The next day was......weird.
It started off normally enough. Same bus ride with kids who ignored me or called me names. Same surly bus driver taking off almost as soon as I got on the bus. Same fast, head down walk through the halls. Same boring classes. Newly same smile that I couldn't get rid of every time I thought about Owen.
But then it got totally different.
It started when I walked by the freshman hall on the way to my first period from homeroom. I'd started walking by whenever I had a class anywhere near there ever since, um, yesterday. Shut up, it seems longer. I did it hoping I'd see Owen but so far, no luck. I thought about maybe TELLING him I was there so he could meet me for a quick "hi" or something, then could have slapped myself because that's actually a really good idea and of course I'd think of it NOW when it doesn't do me any good. I made a mental note to tell him when I called tonight.
And that's when it happened.
"Hey, Andy! What's up dude?"
It didn't even register at first. I mean, I stiffened a bit when I heard my name, but when it wasn't followed by an insult I tuned it out. It wasn't Owen or Cheryl so it obviously wasn't meant for me. I didn't even need to look up. A lifetime of experience told me so. And a lifetime of experience was, apparently, wrong.
"Dude, Andy. Hellooooo?" The voice was suddenly directly in front of me and I jerked my head up just in time to stop from walking right into Juan. I blinked in surprise. He grinned. "You're way too much like Kenny dude. He ignores the crap out of me too. He's always walking around reading some book and I'm like 'hey, what's up?' and he's thinking about Gandalf blowing up the Death Star or something." His grin turned into a smirk. "You don't have a book though, so, what's up? Just ignoring me?"
We're actually the exact same height, weird. I thought he was a bit smaller. That's the first thing I thought. You know, because my brain doesn't have a 'proper social interaction' part. Then I realized what he said -well, the part about me anyway because I knew what a Death Star was but isn't Gandalf from Harry Potter?- and my eyes widened. "N-no!" Shit. That's just what I needed. Owen's friend thinking I'm ignoring him or being a dick. Then: Holy crap, someone just stopped me in the hall to TALK to me! Not make fun of me or push me into the wall. Talk. Like normal people. I'm so ridiculously unprepared for stuff like this. "I-I'm not ignoring you. I didn't...." Shit. Can I say I didn't see him? Is that offensive? Are you supposed to see someone when they say hi to you? Or is not seeing them some kind of insult?
Un. Pre. Pared.
"Dude." Juan said, sounding more serious than I'd ever heard him. Which wasn't all that serious, but still. "I'm just kidding." he gave me an odd look. "You really gotta learn when I'm joking if you're gonna hang out with us."
I....what? "Y-you...." I swallowed an hoped to god I didn't hear that wrong or imagine it because if I did them I'm about to make a massive ass out of myself. "You want to hang out with m-me?"
Juan's odd look turned into a frown. "Well, yeah. Of course we-" he cut himself off and if he was Cheryl I'd say he changed his mind about what he was gonna say. "I mean, you're Owen's friend, right? Why wouldn't we wanna hang out with you?" He cocked his head. "Unless, you don't wanna hang out with us?" he asked like he just thought of it.
My throat was totally dry and I couldn't have said anything even if I had something to say. Which is a good excuse and I'm hanging onto it with both hands so I don't have something ELSE cluttering up my brain. He wants to hang out with me? With ME? Ok, yeah, I'm Owen's friend but that doesn't mean I'm gonna automatically be friends with them too, right? Or does it? For the first time in my life I wish I had a Facebook. That's where people learn all these social skills, right? But, ok, even if he DOES wanna hang out with me, do I wanna hang out with them? They seem nice, well Kenny and Juan do anyway, not sure about Chris yet. But.....how long can my luck really hold out? They're just gonna end up hating me at some point, right? And what if me or Owen slip up and they find out about us? Then he'll lose his friends and it'll be all my fault.
My heart clenched at the thought and I was opening my mouth to say.....yeah, no idea, I hadn't thought that far, when an image of Owen grinning happily about me getting along with his friends popped into my head. I sighed internally, happy, sad and resigned at the same time. I'm weak. Even though I know it'd be better in the long run, I can't do anything that'll disappoint Owen. And, if we're being honest here, I kinda like feeling like I belong. Ok, REALLY like it. So let's add selfish to weak. "No! I mean, yes, I do. Wanna h-hang out. I mean." And "can't English good" is pretty much a given too.
If any of my internal weirdness showed on my face, Juan must have ignored it because he just grinned. "Cool. Dunno why I asked, who WOULDN'T wanna hang out with me, right?" Thankfully he laughed before I had to frantically try to think of something to say to that, so I just laughed too. "See? You're learning already."
Learning? Oh, right. Telling when he's joking. "Um, yeah."
"So, what WERE you thinking about anyway?" Juan asked. "Planning a surprise super commando attack on Jarred's douchebag headquarters?"
A tiny, small, almost not even there but still big enough for me to catch hint of admiration crept into his voice. I made a mental note not to encourage it. The last thing I needed was someone to overhear something like that and start a rumor that I actually WANTED To fight Jarred. "No, I uh. I was thinking about-" I blushed when I remembered what I was thinking about. How much I wanted to see Owen. And this is why we need to learn to THINK before we speak, Andy.
"Ahhhhh." Juan smirked knowingly. "Thinking about a hottie, huh?"
I blushed even harder. "N-no!" It was an automatic response because I WAS thinking about a hottie. And thank god for automatic responses because I don't even wanna think about how he'd react to finding out the "hottie" was his boy friend.
"So it's a secret crush?" he chuckled. "Say no more man, I won't pry. Owen's got one of those too so I'm used to it."
I don't think I've ever been so glad that my face couldn't possibly get any redder. If he only knew how close he was to the truth....
"Hey," a sly smile crept across his face, like he'd just had a sneaky idea pop into his head. "Do you know who Owen likes? Because he's been, like, obsessed with someone all year and I promised him I'd stop asking about it but YOU'RE not HIM so....." he trailed off. "Do you know?"
