The Bully and the Brain. Chapter 10

"That'll be ten-fifteen."

I was three hours into my four hour shift and I couldn't wait for it to be over. It was Friday evening, and I had nothing planned but working on some of my unfinished works. Taking the job at Fromran's had been both a blessing and a curse. I loved the fact that I was working and making some money for myself. On the other hand, I never realized how much I appreciated my free time.

I wanted to be home. Drawing. Painting. Anything, but working at the store.

It was just two days ago that I had given Marcus a further look at some of the things I had gone through as a kid. He had taken it a lot better than I would have thought and honestly, for the most part, everything had been decent enough between us. It was definitely still awkward, more so than it had been in a while, but I thought that we were getting back to a place of familiarity between us.

Once he left my house Wednesday morning, I couldn't even think about going back to sleep. My thoughts were rattled like shit, but I was just trying to keep my head on straight. I had no idea what was happening here. I mean, I couldn't just chalk it up to Marcus doing these things unintentionally. Before we became friends, I thought Marcus was just some future-loser homophobe. Now though, I knew that wasn't the case, and I knew that even he struggled with understanding his own sexuality. We had talked about these things.

Wednesday had been a turning point though. I figured that once Marcus knew the story about my scars, or saw how bad they were, he would run for the hills. It had been my attempt at giving him his opportunity to be clear and free of the bullshit my past had to offer. But, he had stayed and he was understanding. He was sympathetic and kind. All the things that I could ever want in a best friend.

When I woke up in his arms though, that shattered every understanding I had about 'us.' Had we both woken up and somehow, during the night, ended up in that position, I would have been able to take it for what it was. But, knowing that Marcus hadn't been asleep at all, and that he kept his arms wrapped tight around me was more than I could comprehend at the moment.

I would not allow myself to play the fool. As much as I trusted Marcus, sometimes I wasn't so sure about trusting myself. There had been so many moments over the past few weeks that I had wanted to just pour out my heart to him. I wanted to be open and honest and I wanted to say everything that had been fighting to get out of me. Consequences be damned!

But, what if he didn't care about me the same way that I cared about him? What if he didn't feel the same energy that I felt? What if he didn't see me in that way? Did he see me as only his friend? Or did he see me as anything at all?

Those were the answers that I needed. When I looked at Marcus, or when I was around Marcus, every fiber of my being wanted to belong to him. It's like this force that I couldn't fight, even if I would have wanted to. It was primal, and frenzied, and dangerous. It was enough to drive someone crazy.


Customer: "You charged me for that milk twice!"

"Uh. I'm sorry. Hold on."

I had been moving completely on auto-pilot. A quick check of my watch told me that I only had fifteen minutes left of my shift and then I would be free to have my internal monologue at home. It was easy enough to correct the customer's order and soon enough, she was happily walking out of the door.

I focused as best as I could the rest of my shift. I didn't need any bad talk getting back to Fromran. He gave me a shot putting me on as an employee and I didn't want to disappoint him.

Time passed pretty quickly and soon enough I was clocking out. I stashed my apron in the small locker that Fromran had in his office and I made my way back up to the front of the store. I waved goodbye to Julia, my co-worker, and then I was making my way outside. I unchained my bike from the propane dispensary, and just as I was swinging my leg into position, I heard my name being called.

Marcus: "Ashton! Hey, wait up!"

My heart beat wildly in my chest and I could feel my cheeks coloring. Why did this boy have such an effect on me? His voice sent tingles down my spine and a warmth filled my stomach, color surely blossoming on my cheeks. The way his voice was so smooth and alluring. It was masculine, but not rough. It was just deep enough without being intimidating. It was music.


Marcus: "I'm glad I caught you before you left..."

"What's up?"

Marcus: "I'm on my way to Lee and Daniel's now, but I wanted to invite you over the house tomorrow. My mom is throwing this party, I guess you could call it. She said I could invite whoever, and I'd really like for you to be there."

A party?! I didn't think that was a good idea. Not at all.

"A party? I don't think that's a good idea."

Marcus: "What? Why?"

"Marcus, I just... I don't want to be around a bunch of people who are going to look down on me. I don't want to be some charity case at your mom's party."

Marcus: "A charity case?!"

His anger surprised me and I took a cautious step back. Clearly that had been the wrong word choice.

"You know what I mean, Marcus."

Marcus: "No, I don't, Ashton. What exactly are you trying to say?!"

"Nothing. It's nothing, okay? Uh, maybe I'll drop in. Just... I'll think about it."

I had clearly pissed him and that's not at all what I had wanted. I hated seeing him upset and I hated making him upset. It just seemed like I knew every button to press when it came to him, and the same could be said about him. No one could get under my skin like Marcus could and I hated it.

I didn't wait for a response from him. I would have kicked off and left it at that, but he grabbed my arm, stopping me completely. His hold on me didn't hurt exactly, but his intent was clear. I wasn't going anywhere.

