Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 22

Posted: N/A

"You should have just punched him," Owen said lightly.

I snorted. "Yeah, because that wouldn't just break my hand or anything. You might not have noticed, but I'm not exactly bursting with upper body strength here."

Owen laughed. "I dunno. I've seen you without a shirt on, you could be deceptively strong."

I blushed and looked around Uno's to see if anyone overheard. It was a lot more crowded than the last time we were here, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to us, so I relaxed. Slightly.

It was the day after Juan's house, which makes it Tuesday for anyone not paying attention, and me and Owen were on an "emergency date" after Owen got back from doing his show. All my fault, of course. Not that I didn't love being out with him! But I just sorta wished it wasn't because I was three seconds away from keeling over dead from the "talk" I had with Cheryl at lunch. The only good thing I can say about it is that at least it kept her from asking me about her secret radio admirer. And I guess that I somehow managed to keep from spilling some of the details about my "devirginizing".

Not all, though. Which is where the 'three seconds from death' part comes in.

I'd just got done telling him about that and Juan's teasing last night, and about meeting Juan's parents. I actually did meet Antonio later that night before I left. He was pretty scary, with his broad, muscley shoulders and his roguish stubble, but he was actually really nice when he wasn't screaming at the TV. And he embarrassed the hell out of Juan, which was nice after the crap he gave me about "getting freaky" with Owen.

I told him all of that with lots of hushed tones and furtive glances around to make sure no one was listening, of course. So far, we apparently weren't interesting enough for the families and college kids to spy on. It was relaxing though, even with all the paranoia, to be out with Owen at the restaurant where we had our first real date. It felt good to talk to him in person instead of over the phone or online. And doing it on a day that wasn't Saturday felt fresh and new and maybe just a little bit naughty. Like, I was doing something I wasn't really supposed to be doing kind of naughty, not the other kind.

"Yeah, well," I mumbled, looking away shyly. "He might have hit me back, or something. It's not exactly hard to bruise me, you know?"

I looked back to see Owen scowling fiercely. "I didn't think about that. I'll make sure he knows not to hit you back. If he does I'll kick his ass."

I felt bad about laughing, Owen was so serious, but that's why it was funny. And more than a little bit swoon-worthy. "Sorry," I said at Owen's slightly confused head tilt. "But how about I just don't hit him first, that way you don't need to do any ass kicking. The last thing you guys need is more of you fighting with each other."

I wanted someone to hit ME the second I said that. Owen's face immediately melted into that sad, almost frown that he'd had on and off since Saturday. For the first time that night it hit me that maybe I wasn't the only one that needed an emergency date.

"Sorry," I said softly.

"It's ok," Owen said, giving me a half smile. Then he sighed. "I talked to Chris today..."

That wasn't at all a happy trail off, but I still had to ask. "And?"

"He's still pissed," Owen said sadly. "I really thought he'd be over it by now, but apparently he gets a lot of crap that I never even knew about from people just because he's Jarred's brother. I guess getting it from Juan and Kenny hurt more than I thought. It's not like I don't understand, I just hate that they're fighting. And that we're stuck in the middle of it."

I smiled slightly at the "we're". Even though I knew it was just making it worse for Owen that I was involved, I still soaked up being included in a group like a needy sponge. It faded quickly though. The worst part about this whole thing was that there wasn't anything I could do or say to make anything better for Owen. His -our- friends were fighting and even I knew that they had to work it out on their own.

Since I couldn't think up a single thing to say that wouldn't be lame or cliched or placating, we sat in silence for a few minutes until the waitress came back with our Coke's and took our order. I took a sip; having something in my mouth was a great excuse for not saying anything.

"Ow!" Owen hissed.

"What?" I asked.

Owen glared at his straw for a second, then looked up and gave me a sheepish smile. "Um, poked myself in the lip with my straw..."

I smirked slightly. "Oh?"

Owen huffed. "It's your fault."

I laughed at that. "How is it MY fault?"

Owen blushed slightly. "You...with your straw, and your lips around's distracting," he mumbled.

"O-oh," I said, blushing too. I had a mild panic attack, for about three seconds, then it was pushed away by a wave of Want. We hadn't done anything but kiss since the Great Devirginizing, but the part of me that always freaked about sex stuff was now shacking up with a brand new part that wanted to do it again. It was a weird feeling for me, but not a completely bad one either. I just wished it didn't decide to start speaking up and pounding on the walls when we were out in public. "Um..."

Of course I had no idea how to finish that sentence. Eloquence, thy name is Andy.

"So, uh, how's the Cheryl thing going?" Owen asked. I wanted to wince at him bringing her up, but I was too grateful for the subject change. My shiny new desire grumbled and sulked about not getting more detail about what Owen was thinking about my lips, but my old panic was consoling him and shooting me relieved looks. I grabbed the new subject with both hands and childlike enthusiasm.

"Great!" I said, way too loudly. This time a few people DID look over. I hunched down in my seat and swore that the next time I went out anywhere I wasn't gonna tie my hair back no matter how much Owen liked it. "Um, great," I said again, much lower this time. "Well, as great as it can go on day two, I guess."

"Kind of a stupid question, I guess," Owen said sheepishly.

"No!" I said. "It wasn't stupid, it was..." Shit Andy! Don't stall now he'll think you're just trying to spare his feelings! Which is kind of true because it wasn't the smartest question, but still. I don't like anyone saying anything bad about Owen. Especially him.

