Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 2

Posted: N/A

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

This was my mantra for the day. I am SUCH an idiot! Acting like some screaming girl at a Justin Beiber concert? And over what? A few minutes of shy, stuttering conversation and a sexy voice? You know better than this Andy! You know better than to just let people in like that....

I didn't wake up like this. I woke up the same way I went to sleep, with a smile on my face and thoughts of Owen in my head. I wondered if he was waking up just then. What he'd make for breakfast. If he'd drive to school or take the bus. What he'd talk to his friends about while he waited for homeroom to start.

And that's why I was stupid to even START down this path.

I should have known that I wouldn't be able to leave it alone after one night. I should have known that as lonely and sad as I was if I let ANYONE, let alone someone as seemingly perfect as Owen -no you will NOT sigh when you think his name dammit!- in past my defenses I'd latch onto them and start to obsess, completely forgetting that there was a very good reason I had those defenses in the first place. And now here I was, about to go to school the day after everyone in school thinks I "outed" myself and all I can think about is whether or not somebody I never met likes his eggs scrambled or over easy. Now, in addition to the insults and the probable beatings, I also had the inevitable heartbreak to look forward to when this stupid haze of infatuation cleared and I realized that I'll never mean anything more to Owen than a phone call one night.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Ok, I need to stop thinking about him. I don't care what he's wearing. I don't care what color his hair is. I don't care if he chews his pencil when he's thinking. I. Don't. Care.

If I tell myself that enough it'll start to be true. It has to. Because if today goes as bad as I think it's going to then there is no way I'll be able to survive a crush this intense falling apart at the same time. No way.

For the millionth time this month I cursed my shyness, my awkwardness, my looks, the way I act, the way I sound, everything about me that makes me the friendless loser that I am. If I was normal and had friends like everyone else I wouldn't be this obsessive over someone I've never met. If I had friends I probably would have been just one of the other faceless kids watching Jarred Walters play with himself in the showers and then watching while he took out his anger or embarrassment or whatever on whoever took my place as the friendless loser nobody wants anything to do with.

Instead I'm lying awake in my bed waiting for my alarm to go off while staring at my ceiling and wondering what color Owen's ceiling might be.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Oh, Andy, this is gonna hurt.

I was saved from further torture by, of all things, my mom. I guess getting me up five minutes early is part of my punishment or something. I didn't care. It gave me an excuse to do something besides think about Owen.

But just because someone has an excuse to do something doesn't mean they always do it.

Take me for example. As I ate breakfast, I thought of Owen. As I brushed my teeth, I thought of Owen. As I took my shower, I thought of Owen. As I furiously masturbated because of my previous thoughts of Owen, I thought of Owen. As I got dressed....

You get the picture.

I was a complete mess by the time I got out to my bus stop. Then things got worse. Obsessing about my obsession with Owen kept me from thinking about school today but the second I started waiting for the bus those worries came back.

Panic attack doesn't even begin to describe it.

I was trying to decide whether the sound I was making while desperately trying to force air in and out of my lungs was more like a skinned cat with a hole in it's throat or an old, religious woman being confronted with the moral degradation of society, when I ended up getting my first taste of how the rest of the day was going to go.

"Hey, Sandy, what's up?" Came the stupid voice of stupid Simon Dean with his two stupid first names. I didn't think he'd be at the bus stop today. He usually gets driven in. There must be a game tonight because he only ever rides the bus so he can show off his stupid football jersey to all the vapid, shallow, giggly girls on the bus. What was even worse is that he looked criminally good in it and more often than not I found myself idly staring at him out of the corner of my eye. Not now though. Now, aside from a slight tensing up, I didn't show any sign that I actually heard him. It's a surprisingly good defense strategy. If you don't react sometimes they just give up. "Hey," he said and shoved me. "I asked you a question, Sandy. It's rude to ignore me like that." And then sometimes it just makes things worse.

"Nothing much." I muttered without looking at him. Where is that stupid bus? I bet Owen doesn't-no, not going there. Not now.

He didn't say anything else, but I could feel him staring at me. I hated that feeling. It made my skin crawl. I wished I wore a watch so I could stealthily glance at it and see if it's anywhere near time for the bus to get here without him noticing, but like everyone else I just used the clock on my cell phone. Please just let that be it. He can stare at me all he wants, hell even his little insults aren't that bad, just don't let him mention-

"So I heard Jarred kicked your ass." he said and I didn't even have to look at him to see the gleeful smirk on his face. I'd seen it before a bunch of times on a lot of different people. I didn't need to see it again. I just closed my eyes and waited for whatever was gonna happen next. There was no way to stop it. Schools at least have the occasional adult to break up the beatings before they get too bad. Bus stops? Not so much. "Hey! Sandy! What did I say about being rude? Answer my question." he demanded with another shove.

You didn't ask one, jackass. Fortunately, years of dealing with crap like this has given me a pretty good brain to mouth filter so I didn't actually commit suicide by saying that. Unfortunately it looked like I was supposed to be participating in this.....whatever it was. At least I knew my lines.

"Yeah. He did." I said softly, still not looking at him. It hurt more than it usually does. I was still stinging over the total unfairness of getting in trouble for something that really wasn't my fault, having my face rubbed in it by a gorgeous asshole just made it worse.

