In Due Time

By J.Ross

This story and everything found herein is the property of the author. Any similarities to real people, places, etc. are strictly coincidental.
This story is not to be posted anywhere else without permission from the author.

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.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy. All comments/questions/complaints can be sent to


Chapter 13


Before Shane, weekends were spent with me, Ry, and Chloe talking about the hundreds of things we wanted to do without ever actually doing any of them. After Shane, we did pretty much the same thing, just later in the day, after Shane went home for the night or before he arrived.

But, even though we didn't really do much of anything other than sit on our asses and talk, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself if I wasn't going to be spending time with Ryan and Chloe. Yeah, Chloe wasn't about to start avoiding me, but she was supposed to go shopping with her mother and father.

I was alone and bored out of my fucking mind. On a Saturday.

It was lame. What's worse, I actually walked to my front door a total of five times, fully intending to go over to Ry's house before I remembered that I couldn't do that. And Christ, you'd think I'd never gone a day without seeing him. It was pathetic. I wondered if it might not be a good idea to find some new friends.

Unfortunately, I'm horrible at talking to new people and being all social. That was Ryan's forte, not mine. So, I brought out the video games and junk food before planting myself on the floor in front of the television downstairs and pretending that there was nothing else I'd rather be doing. It worked well enough until I got far enough in the game that everything was difficult and I couldn't get any further.

"I miss Princess Peach," I muttered to myself as `Game Over' flashed on the screen. "Princess Peach was the shit. And Luigi kicked ass."

"Language, Jacob," my mother said as she walked in through the front door, with a woman that looked vaguely familiar right behind her. And really, there was no way she could have actually heard me all that well from the other side of the front door, but she sounded even more appalled than she usually did.

I shrugged, rolling my eyes. "Right, sorry. Or whatever."

Mom sighed but she didn't say anything else on the subject. "Jake, you know Mrs. Keats, right? You're friends with her oldest son?"

I snorted. It was an accident, I didn't mean to but it came out before I could even think of trying to stop it. Colin and I? Friends? Yeah fucking right. I couldn't exactly say that in front of his mother though, so I just sort of smiled, shrugging.

"Hello, Jacob," said Mrs. Keats. "Congratulations; I hear you won your little meet yesterday."

My little meet?

I raised an eyebrow at her. "Yeah, thanks. And it's just `Jake'."

She actually waved me off. "Jacob is such a nice biblical name. Much better than just Jake." That last word was spat out like it tasted bitter in her mouth and, frankly, I was offended.

I raised an eyebrow at my mother but she gave me one of her stern looks so I didn't say anything. I just shoved my game back into its place on the entertainment center and shut off the television. It wasn't often that my mother had company over, but when she did, I made it a point to stay out of the house. I couldn't stay, not when their favorite pastime seemed to be standing around me for some sort of deranged appraisal.

"I have my cell phone," I told my mom as I started toward the front door. It was all I really needed to say. I still had a curfew but my parents had always been really cool about not giving me the third degree whenever I left the house, like Ryan's dad did.

"Be sure to tell Colin I expect the dishes done by the time I get home," Mrs. Keats called just as I opened the front door.

"Excuse me," I said, turning back around to face her. "What are you talking about?" I felt it was polite enough and I really hoped my mother appreciated me right then. Mostly, she just looked nervous. So little faith in me.

"You're going to my house, aren't you?" she asked and I shook my head, trying to keep my expression neutral.

"Oh," she said. "I just assumed. Your friend Ryan just got there when I left; I figured you wouldn't be too far behind." She turned back to my mom. "I thought we'd start with the red fabric, I got it down at the flea market, you wouldn't believe how cheap."

It wasn't a big deal and I wasn't jealous or anything but hearing that made me pause again. Ryan and Colin were friends and Ry could do whatever the fuck he wanted to. It was cool that they were hanging out together. Normal. At least Ryan didn't hate me. He'd said as much and I finally believed him. He said he cared and I just didn't have the energy to pretend that hearing him say that didn't mean anything. Because it did. It was keeping me fucking sane.

No, I wasn't jealous. I think hearing it made me feel... lonely. It felt like it'd been forever since I'd hung out with Ryan and I...yeah, I missed him. He was my best friend.

Whatever. I just couldn't think about it. I was going to spend the day with Shane--just hanging out, it's not like it was a date or anything and the fact that it took me thirty minutes longer than it usually did to pick out my clothes didn't mean it was--and I was going to forget about Ryan. Chloe would come over later and we'd do the homework thing and I'd just... wait it out. I was Ry's best friend too. He couldn't avoid me forever.

And if he tried, I still had his cell phone and that should... help or something.

I walked down to the local ice cream stand, across the street from the river down by the nature trail about five blocks from my house, but I didn't buy anything other than a soda. It was just a good way to kill a little bit more time. Shane said he'd be over after his mom's hospital visit, but I figured he'd call me when he was on his way, so I wasn't in any hurry to get home.

I walked the nature trail for a minute but I got fed up with the gnats before I'd gotten too far in and turned around. I swear, those things try to fly into your mouth, nose, and ears on purpose. Disgusting.

Shane still hadn't called by the time I got home, and mom immediately set me to work on the lawn. It was Mrs. Keats idea. She felt the grass was getting a little bit too long. I decided I liked Colin much better than his mother and I actually felt bad for the guy. He had to live with her.

Shane didn't call before he showed up. His car pulled into the driveway when I was about halfway done with the front lawn. I'd already finished the side and the back.

"I'm gonna be a minute," I called over the loud roar of the mower's engine. "I have to finish this."

Shane just shrugged, tossing his keys in the passenger seat of his car before walking toward my porch. "I can wait," he said, looking pointedly at my bare chest.

"Asshole," I muttered, shaking my head. I knew he couldn't hear me, but still... For a minute, I felt a little self-conscious and I had to fight the urge to stop what I was doing and put my shirt back on. But I didn't. And it was alright... I guess. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end under his gaze and my shoulders and arms tensed. But it wasn't a completely bad feeling. I almost liked knowing that he was watching. I just... I wasn't sure if he was doing it because he really wanted to look, or because he just wanted to fuck with me. I think that's what really bothered me about it. I hated feeling like I was being teased. Like he was laughing at me.

I finished mowing the yard quick enough and he shot me one of his cocky grins as I walked up to him after putting the lawn mower away.

"Stop it," I said, voice low as I pulled my shirt out of my back pocket to wipe my forehead. "Seriously, it's not like you've never seen me without a shirt before."

"What's your point?" he asked, snorting. "I always look."

"You didn't use to," I muttered, shaking my head as I side stepped him to get to the front door.

"Yeah, I did," he countered, losing his smile. "I just don't care if you see me looking anymore."

I paused with my hand on the knob, turning around to look at him. I waited for the grin or the laugh or whatever. I was sure it was coming... but it didn't. He just stared right back at me, completely serious.

Shane's eyes have always been kind of intense. I'd always had a little trouble looking at them for too long, but I'd thought I was getting used to it.

