Being grounded sucks.
Yeah, insight of the year, right? Doesn't make it any less true. You know what sucks even worse than being grounded though? Parents. Parents suck. Especially moms.
I glared at my whole room for the eightieth time since I got home from school today, but it still wasn't magically making my TV and computer reappear. Not that I really missed them, but they were the visible symbol of my grounding and their empty spaces were taunting me. With glee.
I sighed and threw myself back against my bed. Which was kinda pointless since I was already laying down, but still. It made me feel better. It was still about a half hour until Owen's show started and I needed all the 'feel better' I could get. At least without kicking the stupid main office secretary in the womb for calling my mom about all the times I skipped gym. Except that wasn't even why I was grounded. Which pissed me off even more.
I'd gotten home from a pretty bad day at school (brand new bruise on my side from being shoved into a locker to prove it) to find my mom sitting in the kitchen with her arms folded in her 'serious parent' pose. She told me that the school called about me skipping gym. I panicked, thinking she was gonna go into another 'Owen's making you do drugs, isn't he?' rant, but she was calm, just being all reasonable and sane about it and asking why I was skipping. Which is where the problem started.
I couldn't tell her why.
If I told her I wasn't going to gym because I was being harassed by the coach and half the football team, the first thing she'd do is tear down the road to school as fast as she could in a Prius and demand righteous justice for her son. Then Coach Williams would be called in to 'clear this up right away Mrs Baxter' and if he pulled less than ten kids out of his ass that would swear that no one had ever said anything mean to me or looked at me wrong, and that I was just a slacker that didn't like trying or maybe even that I was the one causing problems I'd be shocked. In the end, even if my mom believed me nothing would change at school except I'd be getting it even worse in gym as punishment for daring to be a 'rat'.
So in four days when I wasn't seeing Owen on Saturday because I was still grounded, it was all gonna be my fault for keeping quiet. And THAT'S why this sucks so much.
I turned on my side and curled up into a ball. My clock said it was 5:30, which I thought was pretty suspicious since it said 5:28 the last time I looked and that had to be at least an hour ago. I narrowed my eyes. "Are you fucking with me, clock?" I growled.
After two hours on being alone in my room though, I was kind of sick of my own thoughts, so I turned the radio on anyway. Polka boy still hadn't been lynched yet, probably because nobody actually listened to his show, so I got to hear some oh SO soothing accordion wailing to balance out my shitty mood.
Wow. I'm a snarky little shit tonight.
I sighed again -this seems like it's gonna be one of those nights- and placed my phone on my forehead. It was cool and that and the slight pressure felt nice. It was something to focus on besides my problems or waiting for Owen. And I couldn't look at my clock every ten seconds without it falling off. Another plu-
La Victoire est à Nous blasted full volume from my phone.
"Gaaah!!" I yelped and shot up, catapulting the stupid thing across my room. Stupid drums! Why the hell did I set that as my ringtone?!
"Fuck you, Revolutionary France!" I yelled after it.
My heart was pounding and I was kind of embarrassed at how scared a ringing phone made me, then the embarrassment changed to anger and I stalked over to where it was laying -still ringing and vibrating like a dying fish, take THAT!- and without even thinking about it picked it up and answered it.
"What!?" I snarled.
"Uh, Andy?" An unfamiliar voice came through.
My body froze in sudden panic. Ohhhhh shit. I answered the phone. I answered the phone and I don't know who I'm talking to. I answered the phone and I think I'm gonna throw up. IansweredthephoneIansweredthephoneIansweredthephoneIanswer-!
"Dude, are you ok?" The voice asked again. This time it sounded more familiar. I still couldn't believe I'd actually answered a ringing phone without even looking at the caller ID, but my whole brain being wrapped up in trying to figure out how that happened and putting together a user manual to how not to ever do that again was probably the only reason I actually said anything back.
"J-juan?" I squeaked. Then I wished I didn't. If it wasn't him the embarrassment was gonna kill me. Why the hell do people answer phones!?