Simon laughed. "Damn right he did. There's no way Jarred'd let a little fag like you suck on his dick." I started to blush horribly. Great. Now it just looks like I'm getting all flustered thinking about Jarred. Fucking hell just beat me up and get it over- "It's too bad I wasn't there." he said in a strange tone and suddenly I was very aware of how close he was to me. "You coulda sucked on me if you wanted it so bad."

What the fuck? I forgot all my rules and common sense and spun around to stare up at him. He was right there leaning over me with his stupid sexy red jersey and the expected smirk, but it was just a little bit different. Combined with the way his way too intense eyes were locked on my lips and not my face or my eyes it almost looked like a leer.



My eyes widened and a sudden panic filled me, but just as I was about to step back the sudden screech of a stopping bus from right behind me made me jump forward. Oh fuck! I took a few panicked breaths and had no idea what was scaring me more, the look in Simon's eyes or the fact that I almost walked backwards in front of a freaking bus!

A shadow fell over me. Shit! I jumped closer to him! I looked up into his eyes, sometimes you can see it there before they start to beat you and I figured it would work for this too and maybe I could escape, but he didn't even look at me, just walked past me, bumped me with his shoulder hard enough that it almost knocked me off my feet and walked onto the bus.

I stood there staring blankly after him, trying to get my breathing back under control. Ok.....Ok. I took one last steadying breath. Maybe I'm more freaked out by this than I thought. Simon was just fucking with me. He had to have been. There is NO WAY that Simon freaking Dean would want to.....Yeah. No way. He was just trying to harass me and I fell for it like a first grader who wandered too close to the "big boy" side of the recess field and said, all smiles and innocence, "Yeah, I'd love a hurts donut!"

I felt relieved, even though that was probably gonna set the tone for the rest of the stuff I'd have to deal with today. I didn't even care. I was just glad that what I thought was gonna happen wasn't actually gonna happen.

"You getting on or what, kid?" the gruff, old bus driver shouted.

I jumped again, but scurried onto the bus. He closed the door almost before I got my feet on the first step and pulled away with a sharp jerk before I found a seat. I glared at him in the mirror, but he ignored me. I sighed. Why do people only ignore me when I don't want them to?

The bus was way too silent for any vehicle filled with high school kids who just woke up, but that would be because they were all too busy staring at me so, no real surprise there. I brushed my hair back from my eyes just enough to take a quick look, trying to assess the level of "let's fuck with Andy" on everyone's faces.

Most of the kids had some kind of smirk, like they were waiting for something. A few of the jocks sitting in the back looked like they wanted to kick my ass but that wasn't really anything new. Simon was giving me his usual "step near me and I'll make you pay because I'm so bad ass" look and that just made me even more sure that I'd been totally wrong about what happened before the bus showed up.

And then there was Kyle, Jarred's closest....I dunno, lackey I guess. I don't think he really has any friends. Which is typical. Jarred fucking Walters is too cool to need something that I'd give up almost any body part to have. Anyway, Kyle was sitting near the back with a giddy little grin on his chiseled, ruggedly -for a 17 year old anyway- handsome face. Well. At least I knew where the first shot was gonna come from.

"Hey Mandy!" Kyle shouted. Sometimes I REALLY hate having a name that rhymes with so many girls names. "Nice pants. Was your dress in the wash?"

Everyone laughed and even though I'd expected it, my face still turned red. God I hated being the center of attention!

I stayed still as the bus drove and the laughter continued. All the seats had at least one person sitting in them and I'd been through similar things enough times to know that no one was gonna let me sit with them.

"You really think he's got a dress?" one of the back seat jocks shouted out.

"Of course." Kyle said, smirking. "All fags wear girl clothes. It feels better on their gay vagina's."

Yeah and that would make me a GIRL, you idiot. Which means I wouldn't be GAY for liking guys. Again, I didn't say anything. Instead I found a nice spot on the floor to look at until this was over with. Everyone else just laughed some more.

There were more insults. I tried tuning them out but just when I was starting to get used to one persons insults someone else joined in and I was drawn out of my thoughts. Which was probably a good thing since all of those thoughts were about Owen. I needed to STOP thinking about him, not use him as the only thing in the way of hearing every hateful thing these kids were shouting at me.

One of the things that had always been a small miracle in my very much miracle-less life was that I lived pretty close to the school. My stop was the last and it seriously cut down on the harassment time that the mouth breathers got with me. Today though it seemed to take a little longer than usual. Somehow we managed to hit every light and if we got over 25 miles per hour even once then I'll ACTUALLY suck Jarred off.

I could almost feel the spitefully gleeful look the bus driver was no doubt giving me burning into the back of my head.

The taunts and insults never let up the entire way there and even though I was more than experienced at things like this by the time the bus stopped I was almost in tears. God! I'd been made fun of, beat up, called every name anyone could possibly think of, but this was the first time I'd ever really felt like anyone actually hated me for who I was instead of who they thought I was.

