If you don't like to read about male/male relationships, then this story isn't for you. Please leave if this type of material is illegal in your area, or if you are legally too young to read it. This story is a work of fiction, and strictly a product of the authors imagination. Any similarities to characters, places, or names are completely coincidental. This story and the characters in it are property of the author, and should not be reposted or published elsewhere without permission. please send comments/questions to DomLuka@aol.com
Chapter Five: Stop doing that
AN: Thanks to Jim for editing!
I wasn't sure which was louder, the tapping of the rain as it assaulted Milo's bedroom window, or Milo's breathing, which was now coming in deep, long breaths. His nostrils, perfectly shaped to his straight nose were flaring wildly, and his usual appealing green eyes were bloodshot and troubled as he stood in front of me, unmoving, while I sat on his bed and regarded him calmly, even if calm was not at all what I was feeling.
When I first came out to my family, it had been a complete mistake. Or, not a mistake so much as an accident. When I was thirteen, I'd been pretty solid in accepting that I was attracted to boys. I wouldn't say that it bothered me so much that I was different. I simply knew what I liked, just like Caleb knew that he liked girls. At the time I'd entertained the theory that I'd like girls, too. Eventually. That's how most boys worked. But as it was, at thirteen, any image I could concoct to masturbate to was a good one. I was curious, though. This was before we introduced the internet into our home, and even before I knew that magazines like the one Chad gave me for my birthday even existed, so I didn't have a lot to go on. Except, the summer I turned thirteen, was the summer that my brother's friend, Greg Hugh, spent an entire two weeks with us when his parents renewed their wedding vows and went on a second honeymoon.
At the time, I'd been attracted to the tall fifteen-year-old with a dark tan and the ability to make me blush every time he smiled at me. He looked out for me, just like my brother did, and no one had really made anything of the way that I'd taken to following him around for the whole two weeks he was in our house. But, when my brother caught me spying on Greg in the shower, and then noticed the tent I was sporting in my pants, my secret became less of a secret, and more of a family bonding experience.
Chad had reacted well to finding me like that. Well enough to laugh. I'd been humiliated, and refused to speak to him until he got worried and finally just told my parents. That had led to a family meeting where they'd asked me just enough embarrassing questions to figure out that I was gay, but no one had placed a label on it back then. My mom had simply told me that it was normal to be curious about other guys, and that it might change later. When it didn't, they were all still okay with it, and thank god Greg Hugh never found out about my coming-out experience. The only person Chad ever asked me for permission to tell was Leanna, and that was only because she'd guessed it on her own.
It was safe to say that I'd never actually sat down and told anyone that I was gay. As far as I was concerned, it was really no one's business when it came to my sexual preference, not to mention that I'd never met an openly homosexual individual in my life. I'd most definitely never been brave enough to ask someone else if they were gay, let alone accuse them of it. That had all changed in a matter of seconds with Milo Trust, and I was still trying to figure out what had provoked me to do it.
Now that I thought about it, I'd taken a pretty big risk with him. It wasn't helping that he looked entirely defensive in his red coat. Furious. Maybe a little terrified. This was not the reaction that I'd wanted from him. I wasn't exactly expecting him to come running into my arms, declaring his undying queerness, but the reaction I was getting was disappointing. I didn't think I was wrong about him. But as he seemed torn between hitting me or running away, I did think that maybe making such a blunt confession to him had been a mistake.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" I finally asked. My voice was soft. Quiet. It still managed to startle Milo into taking a defensive step back, placing him right against his desk. I watched him closely as he pushed his damp hair out of his face and took in an audible, deep breath.
"You. Get out of my house," he said in a controlled, calm, but cold, way.
I stood up. Obviously, he wasn't taking this well. I just wanted to fix it. "Look, I didn't mean anything by it, Milo. I'm just trying to be honest with you. I think..."
"I don't care what you think," he cut me off. "Aren't you fucking listening? I want you out of my house! Seriously. Just stay the fuck away from me."
"I think you might be overreacting," I said reasonably.
He stood up straight, and I flinched when it looked like he was ready to advance on me. But, he didn't. Instead he held his ground, and glared. "Get out of my house, before I make you get out. I want you to stay away from me, Nelson." I opened my mouth to respond to that but he pointed a long, tan finger at my face and I came up short. "I'm serious. If you ever show up here again, I swear I'll call the fucking cops and say you're stalking me."
"Stalking? You know I'm not stalking you," I responded, crossing my arms defensively.
"No, I don't know that!" Milo said hotly. "I want you away from me. I'm not interested in... whatever the fuck it is you want. Just leave me alone! Don't talk to me, don't look at me, don't even fucking breathe near me, you sick fuck! Get out of my house!"
Sick fuck? Not only was that insulting, it hurt, too. And standing there, it's not like I didn't have any pride at all. I was Caleb Spangler's best friend for crying out loud. People didn't talk to me like that. With or without Caleb, I didn't let people talk to me like that. Not people who I'd gone out of my way to be nice to. Definitely not people I had an interest in getting to know better. Then again, under normal circumstances I wouldn't have been interested in getting to know someone who treated me like shit and called me a sick fuck after one of the most honest moments of my life. I was pretty sure that I was supposed to respond harshly to his words. Or at least hit him. I needed to embark on some form of communication that would let him know how non-fucking-cool he was. I didn't. I lowered my eyes, instead, and I walked out of his room feeling more embarrassed than I'd ever felt in my life. I suppose this is what rejection was supposed to feel like. I didn't really care for it.
