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
The week after New Years Austin wasn't content with Riley sitting at home on such a splendid night. He showed up at Riley's house with a too big smile and grand plans for the night. Riley almost closed the door in his face. The next half hour was a bit of a blur as Austin turned into a human whirlwind. Riley sat in the swivel chair as Austin rummaged through the inside of his closet. Clothes flew through the air landing on the bed accompanied by Austin's constant muttering.
“Do I really have to go?” Riley asked, crossing his arms.
Austin squinted at him. “It's Saturday night and we're still on winter break.”
“Your point is?”
“Riley,” said Austin, dragging the e out in a way that made Riley think he was going to burst into a song or tears. He refused to smile. “I'm starting to believe you love raining on my parade.”
Riley gazed longingly at his flatscreen TV. “But they're showing a documentary about the beat generation on the History Channel in half an hour.”
“This is peer pressure.”
Austin pointed at himself. “Look, Ry. This is my resolve face. You can't say no to this.”
He was tempted to say no just for the sheer amusement of it, but Goddamn if Austin wasn't right. That resolve face should be considered a tool of evil. Those brown eyes and dimples were a dangerous thing when used in combination, and Riley felt his resistance weakening when Austin started to pout, too. He picked up one of the shirts strewn across the bed.
“This better be good,” said Riley, turning his eyes away from Austin's giddy smile. He could feel it warm the pit of his stomach. “You haven't said what we're doing tonight anyway.”
“Oh, I thought I mentioned that,” said Austin, sprawling on the bed when Riley picked up the clothes to go change in the bathroom. He raised his voice so Riley could hear him through the door, “We're going over to my friend Mark's. He's having a little gathering. Nothing big. It's just some GSA kids. He's president so it's tradition for them to host the first get together of the new year.”
Riley pulled his head through the shirt so he could answer, “I didn't know you still did GSA things.”
“I don't,” replied Austin. “I had to quit going after I brought Marco that one time. He offended Amy Chang by calling her a lipstick lesbian and they got into this like, epic screaming match. But me and Mark go way back and he asked me over, so it's all cool.”
Riley checked himself in the mirror. He tugged at the edges of his sleeves feeling kind of self conscious at how they clung to his biceps and chest. He should have tried harder into talking Katie into bigger size shirts when they went shopping at the beginning of the school year. She wouldn't hear of it, and gave him a are you serious stare when he slipped a few medium sized shirts amongst the smalls.
“How do I look?” asked Riley, standing in the bathroom's doorway.
Austin sat up on the bed, leaning back on his elbows to look at him and grinned. “Like a million bucks.”
Riley didn't pretend to hide how pleased this made him.
Seeing Austin so positively bouncy made him smile. It had been too long since he'd seen Austin in good spirits like this. Whatever was affecting him he seemed to have gotten over it for now. Riley wasn't going to question it. As long as Austin was smiling again was enough for now. They rode out to the edge of the neighborhood in Austin's truck with Surfjan Stevens playing on the stereo. Riley looked out the window at the rows of houses and the passing streetlights. He could see Austin tapping at the steering wheel from the corner of his eye, bobbing his head, and he felt a welcome contentment settle deep in his bones. His mind ran wild as he imagined Austin steadily driving until the sun rose on the horizon and then forever on, and they would waste their weeks beneath the sun somewhere on a beach with miles upon miles of ocean stretching out before them. He wondered if Austin would read to him as they laid out on the sand, probably some poetry because they both know poetry is Austin's favorite even though he pretended to hate it.
They parked in front of a two story next to a SUV that had a Dalton High decal on the back window. Austin didn't take them directly to the front door. They ended up going around the side of the house and through the backyard gate. There was some pretty lanterns hanging from the trees throwing warm light on a white gazebo that took up little space in the surprisingly massive yard. Three boys and two girls sat in a round table under the gazebo laughing over the sounds of Two Door Cinema on the radio.
A tall boy with spiky blond hair and a handsome face waved. “Hey, Austin. You took your time getting here, so we started without you.”
Riley could now see that the table was littered with playing cards, red plastic cups, and shot glasses. A bottle of Stolichnaya and Cuervo stood in the center, and Riley's stomach promptly churned at the sight. The boy grinned at Riley and stuck out his hand.
“I'm Mark. You're Austin's friend, right? Tough luck.” he said, grasping Riley's hand in a firm grip.
Austin rolled his eyes. “Asshole.”
“It's – a real struggle sometimes,” said Riley, shaking Mark's hand. Austin laughed loudly, putting his arm around Riley's neck and his thumb brushed against Riley's pulse point.
Mark immediately brightened and turned to Austin. “Oh, I like him. Come on, I'll introduce you to everybody.”
Introductions went around the table. Riley learned the two girls, Amy and Summer, were in a relationship and had been dating for two years. Shawn reminded him too much of Marco that Riley was convinced that they were separated at birth, except for the whole gay thing, hello, my name is Shawn, but you can call me whatever you like, baby. Austin pointed a finger at him and told him to shut it down and made sure Riley was sitting on his right side and away from Shawn's over the top leering. And there was Luke, the token straight boy, as they kept calling him whenever he tried to interject an opinion.
The conversation was easy going and light and Riley tried his best to smile and not think too much, otherwise he would pull into his shell – new people igniting his shyness. Austin must have sensed it because he kept a reassuring shoulder pressed against his own, and his fingers tapped against the top of Riley's hand when he shifted in awkwardness.
It wasn't long before Shawn was declaring they do shots to get things really started. Amy was suspiciously good at prepping the tequila shots, passing everyone limes and salt with easy movements. Riley gave Austin a withering stare like, this is all your fault. Austin just hummed innocently as they clinked the glasses together and downed the shot. The tequila burned all the way down and felt like fire licking at his insides. Riley hadn't drank alcohol except for the one Thanksgiving a year ago, and it didn't take much to get him drunk. The shot didn't help matters. He's feeling hot and lightheaded by his second drink of vodka and sprite, and his lips have gotten all tingly.
Austin shuffled a stack of cards in his hands with nimble fingers that moved easily even though Riley could tell he was just as drunk. The only thing that gave him away was the pink glow in his cheeks and the distant haze in his eyes. Riley was transfixed by Austin's fingers as they flexed, zoning out in a pleasant daydream of those fingers dancing across the base of his spine and down against the back of his thighs. Riley closed his eyes. When he opened them Austin was looking at him.
“You okay,” Austin asked, pitching his voice low so the others wouldn't overhear.
Riley nodded. “Haven't vomited yet. So I got that whole thing working for me.”
“Promise I'll hold your hair back if you do.”
Austin squeezed Riley's thigh and turned to laugh at Summer and Mark's impromptu Cameras duet. Luke brought up drinking games and Shawn immediately suggested Suck and Blow, and was promptly shot down. Before he could come up with something equally risque, Mark lead them into a game of Kings Cup, which switched to Waterfalls when Luke kept messing up on the rules, and then eventually they ended up playing Quarters. Amy announced that was boring and quickly shifted it into a game of I've Never, like some kind of intoxicated magician.
“Game is simple. You've done it, you drink,” said Amy. She smiled slyly and lifted her glass. “I'll go first – I've never had a boyfriend.”
Austin, Shawn, and Mark gave a simultaneous groan and took a drink. Summer stared at her nails for a moment and then gave a dejected sigh. Amy arched an eyebrow at her girlfriend. They all waited expectantly for the story.