It's official. This is the most awkward situation I've ever been in. It was unreal, like the worst "giving a book report naked" dream but it was actually HAPPENING! At least I'm not naked though. Oh thank you clothes for being on me, I love you so. "I-I-I-I-" I totally froze up. I had no idea how to answer. Most of me was screaming at me to lie and say I had no idea, but a stubborn part refused to do anything that might even be a little bit like denying Owen.
"Ok." Juan said after about half a minute of us just staring at each other. "Maybe I shouldn't have asked that." He shrugged and gave me a sheepish smile. "Sorry."
"It's ok!" The words blew out of me, chased by one of the biggest relieved sighs I'd ever given. I didn't even care that he'd basically just asked me to betray Owen's trust. I was just glad this whole thing was over.
"Dude, no, it's not." He sighed. "I was teasing you. It's.....kinda how I am. But Owen told me not to and I'm definitely not supposed-" he slammed his mouth shut. "Shit. Um, I'm sorry." he tried a smile but it came out more like a wince. "Forgive me?" he asked hopefully.
Again with the cutting himself off and seeming like he was changing what he was gonna say. Whatever. Maybe if I knew him better or I wasn't so eager for a massive subject change I'd ask, but I ignored it. Instead, I nodded. "Yeah-I forgive you, I mean." Even with my ridiculously limited socializing skills I knew this would be a good place for a tension relieving joke, I couldn't think of anything even a little bit funny to say. I didn't worry about it though. Honestly, I was just so glad I didn't blurt out something stupid like I usually do in situations like this.
This time Juan managed a real smile. "Awesome, dude." He held up a fist and I stared at it blankly for a few seconds before realizing he wanted me to punch it or "pound" it or whatever. I did it awkwardly, praying to any god that cared about things like this that he wouldn't try to go for some complicated secret handshake type thing. It must of worked because he didn't. We touched fists, he grinned and that was it. "Alright man, I gotta get to class, sit with us soon ok?"
I nodded, and that earlier "is this really happening?" feeling came back. Which just shows you how much of a social life I don't have if after all that I'm still hung up on not really believing that someone actually wants to hang out with me.
Juan gave me a short wave, then walked away. The bell rang almost as soon as he turned and I gave a little startled jump that I was glad he didn't see. My insecurities were at war with my common sense. Even though I knew once he and everyone else found out about me they wouldn't want anything to do with me anymore, I was still worried about every little weird Andy thing I did making them not want anything to do with me. I figured if there was an invisible "Andy is tolerable up to this point" line that everyone else is past by default, Owen's friends had to be pretty damn close. Jumping like a timid kid at a haunted house because of a school bell might just be enough to push them over.
I watched Juan until he turned a corner, hoping that maybe Owen would pop out of somewhere and say hi so I could run down the hall and say hi to him. Or just stare. Or something. But he didn't so I just sighed and resigned myself to being late to class. Again.
The weirdness didn't end there though. All day almost every time I walked by the freshman hall someone from lunch said hi to me. At first it was Juan again, chasing me down for another fist bump thing again. After that it was Kenny who I actually noticed first because he's ridiculously easy to spot in a crowd with how tall he is. He was reading a book -a different one than yesterday- and I was kind of amazed at how he never looked away yet still never came close to walking into anyone. I was in the middle of freezing in place to prepare to panic about whether I should run away or try to get enough courage to try and say hi when he looked up and gave me a wave. I stumbled -because, really, is there any way I'm NOT gonna make a situation more awkward than it needs to be?- blushed, and waved back. He grinned a little bit and I felt even more embarrassed. Then he went back to reading while I stood there humiliated but strangely happy that someone waved at me. It was definitely a weird ass feeling. The being noticed by someone who didn't wanna do anything mean to me, not the humiliation of course.
The third time it was Kenny again, but this time he noticed me first. I was too busy trying not to cry and hiding my bright red face behind my hair. It was right after gym and Coach Williams was back today and apparently in the mood to make up for not being around to make my life hell yesterday. Today was "training" day which is sadistic teacher speak for "do every exercise with "ups" in it's name while everyone else watches and laughs". It's always horrible but this year was the worst. He actually stopped the whole class so none of them would have to miss me struggling to do a pull up. Well, actually struggling to get to the stupid bar because the fucking thing is bolted to the wall like two feet above my head. See what I mean about humiliation?
So I barely noticed when I walked by Kenny and he said "Hey Andy" even though it normally would have shocked the hell out of me. What DID shock the hell out of me was the easy, automatic "Hey Kenny" that came out of my mouth. I actually stopped in the middle of the hall in total disbelief. Which of course got me a shove and a "move, idiot" from the guy who walked into me. I didn't care. The day was just getting too confusing. Saying hi to someone in the hall is already way out of character for me. Saying it back to someone when I'm in the middle of wanting to lock myself in a room and never come out just totally automatic like that is freaking just weird. Like Twilight Zone weird.
It got me to think about something besides gym though. Go confusion!
By the time I got out of sixth period the confusion was gone and I was starting to get pissed.
I'd never cut a class before. It didn't really seem like a big deal when I was just done kissing Owen and then later on when I was nervous -master of the understatement I am- about meeting his friends, but the deal got a lot bigger when I was walking to the class I cut. It's bad enough to walk in late and have everyone look at you and giggle when the teacher calls you out on it (as used to THAT as I was getting...), walking in after SKIPPING had to be it's own special hell. Everyone was gonna know that I cut and the teacher was probably gonna send me to the office and the principal was gonna call my parents and then I'd have to try and explain WHY I cut and I can't just say "I wanted to meet my probably-maybe boyfriend's friends" so I'd have to LIE and I can't think of a good one and I was so screwed. By the time I got to class I was expecting everyone to be wearing red robes and warming up the hot pokers in an open fire.
So of course nothing happened.
The teacher never even looked at me. No one asked where I was or, more likely, made jokes about me skipping out to give away blowjobs in the bathroom. I didn't get sent to the office and there wasn't a single Spanish Inquisitor to be found.
At first I was relieved. Then giddy with the thrill of getting away with doing something wrong. Then cautiously hopeful that I could get away with it again sometime soon before Owen's friends decided they didn't want me around anymore. Then......I started to get annoyed.