Marcus: "Is that what you think about me?"


Marcus: "Is that how you feel about me!? That I would even think to lure you to some 'rich-people' freak-show and throw you to the wolves? Maybe, parade you in front of my mother's friends for their amusement? Do you think that I could honestly sit by and let someone do that to you?"

"Marcus... That's not what I... I didn't mean it like that."

Marcus: "Then what did you mean, Ashton? Because that's what it sounded like to me!"

"I don't know what... I don't know what you want me to say."

Marcus: "Don't you know me better than that by now? Don't you know that I would never hurt you like that?"

"Marcus, I'm sorry. That was mean and it was insensitive. I know that you wouldn't do something like that, but you have to understand..."

Marcus: "I've been understanding, Ashton! I've heard everything you've said. I've seen your scars. Experienced them. Mental and physical. I'm not going to hurt you! When are you going to understand that?!"

We were drawing the attention of the few people that were filtering in and out of the stores surrounding Fromran's. He had been the first in the area, but a shopping center popped up behind his store, bringing in more customer's than before. Being outside and having my business out for public consumption was not ideal, but this moment was going to happen regardless of the venue.

"What do you want me to say?"

Marcus: "Nothing. Just forget it."

We stood there. He alternated between looking at the ground and the faces of the people moving to and fro, his gaze never coming up to meet mine. My eyes stayed locked on him. Did I have a way of stepping in it, or what? I wanted to apologize. I wanted to reach out and make things right, but I couldn't. My heart wouldn't let me.

Hurt was the only sure emotion I had. It was my constant. It was dependable. Hurt was my comfort.

Maybe I had been living in a world of make believe. This thing with Marcus had been a fun ride, but sooner or later, it was all going to come tumbling down. Maybe he was more optimistic than me, but the sad truth was, at some point, this was going to come to an end.

"I better get going."

His eyes were heavy with regret when he looked up at me. Maybe his thoughts were in the same space as mine. Maybe he now understood what my heart felt. This wouldn't last. It couldn't.

I was almost out of the parking lot before he yelled out for me once again. "Wait!," he said. My body moved on auto-pilot, stopping my bike before I could even think about whether I wanted to or not. I turned back to face him as he jogged over to me, his fear the only thing I noticed.

He did understand. If I had never believed it until now, I believed it in that moment, and he was scared. Our friendship was always balanced on a fine precipice. We were moving towards something. I mean, that much was clear. But, over the last few weeks, it felt like our destination was the end. I knew part of that was my fault. Hell, it was all my fault. But, either we were going to be something, or we weren't going to be anything. As he jogged over to me, I saw that understanding in him.

Marcus: "Look, I'm sorry. Okay?! I don't mean to spaz out on you here, but give me some rope Ashton. I've been there... I mean, I'm here now. I'm not going anywhere."

"I know. Marcus, you just have to under... I know you're not going anywhere. But, I don't know how this friend thing works. And sometimes, I just feel like there's something going on here that I don't understand."

His eyes snapped up to mine. Those beautiful blue eyes.

"I just want to catch my breath. Things have changed so quickly, and half the time, I can't even figure out what's going on in my own head. I trust you, Marcus. Despite what may come out of my mouth, I trust you. I just need to be able to figure this all out."

Marcus: "I'm not going to hurt you, Ashton."

"I'm not worried about you hurting me, Marcus. But, that doesn't mean that I won't get hurt."

To see the pain there in his eyes. It was just another thing that we had in common. Hurt was something we both knew too well. Hurt at the hands of others just went with the territory.

My mind raced.

After declining his offer several times, I gave in and let Marcus drive me home. I couldn't be in the same space as him without thinking about everything that was going on between us. The car ride didn't help at all, as neither of us said anything. Normally that would have been alright, but the music was barely audible, so the only thing I could do was think.

We were so hot and cold these days. Some days, things were fine. Most days were fine. But, like today... there was such an awkward tension between us. I thought he was just going to drop me off, since he was supposed to be hooking up with Lee and Daniel, but he parked in the driveway and followed me inside.

We talked to my mom for a little bit, who was on break from work, before making our way upstairs. I didn't waste any time shucking my clothes off, stripping down to my underwear and then putting my "painting" clothes on. Had I been really paying attention, maybe I would have heard Marcus's intake of breath, or the way his eyes never moved away from me as I undressed. As I thought back on it now, my mind going over everything, it had been so obvious.

Now, hours later, my mind pulsed with this new information. How? How had I been so damn oblivious?! It all started to make sense now. Dating back to the hospital, if I had been paying attention, I would have seen us moving towards this reality. If I hadn't been so afraid of being hurt, maybe things would be different.

Sleep seemingly abandoned me. It was three a.m., and I was still trying to find the best position to sleep in, knowing damn well it wasn't going to happen. Marcus was on my mind. It seemed that whether I was waking up or going to sleep, Marcus owned my first and last thoughts. It always came back to him.

