Castle Roland


by Cy-Kun


Chapter 27

Posted: N/A

I'd finally stopped crying into my dads shoulder after a while. He never stopped holding me or rubbing my back though. It was nice. I dunno when it happens but at some point we all tell ourselves that getting hugged or kissed by your parents is lame and uncool after a certain age, and we kinda train them not to show affection. And we never seem to realize that we still need it just as much at fifteen as we did at five -more so, even- until we lose it. Or think we lose it in my case. So I sat in my dads lap as he held me tight and promised myself that I'd never twist away when my mom tried to hug me, or roll my eyes when my dad said he loved me in front of someone, or even frantically wipe my face when grandma gives me a sloppy, Christmas kiss on the cheek. I was going to just stand there and enjoy it, because being loved by the people that are supposed to love you no matter what isn't a guarantee, and I wasn't gonna miss a second of it just to look cool.

And, let's face it, it'd take a lot more than not being hugged by my mom to make me cool.

Despite my promise though, it was more than a little uncomfortable staying there after a bit. My face was pressed into my dad's shoulder which was soaked from my tears; the ones that didn't dry on my face anyway. And dry tear face is never a fun feeling. I disentangled myself from my dad and wiped at my face, wondering how I could say "Stop hugging me so I can go wash myself" without sounding like a self centered douche. But my dad just looked at me and chuckled softly and asked if I wanted to go wash up before we went back downstairs.

See? Best dad ever.

After I got myself cleaned up -and why is it that I only ever get color in my face when I'm embarrassed or blubbering?- me and my dad walked downstairs.

It was...uncomfortable.

The smell of burnt potatoes was everywhere and I'm pretty sure the roast was about ten minutes away from either melting or evolving into some kind of sentient roast monster, but the awkward tension was what made the air thick and stifling. I have no idea what they said while they were fighting, but with as long as it went on and the dramatic change in my dad's attitude, I was pretty sure Things -capital T just so add more weight- were said that I probably didn't wanna know about.

No one looked at each other, so they spent all their time looking at me. My mom hugged me again and asked if everything was ok. I nodded and smiled and then hugged her again, fighting back the tears because she was the first one to say that she loved me no matter what and I'd never be able to forget that. I was pretty sure for at least the next month I was gonna be the most obedient and appreciative son ever.

Then Uncle Russel gave me a grin and went to shake my hand, but I surprised him by latching onto his waist and giving him a hug too. He stiffened for a second, then awkwardly patted me on the back. I glanced up just in time to see the nervous, questioning look he was giving my dad and the sad, regretful smile and nod my dad gave him in return. Russel relaxed slightly, then hugged me back properly.

Yeah. Definitely don't wanna know what they said to each other.

We ordered out for dinner. My parents and Uncle Russel got pizza and I got some fries and chicken tenders from a restaurant in town that delivered. It was delicious, but again, awkward. At first no one would talk to anybody but me, which led to me pretty much being a translator for everyone else. Yay. They all made sure to let me know that they loved me and after a while I started getting tentative questions about being gay -does anyone else know? How did you figure it out? (I was in a good enough mood to actually tell the whole Cheryl story, which everyone found hilarious except my mom, but I think that was because she was realizing that the wedding her and Aunt Sarah had been half jokingly planning since forever was really never gonna happen)- and a few about Owen.

I censored the hell out of the Owen ones, even if it did take them a while to believe that I actually called into a radio show.

By the time we'd finished eating, they were talking to each other again. They didn't joke as much as I was used to and they seemed to be very careful about what they said, but by the time Uncle Russel left the horrible tension was gone and I felt the last tiny bit of weight disappear from my chest. My dad and Russel even shook hands and, while that wasn't the back-slappy friend hug they usually give each other, they both looked relieved to be doing it.

After he left, my parents asked if I wanted to watch a movie with them. They have horrible taste in movies and it was near midnight and I needed to be up in six hours for school, but they both looked so reluctant to let me out of their sight and I kinda didn't wanna leave either, so I said ok. We ended up watching Alexander, a movie I actually loved and my parents hated. I appreciated the gesture, but since I was sitting between them on the couch the gay scenes were really uncomfortable for everyone to sit through. I had to stay completely still every time Colin Farrel kissed or eye fucked a dude so they wouldn't take me shifting because my butt was going numb to mean I was getting turned on, or something. I'd never had to worry about that before.

Being out is freaking hard.

It got a little awkward when Alexander got with Roxana and my mom tried to make me cover my eyes whenever her boobs were out, and my dad asked if we even needed to do that anymore and that started a side discussion about whether or not they needed to make me cover up for boobies now that I was gay and if they should have covered my eyes one of the thirty nine thousand times something homoerotic happened. I had to keep reminding myself that my promise covered this too and even though my face felt like it was gonna burn off, I could still enjoy being loved.

That might get older faster than I thought it would though.

When the movie was over everyone was tired and I figured my parents still had some talking to do after their fight, but they both insisted on walking me upstairs and tucking me into bed like I was five anyway. It was actually kinda nice. I forgot how good it feels to have snug blankets pulling your body down. They both kissed me goodnight, telling me that they loved me and were proud of me -which was nice, even though I had no idea what I did to be proud about- and then finally turned the lights out and left. I smiled and enjoyed the feeling for almost a full minute before I fumbled around in the dark, grabbed my phone and called Owen. It was three in the morning, but he answered on the first ring.

"Are you ok?" he said. "What happened? Who was at the door? Are your parents still fighting?"

