On The Outside

Chapter 3

I tried at least twenty times on Saturday to call Drew on the phone and apologize. I was so STUPID! I shouldn't have freaked out like that. I think I just had a weird reaction or something, I wasn't thinking. It was my fault. He wasn't forcing me, I LIKED kissing Drew. I liked feeling his hardness, being close to him, tasting the sweetness of his breath as it traveled in slight breezes through my parted lips. God...he was HERE, in my bed, in my ARMS, and I actually told him to go home! Is this part two of my awful curse? Not only will I never find happiness with a woman, but I'm doomed to never find it with another guy either? Come on Drew....answer the phone. Please?

"Hello?" Came a voice from the other end of the line.

"DREW???" I said. There was a silence, a long silence. And then a click as he hung up the receiver. That single action caused a tear to slip from my right eye, and slide down my cheek as I slowly hung up the phone, my hands shaking. He hated me. I know he did. And what's worse was that I know he had a reason to. I sat back against my bed, and stared off into space for what must have been a half an hour. What was I thinking about? You know...I don't even think I remember. I don't think I was thinking about anything during that time. I just sat there, and let the silence swallow me whole.

I only called once or twice on Sunday, not wanting to bother him, but still hoping he would call and talk to me. But I heard nothing. I checked my phone to make sure it was working, checked my e-mail a billion times...no word. None at all. I had this shaky feeling inside that I just couldn't get rid of. I couldn't ignore it for even a second. Do you have any idea how long a day can seem when you have that feeling rumbling around inside of you? 'Eternal' doesn't even BEGIN to describe it. It wasn't just fear, it was loss, depression, self hate, shame, and a horde of other emotions that I hadn't discovered a name for yet. And then...there was the memory of the kiss. That one endless moment in time when the world stopped just for the two of us. If only I could have allowed myself to enjoy it to its fullest. I closed my eyes, and felt more silent tears fall from them. But I wasn't hurting for me, I think I was hurting for him. Hurt because I had offended him, insulted him, shamed him. His one true friend...casting him out into the rain. No wonder he doesn't want to talk to me. I suck! I'm an idiot! A total, clueless, fucking idiot! And for hours, I sat there hating myself, wishing that I could somehow take his pain and make it my own. But that wasn't possible, was it? No matter what I did to myself, Drew was still going to be hurting somewhere. And the idea of that sickened me to the point where I had to cry myself to sleep and just hope that things would work out. It was all in fate's hands now.

The next morning, it was hard for me to get dressed. My hands were shaking so badly that I could hardly button my shirt. What was I going to do? What was I going to say? Even if I knew, would he listen? Would he care? I've never really lost a friend before, and certainly not one that I was so in...that I liked so...that I was close to. A crush? No..it was just the rain or something. It was an odd situation, that's all. I think. I hope.

I could barely breathe with the anxiety rushing through me as I made my way to school that morning. My soul was screaming at me to turn around and go home, to just ditch and wait for Drew to make the first move to talk to me again. I wanted to take the easy way out, to just run away and hope that things just work out for the best. But my heart kept me moving forward. WHY? I'm scared out of my mind, and I already have an escape route from it all! The whole idea of trying to make up for what I did to Drew horrifies me! So WHY in the hell do I suddenly want to see him so badly??? Why do I feel like I'd die if I didn't? Why is it so important to me to see him happy...even if it means never talking to me again? I just had this burning desire to know that he was ok, and that he'd let me reach out to him again. I don't understand this at all. My mind is racing, my palms are sweaty, my heart is beating so fast that it's liable to burst any second...and all I can think of is whether or not DREW is ok? Oh no...God help me! I AM in love, aren't I? This is bad.

I felt like I was the only person in that hallway as I walked to my class. Even the screaming, laughing, cursing, shouting, shoving crowd of kids around me didn't stop me from feeling so incredibly isolated. I maneuvered past the others and walked through the door. I was scared of seeing Drew's face that day, and yet, was still hoping I would. Arrrgh...is love 'supposed' to be this damn confusing! And I thought being GAY was the frustrating part! I guess I had beaten him there, so I just nervously sat down at my desk, and waited for him to arrive. First...I'll just...I'll say that I'm sorry. And then...I'll SO apologize for the terrible things I said on Friday night. And then...then...I'll uh...I'll think of something else. Depending on how he takes the first two. It may take a few days, but we'll be alright. I think.

