Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 20

Posted: N/A

Telling mom went about exactly as I thought it would.

Well, sort of.

After I hung up with Owen, I took another half hour to work out my plan of attack. No matter what Owen said and no matter what I might have agreed to do with his friends, coming out to my mom was out of the question. So far out of the question that it's not even a question anymore, just a big, blinking neon sign that says "DON'T DO IT IDIOT" in one of those big, blocky fonts. So, I edited.


Anything about being a "fag", anything about the shower incident with Jarred, anything about Coach Williams name calling, anything about anything that even carried a hint of Andy being a homo was gone. After a few seconds of thought, I crossed anything to do with Coach Williams off the list too. I had no proof and he had too many loyal/terrified/lusting after him (ok, so maybe that last one isn't true. But it my petty revenge thought for the day so I went with it) athlete boys to lie about anything involving him. So all that was gone.

Which left me with..... "Mom, I'm being bullied."

...yeah, that always works.

I almost gave up the whole plan. It wasn't like I'd never tried to tell my parents what was going on before. I tried. Dear GOD did I try. But even in first grade all it did was get a few kids called into the principal's and make everything worse for me for the rest of the year. And then when second, third and forth grade came around, "mom I'm being bullied" stopped being "our son is in trouble!" and started turning into "Andrew, stop overreacting" with more than a hint of "if you'd just try to get along with people, school would be a lot easier for you".

So, I wasn't exactly expecting much here.

The only things I had going for me was that I hadn't really 'told' on anyone for years and the whole skipping thing. It was evidence. Of something. She didn't know the something, so I hoped that I could fill in the blanks and get her to believe my story. So, I'm basically lying to tell the truth. Or something.

I wrote up a list of everything I was gonna say. Then punched myself, hard, in the arm and tore up the list into tiny little pieces because, evidence, then admitted that I was as ready as I was gonna get and I was just stalling.

So I called my mom up to my room.

And told her.

Only the basic stuff made it in. The harassment, the name calling (the non fag stuff), the getting pushed around in the locker room (I left out all the clothes people weren't wearing during that part) and the basic overall feeling of oppressive levels of apocalyptic doom I had to deal with for forty five minutes every single school day.

My mom's reaction? Well, this is definitely where the "sort of" comes in.

"So you haven't been going to gym because these boys are bullying you?" she asked, tight lipped after I'd finished.

I hid a wince. She was using her, 'neutral mom tone'. I could never tell what she was thinking when she used it. Which I guess was the point. "Yeah," I said.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. "And this has been going on all year?"

I bit my lip and nodded. "Yeah."

She stood up. "Get up," she said. "We're going to your principal. Now."

"W-what?" I sputtered. I looked around at my clock. "Mom, it's after one's there."

She spun around before she'd gotten halfway to the door. "Fine. Then I'm going in first thing tomorrow and seeing him. And you're giving me names. If all those little pricks aren't suspended by the end of the day-no, by the MIDDLE of the day then there's gonna be hell to pay!"

I gaped at her. Mostly because of the cursing because, yeah we've been over that before. But then my brain caught up with her words and I started to panic. "No!" I yelled. "You can't!"

Her eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?" she demanded, her Jersey accent getting thicker by the second.

I swallowed down the scream that wanted to come out. "Y-you can't tell the principal!"

"The hell I can't!" she said. "These bastards have been picking on my baby all year-" She broke off. "Why haven't you said anything about this until now?"

I was trying to figure out how the hell to respond to that when, to my absolute horror, her eyes started to well up with tears. "It's because you didn't think you could come to me, isn't it?" she asked shakily.

Oh God, this is too much to deal with. "Mom-"

I barely got the word out before she was across the room and I was being crushed to her chest in the tightest, non-Cheryl related hug I'd ever had. Which, might not have been a problem by itself, but my mom is a woman. And women parts. And my face was smashed right in the middle of two of those parts. The worst part was I was still trying to talk so...oh God! Did I just motorboat my mom?!

Close your eyes, don't think about it. Close your eyes, don't think about it. Closeyoureyesdon'tthinkaboutitcloseyoureyesdon'tthinkaboutitcloseyoureyesdon'tthinkaboutit.

"Oh baby, I'm so sorry," my mom was saying. I could feel tears dripping down on the top of my head. So, now on top of panic and disgust at being pressed against parts of my mom that I didn't want anything to do with on ANY girl, now I was feeling guilty.

There's a joke about being raised Catholic in there somewhere.

Finally she loosened her arms enough so I could pull my face out of its fleshy prison. I took a much needed deep breath and tried to banish the memories to the darkest corner of my mind. To my surprise, it was easier than I thought.

Unfortunately, that just left me with the panic and the guilt.

"You never believed me before," I mumbled, looking anywhere but at her eyes. It didn't exactly help on the guilt front, but I couldn't think up a good enough lie. I wasn't even sure I wanted to. Guilt or not, it isn't easy knowing that you can't go to either of your parents with the things that are ruining your life because they think you're being dramatic.

"Before?" she asked. Then her eyes widened and she pressed her lips together. "Oh mean, all those times you told us about? You weren't just overreacting?"

She looked like she was about to start bawling, but that couldn't quite stop the flash of anger from burning through my chest. "No," I said harshly. "I wasn't overreacting. If anything, I was downplaying it."

