I always used to think that people were idiots when they said stuff like "the world seems brighter" just because they were happy. It just sounds so sappy and a bit self-centered. Like, the world was only dark because YOU were unhappy and now that YOU'RE ok again everything in the world is great. But as I sat next to my mom while she sang loudly, and badly, along with the radio and the wind from the open window hit my face and blew my hair around, I thought I got it. My stress was gone, my dad was defeated, I had my life back and everything, all the little things that I never really noticed before like how the wind feels in my hair or how the sun feels on my skin just seemed . . . . . more. More important, more real, more everything.
I was happy and free and everything was great.
The world was brighter.
"Mom, seriously, you need to stop that." I said. I held it in as long as I could because I knew that she was just as happy as I was and wanted to express it. But there's only so much soul rippingly off key singing one person can take, you know?
She didn't even look at me. "What? You don't like my singing?"
"It's like raaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiin on your wedding day!" she sang and I cringed. "It's like a free riiiiiiiiiiiiide when you've already paid!"
"Oh god stop!" I said and covered my ears.
She just laughed and kept singing.
I glared at her, but she totally ignored me. "And really? THAT song? Can't you sing anything else? There are a lot of other stations out there you know."
She stopped long enough to say "But I like this one." and then went right back to singing.
I flipped her off, but she ignored that too. "That isn't even irony." I grumbled and crossed my arms.
Thankfully we got home right as Poker Face started playing. I honestly think I would have ran back to the courthouse and begged my dad to take me if she started singing Lady Gaga songs. We pulled in and she grabbed my sleeve and stopped me from getting out of the car. I rolled my eyes. She seems to be doing that a lot lately.
This time though instead of talking to me about something or teasing me about my homework she pulled me into a tight hug that was actually really nice despite the parking break digging into my side. "I love you, kid." she said in a suspiciously watery voice.
Dammit. Now my eyes are tearing up. But . . . . I guess if I'm not worrying about being cool I can deal with it. I hugged her back, tightly, and for some reason I wasn't even a little bit surprised at how good it felt. Even mom hugs seemed more. "I love you too mom."
We hugged for a few minutes before my mom kissed me on the side of my head and let me go. "Ok." she said and wiped at her eyes. "I think we've both done way more than enough crying this week, so, enough of that." She smiled. "Time to enjoy life again."
I blinked my own tears away and smiled back. "Damn right."
I got to the door first, then rolled my eyes and gave my mom an impatient look when I found the door locked. I don't even know why she bothered. It's not like we live in a ghetto or something and we were only gone for about two hours and this stupid door was keeping me from talking to Vicky! To her credit, she actually did speed up when she saw the look on my face. Normally she would have slowed down and pretended to look at the grass or something just to annoy me so at least I could keep liking her for a while longer.
The second she opened the door I ducked under her arm and ran upstairs to my room. She might have yelled something about dinner up at me but I wasn't really paying attention. I was happy and I wanted to share it with people. Which was a good thing because I'd kinda, accidentally promised a lot of people I'd tell then how the thing with my dad went, so I had a lot of calls to make. Some I was looking forward to more than others. Before that though, the first person I needed to tell was Luke. I know, you're shocked that I'm not jumping on the phone to Vicky, right? Well, Vicky didn't live with my dad. Luke needed to know what to expect when my dad got home. I really, really wished I knew Luke's phone number. Even if my dad left right after us he still had to drive through my whole town to get to where he lived so it'd be at least another fifteen minutes or so before he got home. I hadn't talked to Luke in a while and it would have been nice to do it again. Oh well. I opened up Hotmail and started typing.
'Hey Luke. Guess what? He didn't get me! :D Free! Free! Free! No camps for me! Lol. It was actually kinda funny because he brought this guy with him that was supposed to convince the judge that being gay was like a mental disorder or something and that my mom was abusing me by not making me stick it to a chick and the judge was all "I know you! You're a child molester!" and the guy got all scared and stuttery and stuff and my dad got pissed and was like "you bastard! Betrayal! A sinner is you!" and wanted to kick his ass and the guy ended up getting arrested. Then the judge said that it was up to me who I wanted to live with and I said my mom of course and dad got mad and started yelling about the bible and the judge totally shut him down and pretty much told him he wasn't being a good christian or something. It was cool. But he's probably REALLY pissed so you should probably stay away from him as long as possible. I hope he doesn't make you pray again or anything. I'm sorry you have to deal with all his crap but your mom seems like she might be cool. She even smiled at me after the hearing was over so I don't think she's as gay hating as your dad is. Maybe she'd be ok with it? Not that I think you should tell her right now or anything. You'll probably wanna wait till she smartens up and divorces my dad first. Anyway, just wanted to tell you the awesome news. Maybe you can get on Reach later? If not it's cool. I get how my dad is. Can't have me converting you to my sinning ways. Lol. Talk to you soon. Hopefully.'
I hit send without reading it over. I hate rereading my emails. I usually end up rewriting them five times if I do because I think they're stupid.
Well, that's done. Now for the phone calls. First up?
