Tension and panic were my new best friends. Or maybe they're my crazy uncles that come up for Christmas and somehow end up staying until June. Either way, they'd been making themselves comfortable for two days and it didn't look like they were in a hurry to leave.
I couldn't talk Owen out of it. Not when I called him back at the station every five minutes until he wasn't allowed to answer my number. Not in the three hour call later that night that I fell asleep on. Not when I called him the second I woke up. Not during school the next day and not that night when the whole thing started up again. I cried and begged. He cried and apologized. In the end, neither one of us could sit back and just wait for the other to get hurt.
I guess it's at least a good thing that the biggest problem in our relationship is that we care too much about each other.
I didn't know what Owen was doing. It was after lunch on Thursday and so far nothing had happened. Owen didn't get rushed to the hospital and Jarred didn't stalk up and down the halls roaring my name while waving a battle ax (Note to self: Stop reading Conan books) so I guessed he hadn't done anything yet. I wanted to demand he tell me what he was planning so I could at least know what to expect, but we'd reached sort of a truce on the phone before school this morning where we both silently agreed not to bring it up. It didn't help all that much, but the tension between us wasn't as bad and I didn't wanna ruin that by asking.
Other than begging Owen not to start anything with Jarred and trying to hold my heart together every time his voice broke on an apology -and worrying about the dinner in between all that- I'd mostly just been trying to avoid Jarred the past two days. Maybe if nothing else happened between us Owen would just.....forget about whatever he was thinking about doing. Ok, yeah, maybe that's pretty stupid, but it was all I had and I clung to it like I was Nicki Manaj's dignity, desperately holding on even though it was pointless.
Cheryl was no help either. After I told her about it on Tuesday she wanted to run off and beg Owen to let her join in. So, of course I spent the rest of lunch trying to talk her out of it and I even had to bring out the puppy eyes TWICE for the first time in...ever, to get her to stay out of it. But even with the puppy dog eyes I couldn't get her to stop Owen. "I'm NOT getting in the middle of your first fight. No fucking way." After a lot of begging though I finally got her to agree to at least talk to him about it, but only if I agreed that if she saw Jarred beating him up she could step in and kick his ass, because that way it couldn't be blamed on me. And then I got the unpleasant feeling that she liked that idea a little too much and it was probably then that I admitted that I might be getting a little bit.....worked up.
But can you blame me? I mean, how would you feel if the boy you loved was putting himself between you and your biggest enemy? Ok, sure, it's pretty romantic and if I wasn't always about three seconds from throwing up with worry I'd probably be swooning but....it's Owen! And Jarred! And as amazing and soothing and just fucking perfect as Owen is, he's still fourteen. A year younger than me, two years younger than Jarred and that's not even getting into Jarred's stupid jocky muscleness. Owen would get slaughtered if they actually fought, just killed dead and splattered all over the walls and-
Ok, wow, that isn't helping.
And neither is struggling with this stupid locker.
It was just after lunch on Thursday and I was pretty fucking wrecked mentally from trying to avoid Jarred all day while worrying about Owen. It didn't help that today was kick ball day in gym and Coach Williams made me the pitcher. Which pretty much means that Jarred and friends turned "kickball" into "kick the ball at Andy's head full speed while Coach Dickhole ignores it". I just wanted to go home and talk to Owen and hope that our truce means I can soak up his Owenness and just enjoy being in love again. So of course, someone had to run up and distract me while I was in the middle of putting my stupid combination in for the third time. Because that's just what happens in situations like this.
At least it wasn't Brandon this time.
"Hey." Chris said. I almost didn't hear him over the swearing I was doing under my breath, but something in his voice made me stop. The few times I'd eaten with Owen and his friends me and Chris never really talked all that much. I wasn't mad at him or anything for what happened when we met, but I always felt awkward around him. He was Jarred's brother and even though he didn't seem to be anything like him -way quieter at least- that still made me nervous. It was stupid, but in the back of my mind I always thought that if anyone was ever gonna 'figure me out' for real, it would be him. So I didn't talk to him unless he asked me something. Which he rarely did. "I need to talk to you."
Dread hit me like a weight dropped through my chest. Is there a more ominous way to start a conversation? If there is, I never wanna have it directed at me.
I turned -safely hidden behind my hair, learned my lesson from Monday- and looked up at Chris. He wasn't as tall as he looks sitting down, which is weird, but I still had to tilt my head. Which made my hair fall back. Which pretty much killed any chance of the super-smooth-yet-sorta-tough-but-still-wary 'what?' that I wanted to go for even more impossible than normal.
"Um, oh." I mumbled and hoped the heat I could feel on my face wasn't showing up. "I.....where's-" I JUST stopped myself from saying Owen. God I wanted Owen. Even if the truce died it would almost be better than this horrible, stressed out awkwardness. "-everyone?" I finished and hoped he didn't notice my almost slip up.
"They're in class." he said. We stared at each other for a few seconds, just long enough for me to think up a million terrible things he might want to talk to me about but not long enough for me to scream at him to just SAY it already, but then he gave me this tiny, sad little frown. More of a lip twitch really.
"Look," he said. "I know you don't really like me, and, I get it. I really am sorry for what I said about you when we met. It was stupid to listen to anything Jarred said and, I'm just sorry, ok? But I swear I'm not trying to mess with you or set you up or anything. You don't need to worry that no ones with me. I just, really need to tell you something and maybe it'll make up for what I said and, just please listen to me ok?"
