Ever have that feeling that even though things are normal, they're really actually not? Like, normal changed when you weren't looking and you keep trying to do the same things thinking it's still normal, but it feels just a little bit off. A little bit wrong. Like there's one thing you're doing that's keeping you from being comfortable with life but you can't figure out what to do about it, or whether it's even real and you're just imagining it? Is there a word for that?
Because if there is, that's what's happening to me right now.
Ever since last night Owen had been...off. I saw him twice today, way more than I usually do before lunch, and both times I got the feeling that things weren't the way they used to be. He still smiled, he still laughed, he still found ways to tell me he loved me without actually committing suicide and saying it out loud; but it didn't feel right. It wasn't like the last time we argued where we went days without settling anything and we had to avoid landmines in every conversation we had. Yeah we argued, but it was over, done with, settled and finished. We were ok.
And maybe that was the problem.
We were ok. That's it. We weren't great or perfect or amazing. We weren't back to NORMAL. There was this tiny little background whisper to everything we did that kept telling us we could have more, that I was keeping Owen from the relationship he wanted, that we weren't what we could be. I heard it in every laugh and saw it in every smile. Or at least I thought I did. And that was the real problem. Was Owen really unhappy, was he just waiting until we got to college and could have the relationship he wanted? Or was it just me feeling guilty and seeing things that weren't there? And I guess I should have said 'problems' because if I wasn't just imagining it, then what could I do about it?
I'd been thinking about it all day, and so far nothing came to me. The only thing I could do was the one thing I couldn't. So, yeah, if it's real I'm pretty fucked. I guess I should just be happy he hasn't dumped me. Hell, I'D dump me. But, I'd never get together with me in the first place so maybe I'm not the best judge of my dumpability versus stay-with-ability ratio Venn diagram thing.
And I really need to stop doing deep thinking right after math class.
I tried to push everything away as I walked into lunch. It actually wasn't that hard since I had a real, definitely-actually-exists problem to try and solve. I can totally see why people grow up to be therapists now. Focusing on other peoples problems makes it really easy to forget about yours.
I looked around when I got in the cafeteria and found Owen immediately. He was sitting at our table, head down and reading a book. Even from the doorway I could see the way his lips quirked into an almost smile when he read something funny. Dreamy sigh. He's so cute when he's concentrating. And are his soft curls more springy today?
I just barely caught myself before I could stand there smiling stupidly at him for an hour and scurried into the lunch line before it got too long. Thankfully no one around was interested in messing with me today, so I got through and got my best-not-to-think-about-what-animal-they-actually-come-from 'chicken' nuggets and fries and somehow actually made it to our table before Cheryl got there. Which was good. Because we needed a plan of attack.
"Hey," I said as I slid into the seat next to Owen.
He looked up from his book and gave me a bright smile. "Hey," he said. And was that my imagination or did he grip his book a little bit tighter when I sat down? Was his smile a little bit sad? Resentful? Resigned? Was I gonna be like this about EVERYTHING he did for the next three years? I could so easily picture it. 'Is he chewing dejectedly? Is he washing his hands in silent suffering? Is he kissing me with the stoic patients of a thousand Buddhas?'
Can I possibly be ANY more psychotic?
"Hey," I said again. I didn't even bother to wince. He had to be used to me being an idiot by now, right? "Um, what are you reading?"
I hate this awkwardness. And I have no idea if it's better or worse that I seem to be the only one feeling it.
Owen flipped the book around and grinned sheepishly. "You'd like it," he said.
I looked at the cover and tried to hold back a groan. "A Star Wars book? Oh God, why?"
"Hey, it's good. And you would like it," he added. "Well, you'd kinda need to see the movies first-"
"No," I cut him off. "No, don't even START about Star Wars. I'm sick of hearing about Star Wars. I'm pretending Star Wars doesn't even EXIST."
I crossed my arms and dared the world to argue with that.
Owen held back his smirk about as well as I held back my groan. "I guess you finally checked your email?"
"Oh GOD! Yes I checked my email. It was...there was...." I shook my head. Even twelve hours later I couldn't believe it. "Ten different emails! And they were all, like, essays about how awesome Star Wars is and I swear the last one threatened me more than once about watching them. Why the hell did I ever give them my email address?"
