Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 5

Posted: N/A

Getting out of school didn't help as much as I thought it would.

Maybe if my mom waited at least two seconds after we got in the car to start in with the "You really don't look good" and the "Are you sure you're ok?" with more than a little "Maybe I should take you to the doctor's" thrown in, I might have had enough time to feel the relief I'd been dying for all day. But since she didn't I spent the entire ride home getting even more stressed out. I didn't even think that was POSSIBLE. It was a bit different though. All my other stress was about getting beat up and shoved into lockers and humiliating stuff like that with a good bit of self esteem mutilation in there too.

THIS stress was all about my mom taking a close enough look at me to realize that I wasn't really sick and trying to pry out why I still looked like I'd just caught the plague. Totally different type of stress and apparently different stresses are kinda like filling up two different cups with water. Once you get done filling up the first one, you get to start all over again going from empty to full on the second. Translate that from filling up cups into filling up my already completely shot emotional center and you get an analogy that really doesn't make a lot of sense to anybody but me.

But since I'm the only one about to throw up from it I guess I'm the only one it needs to.

Thankfully we pulled into my driveway before I did.

I'm not gonna get all boring and go into detail about everything my mom did or said after we got home. Mostly because I don't remember much of it. I think it was finally hitting me that today could literally break me. Completely and totally. I already had literally everybody but Cheryl and Nurse Amy at school hating me. I had the worst day of my life, the REAL worst day of my life, not the other worst days that were really just leading up to THIS worst day. And to top it all off there was a pretty decent chance that today could also be the day my mom accidentally finds out my biggest secret. Does that sound too dramatic? Good. Because that's how I feel. Dramatic. I'm being CRUSHED by the drama. And it was distracting. Hence the not really remembering what my mom did thing.

I guess that was kind of a stupid time to zone out considering how petrified I was about my mom getting suspicious but seeing as it all ended with me tucked into my bed and my mom leaving to make me soup it all ended well enough anyway.

My blinds were open and the sun made the whole room pleasantly bright, but that didn't stop me from feeling like I was trapped in a storm cloud. Thoughts that are usually locked more or less securely behind my walls started flying through my brain with gleeful laughter.

What is it about me that makes people hate me so much? Is there something just completely wrong with me, something that I don't notice but everyone else picks up on? Maybe I give off some kind of rare chemical that immediately flips some switch in everyone's brain to "must destroy emotionally". I mean, there are guys smaller than me, guys gayer than me, guys shyer than me, guys with LESS friends than me. There are even some guys that are combinations of all those. But no one gets even half the shit that I do, even before the whole Jarred thing.

It gets.....tiring. Being constantly crushed under the boots of the world. I thought I could deal but apparently that was only a part of my now-oh-so-useless defenses. I couldn't deal. With anything. I completely understood why people killed themselves now. If I didn't have Cheryl or if I never talked to Owen or if my parents didn't have their normal moments and acted like they did the day I got grounded all the time, I think I'd do it. We don't have guns or prescription pills in the house so I'd have to try cutting my wrists with one of my Dad's disposable razors or jump off the roof head first, but I could imagine myself holding the razor or standing on the edge of my roof and just DOING it.

Maybe a few people at school would even feel bad about it afterward.

Thoughts like those scared me. Not because I wanted to do it, but because I didn't, and I could see how easily that could change. It wouldn't take too much. I was already so close to rock bottom I could see the rocks. All it would take was one of those things, Cheryl or Owen or my parents, to get taken away and I think that'd be enough. Without my walls I couldn't hide from what I felt anymore.

It was a good thing my eyes started to get blurry then. It was distracting enough to drag me out of my thoughts and I got the tears wiped away before my mom came back.

My mom smiled at me when she walked in -without knocking I feel the need to note- and held out a steaming cup of homemade chicken soup. I never ate soup from a bowl. Like the bagged lunch thing it just seemed wrong somehow. "You know," she said wryly as she put the soup on the nightstand next to me. "Your father and I were gonna give your dinner privileges back today. Guess we didn't pick the best day for that, huh?"

My heart seized in a momentary panic as I remembered exactly WHEN we usually eat dinner. Right during Owen's show. If I didn't go to Nurse Amy and get sent home I might not have gotten to talk to him tonight. Suddenly, I had a very strong and disturbing urge to run to Cheryl's and give her a big, sloppy kiss for bringing it up. I covered up though. "Yeah." I said almost breathlessly. "Guess not." I never said it was a good cover.

My mom sat down on the edge of my bed and felt my forehead with a way warmer than usual hand. "You feel a bit hotter." she frowned.

As bad as I was feeling there was just way too much "mom" in the moment to keep me from rolling my eyes. "That's because you just carried the soup with that hand, mom."

She snorted softly before taking her hand off my head and ruffling my hair playfully. "Guess you can't be too sick if you can still be a smartas-um, alek."

I smiled slightly. Ever since she got the job coaching at the middle school she'd been trying really hard to keep her "raised-in-New-Jersey mouth", as she called it, under control. Results sometimes vary.

"Just eat your soup." she said with a small grin. She got up. "Oh, your father's gonna be working late tonight but I'm sure he'll want to check on you when he gets home. I'll tell him to keep quiet though so he doesn't wake you up if you fall asleep. Get some rest honey." With that and another smile, she left, closing the door behind her.

I let out a tiny, relieved little breath. She didn't notice I wasn't really sick. Finally! Something's going my way today. The mom stress immediately started to fade and I actually started feeling the way I should have felt when I got into the car. Safe. Calm(ish). Slightly separated from everything that happened. It may not sound like much but it was like bathing in warm, scented water for me. My room was once again an oasis of peace and I just wanted to soak that in while I sipped my insanely tasty soup.

