We, The Waves
Chapter Fourteen: We, The Waves
I scratched at my hair and cleared my throat as Sherry began copying the History notes from the board. My page was empty so far, and it would likely remain so for the rest of the lesson—shit, the rest of the two.
I couldn’t deal with double History.
Sherry nudged me. “Fred, I’d say that it’s cool and you can just copy my notes, but Mrs Montague’s really piled it on this time, I don’t think I can get them all. Couldn’t you at least write the last two bullet points of each slide?”
I rubbed at my forehead and nodded a smile at her, sweeping my hair away from my face. “Sure, sorry. I’ll get the last four, okay?” And I did, though I was taking none of it in. I was lost, thoughts on a rather male-shaped elsewhere, but whenever I tried to shake myself loose from them, I’d remember some other puzzling fact that I couldn’t get over.
“It’s really getting around,” Sherry murmured. I glanced at her questioningly. She indicated with a subtle tilting of her head to the row at the corner of the room where a group appeared to be talking among themselves more than they were writing anything down. Their voices were hushed, but not enough that a little effort on my part prevented me from hearing their conversation.
“You can’t be serious, Kelsey,” murmured a girl I recognised from Citizenship who often sat next to Joey. She was frowning, ripping the edges of a page from her refill pad into shreds.
“I pretty much suspected it all along,” Kelsey, replied with a grin. “Courtney would tell me all this shit about how he never wanted to do anything and it was so fucking obvious-”
“How’d Courtney only just figure it out now then?” another guy asked. “They’ve been going out since, like, July.”
Kelsey smirked. “Well, she probably didn’t notice Joey’s lack of attention ’cause she was sleeping with half of Browning.” The first girl shook her head with a roll of her eyes, turning away from the others. “What, Abby?”
“It’s not right, Kels. She’s spreading shit about Joey cheating when she’s done a thousand times worse-”
“I’m sorry,” another guy broke in with an incredulous smirk, twisting his biro around his index finger. “Did you miss the fact that he fucked a guy?” They all looked expectantly at Abby, as if she needed to explain that piece of fabrication away.
I looked away, eyebrows pinched. Hadn’t Joey said, that night at the beach, that his girlfriend had been with that same girl—Kelsey—at his party? Did that not count because they were two girls? Because there were no feelings involved?
I sighed. Fuck. Not that there were between Joey and I, but it wasn’t even true in the first place. How could they all believe it so readily?
Because they wanted to.
“That’s bullshit,” she murmured. Sherry raised her eyebrows.
Are you listening to this?! she mouthed. I nodded, but returned to copying from the board. It was none of my business, and yet…
“He left, apparently.”
“Yeah, after Philosophy. Fucking pelted him with notes, but he didn’t read any of them.”
“You heard what Ryan said at his party, right?”
“Yeah. It’s so obvious.”
“You know who he apparently got in with?”
“Some Freddie Lewis guy-” my blood ran cold, and Sherry’s hand moved to my leg underneath our desk, squeezing to show support. It didn’t stop my fingers tightening around my pen or my heartbeat increasing, just a little. My body prickled with awareness.
“Shut the fuck up, he’s in here you idiot-”
“Why do I give a shit if he hears? Fag—”
“He just found out his dad has cancer, you dick,” said a hushed voice.
My jaw clenched as I stood unsteadily and whirled around to face the group, my chair scraping back with an ear-splitting squeal—and they all flinched, eyes wide with fear, and shame, and uncertainty, but shit- they didn’t really give a fuck. They couldn’t see what they’d done or said as wrong.
The only problem was that my father was ill.
“Freddie?” Mrs Montague’s voice broke through my haze of anger. I stumbled between my chair and Sherry’s and I stalked right out of the room, towards the closest doors leading outside.
History would always repeat itself, because the human race will always produce ignorant assholes.
Guess I’d better get used to it.
I faked sick after Philosophy, but that was no surprise.
I was lounging on the sofa in my living room, guitar leaning against the armrest beside me, TV presenting some toothpaste ad when I heard the lock in the door, and moments later mum walked in with a young regular called Bobby on her hips and a shopping bag in the crook of her arm. The loose curls that commandeered his head made me smile softly.
“Hey, Joey,” he said.
“Hey, Builder,” I replied, and he squealed an indignant reply, which my mum laughed at.
“How are you doing, Joe?” Mum asked, gently letting Bobby down with the bag. Immediately the toddler ran over to the corner of our small living room that contained a seemingly infinite amount of kids’ toys on unsure legs. “I got the call. Sorry I couldn’t pick you up.”
“It’s fine,” I told her truthfully. The bus home had allowed me to drown thought with loud music and cool my feverish forehead against cold glass. “I’m fine. Just felt queasy.” Sick. “Headache.”
She pouted a little. “That’s no good.” I shrugged.