"Hey," he said, perking up. "How did you know it was me?" He paused for a half a second, nowhere NEAR enough time for me to try and answer, then kept going. "And ARE you ok, man? Cause you don't sound ok. You sound kinda...not ok, you know?"
My throat dried up. All those questions......
I bit my lip. Ok Andy, this isn't a stranger. You know him. Sort of. You've talked to him before. Sort of. You. Can. Do. This. Use your words and try not to act like a social dipshit.
Oh thank you brain for starting to work again.
"I'm...." I swallowed. "Fine."
"Are you sure? Because you sound kinda sick."
I'm f-fine-not sick! U-um...." Shit, I am so not explaining my phone thing to one of Owen's friends. I need to hide how much of a loser I am for as long as possible. "W-what did y-you w-want?" No! That sounds rude! "Um, call f-for?"
He didn't answer right away, probably trying to decide if I was lying. Or, more likely, trying to figure out a graceful way to hang up on the idiot who couldn't put three sentences together.
"Oooookay," he said. "Um, so, you're SURE you're ok, right?"
God, what is it with people not believing me when I say I'm fine?
"Never mind," he said before I could tell him that, yeah I was sure I was fucking fine. "I'm just stalling."
"St-stalling?" I asked, almost unwillingly. Could that possibly lead to anything good?
"Uh, yeah," he laughed nervously. "I'm kind of a closet pussy dude, heh."
My heart sped up at the word 'closet', then I scowled at myself. Stop being a bitch.
I could almost see my inner voice cringe at the incredulous glares of all my neuroses.
Yeah, like that'll happen.
"Oh?" I said. Because that's what you say when you have no freaking idea what to say.
"Yeah," he said with that same nervous laugh. Then I heard him take a deep breath. "Ok. Here it is. And feel free to say no, ok? If this makes you uncomfortable or anything. Ok?"
This is so not helping.
I seriously considered just hanging up and taking the battery out of my phone so he couldn't call back. But then I couldn't call Owen. Unless I used the house phone. Which my mom wouldn't let me use because of the grounding thing. So I just gripped my phone tighter with an increasingly sweaty palm and soldiered on.
Not that I could ACTUALLY soldier anywhere. I'd burn up like a leaf under a magnifying glass in the desert and carrying one of those backpacks? Not happening. Not to mention the fact that doing more than five push ups would probably cripple me and.....now I'm the one stalling.
"Um. O-ok," I managed.
"Ok. Cool. So, I was watching this girl at school today- not stalking her or anything! I just saw her when I was going to gym and she was, God, the hottest girl I'd ever seen. Just, perfect dude. Like, everything I'd ever wanted in a girl just, walking down the hall. I swear I didn't even know I was following her at first, it just sorta happened, you know?"
I chewed on my lip nervously. "O-oh?"
"Yeah! So, anyway, I was following her, right, and she stopped by this locker and started talking to this guy. And I was crushed, right? Like, of COURSE she had a boyfriend. Why wouldn't she, she's perfect right. But then I saw the guy and I was totally relieved because...." He trailed off. When he spoke again it came out in a jumbly rush that I almost didn't understand. "ItwasyouandcouldyoumaybetellmewhathernameisandtellherthatIloveher?"
It took me a few seconds to puzzle that out. And then another few seconds to figure out what it meant. A girl I was talking to today? The only girl I talked to today was- "Oh my god! You like CHERYL?!" I blurted out.
His sigh was suspiciously dreamy. "Cheryl." he said almost reverently. Like he was testing it out on his lips, and liking it. "Is that her name?"
I was too surprised to remember that I was terrified. Actually, I don't even think I was terrified anymore. This whole conversation just turned from horrible to possibly delightful. "That depends. Short girl, brown hair, ponytail, built like one of those MMA boxer type guys?"
"Yeah," he said. "That's her."
"Then yeah, that's Cheryl."
"Wow..." he said. "That's like, the perfect name for her."
