I was late for gym, but I couldn't even try to start caring. I walked slowly through the halls after a hug-filled goodbye with Owen, hopefully heading somewhere towards the gym. I probably looked like one of those soldiers you see in World War 2 documentaries shuffling away from a battlefield, dragging their rifle behind them in the dirt, looking at nothing, barely even realizing the battle is over. Except, in my case, the battle wasn't over at all. It was still going strong.
I remember thinking that I was being torn apart probably a few dozen times in my life, but this? God, this was what being torn apart actually felt like. Not even exaggerating. If you were being ripped in half by a dragon or, more realistically, from being tied to two horses or buffalo or something, you'd feel EXACTLY the way I do now. I was stuck between two unthinkable options.
I knew how much it hurt Owen now, staying in the closet. Actually, no, I knew how much it hurt ME because it practically tore my heart out of my chest when I saw Brandon flirting with Owen like it was his right, like I wasn't even part of it, so I knew what that felt like. But I still didn't WANT to come out. Keeping everything a secret wasn't a problem for me, not the way it was for Owen. So you have everything I felt when I saw him with Brandon PLUS whatever he's feeling about having to keep everything a secret when all he wants to do is be open, and THAT'S how Owen feels. And even though I can't imagine it, I knew it was worse than what just happened to me and it was all my fault. My Owen was suffering because of me.
But then you have my dad. The guy who raised me, played with me whenever I wanted when I was a kid, who took me fishing and golfing and to the movies and turned down PROMOTIONS at work because he wanted to be around to spend time with me and my mom. And all he ever asked in return for all that was that I take pride in our family and get married and carry it on so that my son could have that same pride. Something that I wasn't ever gonna be able to give him. Something that was gonna tear him apart. Something I don't think he'd ever be able to forgive me for.
So, I could either lose my dad, or spend three years knowing that the love of my life was in pain every single day because of me, and maybe even losing him along the way too.
I take back what I said before, being ripped apart by a dragon would hurt way less.
Dammit! I HATE making decisions! Why the hell can't Owen just manipulate me?! Why can't he just make me have sex with him and make me come out to his friends and make me tell my dad and come out to everyone else too? I'd do anything if he pushed hard enough, if he made it a choice between doing what I wanted and losing him. Then it wouldn't be my fault. My dad would get his heart broken but I could blame Owen, just a little, so it wouldn't feel as bad. So it wouldn't be ME doing it. Life would be so much easier if he'd just make my choices for me.
Except part of why sex with Owen was so special was because we both wanted it. Part of the thrill was choosing to do it, of giving that to Owen gladly instead of reluctantly handing it over, or having it taken. Coming out to his friends was the same. It was something I was giving to Owen. The same way he gave me happiness and smiles and confidence and hope and everything that made me more than I used to be. It felt GOOD. And I wouldn't have had any of that if he'd made me do it.
Sigh. I just wish things were easier.
I hadn't even come close to deciding what I was gonna do when I realized I was standing in front of the doors to the locker room. I should just skip. My mom would understand. Hell, she's trying to get me OUT of gym because she understands. I could just keep walking through the halls and thinking, and maybe skip the rest of the day too until an answer magically came to me-
The door to my right that led to the gym slammed open against the wall, making me jump. Coach Williams stood in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest and resting on his huge belly. He glared at me, and I felt my heart speed up.
"Baxter!" he yelled. I flinched. You'd think with the massive, life changing problems fighting it out in my head I'd be a little less scared of a high school gym teachers shout, but no, still a massive pussy. "You're late! Get changed out and get your ass in here, now!"
I swallowed and nodded, then scurried into the locker room before he could say anything else. I let out a tiny, relieved breath when he didn't follow and keep screaming at me while I changed. Not that that had ever happened before, but it would fit today's theme.
