Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 4

Posted: N/A

I'm in a locker.

No, really, a fucking LOCKER.

Seriously, what the fuck?! I didn't even think people DID that anymore! I mean, what's next, swirlies? Wedgies? Putting gum in my hair? Honestly, right now, I'm more annoyed at how ridiculous and cliched this all is than that I'm actually IN a locker. It's not like this was the best day I've ever had, more like the worst, but a locker? Really?


All day I've been made fun of, pushed into walls, had my books knocked out of my hands and about a hundred other tiny little cruelties that people in high school seem to be experts at. It was like the world was punishing me for having an entire weekend where I was happy. And it all got to me. A whole three days of sitting around all swoony and dazed over thinking about Owen saying he liked me and my walls were shot. I couldn't keep ANYTHING out. Every comment, every shove, every laugh was like the first time all over again. All my defenses might have well have not even been there because since I walked into homeroom and Jarred said "Don't bend over guys, you don't know what Tandy'll do to your ass" it's been like open season on Andy and I had no hope of being ignored. The sharks smelled blood and they wanted to eat.

And they did. And that's exactly what it felt like too. Being eaten alive from the inside out. I knew people didn't like me. I knew I'd get made fun of for what happened with Jarred in the shower. I just didn't expect people to be so damn ENTHUSIASTIC about it. It was like they'd been waiting their entire lives for Andy the fag boy to slip up and out himself and now that I supposedly had they weren't gonna waste a second that they could spend ripping me apart. I guess I should just be grateful that it wasn't everybody. But honestly? The ones who didn't join in and just sat there letting it happen hurt me just as bad. I never expected anything out of anyone before but after just a week of talking to Owen and learning that there were actually decent people in the world, I started to hope. Hope that maybe someone would say something, not even defend me, just say something like "Dude, let it go." or "Just leave him alone this is getting boring" or SOMETHING to show that they had a problem with the way I was being treated. But they just ignored it. And I just felt stupid for expecting anything else.

Jarred and his friends were the worst, of course. They took every chance they got to draw attention to me and egg everyone on whenever it looked like people might be losing interest. They were also the only ones to get physical. Nothing like what happened last week, but I got shoved and tripped and "flat tired" -where they step on the back of your sneaker so when you walk it comes off- more than I had all freaking year. And every time it happened I looked up into the face of a smirking jock stereotype.

And then I got stuffed into a locker.

That one was Jarred and Simon. They grabbed me after History when I was on the way to gym. There weren't any teachers around because, well I was on my way to gym. Can you blame me for dragging my feet a littl-.....ok a lot? Not exactly my happiest place. At first I thought they were gonna just beat me up or something but instead of dragging me off to a dark corner they pushed me, books and all, into the first locker they could find that wasn't locked all the way. Which didn't take long. Most kids twist the combination thing just enough so the locker doesn't open when you pull on the latch, but not enough to actually reset the combination so they can just twist it slightly and have the locker open without having to remember something as complicated as three numbers.

So, here I am, on the worst day of my life crammed into a space that even my narrow shoulders can barely fit into, getting more and more melodramatic with nothing to do but think about how awful today was and how fucking STUPID it is to be stuck in a locker. I wanted to wish Owen was here, but I couldn't even do that. Jumping in to save me from getting my ass kicked I could deal with, probably even really, really like. But having him see me stuffed into a tiny locker like some kid in an unoriginal coming of age book? Hell no. I'd die of embarrassment. Literally die.

I glared at the little slits in the top if the locker and kicked the door for the fifth time, but just like the other four all it did was shake slightly and make a loud clanging sound that probably sounded way louder in here than it did in the hall. I wonder who's locker it is? Maybe I'll get lucky and it's Cheryl's. Or maybe I'll get really unlucky and it's Owen's.

At least I was missing gym. Hey, maybe I'll even get detention for cutting.

I heard a tiny giggle come out of nowhere and I was so startled I jumped. Or tried to. More like I shifted slightly towards "up" and got stuck there. Who the hell giggled though? I heard another one. Oh. That would be me. Probably going insane. In a locker. I started to giggle again but cut myself off before it could turn into a full on manic laugh.

"No! Andy you are NOT going to go nuts in a locker. People have been trying to break you for years and you've never cracked before and you SURE as hell aren't gonna start now! You are not-" Kick. "-going to let-" Kick. "-this stupid-" Kick. "-fucking-" Kick. "-fifties sitcom cliché-" Kick. "-beat you!" Kick. "I'm not the fucking Beaver godDAMMIT!" Kick! Kick! KickkickkickkickkickkickKICKKICKKICKKICK-

"Hey! Is...someone in there?" A voice drifted through the metal door.

I stopped kicking the second I heard it. I wasn't just yelling out loud, was I? God, of all the dumb things to worry about-answer him idiot! "Yeah! Um, I'm in here."

"Shit dude, how did you get in there?" The voice asked. It was a guy, but I didn't recognize the voice. It definitely wasn't Owen and I was pretty sure all of Jarred's friends knew what him and Simon did by now so they wouldn't be talking to anyone kicking a locker from the inside-well, unless they were making fun of me but this guy wasn't so I figured he was probably ok. At the very least he'd wait until he got me out and saw who I was to start in. But at least I'd be out.

"I was....locked in." I said lamely. "By-" No! No names! He might tell a teacher and if Jarred gets in trouble he'll probably throw you in a used toilet next time. "-someone." I winced, god even through a locker door I'm socially awkward.

"Dammit! That's so-" he cut himself off with a growl. "People are assholes. I'll get you out, dude."

In a testament to how pathetic my life really is, that almost made me break down and cry tears of gratitude. "Th-" I swallowed and tried again. "Thanks." I said softly.

