Chapter 10: This Was Will Carter
Being calorie loaded at this time of morning doesn’t seem comfortable. Someone else can do with the one way trip to being stuffed, so I leave everything but the coffee outside one of the dorm rooms, and with a quick knock on the occupant’s door, I disappear from the hallway.
Everything but the coffee because I can’t give up a free coffee like that, no matter where it’s coming from. I take small sips as I cross campus to attend my first session of the day: philosophy, where inevitably Christian will be.
That alone triggers an insane amount of unnecessary, sort of necessary anxiety in me. I mean, after yesterday, I don’t want to play any of Christian’s games, especially when it’s confusing me. As much as I’ve tried, awake the whole night, I still can’t comprehend why yesterday even happened like that - why it happened with Christian so close. He has a girlfriend and he got so close.
But I’m too tired to think anymore. Past the reason for feeling anxious, I begin to work fast on downing the warm coffee. Albeit, it won’t get rid of the bags under my eyes, and it certainly won’t come close to putting a dent in my tiredness, but at least the taste makes me feel at home.
I miss Mum, Dad and Leah. Even Luke. He’s probably asleep in my bed right now and there’s probably empty junk food packets everywhere. And he’s probably, most likely, going to die whenever I return to see it, unlike my unkillable anxiety.
Head down, earbuds in, I’ll be fine.
“Sorry!” I grab the person I’ve knocked into just before they drop.
With that mantra, I only seem to keep bumping into people, and my earbuds seem to keep getting ripped out from myself and my phone. When I look up, it’s Gemma, and I feel the largest occurrence of De Ja Vu. Except for this time, I don’t think she’s purposely bumped into me to get my attention. She’s mad. Don’t think she wants to see my face, actually.
I scurry to catch all the splayed papers of hers about to be taken by the wind. Doing that, I don’t have to look directly at her and feel guilty about her anger, but I feel her eyes searing holes into my entire existence.
“Did you get my text?”
It’s obvious I did, and she knows that. Still says delivered. Still doesn’t say read. She also knows I ignored it because I seem to be ignoring her, right through her giving me space, even though she’d be a great beard. There’s an apology on the tip of my tongue, but I cage it. It’s not like I can explain myself.
What do I even say? Hey, I’m gay, we had sex, it was great, but I was imagining Christian, and then I sort of just felt like my dick was in the wrong place, because it certainly wouldn’t be up that Greek sculpture’s ass, he’d be up mine, you know, if we actually knew each other, but we still had sex anyway, and now I’m lowkey ignoring you. I don’t trust her.
I blush at my own thoughts. If I’m not killing myself with my anxiety, it’s with the uncontrollable dirty.
There’s a pained look on her face like she isn’t used to getting rejected, or she isn’t used to dealing with insensitive pricks because she’s been lucky enough to sexually converse with the ones who care less about themselves and more about her.
I’m not insensitive, I’m just...too self-involved for high school conversations. So not insensitive, but selfish.
“You’re a jerk.”
She doesn’t cry. Then she does. But surely not because I brushed aside her text? Probably a date me? text. One hundred per cent a date me? text. She doesn’t even know me. Can’t hurt that much for me not to reply, right? You’re mean. Wrong. Right.
“If you’re not interested, just say so. Please.”
I smile plainly. “I’m not interested.” You’re getting rid of a potential beard, dumbass. Not today, brain. I don’t need you. How many times do I have to tell you? You are me, we are us. I am you.
Alright, I’m definitely insensitive. I guess Christian could put me in a headlock for being so ‘insensitive’ to the girl he’s known enough to call a good friend.
There’s nothing else to say to her. What about sorry, you asshole? I look at her, and I do feel guilty, I just don’t think it’s a good idea opening the can of worms that contains all the fucked up reasons why I’m pretty much fucked up.
So I hand her papers back. Act like I don’t see my name in hearts (because somehow, this is still high school, in which that idea makes me want to dig my grave). And my coffee and I make it to our philosophy class.
And of course, the incident with Gemma has made me late. And of course, the professor being my uncle doesn’t earn me a lecture pass; this session isn’t even a goddamn lecture and Uncle Jay’s made it a lecture lecturing me. And of course, the one seat left is in front of said Greek sculpture who would be up my ass in my wildest dreams if I didn’t find him so...
