Loving you, loving me
Chapter 12, part 1

Many, many thanks to Sterling for all his time and effort in making this possible.

The story continues! Sorry it took so long to post, but the next bit of the story deals with a lot of issues and events, some of which I guess you have been hoping and waiting would happen. This is a long chapter, and it's been split into two parts.

What follows is a work of fiction. The story revolves around teenage gay males and includes sexual and other contents that may be offensive to some. If you think this might be the case, or if you are under the legal age in the area where you live, please do not read any further. Any resemblances to persons, names, or places are unintentional and mere coincidence. Please respect my efforts in writing this, and do not copy or reproduce any part of the story without my permission.


I didn't turn around, however much I wanted to. I didn't want him to see me in such a sorry state. He didn't need to be bothered by my self-esteem issues or infected with the diseases that have forever plagued my body and soul. The wind stopped whispering and started howling. Fallen and defeated leaves scrapped the pavement, hopelessly trying to stay still, only to be blown away to places beyond their control.

"Dave, it's me," he said again. I wanted to turn around and rush into his arms, to recreate that scene on stage a week ago, that moment when I felt so safe and secure, like I never did before. I needed that now, perhaps more than ever. But I stopped myself. I was hurt, and he didn't need to be hurt by me. I felt like that boy who turned everything he touched into stone. A curse. That was what I was.

"Dave, I saw you run out. Are you alright?" Though I couldn't see him with my back turned, I could picture the concern on his face. The face of concern that captured my attention ever since that fateful afternoon after football. The same face of concern that disproved my belief that nobody in this whole wide world would care if I was hurt or injured.

"I'm fine," I said, trying to sound as fine as I could sound. White fog escaped with my words, disappearing into the surroundings as if they never existed. A slight sob, as I finished, made it clear it was a lie. The wind slapped my face. I closed my tired eyes and felt my lashes moisten. 

"Well, you don't sound fine to me," he said. With my head facing down, my arm at my side, my shoulders slouching, I felt like a pathetic boy who was just made to stand in the corner to wallow in his guilt and reflect on his sins. "Is something wrong? Please tell me, Dave." The words came out sounding like a worried plea rather than simple curiosity.

I didn't want to tell him. It was humiliating enough to run out of the party like that, and he would never understand why I reacted the way I did. He would never understand or even get close to my fears of people and irrational response to being touched. Nobody would. "I'm fine, really. I'm OK," I insisted again.

"Then why do you have your back turned to me?" he asked, "When I asked if you wanted to come to the ball, I didn't expect to see just the back of you!" A little joke, and in that little moment the sobbing stopped. The wind stopped howling too, and went back to that comforting whisper again. Hush, hush, hush... Hush, hush, hush...

"I--" I started, but could not finish. Nothing I could say would matter. Slowly, I lifted my head up, turning my body around as I did.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw. Streams of coloured light beams shrouded him from behind, giving him this unearthly glow that outlined his entire body. The vision of an angel flashed across my mind.

As my eyes adjusted to the contrasts between darkness and light, Leo's features slowly became more refined. He was...beautiful. The dark suit and trousers he wore brought out an elegant side of him I had not seen before, giving him the look of a sophisticated yuppie, radiant with flair and panache. His hair was also a bit different. It had been trimmed since I last saw him, but still carried that messy out-of-bed look, despite the shortness. His boyish charms and the air of confidence that circled around him were exactly as I remembered them, highlighted by that unmistakable grin he wore that was more attractive than anything else anyone could put on. A strange warmth out of nowhere evaporated my moist eyes.

We stood there, neither of us moving, both of us admiring the other. I looked at him, he looked at me, in another intense moment of shared silence. The air became so delicate I was afraid to breath. The wind whispered again... Hush, hush, hush... Everything else, all the pain, all the sorrow, all memories of the fallen salty tears melted away like snow. He stood in front of me. He, who I had been searching for all this time. He, who I could not see before because of the darkness that surrounded me, was right before my very eyes.

"You look..." we both started to say, and then realising that the other had also started to say something, stopped, in synchronised harmony. His mind and mine were on the same frequency.

"You go ahead," he said, smiling embarrassingly. He looked down at his feet, which tapped the grass lightly.

"No, you go," I said, trying to contain the smile that smiled itself at this embarrassing moment. A sweet embarrassing moment, a world away from the embarrassment I felt in the aula not long ago.