Well. That isn't exactly anything I expected. I never even thought that he might be trying to lure me into a trap -and doesn't THAT just sound like after school cartoon dialogue?- or anything. Not until NOW anyway. Awesome, new things to worry about. But he wouldn't come right out and SAY he wasn't trying to set me up if he was, right? Well, unless he was trying to get me to let my guard down. I didn't know him that well and he WAS related to Jarred after all......
But he was Owen's friend. And Owen wouldn't be friends with someone like that. So even if I wasn't ready to trust someone related to Jarred, I could trust Owen's judgment.
"I'll listen." I said. "And, um, it's not that I don't like you. It's just.....weird. You know?" Weird that he's Jarred's brother. Weird that he's the only one of Owen's friends that I didn't get along with right from the start. Weird that I'm still a little bit scared that he'll find out about me and Owen and tell everyone.
I didn't know how much of that came through in what I said, but he just nodded. "I know." And somehow I got the feeling that he was talking about a completely different weird than anything I thought of. "But that's not why I'm here. I heard Jarred talking to some of his friends last night. He's planning on doing something to you tomorrow. Something really humiliating that will 'put you in your place'." He rolled his eyes as he did the air quotes. "He sounds so stupid when he says stuff like that, but he's serious. So be careful, ok?"
My throat went dry. Something 'really humiliating'? What could possibly be worse than being held down in my own pissy urinal? You know what? Stupid question. Jarred could probably think of something easily.
"What-" I squeaked, then swallowed, wet my lips, and tried again. "What's he gonna do?"
"I don't know." Chris said with an apologetic half shrug. "I didn't hear much after that. They-"
"CHRIS!" A roaring bellow cut through at least twenty different hallway conversations. Like mirror images Chris and I both jumped, then our heads snapped around.
A furious Jarred with Simon and Kyle in his wake stormed down the hall towards us. Shit! It wasn't my proudest moment, but I probably would have run and left Chris behind without a second thought if I thought I could get away. But everyone in the hall with us was watching and with a sixth sense born of way too much experience I already knew a high school fight circle was forming around us. If I tried to run they'd slow me down enough for Jarred to catch up, so instead I hid behind my hair and hoped whatever he was mad at his brother for meant he'd mostly ignore me.
They stopped in front of us and spread out. Jarred in front and Kyle and Simon on either side and a little behind. Like it was rehearsed, the crowd closed in behind them. We were locked in.
Simon was closest to me, and he gave me a little shove. "Dry today, Pissboy?" he smirked. I fought the urge to cringe. Goddammit, that one sounded like it was gonna stick.
Through my hair and out of the corner of my eye I saw Kyle reach over and muss up Chris' hair. "Hey Chrissy."
Chris ducked away, scowling. "Don't call me that." he snapped back. He sounded like me when I'm telling Cheryl not to call me any of the million nicknames she has, except without any of the friendly annoyance behind it.
"Why are you with him him?" Jarred demanded, looking at Chris and jerking a thumb at me. ….fuck. So much for being ignored.
"We're talking." Chris said flatly. I was a little bit surprised at how calm he was being, but I guess growing up with Jarred takes away some of the intimidation factor. "You know, that thing people do with their mouths when they're not yelling like idiots?"
Anger flashed in Jarred's eyes. And something else too. Something that was there and gone too fast to even notice properly. "Not with him." he said. "Stay away from him and-"
"You're not mom, Jarred." Chris snapped back angrily. "And I'm not ten anymore. You can't tell me who to be friends with."
Friends? That surprised me. I guess he could just be saying it in the heat of the moment but it still felt a whole new kind of weird to hear Jarred's brother say he was my friend. And it wasn't a bad kind of weird either.
"You're NOT friends with him!" Jarred said. "And you're MY little brother. That means I get to tell you whatever the hell I want and you listen."
"Fuck that." Chris said, sounding more animated and sure of himself than I'd ever seen him. "I'm not your slave. Just because you can throw a football like dad doesn't mean you get to be him because he's not around."
Personal information on the enemy? I filed that under 'never gonna do me any good, but useful for figuring out why Jarred's such a shithole'.
"Heh." Simon laughed. "I didn't know Chrissy was so gay for Sandy."
Jarred twitched as something flared in his eyes. If I wasn't staring at him so intently, I would have missed it. It was there and gone that quick. But unlike last time, this time I could identify it. Panic. Pure, unfiltered panic. He was terrified that Simon was right. That Chris was talking to me because he was....what? Gay? Hitting on me? Because I was hitting on him? Whatever it was, it bothered Jarred more than anything I'd ever seen. More than I ever thought he COULD be bothered. It surprised the hell out of me.
"Shut up!" Jarred glared at Simon. For a second I seriously thought he was gonna take a swing at him. Simon must have thought so too because he immediately held up his hands and took a step back.
"Hey man, I didn't mean it like that." Simon said.
I could see Jarred's jaw clenching and unclenching, but he slowly turned back towards Chris. "You don't ever talk to him again." he said, low and dangerously. "Now get out of here." And without even waiting for a response he turned to me.
I was expecting him to start with threats like he usually does, so I was completely taken by surprise when he shot forward and grabbed me by the front of my shirt with both hands. I let out a surprised yelp as he spun me around and slammed me against the nearest wall of lockers, hard.
"Stay the fuck away from my brother." He growled. His face was so close to mine I could smell the -very out of character for Jarred- kiwi lime Snapple he must have had with lunch. I froze, to scared to even panic about getting my ass kicked. I'd never seen him this pissed. Not even in the shower when he 'caught me looking'.
Oh god, oh god, oh god, ohgodohgodohgodohshit. He's gonna kill me, isn't he? Right here in front of everyone he's gonna kill me. Oh Owen....I love you so much.