I thought I was imagining things when my phone rang, even though my eyes were wide open, staring up at the ceiling. No one ever called me this late and after searching for my phone, I finally saw the caller ID, and it was none other than Marcus.


Marcus: "Did I wake you?"


For a while, the only noise was the sound of our breathing.

Marcus: "I can't sleep."

"What's wrong?"

Marcus: "Just a lot on my mind."

"You want to talk about it?"

Marcus: "No... I mean, yes, I do... But, it's not the right time."

Silence took the conversation again. So many thoughts swirled around and around in my head. How did things get so complicated?

Marcus: "I'm gonna go to sleep, okay?"

"Uh... yeah. Night."

I waited for the chime that signified the end of the call, but it didn't come. Words fluttered on the tip of my tongue. So much I wanted to say. So much I wanted him to know.

His breathing comforted me. Made me think that he was here with me. Made me feel like if I looked back, he'd be there behind me, his body as close as close could be. His arms waiting to hold me. Waiting to protect my dreams through the night.

Marcus: "Ashton."


Marcus: "Uh, ... nothing. Never mind. It's nothing."

"You know you can tell me anything, right?"

Marcus: "I know. ... Night, Ashton."

"Good night, Marcus."

I woke up at noon. The weather was amazing for so late in the year, and I imagined Marcus's mom had spent a great deal of time picking just the right date for her party. It was Saturday, so I did have to work, but just for four hours.

After much consideration, I had decided to accept Marcus's invitation and go to the party. I was still a little on the fence about things, but I wanted to show Marcus that I did trust him and I knew that nothing was going to happen.

Ever since making friends with Marcus, and in turn Lee, Daniel, and Rowan, I now had a small group of friends that I could talk to. From that, people at school just seemed to start turning a blind eye to me. There were still a few folks that gave me some trouble, but for the most part, everyone left me alone. I knew for sure that Lee and Daniel were going to be there, and I'm sure that Marcus had invited Rowan, so I would definitely be having some fun.

I ate lunch alone. My mom had been working all types of crazy hours and it seemed that when we did see each other, it was only for a few minutes. She had cooked dinner already, but since I would be going over Marcus's house, I ate some of the pepper steak she made.

Two hours later, I was clocking into work. I had asked Abby, another co-worker to switch me shifts, so I could come in earlier. It was a different crowd than I usually dealt with, but the store was a lot busier, so my time went by really quickly.

By six, I was clocking out and on my way to the party. It was already a bit warm, so I took my time biking there, as I didn't want to smell of sweat and heat. As I rode, my mind wondered. My thoughts were at peace though. I didn't want to think about all the answers I didn't have. I didn't want to think about these thoughts that I was having about Marcus. Tonight, I was just going to enjoy myself. I was just going to enjoy being a teenager and enjoy being around my friends.

Marcus: "You made it."

"You sound surprised."

Marcus: "After yesterday, I wasn't sure..."

Tension pulled at us. I looked away. A second later, he did the same.

I remember when things were easier between us. I missed those days where we could just exist together. Where we could laugh and talk, and share ourselves with one another. We could talk for hours. Now, mere sentences seemed like a milestone.

"I should go and say 'Hi!' to your mom."

Marcus: "Yeah."

He stepped back as a I came into the house. I could see groups of people milling about, all seemingly having a good time. Some eating. More were drinking.
I followed Marcus through the house until we got outside. It was definitely warm enough, but I was still a little surprised when I saw the majority of the party-goers in bathing suits, lounging in or around the pool. I spotted Lee, Daniel, and Rowan among some other kids from our school, but my attention was drawn back to the matter at hand when we finally found Mrs. Kingston.

She truly was a beautiful woman. She was a lot more exotic than I initially realized and though she had a pale cream colored complexion, she was clearly hispanic. She was beautiful and I saw where Marcus got his eyes from, and his smile.
Mr. Kingston was on the grille, but I had met him a few more times than I had Mrs. Kingston. He never missed one of Marcus' games, and I had been to more than a few myself. He was also Hispanic, but his skin was a darker caramel complexion. He was 6'1" and pretty muscled for a guy of his age. On top of that, he was one of the wealthiest and intimidating people in our town, so I was always nervous around him. He wasn't someone who you wanted to stir things up around.

Mrs. Kingston gave me a kiss on the cheek and pulled me into a hug, the smell of Spring coming off of her. She was clearly in her element as she played the host, and she was having a good time. We talked for a short while, and then Marcus pulled me away to show me around the rest of the party.

Marcus: "I'm glad you came."

"Me too."

By seven-thirty, the party was in full swing. As none of my friends had gotten into the pool yet, we were all sitting around talking. Daniel had even brought the guy he was dating, though so far, his reception had seemed less than warm. Even Daniel seemed to be getting frustrated with his ability to say the most ridiculous thing at the most ridiculous of times.