I giggled. Which quickly turned into a few chuckles that I tried to hide. But then those turned into full on laughter and I didn't even bother hiding it.
"What?" Juan asked defensively. "What's so funny? Is she...is she...with someone?"
I heard him preparing to be hurt in the way he asked, and I felt really bad but I couldn't help laughing even harder. "N-no! I-" I swallowed more laughs. "I've never seen her date anyone that she liked who was real."
"Huh?" he just sounded confused now.
"Never mind," I said quickly. "She's totally available."
"Awesome!" Juan let out a huge, relieved sigh. Then laughed happily. "I was so worried when you started laughing.....hey, why were you laughing anyway?"
"I'm gonna be able to pay her back for SO much-" I cut myself off. There was no good way to finish that sentence. "It doesn't matter. You're perfect for her. And I'm gonna help you woo the shit out of her." I bit my lip, hard, to keep from exploding in another fit of giggles at that. Now I know why she kept butting into my business with Owen. This was gonna be so fun!
Juan started to say something several times, probably trying to figure out what the hell to respond to first. Finally he decided on, "Do you really think so?"
"That, I'm perfect for her?" he asked softly.
The urge to laugh died down. Did I really say that? I did, didn't I? But was it true? I started to feel a bit guilty. The first thing that pops into my head when someone tells me they like Cheryl is how fun it's gonna be to use that to pay her back for all the times she did it to me. I didn't even really think about her feelings. Or Juan's.
He did sound like he really liked her. A few months ago I would have gagged at the love at first sight thing, but not after Owen. It IS possible. But was he really good for Cheryl? She'd never had a real boyfriend, so I wasn't even sure what kind of guy she'd like. Well, that's not true I guess. A certain embarrassing incident from a few summers ago flashed through my head and, at least back then, I knew exactly the kind of guy she'd like.
So, let's compare.
Sense of humor? Yep, he definitely has that.
Dark hair? Check.
Slimmer than her? Another check.
Taller than her? Christ, who isn't?
Insecure? I wouldn't have thought so before this call, but, maybe. At least where she's concerned. And I know he's comfortable around friends so when he got used to her he'd definitely relax and be himself. Another thing I knew she liked.
A need to be taken care of? I had no idea. But he WAS younger than her and didn't look like he could defend himself, so he might tick that box just from that.
Doesn't scream and run away when she kisses him? Based on the way he talked about her, I figured that one was a given. Which was probably like five pluses in her book.
So, perfect? I dunno. But that seemed like a pretty good start.
"I think you have a good chance," I said seriously.
"And...you'll help me?" he asked hesitantly.
I started to nod, then rolled my eyes at myself. "Yeah," I said. "I'll do my best. And she's my best friend so if I can't help you, no one can."
Juan let out a short laugh. "Thanks....seriously. I didn't...I kinda thought you'd hang up on me. Or be too shy to help, you know?"
"I..." I licked my lips. "If it was anything else, I probably would be. But, I don't think I've ever been shy about anything to do with Cheryl. And like I said, she's my best friend. If you wanna make her happy I'm kind of obligated to help you."
And if I teased her a bit about it, well, she started it.
"Thanks dude," he said. "Seriously. You're awesome."
I blushed, totally destroying the illusion that Cheryl related things get me over my shyness, and mumbled out a "you're welcome."
We still had some time before Owen's show (not that I told him that's why I needed to go, of course) so we talked a little bit about Cheryl. He didn't compliment me again, so I was actually able to hold a normal conversation. Go Andy! I told him about her hobbies and what she liked and didn't like and how we met, even though I was about a year away from being able to form memories when that happened.
He seemed to get more into her the more I said. Which was good, because if I was gonna help Cheryl get a real boyfriend then I wanted it to be someone who liked all of her, even the bad bits. Which I definitely went into. Especially the nosiness and the 'knowing what's best for you better than you' thing. I may have left out how often she's right about that though. It felt wrong praising her for something I hate.