Although, I guess I should sorta thank Nate. Being awed and disturbed about how someone can fill ten different emails with five plus paragraphs about the 'awesomeness' of Star Wars is definitely distracting me from any real or imaginary weirdness.
No. No I shouldn't thank him. Psycho needs to be locked up.
Owen, apparently, disagreed.
"Oh come on!" he said, laughing. "It couldn't have been that bad."
"It was!" I insisted.
"I got emails from him too and he never seemed that obsessed," Owen said.
"Because you've already seen them! You're like, part of this nerdy little cult and of COURSE he's not gonna seem crazy to you because you're already indoctrinated!"
That just made Owen laugh again. "They're good movies! And, cult? You do know that probably more than half the world has seen at least one Star Wars movie, right? That's kind of a big cult."
"Never said the world wasn't crazy," I grumbled.
"You should really just see them," Owen said, smothering another laugh.
"I don't want to now," I said stubbornly. "I like not being brainwashed, thank you very much."
"Come on," Owen said. He leaned in a little closer and smiled slyly. "We could watch them together in my room. I promise you won't even see half the first one," he teased.
I blushed. God, maybe it was all in my head. He sure as hell doesn't seem any different. Even if it was, I still wasn't sure I was ready to be alone in his house with just him and Nurse Amy. Especially with the door open.
"N-no. Not seeing them," I said, trying to make it sound like I was objecting to the movies and not being in his house.
Owen sighed. "Come on, dude. They're really good. You'll love them if you give them a chance."
I frowned. He'd never called me 'dude' before, had he? He usually calls me love. Was he censoring himself? Did he want to say love and held back because we were in school? Or was he doing it to punish me for not wanting to come to his house? It was on the tip of my tongue to ask, but when I opened my mouth all that came out was, "Can we PLEASE talk about something else?"
Owen, damn him, just rolled his eyes like he normally would without giving me any idea if I was right about any of that. "Alright, but we're definitely coming back to this. And I'm bringing this up when we watch them and you love them."
Well. If he's gonna pretend that everything's ok and not even acknowledge the problem that I might just be making up in my head then I won't either!
"Fine. Then I'm bringing THAT up when we watch them and I hate them."
"Deal!" Owen said.
"Deal!" I shot back.
We glared at each other for almost a full second before Owen snorted and burst out laughing, ruining the 'moment'. I giggled slightly, but I wasn't totally into it. For obvious reasons.
"So," Owen said a few seconds later. "What 'something else' do you wanna talk about?"
For once, me saying the first thing that popped into my head was actually helpful. "How about how the hell we're gonna convince Cheryl to go to the dance?"
I expected a rushed, tense conversation where we tried and failed to think up a way to get her there before she got here, leaving us to fumble our way through hastily made up on the spot lies that either crashed and burned all of Juan's hopes and dreams or miraculously convinced her when she showed up before we were ready. What I got instead, was a seriously sexy, surprisingly confident grin from Owen.
"WE'RE not gonna do anything," he said. "I'M gonna convince her, you just need to sit there and look nervous and cute and reluctant."
I blinked. "Wh-what?"
"Perfect!" Owen said.
Before he could answer or explain, you know, anything, a paper lunch bag was dropped onto the table with a loud THUD -and, really, something carrying food should never thud- followed quickly by a slightly exasperated Cheryl throwing herself into a chair across from us.
"You!" she said, pointing at Owen and totally ignoring me. "What are you doing here?"
Owen licked his lips quickly, the only sign that he was even a little bit nervous. "I'm-"
"I don't care," she cut him off. As anxious as I was I couldn't help rolling my eyes. Cheryl flipped me off without ever looking away from Owen.
"You're here, so tell me who it is!" she demanded.
And this is why it's a good thing that I wasn't trying to do this by myself. If she did that to me, I'd be stammering and stuttering and probably turning embarrassing shades of red as I tried to frantically think up a lie that Cheryl would see through in a second. Owen just gave a resigned sigh and started talking like they were already in the middle of a conversation.
"I told you I can't give out the names of people who call in even-"
She cut him off with an extremely unattractive snort. I took a second to hope she didn't do that too much in front of Juan. In fact, I was probably just gonna go and write up a list of things she shouldn't do in front of him and give it to her after the dance.
No, then she'd do them all twice just to spite me.
"Yeah, but you're not at the station now. You don't have the name list gestapo standing over your shoulder watching what you do. You can tell me now," she said.