My the time I reached the stairs, I had my hood pulled up and I was holding the smooth wooden rail as I took the steps two at a time. The only thing that felt important to me at that very moment was getting out of that house. I hardly noticed it when the door magically opened in front of me as I reached it. I stepped outside, away from the covered doorway as the weight of the rain fell over my hood, and I barely looked back when I nearly trampled Juanita as she stood on the dark cement patio, which looked shiny under the rain. Her hair had fallen, dripping around her face as she held an equally drenched blue jacket around her small frame. A mess of words I couldn't understand left her mouth as she shouted after me. I didn't stop to try to figure out what she wanted. I got in my car, grateful I'd left it running, and fled the Trust's property pretending that I didn't see the way that Milo was standing behind a window on the second floor, moving his palm over the glass to clear the fog and watch me leave.
I wasn't thinking clearly. I first came to this conclusion when I couldn't find my way out of Milo's neighborhood. Every street, every house, started to look the same, and it was instinct turning the wheel for me, guiding the blue Buick in the direction of the main roads so I could get the hell out of Stratfort Ranch, and back to the hill, where I belonged. I'd somehow managed to numb the sting of rejection while I concentrated on the roads. There were city workers out in their rain coats, slowing traffic and tending to a few large tree branches that had fallen due to gusts of wind. But not focusing on the rejection itself wasn't necessarily a good thing as I was forced to face what I'd just done.
Milo Trust. Milo Trust who tolerated me because we had the same parenting class. Milo Trust, best friend of Assface. Milo Trust, who hadn't given me any signal, subtle or otherwise, that he liked me at all, unless I was going to count that painting. Which, I was beginning to wish I'd pointed out to him while I had the chance because I'd just told Milo fucking Trust that I was gay, and I had no idea what he intended to do with that information. He obviously didn't like it. Me. Being gay. I frowned to myself as I stared through the fast-moving windshield-wiper blades, hardly keeping up with the rain as it fell over the vehicle. I pushed the hood of the raincoat back off of my hair, wondering why I'd chosen to tell Milo of all people. Shit, he thought I'd been stalking him. Sick fuck. I wasn't one of those, and it hurt to think that that was what he thought of me.
I was worried now. Worried about a lot of things. Mostly, that Milo was going to find a ride to school, find Jame Graham, and at the first available opportunity, tell the Assface what I'd confessed. I didn't need to wonder about whether or not Jame would keep quiet about it. I could easily imagine the whole school gossiping by lunch time about the guy stupid enough to try to pick up Milo Trust, of all people. I was too afraid to even think about what my friends would think if they found out who that stupid guy was. And yet, I was entertaining the idea of rushing back to school so they could hear it from me and not the masses. Being the only gay guy in Heywell was something I could live with. Being the only guy in Heywell who the whole town knew about was not something I thought I could handle. Not now. But even being completely outed wouldn't be as unbearable as losing my friends.
But I couldn't tell them. I couldn't even tell my Uncle Ray. I wasn't ready for it. I was perfectly happy living a nice peaceful existence with a limited amount of people knowing what was my business, and nobody else's.
Only, I wasn't perfectly happy. If I was, I wouldn't have told Milo. For a brief moment I thought about turning back. Going back to his house. I could beg. I could reason with him, ask him not to tell. It probably wouldn't be a good idea, though. Not when he already thought that I was stalking him--which was just rude, by the way. No. There was only one way to handle this. I needed to disappear, and wait it out. By the end of the day I'd know. That was plenty of time for Milo to tell anyone he wanted to. Heywell wasn't that big. If it happened, I'd know about it.
I didn't head back to the hill. I hardly even made it out of Stratfort as I turned off of Chariot road and headed to the chain of small businesses behind the north side of the lake. I parallel-parked on the street, directly in front of a Hollander's red-and-blue sign and moved into the building quickly, feeling better as soon as the scent of various muffins, pies and cookies hit my nostrils.
I took a quick look around, finding the place empty; not one of the white booths was occupied, and the glass counter seemed to be abandoned as I moved towards it. I was almost there when I stopped as someone came out of the kitchen, and I sighed as my dad appeared wearing his chef hat and his One-Hot-Baker apron, which covered his beer belly. He spotted me and cocked his head, pushing his box-shaped glasses further up the bridge of his nose, as if it would help him see me better.
"Nelson? Is everything alright?" he asked, coming around the counter, looking like any concerned parent would. "They didn't cancel school, did they?"
"No, Dad," I replied. "I mean, I'm fine. They didn't cancel school."
"Okay," he said slowly, his bushy eyebrows coming together as he regarded me inquisitively. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm not going to school today," I said matter-of-factly, and moved to drop into a booth. Then I looked up at him somewhat pleadingly. "Could you please call for me? Haily can get my homework."
He frowned, hesitating for a moment. "I guess so," he said carefully, and wiped his hands on his apron as he moved to sit across from me. "Are you going to tell me why you're not going to school today?"
"I just need to stay home."
He looked suspicious. "Alright. Will you be going back tomorrow?"
"It's hard to say," I said honestly.
"You don't look sick."
"I'm not," I assured him.
"Did something happen?" he finally asked.
"If nothing happened, I'd be in school right now."
"Nels, sooner or later I'm going to have to explain to your mother why I'm helping her perfectly healthy son skip his classes. Any idea what I should tell her?"
