WHAT LIES WITHIN: CHAPTER 10
The brave man is not the one without fear, but the one who does what he must despite being afraid.
-- Raymond Fiest
I just couldn't understand why he started to cry. I was really confused. As he sat there sobbing and trembling, all I could think to do was to just be patient and stay there with him...and support him through this mysterious crisis he was dealing with. Since I found my hand still resting on his shoulder, I occasionally gave him a little squeeze, and rubbed his shoulder at times just to let him know I was still there.
All I had really wanted to do was to thank him for not totally rejecting me after all, you know? For treating me like a real person that he actually cared about...not some unwanted, uncool, pain in the butt. It meant a lot to me that despite what he knew, he still found it within himself to see me as just another person...a unique person with my own set of problems and abilities...and not just a label.
But, I had definitely felt it again. When my hand touched his shoulder, I felt something race through my body...like lightning hitting right in the center of my chest. Powerfully. Just like the other day in his backyard...Hmmmm. By his reaction, I was almost positive that he'd felt it too.
Suddenly, I realized that he'd grown quiet. I looked up, and I noticed he was staring off into the distance...obviously lost in his own thoughts. I gave his shoulder another gentle squeeze, just to remind him that I was still there. That simple sensation jolted him back into the present, and he gave me a panicked look. He quickly turned away from me, and hopped up from where he sat on the curb, looking agitated again.
"I...I gotta go...sorry," he said dejectedly, as he took off on his board. He turned back briefly as he was skating away, and I was struck by the look I saw in his eyes. Fear. Sadness. Loneliness.
God, I knew those feelings all too well.
But why? Why was he feeling that way? Was it something I had done? Something I had said? Now I was more confused than ever...
I stood up stiffly, and began my slow trudge back home. My mind was working on overdrive, trying to analyze what the hell was happening with Rusty. God, he was so confusing to me! One minute he's pissed, and the next he's friendly. One minute he seems happy, and the next he's bawlin' his eyes out...
I mean, just when it looked like I was really getting a chance to know him as a person (and vice-versa...), something like this happens. I was worried that it was somehow my fault. He had been pretty freaked out by those stupid pictures I took of him...and I was honestly pretty surprised that he didn't beat the shit out of me right on the spot. But, instead he tells me to watch out for myself...like he's more worried about me than himself. How could he get so freaked by the pictures, and worried about me at the same time...unless...unless...nah. Couldn't be, could he? I mean he said he wasn't `like me' didn't he?
Well, no...he said he "couldn't" be like me, actually.
Interesting choice of words, now that I think about it. Was it even possible that's what he was so afraid of? That he really might be more like me than he wanted to admit? Nah...it must my stupid imagination taking advantage of me again, I'm sure. Right?
God, this is so hard to figure out! What should I do...just leave him alone and give him some space to deal with things on his own? Or, should I take a chance and lay it all on the line...show him that I'm willing to take the risk, and show that I care about him too? Not that I think I have much to offer someone like him, but I just have this need inside me to do something to help him. I just care too much sometimes...and that always seems to get me in trouble. It was probably all my fault, anyway. There just had to be something I could do...
My head reminded my heart at that point that I had no idea what I was doing, and that I was risking another potentially more painful and public rejection if I followed that path. It was far safer to just let go, and step back. Just watch and see what happens from a safe distance.
Ya, safely alone again.
I closed my eyes and thought back...I could see his eyes again staring intently into mine, and I just didn't see anything in there to be afraid of. All I could see was curiosity... questions...concern (or was it fear?)...and caring. Underneath it all, he really did seem to care what happened to me. More than anything, I think that's what was nagging at my heart. If someone cared about you, you couldn't help but respond the same way could you? Of course, it didn't hurt that he was the sexiest guy I'd ever seen, even if it was in a frustratingly unobtainable, just-beyond-reach kind of way.
God...I'm not thinking all this stuff just because I think he's cute and sexy, am I? Is that all there is to it? Because, if that's the case, it's just not worth getting killed over some jerk-off fantasy. But, I kept telling myself, there was more to it than that. I didn't know exactly what, but I was sure that there was more. There just had to be more. That was the whole mystery with him, wasn't it? That nagging something that he was keeping hidden inside him...I just had to find out what it was.