Owen lips twitched into an amused smile. "The manager there is actually Jewish-"
"I don't care! Tell me!" she demanded.
"If you didn't cut me off before," Owen said pointedly. "I would have finished. I can't give out names-"
"You already said that," she cut in.
"-even if I know them," Owen went on, ignoring her. "And whoever calls in and requests songs for you doesn't give me his name."
Damn. I know it was Juan and even I almost believe him. I should probably be more upset that my boyfriend is apparently an amazing liar, but right now I'm just too relieved. This might actually work.
"Dammit!" Cheryl swore. She glared at Owen for a second, like she was about to blame him, then sighed and deflated slightly. "You don't have any idea who it is?"
"No, I'm sorry," Owen said and, holy crap, he actually sounded like he was. "But if it makes you feel better he doesn't sound like he's messing with you."
She snorted disbelievingly. "Yeah right," she said. But before I could jump in and try and convince her, she asked, "How do you know?"
I had to bite my lip to keep from screaming in triumph. It was working! She wouldn't even ask if she wasn't already half convinced. Or at least half hopeful. She and Juan are gonna be SO happy together and maybe we could even go on double dates someday and if they wanted to name their first son Andy I wouldn't exactly say no-
Focus Andy! You can still screw this up somehow!
"Because he's shy about it," Owen answered. "I've gotten a bunch of people who call in to play jokes on other people and they're usually always laughing or doing a really crappy job of trying not to. The ones that are serious about dedicating a song to someone are either shy or giddy like they're already imagining how the other person is gonna react. The guy who's dedicating songs to you is always shy. But, he seems determined too. I think he's gonna want you to know who he is eventually. I wouldn't worry too much about trying to figure out who it is. If it was me, I'd just...wait for him."
Now I was totally in awe. If I'd said all that, Cheryl would have immediately narrowed her eyes suspiciously and demanded that I tell her how the hell I could possibly know that. More than once while he was talking I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming that he was pushing his luck. But coming from Owen, she didn't even question it.
I might have started to get insulted if I wasn't so grateful.
"Wait for him to what? Grow some balls and actually talk to me?" she asked. She said it sarcastically, but I could hear a bit of annoyance behind it. No matter how she was acting, at least part of her wanted her 'secret admirer' to be open about it. She was actually coming around faster than I thought. Part of me wanted to tell Juan to forget the dance and just ask her out now so none of us would have to go, but in every book I've ever read where the general changes plans on the fly it always ends badly. Plans are made when you're thinking clearly, spur of the moment changes aren't.
Now tell me I wouldn't have made a kick ass warrior king.
"No, just wait for him to tell you. You never know, he might have some huge romantic plan that'll sweep you off your feet," Owen said with a tiny smile.
"Please," she scoffed. But she glanced away and for just a second a look passed over her face that on anyone else I might have called wistful.
"Anyway, enough about that crap. If you can't tell me who it is I don't wanna talk about it. What ARE you doing here anyway?" she asked. For the first time since she sat down, she looked at me. "You two aren't gonna make out in front of me, are you?"
I blushed even as I glared at her. "Shut up!" I hissed.
She laughed and then softly sang, "Andy and Owen sitting in a tree..."
I flipped her off. And WHY the hell am I going through so much trouble to get her a boyfriend anyway? "What are you in kindergarten now?"
She just laughed some more.
No, seriously, WHY?!
"I kinda wanted to ask you something, actually," Owen said. Then he kicked my ankle under the table.
I stopped scowling at Cheryl to shoot him a confused look, but he wasn't even looking at me. I frowned.
"Why did you-" I started, but he kicked me again, harder this time.
"Don't try and talk me out of it," he said, giving me a look I couldn't figure out. "You already said you would so just sit there and let me ask."
"Ha!" Cheryl laughed. "You've just been TOLD."
Then she made like she was cracking a whip, complete with a little whip crack sound effect. I flipped her off automatically, but otherwise ignored her.
Would what? Ask what? What the hell is he talking- Ow! He kicked me again! What the fuck is with-Oh! Oh! We're doing the dance thing, aren't we? That's why he's kicking me. He's letting me know I need to...what did he say? Look nervous and cute and reluctant.
How the hell do I do that!?