Apparently not. I swallowed, audibly, before tearing my eyes away from his and opening the front door.

"I've just got to change," I told him, without looking back at him. I didn't really need to change. I just needed a new shirt, but changing gave me an excuse to... get away from him for a minute. And I felt like I needed that. "Then we can watch a movie or something," I added as I started up the stairs to my room.

"Alright," Shane said, following me and apparently, I wasn't going to get any time alone at all. "But we're not watching a movie," he added as I turned into my room.

I grinned but didn't turn around so he could see it. I hadn't really planned on watching a movie. It was just easier to say than what I actually wanted to do.

I decided not to change. Yeah, Shane had seen me in my Speedos before, and they covered less than my boxers, but it still felt weird. I grabbed a new shirt and threw it on over a wife beater. It was a button up, but I didn't bother buttoning it. It was hot inside my house, even with the air conditioner on and Shane usually ended up unbuttoning my shirts when they actually had had buttons anyway, so there wasn't really a point.

It had, two months already since Shane and I had started...God, whatever it was that we were doing and I still wasn't fully comfortable initiating anything with him, but I was getting used to it. I moved in, swallowing as I did and I pressed my lips firmly against his.

Every time I kiss him, he lets out this soft sigh, like he'd been waiting all day to get me close. Hearing it always sent shivers running up and down my spine and it always made me fall into him a little bit. And it definitely didn't hurt my confidence.

Having him push me away did.

"Mmm," he mumbled against my lips, pressing his hands against my chest. I'm pretty sure I could have fought against him and that he would have caved if I did. But, really, I didn't have the balls right then. I wasn't sure what it was, but... I don't know, I felt nervous. I had since he'd arrived.

"What's up?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant as I pulled away.

"Do you have any cash?" he asked, still so close, his breath washed over my face warm and sweet.

"What are you a whore now?" I asked and my eyes immediately widened and I shook my head wishing I could... I don't know, grab the words out of the air and shove them back down my throat.

Fortunately, Shane thought it was funny. "No," he said, laughing as he stood up. "We're leaving. I told you we weren't watching a movie."

Yeah, he did. I just assumed `not watching a movie' meant `making out til our lips are numb'.

"Oh," I said, frowning. Not because I was disappointed about the lack of numb lips in my future--though, that did suck--I was more worried about what he meant when he said we were leaving. "Where are we going?" I asked, reaching toward the bottom of my shirt to start buttoning it up.

"You'll see when we get there," he said with a smile that seemed... soft somehow. I don't think I'd ever really thought of a smile as `soft' before, but that was really the only way I can describe it. It made my stomach do a twist type dance, but not in the painful way it twisted when I was fighting with Ryan.

I was still a little uneasy about not knowing though, so I pressed. "You should just tell me," I said, trying to smile back at him. "My mom's gonna want to know where I'm going." It was an out and out lie, but whatever, it's not like he knew anything about my parents.

"So lie to her," he replied simply, shrugging his shoulders. "Wouldn't be the first time."

I glared at him. I hate straightforward people. "I'm turning over a new leaf," I said.

He rolled his eyes. "You don't even know what that means," he said, voice flat.

I sighed. "Shane," I said, tugging his arm until he sat back down. "This isn't... this isn't know, a date? Because I don't think I'm--"

"Jake," he cut me off, smiling. "Just shut up." He leaned in and kissed me, briefly brushing his lips against mine, so quick I barely had time to feel it. "Let's go," he went on, standing back up. "It's not like I'm going to do anything in public. I'm not stupid."

"I know, but..."

"Remember that thing I said about shutting up? I totally meant it. Now get off your ass. We'll have fun."

"But why can't you just tell me where we're going?" I asked, getting to my feet reluctantly.

"I will," he assured me, grabbing my arm and pulling me toward the door. "When we're already on the road and you can't back out like a little pussy. So, do you have any cash? I can pay, but it's more fun if you do."

I couldn't see the logic in that because in my experience, it was always more fun spending my parents' money than it was spending my own, but... I don't know why, but I didn't like the idea of him giving me money. And not just because it made whatever the hell he was up to seem even more like a date which I definitely was not comfortable with.

"I've got some money," I said, nodding. "How much do I need?"

"I don't know," he said, frowning. "Forty... I think, but it doesn't really matter. At least twenty."

"Where the hell are we going?" I asked, getting worked up again. It'd been awhile since I'd done much of anything, but there wasn't much to do in our town. And nothing that I could think of that would cost forty dollars. I wasn't cheap or anything, but there was a reason that I had money. I could never think of a way to spend all of my allowance. Ry, Chloe, and I didn't really do the movies much and there wasn't really much else we could do.

"The sooner you get in the car, the sooner you'll find out," Shane answered with a grin. "Can we go now?"

I made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a sigh, but I followed him downstairs and out the door, telling my mom I'd keep my cell phone on as I left. Shane grinned as he did that raising an inquisitive eyebrow at me, no doubt because I'd just been caught in a lie...sort of. I implied that mom was one of those parents that actually cared where her son was off to when he left the house, and she obviously wasn't.

I just rolled my eyes at him and stormed off to his car.

Shane hadn't been lying when he said he'd tell me as soon as we were in the car and on the road. He did. Just as soon as we turned off my street he told me what we'd be doing.

"What? No," I told him, grimacing. "Can't we do something that isn't so..."

"'So'--what?" he prompted, keeping his eyes on the road.

"Gay," I blurted, cringing. "I hate shopping. My mom still buys my clothes."

He laughed. Hard. "You...seriously?" he asked, thoroughly amused. I nodded. He laughed harder. "Most people would keep that to themselves. But don't's not that kind of shopping."

"We're not buying drugs are we?" I asked, because apparently I'd picked up more than I would have liked from my insane mother.

"What?" Shane asked, turning to look at me. "No, I don't...why? Did you want...?"

"No," I answered. "I just can't figure out what other kind of shopping we're supposed to do with forty dollars."

Shane rolled his eyes, turning back to face forward. "You have no imagination."

"Bite me," I muttered.

"Later," Shane said nodding. "Right now, we're going shopping."

"Shane," I groaned. "No'

"Yes," he countered. "Will you just chill? It's not like we're going to the mall. So, just shut up and... listen to music or something."

I huffed and sort of threw myself back in my seat, but I did what he said. I turned on the radio and tried to focus on the music instead of obsessing about where the hell he was taking

When we arrived at our destination, I wasn't sure to be relieved or shocked or... possibly scared.

"Uhm, Shane," I said, clearing my throat. "Nobody actually shops here. This is where kids take their change and tweens shoplift. I don't think it's actually possible to spend forty dollars at ninety-cent city..."

"I know," he said unbuckling his seat belt. "I don't think so either, but we're going to try."

I sighed, following him out of the car. "Are you sure you don't want to go...I don't know, go carting or something normal?" I wasn't sure I knew how to `go cart' but there was a place right across the street and it seemed like a much better idea than wasting forty dollars on a bunch of random bullshit. Plus, the tiny cars were intriguing. They didn't look at all as intimidating as normal cars.