"No problem." I heard some scratching sounds as whoever it was out there fumbled around with the combination lock. "Um, what's the combo?"

"I don't know." I said.

"Well, who's locker is it?"

"I don't know! I was just-" Don't yell at him! He might leave you here! "-it was the first one that was open." I finished quietly.

I heard another growl, this one sounded frustrated. "Crap. I'm gonna have to go get a teacher-"

"No!" I yelled. A teacher is the LAST thing I needed. You can twist a fight into 'getting jumped from behind' and adults will believe it, but there's no way anyone's gonna believe that I didn't see someone that shoved me inside a locker. I'll get sent to the principal's and with as fragile as I am right now I'll probably crack in less than two seconds under his 'I know you're hiding something an I'm gonna find out what it is' glare. "No teachers! Please." I begged. God, I sounded pathetic. I really hope this isn't someone I know.

I heard a muffled noise that was probably an exasperated sigh. "How do you want me to get you out then?"

I don't-!" No yelling, remember? "I don't know." I thought frantically for a second then said the first thing that popped into my head. "Do you have a crowbar?"

Silence. "I'm gonna go get a teacher."

"No! Wait!" A crowbar Andy, really? Of all the stupid-wait! "Wait! I have an idea!"

There was a pause and I started to worry that he actually ran off and got a teacher when he spoke. "Ok." he said skeptically. "What's your idea?"

"We need to pry it open-"

"I don't have a crowbar."

"-it doesn't matter!" I tried to frustratedly brush my hair away from my face but I couldn't get my hand close enough to my head. Great I can't even vent my sudden anger even the littlest bit. But, maybe that's a good thing. At least I'm apparently too angry to be shy. "Do you have a text book?"

"Um, a few, why?" He sounded confused.

"Ok, I'll push on the locker near the bottom with my feet. It's far enough away from the lock that it'll probably bend a bit and when it does you can slip the book in and help me pry the door open." Our textbooks are kinda thick, but very sturdy. I'd have to get a decent sized gap but if I did this should work.

More silence. "I'm getting a teacher."


"Look, this MacGuyver crowbar thing isn't gonna work."


".....never mind." I heard an exasperated sigh pretty clearly this time.

"Let's just try it ok? Please?" I begged. I tried the whine again. It worked with Cheryl and it might work here. Yeah, the shattered tatters of my dignity couldn't take much more of this and have any hope of not completely falling apart, but putting that against the claustrophobia I can feel developing in the back of my head, I didn't really care. This was already the worst day of my life and it wasn't even half over yet, there was no way I was gonna let them give me a brand new neurosis on top of everything else.

"Fine." he said reluctantly. Yes! It worked! 3 and 0! Ok, maybe I really am going crazy. Calm down Andy. "But if it doesn't work I'm gonna get a teacher."

"Fine fine. If it doesn't work we'll try a few more things then you can get a teacher."

"That's not what I-"

"Ok! I'm gonna start pushing now!" Suddenly I'm really grateful to Cheryl for teaching me how to cut people off. "Get the book ready!"

He didn't say anything, but I thought I heard some rustling and maybe a zipper so I was hopeful that he was listening to me and getting his book instead of running off to find a teacher. It took probably less than a minute, but my newfound dislike of dark, closed in spaces and my fear that he might have ran off made it seem like a lot longer. "I'm ready." he said, sounding bored. No, maybe not bored. Resigned I guess.

"Ok. I'm gonna push. When the gap gets big enough put the book in and start prying ok?"


"Ok." I muttered to myself. I was still stuck a little bit too high up to get good leverage so I sucked in my shoulders as much as I could and tried to wiggle myself down a little bit. It took some work, hurt just a little, and it was the only time in my life I wished I was smaller, but I managed to get myself down far enough. When I was in position I braced myself against the back of the locker, put my feet on the bottom of the door and PUSHED.

"Come on, come on, come on." I said under my breath as I strained against the door. Jesus you'd think with how cheap this school is about everything else the lockers wouldn't be made out of the stuff armored cars-

"Hey I can see a gap!" the guy said, sounding astonished.

"Can a" I ground out between gritted teeth. This was a lot harder than I thought it would be. And that's not even mentioning the coat hook digging into my shoulder.

"Not yet, but if you can get it a little more maybe......there! Hang on let me get the book in."

"Hurry." I growled. My legs were starting to shake from the strain.

Something hit the door and I heard the sounds of something being shoved between two pieces of metal. "Ok! It's in."

I dropped my legs with a relieved sigh. Oh my god! That hurt! And now I had to push myself back up and do the same thing above the latch? This....was not well thought out.

But it was still better than getting a teacher involved.

"Ok." I panted. "Give me....a sec...." I squirmed my way up as far as I could, trying to ignore the pain of the coat hook as it dragged across my shoulder and then my back. I didn't do a very good job and by the time I was in position for part two my eyes were tearing up. If one good thing can come out of getting beat up all the time you'd think it'd be a high pain tolerance but, nope. "Ok. Ready." I said, less than enthusiastically.

Strangely enough he seemed to have picked up whatever enthusiasm I lost. "Great! When I count to three you push and I'll pry."

I nodded, then remembered he couldn't see me. "Ok. Wait, is it one, two and push on three or one, two, three then push?"

He laughed. "I'm too old for this shit."

I blinked. "What?"

"From Lethal Weapon?"

"What?" I asked again. I'm confused.

"It's a quote from Lethal Weapon." he said slowly, like I was dumb for not getting it. "You were quoting Lethal Weapon, so I did too."

"I was....huh?" What did I say? "I've never even seen Lethal Weapon."

