Authors: J. Roman
“Hey, Tommy,” Rick greeted me, shoving off the row of lockers just outside the door. We’d been on friendlier terms since my breakup with Jason, and he had apologized for being a dick about the whole thing.
“Hey.” I yawned. “I’m starving to death.”
“Me too. I’m thinking pizza today.”
I could get on board with that idea. “You doing anything for Thanksgiving?”
He shrugged. “Going to my aunt’s house down in Georgia.” He rolled his eyes. He hated going down to Blairsville. I didn’t know why. His aunt had always seemed really nice to me, and his uncle snuck us beer whenever everyone else wasn’t looking. “My grandfather will be there for the entire week.” It made more sense now. His grandfather was a good ol’ boy who judged everything in his vicinity by his odd measurement system that no one could figure out, yet everyone in Rick’s family struggled to live up to. It made for some tense family gatherings.
“You’ll live. He seems to like you.”
Someone grabbed my right arm as we went through C building’s exit door, and I turned to see a very serious-looking Kevin staring daggers at me. “Can I talk to you?” he asked. I looked down at his hand where it gripped my arm and raised my eyebrows. He let go. “Please?” he added. It sounded like the word hurt.
“Yeah. I’ll catch up, Rick.” I crossed my arms over my chest and looked over at the guy who had been in the thick of things with me when it came to my boyfriend…
. “What did you need?”
“He’s different, Tommy. I think you broke him.” We both knew who “him” was. “He’s not being a dick or sleeping around anymore.”
“Good,” I said quietly. I wanted Jason to get better. I still loved him. Our breakup hadn’t changed that.
Kevin’s face said I was an idiot. “I think you’re good for him.”
I shrugged. “Not good enough. I wasn’t put on this planet to fix him.” It was something I was working on. I couldn’t save everyone—sometimes they had to try and save themselves first.
“He loves you, man. I mean, really loves you. With Jason, that’s huge.”
I knew that. Loving me was never the problem. “He needs more help than he’ll let us give him, Kevin. I can’t do this again. Until he’s ready to tell someone what he’s been going through and get some help, I won’t be with him.” Hope trickled into my chest. “Is he ready for that?”
Kevin shook his head sadly. “Not yet. But I think he’s getting there. He stays half at his place, half at mine. We’ve talked about it, really talked about it, a few times. I think he just needs to know that it will make a difference.”
“What exactly do you want me to do, Kev? Host an intervention? Write him a love letter? What exactly am I supposed to say?” I was getting annoyed with this. I didn’t need Kevin coming and stirring up my emotions and filling my head up with false hope. It wasn’t fair.
Kevin rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know. I thought you’d want to know. I thought… I don’t know.” He shrugged and turned to leave.
I made a sound of irritation. I couldn’t leave things like that. “I’ll text him.” Kevin paused and looked up at me expectantly. “Don’t expect us to get back together or whatever, but I’ll let him know I’m here.” My uncles were still paying for his phone. He was on our family plan, and they wanted to make sure he had a way to stay connected even if he wasn’t staying with us.
Kevin smiled at me. “Thanks, man.”
He walked off, and I dug in my pocket for my phone. What was I supposed to say to him? What did someone say to their ex after a breakup like ours? I chewed on what to say for a minute before I settled on something simple.
It wasn’t long before my indicator showed a response.
Hi back. Talking to me finally
Don’t be a dick. How are you?
If I said, “not a train wreck” would you believe me
I thought about it.
Good. I’m sorry about before. I get nuts sometimes
. There was a picture of a squirrel with two acorns attached to the text.
I smiled as I read it. He wasn’t serious. He was bubbly or bewildered but never serious.
Not what picture I thought I was going to get with that sentence.
Tsk, tsk, Tommy boy. You’re becoming a tease
I laughed out loud at that. Flirting with him seemed so natural, effortless. It gave me a buzz.
Headed to lunch now. Just wanted to say hi.