Then the crying started. She grabbed me and pulled me in for another crushing hug, but this time I managed to lift my head and turn my face to the side so I wasn't buried in my mom's womanly charms again. Now I was adding 'uncomfortable' to the feelings mix. I was still angry, but I felt bad about making my mom cry. I didn't want her to cry. It was all too confusing, and the top of my head was getting really wet from all the tears, so I gently pushed back. To my surprise, she let me go.

"I'm so sorry Andrew," she said. "I didn't know. I've been dealing with this for all these years?" she asked plaintively. Like she wanted me to deny it even though she knew it was true.

"Mom," I started, then paused. I had no idea what to say. I wanted her to stop crying, but a very cruel part of me wanted to twist the knife a little bit more. I didn't even realize how resentful I was of her for not believing me all these years until right then. Especially since all it took was me skipping gym for a week to get her to suit up in her white armor and ride off to avenge me. How different would my life have been if she'd just believed me before?

But the cruel part of me that felt abandoned by mommy didn't hold a freaking candle to the rest of my experience. Even if she believed me, I knew exactly what would have happened. Nothing. A few kids might have got detention or suspended, but they'd just come back at me worse than before once everything settled down. That's exactly what happened when she DID believe me. As much as I kinda wanted to blame her, I knew it was pointless and unfair.

Plus, I'd really like to think that I'm not the kind of person who'd be mean to my mom when she's crying anyway.

"Mom, it's fine," I said. The cruel part threw up its hands in disgust and went off to write fan fiction about kicking puppies. "I...forgive you. And it wouldn't have mattered anyway. You wouldn't have been able to do anything."

"Oh baby," she said. She still sounded unsteady. "Of course I could have done something. I could have listened to you and got your teachers to..."

She broke off, her mouth tight and her jaw settling into a determined line. "Well, I can definitely do something about it now. I'm gonna tear that principal a new asshole for letting this happen for so long-"

"No!" I yelled. The panic that had taken a backseat to everything else suddenly right in center stage again. "You can't tell him."

I didn't even think she heard me at first, she just went on for almost a minute in ridiculously graphic detail about what she wanted to do to the principal, but eventually what I said must have caught up with her. "-them off and shove them...what do you mean, I can't tell him? Of course I can. That's the only way this will ever stop."

"No!" I yelled again. Then I took a deep breath. Yelling wasn't gonna help here. I needed to try and be rational and calm and try to get my point of view across in a sane, sensible manner.

"Mom, telling on J-" Shit! Already screwing up! No names! "-anyone isn't gonna help. It'll just make everything worse."

My mom gave me a skeptical look. "How would it make anything worse?"

I blinked slowly, twice, before I could even believe that she'd just said those words, in that order. "Because!" I shouted. Then I growled at myself and took two deep breaths this time.

"Because," I said again, calmer this time, "after they're done getting in trouble they'll just come after me even more to get back at me for being a 'rat'."

"A rat?" she asked.

"Or a snitch or a...a...tattle tale, if we were still nine."

She shook her head. "Andrew, don't you think you're-"

"Overreacting?" I cut her off with a Look.

Her mouth closed, and she looked away. It took her a while to say anything. I don't know what was going through her head, but I hoped she was realizing that she couldn't dismiss me out of hand when she was trying to make up for dismissing me out of hand. Finally she said, "Then what should I do?"

She looked back at me and I could tell she was trying to hold back tears. This time it was me fighting not to look away. "What can I do to make things better for you?"

I just barely bit back the "you can't" that wanted to come out. That was the old, hopeless Andy talking. The new, slightly hopeful Andy needed to start speaking up. Even if speaking up is something all the Andy's hated doing.

"Get me out of gym?" I asked hopefully.

My mom frowned. "You want me to let you cut-"

"No," I cut her off. "I don't want you to help me cut gym. I want you to get me OUT of gym. Like, call the school? Tell them....stuff?"

"Do you mean lie?" she asked, frowning even more.

I bit back a frustrated little growl. God forbid you have to lie for your son or anything... "No," I said reluctantly. I'd actually kinda hoped she would jump on any way to help me, but I guess she wasn't that guilt ridden. "But there has to be a way to get me out of gym. It's just gym, it can't be THAT important, right?"

My mom bit her lip and I felt the tiny spark of hope flare up. I knew that look. She was so close to agreeing.

"Please mom," I begged. "I can't go back there."

We stared at each other for a whole minute before she finally, slowly, nodded. "I'll see what I can do."

I was leaping across the room and squeezing her for a change before I'd even fully realized what she said. She barely had time to hug me back before I let go like she was made of fire and scurried back, blushing furiously.

"Th-thanks," I mumbled awkwardly. God, is there anything more embarrassing than actually hugging your mom on your own like that? My mind immediately supplied about ten different 'anythings', most of them from the last two weeks. Ok, yeah, stupid question.

"You're welcome, but," she said, seriously, "I'd do anything to help you Andy. I'm so sorry I haven't been listening to you. I promise I will from now on, ok?"

Damn tears, where the hell did you come from?

I swallowed down the emotion that was trying to set up a cozy little home in my throat. "Thanks," I said softly, looking back at her. She gave me a tentative smile. One that I returned easily, feeling a lot better about things than I had in a long time.

Of course, even with new hopeful Andy, that still should have been a sign to start getting suspicious. Because, it turns out that gym IS actually kind of important. Which is why it's four days later and my mom still hasn't worked out something with the school yet. Apparently, if you don't have a doctors note, it's sorta hard to get out of gym.