I waited for a while longer, he'll probably be rushing in late as always. But as I sat there fidgeting more and more, I looked at the clock and started to worry that maybe he had taken the escape route that I had planned for myself. The bell rang, and they closed the door, but I still had some hope that he was just running later than usual and would be coming in eventually. Maybe he missed his bus or something. I watched the clock with the intensity of a hunting falcon, but halfway through the class period, I figured that he just wasn't coming. That realization made a piece of me die inside. He was avoiding the situation...he was avoiding me. I felt something in my chest...a cold empty feeling, getting bigger and bigger by the second. I couldn't stop it. It was moving so fast that it just took over and spread to every part of me. It was....it was...HEARTBREAK!!! Actual heartbreak! I laid my hands flat on the desk and just tried my best to keep anyone else from noticing me. I was actually 'hurting' inside, over another boy. And this may sound weird...but in some strange way, I think I LIKED it. It wasn't because of the actual pain, because that was honestly killing me. But there was another feeling beside it that made me feel...I don't know...alive. The idea that I had this awful awful pain in my heart, this terrible longing, this emptiness, this culmination of everything that's wrong with the world...and for the first time, I actually knew the one person who had the 'cure' for it. I knew his name, his face, his voice. For the first time in my life I was experiencing a level of suffering that I actually had an answer for! Drew was both the problem and the solution. He had become the remedy for any and every emotional poison that I could ever produce. Something about realizing that little bit of 'life trivia' made me feel complete inside. Even if he would probably never have anything to do with me ever again.

When class was over, I felt a strange combination of ultimate sadness and infinite joy at my discovery. I was in a daze, and thought back to the time Drew and I spent together. In the park, on the phone, in our little e mails back and forth, at the bus stop that first day, on the couch...and then the kiss! Oh WOW...the kiss! I had been subconsciously thinking about it all weekend, and purposely trying to block out the details of the whole thing. But this time, I let it come back to me in full color. Sigh...I was kissing him. He was kissing me. We were kissing each other. And it was good. Breathtaking even. Again and again, I relived every magical detail of that moment. The thunderous pounding of my heart, the shivers that ran up and down my spine, the feel of Drew's body trembling nervously next to me. I could still feel the gentle urgency in his kiss. I could taste him as his hand lay softly on my chest. And then, when he guided my hand down to feel his...his...

"Ethan! Dude, snap out of it, what the heck is wrong with you?" Somehow, I hardly remember getting to my English class. I must have been walking on auto pilot while my head was in the clouds. Leave it to Jermaine to bring me back to reality.

"Oh...dude, I'm sorry. My mind was somewhere else." I said.

"Yeah, no shit. You've gotten really weird these days man."

"I'm just...you know...thinking."

"Well think about this, I found us a ride to the movies on Friday night! Everybody is going to be there, and we're all hitting the same theater. It'll be total anarchy dude! I can't wait!" Jermaine was so psyched for it. Ever since he made a little bit of a social splash in his freshman year, he's been addicted to the 'who's who' fame game. He knows all the right people, goes to all the right parties, and says all the right things. All in an attempt to be one of the in-crowders. I must admit, he plays the game well. Part of me really admires him for that, and part of me wonders how he can treat his 'friends' as a strategic maneuver to get popularity points. I'm glad I knew him before all of this, otherwise I might be led to believe that he liked me for all the wrong reasons.

"Sounds good man."

"Sounds good man??? What are you TALKING about? Of COURSE it sounds good! It's a fucking party, dude! So you'll be there, right?"

"Yeah. Sure. When." Somehow, any time spent away from Drew wasn't enough to get my adrenaline really pumping. Little by little, I was beginning to figure this love thing out. Through all of its little twists and turns, and it's endless circles of questions. And it only made me feel better and better. I tried to hold back a smile as I thought back to the kiss yet again, and a warm rush of tingling sensations washed over me, almost making me giggle out loud. What the hell was THAT? I don't know, but it was awesome! You know? This was actually starting to feel pretty good.

"We're thinking that everyone will show up for the 7 o'clock show or something. Maybe, we'll work that out soon. Come here, I wrote the listings down in my notebook." He walked back to his desk, and I was about to get up to follow him, when I realized that I had what was probably one of the hardest damn erections I have EVER had in my life! Thank God I felt it strain and throb before standing up all the way! I immediately slammed my ass back into my seat and tried to look as innocent as possible. Jermaine looked back when he realized that I wasn't right behind him, and gave me a weird look. "Um...hello? Ethan, I'm over HERE now."

Think! "...Dude....don't worry about the time. Find out when Stacy is going, and then see when Richard K. is gonna show up." I knew from Jermaine's ramblings that Stacy was one of the hottest girls in school, and Richard was considered the top of the line popular jock kid.

