Just me

Just me

I had watched him try out more looks, more styles, trying to figure out a way to fit in over the last four years, that I was seriously beginning to wonder what happened to the Lucas I knew back before I stopped being his friend and started being… scared.

Normally I would have gone with selfish there, but the reality of it is, that from that moment in the seventh grade when I realized that I had been caught, I was scared, and in the four years since that afternoon in his bedroom, I was just as scared, maybe even more so. It may have taken me the last four years to figure out that the real reason that I hadn’t said two words to the guy who had been my best friend since we had started school was that I was scared, but the truth is that I knew now, and I was becoming more and more disgusted with myself with every lie or lame excuse I made up to explain away the one relationship that had meant the most to me in all of my sixteen years.

It was easy to point at Lucas, to place the blame on him, but the truth was, as much as I told myself this was his fault, I was the one who screwed up. I was the one who had made himself unavailable, too busy to spend any time with him, let alone talk to him. I was the one who wouldn’t take his phone calls and wouldn’t come to the door. I started avoiding any place he might be, and I found ways to occupy my time that didn’t involve my former best friend. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him around, that I didn’t enjoy every second of every minute I spent with him, but I was afraid. Afraid of what it meant, afraid of how I felt. Afraid of what it made me, and that fear provoked me to do the only thing I thought would stop me from feeling like I was.

Total and complete segregation from any and all things Lucas Rays. I cut him off, and in turn, cut myself off, from the one person that had always accepted me for who I was with no stipulations and no expectations. I had my faults, things I lacked, and I knew it, but Lucas never cared. It didn’t matter to him that there were things about me and my life that were complicated, he always treated me like everyone else, except in a way, I was even more special.

Not that I had any right at all to wonder what was going on with Lucas, I had been the one that pushed him away, the one that put up the gigantic wall that not even the best of the best could scale, but I did. Wonder that is. I did care, and I had watched the Lucas I’d known and loved disappear, slowly being replaced with different shells of different people.

After it first happened, while he was committed to trying to find a way to talk to me, he was still the same smart and resourceful Lucas I had always known with his sandy blond hair and investigating green eyes, but from that time until this very moment as he sat with his back against the tall shade tree in the park, there had been some dramatic transformations.

It was like each year he tried out some new personality and by the end of the school year he was exhausted, recuperating over summer break and reinventing himself, and then reappearing every fall at the beginning of the school year as someone new. It seemed to work for him too, if what he was going for was to be alone. It took most people a few weeks to realize that it was the same Lucas, and usually it was only his name that alerted them, being called out at the beginning of each class as attendance was taken.

I don’t want to say that I recreated myself, but in a way, that’s exactly what I did that afternoon as I walked out of his bedroom. I acted like it never happened, but worse than that; I acted like he didn’t exist. I had to. If he didn’t exist then I couldn’t love him, kiss him, and if that never happened, then maybe… just maybe, I couldn’t be gay either.

The first summer before the eighth grade, it wasn’t as drastic, but as the years went on, I think he became more desperate and the way he looked now, with his long strands of black hair mostly covering his face, separating him from everyone, was evidence of that. At first, he tried getting involved in the drama club. He was in every school play that year and he was really good too. I’m pretty sure he thinks I didn’t care, but as nervous as I felt when my class fumbled its’ way into the school auditorium to watch each play, I was excited too. It was like I was allowed to be watching his every move, I was supposed to be looking at him and as torturous as that was for me, I relished in it. Even if it only was for an hour at a time, it was an hour I was allowed to look, I was supposed to look.

Tenth grade it was the swim team. His hair grew a bit longer and all the time spent in the pool and the chlorine had turned it from a sandy blond to a lighter blond like it would naturally lighten in the summer sun. I didn’t go to one swim meet all year. Lucas in a Speedo, as much as I imagined that over and over, was something I didn’t allow myself the pleasure of actually seeing up close.