After another moment, my mum walked over cautiously and stopped in front of me. She crouched down to my level, hands on my knees, and silently demanded my eye contact. “You know you can tell me, right, Joe? Whatever it is.” I scoffed dryly. Close enough to Chou’s words, and I was no more hopeful that my mum could help in any way, shape or form. I had to speak to Courtney— “If you’re upset about—just, it seems like you’re more cut up about it than you made out to be.” I closed my eyes.
Cut up about what exactly? I wanted to both laugh and to cry, but, fuck that, I’d done too much of the latter earlier already, and the former could only lead to a hysterical form of crying, so—
“Joey?” My throat closed up, eyes stinging. Her hands on my knees tightened, reassuring. “Joe,” and I felt the scrunched up balls of paper hitting my back again, assuming eyes in the corridors, heard words… whatever story was going round would be recycled and reshaped until it grew into a monster of a rumour that nobody could get rid of, even if they wanted to. “Baby, plea-”
I snapped, pushing her hands away as I stood.
“Would you stop using fucking child psychology against me m—?”
Bobby laughed especially loudly at the frequency at which a garishly coloured train lit up and blared some children’s rhyme, and I stopped mid-sentence. Mum stood slowly.
The tinny sound filled the room, but the silence between mum and I was deafening. The tears pricked once again, and I turned from her.
“I’m sorry,” I apologised, heading for the kitchen. “I’ll go make dinner.”
I didn’t get too far with the spaghetti and tomato sauce I’d planned on executing before mum was in the kitchen, holding me tight from behind. Her head was cradled in between my neck and shoulder, and somehow that only made me feel like falling even harder apart. I twisted in her arms and allowed them to encase me.
“I’m so sorry,” I began, “And I shouldn’t have sworn like that, especially in front of Bobby,” but my mother only held me tighter, murmuring words to me that meant nothing, and yet seemed to seep beneath my skin and support.
How was I such a coward as the son of a mother with such strength?
“You had lunch?” she whispered. “We can have sandwiches. Relax, Joe. Everything will be fine.”
My head tilted to the side as my mouth opened to release a yawn. The TV was still on, but I wasn’t watching it. My focus was on my fingers as I practised moving them from one chord to another. Mum was pouring a glass of squash for Bobby in the kitchen.
“Want one too?” she shouted to me.
“No.” I was far too into the plucking of strings to want a distraction.
“No, thank you,” she teased.
“You’re welcome,” I grinned. My head really was pounding though, and the TV was blaring, and the sound the strings were making, though beautiful, was not helping at all. “Mum, can you get me some Paracetamol? Uh, please?”
“I think we ran out down here. You wanna go check my room? First or second drawer of my bedside table. Should have some Ibroprofen or something.”
“Thank you,” I replied with a smile, propping my guitar against the sofa’s armrest as I stood up. I went over to ruffle Bobby’s hair briefly before I left the room and headed upstairs.
Mum had two bedside tables on either side of her bed –not a big deal, but knowing my luck, I walked around her bed to the further one and then knelt in front of it.
The first drawer produced nothing useful, and the second had some batteries, a notebook, pens and some old pictures— I saw myself. I fell back onto my hunches as I grabbed the pile out and began to flick through slowly. It was no surprise that quite a few featured Ryan, and even his mum Claire could be found covering her face or chasing Ryan around the room with an apron here and there.
I smiled, despite myself; I remembered that one. And the one after. Mum was crouched down in a dense forest field, arms around Ryan and I, and the three of us were staring into the camera, at Claire, with the broadest grins on the dirtiest faces. Sodden clothing and greasy hair sprinkled with twigs.
It was when I was eleven. For my birthday, rather than have a party full of half-hearted friends, I’d wanted to go away somewhere with my best one. Ryan. So Mum and Claire had packed us up and we’d set off on a trip to Cornwall. The in thing at the time, I’m pretty sure, was doing the National Trust walks and looking for bugs or birds or whatever-the-fuck. I didn’t know, that was what Ryan was into. But I vouched we go for it, and that was what we did. Spent a long weekend in a cottage by a lake looking for frogs, climbing trees and fishing.
I didn’t so much like the fishing part.
I think I felt sorry for all the little guys we caught (and put right back in), and I think Ryan made me cry by throwing one of them at me. Then his mum told him off, and mine laughed aloud, and, after a moment, I did too—because I always did, where Ryan was concerned.
I pushed the drawer shut, photos still in hand, and moved onto the last drawer.
This one was a little jammed, but with a bit of effort on my part, it came loose and opened. My free hand, however, seemed incapable of keeping hold of the photos I’d just been looking through, and they scattered into the drawer and all over the floor around me. I gathered the pictures on the floor and shuffled them into a pile, trying not to bend them, but uncaring about the order—I’d take them down and show mum.
I reached into the drawer and began picking those in there out too, placing them onto the pile in front of me—still no pain relief pills, but, among sheets of paper, a wallet and CDs, there were more pictures.
These were of my father, and my mother, mostly together. She looked so young.
