On The Outside

Chapter 23

It hurt.

It really did.

Honestly, I wasn't trying to do any more damage to Drew's poor sensitive heart, but I can't seem to stop bringing tears to his eyes. Even when I'm trying to be a halfway decent boyfriend and it's really not my fault.

I didn't want him to see the word 'faggot' written on my locker. I tried to hide it from him. It's not like he's making my life a mess by being in love with me. He only makes it better. Drew is the most incredible thing that's ever happened to me. I don't think I've ever felt more alive. More FREE to be who I am and stop being ashamed of what I want out of life. He was the ultimate key to finally finding peace and comfort in a life that I had, originally, felt was crushing me under the weight of some sense of 'faux normality' since the age of ten. I just...I wanted him to know that whatever stupid obstacles this immature high school bullshit had to throw my way...it didn't mean anything to me. At all. Not if it meant being without my Drew. I had a chance to really, truly, be happy with a boy of my choosing. FUCK those stupid haters for being arrogant enough to ever think they had any right to get involved in my personal choices at all. It simply wasn't any of their business. And if it wasn't for their pointless teasing and endless insecurity...my sweetheart and I would be just fine. We'd be eagerly waiting for our classes to be over with so we could sneak out to the park again and find as many opportunities to kiss and cuddle as a public park would allow.

Instead, I'm sitting here in a classroom, wondering if he's even going to speak to me again for the rest of the day. And I fucking HATE it!!!

What I hate even more is the fact that I used to actually be a part of this oppressive system before Drew came into my life. I used to hide, and judge people, and distance myself from the very idea of being gay too, all because I was too damned afraid to accept myself for who I really was. I allowed this systematic bullying to continue because I was scared to fight against it. Scared that I'd somehow become the next target of the bullies that perpetrate it, day after day. I was a part of the very 'hive-mind' that is now keeping me from the one thing in my life that makes me blissfully happy. Even I rejected Drew at first. Made him feel ashamed. And alone. Maybe this is my karma coming back to punish me and show me what it feels like to be so separated from the joy I once took so much pride in.

Or maybe...my karma is here to show me how little it matters when it comes to sacrificing my beautiful boy for an outer 'image' that does absolutely nothing for my heart and soul at the end of the day. A lie without purpose. A shallow reflection in a puddle with no depth. I don't want this to be an issue that I have to deal with anymore. I want to break these chains. I want to be free from this exhausting effort to be somebody else's version of 'normal', once and for all.

Drew was my key to that locked closet door...and somehow...I fucked it all up.

Again...

When my class let out for the next period, I doubted that I had absorbed a single nugget of knowledge from the day's lesson at all. My mind was so preoccupied with teenage drama that there wasn't much room for anything. How do teachers expect us to learn anything during this crucial time in our lives? Seriously! I mean, do they have any IDEA at all what's going on with us outside the walls of their tiny little classroom? It's insane! Asylum security at least tries to understand 'crazy' when they see 'crazy'.

I searched the hallways for Drew, but couldn't catch sight of him. I would have been relieved to have even seen a quick flash of his soft brown curls disappearing around a corner as he ran to avoid talking to me...but I didn't even get that much. He was just...absent. And, like I said...it hurt. It ached like you wouldn't believe.

So...school went on. An entire day's worth of learning something valuable...totally wasted. Drew never left my mind. And by the time lunch rolled around, I found myself moving out of the 'feeling sorry for myself' phase of my current mood...and actually getting angry at the fact that some asshole would write that on my locker at all.

It was like a flaming hot ball of molten lava, rolling down a hill and melting more rocks along the way...flaring up with rage filled flames as it increased in mass. I know that Drew told me that there would be no way for me to fight off the whole world when it came to me just...being who the fuck I AM without judgement! And yet...in that one, self loathing, moment...I wanted to. I wanted to ball up my fists and swing, full power, at everybody within range for even smirking at me and my feelings the wrong way. I wanted to make them PAY for fucking hurting me and my boyfriend for NO other reason than they feel some stupid need to push other people down on their knees in order to feel 'tall' for a few minutes a day! They're so WEAK! Fucking cowards! They can't find anything great on their own, so they have to go out of their way to spoil everybody else's happiness every chance they get! They're just JEALOUS! And I fucking HATE them for it! I hate them soooooo fucking much!!!