Should I maybe, sigh and put the back of my hand on my forehead? No, that would look too much like acting. Bad acting too. Ok, fine, cute I can't figure out but according to some people -mental glare at Cheryl and Owen- I do it all the time anyway, so I guess I don't really need to try if they're delusional enough to think that. Reluctant? Hell yeah I'm reluctant about going to a freaking school dance, what sane person wouldn't be? And I'm definitely nervous about asking Cheryl. So, I could do either one of those, but both together?
Goddammit. I KNEW I was gonna screw this up.
But I guess Owen disagreed. Or maybe he just gave me up as a total lost cause and decided to push on anyway and hope that he didn't need me. Because he didn't kick me again.
"So, I need to ask you a favor," Owen said. "I wanna go to the end of the year dance with Andy-"
"I get to convince Andy to go to a school dance?" she asked with a grin, sounding half horrified and half ridiculously gleeful. The look didn't last long though.
"Wait," she said, her grin melting into a frown. "You want him to go to a dance WITH you?"
"Yeah, well, not WITH-" Owen started.
"Because you know he doesn't wanna come out, right?" Cheryl said, kind of snappish. I winced. Why the hell does her protectiveness come out at the most random times? "I'm not gonna force him to."
"And you're not gonna force him either," she went on. "I don't care if he loves you or that he gave it up to you, I'm not gonna let you use that to-"
"Oh God, Cheryl, shut up. Now!" I hissed, blushing horribly. I was pissed though. I thought about our fight last night and how easy it would have been for him to pull the 'if you really loved me' card and I would have completely caved and if he knows me as well as I think he does he HAD to have known that but he never even TRIED and for her to even SUGGEST that he would made me wanna throw something at her. Something heavy. Like the entire school. "He's not forcing me to come out or anything like that! He's just..."
I trailed off, righteous anger stopped in it's tracks by a big brick wall of 'no freaking idea how to finish that sentence'. I had no idea where Owen was going with this and anything I said might totally screw up his plan. And you have absolutely no idea how proud I am that I thought about that before I screwed anything up.
"Just...let him tell you," I finished. I didn't look away though. I wanted her to look right in my eyes and know exactly how serious I was and how pissed I was at her.
And she saw it. She sighed and gave me a small smile that looked more like a wince before turning back to Owen. "So what did you wanna ask me?" she asked, almost softly.
Owen looked back and forth between us before he went on. "Look, I'm not trying to force him to do anything like that, especially not coming out. I would never do that."
He was saying it to Cheryl, but I knew it was for me too by the way he glanced at me for a second. He was trying to make me feel better, maybe even apologize for last night, but it just made me feel worse about the whole thing. He didn't need to apologize for anything. Especially not because Cheryl put the stupid idea in his head that he was trying to force me -not that he needed anyone but him to start thinking that about anything. It was my fault that we couldn't have the relationship he wanted. Whatever my reasons.
"I just wanna go to the dance. And I want Andy there too," he went on, and, oh you better believe I heard all the things he didn't say. "And he says he won't go unless you go to. So, I just wanted to ask if you'd, you know, go with us?"
The thing about Cheryl -and this is one of those things that's great and the most annoying thing ever at the same time- is that she can only do serious and contrite for so long. I've known this about her since we were five and she tore the head off 'my' Ken doll -don't look at me like that, it was really hers and I just pretended he was Superman in a bathing suit when I was at her house- and she hugged me while I cried for ten minutes before punching me in the shoulder and telling me I cried like a girl. So it's not a surprise when it happens, and I don't expect her to ever change. It's just sometimes I wish those moments would last a lot longer.
"So...you already got Andy to agree to go to a dance?" she asked. I could have done without the awe in her voice. "I was kidding about the-" she did the whip crack thing again "-thing before but, wow, I'm seriously impressed."
I sighed. "So are you going or not?" Yeah, probably not the most diplomatic way to put it, but it's not like we're trying to draw up the Treaty of Versailles here.
"Oh hell no," Cheryl said. "No way. I'd rather cut my head off than go to one of those things."
I got a sinking feeling in my chest.
"Please," Owen begged. He looked really serious too. I wondered if he was even acting anymore. "Cheryl, please, I really wanna do this with him and he'll only go if you go too."
Cheryl was shaking her head before he was even finished. She did look a bit regretful though. "Look, I like you, really. And I'm sorry about what I said before, but I hate school dances and there's no way I'm going to one for you."
"What about for me?" I asked.