Of course she did; he’d died ten years ago, and the pictures in the drawer seemed to only be of the two of them whilst he was alive. He looked so charismatic—confident. He was winking in one of the pictures, arm around one of his co-workers, both dressed in uniform.
Sometimes… Sometimes, I wished I could be him.
On the beach with Freddie I’d been angry, but in truth, unless they’d known me at the time or I’d told them, not a lot of people knew what had happened to my dad. I didn’t think about him often, but he was always there, somewhere. He was unreachable, his memory untouchable. He seemed like an entity I could never hope to become, nor could I live up to, and I’d always wondered if I could have—could have been something more—had he remained here.
“Joey? Did you find it?”
“Not yet-” I yelled back, scrambling to pack the pictures up and put them back. I sighed in annoyance as a folded sheet of paper fluttered from between the glossy photographs, and I almost ripped it in my haste to pick it up, but then I paused. Andy was written at the top in handwriting that looked oddly similar to mine.
I’m sorry that I’ve failed you so far, and I am so, so sorry that I’m about to do it again. Will have, when you read this.
I wish I knew what to say that might possibly take away the pain you’re going to experience—but you must know that it’s better this way. I can’t be a father to Joe. I can’t be a husband to you. I’m tired. Selfish, but so damn tired, and the ache won’t go away.
I can’t ask you not to hate me, but I love you so much it burns.
Please don’t tell Joe.
“What the fuck.” The headache had become a migraine. My eyes were swimming, body swaying. “Mum, what the fuck!?”
I heard her hurried footsteps on the stairs—she knew. Her head was shaking, chest rising and falling, when she arrived at the doorway of her bedroom. Their bedroom—he’d been here too. Until he’d killed himself.
“He killed himself.”
I stood, still, but my vision was shaking. We saw the world upside down first, right? That was how mine remained; brain couldn’t compute. Couldn’t rectify the image. My fingers still clung to the letter. Mum opened her mouth, and her eyes leaked, and I repeated, “He killed himself.” Swallowed. “Please don’t tell Joe…?”
“Like I don’t deserve to fucking know?!”
“You needed him to be a hero!” she shouted back, fists fragile and tight at her sides. “I couldn’t watch you—can’t watch you do this to yourself—”
“What? What the fuck could I be doing to myself that he hasn’t already?!”
“Joey, don’t,” she whispered, deflating. And then Bobby started crying.
“Where’s Sherry?” Tom asked as he and Paige caught up with me. We walked out of the school building, surrounded by others rushing to get home.
“Her mum’s picking her up; dentist appointment or something. You guys heading to the skate park?”
“Nope,” Paige grinned. “We’re actually doing some work, for once.”
“Hey, it’s at least the third time, this year,” Tom protested.
I attempted a smile. “Well, good luck with that.” I felt the hesitation from both of them and could practically feel the glance they sent each other behind my back. “I’m probably going to go home and sleep for a year or so-” Before I’d even finished, Tom was hugging me from behind and licking the shell of my ear.
“Eugh, seriously?” I chuckled, elbowing him off. “Joke’s on you; I don’t wash behind my ears, buddy.”
“We’ll see you around,” Paige grinned, grabbing Tom by the neck of his shirt and pulling him away. “Here boy.”
“Bye, Fredster,” he crooned.
I waved to them as I turned towards my bus stop. Moments later, my phone began to ring.
“D, what’s up?”
“Jay,” I ran my free hand through my hair and winced, watching as some year seven kid ran across the road and very nearly met a car halfway.
“Please tell me you’re free right now.”
“Well,” I began slowly, “I could go home and do a load of homework…”
“O-or,” Jay stretched the word out for a minute at least. “You could come surf with me and a friend of mine.”
I sighed. “I’m crap at surfing, and you know it. That does sound tempting, though.”
“That’s because it is tempting. I’ll take no excuses; that just means you need to practice more. Now, where do I pick you up?”
I’d waited by the sports field for about ten minutes when Jay turned up in an old, brown estate car. His friend Curtis, who I’d met a couple of times when we’d been together, was in the driver’s seat. He grinned at me as I threw my bag into the back and slid in after it.
“Yo, Fred. Long-time no see.”
“Hey, guys,” I replied with a smile, glancing at the surf boards sticking out over the partially folded back seat that, with an unexpected swerve, could take off my head. “Where are we going?”
Jay said we were going to the beach with the best waves, which I couldn’t complain about, and soon enough Curtis was pulling up and stepping out. Upon looking out of the window, I realised that this was the beach I’d met Joey at. I bit my lip and tried to push the thought- the memory- out of my head. That was only three days ago.
“You coming, D?”
“No thanks to you,” I smirked, tongue poking out mock seductively as Jay winked at me and opened the door. I helped carry one of the surf boards as Jay got the other, and Curtis carried a backpack that, I was guessing, contained a wetsuit or two.