But my mom told me she'd keep trying, my dad too when she told him what was going on, so, I was hopeful.

There were, however, things I was less hopeful about and more, you know, terrified.

"Are you ok?" Owen asked.

It was Saturday, finally (and way too soon), and we were standing in front of Kenny's house. It was probably the most non-threatening house I'd ever seen. Two stories, cream colored with white shutters, cheerful little gardens on either side of the stairs leading up to the front porch and an actual rocking chair sitting right next to the front door. Still, it loomed ominously, like it knew what was waiting for me inside and it couldn't wait to gobble me up and lock the door behind me.

Stupid fake innocent houses.

"I'm f-fine," I squeaked, actually kind of proud that I only sounded about ninety percent full of shit. I looked steadily ahead though. If I took my eyes off the house I just knew it would start smirking at me or something.

Owen's hand brushed against mine. I think it was supposed to be comforting, but gasped and jerked my hand away, my heart speeding up. Jesus Andy, you're here to come out, what does it matter if he touches your hand? But, it did matter. A lot. It scared the crap out of me.

God, I'm a freaking mess.

"Andy, love..." Owen said. I could hear the frown in his voice.

"I'm fine," I cut him off before he could go on. I glanced over at him quickly and gave him the steadiest smile I could manage. "I just...could have done without the car ride over here with Nur-your mom."

It was a total deflection, and I'm sure Owen knew it just as much as I did, but he still winced. "Yeah, um," he sighed. "I'm really sorry about my mom. I didn't think she'd be that embarrassing and lame."

To be fair to Nurse Amy, most of her jokes were aimed at Owen. It's just that there's only so many 'Owen's got a booooooyfriend' jokes you can hear before, as the 'boooooyfriend' in question, you start to feel included.

And I think that number is one, if you were wondering.

I looked back at the house, then narrowed my eyes suspiciously. Did that door and those windows look that much like a sinister grin before? I shook my head. "It's not your fault," I said.

Owen sighed. "It's not really helping though, is it?"

I shrugged. "I don't think anything would. And if something did, I'd just be all suspicious of it."

Like that damn house.

"I'm sorry," Owen said helplessly.

I turned to look at him again, this time holding his eyes.

"It's ok," I said firmly. "I'm...doing this for you-and that's the best reason to do anything!" I cut off the protest I could see forming. "Because, sometimes, even if things are best for me, I won't do them for me. But if you say something's gonna work out, and you wanna do it, then I'll do it for you. Because I love you. And because....maybe I'm not the best at knowing what's best for me."

I was trying to tell him that I meant that for more than just this situation. That I needed him because, Cheryl was right, I needed someone to take care of me. A hero. And I couldn't just say it because every show I ever watched as a kid and every after school special and cartoon all tell you to stand on your own and do things for yourself and be strong and confident and even though that wasn't me, I felt small just saying it outright like that. Like I was a bit broken, even though I'd never felt more fixed in my life since I met Owen.

But I guess Owen can't actually read my mind, or that much into what I said, because he just gave me an unhappy look.

"I don't want you to do things just because I want you to," he grumbled.

"I won't, I mean I'm not," I said. "You still need to convince me to do it, but, you're the only one who could. Convince me, I mean-"

"Andy," Owen cut me off. His hand twitched like he wanted to touch me, and I felt like smiling and hitting myself at the same time because he obviously wasn't for my sake. Jesus, bipolar much? "Do you want to do this?"

It was the first time he'd actually come out and asked me since I'd decided to do it. I wondered if it was because he knew it was the only time I wouldn't say no, what with us being right freaking here and all, but I decided it didn't matter. The answer was the same either way.

"Yeah," I said. "" And if that wasn't one of the hardest things I've ever had to say out loud.

The smile I got was so worth it though.

"Good," Owen said happily. "I'm really glad. And you'll see. It'll be so worth it."

I smiled back. And if I left out that the only reason I wanted to do it was because HE wanted to do it? Well, it's not like I'm lying or anything.

I held the image of that smile in my head as we walked up the stairs to Kenny's front door and I was actually able to hold off the panic attack until Owen rang the doorbell. Take THAT, house!

Then the door opened and I stopped caring about getting one over on the house.

"Hey there Owen!" A cheerful, plump woman said with a thick southern accent. She wiped her hands on her apron, like all cheerful, plump women tend to do, and pulled Owen in for a hug. "It's great to see you again."

"Hi Mrs Reynolds," he said, shooting me a slightly embarrassed look.

She let Owen go, which terrified me because I was the only person I could see that hadn't been hugged yet. And, sure enough, she turned right to me.

"Why hello! And you must be..." she trailed off questioningly.

"Andy," Owen supplied.

"Right! Andy. Kenny said you might be stopping by," she said with a grin. "And aren't you just the cutest thing."

I blushed and started chewing on my bottom lip. I didn't think people like this were real! Help!

"I'm sorry," she said, sounding anything but. "I know you boys don't wanna be 'cute' but I call it like I see it."

"I-it's ok," I said, when it became obvious that she wasn't gonna stop looking at me unless I said something.

"Well," she said, "my name's Luann, it's so nice seeing Kenny making new friends. Come here and get your hug!"

"Wha-ack!" I croaked as I was pulled into a hug. Thank fucking God I was able to turn my head at the last second. What the hell is it with mom's shoving my face into their boobs!? At least she didn't crush me.

