Summary: Riley is the too shy, too smart 15 year old junior at Dalton High. Enter Austin, the older classmate who befriends him. Riley falls in love with Austin, and hope turns to ash. Part of the Second Star 'Verse.
Maybe the Sky Will
This school was different from his last one. The school in New Jersey had been one big building with lots of floors and always felt too crowded, like the walls would close in on him at any moment. Riley's new high school was an extensive and sprawling campus, sort of like a college, made up of lots of smaller buildings with open airy walkways between them so the famous California sun could warm your skin between your classes.
Riley stood glued to the concrete, feeling countless stares on him, weighing and judging, before they flitter away quickly dismissing his presence. He felt like a small pebble in a sea and he could drown in the waves of the stares. He swallowed and tried to look approachable, like his mom always told him, but no one made a move. His heart sank a little. Riley ducked his head feeling suddenly foolish. He didn't know what he had been expecting.
He hefted his bag on his shoulder and winced as the strap rubbed against a fading bruise on his collarbone from what would hopefully be the last bullying he'd ever have to endure. Jersey taught Riley how to fake happiness and to stifle a scream when a fist drives into your kidney. Something about Jersey made you hard, made you tough enough to survive in the world, and his classmates adapted well. He wouldn't miss Jersey.
Riley found the administrative office with little difficulty. The receptionist looked at him like he's some precious little thing as he placed his paperwork on the desk and introduced himself with a polite smile. Her smile was warm and he had a flashing memory to his mother before banishing the thought.
“How are you, dear?” she asked, looking through paperwork and separating the forms.
Riley managed a tight, nervous smile. “Very pleased to be here. I'm looking forward to a new environment.”
He's well aware he sounded like a babbling suck-up. He can feel his neck and ears burn. He wanted to start over here. Not be the school oddity, the one who didn't fit in, like he's someone out of place and annoying.
If she's surprised she doesn't show it. Instead she smiled asking him to have a seat. The bell rang right as Riley sat down on the little bench parked next to the glass doors. Through the windows he can see students scatter, hurrying here and there, darting into classrooms and through the walkways.
Riley chewed on his lower lip as his reflection gazed back at him through the glass. Green eyes stare at him from a pale face, that's do more to nerves than lack of sun. For once he actually tried to fix his hair, and there's a little gel leaving the brown strands messily ruffled. He wore a pair of artfully distressed jeans and a dark blue shirt, and they're brand new. A far cry from the pressed polos and khakis that once earned him a black eye. Riley had learned his lesson about blending in.
His gaze went unfocused long since fixed on the laces of his dorkishly white sneakers, that he was going to burn when he got a new pair for his birthday. He looked up as the door opened. A tall kid walked in turning back to laughingly shout at someone down the hallway. He's wearing jeans and a green shirt, and his black hair was neatly combed in a conservative, kind of retro style that would look geeky on anyone that couldn't pull it off as well as he does.
“Mrs. Cassidy! How's it going this fine morning?” he said grandly, leaning against her desk wearing an easy grin.
Mrs. Cassidy's lips curled into a amused smile. “Save it, Austin. You should've been here before the bell rang. Promptness is a virtue.”
Austin squinted at her. “I don't think that's right.”
“Remember that tour Mr. Samuels needed you to do? Well, he's here already.”
Riley snapped his head around as they both turned his way. His fingers wrapped tight around the fabric of his bag else he would do something like bite them nervously. A shadow fell over him and he looked up meeting clear brown eyes.
“Hi,” said Austin friendlily, leaning in slightly, unintentionally towering over the seated boy. “I'm Austin Reynolds. I'm going to be showing you around campus.”
Riley's mouth turned up into the tiniest of smiles, and he managed a barely audible, “Riley Wilkinson.”
“All set then?” asked Austin, slipping his hands into his pockets. He smiled brightly as Riley hastily got to his feet. “I promise I won't make this too boring. You'll really like it here, man.”
He adjusted his bag and turned to follow Austin out of the office. Austin tried hard to be welcoming, engaging Riley with questions about his last school interspersed with useful knowledge about navigating the new campus and tips on teachers. Riley answered the questions softly, often awkward, with barely any stutter.
Walking next to Austin through the deserted walkways was surreal. Almost like a dream he once had, where he was someone else, better than he was now. People like Austin weren't ever nice to him. He's what Riley always wished he was. Someone cool, comfortable with himself.
“This hall is for the freshmen lockers. You'll be assigned one around here--”
“Why do you say that?” Riley asked tightly.
“Oh, are you a sophomore?” asked Austin unsure, after a pause that went on too long. “I'm sorry, you look kind of young. I just assumed.”
Riley looked awkward. “It's alright,” he said softly, losing some of the defensive edge from his tone of a moment ago. “I skipped two grades. I – turn fifteen in a couple months.”
Austin's face fell into open surprise. “Oh, wow. So you're a--”
“Junior,” Riley answered the open ended question.
He braced himself for the inevitable baffled stare. He'd gotten it from enough people unsure of what to do with him, even more when they realize he's smart enough to skip more than the two grade levels he already had.
“That's so cool,” said Austin, sounding genuinely impressed. “I'm a junior, too. Hey, maybe we have some classes together. Let me see your schedule.”
It was crumbled around the edges where he gripped it too tight. He handed it over wordlessly, kind of unable to know what to make of the moment. He's still as Austin read the paper under the awning of the walkway, silent except for the piece of gum he's chewing.
“You're in all honors courses, impressive – I'm trying to get in a few next year. It'll look good on my college applications.”
“Colleges are always sending stuff to my house,” Riley said, surprising himself when the words tumble from his lips. His squeezed his eyes shut afraid Austin will think he's some arrogant little snot.
“Awesome,” said Austin breathlessly, handing the schedule back. He smiled honestly. “Wish I had colleges scouting me. Maybe you can help me study then. Chemistry's a pain in my ass.”
“I – could do that,” said Riley, surprise making his voice go soft and shy.
He's startled when his lips curled upwards into smile. The little hope he'd been clinging to burned deep. It felt like he was making a friend.
Riley tried to keep his voice steady, forcing down the urge to be quiet and crawl into his shell. “Are you from here?”
They navigated around the library and through another hall of lockers. Austin waved at a passing teacher. “I've lived in San Francisco all my life. I guess this is all a big change from the east coast, huh?”
That Riley didn't doubt. Austin talked like all the other Californians he'd met so far, fast-talking with a sort of sing-song cadence. It was different from the gruff accents he was used to, but a good different. He liked it.
He looked up at the bright sun and breathed deep as the wind blew a breeze against his face. “A very big change,” he said honestly.
“I guess it sucks leaving your friends, but everyone here is really friendly and the school has something for everyone. I've had a blast here these past few years. You're going to, too.” Austin clapped his together. “Oh, this is where we have our pep rally's.”
Austin pointed out the gymnasium. The doors were wide open providing a full display of the school's cheerleaders. Several pony-tailed girls squealed out Austin's name, and he waved back blowing kisses with a charming smile. Riley stared at his shoes, which he was often prone to do, feeling like an outsider.
