The Bully and the Brain. Chapter 8, pt. 2

Spending the last few hours with Ashton had been amazing. I won't lie. I had been nervous about everyone being here together for a whole weekend, and though it was only the first day, I could feel my nerves abating. Tensions were still high between Lee and Daniel, and though Lee looked to be coming around, I knew he was still struggling with Daniel's confession.

On top of that, there was still the unresolved issues between Lee and Ashton. I had tried my best to at least keep the tensions down, but sometimes in the way Lee talked, I could feel some resentment from him. But, over the last few days, I hadn't been feeling any of that. It genuinely seemed like they had been getting along.

It was exhausting having to keep my attention everywhere at once, hoping to snuff out any fires before they started. I was so worried about something happening with Lee and Daniel, or Ashton and Lee, that my head felt like it would spin off. It had all been unnecessary though. Things were going smoothly.

For the last three or so hours, Ashton and I had been grilling out. We had brought steaks up with us, so along side of it, we had baked potatoes, corn and the guys were coming back with drinks. We had taken a while to prep everything, and now that the grille was off, we were just waiting for Lee and Daniel to come back.

They had been gone for the last few hours, something about their was a delay with their friend. I didn't ask a lot of questions, as I wasn't sure which one of their "friends" they were referring to. As I was pondering this, they walked through the doors.

Immediately I could see that something was wrong. There seemed to be a dark cloud looming over them, and though they were talking quietly, there was definitely some explosive tension. Lee was carrying two six-packs of beer and Daniel followed behind him, a small black duffel bag in his hands.

It took them a second to notice that Ashton and I were both staring in their direction. The air in the room was filled with their aggression and it made me wonder just how heated things were in the car. Lee looked utterly furious, his hands clenching and unclenching. He wanted to hurt something or break something, that much was clear.

Daniel had taken to moving around the cabin, taking out the beers and stashing them in the refrigerator. He could try and act like nothing was happening if he wanted, but no one was that oblivious. His eyes were wet with tears and it made me wonder just how much Lee had gotten down on him. I immediately regretted not going with them, but I thought that they would be okay together for just a few hours.

"Is everything...?"

Lee: "Leave it, Marcus! Just stay the fuck out of it."

Ashton flinched as Lee went off on me. I was shocked myself. I had never seen Lee in such a way before. I knew that he had some anger issues, but it had never really been directed my way before.

I wanted to say something, but Daniel turned in my direction and just shook his head, letting me know to leave it. Lee had just royally pissed me off, but I didn't want to ruin the good time that we had been having thus far. It took every ounce of my restraint to not go off on Lee, but at this point, we'd be at each other's throats.

Ashton: "Lee. Do you want to help me set the table?"

I watched Lee turn on Ashton, his features still fixed with rage. I was already moving toward them, ready to get in the middle of whatever onslaught Lee was ready to unleash. But, Lee just stopped, his anger slowly taking time to fade.

It took a moment for him to relax, and although he was still angry, he was no longer freaking out. Daniel and I looked back and forth between each other, not believing what was happening.

Lee: "Yeah, man. I'm gonna go change first."

That was when I saw the blood on his fists. My jaw clenched and my blood boiled. I literally felt like I was going to detonate. If he had put his hands on Daniel, I was going to lose it. From where I was standing, I couldn't tell and I made the short walk into the kitchen.

Lee walked out of the room and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn't help but reach out to turn Daniel towards me, but he snapped away from me as well.

Daniel: "What the fuck, Marcus? Just back off!"

I watched as he stormed out of the kitchen, his bedroom door slamming shut seconds later. I had no idea how things had gotten to this point so fast, but fuck me for trying to help! Ashton looked completely shaken, and I had no way to help him. I couldn't even wrap my mind around what was going on.

Ashton: "Are you okay?"

"I don't understand what's happening right now. They were fine just a few hours ago..."

Ashton: "I couldn't see Daniel's face, do you...?"

He stopped talking mid-sentence, his attention focusing on Lee who was coming back into the kitchen. He was still pissed off and he wouldn't make contact with either of us. I didn't know if he heard Ashton, but I was willing to be he had.

Lee: "Where are we putting this stuff?"

Ashton directed Lee to put Daniel and myself on the side opposite of them. He would sit across from me, and that way, he wasn't so close to his brother. If we could just avoid anyone getting frustrated enough to take the bait, we could get through dinner peacefully.