Summer sighed. “It was back during my I could possibly be into dick phase. I was fifteen. It was summer camp, and Bobby Little had the prettiest eyes I've ever seen. We dated for one a week and I got mono.”
It was funny as it was sad, so that made it pretty funny indeed. Especially when Amy cooed at her like she was something small and especially fluffy, clutching Summer to her bosom like she wanted to hide her away from the world. It was Luke's turn, and he puffed his chest up proudly like he was about to say something game changing.
“I've never watched a single episode of Queer as Fuck,” said Luke.
Mark groaned. “First, that's not the name of the show and you know it, Token. Second, you suck.”
“Not as much you,” replied Luke smugly. “Now drink bitches!”
Shawn shot him a drunken glare. “One day my people will rise above and crush your kind.”
Luke kicked back as everyone around him raised their glasses to take a drink, even Riley. Riley had watched an episode with Katie and Austin once last summer while hanging out in Austin's basement. Austin had been flipping through the channels when he stopped suddenly and apologized but he couldn't possibly turn it from the best episode of the entire series. Riley had watched the show confused for the most part, and a little turned on during the many impossible, but totally undeniably hot sex scenes.
Luke pointed a finger at Riley. “Your turn, bro.”
Riley gripped the red cup in his hands. He hadn't really done anything so it was only a matter of picking the one that made him seem less like some homebody loser. Austin's fingers grazed against his forearm, and Riley said without really thinking, “I've never played this game before tonight.” They all gave exaggerated moans and took a long swig of their drinks. It was at this point Riley realized they really didn't mind the drinking part, like he initially believed but just put up a fuss for show. He was judging this based on the how quickly Shawn and Luke were pouring refills.
“I've never made out with a clown,” said Austin. It startled a burst of laughter from Mark and Luke, and Shawn went into a giggle fight. Summer covered her smile with her hand. Amy looked at Austin like he betrayed her.
“To our graves,” Amy said, tapping the table for emphasis. “We swore an oath and everything.”
Austin laughed. “I remember no such thing.”
“Seriously?” Riley asked, looking around the table full of laughing faces. “Like a. Real clown?”
Amy flipped Austin off and looked at Riley. “It wasn't like I wanted to. We were at a carnival and I had just taken some pain meds for my back, so I was feeling a little loopy. These assholes took advantage of my delicate state and dared me to make out with this like, sad faced clown. It was all very Degrassi-esque.”
“We said kiss him like, peck on the cheek or something,” said Shawn between giggles. “No one asked you to slip him the tongue.”
“Oh my, God. I was on medication. Such a tool.”
After Amy drank the game devolved into who could embarrass each other more. They went around the table trying to one up each other with humiliating stories. The alcohol continued to flow as Amy refilled cups with vodka and sprite. Then when that was gone they switched to shots of tequila for everything they've done. The game turned into this mess of random confessions mixed with laughter over the top forty blaring over the radio. Things started to go fuzzy around his vision. Riley's face felt too hot and Austin's weight was heavy against his shoulder as he slumped further into Riley as the game progressed.
It was so primetime teen drama as the alcohol took hold blurring memories and sending them slumping in their seats. Riley wasn't sure if Shawn confessed to trying to seduce his college-age neighbor or if he imagined it. He did know Luke rolled his eyes when he admitted to coming in third place in a Justin Beiber look-a-like contest. He may or may not have cried. That he wouldn't own up to.
Riley felt pleasantly drunk. Not completely wasted where he can't even talk properly, but good and tipsy where he felt less inhibited, and his shyness was going away with his sobriety. So it's without caution that when Austin wrapped his arm around Riley's waist to support himself from slumping on the table, Riley leaned into the hold and basked in the warmth instead of keeping carefully still. He just kind of wanted to place tiny kisses against the curve of Austin's jaw, but he's not that drunk.
Mark grinned lopsided at Austin and said, “I've never been an amateur stripper.”
Summer snorted as Amy let out a howl of laughter. Shawn was laughing and wavering in his seat like he was going to fall at any moment. Riley turned slowly to look at Austin who was red in the face, already reaching forward to grab a shot off the table. Luke held up a hand.
“Hold up,” Luke said, talking too loud and blinking with glassy eyes. “You were a stripper? Please tell me this story. I'm like dying here.”
Shawn pointed in Luke's general direction, his coordination was long since shot. “I thought you were straight.”
“Don't put me in a box,” said Luke.
“More like a closet,” muttered Amy.
Summer gave her a high five. “Good one, babe.”
“I need more straight friends,” said Luke, pouting into his drink.
Austin took his shot and hid his face in Riley's shoulder. His hands were fisted in the folds of Riley's shirt. It was like Austin was trying to bury himself inside of Riley. If Riley was sober he would've had a whole different outlook on this situation, but his fogged mind could only focus on Austin stripping. The proximity wasn't helping much to be fair, because it only increased the thoughts of Austin sweaty, gyrating, and skin, skin, skin. Austin rested his hand on Riley's thigh. He wanted to explode.
“Stripper?” Riley blurted out, staring at the top of Austin's head.
“It wasn't my fault,” Austin slurred over the music. Riley could feel Austin silently laugh against his shoulder. “I was blackmailed.”
Mark sprawled back in his seat, all loose limbs and languid movements. “If that's what you have to tell yourself to sleep at night.”
“Stripper?” Riley repeated, nudging Austin to look up at him.
Austin laughed wrapping both arms around Riley's waist. He rested his cheek against Riley's back. “I was a sophomore and it was my first time at a GSA party. I was drunk. Annnnd they all convinced me that it was tradition for new members to do a strip show.”
“We were joking,” Shawn laughed, pointing a wavering finger at Austin. “No one really expected you to have an alter-ego that works at Chippendale's.”
Luke toyed with the empty vodka bottle. “Alter ego? So was he like good or something?”
“He was damn good. It was insane,” said Amy grinning. “People really started to tip him, too. I think at one point he even did a splits.”
Mark shook his head. “Totally unexpected from him, since you know he looks like a giant puppy.”
“I took gymnastics when I was a kid,” Austin muttered, slipping his fingers under the hem of Riley's shirt. He rubbed the patch of skin there gently. “I was good.”
Of course Austin was over-affectionate when he was drunk. Riley wasn't as surprised as he should be. Austin was always hanging all over him. This was nothing but an extension of that. However that logic didn't stop all five senses from firing at once to ignite a supernova between his lungs. Even with as much liquor as Riley ingested, his cock still thickened at the casually possessive touch across his hip. If he could just stop thinking about Austin stripping he'd be in better shape. He probably looked like he was having a panic attack. It was amazing that the others couldn't tell that he was about to spontaneously combust.
Riley wished he could say he remembered how the night ended. It kind of went blurry for awhile there, what with Austin hanging off him and Riley thinking of the Russian Futurism movement to suppress his erection. They ended up leaving Austin's truck at Mark's and cut through the alley's behind the houses to get home. It was a lot harder than it sounded, since Riley had to support Austin a lot of the way, one arm wrapped around his shoulder and the other around his waist. They were both too drunk for this and Riley vowed on being DD next time someone waved a beer in front of his face. They eventually made it back to Riley's house, because his dad wasn't home and Austin's dads would come down on him like the fist of God if they found out he was out all night drinking.