“Hey, why so quiet?” asked Austin as they walked through a courtyard with scattered lunch tables. “I'm boring you, right?”
Riley ducked his head, feeling red-hot and put on the spot. He tried to form a sentence, but his tongue felt heavy, and he finally managed a soft no. Austin's hand touched his shoulder briefly, and he looked up at his encouraging smile.
“You're the quiet type, huh,” he said, observing Riley's blushing cheeks. “That's cool. I've been told I talk a lot, so I can fill in conversation for you.” Austin's face lit up. “You want to sit with me at lunch? All the juniors have the same lunch period. You can meet some of my friends.”
“I think--” Riley trailed off after a pause that had gone on too long. He took a deep breath. “I think I would like that.”
Austin smiled. “Awesome.”
Riley just nodded. His brow furrowed and his cheeks were pink as he struggled internally for something to say. It had been a long time since he held a long conversation with someone his own age.
“Can I go to the bathroom?” he asked suddenly.
Austin's brows went up and his smile was a touch amused. “You don't have to ask to use the bathroom. I'm not, like, a teacher or something. Just go, dude. It's right around this corner.”
Riley turned heading for the bathroom before the embarrassment could show on his face. He went straight toward the row of sinks before the door even shut completely behind him. He ran the faucet and splashed some cold water on his face.
This wasn't Jersey. He had a chance to start over here. Everyone was always going out Friday nights, getting asked to dances, partying, and Riley, as always, was in his bedroom with himself for company wondering what made him so unlikable.
Maybe his luck was turning around. If he could just stop being so shy and open his damn mouth, like someone normal, then maybe.
“I can this do this,” he muttered, staring into the mirror as if it would give him advice.
The hope of fitting in and making friends was making him dizzy. He touched his forehead and took one long, calming breath.
Riley adjusted his shirt and stepped out of the empty restroom. Austin's laughter rang out clearly from around the corner, and Riley stopped and listened, as the boy's voice followed an instant later.
“No. That's dumb. And I'm definitely not skipping to go to the mall, Marco,” said Austin.
Riley peeked around the corner. Austin leaned against a pole that supported the walkway's awning. A tall Hispanic kid stared at Austin incredulously through a mop of curly dark hair.
“But Alice Winslow's older sister texted her that it's definitely Starfield at the mall. This is a one time opportunity, man. You know they're, like, my favorite band of all time. Don't be a bitch.”
Austin snorted. “I can't, really. I promised my uncle that I'd play tour guide today. He's going to talk my dad into extending my curfew if I make nice with the new kid.”
Riley leaned heavily against the side of the wall hiding him. He bit his lips as humiliation and disappointment exploded like a car crash inside his chest.
“Bring him then. I don't care. We're totally wasting time, puto.”
“No way, man. He's a kid.”
“Not even. Junior, like us. He skipped some grades. He's only fourteen. I kind of feel bad for him, you know.”
“What does that mean, you're going to play babysitter or something?”
“No! I mean, well, I want to watch out for him.”
Marco rolled his eyes. “Ri-ight. You go and do that, and I'm going to be at the mall. Laters.”
Riley head thudded against the wall. He stuffed his fist in his mouth, trying to swallow the desperate sob threatening to choke him alive. Tears pricked at his eyes and he squinched them shut, praying that he wouldn't start bawling right here in the hall. Of course, the friendship was offered out of pity. He was a charity case, the little kid with the big brain and zero personality, what else was new. No one was ever going to like him for him. What had he been thinking.
He wiped at his eyes, and then rounded the corner walking up to Austin, as Marco jogged across the lawn toward the parking lot.
Riley's head was turned down. He opened his messenger bag pretending to look through it so Austin won't see him crying.
“I – think I can find my next class from here,” said Riley.
Riley doesn't see it on his face, but he can hear the surprise in Austin's voice. “Are you sure? I can show you. It's not a problem or anything.”
It was said kindly, and Riley wanted to tell Austin he didn't have to lie. “I'm sure,” said Riley, still riffling through his bag pretending to look for his schedule. “I can manage.”
“We're still on for lunch? Me and my friends usually sit in the cafeteria, but it's nice out so we might grab a table in the courtyard.”
Riley swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I'm not really hungry.”
He tried to keep his voice steady, already imagining the resentful look Austin's friends would wear when he sits with them, irritated at having a child hanging around while they wonder the best way to ditch him.
“Well – okay then. That offer stands if you change your mind.”
Riley nodded jerkily, fighting the bawl rising in his throat. “Thank you.”
The softly stilted answer hung in the air for a long moment. Then Austin said slowly, hesitantly, “Alright, um, I guess I'll catch you later.”
Riley turned and quickly walked down the hall, and the dry sob he'd been fighting stole his breath. He was so fucking embarrassed. He turned the corner and sagged against a wall filled with student council posters. Humiliation hadn't hurt this much in a long time. He swiped angrily at the tears on his cheeks feeling childish and stupid.
He placed his hands over his eyes, holding his breath till it burned in his chest. He smoothed out the furrow in his brow letting a cool indifference settle in his eyes, as he straightened his shoulders and fixed his face into one of careful blankness. One wouldn't be able to tell he was wrecked on the inside. The mask proved a necessary deception that hid away everything. If it wasn't for the painful lurch of his heart it would've fooled even himself.
Riley carefully looked around the deserted hall and then slowly began his trek to his second period Honors Anatomy and Physiology class. Calm on the outside. A maelstrom of wary discontent on the inside. He silently began to the tick off the minutes till the schoolday was over. California wasn't so different from New Jersey after all.
The next few weeks past quickly as Riley acclimated to the new environment. He familiarized himself with course work, and with nothing else to do he delved into his studies with a passion. The advanced classes were more challenging here, and it was kind of exciting to be able to find difficulty in his school work.
To round out his course load Riley was advised on an elective that would interest him and fulfill the prereq for a graduation credit. So he got shuffled in as a library aide every third period. In reality it wasn't so bad helping out Mr. Dawkins. The old librarian was really friendly and let Riley read and do assignments while sitting behind the front desk. Also, Mr. Dawkins didn't mind that Riley spent his lunch breaks at a lone table in the back of the library, quietly reading and alone.
It wasn't hard work. Mostly it was a lot of putting books back on shelves and scanning them through the system when they were being checked out. Riley would wish students a good day with a smile, after handing them the book, and when they do the same he wonders if they mean it.
Riley managed to avoid Austin whenever he happened to see him on campus. Sometimes though it was inevitable that he'd spot him, and Austin would always make an effort to chat him up. Riley tried to keep the conversations neutral, but the other boy would bring it back to them hanging out. He'd ask Riley to eat with his friends, or invite him to the movies with them, but Riley always politely declined with a no, thank you. Sometimes Austin looked so disappointed that Riley wanted to scream at him that he knows what he really thinks of him. So Riley ignores him instead.
