There are times when I wonder if there is anyone out there who can feel me hurting like this. Times when I'm curled up under my blanket in the late night hours before school...when I really wish that there was some way to take this pain in my heart and just 'switch it off' for a few hours. Just long enough for me to sleep, and let blessed unconsciousness take me away from the misery for JUST a little while. But the more I wished the suffering away, the harder it pressed down on my already fragile emotions. And I swear that feeling them slowly 'crack' under the weight of it was driving me crazy.
It wasn't really a matter of 'guilt' now like it was before. It wasn't really a loss that I felt as much as it was an absence. A devastating lack of joy in the very center of me. An emptiness that barely left enough of a foundation for me to stand on. I never thought that I would miss Ben soooooo much. But I really was beginning to feel the depths of his withdrawal from me. I could actually see his smile in my mind, even with my eyes closed. I could hear his boyish laugh, and almost feel the soft bump of his shoulder as he sat next to me on the bed to play video games. And then I'd feel the sore tenderness in my heart when I remembered that it wasn't real any more. How could I go so long without noticing how truly special he was? How cute and incredibly 'perfect' he was? Telling him that I loved him NOW seemed almost blasphemous. If I were him, I wouldn't believe me either.
That night, I rolled back and forth on my mattress as though the motion alone could somehow soothe the mind-numbing discomfort of a broken heart. And when I woke up the next morning, I couldn't tell if I felt miserable from lack of sleep...or just felt miserable. Does it really matter? Does anything?
My Mom and Dad, usually the kind of parents who stressed 'open communication' whenever they saw me feeling down...literally backed away from me when I came to eat breakfast. Something about my entire aura just warned them that this kind of pain was not to be tampered with in any way. So they left me to wallow in it alone. Just as well. I wouldn't know what to tell them anyway. I hardly know what to tell myself.
I remember going to school that day, and trying hard to be myself. People spoke to me with a smile, and I did all I could to mask my sour attitude I had to seriously EXHAUST myself to smile at much of anybody. And paying attention in class was a struggle in itself as my mind kept wandering back to the moment when Ben walked away from me. But I tried. I tried, and I tried, and I TRIED to just...fit into my own identity again. Just for the sake of avoiding the awkward moments of people asking me what was wrong. But no matter how bright and genuine I tried to make my smile...people could always tell it was a fake. And they ended up asking anyway. I was locked out of my own life, and Ben had the only key. I was more screwed than I thought.
I only saw him once in the hall during school hours. He was trying to put his books into his locker on the top shelf, and dropping half of them on the floor at the same time. He could be such an adorable klutz sometimes Nothing dangerous to himself or others, but enough innocent mishaps that he could keep us both laughing for the rest of the day. Wow...I really miss that sweet giggle of his. It had been so long since he shared one with me specifically...that the echoes of its memory were starting to fade.
I didn't even realize that I was staring at him until he looked up and saw me at the other end of the hall. Our eyes connected...and we held the contact. I couldn't read the expression on his face, but something about it looked so....helpless. The kind of look a trapped animal gives you when its leg is caught. And it was like I was becoming more and more aware of his beauty every time I laid my eyes on him. The softness of his hair, the chocolate brown innocence of his eyes, and the delicate build of his boyish frame. He was so much more than just a cute boy in the hallway. His heart radiated out of his every pore, and he just...glowed with this...this unmerciful level of 'goodness'. It was something that was always there, but I never really paid this much attention to it before. I never appreciated it like I should have. And as our eyes gazed at one another in that hallway, I found my heart beginning to inflate to twice its normal size...almost 'pulling' me in his direction. But shortly after that one moment of bonding, his eyes hardened a bit...and he slammed his locker shut, latching the combination lock and getting his backpack so he could leave.
I felt this ice cold downpour of instant 'shame' showering down on my shoulders, and didn't even have the heart to follow him. I had nothing to say to him. I had no excuse. And I would have to bear his punishment for as long as he dished it out. Even if it was....forever.
The rest of my day was simply...unimportant. I didn't go to our meeting after school that day either. I knew that Mr. Harris would be worried about me if I didn't show up...but I just couldn't worry about his feelings at the moment. And I didn't want to be around Ben if I...couldn't be 'around' Ben. You know?