The locker room was empty, so it was actually completely stress free to change for the first time in...ever. It also made it go twice as fast and before I could calm down enough to think that maybe he wasn't waiting right outside the door and if I was lucky I could maybe just sneak away, I was already changed and walking into the gym, tightening my hair ribbon as the door closed behind me.
I was more than ten minutes late, so I was expecting everyone else to be playing something or practicing something and for Coach Williams to yell at me to run laps all period. But instead of any of that, the whole class was just doing stretches in one corner of the gym. The other half was covered with blue mats. My heart sank. There's only one reason Coach Williams ever sets up mats and makes us do stretches at the beginning of class...
A sharp, shrill screech cut through the air and everyone stopped and got to their feet. Coach Williams spit out his whistle to bounce against his stomach as he strode over to us, coming to a stop and crossing his arms again.
"Alright!" he yelled. "Now that you're loosened up, find a partner and get on the mats!"
I bit my lip just in time to keep back a groan. Physical fitness tests are pretty much the worst school related thing that can happen to a skinny, shy boy with no actual upper body strength. An entire period of sit ups and push ups and rope climbing and sprinting and everything else that made my body feel like it was gonna fall off and explode, AND I have to stand around awkwardly and wait to be paired up with the only other person who couldn't find a partner. Or even worse, if there was an odd number of kids I'd 'get' to do the whole thing with the coach. Thankfully Coach Williams had already done this three times this year, so I knew there were enough kids. I just needed to wait around to see who got stuck with me.
And then, it got even worse.
"Walters!" Coach Williams yelled. "Pair up with Baxter. He didn't get a chance to stretch, so he should have an athlete watching out for him."
He shot me a cruel smirk as my heart stopped.
Jarred looked over from where he was talking to Kyle. For a second he looked like he was gonna protest, then he just let out a disgusted snort before walking over. "Fine," he said.
I closed my eyes and sighed. Of COURSE I had to pair up with Jarred. With the way today was going I was surprised my mom didn't decide to adopt him and make me share my room with him. I should have been terrified. This was the first time since Owen and Kevin stood up to him for me that I was anywhere near him, but I just didn't have it in me. The last little bit of space I had inside me for anything but my battle was already filled up.
Besides, I'd already found out why he'd been ignoring me this week. Him and Amanda broke up again and their relationship had a cycle that you could pretty much set a clock to. They'd break up, then Jarred would ease up on his assholeness for about a week until he and his friends decided that they were all better off without being tied down to one girl, if anyone else had a girlfriend they'd break it off and then they'd all double down on "getting the fags" just to show that even though they didn't have any "bitches" to impress anymore, they totally weren't gay or pussies or anything. That would go on until Amanda decided she needed a boyfriend again and got back with Jarred. Then they'd all get jealous and beg the girls they dumped to take them back. I just had to hope that Jarred was still on phase one.
Coach Williams yelled at us to start with fifty sit ups. Jarred walked past me without looking at me or saying anything -which always felt like a victory- and I sullenly followed him. He flopped down on the mats pretty sullenly himself, and at least he's as unhappy with this as I am. It's more than a little weird having even that tiny little thing in common with him. Then I got on my knees by Jarred's feet as he laid back and set his legs slightly apart to get ready for the sit ups and, nope, THIS is weird; kneeling in front of Jarred while he spread his legs. Jesus, I hope he doesn't realize that or I'll probably get kicked in the face.
But...maybe that'll give me amnesia and I can forget all about Owen and my dad problem? I shook myself. Stop being an idiot, Andy.
Without even thinking I reached out to grab Jarred's ankles because, that's what you did when your partner was doing sit ups, and that's when he decided to pay attention to me.
"Don't touch me," he said, glaring at me. "Just sit there and count or something."
I just stared at him for a second. Seriously? I sighed. Whatever. I sat back on my feet and put my hands in my lap, waiting to see if that was acceptable to Lord Jarred. This was so the last thing I needed today.
He waited a second, giving me a suspicious look. Jesus! Did he think I was, like, waiting until he wasn't looking to touch him? Then he snorted softly and started doing his sit ups.
