The Boy I Knew

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Just Like This

It was easy to be with Kellen. It was easy to talk with him, laugh with him, and even just sit in silence with him when they both had homework. It wasn’t easy to come up with a way to confess to him.

Aiden knew he had feelings for the other boy, but he couldn’t pinpoint when they started. Maybe they’d always been there, like a love at first sight kind of thing. Aiden sighed at himself. He was starting to sound too much like a starry-eyed teenage girl. He couldn’t really help it though. Not when he heard Kellen laugh, or when he saw the other boy dance around.

Kellen had even taught him some basic dance steps, while Aiden taught him how to swing a bat. But while there was touching involved when Aiden adjusted Kellen’s grip or Kellen had his hands on Aiden’s waist, they hadn’t kissed or anything. And Aiden desperately wanted to kiss Kellen.

When Kellen made little flirty comments about Aiden being cute or gave him that sexy smirk, Aiden almost couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t count how many times he’d thought about grabbing Kellen by the shirt and kissing him passionately. He figured he should probably confess first though, which is how he ended up staring at Kellen during PE free time instead of paying attention to the kickball game a small group of them were having.

Kellen and a few of the other people on the dance team were showing off their moves using the mats connected to the wall. Aiden watched with rapt attention as Kellen did some kind of step movement that ended with him doing a stylish flip by running up the wall. His laughter rang out as he righted himself. Maybe he had been looking to Aiden just as much as Aiden looked at him as he sought out Aiden’s gaze.

Aiden didn’t look away this time. Kellen smiled cutely before he pointed to something behind Aiden. Aiden frowned and turned around, only to be met with a kickball to the stomach. It knocked the wind out of him. He doubled over and coughed, wheezing as he tried to get the air back in his lungs. Of course, it had to be one of the soccer guys doing the kicking.

Aiden was already fine when he realized that Kellen was standing next to him, leaning down with a concerned frown. “Are you okay?”

“Just fine,” Aiden breathed out, straightening up.

Kellen gave him a suspicious look before hiding his smile beneath his hand. He didn’t get the chance to say anything else when the coach blew the whistle to end class and told them to go change out.

“Sorry for distracting you,” Kellen said in between peals of laughter as they walked to lunch. They’d both stayed behind purposely to get a second to talk to one another.

“Gee, you sound really sorry,” Aiden said sarcastically with a fond roll of his eyes. “But, ah, you really are distracting, you know.” He said it softly, his ears red and his stomach hurting from more than just a kickball. Flirting was not his strong suit. He didn’t even know how he’d managed to kiss his first girlfriend before he accepted the fact that he was gay.

Aiden steeled his courage and said, “A-actually, I’ve ah, I’ve been distracted because I wanted to ask you if you wanted to go out on a date.” He started off slow before his words all melded together to match the quick beating of his heart. He had to resist the urge to put a hand on his stomach to try and calm it.

Kellen stopped walking suddenly to turn and face him fully. He was staring at Aiden with a surprised blink before his face broke out into a warm smile. “Brave, brave, Aiden,” he said with a fond shake of his head and a soft look in his eyes. “And here I was trying to figure out if you’d want to go out with me. You beat me to it.”

“Why would you think I wouldn’t want to?” Aiden asked, probably too quickly. He was pretty sure he was sweating now.

Kellen shrugged. “You’re still not out, Aiden. I didn’t want to pressure you.”

That made sense. Aiden should have thought of that. If they did date, he wasn’t sure he would be ready to come out of the closet, but he did know that Kellen was slowly driving him crazy in the best way possible.

Aiden cleared his throat. “You’re not pressuring me. To be honest… I was worried that you wouldn’t want to… since I’m not out.” He shuffled his feet, unable to hide his wince from the pain in his stomach.

Kellen gave him a curious look. “Your stomach’s hurting, isn’t it?”

“I’m nervous!” Aiden defended.

Kellen’s fond expression returned. He gently grabbed Aiden’s hand to lead him to a tiny alcove in the corner of the school, hidden by one of the trees. Aiden wondered if Kellen knew that people sometimes came to this spot to make out. Maybe he did, since he pulled Aiden a little further, to a spot that was slightly less hidden but no more noticeable.