But, at the end of the day, what was I really gonna do? Hide out for the rest of my high school career? Duck around corners, keep my eyes directed at the floor, and just maintain a fake smile for the next two years while trying to avoid the one thing in the world I want more than anything else? That's not even remotely sane. And after a few days more of trying to be a ghost in that building...I started to realize that I was either going to have to work harder to win...or just accept the fact that I lost. Either way...I could go on with my life again. Even if it was one without him.
I went back to our after school meeting on a Friday afternoon, and Mr. Harris gave me the warmest smile when he saw me enter the room. I gave him a weak smirk in return, and a few other kids in the classroom welcomed me back with open arms. There were one or two new faces in there. It seems that a few more boys decided to make the leap. Hehehe, I could recognize the nervousness in their eyes. They did seem to brighten up a bit when I came in though. I think I might have inspired a few new crushes just by walking through the door.
And then...there was Ben. He wasn't frowning, but he was far from smiling when he saw me back. He was sitting there with that...'other' guy. Jason What could he possibly get out of being around him. He's not so special He's cute, I guess, but who cares? It's not like he's got the cure for cancer in his notebook or anything. I glanced at Ben's big Bambi brown eyes, and felt a bit of a stirring in my stomach, but made sure to look away before I pissed him off again. Instead, I took a seat on the other side of the room, and just tried to vanish into the background.
I got to talk to some of the new kids, and some other friends that I had made...but I couldn't stop peeking over as Ben and Jason sorta smiled and joked with one another. It was distracting. Mostly because of the fact that Jason seemed to be really 'touchy feely' when it came to Ben. I could see by the way he stared at him that his interest was growing by leaps and bounds from what it was before, and he was practically licking his lips at the thought of being so close to him. The way a wolf licks his chops at the sight of a raw steak. Even when other people were talking to me, I made sure to monitor the whole 'game' as Jason took every opportunity to lean forward and whisper in Ben's ear, or put his hand on his arm, or on the small of his back. He would gaze at him until Ben looked back, and then he looked like he was trying his best to get in a kiss or two. Something about it made my blood boil.
Ben, on the other hand, was blushing and giggling like crazy...but not really in that sweet way that I was used to. It was more like he was trembling inside. Like...he was kinda trying to slow things down while still being polite enough to spare Jason a full rejection. I could only imagine what he was saying to him so quietly. It must have gone past 'flirtatious' though, just from Ben's reaction. They held hands for a while, and while we were talking, I would see Jason lift Ben's hand to give it a kiss or two every now and then. It was uncomfortable to watch, but then again...I was biased. At one point, Jason tried to kiss Ben on the cheek, and Ben gave him the most bashful grin, his shoulder leaning away from him with a virginal shrug. I don't think he wasn't really ready for all of that public affection. Even with Chandler, he was a bit timid about basic signs of intimacy. I mean, not every gay boy on the planet is willing to jump on the first teenager that shows them some interest. And I guess sweet little Ben was one of them.
Not that it discouraged Jason any. For him...it was just a matter of time and effort.
And I didn't like that plan at all.
Mr. Harris stood up at the front of the class and got our attention. "Alright, everybody, before we split up for the afternoon, remember that our next big dance is next Thursday. So feel free to come by and hang out, have a good time. I hear they have a band playing at this one, and Mark tells me that they're, in his words, 'absolutely scrumptious'. Hehehe, so you might not want to miss that. Ok?" Was it dance time again already? Had it been that long since the last one. Wow...I guess it has. Suffering has a way of eating up our concept of time. "Cory, stick around for a bit, will you? I want to fill you in on the details you missed. Everybody else, you guys are good to go. See you on Monday."
As I saw everybody walking out, I saw Jason sneak a kiss from Ben's cheek, making him turn a deep shade of scarlet as he bashfully wiped it off of his face. He had always been shy, but this was beginning to make him feel really awkward. I could tell. Ben always gently tugs at the edge of his eyebrow when he's uncomfortable. It's like...putting his hand up in front of his face to shield himself...but not letting anybody know that's what he's doing. I always thought that was kinda...'cute', you know? I don't know...it just fit him somehow.
Jason then took him by the hand, and lead him out of the classroom while Ben was too 'nice' to really fight back. His eyes met mine briefly, but instead of the anger I was used to...I saw a look that almost reminded me of how things used to be. And he quickly looked away as Jason dragged him off to poke and prod him some more. I should just...stay out of it. I've done enough damage by meddling in Ben's relationships, if that's what you wanna call this thing with Jason. I figure, the less I know, the better off we'll both be. Despite how things ended up, I have to admit..when Ben was in love with Chandler...it warmed my heart to see him soooo happy. I'd do almost anything to see him smile like that again. It's really a beautiful sight to behold.