“Uh, how many wetsuits can you fit in there?” I asked, struggling to hold onto the board. I’d only ever used a proper one once, having hired the foam boards whenever Jay had wanted to go, and I’d never had to carry it. Not only was the occasional wind making it difficult to manoeuvre, it was fucking heavy too.
“Nah, the wetsuits are in my hut, I’ve a spare for you, worry not,” Curtis replied, looking over his shoulder to grin at me. He lifted the backpack. “This is just the entertainment.”
And it was. He had speakers in there. It was unlikely we’d bother anyone. The beach, being one of the quieter in the area, was empty; which wasn’t surprising considering the bite the wind brought, and the clouds that hid the sun. The weather being as it was, however, seemed to be perfect for surfing because the waves were crashing against the shore, foaming at the mouth in anticipation.
Curtis’ hut was a green one about fifteen down from the first on the right, and it was one of the slightly bigger ones too, fitting five fold up deck chairs, a mini fridge (packed full of beer and cider and soft drinks), a small table, cupboards of random edibles and cupboards of towels—and wetsuits. Full-body ones, thankfully. Plus a little leg room.
“I think this one will fit you,” Curtis said, pulling out a black one with a blue torso and arms.
“That looks way too tight for him,” Jay frowned, and I couldn’t disagree. “I know his body better,” Jay boasted with a teasing smile. Curtis’ faked throwing up. “Here.” I took the red wetsuit in his hand and gave Curtis a pat on the back.
“What can I say? He speaks the truth.”
“Whatever. You change first. I’ll get the music set up. JJ, order pizza.”
The water was cold. My heart was beating. The sun was setting, and my father was dying.
No- had cancer.
The two weren’t quite interchangeable, and yet. Yet…
What the fuck was I doing?
A cold spray of water splashed me from my left and I looked up slowly to see Jay had fallen off his board and into the water a couple of metres from me, deeper. My eyes widened slightly, but a second later his arms rose, clamped onto his board, and pulled himself up—as I knew he would. Still, I could never stop the fear I felt when someone was submerged.
“Yo, D,” he called out, wiping his eyes. He was grinning, and I couldn’t help smiling a little too. “Have you given up?”
“Yes, I fucking have. I’m shit.” But sitting on the board as I was, legs astride and sun sinking, felt good. Even if I felt guilt as I did so. My father… “Do you know?”
“Know what?” Jay had pulled himself up to sit on his board as I was, and he slowly began paddling over to me. I watched the tips of our boards as they bumped, and then watched his hand squeeze my knee. My eyes lifted to meet his.
“Did Lou tell you?”
Jay scrutinised me, face drawn, and my jaw clenched. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s why you invited me out today, isn’t it?”
“Don’t be fucking stupid, I’d have invited you anyway,” he began.
“But it helped, right?” He tried to argue but I shook my head. “I’m not upset, Jay. It’s… It’s cool. I’m glad. This is so,” I sighed and closed my eyes. The wind whipped up again. “Freeing.” There was so much ocean behind me, to my left, to my right. “It’s nice.” His lips against my forehead. God, it almost made me want to cry. Some things were too much, and this moment was one of them. I just wanted to forget.
I cleared my throat, eyes blinking open. Curtis was sitting in front of his beach hut eating a slice of pizza, from what I could see. “Think he wants a turn again?” I asked, raising a hand to him.
“Probably. You’ll be okay?”
I rolled my eyes as Curtis gave me a thumbs up in confirmation. “There’s pizza, alcohol and music,” I told him, sliding off the board when I was hip-deep and floating it towards the shore. “I’ll be fine.” Or I would have been had I not, soon after, stepped on a particularly sharp unidentified object beneath the water’s surface just as I saw a familiar figure stepping off the pedestrian promenade and onto the sand. At my (very masculine) yelp, the Joey in the distance lifted his gaze right, and froze on the spot.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him.
I shouldn’t have been happy either.
I slipped headfirst into the water and, shallow though it was, managed to swallow a gulp of seawater. I was coughing and spluttering and, in record time, Jay was smacking my back as Curtis ran towards us, asking if I was okay. I struggled away from my ex-boyfriend, face likely growing impossibly redder than it already was. Embarrassing was not a strong enough word.
Joey had moved, but barely. His hands were frozen in mid-air, lifted as though they’d meant to warn me or something, but his feet remained in the same place.
“Take your board, Curtis,” I coughed out, bending to rip off the Velcro that connected me to his board. “I’ll be back in a sec, okay?”
The soles of my feet were sore by the time I reached Joey, and I was still struggling not to cough up a lung. His arms had dropped to their sides, however.
“Hey,” I said, through a burning throat. My smile wasn’t returned; Joey’s face was blank. I began to feel something like regret, and just a little stupidity. I’d run across the beach for what, exactly?
His face twitched, eyes drifting past me to the sea. “Hey.” My arms rose to hug my body, a vain attempt to keep the shivers at bay. I heard the displeasure he didn’t have to voice.