They stumbled a little on the stairs, giggling, but made it to Riley's bedroom in one piece. Austin swayed a little before he collapsed on the bed. “Come on, you little bastard,” said Austin, tugging at his shoelaces. “This is. Is this normally so hard?” He finally gave up and just pouted at the shoe. Then he growled low in his throat and wrenched the whole shoe off and said, “Ta da!”, grinning sloppily up at Riley.
Riley laughed. “Do you want some help with the other one?”
“You're so nice,” said Austin, looking at him with glazed over eyes. “This is why I think you're the best thing. They should like – like, clone you.” His fingers danced across Riley's shoulders when he sat on the bed to help take off the other sneaker. “Did you have have fun, Ry?
“I did,” replied Riley, meaning it. “I'm glad I went.”
Austin's thumb brushed against the top of Riley's left eyebrow. “You have the brightest eyes. There's never been a greener green than, than, um – that green. S'like my favorite color.”
Riley let out a bark of laughter and stood up. He was definitely less drunk than Austin, he was so smashed. “Lay down, Austin. I'm going to grab us some water. You're going to need it.”
There's a row of water bottles in the door of the refrigerator. Riley grabbed two of them. He downed half of his before he made it back to his room, already feeling dehydrated from all the heavy drinking of the night. His tongue felt heavy and stuck weirdly to the roof of his mouth. The water was a welcome relief. Riley brought the other one to Austin who was lying on his bed with the DVD box of Wuthering Heights clutched to his chest.
“D'you want to watch?” Austin asked, looking at Riley with wide, hopeful and drunk eyes.
Riley leaned against the doorjamb and shook his head. He let out a light laugh. “You're like, like a ninja when you drink.” He set the water bottles on the bedside table and grabbed the DVD box from Austin. He popped in the disc already knowing that they wouldn't last another fifteen minutes before they passed out.
“What about when I'm not drunk,” Austin mumbled, propping his head up on a pillow. The DVD's trailers played on in the background. “Do you think my skills are rad?”
“Of course,” said Riley, sitting down on the bed harder than he planned. He laid down and the movement made him a little nauseous, and he blinked hard up at the ceiling.
Austin settled down so they were shoulder to shoulder. “I want to whisper in your ear and tell you a story about winter's secret sin.” He nuzzled his nose into Riley's bicep.
The past two hours had shown that when Austin was really wasted he tended to lapse into bouts of random poetry. It was both amusing and confusing – only because no one had any idea what he was talking about.
“Modern day Sylvia Plath right here,” Riley laughed, letting out a sigh. He felt like he'd come down from an exhilarating high and all the feelings left him tired and too drunk to do anything about them.
“You're brilliant, you know?” said Austin. He sang under his breath, a little song that Riley didn't recognize. “Build a rocket ship, Ry. Take us to the moon.”
Riley turned his head and Austin's watching him with his brown eyes, warm and deep and there's a ridiculous smile on his face. Austin reached over and traced his fingertips over Riley's cheekbone. He went up too far and almost got Riley in his eye. They blinked at each other and then dissolved into helpless, uncontrollable laughter.
“I'm going to remember this in the morning.” Riley took Austin's finger out of his ear. “And you're the older one. Ri-ght. We should switch ages.”
He could feel Austin exhale next to him. “You're perfect just the way you are.”
Riley pushed himself up so he's staring down at Austin. He felt dizzy. “What?”
“Your legs are bona fide – your tongue is the bass rattling the window of my ears,” Austin said, looking at him through tiny slits so Riley could only see the browns of his eyes. “Your heartbeat says I'm here, I'm here, I'm here.”
What the –
“Austin?” Riley said.
“That was summer, and you're autumn.” Austin let out a yawn and tried to sit up. He used Riley's thighs as leverage making Riley jump, and Austin slumped forward with his head falling against Riley's chest. He let out a little giggle, and Riley could feel the warm moisture of Austin's tongue peek out and trace the skin through his shirt. If he wasn't so drunk, Riley would have had a heart attack.
Austin's voice was muffled and completely slurred, but Riley thought he heard, “Hello there chest. Gorgeous,” and Austin slumped over sideways and immediately passed out.
“What the,” Riley said under his breath, staring at Austin dozing away. “Did that.”
His stomach flipped over. Good news was he made it to the bathroom before he threw up. Bad news was he still had no idea what just happened.
It's three weeks later after the night of drunken shenanigans that found them back in school for the last semester of senior year. By the magic of alcohol Austin had completely blacked out about sixty five percent of the night, including his episode of drunken poetry. He'd given Riley a groggy look the next morning, asked where he was – am I dead, if not kill me now, I can't even, and he stumbled into the bathroom with a groan. Riley didn't even know how to begin to interrogate Austin about something he didn't remember, so he didn't. It gave him less of a headache.
“Why do you have to make this into some cataclysmic event,” said Katie, jogging next to him.
Sometimes they ran around the park together just the two of them. Usually it was when he needed to talk and when Katie thought she was feeling fat that day, because she had an unusual addiction to cheese fries that couldn't be stopped. San Francisco in the spring greeted them as the sun faded down on the horizon.
Riley jogged at the edge of the path, counting the cracks in the pavement. “I don't know what you mean. And I thought you were staying out of it.”
“This is me staying out of it,” Katie countered. “I just think you should cowboy up and tell him, Boo. What's the worst that can happen?”
Riley rolled his eyes. “Only the explosion of a friendship.”
“You don't know that,” she protested.
“We've met, right?” He stared off somewhere in the middle distance. “You say this like. Like charging in is my forte.”
Riley hadn't told her about the I've Never episode and Austin's descent into rambling poetry. That felt like something secret, and he would feel kind of guilty telling her about it. However the point still stood, Riley knew Austin only saw him as a friend and no amount of wishing was going to change that certainty.
“I'm not what he's into.” Riley remembered Lee's blond hair and his perfect smile and felt twitchy and inadequate next to that shining example of Austin's standards.
Katie punched him in the arm. Ow. “I know you have that whole neurotic introvert thing going. But look, you're not broken or anything. As far as functioning humans go, you pass. Austin's your best friend and he adores you, so you know he doesn't think you're strange like you keep thinking you are.”
“That doesn't negate my original hypothesis.”
The pep-talk was great and all, but he'd gone sixteen years with thinking this. It was hard not to see himself as anything other than the weirdo that thinks too much and sits at home on a Saturday night reading Pride and Prejudice. Riley spent the majority of his life avoiding conflict and shying away from people, so the possibility of facing this head on turned him into a sweaty mess and sent him reaching for his inhaler that he hadn't needed since he was a kid.
Katie sighed a little. Her ponytail bounced as she kept in step with him. “I'm changing the subject because you look like you might pass out.”
Riley would have shot her a glare if she wasn't right. “You finish your college applications?”
She nodded. “Just finished two days ago. All I have to do now is wait to hear back. You're lucky that you got that early admission to Stanford already.”
Riley felt a smile split his face and he ducked his head feeling a burst of accomplishment. He got his acceptance letter two weeks ago, and his dad was still mumbling about framing it or laminating it or something like it was a diploma. Riley acted like it embarrassed him but his dad knew it was a total lie. His secret joy and excitement couldn't be hid.
“Just four months and no more high school,” said Riley. He stopped jogging and plopped down on the bench next to the path.