I worried myself almost to death and nothing even happened? Fuck that! I WANT the hot pokers dammit! Ok, well, maybe not, but I completely freaked out about this AND turned down Owen last night when he asked if I wanted to eat with him again today. Owen, who was totally willing to cut the same class two days in a row. Owen who I loved. I turned down more time with him because I was worried about getting trouble and nothing even happened? I felt stupid and all I could think about during the last half of the class was Owen eating lunch with his friends and wishing I was there and how I could have just said yes and made both of us happy and I didn't because I was scared. About NOTHING!
So I was completely NOT in the mood to turn around after putting my books in my locker and see Brandon Carol standing less than two feet away from me, staring right into my eyes.
With as much as I don't like and resent him, this was actually as close as I'd ever been to him. And, somehow, he looks even gayer up close. It wasn't really the bright yellow girl t shirt that showed off an inch of his stomach. Or the tight jeans that ended just below his knee. Or the spiked, peroxided-practically-to-death hair. Or even the eye liner. It was just the whole way he carried himself.
No one would ever confuse me for the Brawny Man. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm never gonna be handsome or ruggedly good looking. The best I can hope for is -sigh- "pretty". But Brandon.....Brandon actually goes out of his way to act, well, girly. His hip was cocked out like he was about to balance a baby on it, but instead of a baby, one limp wrist rested just above his belt. And no, that's not just an expression. His hand is folded down and his freaking WRIST is literally resting on his hip. His other hand was splayed out along his thigh with his thumb hooked in the tiny pockets of his pants. His whole body seemed loose and you could tell that when he moved he did it with way more deliberate grace than anyone would ever need. Overall, he made Justin Bieber look like James Hetfield.
"So, yeah, hi." Brandon said. His voice wasn't as high or thin as I'd expect. It wasn't at all deep, but it was strong. Forceful. Like someone who's used to standing in front of a large group of people and shouting to be heard. His eyes never left mine and I started to get really uncomfortable. Not enough to keep a tiny scowl off my face though. I don't wanna be this close to him on a good day. When I'm working my way up to being really pissed at life AND myself? Yeah. Definitely not.
"What do you want?" I said after a few moments of silence where I assume he was waiting for me to say hi back. Or maybe fall at his feet and cry and thank him for coming down from his pedestal and talking to a lowly peasant. Not that I'm bitter about anything.....
He let out a small, annoyed huff that sounded way too much like one of mine. I scowled a bit harder. "Look, Kevin said you're cool so I need you to do something for me, ok?"
I blinked. Slowly. I let that sink in for a second. Twisted it around. Looked at it from every angle. No matter what I did, it still sounded like Brandon Carol just asked me for a favor. "What?" I sputtered.
Apparently he took that as a "tell me what you need" what instead of a "did you literally just lose your mind the second before you asked that" what because he didn't even pause before answering. "You're friends with that-" he broke eye contact with me for the first time and looked around nervously. When he spoke again his voice was quieter, like he was trying not to be overheard even though no one was listening. "-crazy pixie amazon that thinks she's my girlfriend, right?" He shuddered dramatically at the word "girlfriend". Even if he did lose his mind, that was actually a pretty great description of Cheryl. I barely had time to think that before he started talking again, not even waiting for me to answer. "I need you to talk to her and get her to leave me alone." He nodded firmly after he said it. I guess to emphasize how important his favor was or something.
It was funny how much I didn't need to think about my answer. Even with how amazingly, out-of-nowhere weird this was it still rose to the surface of my emotional ocean of anger and disbelief without even needing a life jacket. "Why should I?" I said simply. And, speaking of anger, I must be like some weird kind of superhero whose powers are activated by anger because I had NO problem saying that right to his face like I normally would have.
"Great! So-" He broke off right before he could clap his hands together and his newborn grin melted into a look of confusion. "What?"
"Why should I?" I repeated.
"Why wouldn't you?" he asked. He sounded honestly confused. Like he couldn't believe someone wouldn't just immediately agree to whatever he asked. And that brought me right from just angry straight up to pissed off.
"Why wouldn't I?" I snapped. "When the hell have you ever helped me?"
He raised two perfectly plucked eyebrows. "What?"
I glared. "When I was being beat up or called a fag or getting my books thrown down the stairs did you ever even try to help?"
This time there wasn't any confusion. He just rolled his eyes and sighed -dramatically of course. "It's not my job to police the school." he said with an exasperated huff. "Now about psycho girl-"
"Police the school?!" I cut him off. "No one wants you to police the fucking school. Saying something when someone's getting beat on right in front of you isn't policing the school! It's showing some fucking common decency!" I was yelling now, and people were starting to watch, but I didn't care. Somewhere between him having no idea why I wouldn't help him and him brushing aside my reasons like they were nothing, like I was nothing, he became the embodiment of everyone who'd ever walked by and ignored me when I was being harassed. Let them all hear. Maybe one or two of them will even feel some shame.
Brandon threw up his hands and let out a little growl that made him sound like an annoyed kitten. "And I'm just supposed to, what, jump in and save you whenever you're in danger. I dunno what you want from me honey, but Superman I am not. No matter how good I'd look in the spandex." He shrugged dismissively. "Besides, I didn't even know you were gay for sure until Kevin told me."
I gaped at him. "So I'm only worthy of your help if I'm gay?" Yeah, I knew people could overhear me. I still didn't care. Fuck, everyone already thought I tried to blow Jarred. They already thought I was gay. And they would whether I denied it now or not. "Are you serious?"
"Of course I'm serious!" He yelled back. For the first time since we started talking he seemed actually angry. "Why the hell would I care if some breeder's knocking around another one? At least he's not off making some poor gay kid kill himself. Do you even KNOW the gay teen suicide rat-"
"Do YOU think gay teens are the only ones that kill themselves?" I cut him off. "Do you think being called names or getting punched hurts straight people any less? Do you think everyone calling you a faggot hurts less if you aren't one? Do you think it hurt me any less when I didn't even know what the hell that meant?"
"Yes!" He yelled venomously.