"Everything's fine," I whispered into the phone, smiling. My heart swelled and, sorry mom and dad, but Owen's concern and care means more to me than even their love. "Actually, everything's...perfect."

Owen was silent for a few moments. "What do you mean?" he asked tentatively.

So I told him everything that happened. When I was done Owen let out a small, happy sigh that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to hear or not.

"I'm so happy for you," he said softly. "I was so worried, my mom tried to give me NyQuil to get me to calm down."

I giggled softly. "And she's a school nurse?"

He snorted. "She only gets fired for drugging up other people's kids," he said. Then he let out a soft, almost disbelieving laugh. "I'm have no idea...I...didn't know how long it would be before I heard you laugh again. It's gonna be the hardest thing ever not to run up and hug you the second I see you tomorrow."

For a split second, I felt bad I couldn't give that to him. I was actually taking a breath to apologize when I realized, duh idiot, and a slow smile crept across my lips. "Then why don't you?"

"Why don't I what?"

"Hug me when you see me tomorrow," I said.

This time, Owen didn't say anything for a full minute. "R-really?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. I was even starting to get excited about it.

"You really wanna do that?"

"Yes," I said, laughing happily. I couldn't even believe how much I wanted to. I wanted to be at school right now so he could do it.

"Are you-"

"Yes! I'm sure," I said, still laughing. "Look, the whole reason I even told my parents was so we could do this. There's no way I went through today NOT to get to the good parts. I WANT to do this. So much you have no idea."

" you," he said softly. "But, can I please just ask? Just once? I need to, if I don't I'm always gonna worry about it."

I held back pointing out that he technically already asked. I knew what it was like to need to be absolutely sure about something. "Go ahead."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "I'm sure."

Owen let out a relieved sigh. "Good. You are getting SO hugged tomorrow."

I giggled. "I can't wait."

I grinned stupidly into the phone, wondering if he was doing the same. Except, if he was it probably looked sexy and perfect on him. I opened my mouth to ask him where he wanted to meet up for our first public hug, but all that came out was a huge, loud yawn. Owen started giggling, then THAT turned into a yawn too.

We both giggled softly.

"Maybe we should get to bed," Owen said reluctantly.

I sighed. I knew we had to, at the very least I didn't wanna look like a lack-of-sleep zombie during my first day being open with Owen, but I already missed him. I wouldn't have got through today without him and he was kind of like a security blanket. I worried that if we hung up all I'd do is think about the bad parts of today. He kept me focused on the good.

"I guess," I said. Then sighed again. Ok Andy, you promised you wouldn't care about what's cool and lame with your parents, you can do the same with Owen too. Just ask. "Um, actually, can, um, we maybe stay on the phone? Until know, fall asleep?"

"Definitely," Owen said, sounding relieved. I wonder if he was trying to work up to asking the same thing? If so, go me for having the courage to go first. "Should I just put the phone down on my pillow?"

"Ye-" I started, then had an idea. It was horribly lame, but, a promise is a promise. "Um, actually do you think you could, me a song? Like you do on the radio?"

Owen was silent for a few seconds, but I heard a rustling sound so I figured he was probably looking for something instead of figuring out how to answer without letting me know he thought I was a total dork. "I don't have that many songs on my iPod," he said. "But, do you have any requests?"

I smiled. "I don't care. Just play me something. And, um, dedicate it?" I added shyly.

"Of course," Owen said. I could hear the smile in his voice. He was quiet again and I assumed he was scrolling through his iPod. "Ok. This next song is for Andy, the boy I love more than anything. Today he had the guts to do something I have no idea if I'd have been able to do, and I'm so proud and happy for him. No matter how it started, today ended up being one of the best days of his life, so it's one of the best of mine too. Here's 'Beautiful Day' by U2. Also, it's kinda soothing so it should help him get to sleep."

I giggled softly as the song started to play. It sounded tinny coming through the phone, and probably from an iPod dock, but he was right, it was soothing. He always knew the perfect songs to play for me when I really needed it. I wondered how long he could keep that up? I grinned to myself in the dark, determined to stay up as late as I could to find out. I put my phone on speaker and set it next to my head on the pillow.

I was asleep before the first chorus.

I stared up at the school.

Wow, has this place ever looked that intimidating before? If it did, I couldn't remember. I glanced around nervously. Could everyone already tell? I mean, ok, maybe it was kinda stupid to think that everyone who looked at me would know after I kissed Owen for the first time or after he f-after we had sex, but people HAVE to know that I'd decided to come out, right? I wasn't trying to hide anymore, so something gay has to be showing. Isn't that how it works?

I guess not, since there weren't any disgusted looks or lynch mobs being shot my way. In fact, no one seemed to really be paying any attention to me besides one guy that pushed me out of the way with a muttered "move, retard", and I kinda was blocking a doorway. Retard too, not faggot. I frowned slightly. Could that be the secret? Just, decide to come out and people don't even care anymore?

No, idiot, maybe you're just not always the center of everyone's world.

I nodded to myself. Yeah. That made a lot more sense.

I walked into school.

My heart sped up and I gripped the strap of my backpack tight enough to hurt. Ok, so maybe I wasn't totally, one hundred percent calm about this. But did I expect to be? Yes. Yes I did. And we've already been over me being an idiot, so from now on let's just assume it's implied and move along. It wasn't exactly helping that me and Owen never decided where we were gonna meet up for our hug, so any second he could shoot out from nowhere and latch onto my neck. Attack outing. So not what I needed.