"Maybe later," he said, looking across the street. "But... come on. This could be cool. My mom used to take me out to do this all the time. She used to bring me and my brother out here all the time, hand us money and set us loose."

"Oh," I said, frowning. "Used to?"

He nodded. "She's been...tired a lot lately." He cleared his throat. " have to spend all of you money. you should probably just spend twenty if you really want to do the go carting thing. And...we'll probably get hungry. Right. You have to spend twenty...but you can't buy anything. You have to actually want it."

I raised my eyebrows at him skeptically, but he wouldn't back down. "This is your idea of fun?"

"Come on," he pressed, but I shook my head.

"Fine," he sighed. "I swear, it's not as lame as it sounds but... we don't have to."

There's a certain way that people say `we don't have to' that sort of sounds more like, `my world's going to fall and crumble if we don't but if you want that on your shoulders, it's fine by me'. That's the way Shane said it, with this look on his face, somewhere between a pout and a smile...and I totally caved, sighing as I led the way into the store.

It was entirely as lame as I thought it would be... or, it almost was. Shane made me give him a reason for everything that I picked up off the shelves, which sucked. I felt like I was being quizzed or something and just like with quizzes at school, I made up most of my answers.

But Shane gave me reasons--honest reasons--for every one of his purchases... and that part was kind of cool. Intriguing. It was pretty obvious that his family meant a lot to him. I hadn't realized it before, I'd just assumed he was normal like Ryan and me and cared enough about them, but not in the crazy way that Chloe cares about her mom and helps take care of her, but Shane's almost worse than her. Like, he bought his mom fake flowers, but not just because they were there. Apparently, he did it often because his mom loves flowers, but can't have them around the house. Allergies or something.

I'd just wanted to humor him--go in and grab some shit and get out of there as quick as possible, but everything Shane bought had its purpose. I wasn't really into whatever game we were playing and I honestly didn't care if he or I spent the full twenty dollars. I wasn't into the actual shopping part; I just didn't mind listening to Shane.

I liked his voice. He always talks with his voice low, like everything he says is a secret that he doesn't want anyone else to hear. He never even raised his voice when he was angry. It was the opposite, actually. It got lower, darker...scarier. It gave me chills. And, of course, there was that ever present rasp. It was nice. Soothing. I'd always liked listening to him talk.

But it was there in the store that I realized I also liked watching him talk. I don't think I heard even half of what he said, but I understood all of it. His face was just wicked expressive. His eyebrows would move more when he was excited and his eyes would get all wide and I swore they changed colors. The blue went from that sparkling blue that still set me a little off kilter to this sort of soft paler shade when he was talking about his mom, or Caydence.

And his lips...compared to Shane, no one ever talks with their lips. Maybe it's because his voice is lower...smoother than most anyone else's but I was positive I could read Shane's lips if I had to.

I used to notice things about Shane all the time. About the way he looked and how much I liked it. But it was always on accident. I'd get mad at myself for looking and noticing those things and I never allowed myself to really look at him before.

It was, hanging out with him. I'd forgotten a lot of what I liked about Shane with everything that was happening with Ryan, but he was definitely reminding me of every last thing. And I was finding new things to like about him. Things I hadn't really noticed before...or I was too wrapped up in my own bullshit to actually pay attention

Like, Shane has a thing with noise, like me. Or possibly music, I'm not really sure. But whenever there was a break in our conversation and it got quiet, he'd start drumming on a flat surface and nodding his head to the beat. Or he'd hum ridiculous theme songs from daytime television shows. And when he was thinking, he'd mumble to himself. I couldn't really understand a word of it, but I definitely liked it.

"What are you smiling at?" he asked, and it shocked me because I didn't think he could see me. He was looking down at one of those cheap Christmas music CD's even though Christmas was months away.

"I'm not smiling," I lied, pressing my lips together to stop.

"And now you're making a sour face," Shane said, chuckling softly. "I'd say it's unattractive... but you're the liar `round these parts."

"Come again?" I said, brow furrowing.

He looked up at me, smiling, ignoring my question completely. "You should do the sour face thing more often. It's definitely cute. Not as cute as when you pout, but still..."

"I'm not cute, asshole," I said, rolling my eyes.

He sighed, rolling his eyes right back at me before leaning in...far too close for comfort in a public place, but I couldn't fucking move. He was just... really close and I could literally feel the heat coming off his chest in waves and... yeah, totally couldn't move.

"It's a compliment," he said, his breath washing over the side of my face and neck. "Not an insult. Suck it up, say thanks, and move on."

I just sort of stood there, like an idiot staring off into space as he stepped away and went back to staring at the rack of crappy CDs.

I really hated it when he did shit like that.

I cleared my throat. "So, this is all very interesting and everything...but what's the point?" I asked, changing the subject and hoping he didn't call attention to what a freak I was.

"There has to be a point?" he said, picking up a stress ball from a box near one of the check out lines. He tossed it to me.

"No," I responded, tossing it back. "I just don't get what we're doing here. I thought you said we'd have fun."

He tossed the ball back. "The ball is for you, spaz. I think you should get it. And, you're not having fun?"

I shrugged. "I'm not having a bad time, exactly, but I wouldn't use the word `fun' either," I said sighing. I squeezed the ball and raised an eyebrow at him. "And why should I buy this? I don't have stress problems."

He snorted. "Sure you don't. You're totally Zen."

"Zen? Who says `Zen'?" I said and I threw the ball at him, instead of to him. He caught it anyway and dropped it back into the box.

"I do, apparently," he answered with a sigh. "Look, we can leave if you want. I just like this place."

"Okay, but why?" I asked, grabbing one of those hand held fans out of his basket of crap. "I'm just... not really getting it."

He shrugged, reaching over to take the fan away from me, to fidget with it himself. "I don't know. I told you my mom used to take me here..."

"Yeah," I said, snorting. "So what? My mom used to take me to Cool Craze every weekend before I got old enough to see how lame it was."

"Cool Craze is not lame," Shane retorted. "The ice cream kicks ass. And...I guess ice skating can be fun."

"Yeah, and the dancing, singing snow men were totally neato," I said sarcastically feigning excitement.

"Who says `neato'?" Shane asked laughing. "Seriously, bro... I don't know. All of this stuff was awesome when I was younger. And do you know how cool it is to be handed twenty dollars and told to `go crazy' when you're seven?"

"But you're not seven," I pointed out. "You're seventeen. And this is not cool anymore."

"Says who?" Shane challenged, looking me right in the eye.

"Says me," I shot back, taking a step closer so that the distance between us was almost nonexistent. It was easier to do things like that when I was being dared and...I don't know why, but it felt like I was.

"Well, I think you're wrong," he said as if that settled it. "And I said we could leave." He raised an eyebrow and smirked. "We can go to Cool Craze instead. I'm sort of hungry."

"Thanks, but no thanks," I said flatly. I sighed. "Here's fine, I guess. I was just wondering." I turned to walk away in search of the seven more useless items I needed to make my goal.