I was taken aback by the hate in his voice. "Wow." I said after a second. "You're a total bigot."
He sputtered. "What? What?! I'm a bigot? ME?! I CAN'T be a bigot, you idiot! I'm gay! Straight people are bigots! The gayer you are the more bigoted they are to you. It's the way it's always been."
"Then why don't you get even a tenth of the abuse that I do?" I asked simply.
He didn't answer. He just let out another one of those little kitten growls, then seemed to notice that there were more than a few people standing around watching us with that special kind of interest only high school kids have for unfolding drama. He huffed again, lifting his shoulders on the inhale and letting them fall on the exhale. When he spoke again, he leaned in closer and didn't yell. "Look," he said, annoyed but patiently. "I get you're new to the whole gay thing. Maybe if I knew I would have helped you earlier, or something. Maybe. But whatever. It's done. I WAS gonna let you eat with us after you got what's her name to leave me alone but maybe I should just forget about it if you're gonna go around sounding like some self hating Log Cabiner."
I had no idea what the hell a "Log Cabiner" was, but I knew he meant it as a threat. Or maybe a bribe. I could tell by the way his voice trailed off at the end, like he was really asking a question instead of making a statement, and the tiny half smirk on his lips. It was like he was dangling the one thing he knew I wanted more than anything else right in front of me and there was nothing I wouldn't do to get him to hand it over. And you know what?
He wasn't exactly wrong.
As big a bitch as he is, he was offering acceptance. He was offering to let me into to a group of people just like me. People who'd understand me. Who I wouldn't have to constantly worry about saying the wrong thing around. Who I wouldn't have to worry about looking at someone of the wrong gender the wrong way around. A group of people who I could actually like, unreserved and unafraid that they'd turn on me when they found out my secret. Because they all had the same secret.
It was the one thing I'd wanted for my whole life. To fit in. To belong. To have friends who knew the worst, most alienating thing about me and still liked me. I could even talk to them about Owen. Maybe even invite him to hang out with us, outside school of course. I could hang out with my boyfriend(?) around people who knew we were together and just relax and maybe find out just how comfortable I am with just being WITH someone, without having to worry about people finding out. Even with Brandon's infuriating smugness, there was a part of me, a bigger part than I wanna admit, that wanted to say yes.
And last week, I probably would have.
But I'd talked to Kevin. And almost more than the thing about him liking me, one thing that stuck in my head about that conversation was the way he talked about Brandon. Brandon, whose word was law and if you went against him, even to help out a kid being beat up right in front of you, you risked being kicked out of his comfortable group. That was a different kind of worry. Not about being found out, but about keeping someone who had the power to take it all away from you happy. How could anyone be comfortable in a situation like that?
I'd also hung out with Owen's friends. Not for long -and yeah I was freaking TERRIFIED about them finding out and I wanted to cry when I thought about them hating Owen because of me- but they seemed completely, totally, one hundred percent comfortable with each other. They teased and insulted and probably fought but they actually LIKED each other. And even if they didn't like me or know the whole me, they still went out of their way to make me feel included when all they had to do was tolerate me. Keeping a part of me a secret was hard. But if I could be friends with them AND be with Owen at the same time, I had an idea that what I'd be gaining would be more than I would being myself with Brandon's friends.
And, really, I'd been the target of bigots my whole life. I didn't want to suddenly start hanging out with one. Because no matter what Brandon says, treating someone like they're less than you based on something like their sexual orientation is pretty much the definition of bigot. Even if you're gay.
I looked up into Brandon's eyes. With how pissed off I was not even a few minutes ago I was surprised how calm I was now. I was even more surprised that I didn't suddenly go back to being tongue tied Andy. He looked back and I could tell he was expecting me to agree. To be a shiny new follower in the cult of Brandon. Instead of saying anything, I took a minute to actually gather my thoughts and figure out exactly what I wanted to say. If I wasn't freaking out for once, I was gonna put some effort into this.
"Fuck. You." I said.
Hey, I promised effort, not quality.
It was good enough though. Brandon's eyes widened in surprise and he jerked back like he'd been slapped. It almost made me laugh. Leave it to Brandon to ridiculously overreact. Or maybe he's just really not used to people telling him no.
The small crowd around us was watching intently. They saw Brandon react, they saw me calm, and for the first time in my LIFE I felt like I had the upper hand in a group of people. It gave me confidence. Like, real confidence. The kind that normal people have every day. It was awesome. And it gave me strength I'd rarely ever felt. "And by the way, her name isn't 'what's her name', it's Cheryl. You should probably remember your girlfriend's name. I heard it pisses them off when you don't."
People laughed. Ok, maybe not hard, or even very many people, more like four or five people chuckled. But they were laughing AT something I said. Not at ME or something happening to me. I stood in the middle of a crowd of people, said something sorta clever with NO awkward stuttering and people LAUGHED.
If this is what being high feels like, then I completely get why people do drugs.
But if that was being high, then what came next was definitely the withdrawal. Apparently Brandon wasn't too happy about being laughed at. His cheeks turned red with embarrassment, or maybe anger. Probably both. With another one of those growls he shoved me, hard, into the row of lockers behind me. I bit back a yelp as my back smashed into one of the combination thingies. "You fucking little fucking....shit fuck!" Brandon screeched at me. His fists were clenched together and he raised one up.
Oh, come on! Am I really about to get my ass kicked by Brandon fucking Carol? Even if he broke his tiny wrist -oh like yours are any bigger- on the first punch it'd still be pretty damn high on the list of embarrassing things that have happened to me. Especially when I'd just had the crowd that was gonna get to see it eating out of the palm of my hand. And no, the fact that that's a total exaggeration isn't gonna make it any less humiliating.
I squeezed my eyes closed and waited for the first (and hopefully last) punch.
What I got instead was a familiar voice. "Get outta the fucking way! Christ, what the fuck are you blocking the hall for- Oh." Simon Dean paused, then laughed cruelly. "Are you girls breaking up or something?"
I opened my eyes in time to see Brandon's outraged expression before he whirled around and planted his hands -yep, hands this time- on his hips. "Fuck off Simon!" he screamed.