"Let him go!" Chris shouted and tried to pull Jarred off me. Jarred didn't even look at him.
"Get him off me." He said, and like the good little suck up he is, Kyle grabbed Chris and pulled him back. Chris struggled and demanded to be let go, but Kyle pinned his arms behind his back and ignored him.
And then Jarred slammed me hard into the lockers. My head cracked off the metal and for a few seconds his face swam in front of me, like I was looking at him from underwater. "Stay." Jarred said and slammed me again. "Away." Slam. "From." Slam. "Him." Slam.
Ow. It was a toss up between which hurt more, my head or my back where the combination dial dug into it every time he slammed me. Actually, no. It was neither. What hurt most was my heart. Owen was gonna hear about this and when he did it would just tear him apart even more and make him that much more determined to do.....whatever he was gonna do. And he'd end up just as hurt as me. Even more. And it would be my fault.
I wanted to cry.
But before I could, Jarred could see my tears and think they were because of him -and wouldn't THAT just make his day- he let me go with another shove. My back smashed into the lockers again, but it wasn't nearly with the same amount of force as before. I was so surprised he wasn't holding me up anymore than I had to lean against the lockers to keep from falling. He didn't leave though. He took a step back, his eyes never leaving me.
"If I see you near him again, I'll beat you even worse than this." Jarred said.
"Yeah, kick his fag ass bro!" Simon urged with a laugh.
Jarred raised his fist. Oh hell. Where's a teacher when you need one? This.....is gonna hurt.
And then, just before I closed my eyes and tried to prepare for getting hit in the face AGAIN, something.....different happened.
My mind was messing with me a bit. I knew because no one could move that fast. It was adrenaline or whatever that stupid chemical is that gets released when you're about to get your ass kicked that slows everything down so you have longer to piss yourself and speeds everything up at the same time so you get hit sooner. All I saw was a pair of beautiful hazel eyes push their way through the crowd behind us, and then an ash blond streak flew towards Jarred. Owen crashed into his side hard enough to make him grunt in surprise and pain and then, like he'd just been tackled in one of his stupid football games, Jarred collapsed to the ground with Owen on top of him.
For just a second, the entire world stopped breathing. For everyone else it was probably because someone actually attacked Jarred Walters. Not just that, someone attacked him to protect ME. Two things that had never happened in the history of ever. It was like seeing Elvis rise from the grave and behead Justin Bieber for his crimes against music. For me though, the world stopped for a much different reason.
Owen saved me.
I remembered back a million years ago before we got together when I accidentally requested 'Holding Out For A Hero' because I wanted someone to save me. Well, I got my hero. Complete with a nick of time, out of nowhere rescue and everything. And for just that second, that's all that mattered. I didn't think about how Owen couldn't possibly win in a fight against Jarred. I didn't think about how much shit this was gonna bring down on Owen's head. I didn't think about how this would make it worse for me. All I thought about was Owen, flying out of the crowd and saving me.
My own personal superhero.
But as seconds usually do, this one ended. Reality came crashing back. I heard gasps of surprise and a dozen murmured conversations from the crowd around us. Chris was still being held back by Kyle, but they were both staring, mouths open in shock, at Owen and Jarred on the floor. Simon was too, but when the world started back up so did he. He was closest to Jarred and he started forward, reaching for Owen. Owen, who was still on top of Jarred, one hand grabbing the front of his shirt and the other pounding on Jarred's chest, his sides, the arms that covered his face, anything he could hit. He was frantic and pissed and beautiful and the second Simon dragged him away Jarred would jump up and give it back to him a thousand times worse.
I didn't even think about it. I leaped at Simon, yelling, and crashed into the back of his legs just before he grabbed Owen. It was kinda lame, because I was aiming for his back to knock him AWAY like Owen did with Jarred, but it worked because Simon legs buckled and he fell. Right on top of me. I panicked, and frantically tried to kick him off me. I felt my feet connect with him and heard a few high pitched, very un-Simon like yelps and "stop fucking kicking me!"'s. Eventually he rolled away and I scrambled to my feet.
Kyle was trying to get to Jarred, but Chris was actually managing to hold him off. Like, literally. He had a death grip on his waist and no matter how much Kyle cursed and twisted and pushed, he couldn't get free. I thought it was weird that he didn't just hit him, but I guess the rules are different with Jarred's brother than with everyone else. I felt safe enough turning my back on them.
I was just in time to see Owen jump up off of Jarred and quickly scurry back. Jarred didn't waste any time picking himself up and I thought that Owen was gonna run away as suddenly as he showed up, but he stopped and stood in front of me. He didn't exactly hold his arms out or strike a protective pose, but it was obvious that he was shielding me from Jarred. I didn't know whether to melt or yell at him.
Jarred and Simon stood about five feet away, glaring at us. Kyle stumbled over to them like he'd been pushed, then joined in with the glaring. Except he seemed to be saving it mostly for Chris, who stepped up to stand next to Owen. I had to swallow a lump of emotion at seeing Jarred's brother stand in front of me against him.
"Wow, this got out of hand fast." Chris muttered, just loud enough for me to hear him.
I heard a small snort from Owen. "Aren't there ANY teachers in this school?"
Half of me wanted to kiss him for being so calm and sexy and the other half wanted to hit him for not running away before Jarred got a good look at him. It was probably a good thing I can never make up my mind under pressure.
Owen must have gotten at least one good hit in, because Jarred winced slightly as he rubbed his shoulder. "You," he said, somehow including me while glaring at Owen. "are fucking dead." All the heat drained from my body as I watched my worst nightmare come true.
