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.
"Crickets! That's it. Did you know they're supposed to be good luck? In some places, it's said that if you hear a cricket's song, you'll be blessed."
I gaped at Caydence without a clue as to how to respond to that. I guess there wasn't really anything wrong with what she said. Shane was always giving me random facts, but the way Caydence said it, you'd think that we'd actually just seen a cricket or that we'd been in the middle of a conversation about insects. We weren't. I'd just finished apologizing for being a dick. I'd calmed down on my way home, and I felt like I owed it to her. I told her I was sorry, that I was having a bad day, and asked her if she'd please leave.
And that was how she responded. With the cricket thing. Lunatic.
"Okay," I said slowly and I actually took a step away from her. "About you leaving..."
"No," she said, grabbing my wrist and dragging me through my house, like she'd been there a million times before and could find her way through with her eyes closed. "We have to find a cricket first and make it sing."
"What?" I asked, frowning at her, getting more frustrated by the second. Normally, I probably would have welcomed her company. Caydence had this amazing ability to say something completely out of left field and sound so serious about it that it was all I could think about and I'd forget whatever other bullshit that was cluttering up my mind.
But she couldn't make me forget Ryan and really...she was annoying the shit out of me with her distractions.
"We have to find a cricket," she repeated, answering my question as she dragged me through my kitchen and out the back door. "You're having a bad day, right? So, all we need is a cricket. They're good luck remember? I figure you could use it."
She wasn't lying. I mean, no, I didn't believe crickets were actually good luck or that their songs could offer me any type of blessing. But...I did need luck...the good kind. And a `blessing' or whatever definitely wouldn't hurt. She was right about that.
But I wasn't about to go looking for a cricket in my back yard to, like, rub it's belly and hope that it made Ryan get over the bullshit and stop being an ass.
"Caydence," I said, as she fell to her knees in my back yard, with a business-like look on her face. "Get up, this is ridiculous."
"Yeah?" she asked, running her fingers through my grass like she was actually going to find something. "Well so is sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself when you could be doing something to fix things."
I think it was the first time that I'd ever heard Caydence say something...normal. It shocked me into silence for a minute...until I went over what she said and I was pissed off all over again.
"What exactly am I supposed to do?" I snapped at her, stepping forward and crouching in front of her. Attitude always works better when you get up in the other person's face. "I already tried talking to Ryan and... there's nothing else I can do."
"Yes, there is," she insisted without looking up at me. "You can help me find a cricket and help me figure out a way to make it sing. If it doesn't work, we'll know not to try it again." Caydence looked up, but not at me. She stared out in front of her, looking pensive. "At least this way, you're doing something about it. Even if it doesn't work, at least you're trying, right? It's better than sitting around feeling helplessly sorry for yourself."
Prolonged exposure to Caydence Martell is a dangerous thing. All of her nonsense was starting to make some weird sort of sense. I'd hated Ryan's `time away' plan because it made me feel like I was giving up. I hated not doing anything. Cricket hunting--insane and pointless as it was--was something at least.
I dropped to my knees with a resigned sigh, ignoring the triumphant grin Caydence shot me. "How are we supposed to make it sing... if we even find one?" I asked, still feeling a little ridiculous about the whole thing.
"Torture?" Caydence said shrugging. "But no, that would probably bring bad luck. Also, it seems rude. I don't know. The crickets are always singing in the park behind my house. I say we just find one and wait for it to start singing."
It was better than anything I could come up with, so I shrugged and went to it. I didn't know what the hell I was doing and I still felt a little ridiculous about the whole thing, so I just sat there, mimicking Caydence's every move, wondering what the chances were that we'd actually find a cricket in my backyard.
"What time do you have to be in Adams County?" Caydence asked, distractedly. "I think Shane said about five?"
"Yeah," I muttered, as I ran my fingers over something round and smooth in the grass. It was one of those rubber bouncing balls. And it was Ryan's. I frowned at it before tossing it over the back fence.
And then I felt guilty. It was just a stupid fucking ball but I couldn't help it and I tried to shove the urge I had to run and go get it away. I wanted to latch onto the anger that I felt toward Ryan... badly. Being mad at him wasn't something that I was used to but it was easier than everything else I was feeling. I just... couldn't hold onto the anger. It was exhausting to even try.
We never really did find any crickets. Caydence found one of the buttons that popped off a shirt that was older than I was, but my dad insisted on wearing anyway and I found the red cap that I dropped the day Shane and I put the weed whacker together, but no crickets. I hadn't expected to find any, but after looking for one with Caydence for at least an hour, I did wonder where the hell they all were. I heard crickets chirping in my backyard all the time and now, when I was actually looking, I couldn't find one. It was just...
"We could buy a cricket," Caydence suggested after we gave up, sitting on the ground, dusting her knees off. "We could probably find some at the pet store."
"Why would they sell crickets," I asked, frowning. "Who'd want a cricket for a pet?"
"Not for a pet," Caydence clarified. "For pet food."
I didn't say anything, because it would have been totally lame, but I thought that was kind of fucked up. I mean, I don't care. Not about crickets. Not...not really. At all.
"Come on," I told Caydence standing up and offering her a hand. "I've got to get ready for the swim meet."
The swim meet I still wasn't sure I'd be swimming in. Not if Mrs. Carmichael told Snider about my little hit and run before last period. And there's no way she didn't tell him.
"Do you need help?" Caydence asked as we walked into my house. "I'm pretty good at holding things. I can also pack."
"Pack what?" I asked, snorting. "I'll be wearing everything I'm bringing."
"Okay," Caydence said, shrugging. We stepped into my living room just as the front door opened and I tensed because my parents were not supposed to be home until later and while I may have been alright being around Caydence, I definitely wasn't alright being around them.
I got lucky, though. No thanks to any crickets.
"Chloe?" I asked as she stepped into my house. "What are you doing here?"
She didn't answer me. She was frowning at Caydence, who was in the middle of making herself comfortable in my dad's favorite recliner.