"Baxter!" Coach Williams shouted. "Hold his ankles down!"
I started, then reached out to Jarred again.
"Touch me and I'll break your jaw," Jarred said, not even seeming out of breath from the sit ups he was doing. It made me hate him just a little more. I looked at Coach Williams, who was glaring at me, then back to Jarred, who was also glaring at me. God..DAMMIT! I growled under my breath then shuffled forward and knelt down on Jarred's feet.
"Wha-" he started.
"I'm not touching you," I snapped, cutting him off. I gave him a glare of my own, realizing even before I did it how suicidal -not to mention totally not intimidating- it was. I didn't care. I couldn't deal with this crap. I looked over at Coach Williams to see if he was gonna yell at me for it, but he wasn't even looking at us anymore. Whatever.
Jarred never even paused in his sit ups, but I still thought he was tensing up to make with the jaw breaking. Instead, he just let out a huff.
"Whatever," he said, then pointedly ignored me.
I was actually surprised he didn't hit me. It's not like Coach Williams or anyone else here would report him. I decided right there that I'd never in a million years understand Jarred Walters, and stopped thinking about it. My thoughts turned back to Owen and my dad and trying to figure out what to do but I barely had any time before Jarred stopped his sit ups and yanked his feet out from under my knees. I blinked, then stared at him in confusion.
"Your turn," he said impatiently. Oh. Yeah. "And next time, fucking count."
I rolled my eyes, surprised again when he didn't hit me or say anything. He'd done more to me for less before, but it wasn't like I was actually gonna point out that he should be throwing punches. I got in position, then waited for Jarred to hold my ankles. He didn't of course, he just sat on the mat and crossed his arms, giving me a 'well, go on' look. I growled under my breath again, then tried a sit up.
Jesus! I couldn't even do these things when someone was holding me. All alone, it was impossible. And ridiculous. I tried sitting up, but my feet lifted up off the ground and I ended up awkwardly jerking and shifting my whole body just to get my back off the mat. I slammed back down with a grunt.
"Shit," I hissed under my breath. "Can you just, hold me down?" I asked louder, glaring at Jarred again.
"I'm not touching you," he said.
"Jesus Christ!" I snarled. Somewhere in the back of my head Self-Preservation was pulling it's hair out and screaming at me to shut up, but I didn't care. "I'm not diseased. You're not gonna catch gayness or suddenly stop being manly if you touch me, and we're gonna be here all day if you don't so just do it!"
Jarred's eyes widened slightly. Or maybe I was just imagining it because it was gone almost as soon as it happened. He still didn't hit me though. He glared, and ground his jaw though. "Whatever," he said again. Then he knelt on my feet like I did with him. And ground his knees into me. Hard.
"Ow!" I yelped. A tiny smirk flashed across his lips, quickly, but this time I was sure I actually saw it. Something inside me snapped. I sat up -I pushed off with my arms though so it didn't look pathetic- so I was inches away from Jarred. It was the closest I'd ever been to him without him shoving me into something or throwing a punch.
"What the fuck is your problem with me?" I snapped, barely remembering at the last second not to shout. "I never fucking did anything to you!"
The most surprising thing about what happened next wasn't even that he didn't hit me, it was that he actually answered.
"What isn't my problem with you?" He said it almost under his breath, like he didn't mean to. Then he looked up, realizing that he actually said that out loud. I didn't get what the big deal was, but he looked like he regretted it for a few seconds, then he clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes. "You're this little....thing. You're weak and you're pathetic and you can't even do a sit up and you're everything I hate about-" He bit off whatever he was gonna say and if this was anyone else I would have sworn I just saw his face flush. But Jarred Walters doesn't blush. I don't think I'd know what to do in a world where that was possible.
"You're weak," he said again, after a few seconds. "And I don't like you."