Yeah, I'd been called a fag pretty much since my school year figured out what a fag was but this was the first time since they all "knew". Or, I guess I should really say knew without the quotes because even though I was "outed" by doing something everyone else was doing I was still gay so technically I was actually outed. For the first time people weren't just calling me a fag because they didn't like me or because it was the most hurtful thing they could think of, they were calling me a fag because I WAS a fag. I never thought that would make that much of a difference.

But it did.

Thankfully even the Bus Driver from Hell could only go so slow so we got to school before any of the tears seeped out. Although part of me just wanted to do it and get it over with so at least the worst thing that could possibly happen today happened and the rest of the day could only get better, a much bigger part knew that things could ALWAYS get worse so I was glad we got there when we did.

Standing up at the front had it's good points and the doors had barely opened before I jumped off the bus and tried to get lost in the crowd of kids streaming into the school.

Blending into a crowd of school kids is an art, and I'm a fucking artist. I'd spent pretty much my entire school "career" -as the teachers like to call it for some reason- trying to avoid being noticed and I'd gotten really, really good at it over the years. Dark, dull colors. No slogans, pictures or large logos. Jeans or cargo pants, ALWAYS securely held with a belt in case of pantsing attempts. Sneakers that don't squeak on wet floors. Always keep your head down, avoid eye contact and move as quickly as possible without actually running or running INTO anyone.

It's boring and I was probably the least "expressive" teenager ever, but it went a long way to keeping me safe and that was more important than looking good.

I did make a few concessions to being me though. The first was my hair. It was long, about shoulder length, not exactly great for blending in especially with how black and shiny it always was, but when I let it fall in front of my face it was like a silky curtain separating me from the rest of the world. It made me feel safe. I always retreated behind my hair when I felt threatened or wanted to hide so, yeah, I spent a lot of time with my face mostly covered with a wall of hair.

The next were my shirts. They were ALWAYS long sleeve, even on the hottest days of summer. It was another way to feel shielded. I felt safer with my skin covered up. A little discomfort in hot weather was a small price to pay for that.

I got lost pretty quickly in the crowd. Even though I was probably the biggest gossip topic today, in the mornings most people wanna empty out their heavy bookbags and get to homeroom before sniffing out a loser to make fun of, so no one was really looking for me. I was suddenly very thankful that I had detention today. The two best ambush points for jocky assholes to try and catch me were my locker and homeroom and because I had to go straight to the detention room from the bus, I got to skip all that. After about a minute of walking through the crowd without anyone noticing me I relaxed slightly.

My thoughts immediately turned to Owen.

Was he here? He WAS on the high school radio station so he had to go to my high school, there was a very real possibility that he could be near me right now. My heart started to beat faster. Goddammit Andy! Get it together! You can't do this, not today, not ever. Even if you found him, what then? You'd never talk to him and even if you did he'd eventually find out that you're THAT Andy and he'd never want anything to do with you ever again. Hell, he'd probably join in on the Great Fag Beatdown and make a whole bunch of new friends while he was at it.

No. No he wouldn't.

We hadn't talked long but it was enough for his personality to break through YEARS of barriers and walls that I'd put up to protect myself from emotional torment. That didn't happen because he was an asshole. And it didn't happen because of my stupid crush either. The only way something like that could have happened is if some part of me somehow KNEW without a tiny bit of doubt that he was that most rarest of things, a genuinely nice person.

No! Don't even THINK about keeping that stupid grin on your face Andy! Even if he's nice you'll still never have anything with him beyond a caller and a radio host so don't even start. I bit my cheek and stared resolutely ahead. Good. Now just walk to the detention hall and try to make a plan for how you're gonna get out of here at the end of the day. I picked up my pace.

It didn't keep me from listening to the people talking around me as I walked, but I was almost able to convince myself that I wasn't listening for Owen's beautiful voice.

"-last night! Can you believe it? Sarah told me-"

"-all over the place, it was awesome! I've never SEEN anyone that drunk-"

"-need a trap card! A trap card! You can't just-"

"-beat by Jarred in the showers. I always knew he was looking at us, the little fag-"

I hunched down on myself and started walking faster. When I got to the detention room I was surprised and a little bit worried that instead of feeling relief that I'd gotten there without anyone noticing me, all I felt was disappointment that I didn't hear Owen.

Detention is boring. I know, insight of the year, right?

The detention room was just a fancy name for a classroom that was too small to hold the usual 40 or so kids, so they put a few desks in it for the troublemakers and one for the teacher unlucky enough to pull detention duty for the day and, bam, instant jail. When I walked in I had to go up to the jailer for the day, today it was Mr Collins my 9th grade science teacher, and get all my classwork and homework for the day. Then he pointed to a desk, I sat down, and started working.

See? Boring.

But as boring as it was I could have stayed there forever.

Detention is probably the safest place you can be in school. Talking isn't allowed so no one can insult you. The desks are all really far apart, to keep us from passing notes and stuff like that, so no one could reach over and hit me if the teacher wasn't looking. The teacher NEVER left so there wasn't even any tense, locked in a room with troublemakers moments to look forward to. Even now the few kids in there with me, including one jock -guess he didn't have Jarred's special immunity- who usually liked to give me crap, completely ignored me. It was the closest I'd ever come to fitting in with a group.

Which is all kinds of pathetic.

