It’d been a week and a half since my forced breakup with Madison, and each day was becoming harder and harder to bare, especially passing by his house almost everyday but not being able to hold him. It was pure torture. And to make matters even worse, every time I came in for work, Mr. Williams would have a satisfied grin on his face, causing anger to surge through me but I kept the urge to punch him at bay. It was already bad enough that I’d lost my boyfriend and the last thing I needed was to be arrested for assault.
I’d gone to church on Sunday, and luckily they’d gotten over that “damn every member of the LGBTQ+ community to hell” thing they had going on last week, but I still felt a sense of fear when I entered though no one knew about me, that is assuming that Mr. Williams kept his promise and didn’t tell anyone anything. It’s a fifty-fifty chance so far.
“Come on, Noah! It’s pizza day!” Connor announced in a song-song voice as he led me toward the cafeteria.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I chuckled as I stumbled alongside him. I was extremely grateful for Connor. He’d been staying by my side and offering me support, though he knew when to back off. Mr. Hill was constantly checking in on me as well, and though it wasn’t too much, I was extremely glad and relieved to have two people who knew my secret.
As soon as we were in line, Abbi came bounding over to us before she wrapped her arms around Connor and shamelessly kissed him, not caring who was watching. Connor smiled against her lips before pulling away. “I missed you.” He placed a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose, causing her to smile.
“I missed you too,” she said before she placed one more quick kiss on his lips then laced their fingers together. She’d been back from her break for a while, but every time they saw each other it was she’d just gotten back from a year long trip. And I kind of envied that. I looked away and swallowed down my envy and loneliness. I couldn’t show that this was bothering me or else Connor will keep Abbi at an arm’s length around me and that’s the last thing any of us want. He’s in love with her, it’s obvious, and I didn’t want to get in the way of that.
“Hey Noah,” Abbi politely greeted, causing my head to snap up as a faux smile instantly graced my lips.
“Hey Abbi. How was your trip?”
We spent the rest of our impossibly long wait in the lunch line talking about Abbi’s trip to visit her grandparents’ farm and watching her and Connor quickly kiss each other or gaze into each other’s eyes like love sick puppies. I had to get out of there or the tears I kept vigorously blinking away were going to make their presence known. So, as soon as we got to our table with the other boys, I quickly downed my pizza before I effortlessly lied about having to go get help from my math teacher. And three minutes later, I was sitting in the stairwell feverishly wiping away the tears that were silently sliding down my cheeks and trying to calm my raging Madison-centered thoughts. Needless to say that neither worked.
I found myself wandering into Mr. Hill’s room since I knew this was his planning period and as soon as he saw my tear stained face, he wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug and I completely broke down. I found myself releasing heavy sobs into his chest, my tears undoubtedly staining his light blue dress shirt, but he didn’t seem to care as he simply held me closer and gently rubbed my back the way my father had when I was younger and I’d cry after I lost a soccer game or when a bully would pick on me at school.
By the time I was done, I was breathing heavily and my body was physically shaking. “Sit down,” Mr Hill instructed as he pulled a chair out for me right in front of me before he grabbed a mini water bottle from his mini fridge and handed it to me. I offered him a silent nod as a thanks as I took it from his hands, but made no effort to actually open it. I was still shaking too much. “Do you wanna talk about it, Noah?” he softly asked as he pulled up a chair for himself.
“Everything reminds me of him,” I admitted. “Every smile on a face. Every couple kissing. The sound of laughter...it all reminds me of our memories that we’ve had and the ones we can’t make.” I quickly blinked away my tears. “And I can’t just ask my friends to halt their love lives because mine has gone down in flames, especially because my best friend, who’s the only one other than you who knows, just found someone he really really likes and I know that if he knew that I’m still hung up on this so badly, he’ll start pushing her away in order to spare my feelings and that’s the last thing I want. It’s just...I really want to see him. To tell him everything and make sure that he knows that I never meant to brak his heart, it’s just...it’s too dangerous for me, especially right now with the whole ‘anti-LGBTQ’ stuff that’s going on in my church and it’s just...I just want him to know that I love him so much.”