Sadly when the soup was gone I didn't have anything to do except wait for Owen's show.

And think.

The funny thing about safety is that it's pretty damn temporary. Nothing could touch me in my room but tomorrow I'd just be forced to leave it again. Same bus ride. Same school. Same kids. Same Coach fucking Williams. I fumbled in my pocket until I found the ribbon Cheryl gave me and put it on my nightstand. There. Maybe that'll actually help with the Coach Williams thing. He can't make me wear a pink scrunchie if my hair's already tied back, right?

Don't answer that.

But the rest of it was still there and I really didn't know if I could take it again tomorrow. Hell, I couldn't even take it today. Life as Andy was never very appealing, but from now on it seemed pretty damn unbearable. I sighed again, but this time the relief flowed out with it and all that was left was a cold dread. If there was ever any part of me that thought that waiting for today was bad because I didn't know what was gonna happen and my imagination was thinking up the worst possible stuff, and that maybe from now on it wouldn't be so bad because at least I'd KNOW, it was totally dead now. I'd LOVE to go back to not knowing. At least when I didn't know there was some hope that it only WAS my imagination. Hope that I really didn't even realize existed until right now -pretty fucking typical- but still, it was there.

But now I knew. And it was pretty much as bad as I thought it would be. Except the locker thing. I never would have expected that. And Coach Williams. And those weird few seconds with Simon. And-ok, yeah, maybe it was worse than I expected. But that's just WORSE! Its....its worse. And now the "worse than I expected" was actually what I WAS expecting so if tomorrow was worse than I expected then how fucking horrible is that gonna be? What if the rest of my life is a series of worse than expected days until I graduate high school? Could I survive that? Could anyone? Suddenly the future seemed bleaker than it ever had before. Even the escape to college that'd always been my light at the end of the tunnel type thing wasn't anymore. College would mean leaving everything I hated behind, but it would also mean leaving Owen.

And yeah I know I'm getting depressed about leaving someone I've never even met before and, yeah, if we DID ever meet and if we got as close as I hoped/wanted/needed/daydreamed about/yelled at myself for then we'd probably make some kind of effort to go to at least close colleges or something but, dammit, I couldn't let that kind of logic reassure me! Things don't work out for me. The current state of my life is all the proof I need. If I put all my hope on that, something would happen to fuck it up. So it would just be better not to try and-'goddammit we're back to this now?' I could practically feel the icy contempt of the Cheryl voice. 'I thought you were past your mopey, "anything with Owen will end in tears so I need to cut him out of my life first" crap.'

I ground my teeth and covered my face with a pillow. Now was NOT the time to start arguing with the voices in my head. Mostly because then I'd have to actually acknowledge that there ARE voices in my head and that would make me more than a little crazy and I think being crazy would actually drive me crazy right now so, fine! I'm not gonna force myself away from Owen, happy?

I tried really hard to pretend I didn't imagine a smug smile after that thought.

I sighed. It's not like I'd be able to do it anyway. I'd tried and we all know how well that turned out. Even just thinking about not talking to him tonight made my chest feel like pre weight loss Jennifer Hudson was sitting on it. I needed to talk to him. And right now the only thing scary about that thought was how not scary it was.

I stayed with the pillow covering my face for a bit longer even though I stopped holding it there. It felt weirdly comforting, having a soft weight covering my head. Eventually I had to take it off because I couldn't see the clock through it, thus making it the first time in my life I wished I had x-ray vision, and when I did I saw that it was almost time for Owen's show so I turned on the radio.

I'd never really tried to pay attention to the show that was on right before Owen's, I was always too nervous and anxious about talking to him, but this time I did. It took me about three seconds of listening to some kid talking up the spiritual healing powers of polka to decide that I was better off not bothering. It was weird, well, weirder than a show like that would normally be anyway. After the day I'd had and the things I'd been thinking it felt like there should have been some dark and depressing goth rock show or something on while I waited. Not something that was kinda, well, whimsical and quirky. The guy was disturbingly passionate about polka. It seemed wrong that anyone could be anything other than sad and depressed when I felt this bad.

I didn't have to listen to him too long though. Pretty soon it was six and I started bouncing on my bed and chewing my bottom lip in anticipation. I didn't even wait until he got done with his usual intro and unoriginal Mike's Auto Parts plug before I started dialing.

He finished his thing and started playing Blink 182's 'Wendy Clear' before he picked up. "Hey Andy, you're early tonight." he said with more teasing lilt to his voice than usual.

My eyed immediately teared up and before I even knew what was happening I started sobbing loud, unmistakable, embarrassing sobs. I couldn't help it. If having my mom buy me being sick was like bathing in warm water, hearing Owen's sensual, mischievous, velvet voice was like bathing in pure bliss. Everything that I'd been feeling, everything that was weighing me down and making me feel like my life was as good as over was washed away in that voice.

But it wasn't just the voice. It was Owen. His voice wasn't any less amazing than it always was, but hearing it now brought back all the memories of him joking with me, laughing with me, being nice to me, in one, huge, emotionally overloading rush. All I could do was cry.

I've never used this word before in my life, but it was....mortifying.

"A-are you ok?" The teasing was gone now. In fact I don't think I'd ever heard him so concerned. Not that I would have had much of a chance to. I swallowed a few times and tried to say....anything, but I couldn't stop crying. I felt warm inside for the first time all day. Owen was worried about me. ME. Aside from how Haley's-fucking-Comet-rare that was, that HAD to mean something, right? For the first time since we started talking I had actual, not made up or easily explained away, proof that I meant more to Owen than a fan or a casual, sorta-friend.

