XXVIII. Tear In My Heart
My leg was bouncing nervously as we drew closer and closer to our destination. "Babe, relax," Madison coolly said as he gave my hand a slight squeeze. "You're making me nervous."
"Sorry," I quickly said as I instantly stopped causing him to chuckle.
"I was kidding, but I can't blame you. You seriously need to relax though. I'm getting stressed out just by looking at you," he said with a chuckle as my school came into view. Today was my first day back since everything that had happened. My school was informed of the circumstances and had accepted the work I'd sent back with Connor, and gave me another week off which I spent with Madison and my Nona. Now it was time for me to come back.
I'd posted the picture of taken with Madison, and made us official. I was done hiding Madison from my peers at school. I'd gotten a lot of likes and support though there were some negative ones, but I didn't really mind. Plus, after everything we'd gone through, a few stares and mean words were nothing.
Madison pulled up in front of the school and stopped. I instantly felt outside eyes on me. He gave my hand a squeeze. "It's okay, Noah. Just breathe." I nodded and took a deep breath and looked at him.
"I'm going to miss you," I softly admitted. "Today's gonna be the longest we've been apart in God knows how long."
"I know. It's going to kill me," he said as he ran his thumb over my knuckles. "But luckily, that'll make it that much better when you get home." Home. With him. I really liked the sound of that.
"Okay," I smiled before I unbuckled my seatbelt and leaned over the middle console to kiss him.
"Wait, Noah. Someone might-" he started but was interrupted by me kissing him. He smiled against my lips and gently gripped the back of my head and held me there until I pulled away.
"I don't care who sees."
He smiled before he gave me another quick, gentle kiss. "Now go before I don't let you," he said as he grabbed my bag from the backseat.
"Alright, alright," I relented as I saw Connor and Abi approaching the car hand in hand. "I love you."
"I love you too, Noah," he said. "I'll be less than ten minutes away if you need me." I offered him a thanks before I opened the door and climbed out. I felt the heat of some gazes on me, but I ignored them as I approached Connor.
"Hey man," he greeted as he momentarily let go of Abi's hand and hugged me. "Long time, no see."
"Yeah," I said as I hugged him back. "I just needed to take a step back for a bit, you know?"
"Yeah," he said as he hug broke and his hand was instantly in Abi's again.
"He's just playing it cool. He was worried sick about you," Abi said, poking at Connor.
I laughed as Connor let out a childish "Abiii" before we all headed into the school. Connor started filling me in on everything I'd missed out on with Abi chiming in when he forgot something. I had to admit that they were perfect for each other, two weird peas in a pod. It wasn't long until we entered the lunchroom and my heart instantly sped up as I eyed my friend group at their usual table laughing and talking. Some of the seats were empty since some of the guys who were on the team had also gone here. I wondered what they were doing.
We made our way over there and as I approached, the conversations became quiet and all eyes were on me. I wanted to ran away. But instead I swallowed and awkwardly waved as I took my usual seat. "Hey. It's been a while, huh?"
"Yeah," Max said.
"Dude, why didn't you tell us what was going on?" Another guy, Duke, blurted, skipping past the small talk.
I sighed. I knew I'd have to talk about this eventually. "I just...didn't want to, I guess. I didn't think you'd understand and it was a bit awkward," I admitted looking down, unable to meet their eyes in fear of judgement or disgust.
"But bro, you know we would've been there for you, right?" A guy named Gavin said.
"Yeah, especially with that pizzeria dude threatening you and those other guys beating you up...that was not cool."
"It was effed up, bro," Connor corrected.
"Exactly," Max agreed. "As for your new boyfriend- what's his name?"
"Madison," he filled in. "Bro, we don't really care. If you like boys, girls, or whatever, as long as you can still kick a ball, you could be humping a tree and I wouldn't care." This caused everyone at the table including me to laugh. "Plus, that means I have less competition, not that you were much anyway." That caused a series of "oh" to fill the air and I rolled my eyes.
"Oh yeah? Tell that to my DMs and take note. Yours are looking a little dry." This caused another series of "oh" to fill the air before we all started laughing. I felt relaxed and at ease. They hadn't treated me differently nor were they getting in my business about my relationship or the trial. It was like nothing had changed. Because it hadn't. And I was grateful for it.
