that when I said ‘get the fuck out of my house and leave me the hell alone’, I really meant, ‘I don’t want you to leave, but I don’t want to talk about it either’. He was the one person that I could actually communicate with without ever having to actually use words and what? That was just...gone?
“I’m sorry,” I said, though I have no idea what I was apologizing for. I just felt like I needed to say it. I felt like everything was my fault. I knew it was and I had no idea how to fix it.
Ry didn’t respond. He just shrugged his shoulders and tossed a remote control that was missing all of its buttons into the black crate.
The room was silent and I was actually glad for the garbage on the table in front of me. It gave me something to do. It helped keep me at least a little calmer than I would have been with nothing to focus on.
It was awkward for me, being there. I had known it would be, obviously, I just thought it’d be...different. Like, he’d be attacking me and I’d be fucking everything up with my inability to say anything useful, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was a different kind of awkward. A few times, I forgot that there was anything wrong with the two of us and once, I looked up at him, smiling about the ninja turtles back pack I found--like the one he had in third grade. But every time I looked at him and saw the tension in his shoulders and the way he was deliberately avoiding looking back at me, I remembered and the knots in my stomach would tighten up and I’d try and swallow that ‘about to be sick’ feeling that was stuck in my throat.
I hated it, but...I wasn’t freaking out. I was nervous, yeah, and I was pretty sure I was just as tense as Ryan was. I could feel it every time I moved. The muscles in my arms were so tense that they shook every time I reached for something on the table. But...I wasn’t freaking out. I couldn’t help but think--or hope--that if Ryan really wanted me to get lost for good, he wouldn’t have brought me with him. He could have waited for Shane to leave and tear into me in the school parking lot and left. But he didn’t. And he was trying, right? That had to...fuck, it had to mean something ‘good’, right? Why would he even bother otherwise?
“Are you even sure?” Ryan asked suddenly. His voice was low, but it sounded ridiculously loud and I jumped, startled. “Tracy’s not the only girl that likes you. There are others.”
I frowned, looking up at him, trying to figure out what the hell that had to do with anything, but Ry was still avoiding my eyes, head down, staring at the table.
“And?” I pressed, tossing a naked Ken doll that was missing its head into the trash bucket. “So, what?”
Ry looked up, finally, brows furrowed. “So,” he said. “You don’t have to be with...Shane.”
I stared at him, cocking my head to the side. I had no idea what he was talking about. I really couldn’t see how these other girls had anything to do with Shane and me and even if I had known they liked me, I couldn’t see how it would have made a difference.
Ryan sighed. “You could have said something, Jake,” he went on, but he wasn’t looking at me anymore. “I know you have issues talking to girls or whatever, but I could’ve helped you. You didn’t have to--,”
“Ry,” I interrupted him, dropping my hand flat against the table to get his attention. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You,” he said as if it should have been obvious. “You went on one date with Tracy and it didn’t work out so you decide to...” he trailed off, shaking his head. “It’s not like you don’t have other options. If you didn’t like Tracy, I could have--“
“I did like Tracy,” I said, trying my best to keep up with him. “I do like her. She’s cool.”
“I was gay before I went out with Tracy, Ryan.”
I froze. It was an accident; I hadn’t meant to say it. Ry just wasn’t making any sense and when I finally caught on to what he was implying, it just slipped out. I didn’t mean to. And even though I knew Ryan already knew about me, I desperately wanted to take it back.
“Oh,” was all Ryan said and he went back to sorting and ignoring the fact that I was there. I didn’t. I just stood there waiting for him to continue.
“So, how long?” he asked quietly after a minute.
I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. Not because I couldn’t speak, it had just occurred to me that I didn’t know the answer to that question. I couldn’t pinpoint when exactly it’d started, it just had. Like, one day, I was playing out on the playground with Ry and Chlo and I didn’t like anyone that way and then I was checking out Todd Marcus during dodge ball. I didn’t really think much of it until Ryan started looking at girls the same way I was looking at Todd. And even then I didn’t think much of it. Not until I learned what ‘fag’ actually meant and realized that if anyone ever knew about the way I looked at Todd they’d start calling me that word and there were horror stories about those ‘fags’ that I didn’t want anything to do with. I didn’t want the things that happened in those stories to happen to me and I didn’t want my friends to hate me.
“Jake,” Ry pressed, tearing me away from my thoughts. “How long?”
“I don’t know,” I answered quietly. “Since...a long time ago, I guess.”
“But how long ago, Jake? When you started hanging out with Shane?”
I frowned, shaking my head. No, it wasn’t Shane, though I wished I could blame it all on him and I was sure that I had blamed it on him. I wasn’t gay because of him though. He’d just made it impossible for me to ignore. Or maybe I did...because I liked him and I couldn’t stop.
“No,” I answered Ry. “No, it was before I met him.”
Ry nodded and he actually let out a breath that sounded like relief, which made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but I didn’t comment on it.
“So,” he said, and he paused, frowning. “You’re actually queer?”