I sighed. "I did something stupid."
"How stupid?" he asked, looking really concerned now. "Do I need to call Ray?"
"No, nothing like that," I said quickly. "It's just... I sort of told someone. You know... about me."
"About you?" He was honestly confused. In my family, the fact that I was gay was nothing when it came to who I was, as far as they were concerned.
"Gay, dad. I told someone I was gay. I thought I could, but it turned out I shouldn't have done it, and now I don't know if he's gonna tell or not, and if he's gonna tell, then I don't want to be around."
My Dad sighed, and held the bridge of his nose for a moment, just below his glasses. "Nelson..."
"Look, I know it sounds stupid..."
"No, it's not stupid," he assured me. "But, if he does tell, what are you going to do tomorrow, or the next day? This isn't something you can hide from."
"I haven't really thought that far ahead."
"Well are you sure he's going to tell?"
"No," I said honestly. "I figured I'd just wait it out. So can you call the school?"
"Yes, I'll call the school. Do you need me to come home with you?" he asked seriously. "Are you okay?"
"I don't need you to come home with me. And, I should know by tonight," I replied.
My dad looked unsure, continuing to study me carefully. "Do you really think you have something to worry about?"
"I don't know yet," I replied. "I hope not."
My conversation with Milo earlier had been disastrous, and honestly, I really didn't know if I should be worried or not. But, there was one good thing I'd taken from the encounter. Milo Trust may have said a lot of things, but not one of them had been that he wasn't gay.
"Maybe I should call your mom, or your brother... You know if anything happens we'll do all we can to help you, Nels, but I'm not really sure what to tell you here."
"You don't need to tell me anything," I insisted. "Just, please call the school. I'll take care of the rest."
My dad shook his head, but it wasn't going to disagree with me. It was the situation that didn't meet with his approval. "Who did you tell--Caleb?"
"No," I said quickly, horrified at the idea. Not just telling Caleb I was gay, but thinking about how I'd feel if it was my best friend who could tell the whole school, didn't sit right with me.
"Well, maybe you should tell Caleb," my dad said. "You know we've talked about this before, Nels. Not everyone..."
"I'm not ready for them to know," I cut him off.
"And what if they find out today? Not from you?" he countered.
"Dad, please. I'm gonna risk it, okay... I'm not ready to tell them. I'm not ready for them to find out like this, either. I'm just... not ready."
I held my head, not sure exactly how I was supposed to handle this situation. I know hiding wasn't really helping anything, but when I thought about going back to school, even if I did make it to the end of the day, I was afraid of what would happen if Milo Trust showed up. Because despite all of my other troubles, facing him again seemed like the hardest thing I'd have to do.
"Okay," my dad said finally, standing up when I said nothing more. "I'm going to call your school. You grab an apron."
"An apron?" I asked.
"I'll feel better if you stick around here until the storm clears up," he told me. Then, he forced a smile. "Besides, if you're not going to school, you can work. No sense in being by yourself all day, thinking about this."
I smiled back at him, thinking that sticking around for a while was a great idea.
The rain had stopped, but the storm left behind a cold bite in the air, and the wind hadn't diminished. It was almost three o'clock and I'd been home alone for a good thirty minutes. So far, my world hadn't come crashing down around me. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'd had a good day with my dad. That particular shop hadn't gotten very busy and we spent most of our time in the back, concocting new recipes--some good, some nauseating--and for the most part, keeping my mind off of what I was afraid of.
Standing on the back deck, still slick with rain, I watched the goat take advantage of the fallen apples. His white coat seemed to glow against the field, which had greened somewhat from all of the moisture. There was just a hint of a rainbow, but the sky was mostly dark with the tail end of the storm. It was very pretty, and made me think of Milo, and how a scene like this would be perfect for one of his canvases. I wouldn't be pointing that out to him, though. Not now. I doubted I'd be talking to him at all. It was annoying that that made me sad, more than anything. I seriously felt like I should hate the guy for being such a royal prick to me, but sadly, no matter how hard I tried it didn't happen.
By three thirty, I was stretched out on the blue-and-green sofa across the back wall of the living room dressed in my warm maroon sweats, and my thoughts had drifted away from Milo again as I became nervous over other matters. If all was normal in the world, I should have been hearing from my friends at any moment. It didn't matter if it was a phone call, or if they showed up knocking on my front door with my homework. They just needed to do something that let me know we were still friends, and nothing unusual had happened during the day of school I missed.
It took another fifteen minutes of lying there, listening to a classical mix of piano-played tunes that my mom had left in the CD player before I heard a familiar-sounding engine coming from outside and rushed to my bare feet. I crossed the room and moved to the nearest window, pulling back a heavy green curtain so I could better see Caleb's jeep coming down the driveway. He stopped next to my car and I could see Joe in the front seat, moving to let Haily out. She moved towards my front door with a pile of books in her hand, her dark braid swaying behind her, looking as if nothing in the world was bothering her. But my heart sank as Caleb started backing out of the driveway, taking Joe with him. I jumped to the worst conclusions about why they were in such a hurry to get out of there. It didn't stop me from rushing around the wall that divided the living room from the front door, though, and I was swinging it open before Haily even knocked. She was too busy wiping her muddy feet on the welcome mat, and looked surprised to see me when I appeared in front of her, but she smiled. Just the way she always did.
"Where are Caleb and Joe going?" I asked.