He made a motion for Aiden to sit on the pavement and lean against the brick behind him. Aiden was still feeling nervous as Kellen sat beside him, searching for something in his backpack. Finally, he pulled out a bottle of soda and handed it to Aiden.

“It’s ginger ale. Not cold, but I figured it might help. Or I have medicine too if it’s that kind of pain,” Kellen offered kindly.

Aiden didn’t know what to say. He was touched that someone could care of him like this, enough to carry a random tiny bottle of ginger ale and medicine with them just in case he needed it. He took the soda gingerly. “You… carry this for me?”

Kellen shrugged. “I care about you, Aiden. Whether you’re out or not, and whether you want any relationship we might have to be public or not. I don’t care that you’re not out. To answer your question from before: I’d love to go on a date with you.” He was smiling toothily, this time with his cheeks red.

Aiden felt his heart skip a beat. “You’re… serious? You’d want to keep our conversations and dates secret like this, for me?”

“Sure,” Kellen said easily. “I want you to be comfortable with me, or us, or whatever we’re doing. I’d never ask you to come out for my sake.”

He made it sound so easy. With just a few sentences, he’d put all of Aiden’s worries to rest. Aiden still felt like his stomach was in knots and he was feeling far too hot, but he smiled. “I… we haven’t even been out on a first date yet, and I’m already pretty sure that I don’t deserve you.”

“You are just a sweetheart when you put your mind to it, huh?” Kellen mused, smiling. Kellen’s cheeks had lit up from the compliment again, although the smile didn’t leave his face. He patted Aiden’s hand. “Drink that soda. You’ll feel better.”

Aiden had almost forgotten about the twisting in his stomach with the feeling of Kellen’s hand on his. He drank the ginger ale gratefully, relishing in the feeling of being cared for. Clearing his throat, he asked, “Does Friday night work for you?”

“Can you make it that long without stomach pains?” Kellen questioned both seriously and as a joke.

Aiden rolled his eyes. “I mean, I’ll probably end up doubled over at some point during the week, but I’ll make it somehow.”

Kellen gave him a curious look. “How about tonight, you big dork? I’d rather you not collapse from nerves before we go on our first date. Anything major happening on your Wednesday?”

That was how they ended up standing outside of the pancake house that night, Aiden definitely trying to ignore his nervous stomach pains while Kellen stared on in concerned amusement. The date hadn’t even started yet when Kellen grabbed his hand gently and pulled him off to the side.

“There’s no need to be nervous, Aiden,” he said softly. They were standing out of sight off to the side of the building. It was spring, so the sun hadn’t set yet. The sky was awash in reds and oranges with the waning light. A slight breeze, a pleasantly warm one, blew through the clearing.

“I can’t help it,” Aiden admitted sheepishly. His eyes strayed to the way the wind ruffled Kellen’s hair for a second. “You said you care about me. Well, I care about you too. I, uh, don’t want to mess this up.” Plus, Kellen wasn’t only the first guy Aiden had ever dated, but also the first guy he’d ever felt something for, although he didn’t mention that.

Based on the soft look in his eyes, Kellen probably already had an inkling about what Aiden was feeling. “And you’re nervous because this is a date? Not just us hanging out?” When Aiden nodded in confirmation, Kellen took a step closer. “There’s no way you’re going to be able to relax if your stomach’s hurting like I’m sure it is.”

Aiden didn’t bother to deny it. “That doesn’t mean that I won’t have a good time.”

“No,” Kellen agreed, “But I think maybe I can help you relax a little.”

Aiden had no idea how. Then Kellen’s hand was on the side of his face. Before Aiden even had time to think, Kellen was right there. Aiden could feel Kellen’s breath as the brunette gave him a simple kiss on the cheek. It was chaste and warm. Aiden’s brain was awash with sensation. Kellen’s breath on his cheek. The feeling of his hand on Aiden’s face. The feeling of them standing so close to one another. The fast beating of his heart in his chest and the warmth running through his veins.