Before he left he gave me the number to his grandpa's house and, because sometimes I actually do learn from my mistakes, I practically used a up a whole roll of tape taping it to the wall by my phone. There was no way I was gonna risk losing my only connection to Vicky. I took a quick look at my clock and figured it was long enough after the funeral for him to be back at the house. At least I hoped so. I had no idea how long funerals lasted but from what I've seen in movies it's usually just a lot of people standing around a grave in the rain dressed in black while at least one person silently vows revenge. It didn't seem like it'd take too long and once you take out the revenge vowing it's probably even shorter, so I thought I'd be able to talk to him. I dialed.
It was right about then that I realized another potential problem.
"Hello?" A very unfamiliar female voice said into the phone.
I froze. Oh crap. Who the hell was that? Where the hell was Vicky? Ok, stupid question, it's not his house so why would he answer the phone. I should have thought of that. I should have had something prepared in case he didn't pick up but I didn't and now I and no idea what to say. I'm not good at talking to adults I don't know. I always feel so awkward and weird if I don't know exactly what I'm gonna say. And speaking of saying something how long have I been silent? Shit Nate! Say something! "Um, hi, um, is Vicky there?" I said lamely.
"And you are . . . . ?" she trailed off.
"What?" I asked. Ok, yeah, really dumb answer but I was expecting something like "sure, I'll go get him", I wasn't prepared for answering questions.
"Your name. What is it?" she asked, this time sounding amused.
"Nate. I'm Nate." I said quickly and winced. God, I am such a loser sometimes.
"Ok, Nate, I'll get him for you." she said and then before I even had time to process that she started shouting with pretty much no attempt at all to cover the phone. "VICKY! YOUR LITTLE FRIEND NATE'S ON THE PHONE!"
Somehow that didn't completely destroy my hearing because in less than ten seconds I could hear the thump-thump-thump of someone running really fast in socks. I smiled when I heard the surprised "Hey! Don't grab." from the woman followed by a hurried "Sorry. Thanks Sarah." from the voice that I'd been wanting to hear all day. "Hey." Vicky said hurriedly and I heard a door close. He was probably locking himself in a room for privacy. "Nate? Is that you? Are you there?"
I giggled softly at his eagerness. "Yeah, I'm here."
He didn't waste any time. "Are you ok? What happened? Did your dad get you? Are you freaking out? Are you still coming? Are you ok?"
I laughed but I couldn't stop smiling at how concerned he was, and how damn cute he was being. It seemed like such a long time since I just sat back and let myself soak in Vicky's complete and utter adorableness. "God, I miss you."
"What does that mean?" Vicky sounded a bit panicked. "That sounds bad. Did something bad happen? Did-"
"Vicky!" I cut him off. "It just means I miss you. And I'm fine. Everything's awesome. My dad lost."
There was exactly one second of silence and then, "YES!" he shouted, again right into the phone without even trying to cover up. Maybe it's a family trait. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" I could hear soft thumping like he was jumping around and I grinned picturing a bouncing, happy Vicky. "That's awesome! I'm so fucking relieved! You must be-God that's stupid of course you are too-but I'm so happy! Wait," he suddenly got really serious. "He can't do this again, can he?"
I shook my head even though he wasn't there to see. Bad habit I know. "No, I don't think so. It seemed like it was hard enough to get a second one, I doubt he'll get a third."
"Yes!" Vicky shouted again. "So what happened? Tell me everything."
I started from the beginning. Well, the beginning of the court part anyway. I didn't think he needed to hear about all the crap before that, it would just make him (and me) feel bad. I told him about my dad and the "doctor" he brought and the judge and even my outburst. He laughed at that.
"I really wish I could have been there for that." Vicky said wistfully. "The look on his face must have been great."
I chuckled. "Yeah, it kinda was. Almost as good as when the judge brought up the puking on the bailiff thing."
Vicky laughed. "No way. That's too awesome. Now I REALLLY wish I could have been there."
"He probably would have just yelled at you the whole time for 'corrupting' me with your wicked fag ways or something."
"Well," Vicky said. "I just would have told him that you kissed me first so, really, you were the one who corrupted me with YOUR wicked fag ways."
I snorted. "Yeah, because that would have gone over great. Plus everyone knows I'm the pure one. Even Michelle says I'm a prude, remember?"
"She says your a prude because you won't let her watch us have sex so by that definition I'm a prude too."
"Nope." I said cheerfully. "You're the slutty one."
"Oh, I'M the slutty one?" Vicky said incredulously. "'Oh, Vicky, harder! Harder! Fuck me harder Vicky! Deeper!'" he mocked.
I blushed. Damn him, that was a good impression too. "Shut up." I mumbled. "And now I'm horny."
Vicky groaned. "Me too. That was a bad idea."
Vicky sighed and I heard a rustle of clothing. I hoped he was adjusting himself. I know I had to. "So, what happened with the therapist guy?"
It took me a few seconds to switch back to 'storytelling mode' from 'must fuck Vicky mode'. "He wasn't even a therapist."
"Well, psychologist or whatever you know what I meant."
"No, I mean he wasn't a real doctor. He was a pedophile or something that the judge put in jail before for molesting a little boy."
Vicky burst out laughing. Ok, not exactly the reaction I'd expect from something like that. "Oh my God!" Vicky exclaimed. "Your dad brought a gay pedophile to try and make you not gay? Holy shit!" He started laughing again. "I'm sorry. It's just . . . . it shouldn't be funny but it is!"