"What's she doing here?" Chloe asked, fixing one of her inquisitive stares on me. And really, what the fuck? It's not like I was doing anything wrong. Maybe Chloe didn't mean anything by her question but I couldn't help but feel like it was an accusation. I blame it on the shit day I was having.
"There are no crickets in Jake's back yard," Caydence responded to Chloe's question, smiling serenely. I cringed. I knew what she was talking about for once, but Chloe wouldn't. And I knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of all that insanity if you weren't used to it.
Chloe's brows rose until they disappeared behind her bangs and she turned to give me a look that clearly said `is this girl for real?'
I just shrugged and said, "She's taking me to the swim meet."
Chloe frowned, actually looking surprised. "No, she's not," she countered, looking at me like I'd just said something way more insane than the cricket comment. "Ryan's taking you. He always does."
I snorted. She was completely serious, but I snorted, laughing at her. "Yeah, that's gonna happen. Except...no, it's really not. Fuck Ryan."
"Jake!" Chloe said scandalized. I swore she got lessons from my mother. No one else could say my name like that. Chloe even had that familiar disappointed look to go with it. "That's kind of fucked up," she added, shaking her head at me.
"What?" I asked, exasperated. "I didn't do anything. He did. I tried talking to him--more than once and I tried staying away from him, like he asked. He was still a dick. And...he...whatever. I thought you weren't taking sides."
"I'm not," Chloe responded immediately, stepping closer to me. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to say that. It's just...he's your best friend. I get that he's being an ass but you can't just...quit. You know how he is."
"Is that supposed to make it alright?" Caydence asked, curious. I'd almost forgotten she was in the room. "Kinda like a puppy that pisses on the bed...it's alright because you expected it anyway?"
Chloe just glared at her. "Why are you still here?" she asked, all attitude.
Caydence smiled. "I don't think I like you," she said. "But it's too early to tell."
"Okay," Chloe said, clearly annoyed at the interruption. "I don't care. Could you give us a minute?"
Caydence shrugged, grabbing her purse as she stood up. "I'll give you ten. Just one seems a little...ambitious. You've got a lot of issues."
Chloe glared at her as she walked back into my kitchen. "I don't like her," Chloe said, nodding at the kitchen. "She's a bitch. In an annoying, passive way."
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. Look, Chloe...I'm not doing this. I don't want to fight with you, but I'm not riding with Ryan. I'm not speaking to Ryan. And he wants it that way. If you want to bitch at someone, bitch at him. I'm done."
Chloe was silent. She stood there in my living room with her arms folded across her chest, looking at me with something between understanding and disappointment. Disappointed? She wasn't the only one.
"Jake," she sighed, defeated. "He really has been upset. I'm not saying it's your fault, I'm just saying that someone needs to do something. And I have been talking to him. I just really think that if you..."
"No, Chloe," I said firmly. "I'm done."
"Done?" Chloe asked, raising an eyebrow. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means I can't do this anymore," I snapped, but I was more frustrated with the situation in general than I was with her. "I don't know how to do this with him, you know? We don't do this, me and him. We fight and we get over it. But now... I mean, he's Ry and he's my best friend and now every fucking time he even...every time he looks at me..."
I let it hang. I knew how ridiculous it would sound if I continued. And I couldn't really explain it anyway, but it really did...hurt to see Ryan look at me like I made him sick. Like he really couldn't stand me. When you've known someone as long as Ry and I had known each other, you're bound to get into fights--and we had. But he'd never looked at me like that.
I'd tried. Even earlier that day, when I was doing everything I could to avoid Ryan--that was me trying. He wanted me to stay away and I did because he was my best friend, and I didn't want to lose him. I would have done pretty much anything to just...make it better, but none of it was working. He was pissed at me when he ran into me at school and he was pissed when I avoided him at lunch. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.
I didn't want to...give up or whatever, but it was definitely starting to feel like there wasn't even a point in trying. It was like, no matter what I did, it wasn't going to be enough. I couldn't be straight. I tried. I failed. You were there, you know the story.
And all of the fighting I'd done... fighting myself and fighting Shane and just...everything. It was pointless, because I was losing Ryan anyway and he was damn near the only reason I'd even bothered.
I felt... sick. My stomach twisted every time I thought about Ryan...and the fact that he and I might actually not be friends anymore. The thought made my chest ache.
So, no, I didn't want to give up. Definitely not. But I didn't really have a choice. Ryan wouldn't budge.
"I'm tired, Chlo," I said, mostly because Chloe was still standing there, silently, staring at me with that look on her face, like she expected me to fix it. "He doesn't want me around and I'm...tired of trying to make him."
"Yeah?" Chloe said, her tone challenging. "He really doesn't want you around?"
I shrugged. "That's what he said. And you had to have heard what happened today."
"Hmm," Chloe said, lifting her chin. "Yeah, I did. I heard you two had a little cat fight. Ry shoved you, you shoved him back double hard and you both acted like a couple of..."
I cut her off with a harsh glare. "Seriously?" I said, incredulously. "You really don't think you're taking sides? He started that whole thing and all day..."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. Whatever, I don't care. I just...I want you both to stop acting like pussies and get over it, okay? This is stupid. Someone's gotta do something and neither of you is willing..."
"I have tried. Fuck, Chloe. It's him. He doesn't want to see me."
"He's waiting outside," she countered, shrugging one shoulder. "So, that's bullshit. He's being dick and we both know it. He won't let me talk to him, so I'm talking to you--not taking sides. I got him to come over here, but he seriously won't let me talk to him... He... doesn't know how to deal with this, either, you know. So, cut him some slack? He's trying--he's doing a really bad job, but he is trying, in his way. And when we get over this, I'll help you kick his ass for being so stupid. But...let's get over it first, okay?"