I frowned, turning away from him when he said that. “Fuck you, Ry,” I sighed, shaking my head. “I’m...I don’t know.” I wasn’t sure what I meant by that, I just couldn’t say yes. I hated the word--queer. Ry had used it as an insult so many times and I wasn’t about to just...say, ‘yeah, I am’.
“But you do,” he shot back, suddenly raising his voice. “You do know. You’re queer and you knew ‘a long time ago’ and you never fucking said anything.”
“What?” I asked, whipping back around to face him.
“I’ve slept in your bed,” he went on as if he hadn’t heard me. “A lot. You and me, we were close and I slept in your bed with you and...”
“So?” I snapped, not liking where he was going. “Fuck you, Ryan, I never--,”
“I know,” he interrupted and he actually looked apologetic. “I know you didn’t, but you should have said something.”
That pissed me off. I’m not sure why, but I think I hated him for saying that. I should have told him? I couldn’t even tell myself half the time and he’d always made his opinion of ‘fags’ perfectly clear.
“Why?” I snapped, glaring at him with all the anger I had in me. “Why should I have told you? So, we could have done this sooner? Because this is just so much fucking fun, right? I should have been eager to lose all my friends and have you hate me, right? Christ, you can be so fucking stupid, Ryan. This...” I paused, waving my hand between the two of us. “I didn’t want this. And I tried to make it stop.” I took a deep breath, closing my eyes, trying to find the words. “I couldn’t and I hated...I think I hated me. Because of you. You and my fucking father and...everyone. You’re my best friend, Ryan. I...I just didn’t want this.”
I was out of breath when I finished and...I was also standing a lot closer to Ryan than I had been when I started. I didn’t remember doing it, but I’d apparently walked all the way around the table to Ryan’s side and I was standing right in front of him.
He was just...staring at me, eyes wide, opening and closing his mouth like he really didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t blame him.
“Fuck,” I said, turning away from him. I took off my gloves. “I’m leaving,” I announced, walking toward the door of the room. “I’ll call Sh...someone for a ride.”
“Jake, wait,” Ryan said, voice firm, and it surprised me, how calm he sounded. It was enough to stop me and I turned back around to face him.
It took him a second to say anything. He just stood there frowning and chewing his lower lip, and he wouldn’t look at me.
“What?” I prompted and maybe I shouldn’t have been pushing, but I wanted to get out of there. I didn’t want to be around him anymore and as much as I’d wanted an answer earlier, I wasn’t sure I could handle having an answer if he was going to tell me to stay the fuck away from him.
“Nobody hates you,” he said it like the words were painful. “I don’t know how to fucking hate you, asshole.”
And...it wasn’t much. He was still pissed at me and I wasn’t sure anything was fixed, but as soon as he said the words, all the tension and anger and frustration I’d been feeling only a second earlier was just...gone. And I took a step back toward him intending to stay until we...fixed things but he shook his head, raising a hand to stop me.
“Leave,” he said and I actually flinched. He was confusing the shit out of me.
“What?” I asked, throwing my hands up in front of me. “You just said...”
“I don’t think...” he paused, frowning at himself, before he shook his head and looked directly at me. “I don’t hate you, Jake, but I don’t want to be around you for awhile. I need to...figure some shit out. If you’re really queer...or whatever...I need to... I don’t know, dude, I just need you gone for right now. Away from me.”
He was all the way across the room. Way too far away to make any sort of contact with me, but I felt like he’d just punched me in the chest.
“What,” I started, hating the way my voice broke. I cleared my throat, trying to shake it off. “What is that supposed to mean? Are we...we were best friends, Ry...are we just...not anymore.”
He shrugged stepping up to the table and started sorting again. Black. Black. Yellow. Black. Red. It was awhile before he said anything.
“You’re...” he took a deep breath. “You’re still my best friend. You’re all I’ve got...except Chlo, and she’s different. You just need to stay the fuck away from me for awhile or I don’t know if we’ll stay that way. I just...I don’t know,” he sighed and turned around to grab another black plastic bag from along the back wall.
I don’t know. I was so fucking tired of those words, it’s not even funny. And ‘stay the fuck away’ from him? I wondered if there was any way I could take those words that wasn’t offensive.
“You’re the one that brought me here,” I pointed out, frowning as I tried to work through what he had just said and what it all meant.
“Yeah, well, now I want you to leave,” he said, shrugging. It was on the tip of my tongue to argue with him. To tell him ‘no’. I didn’t want to leave; it didn’t feel like we were finished yet. I didn’t feel like any of my questions were answered and the only answers I got from Ryan contradicted each other, but I didn’t argue. As much as I wanted to stay and finish, it all felt like a little too much. I actually felt drained, which was weird, considering all we really did was talk.
“Fine,” I said finally, though Ryan was back to acting like I wasn’t even there anyway. “Later, Ry.”
I left, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket as I did. The guy in the coveralls that greeted me when I walked in, looked over at me, smile still in place, but I ignored him and went around to the front of the building to make my call there.