"Good thinking! Right! All the guys will be trying to make points with Stacy, and all of the girls will be shaking their money makers in front of Rich! They'll follow them right to the theater like the Pied Piper! Excellent!" I almost laughed as I saw him working the precise social calculations out in his mind. But he was a good person, you had to love the guy no matter what.

"Ok, then. Find that out, we'll pick a time, and we'll just go." I was hoping that my boner had settled down a bit, but as soon as the bell rang and the class got quiet, my thoughts went back to Drew. And I stayed rock hard for most of the day. Geez...if I keep this up I'm afraid that I'll sprain something.

After my very last class of the day, I ran outside as quickly as humanly possible. I even dragged my jacket to my last class so I wouldn't have to go back to my locker. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Drew before he hurried home for the day. So I searched the front lawn over and over, hoping to see him. I even stood right at the bus stop so that he couldn't sneak passed me. I knew he'd have to show up sooner or later. So I waited, anxiously. It was different from that morning though. This wasn't a fear or a guilt that was driving me to do this. I think, deep down inside, I just needed to see him again. To somehow confirm all the thoughts I had been having all day long. Somehow justify the weightless feeling that seemed to grow more and more with every breath that I took. Every inhale absorbed his sweet scent, and every exhale whispered his name. I was learning to like this whole gay thing a lot. But as the initial burst of students that ran screaming from the school's front doors began to thin out, and the second bus had passed me by, I realized that Drew just wasn't coming. And that pinch of heartbreak doubled its weight in my already heavy heart. C'mon Drew...I'm just figuring things out here. Please don't tell me it's too late.

I went home shortly after the third bus passed by with no sign of him. A whole hour I waited. I found myself walking on auto pilot again, just circling the block, hoping that maybe Drew was just watching and waiting for me to leave before he came out. Even if he didn't want to talk to me...I just...I just needed to SEE him! Even if it was from a block away. Just a picture of him would be enough...anything to just see his face again and find out just how powerful these feelings inside can get. I don't even know what to say to him, but I want the chance to say something! This 'absence' of his just isn't going to work for me at all.

I wrote Drew a short e-mail to ask if he was online when I got home, but I got no answer. I thought about writing him a long detailed e-mail saying how sorry I was and how much I wish I could take it all back...but I chickened out. I didn't know WHAT to feel. If I can't even write it in an e-mail, how the hell am I going to talk to him about it in person? I tried calling again, but this time the voice on the other end of the line was different. Deeper.

"Hello?" It said. It must have been his dad. I'd never heard him answer the phone before.


"Yes? Who's calling?"

"This...is Ethan. Is Drew home?" There was something calm, and yet very intimidating about this man's voice. I don't know why, but I was scared to talk to him.

"How did you get this number?" He asked.


"Who gave you this number?" That was a question I hadn't been expecting.

"D-D-Drew gave it to me." I stuttered.

"Oh he did, did he? Sure...whatever. Listen, he's not here right now, he's staying with his mother for a few days, and he never told me about any 'Ethan' being a friend of his. So the next time one of you calls up to give my son a hard time, you'll have to come up with a better story than that. Got it, kid? G'night." And he hung up the phone. I was speechless. I just kind of sat there, not knowing what to make of the whole thing. I guess Drew gets his fair share of teasing at home too. I can't imagine how embarrassing that must be for him, how awful it is to be so far on he outside of your own little society that they would emotionally torture you this way. That only made me feel infinitely worse. Sigh...now I could only wait and see if he showed up at school tomorrow. He's staying with his mom? What did I do, run him out of town?

I went to bed that night, upset, but still hopeful, and thoughts of Drew danced in my mind. But this was far from some sexual fantasy or some lesbian porn flick...it only took Drew's smile to get me excited. His soft voice still echoed in my ears, and I could still see the glistening tears in his eyes all of those times when people made fun of him. I could still picture his smile, still feel his arm brushing softly against mine, still feel him laying beside me on the bed. I rolled over onto my stomach, testing to see if there was still a slight trace of his scent on my sheets. And even though he was physically gone, his presence was still there somehow. A lingering ghost that continued to lay right there beside me, and I found myself rubbing that empty space with my hand. I hope that he can feel me...missing him.

The last thing on my mind before drifting off to sleep, were the words...

"I love you, Drew. With all my heart."