"You go, Dave," he said, clasping his lips together trying to lock away what I imagined could only be irrepressible laughter.

"No, no, you were first," I said, shifting my left hand to cover my mouth and block the wide grin that uncontrollably surfaced. Gone were the dark and heavy feelings of self-pity and loathing, succeeded by strange emotions that were light and flighty.

"How about we go together, on the count of three?" he suggested.

"Yeah, OK!"

"One...two..." he started counting down, winking and grinning at me just before: "Three..."

"You look nice!" he said.
"You look wow!" I said.

We both broke out laughing, our bodies heaving as we tried to catch our breaths. The pink tie hanging down the front of his light blue shirt teased his torso as it danced left and right. The wind still whispered unintelligible but soothing words into our ears, and teased the blond strands of hair that hung loosely above his forehead.

"I look `wow'? That's the best you could come up with?" he poked fun at me.

"Well `nice' isn't exactly too descriptive either," I said, "The weather is `nice'. The food is `nice'. The show was `nice'. Get my point?" An unstoppable giggle.

"OK, more than `nice'. You look `absolutely fabulous'! How do you like that?" he asked with a wink and beaming grin. A ray of disco light sparkled around his eyes, bringing out the soft blue hue that I enjoyed staring into.

"Hm, I could live with that. And you look..." I paused to keep his in suspense, "Gorgeous!" Another little giggle escaped my throat. I felt like a schoolboy.

"I guess that's a `nice' way of putting it," he joked and took a step closer. Our shadows met and merged into one beneath our feet. His sweet scent brought him even closer. "I'm really glad you came, Dave. For a moment I thought you wouldn't."

"I did say `maybe'. And that might be a no or a yes. See, it's a good answer, with no obligations," I said, smiling at the thought of how smart that sounded. I was talking normally, no longer stuttering, no longer stumbling over words that refused to roll up my. throat. Something had changed, but I didn't know what.


"Ah, yes, the middle way," Leo said, his voice pretending to sound like he had just heard a fascinating piece of wisdom, "The way of the Buddha."


"Balance in the force, there must be, young Leo," I said in an attempt to imitate Yoda's croaky voice and broken English.

"Hey, I'm older than you!" Leo protested, and put his arms on his waist to suggest that he was angry. But he wasn't really, since he broke out into laughter. A laughter that was contagious, and soon I started to laugh too. The wind was blowing, but I wasn't cold. I felt like I had found refuge, and could withstand even the severest of storms.

"Yes, big brother! But older is not necessarily wiser," I joked, which drew out a sweet snort from him and made him pout like a little boy. "So where were you all this time?"

"I was inside. Waiting for you," he answered, "To be honest I was starting to get a little disappointed when I didn't see you. Until you barged out the doors, that is!"

"Oh..." Just as I was beginning to forget about that, it came back to haunt me. That scene, and the sense of sin and shame that came with it, enveloped me. "Uhh..." I hesitated.

"What happened, Dave? Why did you run off like that all of a sudden?" Again, that look of concern spread across his face.

"I--I didn't feel like staying. I-- " My mind was torn between whether to tell him exactly what happened or whether to just try to change the subject and move on. It was an awkward subject, and I wasn't ready for him to know. I felt my stutter return, along with the feelings of inferiority and defeat, as the memories started to flood back and drown the momentary light and flighty feelings I was just enjoying. "I--"

"It's OK if you're not ready to tell me, Dave," he said, in a tone which rang of disappointment, "But I hope you know you can tell me anything."

I looked down and simply nodded weakly. Our shadows were cheek to cheek at our feet.

"Hey, let's get out of here," he said suddenly, his body and eyes springing to life again.


"But--but what about the party? Don't you want to stay till the end?" I asked, even though the thought of staying seemed like torture to me.


"Oh, the party's boring," he said, and then with a large smile continued: "Besides, there's something else that's much `nicer' to do." He added emphasis to the `nice', perhaps in an attempt to fluster me.


"What's so `nice' then?" I said, going along with our exchange of `niceties'.


He looked at me and smiled that gorgeous smile again: "You! You're `nice' to be around with. Can we go somewhere else? This terrible music is making my ears hurt." Had he not mentioned it, I wouldn't have noticed the zinging beat that thundered in the background. For the moments we had been talking, it was like all that had disappeared, as if I could see and hear nothing other than Leo before me.