"Yeah, it would have been hilarious if my dad won and I had to spend time alone with him." I said sarcastically.
Vicky stopped laughing. "Oh fuck, Nate I'm so sorry I didn't even-shit." he cursed. "I'm sorry. I didn't even think about that. I guess I was just really worried today and I'm so happy that you won that I'm not even thinking about bad things happening to you anymore. But you're right, it isn't funny." Then he added softly "I'm really sorry Nate."
He sounded so miserable that I felt bad for even trying to make that into a joke. Which is what HE feels bad for. God, we're weird. "It's ok. Really." I said as reassuringly as I could. "I was joking, I swear. Let's just forget about it ok? I don't want this to bring down the mood. Today's supposed to be happy."
"Ok." Vicky said and I could hear the smile in his voice. "You're right. You know I love you right?"
"Of course." I said in a 'well, duh!' tone.
"And," Vicky added playfully. "You know that if you ever got locked in a room with a pedophile I'd come save you, right?"
Despite myself I laughed. The image of Vicky, who's just as small as me, busting down a door to save me from the evil clutches of a pervert was hilariously improbable. But cute, and seriously endearing. "I know." I said.
"Good." Vicky said. "So what happened next?"
I told him how the judge arrested the guy after hearing that he'd been working with kids and then left the whole thing up to me. That actually kinda annoyed Vicky. Not the guy getting arrested part but the it was up to me the whole time part. He was pissed that we both went through so much shit worrying about it when that could have been avoided if someone had just TOLD us that it'd be up to me in the first place. I never thought about it that way and I was getting a little pissed about it too. We bitched about it for a while and then I finished up my story by telling him about what the judge said to my dad and Caroline smiling at me.
"I doubt your dad'll listen to anything anyone says about it." Vicky said. "He's way too obsessed." I completely agreed. My dad was definitely on the fanatic side of religion. I guess I should be glad that he went with Christianity instead of Islam or he'd probably just show up at my door with a bomb strapped to his chest. "But maybe Caroline will."
"Maybe." I agreed. "She doesn't seem to be as bothered by the whole gay thing as my dad is."
"Radio preachers are less bothered by the gay thing than your dad is." Vicky snorted.
I laughed. "True."
"So," Vicky said thoughtfully. "You think she'll be ok with Luke?"
"I dunno." I said, a little bit frustrated. That was something I really wanted to know the answer to but there was pretty much only one way I ever would. "It's probably different when it's your own kid. She doesn't even really know me. Maybe she just doesn't care enough to think my soul is worth worrying about or something."
"Maybe." Vicky said sadly. "I just feel bad for Luke."
"Me too." I sighed.
This is probably gonna make me a bad big step brother or whatever but we only stayed silent thinking about what Luke was gonna be going through for a few seconds before I pushed those thoughts away and started focusing on how awesome my life was right now. "Well, there's nothing we can do." I said. Profound, I know.
"I guess." Vicky answered.
"So, how was the funeral?" I could have PUNCHED myself. Fuck, here I was trying to focus on the good and I go and bring up Vicky's dead grandma. Great job keeping the mood up, Nate! Idiot.
"It was ok." Vicky said, and he didn't seem really at all upset or sad or anything. "Kinda boring. My grandpa cried a bit, which was really weird to see, and Sarah -my cousin, the one who answered the phone- pretty much stayed with him the whole time. My dad cried too but he was ok by the time it was over." he hesitated. "Am I a bad person for thinking more about you at the funeral than my grandma?"
"You thought about me?" I asked, stunned. I knew Vicky wasn't that upset that she died but I thought once he got there he would be.
"Yeah," he said awkwardly. "I was there, my grandma was lying in a coffin in front of me, but all I could think about was you. I was so worried about you that I just wanted to slam the lid down, throw her in the grave, jump in the car and drive back home. And . . . . I don't even feel a little bit bad about that. Does that make me a bad person?"
I had no idea how to answer that. On one hand I wanted to say, well, kind of, but on the other hand I was kinda doing an internal happy dance at how much he cares about me. "Were you close to her?" I asked.
"Not really." Vicky said. "My mom and my dads family never really got along so until they got divorced we only really saw them on holidays and sometimes on my birthday. She was nice and stuff and even tried playing Nintendo 64 with me when I was a kid but we never really got all that close."
"Well, then I guess it doesn't make you a bad person then." I said. "I don't think you are at all."
"Thanks." Vicky said and I could hear relief in his voice. Wow, I guess he was really worried about that. I'm suddenly very glad I didn't try to turn it into a joke. Suddenly I heard a muffled pounding over the phone. "Hold on." Vicky said. He must have covered the phone this time because there was about a minute of silence before he came back. "I have to get off the phone." he grumbled. "I'm sorry."
"It's ok. I still love you." I said.
Vicky chuckled. "You better." Then he got serious. "You're still coming up tomorrow, right?"
"Meteors couldn't keep me away."
"Meteors?" Vicky giggled.
"Yep." I said seriously. "Meteors."
"What about asteroids?"
"Not them either."
"Well, depends on which comet I guess."
"I guess I better hope there aren't any comets then, just in case." he said
"Yeah." I agreed. "Avoiding comets is one of my life's goals."
Vicky laughed again. "I really missed this."
"What?" I asked, slightly confused. "Talking about comets?"