It all short-circuited his brain for a moment. He could only stare as Kellen pulled back with a nervous smile. “This way, you don’t have to worry about a kiss at the end. I hope that’s okay?”

It was more than okay. Aiden couldn’t take his eyes off of Kellen’s lips. He gently pulled the taller boy towards him, slowly, to give him a chance to step away. This time, they both leaned in. Aiden had to remind himself to breathe as he pulled Kellen even closer, relishing in the feeling of his warm, pliant lips. Kellen hesitated for only a second before he exhaled and relaxed.

Any awkwardness was gone quickly as Aiden leaned in deeply. Only a few seconds later, he pulled back with a smile and a flush. “I think I feel better now.”

Kellen’s laughter was tender this time. His face was red. “Good to hear. Now you can look forward to more kisses. After waffles, of course.”

Aiden didn’t want their first date to end. Kellen explained to him why waffles were far superior while Aiden laughed at the whipped cream on his nose. Conversation was easy between them, even as they knocked their feet together underneath the table.

But if their date had to end, Aiden was glad that it was with a long kiss hidden in the trees near Aiden’s house. He couldn’t keep the goofy smile off of his face when he got home, valiantly trying to avoid his mother before she could ask.

If he texted Kellen for about half the night until he fell asleep, no one would ever know.

^^^

“Oh, did I forget tell you about Mr. K’s headaches?”

When Aiden asked Nikki if she knew why Kellen was out for the day, that was what she said with a cute frown on her young face. She was putting on her snow boots as he stood next to her, trying to stay out of the way of the other kids.

“Sometimes Saturday classes get cancelled because Mr. K doesn’t feel well,” Nikki explained, “but that’s why Olivia keeps the Twitter and Facebook updated, so that she can send out notifications if he won’t be in.” She’d gotten her boots on. Aiden slipped her scarf around her neck for her as she went on, “But I hope he’s okay…”

“He’s alright,” Aiden supplied. “I went to check on him earlier.”

“Really?” Nikki asked with one of her usual excited smiles.

Aiden chuckled at her expression and nodded. “Yeah. I went while you were in B’s class. After I drop you off, I’m going to go back to keep him company.” He’d already asked for Olivia’s permission to keep the keys. She gave him a proud smile and said that as long as he got Kellen to eat something and let her know how they were doing, then it was fine. She just wanted the keys back when he returned next time.

“Oh, can I come?” Nikki asked as she finished zipping up her coat, pulling on her hat too.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Aiden responded with a sympathetic smile. “Kellen’s not feeling good at all. He needs quiet, and you’ll be a little bored.”

Nikki still wished she could say hello, but she understood. Aiden took her back to her dad, who looked tired from a day of accounting, and went back to his place to quickly grab his laptop. With his backpack on his shoulder and Kellen’s keys in his hands, he returned to the brunette’s apartment.

This time, Aiden didn’t feel nearly as nervous. He stepped in to find the place exactly like it was when he left about an hour ago. The only difference was that Kellen wasn’t lying down on the couch anymore. Aiden just about jumped out of his skin when he saw Kellen lying on the floor.

“I’m fine,” Kellen said preemptively, apparently having heard Aiden come in. “Got dizzy so I laid down.”

Aiden let out a sigh of relief as he leaned down next to Kellen. His heart was beating much too quickly in his chest, but Kellen was there, dizzy yet fine. “I’m going to pick you up and put you back on the couch,” he said calmly.

“No, you don’t—” Kellen yelped weakly as Aiden picked him up princess style. He didn’t resist as Aiden moved him gently, grabbing onto Aiden’s shirt to keep himself steady. In the moment of silence after Aiden set him down, Kellen mused, “Nice to see that you haven’t lost any of your strength.”

Aiden smirked. “If I remember right, you’re pretty strong too.”

“And here I am falling down from walking five steps,” Kellen mumbled, groaning and clutching his head again. His face contorted in pain as he curled in on himself, breathing in deeply.

“You’re hurting,” Aiden answered simply, running his hand through Kellen’s hair to help calm him down. He understood though. He couldn’t imagine suddenly having such debilitating pain as a part of his daily life. He couldn’t imagine how Kellen felt having days like this where he couldn’t get out of bed, needing someone to check in on him to be sure he was still alive.