The next day at school, I was disappointed yet again by Drew's absence. No giggles, or glances, or lunches in the park. At this point I was trying to mentally come up with an excuse to take some of the blame off of me and put it elsewhere for my own sanity's sake. Trying to think of a reason, ANY reason, for him to be missing. Other than me being an asshole and him hating me for it. But I just couldn't shake it, not for anything. I HAD to find him! I certainly couldn't put up with much more of this. My heart was constantly inflating with new feelings that only he could help me to explain, and yet my soul seemed to be collapsing around it with the guilt of the fact that I had hurt him. If only I could just tell him how I feel. If only I KNEW how I felt so I could put it into words.

I didn't listen to a single word that anyone had to say to me throughout all of the morning classes. Not the teachers, not my classmates, nobody. It was like my body had only become a machine that moved me from one place to another, and the 'real' me was trapped inside somewhere, constantly looking for a way out. I wasn't even in control anymore. Is this the love that people giggle about? That they use to write songs and make movies and motivate them to reach new heights every day? Is this the 'love' that frees me from all of society's brainwashing and bullshit and lets me see things CLEARLY for the first time? I don't know, I've never done this before. Sex is easy. It's random, it's quick, it's a feeling that I can define, direct, control, and easily shut off if it doesn't work out the way I want it to. But this is different. It's an uneasy feeling to think that I would actually be 'incomplete' without Drew in my life...and that it was HIS decision whether or not that is to happen. It's a helpless feeling, because I knew that there was no way that I could make this feeling inside of me disappear. Ever. I didn't WANT to, even if I could. It was a confusion that I was happy to be lost in. And I stayed lost in it for the whole morning, up until lunch.

Joey and Jermaine had evidently gotten their plans together for the movie deal this coming weekend, and they attempted to get me pumped up about the whole thing. But I wasn't. My mind was elsewhere.

Billy came to join us at the table, swooning over the so-called new love of his life. He was so dazed, dreamy, gushing...maybe he was in love after all. He had all the symptoms, and I wondered if I was as obvious as he was. I was convinced that he was probably going through the same thing that I was. That is, until I asked him about the girl of his dreams. "So what does she look like?"

"Aw, dude...she's gorgeous! She's like one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen in my life!" Billy sighed.

"I thought Sarah was the most beautiful girl you'd ever seen in your life?"

"PLEASE! She's WAY better than Sarah! I'm so over her dude, it's not even funny."

I had to make sure I had things right, "Wait...maybe I've got the names screwed up. Who was the girl you just went out with like a week or two ago?"

"That was Sarah." He said.

"So...wait...you're 'over' her after only a week?" How is that possible? Maybe I have it backwards, because it didn't feel like this thing with Drew would fade away for a long long time. And CERTAINLY not after a week.

"Dude, forget about Sarah. That wasn't love. She just didn't do it for me, not like this new girl can. I'm so in love, you have NO idea. I think about her all day long." Just like I did with Drew. "I dream about her when I go to sleep." Like I do with Drew. "And it's like I want to be with her every minute of the day. You know?" Yeah, I know...sounds familiar. I'm in more trouble than I thought.

"Wow. Well...I wish you the best of luck man. It sounds like you've found the right girl for you. What's her name?" I asked.

"Aw shit, I dunno. I just see her in the halls everyday." Then Billy took a bite out of his sandwich as though that prospect actually made sense. It was like I had suddenly heard a line of dialogue that nobody else did. I watched Jermaine and Joey continue eating, Billy now taking a drink of his soda, and I suddenly felt this weird disconnection from the other people at the table. Was I the only person at the lunch table that found a slight error in his logic? Was I the one who was maybe making love out to be something so magical and fantastic and unspeakably grand, while everybody else knew it to be something totally different? Something much simpler. I HAD to ask.

"You don't know her name?"

"Nope. But I'm gonna talk to her this week. Maybe invite her to the movies. And if things go well...I'll walk her home and ask her if she wants to maybe become a couple or something." He smiled, his eyes lighting up and a grin spreading across his face.

"Or something? But...what do you know about her? I mean, is she cool? Or funny, or smart...?" Billy interrupted me.

"I already TOLD ya man, I haven't even talked to her yet."

"But you said you were in love with her..."

"I AM in love. Sometimes...you just feel it inside you know? And you know it's right. I look at her, and I feel that awesome rush come over me. I can't even concentrate half the time when I'm around her." Billy didn't seem to make any sense to me at all, and yet, the other two got his point easily. So the real question is...am *I* the clueless one here? Or am I just severely outnumbered by the 'other' opinion?

"Did you 'feel it' with Sarah?" I asked.