He let out what could have been either a frustrated or disgusted snort. "Uh, ok, fine. Push ON three ok?" And now I'm getting attitude? Because I've never seen a- "One, two, THREE!"

I let the thought go as I started pushing. It was uncomfortable, awkward and hard but after about two minutes of both of us straining the door finally popped open with a CLANG and I tumbled out onto the floor.

"Ow." I mumbled and picked myself up.

"Are you-" I looked up at the guy who saved me from the locker just in time to see his eyes widen in recognition at the same time I recognized him. "-Oh, it's you." he said and took a step back. It was a small step, but I still felt a tiny fist squeeze inside my chest when he did it. My shoulders slumped slightly and I let my hair fall in front of my face as I looked away.

"Th-thanks." I mumbled and started picking up my books. Now that the claustrophobia was gone all that was left was embarrassment and the need to get as far away from Kevin Kaplan as I could.

Kevin was one of Brandon's GSA friends, actually the most normal one from what I could tell. He was good enough looking, I guess, if you like the all American boy look. A few inches taller than me, average build, wavy light brown hair, brown eyes. Gay. Of course if you're a guy and you're friends with Brandon that kinda goes without saying. The last time I saw him I was about a minute from Jarred's fist flying into my mouth and he was walking right on by, ignoring what was happening.

This time was worse.

That look in his eyes when he saw it was me he rescued from the locker and how fast he wanted to put distance between us would be burned into my mind for a while. I hoped I was just imagining the regret I saw there but with the way today was going I probably wasn't. It completely figures though. Someone actually goes out of their way to help me out and once they realize it's me they're helping they can't get away fast enough.

I managed to get my books together without looking at him. I did it in record time too. I needed to get out of there before he tried to say anything. Even if I had no place to go but gym. I didn't know what would be worse, awkward fake apologies or hostility, but I didn't wanna stick around to find out what I was gonna get.

Turns out I wasn't fast enough though.

"Hey, um." he started. Dammit, he's talking. And it sounds like he's leaning toward awkward fake apology. I pretended I didn't hear him and started to walk away. "Hey! Wait!"

I ignored him and picked up my pace. If I could just get around a corner and break his line of sight on me he could forget it and I won't have to go through any stupid-I heard the footsteps coming up behind me a split second before a hand touched my shoulder. "Wait a second." he sounded frustrated.

I quickly shook his hand off my shoulder and took one step away. It's nice to see my defenses haven't been TOTALLY ruined I guess. I did stop and turn around though. If he was that determined to make himself feel better by making some half assed apology we might as well just get it over with. I didn't want him chasing me down the hall.

I stood tensely, waiting for him to say something. He just stood there looking at me for a few seconds, like he was waiting for me to say something. Or maybe move my hair so he could look me in the eyes. Like any of THAT'S gonna happen. Or maybe he wasn't gonna apologize at all and he just wanted to threaten me into silence about him helping me. That, sadly, was actually a possibility.

He sighed slightly. "Look," he said finally. "Um, I'm sorry, ok? I just......didn't expect it to be you in there." he finished. Pretty lamely if you ask me. I felt my face heat up, but this time it was from anger instead of embarrassment. He chased me down the hall and stopped me just to make THAT lame ass 'apology'? He 'didn't know it was me'? What the hell is that even supposed to mean? That if he did know he would have just walked on by? That he was sorry he helped me? Or did he actually expect me to believe that not knowing he was helping me was an excuse for acting horrified that he helped me?

I glared at him, as well as I could through a curtain of hair anyway. "Just, don't ok? Thanks for helping me out and everything, but you don't need to pretend to give a crap. I won't tell anyone if that's what you're worried about." he started to say something but I cut him off. "I'm late for class. Besides," I added bitterly. "you wouldn't want someone walking by and seeing you talk to me." And with that I walked away.

"That's not what-" he started, but I didn't stick around to hear it. I scurried around the nearest corner as fast as I could. He didn't come after me, not that I really expected him to, but I let out a small relieved breath anyway. I hugged my books to my chest as I walked to gym. No one was in the halls, so I didn't have any conversations to listen to hoping I'd hear Owen. Instead I spent the walk trying to keep the tears welling up in my eyes from falling down my cheeks and trying to figure out if they were from hurt or anger.

In the end I decided to pretend it was anger.

Lucky me, I managed to get to gym with more than half the period still left. Non-sarcastic lucky me, I managed to beat my eyes into submission so when I got there I had eyes dry enough to make Ben Stein cringe. I thought about going and getting changed. There wasn't anyone in the locker room so it'd really be the first piece of good luck I had all day to actually get to change alone, but when class was over I'd just have to undress AND shower in front of everyone. I can barely handle that on normal days. Today? Not gonna happen. I'd rather get marked down as a 'did not participate' than go through that, so I passed the door to the locker room and slipped into the gym.

I started walking towards the bleachers where the other kids who didn't dress out and Tiny Tim were sitting. Tiny Tim wasn't really tiny, he was actually a bit taller than me, and he wasn't tall enough for his name to be ironic. And I don't think he can play the ukelele. The only reason I called him Tiny Tim was because his name was Tim and he was sickly. He had some kind of super asthma thing where running for more than a few seconds could actually kill him, so he got to sit out during gym and still get full credit.

Lucky bastard.