Huh, I wonder if this is how he feels when I do it?

"Stupid," Owen finished for me. He was smiling though, so maybe it didn't really bother him?

"Um," I said, wincing slightly. "Give me a few minutes and I'll think up a better word?"

He laughed. "You're too sweet."

And now the blushing's back. "Um, I'm, uh..." I shrugged awkwardly. "Whatever..."

Owen grinned at me. "Adorable."

"Shut up," I mumbled, but like always I couldn't completely hide my smile.

"You're not at all helping your case for the not adorable thing when you look at me that way. Just letting you know."

I blushed even more, smiled even more. Even though I kinda wanted to throw something at him now.

"Anyway," he said, apparently deciding to put me out of my adorable misery, "I've got a better question this time."

"It is less ridiculous?" I asked.

"Oh, so I'm not stupid, I'm ridiculous?" Owen asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No!" I said. Dammit, I knew he was teasing and I STILL felt bad. Is that messed up, or sweet? Either way, I'm pretty sure there's a word for it and someone out there invented a pill to cure it. "You're not. Ridiculous I mean. Or stupid, I guess."

"You guess?" he asked.

I sighed and felt my face heat up, again. "Can you just ask your question before I accidentally make you break up with me."

"It'll never happen," Owen said, teasing and yet completely serious at the same time. I wondered how the hell he did that, put two completely different emotions or meanings into his voice. It must have been some kind of super power that I'd never heard of. Not that I was exactly the expert on super powers. "But, what I wanted to ask was, how the hell are you gonna get Cheryl to go to the dance?"

That one, was actually a good question. Because that was Step Two. I needed to get Cheryl to go to the End of the Year dance -basically a prom for everyone that isn't a senior, or enough of a slutty sure thing to get asked to go by a senior- so Juan could pull out Step Three: the Grand Romantic Gesture. Which was something else we needed to work out. But Step Two was the priority right now. Wanna guess if Cheryl's a fan of school dances?

"I dunno," I said. "I think I can probably get her to go, maybe, it's just the staying until Juan does whatever part that I'm not sure about. Hell, I'm not sure she'll even show up in the first place. She might just agree to go then lie and say she did."

Owen cocked his head like he was confused about something, then pursed his lips. "Uh, why wouldn't you know if she actually shows up?"

I chewed on my lip thoughtfully. "Well," I said, mostly just thinking out loud now. "I guess I could go to her house and make sure she leaves, but that still doesn't mean she'll stay long enough. I dunno." I let out a frustrated sigh. "Do you have any ideas?"

Instead of answering me though, Owen just looked at me.

"What?" I asked self consciously a few seconds later. Did I have something on me? I wiped at my mouth with my napkin, even though I hadn't eaten anything that could have gotten stuck on me yet. Not that I ever ate messy stuff anyway, because, ew.

"Um," Owen finally said. "Aren't you going with her?"

I laughed. "No way, could you even imagine me at a school dance?" I mock shuddered. Ok, maybe it was only about half mocking because the idea kind of terrified me, but still, me go to a school dance? Ha. "Definitely not. I just need to make sure she stays there. Hey! Maybe Kenny could keep her there?"

I frowned at that. No, she doesn't really know Kenny. She'd most likely just punch him in the chest if he tried to keep her from leaving. Not that she could reach his chest with how tall he was and how...not, she was, but she'd see that as a challenge instead of a limitation-

"Andy," Owen said. His voice was patient and full of sympathy and I had no idea why. "You know there's no way you're going to get her to show up, let alone stay, if you don't go too, right?"

I blinked. "Of course there is."

"Then how?" he asked gently.

I huffed. I dunno why the hell he thinks I need to show up. I already said I could probably get her there, specifics really didn't matter right now. Not until we figured out a way to keep her there. A way that most definitely would NOT include me being anywhere within ten miles of a school dance. But if he wants specifics so we can get away from that train of thought, then whatever.

"I'll just..." I frowned. It was a bit harder than I thought. "I'll tell her..." It just wasn't coming to me. "She'll..." But it would. "I could say..." ...right? "And then she'll...." RIGHT!? "And I'll..."

Realization: Noun, The feeling of seeing that it's your own hand holding the gun pointed at you, right after the trigger is pulled.


Oh shit.

Suddenly, the buzz of the conversation in the restaurant was mocking me; 'You were more or less comfortable here, and now it's fucked, kid!' Because that's exactly how it'd be at a school dance. Just a room with people all talking and laughing and me in the middle, wishing I was anywhere else so I could freak out without worrying about anyone noticing. Except it would be worse, because there they'd all know me and be talking ABOUT me and laughing AT me and why the HELL didn't I think about this when I was coming up with that stupid plan?!

It was so stupidly obvious when I thought about it for more than a second. There was no way I could get Cheryl there without going too. Not without telling her why. And even then she probably wouldn't want anything to do with it. The only way I could get her there was to get her to come WITH me. But that meant I had to actually GO there. The only way to not go would be to cancel the plan but even thinking about it just brought up that hopeful, eager look on Juan's face and I'm not a bad enough person to crush that under my heel and not feel horribly, horribly guilty. I was actually going to have to go through with this.

I could actually FEEL my throat closing.

My body was rejecting AIR because of this.