She made it seem so simple. Shane and Caydence and everyone made it seem so fucking easy but it wasn't. I hated the idea of just sitting around and waiting to see what happened like Shane had told me to do...and it didn't work anyway. But looking for crickets hadn't really helped either. And Chloe's suggestion? It was just never going to work.
"I can't," I said, and really, I was just making excuses and I knew it. I didn't want to face Ryan again. It seemed like things only ever ended up getting worse each time I tried talking to him. I was past just being upset... I was pissed at him. I'd definitely make things worse if I tried talking to him. Talking to Chloe, I was more upset than angry, but I knew if I got in the car with him and had to drive all the way to A-bay with him acting like I was the one that did something wrong--when I honestly didn't think I really had--I'd snap.
"You can," Chloe insisted. "Just let him drive you to the meet. You've got to go anyway, and if you ride with Caydence...are you sure she's even sane?"
"No," I answered honestly, shrugging. "But I don't even know if I'll be able to swim today, anyway. I might be benched after Mrs. Carmichael--,"
"Ry told her it was an accident," Chloe interrupted, smirking at me. I hate her.
"There's no way she bought that," I said, skeptically.
Chloe laughed. "Nope. Probably not." She shrugged. "She didn't tell Snider, though."
"Chlo," I sighed. "I...not now, okay? It'll only fuck things up more because I'm definitely still pissed at him."
She stared at me for a long moment before she sighed and nodded. "Me too," she said, and she attacked me with another one of those hugs that I really hoped she wasn't making a habit of. "I'm sorry," she continued. "I didn't mean to like, put it all on you, but Ry seriously won't let me talk to him about it."
"I'll forgive you tomorrow," I told her, trying and failing to step out of her embrace gracefully.
"Tomorrow?" Chloe asked, with an arched brow.
I shrugged. "Suffer. You were being a bitch."
"I can be sometimes," Chloe snorted, shaking her head. "Jake?"
"Remember in fifth grade when I came over to your house crying because Kenny pushed me down the stairs in front of everyone at fifth grade graduation?" she asked as she backed away from me. "Remember what you said?"
"Yeah," I nodded, grimacing. "I told you to get away, because you're getting snot all over my favorite shirt."
She glared. "Not that," she said. "About Kenny, I mean."
"Oh," I said, and nodded again. "I asked you if you wanted me and Ry to beat him up for you."
"Well, do you?" she asked, smiling. "Want me to beat him up for you? `Cause I will. I don't think it'll help, but..."
"Chloe," I cut her off, returning the smile, grudgingly. "No. I'm good."
"Alright," she sighed. "But... I'll keep trying anyway. He's being an ass but he's gotta be okay with it eventually. He doesn't really have a choice." She shrugged smiling at me. "I'll see you at the meet. I'll even cheer for you if you promise not to embarrass yourself too bad."
"Whatever," I snorted, shaking my head at her. She laughed and turned around to walk out, but I called her back. I didn't really want to keep talking about anything, there was just something in what she said that caught my attention...and I had to ask.
"Hey, Chlo?" I called just before she stepped out the door.
"Yeah?" she said, spinning around to face me.
"Why are you okay with it? You know, with..." I still couldn't fucking say it. Not on purpose. "I mean," I lowered my voice, glancing over my shoulder at the kitchen door. "You think it's gross, right? Wrong?"
Chloe stared at me for a long time with a frown on her face, her head cocked to the side, studying me as she chewed on her lip. I wasn't sure why I'd asked; I definitely didn't want to talk about it. Not if I didn't have to. And...I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear whatever answer Chloe was going to give me.
"It is weird," she said, after a moment, shrugging as she took a couple steps back into the room to lean against the back of the sofa. "Not wrong, I don't think... my mom used to say...well, that doesn't matter. I don't think it's wrong, okay? It's just...weird that it's you. I never would have guessed. You always went right along with Ryan when he'd pick out random girls to have ten second fantasies with. But...I'm good. I'm cool with it." She paused, turning to smirk at me, mischievously and I knew I didn't want to hear the next words out of her mouth before she even said them. "I'd be even cooler with it if you told me what Shane looks like na--,"
"Chloe!" I shouted, before she could finish, hoping the sound of my voice completely drowned Chloe's out just in case Caydence was listening in the kitchen. "I... no," I said, shaking my head. "I don't even know. And I wouldn't tell you anyway. Jesus, I can't believe... stop laughing."
"It was a joke, Jake," she said, rolling her eyes. "Kidding? Ha, ha? Funny?"
"Or not," I muttered, glaring at her. I nodded toward the door. "Weren't you leaving?"
She rolled her eyes again. "Christ, you're sensitive. Which pretty much answers my question by the way, because you clearly still need to get laid."
"Chlo!" I choked, incredulously. Remember how I used to say how much I love my friends. I take every word of it back. I mean, I was pretty sure I wasn't the only virgin in the room.
"Okay," she said, laughing. "I'm going." She took a deep breath to compose herself and I glared at her when she broke up into another fit of giggles instead. "Leaving" she said, hands up in surrender. And she took off out the door.
I just stood there for a minute, shaking my head in disbelief before I turned around to go fetch Caydence.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" I nearly screamed, when I turned and found her standing right there. I mean, right there.
Caydence didn't even flinch. "Shane's going to meet us there," she said, all business. "He waited for you after school, so he still has to run home and get ready. I told him we'd wait for him, but he said he'd drive himself."
"Shit," I said, sighing as I took a look at the clock. I definitely needed to hurry if I didn't want to be late. I turned back to Caydence. "He waited?"
Caydence nodded. I sighed. Fuck.
First Ryan and then Chloe. Now Shane. I wondered if I was ever going to stop pissing people off.
"So, he's...pissed, huh?" Yeah, I'm lame, but I was trying my damnedest not to sound...too interested. Don't worry, I'm completely aware of the fact that I was failing miserably.
"Yeah," Caydence said, shrugging. "He hung up on me after I blamed it on the crickets."