He kept the smile on his face pleasant as Austin walked up to the checkout counter during his library shift. He wished he had somebody else working with him, like the three friends who all managed to work together in the period right after his. Austin's face was pretty relaxed and his smile looked genuine.
“Hey, Riley, can I check this out,” he said, placing a thick hardback on the counter.
Riley slid the book over and couldn't help commenting once he saw the title. “The Beauty in Silence.”
It's a non fiction book that was one part philosophy and part character analysis. It chronicled a boy's journey after a tragedy to find answers to what lies after death, the universe, and what came before and what will come after. The author created a beautiful world that enhanced the story and by the end it left Riley in tears. His own copy of the book was a battered thing with a broken spine from having been flipped open so many times.
“You've read it?” asked Austin, handing over his student ID card.
Riley took the ID card. Austin Reynolds, the computer told him. He busied himself with scanning the book, realizing after a beat that Austin was waiting on an answer. Riley looked up meeting Austin's bemused eyes.
“Of course, I mean, it's – my favorite. My favorite book,” said Riley, hating himself for how dumb he sounded, fumbling over his words like an idiot.
Austin's facial expression wasn't amused like he expected, but interested. “Really, that's cool. I'm pretty sure it's my teacher's favorite, too. She went on and on about it once, so I'm writing a paper on it. I want that A in English Lit this semester.”
He's said the last part so dramatically, all hard voice and intense, that it actually startled a laugh from Riley. He stopped short, surprised. Austin stared and blinked for a few seconds, and Riley thinks he must have pissed him off, before the moment was broken and Austin's grinning so hard that dimples appear in his cheeks.
“And so he laughs,” said Austin, teasingly. “Here I was thinking I was losing my funny. I try really hard, man. I sit at home thinking these things up and I wait days sometimes to use these lines.”
“Sorry,” Riley said, feeling his face heat.
Austin slid the book over the counter closer to him. His fingers tapped against the cover in a quick uneven rhythm. “So, um, you have lunch next, right? Want to sit with me and my friends, buddy?”
Riley frowned as the nickname flowed off Austin's lips with the same inflection older people used when talking down to their juniors. In that moment he hated Austin, feeling a burning resentment that he couldn't place, and thinks Austin either feels sorry for him or he's still only being nice out of obligation. He can't decide which one infuriated him more.
“No, thank you,” he lied. “I already ate.”
Austin's mouth turned down into a frown briefly and then tilted into a tiny smile. “Well next time then.”
Riley didn't acknowledge the parting except for giving a short nod. He stared at his hands resolutely as he tapped at the keys of the computer, typing his name over and over feeling like the biggest loser the world's ever known.
Lunch time came around and that day all the sophomore English classes had library orientation for upcoming research papers. So every available space was taken in the room. Riley almost broke down and stepped into the cafeteria. At the last minute he chickened out. Old habits die hard, and he retreated to the boy's restroom. He locked himself in the last stall with his tuna sandwich he'd made that morning, wiping pathetically at his prickling eyes.
Writing on the stall wall caught Riley's eye. His breath shuddered as he reached out and traced the seven letter word with shaking fingers. Spelled out with black sharpie was; Courage.
Riley really liked this old coffeeshop that's tucked in between a bookstore and record shop. He discovered it a week after the move here. It's quiet inside and there's tables interspersed around the shop without it being crowded, and amazingly it's not overfilled with people on cellphones or on their laptops, like every Starbucks he'd ever been to. When he came he always ordered a different drink. Today it was green tea.
Riley sipped at his drink as he poured through On the Road feeling a kinship with Kerouac and a longing for greener pastures and change kept him enthralled in the worn pages novel. He didn't even notice the shadow falling over the table.
“I didn't know you came here,” said Austin, smiling widely into Riley's startled face. He licked at the whip cream that clung to the straw of his frappucino. “I never see you at school, but here of all places. Random.”
He did a half shrug. “I like it here.” His eyes landed on the copy of the Beauty in Silence he'd checked out to Austin a week before. “Are you still reading the book?”
Austin followed his gaze to the object in his hand. He shook the book and did an eye-roll. “More like rereading it. I got through it, but some of these concepts, man.”
Riley tensed up when Austin plopped down in the chair across the table settling in like the spot had always been his. He ran a finger through the gathering condensation on the side of his plastic cup and glared dejectedly at his book.
“I understand the main points, but the abstract stuff is killing me,” said Austin. “I swear the author wrote this book confusing on purpose. It's like at certain parts it drags with the pacing, and the descriptions themselves are acid trips.”
“That's the point. He captivates you with a world that can't ever be real, but he writes it with so much detail that you question it's existence,” Riley said swiftly without a trace of stammer, as a passion to defend his favorite book poured forth. “The abstract topics can be argued on a perceptual basis from the points of what exactly is good and what's evil. Once you factor that then the concept of a soul gains more depth.”
He wanted to take it back, but it was too late. Austin stared at him with a mixture of shock and awe. Riley shut his mouth and leaned back in his seat shielding his eyes away. A familiar dread rolled in his gut.
“You're really smart,” said Austin. The words didn't come out mean like Riley expected, just observant like he was stating a fact.
Riley shrugged, staring resolutely at the cover of On the Road. “I just. I have a really good memory, and I think too much.”
Austin raised his eyebrows. “No, man, hey. I mean that's a good thing. It's fantastic really.”
It wasn't a compliment he was expecting. He was intimidated by Austin to be honest. He was this tall, tanned guy with cool hair and a checkered shirt with the sleeves rolled up like he meant business. Riley wanted to move to a different table so people wouldn't glance over and wonder why he's sitting with the little kid.
“Uh, thanks, I guess” he said finally, face turning red.
“So what do you do when you're not hanging out in coffeeshops reading,” said Austin, lifting his cup to take a sip. “What are you into?”
Riley chewed on his thumbnail, and then hurriedly dropped it immediately thinking of a baby with a pacifier. “I like to. Um, I really like books and movies, like classics.”
He doesn't know if this was the right thing to say. It's not like he has opportunities like this often. Honestly he's always had trouble relating and connecting to people his own age. In Kindergarten when the other kids were playing duck duck goose, he was crafting stories with his alphabet blocks.
“I never would have guessed,” said Austin deadpan, but he's smiling brightly. “The Kerouac novel kind of gave it away, so. I'm more of a fan of fantasy, like Tolkien and Lewis. Oh, and music. I love music. It's pretty much the reason why me and my buddy Marco are best friends. He's kind of a douche, but we're like musical soulmates.”
Riley can't tamp down the corners of his mouth. Austin talks a lot, and it breaks whatever awkward tension that inevitably started to creep up. He hid his smile behind his drink. There was a weird kind of pleasure humming throughout his chest.
“We could meet up here again,” said Riley awkwardly. “I can help. Help you with your paper, I mean. I've read The Beauty in Silence a bunch of times.”
Austin looked at him like he was some kind of miracle. “You for real? That would be awesome. I would owe you big. I'm talking like forever life debt. This paper's worth 30 percent of my grade and I need this A.”