"Andy. Andy!" It was a voice. A distracting, sexy, concerned voice. I blinked a few times. Oh. It was Owen. He was leaning slightly over the table, like he was going to reach out to me but wasn't sure if he should. And he was saying my name like he'd been saying it for a while.

"W-what?" I managed. I was more than a little surprised that words worked.

"Calm down," he said. His voice was low and soothing and actually slowed my heart down a bit. We're still only talking the difference between, like, a race car speeding headfirst into a wall and a particularly fast car on the Autobahn, but it was still technically slower. "You don't need to freak out about this."

I laughed, only slightly very hysterically. "Don't you ever get sick of saying that?"

I think I was going for a joke there, but I'm not sure. I could have been actually curious when he was gonna get sick of calming me down and dump my ass to the curb, but considering I didn't latch onto that to panic about I doubted it. But either way, he didn't laugh. He just looked at me with that same calm, intent look. The one that made him look ten years older and twenty wiser.

"Never," he said. "You might not have noticed this yet, but I kinda like knowing you need me like that."

He smiled. A tiny one that just drove home how serious that last sentence was instead of turning it into a joke like he so easily could have. How the hell did I ever get lucky enough to have him? Hell, to even FIND him. Someone that perfect for me should have been statistically near impossible to find. But, I guess I always did suck at math.

The car got off the Autobahn and slowed down to navigate the back roads right about the same time I got sick of thinking in metaphors. I shook my head a bit, calmed down enough to notice that I was gripping the edges of the table tight enough to hurt and let go with a muttered, "ow". I shook my hands out as I laughed again. Shaky this time, but at least there wasn't any hysteria.

"I noticed," I said with a quivery smile. "And I kinda like it."

"Yeah?" he asked, tilting his head.

I nodded. "Yeah."

Owen grinned. "Good. Feeling better?"

"Yeah," I said again. Then I groaned. "No," I moaned and put my head into the crook of my arm and fell forward onto the table.

"I'm not ok at all," I whined. "I have to go to a school dance!"

I was pretty sure I heard someone at a table nearby laugh. I didn't even care if it was at me or not. At this point, I deserved to be laughed at. This whole thing was completely and totally My Fault. I'd screwed myself so bad that even my self loathing was giving me reassuring pats on the back and flashing me worried looks.

"Andy," Owen said softly. He didn't follow it up with anything right away. Probably trying to figure out how the hell to make me feel better. Since he usually has something ready to go and it's usually something pretty damn good, that should tell you how hopeless this is. "Maybe...would it be so bad if I went with you?"

"Yes," I said. It was my automatic response to anyone starting off a question with 'would it be so bad if...' because the answer to that is ALWAYS yes. But then the rest of it sank in and I lifted up my head. A few strands of hair had gotten loose from the ribbon and they hung in front of my face, but I ignored them. "No. Wait. It's...are you...asking me to a dance?"

Owen winced as his face reddened, as much as it ever does anyway. Ok, maybe I could have tried harder to keep the horror out of my voice because there was no way he was saying we'd go together, like, dates or anything suicidal like that. But still. I'm fragile right now and he could have worded that better.

"N-no," he said. He sounded almost disappointed, but I was probably hearing that wrong too. "I didn't mean it like that. I meant that we could go together, not TOGETHER together, but we could be there at the same time and maybe...hang out? And that could help, maybe?"

"I..." I swallowed. This was too weird, because part of me still felt like I was getting asked to a dance by my boyfriend. I wanted to say no, that it wasn't worth it. That even if he wasn't asking me to be his date it would be a risk for him just to be seen with me at a social gathering type thing like that. But, in the end, I'm a weak boy. Because it WOULD make me feel better, and I needed all the 'better' I could get.

"Ok, I said. The escape artist strands of hair were close enough to my mouth to puff out when I talked, so I jerkily stuffed them behind my ear. "Yeah, ok, I...that would help."

Owen let out a tiny breath. "Ok. Good." He smiled at me. "And I'll have lunch with you and Cheryl tomorrow too."

I blinked, wondering where that came from. "Um, why?"

"So I can help you trick her into going," he said with a wicked grin. "You said you couldn't lie to her, right?"

I nodded.

"So, maybe I can. Besides, you got to have all the fun with this so far, I wanna do something besides play her love songs," he said.

Personally, I was skeptical. Part of me was still half convinced Cheryl could read minds, but he was offering a solution to a problem that I hadn't even had time to freak out about yet so I grabbed that with both hands too.

"Ok," I said. I actually managed a smile. I could breathe properly and I had Owen to lean on tomorrow so it wouldn't be all up to me -or all totally my fault if it went to hell and, yes, I feel incredibly guilty for even thinking that- to make this work. So, yeah, lots to smile about. "Sounds good. And I'm sure!" I added when Owen opened his mouth.

He rolled his eyes. "I wasn't gonna ask," he said.

I eyed him skeptically. "Really?"

"Uh huh."

"Then what were you gonna say?" I asked.

He leaned in close. "That you're sexy when you're agreeing with me."

I laughed sharply. "You are such a liar!"

Owen just grinned. "But I'm a good liar."

I snorted. "If that's your best then you don't have a prayer with Cheryl."

"Just wait," he said dramatically. "No one can resist my charm."

I flushed slightly and glared. "You better not be trying to charm anyone else," I grumbled.