The one bad thing about detention was actually supposed to be a good thing. But, just like choosing your own partners for projects (I always have to sit around awkwardly and wait to get paired with the other kid who couldn't find anyone) and pizza parties (I hate pizza), what was good for other people was bad for me. If you didn't bring your own lunch, they let you go to the cafeteria at lunch time to buy something. For most people, if they time it right, they can stretch their legs and get some socializing time with their friends. For me, it was being ejected from my safe fortress to desperately try and sneak into the one place where literally everyone who wanted to get at me was gonna be.

I was not looking forward to it.

And, yeah, I know it's kinda my fault for not bringing a lunch but I NEVER bring a lunch so I just don't think about it. There's just something really gross about food sitting in a bag in your locker for half the day. Totally freaks me out.

I tried not to think about lunch, but instead of concentrating on my work all I could think about was Owen. Did he have problems with math too? Did he like history? Did he think English was boring? Has he ever had detention? By the time lunch came around I'd pretty much perfected multitasking, I could yell at myself for being an idiot about Owen while thinking about how hot he probably looks concentrating on a hard math problem.

Then Mr Collins told us that we could go buy lunch. Before he even finished the part about being back in twenty minutes or getting another day added to our sentence I was out the door and running down the hall.

I made it to the lunch room in record time and the only thing anyone said to me was a "watch it, asshole!" shouted at my back as I ran by.

I didn't have as much luck when I got to the cafeteria.

I managed to make it to the food line without being noticed by anyone, but it turns out that waiting in line with a bunch of people isn't the best way to stay hidden.

"Hey," the annoyingly peppy blonde girl in front of me said. "Aren't you that kid that tried to molest Jarred in the showers?"

And that was all it took. Everyone within hearing distance stopped talking and turned all their attention to me. I let my hair fall in front of my face and tried really hard to pretend I didn't hear her. Maybe that'd work this time. And, what do you know, it actually did. She didn't ask me again.

Unfortunately that was because someone else answered.

"Yeah, that's him." My eyes darted to my left and I saw another bright red jersey. That's all I needed, another fucking football player. Dammit.

"Oh. My. God!" the first blonde turned around and yelled. "Amanda! This is the kid that tried to feel up your boyfriend!" she pointed at me.

Ah, fuck.

This was.....not gonna end well.

Amanda Ritter was Jarred Walters with a vagina. Think of every total bitch teen movie stereotype ever and then add about ten pounds of makeup and you've got a pretty good idea of what she's like. Vain, mean, totally obsessed with being loved by everyone and if that wasn't enough reason to want nothing to do with her, she was dating Jarred again. Well, this week anyway.

And now she was standing in front of me with her arms crossed glaring down at me. Did I mention how tall she was? I mean, she's only a year older than me, I shouldn't have to look up that far.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded. "Don't they expel people for doing what you did?"

More people were watching now and I felt my face heat up. I wanted to say something, I wanted to SCREAM that I didn't try to blow Jarred or whatever people were saying I did now, I wanted to yell that all I did was look at the idiot who decided to play with his dick in the high school showers and that if anyone did something gay in the locker room that it was Jarred.....but all I did was stand there and soak up the stares and the mocking giggles.

"Well?" she shoved me and just to add even more humiliation to this whole thing it was hard enough to make me stumble back a few steps. Everyone laughed. "Who the hell let you back into school you little freak?" Great, now everyone knows that even girls can push me around. I clenched my eyes shut as tight as I could, thankful that my hair kept people from seeing what I was doing. You will NOT cry Andy. You will. Not. Fucking. CRY.

"Oh my god." the jersey jock laughed. "What a pussy!"

Everyone laughed again. Aren't there supposed to be teachers here? There's a pretty big crowd holding up the lunch line, somebody should really come check this out and then FUCKING SAVE ME!

"Hey Andy." I jumped at the familiar voice that cut through the laughter from right next to me. My eyes shot open and standing right next to me wearing baggy jeans and a tight tanktop that showed off her leanly muscled arms and the very bottom of her tight, ripply stomach was Cheryl. I don't think I'd ever been happier to see her.

"What do YOU want, dyke?" Amanda asked disdainfully, but I noticed that she took a small step away when she noticed Cheryl. After a certain incident last year that ended with three members of the varsity football team bloody, and one of them sobbing like a two year old, no one was all that interested in pissing Cheryl off. Normally it'd be a huge hit to my barely there pride to hide behind her but with the way today was going I'd fucking gladly play the little bitch if it got me the hell out of here before I started crying or got my ass kicked by a girl.

"Oh, hi Amanda!" Cheryl said cheerfully and took a step towards her, smiling happily. Amanda practically jumped backwards and I had to fight not to laugh. Most of the people around us stopped looking so interested and a few even went back to their conversations, but mostly they just tried to avoid getting noticed while still watching. Actually, they were probably more interested now than they were before. Everyone had seen me get my ass kicked before, so that wasn't really all that big a deal. Almost no one had ever actually seen Cheryl fight. Mostly people just see the part after the fight where the people stupid enough to start something with her were carried off to the nurses office and, more often than not, to the hospital right after. "I didn't see you there. How have you been?"