And all I could do was cry like a girl.

I almost hung up. I could feel my face burning with tears and humiliation and as much as I wanted to talk to him, as much as I NEEDED to, I couldn't stand having him see me like this. Hear. Whatever. But before I could he spoke again, "Andy, you're kinda scaring me here. What's wrong?" Again with the worry and concern. It made my chest tighten up in a really, really nice way at the same time it made my stomach clench with nervous embarrassment. That voice shouldn't sound that worried. It should be happy and laughing and I won't even yell at myself for thinking something so sappy later because that thought was the only thing that kept me from hanging up.

I swallowed again, hard, and forced my voice out through the bawling. "I-" I sobbed. "I'm sorry I-" Sob. "-I don't-" Sob. "-I'm not-" Sob. "-I don't know why I'm-" Sob. "-crying I-" Sob. "-had a horrible-" Sob. "-day and I-" Sob. "-I-" Sob. "-I-" This time when I sobbed I just let it go and stopped trying to explain. What the hell was I gonna say? I just had the worst day of my life but hearing your voice made it all better because I have this big gay crush on you?

A disturbingly big part of me wanted to. I had no idea who Owen really was, I didn't know if he was gay, if he had a boyfriend, a girlfriend, if he would even be interested in me if he was and he didn't, but I still wanted to say something. I still wanted to KNOW.

I was actually trying to get the words together when I felt my defenses struggling to reboot. Deep down inside of me that tiny voice of common sense that had been pretty much absent since that day Jarred and his group cornered me started screaming at me to shut the hell up. That if Owen wasn't gay or single or interested, and I found that out right now when I was more emotionally fucked up than I'd ever been before in my life, that it would kill me. Probably literally. That voice screamed and screamed at me, drowning out the Cheryl voice that wanted me to confess to Owen and my normal inner voice that was just sitting back, wringing its hands and watching with a fascinated terror. It screamed until I couldn't hope to form the words, even if I could get them out.

It probably didn't even need to. All this happened in my head in less than a few seconds and Owen wasn't waiting around for me to try and finish my thought. "Andy." It was almost a whisper, soft and sad, and for that second he sounded exactly like I'd imagine one of Nurse Amy's smiles would. "I-" he hesitated. "Ok, I don't know if this I gonna help but, I have this theory." The soft sadness was gone. His voice wasn't quite back to normal, but he seemed to be trying to force himself to seem like it was. Even with how messed up I was I knew he was gonna say something different before. Part of me wanted to know what it was, but another part thought that it might have been something pitying or consoling and that maybe he decided that wasn't the way to talk to me when I was like this. If so, he was probably right. Although, I don't have much, ok any, experience with anyone but my parents or Cheryl trying to make me feel better. I had a suspicion that if it was Owen pitying me, I might actually kinda like it. "The theory is that no one can feel bad when a Caramell song is playing. So, I'll be right back." he paused, then added quickly. "I'm not leaving! I swear I'll be back, ok?" he didn't wait for an answer, probably smart considering how I was, and I heard the familiar 'on hold' silence.

It was probably a good thing he reassured me. Normally, I never would have thought that Owen would run away from someone this upset, but I wasn't exactly at my best here. I might have actually thought he was abandoning me. But he said he wasn't, and I believed him. With the hand that wasn't holding my phone I roughly palmed the tears away from my face. I didn't know how hearing a song would stop me from crying, but I was determined to at least try to make myself less pathetic when he came back.

And then I heard him through the radio.

"This next song is 'Caramelldancing' by the Caramella Girls, and it's dedicated to Andy. I hope this makes you feel better."

I didn't think it was possible, but I swooned mid cry. Owen, OWEN, just dedicated a song to ME by NAME on the radio. My previous melting had NOTHING on what that made me do. I felt that same tightening in my chest, but this time there was no embarrassed clenching in my stomach. I barely even noticed that I wasn't crying anymore as I fell back on my bed with a very embarrassing, very happy, little sigh. The only thing that ruined the potential romanticness of the moment was the sniffing I had to do to clear my stuffed nose.

And then the song started.

I laughed, I couldn't help it. I recognized the song the second it started. God, anyone who'd used the internet for more than ten minutes in 2008 would. But I'd never heard the English version before. Never even knew there was one. The song was actually really stupid. Just some girl singing about dancing. But it was peppy and upbeat and just so damn bubblegum that it went right past annoying and straight to amusingly catchy.

And Owen was right, it would be pretty hard to feel bad when it's playing.

I listened, and every once in a while I'd laugh. The laughs eventually turned into giggles and then into a big, stupid smile. I turned on my side and hugged my pillow to my chest as I listened to the rest of the song. I didn't exactly pretend the pillow was Owen, I'm not that far gone, but I did kinda wish it was. Maybe. A little.

"Are you feeling any better?" Owen's slightly tinny voice came from the phone that I hadn't even realized I'd let go of next to my head. I jerked, startled, and realized that the song was over. Worse than that, I didn't know when Owen got back on the line. Did he hear me laughing and giggling and all that? I felt my face heat up even as I scrambled to find the phone and say something.

"Y-yeah." I said. I knew I probably sounded like I just woke up, but in a way I did. Today was a nightmare and, add this to the list of things I can't BELIEVE I'm thinking but, Owen woke me up. "Thank you." I said softly.

"I'm glad." Despite his words, he seemed worried still. "You you maybe, wanna talk about it?"

Happiness and panic and that other, weird emotion that I had no name for all started a war for most powerful emotion in my chest. Screw what I said before, THIS has to mean something. There's even a small part of me that isn't totally cautioning me not to read too much into it, that this really could be a sign that he like-liked me. I had no actual, real, logical reason to think that, but even a little part of me going against reason and experience and just HOPING was a huge deal for me.