She let me go, then stepped back and ushered us into the house. "Come on in," she said as we walked in. "The boys are downstairs in the basement. If you want you can stay for dinner, we're having casserole and I think I made too much," she added with a hopeful look.

Oh, ew, casserole. I bit the inside of my cheek and tried really hard not to react. I didn't wanna get thrown out for being rude to Kenny's mom before he had the chance to throw me out for coming out.

That's a lot of outs.

I shook my head and tried to focus on reality again, just in time to hear Owen say something that sounded interested, yet totally noncommittal. For someone who claims to be shy, he's really good with parents. Which was kind of an unfair thought because he WAS shy, but fuck it I'm jealous and nervous and I'm allowed to be unfair.

"Ok, well you boys have fun," Luann said with a wave, then walked deeper into the house.

I let out a tiny, relieved breath. Then I saw the partially open door right in front of us revealing a brightly lit stairway leading down, and the relief died. Actually, it didn't die, it turned into more panic and joined the rest of the panic in a big, panic rave right in the middle of my chest. I was imagining what my insides must look like lit up with all the glowsticks, when I realized I'd been standing there staring at the open doorway for a while.

And Owen was shaking my shoulder.

"Huh?" I asked stupidly.

"Are you ok?" Owen said. It didn't sound like this was the first time he'd asked either. I tried to fight down a small blush, but, yeah we know how that works.

"I-I'm fine," I said. "Just a little..."

"Nervous?" Owen suggested.

"Understatement of the year," I said, nodding.

Owen looked around quickly, then gave my hand a squeeze. "It'll be ok," he said. "I promise."

I could tell I'd come a long way in the past few days because that actually made me feel a little bit better. I gave his hand a tight squeeze back, then we both let go at the same time. "Ok," I nodded. "Let's go."

I wasn't exactly sure what I expected when we got down into the basement, knowing looks, suspicious glances, an unnameable tension filling up the room until none of us could breathe, any of those would have surprised me less than the absolute teenage boyness that surrounded me.

The whole basement was obviously Kenny's bedroom. There was an unmade, messy bed in one corner surrounded by rolled up shirts and boxers that I bushed and looked away from immediately. There were posters all over the walls, just not as many as Owen's room and there were more sports teams than movies or video games. The wall directly across from the bed was taken up mostly by a huge, wooden set of shelves that held a big flat screen, at least six different video game systems, more games and movies than I could count and an actual real life stereo. Like, that plays CD's. Even weirder than that, not a single iPod dock anywhere. Not even on the table by the bed with a laptop sitting open on it.

In front of the massive shelves was one of those couches where the two seats on the end were actually recliners, one actual recliner, and a few beanbag chairs thrown around randomly. Kenny and Juan were on the couch, playing a racing game and shoving each other more than they seemed to be paying attention to the screen. Chris was sitting on one of the beanbag chairs, reading something on his phone and scowling slightly as he scrolled through it.

No one noticed us at first, which made me freeze up. It was an old problem, I can't just speak up first, but it's almost as bad just standing around waiting for someone to notice me. I never knew what to do in situations like this. Thankfully, Owen was here.

"Hey guys," he said.

Juan paused the game and looked over his shoulder at us. "Oh, hey, dude" he said with a small wave.

"Hi, I'm glad you guys came," Kenny said, then reached over and unpaused the game from Juan's controller.

"Hey!" Juan spun around and snatched his controller up. "Asshole!"

Kenny cackled and they started shoving each other again.

Chris looked up from his phone to roll his eyes at them, then gave me and Owen a quick smile. "Hey," he said, then went back to reading his phone before either of us could answer. He glared at it again, then shook his head and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "fucking Congress." Which reminded me way too much of my dad.

I blinked. "H-hi," I said softly. I have no idea if anyone heard me. I glanced at Owen, but he just smiled and shrugged.

"Come on," he said, motioning with his head, and then lead me over to the beanbag chairs. He plopped down in one and then dragged a second one over. "Sit down."

I sat down, frowning slightly. This was all so...normal. Or what I guessed normal, hanging out at a friends house stuff was anyway. It didn't seem like anyone had any idea that we were here to come out and expose our torrid, forbidden homosexual relationship to them. I mean, that's a good thing normally, the looking at me and not immediately thinking 'fag!', but I was twitchy and sweaty and no one even asked if I was ok. Someone acknowledge my suffering dammit! The love that dare not speak it's name was about to speak it's name and they were more interested in video games and cell phones.

I made a mental note to stop reading historical romances too.

We watched Juan and Kenny race. At least, Owen did. I mostly just glanced at Owen through my hair out of the corner of my eye, wondering if NOW was when he was gonna tell everyone. Because, even though we didn't actually talk about how we were gonna do it (I know, probably stupid), it definitely wasn't gonna be me bringing it up. He stayed silent though. I wasn't sure if I was relieved or pissed when the race finally ended.

"Shit!" Juan said. "You cheated dude."

"I still won," Kenny said calmly with a shrug, not even trying to deny it.

Juan huffed. "Dick," he said, and flipped Kenny off.

Then he spun around on the couch and faced me and Owen. "So," he said cheerfully, startling even me with his bipolarness. "Did you guys get your huuuuuuug yet?"

A couch pillow hit Juan in the back of the head before either of us could say anything. "Hey!" he yelled.

Kenny was scowling at him. "Don't make fun of my mom."