The funny thing was Riley didn't want to take it back. Austin hadn't ever been cruel to his face, so why should he harbor ill toward him. Even though he thought he was some displaced kid who needed looking after. Riley felt oddly okay with making the offer.
“You don't have to owe me,” said Riley, fiddling with the cup in his hands. “I want to do this.”
Austin smiled. “Alright then, okay.”
Riley reached across the table and picked up Austin's book. This was familiar territory. This he knew. “The key themes in the book are nature and the roots of evil. Is there such a thing as evil, or is it the attribute of human beings?”
He wondered if he sounded like some disjointed robot. The words felt awkward and heavy as they fell from his lips. It was surreal talking to someone else about this book. There was a reason parts were abstract. It let readers draw their own conclusions. It was the perfect book for debate. Riley wrote the author once with his theories, but he never heard back.
When he looked up, Austin was still smiling. “You mean is evil some invisible force? Well, I want to say no, but without evil no one would know what good is.”
“People call soulless things monsters. But humans do monstrous things all the time in the story. And they have souls, so what exactly is a soul?”
They went back and forth for awhile discussing the plot points of the story, built along the lines of a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy. Some parts they disagreed on, but when they found common viewpoints they went off on long tangents that made them both smile happily.
Austin glanced at his phone and groaned. “Hey, listen. I have to get home. Family dinner, you know how it is.” He glanced out of the shop's window. “It's kind of dark out. Do you need me to walk you home?”
Do you need me to walk you home. The question runs through his mind, and he knows that Austin was just trying to be a nice guy, but the gesture just comes across as him trying to act as Riley's babysitter which he doesn't need or want.
“No, I can find my way home,” said Riley, stapling a smile on his face that didn't reach his eyes. “Have a good night.”
“You, too. I –” Austin stood up, lingering for a moment. He didn't find whatever he was searching for on Riley's face. “See you, Riley,” he said at last, turning to go.
Riley watched him walk away and wondered if he made the right choice, or was he opening himself up to a future of humiliation.
They meet periodically over the next three weeks. Austin would bring his book and a notepad taking messy notes, as they debated various points back and forth, so he could use both their ideas in his paper. No matter how hard Riley tried to hold on to that bit of hatred for Austin for his awful comments that first day – he couldn't. The thing with Austin was he was a little genuinely wonderful. He was charming to the baristas at the coffeeshop, nice, and he laughed at Riley's jokes till he went red in the face and his eyes went all crinkly. He was smart too. He defended his views on the book with a passion that was balanced with clear and valid points that Riley sometimes conceded debates to.
Riley waited a little ways down the hall from Austin's class at the end of the day, supposedly Austin was getting his graded paper back today. Students rushed by him high on the exhilaration that only could come from the end of a Friday school day.
The class door opened and Austin was easy to spot. His smile was this bright unstoppable force that instantly tugged a matching one from Riley at just the sight. He rushed toward Austin, intent on grilling him about his paper. Riley wanted to know Austin's teacher's reaction, what she'd thought, and he can picture it all. The proud if surprised smile on her face, the praise she gives right there in the middle of the classroom.
Riley stopped short as Austin was grabbed in a headlock by a familiar boy. Marco, if he remembered right, and another girl came over his other side. She was a pretty blond and Riley felt an odd somberness settle over him when she jumped on Riley's back, laughing. Marco held out an iPhone, and Austin raised his arm showcasing a paper with a bright red A+ marked in the corner. Marco snapped a picture of the two posing just like that. All three of them grinning like they could conquer the world. Riley felt like an intruder witnessing their moment.
Already a dark mood filled him, and Riley couldn't bear the sight of their retreating backs walk off into the distance, exuberant, and probably off to some party where every person in their grade would be, but him.
He didn't even remember the walk home. The house was predicatively empty when he arrived. Riley hadn't expected different. He dropped his bag at the door and wandered into the living room. He didn't turn the TV on. Riley settled into the couch cushions and stared at the blank screen letting the crushing feeling pull him into a uneasy sleep filled with amorphous dreams.
When Riley woke up it was to the ringing of the doorbell. It was dark out, and he had to turn on a lamp to see as he went to go answer the door. He wiped at his eyes feeling a little groggy with sleep. Riley's face filled with shock finding Austin standing in the doorway. He's wearing a flannel shirt and black skinny jeans, and his face burst into a smile when Riley opened the door.
“Hey, so surprise,” said Austin brightly. He's smiling like he would never stop.
Riley felt like he was still asleep. He blamed his lack of comprehension on that. “What. Um. What are you doing here? How did you know where I live?”
The words come out stumbled, tumbling on top of each other. He didn't mean to sound accusatory and something lightens in his chest when Austin didn't just storm off.
Austin smiled slyly. “I may or not may not have got your address from your file during my Office aide period this morning.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “I'm like Batman.”
Riley tried to smile, but he's still very confused and it must show on his face because Austin's leans back on his heels, humming. “Come on, I'm taking you out. I totally got an A on my paper, and I owe you since I probably would've bombed it without you.”
“Oh,” said Riley awkwardly, scuffing his foot against the tiled floor. “You don't have to. Really. I, umm - wasn't expecting anything.”
Austin placed both hands over his heart, pouting. “You're killing me here, Riley. Do you really want me to go out by myself and be that person. The guy who goes out and requests a table for one and pulls out a book to read, all lonely and depressed. It would be the saddest celebration in the history of celebrations.”
The melodrama of the entire speech made him chuckle involuntarily. Riley shook his head, looking up into big brown eyes that were widened exaggeratedly giving him the appearance of an overgrown puppy.
“Shouldn't you ask your friends to go with you?” Riley mumbled.
Austin scoffed like the idea was silly. “They didn't help me get this A. You did.”
Riley tugged on his wrinkled, slept-in shirt suddenly feeling self conscious of his appearance. He looked up into Austin's hopeful face and let all his indecision melt away in an instant.
“Okay, then,” he said, a small smile coming out.
Austin smiled like the sun. “Awesome.”
Riley took his eyes away from that smile shaking his head kind of absently. “Oh – I'm going to go change. I'll be quick. You can come in.”
He let Austin into the house, and they stood there in the foyer in awkward silence until Riley muttered about changing and dashed up the stairs to his bedroom. Riley's thoughts ran rampant as he changed into fresh clothes, unable to keep the grin off his face. The fact that Austin had taken the time to look up his address, actually begged Riley to hang out, him, Riley Wilkinson, and not any of his friends, sent his hopes shooting into orbit – it made him feel tall, like some someone who finally existed –
For once they were going to spend time together and not just because Austin needed help over a school assignment. Did this make them – Riley took a seat on the bed feeling almost shaky with want as he wondered, did this make them friends.
He wanted that. So, so very much.
When Riley returned downstairs he found Austin in the living room. He was studying the pictures above the fireplace so intently that he didn't notice Riley till the boy cleared his throat. Austin jumped at the sudden noise and smiled sheepishly at Riley.
“I just now realized I've been kind of pushy,” said Austin. “Do you have to get the okay from the folks.”