Shane didn’t sound at all happy with me when he answered and I thought I might have actually heard him growl when I refused to tell him anything. And he hung up on me when I told him I’d be calling my dad for a ride. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see him, I just wasn’t sure I could handle it yet.
I sat on the curb of the sidewalk in front of the building to wait for my dad, elbows on my knees, and head in my hands. I don’t think I was upset, not really. I think I was just tired. Exhausted. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to feel. I felt like Ryan had told me exactly what I wanted to hear and exactly what I didn’t want to hear at the same time. I didn’t know how to take it.
And...I don’t think I really believed it. That he didn’t hate me. That I was still his best friend. The words were comforting, but the way he practically had to force them out made me wonder if he’d be saying the same thing when tomorrow came. Maybe I was just being paranoid. I spent so long believing that everyone would hate me if they ever found out, it was hard to accept the fact that they didn’t. Hell, I still felt nervous having Chlo know my secret and she wasn’t treating me any different.
It was just...a lot. I didn’t know if I could deal and I tried to just...block out the bad in what Ryan said. The disgusted tone he still had when he spoke to me and the way he looked slightly sick when he looked at me. I wanted to block all of that out and cling to the fact that he said he didn’t hate me. He said...he wanted time. Not in those exact words, but that’s what it amounted to.
I should have been grateful for that. I should have been grateful that he hadn’t told me to stay away for good, but I couldn’t. It all made me feel a little helpless. I just wanted to fix things and get them back to the way they were between me and Ry and I didn’t know how I was supposed to do that if I just ‘stayed the fuck away’ from him. It made me feel like I was giving up and I didn’t want to do that yet.
I told myself it was only temporary...to calm myself down, or whatever, but that didn’t really work. Ry wanted me to stay away for ‘awhile’. I wondered how long ‘awhile’ lasted. I was pretty much obsessing about it by the time my father arrived to pick me up and he actually had to honk to get my attention.
“What are you doing here?” my dad asked when I climbed into the car. “Where’s your mom?”
I hadn’t really made it a secret how much I hated Impossible Dream and my mom made it a point to take me there whenever she went anyway. He knew I’d never go if she hadn’t forced me.
“I didn’t come with mom,” I said and he raised an inquisitive eyebrow at me so I shrugged and added, “Ry has his community service here, remember?”
Dad sort of lifted his chin and hummed noncommittally as he put the car in gear and stepped on the gas. It wasn’t something we talked about--Ryan’s community service. Or rather, we didn’t talk about the ‘why’ Ryan had community service, or the fact that Ryan was guilty of every last thing that got him put there.
I hadn’t thought about it in forever, but it seemed appropriate that I should be thinking about it now. Ryan had told me to stay away from him the night he got in trouble too. But I hadn’t listened then.
He was pissed. His dad, ever practical, had donated most of Ry’s mom’s belongings and Ryan was furious. He tore into his dad while I sat in his bedroom. I heard every word without even trying and when Ryan came back into his room to grab his baseball bat, I didn’t even flinch, but I followed him when he left the room with it. He told me to back the fuck off and I didn’t. I watched him.
No, he didn’t hit his father with the bat, he’s not that kind of guy, but what he did do, made even less sense. Well...actually, I got it. I knew why he was doing it, but to this day, Chloe still thinks it was pointless and immature. We ignore her every time she brings it up.
He smashed out the windows in his dad’s car. All four of them and when they were gone, he just kept going, bashing the bat against the side of the vehicle over and over. I watched. Mr. Lucas watched. And neither of us did anything. Neither of us tried to stop him.
When he was done, he walked back into the house, took his dad’s keys and got into the car, not thinking twice about the glass all over the seat. I didn’t think twice before I got in with him.
I didn’t say anything. I just watched him as he drove and he didn’t say anything either. And when we pulled up in front of Impossible Dream, I didn’t need to ask why we were there, but I was finally worried.
“This is just...a really bad idea, Ryan,” I had tried, shaking my head, eyes wide. “We can come back tomorrow, when it’s open and we’ll pay to get it back.”
But I don’t think he heard me. He got out of the car without even looking at me, bat in hand.
I just waited. I’ve had so many people tell me I should have at least tried to stop him--that I would have if I cared about him--but it’s all bullshit.
When Ryan came back out, he didn’t have the baseball bat anymore. He didn’t have anything, which surprised me because I thought we were there to get his mom’s stuff back.
But he only took one thing. A cheap, frayed, braided necklace with an old coin with a hole in it on it.
“You should leave,” he said, when he got back out and he was...calm. Relaxed. “My dad will have called the cops.” He handed me the necklace. “I fucked things up in there pretty bad.”
I told him I wasn’t going anywhere, and we argued about it until he took the necklace back and hid it in his dad’s car. And when the cops got there, he told them I was just along for the ride. I still got in trouble; they didn’t buy that shit. Not until Ryan’s dad jumped in at the police station and explained. He got me out of trouble, and he said he wasn’t worried about his car, he was worried about Ry. But that didn’t do anything to help Ryan get out of trouble for what he did at Impossible Dream. ‘I fucked things up in there pretty bad’ meant he tore the place apart looking for that cheap ass necklace.