"I was just asking a question," Juan said innocently. "It was my childlike curiosity. You shouldn't beat me for being curious, you know."

Kenny just sighed and shook his head. He apparently decided to completely ignore Juan and looked past him at us. "Sorry about my mom, by the way," he said to me. "She's kinda weird."

"Oh, so you get to make fun of your mom?" Juan asked.

"Yes," Kenny said flatly, not even looking at him.

Juan just huffed again and started mumbling something about double standards. Everyone ignored him.

"I-it's ok," I said, not sure if he even wanted a response but not wanting to just sit there awkwardly again. "She's..." And then I remembered why I always sit there awkwardly; I had no idea how to finish that.

Kenny gave me a tiny half smile, "Exactly."

I opened my mouth, then closed it. Then blinked a few times. Huh? But before I could ask what he was 'exactlying', he was talking again.

"So either of you guys want a turn? Or we could play something different if you want," he offered.

Juan perked up. "Yeah! You play Owen and then I'll play Andy."

Kenny let out a small chuckle. "You just wanna play him so you can win at least once today."

"Well, yeah," Juan said.

I frowned, wondering if I should be insulted or not. But apparently Owen decided to be insulted for me.

"Hey," he said. "You don't know if he'll be bad at racing games. He might kick your ass."

Juan looked at me, "Are you good at racing games?"

I bit my lip. "I've never played one."

Juan grinned widely. "I call Andy!"

Kenny rolled his eyes. "Ok, fine. Get your ass off the couch so Owen can have his go then."

Juan snorted. "'Have his go', you really need to stop watching BBC America dude." But he got off the couch obediently as Kenny ignored him.

Owen hesitated, then shot me a questioning look. I gave him a small nod, letting him know it was ok for him to go play without trying to defend my honor anymore. I'd love to know how everyone knows I suck at video games though.

Juan collapsed into Owen's beanbag almost as soon as he was out of it, wincing slightly because, yeah, throwing yourself onto a beanbag on a solid concrete floor probably isn't a good idea. I started to get nervous when Owen left. Was he gonna say something while they were playing? I started chewing on my lip. I didn't think I could take it if he wasn't right next to me when we came out. I'd die. Or scream. Or scream and die. Or die THEN-

"Hey," Juan whispered, loudly, right next to my ear. I jumped and grabbed at my chest as my head shot around to face him. He leaned back, startled. "Uh...sorry?"

I calmed my breathing down and brushed my hair out of my face. Holy fuck, today really was gonna kill me. "I-it's ok," I squeaked.

For a second, Juan looked like he was gonna argue with me, and honestly I wouldn't blame him, but then he blinked and leaned in close. He shot a quick look up at the couch, then whispered excitedly. "So, uh, did you talk to-" he lowered his voice even more "-Cheryl about me?"

Guilt knifed through my stomach. I'd totally forgotten that I'd promised Juan I'd talk him up to Cheryl when he'd called again a few days ago. I had a lot of other things on my mind. Things that I couldn't tell...well, actually, I kinda could. Huh. That was a weird feeling. Not HAVING to lie to hide my gayness. We were coming out today anyway, what did it matter? I...wasn't sure if I liked it or not. I shook myself. Either way, I wasn't gonna say anything now.

"Um, not...exactly," I whispered back, wincing at my lameness.

Juan deflated a bit, "Oh."

"But, um, she's definitely still single," I said encouragingly. At least I hoped it was encouragingly. He didn't seem all that encouraged though. "And, um-" Think! Think! "Oh! Maybe we know, have, like, a plan? Before I say anything?"

Juan cocked his head, then perked up. "Hey, yeah! That's a good idea. You could tell her about me then I could 'run into' you guys when you're out somewhere. Or maybe I could come over when she's there and you could 'forget' you invited me and we could all hang out!" he whispered with a grin.

"Uh, yeah, something like that..." I said. There was absolutely no way Cheryl wouldn't see through all of that, even if I was able to lie at all convincingly, but maybe that didn't matter? Maybe it would flatter her. "We can talk about it later."

"Awesome, dude!" he said. His smile melted into a worried frown. "And, uh, you didn't tell anyone, right? About my liking Cheryl?"

I flushed guiltily. "Um, I might have mentioned it to Owen." Who was strangely into the idea of setting them up, by the way. I hoped Juan wasn't pissed at me.

"Well, duh, I mean besides him," Juan said.

I frowned. Did I already tell him I told Owen? "Um, no."

"Good," Juan nodded happily.

"Dammit," Kenny swore quietly.

"Ha!" Juan grinned, seeming to totally forget that we were even having a conversation. Huh, apparently he's easily distracted. I wonder if that's a plus or minus with Cheryl? "You lost, didn't you?"

Kenny shot him a glare, then pushed his glasses up and smoothed out his expression. "Yes," he said, all calm and dignified.

"Ha! I got next game!" Juan jumped up.

Kenny scowled again. "I thought you wanted to play Andy?"

"Dude, you broke your streak. I'm gonna kick your ass now!" he said and jumped over the back of the couch. He came crashing down between Owen and Kenny and snatched the controller out of Owen's hand. "Gimme."

Owen rolled his eyes and gave Juan a tolerant shove before getting up. "He likes wasting his boost at the beginning of a lap," he said helpfully, shooting a teasing look towards Kenny.

"Thanks for the tip," Juan said and cackled happily.