But then there's the rest of me, and that ended up winning out.

"No!" I yelled, then slapped a hand over my mouth and winced at how crazy and defensive that sounded. But...I WAS crazy and defensive. There was no way I could tell Owen what happened. There were SO many ways that could go wrong, and any one of those could make me lose him. But so could yelling at him like a psycho. Because, you know, he could think that you don't feel comfortable enough to let him get closer to you. Which, yeah, is completely true, but not in the way you just made it sound and you should fucking say something before he starts taking that yell the wrong way. Like what? Just fucking SAY SOMETHING!!

It was like every voice in my head was shouting at the same time. Even my defenses took a break from scavenging spare rebuilding materials to join in. So saying something was pretty damn unanimous.

"It's not!- I mean I don't-" I shook my head. God Andy, you've been able to form complete sentences since you were three, how about trying at least kindergarten level verbal skills here? I took a breath. "I-"

"Dammit." Owen cut me off, swearing frustratedly under his breath. "I'm sorry, you've been on the line too long, the stupid thing is gonna auto hang up. Just," he let out a rough sigh. "Request a song and call back ok?" His voice went from frustrated to worried and pleading. "Please call back."

"Ok, I will." Oh, yeah, NOW I can talk. Fucking typical. I tried to quickly think of a song while wondering why I even had to if I was just gonna get hung up on, probably some stupid rule or something, and out of nowhere the chorus from a song suddenly popped into my head. It fit everything I'd wanted to say, more or less, and I smiled to myself. "Mr Roboto by Styx."

There was a very short pause, just long enough to be noticeable, but when he spoke the worry was dialed back and there was a bit of amusement in his voice. "So, would I be Mr Roboto then?"

I blinked, shocked that he seemed to understand what I was trying to say. I....honestly didn't expect that, even if I did pick the song to try and tell him how I felt. Then I had a horrible flash of panic as I remembered a few of the OTHER songs I'd requested. God, did he pick up on what I meant with those too? I was torn between being embarrassed, terrified and hoping that he didn't and giddy, eager and hoping that he did. Because if he did and he's STILL talking to me then that REALLY has to mean something and-Andy, you're doing the not talking thing again, idiot. I took exactly a half second to mentally slap myself on the back of the head and started to say, well, probably something stupid and bumbling if I'm gonna do the honesty thing, but before I could I heard a click and then the soft beep of my phone signaling an ended call.

Dammit! I forgot about that auto hang up thingy he mentioned. I needed to call him back and....what? What was I even gonna say? Ok Andy, this might be a good thing. Just.....take a deep breath, calm the fuck down, and actually THINK about what you're gonna say before calling him back. And make it good because this really has one of those "turning point" feelings to it and if you screw this up....yeah, I know. Screwing "this", whatever "this" was, up was not an option. I thought quickly, which isn't something I'm all that good at, but by the time Owen finished introducing the song and the first twenty seconds or so played I had a good enough idea of what I wanted to say.

I dialed.

"I'm glad you called back." Owen said. The amusement was gone, replaced with the worry and a bit of relief. My heart did the fluttery thing at him caring enough to be this worried about me, but I tried to ignore it and focus on what I wanted to say.

It mostly worked.

"I'm sorry." I blurted out. "Um, about yelling at you. Before. I just-I don't wanna talk about it. But not because I don't wanna talk about it with you! I just, don't wanna talk about it. But I do wanna talk about, um, I mean, you really are Mr Roboto, you know? Because, you did the job that no one wanted to, and you helped me escape when I needed to. So really, seriously, thank you."

It wasn't everything I wanted to say, but it would have to be enough. I couldn't tell him how I felt about him. I couldn't even tell him why he helped me so much, or how. I didn't know how. All I could do was hint. And hope that my rambly, awkward speech at least sort of let him know how much talking to him tonight did for me.

He was silent for a few seconds, then I heard what might have been a relieved sigh, or maybe a happy one, or maybe just him taking a breath. "I'm-I'm glad." he said softly. It was the first time I'd ever heard him even come close to stuttering over his words, and something told me the turning point I'd thought about before was here. "I'm glad you're ok. You...I was worried. You were crying and, well, you were there." he let out a tiny laugh. "But," this time I could tell he was taking a deep breath, and it sounded like he was steeling himself for something. "If you ever want to talk, about anything, or you're feeling bad or, whatever, I'm here."

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and smiled serenely. I felt a few tears fall down my cheeks, but this time there weren't any sobs. There was no panic or embarrassment or anything even remotely negative inside me. Just a warmth, that started in the middle of my chest and spread out through my whole body. It wasn't a declaration of undying love, or even an "I like you" or anything that was even that romantic, at least as romantic things go in movies and stuff like that. But it was enough. It was the proof I'd been secretly, then not so secretly, looking for since the first day we talked. Proof that I meant SOMETHING to Owen. Like he meant something to me.

"Thank you." I said again, but this time I filled the words with all the happiness and contentment that I could, as well as the gratitude. And I had more happiness to fill them with then I ever thought I could contain. "That means a lot."

There was about a minute of silence, broken up by Owen putting me on hold and playing another song, but it was a comfortable one. One where we were both lost in our own thoughts. I didn't know what Owen's were, but mine were filled with hopes and fantasies that suddenly didn't seem as impossible as they were when I woke up this morning. Still mostly impossible, but mostly impossible implies SOME possibleness so I was happy with it for now.