"Jake," Shane called after me, jogging up to get in front of me. "Look... I don't really do this anymore."

"Okay," I shrugged. "It's no big deal. I said it wasn't that bad...I was just wondering..."

"Yeah, and now I'm telling you," he interrupted. "My mom had an appointment today, which is, you know, no big deal...usually. But she didn't want to go today. I took her because dad's working and when I dropped her off, she said that this is what she'd rather be doing. So, I thought I'd go for her. Then I remembered that I said I'd hang with you and... I figured I could just kill two birds with one stone." He shrugged, waving a hand at our surroundings. "So...we're here. But we don't have to be. We can leave if you want."

It was all very...sweet and I guess I could see why he wouldn't have wanted to tell me. Sweet is just a very embarrassing thing to be.

"That's cool," I said, mostly because he was shifting around awkwardly, avoiding my eyes and that was weird coming from him.

He shot me a grateful smile. "Thanks. You don't have to get anything, if you don't want to, I just thought..."

"Nah, it's cool," I interrupted, grinning. "I'll play."

I didn't really want to but I got another grateful smile so it was worth it. Besides, I kind of felt like an asshole. The last few days couldn't have been fun for Shane with everything that had been going on with Ryan, but he was always there. I felt sort of selfish and I made a mental note to grab some of those fake flowers Shane had picked up for his mother, because it seemed like the thing to do for someone that was in the hospital. Even if it was just for an appointment. Also, I felt selfish, remember. I was trying to... make up for it.

"So, what's the appointment for?" I asked as we walked down an aisle full of picture frames. Shane looked shocked that I'd asked and a little... worried almost, but I couldn't imagine why.

"Uhm," he started, turning away to look at some glass frames. "Nothing. Just a checkup."

"Oh. That's easy," I said, grabbing one of the frames for my cart. And then I grabbed a couple more because I figured they'd be easy to give away, or even use for myself.

"Unless they're constantly finding new things when their checking," Shane muttered, darkly.

"What?" I asked, frowning. "What's that mean?"

"Nothing," Shane said, and he was smiling brightly when he turned to face me, eyes sparkling blue, despite the way he'd sounded only a second before.

I wanted to push the subject, but that smile kind of threw me. It seemed so genuine, which felt kind of out of place and I wondered if I'd heard him wrong earlier. Or if he'd been being sarcastic. In any case, I had no idea how to respond so I just kind of nodded and turned away.

"Are you hungry?" Shane asked from behind me.

I shrugged. "Not really. I had a few corndogs earlier."

"Well...that's gross. You wanna go get something edible?" he asked and when I turned back around, I completely forgot about why I was feeling awkward with one glance at his teasing grin.

"Like what?" I asked, curiously because corndogs or not, I could always eat.

"Like Tacos. Or Quesadillas," he responded and we glanced at each other for a second before we both started laughing.

"As long as you're not making them," I said, punching him in the arm playfully.

"Uhm, no," he said, snorting. "Why would I do that? I'm hungry. I actually want to eat something."

"You didn't eat the last ones?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"I'm still alive, right? So, no, I didn't." He folded his arms over his chest, staring me down. "What'd you do with yours?"

"I tossed `em." I lied, pretty convincingly. The truth was, I tried putting them in the fridge because it seemed wrong to throw them out. My mom found them and she tossed them. I still had the note though. Not that I was about to tell him that. Thinking back on it, trying to keep any of it seemed like the lamest thing I'd ever done.

Shane nodded. "Good. But no, I'm not going to try that again, my parents were pissed because I fed some of them to Mykel and she got sick. I thought we could just buy some. From a restaurant."


"A fast food restaurant," he clarified, rolling his eyes with a sigh. "Reconsider the stress ball. I really think you could use it."

"That's not what I was going to say," I said, glaring at him. "I just...kind of want to go home when we're finished here."

"What?" Shane asked, and he sounded offended. "It's early. It's barely one. I don't want to go home."

"Not even if it means we can make ourselves sick with the making out in my room before I send you off?"

I don't know why I don't just put an announcement in the paper, or scream `I, Jake Taylor, am a total boy macking queer' from the rooftops. God, I should really learn to keep my mouth shut.

"Why is it okay for you to say shit like that but I mention tacos and you have a fucking aneurism?" Shane asked, shaking his head.

"You think I do it on purpose," I asked, appalled. Believe me; I scold myself for saying shit like that just as much as I freak out on Shane for doing it.

Shane sighed. "I'm finished here. I just... don't really feel like being indoors, right now, but I'll drop you off if you want to go home."

No. That wasn't going to fly. I think my most recent comment pretty much screamed that I wanted him to come home with me. And I think he heard me loud and clear... he just didn't seem at all interested. He seemed annoyed.

"I'm just gonna go pay," he said, flatly. "You don't actually have to buy any of that," he added nodding toward my cart before he walked off.

I honestly didn't have a clue what I'd done wrong. And he thought I was the one with the mood swings?

I didn't get it. I'd been having a good time with him. I still liked being around him and now that things with Ryan had calmed down, I was back to wanting to get to know more of him. Especially after listening to him talk and finding out how much I really didn't know about him at all. I wanted more. I still liked him, but something felt off and I had no idea what it was.

I think I'd made a lot of assumptions where Shane was concerned and when my friendship with Ryan blew up...or whatever, I think I stopped paying attention to him altogether. It's fucked up, but in my defense, I really hadn't realized I was doing it at the time.

I may have...taken him for granted. He'd been being really cool about everything and I just took it--all of the support and everything-- and never even said thanks. He barely knew me and he was totally being just as much of a friend to me as Chloe was and he didn't have to. He could have just said fuck it and me and all my drama and ditched me. But he didn't and that seemed like a big deal.

I'd just been so worried about everything with Ryan and then so fucking relieved when Chloe hadn't reacted the same way that he did, that Shane and everything he was doing seemed small in comparison. It wasn't, though. He really didn't have to be there for me. Especially with what an ass I am and how fucking stressful it must have been. I wouldn't have. I had my own shit to deal with and... Shane probably did too.

I just wouldn't know, because I barely fucking knew him.

I suck on so many levels.

I left my cart there in the middle of the aisle and took off to get Shane's mom the flowers before I caught up with him at the check-out line.

He didn't say anything to me. He smiled, but it was dull and forced and... just weird. Shane's smiles were supposed to be bright. They were supposed to light up his eyes and make it hard to breathe.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, but I'm pretty sure everyone heard me. I didn't really feel comfortable leaning in close with people around, so it had to be a louder whisper, but I didn't really care. I fucked up. People say sorry when they fuck up.

"Forget it," he said, pulling out his wallet as the cashier gave him his total. "It's just been a long day."

"It's still early," I said, throwing his words back at him. He smiled again and I let out a breath that I wasn't aware I'd been holding when the smile actually reached his eyes.

He waited for me to pay and I helped him carry his shit out of the store.