“Ah,” I said, as much gravel I could muster up spiking my voice. “Never mind.” I took a step back as I turned to go.
“Wait,” his tone weaker. I glanced back, watching the twitch of his features again. It was a repeat of this morning; an attempt to hide his emotions. I bit my lip—clearly, the rumour had hit harder than I’d realised.
“Are you okay, Joey?” He didn’t say anything, gaze falling to my midriff, then rising to my chest. “You wanna hang out with us?” I asked. He looked past me at where I guessed Curtis and Jay were, but still no reply. “Listen, Joey?” Back up at me. “I’m kinda cold, so I’m going to go get a towel. You can come down—we’ve got alcohol and cold pizza, if you’re up for it.”
When I still received no reply, I turned and began to head towards Curtis’ beach hut, which he and Jay were standing beside, a can in their hands. I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath until it was released upon hearing footsteps on the sand behind me.
Jay handed me a can when I stopped in front of him, eyebrow raised as he sent a subtle look in Joey’s direction. Curtis was blatant in his observation. He sipped at his coke.
“Joey,” I began, crouching to grab a towel, “This is Jay and Curtis. Guys, Joey. He’s in my year.” The two surfers greeted him, causing him to look up, stiffen in what seemed to be recognition, but nod in reply.
“Want a drink?”
“No, thanks.” Joey looked back out at the sea. The waves were growing even more forceful. Not high, but definitely stronger. He turned back to Jay. “Are those proper boards?”
“They are,” Jay smiled.
Curtis nudged my ex-boyfriend with a smirk. “Some more proper than others. Mine is the yellow beauty. You surf?”
“Yeah,” Joey said almost longingly, and I found my mouth falling open.
“I think I have a wetsuit with your name on it.”
Ten minutes later, Curtis and I were huddled beside each other in towels that were getting just as wet as we were as Jay stood a little ahead, fingers tapping his thigh to the Kanye track that he’d made us listen to on repeat three times in a row. The door of the hut opened just as I reached for another slice of cold pepperoni. Joey re-emerged, suited up in black and blue. His eyes met mine- and we held on for moments too long. Jay turned to face him, and he to Jay.
“Yeah,” Joey said, a small smile growing, then they strapped themselves to their boards and headed towards the water with the boards under their arms. I’d expected Joey to struggle; his arms were shorter than mine after all, but he held it rather expertly.
It made sense for my eyes to watch Jay’s rather perfectly shaped ass in the tight fitting wetsuit, so why, then, were they straying to the nape of Joey’s neck- the slant of his shoulders, and the slope of his lower back to-
Damn, well, his was alright too.
“Thought you wanted to surf,” I said.
Curtis shrugged. “I did. But looked like your friend wanted to more.”
“Jay could have sat out instead of you.”
“Yeah, but,” Curtis hesitated. He laid his legs straight out in front of him, stretching shrivelled toes, and allowed the towel around him to loosen. “Your friend, Joey, I recognise him.”
“You do?” I took a bite of my pizza slice, eyebrows rising. “You know, I think he recognised you too.”
“Looked like it, didn’t it?”
“Maybe you saw him around. You used to go to our school right? Before I was there-”
“Yeah, no, that’s definitely it.” Curtis picked up his phone and navigated until he was scrolling through music artists. He settled on Miike Snow. I took another bite. “Buses. He caught the same bus I did, back when I went there.”
“He was weird.”
“Ch- yeah. Still is.”
“No,” Curtis said slowly, lifting his arms behind his head. “Like, he stared at me. All the time.” I frowned.
“Completely. I used to think he was racist,” Curtis continued. “I’m pretty dark for a mixed race guy, but…”
“I don’t think that’s it.”
“Neither do I. He was just weird.” A pause. Curtis looked up. “Shit.”
“What?” My gaze followed his. “Fuck.”
Joey was stood on his board, bent low, riding the wave as if it was second nature. His movements were as fluid and direct as the waves he was riding. And then he fell in. I sat up, waiting for him to rise again. Sure, Curtis was better, but I’d had no idea about this particular skill of Joey’s. He didn’t exactly look like a surfer—though I’d never be able to un-see the way he’d surfed just then; he’d appeared so natural. In moments he broke the water’s surface, grinning, and was lying on the board paddling out again in no time. Jay called out to him and he slowed. Turned to face him, blonde hair sending splashes flying as it hurried to cling to his forehead. He smiled and replied.
“What time is it?”
Curtis glanced at his phone screen. “Half five. You’re leaving?”
“I probably should,” I told him with a sigh. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to see Joey smile like that again. I didn’t want to feel the desire that was beginning to stir within me for the goddamn stupid prick I knew he was supposed to be—but wasn’t.
“Well, if you stay till seven I can give you a lift home?”
Fuck sake. “Sounds good.”
My cheeks ached from smiling so much, but fuck did it feel good. “This is… This is so…” Beautiful. Perfect.