"How you feeling, kiddo?" Mr. Harris asked me as I stayed behind.
"Um...ok, I guess. I mean, now that I got my 'answer', I'm just waiting for time to take away the pain of not having him around any more."
He gave me a look, and sat down at his desk, leaning back in his chair. "You know...getting an 'answer' doesn't always mean you're getting the 'truth'."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that, if you really look at how you feel...really look at it...you've already got all the answers that you need. And so does he. But 'truth'? That's something you're gonna have to build together."
I was clearly confused, and he gave me a smirk as he saw the look on my face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Harris. I don't get it."
"You will." He leaned forward again. "You should go to the dance next week. It'll be fun."
"I don't know..."
"Come on. There's a few new kids in the meetings, and I know from their reaction to you that they're expecting to see you there."
I gave him a smirk. "Are you using me as bait again?"
"You're the best bait I've got, Cory." He chuckled. "Besides, I'm sure they'll show up if they know you're gonna be there. Once they get to talk to you, they feel so much more at ease. Dances are a big thing for first timers."
"Yeah...I remember." I mumbled under my breath, feeling my mood darkening all over again.
I know he didn't really have anything to say to me that would make it magically disappear, but with a concerned look, he told me, "Just come on out. If nothing else, it'll get your mind off of what happened."
"Maybe. I'll think about it." I told him. "Besides...I hear the band is 'absolutly scrumptious'." I gave him a fake grin, and grabbed my stuff to leave.
I have to admit...I had no intention of really going. The next four or five days were spent without any further thought about it whatsoever. The idea that I could go to a dance and try to be festive and supportive of other boys while Ben was out there dancing with somebody...'else'...was just draining. I wanted him happy, sure. But I didn't want to look at it. Not from a distance.
Then...in the last day or two before the dance, I felt myself getting a jittery feeling in my stomach. As though I was somehow obligated to go and didn't have a good enough excuse to get out of it. Why was I even considering it? Why put myself through what I already KNEW was going to be a bullshit experience? It's either going to end up with Ben so mad at me that I end up feeling lower than the scum I already am, or it's going to end up with Ben being so happy that I end up with my heart permanently broken. There's no way to win. I DIDN'T want to go! I SHOULDN'T go! But...on the night of the dance...I found myself getting dressed up anyway.
I stood in front of the mirror in my bedroom, some music on for nothing more than background noise...and I just remember having this sudden moment of 'awareness' that really took me by surprise. I was trying to get my hair to act right at the time, making sure my clothes matched, and when I looked my reflection in the eye...I just...I noticed this...'space'. This unbelievably heartbreaking 'space' beside me in the mirror. I didn't even realize that I had subconsciously left room for it until that very moment. I tried to ignore it as best as I could, but it was almost painful to look at once it caught my eye. My reflection seemed so...WORTHLESS without Ben standing there beside me like he had a thousand times before. His smile, his bright eyes, his very presence in that reflection was so.....
It almost didn't seem right, getting ready for a 'dance' without his innocent, honey sweet, kiddy grin being side by side with my own in that picture. I attempted to shrug off the feeling, but it refused to be buried under some desperate need to appear 'normal' in front of other people for the evening. I found myself unable to even look myself in the face. I guess I just...didn't realize how much of a void there was until I truly began to deal with it. This was NOT putting me in a very festive mood.
I borrowed the car from my mom for the night, and made my way to the school gymnasium for what was sure to be a gloomy evening. A rain storm had rolled in that night, but outside of some scattered rain and some thunder rumbling in the distance, it didn't seem too bad. Didn't have much of an effect on the turn out for the dance either, that's for sure. Things seemed to be jumping when I got there, and the parking lot was nearly full.
I felt the ice cold air and rain rush into the car the second that I opened the door. But it didn't bother me much. It seemed to match what I was feeling at the moment anyway. I headed towards the building, not even hurrying my pace to get inside. Let the rain hit me. It can be so comforting when you feel down. I don't know why...it just does.