The thought made his chest ache, but he pushed the feeling down. “I’m here today if you need me,” he said quietly instead. Kellen hummed.

The day was quiet. Aiden plugged in his computer to catch up on a few shows with his headphones in, his eyes flicking to Kellen every few minutes. After the taller man took his medicine, he eventually fell into a fitful sleep, breathing shallowly on the couch. Aiden draped the blanket over him, but he didn’t know what else he could do. He felt sort of useless as he got Kellen some water and made him tea.

When he finally woke, Aiden made him more toast. At least Kellen ate about half a piece this time before he said he couldn’t handle any more. It was too bad that it only took around half an hour before Kellen suddenly bolted up quickly and shuffled to the bathroom. All Aiden could do was rub Kellen’s back as he threw up from the nausea.

“I’m sorry,” Kellen apologized weakly when he was done.

Aiden shushed him gently and got him back to the couch. Kellen said that Aiden could go home if he wanted to get some rest, but Aiden was having none of it. He got Kellen settled again before he went to sit on the recliner.

Aiden didn’t realize when he fell asleep. His laptop was on his lap and he had some show running when he nodded off. He thought he dropped the laptop in his sleep when he woke to see it gone, but it was closed and set on the coffee table with his headphones. Aiden blinked in tired confusion, his mind feeling sluggish.

“What time is it?” he mumbled to himself. But his phone was sitting atop his laptop too instead of on his lap. Aiden couldn’t even guess at the time of the day with the blackout curtains; he only knew that there was no light outside. He looked down at himself and frowned at the blanket draped over him, trying to remember where he was and what he was doing.

“Kellen,” he murmured, looking over to the couch. But Kellen wasn’t there.

Aiden’s mind took a second to catch up, but when it did, he felt a spike of worry in his chest. He was about to jump up and search around to make sure that Kellen hadn’t fallen somewhere when a hand fell on his shoulder.

“It’s okay. I’m fine.” Kellen stepped into his line of vision, looking tired, but much better than he had. There was a sleepy exhaustion etched into his expression, with black bags underneath his eyes. But there was no longer any pain in his face. He was staring at Aiden with some soft look that Aiden was too tired to identify.

“You’re okay,” Aiden breathed out in relief.

“Of course, I am,” Kellen supplied. “They only last a few days usually. You didn’t have to stay here, Aiden.” The words weren’t unkind or accusatory, but maybe slightly guilty, like Kellen felt bad.

“I wanted to,” Aiden said as he sat up, groaning at the stiff feeling in his back. He yawned. “What time is it?”

“Five in the morning,” Kellen said softly. “I kept the curtains closed because I wanted you to get some more rest. Figured I couldn’t move you without you waking.”

Aiden didn’t think he’d been up at such an ungodly hour since his last flight, but now that Kellen was up, he had no desire to go to sleep again. “That’s okay,” he said as he stretched, trying to work out the kinks in his neck. “Sorry that I kind of invaded your place.”

Kellen stepped over to open his curtains slightly, although it was still too dark to see anything besides the streetlights outside. He turned on the lamp on the side table next to the couch, letting the light wash over them. “It was nice having you here,” Kellen said easily. He looked away in embarrassment in the next second. “Usually it’s Olivia or B… I’m, uh, I’m sorry you had to see me like that.”

“I’d never judge you Kellen, especially not for something like that,” Aiden said softly without hesitating.

Kellen let out a breath and sat back down on the couch, leaning back and looking up at the ceiling. “I know, really, I do, but… I was scared. I got nervous. I didn’t want you to pity me for the accident.” He sat back up, frowning.

Aiden was about to respond when he heard a loud noise and blinked. Kellen huffed and put a hand to his stomach, a put-out expression on his face. “Sorry; I’m starving,” he said apologetically. He groaned tiredly. “Guess I’d better make something.”

“You only had the toast I gave you yesterday,” Aiden remembered. Kellen had thrown it all up in the end too.