Katie sat down next to him and gave him a flat look. “You say that like you aren't freakishly good in school.”
He rubbed the back of his neck, smiling sheepishly. “I do okay.”
“I really hope I get into Columbia or NYU. I've always wanted to live in New York. I would kill myself if I had to go to a backup school here.”
“Jesus, Katie, you took that to a really depressing place.”
“Oh, sorry.” She played with a bit of her hair. “I'm just really –”
“Eager,” Katie corrected, batting her eyes innocently. She jumped up suddenly and slapped his thigh. “Let's get a move on, Boo. We're losing daylight.”
Riley squinted at her suspiciously. “You sound eerily like my trainer.”
“Thank you,” she said, tilting her with a bright smile.
“It wasn't a compliment.”
Katie's smile turned sly and she looked at him sidelong. “I chose to take it as one.”
February brought forth Valentine's Day and the school was awash with pink and red decorations. It was kind of enough to make you depressed if you were single and pining. Riley refused to acknowledge that that he was both of those things. Riley ignored the passable-meatloaf on his tray. He was thoroughly enthralled in Crime and Punishment. He turned another page of the book and looked up when the table jostled as Austin sat across from giving him that smile again, all lopsided and sweet, the kind that made Riley's heart thud in his ribcage.
“You're here early. Wait, are you seriously reading Dostoevsky?” Austin asked, peering at the book and then at Riley. “Of course, you are. You don't understand the brilliance of the Perishers, but you read and understand Dostoevsky perfectly.”
Riley didn't look up from the book. “I'm starting to like you less and less as a person everyday.”
“Nonsense,” Austin said cheerfully, reaching into his messenger bag. “I'm delightful. Now here.”
He shoved a folded piece of paper and a flower in Riley's hands. The paper had a drawing of a ninja sitting at a desk and said, I'd kick butt on a test of you and me. There was ruffles on the edge of the paper from where he'd torn it out of his spiral notebook. The flower matched the ones in the courtyard's flowerbed right outside the cafeteria.
Austin sighed dramatically. “That's not the appreciation I expected.”
“What.” Riley said, dropping the flower on top of his book.
“Are you dazzled by my artwork.” Austin nodded at the card in a self satisfied kind of way. He reached over to eat some of Riley's mashed potatoes.
“This is ridiculous,” said Riley using the card as a bookmark to hold his spot.
Austin pointed a finger in his face. “Your my Valentine, Ry. It's like code if you're single and your bff is single, then you take one for the team and you V-Day up for the sake of solidarity.”
“No candy and no teddy bear makes you one lame Valentine, Austin Reynolds.” Riley chewed on his lip so he wouldn't break into a stupid smile. He was relatively certain that the flush in his cheeks was noticeable however, damn.
Austin smiled at him. “I can sing you a song, too. Do you want me to sing You've Got a Friend in Me?”
“Please, I'm all ears,” said Riley calling his bluff. He leaned forward interestedly.
Austin stood up and cleared his throat. “When the road looks rough ahead and you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed–”
Riley grabbed him by the front of his shirt even as heads began turning their way. He yanked Austin into his seat just as he really started getting into it.
“I don't – What even are you,” Riley said incomprehensibly, laughing with a sort of crazy disbelief.
“I can tell your either impressed or jealous – either one is my due, really.”
Riley snorted. “More like unsurprised you know that song off the top of your head. You're showing your Disney roots, Bambi.”
“It's from Toy Story, which is a Pixar movie not Disney. Thank you very much.”
“Ah, know thy enemy,” said Riley, nodding seriously and then breaking into a grin. “I didn't know they taught Art of War in your woodland realm.”
Austin scowled at him or tried to, because it ended up quickly becoming a pout. “I'm not a gangly deer. You people are relentless. I have two legs, so hello there's that.”
Riley didn't tell him it's his eyes. They're like ridiculous and should be illegal. There was no way Austin could look at someone and they could ever say no to him. He's pretty sure Austin knew that already. Somebody tapped Riley on his shoulder and he looked up. Mark stood behind him with a pair of orange wayfarers pushed up into his hair.
“Hey, Riley,” he said grinning, and then nodded at Austin. “Sup, Austin.”
Riley had talked to Mark a few times since that night they hung out at his house. He was nice and was always going out of his way to say hi when they passed each other in the halls or somewhere else. So the smile Riley returned was friendly and Austin waved hello. Mark stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“Riley can I talk to you in private for a second?”
Riley frowned startled by the request. He looked to Austin to see him staring at Mark with a contemplating expression. Riley bit his lip before saying sure. They didn't go far, just to the entrance doors that led into the cafeteria. They stepped off the sidewalk so they didn't get in anyone's way.
“So I don't know if this is a long shot or what,” said Mark suddenly in a rush. “I was wondering if you wanted to go out with me sometime? We can go see a movie or just get coffee.”
Riley wanted to sink into the ground. He shuffled his foot feeling a crushing flood of somersaulting anxiety and shyness bleed into each other and blinked a few times and said, “How – how do you know I like guys?”
“Shit, are you not gay?” Mark asked, sounding completely dejected. “Sorry, I just – my gaydar is usually awesome.”
“No, I am,” said Riley awkwardly, looking away with a deep blush. “I was. just curious.”
Mark grinned then. “Great. So um, how about it? Me and you, I mean.”
For one mildly terrifying minute Riley thought his face was going to melt off because of all the blushing he was doing. He didn't even know what to say. God, he felt like an idiot. His mouth wouldn't even open. He felt weird again like his skin was too tight or put on backwards, and there's a weird buzzing sensation in his fingers.
“I,” Riley said, so nervous that he got flustered when looked at Mark's hopeful face. He couldn't help that his mind automatically started flashing to worst-case scenarios. If he's a mess now then a hypothetical date would turn him into a total wreck.
“It's alright,” said Mark quickly. “You don't have to like, decide now, I didn't mean to put you on the spot. But – just um, think about it please. I'd like it a lot. You can, you know, let me know.”
Riley nodded and he's smiling bashfully, unable to really process this whole encounter. “Yeah, okay, yeah, I mean – I will. Let you know.”
Instead of being annoyed or put off by Riley's stuttered reply and overall painful awkwardness, Mark smiled brilliantly looking incredibly pleased by the whole affair. Riley waved like a total dork and turned and walked away so quickly he was proud of himself for not breaking into a sprint. Austin didn't see Riley approach because he's staring at his phone like it held the meaning of life or something. There's an oddly tense look on his face as he texted.
Riley caught Lee's name on the screen display before Austin blanked the phone. Something hot and unpleasant settled in the pit of his stomach. He's thankful that Austin didn't see his face fall and shatter all over the concrete. Riley just kind of wanted to squeeze his eyes closed and pretend he never saw it and Lee still didn't fucking exist.
“Hey,” he said, looking up when Riley slid back on his side of the table. “What'd Mark want?”
“Nothing really,” Riley muttered, digging his fingernails in his palms under the table.
“Yeah, cool,” Austin replied in this pinched sort of voice, going back to his phone. Riley was biting down on his lip hard enough to bruise, a sharp pain of pressure to distract from the sinking feeling pulling him down into the gathering dark clouds.