I walked towards the cafeteria, mostly out of habit than anything else. I think I was too aggravated by life itself to really stomach whatever godforsaken slop my school was serving today. But as I passed by the window...

...I saw Jermaine, Joey, and Billy, sitting at our usual lunch table together. And it looked like they had some other girl sitting there too. Probably one of Billy's temporary crushes that he thinks he's so in 'love' with. At least for the two or three weeks that he gets to indulge in kissing her lips and holding her hand in public. Talking about her to his friends. His parents. Hell...to random strangers on the street. She was pretty. I'll give her that. But more than that...she was simply 'female'. And that gave Billy an advanced sense of privilege that I'll never know. Not ever. And since my emotions were already out of whack for the day...it only made me angrier to know that it was 'OK' for him to claim to love her...whether he really did, or if he didn't. Who cares?

He'll never be asked any awkward questions about it. He'll never get any sideways looks, or furrowed eyebrows, or have to be witness to a humiliated blush, just because of the person sitting across from him at that dingy high school cafeteria table. He'll never know how fucking heavy a secret like mine is to carry on his shoulders. He'll never have his parents worry about grandchildren, or have his classmates whisper behind his back. He's free to be whoever he wants to be. Love whoever he wants to love. And I can't.

And you want to know something? There's a part of me that really despises him for it. It's a privilege that I will never ever have. What would life be like...to not have to feel like such a sidelined 'outcast' the way I do now? How awesome would my life be...if I didn't have to deal with being 'different' every waking moment, of every fucking day of my fucking LIFE?!?!?! Arrrrghhh!!!

I bet nobody would ever use a permanent marker to write the word 'FAGGOT' on his locker...

At that moment, as I was staring at them through the cafeteria window...Jermaine's eyes met mine. Briefly at first, but then they held their gaze. I wasn't quite sure what he was feeling while he was looking at me...but I don't think he knew what I was feeling either. We had been the best of friends for so long, that it was a surreal experience to be so 'within reach' of one another...and yet so distant at the same time.

I didn't make any attempts to move to join them at the lunch table, and he didn't make any attempts to invite me.

Was it 'shame' that kept me away? Not for being gay, or being with Drew...but just for the way that I had treated my best friends when I was so lost in the beginning stages of my first love. I know that my emotions were a bit on edge, my desires injected with an adrenaline shot that I was never prepared for. And when you're experiencing your first love with another boy that is absolutely perfect in every fathomable way possible...it's nearly impossible to think rationally and want to spend a single moment doing anything else but focusing all of your energy on the shiniest object in the room. It's an overwhelming psychosis that sucker punches you in a way that they might not even understand yet. But it hit me. It hit me HARD! And I was definitely in the wrong when I tried to express that to them.

I take full responsibility for that.

You have no idea how hard it is to explain the euphoric bliss you feel from indulging in the deepest, darkest, secret that you're trying to keep from the people you care...and worry...about the most.

Feeling a bit rejected was probably what I deserved in this case. So I just turned around and walked away without even going into the cafeteria. I have to admit that I miss them sometimes. We have, like...this 'history' together, you know? And I'm only fourteen...so that's pretty much the only history that I have except for my parents. It doesn't seem rational to think for one moment that you'd ever have to abandon one life for another...but when those two lives don't seem to be able to live without conflict and secrets galore...those two worlds seem like they simply can't occupy the same space anymore. I can't just smash them together without causing more damage than it's worth. But maybe...in time...I can find a way to weave them together and not destroy everything that we once had.

Not today...but in time.

It would be cool to have Drew join us every now and then...

Great. So now I'm angry, heartbroken, AND hungry. This is turning out to be an award winning day for me, isn't it?