It felt good though, talking to him like this. I felt like a real friend. Once the shock wore off I felt really good that he called me about this. I mean yeah, he only did it because he knew I knew Cheryl, but he still called me hoping that I'd help him. No one besides Cheryl and Owen had ever reached out to me for anything before, and they were both firmly in the friend or boyfriend category before that. This time I felt like I was actually MAKING a friend, instead of doing something for someone I was already there with. Once the terror faded away, it was a great feeling.
Eventually it got to be closer to six and I said I needed to go eat dinner. I know! I make a friend all on my own and immediately start lying to him. Ugh. But, what's the other option? Tell him the truth? Because that just had 'happy ending' written ALL over it.
We hung up and I listened to the last bit of polka boy's show. When Owen came on, I didn't call him right away. I just sat leaning against my wall with my pillows propped up behind me, enjoying his voice. I kept thinking things like 'I know what that voice sounds like when he's cumming' and 'I know what it sounds like when we're having s-e-x'. I giggled to myself, enjoying listening and building up the anticipation for when I'd call.
"Hey Andy," Owen said when I finally called. I frowned slightly. He sounded.....distracted. "What's up?"
"Um, I just wanted to talk to you?" I said hesitantly. He'd always been teasing or flirty when I called in in the past. Tonight he seemed....off.
"Oh," he said. Then he sighed. "I...wanted to talk to you too."
I bit my lip. "Oh?"
"Yeah. Um, but it's kind of...." he let out a breath. "I can't really talk right now. Can I call you after I'm done here?"
"Please," he cut me off pleadingly.
"O-ok," I said quietly.
"Thanks," he said, sounding relieved and worried at the same time, if that's possible. "And I'm sorry. I'll call you when I get home."
"Ok," I said again.
Owen said bye and hung up.
I just stared at my phone. That...was weird. Owen had never acted like that around me before. It was almost like...he didn't wanna talk to me? But that can't be right.
No. You know what? I'm not even gonna go there. I could so easily freak out about this right now but I'm not going to. I know Owen. If he didn't want to talk he would have said so. He wouldn't have just, shoved me aside like that. And he loves me. Why wouldn't he wanna talk to me?
Maybe he's hiding something?
No! That's the opposite of not going there! I shook my head violently. I'm not gonna come up with crazy theories. My head is theory free. My mind is a blank canvas, ready to be painted with whatever reason Owen had for not wanting to talk during his show. I'm just gonna wait for him to paint and just....not think about it.
With that decided, I nodded firmly to myself just to show how serious I was and focused all my attention on Owen's show.
He sounded just like he always did, so it was easy to sit back and relax and just listen to his voice and the music. It was soothing, like it always was. That had to be good, right? If he was upset with me or something he wouldn't sound so normal on the radio. Right? Unless he was really good at hiding-
No! Blank canvas! Blank canvas!
Ok, listening to his show wasn't helping. But I really didn't want to turn him off. I really liked listening to him and he usually played great music and his voice WAS soothing. Maybe I was just TOO focused on him? Yeah, that sounds reasonable. If listening to Owen is the only thing I'm doing of COURSE I'm gonna be thinking about him. So, I need to be doing something else while he's, like, background music, or something.
I decided to play with my phone. I didn't have any games so I started looking around for new ringtones. Something that wasn't a stupid French marching song that was way too loud with way too many drums. I scrolled around for a while through a bunch of apps. Most of them were god awful, filled with Top 40 crap and even then only played the chorus over and over again. In the end I decided to stick with my 19th century marching songs app. Der Koniggratzer March was pretty catchy. And not a single loud ass drum in sight. Uh, sound. So I picked that.
I looked over at my clock to see how much time I'd wasted and just enough time to notice that it was actually after seven when Koniggratzer blasted from my phone, right in front of my face. I yelped and jumped back, smashing my head into the back of the wall.
"Fucking Germans!" I yelled. I glared at my phone, then saw Owen's name on the caller ID and scrambled to answer it.