I turned sharply to face Jay, attacked by hair determined to plaster itself upon my skin. He was paddling closer to me, so I slowed. Pushed back against the board as I rose. It rocked, bobbed up and down on the water, as I sat with a leg on each side of it. My lips stretched once again. Wasn’t going to say that, but, “Yeah. Yes. Exactly.” I was free from solid ground, from thought, and from reality.
“Freddie just said the same thing.” He sighed, lifting his face to the slowly darkening sky. He was classically good-looking. His face and physique could easily have been pulled out of a magazine. What was that one Abby carried around everywhere? Jack Wills? “I completely agree, though I feel like you guys are getting some spiritual fulfilment from it that I am not.”
I didn’t know how to reply to that. My fingers found each other and I began to click my knuckles. When I’d arrived at the beach, I’d had only my mother’s words in my mind, and my father’s fading face. Neither of us had been able to say what we wanted to; Bobby had to be attended to. And, fuck, I wasn’t jealous, but bitterness had crept in. I’d been pushed to the side again, my needs second place. I wanted to be alone. Get rid of that assumption and deal with the other issue concerning my successfully suicidal father. Just me, my thoughts, and the sea, but—but had Freddie and his friends not been here, I wouldn’t be sat on a board in the water.
I felt so much lighter there; feet off the ground.
He was everywhere it seemed, but this time it wasn’t so bad.
“You guys good friends?”
I doubted we were friends at all. “We’re alright.” My feet were beginning to freeze. I swirled them about underneath me, causing the yellow board to nudge Jay’s. “I’m guessing you guys are?”
“I guess,” Jay said softly. “I hope so. He’s my ex-boyfriend.”
My eyes widened, lips parting of their own accord. Jay smirked.
“You’re aware that he’s gay, right?”
“Y-yeah,” I spluttered, averting my eyes. I just wasn’t aware that Jay was, or that Freddie’s taste was quite so... High. “Of course.”
“What about Curtis?” My cheeks tinted. It wasn’t as if Jay knew about the dreams I’d had years ago—nobody did. But suddenly, I’d been introduced to the guy who’d featured in a large percentage of them by the guy I had supposedly fucked, according to my ex-girlfriend.
“Gay, or good friends with Freddie?”
“Um,” I winced, “The second—good friends.”
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Jay said. “He met Freddie through me. Hey,” Jay’s hand landed on my forearm but finished in my own. I looked from our hands to his face. He was looking towards the shore, and when I followed his gaze, I found Curtis lying down and Freddie still huddled in a bright orange towel, staring straight at us.
Jay turned to me with a grin. “Shall we catch one more wave and then get the hell out? It’s fucking cold.”
“Might go for a quick swim after,” I murmured, very aware that Jay’s hand was still holding mine.
“You were really good.”
Freddie had a can of cider in his hand, but he’d been staring out at the sea for the last five minutes, pensively. I lifted my lemonade to my lips and took a sip.
“You’re really good at surfing,” he repeated. He quirked an eyebrow up. “And when you ditched the board and went for a swim too… I couldn’t go that fast or that far after having just surfed like you did. Steroids?”
Jay and Curtis laughed a little from where they sat, opposite us; Curtis with a cigarette and Jay with his head back and hands behind him. I joined them, weakly, “No, I’ve just been swimming for a really long time. And surfing a little while, I guess.” I’d learnt how to swim since I was five or six, and it became the only activity that I took on without Ryan. When I was old enough, I then began taking myself to the leisure centre without my mum. Surfing came after, when I was about fifteen, and there were bigger gaps between.
It was really the water I was into, though. Swimming pools were good—they were great. But the sea was even better.
Jay leaned forward and grabbed Curtis’ phone from the dubious circle we four made. “Let’s get something more exciting on, shall we?”
“What’s more exciting than Adele?” Curtis asked—sarcastically, I guessed. Motown, I wanted to say, but I doubted he’d have much of that, or any at all.
Jay rolled his eyes. “Your music collection is seriously lacking.”
“You say that every day.”
“And you never update it- oh, yes!”
“Her hips don’t lie,” Jay grinned, rising as, sure enough, the distinctive Shakira tune began spilling from the speakers settled haphazardly in the middle.
“Fuck, man, really?” Curtis groaned, hand raking through his hair as he hid a grin. “Here we go again.”
“Every time,” Freddie agreed.
I frowned. “What-?” but I didn’t need to finish my sentence. Jay had taken a small step out of the circle, gyrating his hips, tossing his head from one side to another, shoulders rolling in opposite directions. His wetsuit squeaked in protest, but he took no notice. My mouth was probably open, but I’ve no way of knowing; I was shocked out of my mind.
“You alright there, Joey?”
My head snapped to a chuckling Curtis.
“’Course he is. He can watch,” Jay teased. He winked. “This show’s for free.”