"Don't worry," he said, low and deeply. "You're the only one who gets my charms."

This time I full on blushed. Did that sound dirty to you? Because it sounded dirty to me. God, and that look he's giving me. If anyone's looking at us right now there's no way they wouldn't get the right idea. I licked my dry lips without even thinking about it and his look got even more intense.

Ok. Ok. Getting aroused in public. Not good. Not good!

Thankfully, the Gods of Teenage Hormonal Reactions decided to take pity on me and our food showed up before I could say, or do, anything else to make Owen give me any more Looks.

At least I wasn't thinking about the dance too much anymore.

After the waitress left Owen started talking. He stayed away from any big subjects like dances or suggestive looks. It was just a steady stream of talking about nothing and it took me a few minutes to realize what he was doing. He was distracting me. He was keeping me focused on all the things he wasn't talking about so I wouldn't start panicking again. I could have kissed him.

Well, you know, if we weren't in freaking public.

So instead I just smiled at him and tried to join in the one person conversation he was having.

We ate and talked and it felt almost exactly like the last time we were here. Nice, exciting, fun. I still loved being able to talk to Owen and actually see his face and all the little smiles and scowls and the way his eyes get squinty when he laughs really hard. Between all that and the conversation I pretty much completely forgot that I even had anything to worry about.

"So, I said around a half chewed piece of chicken. "Wha does haverin' mea anway?"

Owen winced and looked away. "Ah! Close your mouth!"

I swallowed and gave him a sheepish smile. "Um. Sorry."

He tentatively looked back. "I think that's the first thing you ever did that wasn't cute," he said, almost accusingly.

"Sorry," I said again.

"It's ok," he said after a second. "What did you say though? I couldn't hear you over the three pounds of food in your mouth."

Ok, so that apparently really bothers him. Noted. I took another, much smaller bite, and chewed it thoroughly before answering. The happy smile I got for that should have been condescending, but it just made my heart do its fluttering thing.

"I said, what does havering mean?"

"Havering?" Owen asked.

"Yeah, you know, from that Proclaimers song? 'When I'm havering I'm gonna be havering to you?', or something," I said. We'd been talking about weird song lyrics. I wasn't sure how our other conversation about our favorite dinosaur related death scenes in movies led into that, but it probably had something to do with all the killer dinosaur movies I haven't seen. There were, apparently, a lot of them.

Owen picked a piece of pepperoni off his pizza and tossed it into his mouth before chewing on it thoughtfully. "I dunno," he said with a shrug. "Maybe it's Scottish slang or something. They're Scottish, right?"

I popped a fry into my mouth and chewed. I didn't even try for thoughtful chewing, I was concentrating too hard on keeping my mouth closed and not being gross. And pretending it wasn't because I wanted to be cute for Owen. "I thought they were British?"

Owen shook his head. "No, they sound more like Sean Connery than Hugh Grant."

"But they don't really sound like that janitor guy from The Simpsons," I argued. I actually had less experience with Scottish people than I did with dinosaur death movies.

Owen laughed. "Love, Groundskeeper Willie is exaggerated. I don't think Scottish people really sound like that."

"Have you ever been to Scotland?" I asked, raising my eyebrow.

Owen blinked. "No."

"Then how do you know?" I grinned and ate another fry.

Owen rolled his eyes and sighed, but I could tell that he was trying hard not to laugh. "Ok, so if they're not Scottish what are they?"

I shrugged. "Irish?"

"Oh come on! They don't sound anything like The Leprechaun!" Owen said.

"THE leprechaun?" I asked, smirking. "You know there's supposed to be more than one, right?"

"No," Owen said, "I meant The Leprechaun from the movies."

I swallowed the fried I was eating, raised my eyebrows and gave him a 'go on' gesture because that explained exactly nothing.

"You know," he said, "'Ye stole me gold and now I'm goin ta kill ye'? He went into space and the hood, twice? Warwick Davis played him?"

I just stared at Owen blankly. And people wonder why I don't watch movies much.

He sighed. "Never mind. But they don't sound Irish."

"Oookay," I said slowly. "And this space Leprechaun does?"

"Yes," Owen said firmly, nodding. "And they don't, so they're not Irish."

Since I didn't know anyone with an Irish accent aside from the Lucky Charms leprechaun -and I just wanted to move the conversation away from leprechauns in general now- I couldn't exactly argue. "Ok, so....Welsh?"

"They don't-" Owen paused. "You know, I don't think I have any idea what a Welsh accent sounds like."

I laughed softly. "Me either."

"So," he said slowly. "They're Welsh then?" He flashed me a tiny smirk.

"Yep," I nodded solemnly. "They're Welsh."

We looked at each other for a second then burst out into giggles.

"It's Welsh slang then," Owen said when we got ourselves under control. "Mystery solved!"

I started giggling again. "I still don't know what it means."

"Probably something Welsh," he said.

I laughed.

We focused on eating for a little bit after that since Owen's giant ass pizza was getting cool. When he'd gobbled down half of it -which by the way was just as uncute as me talking with my mouth full- we started up the song lyric conversation and somehow spent almost fifteen minutes arguing about whether 'Torn' was about someone getting dumped or someone getting raped.

"Just listen to the lyrics!" I said, for the fifth freaking time.

"I AM, I don't-"

"No," I cut him off. "Just listen. 'I'm all out of faith, this is how I feel, I'm cold and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor'? She's ashamed and naked and she doesn't believe in God anymore because she just got raped."

