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.
I have to believe him. I have to TRY! Come on, Zack! He needs our trust. He's ASKING us to have faith in him. If only this invisible war of fear and torment could get out of the way, then my angst and annoying reluctance to give in to my heart's true desires would be justified.
Just...BELIEVE him, Zack! How hard is this?
Your father's words don't matter. They're not real, Zack! HE'S not real! You've been letting your dad make an ice cold, functionless, corpse out of you. Fight it! Don't let a gift like this pass you by! Brody's standing right there in front of you. He's everything you've ever wanted. And I KNOW it's scary! I know it's a big deal risking your very sense of security to make this relationship a reality...but I've been tormenting myself for too long. I've grown accustomed to my own suffering to the point where I've accepted it as a part of my daily routine. I stopped seeing what was WRONG with the pain I've been put through. I've been sinking in quicksand and Brody is offering me hi hand to help me out. TAKE IT! Stop being a crybaby and fucking take it!
"I'm sorry." I mumbled, looking down at my feet. Great. I've gone one deeply embedded shame to another in record time.
"Don't be sorry. There's nothing to be sorry about. None of this is your fault." He said, ducking down a bit to try to make eye contact. "I don't know what we're going to do, Zack. I have no idea. But...we're going to get you some help. I promise."
I nodded, but it was merely a gesture that I used to keep him from pushing the issue any further. As much as I would love to believe that Brody could somehow use the magic in his heart to rescue me from such a hopeless situation...I knew that would never happen. The truth is, I had to use every bit of strength that I could muster just to deal with my father. I didn't have anything left to put towards escaping him. None. Even if I had the nerve to try, how can I get rid of him and not hurt my mom in the process? My mom's feelings get hurt when she over bakes a batch of cookies, imagine what she'd feel like if I told her I was being...
God, did I really just say that? Even in my own head, the word seemed like such a profane description of my life. I've been running from that word for years now. I've seen kids in the news who were bruised and battered, cut and bleeding, with broken bones and cigarette burns...and I always told myself that my life wasn't that bad in comparison. I would tell myself, "Well, I'm nothing like them. What those kids went through was horrifying." But it was just another way to defend the horrors of my own life, wasn't it? A means of procrastinating when it came to my own safety.
Abused. I'm...I'm an abused child.
You have no idea how surreal it is to admit that.
"I love you, Zack." Brody said with a smile, ignoring the silence that occurred when I started poking around inside my head.
"Hehehe, I said, I love you, Zack."
"Ack! NOPE! Shut up!" He said, cupping his hand over my mouth. "Whatever kind of rehearsed 'compliment repellant' you've got sitting there on the tip of your tongue? Swallow it and keep quiet. Hehehe!"
"SHHHH! Hehehe, let me WIN this one, ok? I promise you can win the next one. Deal?" Brody always makes it sound so easy. So I zipped my lips and just gave him a smile in return. "Good boy. See? Just like I said, we're good together."
He's right, you know? It's hard for me to accept the honor of Brody's giddy confessions of love. But I'm learning. I even got a mini-orgasmic reward for keeping my mouth shut this time.
That's when his eyes met mine, and the fact that we were completely out in the open sort of faded away into the 'who cares?' category. He leaned in, and my eyes closed involuntarily as I braced for the gentle collision of his plush lips being pressed against mine. It was a simple kiss. An affectionate kiss. More about comfort than anything sexually stimulating. It's moments like this that rip me out of my reality and make me truly appreciate being able to share a few moments with a gorgeous boy who is constantly reminding me that the mask doesn't matter.
Oh God, WHY does he care about me? WHY???
At that moment, we heard the honking of a horn in the street from a lone care driving through the neighborhood. It came to the stop sign and the driver, some guy in his 30's or something, saw us kissing and decided to...display his 'distaste' for that kind of thing.
We stopped kissing and he actually leaned over in his seat to wag his finger at us, as if to warn us that we were being sinful and evil.
Then he just drives off as if ANY of that was necessary! Brody's forehead wrinkled up, but he giggled instead of feeling the sudden insult that I did. "Did that guy just HONK at us? Hehehe!"
"Fuckin' asshole." I said. "I'm sorry, Brody..."
"Sorry for WHAT? Screw that guy!" He snickered. "Who is he? The 'Gay Teen Gangsta'? Is he the masked vigilante riding around the neighborhood, saying 'HEY! Stop that! God's watching!' Hahaha!" I don't know how he was taking such a humiliating moment and find humor in it, but there's nothing more infectious than his hearty laugh.
"Hehehe, yeah. It's like, get to WORK or something! What's he messing with us for?" I smiled.
"EXACTLY! Mind your business, right? If he circles around, I'm totally gonna throw rocks at his windshield, so get ready to run!"
"WHAT??? Brody, no!" I said, but he gave me the craziest grin to let me know he was just kidding. "You're silly."
"I know you love me." He said, and gave me a quick kiss on my cheek. Then...he took a hold of my hand, and he said, "Shall we?"
It was an extremely weak feeling at first. First, my stomach turned to jelly, then my heart went numb, then my knees began to wobble as my footsteps became labored and uncoordinated. But he held my hand anyway. He kept holding it...all the way to school. The closer we got to the high school's front entrance, the more I expected him to let me go. But he didn't. Brody held on. Even in front of the crossing guard and the other students crossing the street with us. He was being so strong about it. It made me want to be strong too.
I had to work a little harder to get past the discomfort of it...but I think I did pretty well for myself. Hehehe, I've never done anything like this before. It almost makes me wonder what else I could accomplish with Brody's love in my life.
Hehehe, does this count as my first 'coming out'? I know that it was just to some homophobic stranger in a passing car...but I think that officially counts as progress.
Brody and I held hands all the way up to one of the front doors, where he reached out to open the door for me. There was an older boy standing there at the time, and he gave us a weird look. Then he started chuckling to himself at the sight of two boys holding hands like that.
Instinctively, the shame of being laughed at made me want to draw my hand back as my face turned red, and my eyes were lowered to the dirty floor again. But Brody held his grip, looking this other kid right in his face. "Something wrong?"
The other kid said, "Are you guys actually holding hands, bro? What the fuck's up with that?"
I wanted to pull away. Let's just go. Don't make it worse. Everything was cool up until now. Let's keep it that way, you know?
That's when Brody says, "Yeah. We're holding hands. I'm sorry, but I don't really get what's funny about that." What was he doing?
I half expected things to escalate into something HEAVY any second...but there was something about Brody's determined stare as he stood, unphased, right in front of him. Somehow, he had reversed the whole situation and made him feel like the weird one in all this. How the hell does Brody DO that?
"What's wrong with us holding hands? Tell me. I want to laugh too." Brody said.
Believe it or not...the other boy said, "Nothing. Hehehe, nothing at all. You guys go do what you want to do."
And Brody says, "Cool. Thanks for your permission. Appreciate it." And he kept his grip firm on my hand while I just tried to hide my face and walk away from the minor confrontation with him.
The other boy waited for us to get a few steps away from him before saying, "Have fun being fags..."
Without thinking, Brody called out, over his shoulder, "Have fun being alone." And he raised my hand up to his lips to give it a little kiss.
I began to shiver, my adrenaline spiking in ways hat I had never felt before. My body temperature rose, my nerves got all jittery and weird, and I nearly started to cry again. My whole body went HAYWIRE all at once. Not to mention that I started to get a full blown erection from seeing Brody be so...COOL! Hehehe! Jesus. I'm SO not used to this!
It's going to take me a LOT of practice to embrace this kind of awesomeness. Might as well start today.