"Stop, ok?" Chris said. "Just leave them alone-"
"You, shut up." Jarred snapped at him. "Get the fuck out of here Chris or I swear to god I'll-"
"What?" he cut him off. "Tell mom that I wouldn't leave so you could beat up my friends?"
"He's not your friend!" Jarred shouted. Jesus, is he really THAT worried about his brother hanging out with me? Does he think I'm gonna molest him or something?
"Yeah, he is." Chris said firmly and I choked on another lump. I had no idea why he was saying it. Because I'm Owen's friend? To piss his brother off? It didn't matter though. He was standing up for me and if there's any quicker way to get me to let someone in, I haven't found it yet. "They both are. So leave them alone."
Jarred just stared at his brother. Kyle and Simon exchanged a look. Maybe trying to figure out what they should be doing. If that's what it was, they apparently decided to do nothing and wait for Jarred to make a move. Big surprise there.
"No." Jarred said, and there was an air of finality to it. Like he was done talking and the next thing that happened was gonna be a lot more physical.
I wasn't the only one that heard it. Kyle and Simon took a step closer to stand right beside Jarred. I heard Chris shuffle nervously as Owen tensed in front of me. This was so stupid. The crowd was still circled around us, but with three of us I thought we could break through. There was no point in staying for a fight we weren't gonna win. I reached toward Owen, planning on getting his attention and telling him to run, when another voice spoke up from behind me, clear and strong.
"How about yes?"
My head shot around to see Kevin Kaplan standing just inside the people circle, looking more intimidating that I'd ever seen. Which really wasn't saying a lot. Kevin didn't really do intimidating. He usually had a slightly innocent, 'golly gee' boy next door air to him. Gorgeous if you liked that kind of thing, but mostly harmless. Now though his lips were set in a hard line and his face looked like it was carved out of granite. His feet were slightly spread and firmly planted on the floor. He wasn't all that much taller or wider than most kids, but it looked like it'd take a bulldozer to move him.
His eyes were the only thing that gave away that he wasn't actually an avenging angel of doom. They weren't darting around like mine were a few seconds ago, but I could still see the nervousness, the fear. But I could also see the determination. I wondered how long he'd been there watching, maybe even wrestling with himself, before he decided to step in. I quickly shook the thought away. I wasn't gonna blame him for not jumping to my rescue right away. I knew why he wouldn't and, honestly, it wasn't his job. But I was still grateful. Hell, more than grateful. If I wasn't with Owen, and if I was the kind of person who didn't freak out at the thought of hugging people I barely knew, I'd have run up to him and given him the biggest hug he ever got.
Jarred didn't move. Neither did Kyle and Simon. They waited for Jarred's lead like good little pets. I didn't expect one more person to make much of a difference, but Jarred must have thought differently because his shoulders relaxed just enough so he didn't look like he was about to start throwing punches. "Is the fag carnival in town or what?"
Kyle and Simon laughed dutifully, but I noticed that Jarred seemed calmer than before. Well, maybe not calmer. More wary. His eyes flicked back from Kevin to Owen to Chris and I got the feeling that he was trying to figure out his chances. Chances of what I had no idea since I was pretty sure even with Kevin him and his jocks could tear us apart. But he wasn't attacking and that was the important thing.
"Leave them alone Jarred." Kevin said. He didn't insult him back or do anything to make things worse. He obviously knew that was pretty much the opposite of what to do if you wanted to get Jarred to back down.
I never got a chance to see if it worked though.
"Hey! Why are you all standing around in the hall?" the voice of Mr Thompson, one of the tenth grade science teachers, bellowed down the hall. "Get to class!"
Everyone just stood there for a few seconds, blinking in confusion. Oh, yeah, this isn't a gang fight in an alley somewhere. We're still in school aren't we?
And just like that the spell was broken. The crowd around us that was watching like they'd paid to see it broke apart slowly, walking off to class or turning to their lockers when it sunk in that there wasn't gonna be any fight. Jarred scowled, but took a step back. Even he wasn't stupid enough to try anything in front of a teacher. I almost wished he would. At least then he'd get suspended for a few days and I wouldn't have to worry about Owen until next week.
"This isn't over." he said, quiet enough so only we could hear him. Any other time it would have sounded lame and cliché and I could have had to fight not to roll my eyes at him. But now it just chilled me. He wasn't talking to Kevin or Chris. He wasn't even talking to me. He was talking to Owen. My chest tightened with fear. Oh Owen, why couldn't you just stay out of it?
Then he left, Simon and Kyle following like well trained puppies.
Even though I was worried sick for Owen, I let out a breath and slumped with relief. God, I think that took five years off my life. Owen waited until Jarred was out of sight, then turned and looked at me for the first time since he tackled Jarred. He looked worried, but I knew it was all for me and not even a little bit for him. I could tell he wanted to kiss me and, Christ, I think if he did I wouldn't have had the strength to stop him. Thankfully, Kevin came over before he could.
"Are you ok?" he asked.
I nodded, then had to suppress a smile at the jealous glare Owen shot him. Before I could say anything though, Chris interrupted. "Um, that teacher is coming over here. I think we should probably leave, you know?"
I looked and, yep, Mr Thompson was walking towards us. Shit, the last thing I wanted was to try and explain what was going on.
"Come on." Owen said, looking at me but including everyone. "Let's go."
We all followed.
We didn't go to class. Not that any of us had the same class to go to together anyway. But there was talking to be done and now was the time to do it. We didn't question it. It was just something that was gonna happen.