I couldn't blame him. I sighed and turned away from Caydence, hurrying toward the stairs to go up to my room to get ready, wondering if there was any way I could casually suggest to Caydence that we go pick him up anyway. We'd have time if I could get ready quick enough. And it's not like I had a lot to do. Speedos, windbreakers, shoes, swim cap, goggles. It's not the kind of thing that takes hours. I was ready in five minutes.
"What took you so long?" Caydence asked as I trotted back down the steps into the living room. I raised an eyebrow at her.
"What are you talking about?"
"Come on," she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me through the front door without answering my question. I wondered if she got the dragging thing from Shane or if he got if from her. I guessed the latter. She was much better at it and I was actually trying to resist following her.
I never did get a chance to casually slip my little suggestion into our conversation. Probably because there wasn't any `conversation'. I tried to start one a few times, but Caydence, apparently, isn't one of those people that can talk and drive at the same time. Not on the main streets, anyway. The longest answers I ever got out of her were the `uh-huhs' she let out when I asked if she was alright to drive. It was seriously freaking me out. She seemed nervous and being in the car with someone that seems nervous driving is almost worse than being in the car with someone who was angry at you.
"You have a license, right?" I asked when she gasped at being cut off. Ry usually just honked, switch lanes and sped up to retaliate. I wasn't sure which reaction scared me more.
"Yup," she answered, distracted.
"And you've made this trip before?"
I nodded. "But you're nervous?"
"Well," I said, shaking my head as I tightened my seat belt. "That's comforting." I really hate cars. I've mentioned that, right?
"Sure," Caydence said, sitting up straighter.
"You weren't like this the first time I rode with you," I commented, swallowing.
"Nope," she shook her head, without ever taking her eyes off the road.
"Look, maybe we should just pull over," I suggested. "I can call my parents to come and get us. They get off soon and they're coming to the meet anyway."
"Nah," Caydence said shaking her head. "I'm okay to drive."
It was better than another one word answer that didn't mean anything, but it wasn't reassuring. Not even a little bit.
"Then why are you so jumpy?"
"I'm not," she responded. The tension in her voice might have something to do with why I didn't believe her. I didn't ask anymore questions, though. If she was really that nervous, I didn't want to be the distraction that sent us careening off into a ditch somewhere.
I think I held my breath most of the way to A-bay central. I mean, obviously I didn't hold my breath the whole time, but...it was like, I'd hold my breath as long as I could, exhale when it started to make me lightheaded and start all over again. I was panting by the time Caydence parked and I got out of the car. I was definitely finding a different ride home.
"We did it," Caydence said, as she stepped out of the car and moved around it to stand next to me.
"Yeah," I said. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was just...glad we made it alive. Don't get me wrong, the ride itself was pretty smooth, Caydence didn't swerve or jerk or anything like that, it was just... I don't know, nerves are contagious. And I really don't like cars.
"I didn't kill a single cricket on the way here. I'm not sure if they're ever on the street, but I figured it's getting dark and they're always everywhere when it's dark. But I don't think we killed one. So you're safe."
I gaped at her. My jaw actually dropped and all that relief or whatever I was feeling was almost immediately replaced with some mix of anger and annoyance with her and I opened my mouth to tell her exactly what I thought of her when I felt a hand drop on my shoulder.
I spun around fast enough to make me dizzy and almost ended up ripping into Shane the way I'd planned to do to Caydence but I didn't.
"Are you okay?" he asked, looking genuinely concerned. He apparently misinterpreted my anger...or whatever, completely and I watched his head turn a fraction to look across the parking lot at...Ryan, of course, because the day I was having so far really needed this moment to be complete.
"Do you believe in God?" I asked, no one in particular as I put my goggles around my neck, doing my best to avoid Ryan's gaze as I started off toward the building.
"Uhm... I don't really know," Shane said, looking at me with an almost frightened look in his eyes. "Jake, what's going--,"
"I think he hates me," I interrupted. "God, I mean. I think he despises me." I sighed. "Let's go inside."
Shane shot Caydence a look that I'm assuming I wasn't supposed to see and she turned to walk away without a word as soon as we entered the school. I rolled my eyes. Maybe he hadn't told her about whatever was going on between he and I but she'd have to be a fucking vegetable not to have caught on.
"Did...did Ryan say something?" he asked cautiously as we walked down the hall, his voice almost a whisper. "Because you know, just `cause you're gay, doesn't mean that God..."
"What? No," I cringed as I shook my head. "That's not...I wasn't talking about that."
Shane let out a breath of relief that I probably would have laughed at if I couldn't still feel Ry's eyes on me.
"Good," Shane said, smiling. "I had no idea where I was going with that sentence."
I didn't need to turn around to know who was calling me. There are some voices that you just...know. I sighed and turned to look at Shane tiredly, but I didn't stop walking.
"You can just ignore him," Shane suggested. "I mean... you could pretend you can't hear him."
"I can hear you, asshole," Ry said from behind us. "Can you believe this fucker?" he said, assumingly to Chloe. If she responded, I didn't hear her.
"See," I told Shane, stopping. "God hates me."
Shane offered me a sympathetic look that really didn't help at all but I appreciated it just the same.
"Look, I'll meet you in the locker room," I told him and his jaw clenched, but he didn't say anything. He nodded stiffly, squeezing my shoulder before he walked off. It was a friendly enough gesture that I probably wouldn't have minded if I didn't know Ryan was watching and judging every move we made.
I turned to face him, reluctantly and was glad to find he wasn't looking back. He was glaring at Chloe who had her arms folded across her chest, eyebrows raised, expression stern. Ry held out, but only for a second longer than I normally did when faced with that look and he sighed, rolling his eyes as he nodded. Chloe grinned and patted his shoulder before taking a few steps toward me, smiling at me as she came.
I couldn't smile back. Not because I was angry--though part of me wanted to be. I wasn't, though. I couldn't bring myself to be, even when I went over what a royal asshole he was being.