The dance was already in full swing, and it appeared that teaming up with other schools for a bigger audience is going to be a constant strategy from now on. More boys and girls that I had never seen before had been invited, and the gym was pretty full. It made me wonder if poor Ben was freaking out again about the concept of being 'gay' in front of people he didn't know. Hehehe, and to think...the little brat actually wanted to fake being sick just to get out of it and go home. God...sometimes he's like a puppy standing in front of a big mess with an innocent look on his face, you know?
The usual hotties were out tonight and dressed to the nines. I got a few promising looks, and a few flirtatious smiles...but....it wasn't the same In fact, I felt almost numb to my surroundings walking through the crowd. My only concern was getting something to drink to help me get rid of my dry mouth, and maybe finding Mr. Harris so I can stand next to him for the rest of the night. I grabbed a cup full of punch, but when I didn't see Mr. Harris right away, I just stood there by the punch bowl and basically started counting down to the moment when I could officially leave while still saying that I at least showed my face.
"Hey..." Came a voice from one of the boys from the other school. Extremely cute, with short dark hair and bright hazel eyes. A bit effeminate with sparkles of glitter on his face. He smiled at me and dipped into the punch to get himself a drink.
"Hi..." I answered back. I was definitely attracted to him, but....well, you know. It was a substitute for what I really wanted. It's like wanting to have a filling dinner, and getting a handful of candy instead. I'm sure that it would be a sweet alternative...but what kind of satisfaction would I be left with once the sugar high wore off. We shared a smile or two, but when I didn't really talk to him, he took a hint, and kinda figured that I wasn't interested. Or maybe he just thought that I was there with somebody already. Who knows? Either way....he said goodbye and left me alone. Any other day, I would have jumped at the chance to get his number and call him back later when we weren't being 'chaperoned'. What the hell is happening to me? I'm supposed to be preparing myself to get OVER this garbage feeling inside. I can't just 'cling' to Ben forever. I should follow that kid and talk to him some more. Who knows, right? I mean...he might be the 'one'. He might be even better for me than Ben ever was. How awesome would that be?
But it was at that very moment, that I looked up and noticed a familiar dopey mop of short dark brown hair over by the wall. And once a few more people moved out of my line of sight, I saw Ben leaning nervously against the gymnasium wall. Just like I expected him to. For a moment...I wondered if I should even attempt to talk to him. Was I really ready to stretch this extended 'goodbye' out even longer than it already was? But by the time that I had even begun to weigh the consequences of either decision, I found myself already headed in his direction.
My steps were measured, cautious, and awkward. My heartbeat sped up ever so slightly as the distance between me and him got smaller by the second. I swear, the walk from one end of that gym to the other never felt soooo long. And once he looked up and saw me coming towards him...it seemed to stretch out even longer.
I tried to hold my head up and be strong, and when I reached him...my ability to speak just sorta...'left' me. So, without saying a word, I just leaned against the wall next to him, and continued to dink my punch, waiting for him to say the first word. Oh God, please say the first word.
He didn't want to even look at me at first, and to be honest, I was trying to give him the impression that I was sending him the same cold shoulder. His was much more convincing though.
"You don't have to talk to me, you know?" He said, not even looking in my direction. "In fact, I'd rather you didn't." His voice was softer than the last few times that we spoke. If it weren't for the actual 'words', his voice alone might actually give me some comfort.
"I didn't come here to fight with you, Ben..."
"Then do me a favor, and just stay on your side of the gym. I'm trying to enjoy myself." He said. "Besides, I already got a date. I'm just waiting for him to get here."
It hurt so much that I actually found myself getting a bit angry that he could STILL be so cold to me after all that we had been through together. I might have been a jerk for what I did, but I deserved more respect than that. Didn't I? "Why do you think that hurting me even worse than you already have is gonna change anything? Do you honestly think punishing me is gonna make you feel any better."
"Seems to be working so far..."
"Good. Because you know what? Eventually, you're gonna reach a point where you hurt me bad enough to push me away for good. Then what?" I half expected Ben to completely tear me down with that opening...but instead, he was quiet. When I didn't hear an insult coming my way, I looked over at him, and Ben was drinking his punch with a bit of a....'worried' look on his face. Well...maybe not worried. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part. But he really didn't look like he had considered the idea of me giving up the pursuit. "I miss you." I said.
"Don't start with that again..."
"It's true, Ben. Things aren't the same anymore."