"I'm back." he said after playing the song. 'All Apologies' by Nirvana, if you were wondering. Nothing with any meaning. At least, no meaning to us or the situation anyway. "But, uh, I'm gonna need another request from you." he sounded almost sheepish.

I let out a tiny giggle that I only half tried to hold in. "Is that some kind of rule or something?" I asked.

"Yeah, if someone calls and stays on for more than a minute and doesn't request anything it counts as a personal call and I'll get in trouble." he sounded like he was rolling his eyes. "It's stupid, but I don't wanna get kicked out."

I definitely didn't want that either. "So, does it count if I ask you to surprise me?" I asked playfully. I was at a comfort level with Owen that I'd never been at before. It'd been slowly getting more and more easy to talk to him since that first day, and this isn't even close to the first time I'd joked with him, but this was different. It felt like I was talking to Cheryl. Ok, no, that's actually more than a little creepy considering the whole swoony, melty, like thing. But the comfort was the same. I didn't break out in a sweat over how almost-flirty my question might be, I just smiled to myself and waited for his answer.

He laughed. "If I say you requested it, how will anyone know different?" The unconsciously seductive mischievousness was back his voice and I felt a tiny little shudder go through my body. I swallowed and tried to keep myself from going back to Flustered Andy.

"Ok, so, surprise me." I challenged.

"As you wish." he said teasingly. We hung up, and I turned up the radio.

"This next song's from Jason and it's dedicated to 'his darling Michelle, the love of his life', 'Bad Touch' by The Bloodhound Gang."

I snorted out a giggle at that. Which is actually kind of hard if you think about it. I didn't even have an internal debate about it, I just picked up my phone and called him back.

"Good enough?" he asked.

I laughed. "You have way too much fun with that."

"I know." he said matter of factly.

I laughed again.

And that's how it went for the rest of the night, or at least the rest of our conversation. We talked and laughed with the comfort and ease of people who knew each other a lot longer than we did. It felt great being that way with someone other than Cheryl, and fucking amazing being that way with Owen.

I may have been imagining it but he seemed slightly different too. Nothing I could point out and say "ha! There it is!" but just a feeling I had. Like we both knew our -I dunno what word fits here, relationship? Friendship? Acquaintanceship?- closeness had reached another level. Maybe later on I'll talk myself out of thinking it means anything, but right now it added another little layer of hope.

Sadly, it only lasted two more callbacks. When I called back the fourth time he quickly whispered that he wasn't allowed to take calls from my number anymore tonight and hung up with a "Sorry. This sucks. Call back tomorrow ok?" It did. Suck I mean. But it didn't even come close to ruining the night. Actually, in a way it kinda made it better. He didn't sound happy that we had to stop talking. In fact, I'm gonna do a seriously un-Andy thing here and spit in logics stupid, smug face and say he actually sounded a bit sad.

His sadness gave me more hope.

As horrible as that makes me sound.

I listened to the rest of his show, smiling whenever he talked and laughing a few times at some of his obviously made up dedications and just feeling.....floaty. Light. Like without my life weighing me down I could just fly away.

His show had barely ended before my phone rang. I glanced at it, even though I knew it was Cheryl, saw her name and answered.

"Hey." I said dreamily.

There were a few seconds of silence. "Um, hey." she said hesitantly. "Are you....ok?"

"I'm fine." I wonder if Owen's thinking about me right now? "So fine." Or maybe he'll think about me later when he gets home and he's laying in his bed? Or maybe-

"Oh my god you're drunk." she groaned. "Or high. Or, what do they call it when you're both?"

-that pulled me out of my pleasant, floaty daydreaming enough to roll my eyes and sigh to myself. "I'm not drunk or high." I said exasperatedly. "I'm just.....happy."

That got me almost a full ten seconds of silence. "You actually sound it." she said wonderingly. There was another few seconds of silence before "Oh my god! Radio boy told you he loved you, didn't he!" she accused and gloated at the same time.

THAT was enough to end the floatyness and bring me slamming back down to reality. "NO!" I yelled, blushing for who the fuck knows why. "He didn't say anything like that!"

There was a pause -suspiciously just long enough for an eye roll- and then, "Then you told him how you felt?"

"No-?" My voice kinda raised at the end there turning it into a question. Did I? No. No I didn't. God reality sucks. This was a lot simpler when I was floating. "No." I said more firmly.

"Then....what?" she sounded legit confused now. "Seriously Andy, the last time I saw you today you seemed like you were a second away from completely losing your shit. I was worried enough that I kept trying to remember if your dad kept a gun in the house. And now you're 'happy' and it's NOT because you got together with Owen? What happened?"

I sighed, out loud this time. "First of all, my dad doesn't have a gun. Second," I added quickly, knowing she was about to cut me off. "Even if he DID it's not like I was gonna Kurt Cobain myself." Technically true, but we'll just keep how close it would have been a secret. Forever. "Third, didn't you listen to Owen's show?"

Another silence. I kinda thought this one was her trying to figure out which one of those to respond to. It didn't take her too long. "No, I didn't. My mom made me go out shopping-" she spat the word out like it was someone else's half digested vomit. (mental note: if you ever meet Owen, never say anything AT ALL like that) Shopping and Cheryl don't mix. "-and I missed most of it." She grumbled that last part. "So, what happened? And it better be good because if it isn't I'm dragging your bi polar ass down to the hospital and getting you put on something."

She tried to make like she was joking, but I could hear the worry that was still there under it. I didn't really blame her. I didn't exactly handle today well. At all. If Cheryl had acted like that I'd probably be freaked out too. More even. Putting aside the fact that I don't think anyone would be able to walk for at least a few months after trying even a tenth of the stuff I got today on her, if people were that stupid and she got to where I almost was she could take a LOT of people out with her. And that's without using any kind of, like, stick or pine cone or anything even slightly deadly.