He'd just had an entire conversation with Chloe without ever saying a word. And...no, it's not in my nature to be jealous of Chloe and I don't think I really was...it was just...I used to be able to do that. Talk to him without saying a word. Years of communicating across a classroom full of testing students when we were supposed to be `quiet' made it easy to have a conversation with him with just my eyes. And now...
Now, I couldn't talk to him at all much less without actually using words. And... it hurt to think about. I couldn't be angry because it hurt. I had told Chloe that I didn't think I could talk to Ryan because I was still pissed... but that was bullshit. This was why I couldn't talk to him. I... I didn't want to feel it anymore. There was a knot in my chest and no amount of swallowing would make it go back down. And I almost wanted to just...run away because one look from Ryan--one of those sick, disgusted looks that were completely foreign when it came to him--would push that knot right into my throat and I couldn't fucking cry. Not in front of an entire locker room full of my friends.
And... not in front of Ryan.
"Don't drown," Chloe said when she reached me, but she didn't stay. She walked right past me after squeezing my shoulder, much the same way Shane had, leaving Ry and I alone in the hallway.
He didn't say anything. He wouldn't even meet my eyes and the second I felt that `knot' in my chest...flex or something, I turned to walk away. The day had been my longest yet, and I didn't think I could deal with anymore...torture. Not from Ryan. Had it been anyone else, I doubted it would have bothered me even half as much.
"I'm not going to chase you," he said, his voice eerily calm. Blank. I hated it.
"No one asked you to," I said quietly, but I was pretty sure he heard me. I wasn't really angry at him, not anymore. I just couldn't stay there. I couldn't try talking to him again and get...nowhere. I couldn't have another awkward conversation with Ryan, because Ryan and I don't have awkward conversations, at least, we didn't before... and if I had to try, I wouldn't be able to swallow that fucking knot and... I just couldn't do it.
"I'm not apologizing either," he added, but I didn't respond. I turned and I walked away. If Ryan and I were going to `get over it', it was going to have to happen some other time, because I couldn't handle it right then.
I left. I walked off, into the locker room and he didn't follow me. Just like he said he wouldn't.
I unzipped my jacket the second I entered the locker room and I had my t-shirt pulled over my head by the time I reached Shane. And I was so fucking out of it, I almost didn't even notice the way it took his eyes a minute to actually reach mine as they traveled over my chest instead. Not that it was anything new, exactly. He always did it during swim practice. I'd feel him watching me as I stood up on the block about to dive in and it almost always pissed me off and definitely made me paranoid, but at the moment, I couldn't bring myself to care.
I dropped down on the bench that ran between the two rows of lockers and untied my shoes. Everything felt...off. I didn't even feel like I was really there. There were noises all around me in the locker room and I almost couldn't hear a single one of them. It was...surreal.
"Are you okay?" Shane asked, sitting down next to me, just as I took off my other shoe. I'm not even sure where I put them. I think I just sort of dropped them off to the side somewhere and it wasn't long before my socks and pants followed.
"Jake?" Shane persisted when I didn't answer him.
I sighed, and sat there, staring at the locker in front of me, and wondering vaguely why I even bothered with a locker with no lock on it. It seemed almost pointless.
Just like everything with Ry was starting to feel pointless. But I picked up my stuff and shoved it into a locker anyway, making a mental note of its' number.
"Jake?" Shane pressed and the worried tone in his voice was enough to get me to look at him at least. "What's wrong?"
I shrugged, turning back to stare at the lockers in front of me. "I don't think it's going to be okay. With Ryan. I think... " I closed my eyes tight and swallowed rapidly when I felt my nose start to get that pre-sneeze feeling that usually comes right before the stinging in your eyes when you're about to cry. And I held it back. Just barely.
I flinched when I felt Shane's hand on my shoulder and, again, it was a small gesture and I doubted anyone would give it a second thought but it had me nervous and I whipped my head around, scanning the room for anyone that might be watching. He pulled his hand away. Thankfully. I don't know how many times to say it. Unless you're name is `mom' I don't want you to know I am actually capable of crying.
"Sorry," he said, and he looked genuine enough. Not a single trace of that smirk he usually has on his face when he succeeds in making me paranoid when we both know I have no reason to be. "Look," he went on, and he leaned in, close enough to whisper something into my ear and far enough away to make it look innocent. "Do you want to get out of here? I can take you home ..."
"No," I shook my head, closing my eyes once more. "I wanna swim."
Shane was silent and for a second, I thought he might try and make me leave, but he didn't. "Alright," he said softly. "Well...at least...wait here for a minute. Until they all leave."
I looked at him, a little suspiciously, because if he thought I was going to make out with him in the middle of a locker room he was out of his fucking mind. I tensed, unconsciously, looking around at the others in the room.
"No," he said, apparently reading my mind. "I just thought you could use the space. Away from...everyone else. I'll leave too, if you want." He looked more than a little offended. I was pretty sure that meant I should feel guilty, because he was trying to be...supportive, but I couldn't feel much of anything other than sick. I knew I owed him an apology, though.
"Sorry," I said, shaking my head. "I'm not..."
"I know," he interrupted and he moved closer to me. It was slow and anyone watching would have thought it was an accident, but he shifted closer, until I could feel his arm bare against mine and I sighed resisting the urge to lean on him. I liked the contact. It didn't help much...but it was something.
I never saw Ryan enter the locker room, but I didn't really move from my place on the bench to look for him. I wanted to though. I couldn't talk to him, but part of me felt like...if I could just see him, without him knowing I was looking, I'd have some idea of what to do next. He was an ass, but Chloe was completely right when she said I couldn't just...give up. I didn't know how.
What was most frustrating was that I had no idea why he was so mad. I mean, yeah, he was pissed about the gay thing, but I really didn't know why. Which is stupid, if you think about it, because I'd always known he wouldn't like it. It was just...now that it had actually happened, I couldn't figure out why the hell it was such a problem for him.