Well. Any other day it probably would have hurt to have my entire self summed up like that. But like so many other things today, I just didn't care. On the scale of Andy's Life Problems, Jarred not liking me because I'm weak and pathetic didn't even crack the top ten.
"Fine," I said. "You don't need to like me. I don't like you either. Because you're an asshole. And I don't like assholes. But, we're kinda stuck together for this whole period so maybe you could stop being an asshole for like thirty five goddamn minutes so we can get the fuck through this as fast as possible. Do you think?"
All of my neuroses and psychosis's were too busy trying to talk Self-Preservation down from the ledge he was on, that's the only explanation I have for why I was just sitting there calmly staring at Jarred instead of shaking myself apart with fear. But, he STILL didn't hit me. He just stared back. And this time, the surprised look didn't fade after a second.
In the end, all he did was shake his head and give me a look. I had no idea what that meant. Except the look was the only one he'd ever given me that wasn't filled with hate or contempt or annoyance or loathing.
"Are you gonna do your sit ups or what?" he asked, sounding almost bored. Not at all like Jarred ever sounded when someone talked back to him. And THAT was what finally shocked me out of my calmness.
"Um, y-yeah," I said. "Sure."
I did the sit ups. It took me twice as long as it took everyone else and by the time I struggled my way to fifty I felt like I was gonna die, but Jarred stayed kneeling on my feet so they actually got done. By the time I was done though, Jarred looked like he really was gonna hit me. The whole time I was doing them he kept throwing out little comments about how I was doing them wrong and not breathing right, which quickly turned into complaining about how long it was taking and then outright making fun of me. I didn't say anything back at first, I was getting a little worried about camels and the amount of straw on the backs of camels, but it didn't take long to get really fucking fed up with his crap and start snapping back.
And, surprisingly, that actually seemed to make him back off, a bit. Or at least make what he was saying less outright hurtful.
And that's how it was for the rest of gym. We'd do push ups or rope climbing or sprints or squats or -can't say it without shuddering- pull ups and he'd go first and do it perfectly and then I'd go and he'd make fun of me. But I'd always yell at him or call him an asshole and he's stop for a bit. And every time he seemed surprised and even a little bit pleased that I talked back. It was easily the weirdest thing ever. Even weirder than the spread legs thing. Especially considering how he'd always acted whenever I said anything back to him in front of his friends.
But maybe that was it. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was because every time we got close to another group that had one of his friends in it he'd change, slightly. He'd sneer at me and call me a fag -it surprised the hell out of me when I realized he didn't do that at all when we weren't around his friends- and if I even opened my mouth he'd shove me or make like he was gonna hit me then laugh when I flinched or any of the usual stupid jock crap he always did. But when his friends left he went back to the way he was before they showed up. It was weird. And confusing. And frustrating. And by the end of gym I was so done with it that I couldn't wait to get the hell away from him. I almost wish he'd just go back to the way he always was, just to have some consistency.
When gym was over, I couldn't get away fast enough.
"Baxter!" Coach Williams yelled. I'd just finished getting changed and would have been out the door if I'd have walked just a little bit faster. I slumped. "My office, now!"
I tensed. I thought about just running, but I'd just have to come back tomorrow and if being partnered up with Jarred was punishment for being late I didn't even wanna think about what he'd do to me if I ran away from him. So I dragged myself into his office next to the showers, ignoring the snickers from the jocky idiots and another, different, weird look from Jarred that I couldn't figure out.
"Close the door," Coach Williams said when I entered the office. I was so surprised that he didn't yell it that I just stood there for a few seconds staring it him. Then I shook myself and scrambled to shut the door and sit down in one of the two chairs facing the desk.
The desk was a total mess, covered in papers and grading books and a bunch of old candy wrappers, some with half a chocolate bar still in them. It was even grosser than bag lunches. Coach Williams heaved his bulk around the desk then collapsed into the abused looking chair behind it. I half expected it to collapse, but it held on, barely. I felt sorry for the poor thing.