Simon just laughed. "Well, I guess we know which one got dumped." he said, turning his head slightly towards the crowd. There was more laughter for his joke than mine. I hoped Brandon hit him.
He didn't. He just scoffed. "Please, like I'd be caught dead with HIM." He flicked a hand back towards me. There wasn't any laughter, but I still hoped Simon hit him. Being rejected publicly by someone I didn't want before I could reject him felt bad for some reason. "Why do you care so much anyway? Jealous? Finally ready to come out of the closet instead of just staring at me when you think I'm not-eep!"
Brandon cut himself off with a panicked squeak and jumped back as a suddenly red faced Simon started stalking towards him. I raised my hands to push him away -I didn't wanna get stuck between Brandon and a locker wall he was probably about to get punched into- but before Simon got two steps a large, hairy hand reached between the two kids behind him, grabbed him by the back of the shirt and yanked, hard.
"Hey!" Simon yelled as he was jerked back.
"Shut. Up." Coach Williams growled as he shoved his way past the crowd with his bulk.
Simon paled and stopped struggling. "Coach." he sounded panicked. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I wasn't suddenly scared that Coach Williams would blame this all on me. "I didn't-I mean that fag said-"
"I don't care." Coach Williams said dangerously.
"Don't be an idiot." Coach Williams cut him off like he hadn't even been talking. "You wanna get suspended because of something some queer said to you?" The crowd had stepped back a bit when he showed up, and he was talking low, but he was still close enough to me and Brandon that we could hear him. I shot a quick glance at Brandon. His jaw was clenched and he looked like he wanted to fly off the handle again, but he held back. I guess even the fearless Brandon Carol was scared of Coach Williams. "You wanna be banned from the game on Friday because you got suspended? Show some fucking self control." he spat out disgustedly.
It shocked the hell out of me, but Simon actually looked embarrassed. His face got red and he lowered his head without even trying to give me or Brandon one last stealthy glare. "Sorry Coach." he mumbled.
Coach Williams let go of his shirt and pushed him -and not very gently either- towards the now even smaller crowd. "Get to class!" he barked, more than loud enough for everyone to hear. Apparently everyone else decided he wasn't just talking to Simon and quickly scurried away.
When Simon was halfway down the hall, he turned his hard gaze back towards us. I shivered and felt an icy cold ball of fear in my chest. Oh god, what the hell is he gonna do now?
Nothing, apparently. He glared at me, then shifted his eyes towards Brandon and glared some more. Then he sneered, shook his head and stalked off belly first.
I let out a relieved breath and sank fully against the lockers. I had a feeling gym tomorrow was gonna be less fun that usual, but I was just glad he was gone for now. The guy is freaking scary. Even when he's pissed at someone else.
Brandon let out a snort. "Fucking butch helmet jockey. Another closet case. I'd say he should come out but his flabby ass would probably get stuck in the door."
First Simon and now Coach Williams? I was starting to suspect Brandon thought everyone who pissed him off was secretly gay. He didn't look at me, so I had no idea if he was talking to me or himself but I didn't say anything. I never found out either because almost as soon as he said it Brandon flipped a finger towards the direction Coach Williams walked then spun around and swished his way down the hall in the opposite direction. He seemed unruffled enough, but he never even tried to bring up Cheryl or the fact that he was about three seconds away from punching me less than five minutes ago so I guessed maybe he was more shook up than he was showing.
I had a sudden pang of longing for the days when I could hide it so well.
I sighed and shook it off. If broadcasting my emotions like the bright neon sign to a Vegas strip club is the price I pay for meeting Owen and having him in my life then I'll gladly pay it.
Thinking about Owen made me smile, then scowl. I could have been eating with him last period and avoided this whole stupid thing. And now I'm right back where I was before I ran into Brandon. Great.
Fucking sixth period.
That weekend I had my second date with Owen.
After the way the rest of my week went, I needed it more than I needed to breathe. Because high school is stupid and the people that go there are even stupider, by the time I got to school on Wednesday my argument with Brandon somehow turned into the biggest gay break up in the history of ever. Well, ok, not SOMEHOW, it was all Simon's fault. I don't even think he tried to spread rumors or anything. It was just his stupid joke that, MAYBE at MOST twenty people overheard. That was enough to totally erase the whole rest of the argument from everyone's brain. Even my joke about Brandon.
Somehow Owen's friends didn't hear about it. Not even Juan. Or if he did he never said anything. Owen knew though. He almost got in trouble Tuesday night because he didn't wanna hang up with me until I told him at least fifty times that I was ok. Then he flat out told me I was skipping again on Wednesday and eating lunch with him. It was so sweet and made me feel a lot better. And it saved me the trouble of trying to decide if I wanted to do it on my own. Which probably avoided a minor freak out. Always awesome. Maybe I could figure out a way to trick him into making all my stressful decisions for me? Hm, thoughts for later.
Cheryl was pissed, of course. She wanted to go out and hunt down Brandon, Simon and Coach Williams and break off a few of her limbs inside a very specific part of their bodies. I talked her out of it. And even though not even a week ago I would have begged her to stop "dating" Brandon if I thought it'd work, when she said she was "breaking up" with him I convinced -ok, fine, begged- her not to.
"Why the hell not!?" she'd screamed at me. I was so glad my parents were used to Cheryl yells coming from my room and never bothered to ask what the hell was going on up there. Uh, here. ….wherever.
"Because I don't want you to send him to the hospital-" she snorted. It was less of a "please, I'm not gonna beat his ass bad enough to send him to the hospital" snort and more of a "you really think they'd even bother stopping at the hospital on the way to the funeral home?" one. "-but he really hates being your 'boyfriend'. And he's a douchebag." I shrugged. "No need to do him any favors."
Cheryl just raised an eyebrow. "Wow. You're pretty sneaky since you started getting laid."
I glared and flushed slightly. "I'm NOT getting laid." I hissed.
She smirked. "Just checking."