He was on house arrest for that for two months, he’s still on probation, and he’s still working off his community service hours.
My dad was not happy about having to pick me up from a police station and when he got the story from one of the police officers, I think he wanted to blame Ryan for it. If I had gotten into any trouble, I’m pretty sure he would have tried to blame Ryan for it. As it is, he just doesn’t like to talk about any of it and he still doesn’t know why Ryan decided to break into a second hand store in the middle of the night just to break shit. I never told him. Ry never said anything.
And...I think part of the reason I don’t like Mr. Lucas is because he lets people believe that Ry is just a fucked up kid. He never said anything either.
I don’t think my dad hated Ryan for it or anything. I think he was just disappointed in both of us.
“Your mom won’t be home until late tonight,” my dad said as he pulled onto our street. “So, I’m ordering Chinese. Sweet and sour chicken, right?”
I nodded, looking out my window distractedly. “Yeah, whatever,” I said.
“Your friends can stay if they haven’t eaten yet,” he added and then I looked at him.
“Huh?” I asked brilliantly.
“Your friends,” my dad repeated, nodding toward the front porch as we pulled into our driveway, where Chloe and Shane were sitting on my porch steps. I hadn’t thought I’d want to see them. I figured I’d want to be alone for awhile to get my head straight, but I was actually relieved to see them there. “Let them know they’re welcome to stay for dinner.”
“Right,” I said, opening my car door before we’d fully stopped. “Thanks, dad.” I took off before he could say anything else.
“What are you doing here?” I asked everyone on my porch. I hadn’t meant for it to come out like I was pissed--though I was a little, at Shane. I was just a little surprised.
Shane shrugged, but he didn’t answer, looking past me as my dad walked up.
“Hey, Mr. Taylor,” Chloe said, smiling. It’d taken her awhile but she was finally comfortable being around my parents again after that lie that she and Ry had tried and failed to tell them when I went missing after my date with Tracy.
“Chloe,” my dad nodded at her and then looked at me, expectantly. I sort of raised an eyebrow, wondering what the hell he was looking at me for, but Chloe got it, apparently.
“Shane’s on the swim team with Jake,” she said, rolling her eyes at me and pointing at him.
My dad just nodded at Shane and let him know he was welcome to stay for dinner. He didn’t have to say anything to Chloe. She and Ry were always welcome. Some days, my parents even asked why they weren’t there.
As soon as my dad closed the door, I had my arms full of Chloe...for the third time in two days. The hugging thing was getting seriously disturbing.
“Christ, Chlo,” I said, prying her off me. She rolled her eyes and back handed me in the arm, which was comforting in a weird way.
“Shut up,” she said, sitting back down next to Shane and my attention shifted to him.
I expected to be mad at him. I’d planned on snapping on him first chance I got after what he’d pulled in the parking lot. He’d only made it worse when he sounded angry on the phone, but...he didn’t look angry at all sitting on my porch. He looked worried and...a little nervous. It was a strange look for him, I was sure I’d never seen Shane remotely nervous before. It was hard to be mad at him when he looked like that.
And...I wasn’t sure I wanted to be mad at him anymore. It’d been a long day--a really long day, and I felt drained the second I saw him. Like all the tension I’d been feeling all day was just gone and I wanted nothing more than to drag him up to my room and collapse onto my bed with him.
I wanted that feeling--the one I got whenever he touched me--the one that made it almost impossible not to sigh and just...relax. I wanted it back.
I cleared my throat; dropping down onto the step below the one Shane was sitting on. “Hey,” I said, mostly because I had a whole speech planned to bitch him out, but now that I wasn’t going to use it, I was at a loss for what to say.
He smiled. “Hey,” he returned quietly.
Chloe rolled her eyes, snorting. “That,” she said, pointing between the two of us, “was pathetic.”
“Bite me, Chlo,” I said tiredly, leaning my head against the railing of the porch.
“No thanks,” she shot back, grinning. “But you can tell me what happened with you and Ry. Shane said he looked pretty pissed when you took off with him.”
I frowned at Shane, but it was mostly on instinct. I still wasn’t used to Chloe knowing and I was kind of bitter that he told her, giving me one more person I was going to have to talk to about it.
“Ask Ry, Chlo,” the words came unbidden and I hadn’t realized I’d said them until they were out. I actually nodded to myself because I liked that plan. Let Ry explain it to her. She wasn’t going to be happy about any of it, and it was his fault, so I figured it was his job to deal with it. Besides, I...didn’t want to talk about it yet. To anyone.
I should have known Chloe wouldn’t accept that answer though. “I will,” she said. “But I’m asking you too. The stories are bound to be different.”
“I don’t care,” I shot back. I knew that insane ‘fondness’ I was feeling for her would go away. “I don’t want to talk about it, Chlo.”
Chloe glared at me, but her look softened when I didn’t glare back...or whatever she was expecting.