“I know that this is a hard time for you, Noah, and I wish I could say that I can relate to your experiences, but I can’t. But can I be honest with you?” I nodded. “I think you need to make sure that you fully love yourself before you love Madison. You need to be confident in your identity, and though you don’t have to tell everyone, you should be confident enough to tell your Nona and whoever else you want to tell, you know?” I swallowed and nodded once more. “Now, I’m not saying that you need to come out now, but I’m saying that you just...you just need to make sure you love and accept all of who you are, okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice coming out weak from my sobbing. Mr. Hill patted my back before he offered me a tissue to clean myself up. I’m really glad I have someone like Mr. Hill in my life. By the time the bell rang, I’d cleaned myself up pretty good to the point that it looked like I was merely tired instead of crying.
“Take it easy, kid,” he said as he clapped my shoulder. “Remember John and I are always here for you if you need.” I offered him a nod before I exited his classroom.
As I walked the hallways toward my next class, I glanced at my watch. Only 12:09. I wouldn’t be able to make it through the day, so I did what any logical kid would do: I played the “I don’t feel well” card and left early so that I could cuddle up in my covers wrapped in one of Madison’s sweatshirts and watched the Vampire Diaries, trying to convince myself that my lover was watching it with me.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m grateful for Connor’s borderline murderous drills...sometimes. It’d been two days since my mini-break down and Connor’s suicide drills were a good distraction, especially the part where it feels like my legs are about to fall off and my heart’s going to explode.
Come on, Noah. You’re almost there, I told myself as I neared the finish. Almost there... As soon as I finished my fifth suicide, I collapsed in the grass, breathing heavily and slightly shaking. My lungs burned and my whole body ached, but I was just glad that I’d managed to survive. Barely.
“Oh, come on, Noah,” Connor said with a cheesy smile as he clapped me on the shoulder, causing me to groan. “It wasn’t that bad.” I scowled and flipped him the bird, causing him to chuckle before he addressed the rest of the boys by saying, “Alright you guys, that’s it for today.” He was met by a chorus of tired cheers. “You did good, now go home and take warm baths or whatever you pansies do when your wittle baby muscles get sore.” If I could pick myself off the ground, I would’ve punched him. The boys grumbled before everyone went their separate ways and after a few moments, I peeled myself off the ground. Connor slung his arm across my shoulder and led me to his car. We both knew I wasn’t about to walk home.
“You’ll thank me later,” he said as he helped me into the car and buckled my seatbelt before he got on his side and drove me home. I had no idea how he was still standing, let alone not sore in the slightest bit.
After a short drive, we arrived at my house. Connor killed the engine and began vigorously typing on his phone, a smile growing on his face. He must be texting Abbi. Once he was finished, he helped me up and walked me to my front door. “I honestly hate you for this, Con,” I grumbled as I fished my keys out of my bag and unlocked my front door.
“You’ll thank me for this later,” he winked before he went back to his car and before I could even try to understand what he meant, he was gone.
I pushed open my front door and headed straight for the bathroom to shower, pulling out my extra pair of underwear and sweats that I always kept in my bag, too lazy to go all the way to my room.
I instantly felt the tension leave my body as the warm water rained down on me. I sighed as I rested my head against the wall and allowed the water to cascade down my back. Now that I could fully relax, I found my mind wandering back to Madison. I found myself shampooing my hair in an effort to distract myself. That it didn’t work.
After another ten minutes, I was drying off and just as I started drying my hair, I heard the front door close before Nona announced, “Noah, you have a visitor.” My eyebrows furrowed. I wasn’t expecting anyone. But my confusion was quickly washed away as things clicked into place. It was Connor. He was still worried about me.
"Sarò fuori un po ′ (I’ll be out in a bit),” I called as I continued drying myself off, taking my time since I hated the feeling of wet clothes. When I was done, I quickly slid on my boxers and sweats before I washed my face and applied some deodorant. A monsterous groan escaped my lips as I bent over to pick up my clothes, my legs and back crying out in protest. “I’m going to kill him,” I grumbled as I gathered my clothes and threw them in the dirty clothes hamper and used my other hand to massage my lower back before I trudged out of the bathroom toward my bedroom. I noticed that my bedroom light was on and slipping through my slightly cracked open door. He’d probably made himself comfortable in my bed by now like he usually did.
“I swear to God, Connor I am going to strangle you with a-” I started as I entered my room, but my words died on my tongue as I saw someone who definitely wasn’t Connor sitting on my bed. I swallowed. “Madison?” My voice came out as a whisper, almost breathless.
“Noah,” he acknowledged as he stood up. “We need to talk.”