And that was the start of Cheryl's nightly calls to Owen's show to request love songs for "her sweetest sweetie, Brandon". But since this was Cheryl, they were less "You're Just Too Good To Be True" and more "Let's Talk About Sex." I approved.
And if the sullen glares Brandon shot me every time we walked by each other in the halls -and the covert smirks that Kevin gave me when he caught him doing it- were anything to go on, I was (and wasn't, in Kevin's case. I wonder why he seems to be enjoying it?) the only one. But that was the school week and now the school week is over and I'm on my way to Owen's for a date that seems like I'd been waiting a year for instead of a week.
I parked my bike in the same empty carport and walked up to the front door. The crazy little puff ball dog started going nuts before I was halfway up the walk to the door. It barked so hard I kept expecting it to lose it's voice (is it right to say that about a dog?) but somehow it just got louder. I rang the bell and laughed to myself at the frantic clawing sounds coming from the bottom of the other side of the door.
It opened and the dog shot out like a cream colored fuzzy bullet. The smile died and I gasped as I scrambled to pick the squirmy, spinny animal up before it ran into the road and got ran over or something. It'd crawled up my chest and was trying to stick it's tongue up my nose when I heard a "CLICK" coming from the open door. I held the dog -that for some reason was still pumping it's legs like it was trying to run- away from me and looked past it to see Owen standing in the doorway with a grin on his face and his cell phone in his hand.
"That's the best one yet." he said.
I just stared at him, completely forgetting about the dog and Brandon and stupid rumors. I'd seen him three times in school since that first lunch, but for some reason seeing him there standing in his own house grinning at me hit me like it was the first time all over again. Maybe it was what he was wearing. He didn't have on his usual school clothes or even one of his band shirts. Instead he had an old t shirt that was so faded I couldn't even tell if it had ever had any writing on it and a pair of red and black flannel pajama pants tied tightly around his waist. The shirt was...small. Tight. And not tight by Andy standards but freaking TIGHT. It hugged his body, but didn't look uncomfortable. I pictured Owen sleeping in it, the bottom riding up as he tossed and turned showing more and more of the skin I'd never seen-
I blushed horribly and held the puppy in front of my face. Oh god! I haven't even been here five seconds and I'm already perving on him! What the hell is wrong with me?
"Here," he laughed a second later. "Lemme take him." I saw his hands slide around the dogs waist. Felt his fingers touch mine as he took the dog. "Come here Atlas."
He turned back to the house without looking at me. "Come on in." he said. I followed and prayed that my cheeks would be a lot less red when the dog wasn't distracting him anymore. Dammit why the hell did I tie my hair back? Am I ever NOT gonna regret doing that?
I closed the door behind me. A good thing too since the dog rushed me the second he put him down. He jumped up and smacked my leg. "Atlas." Owen sighed. "Leave him-" he trailed off. "Wow." he said quietly. "You look great. I love your hair like that."
I blushed even harder. But, ok, fine, maybe I'm not exactly regretting the hair now.
"Th-thanks." I mumbled.
"You look good in those clothes, too." he said and actually checked me out. Like, eyes roaming over my whole body checking out here.
It was embarrassing, but I still couldn't help the smile that tugged at my lips. Even though I didn't get what was so special about me, hair OR clothes. I wasn't even wearing anything that different. Well ok, maybe the black shirt was a little tighter than usual -Andy tight I mean- and I was actually wearing the only pair of jeans I had that fit and weren't light blue. They were dark blue and pre faded around the thighs. I'd never have worn them anywhere else, but I'd found them way back in my closet last night, while I was looking for another shirt, where they'd been since some relative gave them to me some unknown number of Christmas's ago. But still, I didn't think I looked much different than I normally did. Besides, even with the clothes I was still Andy underneath. Nothing special there.
Owen apparently disagreed. As if I needed more reasons to love him.
"Thanks." I said again, and smiled shyly. I looked at his clothes again, and I meant to tell him how mouthwatering HE looked, but then a thought popped into my head. "Um, I didn't wake you up, did I?"
It took me a second to realize how that sounded. Oh crap. Did he think I was being a judgmental dick? "I-! I wasn't-! I-I mean I just didn't want to wake you up. I hate when that happens to me and I don't wanna do that to you. I didn't mean, um, anything....." I had no idea how to finish that sentence.
"It's ok." he said with his "Andy's being cute" grin. "I never get dressed if I'm not going out and we were just gonna stay here and watch movies so...." he gestured to himself. "Pajamas."
"They look....." I swallowed nervously. "Nice." I couldn't stop my eyes from doing their own "check out" motion and I felt my cheeks get hot.
Before Owen could say anything a voice came from down the hall. "Was that Andy hon?" Nurse Amy walked into the room, her expectant smile turning into a pleased one when she saw me. "Hey Andy, it's-" her eyes darted to Owen and she stopped talking, then sighed heavily. "You're seriously not getting dressed? Not even for your- new friend?" I heard the catch and had a horrible-wonderful feeling that she was about to say "boyfriend". Owen didn't seem to notice.
"We're not going out." he said simply.
Nurse Amy sighed again. "One of these days you're gonna meet SOMEONE you want to impress." She shook her head sadly and turned back to me. "It's nice to see you Andy. And in such nice CLOTHES too." she shot Owen a look. He ignored it.
"Th-thanks." I said. Come on Andy, let's try this one out! "It's nice to see you too Nurse Amy." Yes! Got it out! See, this conversation stuff doesn't always have to be so hard.
"Please," she groaned. "Don't call me that here. It makes me feel old."
Now, normally I'd freak out and assume I insulted her, but she smiled as she said it so I used my new found Juan skills and guessed that she was joking. Freak out avoided, easy as that. Go Andy! Now for the response. "Ok Mrs-" I broke off and my eyes widened slightly. Shit!
I still have no idea what Owen's last name is.
I looked around the small foyer area like maybe I could find it written on the wall or something, but of course not. Nothing on the walls but more wall. And coat hangers and a mirror. Nurse Amy must have guessed my problem because she laughed, not unkindly.
"It's Greene. But that just makes me sound older, so call me Amy." she said.