"I don't want you to take me home," I told him quietly once seated in his car. "We whatever. It's cool."

Shane stared at me for awhile and I almost welcomed it. It was familiar. It was something that I was used to from him and maybe, I hadn't gotten comfortable with it at all, like I thought I had. Maybe, I just stopped paying attention to it for awhile.

I handed him the flowers. "I could eat, if that's what you wanna do," I offered, shrugging as he took the fake bouquet, with a bemused frown.

" don't actually have to give me flowers. I mean, I'm not--,"

"They're for your mom," I interrupted, appalled. Gay or not, I was not giving another boy flowers. I wouldn't even give a girl flowers. "They're for you mom."

I was pouting. Even I could tell and I waited for him to say something about it, but he didn't.

"You--you bought my mom flowers?" he asked, staring down at them. "I told you, it's just a checkup. It's not like she's dying..."

"I know," I said, shrugging. "It just... seemed like the thing to do. Plus, it makes me feel better about being an asshole."

He grinned. "You admit that you're an ass, then?"

"Oh yeah," I replied, sitting back in my seat. "Totally. But at least I know it."

"You have that to be proud of," Shane said, snorting. "So, you wanna go get lunch?"

I hesitated. I didn't mean to, I just couldn't really help it. It wasn't that I didn't want to be seen with Shane--actually that was exactly what it was. But not because I didn't want anyone to know we were friends. I was just worried about me. I was always so quick to jump on Shane for doing certain things in public but I knew I was worse. I'm not really great with being discreet.

"We can just pick something up, I told you we didn't have to--,"

"Shane," I interrupted, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath.


"You know that diner up by the mall on fifth?"

He grinned and put the car into reverse.


People aren't supposed to just invite themselves along for other people's plans. Not even parents. I don't care how close they think they are to their kids. It's just not the way things are supposed to happen.

I decided I really didn't like Shane's mom.

I'd been nervous enough when Shane told me he had to pick her up and drop her off at home before we could go eat, but I felt close to vomiting when Shane told her what we were doing and she mentioned that it `didn't sound like a bad idea' and totally invited herself along. Shane had the decency to shoot me an apologetic look in the rearview mirror--I'd been exiled to the backseat--but it didn't make me feel any better. There was only one mom I'd ever felt comfortable around...and that wasn't even my own mom, it was Chloe's. I had no idea how I was going to handle Shane's.

It was just awkward. Even when she gushed over me for getting her the flowers. Flowers that only cost me about two bucks.

She was one of those chatty moms, like mine, but unlike me, Shane didn't seem to mind the fact that she was actually trying to have a conversation with one of his friends. He sat next to me while we ate, grinning the whole time--at my discomfort or his mom's apparent wit, I have no idea.

I'm just really bad at talking to parents. I never know the right answers. My instinct is always to lie when adults are around, even when I'm not up to something. And...

I don't think it's necessary for me to say this, but I will anyway, just in case you're missing the point--I wasn't doing well. I was bombing big time.

"I've seen your mother around church," Mrs. Tickersine said, while we waited for our food. "She seems like a nice woman. She brought the most amazing cake to the last fellowship. She's an excellent cook."

"She's not," I said, fidgeting with my thumbs under the table. "She buys the cakes and sort of ruins the frosting to make it look homemade."

"Oh?" said Mrs. Tickersine with an amused grin. "I should have thought of that. Baking is really a hassle and it takes far too long."

She was... nice. Parents aren't supposed to be nice and harmless. They're supposed to be intimidating and suffocating assholes.

It had to be a trick.

"I guess," I said shrugging, as I looked off into space, trying to avoid her eyes.

To make the entire situation worse--because apparently Shane didn't think I was being challenged enough already--while I was in the middle of explaining why my shoelaces were different colors to Mrs. Tickersine, Shane decided to put a hand on my leg under the table.

This is what he calls `not doing anything in public', by the way. Just thought you should know what an asshole Shane could be. I'm a dick, but he's really just as bad when you think about it.

I wasn't even really that hungry and I couldn't fucking wait to get out of there. And it had nothing to do with me being worried about the patrons of Longways Diner finding out that that Taylor boy was apparently a queer. It was all on Shane and his... seriously strange mother.

"That's unique," she said kindly when I finished explaining my, in actuality, not that interesting shoe situation. And honestly, Shane was her son. She should be talking to him, not me. I've got my own mother when I feel like I'm up for getting badgered with questions.

"Thanks," I answered, forcing a smile because she actually seemed to be being genuine.

She smiled back, and I noticed her eyes sparkled the same as Shane's when she did. The color was different, but still... it was a little unnerving. Shane's smile gave me butterflies; lame or not, it's the truth. Shane's mom's smile, made me wonder if I was being set up. Parent's don't like me. Except for Chloe's mom and she doesn't count. Even my own parents think I need some serious behavior modification. I wasn't good with parents and she was Shane's parent, which was totally way weirder than normal parents and... there was just no way that she actually liked me. And I wasn't about to fall for flashy smiles.

"How long have the two of you been friends?" she asked me, pointing between Shane and I. It was totally a question that she could have asked Shane anytime she wanted to at home and I knew the smile thing was a trick.

But... I don't think it was really the question that bothered me. I think it was the way she asked it; the way she said the word `friends'. Because, the second the word was out of her mouth, it occurred to me that Shane was out and she might... know.

And that was just so not on.

"Mom," Shane said with a glare, taking his hand away from my leg. So, there was an upside, but I still really wanted to get the fuck out of there and never leave the safety of my room again.

"It's just a question," she smiled at him and I don't think Shane got that that smile was totally a trick, because he fell for it and smiled back. "It's just been Caydence lately. I want to know your friends." And she turned back to me, an obviously expectant look on her face.

"Uhm," I said because I thought it might be nice to impress her with my insanely impressive verbal skills. "Since... I don't know. A couple months was right after I tried to ask Caydence out."

I don't know why I added that last part. Especially because the whole thing was pretty fucking embarrassing. Maybe it's because I still definitely wasn't okay with anyone knowing that I was gay, even if I was starting to be okay with actually being gay. Or...

I don't know. I just felt like I had to say it.

"What?" Shane asked, in an exaggerated whisper that anyone nearby heard loud and clear. "You--what? Caydence never said..."

It was the truth. I had tried to ask her out. But... I felt like I was telling a lie I was never going to get away with.

"Yeah, she probably doesn't know," I said quickly, frowning. "I don't think I did it right."

The table was silent for a moment and I avoided both Shane's and his mom's eyes, pushing food around my plate, hoping like hell they'd change the subject. They didn't.

Come on. The law of `averages'...or whatever says that I've got to get my way some time. Nobody follows rules anymore.

They laughed at me. Shane's mom has that in common with her son as well. Neither of them seemed to have any issue with laughing at my misery.

"I hate you both," I muttered under my breath and Shane looked shocked, eyes widening as he looked to his mother for her reaction to having a teenager tell her he hated her.