Everyone was considering getting into the pool, but I had opted out since I didn't have a change of clothes. Lee and Daniel just stripped off their clothes right at the pool, much to the enjoyment of several people around the pool, and even Rowan had her bikini on under her clothes, though she opted for a little more modesty and stepped into the Kingston's guest house.

Marcus: "You sure you don't want to get in the pool with us?"

"Uh, no... It's cool. Besides, I don't have a suit."

Marcus: "Come on. I'm sure I have a spare for you."

I tried to protest, but he wasn't having any of it. We told everyone we'd be back and then we were on our way inside and up to his room. Even though I had been here more times than I could count, it was like a different world up here. You could just barely hear the party going on downstairs, but more than that, Marcus was different.

I think even Daniel and Lee had started to notice that Marcus was changing. He was becoming so much more comfortable with himself, and the Marcus we were all used to at school, and the Marcus I had grown to know when he was most comfortable were blending into the same person. There wasn't this wall to separate things any more, and I loved seeing that. I loved being able to see him just relax and let all that popularity bullshit go.

As we stepped into his room, I made myself comfortable on his futon, while he went in search of something for me to wear. Even being in here made my thoughts race. There had been so many times that me and Marcus had sat right here. So many stolen glances and unsaid proclamations. Such possibilities...

Marcus: "Here. I think these might fit you."

He held out a small pair of trunks and I knew they would fit, but as I took them from him, I couldn't help but think about the fact that at some point, they had been on Marcus. My cheeks warmed at the thought, but when he looked at me quizzically, I tried my best to play it off. The last thing I needed was for him to start a "question-asking" session.4

I didn't exactly know how to ask for privacy in his room, being that it was his room and all. It's not that I was necessarily shy or anything, he had seen my body before, but I just wasn't ready to completely strip off my clothes in front of him. My scarring was still an issue for me, but around Marcus was the only time I felt like it wasn't a big deal. Like it wasn't this blanket of fear, and pain, and self-loathing weighing me down.

I didn't think too much more about it though. I started with my shoes and socks first, and then off came my pants. I didn't face away from Marcus, as I didn't want my back to him, but he was doing his own thing anyway. Rearranging his CDs or something. I couldn't understand why he wasn't changed, but as his eyes came to meet mine, and then traveled down my body, it became less and less important.

My shirt came next. Marcus tried to busy himself with straightening up his room, but it was practically spotless, so when his eyes eventually came to rest on me again, I couldn't help but notice. My shirt was just a simple tee, so as that came up and off, I made eye contact with Marcus for just a second and despite his nerves, he had yet to look away.

I subconsciously crossed my arms across my chest, my hand moving to find the scar on my shoulder. Even with stitches, the scar there was almost half an inch in width. If it was the same complexion as the rest of my skin, maybe it wouldn't stand out so much, but that wasn't the case. Though my skin was a light golden brown, the scars on my body were just a shade or two darker. Just enough to stand out stark against my skin.

He noticed everything. He had always noticed everything. It was one of the things I hated to love about him.

Marcus: "You don't have to do that around me..."

"Do what?"

Marcus: "Hide."

"What makes you think that that's what I'm doing?"

Marcus: "I don't know... It's like... I just feel like you don't really see yourself..."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Marcus: "I just... I... It's like every time you remember your scars, a little piece of you crumbles. Like you're life shatters over and over again. I know it stays with you, but there's so much you have..."


I tried to steady my voice, but just saying his name I could hear how shaky I sounded.

Marcus: "Are you afraid to think you deserve good things? ... I don't understand, but for some reason, you keep running away from what you really want. ... Why don't you get that it's your turn to be happy, Ashton?"

"So what, you're my shrink now?!"

I couldn't believe this shit was happening, and the way temper flared wildly out of control, I'm sure he understood. I was fucking livid.

Marcus: "That's not what I'm saying..."

"Then what are you saying? You go to two fucking sessions and you're clear to tell me about myself? You don't know shit, Marcus! Sorry! But, I'm not some fucking basket case you need to talk down from the ledge? I know my shit, okay? I know what's happened to me!
I deal with it! ... I've been dealing with it. So, I'm sorry, Marcus, but I don't need rescuing."

A stunned silence settled over us. I wished that I could take it back, a part of me did anyway. Marcus stood completely frozen, in a state of shock like I was, I assume.

I could see the chasm between us widening again. He couldn't even look at me, and I didn't blame him. His eyes never stopped moving, focusing on anything but me. I felt like shit, and tears threatened. He didn't deserve that and if he gave me an opportunity to apologize, I...

Marcus: "Why did you ask me to come over your house Wednesday?"


Marcus: "Wednesday... Why did you ask me to come over?"

"Because, we needed to work on our project... I wanted to show you what happened to me..."

Marcus: "You were trying to scare me away."

"Excuse me?!"