Still, I was here, I wasn't dying of six...teen...thousand different heart attacks and I still wanted to do it. So I was way better than I could have hoped, the unrealistic calm thing notwithstanding. Is that how you use that word? Or is it nonwithstanding? Or maybe something different? Oh God, you're rambling. Walk to class. Walk to class.

I decided to stop at my locker first for, you know, books and stuff. I bent over to pick up my English book then went to brush my hair out of my face, when something weird happened. There wasn't any hair to brush away. I froze. Oh. Right. I tied it back before I left. It took a few seconds to really get what that meant.

Holy shit. I have my hair tied back and I didn't feel exposed or vulnerable once today. And I don't feel any different now that I noticed it either! I've never felt this way at school before. For the first time in my life I didn't feel like my entire back was a huge, rainbow colored target. It probably still was, I'm not THAT optimistic, but it didn't FEEL that way. Instead I felt...almost comfortable. At school. I smiled to myself.

"What are you smiling about?" Cheryl asked. She leaned hard against the locker next to mine, making a crashing noise and probably trying to scare me. I just smiled wider.

"I think...I think I'm free. Or free-er. Or maybe I was always free and I'm just realizing it now. Or whatever. Either way, I think today is gonna be awesome," I said.

Cheryl stared at me, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth and then slowly pulling it back until it came out with a 'pop'. "Are you on drugs?"

I giggled. "Nope!"

She raised an eyebrow. "Really?" she asked skeptically.

I rolled my eyes. "I'm not on drugs. I'm just happy."

"At school?" she asked.

I nodded. "Yep."

She sighed. "At least tell me it's pot or something not meth. That shit rots your teeth and I don't think I could deal with you being all tweaky around me."

"I'm not on drugs, Cher-bear," I said.

She scowled at the name, but let it go. "Then what's up with you? You're never like this at school. Are you drunk?"

I, in turn, let that go. "I'll show you," I said. The bell rang. "After homeroom!"

I flashed her a grin, shoved my locker closed and walked off to class.

Homeroom was boring. Then the bell rang and we all left.

"Where are we going?" Cheryl asked as she followed me through the halls.

"You'll see," I said over my shoulder. My tied back hair -not calling it a ponytail- flopped around too much. Maybe I should get a haircut?

Eventually we made our way to the freshman hall.

"Why are you taking me here? You know I've seen freshman before, right?" she asked.

I ignored her and looked for Owen. It would completely figure if today was one of those days where I never got to see him. Or if he was out by my locker, waiting for me to walk by so he could pounce. Whatever, I'd drag Cheryl around the whole school if I had to.

But, as it turns out, I didn't.

Just like the first time I saw him the crowd in front of me parted at just the right time and there he was, standing by his locker, putting a book inside. He had his 'concentrating' face on, the one where he narrows his eyes slightly and chews on his tongue with his back teeth a bit. My heart skipped three beats. So sexy. I smiled and walked over to him. Cheryl was still following, but thankfully she'd stopped talking.

"Hey," I said after I walked over to him.

Owen's concentrating face brightened into a grin. "Hey!"

We stood there, smiling at each other.

"Why am I here?" Cheryl asked, bored.

"Are you gon-"

Owen didn't even wait for me to finish. He stepped forward, wrapped his arms around my neck and pulled me into the tightest hug I'd ever gotten. It wasn't a regular friendly type hug either. He pressed his whole body right up against mine and buried his face in my neck. No way anyone could mistake that for just an enthusiastic friendly greeting, even if this was the kinda school where people assumed innocent explanations.

I hugged him back just as hard.

It felt great. Like coming home. And I don't care about being lame anymore so I can say that without feeling stupid. But it was like coming home if our home was suddenly in the middle of a few hundred people. I didn't care about that either. I was finally giving Owen what he'd wanted for weeks. Togetherness. In public. He held me tightly and possessively and even though I was probably the only one that noticed exactly what he was doing, he was claiming me as his in front of anyone that cared enough to look. And I was doing the same to him.

And even though out of the corner of my eye I could see people looking at us as they walked by, there was no lynch mob. No one yelled anything horrible at us. No one attacked us. Not that it was all that much of a surprise, if you think about it. Freshman halls are patrolled by teachers a lot more than the rest of the school.

But still.

I heard the sound of books falling to the floor. "Holy. Shit. You're both on drugs," Cheryl said.

I felt Owen's amused snort on my neck more than I heard it. We separated, but not completely. I tucked myself under Owen's arm, cuddled up close to him -which took a bit of shifting around since I was just enough taller than him to make it a bit awkward- and blushed slightly.

"We're not on drugs," I said firmly.

"My love for you could be a drug," Owen said lightly.

Of course that made me blush even more.

"Too lame?" Owen asked.

I shook my head and stole a quick shoulder nuzzle. "Who cares?"

Cheryl, meanwhile, was looking back and forth between us. "Andrew," she said seriously. "Are you two...coming out?"

We both nodded.

"At school?"

We nodded again.

She looked like she didn't know how to react. Which, again, if I thought about it made total sense. She'd always thought that being out would be good for me if I chose to do it -and, oh once she recovered was she going to be gloating about THAT forever- but she always knew and mostly respected my reasons why I didn't. Even agreed with most of them. If I needed three plus years to sort all that out in my head, I could give her a minute or two.

"What...what about your dad?" she asked finally.

I grinned. "Oh, I didn't tell you? He's totally ok with it."

She sputtered. Actually freaking sputtered, face going red and everything. SO worth the gloating I was gonna get later.

"Wh-what? How...when...what the hell?"

I giggled.

"Get a room, faggots!" some kid walking by yelled.