I got halfway to the bleachers before Coach Williams' stereotypical, macho man gym teacher voice shouted at me from across the gym. "Baxter!" he bellowed and I cringed and froze. God, there's nothing worse in a school for a guy like me than a gym teacher. It must be genetic or something, like dogs and cats, because every 'coach' I'd ever had seemed to hate me on sight and took special pleasure in singling me out for things that they KNEW I'd never be able to do just to humiliate me. I don't think a single week went by in 5th grade where I didn't have at least one nightmare about some demon or vampire or that guy with the knife fingers from that dream movie cornering me and yelling 'Baxter! Climb the rope!'. But Coach Williams.....well honestly he really didn't do it any worse, but I had a feeling that was gonna change. "Why aren't you dressed out?" I blinked in confusion but before I could say anything he started yelling again. "Get back to the locker room and get changed!" I hesitated. "Now!"

I started, gave a quick, puzzled look towards the kids who weren't in their gym clothes that the coach was just completely ignoring and then scurried out of the gym. Why the hell isn't he just marking me-but, I knew why. This was punishment. The rest of the school may be caught up in the rumor that I tried something with Jarred in the locker room, but Coach Williams knew the truth. Or at least enough of it. And so did the gym class. I punched Jarred Walters, Coach Williams star quarterback and even with the fuck all I know about football even I knew he was the only reason our team was gonna make it to the state finals. Can't have the normal people thinking they can just attack football royalty, so he was making an example of me. Which was stupid and unfair and kinda completely pointless since I didn't think ANYONE cared that I hit Jarred, they were too busy being hung up on me being a fag to start suddenly attacking football players because I sort of stood up to one. Not that they would anyway. Most people LIKE the football team. My shoulders slumped as I got to my locker.

This was gonna totally suck.

I changed quickly, even though no one was there I still hated being exposed like that. Not that my gym clothes helped much. We didn't exactly have a gym uniform, but it was a school rule that you needed to be in short sleeves and shorts. It was like they were designed to keep me from feeling shielded. Something I REALLY would have liked today..... I suppressed a tiny shudder and took my time folding my clothes and putting them in my locker. When I couldn't find anything to waste any more time on I reluctantly put the lock back on my locker and went back to gym.

Coach Williams was waiting for me by the door.

"Stop." he ordered in that gruff, room filling voice. Even though he was standing right next to me it still sounded like he was yelling. I stopped and spun around to face him. I didn't expect him to be there and my heart was pounding, but at least I managed to stop myself from jumping. Go Andy.

Coach Williams was tall, definitely over six feet, but somehow still looked kinda squat. He was almost as wide as he was tall and he had a giant gut hanging over his belt. He wore the usual gym teacher uniform of track pants and short sleeve shirt with the school logo -or 'crest' I guess you'd call it but I don't because this is high school, not Harvard- on them and the required whistle around the neck. Almost every bit of exposed skin was covered in thick, coarse, black hair except for his face which had one of those permanent 5 o'clock shadow things going on and the top of his head, which looked like it never had a single hair growing out of it. With the crooked, broken-at-least-once nose and the square jaw he looked like the kind of guy who didn't even use soap because it was too 'girly' and would probably shoot himself if he ever accidentally had a 'gay' thought. Which, Cheryl would say, probably means that he'd be first in line for the leather thongs at a pride parade. I suddenly remembered Cheryl's 'hairy whale of love' joke and for one tiny, terrifying second I had to bite my cheek to keep from bursting out laughing. "You know the rules." he said after taking an unnervingly long look at me. "If you're not gonna cut your hair, tie it back."

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Tie my hair back? Why? I'd never had to before. I mean, yeah I guess there was TECHNICALLY a rule that said if you had long hair it needed to be tied back in gym but they only ever enforced that for the GIRLS and even then not that much.....oh, more punishment. I...he couldn't possibly know how protected hiding behind my hair makes me feel, could he? And if he did, could he really be that cruel?

Dumb question, Andy.

I felt trapped. There was no way I could be that exposed, in GYM CLASS of all places. Not today. "I-" I had no idea what to say to make him let me keep my hair down, so I said the first thing that popped into my head. "I d-don't have anything. To tie it with." I said softly. I hate being this intimidated.

Almost before I was done talking he reached inside one of his pockets, pulled something out and tossed it at me. I flinched and took a step back, but somehow a freaking miracle happened and I actually caught it. It was soft and stretchy and-oh my god, it was a scrunchie. A pink scrunchie. "Use that." he said.

I just stared at him. He....he couldn't be SERIOUS could he...? And then I saw it, it was only there for a split second and gone, but I saw it. A smirk. A cruel, venomous smirk. He was serious.

I stared down at the scrunchie in my hand. God where did he even GET-oh who cares? I can't actually wear this. Being exposed is bad enough but going through an entire half period with this, this, THING in my hair would kill me. No, no there was no WAY I was doing this. I gathered up all the courage I had, steeled myself and looked at Coach Williams face. He must have seen something in my eyes because the second I did his hardened and he took a step closer to me. "You think real hard before you open your mouth." he said, low and gravelly. It was the lowest I'd heard his voice all year and at any other time I would have been amazed that it even got that close to quiet. "I only told the principal that you started the fight with Jarred, I didn't tell him why. But I could. I could go to him right now and tell him that you came onto him in the shower and when he shot your faggot ass down you attacked him." There was an evilly amused look in his eyes that said he knew that wasn't what happened. "Hell, I could tell him you were grabbing on Jarred today and have five witnesses that'd back me up. That's called sexual harassment, and it could get you expelled." His eyes narrowed. "I'd make sure it did." He glared at me and my stomach sank with total helplessness and fear at what he was saying. He took a step back and raised his voice back close to it's normal level, but still low enough so no one could overhear. "Now, did you have something you wanted to say?"

I swallowed the protest that I knew would never make it out of my throat anyway, looked down and shook my head.

"Good." he said. "Now tie your hair back."

