I found myself able to lift my chin and hold my head up a bit higher than I have been able to lately once I got settled into my next period’s class. It felt good, you know? There was just this surge of ‘happy juice’ flowing through me at the moment, and it was next to impossible to keep from smiling while I was trying to be quiet. Not even smiling, really...but giggling out loud. Hehehe, what the hell was happening to me? I’m actually happy! Like, infinitely happy! This is so crazy right now!
By the time that first bell rang and I started gathering up my stuff to shove it back into my backpack, I was so giddy and full of these helplessly boyish wiggles that it was almost difficult to walk without the involuntary tremors causing me to lean up against the wall. The more I opened up about my love for Drew, the stronger it got. It wasn’t so much like the blossoming of a flower or the ripening of a delicious fruit...but a high pressured explosion that was just waiting to happen. A crate full of fireworks and a few massive powder kegs kept in a basement full of heat lamps and oily rags. I looked forward to the chaos. I craved the utter destruction of the boy that I used to be so I could be free to build my life back up again. A life with love. A life with Drew...where we apologized to no one and allowed our lips to connect as freely and as often as humanly possible.
That’s heaven to me. It’s everything that I ever could have dreamed of and more.
It puts a little pep in your step, you know? An extra hint of swagger in your stride. And it made me feel almost as if I was floating above the usual garbage and emotional quicksand that I was so used to weighing me down, day after day. I don’t know, just...having love in your heart is awesome and all...but being able to share that love with someone else? That’s a whole new level of ‘wow’. It really is.
“Ethan? What’s up, man?” I turned to see Patrick walking beside me in the hall.
“Hey.” I smiled, still feeling a little weird about...you know...being exposed in front of him like this. Not that I was really worried about him having a negative reaction to having him know that I was gay, not to mention that I was Drew’s secret boyfriend...it was just a feeling of a loss of privacy that I was still trying to get used to. Just felt a bit weird inside. Not that it was Patrick’s fault. He was being a real patriot about the whole thing.
“You ok? You look a little down.” He said.
“Do I? Just stuff on my mind, I guess. I get super concentrated on weirdness sometimes. But, honestly, I’m in an awesome mood. I was practically giggling to myself about a minute or two ago.” I said.
“Me too. Must be something in the air today.” He grinned. Patrick certainly knew how to brighten up my day with little to no effort, and I liked that. I can almost see why Drew might develop a bit of a crush on the blond bombshell here...not that he’d ever admit to it.
“Say, thanks for the tip on the toothpaste thing. You know...for my locker.” I said, feeling a bit weighed down by the hopelessness of it all. “I wish it done more good, but at least you tried to help.”
“Yeah...I kinda noticed that.” Patrick said with a cringe. “You know, I don’t think I’ll ever understand what people get out of mocking and insulting other people publicly. What’s the point, you know? They’re so SAD! Go get a life already. If the spent as much time and energy on fixing their own problems instead of trying to condemn other people for theirs...they might actually be able to chisel out a decent life for themselves. It’s so stupid.”
I looked over at him, and I have to admit, in all honesty, that I was sort of impressed. Are there more straight boys out there like this? Where have they been hiding all this time? Because I sure could have used friends like this when I was still in elementary school and junior high.
All I could really respond with was, “I guess hate and petty bullshit is all they’re good at. They might as well enjoy it until they end up all alone, right?”
“Amen to that.” He smiled. I swear, he’s going to be one of those people who eventually ends up making the world a better place in my lifetime. And I look forward to it.
“You haven’t seen Drew today yet, have you?” I asked him.
“Me? No. Don’t you guys have a first period class together?”
“Yeah, but that was this morning. And sometimes it’s like he just vanishes on me without warning. I guess it all depends on how he’s feeling. I dunno...”
“Well, I think he’s still sort of scared of you, Ethan. It’s not really something that you can do anything about.” He shrugged, and I gave him a slightly pained look in response. “It’s true, you know? He’s trying his hardest, I’m sure of it...but I also know that he’s coming from a place of no trust. I can’t imagine that it would be easy to break whatever habits he had to create in order to survive it all.”
“I would never want to hurt him, Patrick. I swear.” I said sadly.
“Strangely enough...I don’t think it’s about you, dude.” He said. “Which is why you just have to step back and give him some time to work it out for himself. Right?”
I was stubborn about the feeling it left sitting in the pit of my stomach, but I surrendered to it all the same.
It was then that we came around the corner in the hallway...I saw Drew leaning back up against my locker. His soft, light brown, curls drooping down into his eyes as he stared down at his shoes. And as Patrick and I got closer, I could see that he was crying. Small rivers of tears rolling down his cheeks as he sniffled and attempted to hide his pain from the rest of the world. A world that had punished him to the point of almost breaking him down to the point of crumbling down and totally falling apart. The only thing that hurt me more than seeing him suffering like this, all alone, was watching him trying to hold it all in for the sake of people who were probably responsible for torturing him like this in the first place.