Owen shook his head. "She's ashamed and out of faith because the guy she loved didn't love her back and he left her."

"Then why is she naked?" I countered. I might have been getting a little loud but it's annoying when someone just won't see the obvious thing when you slap them across the face with it.

Owen actually threw up his hands. "I don't know! Maybe she's being melodramatic? She IS a girl."

Ok, maybe he had a point there, but the rape thing still made more sense. "What about, 'But I don't know him anymore' or 'Should have seen just what was there and not some holy light' or, and here's the best one, 'You're a little late, I'm already torn'? That's obviously her talking to someone who was too late to save her from getting-"

"Oh come on!" Owen cut in. "Those lines could mean anything! She doesn't know him anymore and he's not a holy light because she built him up to be more than he was and he wasn't who she thought. And the torn thing is, like, emotional tearing. She's ripped apart because her heart is broken."

"She's ripped apart because some guy shoved his co-" I slapped both my hands over my mouth and squeaked. Oh God, I can't believe I almost said that out loud! I blushed, hard, and looked around frantically to see if anyone overheard. Thankfully, no one was looking at me and shaking their head in that 'what's WRONG with the youth of today' way. I relaxed slightly, but kept my hands covering my mouth. I obviously couldn't be trusted not to use words in public anymore.

Owen's eyes were slightly wide and he was biting his lip, but I couldn't tell if it was because he was worried that I almost graphically and loudly described rape in the middle of a restaurant or because he was trying not to laugh.

"Maybe," he said, his voice hitching suspiciously. He cleared his throat. "Maybe we should just, talk about something else?"

I nodded rapidly. "A-agreed," I said through my hands.

We focused on eating pretty exclusively after that though.

I was feeling less embarrassed by the time we were done eating, but eating too much food and worrying that my stomach might actually explode is kinda good for that. Even though Owen had that huge pizza and ate it all himself, he didn't look uncomfortable at all. It kinda made me want to hit him. Luckily the waitress came back before I could talk myself into trying.

"All done boys?" she asked with a bright, cheerful, annoying smile.

"Yep," Owen nodded.

I awkwardly mumbled something that I hoped she took as a 'yes'.

"Alright then!" Seriously, her smile didn't even go away when she was talking. I wonder if she had a condition? "So, will this be one check or two?"

I blushed slightly. I hated getting that question when I was with Owen. It always sounded like they were really asking 'so, are you guys fags?' to me. I was just glad they put the check in the middle of the table instead of giving it to whoever answered first, or I'd actually have to try and say 'yep, we're gay, one check please' this time, because I promised myself that I'd pay for dinner tonight. Whenever we go anywhere Owen is the one that ends up paying and I was starting to feel guilty about it.

"One," Owen said, holding up one finger like he did every time he answered that question. I had to bite my lip to hold back the giggle.

"Sounds good!" Did her smile just get wider? And did her look just get a little bit knowing? No. Don't even think like than Andy. Just chalk it up to your usual paranoia and move on. She rummaged around in her waist sash thing and pulled out a receipt. "Here you go guys," she said, putting it in the middle of the table before starting to gather up our plates.

Before I could even move, Owen's hand shot across the table and snatched up the check.

"Owen!" I said, so annoyed that I forgot that I was too shy to talk in front of strangers. "I wanted to pay."

I hoped I was glaring instead of pouting.

"Nope," Owen said as he took some cash out of his wallet. "I took you out, so I'm paying."

I felt my whole face turn red. "Owen!" I hissed. Oh God! Did he really just say that out loud!? I started shewing on my lip and looked down at the table. I couldn't even bring myself to glance at the waitress, I just KNEW her creepy smile would be even wider after hearing that. How the hell could Owen just...SAY that like that?

"What?" he asked. He handed the waitress the bill with some money. I shook my head rapidly. Did he really think I was gonna be able to TALK in front of her after that?

"Need any change?" she asked.

"No, it's fine," Owen said.

"Thanks!" she said. "You guys have a great night!"

"Thanks," Owen said. I stared resolutely at the table, but even when she left I barely felt any tension leave my body.

"What's wrong?" Owen asked again when she was gone.

I shot him an incredulous look. "Did you have to say that you 'took me out' in front of her?"

Owen looked at me, some expression I couldn't figure out flickering across his face for a second, before sighing softly. "I'm sorry. But, Andy, does it really matter that much? We don't know her and she doesn't know us, we're probably never even gonna see her again. Even if she thinks we're on a date, so what?"

I opened my mouth, then closed it. Then opened it again. Does it matter? Of COURSE it matters! How can he not think it matters!? But, for some reason right then, I couldn't think of a single reason why. So, because I couldn't answer, I took the cowards way out and played the victim card. I know. I'm not proud of myself either.

"Can we just...leave?" I asked. "This isn't helping me feel better about today."

Owen took a breath like he was about to maybe sigh, but if he was he stopped it at the last second. "Sure," he said. He gave me a small smile and got up.

I stood up too and we walked out of the restaurant and into the mall. I felt like I could breathe easier the second we got outside. No one out here knew we were on a date. It helped me relax.

"So," Owen asked hesitantly. "Do you wanna walk around, or just go home?"

"Let's walk around," I said with a smile.

He looked surprised at my sudden change of mood, but he didn't question it. He just smiled back before we started walking.