And I couldn't understand why he was so mad at me, for something that I really didn't like anymore than he did. I had tried to change. For him. It wasn't my fault. It just sucked because I tried so hard for so long and it'd been exhausting...but it was all for nothing. I couldn't change anything and I lost Ryan anyway.
I barely noticed the other members of my team slowly file out of the locker room, though a few of them even walked by me on the way out to pat my back or wish me luck. I didn't answer a single one of them and Shane tried to sit there with me through all of this without actually looking like he was...with me. Whatever. It was definitely cool of him and I was pretty sure I'd feel guilty later, for the assumption I'd made when he asked me to wait.
"Are you sure you don't want to just...blow this off?" Shane asked, in a voice barely above a whisper as the last person left the locker room.
I shook my head. "It's a big meet," I said, flatly. "You're swimming against Rosner again. And Ry is..." I clenched my jaw, lifting my head to meet his eyes. "I'm staying."
Shane nodded slowly, staring me down, but I wasn't going to change my mind. It wasn't that I needed to swim--coach would probably kick my ass if I just left, but it wasn't about the meet. It was Ryan. I couldn't talk to him, but I couldn't understand why he suddenly wanted to talk to me. He was just... so fucking confusing. And I don't know why but I thought that if I could just see him...
I don't know. I just couldn't leave. Leaving felt like giving up and even if I couldn't talk to him, I wasn't ready to do that yet.
So with a deep breath and a long look at Shane for...comfort or courage or something, I turned and walked out of the locker room.
Ryan looked up the second I walked out and I tensed, waiting for him to shoot me that sickened glare he'd been giving me all day, but he didn't. He looked, saw me walking over and looked away, staring out at the pool in front of him.
I couldn't understand him. I couldn't understand a single thing he did or said anymore and...I think that's what was making everything so hard. I always understood Ry.
I couldn't understand me either. I wanted to talk to him, but I didn't want to hear what he had to say if it was going to be bad. I wanted to be mad at him, but I didn't want to show that I was mad at him, just in case there might be a chance that he'd realized what an ass he was being. I didn't know what I wanted. And I don't think he did, either.
So neither of us did anything. Which, might be what Chloe was talking about earlier when she said I wasn't doing anything. I'd tried talking to him before, sure, but I don't think I ever really said anything worthwhile.
We didn't usually sit, during swim meets. We stood and cheered and rolled our eyes at the competition whenever they glanced our way. I think that meet was the first I realized there actually was a bench for us to sit on and I only noticed because Ryan was already there. I could have stayed standing, like I always did, but the thought never crossed my mind. It seemed...logical to sit on the bench with Ry...as far away as I could. I felt like I was making some sort of a statement, though I couldn't begin to tell you what I was trying to say.
Shane didn't sit though. He stood looking between the two of us for a moment before patting my back, biting his lip as he walked away, leaving us alone. And yeah, I sat on the opposite side of the bench, but it's not like the thing was huge. There was probably just enough space between us to fit three other people...and not comfortably.
I hate awkward situations with anyone. But awkward situations with Ryan? It felt wrong. Ry was one of the few people that I could feel comfortable with in pretty much any situation. It was just...I hated it. I hated being around him and not knowing what to say. It wasn't the way things between him and I were supposed to be.
The second Shane was gone, I could feel Ry looking at me and I literally had to fight not to look back. The hairs on my arms stood on end and I don't think I'd ever been so fucking tense in my life. Especially not around Ryan. Not even when I'd almost kissed him. It was bad then, but I was way too `out of it' to actually feel it. Sitting there with Ryan, I could definitely feel everything and it was enough to make me shake as I fought with all my muscles to stay still and not look back at him.
I only got a break when it was finally time for me to swim. My event was the hundred meter freestyle. I would have preferred the two hundred, but that was Ry's event. He was better than me anyway.
I could still feel Ryan's eyes on me when I got up on the block and into position. It's probably why I got such a decent start. I needed to escape, even if it was only for a little while and when I heard the gunshot, I wasted no time in getting into the water.
Everything echoes by the pool. And at meets, it's really loud. Everyone is making some kind of noise and all of the noises mix together until none of them make any sense. But when you first dive into the water, all of those noises disappear. It's good. Great, even. For me, anyway.
I won. You're not that surprised, right? You shouldn't be. It may not happen often, but I've placed first before. Though, from the look on coach's face you'd swear I was the worst swimmer on the face of the planet. He slapped my back, hard enough to hurt when I climbed out of the pool. I swore, if he started crying tears of joy, I'd quit the team. I mean, seriously? The man has no faith in me.
Ry swam right after me and he didn't do as well as he normally did, but that didn't really matter with him. He did alright. He placed just like he always did, but you wouldn't know it from the look on his face when he got out of the pool. He stormed past coach, ignoring everyone that tried to congratulate him and actually shook Toby off almost violently when he tried to pat his shoulder.
It's kind of hard for anyone to look intimidating in a Speedo, but Ry pulled it off. And for once, I was glad he was avoiding me. I figured that meant I wouldn't have to be anywhere near him in the middle of his fit.
I figured wrong.
Ry not only stormed right back over to the bench, he also decided that he wasn't going to sit at the other end, far away from me anymore. I scooted away almost immediately when he dropped down beside me, flinching at absolutely nothing. I'm pretty sure I looked like a complete moron, but seriously, who could blame me? Ry looked capable of murder right then.
"Ry..." I said, when he just sat there, staring off at the pool like he had no idea I was there when he sat down.
"Don't," he said through clenched teeth. "Just... shut up and listen."
I did, but the sentence started to make absolutely no sense when he followed it up by not speaking.
"What am I supposed to be listening to?" I asked after all of ten seconds because patience definitely isn't my strong suit.
"Shut up," he snapped, fists clenching in his lap. "If you keep talking I'm going to fuck this up... again."