It took a few minutes for Ashton to serve the plates and once everything was situated, he had me get Daniel. I refused to say anything to him either, so I knocked on the door twice and then went back to my chair. He came out moments later, face clear of any bruises. Though Lee's hands were now clean, it begged the question of who or what he had attacked.

Dinner was a rough occasion to get through. No one said anything for a long time, everyone deep in their own thoughts I'd guess. I felt like absolute shit. I had told Ashton he would have fun, that there wouldn't be any drama. What happens? First day, BOOM! Shit hits the fan.

I couldn't even meet his eyes, but I could just about imagine how upset he was with me. I wanted to get right back in the car and take us home, but I didn't think we needed to go anywhere before everything was resolved. Getting them to talk was going to be the issue.

All eyes turned to me as I got up to head to the refrigerator. Not only did I want a moment to really clear my thoughts, but I grabbed some beers as well. Lee had brought them in, but everyone was so out of it that they had sat untouched. I wasn't even sure if Ashton would drink beer, but when I offered it to him he took out, albeit hesitantly.

Everyone took a moment to pop the cap on their bottles and we all took a sip, some more than others. Lee didn't surprise me by going to grab another round of beers before we finished the first, but when he sat down, I knew now was the time to get this started.

I had no idea how to even begin. I didn't want to trigger Lee to explode again and Daniel was clearly on a downward spiral, so I had to be careful with my approach. Ashton on the other hand, just looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here and honestly, I felt the exact same way.

Lee: "So are you gonna ask or are we just going to sit here looking at each other?"

"Okay... Well, since you put it like that, what the fuck happened?"

Lee & Daniel: "Nothing!"

"Bullshit. You came in here bleeding and you were crying!"

Daniel: "I was not crying!"

"Guys, what happened?"

Lee: "My brother here, decided to fuck the weed man."

Daniel: "I did not fuck him! I didn't even touch him."

Lee: "Whatever, Daniel. I know what I saw."

Daniel: "You don't even know what the hell you're talking about!"


Daniel: "Lee, I have a boyfriend! I didn't touch Sean! We kissed once, like a year ago."

Lee: "What the fuck, Daniel?! When did this happen to you? When did you all of a sudden turn into a fucking...?"

Daniel: "A fucking what, Lee?"

Lee hesitated for a moment and we all caught the meaning. I couldn't believe that this shit was happening right now.

Lee: "When did you get like this?"

Daniel: "Lee, this is who I am. I'm sorry that you don't want to accept it, but this is what's happening! This is why I didn't want to tell you. I knew that this would happen and I knew that you wouldn't be able to understand."

By this time, Lee had stood up and Daniel was moving towards the door. I had no idea how to intervene so that it didn't seem like I was choosing sides.

Lee: "I don't understand? I don't get it?! You're the one who's ruining everything, Daniel. We had everything planned out. Everything was perfect and then you decided that you wanted to be gay."

Daniel: "Lee, I didn't ask to be gay! Trust me. Do you know how much I used to want to be straight? It was all I could think about? In the beginning, I felt like I was losing everything! My grip on my life was slipping away. I felt like everyone would turn their back on me, and right now, you're the only one who has!"

Lee: "I'm sorry, but I just... I'm not okay with this."

Daniel: "Why? Lee, nothing is changing. If you don't want me to bring Eian around, I won't."

Lee: "Who the fuck is Eian?!"

"Guys, can we just calm down! Please."

It took a moment for everyone to relax, but Daniel stayed by the door and Lee confined himself to the kitchen. The space was so small, that we were still all way too close to each other. Ashton had gone to sit down in front of the fire, keeping as far from the action as possible.

"Look, let's just sit down and talk about this."

Getting them to sit down took another five minutes of coaxing and calming of the two of them. They were both on such a fine edge that navigating this event was taking a serious toll on me.

Lee: "I just don't understand where all of this is coming from. Just a few days ago, you were straight as an arrow. We talked about girls together. We talked about marriage, and kids! We've talked about these things, Daniel! Now, you're telling me that you don't want any of that. That you want to sleep with men and date men! It doesn't add up!"

Daniel: "I didn't lie about anything! I want all of those things, Lee! I want a family. I want to get married. I want everything that we ever talked about. I just don't want it with a woman. I want the same things, Lee. I just want it my way."

Lee: "What?! And you think that's going to happen with Sean? Or some other fucking... guy?!"

Daniel: "Sean has nothing to do with this! He's not interested in me. We hung out last summer! We kissed, that's it! He's just my friend and he gives me a good deal on weed when we come up here."

Lee: "Bullshit!"