My hands shaking, from anger and humiliation and trying so hard to keep the burning I felt behind my eyes from turning into actual tears, I tied my hair back with the scrunchie. I'd seen Cheryl use them a bunch of times, but it was actually a lot harder than it looked. By the time I was done, I knew I was blushing horribly and knowing that I didn't have any hair to hide it just made my face even redder. Without looking at Coach Williams I turned away, but his voice stopped me as I started to walk. "Remember this." he said. "And remember that if you try any of your fag shit in my locker room or lay hands on any of my players again, what you get is gonna be a lot worse."

I closed my eyes as hard as I could until I was a hundred percent sure I wasn't going to start crying tears of rage and embarrassment. For a split second I thought about ripping the thing out of my hair and running out of the gym. Getting expelled, for any reason, would almost be better than this. But I thought of my dad, so ready to believe that I'd just randomly start a fight in the locker room, and didn't. At some point he was gonna know I was gay. I wasn't gonna marry a girl I'd never love and be miserable my whole life just to 'carry on the family name'. And if I hadn't already decided that, this would have decided it for me. I NEVER wanted to feel this trapped and helpless ever again. But when he found out, it was gonna be when I told him. Not from a phone call that would make it seem like I'm some perverted creeper stalking boys in the locker room.

When I had myself under control I started walking. I'd gotten about to where I was before Coach Williams yelled at me the first time, when he bellowed again. "Baxter!" he shouted in his usual, loud voice. "You were twenty minutes late! Run a lap for every minute! Go!"

I clenched my teeth together as a white hot rage spread through my body, but started running.

Honestly, the running might not have been that bad since the gym wasn't all that big, but his yell drew everyone's attention to me.....and the bright pink scrunchie in my hair. I spent the rest of the period with my legs burning and taunts and laughter following me around the gym. It was easily the worst thing that ever happened to me.

I should have stayed in the stupid locker.

"I can't believe he did that!" Cheryl exclaimed. "What an asshole!"

I grunted in agreement and ducked my head so my hair hid more of my face. I wasn't even gonna try to pretend my face wasn't turning red again, I was just gonna hope no one saw. I looked at the clock on the cafeteria wall and saw that it had only taken me about ten minutes to tell the whole story of Andy's Day From Hell. That seemed.....wrong somehow. How can so much misery be cut down to a ten minute recap?

I probably should be mad at her for forcing the story out of me. Coming to lunch was supposed to be the one time during the day when I wouldn't have to deal with any of this crap. Well, except for English at the end of the day since Cheryl's in my class but still, lunch is special. A time to pretend everything's fine, not to go over all the ways it really isn't. But I couldn't even bring myself to get even a little annoyed. Hell, if she came into lunch with a death grip on a pink scrunchie and shaking with too many emotions to even TRY to define I'd have forced it out of her too.

"What happened after that?" she asked after taking a bite out of a pretty tasty looking, but still gross on principal, chicken and cheese locker sandwich. "Your hair's kinda wet so I'm guessing you didn't skip the shower?"

I grimaced. "You can't skip showers." I mumbled. "Coach Williams watches and if you do you have to stay after and organize the equipment room." I held back a shudder. Yeah, that happened to me my first week of school this year. Dodgeballs and hockey sticks and footballs and volleyball nets are scary enough when I have to use them, but throwing them in a tiny room, getting them all mixed together and making me get them all neat is actually somehow worse.

"Ew. He WATCHES you shower?" Cheryl asked, sticking her tongue out in disgust.

"Not like THAT." I rolled my eyes even though she couldn't see it through my hair. "He just makes sure everyone gets in the shower and goes in his office."

"Hmph." she grunted skeptically. "It's still creepy."

I shrugged. I dunno about creepy. I never felt, you know, LEERED at or anything. Although, even if he was watching us with his tongue hanging out of his mouth rubbing his crotch I doubt I'd be able to feel anything other than cripplingly embarrassing shyness about having to shower in front of people. Sometimes I think the whole idea behind gym class is to make shy, scrawny, socially awkward gay boys as uncomfortable as possible.

She took another bite of her sandwich. "Well, what happened?" she said around a mouth full of food. I looked away from the even-grosser-than-it-sounds sight of half chewed food and put the chip I was about to eat back in the bag Cheryl pushed at me a few minutes ago. Suddenly, I didn't have much of an appetite. For a lot of reasons.

I thought about lying, or leaving stuff out, but I just didn't have the energy to make it even half convincing. "I changed and got in the showers as fast as I could. Jarred and Kyle made fun of me but that's nothing new. It wasn't that bad until someone found the stupid scrunchie that I threw away and started snapping it on my back." It didn't really hurt that much, puffy pink scrunchies aren't exactly leather whips, but on top of everything else it was more humiliation. "I grabbed it and dried off and changed as fast as I could and left. I should have thrown the stupid thing away but....I dunno." I gave my head a frustrated shake. "I guess I didn't want anyone finding it again. I just want people to forget about it. Even though I know they won't."

Cheryl shook her head in disgust. "God, it's like we're back in elementary school instead of high school. Throwing people in lockers and snapping them in the showers?" She snorted. "Sad thing is one of them could be President some day."

This time I managed to get a few chips down before she took another bite and started talking. "You know," she said around her food. "I really should just kick his ass."

I sighed and put the chip back. Thing tasted like it'd been in a locker all day anyway. "You know that would just make things worse. Besides, what would beating up Jarred do about-"

"I didn't mean Jarred." she cut me off with dismissive wave of her hand. The effect was kinda killed by the piece of chicken that flew off the sandwich she didn't put down first. "I mean Coach Williams. He won't do anything to you if I kick his ass." she grinned at me. "Although," she said thoughtfully. "I might not even be able to. I mean, have you seen his gut? I'd probably punch it once and all that blubber would swallow my fist and I'd have to chew my arm off to get away."