I shouldn't have said anything. I knew I shouldn't have said anything right as I was saying it. I wasn't supposed to want to go. This was all supposed to be Owen. And there's the whole being terrible at lying thing to think about. But if she didn't go this whole thing was dead anyway and I couldn't let that happen without at least trying.
"What?" Cheryl raised an eyebrow. "You actually WANT to go?"
"No," I said. And that was good. It was honest. My heart started speeding up as I realized that I was about to do exactly what I didn't want to; try and lie to Cheryl. But I couldn't stop now. "But Owen does. And I wanna do it for him."
All true. More than I was saying because somehow I just knew how much going to a dance like a regular couple would mean to him, even if we were just going as friends with other people.
"And," I added before she could do more than open her mouth. "You owe me. For what you said about Owen."
She closed her mouth. I could see that saying that hurt her because she could see how much her saying what she did hurt me. And if there's one thing Cheryl hated, it was seeing me hurt. I could have felt bad about using that against her, but I didn't. Not even a little bit. Because her owing me for that was one hundred percent truth. She may have been my best friend, but Owen was my boyfriend. And not even my best friend gets to hit my boyfriend in one of his sorest spots without having to make it up to both of us.
Besides, one day she'd thank me for all this. Probably.
She sighed deeply. "Fine," she said reluctantly. I didn't even need to hear the apology behind her words because it was written all across her face. "I'll go."
Owen's eyes widened in total shock and I'm pretty sure if God exists even he did a double take.
"Thanks," I said. I sounded so calm, but inside my disbelief was having a stroke. Holy freaking shit. I actually convinced Cheryl to go.
I was still kinda riding high from that the next day.
I walked through the halls feeling like a master of deception, a double agent of lies, James Bond without the 'banging every girl he meets' thing. Well, James Bond if James Bond slunk through the halls of his high school hoping no one kicked his books out of his hand, but still. More Bond-like than I'd ever been before. Juan even agreed with me.
Well, if you can take "Dude! You're the best! If I was there right now I'd give you the biggest hug ever in the 'please don't put anything in my butt' friends way" to mean "You're just like 007!"
Which I totally am.
I was feeling good, confident. Well, as confident as I ever am anyway. I'd even decided last night that I'd suck it up and spend more time with Owen at his house. I couldn't give him what he wanted, but I could give him that at least. Plus I didn't get the chance to apologize to him after lunch for Cheryl and almost ruining his plan, so this would be a good chance to do that too. I was still a bit terrified about being around someone that knew about us, but for Owen, I could get over it. Or at least pretend I was over it until I actually got over it.
That's why I was on my way to the freshman hall right before gym. I wanted to tell him as soon as I could. And, since my mom and the school still hadn't worked anything out about gym, I figured that seeing Owen light up and give me one of those smiles was the best thing that could happen to me before spending forty five minutes in hell. I didn't even bother hoping that he was there. I knew he would be. Things were going my way and there was no way I'd miss him.
And I was right. I walked down the freshman hall to his locker and there he was, leaning against it, laughing that way he did that made his eyes crinkle up at the corners and my heart skip a beat, his ash blond hair finally long enough to fall in front of his eyes the way I'd always wanted so I could brush it back. He was right there in front of me.
With Brandon Carol.
I couldn't even process that at first. I just...stopped. My whole body freezing in place. I probably looked ridiculous, but I couldn't even start to care. Because it wasn't just Brandon being in the same place as Owen, they were actually WITH each other. Brandon was standing right in front of Owen, both of them laughing together. Brandon reached over and lightly touched Owen on the shoulder. He didn't shrug it off or step away. He didn't encourage it or smile like he did when I touched him either, but he still LET BRANDON TOUCH HIM!
It felt like ten different people were reaching into my chest and squeezing the life out of my heart.
They stopped laughing and Brandon said something that made Owen roll his eyes. Then Owen said something back with a smirk -those are MY smirks!- and Brandon giggled. I wasn't close enough to hear but he was doing the whole 'one hand covering his mouth, shoulders shaking' thing. I'd have thought he was doing it on purpose to be a flirty little whore if I hadn't seen him do it even girlier a hundred times before. Owen said something else, then Brandon said something back and with a smile and the most limp wristed wave in the history of waves, he swished away.