I'm not even sure who decided where to go and who followed, but we ended up walking through the cafeteria and out into the little outside area with the one crappy metal picnic table next to the parking lot. Since it was the middle of May it was almost more crowded than inside -which made WAY more people here than there ever were during any lunch, so at least we weren't the only ones skipping- so we didn't stop.
We walked across the broken asphalt and around the nearest corner. The building we were next to was the cafeteria/gym so there weren't any windows and no one hanging around outside could see us. There was a good view of where we were from the track, but no one was there so we were as invisible as we were gonna get. For the first time since Jarred showed up I felt safe. I almost reached over and grabbed Owen's hand when I remembered Chris was there. Goddammit. For the first time since we met I wished Owen's friends knew about us. I needed to touch him. I needed him to hug me and let me soak up whatever it is about him that makes everything seem like it's gonna turn out ok.
And then I needed to smack him for making himself Jarred's new target.
"Well," Chris said with a nervous smile. "that......could have been worse."
No one laughed.
"I think I'm gonna throw up." Kevin said and sagged against the side of the building.
"Are you ok?" I asked, frowning. I wasn't really that surprised though. No matter how calm he looked back there I saw how scared he was. Hell, I wouldn't have minded a good puke myself.
"Y-yeah." He swallowed heavily a few times. "I'll be ok in a minute I think." He laughed breathlessly and looked at me with more than a little bit of astonishment in his eyes. "I've never been in a fight before."
"You still haven't." Owen said and this time I had to smile as he took a few steps closer to me. He didn't pull me away or wrap me up in a hug or anything, but his body language screamed 'mine!' to anyone who knew what to look for. "But, thanks."
Kevin looked between us for a second or two, definitely knowing what to look for. He heaved a sigh then gave a small, disappointed yet understanding smile. "Anytime." he said. I wondered if he meant it, or if it was just his way of saying 'you're welcome'?
Owen stared at him for a few seconds, looking for.....I dunno. He must have found it though because I felt him relax just a bit as he gave Kevin a small nod.
"Um," Chris spoke up "who are you?" He winced. "That wasn't supposed to come out that rude."
Kevin stood up straight, but he still leaned against the wall. "I'm Kevin." He said. "I'm, um....." he trailed off confused, apparently having no idea how to finish that sentence.
"He helped me out of a locker." I said, and was surprised that it was that easy to say. Maybe because Chris already knew.
Chris' head shot to me. "That was YOU?" he asked. Ok, you know, maybe not.
"Um, y-yeah." I answered hesitantly, suddenly REALLY uncomfortable with the way I was suddenly the center of attention. "Owen told you. Back when we....met?" I have no idea why that turned into a question.
"Huh?" Chris looked so confused it was almost cute. "What are you-" Understanding dawned on his face. "Oh! You mean when I thought you were-" he looked away for a second. "Um, yeah, I remember. But I thought he just meant pushing you into closed lockers and stuff. I had no idea you were the one he did that too. He was laughing about that with Simon for days."
I felt myself blush and let my hair fall in front of my face. God if he was laughing about that around his brother did he also laugh about the bathroom thing? I forced myself not to look at Chris. Anything I saw in his face I'd just twist to mean that he knows all about it and blush even more. See Andy, denial works much better with self control. I focused on Owen to distract myself but he was looking at me with so much worry and concern that I had to fight not to latch onto him and never let go. Since that would be probably the worst thing I could do right now, I looked at Kevin instead.
"Yeah." he said, looking kinda awkward. Probably remembering everything that happened after he got me out. "I'm that."
"Oh." Chris said. "Well, hi. And thanks."
Kevin gave him a small smile but didn't say anything.
"So," Owen said. "why did you help out anyway?" He didn't sound suspicious, just curious. "You didn't need to get in the middle of it."
I shot Owen a 'neither did you' look, but he either didn't see it or ignored it.
"I....." Kevin sighed. "I just got tired of walking by. Someone I talked to recently made me think about a lot of the things I did or didn't do when I probably-" he shook his head. "definitely should have. I don't wanna be like that anymore." He gave me a small smile.
I smiled back, then shot Owen a quick glance to see if it bothered him. It didn't. He rolled his eyes in a way I took to mean 'yeah, I'm a jealous ass but I'm not worried about him anymore'. Then he smiled and I felt my chest tighten in that special way. He leaned in a little closer to me and I started to lean towards him before I remembered Chris. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to jump away.
"What about Brandon?" I asked, half to distract myself from how much I wanted to touch Owen and half because I really wanted to know. As much as I wouldn't care if Brandon got hit by a train, I'd feel bad for Kevin if he lost all his friends for sticking up for me.
"Brandon can deal with it." Kevin said firmly. "He's not a bad person, he's just....wrong, about certain things. And if he can't be friends with someone that doesn't agree with everything he says...." Kevin took a deep, steadying breath. I wondered if I was the only one that saw how his hands were shaking. "Then maybe that's for the best. Besides," his lips twisted into a small, amused smirk. "I think he's probably too busy with his 'girlfriend' to care anyway."
I heard Owen snort out a laugh beside me and I flashed a smirk of my own. Yep, Cheryl's a lot of things, and distracting is definitely one of them.
Poor Chris looked confused. I almost opened my mouth to tell him, but then I'd have to tell him about a lot of other things first. And there was no way to start a conversation about Brandon without Kevin being gay coming up. Even if it would be a perfect way to test out how Chris would react to gay people, I was terrified that he'd flip out and kill any tiny hope that he'd be accepting of Owen. Not for me though, for Owen. I didn't hold out much hope for anything good happening if he was outed, but I kinda suspected Owen did. He never said anything about wanting to come out and he was just as careful as me most of the time with keeping it secret, but I still think he hopes. And I didn't want to see that hope die in front of me.