"OK. Where do you want to go?"

Oh, somewhere `nice'. Just come with me," he said and then quickly added: "You do trust me, right?"

"Hmm...maybe," I answered, "Remember that may be a yes or a no."

"Good enough! You didn't bring your bike tonight, right?"

I shook my head slightly, and struck a timid pose: "Didn't want to crease this `nice' outfit."

Leo eyed me for a few moments and smiled with satisfaction. "No worries! Let me just get my jacket and bike. You just stay here. I won't be long," he said that at so quickly and so giddily as if he couldn't wait for yet another adventure with just the two of us on the bike to begin. Before I could say another word he had sprinted away in the direction of the bike shed. I watched him turn elegantly around the corner and disappear, his feet barely touching the ground. It was like he had wings and flew.

I stood still, and looked up at the sky. For the first time that night I realised how clear the night sky was. So many stars were up there, all twinkling, blinking, winking at me. I winked back, and felt myself smile as the conversation Leo and I had moments ago echoed in the silence inside me. The wind whispered again. I shut my eyes slowly. Hush, hush, hush...

"Hey, hop on!"  

I opened my eyes to see Leo pull up next to me on his bike, smiling sweetly. Were it not for the suit he had on, he looked more and more like an excited little boy, ready to venture into the thrilling unknown. A little excited myself, I leapt onto the back of the bike, causing it to wobble and almost tip over. "Aaahhh..." I screamed as lost my balance and almost fell off. My hands scrambled for something to hold onto. Instinctively they latched onto Leo's waist.

"Hmmm," he let out and then turned back to look at me in the eyes, "I think I need to start getting used to these unexpected cuddles from you." A wide satisfied grin spread.

I felt my cold cheeks heat up instantly, and I quickly let go. "Sorry..." I timidly said, and looked down at the crusty leaves that danced in the wind at our feet. Was I really sorry? My heart thumped.

He pedalled hard, and we were soon making good speed. A row of orange lights lined the street we travelled like torches. Our shadows constantly changed shape, stretching to resemble looming giants on the face of the earth, and then contracting to make us look like little dwarves cuddling in each other's arms. Stretching and contracting, and shifting in rhythmic harmony. I looked down at the changing outlines of our bodies and thought how we too were changing

"So where exactly are we going?" I asked curiously. The tires hummed lowly against the black tar, trying to compete with the grinding sound the dynamo light made.

"It's a surprise," he answered as he pedalled on and on, laughing, "I hope you like surprises!"

"Depends on what kind of surprise it is. Sometimes I like them, sometimes not."

"I can imagine! You're really hard to get," he said, making me wonder what he meant by that. What he really meant by that. "I mean, sometimes I just don't understand you. You disappear suddenly and appear out of nowhere again." He turned back to look at me squarely in the eyes. "Like last Friday."

 "Oh..." I paused slightly, looking to the side at the blurry image of trees flashing by, and wondered what I could say to make up for my disappearing act, but not lie. I hated lying, especially to people I felt close to. "I had class to go to so had to leave quickly."

"That quickly? You missed all the good feedback from people in class. Mr Young was definitely impressed," he said, with his neck straining backwards to look at me, his eyes piercingly light even in the dark, "I wouldn't have been able to do it without you, Dave. We were really great together." Yes, we...were. My mind stumbled on that word, like it would have had some significant meaning if only it were in another tense. Dark shadows did frightening dances around us.

"I'm sorry, I should've probably stayed. But it felt embarrassing," I said, a little surprised that I was being so frank with him about my emotions, "I mean I've never been comfortable with compliments and so many people around." I looked ahead, and saw his face, and realised the reason why I was able to be so frank with him about my emotions. I felt I could talk to him, like he is able to just listen. I felt I could talk with him, like he is able to share in what I have to say. We sped forward, the still silence around us disturbed only by the occasional chiming clanking of the bicycle frame, and the snapping sounds of fallen twigs.

"Oh, I didn't realise, Dave," he said like he unexpectedly touched a sensitive topic and was hesitant whether to ask more. "Well, it's all in the past, it doesn't matter anymore. But I really had a great time in the play with you. It was..." he paused and turned his head away, as if his mind was trying to capture the correct word, "Special."