When the warning bell rang, we all got up and headed toward our classes and I was grateful to have the one I'd missed the most first: creative writing. "Hey Mr. H," I greeted normally as I walked into the door.
"Hey, Noah," he said as I grabbed my computer. He'd already given me feedback on my final story and told me it was exactly what I needed, raw and real. He'd already submitted it and now we were in the part I hated most. The wait.
I was about to sit down when someone tapped my shoulder. It was a guy in my class that I'd never spoken to before, his name was Isaac I think. He was quiet and never really spoke to anyone but I'd read his work before and it was amazing. Simple, yet effective. He was also on the lacrosse team, and you could tell by his build that he was good. "Hey," I greeted, not wanting to say his name in case I got it wrong.
"Are the rumors true?" He bluntly asked.
"How...how did you do it, come out? I think I might be...I don't know, but it's not straight and I need help. Especially because I'm an athlete too." I felt a smile tug at the edge of my lips.
"How about this? What if we meet in here during lunch and I can help you, because this is more than a three minute conversation. Plus, Mr. Hill could help too, unless you just want to talk to me."
"Alright, cool. I'll meet you in here."
"Okay...thanks, Noah," he said with an awkward smile before he hurried back to his spot in the back. It felt good knowing that I could help someone.
As the rest of the students funneled in, I felt eyes on me. Some people, including a girl name Allison, even came up to me and congratulated me. Allison was "the lesbian" around the school but she was more than that. She was kind and creative and so much more. I thanked her just as Mr. Hill got in front of the class and began instructing. "Alright, class. Now if you look at the agenda folder for today..."
"Bro, I'm not even joking. Justine literally hooked up with me in the supply closest," Max said as we walked out of the closet.
"Are you sure it wasn't a dare?" Connor asked causing Abbi to hit him. "What? I gotta ask."
I rolled my eyes but I did look at Max for an answer.
"What? No it wasn't a dare. After, we just sat in there and talked for a bit. She's actually really cool. I vibe with her."
"Ooh, Max has a little crush," Gavin joked, causing Max to roll his eyes.
"Whatever. Talk to me when you have something, okay?" He clapped back, causing us to laugh.
"Ooh, Noah. Look, it's your man," Connor said and sure enough, parked right next to Connor was Madison leaning against his car waiting for me. As soon as our eyes met, a smile grew on my face as I walked a bit faster.
"Hey, babe," he softly said as he opened his arms for me.
"Hey," I smiled before I lifted myself up to kiss him, causing my friends to freak out. Madison smiled as he grabbed my waist as he held it a bit longer before pulling away.
"Qualcuno sta diventando audace, eh? (Someone's getting bold, eh?)" he whispered and I smiled.
"Non ho paura di mostrarti (I'm not afraid to show you off)."
He grinned before he kissed my forehead before I turned in his arms to face my friends. "So you guys, this is my boyfriend, Madison. Madison this is a bit of the gang, Connor and Abi, who you already know, this idiot is Max-"
"And this other idiot is Gavin."
"I can take that."
Madison smiled and used one hand to shake their hands and the other remained tight around my waist. "Nice to meet you," he politely said.
"You too," they said.
"Well, we'd love to stay and chat, but we gotta go," Connor said as he made his way to his car with Abbi right beside him. "Later."
"Bye," She said.
"Bye," we all waved.
"Yeah, Noah and I gotta bounce too," Madison said.
"We do?" I asked, knitting my eyebrows together.
"Yeah, I wanna spend time with you," he softly said, causing me to smile. "I missed you."
"Alright, we'll leave you two love birds to it then. Come on, Max. We gotta sort through your girl problems," Gavin said as he patted Max on the shoulder and started leading him away. Once they were out of earshot I turned to Madison.
"Do you really have something planned for me, or was that a line to get me back home faster?"
"A bit of both," Madison admitted with a smile. "So come on! The faster we get home, the faster we can get to it."
I shook my head with a chuckle though I complied and in no time I was back home. I dumped my backpack off near the door before I took Madison's hand in mine and led him toward the couch. "So how was your day, baby?" I asked as I sat down and pulled him on top of me.
"Boring," he said as he adjusted his straddling position on my lap. "Classes were fine, but I missed you."
"I missed you too," I said as he started running his fingers through my hair. "A lot actually. You know, I actually talked to another closeted athlete today."