"Well...they aren't the same for me either. But so what? I'm dealing with it. Why don't you?" He said. His eyes hadn't connected to mine, not even once the whole time. "So....how's Chandler? Not that I care."
"I told you...I don't talk to Chandler anymore." I said. "Chandler wasn't what I wanted."
"You must have wanted him for a little while." He was still looking to push buttons, but I wasn't falling for the trap this time. I'm not giving him any more reasons to hate me. He'll just have to burn that fire all on his own.
"I don't think I knew what I wanted. Not at first anyway."
Ben rolled his eyes. "Please....Cory...stop saying things like that ok?"
"Things like what?"
"Things like THAT! I don't wanna hear about how much you...." He stopped himself and looked down at his feet. "...Just stop, ok?" We were silent for a second or two, and then he added, "I know you're sorry about Chandler, ok? I know. So you don't...you don't have to go so 'over the edge' with trying to apologize."
I had to ask, "Over the edge with what?"
"You KNOW what you said to me last week. And it's not true. So just...be sorry about what you did and leave it at that, ok?"
Another weird moment passed between us, but if I didn't say something, it was gonna bother me the rest of my life. "Ben...you're right. I AM sorry about Chandler. EXTREMELY sorry about Chandler. But...that's not why I miss you." It was the first time that he looked me in the eyes, and those baby browns were almost deep enough to swallow me whole. "I meant every word that I said, Ben. Even if I said it too late."
His forehead wrinkled with a sudden display of emotion, and he got up from the wall. "Why are you doing this?" He said with a slightly shaky voice, and then he walked away from me to hide in the crowd.
Sighhh....why is it that EVERYTHING I do either hurts him or pisses him off??? Why can't I just...get back to the way things were before all this happened? WHY???
I think I wandered around that party for another whole hour, trying not to make eye contact with anybody. I didn't mingle, I didn't dance, I just stood over by the punch table, nursing one plastic cup after another, while other boys whispered about me from other parts of the gym. I've never been so antisocial before. But nobody was really wiling to stop their 'good time' long enough for them to really care. I guess they had better lives to lead. My self pity was an intrusion on their smiling happy face time. Funny...all of these cute boys in here...all of these gorgeous faces..they meant so much more to me before I found a set of lips that I actually cared about kissing. Now they're all just...background noise. God, how pathetic am I right now? I've gotta snap out of this!
I caught glimpses of Ben throughout the night once Jason arrived to take his side. He was cuddled up closer to Ben than ever before. So close that even the chaperones for the dance started to keep an eye on them. I tried not to 'spy' on him so much, but Jason just kept...fucking TOUCHING him!!! It was frustrating to see Ben have to gently wiggle away from him time and time again, trying to politely brush his hand away from his ass. He was trying to...I don't know...'get into it', I guess. But Jason just kept moving a bit faster than he was willing to go. I didn't realize how angry I had gotten until the grip on my plastic cup caused it to crack, and red punch came spilling out all over my shirt and pants. "Ah, fuck!" I said, rushing to toss the cup into the trash before I made an even bigger mess. NOT a good night to wear a white button down shirt!
I wiped myself off with a few napkins, and then headed to the bathroom where I could clean up. I scrubbed as much off as I could in the sink, and stood by the dryer until I was 'decent' enough to go back to the dance. And as soon as I opened the door to the gym...the first thing that caught my eye...
Was Jason slow dancing with his date, and running his fingers through Ben's soft hair...right before kissing him deeply on the lips.
It may have only lasted a total of ten seconds...but it was like an eternity of torture to me. There was no struggle this time. No playful giggles, no pushing his hand away, no virginal shrugs. He just...he kissed him. And Ben kissed him back. So what could I do? I lowered my eyes, and I walked right past them. They didn't even notice me. Then again, why would they?
If I thought that I could muster up the energy to leave without tears sliding own my cheeks, I would. Instead, I just tried to swallow as much of the pain as I could, leaned up against the wall, and waited for a faster song to start so there would be enough of a distraction to mask my exit. I watched Jason smile as he and Ben continued to slow dance, and he whispered something in his ear. Ben's blush was always one that you could see from across the room. He couldn't hide it if he tried. But this time he seemed to really start trembling. His smile wasn't as...genuine as it was a second ago. But Jason let him go, and gave him a playful pat on the butt as I saw Ben step away from him.