I knew what she was trying to do. Making me laugh is usually the easiest way to get me to start feeling better about something, but I couldn't even summon up a courtesy chuckle to let her know I appreciated the gesture. I didn't wanna laugh. I wanted to go home and lock myself in my room and never come out. I wanted to move to Alaska where I could be covered head to toe most of the year and maybe have a small chance of starting over where people haven't hated me since kindergarten. I wanted to come to school with a gun and-ok Andy, maybe we should get off the psycho train right about here. If you wanna start thinking like that make up a LiveJournal when you get home and pour your angsty little heart out like everyone else.

I couldn't even make MYSELF laugh.

Most of all though, I just wanted Owen. Not to talk to Owen, I wanted HIM. I wanted someone who's arms I could crawl into and feel safe. Someone who would make me feel wanted. Someone who could make me forget how horrible days like today are because coming home to him would make it better. And, god, wouldn't it just fucking figure that today of all days would be the day that I could let myself think things like that and not yell at myself for being a stupid sap. Maybe it was just the desperation talking, but if there was ever a time when I could just let go of a lifetime of experience and try to believe in the -I can't even believe I'm thinking this- the healing power of.....well, you know, this would be it.

But I couldn't have any of what I wanted. Not right then. So I settled for tilting my head just enough so my hair fell away from one eye and glared at Cheryl. Yeah, she was just trying to help but I was not at all in the mood.

She saw my look and gave me a sad smile. "Sorry." One simple word, but somehow it said a lot more than just an apology for the badly timed jokes. I let my hair fall back in front of my eye and nodded curtly. I was dangerously close to taking my anger out on her, so I really hoped that'd be the end of it.

We ate in silence for a few minutes and I actually got the whole bag of chips down since Cheryl chewed with her mouth closed when she wasn't talking. While we ate she kept giving me these looks, but I just looked down at the table and ignored her. I didn't wanna know how she was looking at me. It was either gonna be pity or.....well probably just pity and I didn't wanna be pitied right then.

"So," she said, almost offhandedly, after she finished her sandwich. "Can I see the thing?"

"Huh?" I asked around a mouthful of chips.

She winced. "Don't talk with your mouth full, that's gross."

I sighed, swallowed and ignored the hypocrisy. "See what thing?"

"That." she nodded her head toward the scrunchie that was still gripped tightly in my hand. Wow, I'd forgot I was even holding the stupid thing. As much as I hated it though, I was kinda reluctant to give it up. This tiny part of my brain was screaming at me that the second it left my hand everyone in the room would see it and run over to make fun of me-ok Andy, seriously, enough with the weird, PTSD crap. Just give it to her.

I rolled my eyes at how stupid I was being and tossed it to her before I lost my nerve. And how sad is it that I even NEED nerves to let go of a pink scrunchie?

Don't answer that.

She caught it and held it up in front of her face. She raised an eyebrow. "I don't even wanna know where he got this." Before I could answer, not that I was going to, she reached behind her head and pulled on something. Her hair immediately fell out of her ponytail and bounced around her shoulders. "Here, hold this." She held something out to me and I took it automatically. It was a thin, black ribbon. Before I could ask what she was doing, and this time I WAS gonna ask, she gathered her hair up and tied it back again. This time with the pink scrunchie. "There." she said with a satisfied nod. "Looks much better on me, don't you think?"

Actually, it looked terrible on her. Any other time I would have been laughing my ass off. Cheryl and pink.....don't mix. Right now though, I just shrugged and tried to hand her ribbon back to her.

"You keep it." she said. "I don't need it right now, I've got this." she pointed to the scrunchie, like there was any way I could possibly miss it. "You could use it if you want." she added with a shrug. "You know, for gym."

Again, I got what she was doing. Cheryl and subtly don't really mix well either, but at least she was trying. I appreciated it, not only giving me something else to tie my hair back with but actually wearing the thing in public. In her way, it was a show of support and, since this IS Cheryl we're talking about, there were probably a few threats implied towards anyone who wanted to make fun of someone for wearing a pink scrunchie. I doubted anyone would notice or care though. And even if they did, I was still hurt and angry from everything that happened today and this didn't make me feel any better.

"Thanks." I mumbled. I shoved the ribbon in my pocket and went back to looking at the table.

I heard Cheryl sigh. "Andy-"

"Don't." I cut her off. "Just don't. I'm not in the mood for an 'Andy Cheer Up After School Special' speech right now, ok?" I clenched my jaw shut to keep from yelling at her. It would feel SO good just to say hurtful and horrible things right now, to make someone -ANYONE- feel as bad as I do, but luckily I still had enough self control to stop myself. It might feel good now but it probably wouldn't even take ten minutes to feel terrible for it. "Please just leave me alone." I begged. God, the last thing I needed today was to piss off the only friend I had.

"Ok." she said quietly. I knew she wanted to say more. I could see it in her eyes. But I'll be thankful forever that she didn't. Her tiny kindness reminded me of Owen and suddenly thoughts of laughing jocks and cruel gym teachers and tiny lockers flooded my head and I wanted to jump up and run around the cafeteria screaming for him. I needed to find him, or somebody who knew who he was and could take me to him, and jump into his lap and just stay there for a few hundred years. I could almost FEEL how much comfort I'd get from that. I actually had to grab the chair so tight I'm sure my knuckles were white to keep from actually doing it. I clenched my teeth, closed my eyes and felt my skin crawl.