I opened my mouth to protest--to tell him I'd listen if he was actually going to say something, but I thought better of it. It's instinctive, I think, to get angry when someone tells you to shut up, but I was more curious than anything else. He said `again'. I wondered if that meant he'd... had something to say one of the last times we spoke... and couldn't get it out. I could definitely relate, but I wasn't sure how I should feel about that, if it was true. I wasn't sure whether what he was going to say was going to be good...or just more of the bad. More disappointment. Or more confusion. But I stayed silent anyway and I waited, occupying myself with the event that was about to take place. It was Shane's event--the backstroke--and I watched as he dropped into the pool and got into position. I'd have loved to be...supportive or whatever I was supposed to be for Shane, but it was hard enough to keep my eyes on the pool, much less my mind. I was glad when Ry didn't keep me waiting for too long.
"I was an ass today," he said, and he sounded angry. Frustrated, but not with me and I had no idea how to react. I wasn't expecting him to just...admit it.
"I know I was an ass," he went on. "But... I'm not going to apologize for it. I told you to stay the fuck away from me. If you'd listened you wouldn't have had to deal with it."
I was glad he said that, I really was. I'd been looking for a reason to be pissed. A reason to get angry, because `angry' was easier to deal with. Much better than the... `hurt'.
"I tried to, asshole," I snapped, shaking my head as I looked away from him. "We go to the same school. It's not like I was doing it on purpose."
"Yeah, well, it's not like I'm being an ass on purpose," he said, and I hated the sardonic tone in his voice.
I sighed, dropping my head, disappointed. I'd hoped that this conversation would have been better than the last...but it's not like I could really be surprised that it wasn't. I bit my lip and shifted, getting ready to stand to walk away but Ry's hand shot out to grab my arm.
"Stop fucking walking away from me," he said, through clenched teeth.
I glared at him. "I can't fight with you, anymore, Ryan," I said. My voice sounded tired, even to me. "I get it, okay? We don't need to talk about it anymore...I don't want to."
"Will you shut up and listen to me? You don't get it. I wouldn't keep talking to you if I didn't want to... figure it out... or whatever. God, I hate this," he said, staring down at his hands. "I hate talking about this. Neither of us is good at it and... it's not working out like I want it to, so you need to shut up and listen. Got it? It's going to take me a minute to get it right so just...let me talk."
"So talk," I shot back, caustically. Uncalled for, obviously. I mean... if he was really trying, then it would have probably been best if I could have just kept my mouth shut, but I was definitely on the defensive. I couldn't really help it. It happens when people yell at you.
"I don't like it," Ry said, as if he hadn't heard me. "The gay thing... I mean... I didn't think I'd have a problem with it at first. I thought it'd be easy to just get over it because... I never really cared about shit like that before."
"Bullshit," I snorted, rolling my eyes. "You've always had a problem with it. You don't even try to hide it. You throw around words like `fag' more than anyone else I know." I was bitter. I meant to try and hide that, but it didn't work out.
"It's just a word, though," Ry said, cringing as he tried to explain himself. "Like... I called the lunch lady a Nazi and threaten to stuff her fat ass in the oven when she told me I couldn't double up on the mac and cheese anymore and no one ever got offended about that. It's not like I meant it or anything. It's just something to...say."
I rolled my eyes. "You got in school suspension for that and Anne still refuses to serve you when you come in. Obviously, someone got offended."
"No...okay, bad example," Ry said, and he was obviously struggling to get his point across... and I understood that. I had similar struggles with my words at least once a day. I felt some of the anger drain out of me against my will, but that was okay, because I was more frustrated than I'd ever been before.
I didn't fucking get it. I didn't understand what was so hard for him. It didn't make any sense to me. He didn't have anything to worry about. I didn't have any plans to... hit on him or recruit him or whatever the fuck. I definitely wasn't planning on telling anyone else and I wasn't going to tackle Shane in front of him and go crazy with the making out.
It was just...so clear that he was upset. That he was... struggling and I didn't get why? He wasn't the one that had to deal with any of it. It wasn't like he had to deal with it. Hell, if he wanted to, he could ignore it completely. Unlike me.
"Okay, look," Ry said, taking a deep breath as he turned to face me. "I say the word. But it's not like I want to start a lynching mob or run around screaming `death to all queers'. And... maybe I wouldn't have said it so much if I knew..." he let it hang.
Honestly...if Ryan wanted me to be silent, he should have led with that because I didn't have anything to say.
Ry took one look at whatever expression I was wearing and snorted. "I didn't say I was cool with it," he said, looking offended and I let out a breath I hadn't known I'd been holding. "I'm not... I mean... I don't know. I don't think I'd give a shit if it were anybody else."
I closed my eyes, taking a breath to compose myself... and possibly to keep myself from snapping. "What does that mean, Ry?"
"I don't know," Ry shrugged, looking up. "I think... "He paused turning to look at me. "I don't like, Shane," he said, eyes widening like he'd finally figured out what he was trying to say. I was just as relieved as he was. "I really don't like him, but I don't care that he's queer. I hung out with him that day we all played ball and I told you he was cool. And... he is, I just really don't like him."
"Because he's queer," I snapped, and I moved to stand up again, but Ry yanked me back down.
"No, that's not why. I don't care. I don't hate fags. I just... hate that you're one of them. Fuck, Jake, I have no idea what I'm trying to say. The gay thing... it's whatever. I'm not gonna go around fucking other guys but I'm not gonna throw a shit fit if someone else wants to either. I say `fag' but I make it a point not to say it to guys like Shane. But, I say it when he's not around about him. I never really think about what it means. But you said you...hated yourself. And yeah, you're a fucking drama queen, but...fuck I don't know how to say this." He sighed, closing his eyes as he took a deep breath to calm himself.
And then, I remembered standing in the hall watching Chloe talk to him without actually talking and I remembered why that made me so upset. Because Ry and I never had a problem understanding each other and I didn't understand why that had to change just because we were fighting. I hadn't changed. Much as I hated to admit it, I'd always been gay. The only thing that was different now was that Ry knew about it and I didn't understand why that meant we--Ry and me--had to change.