“Sorry,” she said genuinely, and for a minute, I was afraid she was going to hug me again. “I won’t bug you about it...until after I talk to Ry.”
“He’s only doing two hours today,” I informed her, because I sort of felt a little bad for being short with her when she was actually still speaking to me and not treating me any different for the most part.
“I know,” she said, sighing. “But he’s going to stay and wait for Colin to finish. He usually does on Thursdays. I thought he’d skip it today but...whatever, he’s an ass.”
That got my attention. I had no idea Colin had community service.
“What?” I asked, frowning. It wasn’t that I really cared, I didn’t even like Colin. It just seemed like something I should know. I’d always wondered why Colin and Ry started hanging out. I knew they didn’t meet at the school and as far as I knew, Colin’s family spent every other waking minute at the church they went to. His mom was the Choir director and she ran the church group that my mother had just joined. But that didn’t mean it was at all surprising to find out that Colin had done something to get in trouble. Colin was in trouble every other day even if his mom was some kind of saint.
“What’d he do?” I asked Chloe, genuinely curious, but it was Shane that answered my question.
“He didn’t do anything. He’s not required to go, his mom makes him.”
“What?” I asked again, this time looking at Shane. “I didn’t know you were friends with Colin.”
“I’m not,” Shane said, shrugging and looking away from Chloe and me. “He... goes to the same church that my family does.”
I raised an eyebrow at Shane, wanting more of an explanation, but it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to get one. His family goes to the same church as Colin? How does that explain how Shane knows anything about him? I knew Colin, I saw him everyday, and even I didn’t know that.
“Uhm, okay,” Chloe said slowly, staring at Shane with the same bemused look I’m sure I was wearing. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve gotta go home and help my mom set up the new changing table she got for the baby and I probably won’t be done until Ry gets back anyway.”
“Do you need any help?” I asked when she stood up. I was exhausted, but I was pretty sure there’d be some kind of baked goods involved if Shane and I went over to help. There always was.
“Nah,” Chloe said, kicking my foot, gently. “I’ll just...see you later,” she added looking between me and Shane and it dawned on me that she probably didn’t really have to go at all. She was making excuses to leave me alone with Shane. I wanted to object to that right away. I mean, yeah, I wanted to be...time or whatever with Shane, but I wanted to hang with Chloe too. If Ryan and I weren’t okay, she was pretty much the only friend I had left and I didn’t want to blow that. It just...felt important, that she stay.
“Chlo, wait,” I said, standing up. I grabbed her arm to pull her back. “Blow it off,” I told her, but only because I knew she was lying. I’d never really tell her to blow her mom off; she’d have my balls for that.
She raised an eyebrow at me, smiling slightly. “What?” she asked.
“The changing table,” I said, pulling her back toward the porch. “Blow it off and watch a movie or something with us.”
She looked like she was going to say no, so I added. “My dad’s getting Chinese. I’ll make sure you get all the fortune cookies.”
“Hey,” Shane cut in, sounding offended. “I like fortune cookies. It’s not worth it without the cookie. I’m keeping mine.”
I rolled my eyes and corrected myself. “You can have all the fortune cookies...except one.”
Shane grinned, looking pleased with himself.
Chloe raised an eyebrow. “With milk?”
“Whatever, freak,” I said, pulling her toward the house. “I’ll let you pick the movie, too... but only because Shane and I never get anywhere when we try.”
Chloe rolled her eyes and she actually held out a little while longer, but it was obvious that she was only doing it to see how much she could get out of it. Shane was the one that ended up getting fed up with the game and asked if we’d shut up if he offered her a kidney and Chloe actually hit him. I wasn’t used to her abusing people that weren’t me, but I finally understood why Ryan was always laughing. Shane stared at his arm where she hit him with an unbelievably shocked look on his face--like he couldn’t believe it actually hurt.
I couldn’t blame him. Someone as scrawny as Chloe shouldn’t be able to inflict that kind of damage.
Chloe was no better at picking a movie by herself than Shane and I were at agreeing on one and we didn’t get around to sitting down to watch anything until after dinner...and even then, it was my dad that grabbed a random movie off the shelf and told us to get upstairs and shut the hell up. He was smiling when he said it though, so we weren’t too worried about it.
“I’m bad with decisions,” Chloe said as the three of us walked up the stairs to my room. “It takes me thirty minutes to decide what candy bar I want from the gas station.”
“You hate chocolate,” I informed her, laughing at the troubled look she had on her face. Shane grabbed a piece of popcorn out of the bowl I was holding and tossed it at me, grinning. He’d been doing that all through dinner. Whenever I stopped looking at him for too long he’d nudge me or do something similar to get my attention long enough to smile at me. I have no idea why I liked it so much.
“Yeah,” Chloe replied, sighing. “You know that...and I know that, but it takes me thirty minutes to decide I’m not going to change my mind about it and that I definitely want skittles. I know I want skittles when I walk into the store but...” she shook her head, staring down at the movie my dad had given her. “And I knew I wanted to watch American History X ...” she sighed again. “And now we’re stuck with Cats Don’t Dance? Why do you even have this movie?”