Amanda gave her a wary, confused look. She didn't seem like she had any idea how to react to Cheryl's casual cheerfulness. "Fine." she said, then scowled. "Whatever." she looked around and seemed to remember that she was in a crowded room and took that to mean she was probably safe from getting attacked. Her sneer returned. "Get the hell out of here." she said. "This doesn't have anything to do with you."

"You can flirt with Andy later." Cheryl said breezily, pushing a few of the dark brown strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail behind her ear. "I need him right now."

That actually got a few chuckles from the crowd and I couldn't help grinning for just a second at the two tiny pink spots that formed on Amanda's cheeks.

"I'm-" she started but Cheryl acted like she hadn't heard her.

"By the way that's an awesome shirt." Cheryl said, nodding towards the baby blue, um, girl shirt thing that Amanda was wearing. "It'd really suck if you got blood all over it." The sweet smile on her lips was completely at odds with the hard, threatening look in her eyes.

Amanda's mouth froze open mid word and she looked like her brain shorted out from trying to decide whether to be offended or scared. I never got the chance to find out what she decided because almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth Cheryl grabbed my wrist and pulled be after her as she walked quickly towards the tables.

"You're my hero." I said gravely after catching up with her.

"I know." she said simply. We got to one of the small, empty, round tables and she pointed at a chair. "Sit."

I rolled my eyes, but sat down. I usually hated when she started treating me like a pet but we'd been friends long enough for me to know to pick my battles with her. "Seriously," I said as she sat down across from me. "Thanks."

She stared at me for a second, then sighed sadly. "Wow, they must have really gotten to you if you're not even gonna yell at me for doing that."

I closed my eyes briefly. "I don't really wanna talk about it." I said softly.

"Alright." she said, just as soft. We were silent for a few seconds before she let out a very un-girly but so very Cheryl snort. "And get your hair out of your face. I wanna actually see my best friend instead of looking at his hair and getting all jealous."

I let out a tiny, annoyed laugh but brushed my hair back so it was held behind my ears. My hair was one of those things that always came up between us. She always went on about how completely unfair it was that I washed with generic brand shampoo and had shiny, silky hair and she had to spend a half hour every day just to keep hers from being frizzy, and I hated the constant reminder that I was less than manly. "Happy?" I asked.

She nodded. "Very. You're way too pretty to cover yourself up like that." she said with a smirk.

I flushed slightly and snapped. "Shut up."

She must have sensed that she was getting really close to crossing the "friendly teasing-insulting Andy" line because she gave me a small, apologetic smile and pushed her bag of lunch towards me. "Here. Eat this."

I stared at it for a second, a little bit grossed out, but then sighed and moved it in front of me. Eating old locker food was a lot more appealing than trying to wait in the lunch line again. "Thanks." I said.

She gave me a brief, "no problem" smile then asked, "So when do you have to get back?"

I looked at the clock on the cafeteria wall. I only had another seven minutes before I needed to get back to the detention room, but sitting here with Cheryl was the first time since my run in with Simon that I'd felt even a little bit good all day and I wasn't in any mood to give that up. "Screw it." I said. "I'll just stay here."

Cheryl cocked an eyebrow. "You sure?"

I nodded and opened up her lunch bag. Inside was a tightly wrapped ham and cheese sandwich, a small bag of chips and an even smaller bag of cookies. Suddenly, I was very hungry. "Yeah." I said as I took the food out. "Another day of detention is more of a reward than a punishment right now anyway."

"Andy..." she said sadly.

I cut her off with a scowl. "Here." I said and shoved my lunch money at her. "Buy something so you don't starve."

She rolled her eyes and pushed the money back to me. "There was an entire other half to that sandwich, I'm fine. Besides, you know I don't like owin' you money."

My heart suddenly skipped a beat. She said Owen. Well, ok, yeah, she actually just left the "g" off "owing" but it sounded like Owen and now I'm thinking about him again and I don't have anything to distract me! Is he in the lunch room right now? What's he eating? Does he bring his own food or buy his lunch? Would he think my hatred of bagged lunches is weird? Cute? Stupid? Endearing? Would he talk while he ate or wait until he swallowed? God I bet his voice would sound perfect even with a mouthful of food.

"What the hell is with that sappy, lovestruck smile?" Cheryl's voice cut through my thoughts like a viciously serrated knife. Reality came crashing back to my my absolute horror I could FEEL the smile on my lips. My eyes widened and I blushed horribly.

"I'm not in love!" I cried with more than a bit of panic. My eyes widened and I clamped my hands over my mouth. Oh my god! Why did I say that!? That sounds like I'm in denial. Which I'm not! Because I'm not in love. Love is stupid and fake and doesn't exist and damn this stupid Owen crush it's making me act like a damn girl!

"Oh. My. God." Cheryl said with a grin that was half shock and half delight. "Does my bitter, cynical Andy actually have a crush on someone?"

"No!" I yelled and covered my mouth again. Goddammit Andy! What the fuck!? Shut the hell up!

"You do!" she accused. She leaned in closer to me and looked around to make sure no one was around to overhear before going on. "What's his name? Is he hot? Have you actually talked to him yet?" she asked eagerly.

I was turning even redder so I covered my face with my hands and shook my head.

Cheryl laughed. "You are way too cute."