"No, stupid." he said teasingly. "This. Just talking about stupid stuff and you making me laugh. Everything's been way too serious lately."
"I know." I said softly. "I'm so fucking done with drama."
"I can't wait to see you."
"Me either. I really missed you today." We were both talking low now and if I closed my eyes I could almost feel his soft breath on my cheek. God I missed him. Strangely enough I actually missed him more than I did during the hearing. I wanted him there so badly but I was too busy thinking about my dad and everything to really think about Vicky the way I usually do. Now that all that was over, I could literally feel every mile separating us. It sucked.
"I miss you right now." I whispered.
"I-Fuck!" Vicky cut himself off as I heard a muffled voice yell something in the background. "I'm sorry, I really have to go." he said. He sounded so pained and annoyed that it was almost a whine.
"It's ok." I said, only half lying. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Vicky sighed wistfully. "I can't wait."
"I love you so much Nate."
"I love you too."
"Bye Vicky. See you tomorrow."
I didn't even have to see him to know he was smiling as he hung up.
I laid back on my bed and clutched the phone to my chest. I allowed myself exactly one minute of girly swooning before sitting back up and trying really hard to forget about doing it. Time for my next call.
I dialed and while it rang I really, REALLY regretted promising to call so many people. I really should have set up a "Nate's Drama" Yahoo group or something so I could just post once what happened instead of retelling it a bunch of times. Well, maybe next time I have a custody hearing because my homophobic, born again dad wants to cure me of "the gay" I'll do that.
"Hello?" Jason's mom answered. This adult I knew how to talk to.
"Hi, it's Nate, is Jason there?"
"Yes hon, he's up in his room. I'll call him down." As I waited for Jason I felt just a little bit of relief that she didn't say anything about my dad. Which meant she didn't know. Since everyone in school already knew about me, Jason's parents were the only ones left who I was really worried about telling. I didn't really think they'd have a problem with it or anything, but I've known them since I was ten, practically since we moved here. And it would just be really weird going from being "Nate, Jason's best friend" to "Nate, Jason's gay best friend" in their eyes. Plus, if there's one thing I've learned after the Great Cafeteria Outing it's that you can never know how anyone's gonna react to something like that. They'd know eventually, especially if Jason ever told them about himself (and I seriously hoped they didn't get the wrong idea if/when they found out about both of us. I'd probably literally DIE of embarrassment) but for now I'm glad Jason didn't mention anything about my dad to them because knowing him he'd let something slip.
Once again I heard the sound of running sock feet. This time they were a lot heavier than Vicky's because, you know, Jason's a giant freak of nature and stuff.
"Hi, Nate?" he said after taking the phone.
"No, it's Luke." I said sarcastically.
"Really?" Jason said with fake surprise. "You sound a lot girlier than you usually-"
"Dude, fuck you." I said.
Jason laughed. "You know I'm joking. So," he said, more seriously now. "I guess since you're in a good enough mood to be a douche everything went ok?" Ok, maybe not so serious.
"I'M the douche?" I grumbled under my breath then added, louder "Yeah. He didn't get me."
"That's awesome!" Jason said. Actually if it wasn't Jason I would have said he seemed very bouncy but I just can't picture Jason bouncing. "So what happened? Did he bring up the gay stuff? Was Luke there? How did he lose? Tell me!"
And that's how I found myself telling the story for a third time today. The Yahoo group was looking better and better every second. His reaction when I was done was a bit different than I expected though.
"I really hope Luke's ok." Jason said sadly.
"Um," I cleared my throat. "What?" This was the second time my story turned into a conversation about Luke, the first time with Vicky was kinda natural but more importantly before that we talked about ME. Jason just totally skipped by the me part and started with Luke.
"I'm worried about him." Jason said. "Your dad's gotta be pissed I just hope he doesn't take it out on Luke. Maybe I should call him?"
"Wow." I snorted. "That's all you have to say? Nothing about my dad or the hearing or the freaking PEDOPHILE GUY but maybe you should call Luke? Can you maybe say 'hey Nate, I'm glad everything worked out for you, I was worried about you because you're my best friend and everything and it makes me really happy that you're not gonna have to live with your dad'?"
There was a brief silence. "Oh. Um. Sorry." Jason said sheepishly. "I really am glad, you know? And I WAS worried. And it's awesome that you're not gonna have to see your dad anymore. But I'm kinda worried about Luke too. I'm sorry though."
I sighed and felt the irritation leave me. "It's alright. Thank you." And then because my fucked up at best brain-to-mouth filter was pretty much still shot from all the stress and conflicting emotions of the past week I said something I never in a million years wanted to get into with Jason. "And I get it, you've got a crush on him and-"
"WHAT?!" Jason yelled. "I do not! What are you talking about? I don't have a-" he lowered his voice. "-crush on anyone!" he hissed.
I couldn't help it, I laughed out loud. At some point Suspicion had gotten into the Rare Candy and leveled up enough to evolve itself into Certainty, and not even the disapproving looks Avoidance and Willful Ignorance were shooting me could keep me from finding his denial anything but fucking hilarious. "You so do." I said, still laughing. "It's completely obvious. Even my mom noticed something the last time you were over."
"Oh shit." he said, quiet and panicked. "Do you think she knows about me? Wait. What did she notice? I didn't do anything because I don't have a crush on Luke-or anyone! So you're just being a dick. Yeah. You're just a dick."