"Um, ok then." Chris said a few moments later. "We still have a big problem here."
"What?" Kevin asked.
"Jarred." Chris answered simply.
Kevin frowned. "But, we just drove him off. Won't he just go pick on someone who doesn't have friends backing them up? That's what bullies do."
I wonder if I'll ever stop getting that tiny little thrill every time someone even implies that I MIGHT be their friend?
Either way, he's joking, right?
"You're joking, right?" Chris snorted in disbelief.
Kevin's frown deepened. "Um, no?"
Chris shook his head. "You don't know Jarred then. I do. There's no way he's gonna let this go. He was already planning on doing something horrible to Andy-"
"What?!" Owen snapped angrily. I shot him a reassuring smile but since I'd totally forgot about the unknown Jarred threat until right then I think it probably came out more manic than comforting.
"-but now," Chris went on, ignoring Owen for now. "he's gonna be focused on all of you. And maybe even me too."
Part of me doubted that. In fact, I think if Owen hadn't hit him the main reason Jarred would be coming after us would be because we're all faggots hanging out with his brother. Well, me and Kevin anyway. He seemed to be really protective of his brother, even as he seemed like he was about to let his friends kick his ass.
But Chris wasn't the one I was worried about.
"Not all of us." I mumbled.
"Huh?" Chris asked, cocking his head.
"He didn't threaten all of us." I said. I looked at Owen. Owen, who shouldn't even stand out in a crowd to Jarred. Owen, who had no reason to be in the middle of this, except for me. Owen, who flew to my rescue and somehow made me love him even more. "Just Owen."
No one said anything. They all just stared at Owen. I don't even think he noticed. He was focused on me. I had no idea how it was even possible for someone to look so sorry and unapologetic at the exact same time. He knew what this was doing to me, how much it was killing me, and I knew he hated it just like I would in his situation. But I also knew he'd do it again a million times over. Just like I would.
"He....didn't really mean that though, right?" Kevin asked. "Bullies say stuff like that all the time to feel tough, it doesn't mean they're gonna follow through. Especially when he already backed down."
"He didn't back down." Chris said. "He got interrupted by a teacher."
"But he didn't attack us before that either." Kevin countered. "Just because he didn't get a chance to back down didn't mean he wasn't backING down."
Chris let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, you don't know Jarred. TRUST me he's not just gonna let this go."
I tuned out Kevin trying to logic his way out of the mess he got himself into. I tuned out Chris trying to get him to see how Jarred being stood up to in public was gonna tear at him until he got revenge. The only thing I focused on was Owen.
I kept thinking about him on top of Jarred, flailing away like he wanted to pound him through the floor, Simon reaching to tear him off. In my head I jumped at Simon and missed. Simon pulled him off Jarred and I got up and tried again, but I was too late. He held me back as a furious Jarred leaped up and charged at Owen. He grabbed him and started punching, but these weren't the punches of a thin fourteen year old freshman. They were the punches of a seventeen year old football player. They pounded into Owen's vulnerable face. They split open the lips that kissed my whole world perfect. They swelled up the eyes that I could spend hours lost in. They broke the jaw that opened to let out his beautiful voice. I screamed as the blood and bits of teeth splattered against my face as Simon held me and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Even if I noticed the tears I wouldn't have been able to stop them. It felt like it had already happened. The tears blurred my vision just enough that it looked like Owen was standing in front of me mangled by Jarred's fists and a small, agonized sob broke free from my lips. I wiped at my eyes frantically. I needed to see Owen, MY Owen, WHOLE Owen. Not the broken Owen that was in my head.
Hands closed around my wrists and gently pulled my hands away from my eyes. I had just enough time to see Owen's eyes shining with tears of his own before he kissed me. I sobbed again into his kiss, but it was a relieved sob. Mostly. His lips were the ones I remembered. Soft and perfect. Not broken and bloody.
But they will be.....
I shuddered, but then Owen's arms were around me. He didn't deepen the kiss, but it felt like he did. It felt like he was forcing the horrible thoughts out of my head and replacing it with everything I usually feel when we kiss. And despite all the things that could, and probably would, happen later on, it worked. I felt my eye stop leaking and the love and relief I felt just being held and kissed by Owen almost hurt they were so strong. I clutched him tight, pulled him closer. I wanted him to crawl inside of me and hide where Jarred would never find him, but this was enough. More than, really.
I sighed shakily as he pulled back from the kiss. "It'll be ok, love." he whispered. "I promise it'll be ok."
It was an impossible promise, there was no way he could keep it, but I still believed him. He'd never lied to me. And I knew in the deepest part of me that he never would. Not about anything this important.
"I'll hold you to that." I whispered back. Then kissed him again.
And then that was when it hit me that I was kissing him.
In front of Chris.
I gasped, then choked on the gasp and started coughing. I pulled back and looked into his eyes, horrified. I saw the second he realized why. His eyes widened and he looked past me to where I knew Chris was. I could feel his breathing get faster.
I slowly turned around.
Chris was staring at us, his mouth hanging open. Kevin was staring too, looking more jealous and -oh dear god- turned on than surprised. He slowly looked from us to Chris, then back. THEN the surprise took over.
"Oh shit." he said softly.
Yep. Couldn't have said it better myself.