My stomach growled through my next few classes, and I spent most of the day sort of lost in my own thoughts. If Drew would stop being so scared and just talk to me, I might be able to convince him that I didn't give a shit about what those other kids said about me. That I could stand strong and take it if I really had to. But as the threat of being exposed to the entire school kept spinning around in my brain...round and round, round and round...I started to wonder if Drew was really the one that needed convincing. I mean...could I seriously handle things...if it came to that?

I thought about the look on Drew's face the first time he told me he was gay in that classroom the day we met. I thought about the whispers and the jokes and the needless shoves and shoulder bumps. I thought about him getting his books kicked in the hallways, or him being shoved into the janitor's closet, or being tripped for no other reason than some asshole bully decided he needed a quick laugh to make him feel like some kind of a rock star in front of his friends. I thought about how Drew has to deal with the awkwardness he has to go through, living with his dad just so he can go to school here...or the fact that it gets so stressful and so bad that he occasionally has to travel half way across town to visit his mom and work at her coffee shop just to keep himself from going completely INSANE in this place! Can I even claim to understand what that must be like for him? To be stared at and judged and laughed at is the worst punishment in the world. Imagine if you had to add public abuse into the mix. At school, at home, on TV, in church...it never ends. People don't know how to leave it alone. They can't seem to just...ugh!

Sometimes I don't know what's worse...the burden of constantly keeping this a secret...or the burden of constantly being on display. How am I supposed to find a middle ground when all the 'difficult' parts of this situation have nothing to do with me? It's everybody else who seems to be confused!

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like just grabbing my backpack and walking out of school without even bothering going to my last few classes of the day. I'll just take the absence. Seriously. My mom will give me a ton of shit about it once the school computer calls the house about me ditching, but I just can't seem to keep it together right now. I'm actually surprised by the amount of total torment that I feel inside from not being able to reach out to just...hold him in my arms and let him know that I'll be ok. We both will. I just need him to give me a chance, you know?

I only had two more classes before the last bell, but I refused to go. In fact, when I walked out of my sixth period class...I headed straight to my locker to grab my stuff so I could just go home. And that's when I saw that offensive marking on the door staring me in the face. Right in my fucking FACE!!!

I just stood there and stared at it for a minute or two. My blood boiling, my heart racing...but my brain telling me that I had nobody to 'beat up' over this. The word itself just stared back at me...an invisible enemy that was too much of a goddamn coward to show itself. Or even explain why it even exists. Faggot. Is that all I am? A faggot??? Fucking cowards.

Feeling an angry fever wash over me, I turned around and stomped my way to the nearest bathroom. Severely irritated, I started snatching paper towels out of the dispenser and ran them under the faucet for a few seconds before marching back to my locker door as the bell rang and the hallway emptied out. I dropped my backpack to the floor and just used all the muscle that I could to scrub that offensive assault on my emotions off of my personal space in this school. I scrubbed until my muscles ached, my infuriated determination doing all it could to slightly smear the permanent marker a bit...but not enough to where other people couldn't walk by and figure out what was written there initially.

I thought about what Drew told me...

"What am I supposed to do? I CAN'T fight them all, Ethan!"

And those words seemed to ring in my ears as I fought to scrub even harder, the wet paper towels, now turning into shreds of useless clumps of garbage in my hands. My eyes began to tear up with a combination of pain, fear, and rage. It wasn't supposed to BE like this! I was supposed to be ok! I just wanted to be like everybody else! And WHY WON'T THIS FUCKING MARKER COME OFF?!?!?

As the first tears began to slip from my eyes, I realized how pointless it was to erase this word from my locker. Or from the consciousness of the people who wrote it. Or the people who laugh at it...or just walk by and ignore it completely. I can't remember ever feeling so helpless. So...utterly...alone.

"Ethan?" Came a voice over my shoulder.

Before turning around, I did everything that I could to secretly dry my eyes and straighten up so nobody would be able to see my distress. With a single sniffle, I fixed my hair and looked over to see Patrick standing right there behind me. Shit.

"Oh...hey..." I said.

"Are you ok?"