"I may be a dick but I'm not stupid. That was seriously the worst denial in the history of denials. Egypt has less denial than that." I have no idea why I didn't just drop this because I really didn't wanna get into a conversation about Jason and his hypothetical love life, but I just couldn't stop myself. "I'd believe that Scott Peterson's innocent before I'd believe that mess of a denial."
"I'm not in denial!" he shouted.
"I never said you were IN denial. You're the one who-"
"And who the hell is Scott Peterson?"
I rolled my eyes. "He's that guy. He killed his pregnant wife and-you know what, it doesn't matter. My point is you're like the worst liar ever so you should just admit it."
"There's nothing to admit!"
I sighed again. "Dude, seriously, it's obvious to anyone who isn't a total idiot. You always ask about him, you always talk about him, you always blush like a little girl when someone ELSE talks about him. You like him." I frowned as a very unwelcome thought forced it's way into my mind. A thought filled with the tangled limbs of two people who I never, EVER wanted to picture naked. "What are your intentions towards my step brother?" I winced as I said it. I really need to stop letting these things slip out.
"What?! I don't-I'm not-nothing! I don't have any intentions!"
"Wow. That was the strongest, horribly fake denial yet, but you know what? I'm just gonna pretend I believe you because if whatever the hell you're thinking about right now slips out I'm probably gonna have nightmares for a year."
"Good! Because I'm telling the truth."
"If you say so."
Well if this isn't an uncomfortable silence I don't know what is.
"I'm gonna-" I started.
"I need to-" Jason said at the same time.
"-go." We both said together.
I let out a small laugh. "Probably for the best."
"Yeah." Jason said quickly. "Definitely."
"Talk to you later, or something."
"Yeah. Ok. Bye."
"Bye." I hung up.
Well, that went just SO well. And now I have all these images in my head of Luke and Jason doing things that I really hope aren't even physically possible. Great. THIS is why I didn't wanna think about Jason's love life. I'm still WAY too much of a perv for my mind not to go straight to sex, even if I really, really, REALLY don't wanna think about the two people in question having sex.
The fourth time I told my story didn't go much better, but for completely different reasons.
"Oh my god, I'm so happy!" Michelle exclaimed into my ear. I winced, but pretty much accepted that I was probably gonna be hearing a ringing for the next half hour or so. "I was all ready to go kidnap you from your dad before he could send you away from us."
"She's not joking." Erica said flatly. I was glad that she was over at Michelle's when I called. Now I didn't have to tell it a fifth time. "We just spent about an hour trying to pick out the best shade of black for a 'commando night raid'." I could practically see the indulgent eye roll. "But I'm glad he didn't get custody. Things would be really boring without you."
"Thanks, I'm so glad I can be around to entertain you." I said sarcastically.
"You know you'd miss us." Erica said with a smirk in her voice.
"No comment." I said evenly. They both just laughed.
"So when do you leave for New York?" Michelle asked, then quickly added. "And you better not do anything adorable while you're so far away and I'm not there to see it!"
Since I had no idea if she was being serious or not I just decided to ignore that last part and answer the question. "Thursday morning."
"So you'll be in school tomorrow? Awesome!" Michelle squeed. "Oh! I totally forgot to ask, do you know what happened to Carl? He won't talk about it and I heard that you were there."
"Of course I was there," I said annoyed that he was even being mentioned. "I broke his nose."
"Oh my God!" Michelle yelled.
"What?!" Erica said at the same time.
I frowned. "How do you not know this? There were, like, fifty people who saw it. It's why we were both suspended for the past five days." I said in a tone suggesting, well more than suggesting, flat out telling them that they should have known this.
"We thought you took off from school because of the stuff with your dad." Erica said.
"And we thought Carl was at the hospital." Michelle added. "Why did you hit him?!"
"Because he kissed Vicky!"
"What?!" They both screeched together.
"Yeah, he kissed Vicky and tried to make it seem like Vicky kissed him so I'd, I dunno, break up with him or something."
"Asshole!" Michelle shouted.
"Shithead!" Erica yelled a second later.
"I can't BELIEVE we felt so bad for him at lunch." Michelle huffed.
"Yeah, seriously." Erica added, sounding really pissed.
I, however, only focused on one part of that whole thing. "Wait, he was at lunch?"
"Yeah." Erica said.
"At OUR table?" I asked with more than a hint of disgust.
"Well, yeah." Michele said. "He just sat down with his nose all bandaged up and said he didn't wanna talk about it. Then we heard that something happened and that you were there and we figured we'd just ask you. I kinda thought maybe Robin attacked him or something like he tried to do with you."
"She yelled at him in the middle of the hall after 8th period." Erica said. "Threw books and pencils and everything at him. It was actually really funny. I never thought I'd see Skip Williams cowering in fear from a girl with Hello Kitty book covers."
Wait, go-" I paused, taking a few seconds to actually try and process that image. She was right. It was pretty damn hilarious. Even with the whole "thinking of Skip as a person" thing I had going on I was kinda sorry I missed it. I shook my head and tried to focus on the important part of all this. "Go back." I said. "Carl was at our table and you guys just let him stay? Didn't Jason-" I broke off. No, of course he didn't say anything because I never told him. There's probably a lesson here somewhere about not neglecting your friends. But now I had something new to think about. "Why the hell would he come back to our table after I broke his nose?" I wondered, not really knowing that I actually said it out loud.