It made me watch closer. And then, as Ben walked towards the gymnasium doors on shaky legs, taking deep breaths with a worried look on his face...he left to go to the bathroom. And a minute later, I saw Jason look around the gym to make sure the coast was clear...and then he went to follow.
It was too much. I couldn't stand this any more. I had to get out of here I had to go. It's not like I don't know what they're planning to do in there. It's not like I can't imagine. I grabbed my jacket and just tried to work up enough energy to say goodbye to one or two people so no one thinks that I just disappeared. Then I made my escape. I walked out of the doors and into the hallway. The faster I get to my car, the faster I can keep these tears from stinging my eyes. They won't stay still much longer My heart was now officially broken in half. And maybe that's what I needed. Maybe that's the only way for me to finally let go and start over again. Maybe...
Just then, I heard a door slam wide open from the other end of the hall, and I turned to see Ben storming out of the bathroom in tears. The sight confused me at first, but he seemed...so HURT! Jason came out behind him, yelling, "C'mon dude! Where are you going??? I didn't mean it, ok? Just..come back for a few minutes..." But Ben didn't answer, he just swung open the doors to the gym and went in to get his jacket before stomping back out into the hall. "FINE then!!! Fuck it! Fucking VIRGIN!!!"
Ben didn't even look at me as he walked past me in the hall. He looked as if he were ready to punch a hole in a brick wall, and when he opened the door to the outside, a shower of rain and cold air came rushing in, blowing in leaves and trash with it. I looked back, and saw Jason walking back to the gym...zipping up his pants.
It took no thought whatsoever. My hands acted on emotion alone, and before he could step foot back in that room, I snatched him back and slammed him up against the lockers as hard as my arms would allow! I stared him right in the eye and snarled, "If I find out that you hurt him...if I find out that you so much as fucking TOUCHED him...I'm coming back here, and I'm gonna make sure that your next, and LAST, sexual experience is with my KNEE! Got it?"
Taking time to whip the living SHIT out of him was soooo appealing to me at that moment! But he wasn't important right now. Ben was. So I let him go, and I ran out into the rain to find him instead.
In the middle of the parking lot, I saw Ben walking quickly, the rain had already soaked his frail body from head to toe, his hair matted down on his forehead as he splashed his way towards the bus stop. "BEN!!! BEN, WAIT!!!" I ran after him, feeling the ice cold shower covering me, weighing me down with every step. "BEN!!! PLEASE???"
He came to a complete stop, but he didn't turn to face me just yet. His head drooped a bit, and I saw his shoulders jiggle slightly as he began to cry. He was trying hard to hold it back, but he couldn't. He began to sob and sniffle to the point where my heart just couldn't bear it. "Everything I love turns to shit..." He cried. I stood about ten feet behind him, watching him breakdown with his back turned to me. "I don't understand..." He sobbed some more. "Coming out was supposed to make things better. Things were supposed to get easier. But they don't. And it HURTS! It hurts sooooo MUCH!"
I felt so far away from him at that moment. I couldn't touch him. I didn't even have the words to comfort him.
Finally, Ben turned around, with tears that you could even see in the rain. "Why did you DO this to me, Cory? Why couldn't you have just left me alone? I was BETTER when I was alone!"
"Ben...come on. If you want...I've got my mom's car. I can take you home."
"NO!!!" He shouted, crying even harder. "I don't WANT your help! I don't WANT these 'feelings' anymore! Don't you GET it??? I can't afford to be open to this kind of pain anymore! I can't TAKE it!" He tried to wipe some of the rain off of his face, sopping wet in front of me. Then he said, "Why won't you leave me alone? I hate being this confused! It HURTS to love you, Cory! Don't you understand that? It has ALWAYS hurt to love you! And all I want is to just...STOP hurting! Just for a little while, I wanna STOP HURTING!!!"
"I know, Ben." I answered, my own tears beginning to show as I saw this broken boy in front of me. "What I did was wrong...and I've been hurting every day since it happened..."
"Is THAT what you think this is about? You think this is about Chandler cheating on me?" He sniffled. "Chandler didn't cheat on me, Cory! YOU cheated on me!" He took a step back from me, and tried to collect himself for a moment before he continued. "The first day that I walked into that meeting, I told Mr. Harris to put me with somebody else! Because I was SCARED of you Cory! You were the hottest boy in the whole classroom! How was I supposed to even PRETEND not to instantly fall for you? How was I supposed to act like you weren't the most beautiful boy in the world to me?" He said. "But then...Mr. Harris MADE me pair up with you, and you just....you turned out to be this....amazing person inside. You were the only person who ever made me feel like I was worth ANYTHING! And once all the sexy thoughts and intimidating crushes went away...I still needed you to be there. I still needed you to mine."