I flinched slightly. Cheryl spun around and took a few steps towards the kid. "Say it again freshman and I'll rip your fucking eyes out and punch them down your throat!" she yelled.

The kid's eyes widened and he scurried away into the crowd.

So impressed right now.

Cheryl spun back around, looking way more collected than she did a few seconds ago. I guess threatening freshman centers her. "Tell me everything that happened. Now."

So I did. It took a while. And in the end we had to duck into the same empty classroom me and Owen used after the Brandon thing and cut first period. It was the last week of school, I don't think anyone cared if we made it to class anyway. When I was done Cheryl hugged me, tightly. It was awkward and kinda heartwarming at the same time, so I hugged her back. Then she punched me in the shoulder and yelled at me for not telling her about any of this before I did it. It hurt like hell, because she didn't pull it at all and I think we already went over how freakishly fit she is. Still, I had just enough manly pride to have to pretend I didn't feel it.

"You hit like a girl," I said tightly as my eyes watered up from the pain. I could almost hear the blood vessels surrounding the no doubt massive bruise that was forming crying over the mass genocide of their loved ones.

She ignored me. It was probably for the best. "You should have told me. I could have been there to help you, idiot," she said. And then she was hugging me again. "But I'm really glad everything worked out for you."

I swear to God having a vagina makes you bi polar.

"So, I have a question," Owen said right before the hug went from awkward to weird. "About your dad."

I disentangled myself from her and raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"I've been kinda meaning to ask this for a while and I guess it kinda doesn't matter now, but, he does know that just because we're together doesn't mean we can't have kids, right? I mean, we could adopt or do a surrogate thing," he said.

He thought about us having kids? Awww! I flushed. Oh, right, question. "Um, yeah, he knows...but-"

"Andy's dad's weird about that kinda stuff," Cheryl interrupted. "According to him, if you adopt a kid it really isn't YOUR kid because you didn't give birth to it, or it didn't come from your sperm-"

"Can we please not say 'sperm' when we're talking about my dad?" I begged.

"-and he doesn't like surrogates because he thinks it's basically buying a womb and a kid," she finished, ignoring me.

"Let's add 'womb' to the list too," I muttered.

"Oh," Owen said. "That'"

"Stupid," I said.

"Crazy," Cheryl said.

We shared a small smirk. "Crazy stupid," we both said at the same time, snickering.

"Yeah," Owen said. "That."

I shrugged. "I know, but that's my dad. He's ok with us though so either he's ok with that too or he's resigned to us not having kids anyway."

"But, do you think he'd mind? If we did?" Owen asked. "I kinda think a little you would be adorable."

I blushed again. "Y-yeah. I mean, you too! I mean-yeah, a little you would be great too."

We stood there grinning at each other.

Now all we needed was a surrogate. I think we both thought the same thing at the same time, because our smiles both kinda froze and I had to fight not to look at Cheryl.

The silence was...sigh, pregnant with potential awkwardness.

"You know-" Cheryl started.

"You know what? We're WAY too young to be talking about this," I said shrilly.

Owen nodded rapidly. "Yeah. Way too young. We should come back and talk about it in seven years."

"You're gonna come back to this classroom in seven years and talk about getting pregnant?" Cheryl asked dryly.

"Yes," Owen said.

"Yep!" I agreed.

Cheryl snorted, but thankfully didn't say anything else about it.

We stayed away from anything that could even sound like it could be about babies after that.

Eventually the bell rang and scared the crap out of us. We quickly talked about just skipping second period too, but while we talk a good game -at least Cheryl did anyway- we're really all too wussy to cut two classes in a row. And, really, how long can three kids stay in an empty classroom without someone noticing? By the time we gave up trying to talk ourselves into it, the bell rang again and we were all late anyway.

Cheryl was the first one to go racing off down the hall.

Owen and I shared a look, then giggled softly. He stopped first, the giggles fading as he took a step closer to me. He cocked his head to the side slightly and studied me for a minute.

"You're...really ok with this," he said finally. "Being open with me."

I smiled. "Yeah. Trust me, no one's more surprised than me but, I really, really like it."

Owen grinned. "I'm glad, because I'd hate it if you got mad at me for this."

He leaned in and kissed me.

The halls were empty, so no one was around to see, but still. We were KISSING in the middle of school. It should have given me six strokes and sent me running for the nearest hole to throw myself in. Instead, I kissed him back. And loved every second of it.

"Just warning you, now that I can do that whenever I want I'm gonna wanna do it all the time," he said with a teasing smile.

My heart sped up. And what do you know, it was all anticipation, no fear. "What ever happened to you being shy?" I asked.

"You make it easy not to be," he said, licking his lips unconsciously.

My throat dried up. "Aw-awesome."

Owen leaned in and kissed me again, a quick one this time. "We should get to class before we actually end up cutting."

"Y-yeah," I said, wondering why I even cared. "Um, kiss you-I mean, see you later."

Owen giggled. "Yeah, same to you."

I floated away to class.

I forgot how much I hated being late to class. The way everyone stares at you and smirks while you do the walk of shame to your desk -which is always as far away from the door as possible when your last name starts with B- as the teacher makes some smart ass comment or stares disapprovingly at you. It totally sucks. Apparently being ok with being out didn't magically make me not a shy bundle of awkward. I promised myself that I wasn't gonna be late again, no matter how good Owen's kisses were.

So of course I run into Jarred and his friends right after class.

Again, literally. One second, I was walking through the hall singing '1999' in my head -don't judge me- and the next I was bouncing off Jarred's strong, solid, annoying chest.