Coach Williams just stared at me for about a minute and I started to get worried. Why isn't he saying anything? Did he bring me in here to kill me? Was he waiting until everyone else left so he wouldn't have to worry about sneaking the body past anyone? Was he gonna....eat me? I shifted nervously. Then I had to fight the urge to hit myself.
Kill you and eat you? Oh God Andy, you are a fucking idiot.
...no argument here.
"You're out of gym class," Coach Williams said out of nowhere. I was so startled that I didn't even register what he said at first. Wait...did he...?
"Wh-what?" I squeaked.
"Your mother got you pulled out of gym. You telling me you didn't know about that?" he asked, narrowing his eyes slightly.
"Yes! I mean, no! I mean-really?" I tried to hold back the tiny spark of hope that was trying to flare to life in my chest. With my luck he'll say 'nope, I lied' and then partner me with Jarred until he graduates.
"Yes. Really," he said. He leaned over the desk as much as his belly would let him and asked, low and threatening, "Did you tell her anything about me?"
"Wh-what?" I said again. What would I tell...oh. Yeah. Everything. "N-no," I said, shaking my head.
He stared at me again and, oh shit, what if he doesn't believe me?
"I-I just t-told her that I was having p-problems with some kids and s-she said she'd try to get me o-out of gym..." I trailed off when he didn't even blink. I swallowed.
After what seemed like the entire length of the Battle of Verdun he finally spoke.
"Good," he said, leaning even closer. God, doesn't that desk hurt digging into his belly so much? "And just because you're not in my class anymore, don't think that means I won't be able to make your life hell if you tell anyone about anything that goes on here. I still have whole teams of witnesses that will say you're lying, so keep your mouth shut and we never have to have anything to do with each other again, got it?"
I nodded. Only a tiny part of me resented it. Most of me was just glad that I was out of gym. I didn't need revenge, I just needed one thing in my life that didn't come with stress or impossible decisions.
And it was so freaking weird that I was getting it from Coach Williams.
"Good," he said again, sitting back in his chair. He pulled out a piece of paper and tossed it at me. I'm not sure which one of us was more surprised that I caught it. "Here's your final grade. You passed. It'll be on your report card too. Go get your lock and come back for your deposit then take your clothes and get the hell out of my locker room."
I stared at the piece of paper for a second. He must have printed it up before class, so, wait, he KNEW that today was my last day in gym and he still made me spend it doing physical fitness with Jarred just for being late-you know what, I don't even care.
I got up and nodded rapidly. "Ok," I said. I hesitated. Do I need to be, like, dismissed or something-
"Go!" Coach Williams barked. I jumped then scurried out.
Almost everyone was gone from the locker room, but I barely noticed and I have no idea if anyone saw me taking the combination lock off my locker. I took out my gym clothes and wondered where I was gonna put them because they were kinda sweaty and gross and I didn't want them in my regular locker, but then I realized that I was never gonna need them again.
I grinned like a psycho as I threw them in the trash.
I gave the lock back to Coach Williams and he handed me the five dollars I'd given him at the beginning of the year as a deposit for the lock. I half expected him to smash the thing on his desk, say I broke it and keep the money, but I guess he was as eager for me to leave as I was. In the end, the last interaction me and Coach Williams ever had was him shooing me out of his office and his life with a jerk of his hand.
And just like that, I was done with gym.
Things were looking up.
Things were definitely not looking up.
"Get out of my way," I growled at Brandon. He was leaning back against my locker, arms crossed and a tiny little smirk on his face. God, I'd never wanted to punch anything more in my life. The second I saw him there everything that I'd felt seeing him with Owen came roaring in from the background and I almost just lunged at him to see how far I could get with the tearing him apart thing before someone tore me away. But I just barely held back. I didn't wanna have to explain to my parents why I tried to kill someone. And even if I did decide to come out, that would probably be the worst way to do it besides getting caught, uh, being together.