I then told him what Mr. Harris told me. "After all the sex and the infatuation and the frenzy is gone...it's what you have left over that really counts." He looked at me, and tried his best to block me out. "I love you, Ben. I ignored it, and I dodged it, and I took it for granted every day that we were together. But...I can't help it. I never had to DEAL with it before, because you were always there. But now that you're not..everything hurts. EVERYTHING hurts...all the time."
His bottom lip quivered frantically. "Please don't do this to me, Cory. Please?"
"Because I can't depend on you anymore. I can't depend on anybody anymore." He said. "You don't....you don't NEED me like I need you, Cory. You just don't."
"Yes, Ben...I do. I may not have realized it before...but it's been hell without your smile."
"I need you, Ben! I'm just...I'm trying to tell you how I feel! 6.2 BILLION people in the world...and without you...I'm all alone." I told him, and he just couldn't bear to look me in the eye. "I love you. Whether you return it or not, I don't care. The truth is...I love you."
Ben took a deep breath, and then, after pulling some of the wet locks back from his eyes, he said..."I can't do this. I'm sorry, Cory...but you don't know anything about loving me. Nothing at all. You never did." And with that, he turned his back on me again, and starting heading to the bus stop in the rain.
I lowered my head. Defeated beyond any hope of repairing it now. I had done everything that I could...and it still had no effect. Some mistakes...can't be fixed. They can't be mended. Nor can they be forgotten. Watching Ben walk away from me, for was sure to be the very last time...only one thing came to my mind.
"April 23rd..." I said out loud, and Ben stopped walking.
He turned around to face me again. "What?"
"That's your birthday. April 23rd." I said.
"I'm not gonna be impressed just because you remembered some date on the calendar."
"I know it's your birthday. I remember because you said that you spent it at Buckingham Fountain one year, and it was the first time they turned the fountain on for the rest of the Spring and Summer months." I told him. "I know...I know that you tug on your eyebrow when you're nervous, or uncomfortable. I know that you check your email every night at 10:35 PM right after the Simpson's go off..."
"Cory...what are you doing?" He sniffled, but I didn't stop. I refused.
"I know that you love zombie movies, and that you love to make up funny voices and comments when we watch them together. The worse they are, the more we enjoy them. Do you remember that?"
He sobbed a bit more, and mumbled, "Y-Y-Yeah....yeah, I do."
I cried along with him, hoping the emotion wouldn't choke of my words before I finished. "I know you cut out pictures of Max Theriot every time you see him in a magazine...cause he's your favorite. And...and I know that you pretend to hate the Jonas Brothers, but you have two of their CDs in your bedroom drawer where nobody can see them on your bookshelf." It made Ben smile a bit to hear it, and he tried to wipe more tears and raindrops off of his cheeks. "I know the video in that movie, 'The Ring', creeps you out...and that you used to have nightmares about it."
"ONE nightmare..." He said.
"I know that you know the movie 'Aladdin' word for word, song for song...and you still cry every time he sets the genie free. I pretend not to notice...but I think it's SO adorable that I can't help but to kinda peek over at you anyway." I said, turning his pale face red. "I know you know all the words to Notorious B.I.G.s 'Hypnotize' song...but you just hum during all the curse words. And I know that you REALLY care how 'cute' your butt looks in a pair of pants." I felt my throat filling with a giant lump as I tried to just get out a little bit more. If this is all I'm ever going to be able to say to the love of my life...the boy of my dreams...my BEST friend...then I wanted to say it all. "Most of all...I know that I can barely look at myself in the mirror without you there next to me. And I know...that the rest of my life is going to be...less amazing...once you're gone."
Ben was silent. Time stood still. The rain had soaked us so thoroughly that we were numb from the cold. And with tears in our eyes, we looked at one another, and I prepared myself to say goodbye.
"I guess...I just wanted you to know that." I said softly, and I took a few steps back before turning around and heading back to the car.
"You know...you CAN'T..." Ben started, and I turned to hear what he had to say. "...You CAN'T just be all cute and sensitive and expect me to just...give in."