Can I stop by and say hi? I like this “hi” thing in person.
. I paused. Should I say it? What the hell.
Bring your nuts
It was weird how such a short, meaningless, and somehow emotionally dangerous situation could make me feel better than I had in weeks. I felt alive when I was with him, and that scared the hell out of me. Jason was a being of extremes. Things were either really, really good or they were really, really bad. I would have to remind myself of that fact when I saw him. It would be too easy to fall back on old habits.
took you so long?” Rick asked as I finally made my way over to our table to throw down my stuff. “What did Kevin want?”
“Just to talk. No big. I’ll be back.” I still had to go get my lunch. “Oh, and Jason may be coming over to say “hi”. Be nice.”
Rick frowned. “Do I have to?”
“For me?” I asked, digging my wallet out of the front zipper pocket.
He sighed like he was really doing me a favor. “You two aren’t getting back together, are you?”
“Not yet. No.”
“Not yet?” he asked, a frown turning the corners of his mouth.
“Maybe someday. I’m not burning bridges. I still, you know, care or whatever.” It was the closest I was going to get to confessing my undying love to my lunch table.
He popped a french fry into his mouth. “Fine. I’ll play nice. You handled his crazy pretty well. I’ll have faith.” I rolled my eyes. Leave it to Rick to put things like that.
Jason was waiting at my table when I got back with my lunch tray. He cocked one hip to the side and gave me a grin. “Hey, Tommy boy.”
The attraction was instant. “Hey yourself.” I couldn’t resist giving him a once-over. He was displaying it and wanting the attention. Far be it for me to deny him.
“I guess this is my ‘hi’,” Jason said, stepping closer to me. I handed my tray off to Rick, who put it on the table in front of my seat.
“I like your ‘hi’ better than my text version.” I wanted so badly to reach out and pull him to me and kiss him.
We’re not dating. We’re just saying “hi”
. I tried to remember all the reasons that being with him was a bad idea. Kevin had just teased me with the possibility that Jason would finally bend. I was weak where he was concerned, and that hadn’t changed one iota since we’d stopped dating.
He gave me a secret little smile, the true meaning of which I had no idea. “Yeah. Fun. So you going to be around during break?”
I nodded. “At home for the most part.”
“Can I come over sometime?”
I hesitated but ended up nodding. It would be all right. “Yeah. I’m sure Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie would be cool with you coming over. Just text me whenever, and I’ll come get you.”
“They letting you use your car?”
“I’m sure they’d let me if I was just going to get you and come back.”
He perked up at that. “Great. I’ll shoot you a message about a day.” He gave me a last smile before he turned on his heels and walked back toward his table where Aaron and Adrian were wrestling over a chair. I watched him until he sat down before I claimed my own seat.
“You hit that?” Rick asked, fascination and a little disgust in his voice. I didn’t take it personally. It was just leftovers from his childhood. While he wasn’t homophobic, as was evidenced by him still being friends with me after I came out, he still had some residual ill ease.
“None of your business,” I said, not missing a beat. There was no way I was going to share. Firstly because I didn’t want to give details, and mostly because I was embarrassed by how it had ended.
He snorted. “Uh-huh. You’re the only guy I know who can date Jason Strummer and
“I swear to God, Rick, you say something like that again and I will deck you,” I spat through gritted teeth. “We’ve been good these past few weeks. Don’t freaking ruin it.”
He looked at me strangely. “You love him, and I don’t get it. I mean, I get that I don’t get it. So, let me poke fun at him a little bit, because if you don’t, I’m just going to stew, which will make me mad and make me mean it. I’m tryin’ to tolerate him for your sake, Tommy. But don’t expect me to like it.”