"I was just gonna ask that." Erica said.
"No you weren't." Michelle scoffed.
"Yes, I was!" Erica yelled.
"You're such a liar! No you weren't!"
"You're such a child, yes I was!"
"You're a child!"
"No! You are!"
"No-," Erica paused. "No. I'm gonna be the ADULT here and just ignore you."
"Do you always have to be such a bitch?"
"Do you always have to be such a whore!"
"Ugh! I hate you!"
I hung up. I figured it'd be a while before they even noticed the dial tone, let alone that I wasn't talking anymore. Even if they did though I didn't care. I was too busy thinking about other things than the latest Michelle-Erica fight.
What the hell was Carl doing? He couldn't have known that I wouldn't tell anybody about what happened, right? So why the hell would he come back to the table? He'd have to assume that he wasn't wanted there. Did he maybe wanna see Vicky? I'd assumed the whole kissing Vicky thing was part of an evil plan to try and get me but was I wrong? Did he really want Vicky? No, that didn't make any sense. Trying to make it seem like Vicky kissed him right in front of me wouldn't be the best way to try and get in Vicky's pants. Hell, it was a pretty stupid way to try and get into mine. I wished I had his number, or his last name so I could look up his number, so I could ask him what the hell he was doing, but I didn't.
I sighed. Ok, I wasn't gonna overthink this. No way am I letting this bring down my mood. I pushed all thoughts of Carl and Luke and Jason out of my head. Today was a day for me to enjoy being alive and not with my dad.
Tomorrow I could figure out everything else.
I woke up a little earlier than usual so I decided to check my email before getting ready to go back to school for one useless, unnecessary, not-gonna-get-shit-done fucking day before Thanksgiving break, not that I'm bitter about that or anything. Aside from no less than two different Nigerian princesses who needed my help hiding their fortunes from evil uncles I had one email from Luke. I fished it out of my spam folder where I accidentally sent it (shut up, it's early and it was right between the other two) and read.
'hey, Im glad you won. :) some of the stuff Eric was saying was really scary and I was kinda worried about you. but it's weird after he came home he didn't yell or anything like I thought he would. he just kinda sat in front of the tv and drank about 10 cans of mountain dew. even my mom was worried about him. he came up maybe an hour ago and asked if I did my homework but other than that he hasn't said anything to me. I guess that's good. if he suspected anything hed say something, right? anyway, it doesn't look like he's gonna flip out of go on a religious crusade or anything. and my mom's been doing the whole "quietly supporting her man" thing so we really haven't talked much but you're right, she doesn't seem really upset that you aren't getting "help" and one of the times I talked to her I got the idea that she wouldnt be too upset if we talked to each other, so I dunno maybe it wouldnt be the end of the world if she found out. not that Im in any hurry to tell her. or anyone. sorry I couldn't get on Live today. email me later, maybe if Eric goes to work I can get on with you after school. if not, have fun with Vicky in new york. my grandparents are coming down for thanksgiving so at least it wont be just my mom and Eric. It'd be nice to have someone to spend it with like you have Vicky though.'
And that was it.
I reread it a few times, not sure which part was weirder. My dad really surprised me. I definitely expected a lot of yelling and ranting and probably even praying and vowing to keep trying to save me from my sinners ways but it seemed like he was . . . . giving up. Which was awesome, don't get me wrong, but not at all something I expected. Maybe if I had any good feelings towards him I'd be a little worried about him maybe falling off the wagon (which is a really dumb expression if you think about it. Was there EVER a wagon, like a literal wagon, that ex-drunks stayed on to keep away from alcohol?) but the only thing that bothered me was him coming out the other side of his depression or whatever it was with even more determination to "help" me.
The other part that caught me off guard was what Luke said about Vicky. It wasn't all that long ago that he hated me for "having it easy" with the whole being gay thing and I was pretty sure Vicky was included in that. I knew we made up and everything but there was always a small part of me that whispered that it was really too quick for him to really get over everything. If he was really looking at me and Vicky as some kind of role model for an ideal relationship then maybe he really wasn't resentful or anything. It also made me feel a bit bad that he was so lonely. I have no idea where the hell all this "big brother protectiveness" stuff was coming from but I had a sudden urge to storm into homeroom and start beating Jason until he admitted that he liked Luke. Then I actually think about seeing the two of them together and I get a little creeped out and, yeah, not gonna happen.
And if you think wanting them to get together and not wanting them to get together at the same time is confusing, well, how the hell do you think I feel?
It was probably a really good thing my mom started pounding on the door right then. Focusing on my one, insanely stupid and pointless and ridiculously not needed day at school (still totally not bitter about that) was a lot better than trying to sort out confusing feelings. And it worked. Even though I had to carry a third of my books to school in my arms, because I pretty much needed every single one for all the work I had to do and there was no WAY they'd all fit in my bag, I ended up having a pretty much stress free day.
I was about ten minutes late, I ended up handing in some work to the wrong teachers because I guess putting everything in a big pile and shoving it in my bag isn't the best way to keep things together and, you know, it doesn't really matter. I was late and it was my fault and I was kind of annoyed at myself and we don't need to go into details. So, because I was late, everyone was there before me. Michelle, Erica, Jason, Jen.