The next year, eleventh grade, he joined the marching band. He had this ability to pick up everything he tried so quickly and then excel at it. It was almost unreal to me, and while he would spend hours trying to get me caught up to his level of ability, not because he felt sorry for me or thought that I was dumb, but because that way we could do whatever it was together, I was just proud that he was my best friend.

He played the clarinet, and while I got some sort of weird comfort from knowing he was sitting in the stands, or marching on the same field I played on, I never got to see him perform, except for the National Anthem at the start of every football game, but I’ll never forget what he looked like as his red lips wrapped gently but purposefully around the reed of that clarinet or the way they looked so plump, almost puffy, when he was through playing. That year all his long yellow locks had been traded for a short spiky hair-do, but that was only if you ever got to see his hair out from underneath the hat he continuously had on.

I almost didn’t recognize him today, though, his dark gray hood pulled over his head, with his headphones on as he drank from a bottle of water. He had a skateboard next to him, lying upside down on the green grass of the park we were in, but it was the picture on the deck that caught my eye as I walked toward him to retrieve our basketball which had rolled right up to where his feet were planted firmly on the ground as his knees were pulled up in front of his chest.

I didn’t know much about skating, but his board definitely caught my eye, with its’ intricate design. It didn’t have much color to it, mostly black and white, but there was what appeared to be a red heart with a crack running down the center of it. Underneath the broken heart it simply said, MYSTERY. I’m sure it was my subconscious that was drawn to it, but when I finally managed to pull my eyes away from the simple picture that had seemingly captivated me for the short amount of time it took me to jog over from the court to where he was sitting and locate the ball, I decided I better say something, apologize for intruding on his space as I moved closer.

“Hey man, sorry about that,” I said as I made an indication toward the ball that still sat at his feet. “Nice board,” I added as I bent down to grab the ball.

He hadn’t said anything and I was starting to wonder if he had even heard me with his headphones on, but when his eyes finally met mine through the curtain of black hair they were hiding behind, I gasped out loud. I was hoping he hadn’t heard that, though, as I looked directly into his eyes for the first time in four years.

They were the same deep, brooding emerald green eyes I had casually walked away from that afternoon and then methodically ran from for the next four years… until today. He didn’t say anything in return but the look he was giving me said plenty.

“John, come on man, we’re waiting on you,” I heard one of the guys yell from the court where they were waiting for my return. I looked over at the guys and then back at Lucas, his eyes telling me not to even think about staying there with him, daring me to try, before I looked back at the guys again, but I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t walk away again, not this time.

I just threw the ball back in the direction of the court and turned back around, taking a seat on the ground in front of him and then I waited. And waited, and waited. I don’t know how long we sat there like that, across from one another, the only silence between us, but eventually, I realized the sun had set and it was almost dark. I almost forgot what it was I was waiting for a few times till he would glare in my direction with those steely green eyes. It had been at least three hours without so much as a word between us when I finally stood up to leave.

I had to be home for dinner or else I would be explaining why I didn’t call and let my mom know I wasn’t coming, and besides, it was more than a little frustrating sitting across from someone I had cared so much about for three hours and having him not say a word to me. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything to him either, but I have a feeling it was the overpowering sense of guilt I felt every time I looked into his eyes, the ones that were challenging me to give him a worthy explanation for my behavior over the past four years, and the truth was, I didn’t have one.

The thought occurred to me on my walk home from the park that I had no right being frustrated with him for ignoring my existence for three hours that afternoon, even though he could see plain as day that I was sitting right in front of him, but then again, I was the master of evading and ignoring what was right in front of my face. I had hidden and ignored him for four years and I still didn’t know what made me want to sit down and maybe, I don’t know, talk to him today, but I did. Maybe it was the guilt, maybe it was the fact that he had clearly seen me, and I knew he knew it was me, so I couldn’t just walk away again, instead, I sat down.

