On a normal day, I would slow my pace down to a turtle race in order to spend as much quality time with Brody as I possibly could. Something about a silent breeze and a dash of early morning sunlight brought an extra sense of angelic grace to his already stunning beauty. Like...every time you think you've seen the absolute peak of his sensual, yet boyishly bashful, allure...it catches you from another angle. And you're forced to re-evaluate just how gorgeous one boy could get.
I swear, there are times when he simply stole my breath away.
But...this wasn't an ordinary day.
I kept rushing forward, hurrying towards the end of every neighborhood block, hoping to bring a swift and merciful end to this pointless charade.
Every bit of conversation they offered up felt like some kind of pre-rehearsed fraud. And yet, when they stopped talking...the silence was deafening. I didn't know what was good or what was bad. What was a weird attempt to ignore the truth of what was going on with me, and what was a lame attempt to get past it. This whole clumsy interaction felt so stupid to me, and the more I tried to block it out, the more it hounded me to wake up and realize that my best friend and my boyfriend were totally freaked out by what happened yesterday. I must look like such an idiot. They must think I'm so worthless.
"Hey guys! Wait up! Wait! WAIT!" We could all hear Sam's little voice cracking as he ran down the block to catch up to the rest of us. I really must have been walking fast, as it took him a while to reach us, and he was totally out of breath when he got there. "Geez! What, did you guys leave early this morning or somethin'?"
He huffed and puffed for a moment, putting his hands on his knees as he bent over to collect himself. We were all standing there, giving the poor brat a chance to get enough oxygen to stand up straight again, but I made the mistake of peeking over at Brody while it was happening. His good looks were addictive. I couldn't help myself. The thing is...he peeked right back at me. And there was that 'look' again. He couldn't hide his yearning to talk about yesterday. He tried, but if my own mask is as weak as his, then I'm surprised I ever made it this far.
My heart broke. Instantly.
I could feel it. That hollow pain that seems to be sucking everything else into it like a black hole in the center of your chest. I hated that feeling. It made me resent ever opening myself up to that glorious feeling in the first place.
"Come on. I don't want to be late." I mumbled softly, and looked away from the rest of them. I just started walking again. Maybe tomorrow I won't go by Adam's house at all. Maybe I should get used to going to school by myself from now on. Just like I got used to coming home alone every day of the week.
"Well...hold on, Zack!" Sam squeaked. Despite his tired limbs, he hurried over to where I was and dug into his backpack. "My mom stopped by the donut shop last night and got me a whole box of minis. Just for me. I ate all the jelly filled ones, but you can have the rest, if you want. They're really good, dude!"
Sam never brought me donut minis before. You SEE? This is why I kept everything a secret! Look at how they're treating me. Like some kind of baby pigeon with a broken wing. A bunny rabbit with a fractured leg. Something about Sam's gesture had backfired, and this sweeping wave of emotion swept over me all at once. My breathing became heavy, my eyes began to mist up all over again, and as I looked up at the rest of the guys to see them all staring at me in silence...my self esteem dropped to absolute zero.
"Thanks, but no thanks, Sam. You keep them for yourself." I said, but my voice was trembling so badly that I was barely able to keep from sobbing out loud. I turned around again to keep walking, wiping the sniffles on the back of my hand as I JUST tried to get myself to school and away from having to deal with this! I could have denied it. I didn't have to tell them a damn thing. Why did I open up my big mouth and spill the beans about my dad? FUCK!!! I SCREWED UP *EVERYTHING*!!!
"Zack...I'm sure that Sam was just being..." Adam started, but I cut him off and told him that we were wasting time. I'm definitely not walking to school with them tomorrow! DEFINITELY not! "Dude...we've got plenty of time before the first bell. Let's just chill for a minute..."
"You guys can chill if you want. I'll catch up to you later. K?" My legs were taking wider steps, the momentum practically pushing me into a lazy 'jog' to get me further away from them. I saw my vision blur as my eyes began to water, and I was hoping that I could make it around the next corner without letting a single tear drop.
Never should have done it. Never should have said anything. STUPID! I've opened up a Pandora's Box that's going separate me from my friends. Possibly forever. Dear God...what have I done???
"I'm coming with you!" Brody called out after me, and he told Sam and Adam that we'll both be around later on today. Then I could hear Brody's footsteps trotting along to catch up to me. I even heard Adam give Sam a little slug in the shoulder.
"Donuts, dude? Seriously? What was that?"
"WHAT? I was trying to be cool..."
I knew it. They were trying to be nice to me on purpose. Things are going to be so weird now. And now Brody's walking at my right side, and I'm going to have to suppress tears and swallow snot until we get to school to keep him from having to take on the burden of my shameful home life. Could this morning get any more embarrassing?
Brody put his hand on my shoulder, but I pulled away from him. A kneejerk reaction, I suppose, but I didn't regret doing it. I wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted the whole WORLD to leave me alone! I have to pretend to be worth their attention when they look at me now. I have to explain and excuse my awkward place in the world, now that I don't have a shield to hide behind. And it's sooooo DRAINING to have to do that during every hour of every day. I need to isolate myself away from reality so I have time to recharge. So I can be myself...just for a little while. Without them watching me. Without them judging me. God, Brody...just let me go!
"We're gonna take a different route today. Just you and me. K?" Brody told me. "Let's turn down this alley, dude. Come on."
Sniffling quietly, I cleared my throat and said, "This isn't necessary, you know? You can walk with them. I'm fine."
"Again, with the 'I'm fine' bullshit."
"I AM fine! And if you think it's bullshit, then maybe you and I should go our separate ways!" I said angrily. What disgusting beast was controlling me right now? "Go away. Just...fucking GO! Ok?"
"Nice try." Brody said, and picked up the pace to match mine as he 'guided' me into a nearby alley and gave us some privacy during our walk to school.