Shane laughed, nudging me with his shoulder. “Good question,” he agreed raising an eyebrow at me.
I shrugged, but only because I couldn’t decide which one of them I wanted to push down the stairs. “It’s not my fault Chloe couldn’t make up her mind. And, for the record, I don’t buy the movies. My mom does.”
“Right,” Shane snorted as we reached my room.
“We don’t have to watch it,” I informed them, switching on my light. “My dad was kidding, we can watch something else.”
Neither of them wanted to go down and get a different movie, so we popped Cats Don’t Dance into the DVD player for the sake of having something to make fun of and throw popcorn at whenever there was a break in conversation.
It was definitely cool, just sitting there, talking to them both. It was easy...much easier than I thought it would be. I still felt a little awkward having both Chlo and Shane around at the same time, knowing that she knew. I ended up sitting as far away from him as I possibly could without falling off my bed. It was just...weird having someone know about me. I was fucking paranoid every time Shane made contact with me, even though Chloe definitely wasn’t making a big deal. She wasn’t even mentioning it. I was being a spaz and I knew it. I just couldn’t help it.
And...having her know wasn’t the only thing that was...off. I liked Shane. A lot. It’s almost pathetic how much I liked him when I barely even knew him, but I did. And not just because kissing him made me feel like my skin was vibrating or because he was just ridiculously ...well...hot. He was cool to be around. Funny. Laid back. He made me feel good with the way he was constantly shooting these secretive little glances my way when Chloe wasn’t looking. It made me nervous, but it was definitely a ‘good’ kind of nervous. I just...I liked him. I was way past denying it.
But, even though I was having a good time, I couldn’t help but feel guilty whenever I thought of Ry, which unfortunately happened every other minute. It didn’t feel right, having fun without him--when I knew he definitely wasn’t having any fun. It sucked and even if part of me felt like I should be pissed at him, I just couldn’t. It felt wrong that I should have Shane and Chloe with me, while he just had Colin.
I wanted him there. Because, yeah, I liked Shane. I liked him way more than I thought possible, but he wasn’t Ry. I wasn’t used to hanging out with friends and not having Ryan around and I found myself looking around for him whenever I said something I thought was clever just to see if he was laughing.
It just...sucked, no matter how much fun I was having and I was almost grateful when Chloe apologized to me and said she was going to leave and go see if Ry was finally home. It’s stupid and pathetic and I wanted to be pissed at him for ruining things, but I couldn’t be. Mostly, I just wanted my best friend back.
No, I didn’t give a shit how lame that was. Not that I was about to go broadcasting that little fact. Just...I really did wish I could fix it somehow.
I got up to lock the door after Chloe left just as Shane was moving closer to me, but I was back before the frown could fully form on his face.
“Sorry,” I said, collapsing back onto the bed, and stretching out on my back, alongside him. “I just don’t really need anymore...surprises.”
“Yeah,” Shane snorted, shaking his head. His tone was almost bitter.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, sitting up to meet his eyes. I didn’t want to fight with him, but seriously, it’s not like it was my fault...or maybe it was, but it’s not like I’d almost kissed Ryan on purpose. He was the last person I wanted to know.
“Nothing,” Shane responded, putting his hands behind his head to lay on them. “I was just agreeing with you. All of this shit...it sucks. I didn’t think we’d have to deal with stuff like this until later.”
For me, it sucked, but I didn’t see where he got off being upset about it. As far as I could tell, I was the only one ‘dealing’ with anything. The most he had to deal with was hearing about it and he wouldn’t even have to deal with that if he wasn’t always hassling me to talk about it. I narrowed my eyes at him.
“If you’ve got something to say...” I started, but he interrupted me, sighing as he sat up to meet my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said, genuinely, reaching out to drop a hand on my knee. “I didn’t mean that like it came out. It’s not that I don’t care--because I do. I’m just sorry it’s happening. I meant--you and me,” he paused to grin at me. “We were just starting. And then all this shit happened and its like...someone pressed pause right at the best part of an awesome movie and told us we had to get through this first. Or...no I don’t mean it like that, either, I just...” he sighed. “It was just getting good. You finally stopped freaking out every time I got close and we talked about it and...I thought it was going to get better and now...”
“Shane,” I snapped, interrupting him, but I smiled. At least, I tried to. “I think...I think I get it.”
“Yeah?” he said and he had the nerve to look shocked. “Good.” He lay back down, grabbing my shirt as he pulled me down with him. “So, are you going to tell me about it?”
“No,” I said frowning. “I don’t want to talk about Ryan.”
“You never do,” Shane said, laughing softly. “But tell me anyway.”
I glared at him, but he wouldn’t budge and he just stared back at me, challenging. I sighed. “He told me to stay the fuck away,” I said, quickly. “For now, he wants me to keep away from him. But I’m still his best friend. He doesn’t hate me or anything.”
Shane raised an eyebrow and I hated the smile he was holding back. “Then why are you pouting?” he asked, looking amused. “None of that sounds exactly...bad.”