I opened my fingers so my eyes were visible enough to glare at her. She just rolled her eyes. "Oh come on. You can't just turn all red and then hide behind your hands like that and expect me NOT to call you out on how fucking adorable it is."

"Shut up." I growled and kept up my glare.

She sighed. "Fine. I'm not letting this go, but how about this? I'll tell you who I like then you tell me who you like. Fair, right?"

I groaned. "Cheryl, I-"

"It's Brandon Carol." she said easily.

"-don't want-" I froze, then blinked. I absently noticed my hands slowly sliding away from my face as my brain tried to figure out if I heard her right or if I was going insane. "What?" I asked stupidly.

"What?" she asked back.

I shook my head. "Brandon Carol?"

She nodded. "Brandon Carol."

I blinked again. "Cheryl." I said patiently. "He's the president of the GSA." She arched an eyebrow as if to say 'yeah, so?' I rolled my eyes. "Emphasis on the 'G'!"

She shrugged. "So what? He'll still be mine."

I gaped at her. I....literally have no idea how to respond to that.

"Oh." Cheryl said with a frown. "Is he the guy you like?"

"Hell no!" I yelled with a look of total disgust. "Not in a million years!" I shuddered.

If I was ever gonna feel anything for Brandon freaking Carol it would be burning resentment followed by an intense need to throw something heavy at his head. He was easily the most stereotypically gay boy in the entire school district and, while that really doesn't bother me itself, the fact that he's so obviously gay and has NEVER got even a fraction of the abuse that I've gotten over the years just pisses me off every time I think about it. That he has a group of friends that he fits in with just makes it worse.

"Then what's the problem?" she asked.

I shook my head to clear all thoughts of anyone thinking that I might like Brandon out of my head. "He's GAY, Cheryl. You can't date a gay guy because you're a girl!"

In the face of my overwhelming logic and common sense, she just smirked. "We'll see." I opened my mouth but she cut me off. "But since I told you, now it's your turn. Who do you like?"

I was still reeling over the whole 'wanting to date a gay guy' thing that the sudden change of subject, or I guess the sudden moving the subject back to what it was, threw me. "I-what? No! I'!"

"Come on, Andyman!" she demanded. "Tell me."

I groaned. "You're really bringing that one back?"

"If you don't tell me, that's all I'm gonna call you." she threatened.

I narrowed my eyes. "Sure you wanna do that, Cher-bear?"

She glared at me. "You promised!"

"You promised too!"

"What's his name!?"


I blinked.

Cheryl look surprised for a second, then crossed her arms and gave me a satisfied smirk, all traces of anger gone.

What.....what the hell just happened here?

"I don't know anyone named Owen." she said thoughtfully. "Where'd you meet him?"

"I-I..." No, seriously, what the HELL just happened? And why do I feel so trapped?

She sighed. "You don't need to look all panicked, Andy. I'm not gonna make fun of you for liking somebody or whatever's freaking you out so much. It's just...I've never seen you even LOOK at someone who wasn't me or our parents with anything other than wariness and suspicion and you looked so....I dunno, blissful or something." She shrugged. "I just wanna know who can put that look on your face." She looked me in the eye. "Besides you already told me his name, you might as well tell me the rest."

I noticed my breathing was rapid and panicked right about when it started slowing down. Cheryl was right. Well, partly anyway. I knew she wouldn't make fun of me for liking Owen, well not much anyway and not in a mean way. But....ok as stupid as it sounds I don't wanna share him. This whole stupid, bad idea crush was fragile enough already and it felt like if I talked about it just the breath from my words would tear it apart.

Oh god, did I really just say something that stupid and sappy? This is even worse than I thought! It didn't even take a day for me to turn into a melodramatic love song! This is what happens when you listen to music that puts stupid ideas like true love and happily ever afters into your head. You get all twisted up over a freaking VOICE of all things! Damn you Taylor Swift what the hell have you done to me?!

Still.....even knowing that, even KNOWING that this was gonna all end in tears, I couldn't forget the way talking to him made me feel. I couldn't forget that he was the only person besides Cheryl to see a weakness in me and not use it to rip me apart. I couldn't forget his voice and how every single word he said to me was burned into my brain.

I couldn't forget the way he said my name.

And, suddenly, I found that I actually kinda did wanna talk about him. But I could at least try and tell myself it was only because I wanted Cheryl to point out all the flaws that I was overlooking in my....likestruck daze and bring me back to reality so I could get over this and go back to the comfortable loneliness of not hoping.

It wouldn't work, but I could try to tell myself that.

"We-we didn't meet, really." I started haltingly. I grabbed Cheryl's half drunk PowerAde and took a big gulp. "He was on the radio, on the school station last night and he has a call in request show and, god, he had the most amazing voice I'd ever heard. It was....I can't even explain it. It was perfect." The sigh was out before I could stop it and I blushed and looked down at the table, but pushed on. "Anyway I called in and I was so scared I almost hung up but he sounded so sad that I wouldn't talk that I just couldn't and, Jesus Cheryl he was SO nice. It's not even REAL how nice he was. He talked to me and said my name and he liked Avril and Taylor Swift and he didn't make fun of ME for liking them and, I fell asleep happy." My voice lowered. "After everything that happened yesterday I fell asleep happy just from a ten minute conversation."