I smiled in reply. The stars too smiled, and it felt like the air brimmed with warmth despite the freezing temperatures. I closed my eyes and immersed myself in that present moment, a moment of serenity with all its sounds, sights and smells...

Driiing. Driiing.

"Hey!" The sudden sound of the bell and his voice woke me, "Wake up, sleepy! We're here!"

Stirring from my daydream, I glanced around to see where we had arrived. There were shrubs and foliage all around us, and in the freezing breeze the branches bowed in our direction, as if beckoning us welcome. As best I could make out, we were at the foot of a column of small hills that stretched like an uneven barricade before us. "Where are we? It's so dark here," I said, both curious and excited about the foreign place. 

"Come on," Leo said, cocking his head sideways in an attempt to get me off of the bike, "You'll see soon enough."

I jumped off, and my feet landed softly in sand. "So mysterious! You're really enjoying this right, keeping me in the dark about things?"

"Yeah! `I know something that you don't know'," he said, mimicking the voice of a mischievous child up to no good, as he propped the bike on its stand, "Keeps you guessing. And guessing."

That's just mean!" I folded my arms in mock protest. Seagulls called in the distance.

"Aww, little Dave is angry," he teased, "What can we do to make him happy again?"

 "I want to know where we are!"

"OK, OK. Just follow me, and you'll see." With that he turned and started walking up the slope. I trailed slowly behind him, sniffing the scent of his perfume that lingered lightly in the air. Leo then started sprinting forward, and in no time was standing on top of the hill. He looked at me, grinning and waving like a triumphant winner of a race to the top--a race I wasn't even aware we were in. I smiled back, and quickened my pace, as my heart started beating quicker as well.

 "Yeah! You've almost made it!" Leo grinned at me, and extended his hand to help me up the final few steps. Without thinking too much I reached my hand out. He grabbed and took hold of it firmly. Instantly, my outstretched hand warmed and quivered slightly from the way the softness of his fingers and palm touched my own. The feeling sent vibrations throughout my body, bolstering the tempo of my heart. For a millisecond our eyes met and there was an unspoken intense connection between us.

Embarrassed, I quickly let go of the hold on my hand and eyes, as I steadied myself after finally reaching the top. I felt a little scared to look at him, and thankfully the scenery more than compensated for that. "Wow, this is amazing," I gasped, slowly turning my head to capture the world around us. From where we stood we could see far and wide. Before us lay an open stretch of beach, extending like a soft blanket with wavy loose ends where the sea brushed against the coastline. A mass of clouds draped over the sea, dense and thick and dark at the centre, but thinning out on the fringes to resemble soft swabs of cotton buds carelessly littered across the night sky. Sprinklings of grass, on what I realised now were the dunes, tossed their bodies in a lively dance under the wind's spell.

There was a calm silence in the air. Silence interrupted only by the unpredictable whispering of the wind, and the rhythmic faintness of our breaths. In the distance, yellow and orangey lights flickered and sparkled. I imagined the thousands, or perhaps even millions, of poor souls who were crowded in the sprawl of cities, trapped in a world far, far away from the one in which Leo and I found ourselves. A peaceful and natural world which we alone seemed to possess. "So this is the surprise," I said, with silent admiration at the beauty that lay before us, and the beauty with whom I shared this precious moment. Seagulls sprang into an ear-piercing song.

"Yeah, this is it," he said, "Come on, let's head down to the beach! Race you there!" With that, he winked and starting sprinting down the dune, laughing. His feet made vague impressions in the soft sandy surface, kicking sand up behind him with each stride his long legs took. Streaks of white clouds from his breath trailed behind him. I ran after him, the sound of my own laughter echoing his. The way down was definitely easier, and I had a reason to run. I wanted to catch up, to close the distance between us. In no time we were neck and neck, looking at each other with big smiles on our faces. Our smiles got even bigger seeing the other smile back. The wisps of his hair danced like the agile tufts of grass. His eyes sparkled brilliantly with joy. I felt the corners of my own eyes tear unexpectedly. 