Sarcasm aside, I hate my life. Explicitly when Christian notices the to-go coffee in my hand, which takes a one-way trip to the trash can. Thankfully, the trip I take to the seat in front of Christian comes with a return ticket. I only have to spend two hours by him. One hundred and twenty minutes. Seven thousand, two hundred seconds. Seven million, two hundred thousand millisec-
“Mr Acosta, is there a reason why you’re so visibly speaking to Mr Carpenter whilst I am so visibly speaking to everyone, in which ‘everyone’ includes you?”
“Sorry, prof,” Christian says, resting back in his seat. He has a total disregard for personal space in general. I could feel his breath on my ear, smell it even. Coffee scented. Oh, the poor coffee in the trash - I didn’t get to finish it.
With that, Uncle Jay gets on with the class. There’s an unspoken thank you from me to him.
At the end of class, everyone clears out with grumbling stomachs and needle-influenced headaches. Before I manage to get out, Uncle Jay gives me a look. Inescapably, I’m the last one to leave.
“If you need to speak to me,” he talks slowly, “you can.”
If I had any decency for myself, I would leave without opening my mouth. There’s just something nice in knowing I can speak to him openly, even though he sexually meddled with my dad and, you know, fucked off.
So, I blurt it out: “I need to get a girlfriend. And a job.”
“Okay, job, yeah, girlfriend, no. You don’t play with someone’s feelings like that.” While speaking, he points a finger at me irrespective of how I’m not a kid anymore, and further says, “You’re not getting a beard. No.”
I sigh, all sulk, no care. You’re still a kid. Fuck off! “It’s not playing with someone’s feelings if they know about it.”
“Okay, Tommy, but tell me, who’s going to be a fake girlfriend for you on no dollars per hour?”
“Okay, so job first, fake girlfriend after.”
“Job only, fake girlfriend never.”
It’s starting to feel like a face off. Me versus Uncle Jay in making my life easier versus having morals. He’s disappointed, mainly because he’s never had a beard before and he’s dealt with the groundless speculation and the bullying like I have, especially growing up during the times he did.
But he’s overcome it. I haven’t. It never fades away for me.
“Someone’s prying,” I say.
“Tommy,” he rests a comforting hand on my shoulder, never mind the glass windows and the passing teachers and students, “why don’t you just be honest?”
That’s a question reserved for my anxiety, and so my anxiety replies: “Being honest means getting hurt. Leah was honest about me and I got hurt.”
You hurt yourself not being honest. Three scratches, three picks, three pinches. I don’t hurt myself. You hurt yourself. I hurt myself? You hurt yourself.
I hurt myself.
So for once, I’m honest about why I can’t be honest. With caution to the outside world. And the exuberant glint that’s endlessly homed in Uncle Jay’s eyes splinters.
Lift the left side of my tee. “This was Logan Lakin.”
Reveal the underside of my bicep. “This was Ryan Parish.”
Angle the left side of my jaw forward. “And this was Will Carter.”
There’s a blue phase of quiet before Uncle Jay finally finds his words.
"Captain of the soccer team Will Carter?”
I nod my head, but it barely moves. Apology letter Will Carter.
“There’s more, but you get the essence of it. I’ve been using some type of oil to lighten up the redness ’cause I don’t want to be that person who gets stared at for having-”
His arms envelop me. When every moment of my life feels like an eternity, I often forget what it feels like to just let someone non-threatening into my personal space. I forget how comforting an embrace is.
“Fucking hell, Tommy. You have a fucking mouth, you know? Fight for your fucking self.”
“I know, I know,” I say into his shoulder, then the closeness becomes too much and I pull away. “But being honest about how I got these also meant being honest to the principal about why I got these, and I just felt ashamed.”
There’s an aggrieved look on his face, but I keep eye contact and abide it. He tries to talk away the feeling, “Hey... Hey, there is no shame in your sexuality,” but it doesn’t work.