So I got it. And I did feel a little bad. But, come on! Owen! He said he's there for me! We had a moment! A moment!

I started to feel that floatyness come back and I let out a little, happy sigh.

"Ok, I heard that. Now you HAVE to tell me."

I blushed, but couldn't really regret the sigh. It felt GOOD to have something to sigh over.

So I told her.

"-and maybe it wasn't some big, huge, romantic thing but it was something, you know?" I was saying as I finished. It probably shouldn't have taken as long to explain as it did, but talking about it made me relive it and there may have been some, um, gushing, involved. I couldn't help it. I felt.....I dunno, high I guess. High on Owen. "And it felt good. It made ME feel good."

Cheryl was quiet for a little bit after I finished and I started to get nervous. I thought back to when I first told Cheryl about Owen, how I pretended I wanted her to tell me that I was being stupid, to forget about him. I was suddenly really, really scared that she'd do that now, even though she'd been trying to get me to do the exact opposite since then. For the first time since I heard his voice, I LIKED how I felt about him. I liked feeling like there might be a chance that someone could care about me LIKE THAT, you know? It's not something I ever wanted or expected before, but now that it was a possibility I wanted to hold onto it with everything I had. And I did NOT want my best friend telling me to let it go.

I didn't need to worry.

"Well, now you definitely need to woo him." Cheryl said matter of factly, breaking her silence.

"No! I-" I cut myself off. I was so used to auto-denying anything like that, but, I actually kinda DID want to woo him. Or, you know, get the same results as a wooing without actually calling it that. "Ok, yeah, maybe." I said, half to myself. It was scary and new and I honestly didn't know if I could do it, but I wanted to try. I needed to try. I gathered up the tatters of what passes for courage from every corner of my body, balled them up and hoped that would be enough. "Ok." I said again. "Yeah. I'm gonna do it."

"It's about fucking time Andy-cane." I could practically hear the satisfied grin in her voice.

I groaned. " probably the worst thing you've ever called me. And on today of all days!"

"Hey, you said you were better." she paused, and her voice got serious. "You ARE better, right?"

"Yeah, I'm better." I thought of Owen and grinned sappily to myself. God, so much better.

"You're sure?"

"Yes." I said, firmly and with more than a little exasperation. "I'm fine." And then I felt bad about the tone. I mean, Cheryl HAD been worried about me all day. She didn't deserve to get snapped at like that. "And, thanks, you know? For, stuff."

I felt stupid the second that was out of my mouth. This was Cheryl, for fucks sake. I should be able to say "Thanks for worrying about me, it really means a lot", right? I think so. But, I couldn't. I'd shown more vulnerability today to more people than I ever had in my whole life and I didn't even realize it until right now. Even with all the Oweny goodness, it was still....unsettling, after all the years I'd kept things locked up. But, since this WAS Cheryl, she knew what I meant, even if I didn't say it.

And she knew exactly what to say.

"You don't need to thank me, idiot." she said with mock exasperation. "It's apparently what I was born for. Just make sure you get with radio boy quick so I can have some days off, ok?"

I smiled to myself, immediately feeling better, and for like the millionth time today blinked away tears. "Sure." I said, slightly scratchily.

If she noticed she never said anything. Which, again, makes her the best best friend ever. "Alright, well, now that I know you're ok I have about fifty hours of homework to do, so I should get going."

Homework? I blinked. Wow, I totally forgot about that. For a second I tried to remember if I brought any of my books home with me, but then I gave up. Who cares about homework? I just had the worst day and the best night of my life, practically at the same time. Getting a few zero's and some disappointed looks from teachers really didn't seem like that big a deal anymore. "Have fun!" I said cheerfully.

She mumbled something under her breath and I laughed. "Oh, shut up." she grumbled. Then in a softer tone added, "And....I'm really happy for you, about Owen. You deserve happiness Andy, more than anyone else I know."

Dammit! Now the tears are back again. Thanks, Cheryl. I determinedly blinked them away but before I could say anything Cheryl cut me off. Does it still count as cutting off if I was still trying to think of something to say? "And on that note, I'm gone. See you tomorrow." she paused, then asked tentatively. "Um, ARE you coming in tomorrow?"

Well, THAT broke the mood.

I felt tension try to slide its way into my body and fought it with everything I had. I didn't wanna think about tomorrow. Soooo....I didn't. I thought about Owen instead. His voice, his laugh, the wonderful, nice, perfect things he says to me. And that was enough. My body relaxed and even though logically I knew this was a pretty stupid thing to think, tomorrow didn't worry me as much. I'd still rather stay home though. "Yeah." I sighed. "My mom was worried when she picked me up, I must have looked pretty bad-"

Cheryl snorted. "Putting it lightly."

I ignored her. "-and I might be able to get another day out of her, but I don't wanna risk it. If she doesn't buy that I'm sick she'll....pry. And-"

"And yeah, you suck at keeping secrets." she cut in. I'd argue, but then I remembered all of the five minutes I could keep Owen a secret from her and, you know, she's right. I kinda do. "I get it. Well, I'll walk you to as many classes as I can. And DON'T argue with me! It's gonna happen so just deal with it."

I briefly wondered if she said something similar on her supposed date with Brandon, but really quickly decided that I didn't wanna know and pushed the thought violently away before it found its way out my mouth. "Whatever you want." I said. I sounded appropriately sullen, but I couldn't help feel a bit of relief. We didn't have many classes together, and even less in the same parts of the school, but I'd take whatever not-being-aloneness I could get.