Daniel: "No Lee, it's not. I've never done anything with Sean, or anyone else for that matter. Sean is someone I'm able to talk to. He understands what I'm going through. He's the one person I've been able to confide in because I was afraid to come to you! You had no right to put your hands on him!"

Lee: "Don't tell me what I can and can't do Daniel! You don't get to tell me how to react here. You think that because you tell me you like guys, that I'm going to automatically be okay with you flirting and talking that shit in front of me?"

Daniel: "I'm not telling you how to react, but Lee..."

"Guys! Sit down."

This was spiraling so far out of control.

"Lee, listen to what's happening here."

Lee: "Marcus, I..."

"Lee, just stop and listen!"

We all collectively moved back to the table. Even Ashton came over, his beer slightly lower than it was before.

Daniel: "Lee, I don't want this to change anything. I'm sorry that you think I'm bailing on you, or that this makes everything we ever talked about a lie, but it isn't Lee. You're my best friend! The only person who's been there with me from the beginning... Please do not do this to me!"

Lee: "I don't know what you want me to say, Daniel."

Daniel: "I want you to tell me that you're still my brother! I want you to tell me that this isn't going to change everything! I want you to tell me that I can count on you to be there for me, and support me, and to help me through this."

Lee: "Daniel, I can't... I want to..."


Lee: "I'm not going to do this again, Daniel. Okay?! I've been here before and I'm not doing it again..."

Daniel: "What are you talking about?"

Lee: "Kenny?! Remember him?"

Daniel: "Lee. That's what you're worried about?"

"What are we talking about?"

Daniel: "Our Uncle Kenny passed away when we were ten. Lee was close to him and he took it really hard when he wasn't here anymore."

Lee: "He was just like you are Daniel. He was gay too, and he died because of it!"

Daniel: "Lee, that's not something anybody had any control over."

Lee: "If he wasn't gay, he'd still be here."

Daniel: "Lee, what happened to Uncle Kenny was a horrible tragedy. The guys that attacked him were selfish and they were cowards. I pray that something like that never happens to anyone again Lee, but it's not something I or anyone else has control over. Lee, I want to be able to say that you'll be there with me. I need my brother. I need you to be here for me, Lee. I don't know how I'm going to be able to do this without you in my corner."

We all watched as Lee took a moment for himself. I'm sure he was thinking a lot, but I wanted to just make sure things were going to be okay. As often as Lee cut people off or fell out with people, I knew that this was different than anything else that had happened before. This was his brother on the line...

Lee: "You're always going to be my brother, Daniel. I love you and I'm always going to love you. I just need some time. Just give me some time to be okay with this."

Daniel clearly was hoping for a different answer, but Lee walked around the table and they embraced. I didn't think that things were going to be resolved so quickly, but this was progress.

Ashton, who had been sitting quietly the entire time, moved to the kitchen and got another round of beers for everyone. I had completely forgot about my present beer, but as Ashton presented the third, I quickly finished it off. At this point, anything to relax was going to make this day better.

Lee: "Fuck all this sensitive shit. Where's the green at?"

Daniel smiled at him conspiratorially, then he went to grab the duffel bag that they had come in with. I looked at Ashton a little nervously, but if he felt any type of way when Daniel started laying weed paraphernalia on the table, he didn't make mention of it.

I didn't smoke often, with being an athlete and what not. But, whenever we came up here, it's something we did to relax. It took the edge off and honestly, there was nothing better than being in the woods and being able to truly relax.

It took Daniel about five minutes to get everything situated. He was a self-proclaimed prodigy at rolling blunts and he didn't disappoint. On top of that, we had a bong.

We all moved outside towards the water and just sat around. I wanted to talk to Ashton for a little bit, but he was chatting with Daniel. Lee was quiet and I knew that he was still mulling things over in his head. I was still partly upset with him, but now wasn't the time to think about stuff like that.

Minutes later, we were all sitting in a circle, smoke wafting up between us. Everything turned funny and soon we were talking shit back and forth, laughing our frustrations away. I knew in my heart that Lee was going to make the right decision, and he did, but for a moment, there was nothing but doubt. On this weekend, it's just not what I wanted to focus on.


Sitting there with Marcus and his friends was a moment that I would always remember. Just watching them and how they interacted with each other, and how they cared for one another, was beautiful. After the situation in the cabin, I was honestly afraid for what could happen if we stayed here overnight, let alone the weekend.