"Hi!" I said, trying for cheerful -he can't be mad at me if I'm cheerful, right?- but probably just coming off frantic.
If I did though, he didn't seem to notice. "Hey," he said quietly. "Sorry about before."
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down. I wanted to blame it all on Germany and the German people, but now that I was talking to him I could admit to myself that I was pretty terrified of being painted on.
"It's alright," I said, matching his tone. "Are...is everything ok?"
"...it depends," he said. I could almost see the paintbrush, held by a creepy, disembodied arm pause right in front of the canvas as it prepared to make the first stroke. Even worse, I could feel a brand new neurosis forming. I'd never be able to look at a painting without suspicion again.
"O-on what?" I asked.
Owen took a deep breath. "You. You, um, might get really mad at me in a second."
I practically melted with relief.
"Oh thank god," I breathed out. The paintbrush started painting a beautiful, calming landscape. Even the floating arm didn't seem to creepy anymore.
"Thank god?" Owen asked, confused.
"Yeah," I said, then laughed. "You have no idea. I was so worried that YOU were mad at ME. I thought...I don't even know, because I didn't let myself think about anything but Germany but-" I shook my head rapidly. "It doesn't matter. I'm just freaking relieved. So, what am I gonna be mad at you about?"
"I..." Owen paused. I heard him lick his lips. "I wanna tell my friends. About me. And you, um, us."
Suddenly the arm flipped the paintbrush around until it was holding it like a knife. It violently stabbed the half finished landscape while it laughed maniacally before going off to murder its family and burn its house to the ground.
"....what?" I squeaked. "P-please tell me you're joking."
"I'm not joking," he said. He sounded calmer. More sure than he did before. Like maybe actually saying it out loud gave him strength, or something. But that was a bad thing. Because this was a bad idea. And I was terrified. But not for me.
"Are you crazy?" I hissed. "You can't TELL people!"
"I WANT to-"
"That doesn't matter!" I cut him off. "You HAVE to keep it a secret. Trust me. You think I wanna keep lying to everyone I know-"
"Yes! I do!" he yelled. "And you have good reasons. But I don't. Not anymore."
"What the hell does that mean?" I asked frantically. "You don't think not having the entire school hate you and beat the shit out of you every day is a bad reason?"
"I don't wanna shout it over the PA, Andy." Owen said. "I just wanna tell my friends. The ONLY reason I never told them was because I didn't want my mom finding out. And because I didn't want to lose them."
"That's two reasons," I snapped.
"Andy," Owen said reproachfully. Then continued, "My mom's ok with it, and so is Chris. I was talking with him yesterday and he thinks Juan and Kenny will be ok with it too."
"Did he tell them!?"
"No, he said he wouldn't and he didn't."
"Fine." I was starting to sense that Owen was a bit annoyed that I was pretty much calling his friend a liar. And I didn't wanna piss him off, just get him to see how wrong he was. "But what if they're not ok with it? What if one of them hates you and tells everyone else and you start getting all the abuse that I get?"
"That won't happen. They're not cruel Andy. Even if one of them had a problem they wouldn't do that to me."
"How do you know?" I asked.
"Because they're my friends."
"That you've never told," I countered.
"That I wanna tell now."
"So that's it? You're just gonna tell them?" I bit my lip, not wanting to sound selfish, but I couldn't stop myself from asking, "What about me?"
Owen sighed. "I don't wanna tell them your secrets. But if I tell them about me what's the point if I don't tell them about you? I'm doing this because I LIKE the idea of the people I care about knowing about us. Of not having to always watch myself around fucking everybody. And my mom knowing and being ok with it, liking you? That's an amazing feeling. I want that with my friends too. I wanna show you off and brag about you and smile at you and have them know why. I wanna be able to hang out with them as boyfriends, instead of trying to pretend you aren't my whole world."