"Alright. See you in school then. Night Andy-cane."

"Night Cher-bear." I growled.

With a similar growl and a "screw you", she hung up.

I put my phone on my nightstand, laid back in my bed and immediately turned my thoughts to Owen. I smiled as I replayed our conversation for the fifty millionth time and thought about the best way to find out who he was, which was the first -and only- step in my master plan of wooage.

I didn't get far before I got distracted by wondering what he'd look like.

Would he be tall? Regular height? Thin? Bulky? Muscular? Trim? Athletic? Would he have long hair? Short hair? Blond? Black? Redhead? Tan? Pale? Would he be nerdy? Emo? A jock? A bad boy? What color would his eyes be? Would he be just sexy, or model perfect? I tried every combination I could think of in my head, but they all felt wrong somehow. It seemed wrong that someone as amazing as Owen could be put into a group like that. Someone like Owen was probably unique in every way. Someone who everybody who saw him would notice and remember, even if they had no idea why.

Thinking about Owen was relaxing, which after the day I had translated into exhausting. I ended up falling asleep before my dad got home.

The rest of the week....actually wasn't that bad.

I dunno if it was because of the Owen high I was still riding or Cheryl making an effort to be with me as much as possible but things didn't even come close to being as bad as Monday. I still got made fun of, I still got shoved, I still had my books knocked out of my hands, but that was it. And, really, that had been happening for years. With my defenses kinda, sorta rebuilt, I could take it.

Sort of.

It still hurt. Every time I saw Jarred or Amanda or anyone they hung out with I completely bitched out and practically ran away, which didn't exactly help my slowly recovering pride. Coach Williams still treated me like complete crap, making me stay after every day to clean up and never writing a late pass, making me run laps if I was even a minute late and he never assigned teams anymore. He picked "captains" and had them do the thing where they each pick one person until I'm the only one left and they fight over who has to be stuck with me. Which he never breaks up, of course. The one good gym-related thing was that the black hair ribbon worked. Coach Williams never gave me another pink scrunchie.

I didn't get over the feeling exposed thing though.

But other than that, I could deal. Because of Owen. Well, actually, because of Owen and my slowly forming plan. I even ended up getting un-grounded Tuesday night.

I talked to Owen every day after school during his show, just like I had been, but now it was different. Every day he asked me how I was and made a point to talk about something personal. Nothing huge, stuff like "I have this stupid project I need to do later on, god I hate science" or "Did you see 'The Walking Dead' last night" or "What's your favorite band", but it was enough to make me feel closer to him. And like he wanted to be closer to me. I could almost feel it, like he was sending out invisible little signals that said "Let's be friends!", except less lame. Honestly, it was the perfect opening to ask for his number or email address.

But I'm still a huge pussy, so I never got the nerve to.

I know! I'm being stupid. I tell myself I'm being stupid. Cheryl tells me I'm being stupid. My defenses, which apparently replaced their "don't think about Owen" part with an "attract Owen at all costs" part, tell me I'm being stupid. But, I mean, have you ever ASKED someone for their number? It's not easy! Even for normal people. For me, flying by flapping my arms would be more possible.

But I did decide to go all out on trying to find out who he was.

The second I got my internet back I spent all night -minus Owen's show of course- trying to stalk-um, find him. I searched the radio stations website, but it didn't have anything on any of the shows or the kids who volunteered there. I Googled, Binged and even Yahooed his name and the name of my high school but nothing really came up that told me any of the Owen's mentioned were him. I got a few last names and could have looked up numbers but then I'd have to actually CALL them all. I doubt I'd be able to call his house even if I knew it was his house. Calling up a bunch of people that MIGHT be him? Yeah, not gonna happen. After that I kinda ran out of ideas. All I was left with was my original plan of walking around the school, listening to people's conversations and hoping I heard his voice.

But I did the hell out of that.

And now it's Friday and I still haven't found him and for the first time in...ever, I kinda wish I had an extra day of school. I had to be getting close, I'd walked practically every single hallway this week as slow as I could without risking getting noticed too much. It wasn't THAT big a school. I had to run into him sometime.

I suck at math, but with how any times I'd ran into Jarred today, statistically I'm due to run into Owen.

Don't worry, I escaped before he could say, or do, anything to me. But it was a bit weird how he always seemed to show up where I was going. It got me so weirded out and nervous that halfway through the day I started walking through the semi-out-of-the-way freshman halls just to avoid him.

To try and cut down on freshman bullying the school puts all the freshman lockers and classes in one part of the school so they don't have to risk running into seniors and getting beat up or shoved into lockers or thrown into dirty urinals. Kinda says something about the school that something like that's even necessary, but whatever. It doesn't even really help much, since freshman eat lunch with everybody else and the people who would have picked on them between classes and during bathroom breaks just pick on the sophomores instead.

But it was a good place to hide.

And I actually had my best memories of high school here. Well, I guess since this is my sophomore year it'd be pretty hard to have worse memories that's kinda pointless to say, but it's still true. I even had a few of my teachers from last year recognize me and say hi. I shyly waved back and hid behind my hair even more when they did, but it was still nice, being recognized for something other than how much of a massive loser I am.

It was weird, but it actually kinda felt good, walking all over the school looking for Owen. As lame as this is gonna sound it was like I was giving him my time and energy without him even knowing it, and I liked that. I liked the thought that somewhere in this school Owen was sitting in class or talking with his friends or reading or taking notes and having no idea that someone was spending every second of their free time thinking about him and trying to find him.

As I walked through the freshman halls I started humming '500 Miles' under my breath. I grinned to myself. I definitely know what song I'm requesting tonight.