I took a deep breath and let it out as I waited for Cheryl to say something. Reliving last night, talking about it, it was made it more real, somehow. That sounds so stupid, but it's true. And suddenly I was terrified that Cheryl would do what I tried to convince myself I wanted her to do and rip it all apart.

After about a minute of silence where I felt like I was waiting for someone to flip the switch on the electric chair I couldn't take it anymore. I forced myself to tear my eyes away from the table and look at Cheryl.

She was staring at me, her mouth open in a perfect "O" of surprise, looking more shocked than I'd EVER seen her. I started to get even more scared. "Cheryl?" I asked tentatively.

She blinked a few times, then finally broke the silence.

"YOU called into a RADIO SHOW?" she gasped.

I nodded.

"YOU." she said again, no less shocked. "CALLED into a RADIO SHOW. You?"

I frowned. "THAT'S all you have to say?"

"Jesus Andy!" She yelled, and I was thankful that we were far away from everyone else. Being an outcast has it's good parts I guess. "You almost fainted last year when you had to call that hotel that your dad was staying at on his business trip. You used to screen calls from MY phone just to make sure it was me. So, yeah, you calling into a radio show is a pretty big deal."

I let out a disgusted snort. "Aren't you gonna tell me how stupid I'm being? That I should forget about him and live in the real world where I don't get stupid crushes on radio voices?"

Her surprised look quickly melted into her well practiced, "Andy you're being an idiot" scowl and she reached across the table and slapped the side of my head.

"Ow!" I yelped, pulling back and rubbing my head.

"Andy." she said sternly. "If you even THINK about not talking to him again I'm gonna smack you even harder."

I blinked, the pain completely pushed aside by the shock. "What?" I said stupidly.

She sighed. "You've had so much shit happen to you that you can't even see something that could be great when it's right in front of you, so I'm gonna be extra clear for the emotionally impaired." She fixed me with a hard look. "If you let this go you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Call him again."

"What?" I was shaking my head before the word was even out of my mouth. "No! way!"

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because!" I said helplessly. "He...I...Dammit Cheryl! I...."

"He makes you feel better." Cheryl said when it became clear I couldn't put a thought together. "And right now you need that." she sighed. "You're always so closed off to everyone but me, you've even gotten distant with your dad-and I know why!" she rushed to finished when I tried to defend myself. "You haven't had the best track record with people and you're scared about what's gonna happen when your dad finds out your gay so you close yourself off, I get it. But, you can't do that with everyone for the rest of your life. This guy...he sounds nice and you obviously like him." She gave me a small smile. "He could at least be a friend Andy. And maybe more. But you'll never know unless you TALK to him! And if just hearing his voice could get you over your phone thing maybe getting to know him could fix the rest of you, too."

See, this is the problem with opening up to people. With anyone else I could have been able to block out the words and tell myself that it was just more crap from someone who's screwing with me. But Cheryl? She was already inside my walls. Hell, even if she wasn't she was there when they were built so she knew all the secret ways to get by them. I had to listen to her.

But I didn't want to. I didn't want to hear her say the things that I wouldn't even let myself hope for because, fine, I'm a big fucking pussy, ok? I LIKE my walls. I LIKE being alone. I LIKE knowing exactly what to expect from people, which is never anything good, because it's so much better than getting my hopes up for nothing.

Except I don't like it, and it's not better, and ever since last night it's getting harder and harder to pretend that it is.

What is it about Owen that just shattered everything? I didn't even know him and that was just beyond pathetic. The only way it could have been worse is if I met him online. He didn't know me and I didn't know him so there was no reason for him to make me feel the way I do. But no one else knows me either and they automatically treat me like shit, so maybe that's why. Maybe all I was looking for was somebody to meet me and just be NICE to me for no other reason than that they thought I deserved being nice to.

I didn't wanna think about this right then, or ever. But really not after the day I'd had. So I just said the first thing that popped into my head to keep Cheryl from saying anything else, which was probably a bad idea. "I'm not broken." I said sullenly.

"Yeah, you are." She said in her painfully direct Cheryl way. "And I know other people broke you, but you can't put yourself back together, and neither can I, but maybe radio boy can. Or maybe not. But it's a step in the right direction. So call him again."

"I can't!" I whined and, yeah it was a real whine and, yeah, it was just as pathetic as you're probably imagining. But I couldn't help it. How could I even START to explain how scary this was? How fucking easy it would be to feel something for Owen beyond...whatever it is that I feel for him now. How much it would just completely destroy me if it all went bad. I couldn't. Not even to Cheryl. Not then. "Can we PLEASE just drop it for now?" I begged, looking into her eyes. I knew she wouldn't forget about it completely but I hoped she'd at least be able to leave it alone for a few days. At least until the worst of the "get the fag!" crap was over with.

She looked at me for a few seconds, then growled softly under her breath. "Dammit! You know I can't say no to the big, brown puppy dog eyes!" she huffed and crossed her arms, looking more like a little girl than she'd ever looked. Even as a little girl. It almost made me smile. "But we're NOT done with this." she added with a sharp glare. Yep. That was more my Cheryl. Especially as a little girl. "Just, please think about it, ok?"