Marcus: "I may not know exactly what you're going through, Ashton, but I'm not fucking stupid either. I get you're out of your element here, but I haven't done anything for you not to trust me. I've been there for you every step of the way, and you're still playing fucking mind games with me! Testing me and trying to make me your bad guy instead of realizing that all I want is to be here for you. That's all I want..."


Marcus: "I don't even know why I bother... You didn't think I was shit from the first day I came to your porch."

"That's not fair..."

Marcus: "It's not?! You've been waiting for this... Hoping for this... Looking for something to latch onto, so you can avoid dealing with what's happening here!"

"And what's that Marcus?"

Marcus: "You tell me, Ashton. Because now, I'm not so sure."

I jumped as he moved towards me, his anger breezing by me as he walked out of sight and into his bed room. I heard him rustling around and a moment later, he walked out shirtless, having changed into his swimming trunks.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't see Marcus looking at me with those curious eyes. I didn't see the contentedness that seemed to ebb off of him when were together. I didn't see that smile that he tried to hide from me, the one that made warmth blossom in my soul.

For the first time in a long time, Marcus looked like he hated me. And honestly, it scared the shit out of me.

Marcus: "Enjoy the party, Ashton."

I stared after him, entirely too numb to move. What had just happened?


For a second, I wanted to hurt him. Anger flared up in me like fire and I wanted to lash out with the heat that burned in my heart. He looked so innocent standing there. So fucking righteous. He was wrong though. I wasn't going to turn into some fucking monster, just to spite him.

Maybe in the beginning. Maybe back then I wasn't sure about Ashton. Back then, maybe I had thought about ruining his life. Pushing him so far past the edge that he wouldn't ever want to come back. At the time, I had no idea what he was going through.

While I begged and pleaded for him to help me with the project, while I sat there and planned in my head, I hadn't known. I didn't know that I would grow to care for him. I didn't know that I would grow to love him the way that I did.

Now, we were backsliding so far that I didn't see an end in sight. Ashton meant the world to me. But, at every turn, it seemed like we were doomed to fail. Things had been going great. For those first couple months, we had figured out a way to work together, and over time, we even became friends.

But now, that wasn't enough anymore. I wanted Ashton in a way that scared me. I wanted to be able to touch him, and hold him, and treat him to all the things he deserved. I wanted to give all of myself to him, a realization that was as scary as it was beautiful.

Calming myself down took more energy than I thought it would. It's not that I was upset with Ashton, I just didn't get him sometimes. Scratch that, I was pissed with Ashton. How could he not see that all I wanted was for him to be happy?

I ducked and dodged my mom's party-goers in an attempt to find a quiet place for myself. People were everywhere and the only thing I wanted to do was get as far away from everyone as possible. Ashton especially.

I knew in my soul that he felt the same way that I did. I saw it in the way that he looked at me, or in the way his body responded to me when I was close to him? Why he tried to hide it, I had no idea. Ashton called out to me... His mind. His body. His spirit.

Lee: "Did you guys get lost?"


Lee: "You guys left like forty minutes ago."

I didn't have my watch or phone, so looking at the clock hadn't been my top priority. Daniel, Lee, and Rowan had clearly been in the water for some time, but as I scanned the faces of everyone playing and splashing about, there was one person I didn't see.

"Ashton didn't come back?!"

Lee: "I haven't seen him. He left with you, right?"

"We kinda got into it... It's a long story."

His look of incredulity didn't go unnoticed, but I was already running back towards the house. I hadn't expected Ashton to leave. I didn't want him to leave. The things I said, while insensitive, needed to be said. I was tired of having to try and navigate through the walls he kept up and playing his stupid games.

He was hurting, I got that. The things that happened in his past were going to be with him for the rest of his life, but I was here now. I wanted to face all of that with him. I wanted to deal through those issues at his side, where I belonged. But, it could never work if he didn't trust me. What would be the point?


It was beautiful out here. Though the sun was on it's descent, it was still beautiful outside. The way colors blossomed in the sky, it was paint worthy. Marcus had showed me this perfect spot on his balcony once before, and unbeknownst to him, it was my favorite place in the house.

I could think clearly up here, my thoughts being the only company I needed. I thought over every thing that had happened and been said between Marcus and I, and honestly, I couldn't blame him for being as upset as he was. I hated to admit it, but Marcus had every right to say the things he said, and even though it hurt to hear it, maybe it's exactly what I needed.

Trust was a hard thing for me to come by. Every person I had ever trusted seemed to abandon me, save my mother and father. Though my dad wasn't physically with us, he was very much a presence in my life. They were all I had.
My family, who I loved, pushed me away like I was trash. The few friends I had scraped up over the years had all given up over time, not wanting to deal with the struggles of being my friend. I told myself that I understood, but I never really did. I didn't know why people decided I wasn't worth loving. I didn't understand how people could fill your head with false promises, and then when it came time to "put up -- or -- shut up," they showed you exactly what you meant to them.

I didn't want to deal with that again. I couldn't deal with another person I lov... I couldn't deal with another person I really cared about abandoning me. It would hurt too much.