His words seemed to break whatever spell was keeping us from moving. Chris closed his mouth and started chewing on his bottom lip. I felt Owen's hand close around mine and I squeaked and tried to pull away. He held on tightly, not letting me. I wanted to glare at him and tell him to let me go but even as I thought it I knew it was a stupid instinctual reaction. And, I guess, now an outdated one too. At least with Chris. He saw us kissing. A little hand holding isn't a big deal anymore.
"Are we still friends?" Owen asked. He sounded calm, but the death grip he had on my hand told me he wasn't. He was scared. I squeezed back. Not to reassure him, but so he'd know I was here when this all went to shit. If that would even help.
"What?" Chris asked and to his credit he looked legitimately confused by the question. Probably expecting Owen to try to cover it up instead of just asking- "Oh! Because of...." he blushed and gestured at me and Owen. "Um, no, I mean yes! Yes of course we're still friends." he shot Owen an offended look. "I'm just surprised....I thought you were still hiding it."
"H-hiding?" Owen asked. He sounded adorably confused. I barely noticed. I was still wondering why the hell Chris wasn't running for a pitchfork and an angry village.
"Um, yeah." Chris nodded.
"Hiding that I'm....gay." he said the word slowly, sounding like he was afraid of saying it but wanting to make sure Chris knew exactly what he was asking.
"Yeah." Chris nodded again. "Um, are you?"
There was a second -or maybe sixty years- of silence. "You knew?" Owen sounded more lost and confused than I'd ever heard him.
"How?" Owen asked. "When? How!?"
Chris blushed. "Um, last summer. We were at your house and I went to your computer to look up times for X-Men: First Class and you had tabs with, um.....websites...." he blushed harder and trailed off.
"Oh." Owen said quietly. It took me a little bit to get it. I was still too shocked that Chris didn't hate Owen for being gay. That wasn't how life worked. If people thought you were get they hated you. If they KNEW, then they hated you and shoved you into pissy toilets. It was as sure as gravity. Except apparently it wasn't. But when I DID get it, I immediately remembered Nur-Am-fuck it, it's school, I'm calling her Nurse Amy, telling me about how she found out Owen was gay, and I blushed for him. And made a mental note to teach him how to close his browser and erase his history when he wasn't using the internet.
"Did..." Owen started. "Is this why you were like that with Andy when you met him?"
Not the question I would have asked, but suddenly I was curious.
"Um, yeah." he scratched his head nervously. "I mean, the way you looked at him it was obvious, you know? I just.....didn't want you to get hurt."
That made me want to hug him. The best way to get me to forgive you for offhandedly implying that I'm a locker room slut is to say you were doing it to keep my Owen from being hurt. I immediately moved Chris ahead of Juan on my 'people I like almost as much as Owen' list. And speaking of Juan....
"Does anyone else know?" I blurted out, starting to panic. If Chris knows then maybe he told....
But he shook his head. "I didn't tell anyone."
I let out a relieved breath. Thank god. That just bumped him right up under Cheryl. I looked behind me to smile at Owen, but it froze on my face. He....didn't look all that relieved. In fact, he looked sorta disappointed. But why the hell would he be disappointed that Chris DIDN'T tell all his friends he was gay?
And then it hit me.
They were still his friends. If Chris fond out over the summer and told them, then if they had a problem with it I wouldn't have had anybody but Chris to meet that day at lunch. I didn't see Owen's face when I asked about it, but right now I could picture the small, hopeful look that must have been on it until Chris answered. Suddenly, I wished I never asked.
But when Owen spoke again, the disappointment was gone. Or at least hidden. "Thanks." he said. "For not telling I mean. And....for still being my friend."
Chris shrugged sorta awkwardly. Maybe he's uncomfortable with emotional moments? Oh, wait, Jarred's brother. DEFINITELY uncomfortable with emotional moments. "It would be a stupid thing to dump you for." His eyes widened in horror. "Not that, I mean, I'm not saying we're together or anything! I don't....I'm not even....you know...."
Owen burst out laughing. "God I wish you could see your face." He let Chris sputter for a few seconds. "Seriously, don't worry about it. You don't have to watch what you say around me. And, just to be clear, I don't think you're secretly in love with me."
Chris let out a breath, then smiled awkwardly. "Good. Because, no offense, but even if I was gay you wouldn't be my type. Too short."
The joke sounded a bit forced, but not in a 'I'm hiding something' way, more like a 'I'm trying to figure out where the line I'm not supposed to cross is' way. Believe it or not, me and Cheryl went through that when she first figured me out too. But that was more about HOW she figured it out than anything else.......
I jumped, just a bit, when I felt Owen's arms slide around my waist and his chin rest on my shoulder. "It wouldn't matter if I was your type, I've already got my guy." He gave me a squeeze.
Of course I blushed. God, how is he so comfortable with this already?
I half expected Chris to wince or pretend to gag or something, but he just smiled. This time without any awkwardness. He looked.....happy for Owen, like Cheryl looked for me, and that made me smile. I'm glad Owen has a friend like that. I'd never tell her this unless I was about to die, and probably not even then, but everybody should have their own Cheryl.
"Wow." Kevin said softly. I jumped again, totally forgetting that he was even here. Everyone -or at least I'm assuming everyone because I can't see where Owen's looking- turned to look at him. He seemed to realize it after a few seconds and smiled self consciously. "Sorry. It's just.....I've never seen anyone come out before. That was....really sweet. Way better than mine."
"You're gay too?" Chris asked, a look of disbelief on his face.
Kevin raised his eyebrows. "Well, yeah." he said like it was the stupidest question in the world.