Riley wasn't used to Austin being hard to read. He couldn't tell what was with the expression Austin wore while looking determinedly at his phone, like it would literally kill him if he looked at Riley for a whole minute. It seemed even when he wasn't around Lee still managed to effortlessly capture Austin's attention. They sat in silence now and it's not comfortable either, like it normally would be. Too many things felt off.
And when Marco and Katie joined them at the table and they shifted awkwardly in their seats and made small talk it still felt uncomfortable. Riley can't stop imagining Lee typing out some ridiculously sweet text to Austin about wanting him back, and loving him forever, and it's the trigger to launch him spiraling into a dark and bitter mood. Austin for all the laughing and talking he was doing was here at the table, but it felt like he wasn't really here, suddenly it seemed like he was a thousand miles away.
Things didn't get better as days turned into weeks and then a month past. By the circles under Austin's eyes Riley could tell he was back to not sleeping much at night. It's like no one else could tell that his smiles were plastic and the way he made people laugh wasn't with his usual eager enthusiasm. That something that made him Austin was missing. Katie assured him that it was just stress from waiting to hear back from colleges, but Riley wasn't so sure. Sometimes he still saw glimmers of his Austin shine through in the tilt of his head, or the way his eyes go soft when Riley would smile at him happily, and then his whole face would just shudder and an awful blankness transformed his face and his eyes turn sad, almost distant. It made Riley want to cry.
The clue that it's not just anxiety from worrying about college was the change in their relationship. Not that they had one other than friendship, but even that's different. Austin was always emotive and overeager, touching and hanging all over Riley like it was his right, a hand running through Riley's hair or an arm over his shoulders. Riley craved those touches. There's none of that now. Austin barely touched Riley anymore. He knew that Austin was consciously deciding not to, because out of the corner of his eye he once saw Austin reach for his hand only to pull back, curling his fingers into his palm in a tight fist that he held stiffly at his side. The restrained movements felt like knives in his heart every time.
Riley knew he worried too much, thought too much, and overall was a neurotic train wreck. He agonized over it all until the knots in his stomach tightened and kept him tossing and turning in his bed until the early hours of the morning. It was his nature that his mind turned to the one terrible inevitability. Austin must have finally realized Lee was right that Riley's feelings ran deeper than friendship. The more time past the greater the terrible conclusion proved true. Austin was detaching himself so he wouldn't have to break Riley's heart. It made sense this was his way of sparing Riley, trying to pull away without being mean, gently letting Riley down without a word.
It wasn't like he hadn't been expecting it. Riley had known this was the only conclusion a year ago. He accepted that he and Austin were destined to never go beyond their current roles. Knowing that Lee and Austin were communicating again, probably mending their relationship and working on getting back together hurt more than it should. And okay, the disappointment was hard to swallow but that was his life. He's used to things not being constantly good for him. The universe didn't work that way. At this point he just wanted things to go back to normal.
Rain splattered against the windows of the little coffee shop Riley was holed up in. Once upon a time Austin sat across from him with an absent smile playing about his mouth, like he couldn't do anything else when talking to Riley. These days the table had one occupant with only a soy latte and a book for company.
“Hello, hello, boy wonder.”
Riley blinked as Marco dropped into a seat at the table. He picked up Riley's latte and took a long drink. Riley stared at him. “What – are you doing here?”
Marco adjusted his fedora and swiped off raindrops from the shoulders of his long overcoat. “I've come here at the darkest hour with a quest.”
“Why are you. um, dressed like that and how did you know I was here?”
Marco's face split into boyish grin. “Do you like it? I'm undercover, yo.” He stared morosely at Riley's empty's cup and then pushed it away. “Katie told me you'd be here, so presto. We've been thinking, and we want to do something awesome for Austin's eighteenth birthday. He's been majorly down lately, have you noticed?”
“Yeah,” said Riley swallowing. “I've noticed.”
“Are you alright?”
Riley froze very, very still. “What do you mean?”
“Just then,” said Marco, narrowing his eyes. “Your eyes went all sad kitten – like intense, sort of, I don't know.”
Riley briefly contemplated drowning himself. He took a deep breath so he wouldn't stutter, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Alright, then,” Marco replied in a tone that said he didn't believe him at all. “So are you in on this?”
“Planning Austin's party? Come on, boy wonder, you're the smart one. We need you in on this epic planning.”
“I – would love to help.” He paused for a moment to think. “Is it a surprise party?”
Marco laughed. “No way. We tried that two years ago. When we got to the restaurant to set up decorations he'd beaten us there and was working on a crossword puzzle in the lobby.”
“And you being 'undercover' is for what, since it's not a surprise party?”
“It's fun,” said Marco, tipping his hat. “I look all GQ and shit, but like the CIA edition. Sweet, right?”
“Wow,” said Riley, after a minute. “Okay, then.”
“We need you to handle the logistics, like figuring how much things are going to cost – cake, a banner, et cetera,” said Marco suddenly serious. “Katie's all over the invite list and getting a place to throw this shindig. I'll handle music, of course.”
“Of course,” said Riley already knowing how that was going to play out.
Marco clicked his fingers in Riley's face. “No matter what Austin says Vampire Weekend is a totally legitimate band.”
“Are you going to cry?”
“No, why would you even say that?”
Riley pointed. “Your left eye. It's twitching – and you, um, they're watery...”
“It's just dusty in here. You know these old coffee shops like to keep it nice and rustic.”
“I don't think that's right.”
“I'm glad you're on board,” said Marco loudly, clapping his hands. “Maybe we could get a picture of Austin on the cake. Those are cool.”
Riley nodded. “I just have to give the bakery a picture, I guess.”
“No need. Use this one.” Marco reached into his coat pocket, and then slid a printed off picture of Bambi over the table. “Get it, because Austin Reynolds is a cartoon deer.”
“Perfect likeness,” said Riley, grinning.
Marco slapped the table. “Done and done, then! As this deer with his ridiculous eyes are my witness, this party will be awesome.”
Riley's hand stung from the inevitable, overenthusiastic high-five.
Planning a party was more involved than Riley believed. Their schedules didn't always sync up, so the three of them couldn't always get together to plan. So it took weeks to get it all finalized, mostly because it took that amount of time for Katie's parents to begrudgingly allow the use of their house for the party. That was only after Katie convinced her uncle to let her parents use his beach house for the weekend. The cake was ordered, the playlist was good to go, and anyone who was anyone was going to be there according to Katie.
Austin seemed happy about the party once he found about it. Marco and Katie pretty much ambushed him with the news at lunch and stared at him with unyielding expressions. So it wasn't like they gave him much choice to be anything other than excited. He looked helplessly at Riley, and he returned the look with a sheepish smile, shrugging.
April entered quickly as the date of the party grew near. Austin was actually a pretty well liked guy at school. It's not a popularity thing. It's just that he's genuinely friendly, and seemed to always be there with a nice word or a ready ear when somebody needed to talk. Nearly everyone knew him or of him, oh, the smiley dude, yeah he's cool. So when word got around about Austin's party the buzz was an overwhelmingly positive one. Austin's subtle misery seemed to lighten as more and more people gravitated toward him, clapping him on the shoulder and expressing their enthusiasm.
The party was on a Saturday at nine so that meant it would be socially acceptable for people to show up around ten. Riley was there earlier with Mark and Katie setting the whole thing up, putting up fragile stuff and moving furniture out of the way. For music, Riley had expected just Marco, an iPod adapter and a stereo, but he showed up with this whole like professional DJ mix table complete with the big headphones. Katie wouldn't admit it, but Riley thought she was impressed.