"Caleb has to get Joe home because he has to do his court stuff today, for the DUI," she explained as she practically shoved the pile of books into my hands--all mine, I noticed. "Caleb's gonna pick me up later. I thought I could help you with all your catch-up work."
I stared at her for a long moment, convincing myself that nothing was different. If Milo had done anything yet, it hadn't reached Haily. That was a relief in itself. Haily suddenly lifted her hand, placing it firmly against my forehead, and I froze, blinking as she regarded me curiously.
"Haily? What are you doing?" I asked, arching my brow beneath the palm of her hand.
"You don't feel warm," she commented, withdrawing.
"They said you were sick," she explained. "Are you feeling better?"
"I'm definitely better," I assured her, and maybe myself a little, too.
I cradled my homework to my chest and backed myself into the door, opening it wider as I invited Haily into the house. It took her all of ten minutes to catch me up on the day I'd missed. And everything sounded... normal. Perfectly normal. Haily, Caleb and Joe had seen me that morning, leaving the school, but it seemed that they had no idea that Milo had been with me. That was another blessing. My friends had been confused because I wasn't there until second period when an office aide handed Haily a note, asking her to collect my homework for the day since I was out sick. Other than that, it had been a normal, gloomy day at school with all the rain. Caleb hoped that I wasn't contagious, and Joe already had a date for homecoming. I'm pretty sure that Haily brought up that last thing because it was her way of hinting that she wanted me to ask her. She even went as far as saying that she didn't think she'd find a date, looking nice and pouty about it. I assured her that she'd find someone, playing it as dumb as I could, and turned the subject to the more comfortable topic of my homework.
We went to the kitchen and spread my books out on the table and Haily walked me through various assignments. Not only did I have homework, but I had class lessons to catch up on, too. I complained about this, but Haily explained that most of my teachers were giving me to the end of the week to catch up. I figured I could pull it off in the two days given to me. When Haily got around to explaining to me that I had two chapters to read for my parenting class, and pointed out that she'd marked them for me, she also handed me a new-looking green notebook, which wasn't mine.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Notes from the class," Haily explained as I flipped the notebook open.
"You didn't have to do that," I insisted.
"I didn't," she said flatly, and as I looked down at the first two pages, the only ones in the book that were written on, I literally froze as my palm fell over the blue ink scribbled over the lines.
"This is Milo Trust's handwriting," I said, almost accusingly.
"Mrs. Bates made him take notes for me?" I asked, feeling a little amused by that as I thought about the look on his face when she'd asked him to do it. But in the back of my mind, I was also realizing that Milo had in fact made it back to school, and obviously, he'd kept his mouth shut.
"No. He volunteered," Haily informed me, and I raised my eyes to hers, where she was standing across the table from me. I was seriously confused.
"He did?" I asked.
"Yeah," she replied, shrugging. "He's kinda weird. Not as bad as Assface, though."
Weird. She had no idea how weird this was.
"Yeah," I said, suddenly wanting to change the subject. "So, are you gonna help me get started on some of this stuff?"
"Yep. We can start with some of the worksheets Mrs. Bates handed out," Haily replied. "And don't worry about History tonight. Joe's gonna cover that with you tomorrow if he's not too pissed off about losing his license."
I just smiled at her and nodded. Yeah. Everything felt normal. Almost.
Joe was outraged. Clearly, he thought, the juvenile court system was completely unfair. Not only would he be without a license until he turned eighteen, but he'd been told that he had to complete fifty hours of community service, too. He did not think Caleb and I were being helpful when we provided him with a list of businesses always looking for volunteers. They were various places that we'd worked over the summer. Joe was most definitely in a bad mood, and all of his complaining put Haily in an equally bad mood. When Caleb got in a minor argument with Peter Forest because Teresa Milldrum had attached herself to my best friend's side during lunch, I decided that it wasn't going to be a very good Thursday.
I was having some trouble of my own. Throughout every class, I'd been using the green notebook with Milo's parenting notes in it, mostly so I could keep turning back to the first few pages and look at Milo's handwriting. It just didn't make sense. Nothing about Milo Trust made sense. He made a point to tell me how distasteful I was to him, and then he volunteered to make sure I didn't fall behind in class. If he was sending me signals, they sure as hell were mixed, and once I decided that my secret was apparently safe with him, I also decided that I was fed up. I tried to look at things in perspective.
Milo was a wet dream waiting to happen. Actually, he had happened in a wet dream or two, but not the point. I had a crush. A really bad crush. I liked that he was artistically talented. But, that was it. If he was anyone else, I imagined that I would have come to the conclusion that I couldn't stand him long before now. I'd been curious, that's all. But curiosity could only lead me so far, and I'd officially reached the end of my rope. Maybe he was gay, which became more obvious every time I thought about it, but that didn't mean that he was interested in me. It seemed that he really couldn't stand me for some reason, and while it was insulting to think that I was the one who made his skin crawl, I knew it would be a mistake to dwell on it. There were plenty of other people around who did like me. They weren't gay, and they weren't Milo, but at least I didn't walk away feeling like I should tie a pile of bricks to my ankles and jump into the lake during a lightning storm every time I talked to them.