A small cheer sounded as I joined everyone at the pool. I couldn't help the goofy smile that was plastered on my face. A short while ago, I would have never imagined being here in a place where people were excited to see me. I had friends now. True friends who made me feel welcome and special and important.

My eyes locked onto Marcus' as I slowly made my way into the pool, the warm water making the fire in my body seem all the more unreal. As I looked around, I really did have so much to thank him for. Over time, he had begun to pull me out of the shell I had so carefully created for myself. Though they were his friends first, Daniel and Lee had both become big parts of my daily life, and even Rowan had shown me that she wanted nothing more than to be my friend.

It was overwhelming to think about, and without his help, it's a point I may have never gotten to. As much as I craved friendship and understanding, I had never held my head up high long enough to find it. The time I had spent with Marcus proved to me that it wasn't the only way that things could be.

I could tell that he was still upset and a part of me was as well. The things that had been said were hard to digest, and worse, they were said when we were both angry. That's not what I wanted with Marcus. I wanted things to be easy and fun. I didn't to argue and fight with him. Not anymore.

Time seemed to stand still as we had our fun in the pool. The party guests outside dwindled down slowly, some folks heading home, and others going inside to continue their fun. We barely noticed. This was the first time in my life that I could remember having so much fun.

If I thought Lee was bad on land, he was even worse in the water, deeming himself the "shark" in all the games we played, even if it didn't call for one. He kept us all constantly on our toes when he disappeared out of sight, to be shortly followed by someone being pulled under. Daniel's boyfriend seemed a little annoyed, but for everyone it seemed like just another check on his "buzzkill" box.

We played volleyball, water-polo, and even a game of shoulder wars. I knew that Marcus was mad at me still, but when it came time to pick partners, he made sure that we were together. I was a little hesitant at climbing up on his shoulders, but he had a sure hold on me and I knew I would be okay.

Of all the games we played, that one was my favorite. It wasn't because of the fact that we completely dominated the game, everyone but Lee underestimating me, or that we remained undefeated to the very last game. It had everything to do with the fact that the entire time I was up there, Marcus held me in a way that made my skin come to life.

How we managed to scrape out that first win was beyond me, as the whole time, I was concentrating on pulling any thoughts together at all. Marcus' hands were higher up on my thighs than I imagined they needed to be, but I didn't complain. Even when we weren't playing at all, he rarely moved his hands and when he did, it was in a way that made my blood pulse from head to toe. The only reason we lost our last and final game is because, well... I'll say Marcus had a pretty good reason to let me go. I could barely meet his eyes when we both pulled ourselves to the surface, but he didn't look angry like I thought he would. He just looked, well, curious.

A short while later, Marcus's mom called for everyone to come inside. It had to be after nine, but since the water was still warm, I wanted to enjoy it for as long as I could. Lee, Daniel, and Rowan all made their way inside, followed by the few lone people that had been lounging around the pool.

Swimming laps wasn't anyone's idea of fun, I'm sure, but it had always been relaxing to me. I hadn't been paying that much attention, so I thought that Marcus had followed the others into the house, but when I came up for air, he was at the other end of the pool, sitting on the ledge.

"I thought you went in..."

Marcus: "Naw. I'm not ready yet."

"Me either."

All the times we had been alone together over the past few weeks had seemingly ended in an argument between us, but tonight felt different. I wanted it to be different. Staring down what you think is the end of your friendship, the first real friendship you've ever had, is a sobering experience and Marcus needed to understand that I had no intentions of losing him as a friend. I needed to make him understand that.

Words escaped me as he slid into the pool though. Everything about him seemed magnified tonight. The way his body moved in the water, his muscles shining in the light of the moon, the way his eyes seemed to sparkle and radiate. He was perfect and as he moved towards me, the only thing I could think of is how much I wanted tonight to be different.

Marcus: "I had fun tonight..."

"Me too. And Marcus, about earlier... I owe you a..."

Marcus: "I don't want to hear it. It's not important."

"But, you were right. About everything."

Marcus: "That's not important to me. Being right? It doesn't matter."

"Then what does?"

Marcus: "You. ... Tonight. You being here."

I had never felt like I was feeling before. When I had signed up to give my heart away to this boy, I wasn't sure, but I'd be damned if it didn't belong to him. As I sat there, staring into his eyes, staring into his soul, I had never been more sure about anything.

And then, he kissed me.


If I hadn't done it then, in that moment, I don't know if I ever would have had the courage again. As I pressed my lips to his, some imbalance in the world shifted and for a moment, everything was alright. For a second I was nervous, and then, he kissed me back. It was soft and tender. Hesitant. But, it was perfect. My hand had snaked up the back of his neck, pulling him further into me. If I woke up from this fantasy tomorrow, I wanted to live the dream tonight. And then he pulled away.