My head was totally confused, but my feet were apparently quite sure what needed to be done. While all the different arguments and possibilities whirled around in my brain, my feet had already made the decision for me. I found myself walking around the corner, and beginning down the sidewalk on his street.
I stopped, and tried to turn around. Honest, I really tried. But, I just couldn't. Why can't I just be a coward? I'm usually so good at that...now is not the time to change! Something inside me simply insisted that I go forward. I tried to fight it, but my feet just wouldn't listen.
God, now I'm standing in front of his house...literally shaking from the battle raging inside my head. I think I'm gonna puke. I just stood there for a while and stared at his house. It looked so warm and friendly. Not an uptight, keep-out kinda place; but rather a warm and cozy, welcoming, well broken-in, family kind of place. That made me feel a little better for a second, and my feet took that opportunity to move me a little closer while I was momentarily distracted.
I found myself standing at the bottom of the front steps, and stared at that stupid door. For a long time. Suddenly, I felt like a contestant on some insipid game show, and it was like my fate was hidden behind that stupid door...But what was my fate? Ridicule and hate? Pain and humiliation? Or?
No, I can't even let myself pretend for a moment that we could actually become kinda like...um...well, you know...can I? I mean, that's just too stupid to even...no. No way! I'm just here to make sure he's okay, right? Just to let him know that I'm concerned about him...in a friendly sort of way, I told myself. After all, I knew all too well how easily I tend confuse wishful thinking with reality. I've always had this ability to see the wonderful possibilities in things, and I always seem to end up disappointed with the final version of things reality presented me with. Seldom did the real world live up to my fantasies. Well, ok...more like never.
But, after a great effort (and a little more self-delusion), I summoned the courage to take another step forward. But, that turned out to be a huge mistake. Instantly, I felt my stomach lurch, and I launched the contents of my lunch, and a super big-gulp, into the bushes beside the front steps. I stayed there for a moment bent over, with my hands on my knees...trying to recover my senses. Now, I was beginning to feel a little bit ridiculous (well, it takes some people longer than others, ok?). My resolve strengthened again, and I went right up those steps, and pushed the doorbell.
Please god, let nobody be home...please, please, please! Oh no...my stomach sank again as I heard footsteps coming down the hallway...approaching the door. I really wanted to run at that point, but my feet just wouldn't let me. Stupid feet!
I almost passed out completely when he opened the door.
I'm not sure exactly who was the most shocked and terrified at that moment. We just stood there for a few seconds and looked at each other with the surprise and confusion of the moment obvious in our faces.
Man, he looked awful...like a poor imitation of the ultra-cool, swaggering skater stud boy I had seen that first day. Now, all I could see was a mere shell of the guy I knew, with a tear-wracked face, and a look of complete despair...total defeat. It made me feel so hurt inside, just to imagine how he was feeling. I reminded myself I just had to do something...
"Uh...hey, uh Rusty...well...um...I was kinda worried...and...uh, well...I just wanted to make sure you were...uh, you know...that you were ok..." I stammered, as he looked at me in terror. God, why won't my mouth ever work right when I need it to?
He stuck his head outside, gave a panicked look around, and then opened the door.
"Uh...hey...I guess you better come in...I don't want anyone to see...Shit! Just come in, ok?" he said, stepping out of the way.
"Man...that didn't really sound the way I meant. I'm sorry," he said sadly, as he closed the door, and just stared at the floor for a moment.
"No, I'm the one that's sorry Rusty. I don't know what's wrong, but I'm really sorry if I did something to make you so sad, or whatever. Please don't be mad at me?" I begged, holding back a sob.
"I just didn't understand why you were being so nice to me...because you're right, you shouldn't be seen hanging out with me. I'm just a geek and a fag. You're just too cool for that...you're...well, you're just...god! I'm so sorry. Just don't hate me, please?" I said, holding back the tears as best I could.
"No!" he said in frustration. "You're not. Don't talk like that about yourself. If you could only see it...Dude, you're smarter than hell, and if you worked on it...I mean, shit! Just look at you! You're good-looking, and...it's just the clothes, and the attitude...fuck, you just can't see it, can you?" he asked dejectedly, shaking his head.
I looked onto his eyes, and they locked into my very soul. He was desperately trying to convey some deeper meaning here, and I just wasn't getting it. His eyes were begging me to please understand...and not to make him have to actually say it out loud...because that would just be too hard for him to do right now. Then, it was like a fog cleared in my head, and suddenly I could see right through his pain and his fears.