It was like that afternoon when I had laid down next to him on the floor in his bedroom where we were about to watch a movie, our sides touching innocently as our bellies pressed into the carpeted floor. We had propped our chins up on our hands and our elbows nestled against each others’ and we were laughing about something that had happened when I looked over at his smiling face. I knew he was about the best, most loyal person I knew, but more than that, lately I had been realizing that his crisp, green eyes were melting my inhibitions a little more each time I found myself gazing at them absent-mindedly.

We were laughing and I ended up shoving him, causing him to roll over and when he continued to laugh at me, all in fun of course, I decided that some payback was necessary right before I attacked him, wrestling and rolling over one another until my size and strength won out and I had pinned his smaller body beneath mine. We panted breathlessly from the struggle and when he realized he was stuck, his hands pinned down to the ground by my own as I sat royally on his abdomen, he relented.

My eyes found his as I celebrated my victory momentarily before I lost myself in the deep green eyes that seemed to be an open book to his soul. I felt comfort, love, acceptance, each time I looked into them and that feeling grew with intensity each time. This time, though, I felt the corners of my mouth turn up a little as he grinned at me with his head cocked to the side, wondering what I would do with my new found status.

“Whatever you’re gonna do, just do it, John,” he pleaded, probably in an effort to get me off of his chest sooner rather than later.

So, I did. I was fully prepared to attack again with some form of tickling or even a wet willy, anything to have some form of contact with his body, but in the end, my brain, or more likely my heart, took over and I kissed him. Just softly on his red lips that were slightly parted to ease his breathing, just for a brief moment in time, as the world stopped around us before I pulled away from him. He didn’t push me away, he didn’t scream at me or get angry, he just looked at me smiling gently, my reflection shining back at me in his crystal clear eyes.

I was scared. Confused and scared, and I didn’t even have the ability to do something lame like threaten him with bodily harm, or offer to do his chores or his homework for the rest of my life in exchange for his silence. No, instead I ran. I ran and hid for four years, until today, when I couldn’t bring myself to run anymore. The trouble was, now that I was ready to face what I was, he hated me; my very existence had changed him into someone who hid from everyone or scared them into shying away from him.

His eyes were cold and that same soul I used to see in them and loved was now hardened and protected by the shell he had created this year. I wondered as I walked home in the cool evening air if he chose a more unapproachable look this year, a more drastic statement, for a reason. I liked it, though, the way his raven black hair contrasted his creamy skin, and the way the jade pools that were his eyes seemed to flawlessly accompany the ensemble he had going. The black eyeliner that you could only see if he actually looked at you and the black nail polish that donned his fingertips were just as shiny as the pencil sized plugs he had in his earlobes.

I remembered the way the sun shone off the ring he had pierced through his bottom lip as I studied this persona he had become. You can see a lot of things without even looking sometimes, and I had spent three hours looking, really looking this afternoon. What I saw on the outside of Lucas  Rays was contrary to the Lucas I had known so many years before, but I also saw the pain, the anger, the reality that he still had not forgiven me for abandoning him that afternoon, and as much as he tried to scare everyone away so no one could see it, so he couldn’t be hurt again, I stared it in the face for an afternoon.

I think that scared him more though, the thought that I was making an effort finally and that he didn’t know why. Why I all of a sudden cared what happened to Lucas and if he somehow found a way to forgive me, to let me into his life again, what guarantee did he have that I wouldn’t run out on him again, crushing the minuscule piece of his spirit that remained protected by this hardened exterior. The truth was he had no way of knowing, and I decided that his silence and his glares that clearly told me not to even think about it, not to even try, were his strongest defense.

It wasn’t until the next weekend when I was at the park again with the guys that I saw Lucas. I had looked for him at school, and I didn’t see him at all on Monday or Tuesday and by Wednesday I was beginning to get the feeling that he was hiding from me, although as I thought back over the last few months, I couldn’t remember a time when I had seen him. That thought was disconcerting enough to make me actually wonder if he even attended the school anymore, and by Friday I had almost given up any notion I had that I would ever find him at school.