Kenny narrowed his eyes and growled softly trying to look annoyed, but it didn't take long for the smile tugging at his lips to take over his face. "It doesn't matter, he still sucks."

"Hey!" Juan shoved him.

Owen sat back down next to me as the race started. He bumped my shoulder with his and gave me a small smile. I couldn't help smiling back. I was even able to take a few seconds and pretend that we were just here to hang out with friends and soak up the atmosphere before the nerves came back. Was it time yet?

Apparently not, because Owen started shouting out advice to whoever was losing. I didn't know what the hell he was saying half the time, but I started to suspect he was just saying nonsense and trying to distract them when he started shouting "Do a barrel roll!" and "Hit the Triforce button! The Triforce button!" and kept getting dirty looks and "shut up Owen"'s in return.

He looked happy. And I know that because I don't think I even looked at the screen once. I just watched him. The way he grinned when he yelled out his BS advice. The way he laughed when they yelled at him. The way he blocked the pillows that got thrown at him when he took credit for a win. I loved watching him with his friends. It was a side I didn't usually get to see and I could have spent hours just sitting off to the side watching him joke and tease and laugh and enjoy every second of it.

Then, he noticed me looking. Our eyes met and his grin turned into a soft smile, the kind that I've only ever seen him give me, and my heart flipped. He lifted up his hand, then froze and clenched it shut tightly. I recognized the move. He did the same thing every time he wanted to touch me in front of someone and caught himself at the last second. Usually I felt relieved that he stopped himself, but now I just felt bad for him. And guilty. Because he did it for me. He held himself back even though we were here to come out.

And that's when I realized that he wasn't gonna say anything until I let him know it was ok. Which was so stupid of me not to realize earlier because, of COURSE he wasn't gonna just out us when he wasn't a hundred percent sure I was ready. He never did anything I wasn't ready for. And for once that just made me feel worse because even though we came here so Owen could be open, he would keep everything a secret if he thought that's what I really wanted.

I took a deep breath and summoned up all the courage I had. It wasn't much, and I knew I needed to keep from stuttering or stammering because if he didn't believe me the first time I didn't think I'd be able to make myself say it a second. I swallowed, then swallowed again when the stupid lump wouldn't go away. I reached out and just barely managed to keep my hand from trembling as I laid it over his clenched fist.

"Tell them," I said. I said it softly, so only Owen could hear, but strongly. Confidently.

I hoped.

His eyes widened in surprise, but thankfully he didn't ask if I was sure. He just slowly smiled at me and mouthed 'thank you'.

I couldn't stop grinning. Andy Baxter: Master of Relationships, at your fucking service.

Owen stood up. "Hey, guys?" he said. My heart sped up. This was it. It was actually happening. I tried to focus on how happy Owen was with me and not the soul crushing fear and dread, but I was only about half successful.

Kenny and Juan kept playing, Chris kept reading.

Owen frowned slightly. "Hey!"

"Shhh!" Juan hissed. "I'm about to kick his ass again."

"Oh, you wish," Kenny said, shoving Juan again.

"Cheater!" Juan yelled.

"Guys, seriously-" Owen started.

"Shut up, dude! You're distracting me," Juan said.

"Goddammit," Owen growled. "Can you pause the fucking game so I can come out?"

I choked on air again, which honestly didn't even bother me this time. I was getting used to it, how sad is that? I seemed to be the only one that noticed what he said though, which was another serious blow to my world view. Weren't straight teenage boys always looking for the slightest hint of gayness so they could pounce and make fun? Even if Kenny and Juan didn't wanna do that, their ears should still be able to pick up the blatant confession of homoness.

Then, after a few seconds, Kenny paused the game.

"Hey-" Juan started complaining.

Kenny cut him off. "What did you just say?" he asked Owen, looking at him with an expression on his face I couldn't read. Shit, was I wrong about being wrong?

My heart was pounding so hard I kept excepting someone to ask what the hell that noise was. Juan finally seemed to notice Something was Going On because he didn't even try to start whining about the game again. He just looked back and forth between Kenny and Owen with a confused frown. For his part, Owen never looked away from Kenny. I was so proud of him, and more than a little turned on at how defiant and confident he looked. Like a noble young crusader going into battle against the unholy Saracen hordes-

I pinched myself before I got too caught up in my brand new fantasy.

Owen steadied himself. "I said that," he faltered here a bit, his nervousness eating away at his confidence. He slumped just the tiniest bit as his rigid boldness melted away. I wanted to hug him, but I don't think I could have moved if the house was on fire. I could barely breathe. "That I-I' That, we're-me and Andy. We're gay. And, um, he's my boyfriend."

We all looked at each other for what seemed like forever. The loud, plasticy crash from across the room was the only sign that time didn't actually stop. My head spun around towards Chris and saw that he'd dropped his phone on the concrete. His right hand was in the air, slightly curled like it was still holding the phone and his left was covering his mouth as he looked at us with wide, shocked eyes. He looked totally scandalized, and if I was just a little less terrified I would have laughed. And maybe felt stupid about not telling him we were gonna do this. He might have been able to help.

"Um," Juan said, breaking the silence. I forgot all about Chris and focused all my attention back on him. He didn't look mad or disgusted or confused or even surprised, he honestly looked...amused? "Yeah. We know, dude."

Our jaws dropped open at the same time and I covered my mouth with both hands to try and hide the squeak. They knew!?