I really wanted to believe what my heart was telling me I was seeing...but now, I was a little bit afraid. What if it was really true?
"But, Rusty...no, you aren't... it's just not... I mean, you can't be...uh...I don't understand how..." In my head, I knew what I was trying to say, but my mouth was totally screwed up again.
He looked at me sadly. "I think you know exactly what I mean...I can see it inside you, now. As you put it, I'm a `hopeless fag, and a total geek' just like you." He put his head down in his hands, and sighed deeply. "I'm just better at hiding it...or, at least I used to be. Even from myself," he said, looking at me with a pained expression on his face. "That is, until you forced me to admit who I really am," he added, looking up at me with the beginning of tears on his eyes.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Everything in my life was based on the assumption that no cool, cute, straight-acting, sexy guy that I was (very) attracted to could be even slightly gay. It just wasn't possible...at least not in my lifetime.
I felt myself getting nauseous again. The room started to wobble, and I asked quickly, "Where's the bathroom...I think I'm gonna...I'm gonna...oh shit...uuuuggghhhhhhhhh." I clutched my stomach, and the room went black.
Somehow, I knew right away that I was dreaming. I just let myself relax and go with it...
I could see Rusty standing in the distance, looking at me sadly across a grassy field with tears in his eyes. Immediately I walked towards him, because my heart told me I desperately needed to be close to him. But, the faster I walked, the farther away he seemed to get. I panicked a little bit, and began to run. But still, I could only sense him slipping farther and farther away.
I called out to him, "Rusty, don't leave me!"
But, he just looked at me with his agony clear on his face. He said, "It's better this way...I don't want you get hurt...I have to go. I'm so sorry. I really do care about you, you know, but it's safer this way..."
"No!" I cried. "You can't leave now! You can't just leave me here all alone..." I begged.
"I'm so sorry. I have to go...but I'll always care about you. Never forget that..."
I collapsed into a heap on the ground, as the most profound sense of pain and sadness I've ever felt slowly crept over me...
How could he do this to me? How could leave me now? We've only just found each other, and now he's gone...
"You feelin' any better now?" he asked.
I woke up with a start...I didn't recognize the room I was in. I started to sit up in a panic, so I could see a little better. Ugh...big mistake.
"Man, my head hurts," I groaned.
"Ya, I think you hit your head on the floor kinda hard," he answered softly. "Maybe I should get you some Tylenol or something?" he asked.
I turned my head slightly, and I could see him sitting opposite me in a desk chair. Oh my god! I realized I must be lying on his bed...my head was resting on his pillow! I noticed a window out of the corner of my eye, and it seemed a little darker now.
"What happened? What time is it?" I asked.
"I think you conked your head on the floor pretty good...you got sick and passed out. But, it was only dry heaves. You didn't make a mess, thank god," he smiled wryly to himself.
"Ya, I already took care of the wet ones in your bushes before I rang the bell," I groaned.
He stared at me with for a long while with a thoughtful expression on his face, and those deep blue-green ocean eyes were probing the very depths of my soul again.
"Now, it's my turn to ask you a question...why did you really come here?" he asked.
I tried to hide the panicked look on my face at first, but as I found myself locked into another one of his penetrating gazes, I somehow found the courage within myself to tell him the truth.
"Well, um...like I said...I was...uh...worried about you. I didn't understand why you were so upset, but I was afraid that I caused it somehow...I, uh...just wanted to do something if I could...I wanted to make sure you were ok..." I muttered, almost to myself as much as to him...
"I mean, sometimes Rusty, like today at the graphics lab, you really make me feel like you actually care about me...as a person, ya know? And, it really makes me feel...uh, well...this warm feeling inside me," I said, my confidence growing a little bit. "I was so worried that you would just write me off as some pathetic little gay boy, and not actually get to know who I really am. But, you didn't do that. You just saw me as another person, and I really appreciate that Rusty. Nobody's ever done that before. It means a lot to me. I just couldn't stand the idea that something I did made you feel that unhappy."
"So, I uh...well, um...I guess I care about you too, ok? And, I want to know who the real Rusty is, underneath it all. I'm beginning to think that there's a lot more to see than you like to let on. And...well, don't get me wrong...but I still think you're the cutest guy I've ever seen in my life. I hope that doesn't piss you off or anything, but it's really true. You just have no idea how awesome looking you are..." I sighed.