“Save it for the Xchange,” Freddie sighed. Jay grabbed his hands and hauled him to his feet, however, hands falling to Freddie’s hips to manipulate them into swaying closer to his own, in sync. His head neared Freddie’s then, and I swear I saw a blush grow across the latter’s cheeks.
“Only if you come with me.”
“Xchange?” I repeated dumbly.
“The gay bar. You’ve never been? I’ll take you, if you like.”
My own cheeks reddened. “Do I look gay to you?!”
Curtis laughed. “Well, I’m as straight as an unbent pole, but I’ve been dragged many a time.”
“By yours truly,” Jay called out, spinning Freddie around.
“I don’t dance,” the latter was grumbling, but he seemed like he had little trouble keeping up with his ex-boyfriend, and every few seconds a smile was splitting his face again. I blinked at them. There seemed nothing ex about their relationship at all.
They drifted a little further, talking as if they were in their own little world. Freddie stepped on Jay’s foot and they laughed, fell away, drew closer again.
It was the oddest thing.
“You’re not gay,” Curtis said, pulling my focus back to him. “So what are you?”
My eyebrows knotted together. “Straight?”
“It’s not so straight forward anymore, doncha know,” he smiled slyly. His eyes fell to the pizza box between our thighs. It looked rather bare; one slice left. “Pardon the pun. Don’t suppose you want that?”
I did. “I don’t. What did you mean?”
Curtis picked up the last slice and took a large bite. “Man. Haven’t you heard about all the new shit?” My eyebrows rose. “Eh. I don’t blame you; I’d still be the same if on one of the nights Jay convinced me to go with him to a gay bar there wasn’t some guy who seemed as out of it as I did. Not that either of us weren’t enjoying ourselves, of course.”
“Of course,” I mumbled. My eyes trailed from his Adam’s apple as it bobbed, to his strong jawline, his tongue as it slipped out to lick his lips.
He’d grown—was even more attractive.
I never thought I’d see him again, and having done so, it brought those stupid dreams back with a vengeance. With Ryan it had been okay- though that was probably not the right word to use- because I’d seen him almost every day since. They soon blurred to nothing, drowned by the real memories I had with him and the reality of our relationship.
Curtis was different. I’d only ever seen him as a year nine kid, five years ago on the bus; almost always with a grey hoodie underneath his school blazer and huge headphones over his ears, around his neck. That, or in my head, kissing me against the wall of some bare, unremarkable room, shirts removed.
How the fuck did I even get images like that in my head back then?
He took another bite. “And I tell him,” he said, allowing me glimpses of the pizza in his mouth. “Guess you’re straight too? Which he denied. Asexual, he said.”
“Asexual?” I swore science lessons had claimed that of plants.
“Yeah, man,” Curtis wiped around his mouth with the back of his hand. “Not feeling sexual attraction. And then, though my mind was blown with that alone, he starts pointing out some of his friends; homosexual, hetero, demi, pan-sexual,” he counted them on his fingers. “Pan-romantic, questioning, loads more. And then there’s bi, of course.”
“Why so many?” I frowned, “Isn’t gay and straight enough? And, well, bisexual makes sense too, I guess-”
Curtis shrugged, “It’s their sexualities. You can’t tell someone that what they feel doesn’t exist. I’ve heard that it’s like a spectrum or something, though.” I straightened a little, glancing at Freddie. His conversation with Chou had mentioned a spectrum too. And, shit, hadn’t they said something about asexuality as well? “He started on gender too, but, man, that was a lecture for another time.”
“Oh, baby. Thank you for this dance.” Curtis and I looked up as Jay kissed Freddie on the cheek. Freddie, pulling a faux-freaked out face, turned to face me, but seemed to pause there. “We should probably go homewards soon,” his ex-boyfriend said, and he strolled into the hut, patting Curtis’ head as he went. “I’m changing.”
“I think I’ll dip my feet in the sea, first,” Freddie said. He blinked down at me. “Want to come with?”
Jay had asked me if I was into Joey as we danced.
I’d said no, eyes glancing over to the guy in question as he chatted to Curtis. No way. But the verbal replies had come with unspoken hesitation. Joey was… Joey. He was plain, and confusing. Short—I wasn’t into shorter guys. In addition, I didn’t even know him.
Then I’d said, almost a question, “I want to kiss him.” So, not so no way. I’d come to a similar conclusion a little earlier today already; I couldn’t deny it. There was something about Joey. That I didn’t know him wasn’t a negative, it just meant there was a shit tonne to find out. Amidst all the confusion, Joey Hartman had become Joey, and I had no idea when that had started being a good thing, but it had. I wanted to kiss him.
“So go for it.”
“Jay,” I’d began, the tone of my voice a warning.
“Maybe he’s Harry Potter and we haven’t even realised.” I’d started to grumble something back when he’d held me still for a moment. “Or I’ll have to kiss a certain someone myself.”
“You are not kissing Joey.”
“Of course not, silly,” Jay grinned. “He’s not my type. You, however…”
I stepped on his foot.