Sometimes...my optimism causes me to forget everything my sweetheart has been through. Just for being who he is. Just for existing in a world more than big enough for ALL of us to live in! Who could look at the tears on this boy’s face and not feel anything? How can they be an accomplice to the very evil of it all?
It baffles me...
Patrick saw it too, and without hesitation he just patted me on the back of my shoulders and said, “Go ahead. Make sure he’s ok. We’ll talk later, ok?”
“Yeah. I’m on it. Thanks, Patrick.”
“No problem.” He said, and he lightly waved at Drew before going down another hallway to make it to class. I was grateful for him giving us a moment or two to be alone, as Drew looked as if he was really having a tough time today, and just seeing me headed his way caused him to straighten up and begin wiping his eyes on the back of his wrists.
All that turmoil going on in that boy’s heart...and he’s working up the energy to be strong for me. It just wasn’t fair.
I got closer...and I noticed that he was standing right in front of my locker. ‘Faggot’ blazed all over it, soiling its once clean surface, multiple times along with certain variations of the same disgusting sentiment...and Drew standing in front of it as if deliberately assuming the identity of every judgemental word of it. It truly broke my heart.
“Drew? Dude, what’s going on?” I asked.
He was trying his hardest not to cry, but just hearing my voice was too much for him to bear, and his face scrunched up as more tears came raining down as the dam burst. “I’m sorry, Ethan. I’m so SO sorry.”
His voice was shaken...lost...defeated.
“Sorry for what? Drew, talk to me...”
“Look at this, Ethan. This is how it starts. It already started a while ago. And it’s not gonna stop. It’s only gonna get worse. Trust me...I know.” He whimpered.
“Look...let’s go somewhere and talk, k? We can get out of here for a little while...”
“Why? What’s the point?” He sniffled. “This is what they think of me. It may not be written on my locker in permanent locker, but these same words, this same list of horrific labels...they’re going to follow me anyway. It might as well be tattooed on my forehead.”
“Every time somebody wants to hurt my feelings, every time some preacher wants to rile up his congregation, every time some STUPID politician wants to get re-elected, this stuff is what’s gonna be thrown back in my face! Again and again and again! And now it’s going to be thrown in your face too...and that’s just not right. You’re so much better than ANY of them, Ethan...and I screwed it all up.” More tears came rolling down his cheeks. “Please don’t tell me that I didn’t fuck up your life, because I totally did! I fucked it up, and I’m sorry. I’m so goddamn sorry...”
I paused for a second or two, and then I said, “You cursed.”
“You almost never curse, but you...you cursed. Twice, in fact.”
“Ethan, this isn’t funny...”
“You’re damn right it’s not funny. You’re totally going to Hell now, sewer mouth!” I gave him a bit of a tickle, but he pushed my hand away. I couldn’t even get a smile out of him this time, but the tension lifted a bit and his mood brightened up just enough to hear me out. “Come with me. We’re going to the park.”
“Lunch is already over.” He sulked.
“So...I have class, Ethan.”
“I can’t just ditch class...”
“What are you talking about? We ditch class all the time.” I said. “Just tell your teacher that you didn’t feel good.”
Wiping his eyes and sniffling again, he said, “I can’t just make up some crazy lie to get out of going to class.
But as I looked him in the eyes, seeing them all red and watery from the strain, and I asked, “Well...do you feel good right now? Be honest.”
He wiped his eyes again, and softly whimpered, “I feel like trash.”
“Alright then. It’s not a lie then, right? I’ve got some tissues in my backpack, so let’s go.” I said, and even though he was highly reluctant to follow me, Drew eventually got his feet to move, and we both exited out of the side door of the school. I know that he was always nervous about doing stuff like this, but this was one of those days that he seriously needed it. It’s not like he was struggling with failing grades or anything. Sometimes...your mental health and emotional stability have to take center stage, you know? Even when you’re only fourteen.
We were walking side by side down the street, headed towards the park...but Drew stayed silent, his head down, still occasionally wiping his eyes. So a pinch of mischief washed over me, and I reached out to give Drew a shove to see if I could wake him up a little bit and maybe get him out of his own head. But Drew could be such an easy ‘win’ when it came to any feats of strength, and he nearly fell over onto someone’s lawn. “ETHAN! What are you doing?” He whined.
“Hahahaha! Omigod, rou’re so fragile!”
“Well, YEAH! If you’re not gonna warn me!” He said, almost smiling, but not quite. At least not yet.
“What?” He grunted, getting his balance back.
“...I love you.” I smiled, and despite his tears, I could tell that he was melting inside.
“Don’t do that.” He said.
“But I do. You know that, right?”
“STOP!” He insisted. “This is...getting out of hand, ok? I came to your locker today to...give you some troubling news. And then I saw that stuff getting worse on your locker and I KNOW that people are whispering gossip with every breath that they can take. I’m used to it. That was MY sin, and I was prepared to deal with it because it was something that I could do alone.” He said. “But now, it’s not just about me anymore. It’s about you too. And I’m not going to let the shit I’ve been through become your shit too.”
“You cursed again. Twice.” I smirked.