"Yeah. He said that I inspired him to explore himself more and not be afraid of the stigmas around being a gay athlete. We talked about safety of course, but I'm really glad I helped him. I think we're friends now."
Madison raised an eyebrow. "You think?" He chuckled.
I shrugged. "He has really closed off body language."
He chuckled again as he linked his fingers together behind my neck. "Well that's good, babe. I'm happy for you and proud of you too. Now tell me, is there anyone I need to beat up for looking at you sideways?"
I laughed and shook my head. "No, I'm good, but I kinda like this tough Madison."
"Oh, I know," Madison said with a wink.
"You're a mess," I chuckled.
"Yeah, but I'm your mess," he countered before leaning in. He was slow and deliberate. Every time I would lean in and try to kiss him, he'd pull back and grin. He gently rubbed his nose against mine and grinned. I had no idea what he was doing but I didn't oppose it. But when he finally leaned in for real, my phone started buzzing in my pocket. Madison groaned. "Let it go to voicemail," he begged as I reached in my pocket to pull out my phone, surprised to see Mr. Hill's name pop up on the screen.
I instantly answered. "Hello?"
"Noah Bruno, get over here now," he firmly stated.
"You heard me. You are in a lot of trouble, Mr. To think I had faith in you and you go and do this? Unbelievable."
My eyebrows knit in confusion. "Wait, what did I do?"
"Don't play dumb with me!" He snapped. "Just get over here and bring your little boyfriend over here too. He's not innocent."
Confused, I looked at Madison who mouthed "what's going on?" I shrugged.
"Uh, okay. We'll be over soon I guess." Mr. Hill huffed and hung up.
"What was that all about?" Madison asked.
"I honestly don't know. Apparently I did something wrong and Mr. Hill wants to see both of us but I don't even know what I did. Today was my first day back for goodness sake!"
"Maybe it's a misunderstanding?" Madison said more as a question than a suggestion as he got off of me and offered me his hand to help me up.
"Let's hope so."
We wasted no time going to my car and heading to Mr. Hill's house and as I drove, a million thoughts rushed through my mind, all of them asking the same question. What did I do?
We arrived to Mr. Hill's house within ten minutes and my heart was beating out of my chest as Madison and I walked hand in hand to his front door. I rang the doorbell and it was less than ten seconds before the door opened. It was John, Mr. Hill's husband. He was wearing a sweatshirt and shorts and holding their daughter who was dressed like a princess. "Noah!" She cheered.
I smiled. "Hey, Lily! How are you?" I asked. "I haven't seen you in a while."
"Good," she smiled, "but daddy's upset."
I looked at John who shrugged. "Yeah, whatever you did really has him bent, kid."
"I don't even know what I did," I said, causing John to chuckle.
"So who is this?"
"This is Madison, my boyfriend," I introduced, causing Madison to shake John's hand and say a quick hello.
"Dad, they're gonna be double daddies too!" Lily said as her eyes lit up, causing Madison to chuckle and give my hand a squeeze.
"Yes we are," he said. I blushed.
John chuckled. "Ah, I remember when we were young like that. Now look at us now, twenty years later," he said fondly. "Now come on, boys. He's already mad enough."
I hesitantly followed John back into Mr. Hill's office where Mr. Hill was sitting staring at a computer screen. He looked pissed. Like, beyond pissed. This was the angriest I'd seen him. Ever.
"Hello, Mr. H-Hill," I greeted my voice slightly shaking.
"Boys," he curtly said. "Sit." We did so without protest. "Now, Noah. I had high hopes for you. Extremely high," he began as he clasped his hands together, his voice right and tense. "You are one of, if not the best student I've had in years. So imagine my surprise when I saw this." He used his hand to beckon me over. Panic filled my chest. That was almost the same thing Mr. Williams has said to me before all hell broke loose.
Despite the fear and confusion I had, I swallowed and got up and made my way around his desk so I could see what he was talking about. Rather than a video or pictures, it was an email. My eyes ran over the words but it took my brain a moment to register what I was reading. "Congratulations", "pleased to inform you", "accepted", "full ride scholarship"...
I froze and looked at Mr. Hill. "I got accepted?" I asked, barely above a whisper, causing his angry facade to crumble away and for a smile to spread across his face.
"Number one choice," he smiled, causing me to scream with joy.