“Looks like someone needs to start coming to my dance classes again.”
I burst out laughing. “I never went before, Jay, and I don’t plan on starting now.”
Joey was frowning, though his eyebrows rose. I’d asked him to accompany me as I dipped my feet in the sea, not murder a kitten. My talk with Jay had reminded me of one reason I had to quickly bury whatever desire I had concerning him and his lips; there was currently a rumour about his being gay, and though it had been started by his big-old-bitch of a girlfriend, the fault was mine. Partly, at least. It made no sense, but in the mind of the ignorant, it was an understandable, if wildly stupid, conclusion to jump to.
Where the fuck was Ryan’s statement?
After another moment of silence, Joey began to rise to his feet.
“Yeah, sure. I guess so.”
He followed me to the water, but stopped there. I stepped decidedly in, allowing a hiss of surprise as I did so.
I sent Joey a sarcastic look over my shoulder before returning my gaze to the horizon. “No. Pleasantly lukewarm. Not putting yours in?”
“I’m not scared.” He was looking intently at the sea foam that was rushing towards his feet but always stopping short of them when I glanced back at him. He was smiling. “I just won’t want to come back out again.”
A pause. “Joey?”
“I think I should probably apologise.” He looked up at me slowly, confused.
“The gay shit?” I nodded. His smile grew bitter. “Of course you’ve heard.”
“I don’t believe it. And can’t Ryan—Ryan knows that nothing happened, Joey-”
“Ryan also fucked Courtney,” he snapped, words staccato; harsh and quick. When he cleared his throat afterwards, his hands followed the gesture by curling into fists by his side. A minute passed before Joey stepped into the sea, and then he kept going until he was knee deep.
“While—” My mouth had fallen open in shock. “While you guys were still—?”
“Are you up for going for another swim?” he interrupted, still facing the sea. At my lack of reply, he mimicked me, moving a chin over his shoulder. The sardonic eyebrow had the corner of my lip twitching, but the moment didn’t seem to allow it to fully stretch. Humour wouldn’t work. He didn’t seem alright, to me. “Don’t be chickenshit.”
I slowly followed him in further, trying to stifle the shivers that had already begun to race through my body.
Should have brought a towel.
“I really don’t think I can,” I muttered. “If that makes me chickenshit, then...” The water looked so dark. Unsettling, almost, and the waves had only continued to grow more agitated. We both rose to our toes, rocking with a wave as it rolled across us, almost reaching our hips.
“Everyone believes it. And—and, considering what Ryan said at mine… That night,” he sent a furtive glance over to Curtis’ hut. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“Because it’s not true.”
Joey said nothing.
I licked my lips and finally lifted my arms to hug myself, rubbing at the frozen muscles I could reach. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t have a lot of options,” Joey replied vacuously.
I found that I was very aware of the rising of my chest as I watched Joey’s lips part. His head tilted upwards, shoulders rising slightly as he took a breath in.
“You have options,” I said. Attempted a not so genuine joke; “You could kiss me, or I could kiss you.” I didn’t blame Joey for staring at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Make the rumours true.” I laughed awkwardly. “Or we could go back to the hut and forget I just that.”
He shook his head. “I want to swim.”
It wasn’t the answer I’d been expecting, and that somehow made me wish he’d responded to the first to options by stepping up to me, grabbing my hips—
I took a step closer to Joey and tugged at his arm gently. “It’s getting really cold. Options won’t matter if you die of pneumonia.”
He turned to face me fully, and his ordinarily clear blue eyes were stormy just then. Whether it was due to the anguish he was communicating through them or the reflection of the sea surrounding us and the dark sky above, I didn’t know.
“I had two people,” he said. “Ryan, and my mum. And I’ve managed to push them both away.” His voice had risen up and down, uncertain, like the waves that lapped my knees, his thighs. I inched closer still, fingers falling lower but clinging to the fabric of his full-body wetsuit. Curtis’. “I need to go,” he said, almost pleading. “I need to swim.” It sounded like he’d break down at any given moment—his voice would crack, throat give way. But his eyes were dry; face too carefully blank.
His eyes drifted past me to the horizon, and his head followed the movement. They settled on a cruise ship perched in the distance that I hadn’t noticed before.
“I want to swim until I get to the edge,” he continued, “And –” Joey swallowed audibly. “This is all I have. I come here to think, and—”
“And I ruined that for you,” I said, in realisation. “Friday night, and again today.”
Joey didn’t reply for a moment, and then he shook his head, words hesitant and slow. Spoken as if he was only coming to recognise their validity as they fell from his lips; “No. It wasn’t so bad, last time.”
The corners of my lips twitched upwards when he turned to face me. “But now?” My hand dropped to my side as I watched the rise and fall of his larynx.
“This is okay too. Actually, this…” He shrugged. “Today has been good. I should probably thank you.”
I wanted to kiss him. I needed to. And then I did.