"I'm over Sarah. Duh." Billy replied, starting to get a bit frustrated now.

Joey jumped in, "He already said that Ethan. Where is he losing you? Geez."

"I just wanted to know why he fell in love with this girl if he doesn't even know her name. I mean it sounds like he just..."

"What are you raining on his parade for? He's happy, just let him be." Joey interrupted.

"I'm not raining on his parade, I'm just asking a question." I said.

"You just don't get it dude. One day, Ethan, when you fall in love, you'll understand." One day? How dare he sit there and act like a 'big brother' to me about the whole thing! Billy went right back to eating, and the others joined him. I didn't think I was asking that difficult of a question. But what happens? I'm left sitting here while THEY shake their heads at ME like I'M the one who doesn't understand. I'M the idiot at this table because my sense of love happens to be different than the 'majority'. Fine. I'll drop it. And a few weeks from now, when Billy is drooling over some NEW girl, I'll be sure to remember this conversation.

After all of the agonizing and stressing that I have been going through over Drew, I was almost insulted by the fact Billy can claim to be in love with somebody he knew NOTHING about. I was even more insulted that Jermaine and Joey were so ready to accept that, as would most of the teenagers in this school. But what do I say? People are ready to beat down any opposing idea or influence when they have other people on their side backing them up. No matter how weird it looks to me, I'll end up looking like the dumb ass as long as there are more of them then there is of me. To think, they have it so much easier, just talking to girls and asking them out. And they waste it. So much for looking to them for some extra info and guidance on 'love'. I'd rather find it on my own, and hope that I don't ever have to reduce myself to their level of thinking someday. After all, Drew wasn't some cute face that I saw walking down the hall once in a while. I KNEW him. We talked all the time, we hung out, we e mailed, we spent time together and got to know little things about one another that no one else knows. Bottom line...I had something to love about Drew. And if he wasn't as cute, I'd still have something to love about Drew. Because I knew him on more levels than just being a pretty face. I don't know much about love, but I know that I've seen the prettiest faces that a boy could possibly have and still be considered 'human'...and while the eye candy was awesome to look at, I didn't 'love' a single one of them. Not like Drew.

I guess a short silence fell over the table, and I guess that they could read some of my thoughts in the look on my face, because Joey asked, "Say, speaking of love and hugs...you never did tell us how your weekend went with the loverboy, Ethan." He grinned a little bit.

Jermaine looked up at me from his food, and mimicked the same smile, "Oh yeeeah...I forgot all about that. You've been kinda quiet about that whole thing. How was the party?"

I got a nervous jitter that started in my stomach and went right up my spine. I tried not to let on though. "It was fine. And it wasn't a party, we just had to work on a project for class. That's all."

"And..." Billy asked.

"And what?"

Joey took the next line, "And...did he, you know...try to make a move on ya or something?"

"Dude! Why don't you drop that already, ok? Drew's not like that." I was beginning to blush. I could feel it. God, please don't let them see it.

"Look at you, getting all defensive and shit. Hehehe, hmmm...so what happened? Come on, tell us. I hear gay guys give great head." Jermaine giggled.

The others piped in with a bit of laughter and kissy faces, and Billy said, "So how was the sex? Good? Hehehe, did you kiss him first, or did he just get on his knees and offer you a wild ride on his pony?"

As they laughed and giggled at me, taking turns with their little cheap shots, I began to feel a slight pinch of what Drew must go through from day to day. They weren't just making fun of him...they were making fun of BOTH of us! Of our 'kind'. And I hated them for it. I felt my fists clenching and my stomach muscles tighten as I tried to choke back the urge to start swinging at the next person with something to say! They brought back the self hate, the shame, the sad and lonely feelings inside of me that Drew had so easily taken away with the sparkle of his light brown eyes. I'll be DAMNED if I let them, or anyone else, make me feel like that again!

I jumped up from the table, surprising them with my outburst. "YOU KNOW WHAT? FUCK YOU ALL!!!" I shouted. They stopped laughing all at once, and I think I truly caught them off guard.

Jermaine was the first to speak as I started to turn and walk away. "Ethan...Ethan, dude, we're sorry. Ok? Really. Don't take us seriously bud, we're just ridin' ya."

"I thought DREW was ridin' him?" Joey snickered, getting in one last shot.

"I SWEAR TO GOD JOEY, ONE MORE WORD...?" But Jermaine stopped me.

"Joey! Knock it off man!" He said.

Still smiling a bit, "Ok, ok...I'm sorry Ethan. Honestly man, we're just having some laughs. Don't be so uptight. I didn't mean to get your blood boiling man."