Their change in emotion came so quickly, that for a while, I was waiting for another bout of arguments to start. Watching them now though, it was clear just how much they actually did care for each other. Even Lee had moments of insight and maturity, something I never would have expected from him.

Just being able to sit here and enjoy this moment, and see them just enjoy their friendship gave me hope. Marcus and I would never have that friendship, but I knew that we were carving out our own niche in things. Getting to the point where I was comfortable with his friends wouldn't hurt either, and honestly, I had made up my mind before leaving home, that I wasn't going to take any of my hurt or distrust with me.

Being hurt so many times makes it hard to trust people, and it makes it hard to believe some of the things that people tell you. But, over the past few days especially, Lee had been nothing but nice to me. More so than being true to whatever promise he had made to Marcus, he was genuinely making an effort with me. Since the mall, we had talked about art, comics, photography, and it softened me to Lee a little bit.

He wasn't the type of guy to play friends for someone else's benefit. At first I assumed that he was just keeping away from me because that's what Marcus had asked for. After the mall though, we started to make conversation during lunch, or if he'd see me in the library, or study hall; He'd say "Hey." or nod, or do something to acknowledge my presence.

I wasn't looking for more friends, or fishing for a reason to forgive Lee. What I was not going to do though was be an ass. If he was going to make an effort, I'd do my part and do the same. I wasn't saying we'd have to be friends, but not being enemies was alright by me.

Lee: "You want to try?"

"Uh, no. I'm fine. The beer is enough."

Lee: "Alright. Suit yourself."

I had stood back while they lit a bonfire to warm us up and keep the bugs away, and now I was trying to sit as close to the fire as possible. Lee, who was clearly drunk and more than a little stoned, reached back to pass Marcus their joint and then he sat down beside me. It was only a little weird when he threw his arms around my shoulder, but I kept quiet.

Lee: "Listen, we need to talk."

"About what?"

Lee: "Listen, I need you to tell me how all this gay shit works."

"Excuse me."

I couldn't believe that he couldn't believe that I wasn't getting it. Like, what kind of question is that to ask someone?

Lee: "How does it work? Like, how do you be gay?"

"I don't fucking know! Lee, I'm figuring this out as I go, just like Daniel is."

Lee: "Listen, I can't lose my brother. One of these days, I'm going to say something the wrong way, or do something the wrong way and he's not going to want me around any more. I can't..."

I had never seen Lee show emotion before. Now, seeing him at the edge of tears was almost too much for me to handle. I'd never understand what it was like to have a brother or a sister, and to care so deeply for someone, but I could see how much this was tearing him up inside.

"You don't want to lose him? Then, just continue doing what you're doing, Lee. Continue being the brother that you've been all this time. As much as it seems like things have changed, and as much as it may seem like things are out of your grasp right now, nothing is really any different. He's still your brother. You guys love each other. That's all that matters."

He didn't say anything and honestly I didn't expect him too. Knowing him better now, silence was usually the best confirmation you could get. Lee knew what the right thing to do was and he would have done it anyway, but some people just need someone to tell them that it would be alright.

The rest of the night was really cool. We sat outside until three in morning, them smoking and me sipping on a beer. I would have loved to keep it going, but we were all pretty tired and bed was calling.

I still hadn't gotten a chance to talk to Marcus, at least while he was sober. I just wanted to talk to him and thank him for bringing me here, despite the issues from earlier, but we just hadn't gotten a private moment for me to do so. But, tomorrow was another day entirely.

It was almost noon before any of us actually rolled out of bed. I think the events of last night had tired us out more than we thought, but as I zombie-walked into the kitchen, the smell of bacon cooking was definitely incentive to wake up. I was the last to make it into the kitchen, as Lee and Daniel were pulling ingredients together for whatever they were cooking for breakfast, and Marcus was sitting at the table, trying not to fall back asleep. I would have been content to stand there, mesmerized by him, but, I didn't want to be that guy.

I had no idea how this place had electricity and running water being out in the country, but I didn't ask any questions. I made the short walk to the coffee pot and poured myself a steaming cup, before going to have a seat with Marcus at the table. I didn't usually drink the stuff, but if I wanted any chance at making it through the day, it was clearly going to be a necessity.

Marcus: "Morning."

"Morning to you too."

His smile was enough to redden my cheeks, and I pulled my knees to my chest to hide my face. I had to get over this giddiness whenever he smiled, or laughed, or did any of the million things that made me go insane. I had never felt what it was like to be genuinely interested in someone. I'd never had a crush, a person who I could want for in such a way, that now it was literally consuming me.