When we hit the foot of the hill, the sand was so soft that our feet sunk in deeply. We both almost fell flat on our faces from the momentum of the dash downhill. We both broke out laughing again, the sounds of our laughter accompanied by the raspy laugh of the waves. He turned to look at me, with his winning smile that warmed me even in the cold, cold night. I stumbled towards him, and could hardly keep my balance in the sand, however much I tried. Just as I took another step, my foot slipped on the sand. My whole body lurched forward, my knees hitting the sand first with a soft thud.

"Hm, I know I'm a great guy, but there's no need to bow before me," he said with a sly grin.

I felt myself blush immediately, but couldn't restrain myself from laughing at the ridiculous situation. "Maybe I just love the sand so much," I said, while my hands reached down and clasped a handful, "HERE! You should feel how soft this is!" I tossed sand at him, and watched as a spray of gold dust spread like drops of rain all over his suit.

"Ah! You meanie!" Leo cried out, as he bent down and grabbed hold of some sand himself. I leapt to my feet and started to run away, not forgetting to arm myself with another handful of ammunition as I did. Out of nowhere a scattering of sand landed on my hair, some of which trickled down my collar and onto my back. I shivered at the coldness of the fine grains against my skin.

"OK, no more Mr `Nice' Guy!" I turned around and shouted, emphasising the `nice', while trying to sound as mean as I could, but only managing to receive a chuckle from Leo in return. "Eat this!" I flung the sand clenched between my fingers at him. The fine bomblets splattered on his thick woollen jacket, leaving traces all over the front.

Undeterred, he threw another round at me, but I quickly ducked and most of it missed me. I loaded up and pelted another round at him. He leapt to the side, and was unscathed, expressed by a naughty grin that spread across his face. Sand flew wildly in the air in all directions, back and forth. We leapt left and right in attempts to not get hit. Seagulls flew above us, calling, cheering us on. Like a naive boy again, I felt those precious and distant moments of play and joy being relived in this moment of shared madness. Sweet memories of our time around the tree flooded forward. Dark memories of the ball ebbed back. Just the two of us again, laughing, screaming, leaping around like possessed beings in yet another frenzy of harmless frolicking. The only things that reminded us of our true age were the grown-up suits we were wearing, and the ties that clung onto our necks like shackles--chaining us to our inevitable and often dreaded progress into the cold, cold world of adulthood.   

"Hahaha, you see! This is so much more fun than some lame party," he said between bouts of laughter, as he dusted his hands together. Fine grains of sand clung onto the sides of his smooth cheeks and seemed to glitter like sparkle dust. 

"Yeah! I feel so much better now," I said and stood still for a moment, "Thanks for bringing me here." I let the handful of sand slip through my fingers, and they magically fell like a smooth trickling waterfall, blending into the countless grains at my feet. The smoothness against my fingers felt therapeutic, like a drizzle on a hot summer's day.

He walked up to me and looked me in the eyes. "Should we find a place to sit? It's nice and quiet here."

"Yeah, OK."

Together, we moved slowly towards the sea. The rustling sound of the falling waves, like countless feet treading over fallen leaves, lured us closer and closer. We stumbled and staggered on the soft sand like drunks. But there was no one else around to judge, no one else around to see, no one else around to feel the silent calm that overcame us after our intense exchange of sand.

"Here should be alright," he said and sat down crossing his legs together in a meditative posture. I sat down next to him, my legs bent, my arms clutching my knees, while my chin rested on my knee cap. Now that we were still, I realised how very cold it had suddenly become, a cold that seemed to seep through the seams of the suit and shirt I wore. Sudden and unexpected tremors took over my entire body. I tightened my arms and legs together in an attempt to make myself smaller.

"Are you cold, Dave?" he asked softly, and turned to look at me. Those eyes again. They had the magical ability to say so much with so little.

The freezing breeze lurked and penetrated every opening and uncovered portion of my body. I couldn't stop trembling. "A li--little," I managed to say, amid the uncontrollable clattering of my teeth.

"Aww," he said and started to unbutton his jacket, "Here, take my jacket." He took off the slick winter jacket and placed it gently on my shivering shoulders. "That should keep you warm."


The weight of the jacket on me stopped my shivering. Even through my clothes I could feel the lingering warmth of Leo's body. A few strands of his golden hair were rooted in the woollen material on the sleeve. They seemed to shimmer, even in the dark. My face instinctively dug into the jacket and silently I inhaled deeply. A mesmerising, magical scent penetrated me, infiltrating my thoughts, carrying me off to a land of sweet, sweet dreams. I started shivering again. This time not from the cold. My eyes narrowed, and my neck titled backward in pleasure.