Billy, I suppose, really didn't mean it, and he mumbled a shamed 'sorry bro' under his breath. Then he was too weirded out to even make eye contact. Joey was still smiling a bit, but he was just taking it as a joke, he didn't mean it as an outright attack. And of course Jermaine was my best friend, he certainly didn't want to purposely tick me off. I don't think either one of them really knew what their little joke was doing to me and how much it hurt. How could they? But after seeing their reactions to my blow up, I settled down a bit, and sat down at the table again. Jermaine apologized a few more times, looking me right in the eye and making sure that I knew it was sincere. I accepted and just told them that I had other things on my mind. They bought it, and we just sat there without saying much for the rest of lunch.

After the bell rang, Jermaine and Billy went their separate ways, and Joey and I walked to our lockers. They were pretty much right next to each other, and he asked, "Say....we're still cool, right? You and me?"

"Yeah, I guess. But I hate it when you guys gang up on me like that. You know?"

"We weren't ganging up on you. You know how we are man. If it had been Billy we were cracking on, you would have been laughing too."

"Whatever. Look, I've gotta go." I said.

But before I left, Joey said, "If you see Drew, tell him that there's no hard feelings. K?" Joey...apologizing to Drew? THERE'S a first.

"I would if I could. But I haven't seen him for days. I guess he went to his mom's house or something. I don't know when he's coming back."

"Oh...you mean Mrs. H? She's cool." I had already been walking off to my next class when he said that, but that made me stop dead in my tracks and spin around.


"Yeah, Mrs. H, she was one of my older brother's teachers before I came here. But she owns some kind of coffee shop across town now. I go there from time to time, but I haven't seen her in weeks. Anyway, I've gotta run. I'll give ya a call later." And with that, Joey started walking away.

"Wait, wait! You know Drew's mom?"

"Me? No, not really. I just see her whenever I go to the coffee shop. They've got good stuff there. Like these little chocolate covered candy things. And these cappuccinos. OH...and these little sweet pastry thingies in the shape of little..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...whatever. What's the name of it?" I felt the adrenaline inside of me building up to new levels. My excitement was hard to hide, but I tried as best as I could. It was hard to keep from shouting, even HARDER to keep from smiling. He actually was able to give me the name of Drew's mom's shop and the area where I would be able to find it! Bless you Joey!!! "THANKS!" I shouted out, almost hugging my, now confused, friend.

He gave me a strange look and just shook his head. "Okaaaay...someone that excited over an address really should not be drinking coffee."

"Thanks a lot man! You're the best!" I said, patting him on the shoulder. It was hard to contain myself. I was almost ready to leave school right at that moment.

"Uhh...yeah...thanks. Can I go now?" I took my arm off his shoulder and he walked off, completely lost by my behavior. Yeah, I was a bit weird, but damn it all! I know how to find DREW!!! I had to make a quick decision to either go to my next class, or jump on my bike and take a long ride out to the coffee shop. Not a hard choice at all. I was going to see him again! Oh wow...I still had a chance!

The streets were still a little wet from the big storm on Friday night, but it didn't keep me from travelling at top speed to get out to the next suburb. It was about a 35 minute ride, but when I saw that coffee shop sign off in the distance, I pumped the bike pedals in a wild frenzy to reach it. The feelings in my heart filling me with infinite energy. I locked it up outside, and took a few seconds to calm myself down and fix my hair a bit. Okay Ethan, you can do this. He's around here somewhere, we've just gotta ask her. Hopefully, she'll be a little bit more trusting than dear old dad.

I walked in and it seemed like a pretty mellow place. A bit dark, but pleasantly so, with afro-cuban jazz playing and a few empty tables. There was a lady behind the counter, and she greeted me with a smile. "What can I get ya?"

"Hey...hi...um...Mrs. H?" I asked.

"Hehehe, MS. H, if you don't mind. Lemme guess, older brother or sister, huh?" She seemed friendly enough. So far, so good.

"Actually, a friend's brother. But, um...that's not why I'm...well I mean..." She was a bit confused, so I figured that I'd just ask her. Get it over with and pray that she can help me out. "I'll be honest, I was looking for Drew. Look, I know this is weird, but...I haven't seen him in a few days. And I was kinda...hoping that..."

She put up a hand to stop me, and her face was a bit more serious. "So, you're looking for Drew?"

"Yeah. Sort of."