I'd told myself before that I needed to forget about Milo Trust. This time, I meant it. At least, I meant it when I said I was going to try. Maybe he knew something about me that I didn't share with the general public, but whatever. I could live with that, as long as he kept his mouth shut. In return, I'd do what he wanted me to do most. I'd leave him alone, even if his nicer personality had surfaced long enough for him to take notes for me in Mrs. Bates's class. Normally, I'd thank a person for doing that, but in this case, I was going to make an exception.
I was later than normal getting to my last class of the day. Apparently, I had to make up a gym class, too, which meant rushing through my shower so I could take a written test on basketball. That placed me exactly five minutes late to parenting class, which was actually on time because of Mrs. Bates's leniency policy. I looked up at the trailer my class was in, and braced myself before I even entered. If today was like most days, Milo Trust would be in that classroom. I knew it had only happened the day before, but after our last encounter, I felt a little nervous about even having to see Milo. But, there was no way anyone would have known it when I walked into the classroom looking as confident as always. I paused in the doorway and glanced around the room, making damn sure that my eyes didn't linger on Milo Trust, who was sitting exactly where he always sat, in the seat next to mine. He'd looked up, and he watched me when I stopped in front of Haily to say hi and appear as cheerful as ever. I'm not sure how Milo was looking at me, though. I refused to look like I was paying that much attention.
Mrs. Bates gave me about five seconds to talk to Haily before she shooed me away from the girl's table and asked me if I was feeling better before she instructed me to take a seat. That's right. A seat. Not necessarily the one I'd been sitting in all year long. Maybe it was a little immature, but Milo had told me to stay away from him. Besides, I had no trouble taking a seat next to the platinum-blond freshman at our table. I glanced up once as I sat down, and my eyes were forced in Milo's direction, mostly because from my new seat, he was almost across from me. I caught his emerald eyes for just a moment before he looked away, seeming indifferent to our new seating arrangement. After that, I made sure to strike up a conversation with the freshman--Tim, as he'd introduced himself the first time I'd met him--whenever I wasn't busy with actual class work. I hardly looked at Milo at all, and did exactly what I'd planned to do. I pretended he wasn't even there. And at the end of the day, I felt like shit for it.
It got easier, though. The only time I saw Milo over the next couple of weeks was in class, and there, we ignored each other. There were a few glances where we couldn't avoid them, and once, Mrs. Bates asked Milo to pass out a test, so we had to deal with a split second of interaction when he passed one to me. But other than that, Milo Trust didn't exist, or so I told myself.
I discovered that without obsessing over Milo all the time, I had plenty of other things to deal with. It seems that a lot can happen in a few weeks when you're seventeen years old. Caleb, who had been spending a lot of time with Ronnie between classes, and who had taken to her in a way that I'd never quite seen before, did something stupid. Rebecca Spade was a senior and up for homecoming queen. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend of the last two years, becoming available to half of the male population at school. This was big news in our little world, and Caleb, who'd always been attracted to Rebecca, jumped on the opportunity and asked her to homecoming. Right in front of Ronnie. Ronnie was no longer speaking to him. Caleb was still trying to figure out why.
Joe had signed up for his community service through the police station. My Uncle Ray was doing a good job of keeping him busy. Officer Trujillo was his designated baby-sitter, and Joe, who couldn't pronounce his name right, was really afraid that the guy was actually going to shoot him. He'd also lost his date for homecoming to wide-receiver Brandon Sholer, who seemed to have more time to spend on her than Joe did, now that the court system had caught up to him. He was a little jealous of Caleb's date with Rebecca, and he'd laughed when Caleb had asked him to take Ronnie. I was glad that Ronnie hadn't heard the suggestion. She might have given up on the silent treatment with Caleb, just to give him a black eye.
Assface had the nerve to ask Haily to homecoming right in front of me. I could never really tell if the guy actually liked her or not. I was pretty sure that he mostly just liked to get on our nerves. Unfortunately, it worked, and his approach with Haily had sent her into a fit of complaints about not having a date. Haily might have been a little tomboyish, but she was a very pretty girl, and I happened to know that three perfectly decent guys, who weren't Assface, had already asked her. I also knew that she'd turned them down, hoping that I'd ask her. This left me with a difficult choice to make. I could ask her to go as friends, and still risk leading her on, or I could ask another girl and risk hurting Haily. Unfortunately, my original plan of waiting for her to find another date just wasn't working. I had some thinking to do.
There was less drama at home. After my coming-out scare, my dad had talked to my mom, and the two of them had conspired with Chad and Leanna to set up a family meeting. It wasn't very fun for me. I didn't really make a habit of thinking about what would happen if my being gay was discovered somewhere like school, but it seemed that my parents thought it wise to have a game plan, because they, as a family, hadn't really thought about how they'd handle it either. My mother insisted that a majority of the people in Heywell were accepting. But, my mom liked to see good in just about everyone, and even she could admit that there were quite a few members of the community who had more traditional opinions. I'm not really sure if we got anywhere useful during our family meeting, but I guess it was nice to be reminded that my family would always be behind me, no matter what.
My mom, no longer teaching at the elementary school, was taking on students at home to keep her busy. The piano was right above my room, making it difficult to do homework, especially when her students were completely tone deaf. She'd also asked me to round up some of my comics because she wanted to make a scrapbook of my work. She was bored; I knew it, so I went with it.