Riley shook his head. “It's fine.”
“Are you sure? Because I don't want to get you in trouble.”
“Trust me. It's fine.”
Austin must have heard something in Riley's tone because he dropped it. Riley rolled the tension from his shoulders and led Austin out of the door. There was a truck parked in front of the house. It looked old and was definitely older than them, and not in the cool way. Riley gave Austin a skeptical look.
“Hey now, it runs. I promise,” said Austin immediately, as if this isn't the first time he's gotten that reaction. “She's never let me down.”
When they hopped in the truck Austin immediately reached for the iPod and the cassette adapter till a previously paused song resumed. A man's soft tenor sang clearly from the truck's speakers.
“To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”
“I like this song,” said Riley, as the singer chanted there is a light that never goes out. “Who is this?”
Austin did a double-take, and the truck jerked to a stop at a red light. “Are you serious? You don't know the Smiths?”
Riley was almost afraid to answer with how affronted Austin appeared. “Is that a band?”
“They're an amazing band,” Austin declared, waving his hand around and looking all indignant. He nodded to himself, decisively. “I'm going to make you a CD.”
“You really don't have to.”
“No, no,” said Austin immediately. “You need this in your life. I'll put all the essentials on it. Think of it as remedial music education.”
Riley rubbed at his lips to fight the ridiculous smile that's forming. “Thank you.”
He looked out the window, but he caught the pleased smile that appeared on Austin's face from the corner of his eye. Riley placed a steady hand on his knee to stop his leg from jiggling, as it sometimes did when he was excited, like now. Riley stared at the passing scenery as they left the neighborhood surrounding the school, venturing out toward the distract that was home to the mall and surrounding plazas and businesses.
“Do you like sushi?” asked Austin, turning into the parking lot of a restaurant.
“Yeah, I like it,” replied Riley with a shrug. He'd never eaten sushi before.
They parked near the front door of the restaurant that said Iron Chefs in huge, bright neon letters above the building. Riley hopped out the truck and wondered if he should've just told Austin the truth about never having sushi. He just wanted to seem cool, more like someone Austin hung out with, who ate sushi and snuck alcohol at house parties.
“Table for two?” the hostess asked, smiling at them all bubbly and bright.
“Can we sit in Tom's section?” Austin asked, looking around the semi crowded restaurant.
It was set up with a hibachi grill in the middle of the space with a chef cooking for people seated around the grill like a bar. Booths lined the walls and there was tables clustered in the rear of the building. The hostess led them to one of the booths near the bar.
“I love sushi,” said Austin, when the hostess walked off after seating them. “This place does awesome fried rice like you wouldn't believe.”
Riley picked up the menu and thumbed through it trying to pick something recognizable. There was some familiar entrees, but some of the meals he didn't have the vaguest clue what to do with. He had no idea what endamame was.
He didn't get a chance to answer because their server came up to the table. It was a boy probably nineteen or twenty. He had black hair with fire engine red tips and he wore ear gauges. When he saw Austin his polite smile widened and turned genuine.
“Look-y here,” said the server, leaning his hip against the table. “If it isn't my favorite puppy eyed gaybie.”
At Riley's perplexed stare, Austin explained. “I have two gay dads.” He rolled his eyes at the server. “Tom this is Riley. Riley this is my buddy Tom. We were in GSA together last year and then he went and graduated leaving me all alone.”
“I spent the entire year trying to get you to date me, and you shot me down left and right. It's your own fault you're missing out, you mouthy fuck,” said Tom laughing.
Riley felt like he was the last one in on the joke. It took a moment for him to realize they were talking seriously and weren't just kidding around. Was Tom still into Austin? Did that mean that Austin dated guys? Was he gay?
He realized he was glaring at Tom and distracted himself by breaking open his chopsticks. Austin nudged Riley with his elbow.
“Tom goes to SFIA. He's an artist, which just means he likes silent films, super pretentious books and water colors.”
Tom laid a hand over his heart, affronted. “Do you mean to tell me that you didn't enjoy my riveting, dramatic reading of the Art of War.”
Austin looked at Riley like see what I mean. He didn't.
“What can I get you boys to drink before I get fired for standing here chatting?” asked Tom when his manager walked by giving him the side eye.
They gave Tom their drink order and he scampered away as his manager made another pass through his section. Austin closed his menu. He's bobbing his head to some unheard beat in his head when he noticed that Riley had been quiet for awhile.
“You're not going to give me shit about the gay thing are you?” Austin asked with strained note in his voice. “I didn't think you seemed the type to make a big deal about it. I guess I was wrong.”
“No,” said Riley hurriedly. He felt his face turning red as the other boy stared at him with his jaw locked with tension. “I – don't mind. I was surprised, but I don't. It's. I would never judge anyone for something they can't control.”
Austin let out a sigh and his eyes were bright when he smiled at Riley. “Me and you are going to be good friends.” He tapped his fingers on the table and snapped excitedly. “I can see it. Just watch.”
Riley felt his heart tumbling over and over, and he grinned broadly. “I will hold you to that.”
“Here hold them like this,” said Austin when he saw Riley fumbling with the chopsticks in his hand.
Austin reached over and laid his hand over Riley's. He fixed his fingers into the correct positions. Riley's breath caught in his chest, his stomach filled with uncomfortable butterflies all of a sudden. Satisfied, Austin leaned back in the booth and stared at him with a fond smile.
“You've never eaten sushi have you?”
Riley felt a hot wave of anxiety slam into him, and he lowered his eyes to the ground. “No,” he said quietly.
Austin shook his head, exasperated. “Silly boy.”
When Tom came back to the table with their drinks, Austin took great joy in ordering what he proclaimed all the best sushi that he thought Riley should try, promising that he would love them every time he saw Riley's doubtful look when he rattled off weird entree names.
The meal was amazing like Austin predicted. Riley's stomach was hurting from laughing so much by the end. Austin told him story after story and time flew by. And when Riley periodically fumbled with the chopsticks Austin would calmly lean over, still engrossed in telling a story, and fix his fingers into position with easy care, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
That night when Riley got ready for bed he touched the skin on the back of his hand with nervous fingers like it was something secret. He remembered Austin's hand in his, and he longed for it again with an almost primal need that made his heart stutter painfully. He doesn't think, he knows that if Austin asked for his heart he would happily give it up with everything that he was.
Monday came around and Riley walked out of the library to grab his lunch from his locker. Mr. Dawkins was giving a library orientation for a Freshmen class, so he was allowing Riley to use his office to eat his lunch in. He didn't have to, but the librarian doted on him something awful sometimes like a grandfather. Riley honestly didn't mind so much.
Riley waited until the crowd heading for the cafeteria thinned out and then he stopped dead when he rounded the corner. Austin leaned against Riley's locker wearing a gray henley and a smile when he sees the surprise written all over Riley's face.
Austin made a show of looking at the locker behind him. “Oh, is this your locker,” he said with such fake surprise wonder that it made Riley shake his head. “Small world.”