"Uh...are you OK?"

I blushed deeply again, and felt warmer and warmer despite the wind which was gusting colder and colder. How very awkward it must have felt for him to be sitting so close to me and watch me become so immersed by his jacket. I quickly gathered myself together, and suppressed the effects the warmth and scent of his jacket had on me: "Yeah, I'm fine. But wh--what about you? Aren't you cold?" White vapour spread like smoke between us, emphasising how cold it was.

"No, I'm good. I'm a warm person," He said and rubbed his hands together. My chest sighed as my mind remembered what it feels like to be touched by those hands. "It's beautiful here, isn't it?"

I looked ahead at the small waves that silently caressed the sand, and carefully listened to the soft sound of the sea flowing and ebbing, flowing and ebbing. Listening carefully, it sounded like a constant resonance of muffled applause. At times the water seemed so certain and brave as it spread onto the beach, drenching and consuming everything in its path. But then, as if it suddenly became scared and aware of the foreign face it touched, the water gradually shied away. Again and again. "Yeah," I replied softly, not wanting to break that rhythmic sound of the sea, "It's so peaceful. Do you come here often?"

"I do," he answered, "I love it here. Especially this part, where it's always empty. I come here to clear my thoughts. Whenever something is on my mind." With that he suddenly turned to look at me and smile.

I timidly looked down and away when his eyes met mine. My fingers tickled the sand around my shoes. "Hm, I like the beach too. Though I've never actually been to this part before. I usually go to the other side of the pier. Not the resort itself, but a little further down the coast. It's nice and quiet there, too."

"I guess that explains why we've never bumped into each other before, huh?" He smiled again. His lips were full and moist and inviting. Dense, dark clouds that loomed above the sea inched closer and closer. The bitterly cold air circled around us, trying to steal the heat from our bodies.

I smiled, mentally wanting to say that we're here now, we're together, and that was all that mattered. But I decided against it, since it would have been too awkward, too touchy-feely. Most of all, too revealing. "Look at all those stars out there!"

"Wow, I've never seen anything like it before." A dark boundless canvas stretched above our upturned heads, sprinkled with countless stars. Some dim, alone and barely visible, others huddled together in a close crowd. All part of a heavenly display of hopes and dreams upon which people the world over wish. "I want to make a wish," Leo said.

"Uh, I think people only do that with shooting stars."

"Doesn't matter, I still want to make a wish." With that he shut his eyes for a brief moment, then opened them, greeting me with a faint little smile.

"What did you wish you?"

"If my wish comes true, you'll know." He finished with a smile again, this time with that mischievous `I know something you don't know' look.

"Let me guess: another one of your surprises?" I asked, really curious what he wished for.

"Ha, you're so curious! Like I said, you'll know. It's something I've wanted for a while now." He leaned his head back, and again looked up at the dark canvas above. "I hope it'll come true."

The stars above twinkled and flickered. "You know, I can't remember the last time I came to the beach with someone. Usually it's just me, and my thoughts," I said, still looking out to sea, as if somewhere in the darkness some miracle would appear.

"Do you feel lonely?" he asked, very unexpectedly, and then quickly added: "I mean, you seem to be by yourself a lot of the time, and you live alone. So I guess it must be lonely. You don't have to answer, if you don't want to."

My neck turned to look at him, unsure at first if I was ready to answer, but as soon as I saw him I couldn't turn away. His face looked so serene, and those eyes sparkled with life, with feelings I could not decipher. "No, it's alright. I guess I do feel a little lonely. But then I've gotten used to it." Inside I wondered if I really have, and if I ever could get used to that emptiness, that void that seemed able to consume you whole.

"Hm, to be honest I don't really have many friends either," Leo responded. "There are people I hang around with, but then that's all we do. Nobody I can really share my thoughts with."

I smiled at him, fully understanding what he meant, as if he was reading my thoughts. "I know what you mean. Most people aren't really friends, just acquaintances. You know, the people you say hello to and then talk about shallow stuff like the weather and TV because you can only go so deep with them." 