"Yeah," Kenny said, nodding. I had the crazy thought that he could read minds and THAT'S how he knew, but I was probably wrong about that. He was smiling slightly at both of us. "We've kinda known for a while."

This was my fault somehow, wasn't it?

"H-how long?" Owen asked quietly.

Juan shrugged sheepishly. "Like two years?"

"Two years!?" Owen yelled. I flinched. Ok, maybe not my fault. It hit me that he wasn't as reassuring and calm about this as he was when we got here, and I almost let out a high pitched, hysterical laugh. I was glad I held it in though. If I started, I didn't think I'd ever stop. "I could have....." He closed his eyes. "Why didn't you say anything? And how did you even know?"

Juan and Kenny shot each other uncomfortable looks. "You, uh, really need to learn not to leave your tabs open, dude..." Juan said with an awkward wince. Kenny nodded rapidly.

Owen blushed, his face turning as red as I'd ever seen it. "O-oh...shit." He sounded like he was choking on the words.

"And we didn't tell you," Kenny added quickly, "because we wanted to give you time to tell us on your own."

"And because we were kinda pussies," Juan said.

Kenny nodded again. "Mostly because we were pussies," he said apologetically.

"And you were kinda obvious, you know, about Andy," Juan said.

"Yeah," Kenny said. "You warned us about five times before lunch that day not to mess with him and you were really nervous about all of us meeting. It was...kinda sweet, actually. But you weren't exactly hiding how you felt."

"And, uh, no offense but, Andy?" Juan said, giving me an apologetic smile. "You're not exactly, uh, the most manly guy-"

"Not that that means anything," Kenny said, smacking Juan in the back of the head and glaring at him.

"Yeah!" Juan said hurriedly. "Not that that means anything! But, since we knew about Owen, and saw how you guys looked at each was obvious, you know? We probably wouldn't have thought you were gay if we didn't already know about Owen," he finished unconvincingly.

Now it was my turn to blush. Oh God, that whole time I was practically killing myself worrying about giving myself away they already KNEW. I was so embarrassed. And pissed because until right fucking now I was actually kinda proud of how well I'd hidden it.

"I knew too!" Chris said suddenly. I jumped, totally forgetting that he was even there.

"We know you know!" I snapped at him, too startled and emotionally fucked to remember to be shy. "Just shut up!"

My eyes widened when I realized everyone was staring at me in surprise. "Um...s-sorry," I mumbled, blushing more. Chris nodded at me, so I hoped that meant I was forgiven.

"You knew?!" Juan said, gaping at Chris. Kenny didn't look any less shocked.

"Yeah, I, uh, saw them kissing a few weeks ago," Chris said, turning red.

"You didn't tell us?!" Juan yelled. "Christ, we were always so worried about you finding out more than anything."

"I promised I wouldn't say anything!" Chris said. Then he scowled. "And what the hell do you mean you were worried about me finding out?"

"Well, you know," Juan threw his hands up and started to look slightly uncomfortable. "Jarred's always so bigoted and stuff and we kinda thought, you know, you grew up in the same environment or whatever and-"

"So because my brother's an asshole you think I have to be too?" Chris asked angrily. But as emotionally stretched out as I was feeling, even I could hear the hurt under the anger.

"Well, yeah!" Juan said. Kenny hit him again. "Ow! No, I mean no, we...shit we just didn't know how you'd take it, ok? I mean, when you found out about them didn't you tell them to be careful about us since you didn't know how we'd react?"

"No," Chris snapped. "I told them I thought you guys wouldn't have any problem with it. You know, because you're my friends, and I tend to think my friends are good people."

"...oh." Juan winced and completely deflated. "I'm sorry," he said, and looked away ashamedly.

"Me too," Kenny said.

"Whatever," Chris said. He got out of the chair and picked up his phone with jerky, pissed off movements. "I'm going home."

"Wait," Kenny started, but Chris wasn't listening. He walked to the stairs, fast and angry, and was up them and gone before anyone could say anything else.

"Shit," Kenny swore.

I looked back to see Juan sigh and run his hands through his hair. Kenny was chewing on his fingernail and Owen was blinking rapidly, looking at them both. It was a full minute before anyone broke the silence.

"So..." Owen said, hesitantly. "You're ok with me? And Andy?"

Juan let out a short laugh. "Yeah dude, we're definitely ok."

Kenny nodded absently.

"Are you sure?" Owen asked immediately. I smiled slightly. That was so Owen, and it was interesting to see I wasn't the only one he did that to.

"Yeah, we're definitely sure," Juan said. He looked at Owen, then me. When he looked back to Owen again he shook himself a bit then gave Owen a smile that was both rueful and mischievous. "There's kinda no way we can't be, my parents are two guys and Kenny begs to jerk me off every time we're alone togeth-"

That seemed to bring Kenny out of his Chris-induced funk. He punched Juan, hard, and glared at him.

"Ow!" Juan yelped, rubbing his arm. "You're so fucking violent."

"I do NOT beg to jerk him off," Kenny said firmly, still glaring at Juan.

He could have BEEN jerking Juan off right in front of me and I don't think I would have noticed right then. "Y-your parents are...a-are you joking?" I asked.

"No, dude, I'm completely serious," Juan answered my question, but he was looking at Owen uncertainly. Owen looked right back at him, halfway between surprise and suspicious. "Why do you think I never had any of you over my house?"

Owen chewed on his bottom lip. "I..." he licked his lips. "I thought it was because you were poor, or something, and ashamed of your house."