“I guess you looked up my locker number from my office records?” asked Riley, playing with the hem of the bottom of his hoodie.
“I'm not admitting to anything,” said Austin. He pointed his finger at Riley. “You're having lunch with me. I'm not taking no for an answer.”
Austin blinked, his mouth kind of gaping for a moment before he muttered, “This went a lot differently in my head.”
Riley didn't say anything. His feelings had changed into something terrifyingly new and so strong that he felt like it was all he could think about at times. He had no idea why Austin wanted him around, but it felt good to be liked. It made him feel all warm and happy like he could float away.
Riley crossed his arms, as a gnawing sense of insecurity grew underneath his skin. “Your friends won't mind will they? If I sit with you guys.”
Austin gave a sort of helpless laugh and smiled so sincerely that Riley couldn't doubt his words. “My friends will love you. Trust me on this will you.”
And he does.
Austin's friends were as nice and welcoming as he always said. Marco was brash and quick to smile. He was always sprouting off nonsensical things that made others laugh or just stare disbelievingly at how insensitive he often was. Riley couldn't help the initial crushing sense of jealously at how easily Katie and Austin got along. Logically he knew it was irrational. He couldn't hold on to the jealousy for long. Katie was just so nice. She was a fireball and had a sarcastic streak that she only used for good, she'd solemnly told him once with a gleam of amusement in her eyes.
He eats lunch with Austin and his friends as the days passed and the weather stayed pleasantly the same if only a little windier. The leaves turned and fell as autumn reached its peak with Riley turning fifteen on the day school let out for Thanksgiving break.
The late November breeze was refreshing against his skin as Riley walked outside to the picnic tables his friends usually took their lunch at. He's greeted by three somber faces that made him draw up short.
“Did something happen?” Riley said hesitantly, wondering if this is the moment where they tell him he's never really been a part of their group and they want him gone.
Austin reached behind him and pulled out an acoustic guitar. Riley stared frozen as Austin set a beat by slapping the guitar body with his hand. His confusion melted away as soon Austin strummed the first few chords, and the three of them bellowed out, “You say it's your birthday, well it's my birthday too, yeah...”
Riley burst into an uncontrollable grin as they got progressively more into the serenade. Somewhere a cupcake with a candle in it came out and the song shifted more into the traditional Happy Birthday song, a bit more grandiose one.
He couldn't stop smiling. Riley's face actually hurt from the grin that's taken over his face. When he closed his eyes to make his birthday wish he thinks – he thinks about Austin slinging an arm over his shoulder when they're walking, the way his eyes go all crinkly at the corners and his dimples come out when he's laughing, or when he gives the barista Riley's coffee order from memory... Riley holds onto his wish and blows out the candle. When he opened his eyes Austin's the first thing he sees and he prays.
At the end of the day there's an energy in the air as school let's out. It's a carefree sort of attitude that's contagious and heralds the vacation. The four walk home from school together from time to time when after-school activities weren't prevalent like today.
“I can't believe my mom is dragging us to Washington for Thanksgiving,” Marco whined out. “That's practically Canada.”
Katie rolled her eyes. “Such a girl.”
“Oh, whatever. You're just saying that because you're going to Texas,” countered Marco. “You get to like ride horses and shit wherever you go and wear those cool cowboy hats.”
Austin squinted at him. “You know it's 2011, right? I don't think Texas is like you think it is.”
“Whatever,” said Marco dismissively, walking backward now so he could look at all of them at once. “I'm going to the cold north to die and you all don't care. Honestly I'm both appalled and hurt at your lack of sensitivity to my plight.”
Katie smirked. “Plight? Someone's been looking through his SAT word a day calender.”
“Impressed?” he asked with a leer.
She looked up at the sky. “Why are we friends?”
“My rock hard abs,” said Marco.
They didn't stop arguing as they had to turn on their street, only stopping to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving and with declarations to hang out when they got back in town. Riley and Austin walked in step as they continued the walk in a comfortable silence.
“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Austin asked suddenly. “You haven't said.”
Riley slipped his hands around the shoulder straps of his bag. He turned his stare to the ground counting the cracks in the sidewalk.
“My dad's working that day,” he said, already knowing how sad it sounded. “He's an attending general surgeon at Mercy East, and he already has two surgeries scheduled that day.”
“The hospital by the Mission?” Austin asked, and when Riley nodded he frowned sympathetically. “That sucks. Your mom--”
“I'll be alone,” he said flatly, cutting him off.
Riley rolled his lips in his mouth. Silence lingered in the air, and he could see Austin struggle for words out of the corner of his eye. He opened his mouth to apologize when Austin suddenly moved in front of him blocking his path.
“I've got the world's best idea,” he proclaimed grandly. “You should come to my house for Thanksgiving!”
Riley shifted on his feet, feeling literally thrown off by the question. “What?”
Austin's takes his confusion for indecision. “Come on. It'll be awesome. I won't promise one of preteen cousins might fall in love with you, but they're fickle little things. We'll put on some Beiber and run like hell if we have to.”
“Do you – Shouldn't you ask your parents first?” asked Riley.
Austin waved his hand, grinning. “Nope. We always have extra food, and the house turns into a freaking circus. I need the company.” He watched expectantly as Riley shifted from one foot to the other.
“Well, if you think no one will mind...”
He fist pumped triumphantly, making Riley snort back a laugh. “That's what I'm talking about.”
Riley was getting better at not blushing around Austin. He just couldn't stare at that smile for too long. But he couldn't deny that he genuinely liked having Austin's attention. Riley's street came up and they stopped at the sign. Austin's house was further in the neighborhood closer to the community pool.
Austin wraps his hand around Riley's wrist. For a dizzying second, he wonders if the other boy can feel the way his heartbeat trippled overtime. Austin reached into his pocket.
“Um, Happy Birthday,” said Austin, pressing a wrapped parcel into Riley's hands.
Riley stared at the wrapped gift, shocked. “What is it?”
Austin threw back his head and cackled. “That's not how these things go,” he said, shaking his head and smiling at Riley, with what he thinks is fondness. “Open it up when you get home.”
He smiled down at Riley and squeezed his shoulder. He walked away whistling something light and familiar that tugged at Riley's heartstrings. Riley stood there watching as Austin grew smaller and smaller till he lost sight of him. He ran all the way home and dashed straight up to his room without stopping.
Riley wasn't surprised to open the present to find a CD. Austin had given him two others since the first one months ago. He was surprised by the post-it that's stuck on the front of the jewel case.
This CD is flawless and should be a staple of your growing collection. You're absolutely amazing. I adore you. xAustin
The words were gorgeous and the sentiment behind it was so very Austin, charming and effortless without even trying. The CD was Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More album that Riley immediately put in his laptop to play. He closed his eyes as music blared from the laptop's speakers.
“Serve God, love me and mend. This is not the end, lived unbruised, we are friends. And I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”
Riley put on a nice button down black and green plaid shirt with a pair of jeans. This was his final outfit after trying on three others. He didn't want to look like a slob in front of Austin's parents. After almost hyperventilating Riley splashed some water on his face and quickly left the house before he could talk himself out of going.