I softened, just a bit. How the hell couldn't I when he says things like that? But I still thought it was a bad idea. So much could go wrong. And I didn't really understand why telling people was so important to him. He had me, his mom knew and accepted him AND us, why couldn't that be enough? I never wanted Cheryl to know before she found out. I never once had the urge to tell her, or anyone else. Why does he?
"Where are you planning on telling them?" I asked, deciding to try a different approach. "At lunch surrounded by a hundred people? In the halls or in class where anyone can overhear you?"
"We're all going over to Kenny's this weekend. I wanted to tell them then," he said, then added softly, "I'd really love it if you were there too."
"I..." my throat closed up. Oh God, he's really gonna do this, isn't he? "I'm grounded!" I yelled suddenly, grasping onto the last straw that I had. "I can't go anywhere this weekend."
"Andy..." Owen said disbelievingly.
"I'm not lying," I said, somewhat hurt. Did he really think I'd lie to him? Ok, maybe I'm not at my most rational right now, but still. "I got grounded today. I wouldn't be able to see you this weekend anyway."
"What happened?" he asked.
"The school called about me skipping gym," I said.
"Oh. Does your mom still think you're doing drugs?" he asked, hesitantly.
"No!" I said, not even realizing the opening he left me. I just hated him thinking that my mom might still think he's a bad influence. "She didn't ground me for skipping, she grounded me for not telling her why."
"Why what?" he asked.
"Why I skip gym," I answered.
"Oh..." Owen said. He paused before going on. "Maybe...you should tell her."
"No way!" I said. "You KNOW why I did it. I can't tell her that! You just want me to tell her so I can get ungrounded and go with you this weekend."
I didn't mean it, and I felt bad right after I said it. But I was too keyed up to let it distract me making an apology. I had two fights to win now. Yay, life.
"No, Andy," Owen said patiently. "I do want you to come with me, but I think you should tell her for you. Maybe she could, I dunno, get you out of gym somehow? Switch your period?"
I snorted. "Yeah, because Coach Williams doesn't have an entire football, basketball and baseball team to lie for him and say nothing ever happened. And they definitely won't kick my ass even more for telling."
"You should still try. They're going to keep harassing you anyway," Owen said angrily. "You might as well at least try something. Maybe it'll work."
"It won't," I said.
"Goddammit Andy!" he snapped. I blinked, the sudden anger surprising me. "You're always so fucking sure things aren't going to work out. You can't tell me how you feel about me because there's no way I could possibly feel the same, you can't let anyone find out you're gay because everyone just wants a reason to kick your ass and you can't even try to fight back because that'll just make everything worse." He paused, then said more calmly, "You were as wrong as anyone could possibly be about one of those. Maybe you're wrong about the rest too."
I hated the way he sounded, even more than having my stupidity about him in the beginning thrown in my face. It seemed like this actually hurt him to say it more than it hurt me to go through it. But I knew he was wrong.
"I don't just assume everything's gonna go wrong. I KNOW it will. That's from experience. I never had any experience with liking someone before you, so, ok fine THAT I assumed, but I still had a good reason to assume you wouldn't like me back. No one likes me. Not as a friend and definitely not as anything more. And I was wrong that time. But the rest? It's all happened to me before. The same way. Every time. And it'll happen again because things don't change," I finished bitterly.
Owen was silent for a long time. I hoped.....I didn't know what I hoped. I think I hoped I didn't just shatter his dreams of being open with his friends, but at the same time that's exactly what I hoped. I hoped he'd realize that I had more experience with this kind of thing than he did and that there was no way he could reason his way into this all turning out perfect. I just wanted him to be as happy with what we had as I was, without needing to change things. I mean, fuck, I just made an actual friend on my own for the first time ever less than two hours ago, and now he wanted to tell that friend that we were both gay and together? Juan would never want my help with Cheryl, or anything else, ever again.
"You're wrong, you know," Owen finally said. "Not about the experience thing. Because you've been through a lot of harassment and bullying. And it kills me every time I think about not being able to protect you from that. But I think you just expect everything to go wrong so you don't even give things a chance. Because, I liked you Andy. From the second I saw you. And I wasn't the only one, because Kevin? He liked you too. That's two people that thought you were amazing, without even knowing you. And at least for me, knowing you just made you even more amazing.