I can't believe I just said that! Shoot, my mouth was working on autopilot again! Oh god...he's even blushing. I hope he's not mad at me now...
"Oh, man. I'm sorry, Rusty. That was a really dumb thing to say. Please forget I said that..." I begged.
He just looked at me with that wry smile of his, and just shook his head slowly in disbelief.
"You really are a piece of work, you know that?" he asked.
"But, hey...I really am sorry about my little breakdown," he said sincerely. "It wasn't your fault at all, and I don't want you to feel bad. Really. I've been lying to myself about not being, uh...you know, that way...for so long, I was actually starting to believe it. But, no matter how hard I've tried to push you away, over the last few days you've forced me to feel something inside myself...something that made me realize that it was all just a lie. My whole life is one giant fucking lie, and I hate it! The stress of living with that contradiction must have really built up inside me over the years, because it felt like the dam just totally broke open right then. I couldn't escape my own feelings anymore. I had to admit to myself who I really am...and I was so scared, I didn't know what to do...that's why I ran. I was just so afraid of who I was. I still can't even say I'm...you know, the word...even to myself," he said softly, his voice still choked with emotion.
He looked at me again, carefully studying my face...looking for my reaction to all of this so far. He took a deep breath, and let out a long sigh. He turned and stared out the window for a moment.
"Well, I guess between us we both have our little secrets out in the open now," he said, with a slight sense of amazement in his voice. "And, to be honest, it feels kinda good in some ways to finally get it out of my gut, and talk about it." Suddenly, a look of concern crossed his face, and his voice grew very serious again. "But don't go gettin' the wrong idea here...I'm not planning on jumping in bed with you or any other dude. Nothin' is changed from what I said before; we still have to survive this year at school. I just can't let anything ruin my life now...not when I'm this close to finally getting out of here," he said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself of that fact as much as he was trying to convince me.
"I understand, Rusty. I won't bother you or anything...if that's how...uh, you know...if that's how you feel about it," I said, with my disappointment surely obvious in my voice, in spite of my best efforts not to let it show. "But, um, if you ever feel like talking about it...you know...I'll be there, ok?" I said, a little shakily.
I was having a really hard time masking my disappointment. I just can't believe this...the boy of my dreams just confessed to me that he's gay, and in the next breath swears never to have anything to do with another guy while he's still in high school. Ya, that sounds just messed up enough to be my life!
"Ya..." he said thoughtfully, "I'm sure you would."
He took another deep breath and looked at me with kind of a strange look on his face.
"You wanna know the real reason I even talked to you that first day? It was because you reminded me of someone so much...somebody really special, that I knew a long time ago. I just have a feeling that he's got something to do with all this because, that's where this whole mess started for me," he began, obviously straining again to keep his emotions under control...
He sat there and stared out the window at nothing, really, while he told me the story of Billy Jenkins.
When he was finished, he paused and let out a deep breath. He leaned back in his chair, and did that cute little thing where he tucks his hair behind his ears. "So, that's why I changed my whole life. I was honestly afraid that I was gonna die too if I didn't," he explained, as he looked at me again for the first time since he began telling me his story, his eyes boring straight into my heart...begging for me to understand.
I was still amazed by what he had told me about himself and Billy Jenkins. I had to admit, I had a few tears in my eyes, but then so did he...
"Jeez Rusty, that musta been so hard for you. I don't know how I ever could have dealt with that," I said sadly, as I lay back against the pillow on his bed.
"The reason I'm telling you all this, is so you understand where I'm coming from. That little breakdown I had today was really just five long years of fear and terror leaving my body. But, I'm glad it's over with. Now that I've had a chance to think about it a little, I can see that I'm just gonna have to figure out how to accept all this. But, that doesn't mean that I'm gonna advertise it. I still want to get out this place alive, and that means that everything I've told you is an absolute life-or-death secret, as is everything I know about you. And I really mean that! I would never tell anyone your personal secrets, and I would still have to kill you if you ever told anyone about mine," he said with a slight smile and a nervous little laugh.
"But, the real reason I told you about Billy was because I want you to understand just how important it is. It really could be a matter of life and death for one of us. I'm totally serious," he said, giving me one of those intensely serious looks of his.