I barely even noticed she stopped talking. Owen Greene. I rolled it around in my head. It's such a normal name for someone so incredibly perfect. But it fit. I could definitely see him as an Owen Greene. It sounded a lot better than Andy Baxter anyway. And way better than Andrew Allen Baxter V. Hmm. I wonder if.....Andrew Allen Green? The first? No. Andy Greene. I smiled to myself. Wow. That sounded.....perfect.
I choked on my next breath and flushed badly when I realized what I was thinking and WHO I was thinking it in front of. Oh my god. I really AM a girl, aren't I? "I-I-I, um, ok." I managed to stutter out, hoping I hadn't been lost in my fantasy too long and what was coming out would still be an answer to what she just said. "I will." I tried to force the name out but I couldn't. I dunno if it was because I was still embarrassed about what I was thinking or if it was just normal Andy shyness making it impossible to call an adult by just their first name.
"Well," Nur....no, Amy -come on at least do it in your head- said with a half smile. "We'll work up to it I guess."
I nodded, but before the moment dragged on to where I'd need to frantically try to think of something to say, I felt a hand on my wrist. "BYE, mom." Owen said forcefully. He tugged on my wrist. "Come on, let's go."
He started walking and I followed, but not before I saw a small knowing smirk on N-, on Amy's face.
"Sorry." he said when we got to the stairs. "My mom's...." he sighed. "Weird."
"It's ok." I said softly. I was too busy enjoying the way Owen's hand slid down my wrist and slipped into mine to care all that much about parental weirdness.
I got to enjoy it for exactly two seconds before Owen's dog shoved it's way between my legs on the way up the stairs. I tripped and threw my hands out in front of me to keep from smashing head first into a suddenly very scary looking wooden step. And the dog since it was too stupid to move out of the way of a falling human.
"Are you ok?" Owen asked as he helped me up.
I nodded and rubbed my wrist. Ow. The dog yipped at me.
"Come here Atlas." Owen picked the dog up. "Don't trip people." he scolded. The dog licked his nose.
Even though my wrist was hurting I was still a bit disappointed that he didn't go back to holding my hand. Oh well. Probably for the best. We were kinda in the middle of his house and his mom could see if she walked by. I knew she already knew, but I guess she hadn't told Owen yet and I really, REALLY didn't wanna be around for that. Even though it'd probably have less crying and murder than my coming out.
Owen kept scolding the puppy as I followed him up the stairs. Personally I thought the little kisses and "whose the cutest doggie ever" stuff kinda took away from it, but it was adorable and I smiled the whole way up. I also leered this time. And immediately regretted being too awkward to do it last time because, damn, Owen had a nice butt.
And then I immediately regretted the regret, and the leering. Stop being a perv! I blushed and planted my eyes firmly on the ground right in front of me. It's not helping! I still wanna look! Ok, I need a distraction.
"Um," I started, wishing I'd actually thought about what I wanted to say. "What, um, why'd you name your dog after a map?" I winced, but at least the embarrassment over asking such a lame question kinda helped with the "don't stare at Owen's ass like some creepy guy who lives in a bus station" thing.
Owen laughed, but I dunno if it was at me or the dog trying to wriggle out of his arms. "He's not. When we got him he'd always chew on the furniture and try to dig up the carpet and instead of yelling my mom would just sigh and say 'would you kindly stop that?'. So I named him Atlas."
I blinked. "Oh?"
Owen looked back at me with a wry smile. "Guess you never played BioShock?"
I shook my head. "I don't even have a....whatever system it's on."
"It's awesome. You gotta play it!" he said enthusiastically. "Maybe later."
I shrugged, suddenly feeling awkward. I didn't wanna just come out and say I'm not really into video games. I'm already a shy, bumbling dork. I don't wanna add "boring" into that. "Maybe." I said and hoped he'd forget about it.
"Cool." he grinned and stepped back so I could walk into his room. I did. "I'll be back in a second. I need to put Atlas outside, ok?"
I nodded. "Ok."
"Back in a second." he said and rushed out the door.
And then I was alone. In Owen's room.
The same fascination that hit me the last time I was here came back just as strong. This time though, there wasn't that terrible, mind crippling nervousness that I needed to distract myself from. The room was the same, but different because I could take my time and actually explore.
I walked around and looked at the posters, trying to remember some of what he told me about them. I'd see a space marine in an action pose or a guy with a metal arm fighting some lady with spiky fingernails and remember him telling me about whatever game or show it was at Uno's. The way his face would light up when he talked about his favorite ones. The way that perfect voice would almost trip over it's own words when he got really excited about what he was telling me. It was like having a tiny little glimpse into Owen's head and even though I didn't really care about space marines or metal armed guys, I thought I could probably listen to Owen talk about them for hours and just lose myself in him.
The band posters were a lot more interesting to me. Not only did I actually know all the bands he had posters for, but it reminded me of when we first started talking. It wasn't exactly the best time in my life, but I liked the reminder of how much better things were now. I was surprised to see a few Avril posters though. I didn't think he was lying about liking her, but it was weird just seeing them up on a teenage boys wall. It said a lot about how comfortable he was with his mom. Or his mom with him. My dad was never one of those "time to go out and be a MAN son" types but even he'd probably give me a weird look if I started hanging up posters of female singers. Apparently that wasn't a problem here.
I'd just started to move over to the book shelves when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. My head shot around. Owen was standing in the doorway watching me. Shit! Is this snooping? Am I invading his privacy or something?
My heart started to beat faster, but before it could really start trying to pound through my chest it melted at the expression on Owen's face. He was smiling. A tiny, little fond smile. If he was pissed at my for looking around he wouldn't be smiling, right?
"Um," I smiled shyly and shrugged sheepishly with one shoulder. "I really like your room."
His smile got wider and any little bit of worry I had faded away. "I'm glad." he said. "I was kinda hoping you'd be in it a lot."
Now my heart picked up again. Half with giddy happiness -he wants me to be around! Score!- half with nervous apprehension -what are we going to be DOING in the room?- and I tried really hard to focus on the first half. I bit my lip and fought the urge to glance towards the bed. "A-a lot?" I asked.