"Sure. I'm fine. I'm...yeah, I'm good." I told him, but I noticed that his eyes sort of glanced over my shoulder at the smeared word on my locker. I nervously tried to get his attention back on me, stepping in front of it and pressing my back to the locker so he wouldn't see. Even though I was pretty sure that he saw it already anyway. "You late for class on purpose, or are you just being a slow poke? Heh..." I asked.

God, he's beautiful. It just...it sucks so much that he's so damned beautiful!

"I'm, uhhh..." He paused for a second, glancing over my shoulder again. "...I'm going to the main office. I accidentally left my house keys at home this morning, so my mom dropped 'em for me."

"Ah, ok..." I said, looking down at the floor.

After another brief pause, Patrick asked me, "Are you sure you're ok?"

"I don't know, dude. Honestly." I think the words left my mouth before I had a chance to really think about them and their meaning. And the way he looked at me...arrrghhh!!! I just...I couldn't take it anymore! "Have you seen Drew at all today? Like...anywhere?"

"No, actually. I was kind of surprised, to be honest. He didn't even show up for study hall today. Maybe he decided to take a holiday." He smirked. But, when I didn't respond, he looked closer to see the remaining tracks of my tears on my cheeks. He said, "I'm sure that he's ok, Ethan. This place just plain sucks sometimes. Maybe he just decided to get away from the chaos for a day. That's all." Then he nudged me with his elbow, smiling as he added, "Or maybe he's got some private time scheduled for him and his 'boyfriend'. Hehehe! So, he might be doing better than either one of us are right now. Am I right?"

I don't know what that statement did to me, but it had a weird effect on the turbulent storm of emotions that I was already experiencing at that very moment. I thought about Drew, and my friends, and my frustration, and the way Patrick's smirk just seemed to further highlight his pretty PRETTY face...and I just...I was like, "Somehow...I doubt that."

"How come?"

I looked up into those soft brown eyes of his, and I just let it out. "Because...I'm Drew's boyfriend..." I mean, what did I have to lose at this point, right?

Patrick's eyes got soooo wide all of a sudden, his jaw dropping as he stepped backwards to try to keep his balance. "Wait...are you being serious right now???" I was a little embarrassed, but the hallway was empty except for the two of us, so...I slowly nodded, and then guided my eyes back down to the floor again. "Omigod! I KNEW it!!! I mean, I sorta had my doubts the first time that I asked you and Drew said you were 'just friends', but...that boy can't keep his mind off of you for more than thirty seconds at a time without bringing you up again! Hehehe, I was like, there's gotta be something going on there!"

Was Patrick...'happy' for us? I peeked up at him again, and his eyes were, like, glimmering with joy now that the big mystery had been solved. It was a weird feeling. I mean, except for Drew...I guess he's the first person that I've ever willingly come out to. I expected it to be a bit more, ummm...eventful, I guess.

"So...it's ok?" I asked.

"Of course it's ok. Hehehe! I'm actually kinda relieved. I was starting to think that Drew was making up a fake boyfriend to make himself feel better. I'm glad you're real. Even more...I'm glad it's you. He's super fascinated with you, dude. You have no idea." He grinned. "Omigod, this is so cool. You actually just made my day!" And then, believe it or not, Patrick leaned in, catching me off guard, and he gave me HUG! What the...? I think I was a bit shocked, as I was totally speechless once he let me go. Well, THAT was a freaky experience.

"Ummm...thanks?" I said.

"I told you that I wouldn't be surprised, but...I totally was." He giggled. Then he looked over my shoulder again, seeing the word, 'faggot' on my locker door. I began to blush from the humiliation of it all, but he didn't let it phase him at all. He just said, "Try toothpaste."

"Wha...?"

"Toothpaste. It helps to scrub out the permanent marker." He said, running his fingers through his blond hair with a smile. "Bunch of savages in this place." Then he just said he'd see me later, and continued his trek towards the main office to grab his house keys or whatever. He left me totally baffled and completely outdone.

Did I really just out myself to Drew's study hall crush? Is it really that easy?

And does toothpaste work on permanent marker?

I need some time to process this. I'm so screwed up, right now!