I didn't want to think about it, but over the last few months, Marcus had been such a constant presence in my life. He had been there for me, and we had shared so much together and grown so much together. I would be kidding myself if I didn't feel stupid a little bit, but something about Marcus called out to me. I wanted him. I wanted him in ways I'd never wanted anyone before and not expressing that was tearing me up inside.

Marcus: "What's wrong?"


Marcus: "Just a second ago, your face... You look like your dog died or something. I know yesterday was rough, but I promise that today will be better... Just, I mean..."

"Marcus, I'm fine. Really. I'm actually having a great time. Just, uh, thinking about some stuff is all."

Marcus: "Well, at least for this weekend, just let it all go. I want you to only think about the good things and about having fun. I want this weekend to be as special for you as it is for me. Okay?"

I caught Lee's eye in my peripheral and as he looked back and forth between Marcus and myself, I could see his gaze harden. I wasn't the only one who noticed and Daniel said a few words to him and they resumed cooking breakfast. I had no idea what that was about, but I filed it away for later thought. I brought my focus back to Marcus and pushed everything else out of my thoughts.

"You got it. No more thinking. Just fun."

Marcus: "There we go."

I watched him go and join Lee and Daniel and it gave me another opportunity to watch them. I wasn't sure what Lee saw that I hadn't, but he wasn't acting any differently. Sometimes he would look at Marcus awkwardly, but for the most part, they went about as they normally did. I wished there was some way I could help, but when I tried to ask, everyone firmly told me that as a first time guest, I shouldn't and wouldn't be "helping out."

The remaining breakfast preparations took another half-hour and then they were bringing plates of food to the table. I didn't think I'd even be able to eat my fill, but there was: pancakes, eggs, waffles, bacon, sausage and even grits and toast. Maybe they were cooking for tomorrow as well, but I didn't say anything as I started piling my plate high with food.

Breakfast was another interesting experience. I spent the majority of it talking with Lee, while Daniel and Marcus ate their breakfast on the couches. I wasn't surprised that we weren't all eating together as the table really had no room for the cooked food and four plates, but I wasn't prepared for their more than obvious whispering. Whatever they were talking about, Lee and I weren't meant to hear it.

I hadn't thought too much about it, but I was also focused on my conversation with Lee. Not only did we talk about his work on his comic, but we also talked art, and writing, and just being creative in general. I never would have pegged this side of Lee, but now that I was seeing more and more of it, he just came off as a big kid with a grande imagination.

Now though, we were preparing for our first hike of the trip. We would take another shorter hike tomorrow morning, before we headed back home. I was super excited for this and from the looks on everyone's faces, I could tell I wasn't the only one.

I was never really a nature guy, but that was mostly due to not having the means to explore. Before my mom and I moved here, we had been in Arizona and, well I definitely wasn't exploring. Living there had been a nightmare that I never thought I'd wake up from.

I never understood why I was being punished, or why I was forced to endure so much pain in those early years. At just seven years old, I had already been through more than most people endured in a life time. Though it felt like a lifetime ago, those memories were still crystal clear in my mind.

I hated that my mind had gone to such a dark place, especially since I was having such a good time on this trip. I looked over at Marcus and he offered me a worried smile. I knew he wanted to get inside of my head to see what was wrong, to just make sure everything was all right. My mood would swing back and forth on a never stopping pendulum, but if I tried really hard, sometimes I could rid myself of those thoughts. For a short while at least.

Marcus walked over to me while Lee and Daniel finished getting their packs situated, and though he didn't say anything to me, just having him near me was enough to clear my head of the bad thoughts. Sometimes the hold he had on me worked in my favor and right now, I appreciated that he turned my mind to mush whenever he stood close to me. I knew he was supposed to take point on this trip of ours, but he told Daniel to lead the way and he walked beside me the entire time.

After a three hour hike, we finally made it to our desired location. Marcus had told me that this was a spot they had found on accident, but that it clearly wasn't known about by many people. It was the perfect untouched piece of land, and from where we stood, you could see just about everything.

Of course I had to pull out my camera and take a picture of the beautiful scene in front of me. Being up here, being able to experience this... It was beautiful. I wished I could stay in this moment forever, because perfect moments don't happen very often.

Daniel: "First dibs on the shower!"

Marcus and I slowly followed as Lee and Daniel tried to beat each other into the cabin. Our hike had been great, but as we started making our way back down the mountain, a storm came out of nowhere. It didn't make it any more difficult to get back home, but we were all soaked through and we had all spent a fair amount of time trying to pull ourselves out of the few muddy areas we encountered. We were all pretty gross, but I could wait my turn.