"Watch where you're going, fag," he said, scowling. He was with Simon and Kyle, who were both smirking at me. I sighed. Guess whatever truce we had in gym was over with.

"Sorry," I said. I didn't expect it to help, especially since I couldn't ever try to sound like I meant it, but I figured it was better than just walking away.

Simon looked me up and down, still smirking. It made me feel like squirming for some reason, even though I knew he was doing it to try and intimidate me. "Hey Sandy."

"Hi," I said briskly, hoping to at least avoid another 'manners' bit.

"Out of the way," Jarred said, giving me a shove back. I scowled at him, but took another step away from him anyway. Jarred started to move around me, but then Simon spoke again and he stopped in his tracks. It was weird, because he seemed like the only one that wanted to get away.

"Hey, Kyle," Simon said with exaggerated cheerfulness.

"Yeah Simon?" Kyle asked in the same tone.

Oh, good. A skit. These are always SO fun...

"You know what I heard today Kyle?" Simon asked.

"No, Simon, what did you hear?" Kyle asked.

"I heard," Simon said, "that little Sandy was over in the freshman hall today groping on some poor little ninth grade boy."

Strangely enough, I didn't even care that much that they knew, or how they knew. I'd pretty much resigned myself to it when I decided to come out. Now I just had to sit here and take it. This was probably some kind of major breakthrough for more than one of my neuroses, but I'd celebrate that later.

Kyle gasped. God his acting sucked. "Really?" He turned to me. "Sandy, is that true?"

"Yeah Sandy," Simon said, snickering, "were you really perving on some little kid? What's the matter, you can't find anyone your own age that'll let you blow them so you have to go pick up jailbait?"

Have you ever been riding a bike and all of a sudden you see a tree in front of you that you didn't expect and, even though it was totally avoidable and you had enough time to either stop or turn out of the way, you just didn't and ended up hitting the tree anyway?

This was definitely one of those times.

I pinched the bridge of my nose as I felt what was left of my brain-mouth filter snap. "First of all, the way you guys always turn my name into a girls name? So brilliant. Seriously, it never gets old. Second, no one was 'perving' on anyone. We were hugging. Third, he's less than a year younger than me and we're both underage, so neither one of us are 'jailbait' here, you fucking idiot."

Self-preservation threw up his hands, quit and walked out. I didn't blame him. But strangely enough I wasn't all that scared. I think it was because for the first time, I didn't feel like I was isolated and alone. This was just school. At home I was accepted and loved, I had friends who knew about me and didn't care and I had an awesome boyfriend. Literally everywhere else I go but here I can be myself and no one will hate me for it. No matter what happened here, at the end of the day I'd leave it and no matter where I went, it'd be somewhere where I didn't have to worry and stress about things. It made even the Jock Torment Patrol easier to deal with.

Simon narrowed his eyes and stood a little straighter, probably trying to look intimidating now that he was being 'challenged' or whatever. Kyle looked back and forth between me and Simon gleefully, waiting for the fight to start, because as the third tier sidekick, that's pretty much his role when anyone else is around.

But it was Jarred who caught me by surprise. For just a second, he had that same, almost pleased look that he'd given me when I'd talked back to him that last day in gym. It was gone almost as fast as it appeared, but I knew I saw it. And so did he. The way he ground his teeth together made me think he was more annoyed at himself than me for some reason though. Then came the really strange part, because he looked at Simon and, again just for a second, he gave him the look he used to give me right before he started beating the crap out of me. I thought that maybe the world had finally gone totally insane and Jarred of all people was gonna step in and stop Simon from smashing me into mush. And then the look faded and Jarred just crossed his arms and watched, blank faced.

I let out a disgusted snort as Simon started towards me, raising his fist.

"What's going on here?" came a voice to our right. A very adult voice.

I looked over to our left and saw a teacher standing there. I'd never had him before, but I vaguely recognized him as one of the eleventh grade science teachers.

Simon stopped and turned his fist raising into a really awkward stretch that I'm pretty sure might have fooled Helen Keller, but I wouldn't put any money on it. "Hey Mr Brooks. Nothing's going on, we're just talking. Right Andy?"

For a second, I almost just said Simon was about to kick my ass just to wipe the smug, 'nothing's gonna happen to me' look off his face, but I knew how that would end and I didn't feel like being extra stalked for the last week of school so I just sighed and said, "Yeah, exactly."

Surprisingly, Mr Brooks just snorted. "Right," he said skeptically. "Why don't you just get to class. You can 'talk' later on."

Simon smiled at him. "Sure! Come on Andy, we'll walk to class together."

"No, I think you three should get going. I'd like to talk to your friend here for a minute," Mr Brooks said.

I blinked. This isn't how this usually goes at all.

Simon's smile stayed on his face, but it started to look forced. He wanted to argue, but he couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't make it obvious he wanted to kick the crap out of me the second he was out of sight of any teachers. Honestly, I was surprised he was even smart enough to realize that.

Jarred was the first one to walk away, he left without saying anything to anyone. I didn't get it. He was usually right at the front of the Let's Do Something Horrible To Andy parade. Not that I was complaining. Kyle looked between him and Simon for a few seconds, then scurried off after Jarred. Simon shot me a warning look, then reluctantly followed.