"Funny, that's how I see it. I mean just now at the party I wasn't really enjoying myself," he said as he pulled on his pink tie and loosened it. The collar of his light blue shirt blossomed like a flower, revealing his pale neck. A smile of relief spread across his face. "Gosh, that feels so much better. Yeah, as I was saying, I never really enjoy those parties. I just went because everyone else did. Tell you the truth, I also went because I was expecting you to be there. And I'm glad you were."

"Oh--I--I went really because you asked me to. I thought it might not be so bad if someone I knew was there. But I didn't see you. And was a little disappointed." I surprised myself by my own frankness.

"It was so dark and crowded, and I guess I was lost somewhere. Really, I often wonder how you can even talk to anyone in that unbearable music?" The dark, dense clouds inched even closer.

"I've never felt comfortable at parties," I said firmly, my mind shuddering a little at the thought, "For some reason the whole thing just scares me." I too reached for my collar and liberated myself from the bowtie that had been suffocating me the whole evening. I felt I could breathe again, like I had taken off a mask I put on earlier in order to fit in.

"Scare you? I guess that's why you stormed out like the building was on fire, huh?"

"Maybe," I grinned a little. The way Leo described that embarrassing scene made it sound so ridiculous. Looking back now, how I reacted was even more ridiculous. "Just so many people around, and the fact you're supposed to dance and loosen up makes me really, really uncomfortable," My face contorted and I shrugged my shoulders to show my genuine disgust. 

"So that's why you ran out of the ball?"

"Uh...I was uncomfortable, because--because--" I wasn't sure what to say. In that split second my mind wrestled between revealing the truth and trying to conceal it with untruths. I compromised, thinking that perhaps ambiguity would do the trick. "Well, this person was bothering me, and I got scared, so I ran."

"Who was it?" Leo pressed on, obviously wanting to know more. His voice was calming, like someone you feel like talking to because you know he can listen, listen well, and not tell anybody else.

"It was Amanda. She was," I paused, wondering what word could best describe what her fingers were doing, "Touching me. And I didn't like that."

"Hm, because it was her," he asked, "Or because it was a `her'?" He grinned after this very subtle play on words. He was probing, deeper and deeper, trying to uncover secrets that lay beyond the reach of everyone else, but upon which he alone had the strange ability to touch. The applause of the sea became louder.

"Uh, a bit of both," I said, rolling my eyes, and wondering what he would make of that.

"In-te-res-ting," Leo spoke the word slowly, consonant after consonant, as if piecing together the facts he'd uncovered. 

"I've never liked being touched, and the way she was doing it I felt like I was going to be sick. I needed to get away from there, and fast. I didn't care about anything else. I just ran." 

"That bad? You created quite a scene after you left. People were surprised for one thing, and she stood there looking very, very upset. Did you say something to her? She looked like she was about to break out in tears!"

"I--uh--I said--" Could I say what I had said? I felt trapped, torn between wanting to say it, but then afraid it might ruin the wonderful evening and connection I felt with Leo. My mind searched wildly for another compromise. "I said I wasn't interested."

"Hm, not interested. She's really a pretty girl, you know. All the other guys would kill to be with her." He was onto something. I felt it.

"Well, I guess I'm not like other guys then," I said. Silently I felt myself smiling inside. It seemed like we were playing a game of words, of ambiguity, trying to second guess what the other is thinking and saying.

"You're not? Well, then I guess I'm not either," he said, and was smiling on the outside. "I wasn't having a great time there myself. And when I saw you storm out, I followed. It was good. Gave me a reason to leave!"

"I'm--I'm sorry I had my back turned to you. I wasn't really in the best of moods then."

"It's alright. But you were crying. It felt so strange seeing your tears."

 "Yeah, I was," I whispered, slightly afraid to admit it, but felt secure when I saw the innocence and calm of his face that had the ability to lure my secrets out, " I felt so lonely then. So left out, just standing there like a complete social failure." I sighed.

"You're not a social failure, Dave," he said, nudging my shoulder, "You're really a great person to be with. I know that, even though we've only really known each other for a short time. All the others just don't know what they're missing. It's their loss really."

I looked down and crouched myself smaller. Leo's jacket embraced my body completely, fencing off the cold. His fragrance drifted in the air.  I wasn't sure what to say, and felt really embarrassed hearing the way Leo described me. It sounded like another person altogether, not the me I knew and despised. My fingers dug into the sand and wriggled around nervously. The stars above twinkled and flickered dizzyingly, like countless pairs of eyes watching and waiting for something to happen.