It's cloudy this afternoon when he crossed the quiet suburban neighborhood. Austin's house is a white two story with blue shutters. The driveway and streets are lined with cars and he can see tons of people through the windows. He almost turns back right then, nerves failing him.
Somehow he makes it to the porch and rings the doorbell. The door opened and his shaky smile turned real at seeing Austin framed in the doorway. He's wearing a red v-neck and casual slacks. His entire face lit up.
“I was getting worried about you,” said Austin, pulling him inside. “I was this close to storming your house all Lord of the Rings: Two Towers style.”
The relief he suddenly felt just by being near Austin calms his frazzled nerves. So when he meets Austin's family and family friends he comes across polite and shy, but not the fumbling wreck that he feared. Austin's dads are all smiles just like their son, and if he didn't know Austin was adopted Riley would swear he inherited his smile from call me, Mitch. And drop the sir, please, you're making me fell old. It's just Alan moved with a sort of languid grace that came from long years of being a dance instructor, but he can see bits of the same lolling sway in Austin's movements.
When dinner was ready Riley sat between Austin and his Aunt Miriam. She had a head full of silver hair and kept proclaiming that Riley was the cutest thing she's ever seen, and made Austin promise to keep him around. It was the first time that he'd ever seen Austin blush, oh my god auntie mimi thanks i'll try to.
After dinner was over, they all sit back and stories begin flying around the room each more embarrassing than the last. Once his dads start telling stories about Austin as a little boy and his big crush on the paperboy, Austin stood from the table and grabbed Riley's wrist to pull him up.
“I hope you know that you make it very difficult to love you guys,” said Austin.
Mitch nodded. “We try.”
“Your tears give us our power,” Alan deadpanned.
They made the room laugh and Austin tugged on Riley's wrist, leading them out of the room and through a side door near the kitchen. It lead down into a basement that's been renovated into a room that's setup with a huge entertainment system along one wall, a couch rested opposite it, and taking up a good portion of the space was a beautiful piano.
“It's mine,” said Austin when he noticed Riley's stare.
“I thought you only played guitar.”
Austin shrugged with one shoulder and said with a playful smirk, “Guitar's cooler.”
That smirk pulled at something in his stomach, and he cut his eyes away. Austin's face brightened and he dashed up the stairs to make sure the basement door was locked. He winked at Riley when he came back down.
“Want to stay over tonight?” asked Austin, a gleam of mischief in his eyes.
Riley frowned. “Why do I feel like you're planning something?”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.”
He said it so innocently that Riley's burst of incredulous laughter actually made the other boy pout. Riley didn't have the heart to say no, especially when Austin's pout combined with his doe eyes made him feel like he'd be saying no to Bambi or some Disney cartoon equally as sweet.
“Why not,” he said, smiling as Austin let out a whoop. “I just have to leave a message at the hospital for my dad. He won't mind.”
The message he leaves with one of the nurse's for his father was short. She wished him a happy thanksgiving, and he muttered one in return feeling nervous. It was his first time staying over at a friend's house, and he hoped that he didn't seem lame once Austin spent the night with him. The thought kept cycling through his mind and wouldn't stop.
They hid away in the basement for the rest of the night, only leaving for more food later in the evening. Some time during the night Austin brought out what he dramatically declared the pièce de résistance. It was a bottle of Russian vodka that he snuck over a year ago. He only drank from it before a big party or other special occasions with friends.
The vodka warmed him from the inside out and after two stiff drinks they were both talking faster and with more energy. They talked while they gorged on food, childhood stories and wishes spilling forth with easy laughter constantly filling the quiet room.
Austin's cheeks were pink, and he stared at his hands for a minute not saying anything. It worried Riley and right as he reached out to touch his shoulder, Austin looked at him and blurted out.
“Why don't you talk about your mom?” His eyes widened and he looked like he wanted to kick himself. “Shit that's not cool. You don't have to answer.”
“She died in a car wreck,” said Riley quietly, his heart was beating hard in his chest. He blinked a few times surprised that he was even talking about this. “She was on her way to pick me up from school, and some idiot ran a red light. I was nine.”
Austin eyes were soft, not with pity but with sadness. His heart was so big that Riley couldn't take it sometimes, wondering endlessly if Austin really was his friend or did he just feel sorry for him. Austin scooted closer wrapping his arm around Riley's shoulder and drawing him in, tucking him in close into his side.
“My dad – he hasn't been the same. There's a sadness about him all the time. It's hard being around him, so I don't bother.” Riley pulled at his bottom lip between his teeth. “He just shattered when she died - he loved her so much. Sometimes – sometimes I think that if he didn't have to worry about me, he would die of a broken heart.”
He didn't realize he shoved his face into Austin's shoulder, practically hiding, until the other boy started to run his fingers through Riley's hair. Riley's next breath came out in a shutter and he jerked away feeling foolish for clinging to Austin like some baby.
“Life hasn't been kind to you,” Austin said softly, cupping Riley's face with both hands. He swiped carefully at the tears that fell down Riley's cheeks with his thumbs. “I'm sorry.”
He was ashamed when the gesture made his chin shake and a choked sob uncurl from where it'd been building in his chest. Austin didn't stare at him with disgusted eyes or like some miserable little child that he regretted ever befriending, but they were shining wetly. Those beautiful brown eyes that he loved so much were tearing up for him.
“I didn't mean to make you sad,” said Austin with sincere regret. “Don't cry, Ry, please don't cry. Shhh.”
Austin wrapped both arms around Riley and rocked him gently till he felt like he couldn't bear crying. Not anymore when this boy was crying for him and holding him like Riley's happiness was the only thing that mattered in the world. He pushed his noise into Riley's hair and the warm breath ghosting across his neck made him shiver.
“I'm good,” said Riley, letting himself bask in the feeling for longer than was safe for his control, before he did something stupid like touch those lips with his own. “Thank you – Can we talk about something else? I don't want to end the night like this.”
Austin nodded quickly. “Anything you want. Um, hey, you never told me about your birthday gift.” He poked Riley's side making him giggle. “Did you like it?”
“I loved it.” Riley doesn't tell him that iTunes currently listed the album play count at thirty one times from start to finish. “I really like the song that says you must know life to see decay, and there's a part about looking up through the rain. It's my favorite, I think.”
“After the Storm,” said Austin happily. He ran a hand through his hair. “I used to listen to that song like all the time. I would sit in my room with my earbuds in my ears and just listen, you know?”
“Yeah,” said Riley. And then once more, after a pause, “I do know.”
Austin jumped up from the couch with a soft oh noise. He went to the piano and then turned on the bench to face Riley. He was practically vibrating with excitement. “Okay, this is kind of improv, but I learned to play this after listening to that album like a billion times.”
He moved the bench a little and after a pause he carefully began pressing down on the keys. A melody started that Riley couldn't place until it suddenly clicked. Riley's eyes were wide as he stood and slowly walked over to the piano.