“That’s because none of it makes sense,” I told him, flatly. “’I don’t hate you. Now get the fuck away from me’? It’s bipolar.”
“You’re bipolar,” Shane countered smiling at me. “But we’re not talking about your mood swings, right now. He asks for space and you throw a fit about it? It could be a lot worse. Trust me.”
“People don’t ask for space in real life. And I’m not throwing a fit. I also don’t pout,” I said, mid pout. “Fuck you. And I...”
It’s hard to speak when someone kisses you, but I wasn’t going to complain. Shane’s lips always had this uncanny ability to send paralyzing shivers up and down my spine and he slipped his tongue into my mouth almost immediately, his hand gripping the back of my head, fingers pressed hard against my scalp. If I had any words planned at all they were lost in the involuntary groan I let out against his lips.
“I like it when you pout,” Shane said softly, pulling away, but just barely. “You do this thing where you frown and your lips get sort of--,”
“I don’t pout,” I insisted, mindlessly leaning back into kiss him. “Stop talking.”
Shane laughed against my lips, mumbling something that sounded a lot like ‘yes, you do’ but I only pressed my lips harder against his, trying to ignore him.
He wouldn’t let me.
“Haven’t you had kind of a long day,” he said, raising an eyebrow and smirking at me. He does it on purpose. He kisses me just enough to get me into it and he pulls away just to torture me. Or something.
I glared. “Yeah,” I said, fisting my hand in the front of his shirt. “And now, I want to have a long night.”
I’d planned to pull him back in after I spoke, but the words that came out of my mouth definitely weren’t the ones I thought I was going to say and I actually let go of him, thoroughly shocked. It amazes me, how detached my mouth sometimes is from my brain.
“What?” Shane asked, eyes widening as he burst into a fit of totally unnecessary laughter.
“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head as I moved away from him. “That was--I didn’t--will you stop fucking laughing?”
He laughed harder.
“You know...I really don’t like you,” I said, decisively.
“Yeah, you do,” he snorted, but he wasn’t laughing quite as loud anymore. “You just wish you didn’t.”
I think it was the way he said it--completely serious and almost disappointed...sad--that made me pay attention to that last sentence. And I cringed because it was true. Or...it had been at one point. I hadn’t wanted to like him for the longest time. I felt like my life was falling apart and not that long ago, that would have had me running from Shane as fast as my legs would carry me. I couldn’t figure out when that changed. When I’d gone from snapping at Shane for even looking at me for too long to actually taking comfort in his touch. When I’d gone from being terrified he’d kiss me to seeking him out just to taste him. I wasn’t sure when it happened--when I changed, but I had. I was still having trouble accepting a few things...like myself and I was pretty sure I still didn’t want to be gay, but I did want Shane. I didn’t wish I didn’t like him, anymore.
“No, I don’t,” I told him aloud and he raised a skeptical eyebrow at me. “I don’t,” I insisted pulling him close again. “Not anymore.”
He stared at me for a second, eyes turning serious as he studied me. It still put me on edge to be looked at so carefully, but I didn’t mind the feeling so much anymore. It was intense, but I could deal with it.
“Good,” Shane said, softly, dropping his hand flat against my chest and sliding it up behind my neck. “It was definitely annoying.”
My response--a heartfelt ‘fuck off’ was muffled when he leaned in again to press his lips against mine. I hated being interrupted, but if he had to do it, I decided I liked it much better when he did it with a kiss.
Besides, I’m pretty sure he heard me anyway.
I’ve gone through whole days at school without ever once seeing Ryan anywhere but fifth period study hall, last period English, and lunch period. Not because we ever really avoided each other, it just happened that way.
I’ve always said that the entire world is out to get me but I don’t think I ever really believed it until I went to school Friday morning and found I couldn’t get away from Ryan Lucas. My possibly former best friend. Or whatever.
He was every fucking where. Half the times I saw him, I was sure it shouldn’t have even been possible. I walked away from him after I ran into him after third period and I swear, I turned the corner and ran into the fucker again. Or...maybe it didn’t happen quite like that, but that’s what it felt like. The one day I didn’t want to see him, I couldn’t get away from him.
It didn’t help matters any that he noticed me every single time and glared at me like I was doing it on purpose.
Seriously, he didn’t hate me? He had a weird way of showing it. Like it was such a fucking inconvenience to have to see me. It’s not like I tried talking to him, or anything, but I swear, you’d think the sight of me alone was enough to make him sick.
I don’t know what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t the way he was acting. I hadn’t expected him to be nice to me or anything; we were ‘staying away’ from each other. I just hadn’t expected him to be cruel either.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part comes at fifth period study hall. Our school is like a prison. ‘Study hall’ for every other school in the district meant you could go home and get some rest for an hour before you had to come back. At my school, we couldn’t leave our study halls without a pass and, the only place we could actually get a pass to was the library, where we had to sign in.
But none of that is the point.