"Yeah. I know."
He waited a second or two, one of his feet lightly splashing in the puddle beneath him. "And just because...just because you get hurt, and I HATE to see you cry...that doesn't mean that I'm a pushover."
"And STOP agreeing with me! GOD!!! Because that's not gonna work either!" He snapped back. I was confused, but, he walked a bit closer to me, his hair back in his eyes again. "I swear, Cory...I swear to GOD, if you hurt me..."
Was it an invitation? His eyes watered up again, and with a trembling lip, he pointed his finger at my chest, poking me hard with it.
"You better ALWAYS tell me you love me! EVERY SINGLE DAY, no matter what! You hear me?" He sniffled, and I nodded. "And...and don't you EVER call me a sissy again! Because that really hurt last time!" As he laid out more 'rules' for me to follow...it was as if a giant burst of sunshine was rapidly growing inside of my heart. A sensation of uncomfortably pleasant joy that caused the biggest smile to spread across my lips. "And DON'T just think that you can smile at me and it'll make me smile too, because I'm MAD at you!" He said.
Ben thought for a second, and said, "And NO MORE looking at other boys, because if I catch you looking at another boy I'll kill you BOTH! And DON'T...'peek' at me when I'm crying during 'Aladdin', that's PRIVATE!!!" He said, and I couldn't help but giggle, as some of Ben's adorable aura began to glow again. Just like it used to. Finally, even while he was crying, he gazed up at my smile and was instantly infected...adopting a grin of his own. "Cory...you better NOT hurt me. You just...please...don't hurt me again...I can't take it..."
He started to break down, and I reached out to pull him into a warm embrace. Just the to of us. An entire storm and a shower of ice cold rain...couldn't prevent us from sharing that moment. "Shhhh...I don't want to hurt you. I love you."
"I love you too." He said, and I held him in that parking lot, my arms around his shoulders, his arms around my waist...much like we did on that dance floor the night he met...'whatshisname'. And before long, he craned his neck up slightly, and I gently used my hand to brush the wet hair from his eyes. He had never looked so beautiful. The raindrops on his sweet face, decorating his lips as his eyes twinkled with every small reflection of light they could get. And without any further restriction...I leaned into the beauty, closed my eyes, and allowed our lips to touch for the very first time.
So soft. I had never tasted lips so soft. Ben melted into my arms with a whimper, and after just a few moments, it became too much emotion for either one of us to handle. We broke the kiss, and Ben giggled before hugging me even tighter and burying his face into my shoulder. "Hehehe, you have no idea how long I've been waiting to do that." He said.
"Impressed?" I asked, and I felt him nod his head gently in my arms.
"My whole body tingles..."
"Hehehe, mine too."
I held him for a bit longer, and then he said, "Cory?"
"Umm...it's kinda...cold out here."
"Freezing. But I didn't wanna say anything." I told him.
"Can we go, then?"
"Good idea." And that was the end of my previous life...and the bright new beginning to a new one. One that I made sure to love and appreciate every single day for as long as I was blessed with it.
Mr. Harris couldn't have been happier to see me and Ben walk into that meeting hand in hand the following week. He was so overwhelmed that he could hardly conduct a class discussion. Hehehe, but it made him feel good to see thing work out the way they were supposed to. He took me aside one afternoon and said, "Don't miss that 'bike ride' as much as you thought you would, do you?" And I gave him a knowing smile. He told me, "The second chance is even more fragile than the first, kid. Treat it carefully, ok?" And I did. BELIEVE me I did!
We might have stayed for another month or so...but after that, our visits to the meetings became less and less frequent, until we just didn't show up anymore. I won't go into details, but...let's just say that Ben...um..eventually got rid of that 'virginity' label. And, hehehe, WOW! Once he got a taste, he hardly ever wanted to do anything else. If you thought that butt looked cute in a pair of pants, you can't imagine what it looks like naked!
Bottom line, what I saved was pure magic, and what I sacrificed was easily forgotten. I'll never have an empty space in the mirror again.
The first day Ben walked into that room...he was shaking from head to toe Now it's me that shakes every time my lips meet his. I don't have any room left in my heart to ever want anything more. And there's no better feeling than that.
"The Boys Of Widow Lake"
~~~ COMING FALL OF 2009 ~~~
(ONLY available in print!)