Marcus: "How was that for a first hike?"

"It was amazing! I've only seen pictures of stuff like this. Never thought I'd be the one to experience it."

Marcus: "Well, I'm glad we were able to make it a reality."

"Thanks, Marcus. Seriously."

He didn't say anything as we made our way into the house, but I could of sworn I saw him blushing a little bit.

As we walked into the house, I kicked off my boots at the door and tried my best to keep mud off of the furniture. I could feel my clothes being weighed down, but I wasn't going to track mud into the rest of the house, so I contended myself to wait.

I had pulled out my change of clothes, ready to pick back up conversation with Marcus, but as I turned around, everything just seemed to come to a stop. My throat closed as I took Marcus in. He had already kicked off his shoes and his coat was hanging on the hook by the door, but my eyes focused on his hands as they pulled his shirt up and over his head. I tried to tear my eyes away as he folded his shirt up and put it to rest on the arm of the sofa. This couldn't be happening.

Marcus's sole focus was on getting undressed, probably wanting to be free of his wet and muddy clothing. He had no idea of the effect he was having on me, completely unaware of the trouble he was putting me in. I could feel my skin heating up and my pulse quickening, my mind on overdrive as I took in the firmness of his chest and the way his arms rested strongly by his side. His skin was the color of golden caramel and as he blew out cold air, I could see the muscles beneath his skin flex and relax. I couldn't have looked away if I wanted to.

I had hoped that he would stop there, but I turned my head away just as he reached for his jeans zipper and started to pull them off. I was not about to perve over my friend, but my imagination got the best of me and I couldn't help but look back. Marcus was literally sex on two feet and I could feel my common sense slowly slipping to nothing.

As his golden, perfectly muscled legs came into view, I had had enough and turned away to stuff my clothes back in my bag. I had every intention of taking my things into my room and waiting for my turn at the shower, but I found myself unable to move.

Marcus: "You're going to keep those wet clothes on? You'll catch a cold if you do."

"I'll be fine. I rarely get sick."

Marcus: "Trust me, out here, you can get sick. I'll turn the fire on, but you're going to want to get out of those clothes. Seriously."

I knew he was telling me the truth, but the thought of taking off any amount of clothing in front of him was a thought that I had expressly never allowed myself to have. I tried to look busy as I played with the clothes in my bag, but as he walked over to the kitchen, clad only in his boxers, I couldn't help the sound that escaped from me.

This was like a horror movie. My body was doing things it had never done before and there was nothing I could do to contain it. Marcus in only his boxers was something that had to be out of a story book, but the fact that I thought that I might possibly have fallen for him was something that made this moment all the more unbelievable.

He looked at me expectantly, completely unaware of the mental battle I was going through. It was a blessing that sometimes he could be so completely oblivious, the thought enough to make me chuckle to myself. I had no idea what the universe was playing at, but I wasn't one to question my blessings, so I took my clothes off.

It wasn't the sexy experience my thoughts told me to make of it, but I shucked my clothes off and I couldn't help but notice him look my way a few times. I thought it might simply be my imagination playing out, but I just filed it away in the folder of "Weird Things Marcus Did to Make Me Think He Liked Me," to be considered for later.

Luckily enough my wife-beater had avoided getting sweated through, as there was no way I was going to take it off. I could see Marcus eye it with confusion, then I saw things click in his thoughts and he looked away. It had been so many months ago that he had seen the scarring on my back, that I had almost forgotten about it.

We had talked about so many things in these past few months. We had talked about our plans for the future, colleges we knew we'd never get into, but hoped to anyway. We talked about vacations that we wanted to go on and concerts that we had to see before we died. The one conversation we had stayed away from was the one about my scars and as I saw that memory filter into his eyes, I knew the honeymoon was over.

I turned away from him as I folded my t-shirt and jeans up and put them with the rest of my dirty clothes. My back was too him and I was wondering if he was staring at my shoulder, one of the few spots that my wife-beater wouldn't cover. The mark there wasn't as bad as some, but it still stood out against my skin. I shuddered as I thought about how his face must look, how he would be revolted as he noticed my imperfections. It was in that moment that my little slice of paradise fell apart and died. I was damaged goods and even if there was some slim chance that Marcus was into me, he'd never want someone with the kinds of scars that I had.