And, of course, I listened. By this point I don't think I could have turned it off if I wanted to.

"-boy with blue hair the other night. He was so dark and mysterious and-"

"-look, dude! I think it's infected or something-"

"-worst Final Fantasy game ever. Lightning sucks and-"

"-boring I could barely stay awake. Anyway, thanks for letting me borrow your notes, man."

"No problem."

I froze.

It was like being struck by lightning and getting punched in the face at the same time as I won the lottery. It was like being in a desert and finding a Poland Spring vending machine that only took Canadian quarters. It was hope and terror and laughing and screaming and dancing and crying and a million different things that I can't even explain all at the same time.

It was Owen.

I blinked. Once. Twice. Then my body caught up with my brain and my head SHOT around to where I'd heard that wonderful, perfect, unmistakable voice.

I might have missed it. If I was just a second later I would have. I saw a boy holding out a notebook. I saw a hand reach out and take it, the person it belonged to hidden by the crowd walking through the hall. I saw the first boy wave. I heard him thank the other one again as he walked away. I saw the hand move back to be hidden by the crowd again. And then, like one of those cheesy, cliched, perfect moments in romance movies, the crowd seemed to just part perfectly and after almost three weeks of searching and hoping, hating it and then loving it, there he was. Right down the hall in front of me. Sitting between two rows of lockers on a wide, bench-like window sill with his back against the window.


He didn't look even close to how I imagined him, just like I expected. He wasn't the leather wearing rebel with the muscle car. He wasn't the athletic tennis player. He wasn't the brooding emo boy. He wasn't even older than me. He was just a freshman boy in jeans and a t-shirt sitting in a window stuffing a notebook in a backpack.

His hair was an ash blond that looked almost gray with the light shining down on it. It was long enough to fall into his eyes a little as he leaned forward, a bit curly, but kind of unruly too. Sort of like one of those angel statues forgot to comb its hair in the morning. His skin was smooth and clear and slightly tanned. His nose was straight. His light pink lips were a little thin and his mouth was just the tiniest bit too wide for his face. He was wearing slightly baggy clothes, and he was sitting a little hunched over, so I couldn't get a good look at his body or how tall he was but he looked thin. Not as thin or as smallish as I am, but he wasn't a broad shouldered lumberjack either. (Probably the one fetishy stereotype thing I DIDN'T picture him as)

He was....cute. Really cute. But not drop dead gorgeous or heart stoppingly beautiful. He wasn't the model sex god that I'd pictured. He was......normal. Above average looks, yeah, but normal.

And, really, that just made him even more attractive to me.

In every fantasy I had about meeting Owen he was larger than life. He was tall and strong and confident and he swept me off my feet and held me and -sigh, I'll admit it- protected me and always, always made the first move. Because I couldn't. I was way too shy. I knew I'd never be able to go up to someone as perfect as I pictured Owen and say, well, anything. But, somehow, I never even thought about that when I thought about meeting him for real. After I found him things were just....supposed to work out. I know, stupid plan.

But that was with perfect, model sex god Owen. The Owen in front of me, the incredibly cute, attractive, but still very normal Owen, was different. Or, maybe he was different because of what I expected. And maybe because I was expecting someone who was perfect in every way I wasn't as intimidated as I normally would have been by normal Owen.

And maybe that's why I didn't really have a problem walking up to him.

At first anyway. Before I really even realized it I was walking slowly towards him, but when I did realize it my heart started to POUND. This was OWEN. The same Owen I talked to every night. The same Owen who I had about fifty million fantasies about. The same Owen who made me feel better when nothing else could. The same Owen that I really, really wanted to make a good first in-person impression with.

That kind of pressure? Fucking TERRYFYING.

I didn't stop though. I wanted to. I wanted to so bad. I wanted to stop and run and then lock myself in my room and cry about how much of a loser I am, but something kept me going. Oh god. I'm really gonna do this. I'm really gonna LOOK at OWEN and TALK to him! My heart pounded faster and I started to sweat.

And then I was in front of him.

He didn't notice me. He was still trying to shove his notebook in his bag with this sexy little frown of concentration on his lips. God, if I wasn't so fucking nervous that might actually turn me on. And THAT thought was more than enough to make my throat go dry. I swallowed about a million times trying to get some moisture back there, the whole time frantic thoughts of him noticing me and me trying to choke out a raspy, embarrassing greeting making it almost impossible. Somehow, by the time he'd managed to stuff his book in the bag, I got my throat wet enough to hopefully form words again. He zipped his bag and stood up -I absently noticed that he was maybe half an inch shorter than me- and he never even looked at me. I was in serious danger of having him just walk away when I was almost close enough to reach out and touch him. I panicked, and said the first thing that popped into my head.

"Hell-" No! You're being too formal again! Be casual! Casual! "Hey-" Stop whispering! He can't hear you! "Um, hi!" I said, too loudly. I winced and blushed and of course THAT was when he turned around and noticed me. The first thing I noticed when he did were his eyes. They were a kind of light brownish hazel and they weren't as distinctive as sky blue or moss green, but I thought they were beautiful. A thought that me from three weeks ago would have rolled his eyes and made gagging noises over.

They were also widened in what looked like....recognition?

A tiny, almost too quiet to hear voice in the back of my head started screaming out a warning that something was off here, but I was too scared and happy and maybe a bit lost in his eyes to pay any attention to anything other than trying to force out my next words. "It's, um, I'm Andy."

I don't know what I expected. I'd never really thought UP to this point, never mind past it, but if I did I never in a billion years would have expected what actually happened.

His eyes widened more -looking....panicked?- and he swallowed noticeably. "Shit." he squeaked.

Then turned and ran away.

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