He nodded, stepped fully into the room and closed the door behind him. The nervous apprehension half got a little bit bigger, but so did the giddy happiness. He took a step closer to me, his eyes never leaving mine. "I really like having you here. It's great seeing you at school and talking to you every night and everything, I love that." he added quickly. "But when you're here I have you all to myself. And I really-" he walked closer "-really-" he was standing in front of me now "-like that." He reached over and ran the back of his fingers softly over one side of my face. I closed my eyes, shivered slightly and leaned into the touch.
And then he kissed me.
His lips were soft and gentle, but somehow hard and firm too. Somewhere in the back of my head something that sounded a lot like me was mumbling something about a bed and being nervous but how the hell could I concentrate on that when Owen's lips were on mine? It had been a week -a whole WEEK- since I'd had this and that was WAY too long. And then his tongue slipped into my mouth and I stopped thinking about anything.
If our last kiss was like a conversation this one was like a playful argument. It started out slow and easy but after a few seconds -minutes?- his tongue started to press harder against mine, move around my mouth more forcefully. I pressed back, flicking my tongue at his and trying so hard not to move anything below my waist because if my diamond hard erection even lightly brushed against anything I'd probably have a huge mess to clean up.
His tongue pressed back harder pushing mine back but keeping in contact, and some part of me loved that. Being pushed back like that. I really had no idea what I was doing though. I'd never made out -are we making out?- before so I just followed his lead. Pushed when he pushed. Explored the way he explored. It wasn't until we both broke apart panting that I realized that both his hands were cupping my cheeks and mine were tangled in his soft, curly hair.
"Wow." I whispered, looking into his hazel eyes.
He laughed breathlessly once. A small exhalation that blew over my lips and almost made me shudder again. "Definitely wow." he said and rested his forehead against mine.
I closed my eyes again and just enjoyed it. The closeness. Our skin touching. My lips still tingling from the strength of his kiss. The only thing I could think was "ohmygodohmygod it happened AGAIN!" over and over. I think right then if he asked me to do anything, ANYTHING, I'd have said yes and had no regrets. I was so in love with him. And this was the perfect time to tell him. I licked my lips in anticipation. Here we go Andy. Time to tell the boy you love him.
"Are we boyfriends?" is what came out instead.
Owen's head jerked back from mine, eyes opened in surprise. "Huh?"
Shit. Shit. Shit! Why did I say that?! You were supposed to say 'I love you' not ask something you already know the answer to! Except..... Except I didn't KNOW the answer to that, did I? We never actually SAID we were boyfriends, did we? But we are! I mean, of course we are. Owen said he likes me. I said I liked him. I'm in LOVE with him. We kissed. Oh hell yeah we kissed. So....what the hell? Did I really need to hear it that badly?
Apparently I did.
"I-" I swallowed. "We never said- I just need to- it's not that I don't think you're-!" Goddamnit! Why can't I just SAY this?!
"Andy." Owen cut me off firmly. He looked at me intensely. So intensely that if it was any more intense it would be a glare and I felt a way less than pleasant pang in my chest. "Of course we're boyfriends." he said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Unless..." he trailed off and frowned. The intenseness fading and being replaced with worry. "You don't, um, want to....."
"No!" I yelled. "I mean yes! No to the not wanting to I mean. Yes to being boyfriends!" My heart was about to burst with panic. I didn't want him to think that I didn't want it even for a second.
Now it was the worry's turn to be replaced. This time by confusion. "Then, why did you ask?"
I have no idea!!
Except, I did. "Because....I needed to hear it. Because I l-" I tried to push the word love out but I couldn't. I CAN'T say it for the first time after this. It needs to be perfect. "-ike you a lot and I need to hear that you want the same thing I want even though I KNOW you do because I'm an insecure mess-"
"You're NOT a mess." He said fiercely.
I smiled briefly at the protectiveness in his voice. "I am." I said, soft and apologetically. "But not enough of one that I don't know how you feel about me. I love when you're protective of me. I love when you look at me, um, like you, you know," I glanced away awkwardly. "want me. Or whatever." I forced myself to look back and continue before he could say anything to THAT one. "I love that you show me how you feel. But, I need to hear it too. I can't just assume that we're something when we haven't said it. I need to KNOW, you know?"
I looked into his eyes silently begged him to understand because I couldn't explain it any better. Not right now. It would take way too long to even try to explain how years of being suspicious of any niceness made it almost impossible for me to assume anything positive about anything. How it was so different with him and it always had been but there was just a part of me that still needed to look into his eyes and hear the words even though I KNEW I didn't need to.
And he says I'm not a mess. Ha.
He looked at me for almost a minute before he said anything. I don't know what he was looking for, but I tried to be as open as possible so maybe he could see it. It was surprisingly easy to be open with Owen when I tried. Even though with all the times it happened by accident, it really shouldn't have been. Surprising I mean. Whatever he was looking for, he must have found it, because when he spoke that confidence that I'd always thought was one of the best bits of him was back. At least at first. "We're boyfriends." he said firmly. Then smiled nervously. "I mean, if you really wanna be."
I nodded rapidly, something in my chest unclenching at his words. Huh. It's so weird how you can have something squeezing your insides and not even know it's there until it's gone.
"Ok." he said. "Then we are. I like you and you like me and we're boyfriends." He looked at me pleadingly. "Please don't doubt that." he begged softly.
He sounded desperate, like he thought there was a chance that I actually might. I'd heard what I needed from him, now it was my turn to say what he needed to hear. "I won't." I said as firmly as I could. "I promise."
He smiled at me. I smiled back. Suddenly, I was so sick and tired of serious conversation. I'd heard what I needed to hear. I felt light and happy and whole and I wanted to stay that way. I wanted to smile at Owen until our faces couldn't remember any other way to be. But most of all I wanted to spend time with him like a real couple.
With a confidence I didn't know I had, and probably wouldn't ever be able to get back after today, I leaned in and gave my boyfriend -and I could FINALLY think that without worrying if it might not be true- a quick kiss. "So boyfriend," I said with a giddy grin. "What movie do you wanna watch?"