I froze in place when I saw him, sitting in his usual chair chewing casually on a nasty looking, cold grilled cheese sandwich like nothing was different. I got a small thrill of bad ass satisfaction when I saw the two black eyes and that metal nose supporter thing that hospitals give to people who have a broken nose that he was sporting but I was more annoyed that even AFTER I told Michelle and Erica what happened they still let him sit there. I even told Jason earlier in the day and while he was a bit pissed that I waited so long to tell him he was even more pissed at Carl so I figured he, at least, would throw him out the second he sat down. It was about then that I noticed that everyone around the table was totally silent and every few seconds they'd take turns glaring over at Carl who just sat there ignoring it all. Maybe I missed something?
Time to find out.
I stalked over to the table, ignoring everyone else as they noticed me one by one, staring holes into Carl the entire time. Fuck confusion, I'm pissed now! The fucking nerve he has to sit at MY table after kissing MY Vicky was just . . . . just . . . . GRRR! Bastard! I stomped right past my usual seat and came to a stop right next to Carl's, my hands clenched at my sides in anger. "What the FUCK are you doing here?" I ground out between gritted teeth.
He looked up at me and for the first time I noticed that there wasn't even a trace of the Carl I knew. He wasn't shy or nervous or even lustful. He just seemed completely unconcerned with anything. "Eating." he said casually and took a drink of his Sunny Delight.
Another surge of anger flowed through me. "Fucking eat somewhere else." I growled.
He took another bite and chewed slowly before swallowing. Every time his jaw went up and down I got more and more pissed until I was like three seconds away from shoving the whole fucking sandwich down his throat. Everyone at the table was silent, watching in fascination. "Why?" he asked.
Is he fucking serious?! "Why? WHY?! Why the fuck do you think?!" I bent low and put my face right into his. "You KISSED my BOYFRIEND you asshole! What the fuck makes you think ANYONE wants you to sit here?" I paused, then added. "Why the fuck would you even WANT to?"
"It's my table." he said calmly and then just gave me this infuriatingly even stare. My eye started to twitch and I was seriously considering flat out murdering him. Kid prisons can't be all that bad and unless I get tried as an adult I'll be out when I'm 18 anyway, right? It could be worth it. Then Carl rolled his eyes and sighed. "Look, yeah, I kissed Vicky but I only did it because I wanted to fuck you, ok? It didn't work so let's just get on with our lives." He gave me a pointed look. "And, to be fair to me, I wouldn't have even HAD to kiss him if you two weren't all monogamous and crap so it's partly your fault too."
"MY fault? MY fault?! MY FAULT!?" I yelled, probably drawing a lot of attention to our table but I didn't give a shit. "Are you fucking serious? It's my fault you KISSED my BOYFRIEND because I didn't want to CHEAT on him?"
Carl nodded. "Partly."
How the fuck do you even respond to Twilight Zone logic like that? "Get. The. Fuck. Out." I spat. Pretty much like that I guess.
Carl raised his eyebrows, apparently totally forgetting that he was sitting there with a broken nose because of me when I was only a tiny bit more enraged than I was now. "And if I don't, what, are you gonna throw me out?" his tiny, amused smirk told me what he thought about my ability to do that. And if I was thinking rationally I'd have realized that it didn't exactly look natural on his face, and that he was probably right. I could break his nose with a surprise punch but I didn't think I could lift him out of his seat, no matter how mad I was. Like most people he had a good twenty pounds on me.
"I'll throw you out." Jason said, standing up.
Carl just rolled his eyes. "So you're just gonna pick me up and carry me away?" he let out a short laugh. "Yeah that's gonna go over real good with the monitors."
Jason glared at him, but didn't move. The little shit was right. If Jason tried to get rid of him he'd end up getting in trouble, and since picking someone up and throwing them away from a table could probably be, by some people, misinterpreted as fighting Jason would probably get suspended. Something he definitely didn't want with his mom. She took school even more seriously than mine.
But just because I saw the logic in it didn't mean I didn't really, REALLY want Jason to do it anyway.
"Nate had a good point." Jen cut in. "Why do you even want to sit here anyway?"
Carl didn't answer for about a minute. He just chewed the last bit of his grilled cheese. But even through my anger I noticed that he seemed a little more thoughtful than before. "I like it here." he said finally. "You guys are entertaining and sitting with friends is a lot better than sitting alone."
"Friends!?" I shouted disbelievingly.
"You think we're your friends?" Jason asked, an expression of annoyed disgust on his face.
"You completely tried to break up Nate and Vicky!" Michelle yelled. "Why would we be friends with you after that?"
Carl frowned slightly for a second. "Yeah, I tried, but it didn't work." he shrugged. "It's over and done with. So who cares?"
As the table exploded with various reactions to that, ranging from "disbelievingly pissed" to "what the fuck is wrong with you", I was shocked into silence by the look on Carl's face. A horrible realization was dawning on me.
"You don't even know why we're mad at you, do you?" I asked. I didn't yell, but I managed to catch a lull in everyone elses yelling and they all heard me and fell into a slightly confused silence, waiting for Carl's answer.