She laughed harder. Normally, I'd be pissed about that, but I was really relieved. My mouth gets me into trouble so much and I'm pretty sure that there's a rule somewhere that says you're not supposed to tell your boyfriend's--or whatever the hell Shane was--mother that you hate her. Not to her face. I couldn't be pissed. Mostly, I was just grateful the woman had a decent sense of humor.

The rest of `lunch' went fairly smoothly if you didn't count the time I decided to purposely spill soda in my lap so I could feign alarm and ram Shane's fucking hand into the table when I jumped in `surprise'. It worked and he didn't try touching me for the rest of the meal, but... I ended up having to walk out of the diner with a stain on the front of my pants so I'm not really sure who won.

Shane's mom drove us back to his house, though Shane protested the whole way. She said she wanted to borrow the car and Shane looked like he was going to argue until she gave him one of those `mom' looks that every mother on the face of the planet seems to know how to use. It's a look that means `shut the fuck up and do as I say, or feel my unspeakable wrath'. I knew it well.

She dropped us off at Shane's and we tried hanging out there but we were only there for about two minutes before Mykel decided she was going to latch onto me like some kind of tiny, screaming parasite. Shane actually had to pry her off me, before he told me we could just walk back to my house if I wanted.


"So," I said as we walked, swinging my hands back and forward in front of me. "You told your mom?"

I was calm. I don't think I would have been if I'd gotten to talk to him alone sooner, but I'd had time to cool down somewhere between the diner where I was trying to say as little as possible in front of his mother and at his house, where I was trying to keep Mykel from climbing up my body.

"No, I didn't," he said and yes, I totally took some pleasure in how nervous he was. "I haven't said anything about you to...well, anyone."

He sounded slightly bitter about that, but I didn't think too much about it.

I sighed, "Sorry. It's just... at lunch, she seemed like she--,"

"I said I never said anything," he interrupted me, voice low. "But that doesn't mean she hasn't...made her assumptions."

"What does that mean?" I asked, frowning. I definitely didn't like where this was going.

He gave me one of those looks that said `what do you think?' and I frowned deeper. He rolled his eyes.

"Jesus." He sighed, grabbing my arm to keep me from walking any further. "I could tell her that we're just friends. But that'd be a little suspicious considering she hasn't actually said we were anything else. Don't worry about it."

I didn't really see what reason he had to be annoyed but he sounded like he was. But... I couldn't apologize for anything. I really didn't feel like I did anything wrong.

"I am worried," I admitted, letting out a breath. "I don't like people knowing."

"My mom isn't `people'," he said. "She's a mom."

I sighed, shaking my head as I started walking again. "Never mind. Forget it."

"Jake...fuck, wait," he said, jogging a few steps to stop me. "I didn't mean that. I get it, alright?"

"Right," I snorted.

"I do, asshole," he snapped, but he looked guilty immediately afterward.

"Everyone already knows about you," I pointed out, unwilling to back down.

"Yeah," he said, rolling his eyes. "And that's totally a cakewalk." He sighed, shaking his head. "I'm not as obsessive and... I don't think I ever really had as many issues as you clearly do, but it's not like I wanted everyone to know."

That kind of shocked me. It hadn't even crossed my mind before, but obviously someone had to have spread the news about Shane around. I don't know why I'd always assumed that he'd done it himself. Obviously, I'd been wrong.

But that didn't make any difference. He didn't seem to care whether or not people knew.

When I said that out loud, though, he didn't really react...favorably.

"Bullshit," he snapped, glaring at me.

I've seen Shane angry before. Hell, I've even sort of been in a fight with him a couple times before, but I really must have pissed him off, because something...changed.

"I handle my shit better than you...but that doesn't mean it doesn't bother me."

Remember how I said Shane's eyes sort of lit up when he smiled? It was almost worse when he was pissed at me and it made my heart pound in my chest and I couldn't have run away if I tried. His eyes...they didn't light up so much as they...burned. I can't really think of a better word than that and it doesn't even make sense because it should be impossible for eyes like water chock full of chlorine--to `burn', but they seriously were.

"I may not freak out and act like a total ass, but you are not the only one with issues," he said, nostrils flaring.

"I didn't..."

"Do you know who Tobias Miller is?" he went on, ignoring me.

"Yeah," I said. "He's on the team."

"Like that means anything; you didn't know who I was." He shook his head before continuing. "Toby used to be my best friend...him, Tyler, and Caydence, but Tyler moved. And last week, Toby accidentally got a little off course during swim practice and landed a kick in my side. He apologized right away," he added when my eyes widened. "Sorry, fag. Accidents happen. It's `okay' though, because it was totally funny, if you ask anyone that saw it."


"Whatever," he waved me off and started walking. "Fuck him. I'm pretty sure it hurt worse when I kicked his ass at the meet...again. He hates that I'm better than him. Besides it's not really possible to kick that hard under water while trying to swim at the same time. It didn't really hurt."

"I'm sorry," I said, struggling to keep up with him. "You never said..."

He snorted. "And give you even more reason to be a neurotic freak? Can't imagine why I wouldn't have wanted to speak up."

That was more than a little offensive and I stopped walking, staring at his back as he stormed off in the direction of my house. It wasn't long before he noticed and turned around, but honestly? I wasn't sure I cared what he had to say. Maybe I was a dick--no, I'm pretty sure I was--but it's not like I did it on purpose and it was just... a low blow.

"I'm sorry," he sighed, walking back toward me. I stepped away, almost without even thinking about it.

"Jake," he said, biting his lower lip. "Seriously... I'm sorry."

"Neurotic freak?" I asked, shaking my head. "Ouch."

"If it helps any, I think I just proved I'm just as bad as you."

Guess what? It didn't help.

"Okay, not funny," he relented, stepping closer again. "I didn't mean to say half of that shit."

"Oh?" I asked. I don't know if you noticed, but I have kind of a bad temper. I wasn't ready to do anything but be mad at him at the moment.

"No, I didn't. I was a little...pissed off."

"You think?" I snorted, rolling my eyes as I stepped around him. "I don't need you to walk me home."

"Fuck, Jake, I really am sorry," he said, grabbing my arm to pull me back. "Seriously. I didn't mean most of that."

I folded my arms across my chest. "I get that I've got issues. But why do you bother with me if I'm such a neurotic--,"

"I said I didn't mean that. I mean... I did, but not the way it sounded. I didn't mean to say it like that. I like that you're a neurotic freak. I like you. Even with all the mood swings and the drama. It's just...hard sometimes. You can be kind of a jerk."

I glared at him.

"And... I can be too. Obviously. So, can we forget it? I'm an ass and I'm sorry, okay? But I really do like you. I wouldn't keep coming around if I didn't. And... I do get it--all the drama and the panic--I understand. "

I might have been able to hold out a little long, at least, if he wasn't looking at me with the eyes and the pout and...whatever the fuck. I caved.

"Yeah," I said, sighing. "I'm sorry I said you didn't..."

"You didn't," Shane replied. "You just implied I didn't understand. I shouldn't have snapped, though. is not going like I planned."