I worked with my dad at the bakeries a few days a week after school, and if he needed me, on the weekends. At home, the apple trees were almost bare now, so he hired Joe and Caleb to help the two of us do a cleanup, and while we were at it, we made sure the goat's shelter was leak-free and ready for winter, now that the temperatures were hitting the low fifties during the day. We could still wear t-shirts on occasion, and even go to Hangman, but getting in the water was now considered pointless and stupid. We still went, though. Most weekends my friends and I were there, even if we were required to wear sweaters and replace our cooler with thermoses filled with hot chocolate. That's how I ended up running into Milo Trust again.
It was Columbus Day weekend and Caleb wanted to go because Rebecca had invited him. She wanted to spend some time with him before they actually went on their homecoming date. Joe kept insisting that it was because she was a senior and she wanted to make sure that Caleb was worthy. Joe assured Caleb that he'd be happy to step up to the plate if Caleb didn't reach Rebecca's expectations. Caleb hit him, and Joe complained about the bruise on his arm all the way to Hangman as he sat in Caleb's back seat with Haily, while I took shotgun.
The trees surrounding the cove were a little bare, their colorful leaves littering the trails and sand, which seemed bright against them. Hangman was a secluded place, but seemed even more so on the cold days. People still came, but not as many, even over a holiday weekend. It was sunny, the sky a pale blue, but it was cold. I'd bundled myself in the dark-blue coat my parents had given me last Christmas, and the beanie to match. Haily was actually wearing red earmuffs, and Joe looked like he was ready to go to some sort of prep-school meeting in his black jacket and turtleneck. Caleb had braved the weather in a black muscle shirt that showed off his arms. Apparently, Rebecca had commented on how nice those long muscled arms were, and he wasn't above showing them off, even in forty-degree temperatures. I found myself cracking up every time he pointed out how hard his nipples were.
Rebecca's friends seemed like nice enough people. Most of them had known my brother in one way or another before he graduated, and for a long while I found myself surrounded by girls showing off the piercings Chad had done for them. Haily, for the first time ever, decided to cling to me while this was going on. Usually when I talked to other girls, she just walked away. I found myself hoping that her behavior was due to the cold, like she said it was as she wrapped her arm through mine and leaned into me where we were seated on the sand with several other people, while Rebecca's little brother, a year younger than us, barbequed. There was a fire ban around the lake, but when it wasn't busy, anyone could get away with a small propane grill, which is what one of Rebecca's friends had brought. I was able to pry myself away from Haily when Caleb asked me to play Frisbee with him and some of the other guys who were there. I eagerly agreed, wanting to distance myself from my only female best friend. Besides, the weather required some sort of physical activity to keep the blood flowing.
"I saw that," Caleb informed me as he tossed me the red disk, and I, in turn, tossed it to a waiting dark-haired senior down the shore from us.
"Saw what?" I asked, moving to join my wavy-haired, hard-nippled friend as Joe moved in front of both of us to catch the Frisbee.
"You and Haily," Caleb responded with a less-than-innocent smirk on his face.
"No," I said seriously. "She was just trying to keep warm." That probably came out wrong, because Caleb laughed.
"You better not be perving on my cousin, Nels," Joe threw over his shoulder at me, right after tossing the Frisbee back.
"Better him than some other jackass," Caleb said, I assume, in my defense.
"Me and Haily are just friends," I stated, not liking this conversation. "That's how it's gonna stay. So just knock it, off, okay?"
I backhanded Caleb's broad chest and then moved away from him, trying to focus on where the disk was going to go next. Caleb, of course, was frowning at me.
"Hey, sorry, Nels, okay? I'm just saying, she likes you, and..."
"I know she does," I cut him off. "How do you think that makes me feel? I don't wanna lead her on, I don't wanna hurt her.."
"Dude, relax," Joe said as he suddenly tossed the Frisbee over his shoulder at me, and I had to jump to catch it before tossing it back down the beach. "Haily's tough, and everyone knows she likes you. Just tell her you're not into her. She'll deal with it."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah," I responded sarcastically, "that just helps so much."
Joe simply shrugged at me before turning back to the game.
"You really aren't into her?" Caleb asked, sounding almost skeptical.
"She's my friend."
"Okay," Caleb replied. "Then if you're not into Hails, who are you taking to homecoming?"
"I don't know yet," I admitted.
"Well, who are you into?" Caleb asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I can't remember the last time you said you liked someone," Caleb responded, and I stood up straight and faced him. He couldn't remember, because it had never actually happened. I'd just always assumed he was too self-centered to notice.
"Well, maybe that's because I'm particular about who I'm attracted to," I decided. "But whatever. I'll go with someone. Where are your keys?"
Caleb frowned at me, but lifted the keys to his jeep from his pocket and tossed them directly to me. "Where you going?" he asked.
"It's cold," I replied, adjusting my blue beanie on my head. "I'm gonna see if that hot chocolate's still hot. You guys want some?"
"No thanks," Joe called.
I looked at Caleb again. "Do you want your sweater yet?" I asked him. In response, I got a wicked smirk as he flicked his left nipple, the small bead hard and visible beneath his shirt.
I rolled my eyes at him and turned away from the game to head towards the trail leading to the old bike path that we parked on. I guess I wasn't as interested in hot chocolate as much as I was interested in getting away from the conversation I'd been engaged in. In this type of situation, it was simply better to get away and give Caleb a chance to forget about what we were talking about. And hopefully when I got back, Haily would be less cold and clingy.