I blinked. I felt like I was in the middle of a play and suddenly everyone but me switched to a new script. Not that I'd know what any of that felt like since the idea of me in a play is, well, yeah kinda don't even need to explain that one. But if I HAD ever been in that situation, I bet it would feel exactly like this. Teachers at this school never bother to look beyond the innocent explanation. It's like they're all living in a fantasy land where nothing bad actually happens around them because everyone knows bad things don't happen in real life, or something. Even when something does happen that they can't ignore -like, say, me curled into a ball in the middle of the floor bleeding- they all latch onto even the lamest excuse like "No, I swear I didn't see who did it" so their boats don't get too rocked. It was weird to see someone other than Nurse Amy who tried to look for what was really going on. I was immediately suspicious.

"What's your name?" Mr Brooks asked me.

"Andy," I said warily.

He sighed. "You don't have to look at me like that, you're not in any trouble. I just want to know what was really going on. I don't believe you were just 'talking'."

"So what?" I snapped. I didn't mean to. I was going to tell him that, yeah, we were just talking and get out of there like I always do, but I just couldn't. I was still a bit raw from the stuff with my dad and the fact that this guy was one of the only teachers that had ever seemed concerned about me AND that I only ran into him in the last freaking week of school just opened up a gate and let years built up bitterness flow free. "What does it matter? Even IF they were about to do something to me and I tell you, what does that do? You go to the assistant principal and even if he bothers to do anything about it, which he won't because they'll all swear it was innocent, what then? They get a warning at most because nothing else happens unless there's an actual fight and they know I ratted them out so they just come after me more to get back at me. And next time there aren't gonna be any teachers around that actually give a shit, so I just end up getting my ass kicked anyway. So, yeah, thanks for caring or whatever, but you're not actually helping anything."

Wow. How the hell long had I held that in anyway? Oh, right. Forever. I deflated a little bit when I was done and immediately regretted saying anything. Now I was probably gonna get sent to the office for 'insubordination' or some crap like that.

Mr Brooks didn't get all indignant though, he just crossed his arms and gave me an understanding look that I'd never seen from a teacher before. "You're sadly not wrong. But nothing ever changes if no one does anything."

Seriously? What anti-bullying, rainbows and kittens assembly did he get that from? "Nothing ever changes anyway," I said.

He sighed again and smiled sadly. "Are you a junior?"

I blinked again, slightly thrown by the subject change. "Uh, sophomore."

"Well," he said. "I teach eleventh grade, so maybe next year things will be different for you."

I snorted before I could stop myself. "Yeah, sure."

I could tell he wanted to say more, even if I had no idea why or even why he cared so much, but in the end he just uncrossed his arms and nodded. "I think I've kept you long enough, you should get to your third period. Do you think you'll need a pass?"

Shit, third period was all the way across the school and I'd been stuck here for-

The bell rang. Mr Brooks smiled slightly. "I guess that answers that. Let's go to my room and I'll write you one."

He turned and started walking in that annoying way adults do when they expect you to just follow them. And I followed him in that also annoying way kids do when we need the adult for something. It's a vicious cycle of discourtesy.

When we got to his class I had to stand there while he wrote out the pass. God I wished my hair was down so I could hide behind it. Being stared at by a class full of people I don't know is so not fun. After what seemed like an hour of awkwardness, he turned back around.

"Things do change," he said with an encouraging smile as he handed it to me.

I thought about asking him if he'd say the same thing if he saw me and Owen kissing in the middle of the hallway, if he was stupidly optimistic enough to see if things would ever really change that much, or if he'd even want them to. Instead I took the pass and left.

"Maybe next year," I muttered sarcastically under my breath.

Forth period, the period that used to be gym back in the dark days of a week ago, was my only free period. Which meant that I got to spend it either in the lunch room surrounded by people and pretending to eat or in the library on the computers pretending that Pogo Pool was research while the librarian pretended to care. If you guessed that I always picked the library, you'd be right. But it was kind of boring. Halfway through I wished that I'd thought to go find Owen and see if he wanted to skip and spend the period with me.

But since I didn't I decided I'd skip next period and eat lunch with him instead.

I got that naughty 'I'm skipping class on PURPOSE' thrill as I walked to Owen's locker and grinned to myself. Such a rebel. Owen was alone at his locker, which was lucky since he usually had at least Juan hanging around in the middle of the day. His back was to me and I had the sudden urge to sneak up behind him and wrap my arms around him. My hands twitched and I lifted my arms a bit, but in the end I couldn't do it. I'm still too much of an Andy to do something like that on my own in front of people.

"Hi," I said instead, hoping none of the disappointment I had with myself came across in my voice.

Apparently it didn't, because Owen spun around and his face lit up. "Hi! What are you doing here?" He winced slightly. "Um, that kind of came our wrong."

I laughed. "Maybe a little. Wanna try again?"

"Kay," he took a deep breath, then said in an overly dramatic voice," Oh, Andrew, love of mine life! Thine perfect visage is like the kiss of the sun after a night of tempestuous storms!

"What are you doing here?" he finished, deadpan.

I giggled and blushed of course. And tried not to look around to see if anyone heard. "Shut up," I mumbled. "I'm skipping and eating lunch with you."

Owen grinned. "Awesome!" And then he hugged me.

I nervously hugged him back. Why the hell was this harder than it was before? I didn't know, but I hoped it went away soon. I LIKED that I liked being all PDA-y with Owen.

"Let me just get rid of this stuff and we can go," he said after we separated, and started shoving his books in his locker. "I can't believe it's the last week of school and they're still making us carry all this crap around."

"Not exactly middle school," I said in that stupidly smug way sophomores do when freshman do or say something that they did last year themselves. I had no idea why I always did that, especially since I thought it was the lamest thing when I was in ninth grade, but I just couldn't help it.