The point is that I ended up sitting next to Ryan for the entire hour, pretending that the equation on Mrs. Thurston’s blackboard was the most interesting thing in the world. And not because there’s assigned seating or anything. It was a full class and everyone in it assumed that Ry and I would sit together. I got to the class first and took a seat on the opposite side of the classroom, far away from where Ry and I usually sat. And a few times, someone came in and almost sat down in the chair next to me, but they always apologized--yeah, apologized--and walked off to sit elsewhere.
And when Ryan walked in to find that the only desk left was the one next to me, I swear, I could hear him grit his teeth clear across the room. I couldn’t blame him, but it didn’t stop the burning and twisting thing my stomach was doing. I wondered if I was too young to get an ulcer.
I didn’t think my day could actually get any worse than that and...it didn’t for the most part. I sat with Reid Lettiere, a kid I hadn’t spoken to since I was fourteen at lunch because Ryan looked like he might actually flip if I even thought about sitting with him and when I moved toward Shane, his glare only got worse. Reid was the closest person I could find whose name I actually knew, so after saying hi to Shane and Caydence, I sat down with him.
It wasn’t entirely unbearable if you didn’t count the way I could feel Chloe, Ry, Shane, and even Caydence watching me the entire time I ate. Reid, at least, wasn’t the talkative type. And he didn’t ask me any questions beyond ‘you gonna drink that?’ He didn’t say anything else through the rest of lunch. More people should be like Reid.
By last period English, I was ready to give up. Not on school, on Ryan. He said he didn’t hate me, or whatever, but people change their minds all the time. I’ve had people tell me they hated me before, but never once have I actually felt it. Ryan made me feel it that day. It didn’t matter that he said he didn’t hate me; he was acting like he did. And when he shoved me aside as he entered last period, something twisted in my chest and then in my stomach and I actually felt my eyes sting. And just so we’re clear; no he didn’t push me that hard.
I don’t like crying, I don’t think anyone does, but right then, for the first time in forever, I felt like I might not be able to hold it back. I did hold the tears back, but only because I’ve developed a really effective solution to the crying issue. Actually, I didn’t really ‘develop’ anything, it sort of happens on its own, thank God. Something ‘clicks’ into place and instead of crying in front of half my English class, I grabbed Ry by the back of his shirt and yanked him back, but only to get him close enough to be able to effectively shove his ass into the teachers desk.
Mrs. Carmichael actually screamed and put her hand to her chest, looking at me like I’d lost my mind. I think it was shock that kept her from reacting.
I was so busy watching her that I didn’t notice Ryan get up until he was right in front of me and I almost tripped over my feet trying to back away from him.
“What the fuck?” Ryan said, his voice low and almost calm despite the fact that his fists were clenched at his sides and his face was flushed angrily. “What’s your problem, Jacob?”
I didn’t back down. Which is strange because I definitely didn’t want to make things worse, but he pissed me off. I couldn’t back down even if I knew I was probably digging myself deeper into that little hole I seemed to live in lately. He was the one being unreasonable, not me and there’s really only so much I can take.
“You are my problem,” I snapped and turned on my heel to leave the classroom before Mrs. Carmichael recovered enough to send me to see Snider. We had a swim meet after school that day and I figured if I left before she could do anything, I wouldn’t spend the meet dry.
I was practically seething by the time I got out of the school building and it was a good thing no one would be at my house when I got there, because it definitely wasn’t the time for me to be around anyone...which is probably why I almost shoved Caydence right off her feet when she tapped my shoulder and scared the shit out of me.
“Jesus,” I said. I didn’t even try to look apologetic, but I did tell her I was sorry.
“I have a car,” she informed me, like I didn’t know. “It has gas too.”
I closed my eyes for a second to calm myself down. “That’s...nice, Caydence; good for you.”
“I’m driving you home,” she said, and I immediately objected. I needed to walk. I needed to blow off some steam or something and the thought of being cooped up in a car wasn’t all that appealing at the moment.
“No, thanks,” I said, not bothering to try and be nice to her at all. “I’m fine. Just back off.”
She didn’t seem fazed. “Okay,” she said, picking up her pace to pass me. “I’ll just meet you at your house.”
“Ok--wait, what?” I stopped walking to glare at her, but I had to start walking again, because Caydence isn’t like normal people that would have caught the hint and turned around to talk to me.
“Shane’s still in class,” she informed me. “He’d have followed you, but he doesn’t know. So, I’m gonna be Shane today. I’m pretty excited about it. He has great skin.”
“Caydence,” I sighed. Normally, just being around her craziness made me feel better, but right then, I just wanted her to leave me alone to sulk.
“I’ll see you at your house,” she repeated as she pulled her keys out of her purse. “And I’ll even take you to your swim meet later. I’m taking Shane.”
“Whatever,” I said and I turned away to walk home, ignoring her when she waved as she drove by. It’s insane, but I thought of Reid right then and how he probably would have left me alone when I told him to. He probably wouldn’t have followed me out of the classroom in the first place. Actually, I was sure he wouldn’t have.
More people should be like Reid.
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