Tears threatened to fall, but I hardened my thoughts to those emotions. It was a battle that was barely won. I knew that Marcus could feel the change in my energy. It was as if my emotions were changing the direction of the space around us, attuning to my perceptions. How could Marcus not be disgusted by what he saw, when every time I looked in the mirror, a small piece of me died? For the last nine years, I had seen this curse of mine in every mirror, had been reminded of my trials in every moment. It was debilitating to walk around with so much hurt all the time. But, it was all I knew.

Marcus: "You're cold."

I flinched away from him as his skin touched mine, but when he enclosed a blanket around us and pulled me into his arms, my body locked in place. It was awkward for a moment as I held our bodies apart, his arms resting comfortably around me. If I had wanted to pull away from him, I could have, but instead I stood there. As the heat he was putting off radiated against me, it was the safest I had ever felt. I couldn't understand why, but in that moment, I knew that Marcus would never let anything happen to me. I knew that if it was in his control, he'd move mountains to make it so.

Every instinct of my being told me otherwise, but I relaxed into Marcus and it was the most sure I had ever been, that in that moment, it was where I was supposed to be. His arms locked around me and I felt him relax. I felt him exhale like he had been holding his breath for an eternity, waiting for that moment to come. That's when I knew. That's when everything my mom had told me made sense. I was in love with Marcus Kingston and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.


I was in love.
My heart warmed as the realization hit me smack across the face. It was a moment of clarity that I had been moving towards for the last couple of weeks. As Ashton became less and less of a mystery to me, it had started to become all I thought about.

My arms tightened around him and his forehead rested against my jaw. He was just a few inches shorter than my 6'3", but he nestled perfectly under my chin. I tried to keep my wits, but I wanted desperately to press my lips to his forehead. I wanted him to look at me with those beautiful eyes of his and I wanted to kiss him with all the love that I could. Instead, I settled for keeping my arms around his waist. I could see the scarring moving from his shoulder to his back, and I knew that he had his issues, but if he ever gave me the opportunity, he'd never want for love again.

It only took a few minutes for us to warm up, but he didn't pull away from me and I didn't let him go. I could hear the shower running in the background, but my sole focus was on the sound of our breathing and the fire behind us. It was the clearest my thoughts had been and the most calm my body had ever felt. Having him in my arms, it was meant to be.

I didn't realize the shower had stopped running, and that both Lee and Daniel were showered and changed until they were standing at the kitchen table watching us. My heart was beating a mile a minute as I came out of whatever spell Ashton had over me. I had no idea how many minutes we had been standing there, my arms wrapped around him and his arms loosely wrapped around my back.

I couldn't discern the look on Lee's face, but as Ashton pulled away from me and carried his things into the bedroom, I found myself not caring what he thought. I had never been more sure of anything before and I knew that what I felt for Ashton was real and it was worth fighting for. I made my peace with the fact that people wouldn't understand. I made peace with the fact that some of my "friends" would decide that they couldn't support me. I even made peace with the fact that my perfect family might even come to a halt if I pursued things with Ashton. In the face of all of that, I was never more sure of the fact that it would all be worth it.

I waited for Lee to say something. Anything. But, he just looked at me a few more moments before shaking his head and moving to the refrigerator to grab a beer. I had to keep from looking at Daniel as I felt more than saw his infectious grin. He was the only person that knew how I truly felt about Ashton and he had been quietly rooting for me since I told him.

I wanted to talk to Lee, but I just didn't know how to approach him about the situation. He had already insinuated that something was going on between Ashton and I, but when he said it, I knew he had just been being a jerk. But now, he must be wondering if he had been right all along. I wanted to talk to him before his imagination started spinning out of control, but as of right now, nothing had happened between Ashton and I.

I waited a few minutes before I moved towards the bathroom and set about getting a shower. I wanted to check on Ashton, but Daniel had gone into the room with him and there really was no reason for me to intrude on them. I stripped off my underwear and made sure the spray was at a proper temperature before I got in.

I checked myself over in the mirror, my hand traveling from my pecs to just above my groin. I had spent a great deal of energy and time getting my body as fit as possible. Although writing was my main passion, I did excel at playing ball and it had become another love of mine. Working out had just become a part of my routine and after Nala's passing, it was something I put a lot of my focus into.

For as long as I could remember, I had always been complimented on my looks. I was distinctly Hispanic, but I was really a perfect mixture of both of my parents. With my dad's complexion and my mom's eyes and features, I had always been the kid to stand out in class.