There was a part of me that wanted to refuse to talk to him at ALL once we were alone, but...whatever hurt and agony that I had inside...Brody's very presence seemed to pull on it like a high powered magnet. I felt like my heart was swelling up and pumping like mad inside of a barbwire cage, every helpless throb making the pain sting me over and over again. Pain that my tears tried to express, despite my valiant efforts to hold them back. "Why are you doing this?"
Brody's forehead scrunched up in the cutest way, "Dude...are you kidding me?"
"I should have kept my mouth shut..." I grunted.
"NO! You shouldn't have. That's the problem." He said.
"Whatever. Like I said, there's no reason for you to feel sorry for me. I made it this far without you. What makes you think I need you to make it any further?"
"Hey!" He said. "Knock it off! Alright? I care about you, Zack. I LOVE you. But if you think I'm going to let you mistreat me just to crawl back into your shell, you're wrong."
My heart was throbbing with even stronger contractions now. It hurt. GOD...it hurt soooo much!
"I wish you didn't have to see me like this..." I sobbed.
"What's wrong with seeing you like this? It's who you are. Zack...I love you for who you are. Why are you hiding from me?"
"Because there's no way for you to understand!"
"Then HELP me to understand! Don't push me away. What good has being alone in this gotten you so far?"
"It's helped me to deal with my reality." I said.
"It's helped you HIDE from the opportunities that can help you better your situation!"
"It's helped me SURVIVE my situation!!!" I sneered. "I know you think that you have all the answers. I know that you look at what you see from the outside and you speculate on how YOU could live my life so much better than I do...but you have no IDEA what I go through! You don't know what it's like to have your very sense of self BEATEN out of you on an almost daily basis. You don't know what it's like to come home and not know whether you're going to get the worst beating of your life or whether you're going to be able to sneak by undetected. You've never had your own mother ask you what's wrong and NOT be able to tell her how much you're suffering inside. A piece of me DIES every single day, Brody! And sometimes...I wonder how many 'deaths' I have left before I've got no more life to live." I said, stopping to stand still and turn my back to him as my eyes began to bleed copious amounts of tears in unison. "There's no amount of love or strength or confidence that you can give me that he can't take away, Brody. He's more than just an enemy...he's a part of me. I don't exist without the horror that he brought to my life. I can't even think rationally without his verbal abuse telling me to second guess every decision that I've ever made. He's always there. Always." I wiped my eyes the best I could and then turned around to face him. "Brody...maybe your mom was right. Damaged people are no good. And you won't find anybody more damaged than I am."
"Zack, stop saying that!"
"It's TRUE!" I wept. "I'm SICK inside! Don't you get it? I've got a whole complicated network of problems in my head, and they're never ever going to go away! Not ever! My father has ruined me for the rest of my life. And I'm sorry if I led you to believe that I could ever be better than the trash that I am, but the fact of the matter is...I'm only going to hurt you if you stay around me. I'm toxic to everything I touch. And I'd rather break your heart now and end it all than wait for you to see what I see when I look in the mirror every morning. Disappointment growing until you just decide not to love me anymore. I couldn't handle that, Brody. I'd rather kill myself than have you suddenly stop caring about me."
Brody looked slightly offended. And even then his pouty lips and wrinkled forehead was so adorable that it was hard to not lunge forward and kiss him right on the lips!
"Where the hell do you even come up with this stuff?" He asked. "Do you realize how big a leap you have to take to even come to that conclusion?"
Still crying, I said, "Forget it. You just don't understand..."
But he stopped me from turning away from him again. "So you're going to use that as your excuse? 'Nobody understands me so I'm going to reject their attempts to even try'?" He sounded a little choked up, but Brody could be so much stronger than I was sometimes. His strength comes from a place that I've only been allowed to briefly visit since Brody's love has been a part of my life. "Look, if you want me to get lost and leave you alone, then I'm not going to make a pest of myself. But if you're going to hurt me like that, I hope you're doing it for a better reason than just being to afraid to grow a pair and accept the love and friendship of people who don't want to see you torturing yourself every waking moment of your life. If you're going to tell me to fuck off...you'd better mean it." He said, a single tear dripping from one of his hypnotically beautiful eyes. "Are you going to tell me to fuck off?"
His facial expression was dead serious, tears and all. But there was a fearful tone in his voice that weakened his courageous front. He was exposed. Vulnerable. Just as much as I was, if not more so. Terrified of my answer.
Hell...maybe I was terrified of my answer.
Trying to bottle up as many conflicting emotions as I possibly could at that moment, I softly whimpered, "...no...."
I saw Brody's shoulders relax, and his arms rested at his sides as he tried to keep up a brave face. "Good." He said. "Because I love you. I can't imagine what I'd do without you, and I'm not leaving your side until you tell me that I'm not wanted anymore."
Sniffling, I said, "I would NEVER say that to you, Brody! You know that."
"So stop acting like you can just casually walk away from me whenever you feel like you've had enough. Because I'm never going to stop caring about you. And I'm not going to let you pretend to reject me just because you haven't thought of a better way to express yourself yet." Brody saw me crying, and I just...I wanted to go to school. I wanted to read books and look at blackboards and numb myself with mindless repetition and memorized facts so I wouldn't have to FEEL anything for the rest of the day. I wanted to lose myself in the monotony of being normal so I wouldn't have to think about this anymore. But I couldn't. Brody brought a certain spice to life that I couldn't adjust to as quickly as he wanted me to. I was trying. Honestly, I was. But there was this invisible barrier that wouldn't let me be happy. It owned me. The misery surrounded me like a second skin and made Brody out to be a liar. A scoundrel. He was the sleeping narcotic in my system that kept me from waking up to the truth. I have never felt so helpless.
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