I laughed. "You didn't schedule in any fights? And here I thought you were getting to know me," I said as we both started walking again. At the rate we were going, I wasn't sure we'd ever get to my house. It's stupid really, because if we could just keep walking it probably wouldn't take us anymore than a good two minutes to get in my house and up to my room.

He grinned, gently bumping into me with his shoulder as we turned onto my street, but it's still not a gesture that's supposed to make someone all warm inside, no matter how gentle.

"I scheduled in some time for one of your freak outs, so don't worry. All is not lost."

I rolled my eyes, chuckling. "You are such a geek."

"You like it," he accused, shrugging.

"Sue me," I shot back, not even bothering to deny it. "At least I don't have a thing for neurotic freaks."

"Don't knock it if you haven't tried it. I think..." he trailed off, staring off at something in front of us and one look at his face let me know I really didn't want to see what he was looking at.

I tensed, almost immediately seeing Ryan standing at the end of my driveway, next to his car and even from a distance, I could see him tensing as well.

I knew it was too good to be true; too early to be relieved and I cringed waiting for the disgusted glare or whatever Ryan felt was appropriate.

It never came. He nodded his head at me and then at Shane much to both of our surprise and got into his car.

It was weird and I was going to drive myself crazy wondering what the hell he was doing at my house, but... the nod was reassuring. I probably wouldn't have been near as insane before when Ryan was ignoring me if he'd have done things like that every once in a while and I was sure I'd be okay as long as he kept it up. It let me know that he was still--there. Even if we weren't talking. He was still there. He was still my best friend--or he would be again...eventually.

"Are you okay?" Shane asked as Ryan drove off and we neared my house.

I nodded. "Yeah," I said, and I leaned into his side almost unconsciously, needing the contact. "Yeah, I think so." And I did. I was a little unnerved, but otherwise okay. Definitely better than I'd been the entire week so far.

"Good," Shane answered. "Because I was wondering if you were still up for making out until our lips are numb."

It's hard... hearing something like that and not looking over your shoulder to see if the queer police heard it...but I didn't.

I was a fuck up. Especially when it came to Shane, lately. I didn't know him, but I wanted to and I wasn't going to fuck it up. Or, I was going to try my damnedest not to.

It was barely three in the afternoon, but it already felt like a really long day. A lot of ups and downs and...weird things. But I wanted Shane to stick around.

I just had to work on not fucking it up. I wasn't doing a good job so far, but I figured it wasn't too late to give it another shot if he was still offering me hot make out sessions.

I forced a smile at him and took a deep breath. "I like numb lips."


My next week at school went by fairly smoothly and quickly when compared to the previous week. It was hard...not to fuck things up with Shane and worry about fucking things up with Ryan at the same time and I'm not really sure I was doing well with either thing, but I was tired of worrying about things I couldn't control. I was was all I could do.

Ryan still wasn't talking to me, but on the up side, he always gave me one of those `nods of acknowledgment' after he glared at me whenever we ran into each other and the glares weren't as...cruel as they used to be. I wasn't sure if it was a good thing, but I'd take it. I couldn't really let myself think about it. I'd panic. It's what I do.

I still ate lunch with Reid, and even that wasn't horrible. He wasn't the best conversationalist, but I liked the quiet. It was a nice break from all the talking everyone else seemed to want to do. Except Ryan. I think that was what I missed most about Ryan. I could talk to him without every having to talk about anything. It was much better than eating lunch in total silence, but I didn't mind it so much once I got past feeling awkward about not having anything to say. It was alright.

I saw Chloe everyday, though I'm pretty sure Ryan saw more of her than I did. I didn't mind that either, though. Ryan really wasn't lying when he said he doesn't like anyone else. He's always had a lot of friends at school, but away from school, he doesn't really spend much time with anyone outside of Chloe and me. And apparently, Colin, but I wasn't thinking about that.

I'd never tell anyone, but I was glad Chloe was spending most of her time with him. I didn't like thinking that he didn't have... anyone. I saw Chloe for awhile everyday and that was more than enough for me. She could get a little exhausting.

Everything was different but it wasn't the end of the world, like I thought it would be and as long as I could pretend Ryan and I were going to be okay eventually, I could get through it.

And...then there was Shane. I almost felt like I was the one that had to make time for Chloe, instead of the other way around, because of how much time I was spending with Shane. I wanted him around all the fucking time and...that was a familiar feeling, but being with Shane was different just like everything else was.

I used to think that it'd be impossible to be Shane's friend, but that wasn't actually true. He was my friend. I could talk to him when I wasn't being such a freak about what it all meant and I could laugh with him. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that the reason that it always felt like Shane was laughing at me was because I wouldn't laugh with him. He was There are so many better words that I could use to describe him, but I'm going with `cool'.

The only real difference between Shane and I and me and one of my other friends was the way I felt when I was with him. He was a friend... just a different kind. I wanted him. I still didn't have the balls to say that out loud, but I fucking thought it all the time. All the time.

I think part of me still felt like I was eventually going to get it--Shane--out of my system. That I'd eventually get tired of him and move on, but I was definitely wrong. The more I got to know him, the more I liked him and instead of getting him out of my system it was like he'd...burrowed into it or something. Latched on and wouldn't let go. The more I got to know about him, the more I liked him. I couldn't stop. I didn't even want to anymore.

I didn't think I'd ever get used to the idea of being gay, whether my friends and family were okay with it or not--but Shane? Him I could get used to. He barely had to touch me and I was lightheaded. Out of breath. It was an odd feeling...but the good kind of odd.

It's hard, to think that I'd be completely okay without Ryan--and I don't think I would've been nearly as `okay' if he weren't acknowledging me at all or if he was still acting like he hated me with the fiery passion of a thousand suns...but he wasn't. And things were okay.

I was okay.

Imagine that.


Shane's nose is crooked. It's not noticeable. Not unless you really look at him, but it is crooked. The birthmark on the side of his neck isn't really all that noticeable either, not even when he's not wearing a shirt, but it's there. Really small and slightly lighter than the rest of his skin on the lower part of his neck...almost his shoulder, really. I wondered if anyone else knew it was there. I wondered if Shane even noticed it there.

I did. The birthmark is lighter than the rest of his skin, but it tastes the same against my tongue.

I'd been looking at him a lot.

"If you get outed," he told me, Thursday at school, "I want you to know, it's totally your fault."

"Huh?" I asked, blinking as I looked up away from his neck to meet his eyes. "What'd you say?"

He laughed. "I said, I won't take the blame if you out yourself staring at me," he repeated, slamming his locker shut. It was just after swim extra swim practice because Coach felt we were all useless slackers and was freaking out about the meet at Bartlett High. I made the mistake of asking Shane why he never changes with me. I didn't think he'd actually start, but he did and now I had to make a conscious effort to keep my eyes averted every time we finished practice.

"I don't stare at you," I said, shutting my own locker and grabbing my stuff to leave.

"You should stop trying to lie," Shane informed me, with a grin. "You're not very good at it."