"Just say it, Ry," I said and something was expanding in my chest. Something that definitely didn't feel like it was going to make me cry. Ry's words were a massive jumble of nonsensical bullshit but I knew him. I knew the look on his face and I knew how to tear apart the mass of bullshit that came out of his mouth until I got it.
And... I sort of did. Maybe I didn't understand his reasoning or a word of what he said, but I got the point.
Ry wasn't going to just...'give up' either. But I needed to hear him say it.
He sighed, letting out a deprecating laugh. "You said it was my fault, that you hated... you know what you said. It's too dramatic to repeat. But I didn't mean to do it. I say the word--fag all the time, but I probably wouldn't have if I knew that you were...Christ, that you're gay."
I was extremely grateful he had the decency to whisper when he said shit like that. I still tensed automatically every time, though.
"I thought about it," Ry went on. "And if I knew before... I wouldn't have said things like that in front of you but I still probably would have said them, like I do with Shane. Which is totally more fucked up." He sighed. "You're my best friend and I don't talk about you behind your back. So, if I'm gonna say it, you're gonna hear it. I've just gotta figure out a way to not want to say it. It just... kind of sucks. I hate you for this."
"But why?" I asked and you wouldn't believe how much I'd wanted to ask that question. I'd been asking myself why for so damn long and it just felt... good to finally be able to ask someone that might be able to give me an answer. "Why does it bother you? It doesn't make any sense. Especially if you meant what you said about not caring whether or not other people are gay. Why does it matter? I didn't do anything wrong."
It's...weird, but I don't think I really believed it. That I hadn't done anything wrong. It was part of the reason that I couldn't really be mad at Ryan. I thought it was my fault. I think... part of me figured I deserved it. And to hear him agree with me kind of shocked me into silence.
"I've been trying to tell you; I don't fucking know why it bothers me," Ry said, voice getting louder with every word. "It just does. You... you're a good guy. I'm not and... you weren't supposed to change." He cringed as he let out that last word.
Ryan? He really isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. You noticed? Good.
"What?" I deadpanned, staring at him eyebrow cocked.
He just shrugged. "You fucked everything up with this," he said, shaking his head. "This is not the way things were supposed to go."
And because I know you're thinking it, I'm going to go ahead and say it-- I'm just as stupid as Ryan is... because I got it. I hadn't wanted things to change either. At least, I think that's what he was saying and I definitely understood.
"That's why I was pissed at you," he said, looking more relaxed than he'd been since he sat down. "I think I'm still pissed at you. And I wasn't going to tell you any of this shit because it's not what I do, but you seriously need to get Chloe off my back. She's driving me ape shit insane."
I laughed, feeling something like... elation and I honestly had to hold myself back from running and jumping into the pool mid butterfly event.
"So..." I started, smiling tentatively without a care as to how lame it was. "Are we good?"
One word. Just one, but it made me feel like I'd just dived head first into an empty pool.
"Jesus, Ry," I said, shaking my head. "What--,"
"I asked you to stay away. I meant it."
"But why?" Apparently that was my new favorite question.
"Because... you changed things. And I need to learn how to be your friend again."
"Nothing's changed, Ry," I said, voice shaking. I detested the `space' plan. I might've mentioned that. "You just know more now."
"Yeah, and now I know I was an ass before. I don't care about Shane or any of the other queers in the world but... you'd hate me for it eventually. I don't really give a shit if anyone else hates me, but--and I fucking hate you for making me say this but--you're different. I can be an ass to everyone else, but you and Chloe. I do care, okay? I don't like the gay thing, but if you really are, then I need to... figure out how to get the fuck over it. And I can't do it with you... around because all I can think about is how pissed I am at you. So... stay away."
"Jake," Ry snapped, standing up, staring at me, determined. "Stop being such a fucking girl, okay? We don't do this. This...talking thing... it's not what we do. Just stay the fuck away from me for awhile. And if you ever need another... heart to heart, go to Chloe because this was enough for the rest of my life. My future wife is going to kill you for taking this away from her."
"Damn it, Jake, I said no," Ry snapped. Loudly. I glanced around, but no one was really paying attention.
Well, almost no one. Both Chloe and Shane had their eyes trained on both of us, but I doubted it was because he shouted. I wondered if they'd been watching the whole time.
"I know what you said," I told Ry, standing. "I was going to say `okay'."
"Oh," Ry said, frowning. "Good. Then... fuck off or something."
"You fuck off," I shot back, feigning attitude. "The relay match is up."
His eyes widened and he turned away to walk up to the pool.
I just stood there, staring after him. I wasn't sure what had happened, not really. I couldn't even begin to tell you what any of it meant.
But when Shane walked up almost immediately after Ry's departure and asked me if everything was okay, I didn't mind answering him.
"Yeah," I said eyes wide in disbelief as I shook my head. "I think... it might be."
"Uhm...right. Look, I swim first leg in the relay so; I kind of have to go, but..."
"Shane," I interrupted, turning to face him. I almost laughed at the near frightened look on his face.
"Yeah?" he asked, tentatively.
"You wanna come over tomorrow? To hang out...or, you know," I asked, hoping for more `you know' than actual hanging out.
"You're... inviting me?" he actually had the nerve to look shocked.
"Yeah, so?" I asked, trying not to get to defensive.
"Nothing," he said immediately, shaking his head. "I just... usually, I have to ask. I don't think you've ever... You know what? Never mind. I'll drop by after my parents leave for my mom's hospital visit."
"I'm sorry," I said, and I meant it, though I'm not sure he could see that through all the relief that I'm sure was written all over my face. "For...everything."
"I know," he said and he smiled before he walked off, leaving me to collapse back onto the bench.
Shane made the mistake of smiling at Ry as he stepped up to the pool and Ryan glared at him before turning to glare at me... but it was cool. I didn't even flinch.
I had no idea how it was going to work out but for the first time in...ever, I was beginning to think it might.
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