Thankfully Owen didn't seem to notice, or care if he did. He snorted. "Yeah. It's terrible. I should have gotten left back."

My heart froze and I had to tell it three times that he actually DIDN'T get left back and I actually DID meet him this year for it to start beating again. "I-I'm glad you didn't," I said, strained.

Owen looked over his shoulder and smiled at me. "Me too." He turned his head back and started pushing things into his locker again. He gave the stuff inside one, big push, then quickly stepped back and slammed the door shut before anything could fall out. "There! That's gonna be fun to open later," he muttered.

Then he turned to me and smiled. "Let's go!"

I smiled back and fell into step next to him.

We'd barely gotten three steps when his hand slid into mine. I stiffened up. I hated myself for it, but I couldn't help it. This one Owen did notice though, because he tried to drop my hand almost as soon as he took it. I didn't have to look at him to know that he was disappointed, so I summoned up all my alleged courage and grabbed his hand tight so he couldn't pull away. He almost missed a step, probably surprised, but I didn't look at him. I kept my eyes straight ahead. Well, straight ahead for me, which was straight at the floor three feet in front of me. But he didn't try to let go of my hand again. Mission accomplished.

We walked through the halls faster that we usually would though. Owen set the pace, but I knew he was doing it for me, looking out for me. Just like when he gave my hand a reassuring squeeze every time someone muttered "faggots" under their breath or a group of people burst out laughing as we walked by or someone 'accidentally' walked into us when they passed us. Not much that hadn't happened to me before, but I hated that Owen was in the middle of it too. I had to keep reminding myself that I'd decided that it was his choice and if he could deal with it then I could at least not make it worse for him by pulling away.

Still, my heart didn't start beating normally until he dropped my hand when we got to the lunch room.

"Are you gonna eat now or next period?" Owen asked, like everything was normal. And who knows, maybe for him it was. Maybe he really didn't care about what people said or did to him. Maybe he wanted this openness so bad that he wasn't gonna let anyone else ruin it for him. If that was the case, I made an extra super serious promise to myself that I wasn't gonna be the one to ruin it.

I nodded. "Yeah. You want me to stand in line with you?"

Owen's eyes widened slightly. He knew how much I hated standing in a slow moving line surrounded by people. Then he smiled. "Nah, it's ok. Just save me a seat next to you, ok?"

I nodded. "Definitely." I paused. "And, um, sorry about being weird. You know, about the holding your hand thing. I promise I'm not regretting anything or anything like that."

Ugh. Terrible apology.

"It's ok," Owen said. "I completely expected you to need some time to be ok with it. That you're even trying is means a lot." He smiled. "I don't think I said this yet but, thank you."

"You don't need to thank me," I mumbled shyly. "It's, you know. I wanna do it too."

"I know," he said.

We smiled at each other, then I took a deep breath, reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. "I'll save you a seat," I said, before letting go.

Owen beamed at me. How awesome is it that I can make him that happy by just touching him in public? And, wow I could have worded that better... "Thanks," he said. I knew it was for more than just the seat that no one was gonna take anyway.

Then he walked to the line, and I walked to the table.

Except, I was less than halfway there when I saw someone and decided to make a stop first.

Chris was sitting at one of the small, round tables like the one me and Cheryl use. He was basically alone, the two people sitting across from him were talking to each other and obviously wanted nothing to do with him. It was wrong. Not the being ignored thing, but here he was sitting alone at one of the loser tables when I was going to sit at his table with his friends. Something that wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for me.

I pulled out the chair next to him and sat down.

"Hi," I said.

He started a bit. "Oh. Hey," he said.

And then went back to eating. Crap. I was actually gonna have to start this conversation.

"Um," I said. "You still haven't made up with Kenny and Juan?"

Chris slowly turned his head towards me. "No," he answered slowly.

I winced. "Ok, yeah, stupid question. Um, but, don't you think maybe you should?"

"Why?" he said sullenly after staring at me for a few seconds. "They all think I'm just like my brother. Why would they even want to be friends with me?"

Ok. Obviously I'm not seeing a leap of logic here. I thought he was mad at them?

I shook myself. Maybe this would be easier than I thought. "Owen tells me they've missed you. So, you should make up with them. Because you're all friends. Or you should be. Again. Friends, I mean."

Wow I'm bad at this.

But maybe I didn't need to be good at it, because I could see the hope lighting up Chris' eyes. But almost as soon as I saw it, it was gone. "If they wanted to be friends with me they wouldn't have ignored me for three weeks. They obviously don't care."

I sighed. "They were just giving you space. Because, you know, you were mad at them?"

"They didn't even try apologizing!"

"Yeah they did. Um, that day, right before you, uh, left. They apologized."

"That wasn't an apology! They were just panicking because they got caught. If they really wanted to apologize they would have, way before this," Chris said.

"But, they thought you were mad at THEM so-"

"So, what, you're on their side now?" he asked.

No! I mean, I'm not on a side," I said. "I just think you should all apologize and be friends again."

"THEY don't wanna be friends with ME-"

"Yes they do!" I said.

"Prove it then," Chris said, crossing his arms.

The people at the other end of the table were watching us now, and that just made me even more self conscious about this whole thing.

"Ok," I said slowly. "Just go over there and talk to them. If I'm wrong then they'll tell you to fuck off but if I'm right, you'll all be friends again."

Way to go Andy, you actually pulled out a good argument, I'm proud of you.

Thank you.

Great. Now I'm talking to myself again.