I suppose I could go knock on his front door and act like the past four years hadn’t happened, I mean, he only lived in the house behind ours, but that didn’t seem like a good plan either. My dad and Lucas’ had even installed a gate between the two backyards so that we wouldn’t have to go all the way around the block each time we wanted to go over to the others house or when it was time to go home all we had to do was walk through the gate.

But as I saw him gliding effortlessly along that April afternoon through the park, his shirt tucked into the back of his pants flowing behind him allowing the warm sun to glimmer off his skin, it occurred to me that he was stunning. His body was lean, not that you could tell under all the clothes he normally wore, but today the sun was warm enough to have coaxed him into sharing that eye catching sight with me. His hair feathered in the wind as I watched him, wondering how he could even see where he was going from behind all that hair, and what it would feel like to have that bare chest against mine.

I wanted to shout out to him, and I had some fantasy in my mind that he would hear me calling out to him, ride up and smile at me, and all the pain of the last four years would just melt away with the power of a single kiss, like the one that had caused all of this to begin with. It was like everything would have come full circle then, but I didn’t call out to him, he didn’t ride over to me, and we definitely didn’t kiss each other. No, instead I stared openly at him, and he ignored my existence as usual.

We played our game, running up and down the basketball court more times than I cared to count until the deep orange sun was hanging low in the sky. I was headed home, walking along and enjoying the way the cool spring breeze felt against my tacky skin before I stopped at the drinking fountain for a drink. I saw it out of the corner of my eye first, before my curiosity won out and I lifted my head licking the remaining drops of water from my lips, recognizing his form folded up underneath the same tree we had sat beneath the previous weekend.

I turned, heading in the opposite direction of home, all the time wondering why I was going to put myself through this again until I found myself standing in front of him again. He didn’t notice me with his eyes closed, his head leaning back against the tree, and I watched him, his foot tapping only slightly to the beat of whatever song he was listening to. I decided not to interrupt him, he looked so serene there, and that appealed to me in a way so much greater than the looks I had received the last weekend.

It seemed like at times he wanted me to believe he felt nothing about me, just a hollow, vacant place remaining where he used to store his emotions regarding me, and at other times he wanted me to know he was so angry, hurting still to this day so much that he hated me and what I had done to him. I decided I preferred the latter since at least he was feeling something.

He was more than a little startled when he finally did open his eyes and found me sitting there patiently in front of him before the slightest look of confusion was hidden, masked by the steely glare he had perfected. There was the brief moment where he opened his mouth as if he was going to say something to me, probably something equivalent to ‘fuck off and die’; before he snapped it shut again with determination. Once again we sat there, me watching him, trying to find even the tiniest piece of the Lucas that I had once loved and grab onto it again and never let go, and him, fighting for his life, self defense to the greatest degree.

Just as it had the week before, the time came where I had to stand up and leave to go home. I hated that I wasn’t clever enough to have asked my mom if I could skip dinner tonight in case I ran into him again, but I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I hated walking away from him again. He almost smirked, in a gloating manner, when he saw me fidgeting, trying to tell myself that I had to leave and that I was at least trying, even if he refused to talk to me, but I felt the guilt each time I actually stood up and walked away.

“I have to go,” I stated clearly, even though I really wanted to sit here for as long as it took, the battle of wills raging on. “Maybe I’ll see you at school,” I offered as I stood up. He didn’t acknowledge me or my previous statement and I was hurting now. It was frustration at first, and then maybe an acceptance or understanding on some level, but as time went on, it just hurt. “Same time next week?” I asked pulling out the one trump card I had left with a smirk on my face that told him I was only half joking, and then I walked home, alone.