I was torn. Part of me wanted to run up to Owen and demand that he tell me what the hell that was. I wanted to shriek and yell and glue myself to him so that no one would think that he was anything other than mine and they better stay the fuck away or I'd rip them in half. Was this what Owen was feeling at the mall? Another part of me just wanted to skip right to the ripping in half part. Brandon was walking down the hall right by me, still smiling slightly and not even noticing me. I wanted to MAKE him notice me. I wanted to smash his stupid, little fairy head into the wall until he went blind looking at my face so I'd be the last fucking thing he ever noticed.
I was actually tensing up to launch myself at him when out of the corner of my eye I saw Owen catch sight of me. He lit up, smiling and walking towards me with a happy little gleam in his eyes, exactly the way I'd pictured. Seeing that stopped me cold and Brandon floated right on by me, all but forgotten. This time though, it was only my body that stopped. Everything that I couldn't even start to process before went flooding through my mind and my heart like a dam had just broken. Or maybe it was just my heart.
Oh God, oh God, oh my fucking Jesus fucking Christ they looked like...flirting!...but...he's happy to see me...if they were he'd look guilty?...not happy?...but he's happy so...not flirting?...but, good liar and...I can't...I can't...OH FUCK I JUST CAN'T!
By the time Owen got to me I could barely breathe. All I could think was that I lost him. That somehow, when I wasn't looking, I just totally lost him and left him out there for Brandon to find. But even as I thought that I KNEW it couldn't be true. Not just because he was smiling at me and not even looking the tiniest bit guilty, because if yesterday told me anything it was that Owen was an amazing liar and if he wanted to hide something from me he probably could. But I just knew that he wasn't. Right through me, right to my bones, right to my soul if it exists, I knew that Owen wasn't the kind of person to betray someone like that. People that would do that don't offer kindness when they don't need to. They don't spend so much time trying to convince the last person in the world that anyone should try to convince that they're special and beautiful and loved. They don't get sick every time they think they're forcing their boyfriend to do something he doesn't want to do.
Owen wouldn't do that to me. He just wouldn't.
I still felt like I was being stabbed through the chest though.
"Hey," Owen said brightly. "I didn't think I'd...."
He trailed off, the smile melting off his face. I could only imagine how horrible I looked -I was sure that I was paler than usual and the hair hanging in front of my face was brittle and thin and I might have even been bleeding from the eyes- but it was probably worse than I was picturing.
"What's wrong?" he asked. Concern filled his voice. Worry filled his eyes. Jesus, you can't...you can't fake that. You just can't. When I didn't say anything he grabbed my arm and pulled me into an empty classroom. I thought I recognized it from my ninth grade year as one of the rooms that was used by the special ed kids in the afternoon, but I didn't really care. "Andy, please, tell me what's wrong."
I tried to talk, but words weren't working. I just kept opening and closing my mouth, probably looking like a suffocating fish, but no sound would come out. Oh God, what if I couldn't ever speak again? What if seeing Owen and Brandon like that just totally killed my ability to form sound?
And because the universe loves pointing out that I'm a massive idiot, right after that is when I could talk.
"Wh-what...what were you doing...talking...with him?" I gasped out, breathing heavily even though I had no idea why.
"Huh?" Owen's brow furrowed in confusion and he cocked his head. "Are you...do you mean, Brandon?"
My mouth dropped open and I shakily brushed most of my hair behind my ears so I could see him better. "Y-you know his NAME!?"
"Um, yeah?" Owen said, still not seeming to get it.
"You were t-talking to him and you KNOW HIS NAME?!" I had just enough control to keep it to a strained whisper-shout. But this was even worse than I thought.
For a second, Owen still looked confused. Then, his frown melted into a look of resignation and he sighed. "Look, just because he's gay doesn't mean that people are gonna think I'm gay just for talking to him. I'm not...I'm not trying to out myself, or whatever you're thinking, ok?"
I was stunned into silence. Again. THAT'S what he thinks this is about!?
"That's...it's not...he was TOUCHING YOU!" I said frantically. "He was touching you and you know his name and he was TOUCHING you!"
Realization dawned in his eyes, but it was only there for a second before he went completely pale and gave me the most horrified look I'd ever seen in my life.