"Whatever," I snorted. "I still wasn't staring at you. And if I was... no one else was in the locker room anyway. No one else is here."

And because someone thinks it's funny to prove me wrong at every turn, Ryan stepped out in front of us just as the words left my mouth.

It's weird. Ryan already knew about me...and Shane, but I think I was more worried about him hearing what Shane and I were talking about than I was worried about anyone else. Ryan and I were still on really shaky ground and I wasn't sure how he'd react to it. I could just lie to anyone else. With Ryan... I just wasn't sure whether or not he'd snap again.

"Chloe went home early," he informed me without saying hello.

"Yeah," I said, nodding slowly. "I know. I took her to the nurse's office. She's just been wicked tired lately."

Ryan didn't say anything. He just stared between Shane and I, arms folded across his chest, jaw clenched.

I just stood there, waiting. It was Shane that eventually got fed up and cleared his throat. "Did you need a ride, or something?" he asked, frowning.

"No," Ry snapped, sounding offended. "I've had a car since the day I got my license."

"Yeah, and I heard you can actually drive it again, now that you've gotten rid of your nifty little anklet."

"Shane?!" I snapped, turning to gape at him. "Not cool."

He looked like he was about to snap at me for a moment but his face softened and he turned to Ryan. "Yeah...that was...sorry," he said, shaking his head. "Just thought I'd offer."

"No thanks," Ryan sneered, before turning to me. "Want a ride?"

It was kind of the last thing I expected him to say. He didn't seem... angry with me. At all. He seemed a little nervous and I...I wasn't really sure what to make of it.

I turned to Shane.

"Yeah," he said, before I could even open my mouth. He reached up and grabbed the sleeve of my shirt, giving it a short tug as he stepped away. "I'll be over later, okay?"

I nodded and turned to Ryan.

"Not a word," he said, but it sounded more like a request than a command. "Just come on."

We didn't speak the whole ride home, which granted, wasn't a long one, but it was long enough to drive me crazy.

I was pissed. I'd been fine all week. Great, even and he was ruining it with one fucking car ride. It was...too much and the way he was acting had me worried about losing him all over again. No, we hadn't been talking, but I'd been pretending that was because we just...hadn't had the chance. Or something equally lame, but it got me through the days.

And he had to go and fuck it all up for me.

I couldn't handle it anymore. All the ups and the downs and the fucking spinning in circles. It was an endless cycle of hope and disappointment and I couldn't deal with it anymore.

I hated it and I was out of Ryan's car before he'd even fully pulled up at my house.

He followed me, but I didn't really want to hear what he had to say. I couldn't handle anymore fucking confusion.

"I'm trying," he tried yelling when he couldn't get me to stop by calling my name. This new technique totally worked. I turned around.

"I don't know what to say, dude, but I'm here, right? That's gotta count because I can't think of any else," he said, having trouble looking at me. "I want you to...I mean..." He clenched his jaw and shook his head. "My side of the lunch table is lower than it usually is. Chloe's too light to even it out with her weight and I thought..."

Ryan is taller when his body is taut with tension. I noticed, because I don't think I'd ever seen him so nervous before. It's not possible, really, to talk without breathing but Ryan was giving it his best shot.

I was so fucking stupid. One silent ride and I'm all about throwing up my hands and running away? How stupid was that? He was there and he was right; it did count.

He looked scared standing there in front of me. It's ridiculous because Ryan doesn't get scared, but he was. It threw me for a second, and then a second longer when I realized why he was afraid.

Because of me. Like he was afraid I'd tell him to fuck off. The same thing that I'd been afraid of every time I talked to him.

He was... asking me to come back. I think he even thought he was apologizing in his way--I'm not sure Ryan actually knows how to say `sorry', but I'm pretty sure that's what he thought he was doing. It was a lame apology, at best, but I wasn't about to get picky.

But I couldn't say `it's okay, all's forgiven' because he'd never actually said the words. So, I accepted his apology the only way I knew how.

I still knew Ryan. I was just being stupid. Thinking of him as a normal person and he's just...not.

"Are you calling me fat?" I asked, forcing a grin.

He choked out a laugh that sounded somewhere between amused and hysterical. "Totally," he said, nodding and letting out a long breath.

I sighed, shaking my head. "Ry..." I started because, whether he was going to hit me or not, I felt like I needed to say something about what we were actually talking about.

He shook his head. "Just bring your ass to lunch tomorrow," he said, backing away. "I can't listen to one more explanation about the cosines, sines, and tangents, or whatever the fuck without someone to help me find better things to talk about. Plus, Chloe's different when we're alone."

I stared at him for a second, not ready to give up, but... what was the point? It would only start a fight and I didn't really give a shit if we talked about anything as long as we could go back to how we used to be.

"So you're saying you need me because Chloe won't give you her desserts at lunch?"

"There's that too," he said with a smirk as he nodded.

"I thought you needed time to figure out how to talk to me or whatever," I blurted before he could stop me. I know, I was totally looking the gift horse in the mouth, or whatever the expression was, but I couldn't help it. I didn't want to get my hopes up if he was just going to change his mind again.

"Yeah, that was a bad plan," he said, and his tone was casual enough but he was avoiding my eyes again. "Turns out, I can't actually learn how to talk to you if I don't even try. So, I figured I should just take my head out of my ass--actually, that part was Chloe's idea--and try it this way. If I fuck up..." he rolled his eyes at himself. "I'm going to fuck up, just so you know."

"You're talking to me just fine right now," I pointed out, wondering if I should knock wood just in case.

"Yeah, but I practiced this conversation," he said, grinning smugly. "Chloe made me practice. She thinks you're a whining girl by the way. That's how she played your part, anyway."

The most troubling part about hearing that was that I thought she might be right. I wasn't ever going to say that out loud though.

"Bitch," I said instead, frowning and Ryan laughed.

"Look," he said, biting his lower lip after his laughter died down. "Me and Chloe were going to try putting together that baby swing her mom bought last week. Did you wanna...?" he trailed off, frowning.

"Did I wanna--what?" I urged him on.

He opened his mouth to answer, but he seemed to be having issues with forming words. I could definitely relate and I waited patiently for him to go on.

"Is Shane...I mean, do you have plans?" he asked, shoulders going all taut with tension again.

"Oh," I said, frowning. "Uhm...yeah, but I'll just call..."

"Nah," he shook his head quickly. "It's cool. Uhm... we'll be at her house. Whenever you guys are...finished."

"What?" I asked, and regretted it immediately. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what he meant by that.

Ryan looked appalled. "I have no idea. Just...bring your homework when you come over," he said and took off before I could really hop onto his train of thought.

I felt like running. I don't know why, except that, right then, I couldn't really think of anything to be upset about. Ryan...Ryan was back. Sort of. I felt like I was filling up air or something and I needed to run to get it out of me. So, I did. All the way to Shane's house. It was a waste of gas for him to drive the short distance to my house anyway.

And when I got there and he asked, I had no answer for why I couldn't stop smiling.


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