Of course the first place we went to was the pet store, because it was like RIGHT there. And puppies! They were even more adorable than the last time. There was this tiny little Shih Tzu that walked up and pressed it's little puppy nose right against the glass. I could see its tiny breaths fogging it up. I'm not even gonna pretend I didn't squeal out loud.

Even Hitler wouldn't be able to look at that without squealing.

After that we walked around a bit until we passed a Spencer's Gifts. Owen couldn't believe that I'd never been in one before, so he dragged me in. Two minutes later I dragged him out, blushing and trying to figure out why the hell anyone would ever want BBQ sauce flavored condoms. He apologized for making me go in, but I questioned his sincerity when he couldn't get it out without giggling and called me adorable at least ten times during the apology.

We, and by we I mean I, decided to walk down to the end of the mall that was totally opposite Spencer's. Eventually I got over my trauma enough to try talking again, but we ended up going right back to music lyrics and kept getting into arguments about what they meant.

"Ok," Owen held up one hand and growled in frustration as I tried to tell him that 'Ready to Die' wasn't ACTUALLY about killing people for the third freaking time. "Maybe we should just, stop talking about music?"

I shot him a disbelieving look. "No! That's like half of what we talk about. We can't just cut it out of our conversations because we disagree about some stuff."

I was a bit proud about how mature that made me sound.

"A lot of stuff," Owen muttered.

"Ok, fine. But still."

He sighed. "I don't like arguing with you."

"I don't either," I said. I held back from adding 'and that's why you should just agree with me', because he seemed to be upset for real and he wasn't Cheryl. "But, maybe we could just, I dunno, not argue?"

Owen didn't even bother saying anything to that, he just gave me a look of pure incredulousness. Incredulousity? 'are you freaking serious' look. Which what I said kinda completely deserved because, yeah, not arguing was kinda not working. I shrugged sheepishly.

"Ok, how about this," Owen said a few seconds later. "One of us asks a question, then we count to three and answer at the same time and then we just move on to another question. And we can't argue or say anything about each others answers, ok?"

I thought about it. It seemed...a little extreme, but then I remembered how I almost started shouting about rape in the middle of a restaurant and decided extreme was probably necessary. "Ok," I nodded rapidly. "Sounds good."

"Ok," he said. "You wanna go-"

I was shaking my head before he finished. "No way, I suck at thinking up questions. You go first."

Owen gave me a patient smile. "I'm sure you don't su-"

"I'm gonna ask you what your favorite color is," I shot back, cutting him off.

He blinked, slowly. "Ok," he said. "I'll go first."

"Probably less first grade that way," I said agreeably.

"Probably," Owen said with a slight smile. "Ok, so, third grade question, most romantic love song?"

Personally I thought that was at least a sixth grade question, but this whole thing was about not arguing so I held that back.

"Ready?" he asked. I nodded. "Ok, one, two, three."

"'My Heart will Go On'," I said with a slight blush.

"'Mine'," Owen said.

He raised an eyebrow at me, but didn't make a comment. I instantly liked this game. I really didn't wanna get into my weird obsession with Titanic right then.

I had slightly less restraint, though.

"Really? Mine? Like, the Taylor Swift one?" I asked.

I half expected Owen to yell at me for breaking the rules, but instead he just shrugged and smiled a little self-consciously. "Yeah, it was the first song you ever asked me to play," he said, like that answered everything.

And it kinda did.

This time the blush had nothing to do with embarrassment. I smiled so widely at him I thought my face was gonna split in two. "And you say I'm the sweet one."

Owen grinned slightly at that. "You are. But I don't mind coming in second place."

I giggled. We looked into each others eyes for a few seconds, and then because I'm me and ruining moments is hard coded into my DNA I blurted out, "So, if I asked you to play 'Down With the Sickness' would that be the most romantic song ever?"

Thankfully, Owen's perfect, and he doesn't care that I'm a mood wrecker. He snorted out a laugh. "Yes."

I laughed.

Owen just smiled. "So, your turn?"

I shook my head. "Not unless you wanna tell me what your favorite color is."

He shrugged. "One, two, three."

"Blue," he said.

"P-purple!" I blurted out a second later. I didn't think he was actually gonna answer that.

Again, he raised an eyebrow, but didn't ask. I still felt a need to defend it.

"It's a royal color," I mumbled.

He smiled, but didn't say anything. God, he really is perfect. "Ok, my turn," he said. "Favorite movie, ready?"

I held back my sigh. So much for not getting into it... I nodded, only somewhat reluctantly. Hopefully he'll keep up with not breaking the rules.

"One, two, three."

"Titanic," I sighed.

"Alien," he said with a smirk.

My eyes widened and I blushed, again. Owen snickered unapologetically. Dammit, I am NOT asking if that was his favorite before we...did stuff.

At least he didn't say anything about my answer.

"Worst thing to ever happen to music?" I asked. "Ready?"

Owen nodded.

"One, two, three."

"Pitbull," we both said at the same time.

We shared a grin, then burst out into giggles.

We ended up keeping up the game for a while, walking all over the mall. I think we might have even passed Spencer's again, but I wasn't really paying attention. I was too fascinated by everything I was learning about Owen. His favorite animals were hedgehogs (because of Sonic he said, mine was puppies of course), he thought the original Footloose was the best musical ever (I thought it was Jekyll and Hyde, which I actually saw live a few years ago on a vacation with my parents) and he thought censorship was the going to be the downfall of society (I'd answered finding Tupac alive, because I was put on the spot and who thinks about that kind of stuff anyway? But I thought that his was way better).