I can't stay here. I need Owen, or my bed, or my mom or just to get the fuck OUT of here before I explode! Run Andy, just run out the door and never come back! You need to leave! Run! Runrunrunrunrunrunr-

I felt a hand touch my shoulder and my eyes shot open and I jerked away. My grip on the chair was the only thing that kept me from falling over. My head spun around so hard my neck cracked and-it was just Cheryl. She'd walked around the table and was standing next to me. I still couldn't calm down though. My leg started to bounce up and down and the need to run just grew and grew-

"Andy." Cheryl said hesitantly. "Can I please say one thing?"

Why is she-oh, right, because I told her to. I almost did laugh that time. Since when does she listen to me? Since there's obviously something wrong with you and she doesn't want to make it worse. Oh, that's nice of her. Are you gonna answer her? What was the question again?

I think....I think there's a small possibility that today might be getting to me.

I nodded quickly and hoped I didn't regret it.

"I think you should go to the nurse." she said.

"I'm not sick." I said automatically. The need to run and go was still strong and it was hard to focus on anything else.

Cheryl gave me a disbelieving frown, but didn't argue with me. "That hasn't stopped her from sending you home before." she said patiently, like she was talking to a child or someone who didn't understand English that well. A part of me thought that I should probably be offended but the rest of me latched onto what she said and started screaming "ESCAPE!" at the top of it's lungs while doing a manic happy dance.

I stood up to run to the nurses office when Cheryl stopped me with a hand on my wrist. I turned back to tell her to let go but before I could she asked, "Are you...ok?"

Of course I'm not ok! But I'm leaving, so I will be, maybe. I wanted to shout that at her, rip my arm away and run out the cafeteria doors but the concern I heard in her voice pierced through the craziness cartwheeling around in my head. She was worried, really worried, about me and that made ME worried about me. So instead I actually thought about my answer. "I'm....I need to get out of here." I said as calmly as I could. My body practically vibrated with the need to leave but I forced myself to stay still. "Today is just too much. I can't deal with it. I need to go." I looked into her eyes. "Please let me go."

God, I sounded crazy. Even to myself. But Cheryl is Cheryl and if there's one positive constant in my life it's that Cheryl always tries to do what's best for me, even when we disagree on what that is. This time though, we seemed to be in total agreement. "Ok." she said, the worry in her voice didn't go away even a little, but she let me go. "I'm calling you tonight though."

I was about to leave, but that stopped me. I didn't wanna talk to anyone tonight except Owen. Even if Nurse Amy sent me home I knew I wouldn't start to feel better until I talked to him. If Cheryl talked to me before then I'd still be like I am now and she'd know and get even more worried and probably end up coming OVER and all I wanted to do was be alone and wait to talk to Owen. "After seven." She opened her mouth, probably to protest, and I cut her off. "Please." I begged.

She stared at me for what seemed like forever and then nodded. "Ok."

I gave her a quick, thankful smile that was mostly hidden behind my hair, then took off out the door.

I was sitting in the peanut smelling nurses office on one of the hard plastic chairs waiting for my mom to pick me up when I finally started to calm down. Well, relatively anyway. I mean, my leg was bouncing and there was a pain in my jaw that made me think that maybe I was clenching my teeth too tight, but I was breathing normally and I didn't need to hold onto the chair to keep from running for the front door someone who's still not calm enough to come up with a good simile for that.

Which was a huge improvement seeing as I was in the middle of a full on panic attack by the time I got here.

I was pretty sure I'd be embarrassed later. I'd been dealing with getting made fun of for pretty much as long as I'd been going to school and if there's one thing I've always been secretly proud of it was my ability to not let it bother me too much.....ok, fine, to not SHOW how much it bothered me. To most people anyway. Cheryl always knew, but, yeah, the whole 'best friend since the womb' thing kinda makes that a given. So did Nurse Amy. But today everyone saw. Today everyone knew just how much they got to me. And if I thought I was at all being even a little bit sneaky, the laughs that followed me as I ran out of lunch pretty much killed that idea dead.

By the time I got to Nurse Amy's I could barely breathe. But it'd still be a toss up between that, the shaking and the death grip I had on the chair the second after I threw myself down into it for what made her say "Oh Andy, I'll call your mom honey. You just sit there and try to relax." with that sad smile before I could even stutter out some BS about a stomach ache or pink eye or something. I didn't hear anything after that. After everything that happened today my body immediately tried to reject the relief I wanted to feel at her words like it was a virus and I was too busy dealing with that to even think about listening to what she said to my mom. The next thing I remember is feeling a strange weight on my shoulder and realizing it was Nurse Amy's hand giving me a small, supportive squeeze as she asked me if I wanted something to drink. I'd shaken my head no, but she'd pushed one of those paper cone shaped cups, the ones you get out of water coolers that start to drip from the bottom if you take more than five seconds to drink it, into my hands anyway. Half of it leaked all over me before I took a sip and then I went through six more cups faster than.....again, not really calm enough to be clever right now.

But that was like fifteen minutes ago and now I was better. Ish. Nurse Amy'd left me alone, aside from poking her head out of the tiny "office" part of the nurses office to check on me every few minutes, so I figured I looked a bit better too. Which was good because now that I could actually think again I realized I had NO idea how I was gonna explain this to my mom. Usually when I go to get sent home I have a whole elaborate story made up first, something with stomach pains and maybe nausea. Stuff that's easy to fake and doesn't need a trip to a doctor. Normally I was pretty damn good at faking sick. Right now? I'd be lucky if I didn't start a lot of embarrassing relief crying when my mom showed up. I tried to get myself together enough to come up with something, but I couldn't focus. In fact, the only thing I COULD think about that wasn't Jarred or Coach Williams or any of that stuff was -say it with me now- Owen.