Chris bit his lip thoughtfully. I held my breath, waiting for his answer.

"No," he said finally, slumping down. "If they wanted to be friends with me they would have said something. There's no point. They'll always just see me as Jarred Jr. Like everyone else does."

I deflated. I recognized the tone, I'd heard it from myself often enough. There were years of issues behind it and nothing I said was gonna convince him he was wrong.

"You should go sit with them," Chris said. "I don't want them to see you with me and think I'm doing something to yo-"

"Shut up Chris," Owen said. We both jumped. Jesus! Did he freaking teleport in or something? "I actually heard the end of that, do you really think they're that stupid?"

"What?" Chris asked.

"Dude, no one thinks you're Jarred. And if they did think you'd act like him, one time over ONE thing by the way, then they know they're wrong and they wanna apologize. So let them."

"No! If they agh-hey!" Chris protested as Owen grabbed his arm and dragged him to his feet. Very impressive with one hand holding his lunch tray. "Let me go!"

"Nope," Owen said and started pulling him towards their lunch table. I quickly got up and followed.

Chris protested the whole way, but I don't think it was lost on any of us that he could have easily broken away from Owen if he wanted to. He obviously wanted to make up with them, no matter what he said. I didn't judge. I know better than most how issues can screw us up in really stupid ways.

We got to the table and Owen pushed Chris into a seat and sat next to him. I sat down on Owen's left. Juan and Kenny were across from me and Owen, their eyes locked on Chris, whatever conversation they were having dead on their lips. Chris was looking back and forth between them, torn between panic and anger. No one said anything.

"Um, hey dude," Juan finally broke the silence.

Chris stiffened, then sank deeper into his chair and looked down at the table. "Hi," he said quietly.

No one else said anything. Me and Owen sighed.

"Hey, do you guys maybe have something you wanna say to Chris?" Owen prompted.

"Oh, right," Juan said. "Look, um, so you know how we thought you were gonna be all homo hater about Owen and Andy?"

Kenny cut him off there, rolling his eyes. "What the idiot is trying to say, is we're sorry. We should have known you better. And we do. But sometimes we're stupid, even when we shouldn't be. We don't think you're anything like Jarred. And we're sorry that we acted like that."

He nudged Juan hard with his elbow.

"Ow," Juan said. "Uh, yeah. I'm sorry too. It was stupid. Actually, I don't even really remember why we thought that, but it was probably my fault. So, if you wanna like, hit me or something and then we can be friends again? That'd be cool." He paused, then his eyes widened. "Just not in the face! I have, uh, a thing I need to, uh, I need my face for this week."

I shook my head. I knew he was talking about the dance but I decided not to mention that Cheryl would probably find a split lip or a black eye sexy. Kenny gave him a suspicious look, but didn't say anything.

"Why didn't you say anything before?" Chris asked, still looking at the table.

"Because we knew you were mad at us and we wanted to wait for you to calm down," Kenny said. "We tried to talk to you a few times but you saw us walking towards you and you left pretty fast, so we thought you were still pissed."

"I thought you were coming to yell at me," Chris admitted.

Kenny sighed. "We weren't. We just missed hanging out with you. We thought if we left you alone, you'd talk to us eventually."

"Or kick the crap out of us. The offer's still open, by the way," Juan said with a tiny smile.

Finally Chris looked up. He glanced back and forth between Kenny and Juan, then at me and Owen. Owen gave him a reassuring smile, and I tried for one too. Chris chewed on his lip. I could see the hope back in his eyes, and I hoped it would stay there this time. Finally, he sighed.

"You really don't think I'm like my brother?" he asked. I wondered if I was the only one that could hear the vulnerability in that question, who knew how much even the slightest hesitation in their answer would break him.

"Not at all," Kenny said immediately.

"No way dude," Juan said. "If nothing else, Jarred would never let me borrow lunch money."

Kenny glared at him for a second, then shook his head. "Do you forgive us?" he asked Chris.

Chris hesitated. I held my breath. Then, slowly, a small smile pulled at his lips.

"So," Chris said. "Is the solar plexus ok?"

"Huh?" Kenny asked.

"For punching Juan," he said, trying to hold back a smirk.

Juan laughed. "It is if you forgive us dude."

"Then, I forgive you," Chris said, grinning.

I took a deep breath and exchanged relieved smiled with Owen.

"Awesome!" Juan said. "One free solar plexus punch coming up! Um, just, maybe wait till after school, kay? I don't wanna get suspended on the last week for fighting."

Kenny rolled his eyes. "I've never seen someone so happy about the possibility of getting punched before."

"Dude, I don't care about the punch. I'm just happy we all kissed and made up," Juan said.

"Except no one kissed," Kenny pointed out.

I caught the look on Owen's face right before it happened. The glint in his eye, the tiny smirk. I knew what was coming. Part of me wanted to fight it, but every promise I'd made to myself kept me from moving. This was gonna happen. I just had to sit there, take it, and maybe even try to enjoy it no matter how much it scared me.

Owen kissed me. A quick, two second kiss. But still, a kiss in front of anyone that cared to look. He pulled back, and for just a second I saw the worried look on his face as he looked at me, scared of what he'd see.

I'd never been so glad that I couldn't stop smiling like an idiot every time he kissed me.

The whole table was completely silent. Eyes wide, mouths open. Even though part of me thought I should be in the middle of a panic attack, I had to hold back a laugh. Finally, Juan broke the silence.

"Dude," he said slowly, looking at Kenny. "You are NOT kissing me now."

Kenny pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Shut up, idiot."

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