"I got accepted!" I yelled as I raced over to Madison and gave him a quick kiss. "I got accepted. I'm going to my dream school!"
Madison laughed and hugged me. "I'm so proud of you, babe," he smiled. "I always knew you'd make it."
"Why would you scare me like that?" I asked as I looked between Mr. Hill and John. "I was so scared!"
"It actually wasn't my idea," Mr. Hill deflected, causing me to look at John who lifted his free hand in surrender.
"Don't look at me. Look at your boyfriend."
"Man, why you gotta throw me under the bus like that?" Madison groaned, causing me to hit him though I had a smile on my face.
"Of course I did. I did tell you we were doing special tonight, didn't I?" He joked.
"I hate you, you know that, right?"
"No, you don't. You love me," he said as he gently placed his hands on my hips then quickly kissed me.
"Eww, daddy, tell them to stop," Lily adorably whined. She hated people kissing in front of her, even her own dad's.
Mr. Hill chuckled as we parted, Madison chuckling too before he turned. "I'm sorry, Lily."
"I'll forgive you...only if you play princess and dragon with me. Dad says he's too tired and we'd barely gotten started. I think he's old," she said, saying the last part in a not-so-whisper tone, causing us all to laugh.
"Hey!" John said on mock offense.
"Sorry, but it's the truth," she shrugged before her attention returned to Madison. "Will you?"
"I don't know, let me check with my King," he said as he turned to me. I felt a slight blush creep up my cheeks as Mr. Hill and John looked at me with that "awww" expression.
I nodded. "Yeah, go ahead."
"Okay, I'll only be a moment. Then we're going to celebrate," he said with a grin and I couldn't help but smile too as I said as bashful, "okay" and let him go off with Lily.
"Ah, young gay love," Mr. Hill sighed as John walked over to him. "I remember when we were young like that. We were what, seventeen-eighteen when we started dating?"
"Sounds about right," John assessed as he wrapped his arms around his husband. "It's been a ride, hasn't it?"
Mr. Hill grinned. "It has." He leaned in and kissed his husband. This was going to be Madison and I.
"Ewww, stoppp," I dragged out like Lily, causing Mr. Hill to chuckle before he grabbed John's head and deepened the kiss. I needed to get out while I could. "I'm exiting the room now," I childishly announces before I hurried out and closed the door behind me, though I knew I'd be back in there soon enough to talk about my scholarship. My heart was still racing and I was still in shock.
I made it.
I did it.
I was good enough.
I followed the sound of laughter into the living room where Lily was riding on Madison's shoulders as he growled and snorted like a dragon. She had the biggest smile on her face and he did too. I could tell he was going to be good with our kids. He snorted again before spinning around and falling on the couch, causing Lily to squeal.
"Again! Again!" Lily instantly begged.
"Again?" Madison asked, out of breath.
I chuckled. "Hey, mind if I join?" I questioned as I approached. Lily's eyes lit up.
"You can be the evil dragon and Madison will be the good one and I'll be the princess you're fighting over!"
Madison looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I smirked. "You're going down!"
We played with Lily for about thirty minutes before Mr. Hill and John came back out and told Lily that we had to go and celebrate for ourselves. She was bummed at first, but she quickly cheered up when we told her we'd be back soon. "You should be proud of yourself, Noah," Mr. Hill said as we walked out. "It's an honor to be considered for that school, let alone their top choice."
"I know, it's crazy," I said. "I still can't believe it."
"I can," Madison said as he put his hands on my shoulders and squeezed. "I always knew you could do it, babe."
I smiled. "Thanks."
"Yeah, they said they could really feel you in your last piece, and for good reason too. You had great source material," he joked.
"It was alright," I shrugged and chuckled.
"Okay, well we've kept you long enough. Go enjoy yourselves. Congrats again, Noah," John said. I offered a quick thanks before we headed to Madison's car.
"Where to, my prince?" I asked as we got in and held hands.
"Whatever you want, my king," he said as he kissed the back of my hand and started the car up.
I smiled. It was crazy to think that we'd been together for less than a year and he was already the most important person in my life. But I wasn't complaining. I loved him and I knew he loved me, but not in the surface level way most people our age do. No, ours was special, intimate, and pure. The kind of love that consumes you and hurts you when you're apart for too long. The kind of love that could tear the shield that I once had around my confused heart.
And I was never letting go.