I stepped into the shower and let the warm water massage the stress out of my muscles. I had always been afraid to let anyone get too close to me. I just knew that Nala was going to be the woman I grew old and died with. So, when she passed, I felt like my chance at love died with her.

From what I was told, our family had always been wealthy. Taking away the money that our family name carried, my dad had become independently wealthy as a successful lawyer and my mother continued to thrive in the running of her own marketing company. Because of this, I had always been careful of the people that I let into my life. As cliché as it sounded, there were more than a few girls in town who would love nothing more than to find away into my family and our money.

With Ashton, I knew that wouldn't be a factor. Money and power didn't mean anything to him. He just wanted simple things out of life. He wanted to paint and be artistic, and he wanted to live a life free of stress and pain. I wanted that for myself. I wanted to lose myself in the freedom he promised.

I didn't take too much longer in the shower, though my thoughts were still spinning widely out of control. I wanted to give Ashton an opportunity to get his shower before our guests arrived and as I passed him in the hallway, only a towel wrapped around my waist, I could feel an energy passing between us.

This was something. I could feel it. There was this force between us. This manifestation of so many words unsaid. My spirit called out to him, begged him to free his heart to the possibilities. The love I would show him would rival that of any God. It hurt to think of the alternative, but it was a sobering thought in and of itself.

I watched him until he made his way into the bathroom, his eyes catching mine just before he stepped out of sight. I could see a world of questions in his eyes and a whole heaping of fear. I knew that part of dealing with Ashton would be encouraging him to think outside of his fears and over the course of the last few months, I had seen the potential for that growth in him. He had surprised me at so many turns. So, I could only imagine the heartbreak I would feel if he let his fear stop us from having a fair chance.

It was about an hour later, and we were all grouped around the fire as Kaitlyn and Mario pumped beer for everyone out of the keg they brought. We had passed a few of our "camping friends" while driving back to our cabin and an impromptu party had come about. Kaitlyn was old enough to buy beer and Mario was a guy she had been dating for a few years now. The three of us had all known her for almost half of our lives and it was awesome that we were still able to hang out with her and have a good time. Getting to know Mario had been a plus.

It had the makings of a great night and when Sean, Daniel's friend showed up, the night got even better. He and Lee had a brief conversation and that was all we saw of whatever issues that had had before. Even with the bandage across his nose and the swelling under his eye, Sean was a great looking kid. He had shoulder length brown dreads, golden brown skin, and a mischievous smile that lit up the room. He didn't fit the "Nature Boy" mold, but he had apparently been working at the park since he turned eighteen three years ago. I wanted to believe what Daniel had said, but I couldn't help but watch the interactions between them. Though there was a five year difference between them, it was clear they cared a great deal about each other and I wasn't the only one to notice.

Tonight was all about fun though, and that was the only thing worth focusing on. I had never been so high on life before. Everything had just come together and it was perfect. I caught Ashton's eyes for just a brief moment. A perfect moment of clarity and it was then that I made up my mind. In my soul, I knew that Ashton and I had been meant to find each other. I was meant to heal his wounds and he was meant to heal mine. I knew that love couldn't start to be enough, but I made a vow to myself then and there, that I'd do anything in this world to prove to Ashton how much I cared.


The next day we all woke up about ten and decided that we weren't going on the second hike. I was still pretty tired from all of last night's antics, but more than that, my thoughts were a jumbled mess. As I showered the night before I mentally kicked myself over and over again for letting my guard slip.

My good sense flew out the window as I let Marcus wrap me up in his arms. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, being so close to him, being able to envelope myself in his scent, and feeling the strength of his arms around me. I had completely lost myself in him and hadn't been brought back to reality until I realized that both Lee and Daniel were staring at us. It was then that my thoughts all came back in a rush and I made a quick exit out of the room.

That was the last time I had really talked to Marcus. I had had a great time with everyone last night, but seeing as we were still leaving at our regular time and just ditching the hike, it left a lot of time to be around Marcus and I wasn't sure how I'd be able to deal. It wasn't that I was trying to avoid him, but I hadn't made any movements to leave my room, even though breakfast had been called more than a few minutes ago.

I didn't want to be rude and I knew I was holding up breakfast for everyone, so I made my way to the kitchen and took my seat at the table. Marcus tried to meet my eyes a few times, but I made no moves to acknowledge him and after a while, he stopped trying. I could see how frustrated he became and it hurt my heart to see him like that, but I had to be smart about this. No matter what I thought I felt for Marcus, WE were not going to happen. Magic just didn't work like that.