"I was a bit worried. I...I guess." I could see her watching me, looking for some flaw that she could pick out to let her know if I was one of the 'bad guys'. Just then, a customer came up and ordered some coffee. She served him without saying another word to me, and I began to wonder if I should just take that opportunity to leave before she pulled a shotgun on me. Then she came back to me and said, "You know Drew from school?"

"Yeah. F-f-from school." I replied nervously. She stared right into my eyes, tapping her fingers on the countertop. Still trying to figure me out. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you. Look, when you see him...can you just tell him that Ethan stopped by? And to call me or something? Please?" I felt my heart sinking and just wanted to get out of there while I still had some dignity left. This was a dumb idea anyway.

But when I looked back at her, her eyes lit up a little bit. "Ethan? Biology Class Ethan?"

"Um...I suppose so."

"OH...OH...Ethan! I'm sorry! Oh wow, I've heard so much about you. For crying out loud, come here!" She said excitedly. She held her arms out and actually gave me a hug. It was an awkward moment to say the least. I mean, Drew's mom or not, this woman WAS a stranger to me. "Hey Ed, watch the front for me for a few minutes, will you?" She said, and then actually invited me behind the counter and into the back room! This was NOT what I expected.

"Can I even be back here?" I asked.

"YOU, my dear boy, can be anywhere you want to be." She sat me down at a little break table and sat across from me, smiling. She didn't say anything for a few seconds, and it made me even more uncomfortable than I already was.

"So...this is your shop, huh?" I said, trying to make things normal again.

"Yes, all mine. It's not much, but it gives me just enough of what I need. So how are you, Ethan?"


"Good. I'm sorry, my manners. Do you want anything to eat or drink?" I turned down the offer, and she just smiled at me again. "So you came all the way out here to find Drew, huh?"

"Yeah, well he hadn't been in school for a few days, and I just wanted to make sure he was ok and all." I could swear she was almost ready to tear up after hearing that.

"That's sweet. Drew said you were a sweet boy." Hearing anyone say that Drew mentioned my name made that rush come back to me, and I caught a tiny grin starting to appear on my face. Whoah! Mom alert! I shut down the urge to smile and looked down to the table, blushing instantly. That only made her smile bigger, and then she said, "The kids at school...sometimes they give him a hard time. A really hard time. I know he's a strong boy, but when he asks for a few days away from the struggle I usually try to be understanding about it. He called me up Saturday night and asked to spend some quality time, so I let him visit for a while."

"He's not going to stay out here, is he?" I asked.

"No. We're in a different school district, and I think he really had his heart set on staying in the same district as before. I don't know why he was so afraid of starting over when the other kids are so cruel, but that's his wish. I can't say no to the little brat. Hehehe." She got up to grab a cup of coffee and sat back down. "He had to move in with his father in order to stay in the same school system, but I think it's a good thing to have them spend time together."

"So...he comes out here to visit you often?"

"Every few weeks or so. And I let him work in the store while he's here. I told him, it's either school, or work. Sometimes he's so ready to go back to school he can't wait to get off the clock and catch the first bus back." She was such a nice lady, and Drew definitely had her smile. I was just beginning to relax, when I became aware of what she had just said. 'Work or school'.

"Wait...is Drew...?" Just then, the back door opened up, and Drew walked in with some supplies. He hadn't noticed me yet, as he was carrying some heavy bags of coffee beans and a few other bags, and was trying to get it through the door. I swear that time came to a screeching halt at that moment, and the warm rush that hit me before was NOTHING in comparison to what I felt when he walked through that door. It was like being struck by lightning. As much as I had been thinking about him, over and over and over again, it seemed like I had forgotten all of the little things that REALLY made him beautiful. And seeing him standing there in the room with me again, did wonders to jog my memory.

"You've got a visitor hon." Drew looked up and the second he saw me, he froze. I saw his expression change from shock to surprise to shame all in a matter of seconds.

"Ethan...hi..." He mumbled. He evidently wasn't looking forward to running into me again this soon.

"Hi." I mumbled back. A silence fell over the room, and he just went back to dragging the heavy bags through the door.

His mom stood up and said, "Well, I've got a shop to run. You guys take whatever you need from the fridge if you get hungry, k?" And she began to walk back into the front of the store. I saw Drew look over my shoulder, as though she was mouthing something to him, but she straightened up the second I turned around, and walked back through the door.

Drew blushed a little, and dragged one of the bags across the floor. I got up from the table. "Dude, let me help you with that."

But he just pushed my hands away. "No, I got it."

"It looks heavy."

"I'm NOT a sissy, you know. I can do it." I stopped trying to help and just watched him painfully strain himself to lift the bag onto the table. "You shouldn't have come here."