"You're a special someone, Dave, really. You're the youngest in our class, but are so much more mature than all the rest. And all the things you do for Nicole, that just shows what a caring person you are."

I looked up and at Leo, surprised: "You--you know about that?"

"Of course! Everyone knows about how well you take care of her. I'm really glad to have gotten to know you. I mean that, Dave." That last bit he said that with such strange intenseness, his eyes staring mysteriously into mine.

"I--uh--I feel the same," I stammered, unsure why the declaration made me feel so nervous. Perhaps I was nervous that other feelings might show. My jaws tightened, and my fingers tried to cover themselves under sand.

"Why do you get so nervous around people, Dave?" Those words penetrated my body and mind, striking it where I was most vulnerable. It was like he saw through me, saw my clenched jaws in the dark, saw the fingers that were half hidden and fully trembling. Saw the nervous me that I thought others could not see because I always put on this thick armour to shield me from the rest of the world.

 "I--I guess I've always been very sh--shy. It's really difficult for me to just start talking to people, unless--unless I know them well."

"Do you feel that way around me?" His eyes were deep and questioning, desperate for an honest answer, desperate to know. The wind stopped, and the seagulls fell silent. The clouds that were far out at sea before now loomed above us. Everything waiting, waiting, waiting for an answer.

"No, not really. Something about you makes me feel--feel different. I guess."

"I'm glad, Dave," he said as the serious look disappeared and a sweet smile appeared. "I don't want you to feel uncomfortable around me. Dave, I feel like a completely different person when I'm around you." The way he uttered my name was so gentle, so natural, as if it were the most beautiful, most unique name in the world. And that spoke to me.

 "I--I thought I just repel people because of how weird I--I am and how I'm always on my own."

"You--you have no idea, Dave." There it was again, that gentleness, that naturalness flowing from his soft, moist lips. "I know we've not really known each other that long, but the past few weeks we've done so many things together that I never thought possible before." His breathing was deep, as if he had trouble with this simple task for some reason or another. "That day in the woods, the hours we spent discussing the play. And--and the play itself. It was all so... special." For some unknown reason, his speech was hesitant, almost as bad as my stammering when I felt nervous. Why was he so nervous? The hands which he settled around his thighs shook slightly. Even his lips, those beautiful lips that were so full and moist, seemed to be trembling.

"I enjoyed everything we did together too," I said, as my stomach suddenly clenched and the insides of my chest filled with a strange lightness that floated around like a tickly feather, "I--I--I can't remember the last time I had so much fun with anyone."

It was cold, bitterly cold. Freezing even. But somehow I was warm. The wind gusted around us, slithering in the space between us, entering our ears with the comforting and calming whisper of hush, hush, hush. Nothing needed to be said. And nothing was said. The silence was golden, invaluable in the dark. And at that moment we seemed to have both realised how much we treasured it.

"It--it's suddenly become so cloudy," he said softly.

I looked up and saw the clouds had conquered and covered the skies all around us. "Those beautiful stars before. They're gone," I said.

"No. They're still there. We just can't see them. But they're still there," he said almost in a whisper. Oddly his words held such depth, such meaning that was hidden as well as those stars that hid behind the clouds. What did he mean by that?

 "It's just that I enjoyed staring up at the sky and watching them wink at us. It was comforting in a way."

"I guess beautiful moments can slip away if you don't catch them and hold onto them," he said, ending with a small sigh, as he rested the weight of his body on his elbows. He was definitely getting philosophical, and deeper.

The waves and wind suddenly waned and died down. The seagulls were nowhere to be seen. We were alone, completely alone on the empty beach that stretched and stretched like a smooth carpet around us. The sound of our breathing matched one another and delicately broke the silence.

"Dave, can--can I ask you something?" he said, the words rolling so softly and tenderly over his lips they seemed to caress the air around us. His eyes looked into mine, again with such depth and emotion I was unsure, and a little afraid, of what he was thinking. "Something personal?"


He sat back up again, and leaned in closer to where I was huddled with my chin on my knees. His eyes blinked and remained closed for a few seconds, before they opened, simultaneously with his mouth: "Do--do you like me?"

The air stood still.

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