The cove wasn't very crowded, but that didn't mean that there wasn't activity on it. There were more families there today than groups of boisterous teenagers. They were braving the weather for picnics and to play games with their kids, everyone hoping that their various sport equipment didn't end up in the lake because no one seemed to want to get in the water, except for a few lonely souls dressed in wet suits swimming laps they probably swam every single day.
As I got closer to the trail my eyes drifted to the scarecrow, looking larger somehow with its tree barren of leaves. Most of them were piled in the sand around the trunk, some even floating in the water making it appear murky, almost swamp-like. I cocked my head to the right when I noticed that the scarecrow's dark head looked slumped forward a little more than normal, and hoped that no one had been throwing rocks at him again. Sometimes the tourists that found Hangman simply didn't know better. Personally, I'd always thought there should be a nice shiny plaque on the tree, with the various tales of how the scarecrow came to be there, beginning with the evil farmer Covlier tale.
When I bumped into someone, and a small digital camera fell in front of my sand-filled white tennis shoe, I quickly apologized and reached to pick the device up. It was when I presented it back to its owner that I found shining green eyes settled on me, and Milo's brunette locks blown about his face. I froze momentarily, instinctively wanting to exchange pleasantries, but instead, I thought better of it and passed the camera into his hand as he held it out. I gave a slight nod of recognition, and then quickly passed him, keen on sticking to the Milo-ban he'd helped me impose upon myself. It was the slight pressure of fingers dragging over the elbow of my jacket that had me spinning around, just in time to see him pull his hand back.
Milo just stood there for a moment, staring at me as he slipped his camera in his pocket and pulled the same red coat he'd been wearing the day he told me in no uncertain terms to piss off, tighter around his body. I watched him lightly bite at his lower lip, looking red in the weather, just like his nose. He swallowed, looking absolutely startled with himself. When I got over my initial surprise, I only regarded him expectantly. If he wanted to talk about something, he'd have to initiate it. There was no sense in getting accused of being a stalker again, especially in a place where it might draw attention. When he finally opened his mouth and said something, I was ready to pay attention.
"Your shoe's untied," he told me. "You don't want to trip."
I looked after him as he turned and walked away from me without so much as a backwards glance in my direction. I frowned when I looked down at my feet. One lace on my right foot was a little loose, but in no way did it qualify as untied. I shook my head to myself, wondering what that was all about as I went on my own way, up the trail to Caleb's jeep, which was parked on the narrow road between a red pickup truck and a white minivan. I found that the large thermos was doing its job by keeping the hot chocolate warm. Needless to say, as I poured the dark, steaming, thick liquid into one of the plastic mugs my mom had provided while I sat in the driver's seat of Caleb's jeep, my mind was on Milo Trust. And that was annoying. It's not like he'd even said anything to me. My shoe was untied. It didn't make sense, just like he didn't make sense. Every time I thought about him my mind went back to that painting I'd found in his room, and every one of our encounters. I wanted to think that he was interested in me, but everything he said or did, other than that painting, went against it.
I downed my drink, scalding my tongue, and then I took in a breath of cold air through my mouth as I placed the lid back on the thermos and grabbed the stack of plastic cups, deciding to bring the beverage back with me. And I told myself that I was not going to let seeing Milo distract me from the rest of the day. Hell, I saw him almost every day in parenting class, and I didn't let him get to me there.
Only, in class he never touched my arm, or looked at me like he actually wanted to say something civil. He never did anything that gave me the slightest bit of hope that he didn't completely detest me. I felt a little shaken by our encounter, as brief as it was; and as much as I didn't want to think about it, I would have done anything for an opportunity to ask him what it was all about. That's probably why it wasn't my friends who I was looking for when I got back to the cove and leaned against the scarecrow's tree, thermos in hand.
I wasn't sure that I was going to approach Milo. In fact, it seemed highly unlikely once I did spot him, considering the fact that he was down the cove in the opposite direction from my friends, sitting on a black-and-blue-checkered quilt with two guys who I didn't know and one I did. Jame. Jame was enough of a reason to walk away. Going over now would lead to a potentially dangerous confrontation with the information Milo had on me. I almost did walk away, too, except an opportunity came when Jame suddenly stood up, waved to two girls in the opposite direction from where I was standing, and started to walk towards them. I watched him leave for a moment before I turned my attention back to Milo. One of the two guys who I didn't know got up to join Jame, leaving just one of them. I could deal with that.
Hoping that Jame didn't turn around before I reached Milo, I headed over. This could still be a mistake. I was well aware of that, but I wasn't really in the mood to wait for Tuesday to see him in class, knowing full well that by then I likely wouldn't have the same nerve.
Milo didn't see me coming. He'd turned his back to me, and was watching Jame move down the beach with his other friend. The guy next to Milo saw me, though. Even sitting down he looked taller than Milo. He looked older than us, but that was only because of the thick, dark sideburns that ran down the sides of his face, meeting his square jaw. He was cute, I decided, but I would have much rather have had Milo's green eyes on me instead of his dark ones. To my surprise, this stranger grinned at me. It was the same kind of welcoming grin that I always tried to provide when I saw someone new approaching me. Under the circumstances, I was encouraged by this. But the same guy surprised me again when he reached for his wallet.
"Please tell me that's somethin' hot and you're sellin' it," he drawled in a rather deep voice, and I glanced down at the thermos in my hands before I smiled right back at him.
"Giving it away, actually," I replied; and at the sound of my voice, Milo's shoulders tensed and he turned around rather cautiously, facing me with an expression that was surprised, and borderline suspicious. I smiled at him nervously. "Hi."