"I missed you." Drew closed his eyes and sighed to himself, as though he were trying to block out the words and stay mad at me. "And I was kind of worried when you didn't show up for class."

"Well...I'm fine. So...you can go now."

It hurt, boy did it hurt. But through it all, I saw a small dent in his armor, something that may be able to make things right. I was willing to try, no matter how long it took. "I thought I might stay and talk for a while. I sent you an e-mail."

"I got it." He said.

"You deleted it, didn't you?"

"No..." As I listened to his voice, looked at his eyes as they scattered away from making eye contact, I began looking for an opportunity to just...say it. To bare my soul and tell him how I feel. But the pure magnificence of him strangled it out of me. My heart was quivering, fearing the damage that could be done if he said no. My whole reality changed, and it transformed into a nightmarish world where I'm not good enough to be loved by anybody. Where only doubt and fear and panic live, and every leap of faith is bottomless.

"Drew, I know that I am constantly hurting you in one way or the other, and I really suck for that. But you have to believe me when I say that I don't mean it."

Drew's eyes began to water a bit as he fought back a few stray tears. His voice trembled a bit when he spoke, "Ethan..."

"No. Let me finish. I don't ever want to hurt you Drew. Ever. I just...you mean a lot to me, and..." I love you. Come on Ethan! You can say it. 'I love you'. Say it. Don't chicken out now! "...and...I'm glad...to have you as my friend." ARRRGH!

"Me too." Drew whispered. Then I walked over to him, and gave him a hug. He was a bit reluctant at first, but I soon felt his arms curl around my midsection, and he sighed against my shoulder. Nothing could possibly feel better than this. I could have hugged him all day like that, but I was getting somewhat...'excited' down there. So I let go. "I missed you too."

"Did you?"

"Yeah, but just a little bit." He smiled, a small giggle escaping his lips. And a single tear rolled down his cheek. I used my thumb to catch it, and wiped it away while looking into his eyes. He was so untouchably beautiful. I knew his mom was just in the other room, but I never wanted to kiss him more than I did at that particular moment. That's when Drew shook himself free of the attraction between us, and pulled away from me a bit.

"You know...ahem...about Friday..." he said.

"No! Dude, it was all my fault! Really! Look, I..." I was about to tell him that I liked it. I figured I could start there and then build up to the big confession. But what he said next took the words from my mouth...and stomped on them.

"It was a mistake. Just a stupid mistake, and I'm sorry. Ethan, you're a cool guy and all, but I just...I don't think of you that way. Really." It was like feeling my body temperature drop to absolute zero in less than a second. I almost felt sick, and my heart felt as though a razor blade was being dragged across its surface.

"....oh." I didn't know what else to say.

"Yeah...so...sorry about that. Ok? I was just being a 'virgin' I suppose. Friends?" Drew stuck out his hand, and I almost didn't want to take it. It was like accepting his friendship and throwing away his love as a compromise. Making a deal with the devil. But I shook it anyway.

"Yeah...friends." I felt tears trying to force their way to the surface, and I knew I had to get out of there.

"Did you want to stay for a while or something? My mom's got some ice cream and stuff for making sundaes in the back."

"Uh...no. No, actually...I've got a long ride back. And homework. Lots of homework." I began to back out of the room, hoping to exit before the waterworks started. "So...see ya around."

"Yeah. Later." And we kept eye contact until I left.

The trip home wasn't anywhere near as energetic as the trip up there. And as soon as I got home, I slumped over onto my bed and tried to systematically erase the hurt feelings existing inside my rapidly deflating heart. I wasn't even crying at this point, just...miserable. I didn't know what to do with myself, or what to feel. I just tried to ignore it long enough to sleep.

The next morning I dragged myself to school, feeling like the meaning of life had just slipped by me. Either that, or it lost all importance. So I moped my way through my first few classes, and when I got to biology, I tried hard not to ache over the fact that Drew's desk was empty. It just takes time Ethan...it'll go away. I'm sure it will. Eventually.

But, as the bell rang, and class got started, I heard the door open. And in walked Drew, 5 minutes late as always. He was HERE! As much as it hurt to not have him, my spirits were raised just to see him in school again. And my heartbeat started to flutter as he sat down next to me. We didn't say anything to each other, but I looked over and smiled. He couldn't help but grin and blush himself, and that smile brought the color back to my world.

"Welcome back." I whispered. And he looked forward, trying not to be mushy about it. But I knew he was happy, and that's all I needed. Hopefully, I can work on being happy now.