Kellen only nodded, his hand still on his stomach as it growled again. “I can’t eat much when I’m like that. Usually I end up making ramen or something in the morning before I go back to sleep.” From the look on his face, he clearly wasn’t happy about his food options, but was probably too hungry to care as he got up.

Aiden followed suit, grabbing Kellen’s hand to stop him on his way to the kitchen. “Actually… mind if I treat you to something?”

Kellen gave him a confused frown. “At five in the morning?”

“I know the perfect place,” Aiden reassured him with a mischievous smile.

Kellen still looked a little suspicious, but shrugged. “Alright, but I’ve got to shower first. I’ve been sweating and puking for the last day and a half. Give me ten minutes.” He patted Aiden on the shoulder as he skipped out of the room.

Aiden smiled after him. It was a relief to see Kellen back to his usual self, more or less. It was even more relieving to see him walking normally and ordering waffles at the pancake place Aiden took him to.

When the waitress walked away, Kellen shook his head fondly. “A pancake place, huh?” He looked out the window for a moment at the slowly lightening sky. His blue pajama pants and sweatshirt combo stood out against the colors of the restaurant. “Reminds me of our first date.”

“Me too,” Aiden said quietly, even as he was struck by the way the light hit Kellen. “Plus, it was the only place open this early.”

Kellen chuckled, turning back to him. “Waffles are the best meal anyway.”

“Have you found a place that makes them as good as your dad used to?” Aiden asked. They were some of the only people in the restaurant so early, but he still felt the need to keep his voice down.

Kellen shook his head, but he didn’t look sad about it. “Nah. Can’t beat a nice plate of waffles though.”

He’d been saying that since they were sixteen. It was nice to see that Kellen’s favorite food hadn’t changed, although Aiden hadn’t expected that to change. Kellen’s dad used to make him waffles on the last Saturday of every month, kind of as a reward for getting through another month. After he died, Kellen’s mom didn’t keep up the tradition, but Kellen did. He used to make his own waffles at home on the same Saturdays, or search for good restaurants that served them. Aiden had never forgotten the gratefully teary look on Kellen’s face when Aiden made him waffles one Saturday so many years ago.

That same look was on Kellen’s face right now as he sat across from Aiden, his eyes lidded in exhaustion and his chin resting in his palm. He looked calm, relaxed, like he could fall asleep right there. But after a second, he sighed, leaning back and crossing his arms. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the accident, or the migraines. I guess I didn’t want you to see me any differently.”

Aiden shook his head. “We’ve both changed. But whether you’re your usual joking, dancing self or you’re hurting and you need help, that doesn’t change how much I care about you.” Aiden flushed at his own admission. It sounded too close to confessing his feelings, and even if those feelings were definitely still there, now wasn’t the time for that. He gave Kellen a strained smile. “I was… scared when I saw you hurting like that. I didn’t know what to do to help you.”

“You did more than enough,” Kellen said surely. He paused before he hesitantly reached across the table to put his hand on Aiden’s. “The migraines are just part of my life now. But I’m happy that you were with me. It’s… kind of lonely and disorienting when I get them. I can usually only measure time based on when Olivia or B comes over.”

Aiden swallowed at the note of sadness in Kellen’s voice. A pang of regret shot through his heart. Kellen had been dealing with these migraines for years, all alone. Aiden was overcome with the wish that he’d been there, even just to provide comfort, when Kellen tapped his nose to get his attention.

“Stop,” Kellen commanded lowly, but not unkindly. “No feeling guilty for you or sadness for me. I’ve had enough of that over the years.”

Sometimes, Aiden wondered how Kellen could possibly know so much about him. Instead of it being unnerving though, it was comforting to have someone who knew him so well. “Years? Olivia said the accident was before you dropped out of school?”

Kellen nodded, taking a sip of his water. “I was driving back after visiting mom. It was ah, about… four or five years ago now? I was nineteen. My twentieth birthday was in a few weeks, but that’s beside the point,” he said with a wave of his hand. “It was dark and I was at an intersection. Green light, but the kid texting on his phone wasn’t paying attention.”