I expected to see joy on his face, the same joy I knew I couldn't contain on my own. This was our moment. This was the big moment that everything had been leading up to. But, he wasn't happy.

Tears fell from his eyes in a steady stream, his face a beautiful mask of torment. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be our perfect beginning. We would start from here. Be together and all of that shit. We would conquer our problems together because we were meant to be. So, I couldn't understand what the fuck had just happened.

I felt numb as I watched him, his mouth moving as if he were saying something to me, but I could only hear the water lapping around us and the party going on just a few feet away. Then he was gone. It was in that moment that I completely understood what I must have put Nathaniel through those few years back. As my heart crumbled, I could only imagine how I must have looked to him at that moment. But, if it felt anything like watching the person you thought was your world walk away, then I'm sure we now had that in common.

I struggled to speak, I struggled to do anything as he climbed out of the pool and dashed towards the house. My voice failed me. The love I thought we shared had failed me. As I climbed out of the pool, panic set in. What had I done?

Ashton was one of the most important people in my life. He was my friend and someone that I had grown to care a great deal about. I loved him. I loved everything about him and now, I watched from the sidelines as it all seemingly came crashing to the ground. I was heartbroken.

I tried to gather my thoughts as I climbed out of the pool, the cold air biting at my wet skin barely noticeable. It seemed as if I was on auto-pilot as I moved towards the house, pulling myself together proving to be a much harder task than I was prepared for. He had left. He had really left.

I didn't cry. I was much too numb for that. The only thing I could think of was to go back inside and get lost in the party. Surely no one would notice if I wasn't smiling as bright, or laughing as loud. So, that's what I did.

Lee: "Marcus, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Yeah. Sure."

I followed behind Lee as he led me upstairs, my mind fighting desperately to piece together what had gone wrong. For the last hour, I had searched the house top to bottom, my intention to join the party completely forgotten about. The mood was perfect. The setting was perfect. Ashton was there, and it felt like he wanted to as much as I did. Did my breath stink?!

I almost started to turn for my room, but Lee motioned for me to keep following him and we made our way up the next flight of stairs. The attic was definitely "our" domain, the room being completely styled by things I had gotten over the years. There was another flat screen television here, a Playstation 3, couches, mini-fridge, pool table, and any other thing that you could think of. It was my very own "man-attic."

I thought we would be alone, but Daniel was sitting on the loveseat, looking entirely uncomfortable. That made me more nervous than anything, but as Lee went to stand in the middle of the room, I took a seat on one of the couches and waited. It looked like for a while he was getting his thoughts together, and then he turned to me. I had never seen Lee look, well hurt, like he did now and I didn't understand. Not until he started asking questions.

"What's up?"

For a while, he just stood there. Contemplating what he was going to say, I guess.

Lee: "Is there anything you want to say to me?"

"Nothing I can think of."

Lee: "You sure about that?"

"I don't know, Lee. You tell me if there's something I should be telling you."

I was slowly but surely getting pissed off. I didn't like this twenty-one questions game he was playing, and any time Lee started focusing on something and asking a lot of questions, it usually led to a huge blowout. I didn't have the desire or energy for that. Not right now.

Lee: "What's going on between you and Ashton? Let's start there."

"What the fuck are you talking about, Lee?"

Lee: "I saw you, Marcus! In the pool... I don't know, about an hour ago... You starting to remember now?!"

Again, I was speechless, his voice sounding much further away than it actually was.

Lee: "Me and Rowan were coming to see what was taking you guys so long, since your mom was looking for you. Next thing I know, you're kissing him. What the fuck, Marcus?!"

I sat in stunned silence. My vocabulary abandoning me in my time of need.

Lee: "You act like I'm fucking crazy for thinking that something is going on..."

"What do you want me to say, Lee? I didn't act like you were crazy! Nothing was going on. Nothing is going on! You saw what happened out there..."

Lee: "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know, Lee... Were you present when Daniel came out to you? You weren't exactly a pillar of support for him and I didn't want to lose another best friend."

They exchanged a glance between each other and I could see that that was something that they were still struggling through.

Lee: "I'm not perfect, Marcus. But, you could have come to me! Is it a little weird that everyone around me is turning gay?! I think so. I think I am allowed a period to adjust, but that doesn't mean that I'm not going to support you. Or Daniel. I need time."

Marcus: "Well so did I, Lee! I need my own time to come to terms with things. I needed to figure out what was happening on my end. I've never felt like this about another guy before, so coming to you wasn't my first thought. I've been trying my best to figure this out. To understand how I really feel..."

Lee: "And?"

"I love him. That's what I know."

I watched Lee process. I'm sure it was a lot to deal with and I didn't give Lee enough credit for that. All of our lives had been shifting these past few months. I owed him the same courtesy I was asking for, and I resolved to be more understanding and patient in the future.

Lee: "Marcus... Daniel, too... I don't care who you guys are fucking. Honestly. I just want you guys to be happy. And... I'll be happy for you. I just... nevermind. ... So Daniel, if you want to date that Eian kid, I fully support you."