I say, “As much as you want me to hear that through, I will never stop feeling ashamed,” because I guess that’s the effect of bullying. And it’s evident in Uncle Jay’s eyes the guilt he feels, guilt being the consequence of vanishing for the four years of my life that I needed him the most because he understands what it’s like to be gay.
He says the only thing he can to rectify his absence. “I’ll take care of you, okay? No one will hurt you anymore. Bullying isn’t tolerated here, nephew.”
I want to believe it. But you know no matter where you go, it will still happen anyway. I try to believe it. You will still be a target. You will still get hurt. But I don’t believe it.
You will still be gay.
A half-hearted smile is my response. There’s nothing left to say, so with a small wave and the walls housing my honesty back up, I leave.
Wrapped up in my thoughts, as usual...
“You still took the-”
“Jesus fucking Christ!”
I clutch my heart as I recover from the shock. Of course Christian’s standing outside the classroom waiting for me with a full grin. His skull is six Oreos thick and he’s got cloth in his ears and nothing I say ever really registers with him.
“I don’t want your coffee, your cheesecake or your pancakes anymore. Was I not clear the first time?” I say it in such a way he’s stark silent with no comeback. His smile drops and his mouth doesn’t open again.
I begin to walk off.
“Whatever stick you have up your ass, pull it out,” he says when I’m halfway down the hallway. “I just wanna be your friend. I mean, Mrs Morales is angry with me again because I let the food burn going after you.”
I stop. My fists ball up. Get it together. I turn to face him.
“This isn’t high school.”
“I know,” he says, “which is why someone like you could use a friend like me.”
“You slotted yourself into my life thinking we’d just be friends? All you are to me is a student in my philosophy class who’s convinced I’m gay for that somehow matters, and who’s obsessively made me their every day with coffee and food to the point it’s just. Fucking. Creepy.”
His head tilts.
“You’re a creep.”
That guts him.
I like being a hermit crab. I like being in my shell and, you know, not getting bothered, but Gemma has a whole other agenda. She thinks knocking on my dorm door at two in the morning is just peachy.
I wanted Aiden to open the door, but when I looked over, his bed was still messily made and unslept in. When the knocking became tenacious, I hauled myself up. Which leaves me here. Hair a mess, sleepy eyes, not sure what to say, not sure what this is meant to be.
“C-can I come in?”
One look in Gemma’s teary eyes and I bring her in. I feel bad about before anyway. She tackles me in a hug and I get squirmy at the contact, but the way she clasps on... It’s clear she’s alone in whatever she’s dealing with.
Her and I both. I guess that’s why I let her stay.
For two ridiculously long and sleep-thieving hours, but she needs it. At one point, I think I even drift off with my back resting on the edge of my bed, knees up, hands by my ankle, her head on my shoulder, patiently waiting for her to cry it out and then speak. Then she says it. The thing that’s been devouring her to the extent of tears and snot.
The thing that makes me shit myself.
Three scratches, three picks, three pinches. Repeat. Three scratches, three picks, three pinches. Repeat. Three scratches, three picks, three pinches. Rep-
“It’s not yours,” she says.
But I can’t stop the cycle. Three scratches, three picks, three pinches. Repeat. Three scratches, three picks, three-
Three scratches, three picks, three pinches. Repeat. Three scratches, three picks-
Three scratches, three picks-
“Hey,” she grabs my hand forcing me to snap out of it, “you’re hurting yourself.”
I swallow down the lump in my throat, coming to meet her eyes. “You’re pregnant?” What have I done?
“I said it’s not yours,” she says.
“How do you know that?” I ask, and I’ve never wanted to hear my mum’s voice so desperately. Her saying, it’s okay, nothing’s real, bullies aren’t real, pain isn’t real, and this isn’t real. But everything’s real because this is real life.
“It’s not yours. I’ve been throwing up way before that night.”
That night. Makes me feel like trash. You are trash. I want to go back to when I first came here and do things differently, to when my thoughts were at bay and I couldn’t hear them. If only rewinding time existed. When I could talk without fighting myself inside. At least you know you can fight - when things were a little bit simple - with the one person who can actually kill you - still not simple - you know who - but simple enough. Yourself.
“Whose is it?”