People arrived around ten just like Katie predicted. Riley was kept busy helping Katie show people where the drinks were and setting up the cake and plates in the dining room as the house started to fill with people. A couple cases of beer and some liquor bottles got dropped off by a random kid with a beard and obviously a really good fake ID. He saw Marco slip him some cash and Katie rolled her eyes but didn't make a big deal about it. Austin showed up before everyone else and sat hopped up on a counter in the kitchen eating a piece of cake, accepting happy birthday wishes as people past through to get drinks.
The party was in full swing by eleven. The house was crowded with people outside the kitchen and the music's loud enough to make Riley's ankles shake when he opened the door. It's only Riley's second party and leaving the kitchen to mingle with the mass of people filled him with an awful anxiety. Austin must know this because he didn't press Riley to leave their little sanctuary, seeming content to spend time with Riley like no one else there mattered.
“This is an awesome party,” said Austin. “You guys did a good job.”
Riley shook his head, grinning. “You've said that four times already.”
“And it's true every time.” Austin jerked his chin to the remains of his birthday cake. “I'm going to kill Marco for putting that picture on the cake though.”
“Actually – I was in charge of getting the cake.”
“Don't cover for him. I already know this is his handiwork. He put a puppy on my cake two years ago.”
They both laughed and Riley leaned against the counter, mirroring Austin's pose. “Okay, he had something to do with it. He kept calling me boy wonder and talking really fast. I don't know, really it's all a blur.”
“You have to watch out when he calls you Robin. That means he's up to something.”
Riley cocked his head. “Robin?”
Austin nodded. “ Robin, Batman's protegee, kickass orphaned ward.” He elaborated when Riley looked more confused. “Yeah, you know, boy wonder.”
“Oh, so he's a superhero,” said Riley slowly. “Like Spider-man?”
“Well Spider-man has powers, Robin's pretty much just got his gadgets and awesome gymnastics.”
Riley leveled him with a blank look, tilting his head. “So Marco's been calling me an orphaned gymnast?”
“No that's really not – Oh jeez, we'll have to rent the movies or grab some comic books sometime.” Austin looked like he was struggling not to laugh. His eyes were the brightest Riley had seen in a long time. “Your face though.” Austin finally burst out laughing. “God, you seriously have like the best expressions.”
If Austin was this happy with his face of all things then Riley didn't mind too terribly. It was better than him looking like eternally sad. “My face is funny?”
“Positively adorable. It continues to seriously be one of my favorite things.” Austin grinned at him, but it wasn't the wide and exuberant grin that was charming, this one was smaller and quieter, more just happy. Riley found himself reflexively smiling back, cheeks burning.
Riley was suspicious that no one had come into the kitchen in awhile. In the back of his mind he suspected Katie had something to do with it. Riley dropped his gaze, running his fingers over the countertop.
“I'm glad you're happy. Lately – ” Riley tapered off, chickening out spectacularly. Here Austin was in a good mood and Riley was trying to bring up the reason for his sadness. He felt like the dumbest person in history.
Austin moved a little away from Riley. And Riley's fortunate his head was turned down because his devastation was plain to see on his face. Austin looked distinctly uncomfortable by the turn in conversation.
“Nevermind forget I said anything,” said Riley quickly.
Austin looked up and shrugged. He's toying with the edges of a paper plate. “I know I haven't been myself.”
“I know why,” Riley interrupted, thinking of aborted movements that hurt more than they should and text messages from Lee.
Riley nodded, keeping his eyes on the laces of his shoe. “Yeah – I know you aren't just worried about getting into college. It's more than that, I mean, I know about the other stuff. And really it's no big deal. I get it.” Riley peeked up at him and there's an unbearable sadness crumpling Austin's face. He must know that Riley was lying through his teeth.
“Do you – do you think we should talk about it?” Austin asked quietly, staring at Riley.
There was no way he could listen to Austin letting him down without his heart giving out. The thought made his eyes sting with held back tears. That familiar hopeless feeling threatened to come up and drown him in a wave of self pity. He tamped down on it forcefully, refusing to let that old wound come open again. He knew this was how it was and he just had to fucking deal with it. He wasn't fourteen anymore.
Riley cleared his throat, forcing the words out through the sudden tightness, “We don't have talk about it, really.”
“We don't?” asked Austin, and there's a tone there that Riley didn't understand. Confusion maybe.
“It's alright,” said Riley, trying to mean it. He forced a smiled and Austin wasn't looking at him this time. He was staring at the plate in his hands determinedly with an absent-minded frown. “Okay?”
“Okay,” Austin agreed, not looking up. His shoulders were set and there's line of tension down his jaw.
Riley felt horrible for putting him on the spot. He practically ambushed him with a subject he obviously wasn't ready to talk about. Maybe Austin and Lee were still working through it, or he thought Riley was going to start confessing his secret desires and it made him terribly uncomfortable. It all ran through his head so quickly that it made him dizzy, as one possible conclusion after another chilled his blood and made his heart clench like someone was squeezing it.
“That's settled. I'm uh, I'm going to the bathroom,” said Riley. If his tone was flat then it couldn't be helped. It took everything he had not to sound utterly broken.
Austin made a hmm noise of agreement and Riley walked away without looking back. If he looked into Austin's eyes to see sympathy there then it would all be for nothing. There would be no way he could keep his entire body from falling apart. Riley left the kitchen heading into the crowd in a daze, his head spinning with noise. He pushed past people as politely as he could, telling himself his were eyes watering from the smell of weed in the air.
Katie's room was quiet and he locked the door behind him. Riley fell heavily on her head dropping his face into his hands with a tired sigh. He wasn't going to break down. He just had to pull himself together and snap out of it. Logically he knew better than to feel sad over this, and more than that he was tired of feeling heartsick over the whole goddamn thing. Riley hated being smart enough to know he's pathetic for feeling like this over and over, letting feelings rule that only cripple him in the end.
All he had to do was close his eyes and tamp it all back down again. For all his intelligence he might be a fool in love, but he was an exceptionally good liar. He might feel like this now but one day it would all seem like one big dream, and they'd be able to laugh about it, and go remember when I use to have a big fat crush on you and they'd smile and it wouldn't hurt so much like it fucking does now. Riley could wait out these feelings until his heart gave way. There's no way he could possibly feel like this forever.
The thing with feeling like this for so long was Riley knew how to pull himself together when it all came unraveled. He took everything that threatened to undue him and stuffed it all back into a little box, shoving it down and out of sight, until his smile was seemless and there was no cracks to see.
Marco must be a better DJ than Riley thought because people haven't stopped dancing since he started spinning. It's amazing that no one had hurt themselves. Riley crashed into quite a few people, bumping into elbows and shoulders as people grinded and shuffled together on the makeshift dance floor that was the living room.
Katie slapped his ass when he past her. “How's it going, Boo?”
“Ouch,” he muttered, glaring at her grin as he rubbed his backside. “It's going.”
She opened her mouth when this well built guy, that Riley vaguely recognized from study hall, came up behind her and tickled her sides. Katie let out a shriek of laughter spinning around to playfully slap at the guy's chest. Riley grinned shaking his head and made his way back to the kitchen, hoping that Austin was still there, so Riley could apologize properly for that whole awkward moment. There's a couple making out in the kitchen but no Austin. Maybe he got tired of waiting? He didn't see him in the crowd though. The sliding door to the patio was slightly ajar.