"A-andy, it wasn't like that!" he said. He took a step closer to me and made like he was gonna reach out, then stopped and clenched his hands by his sides. It made my chest feel heavy. I wanted him to touch me. I didn't want to stand there looking at him when the last thing to touch him had been Brandon. "I-I was just talking to him! I wasn't...oh God Andy I wasn't cheating on you! I was...he...I was just...oh God you have to believe me, you can't think...Andy I swear, I SWEAR that all we were doing was talking, please you have to believe me I wouldn't do that you know I wouldn't, right? I-"
"Yes!" I cut him off. "I mean no-I mean I know, I mean-"
I squeezed my eyes shut and bit my lip to keep from going on. I knew he wasn't cheating. I knew that almost right away. But I'd be lying if I said hearing him say it, seeing his face when he did, didn't make me feel about a thousand times better. The relief was almost enough to make me pass out. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on what I wanted to say.
"I k-know. That you weren't cheating. I just...I saw him and you were laughing and he was laughing and touching you and I wanted to just...fucking kill him and-"
I cut myself off with a frustrated growl. That wasn't at all what I wanted to say. But it was all I could think about.
"I-I know," Owen said a few seconds later. He still sounded shaky and he still looked pale, but I could see the understanding in his eyes. "That's how I feel every time someone looks at you. I...God, I don't know what I'd do if someone actually touched you. Fuck, Andy I'm so sorry-"
"It's not your fault," I said quickly. Even if it was, and I still needed to ask about that, I didn't want him blaming himself for this. That's what he always did when it came to me and it just made me feel worse. I didn't think I could handle feeling worse right then. "But...why?" I asked, it came out more like a whine than I wanted it to.
"Why...was I talking to him?" Owen asked a few seconds later. I nodded. "Andy I swear it wasn't-"
"I know," I cut him off. I looked him in the eyes. "I know it wasn't like that. Just tell me why. Please."
Owen sighed. "I...liked talking to someone who was gay. Who knew I was too. It was nice, having an openly gay friend. It was as close as I could-...it was nice."
My heart felt like it was being squeezed again. But this time instead of Panic and Doubt and Insecurity squeezing it, it was Guilt. 'It was as close as I could get to being open with you'. I could finish that sentence as if he'd already said it a hundred times. And, in a way, he sorta had.
At least now I know it wasn't all in my head.
"What about Kevin?" I asked, pretty much on autopilot. I didn't really care, but I needed to say something and I couldn't think of anything else. "Why not be friends with him?"
"He LIKED you," Owen said, with the tiniest bit of a growl in his voice. "I don't think I could ever be friends with him. I still kinda wanna punch him for asking you out."
I laughed shakily. I could relate. I could definitely relate. About so many things now. And that was the problem.
"Brandon doesn't have a thing for you, so I could be friends with him," Owen went on.
This time I snorted. "Yeah, you definitely don't have anything to worry about there."
Owen cocked his head. "Do..you know him?"
I gaped at him, the surprise not exactly pushing away the guilt, but making it slightly less noticeable. How could he not know this? "Uh, yeah? That's...Brandon. Brandon Carol? Kevin's friend? The guy Cheryl was 'dating'? The guy that told all his friends not to help me out because I wasn't part of his gay club?"
Owen seemed not to get it until that last one, then he pressed his lips together tightly and narrowed his eyes. "He's THAT Brandon?"
I nodded. "You...didn't know?"
"Of course I didn't know!" Owen exploded. "Do you really think I'd even talk to somebody who treated you like that? Oh God...it must have looked even worse than I thought-Andy I'm so sorr-"
"Please don't, don't apologize, don't say you're sorry," I said quickly. God, I don't think I could take an apology right now. Not when I still felt like this was all my fault. No, not felt like, it WAS all my fault. And now that I knew what it felt like to be on the other side, I didn't think I could just sit back and deal with it anymore. But what the hell could I do?
"I still am though," Owen said. He gave me a tiny smile that didn't reach his eyes, and that was too much. We were in the back of an empty classroom, but the door was open and anyone could walk in. I didn't care. I took a step forward and pulled him into a hug. He didn't even stiffen in surprise, he just hugged me back as tight as he could.
We stayed like that until the bell rang. Nothing was solved, not really, not for me. I knew Owen wasn't cheating, but I knew that before he said anything anyway. Other than that everything was the same as it was before we came in here. Except this time I knew what Owen was feeling. Or at least part of it. Too much of it. But that still left the one, important question that I couldn't have answered if I had a gun to my head.
What was I going to do?