"And my friends? Every single one of them liked you from day one. Except Chris, but he came around. I didn't ask to go over to Kenny's this weekend. He asked me. And he invited you. He liked when you ate lunch with us and he told me he missed having you around. He WANTED you to come over and hang out with us. He even asked me twice to make sure I asked you. And Juan brings you up all the time when we talk. Even Chris said more than once since he found out about us that we make a nice couple. So, not everyone hates you. Not everyone's looking to think the worst about you so they can beat you up. And if all your experience tells you that none of that should be true, then your fucking experience is fucking wrong. And so are you."
It's not fun, having truths stripped away from you. Actually, it really fucking hurts. Because Owen was right. Everything in my life, everything that's ever happened to me, has showed me one thing over and over again; nobody likes me. Nobody wants to like me. Nobody wants to give me a chance.
But if that's really true, then I shouldn't have Owen. And even if he's an anomaly, then his friends shouldn't want anything to do with me. Juan never should have called to ask me to help him get a girl. Chris never should have been ok with me dating one of his best friends. Nurse Amy should have ran me off with a pitchfork the second I came to her door. And if Owen's right about then, then that makes me wrong. And if I could be wrong about that, after being so sure for so many years that I was right?
Then what else could I be wrong about?
"I..." I swallowed. "Ok. I'll t-tell my mom. And..." I winced. In actual pain because saying this next thing physically hurt. But not as much as knowing how much it hurt Owen to say everything he just said, that he never would have said it unless he really believed it. And that's the only reason I said it. Because I'd never do it for me. I'd never want to. But if I could have even the smallest hope of me being wrong, of this not turning into the biggest mistake of our lives, I could do it for him. "I'll come with you, and we...you can tell t-them."
"Really?" Owen asked hesitantly. "You're not...just saying that, right?"
"I mean it," I said.
"Are you su-"
"I swear to God if you ask me if I'm sure..." I trailed off threateningly.
Owen laughed, and I felt a smile tug at my lips too. Even after all that, it still felt good to make him laugh.
"I'm still scared," I said, a minute later.
"Everything," I cut him off.
"It won't be as bad as you think," Owen said. "I promise."
That made me feel better. Not just the promise, but that I could believe it. "I can honestly say that I hope so."
"Good," Owen said, sounding pleased. I guess he understood exactly what I meant.
We didn't talk for a while after that. It didn't bother me. I was totally ok with not talking to Owen right now if that conversation is a sample of what will come out. In fact, I was ready to swear everyone around me to a vow of silence just to hopefully put off the inevitable heart attack for another few years. Whether vows of silence work that way or not.
"Hey," Owen said, breaking the wonderful, wonderful silence. "Can I ask you something?"
Dammit. Should have been quicker with the vows.
"Sure," I sighed. After everything I'd already agreed to, answering one question wasn't even worth fighting.
"How did you...tell Cheryl?" he asked hesitantly. "About you being gay?"
I winced, then blushed, THEN scowled because I hated how much thinking about that still made me wanna hide in a dark, dark hole. Owen sounded a bit unsure, and part of me wanted to jump on that and tear into it like a rabid dog and try to convince him that telling his friends was a horrible idea. I pushed the thought away and tried to cling to the other thought, the one that said Owen might be right. Because like it or not, that's the thought I was putting all the chips on.
Ugh, poker references. Now I know I'm fucked up. What the hell was I supposed to be doing? Oh. Right.
"Um," I said. "I never actually told her. She just...found out."
Even though I knew it was pointless, I hoped he wouldn't ask the obvious follow up question.
"How did she find out?"