Riley looked through the glass door and froze. It was like something from his most depressing daydream. Austin was in the backyard and he wasn't alone. His eyes were red rimmed and he was talking to Lee of all people, and who in the hell invited him, – suddenly they're hugging, and that's all Riley could take. He spun around, dazed, and without realizing it he's back in the living room without understanding how he got himself there.
He needed air. He needed to get outside. Riley walked without paying attention and bumped into too many people in his haze. He crashed into someone and suddenly hands gripped him by the shoulders and didn't let go. Riley looked up into Mark's cheerful face.
“Whoa there, what's up?”
Riley took a second and steadied his breathing, flattened the crease in his brow and let warmth wash over his eyes. He was not going to make this ordeal into a big deal. He knew this was coming. When he returned Mark's smile Riley's was small but it was real. He refused to let this break him down again.
“I think I saw the Student Council president vomit in the bushes,” Mark whispered into his ear like a secret.
“And you're – not there holding her hair back.”
They both laughed and Riley was grateful Mark didn't pry and ask what was wrong. It was exactly what Riley needed. Mark kept joking until Riley's smile stretched across his face and until his stomach hurt. They kept moving back and away from the drunken, pink-cheeked dancers till they were leaning against a wall near a corner.
“I can't believe you saw the Rocky Horror Show live. I'm so jealous.”
“It was incredible.”
“I'm so going to a show show some day even if I have to sell my soul. Hey, don't laugh. I'm serious.”
The conversation was actually going well. Riley wasn't paralyzed with nervousness only because he'd been drinking earlier. Otherwise he was sure the anxiety would have sent him scurrying for the door when Mark clapped a hand on his shoulder or stiffen when Mark gently touched his elbow when he leaned in too close.
“There's a showing of A Little Princess in the park next week.”
Riley's eyes brightened. “Alfonso Cuarón directed that one, right?”
Mark's grin was blinding. “You know him? Awesome. He directed the third Potter movie, too. I love him.” He touched the tip of his shoe against Riley's sneaker. “Do you think it sounds fun?”
“Seeing A Little Princess next week,” said Mark.
Riley nodded. “It sounds like a good time.”
Mark looked at him and his eyes went soft, realization dawning. “You er, you know I'm flirting with you, right? I just asked you out.”
“Oh, uh, I thought you meant as friends – I,” He bit his lips, clearly flustered. The alcohol didn't just make him less nervous, but apparently made him slow on the take.
Mark laughed. “You know when you stammer like that, it's kind of hard to resist.”
Riley didn't say anything, just looked down at his shoes, blushing terribly. It made Mark giggle a little. When he looked up there's a look in Mark's eyes, as he brushed the tips of his fingers across the dip in the collar of Riley's v-neck. He slowly leaned in and Riley knew in that one second that Mark was going to kiss him. Before he could even begin to think anything about how he felt about it, before Mark's lips could touch his, Mark was ripped away.
“What the hell do you think you're doing?” Austin shouted, all in Mark's face looking for one terrifying moment like he would kill him. His eyes were dark and he's using every inch of his height to bear down on him.
“Jesus Christ, Austin, what –”
At the same time Riley reached over and grabbed Austin, knuckles turning white around his arm. “Austin, stop!”
The party had drawn to an abrupt halt everybody freezing right as Austin wrenched Mark away. There's a weird moment when Austin and Riley lock eyes, and the entire world tilted crazily, and suddenly Austin's anger fell apart revealing frightened eyes. Time resumed and there's an explosion of sound as bystanders crowded around the disturbance. Riley felt like his veins were too small, like blood wasn't circulating throughout his whole body, everything felt too tight and he couldn't hear anything but his heart hammering in his ears. He had no idea what just happened. Austin was looking around like he had no clue either, shock shone clear on his face.
“What the hell?” Katie pushed through the gawkers. “Austin, what's going on?”
Austin shook his head, eyes kind of unfocused. “I don't know – I thought he, he was forcing himself on Riley or something.” Austin looked positively sick, his whole face was pale. He looked at Riley briefly, and then shook his head a little like he was trying to clear it, and he wiped his hand over his face.
“No, man, I would never,” Mark started to protest.
“Sorry, Mark, I'm really sorry. I guess the birthday boy has had too much to drink!” Austin pitched the latter to everyone, grinning charmingly and forcing a laugh, and everybody but Riley laughed. Austin walked into the crowd and people clapped him on the shoulder as he past, bumping fists, and ruffling his hair.
Riley was hurrying after him without looking back at Mark and ignoring Katie's worried frown. The crowd kind of swallowed Austin up for a moment. It's sort of unbelievable that no one could see how wrong this all is. Riley couldn't put his finger on it, but there was Riley, Austin, and this third thing between them, and right now it felt like a mess of puzzle pieces that were scattered and weren't lining up right.
When he caught up to Austin he's already sitting inside his truck without the engine on. It's parked in front of Katie's house and when Riley slid into the passenger seat Austin looked up without surprise. There was a beat of silence that seemed to stretch on into eternity. Austin looked at him and the streetlight shone on his face, painting golden light on his devastated expression, and it was all Riley could do from reaching out and touching him. He's never seen Austin look so wrecked. It made Riley want to kiss him better or something, anything to calm Austin's heaving chest and erase the utter panic that made his pupils dilated. It's fucking tearing at his heart to see his Austin destroyed and with no clear idea how to fix him.
“Are you okay?” Riley asked hesitantly, staring at Austin.
“Mmm,” Austin answered, staring resolutely at the creases in the rubber of the steering wheel. “I guess.”
“Why did you do that?” He didn't want to sound accusing, but he had to know. He licked his dry lips and said carefully, “Did you really think—Mark of all people? I don't need you to protect me. I'm not a baby, Austin.”
Austin immediately scoffed at that. “God forbid I actually worry for you without you thinking I see you as some little kid. As you tell me all the time, you're not fourteen anymore and believe me I know it.”
Austin said the last sentence in something like a sigh, tipping his head backward and drawing his hands through his hair. He seemed so completely tired and so completely worried, which was precisely what Riley was feeling right now, as everything seemed so overwhelming that he couldn't even see straight.
“I just don't understand –”
Riley caught a glimpse of terrified brown eyes before Austin darted forward, his wide soft lips pressing firmly against Riley's own. His entire world narrowed down to Austin kissing him. The shock paralyzed him in his seat. He didn't pull away or move to deepen the kiss. Then just as suddenly as it began it was over and Austin jerked backward, his back pressed against the door and he looked devastated.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck – I shouldn't have.” He pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead and he couldn't even look at Riley. “I don't even know why. I'm sorry, Riley. I'm so, so sorry.”
There was a heady, dizzy moment where he couldn't think – a momentary blackness in his mind, because this wasn't making sense. Austin kissed him. Austin kissed him. Did Austin kiss him just because he was upset and Riley was there? If that was the case Riley wouldn't be able to handle it. But Austin was apologizing and looking like he just made a huge mistake, and Riley's not saying anything, his brain was short circuiting and there was a sharp ringing in his ears that he couldn't shake. He opened his mouth and asked the first question that was screwing up his entire thought process.
“What about Lee?”