"Kay." I said. It was an easy promise to give. It wasn't like I was gonna be able to think of anything else for a while.

"Ok." she said with a nod and an implied, 'I'll hold you to that'.

Lunch was almost over but we spent the rest of the time mostly in silence, eating Cheryl's chips and occasionally talking about unimportant crap until the bell rang.

"You want me to walk you back?" she asked as we were throwing her garbage away.

"No." I said with a tiny smile. "I'm good. Besides your next class is nowhere near the detention room anyway. You'll be late."

She snorted. "Yeah because I just love history so much." I shook my head, but didn't say anything. "Call me after school, kay?"

"I will." I said and with one last, small smile and a wave, I left.

After spending lunch with Cheryl I was actually feeling....well, not good really, that would have been a Paula-Abdul-showing-up-to-the-X-Factor-sober type of miracle, but I was feeling a lot better than I thought I would. So, of course, that's when I had to run into Jarred.


"Hey asshole, watch where you're go-" he stopped after shoving me away and noticing just who'd run into him around that corner. His eyebrows raised in surprise, then quickly settled into a scowl. "You." he said menacingly.



This is the LAST thing I needed right now! Fucking Jarred Walters in all his 6"2', hard bodied, wavy brown haired, piercing blue eyed, boyishly good looking glory standing in front of me looking at me like I was a pile of dog crap he'd just stepped in. Not all that unusual. The look I mean. But after the way today had gone I went from being mildly not horrible to fucking terrified in less than a second, and I HATED that.

Ok. Ok, Andy, just stay calm. Let him insult you, push you around, whatever. Then he'll leave and you can go run back to detention and be extra grateful that you've got an extra day now. There's still a lot of people in the hall so he's not gonna do anything too terrible to you. Plus he's alone, he's usually a lot less evil when he's alo-

"Oh my god, is that faggot trying to feel you up again man?"

Oh crap! That was Kyle and, yeah, there he is, coming around the corner....shit, of course that's why I thought he was alone. Jarred always leads the pack, which means Kyle might not be the only one following him around that corner....

Almost as soon as I thought it, it came true. Behind Kyle came Simon and three other boys from the football team, all wearing their bright red jerseys and all looking at me with a mix of amused delight and impending malice. All except Jarred, he just looked pissed.

It didn't take long before I was backed up against the nearest wall with a semi-circle of jocks crowding me in. It was like being surrounded by a wall of Axe body spray and ridiculously high self esteem. This was gonna really, really suck.

"He didn't feel me up." Jarred said, still glaring at me.

Simon laughed and I wasn't all that surprised, but still a bit grateful, that there was nothing of how he looked at me at the bus stop in his mocking grin. "I bet he wanted to though."

"Yeah." Kyle took up. "Jesus how pathetic is that? Can't even keep his hands to himself in the middle of school. He must want you really bad dude."

I let my hair fall in front of my eyes, but it didn't make me feel any more secure. They had me trapped and it looked like they were gearing up for a pretty long stay so all I could do is just stand there and take it and hope they didn't start beating on me if they didn't get bored and leave by the time the bell rang and the halls cleared. Not that the people in the halls now seemed to be all that eager to stop them if something happened. Everyone was purposely looking the other way, ignoring what was going on while they walked by. I saw Brandon and his group of GSA followers coming down the hall. A few of them actually met my eyes and I must be going insane because for a split second I thought that just maybe one of them would say something, but one by one they all just looked away and walked by.

You were dead wrong on that one Cheryl.

"He better keep his hands to himself." Jarred growled. "I don't want some homo touching me." He leaned in closer to me. I tried to take a panicked jump back but I was already against the wall and only managed to bang my head a bit on the concrete. They all laughed, even Jarred, but his cruel glare was quickly turned back on me. "Did you hear me, Brandy? Touch me again and it'll be the last thing you ever do."

God I hate this! I hate always being laughed at. I hate not being big enough or strong enough to fight back. I hate that I was JUST starting to feel like today maybe wasn't gonna be as horrible as I thought, that MAYBE I could get through this and get home and not have to feel like I'm so much less than everyone else. I HATE that Jarred fucking Walters gets to stand there and make Saturday morning cartoon villain threats and there's NOTHING I can do or say that won't just make everything a hundred times worse! Most of all? I hate how fucking familiar this all is. I hate that this isn't first or fifth or even the hundredth time something like this has happened to me. I hate that it's always me. And...I hate that this had to happen RIGHT after Cheryl messed my head up over the whole Owen thing because that's the only explanation I have for what happened next.

"You seemed pretty eager to touch me yesterday when you were all naked and boned up, maybe I should be the one worrying about getting felt up."

Who....who the hell said that? I blinked. That sounded like my....but it couldn't be because I'm not that stupid.....but they're all looking at me like I.....

Oh Andy, you idiot. What the hell did you do?

I closed my eyes. I knew what was coming, and I definitely didn't wanna see it. Yeah I'm a huge pussy remember, don't act so surprised.

But you know what's kinda funny? Before the first punch hit me and all I could think of was the best way to curl up into a ball, there was only one thought in my head: That look on Jarred's face? That wide eyed, surprised and slightly horrified look?

So almost worth it.

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