Milo continued to stare at me for a moment while his friend looked between us. "Hi," he finally said.
"Oh, you know each other?" Milo's friend asked.
"We have a class together," I answered.
"Nice," Mr. Sideburns said, still smiling in a friendly manner. "Whatcha drinkin'?"
"Mom's hot chocolate," I said sheepishly as I handed the thermos down to him, along with two cups, just in case Milo wanted some.
"Just the way I like it," the dark-haired guy returned, helping himself when it came to opening the thermos. Milo was still staring at me, looking as nervous as I felt, just standing there. He apparently wasn't going to invite me to sit down, but that's okay, because his friend did it for him. "You gonna sit?"
"Sure," I said, grinning as I plopped down right in front of Milo and stared back. I hoped he'd say something. Anything. But when he didn't, and his friend had sampled my mom's hot chocolate, I found myself trapped there as both of them stared at me, and it seemed necessary to say something. "I'm Nelson," I told his friend, and he gave me a nod.
"You don't go to Hellver," I said to him, deciding that I didn't recognize him from school.
"Stratfort," he told me proudly.
"What are you doing?" Milo asked, finally saying something; and when Jerry gave him a funny look, he added, "Here."
"Oh," I said. "I um... wanted to ask you about that assignment Mrs. Bates gave us on Friday."
I watched Milo carefully. There had been no assignment, and the look on his face said that he knew that. It seemed like minutes passed as he continued to regard me suspiciously, and then he suddenly turned to his friend.
"Hey, Jer, can you give us a minute?" he asked. This, surprised me. Definitely wasn't expecting it, and obviously, neither was Jerry as he looked between us curiously before standing up, lifting the plastic mug.
"Mind if I take this?" Jerry asked.
"Go ahead," I insisted, trying not to look as nervous as I felt, and then I watched him walk towards Jame and the other guy. "Nice guy," I commented, and meant it.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Milo snapped, and my eyes moved to his, taking in a very familiar, irritated glare. I couldn't bring myself to smile and ignore it this time. In fact, after hearing his tone, I downright frowned at him.
"Stop doing that," I responded, and Milo blinked at me. "Seriously. Stop it. If you want me to go away, ask and I will, but stop pretending you hate me."
"And don't say you're not pretending," I cut him off, feeling confident in the moment when a look of surprise crossed his handsome features. "My shoes untied," I scoffed. "What the hell was that back there? Do you have something to say to me?"
Milo opened his mouth, looking like he was about ready to spit fire, but whatever he was about to say to me died on his tongue and he turned his head away from my gaze for a moment, pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes. When he faced me again, it was stubborn, at best.
"I want my notebook back," he said. "The green one."
I rolled my eyes, feeling exasperated as I gathered my thermos and the cups and stood up. He just sat there, watching me until I looked back down at him. "I'll bring you a new one on Tuesday."
"Fine. Did you mean what you said?"
"What?" I asked, not understanding his question.
He frowned, and I watched him swallow. "Are you really... are you really gay?"
I froze at the question, finding that it startled me, and now I was the one regarding him suspiciously. Only, I couldn't find much that I found suspicious. He seemed to be facing me with genuine curiosity now. I shrugged. "Yeah," I said, refusing to apologize for it, and then I decided to ask a question of my own. "Do you really think I'm a sick stalker fuck?" I was surprised at how fast Milo lowered his eyes and blushed at that. Surprised enough to sit back down. "Well?" I asked.
He met my eyes, but his brow was still lowered, his eyes looking troubled. "Maybe..." he said quietly, and I started frowning. "Maybe, you can come over and bring me that notebook."
My eyebrow flew up. Milo was avoiding my eyes wherever possible, and suddenly, I found myself rather amused by him once again. "No," I said firmly, and almost laughed when he looked up, frowning at me. Disappointment. I saw it. "Wouldn't want anyone calling the cops because I'm stalking you," I remarked, and for a very brief moment, he almost looked sorry. "If you want it before Tuesday, you can come to my place."
And, that was all it took before Milo looked cynical again. For my part, I tried to keep a straight face. I was a little tired of feeling like I was getting burned by him, and if he was about to tell me to go to hell, I wanted to appear completely indifferent. He gave a small shrug, wet his lips, and then shocked me.
"Where do you live?"
I blinked, and rather than telling him, I cocked my head. He obviously knew he'd surprised me because a subtle smile appeared over his mouth as he bit at his lip, averting his eyes from me. When he shifted nervously where he was sitting I forced myself to clear my throat and answer him, but not before one last suspicion occurred to me.
"I know where you live, you know," I warned. "If anything happens to my house..." I was cut off by the serious look on Milo's face when he lifted his eyes to mine, and I let out a breath. "I'm on the hill," I told him. "You go like you're driving to school, but make a left on Forget Me Not. I'm the only gravel driveway you'll run into... I'll be home all day tomorrow."
Tomorrow was Monday, the last day of our three-day weekend, and I'd really had no intention of staying in all day. That had officially changed, because Milo Trust definitely looked interested.
"Forget Me Not," he repeated, and I nodded as I started standing again, scowling to myself as I saw Jame returning with Jerry and the other guy. "Where are you going?" Milo asked, taking me off guard with the question as I backed away from the quilt.
I grinned down at his curious face and shrugged. "Gotta go. I don't wanna call your friend Assface in front of you... I think it pisses you off."