We both stopped talking after that. It was probably for the best. I would’ve said something I would’ve regretted, and I was really sick of fighting with him. This was the one sore spot in our friendship, and I guessed I could deal with it.
and I talked back and forth via our phones for the remainder of the week. I could admit we flirted more than a little bit, and it was easy to remember what I loved about him when I wasn’t constantly dealing with his problems. If only his stepdad would suddenly drop off the face of the planet, I knew we could be happy and Jason would get better and I would be with him. I didn’t want to get sappy about it, but I was one text message away from drawing our initials in hearts on my notebook, which was social suicide. I was a wrestler and a guy, and we just didn’t do crap like that.
“Seems like someone is in a better mood,” Danny teased, bumping our shoulders as we walked up the dirt trail that led to the top of the hill and the picnic tables. When we were younger and my uncles and my mom had gotten together every summer, picnics like these had been the norm. The national parks were the only free thing that we could do and, like it or not, we had been comfortable but money wasn’t dripping out of our ears. This was their favorite spot, the one with the best views and the fewest tourists.
As promised, Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie had packed us all up after our half day of school and driven us up to the nearest parking lot. It was completely empty with the exception of our vehicle.
“I’m in a great mood,” I said, merrily texting Jason, who kept sending me pictures of stuff in his Advanced Biology book and making obscene commentary on it.
“You and Jason back together?” he asked. It was an innocent question. But I had to think about it. We weren’t really. But it certainly felt like we were.
“Kind of. I’m thinking about it.”
Danny smiled. He was a romantic, as was evidenced by all the yaoi and boylove anime shows on his Kindle. He was addicted to the stuff. “I think you should.” He was always in favor of any kind of romance.
“If I was taking votes, yours would count,” I joked, giving him a shove.
“Don’t drop the blanket, Danny!” Uncle Charlie chastised from behind us. He was toting the basket up the trail while Uncle Mark was carrying Christian on his shoulders. Dean was ahead of everyone else, his long legs carrying him farther faster than we could walk reasonably. He was also the most excited out of the bunch. It was his first time to this particular spot.
My cell buzzed. I flipped it to the message screen. It was from Jason.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t exist
What do you mean
Nothing. I just think it’s not worth it. Like it’s never going to end. You know
No, I didn’t know. No matter how much I’d hurt. I’d never wanted to die or not exist or whatever. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like to be in his position, and I really didn’t want to even contemplate how he must feel. This conversation chilled me.
It will end, baby. I promise. Someday it’ll just be me and you
. I didn’t know if I was equipped to keep that promise, but I would try.
But you don’t want me anymore
That’s not true, Jason
Wanting you was never the problem. I just want to help you
“What’s wrong?” Danny asked. “You look sad all of a sudden. Is Jason being mean?”
I shook my head. “Two seconds.”
So you still love me?
I couldn’t lie to him.
Yes. I still love you
I don’t know why. I’m sick
I’m not arguing with you. You are beautiful and funny and about a million other things. You are worthy of love
. I had to get that through his head. I’d looked up a ton of articles on the Internet after I found out about his stepdad. It wasn’t easy to figure out how to help people like Jason. The one thing the pages were consistent on was showing “the victim” that they were loved and telling them that they meant something.
“Tommy?” Danny asked.
“Two seconds, Danny. Jesus. I can’t type and talk at the same time!” I snapped. I didn’t mean to come off like such an ass, but I had the sneaking suspicion that Jason and I were dancing around the edge of something that couldn’t be undone.
Danny looked affronted. “Fine, whatever, asshole.” He stomped off to go back to my uncles. I’d apologize later.
His message flashed.
I wish I believed that
I could continue to skirt around the subject, but I wasn’t one to skirt around anything. I was a straightforward guy.
If you kill yourself I’ll never forgive you. Stay with me, Jason. Please. You’re mine, remember
There was a long pause, and I was about five seconds away from a panic attack when my indicator went off. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Okay. I wouldn’t have. He did it again. It makes me crazy after. I’m sorry for making you worry. I just needed a reminder
Go to Kev’s place
, I typed. Kevin would bring him down off his crazy train and back into the real world.
Can you come get me? I don’t want to call him