“Ethan, PLEASE take this seriously!”
“I am. Believe me, I am. I’m just not used to you saying naughty words with your clothes on.” I grinned. “What you saw written on my locker? It doesn’t matter, ok? I know you don’t believe me, but I really don’t care. Ok?”
“You should.” He said. “Stuff like this...it follows you forever. I don’t think it’ll ever go away.”
“I don’t want it to ‘go away’, don’t you get it. I love you more than they hate me. Either one of us. Both of us.”
“I kept telling myself to be more careful.” He said. “But I wasn’t. I let myself lose all control and it’s not fair. At least when I was just getting bullied in the hallways and pushed around, it didn’t hurt anybody...”
“But it did hurt somebody, Drew.” I said, turning to face him so we’d stop walking for a second. “It hurt YOU. And you think that’s fair?” He stopped, choking back his emotions again. “Listen, I won’t even pretend that I know what to say here...and maybe there’s a scared little boy in me that doesn’t want to face the hypocrisy of it all...but I’m willing to step up and go through whatever it takes to keep your heart as close to mine as mine is to yours.”
“You shouldn’t have to do this...” He sobbed. “I didn’t want this for you. You’re so special to me. You deserve so much better. And I’m scared, Ethan. I’m so scared.”
“I’m scared too.” I confessed. “You know...the very thought of letting anyone know what I was feeling for other boys, what I dreamed about, what I craved more than anything...it was the most terrifying leap of faith that I’d ever thought I’d take in my life. But I knew that I had to take it. I was horrified to admit it to myself, much less to anybody else. And I’m still trying to find a way to navigate my way through being so scared all the time...but it’s worth it, Drew. For you. For us.”
“I keep trying to convince myself that you know what you’re signing up for, Ethan...but you don’t.” He sniffled as we continued on our way to our private little park. “When you’re getting beat up and insulted and humiliated on a daily basis, just for daring to be your genuine self...you’re going to end up wondering if any of that public shame and abuse was worth it. And you’re going to resent me for it. How can you not?” He whimpered. “There’s gonna come a day when you wish you never met me. And that’s going to destroy me inside, Ethan. Because, whether you know it or not...I love you too.”
“So what’s the issue then???”
“The ‘issue’ is that people won’t ever be able to just LEAVE US ALONE!!! That’s the issue!” He said with a strained voice. “They wake up every morning thinking about how much they hate us! They go to bed every night thinking about how much they hate us! They literally have nothing else to do with their lives than try to make us feel like outcasts, and that means that your life is about to become the living hell that mine is. Is that what you really want?”
“If it means being with you...then yes. It’s exactly what I want.” I told him. “The way I see it, if I had to choose being one of ‘them’ or experiencing something real with one of the most incredible, most beautiful, boys that I’ve ever known in my life...why the hell would I chose them?” As we sat down under our usual tree under the hill, I put my arm around his slender shoulders and pulled him in for a hug. “That...’mess’ at school? I’ll deal with it. K? It’s no big issue. Jermaine said that I could put my stuff in his locker for a little while until this all blows over. Or maybe even longer, if I have to. So no worries. I’m taken care of.”
Drew rested his curly head on his arms, his arms resting on his drawn up knees, as he sniffled even more. “You see? I even screwed up everything with your friends! Every part of you being around me is a total curse, and a destruction of your entire life before I came along. I suck soooo much for this!”
Still hugging him from the side, I said, “Well...you can take my friends out of the deal, as far as curses are involved.” I’m not really sure that Drew heard me, or really understood, as he kept trying to lean in the other direction to worm his way out of my affectionate embrace. So I felt the need to make myself a bit more clear. “I told them, Drew...”
He sat up straight, his mouth slightly open as he searched my gaze for some kind of deception. “You what? Told who?”
“My friends. Jermaine, Joey, Billy...I let them know that you were my boyfriend. And just like with Patrick...I was proud to say it out loud. For the first time ever...I was overjoyed to let the people I cared about most know what I was feeling inside. And that’s all because of you.” I said.
I was hoping that he’d be happy to hear it. After all of the hiding and the whispers and the weird little rendezvous outside of school, this liberating announcement of freedom seemed like it would be something to be giddy and happy about.
My reaction from Drew, however, was pretty much the opposite.
“Ethan...” He paused for a long time, afraid to look me in the eye. And he said, “My dad...he says that he wants to meet your mom.”
“He wants to what? Why?” I said.
“I SWEAR that I didn’t say anything about us being boyfriends or anything, but he’s like...he’s determined to meet your mom so they can talk. And he won’t listen to me. I think he secretly wants to wreck everything, but...if you haven’t told your mom or anything, this could be bad. REALLY bad.” He whimpered, getting sad again. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “Like I said...things are quickly getting out of our control, Ethan. And it’s going to get a lot worse.”
My mom? I mean...like...my MOM? That was a downhill slide that I didn’t see coming. Not that I loved or trusted Drew any less than I did a few minutes ago...I just...didn’t expect to be blindsided by such a sucker punch today.
Ok, I might need some time to work this out.
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