As stupid as it would sound to me at any other time, I just knew that talking to him would be the only thing that would make me feel better. It's why my leg was bouncing, not because I needed to leave school but because I needed to talk to Owen. The teeth thing was all school though. I had no idea what I'd say to him. Half of me wanted to just kick common sense in the balls and tell him how I feel about him and the other half wanted to lock that half up in a dark, soundproof room and swallow the key.

And how DID I even feel about him anyway? I knew I liked him. I knew I was insanely attracted to his voice. I knew his niceness, his easily given, totally unexpected niceness, touched something inside of me that I didn't have a name for. But that's all I knew. I mean, what makes me think this Owen thing is so special? What the hell do I know about feelings anyway? Maybe this is just how everyone feels when they get a really bad crush on someone. Maybe I'm just like all those girls that send love letters to Justin Beiber and somehow read some special sentiment just for them in the canned, 'thanks for sending your letter' response some bored intern sends back. If I had any defenses left they would have stirred and latched onto that thought and threw cement and a trowel at me and forced me to start rebuilding my walls. But I didn't, so I couldn't. Instead I focused on the way he talked to me. The things he said. The WAY he said them. Maybe I was nuts but there was something when we talked that wouldn't let me think it was all in my head. Something that from the very first day made me want to believe in things I'd always laughed at.


"Andy, honey." Nurse Amy's voice softly cut into my thoughts. I started, blinked rapidly, and had to grab the chair to keep from jumping up again. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, but I just got a call that your mom's at the main office."

My mom? Oh! Right. Day from hell. Fake sick. Leaving. For a second I was so wrapped up in thinking about Owen that I actually forgot.

I let go of the chair and stood up. "Ok." I said with a quick nod. "Thanks." I turned to leave, suddenly very impatient to get to the office before the bell rang and the halls flooded with the enemy. What time was it anyway? I turned to leave.

"Do you want me to walk with you?" she asked, her voice dripping with sympathy. And that's when it hit me for the first time. God she was nice! Like, really, really nice. She didn't even know what happened, just saw how it effected me and all she wanted to do was help. No prying. No eye rolling at stupid Andy needing to run away again. Just....niceness. Almost Owen-like in a way. Or Cher-no, not with the no prying thing. No way. Definitely more Owen. If I was, I might have taken this as a sign that maybe there were more decent people in the world that I'd never noticed before, that maybe not everyone was a total prick. But since I was me, my default reaction was to immediately get suspicious at life. Someone was being good to me. So, what horrible thing was waiting around the corner to rip away the nice, warm feeling that gave me?

Or at least that's what I would have been thinking if I had defenses. Instead, all I did was squeeze my eyes shut to stop the incredibly embarrassing tears of gratitude from actually falling and stuttering out, "N-no. I'm goo-" God no, good is the last thing I am. "Um, I don't need you to. But..." I paused and tried to put how much the tiny, temporary bit of peace she'd given me with her niceness meant into my next words. "Thank you."

She started to smile. It was a bit sad and a bit understanding and suddenly I was very uncomfortable. Nurse Amy was always Nurse Amy. I liked her more than most people and she always treated me like a person. But this was NICE Nurse Amy. She was different. And different, even good different, can be fucking scary. Especially if you're usually on the bad side of change.

I felt a little bad the second I did it, but before the smile had time to fully form I fled out the door and didn't stop until I got to the main office.

"Stay still honey, let me feel your head." I stood still and stifled a sigh as my mom pressed the back of her hand against my forehead.

Even though I wasn't actually sick, I must have looked....not well because my mom didn't even wait until we were in the car, or out of the CROWDED office, before going into full on 'mom mode'. I sound like a broken record by now, but any other time this would have embarrassed the hell out of me. Today I was just kinda annoyed that it was keeping me in school.

Being babied by my mom's got NOTHING on pink scrunchies.

"You don't feel hot." she said with a frown. "A bit sweaty though. I wanna take your temperature when we get home."

I heard a snicker from one of the kids waiting in a chair and I had to tense my whole body up to keep from cringing. I didn't even know if he was laughing at me, but even if he wasn't the sound was more than enough to send me into a PTSD flashback and all my 'I need to get the hell OUT of here' came back with a roar. I swallowed, hoped that'd keep my voice from cracking and said, "Fine, mom. Can we go home? Please?"

If I sounded a bit like I was begging, which I was, she didn't notice. "I've gotta sign you out first. Wait here and I'll be back in a sec, ok?" I nodded and she smiled and then abandoned me. Ok, fine, she walked like three feet away but that was still three feet away from me and NOT towards the door and is that a cold sweat breaking out on my face or am I being watered and not noticing it?

Andy, you need to get the hell out of here.

Yeah, no shit dude.

"You ready honey?" my mom's concerned voice came from RIGHT next to me and this time I did jump. Jesus! Does she have to sneak up-wait did she say leave?

"Yes!" I winced slightly at the loudness but, leaving! "Yes!" Ok, that wasn't at all quieter. "Um, yeah. I'm....tired." And it wasn't a total lie either. I WAS tired. Tired of being in school, tired of being me, tired of being tired of those things. I just wasn't sleep tired. Which might have been kinda obvious from the way my whole body was vibrating with the need to leave right NOW.

My mom noticed, but instead of raising her eyebrows skeptically like she usually does when she catches me in a lie she just gave me another one of those worried frowns. "You should lie down when we get home." she said and we -FINALLY!- started walking towards the door. "I'll take your temperature and bring you up some soup, how does that sound?"

"Sure." I said absently. At least I think I did. I might have just grunted or stared off into space or something. Who cared about soup?

I was going home!

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