Brandon waited while I ground my teeth, just long enough to make me seriously rethink the not killing him thing, then he pushed off my locker and stepped out of the way. I put in the combination and yanked the door open. It slammed against the locker next to it as I violently pulled my books out, feeling Brandon's eyes on me the whole time.
He was too damn close. As close as he was to Owen. Close enough for me to reach out and smash his head against the wall-
"What the hell do you want?" I asked suddenly, spilling around as I slammed my locker shut.
"Just wanted to say hi," he said with an easy smile. My eye twitched. Ok, that's it, I need to get the hell away from him before I do anything stupid. Whatever idiot Brandon game he's playing can wait until the weather is less cloudy with a chance of homicide.
"You're gonna lose him, you know," he said before I'd even gotten two steps. I froze, my whole body feeling cold.
"What did you say?" I asked. It came out calm, even though I was feeling anything but.
"Your boyfriend," Brandon said smugly. "He's gonna leave you."
The panic was sudden and violent -Oh god, he knows, he knows he knows he knows someone found out about me and Owen and they KNOW- but it barely lasted two seconds. Because he knew. He knew and he still flirted with Owen and now he's here throwing my biggest fear right in my face. The white hot anger lasted even less than the panic. All I was left with was a cold, numb, fear.
I turned around slowly. I barely even noticed how heavy my books were in my arms. "I-I don't have a boyfriend," I denied automatically. I winced. Sometimes I hate how well I conditioned myself.
Brandon just raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. "Seriously honey? I've seen better line delivery in indie films."
"Shut up," I said, again on autopilot. I was thinking too much about Owen and unashamed touches and how I couldn't give that to him.
"That's why he's gonna leave you though," Brandon went on, ignoring me. "You can't even admit you have a boyfriend to the gayest person in the whole school district. It's pathetic."
"Shut up," I said again, weakly this time. He was right, and I hated it. It was pathetic. God, Jarred was right too. Weak and pathetic, that's me.
"In fact, how the hell did you ever get someone like that in the first place?" he looked me up and down with a faint look of distaste. "I guess some guys actually like the pale, waify, quiet thing."
I felt like I was being punched in the chest. How is he hitting every insecurity I have without even trying? How the hell am I so vulnerable to Brandon Carol of all people?
"Why?" I said, soft and strained. I wasn't even sure what I was asking.
"What was that? Why? Why what? Why is he gonna leave you?" Brandon asked condescendingly. "I already told you, you can't give him what he wants."
"He loves me," I said. It sounded feeble though. Is that really enough?
"Oh honey," Brandon said with mock sympathy, "that doesn't even matter. He needs more than you can give him. He CAN'T be happy with you. And sooner or later he's gonna figure that out and leave you to find someone he can be happy with."
"It won't be you," I snapped defensively. It was the only thing I could say. "He's not gonna go running to you."
"You know what? It doesn't even matter," Brandon said. He smirked at my confused look. "When I found out you had a boyfriend, I WAS thinking about breaking you up. But I don't even need to. He's gonna leave you on his own and it's gonna be all your fault and that's SO much better."
"Why?" I asked, begged really. I just barely held back the sob that would have made me sound even more pathetic. Why would he care? Why would anyone care that much about me being happy?
"Because you made your friend 'date' me," Brandon hissed in sudden anger, taking a step towards me. I thought he might hit me, but I didn't try to move away. It would be a relief to have a different pain to focus on. "She came to my HOUSE and said she was my GIRLFRIEND and my dad was so happy! He smiled at me, really smiled at me for the first time since I came out and I had to tell him the truth. I had to tell him, again, that I was never gonna have a girlfriend and I had to watch his smile go away and turn back into that disappointed, confused look he's had for years even though he SAID he was ok with it and he SAID he-"
Brandon bit off whatever he was gonna say. He glared at me, then ground his teeth and took a breath. He gave me an angry look, but I could see the hurt behind it. "You deserve it," he said. "And-"
"Brandon, what are you doing?"