Daniel: "Yeah, about that...."

"What happened?"

Daniel: "I had to let that go. He was just... not a good fit. At all."

I completely understood, but I only nodded my assent. That guy had been a complete asshole and I was glad that Daniel was done with him.

"Lee, I'm sorry that I wasn't forthcoming with you, but I was going to tell you. I just needed to figure out my own way of doing it."

Lee: "Guess it doesn't matter now, huh?"

"Guess not."

Things seemed to calm down after that, Lee just wanting to feel included and know what was going on. Daniel had become my confidante as he was the only other gay person I knew besides Ashton and I could see where Lee had been feeling left out. Now, being able to share with him what was going on with me was something that I would definitely cherish. I didn't want to leave Lee in the dark, I just hadn't known how to get him to understand.

Lee: "So what about Ashton?"

"I don't know. He just... ran. I thought it's what he wanted."

Daniel: "You should talk to him."

"Definitely not. I can't."

We all sat around in the attic, a joint passing between us. My nerves were fucking shot, and seeing as the conversation with Lee did nothing but make me even more upset, this was greatly needed. I was tempting the Gods with my parents and so many other people still downstairs, but I didn't care. Shit. The most they could do was ground me.

We were all sitting around talking, when there was a knock at the door and then feet coming up the stairs. We hurriedly put our smoked out in case it was my parents, not that it would have helped, but as Rowan, Ashton, and a few others came into view, we breathed a sigh of relief. Well, Lee and Daniel did. I couldn't breathe at all.

From the looks of it, he had been crying for a while before Daniel found him and that broke my heart. It wasn't supposed to be like that. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted to make him happy, but instead, I had fucked things up beyond repair. Even as everyone talked and enjoyed themselves around us, the only person I could focus on was him. Though only a few short steps separated us, it seemed like a million miles.

Lee and Daniel were both trying to discreetly spark up conversation between the two of us, but Ashton wouldn't even look at me. Instead, he focused on talking to Rowan and when one of the twins did talk to him, he would speak directly to them until the conversation died down.

I was hurt, but fuck him if he didn't want to talk to me. So, instead of wallowing in my pity, I sparked up another joint and moved to talk to my other friends. Though I couldn't deny that I was more than a little distracted, I made the best of the situation and enjoyed myself anyway.

It was around 3am before everyone decided to either head home or crash upstairs. Lee and Daniel of course took the guest bedroom and normally, Ashton would have slept in my room, but I didn't know what he was going to do since we weren't talking and honestly, I didn't ask. For the last few hours, he had maybe said five words to me, so figuring out his sleeping arrangements wasn't on my list of priorities.

Of course I wanted to talk to him and tell him I was sorry, if that's what he wanted to hear. I had kissed him and I took the full responsibility for that. But, weren't things leading there for us? Wasn't there some undeniable chemistry between us? I wouldn't play myself and act like it was all in my head, so why did he run?

I pondered all of these questions as I took care of getting ready for bed. I was more exhausted than I thought, but my mind raced on. These past few weeks had been Hell. Having such negative energy between Ashton and I had put me in one of the worst bouts of depression I had ever faced, but then there were the moments when we were together and I knew that things would work themselves out. Now, however, as perfect as that kiss was, it seemed like it was curtains for us. How had things gotten so fucked up so quickly?

My thoughts carried me from the shower to my bed and as I got under the covers, I couldn't help but think about Ashton. Of course I was thinking about Ashton. When wasn't I?

I had just about dozed off finally, when there was a soft knock at my door. I was only slightly pissed, thinking it was one of my friends needing some blankets or some shit.


I stood up as the door opened slightly, and even though there was only so much lighting, I knew exactly who it was and my heart leapt in my chest.

Ashton: "Can I come in?"

"Sure. Of course."

I watched him as he walked towards me, his steps slow and deliberate. I had no idea what to expect right now, but I held my breath all the same. I wanted to rush up to him and wrap my arms around him, crush my lips to his and never let him go, but I stood there petrified.

He was standing directly in front of me before I dared breathe again. Looking at his face now brought back memories of him crying and it about broke my heart. All I wanted to do was love him. I just wanted to show him that he was special, and important, and desirable even with his scars. I just wanted him to be mine.

Then, he kissed me.

I cried a little bit. Not much, but if he would have turned back to look at me, he would have seen tears of happiness. Being able to hold him, to have him spooned against me was like a dream and I never wanted to let him go. I wanted to stay in this bed, in this perfect moment for eternity.

He apologized about earlier, but again, I didn't want to hear it. It was in the past, and he was mine now. That beautiful kiss was all I needed and when he stepped away from me then, the only thing I saw was happiness.

Now, as we laid in bed, him making small circles on my arm with his finger, and me playing with his curly hair, I couldn't think of a more perfect day. We were together now and there was no way I was letting him get away from me.