"But you don't look ga-" he slammed his mouth shut. I guess he realized that by saying Kevin didn't look gay he was implying me and Owen did. He shot us an apologetic look. Owen chuckled softly. I rolled my eyes, but gave him a reassuring smile in return. At least he stops himself before pointing out how not manly I am.
I put him next to Cheryl on the list.
"Not all of us are Brandon Carrol." Kevin said dryly.
"Oh." Chris nodded rapidly. "Right." Then he frowned. "Um, is this the same Brandon that you said had a girlfriend before?" He looked kinda cute when he was confused.
Kevin laughed. "I'll tell you about it on the way to class. We won't get in trouble if we're just late."
Chris started to nod, then cocked his head. "Why are you walking me to class?" he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "I wasn't kidding when I said I wasn't gay."
Kevin rolled his eyes. "You're not MY type. If you're right about Jarred though do you really wanna be walking through empty halls alone?"
Chris had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Oh. Uh, yeah. Good point." he looked at us. "Will you be ok?"
I felt Owen's nod through my shoulder. "Yeah. We'll be fine. We'll stay here until next period then get lost in the crowd."
Chris looked a bit skeptical, but nodded. "Ok. I'll see you in Science then."
Chris looked at me. "See ya later Andy."
I nodded. "Bye." It felt so weird to be casually saying bye to someone while my boyfriend was wrapped around me. I had to fight the urge to squirm. Sigh. I wonder if I'll ever be comfortable being out in front of people?
Chris and Kevin walked away. "So," I heard Kevin say as they turned the corner. "about Brandon....."
The second they were out of sight I felt my body relax. I leaned back into Owen and let out a shaky sigh. He held me tighter, but he didn't say anything. I closed my eyes and let myself enjoy it.
"So," Owen broke the silence a few minutes later. "That went well."
I nodded against his chest. "Yeah. You're...lucky to have a friend like him. I'm glad you didn't lose him."
"I know." Owen said. I could hear the smile I his voice. "And I am too." He took a deep breath. "I'm even luckier to have you though....." he trailed off nervously.
I frowned, sensing something was wrong. I pulled away enough to turn around and look at him. He was biting his bottom lip, looking off to the side. "What's wrong?" I followed where he was looking, but he wasn't even looking at anything. Just the side of the building.
He swallowed, then looked back at me. "I hope I didn't......" he said, then sighed. "I couldn't just let him do it."
I didn't even have to ask what he was talking about. "I know." I said quietly. "I wouldn't have been able to either."
"I know, but I know how I'd feel if you did what I did and I hate thinking that I'm making you this scared. I'm.....I don't wanna lose you over this."
I jerked in surprise. "What the hell makes you think you're gonna lose me? Jarred's not actually gonna KILL you-"
He cut me off with a shake of his head. "I'm not talking about that. I..." he swallowed. "Please, don't leave me. If I lose you because I'm trying to protect you I don't know what-"
I cut him off with a kiss. I know, no one's more shocked than me. I actually started a kiss at school. Probably not the smartest thing, but I needed to. I'm so used to Owen being strong for me that sometimes I forget he needs someone to be strong for him too.
"I'm not leaving you." I said after pulling away. "I'm NEVER leaving you. Sometimes I want to hit you for being so stupid, for putting yourself in Jarred's sights just because of me. Every time I think about what could have happened to you I want to throw up-" I swallowed roughly. "But I'll never forget for the rest of my life you jumping out of nowhere to save me. It was the stupidest and most beautiful and romantic thing anyone's ever done for me." I smiled at him. "Thank you." I whispered.
Owen's smile could have lit up the world.
He pulled me close to him and wrapped his arms around me. I sighed happily and sank against his chest, my head on his shoulder. If I had to name Owen's arms, they'd be Safety and Comfort. He really was everything I never knew I needed.
"Whatever you were thinking of, it won't be that bad. I promise." Owen said.
I smiled and nodded against his shoulder. It was even easier to believe the second time. "I know."
"Really?" he sounded surprised.
"You wouldn't lie to me." I said simply.
Owen's hands slid from around my shoulders up to my face. He cupped my cheeks and pulled my head off his shoulder so I was looking at him. He blinked away tears as he smiled at me. "I love you so much."
I smiled back. "I love you too."
Then he kissed me. It was a slow kiss. Not one of reconnection because we hadn't really been apart, even before the truce. It was more like proving that the truce wasn't needed anymore. It was done. Whatever he was originally planning on doing to Jarred didn't matter. If he did it or not it wouldn't make any difference now. And we'd survived that. Our argument was dead and even though technically I 'lost', I couldn't have been happier to have my whole Owen back.
The kiss ended and I put my head back on his shoulder. Today had been horrible and wonderful, but I was just ready for it to end. But not just yet. I wanted more time with Owen, hidden at the side of the school, just being held. Eventually we'd have to move. Even if we skipped next period too it was the last period of the day and we'd just have to leave when it was over anyway. We'd have to sneak out and avoid Jarred, and even then the only reward we'd get is a whole new day of hiding followed by dinner with my parents the day after that.
But I felt......optimistic. I truly did believe Owen when he said he wouldn't let anything happen to him. Kevin surprised me in the best way possible and I felt like I got a brand new friend. Chris knew Owen was gay, knew we were together, and it didn't make him run away screaming. If anything it just made the three of us closer. Despite what happened with Jarred, life was good. And if all that could happen, my life wasn't as cursed as it always seemed. Even the dinner didn't seem as horrible as it did before.
In a world where two of my worst nightmares could come true and end up being nowhere near as bad as I thought, making my mom like Owen didn't seem even close to impossible anymore.