“I look up, on my knees and out of luck, I look up.”
Riley sat down at the end of the bench. “That's After the Storm. You just keep surprising me.” He shook his head. “You're very talented.”
“I know enough to get by,” said Austin, waving him off.
“No. I mean it.”
He looked embarrassed, but Riley can tell by the tilt of his smile that the praise secretly makes him pleased. Austin shook his head and bumped their shoulders together and played something so sweet that the beauty of it almost did Riley in. They were sitting so close together the heat from Austin's body pressed against him like a hand print. He could faint from it.
They don't stay up that much longer. Their stomachs were full from food and alcohol and their eyelids were so heavy that they could barely keep them open. The basement's couch was a pullout and Austin grabbed a bunch of blankets from the closet and set it up with drowsy movements.
“Night, Ry,” Austin mumbled sleepily.
He rolled over on the makeshift bed and promptly passed out. Riley didn't go to sleep as quickly. He couldn't. Especially not with Austin laying next to him, face slackened with sleep and so very perfect without even trying. Riley stared at the curve of Austin's neck transfixed by that smooth slope of skin.
Riley's known Austin since September, but it's hard to imagine how someone could come to mean so much to him in such a short time. This feeling had to be love. It left him breathless and he felt like he was drowning in it. Austin's chest moved gently under his t-shirt.
As sleep crept up on him, a jolt went through Riley's heart when he realized Austin called him “Ry”.
The thing with Thanksgiving vacation was that as soon as you go back to school there was only few weeks left of the fall semester. Those precious weeks were spent cramming for finals. And Riley took finals seriously, so he spent whatever free time he could preparing for exams.
He didn't see much of Austin, Marco or Katie during that interim. In addition to studying, the three of them had extracurricular activities that left them pretty busy. The weeks past quickly and finals were done with Riley breezing through his exams.
At the end of the last day of school, Riley waited with Austin by the student parking lot for Marco and Katie to finish last minute assignments for Journalism.
“Any plans for Winter Break?” asked Austin, playing with his Blackberry.
Riley shrugged. “We might go back east and visit family. Not sure.”
He watched students peel out of the parking lot like the imaginary school police was going to drag them back if they didn't get out of Dodge quick enough. Riley leaned his head back, basking in the sun that appeared from behind a cloud bank. Right now if he was still in Jersey he would be ankle deep in snow. He didn't miss it.
Austin looked at him with impossibly huge eyes. “You're leaving me? What am I going to do without my best friend? Injustice, Ry.”
Riley laughed feeling like he could walk on air, best friend – was he really? His smile was stupidly huge. Then everything turned and as quickly as he flew to heaven he fell, hard.
Rolling his eyes at Austin, Riley waved at Marco and Katie as they came through the side doors and crossed the parking lot. Marco immediately jumped on Riley ruffling his hair and pinching his cheeks, batting at Riley's feeble attempt to fight him off.
“Last day of school. Stop fighting it, Riley. Just let it happen,” Marco cooed into his ear, as he kept trying to mess up his hair.
Katie dug her elbow into his side. “Stop it, Marco.” She crossed her arms at his glare, and then turned her stare to Austin, who'd been silent the whole time. “Oh my, God. Are you sleeping standing up again?”
Marco narrowed his eyes, thoughtfully. He followed Austin's eyes and then smirked. “Look at the dopey grin and look who he's staring at.”
“Is that Lee Cohen?” asked Katie, squinting at the tall blond who was getting into a Nissan.
“Yeah,” said Austin, sighing a little. He looked like he was trying to fight a bashful smile. “He asked me out a few days ago. We're seeing each other.”
Riley's whole world tilted on its axis. His skin felt tight and uncomfortable. “What does that mean?”
“We're dating,” said Austin. “I forget how young you are sometimes.”
“What's that mean?” he snapped, feeling a hot surge of anger. The world was spinning.
Austin flinched, immediately looking sorry. “That's not what I meant. I mean you're innocent – inexperienced. Shit this isn't coming out right.”
“So what because I'm fifteen and you're seventeen that makes you so much better and wiser.”
Austin rolled his eyes. “Like not even. But I do have experience and you have zero, so it proves my point. Look Riley I'm sorry, I didn't meant for it to sound like -”
He doesn't hear the rest of the apology. His heart was pounding so loud, he could hear it between his ears. He chanced a glance at Katie and Marco and they were looking between them like they'd never seen them before. Riley felt like his ears were going to burn right through his head. His whole face felt on fire. He could just burn right up here and die. Whywhywhywhywhy.
Riley stared silently at the ground. His hands were balled up into fists and his nails bit into his palms. The pain was a welcome relief otherwise he would start bawling right here. He had to get away from here. He couldn't stomach the sight of Austin's face. Right here in this moment he loathed him, borderline hated everything about him.
“I left my TI-83 in class. I have to get that calculator back,” Riley said carefully, so his tone wouldn't waver with the tears he was holding back.
Riley stepped back too quickly. He tripped over a crack and fell. Austin was instantly at his side. “Jesus, Riley. Are you okay?”
Austin reached out to help him up, and Riley jerked his arm out of his grasp when he was back on his feet. He turned away from Austin's hurt face, wanting to scream at him and hit him but unable to do so without having a fucking breakdown.
Riley dashed into the school between the buildings to the exit that would take him out into the baseball field. His chest was heaving. He probably looked a mess. He didn't care. The walk home from this way was longer, but he couldn't bear walking with Austin today. Fuck Austin. Fuck his boyfriend with his stupid blond hair.
The way home this way takes forty-five minutes instead of twenty, but it was worth it. Riley slammed the door to his bedroom. He dropped his backpack on the floor and then picked it up, and slammed it back down again, again and again, then finally threw it across the room. The bag ripped open spilling his textbooks across the carpet.
Riley collapsed on the bed and buried his head under his pillow unleashing a scream of rage that came out more like a sob of pain. Hot tears fell onto the pillow, and his shoulders shook with forceful jerks as he sobbed his feelings out.
He never got anything he wanted, but he thought this time was different – he thought. Damn it, he was so stupid.
The anger was too much, too consuming. It zapped at his energy, and Riley slipped into fitful sleep. His dreams were plagued with amber-gold brown stars that flew away the closer he approached. At some point he heard the doorbell downstairs ringing insistently. He slammed the pillows over his head. It eventually stopped and he stared up at the ceiling.
My heart's broken, he thought, rubbing at his chest. This pain won't ever end.
Riley's eyes landed on the Mumford and Sons album. Anger doesn't come. It was sadness this time. Riley's lip trembled. Damn you, Austin, and damn me for believing.
[end part i]
Sorry for taking so long to update! My computer died so I've been working a lot to buy this new one, so sorry I didn't reply to some emails. It couldn't be helped. This is the first part of a four part story. I really hoped that you enjoyed this and the wait was worth it. I did promise it was going to be good. The next part will be posted this weekend.
I appreciate any feedback or if you just want to drop a quick line, I will definitely email you back! You can do it here at Batmanhater@aol.com