I tried to find a way to put the words together. I'd never tried to tell anyone before -who would I even tell?- and I tried not to think about it a lot. When I did, it was in out of order flashes that popped into my head at the most random times and I tried to push them away as quickly as possible. But this was Owen asking. Not just that, it was Owen asking because, as confident and sure as he might have been about telling his friends, he was still nervous about it. This wouldn't help him magically find the best way to come out, but if I couldn't at least try to distract him and make him relax then I'm a pretty useless love of his life.
Still doesn't make it any less embarrassing though.
"She, um, sorta came onto me..." I said.
"What?!" Owen exclaimed.
"It...I mean...I thought she was wearing the bikini's to piss off her mom! We were twelve and I was JUST figuring out I was gay and she'd wear these tiny bathing suits with thongs and....I looked. A lot. Because, it was supposed to turn me on, you know? But it didn't. And I thought it was because she was more like a sister than a girl, right? But, yeah, that was bull and when I figured out girls in bathing suits weren't ever gonna turn me on, I stopped looking and started...."
"Freaking out?" Owen suggested.
"Yeah, that," I said. "So, I never noticed that she noticed me looking. And I definitely never noticed that she'd decided she liked it. But she did. And when I stopped looking she started wearing skimpier and skimpier bathing suits and walking around in front of me more than swimming and one day her parents were out and we were alone and I guess she just lost her patience and decided to stop being subtle....so she kissed me..."
"What happened?" Owen asked in that 'I know it's gonna be bad but I'm so wrapped up in the story I need to know how it ends' way.
"I screamed. And ran away. And locked myself in her bathroom and cried. For an hour."
"Oh," Owen said.
I winced. "Yeah. She uh, kinda guessed after that."
"Did she...I mean, I know she's fine with it now but how did she react when she found out?"
I laughed softly. This part I didn't mind remembering. "She hugged me and told me that I'd always be her best friend no matter what. Then she punched me in the arm and yelled at me for 'making her walk around shaking her ass dressed like a hooker' for a month."
It was a nice memory, even with the punch. Which I'm pretty sure she only gave me because the hug and the acceptance started off a whole new round of tears -happy ones this time- and that got awkward after a while. Especially since we were still in our swim suits. It was the first time I'd ever been accepted for everything about me, and it was the thing that kept me sane when I realized what being gay would mean to my dad.
"Wow," Owen said. "That's...a really nice story, actually."
"Yeah," I agreed. "I'm glad you're not rubbing it in my face though."
"Huh?" he asked.
"Because it's just more proof that I'm so wrong about everyone hating me for being gay?" I said, hoping it came off as teasing and not bitching.
"I wouldn't rub it in your face, love." He sounded serious, but I could definitely hear a smirk in his next words. "And that's not the best example of things turning out all right. I kinda doubt we'll all end up in bathing suits crying and hugging in the bathroom this weekend."
I shuddered, then laughed despite myself. "God I hope not."
We didn't talk about it anymore than that. Everything that needed to be said already was. Instead we silently decided not to talk about anything else that was serious, sticking to safe topics like the overrating of the Beatles and whether or not Courtney Love could have staged a convincing suicide for JFK.
I also found out that Juan got my number from Owen. I honestly didn't even think to wonder how the hell he got it until Owen asked what he wanted to talk to me about. I thought about being mad at him for giving my number out when he knows how I am with phones, but I couldn't bring myself to start another fight. It all worked out fine so I bit back the melodramatic 'how could you do this to me?' rant and just told him about Juan liking Cheryl. He got excited and immediately promised to help with the wooing. I accepted, grateful for the help and that he didn't even try to use Juan's phone call as another example of how ready his friends were to accept our homoness.
My boy is the best.
When we hung up, I let myself sit back and bask in the glow of having successfully distracted Owen from his nervousness. And if he didn't exactly do the same for me this time, well, sometimes loving someone means giving more than you get and being completely happy about it. And this weekend? I was gonna be giving Owen enough to maybe even put a dent in everything he gave me.
But, if that even had the tiny chance of going well that Owen convinced me of, I needed to do something else first. Something that was almost as scary as coming out.
I needed to tell my mom about gym.