I turned on my side and gave him the sincerest look I could manage in return. "I promise, Rusty...I swear. I mean, I'm really flattered that you even told me all of this. The only person I've ever really talked to about this kinda stuff is my shrink...uh, my counselor, I mean. And don't worry," I quickly added, "I won't tell him anything about you, personally."
"Your what?!?" he asked in surprise.
"Uh, you know...um...uh, I go to counseling. I've been going since I was like in second grade. It's not that I'm totally fucked up or psycho or anything...it's just...well, I have ADD...Attention Deficit Disorder, actually...and it helps me to cope with it. So now ya know another of my dirty little secrets. You must think I'm even more messed up now," I said glumly.
"No, I think you're just real," he replied. "You're one of the few people I've ever met who doesn't try to be something he isn't...you aren't perfect, but you don't pretend to be. I'll admit you're pretty well hidden inside your little shell most of the time, but you are for real. What you see is what you get. I totally respect that, dude," he said sincerely. "But, you don't strike me as the hyperactive type, that's for sure."
"No," I laughed. "ADD can be with hyperactivity, or not. I'm not. I guess I'm more of the shy, daydreamer type of ADD, you could say. But, it's ok...sometimes I think it's as much of a blessing as it is a curse. I have some unique talents...ADD people are well known for their creativity, and their ability to see things in a different light. You know, people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Robin Williams?" I asked. "All ADD people."
"Wow, I guess that's cool enough," he agreed.
"It's actually a lot like being gay," I explained, heartened a little bit by his apparent understanding. "Both are so-called genetic `disorders' (although I hate that word), and both aren't very well understood by most people who don't `have' it. Since I came out to my counselor last year, ya we talk about being gay too sometimes. But, that's not the reason I've been in counseling for so long. It really helps, though...I bet you'd be surprised. It wouldn't hurt for you to talk to somebody about what you've been through either, ya know?" I said hopefully.
He gave me a strange look, but didn't say anything.
I lay my head back against the pillow again, and stared at his ceiling for a minute. I took a deep breath, and suddenly I noticed it...the scent...the smell...of him. Since I had awakened in the room, it had been scratching at the back door of my consciousness, but only just now had my mind relaxed enough to let it creep in. Suddenly my head was spinning again with so many different emotions...
But, I knew I had one more question that I really wanted to ask...well, needed to ask really...and I knew I had to go home soon (I'll probably be grounded for a week as it is for not calling home to tell them where I was). I wasn't sure how he would react, but I just had to know.
I needed to know.
"Uh...Rusty? I have to go...I'm like so totally late, I'll probably be grounded forever as it is...but, I really want to know something...and I don't wanna piss you off or anything...or make you feel threatened in any way...but, well...um...I hope it doesn't bother you that I'm, like, attracted to you...uh...physically ...you know, sexually...I mean, I like you as a person too—a lot—but, I just can't help it...how I feel about you, ya know? It's like I don't really have a choice about it...I just do, ok? But, I don't want you to feel strange about it, and I don't want to let that stop us from being friends, alright?" I asked, keeping my eyes closed, figuring that it would be harder to cry that way. I tried my best to prepare my heart for the awful truth of the rejection that I was sure would follow.
After I'd waited for what seemed like a really long time, I opened my eyes and turned my head in his direction. He was staring blankly out the window again, and I could see a little moisture in the corner of his eyes.
"Uh...you know, Rusty...I mean, if it really bothers you, then I'll just do my best to put those feelings aside, ok? I just want us to be friends. That's more important than anything to me, really. Can we be friends, please?" I begged.
He just turned and looked at me. Our gaze locked together again for a long while...and I was totally hypnotized by his blue-green eyes once again. I could literally feel him searching every nook and cranny inside my heart...inside my soul...looking desperately for the answer to that same mysterious question again. A very important question, it seemed, but one I still didn't know the meaning of.
He remained totally silent, still searching my eyes desperately as I sat there. I could sense a battle raging inside him again, and it began to scare me a little. I noticed one small tear run down his face, and I decided maybe it was time for me to go.
"Uh...well, ok then...don't worry, it's no big deal, really. Um...I'll see you tomorrow, Rusty. You...uh...take care of yourself, ok?" I said hesitantly.
All I got in return was that same desperately, intently searching gaze. And another small tear.