"Not really." Carl said. "I guess I get why you punched me but that's way worse than just kissing somebody so I should really be the one who's mad." He shrugged again and took a sip of his drink. "I'm not though so it's all done, right?"
I blinked in surprise. Holy. Shit. He seriously believed that. He wasn't lying. Unless he was like the worlds best liar because as good as I am at reading people and as close as I was paying attention to him while he answered I would have noticed a lie. And now that I think about it his confusion over why we were all mad at him seemed more genuine than anything else I'd seen from him today, smirking calmness included, or really any other time that I've known him. Well, except for after I punched him I guess. "Is this the real you?" I blurted out. I was just weirded out and curious enough to forget my anger, for now anyway.
Carl gave me a confused look. "What do you mean?" he asked, curiously and with no anger or hostility.
"I mean, I dunno, you seem more 'real' now or something." I said.
Carl looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then gave a little half shrug. "I dunno. Maybe. It's the real me right now anyway." He finished his drink.
"What does that mean?" Jen asked.
Carl frowned again. "It's hard to explain. You're you. He's-" he pointed to Jason. "-him. She's-" he pointed to Michelle. "-her and you all pretty much stay the same. I . . . . don't have a me, I guess. I'm just how I am now, but it always changes, and sometimes I'm not anything at all." He looked around at us and saw that we really didn't get what he was saying. He frowned deeper and chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully before turning back to me. "Ok, look, I wanted you, right? And I knew how I needed to be to get you, but it wasn't really me. I can be who I need to be when I'm trying, but when I'm not trying I don't really feel like anything. I'm just, there. You get it?"
Jason was the first one to break the silence with a snort of disbelief. "This is such bullshit." he muttered, but he sat down again.
"Are you, like, a sociopath or something?" I asked, starting to get a little nervous.
"A what?" Michelle asked. Erica shushed her and Michelle shot her a dirty look but kept quiet.
"No." Carl said, sounding frustrated. "My mom thought I was but the therapist she made me go to said I wasn't. Not really. I can empathize or whatever, sometimes, but I just don't know who I am or how to act and I try to act the way I think I'm supposed to. Most of the time everyone else around me seems so much more . . . . real." He shook his head as soon as he said it. "No, that's not really it. I can't really explain it good. It's just . . . . how I am."
"You do know how fucking weird that is, right?" I asked. Ok, probably not the best thing to say to someone who's obviously pretty fucked up, but I couldn't help it.
He didn't get mad though. "Yeah." he said simply. "I know. So are you still mad at me for kissing Vicky?"
The anger came back. I knew he wasn't exactly a normal kid now, but it still made me wanna throttle him when I thought about his lips on my boyfriend's. "Damn right I am." I snarled.
He sighed and even though I was mad I was still looking pretty intently at him, which was probably why I saw it. Just a small change, but it made him seem different. A little bit more practiced and just a little less natural than he was just a few seconds ago. "You should really let it go. He didn't even kiss me back. Besides, I got a broken nose and was suspended. It's not like I didn't get punished for it." Was this him acting the way he thought he was supposed to?
"That's not the point!" Jason said.
I shook my head and rubbed at my eyes. This was getting way too annoying to deal with. "Just forget it." I said. I could feel everyone turn surprised eyes on me. But I just stared hard at Carl. "Look, I'm still really, really mad at you and part of me really wants to punch you in the nose again, but another part of me is just really hungry and doesn't wanna deal with you right now so as long as Vicky's ok with it you can sit here BUT!" I held up my finger in a very dramatic gesture that I immediately regretted. "If you can't be you or whatever then just don't be someone who pisses us off, ok? Just, I dunno, be as normal as you can I guess. And you're never, ever, gonna get with me or Vicky so don't ever try anything like that again, ok?" I said that last with as much intimidation and menace as I could. I doubt anybody was all that impressed.
Carl looked at me for a second, then I saw that weird shifting thing again and the casual indifference that was on his face a few seconds ago turned back into something that seemed natural again. "Ok." he said. "Got it."
I took a deep breath and nodded once at him. I looked around at everyone else at the table and was surprised to see that they all seemed to be ok with me deciding to let Carl stay there, for now at least. Even Jason met my gaze and just rolled his eyes and shrugged. I guess since I was the one this was all about I got the final say on how it ended. Or maybe they all see me as their king.
Or maybe I'm getting delusions from being too hungry.
Well, that I could fix. I tore open my lunch bag and devoured the cold chicken and chips inside as conversation slowly started up around the table again. As I ate, I noticed that Carl was sitting back and listening to everyone, but never tried to join in. Maybe partly because some of the conversation at first was about him and his weirdness but I think it was mostly because he was telling the truth before. He found us entertaining. And when Erica and Michelle started getting into another fight about whether John Cena or The Rock was hotter, and Jason crossed his arms, huffed and ground his teeth at having to listen to yet another conversation about wrestling I kinda saw his point. We were kinda entertaining. Don't get me wrong, I was still pissed at him, but I maybe understood him a bit now. As much as I probably could anyway and, yeah, he was weird and probably seriously screwed up in the head, but how does that make him different from the rest of us. Well, except Jen, she's pretty normal.
"Both of you are nuts." Jen interrupted the fight. "Everyone knows The Miz is the hottest wrestler ever."
Or, you know, maybe not.