At one point we were walking around, asking questions and laughing and having a great time, when our eyes locked and we shared a Moment. I was so happy. Not just because we were having fun, but because we didn't have a lot of times like this recently, where we were just talking about each other and enjoying being together where one of us wasn't worrying about some drama or trying to help the other out of some kind of stress. It was beyond nice, and I found that I just couldn't look away from him or stop smiling.

And then he slid his hand into mine and gave it a squeeze, right there in the mall, in front of anyone that cared to look over and see.

I freaked. The happy, floaty, niceness died and panic took over. I snatched my hand back and took a big step to the side away from him, almost smacking into a lady coming the other way. I barely noticed her though, every bit of my attention was focused on the hurt look Owen was giving me. I felt bad knowing I put it there, but it was kind of a background thing. My heart was pounding and my panic melted into a low, simmering anger.

"W-what the hell are you doing?" I hissed, moving closer so hopefully no one would overhear, but not close enough to seem intimate. God, I hope no one saw him do that. Two friends can fight. Fighting with the boy that was just holding your hand is something only couples do. "Are you fucking crazy?"

Owen's mouth dropped open slightly and he blinked in surprise. The hurt look deepened. "I just wanted to hold your hand."

"In public? Seriously?" I looked around again. Two girls waiting over by the escalator were looking at us. I blushed and hoped they didn't see the hand holding.

Owen stared at me for a second, then pressed his lips together tightly. The hurt was still there, but I could see some annoyance too. "I wanted to hold my boyfriends hand. Sorry I didn't think about everyone else first."

I knew the apology was sarcastic, but part of me wanted to just accept it and move on. I didn't like fighting with Owen and I wanted the night to go back to how it was. But a much bigger part was terrified of people finding out about us, about him. My biggest fear from the second we got together was that I'd be the cause of him getting bullied the way I do at school. And now it looked like that was more possible than ever.

"What if somebody saw?" I asked, ignoring his sarcasm and trying to drive the point home. "What of somebody from SCHOOL saw?"

"Who cares?" Owen said, loudly. I winced slightly and stood closer to him in the stupid hope that he was only almost-yelling because I was ten inches away instead of nine. Thankfully we were by a long stretch of wall between two stores, so people were only passing on one side of us. "So what if people see, Andy? We don't know anyone here! Your parents aren't here and besides them, everyone we know is ok with us, why the hell do strangers matter so damn much?"

This sounded...slightly rehearsed. Had he been holding this in for a while? I shook my head. It didn't matter.

"Because!" I whisper-yelled. "What if someone from school is here? What if someone here knows someone from school and tells them? What if it gets out that you're-" I looked around to make sure no one was too close and lowered my voice even more. "-gay and the same stuff that happens to me starts happening to you? What if it's all my fault!?"

I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat. Jesus, if I ruined his life just by being in it I'd never be able to live with myself. Never.

"Dammit!" Owen swore, loud enough that I'm sure it got us a few more looks. He ground his teeth and looked like he was about to yell at me. I braced for it and hoped that whatever he was gonna say wasn't something that shouldn't be shouted in the middle of a mall. But, then, he stopped. He looked at me and I could actually see some of the anger drain out of his eyes, like it was a real, physical thing. He let out a long breath between his teeth and slumped slightly.

"What if I don't care?" he asked. His voice was lower and quieter, but still carried a hint of anger and more than a hint of intensity. "What if I just wanna hold your hand when we're out on a fucking date? What if I think being able to do that is worth anything anyone might say or do to me about it? What if all I really care about it is what my mom and my friends think, and if they're ok with it then everyone else can just go fuck themselves? What about that, Andy?"

I was shaking my head even before he was finished. "You're only saying that because it's never happened to you. It's been happening to me my whole life and I can say that holding hands at a mall isn't worth a tenth of the abuse you'll get because of it. It's's horrible. It makes you hate yourself and hate your life and I don't want that to happen to you. I d-don't-" My voice hitched. Goddamn stupid crying emotional little faggot just get this out because it's fucking important! "I don't want that to happen to you because of me."

Please, please, please let that get through to him. If any god that people have ever worshiped actually exists, PLEASE let that get through to him.

"Andy..." he said, sadly. His eyes filled with sympathy and understanding, but also determination. "Isn't it up to me to decide what I can handle, what's worth it? Because you ARE worth it. You're worth anything. I can deal with anything if I get to see you when it's over."

I ground my teeth together in frustration. My brand new Hope and Optimism were begging me to listen to him, but Self-Preservation didn't waste any time beating them down and gagging them. Why couldn't he just see? Ok, ok, maybe...maybe I can try a compromise.

"College," I said. "We can be out at college. We can hold hands, kiss, cuddle in the middle of the campus lawn! Ok? We can stay secret until then and then do whatever we want there."

I thought that was more than reasonable and way more than practical and safe.

Owen disagreed.

"That's three YEARS away!" he burst out. "I don't wanna hide and not be able to be a real couple for three years!"

I winced. That hurt. "I n-never thought we weren't a real couple..."