By the next weekend I had learned through a sheer determination, that Lucas did in fact still attend the same school as I did, even though I never saw him. I had started looking for him in places I thought he might be, places he could hide. I checked the various groups; the skater kids, the Goths, the library, the auditorium, and even the band director’s office, anywhere I thought he might be, but I didn’t see him all week. I had been asking people too which earned me some disconcerted and confused looks, I guess that was to be expected though, since for the last four years I had told people to mind their own business or worse whenever they asked me about what had went down between us.

But this Saturday afternoon, I decided that I needed to step up my game a little. I arrived at the park around ten that morning, and I passed the basketball courts. The guys asked me to play, they assumed I was there for that like every other Saturday, but today I declined. They were confused, they probably thought I was losing my mind when I walked over to the same tree we had sat beneath the last two weekends and sat down.

I left his spot against the tree untouched, and instead, took my regular spot facing him, only since he wasn’t there, I was left to stare at the tree. I sat there, keeping my vigil for hours that afternoon until I heard it, the unmistakable sound of the wheels on the sidewalk. I forced myself not to turn around, no matter how badly I wanted to see the look on his face, but when the wheels stopped just behind me where the grass met the pavement I smiled, only for a second, but I smiled.

Not to be outdone, he walked over and tossed his board down on the grass and sat down, leaning back against the tree occupying his normal spot. His eyes caught mine for just a second, as hard as he was trying to pretend I wasn’t there before he looked away. I watched him and the little nuances that made him Lucas, and I realized that there are some things you can’t stifle, no matter how hard you try.

I knew that it was presumptuous of me to even think that he might actually say something to me, even if it was to tell me to go to hell, or to inform me of just how much of a selfish coward I am, let alone ever be able to forgive me or consider us friends again, but I had to try. I needed something from him, and I knew my actions those four years ago had hurt him, confused him, and seemingly almost destroyed the Lucas I had known and loved.

Spring was approaching its’ end, and it was warmer this afternoon than it had been in a long time. The warm breeze blew, circling around us in an effort to remind us that summer was indeed on its’ way. I wondered as I sat there that afternoon, where he spent most of his time, what did he do with his days and nights, and where was he coming from like clockwork every Saturday afternoon before he sat beneath this same tree.

I had no right to ask, and I was well aware that if I did, he simply wouldn’t respond so I opted not to upset him any further. He would talk to me when he was ready and not a moment sooner and besides I was curiously waiting to see how he would react when I didn’t get up and leave until he did. I made sure to let my mom know that I would be gone all day and not to expect me for dinner.

So I sat there, since ten that morning all alone until he arrived and sat down across from me silently. He seemed to anxiously be waiting for the sun to dip down far enough and for me to stand up and leave him again like I had the past two Saturdays, but that wasn’t going to happen today. I wondered instead, just how long we would sit here, as it grew darker and darker until the night sky was as black as his hair.

It was odd, after our eyes adjusted to the darkness, how much we could still really see sitting under the stars. The subtle shadows created from the soft moonlight that cast down on his face were magnificent. We sat there, and it took every fiber of my being not to glance down at my watch. If I had I would have realized that I had been sitting there for almost twelve hours now and it was no wonder that when he finally stood up, reluctantly having to be the one making the move to leave this time, that I almost fell down as I tried to stand up also.

His eyes widened a bit, maybe out of shock, maybe out of curiosity, perhaps even worry, I hoped it was a worry, but he made no move to help me as I tried to steady myself. Once I was stable and standing on my own without the aid of the tree trunk I had just spent all day with, he walked toward the pavement, skateboard in hand. I followed silently.

When we made it to the sidewalk I was sure he would drop his board and take off, but he didn’t, instead he continued to walk just a step ahead of me with his board tucked under his arm. We moved like this, silently through the night in the direction of our houses, and as we entered our neighborhood I was more than a little surprised when he headed down my street instead of walking one more street to his own, but I followed him still, my footsteps telling him I was still behind him.





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