Kellen took a breath. “He rammed straight into the passenger side of my car. It was… I passed out almost right away, but I woke up really disoriented. I don’t remember all that much if I’m being honest. There was blood on my head and I couldn’t focus. The driver of the other car passed out too and we were on a side road close to midnight. I don’t know how long I was in the car before I felt someone’s hands on me.”

He sighed, his arms crossed. Aiden felt his breath hitch as he listened. “I vaguely remember an EMT asking for my name. I don’t know; everything was bright and it was hard to stay awake. But the next time I woke up, my stepdad was there and he was frowning and my sisters and my mom were crying. I was mostly fine. It was only a few days after I got home from the hospital—when I was on the floor screaming in pain and my sister had to call an ambulance—that we figured out the migraines.”

By that point, Kellen’s hand was sweaty and shaking atop Aiden’s. He made to pull back, but Aiden held onto his hand tighter, trying to give him something to ground himself to. Kellen swallowed heavily. “I was… really scared. I couldn’t keep going to school like that, and I didn’t want to either. I wanted to enjoy what life I had. That’s why I dropped out. As for moving to the city…” Kellen took a deep breath, suddenly looking ashamed. “I get panic attacks when I drive now. I haven’t driven in a long time. I wanted to live somewhere that let me walk everywhere.”

Aiden’s heart dropped as he kept his hold on Kellen’s hand. He yearned to pull Kellen into his arms to comfort him. It was something he wouldn’t even have thought about years ago. He hated himself for hesitating in that moment, for not knowing if the comfort would be welcome now.

But when Kellen took a shaky breath to calm himself, Aiden gripped the other man’s hand between his own. He decided that he didn’t care; even if he didn’t know the right words to say or the right thing to do, he cared about Kellen. If that feeling got across to Kellen with his clumsy gestures and uncertain touches, then Aiden hoped it would be enough.

Aiden swallowed. “Kellen, it’s okay,” he said quietly, squeezing Kellen’s hand. “I know I’ve been gone for a while, but… I hope you know that you’ve never been all that far from my thoughts.” He couldn’t meet Kellen’s gaze, aware that what he just said sounded like a confession. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry that when you woke up, you didn’t see me there too.”

He knew what those words meant: that if they’d never broken up, Aiden would have been there, crying and worrying with the rest of Kellen’s family.

Whether Kellen caught onto that meaning or not, Aiden didn’t know. Kellen only adjusted their grip, lacing their fingers together and running his thumb over Aiden’s hand calmly. He looked more like himself in that moment as he gave Aiden a fond smile.

“You’re hard to forget, Aiden. But no matter where you were, I’m happy that were there, even if it would have been nice to have you with me,” Kellen said sincerely. “You got to achieve your dream. And our breakup wasn’t all bad. My stepdad and I are closer now.” He said it like someone might say that getting the flu and getting sent to the hospital wasn’t all bad, since they got Jell-o for lunch.

Aiden huffed in amusement at Kellen’s attempt to put a good spin on it. “How did that happen?”

“I uh… I came home crying that day,” Kellen said with wince, clearly finding it difficult to bring up their breakup. “He was there. Gave me a big hug.” The brunette shrugged. “We’re not super close still, but after the accident too, it was pretty clear that he cares.” He looked Aiden right in the eyes, a small smile. “But for the record… even if I couldn’t see you there, I think this is a better place for us to meet again, don’t you think?”

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of their food as the waitress surreptitiously added a little more whipped cream to their meals with a sly wink. Kellen laughed happily at her kind gesture, thanking her easily. Aiden felt lucky to hear that barking laugh. Kellen had been through so much and yet he still laughed like that and smiled like it was the easiest thing in the world. It made Aiden’s heart feel too big in his chest. It made him ache to bring up their breakup, to tell Kellen about his continued feelings and his regrets.

But Aiden didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he bottled up those feelings for now and held a light conversation with Kellen, enjoying pancakes and waffles at six in the morning in their pajamas.

He wished he could kiss Kellen goodbye when he walked the brunette back to his apartment, like he did when they were kids. Aiden smiled through the rapid beating of his heart, sure of one thing: he was glad to meet Kellen like this again too.

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