"I'm sorry," Owen said, slumping slightly. He rubbed his face with his hand and sighed. "I didn't mean it like that. Of course we're a real couple. I love you. I love you SO much. And I always will. I just...I want more, you know? I want to be able to touch you without worrying about what anyone's gonna say about it. And maybe...maybe I wanna show you off. Maybe I want people to know that you're mine so they don't look at you like they have a chance at getting you."

"No one looks at me like that," I said. It was the only thing I could think to comment on. I was still a little stung by the 'real couple' thing, but I believed him when he said he didn't mean it. I knew he loved me. That wasn't what made this so hard. It was because I loved him and I didn't want him to be hurt. He feels the same way about me, so why can't he understand?

"Kevin did," Owen countered. "And at least two other guys and five girls were checking you out while we were walking around. At least Kevin backed off when he found out about us. Anyone else looking at you thinks they can have you and that just drives me crazy."

Is it fucked up that even in the middle of this fight his possessiveness made me wanna kiss him?

Focus Andy!

"Who cares what other people think?" I asked, throwing his words back at him. "If people are looking at me or not, it doesn't matter. You're the only one that'll ever have me."

He took a deep breath, some of the tension bled out of his posture. "I know," he said. "And I know it shouldn't matter if other people know too, but it does."

"Yeah, it does," I said, sensing an opening. "It matters what other people think and do sometimes because as much as you don't want people thinking that I'm single I don't want anyone beating you up or throwing you into lockers because you're with me. THAT would make me feel like shit, like total scum, because it would be my fault. I don't wanna feel guilty for loving you."

Owen looked me in the eyes. The anger was totally gone now, but the hurt was back. Except this was a different kind of hurt. He wasn't hurting for himself, he was hurting for me. "You wouldn't have to feel guilty," he said. I could tell he was wavering though. "It would be my choice."

"It would still be my fault," I said. "You'd never have to make that choice if it wasn't for me."

Something else occurred to me then, something that should have been at the top of my list of things to panic about but I somehow forgot.

"And, my parents aren't here, but they could still find out," I said, trying to fight down the rising panic. I thought about those two girls that were watching us, but I knew they were too old. Still, they could have easily been one of my moms girls. "My mom coaches volleyball at the middle school and I've gone to games before. The girls know I'm her son. If one of them saw us they could tell her or even talk about it in front of her and she could tell my dad and-"

I cut myself off. That wasn't helping with the not panicking about it thing.

But, it did seem to be helping with the Owen thing.

He sighed again, but this time it was a sigh of defeat. "Alright," he said sadly. "I ...I really didn't think there'd be any way they could find out. I really don't care if other people know, but I know you care if your parents know, so I care too. I'm sorry."

That apology wasn't even the tiniest bit sarcastic. But I didn't feel as happy as I should have. Actually, my whole chest felt tight and heavy. Dammit, I wanted to give Owen everything he ever wanted. And even though I KNEW there was no way he could have this, I still hated that I couldn't give it to him. I still felt guilty.

I sighed.

"Thank you," I said softly.

Owen looked at me, tried a smile. It was just a tiny upturn of one side of his lips though, and it was gone almost as fast as it appeared. It hurt. I loved his smiles. Why the hell wasn't I happier about this? Relieved, yeah, but not happy.

"College?" Owen asked hesitantly. At least that was something I could give him.

"College," I nodded rapidly. "Definitely."

And, what do you know, part of me was actually looking forward to it.

This time his smile was more like his usual ones. Not completely, it wasn't as wide and it was more resigned and relieved than actually happy, but I tried to feel good about seeing it anyway.

"I'll hold you to that," he said. I think he was trying for a half tease, but it sounded more like a promise.

"You won't have to," I said back. And that definitely was.

Owen took a deep breath and stood up a little straighter. "Come on," he said. "We should get going. I think we're starting to be a spectacle."

I looked around, there were some people looking at us. Most just passed by, but there were a few people that looked like they were lingering. The two girls were still there, talking to each other and glancing back over at us now and then. I felt a pang of worry, but I didn't recognize them and they looked a little too old to be in high school, so I doubted they knew us even if they did see Owen grab my hand. Still, I nodded eagerly.

"Yeah, ok," I said. "Let's go."

Owen started walking away and I fell into place beside him. We were silent at first. I didn't know what he was thinking about but I was trying to figure out why I still felt like I came out of that argument the loser, even though I got what I wanted. Actually, it felt like we both came out the losers.

Eventually we tried to start up the questions game again, but it wasn't the same. We laughed a bit and learned a bit more about each other, but it was like there was one of those cartoon storm clouds following us around, keeping us from fully enjoying it. By the time the mall started to close and we called Nurse Amy to come pick us up, we were somewhat back to normal. And when we got out of the massive Hummer at his house so I could pick up my bike, I didn't even wait for Nurse Amy to get out of the car before I grabbed him and kissed him, hard. I knew Nurse Amy saw, even if she wasn't looking right at us the wolf whistle would have given it away. It took every scrap of courage I had to do it, but it was worth it.

I could give Owen that at least.

The real, full, Owen smile I got was the best thing I'd seen all night.

He rested his forehead against mine. "I love you," he said.

I smiled. "I love you too."

We stayed like that, holding each other, until Nurse Amy started flicking the lights on and off. We shared a quiet laugh, then I got on my bike and rode home.

I still wished I could have given him more.

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