Juan laughed. "No, dude, buying babies from Asia isn't cheap. My dads have good jobs and all that stuff." He faltered a bit on saying 'dads', but otherwise he sounded exactly like he always sounded. I wished I could spill what were apparently lifelong secrets with that much grace.

"Why didn't you say anything? I mean, even after you knew about me..." Owen trailed off. He sounded lost. I wanted to reach out to him in the worst way but I couldn-actually, I could. They knew and I could touch him all I wanted. Still, it was all I could do to force myself to brush the back of his hand with one of my fingers. Owen grabbed it the second he felt it, latching on tightly. No one seemed to notice.

"Pussy, remember?" Juan said with a self conscious chuckle. "Well, at first we didn't want you to feel pressured or uncomfortable if you didn't wanna tell us, but then, I dunno, it just got to be normal hiding it and then so much time had passed and I felt kinda bad about hiding it for so long."

Owen chewed his lip as he thought that over. "What do you mean, 'we'?" he asked finally. Juan glanced at Kenny and Owen frowned. "You knew about his dads?"

Kenny nodded.

"Why did you tell him and not me?" Owen asked. He didn't sound hurt, which I was thankful for, just confused. And to be honest, I was too. Juan and Kenny seemed like good friends, but if Juan was keeping his gay dads from his gay friend it made no sense that he'd tell his straight friend.

"It...kind of came out," Kenny answered. I think I was the only one that noticed the wording could have been better.

"When?" Owen asked.

"When you did," Juan said. Guess not. "Uh, I mean when we found know, websites."

"But..." Owen started

Kenny sighed. "We saw your computer together when we were over at your house one day and we didn't know what to do about it. Juan came over after we left and we talked about it and-"

"You tried to jerk me off," Juan teased.

"I did NOT," Kenny said, glaring at him. Juan just shrugged unapologetically. He turned back to us. "I didn't. I swear. I wouldn't touch the idiot if you paid me. But..." he trailed off and shook his, frustratedly.

He shot Juan one last glare. When he turned back to us again, he was tense. His shoulders were squared and his jaw was tilted ever so slightly, almost defiantly, and it suddenly struck me that he looked exactly like Owen had a few minutes ago. I gasped quietly. And apparently I wasn't the only one to notice.

"Are you gay too?" Owen asked before Kenny could say whatever he was psyching himself up for.

Kenny lost his stiffness, but instead of nervousness it melted into calmness. "I...I dunno what I am," he said. "I like girls, but, I like guys too. More, I think." He pushed his glasses up and shrugged slightly.

"You mean, like you're bi?" Owen asked.

Kenny shrugged. "I guess. It's confusing. And I'm not gonna figure it out right now. But when me and idiot were talking about you, I kinda let it slip about me and I freaked out." He shifted awkwardly. "He was comforting me -NOT by letting me do anything to him- and he ended up telling me about his parents."

I think I only saw it because I was the first one to look at Juan after Kenny was done, but for just a second I saw the look of raw sympathy he was giving Kenny. It disappeared the second he saw me looking, but I recognized it. It was the same look Cheryl gave me when I brought up something horrible that happened to me and she didn't think I was looking. I was left wondering just how much Kenny had freaked out.

Owen ran his free hand through his hair and took a deep breath. "Wow," he said. Then let out a tiny laugh. "This was a weird day."

Juan snorted. "No shit." He paused. "Um, you're not mad? For not telling you about my dads?"

"You're not mad for not telling you about me?" Owen countered. "Because you could be, even if you already knew."

"Of course not dude, if I was gay I wouldn't wanna tell anyone either. Especially after hearing about some of the shit Jarred did to Andy." Juan gave me a sympathetic wince. "Sorry."

I probably should have cared that stories about me and Jarred were getting around to the freshman halls, but I couldn't bring myself to. The year was almost over and there were too many damn revelations and stressful things that happened today for me to think about it. "It's ok," I said.

"So, we're all good, right?" Kenny asked after a few seconds of silence. I didn't miss the emphasis he put on the 'we're' and suddenly wondered just how mad at them Chris was. I wasn't the only one to pick up on it because Juan shuffled uncomfortably and Owen sighed sadly.

"Yeah," Owen said. "We're good."

Kenny looked at me and for a second I didn't know why. Oh. Right. I'm included in the 'we'. I still couldn't wrap my head around that. I was out, gay boy Andy unhidden and exposed for all to see, and I was still part of a 'we'. I could actually feel each individual muscle in my body relax, one at a time. No one hated me for being gay. I'd never been more glad to be wrong about something in my life. Well, aside from Owen not liking me of course.

"Yeah," I said, grinning widely. I couldn't help it. The fear and terror were gone and I was fucking happy. No, better than happy; I was accepted. I actually had friends now, ones that knew the whole me. Not just Cheryl and not just Owen, but a whole group of people who made me feel like I belonged. Andy the Hated One, Andy the Fag Boy, Andy the Outcast actually had a group of friends.

Yeah, there was pretty much no chance of me not grinning like an idiot.

"We're definitely good," I said.

Kenny looked slightly relieved. "Great," he said, smiling back at me.

"You're good with me too," Juan said. "Well, on one condition, actually?"

A knife of fear pierced through my heart. "What?" I asked hesitantly.

"No wild gay orgies in front of the straight guy," he said with a teasing grin.

I hit him in the face with the nearest pillow.

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