The question came so quickly that it surprised Austin into looking at him. “Lee?”
“Aren't you with Lee?” Riley asked anxiously, borderline hysterical.
Austin looked out the window, tapping nervously on his knee with his index finger. “Me and Lee are friends like we should've always been, I guess.” He let out a long sigh, clenching his fist against the top of his thighs. “I, I've been getting advice from him because, because he's always said you—liked me—but you don't and I always tell him you don't feel the same, because I keep throwing myself at you, and you're too nice to say anything—”
Riley felt like he was going to faint. “Throwing yourself at me?”
“I, I fall asleep sometimes with my head in your lap, I'm always hugging you and I sit so close to you I'm practically in your lap.” The desperation in his voice sent Riley reeling.
“You're like that with everyone,” Riley muttered more to himself than Austin. His forehead felt too hot and there was a sort of delirious ache blooming in his chest that was growing and going to explode with something. “I just thought— you were affectionate or something.”
“Affectionate or something?” Austin repeated, not smiling, but looking at Riley in that soft way he wore sometimes when Riley said something silly. “Affectionate is a pat on the back or something. Affectionate isn't getting drunk just so I can work up enough courage to wrap my arms around your waist and rub the skin above your hip, or, or whisper poetry to you while I lie on your bed about how I crazy I am about you.”
Riley's head snapped up, flushing deep crimson. Adrenaline was sparking at his heart and making him shake and want. “You remember that?” Everything felt like he was seeing it from a distance, like he was dreaming and going to wake up to the rain splattering against his windows in his old bedroom back in Jersey.
“That was summer, and you're autumn.”
Austin was breathing hard and fast, eyes wide and earnest and pleading for Riley to understand. And he finally did. The pieces lined up and the puzzle was this bright and shining thing that was all over Austin's face, in the curve of his lips and the warmth of his eyes. The breath rushed out of Riley like he'd been punched, and understanding was this electricity that danced across his skin and over his whole body, like he's on the precipice and he was falling into something he didn't deserve but always wanted—summer's in a basement tangled together on a couch with the TV on, in mix CD's with homemade cover art, hand drawn Valentine's cards, coffee shops and concerts and everything they've both wanted but never said. It all made sense now the reason Austin's been pulling away, the searching stares, and Riley gets it – Lee was summer and Riley was autumn.
The growing joy exploded inside his chest and Riley launched himself at Austin. And he kissed him.
It's a year and a half of pent up syncopated moments leading up to this, and they're kissing hard. Riley didn't know what he expected from Austin, resistance or surprise, but instead Austin just melted into the kiss, parting Riley's lips with his tongue and licking inside his mouth with a soft moan, that made Riley whimper with want and arch up against him shamelessly. He wanted to never come up for air and stay like this forever. Riley's hands drifted up into Austin's hair, and his lips were buzzing from where Austin's have touched, and he wanted more of it.
“Wait,” Austin said, panting, “I thought—does this mean—”
But Riley wasn't listening, because he was kissing the pulse point of Austin's neck, up to his cheek, his right temple and his eyelid fluttered shut. He kept kissing because he could. He could have this. All the heartache and tears and worrying was the past, and the future was looking so much brighter. Austin was his and the glow in his body made him shine brighter than the sun.
“God, Ry,” And the nickname sounded so much sweeter now, even slurred, because Riley couldn't bring himself to stop kissing Austin for more than three seconds. “Killing me, baby.”
Once upon a time, Riley would have blown up if Austin called him baby but there's nothing childish about what they're doing, and the endearment made him breathless and delighted. He's moving with liquid quickness across the truck's bench, throwing one leg over Austin's and straddling him, sitting down directly on top of his lap. Austin's hardness pressed against Riley's ass, and Austin groaned sliding his hands up under Riley's shirt, making him shiver as he stroked his fingers up Riley's spine.
Riley had spent uncounted hours obsessively thinking about a moment like this. It felt like every childish hope given truth. Everything he'd always wanted was in his arms and it was like coming home, and a familiar song sung in his ear in the morningtime, and a promise of how wonderful things can come to be. They kiss like they're reassuring each other this wasn't a dream, like the last year and half they've both shared the same heartsickness and doubt, and it wasn't all for nothing.
Austin's shaking and maybe they're both shaking, and he's muttering Ry, Ry, Ry, under his breath and it felt like the best thing. They kept kissing because they couldn't bear stopping. Austin's hands slid around Riley's hips, possessively, and Riley fisted his hands in the front of Austin's shirt. It got hard to keep up the intensity of the kiss because Austin's smiling so much, turning it gentler and sweet. And the thing was Riley felt the same feeling of unbelievable, ridiculous happiness, so much that he kind of wanted to laugh and cry from it all. He'd never been so happy.
Riley was going on instinct and what his body was telling him, otherwise he didn't have any clue what he was doing. As far as first kisses go, this was one for the record books. It's amazing how fast everything's been flipped upside down. Red and blue lights flashed suddenly over the street and they broke apart as a police car pulled up next to Katie's house, and Riley scrambled across the bench to the other side of the truck, panting.
“Someone called the cops,” Austin said panicked, “He's going up to Katie's house.”
Riley peered out the window and shook his head watching kids flood from the front door and across the lawn. “It's fine. That's a friend of Katie's brother. She planned on calling him to kick everybody out so she wouldn't look lame doing it herself.”
Austin laughed, shaking his head a little. “That girl.”
“She watches too many teen rom-coms,” Riley agreed.
They took a minute to watch people either take off down the street or hop in cars off to God knows where. Partly in curiosity and also because they didn't know what to freaking say. Then Austin started the truck and shot Riley a ridiculous, happy grin. Riley resisted the overwhelming urge to throw his arms around him and nuzzle into his neck.
“Where to?” asked Austin, and there was a nervous tremble in his voice.
Riley looked at him through his eyelashes, biting his lip suddenly shy. “Well, my dad's not home. We can – go to my house. If you want?”
Austin looked at him, almost heart-stoppingly sweet. “I want.”
“Stop, I can't think when you look at me like that,” Riley said, ducking his head.
Austin shook his head and his smile went kind of stupid, wide and bright and undeniably fond. “How do you think I feel?”
His breath stuttered. “Really?”
At a stop sign and Austin closed the gap, kissing him as gently as he could. Riley's heart started to beat hummingbird fast, and he let out a noise in the back of his throat when Austin pulled away. He touched the tips of his fingers to Riley's temple, looking at him with so much feeling that it made Riley smile like an idiot, and he thought his cheeks might burst into flame.
“You don't even,” Austin's voice cracked a little, and he went red in the face suddenly looking looking as shy as Riley felt. “I'm kind of ridiculously gone for you if you couldn't tell.”
The bursting feeling built back up and Riley was certain he wouldn't ever stop smiling.
[end part iv]
There's still one more part to go! Personal reasons saw to it that I couldn't update last week and I had zero internet access where I was. I updated as soon I got home. The good news is the time away from the story got me to realize this part was originally ridiculously long, and I wanted to do something else with it. So I split up this installment into two parts and added on to the next part so it contains an epilogue as well. So this story will be completed in five parts instead of four. Hope you guys liked this chapter and thank you to everyone that emailed me, sorry that I couldn't reply! You guys are brilliant and I hope everyone liked that they finally got to together. Part v will be next week, promise!
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