I blinked, startled to see Kevin standing right behind Brandon. I hadn't even noticed him walk up to us. He looked back and forth between us warily.
"What?" Brandon said, slightly defensively. "I'm just talking to Andy."
Kevin sighed. "Brandon."
Brandon looked at Kevin for a second, then threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. "Fine! I was telling him that his boyfriend is gonna dump him, ok?"
"What?" Kevin said angrily. "Dammit you promised you wouldn't bother either of them."
"Well I obviously lied," Brandon said, crossing his arms.
Kevin stared at him in disbelief, then shook his head and swore under his breath before turning to me. "Andy, I'm sorry. This is my fault. I told him about Owen and I thought-" he glared at Brandon as he said that "-that I could trust him not to try anything. I guess I was wro-"
"Oh come on!" Brandon cut in. "You're only being like this because you like him. You should be happy anyway. Andy's gonna be single soon so you can finally deal with that stupid little crush you have on him-"
"Goddammit, shut the fuck up Brandon, seriously," Kevin said, blushing faintly. "If you actually knew me at all you'd know I don't want anyone like that."
"Wait," Brandon said, holding up a hand. "All of a sudden I don't know you now? I've known you since seventh grade. Don't act all bitchy just because I'm telling the guy you like something he needs to hear."
"You didn't used to be this much of a complete asshole-"
"Kevin," I said softly. He heard me though, and stopped mid sentence. I sighed. "It's ok. He's right."
Kevin blinked in surprise. Brandon smiled smugly. "What?" Kevin asked.
I looked at both of them. Kevin who liked me and was trying to be a friend even though he wanted so much more. Brandon who hated me and wanted to see my heart torn out. Neither one mattered. All that mattered was Owen.
"He's right," I said again. "Don't worry about it."
And, since I had nothing to say to either of them, I turned and walked away.
I heard Brandon giggle softly behind me.
"GodDAMMIT!" Kevin said. "That wasn't cool Brandon! Whatever you're trying-"
His voice faded as I moved down the hall.
It tore my heart out, everything Brandon said. It was everything I'd been telling myself, everything that I'd been terrified of. I thought, maybe, that I was just overreacting. Being the usual 'jump to the worst conclusion' Andy, but if someone like Brandon could see it that easily, I couldn't deny it. I couldn't pretend it wasn't gonna happen.
I walked through the halls, not at all surprised when I wound up in the freshman hall instead of anywhere near my next class. For the second time today I was lucky. Owen was there, talking to Juan. I wish I could have walked over to him. Hugged him. Let him hold me. But I just watched. I watched Owen laugh at something Juan said. I watched Juan give Owen the finger. I watched Owen shove Juan. I watched Juan shove him back. I watched them both laugh as they walked into a classroom.
I leaned back against the wall and smiled faintly.
Because Brandon was right. Or maybe it was that I was right, and Brandon was the one that made me realize it. It didn't matter. All that mattered was that I couldn't be with Owen if I wasn't ready to give him the relationship he wanted. Needed. It wasn't fair to him. And as much as it terrified me, part of me wished it could have been me there with him earlier instead of Brandon. Not just because I didn't want Brandon anywhere near him, but because I wanted to be the one touching him and I wanted to be the one smiling at him, standing a little too close, taking it a step farther and resting my head on his shoulder when I was having a bad day.
In the end, my problem really wasn't a problem, or a battle. It was a choice. What couldn't I live with, Owen or my dad? I loved my dad. He was the best dad anyone could ever have. But I'd known I was gonna lose him for years. Being scared of it didn't make it any less inevitable. I'd never even thought of losing Owen until today. Not seriously. Not knowing in my bones that it was gonna happen. And I hated it.
So, it wasn't even really a choice, in the end. I needed to give this to Owen. Freely. Like I'd given him every other part of me.
I needed to come out.