The following morning, on Saturday November tenth, I got up at nine as usual, and came down by nine-thirty, ready and anxious as hell. Dave was nowhere in sight. My parents were at work. It was just me and Autumn. It came to my attention right quick that she’d been crying, so I rushed over to her.
She went into my arms; she was trembling.
“What happened?!” I demanded.
“Dave and I got into a fight about your secret.”
“He yelled at you?!” I couldn’t believe my brother would’ve ever yelled at our baby sister of all people. What the hell had gotten into him?!
“I deserved it.”
My horror deepened as I let out a loud gasp.
“No! Autumn! Sweet baby girl! That is bullshit! God, I’ve been so selfish.” This never would’ve happened had I never told only her my secret. “I’m so sorry I put this on you.” I hugged her close.
“Luke. I’m fine. Stop it. Oh, and mom and dad overheard part of it, but I’m pretty sure they don’t know.”
“That’s irrelevant now,” I said into her hair, “but thank you.” I was majorly pissed at Dave. If he was going to take it out on anyone, it should’ve been me, and by God, he and I were going to have this shit out one way or another. He was not going to get to me through our sister. She was not to be collateral damage! God, why hadn’t I just told him? What had I been so fucking worried about?
This, a voice answered for me.
Autumn pushed away from me then.
“Don’t you have a date to get to?”
Right then my phone’s notification sound beeped, alerting me to a text message waiting, and I felt my heart tug as I pulled it out of my pocket, too distracted now to remind her that it wasn’t a date, it was just two guys hanging out.
My heart soared seeing the confirmation text from Elijah.
Meet at park, ten thirty, right?
Yes. By the Gardens.
Gotcha. See you soon!
See you, too!
Autumn was smiling.
“What?” I asked her as I put my phone back into my pocket.
“You’re smiling, you big softie.”
I realized she was right.
“Shut up,” I told her, grabbing her in another hug. “I’m gonna talk to Dave when I get home. This needs to be resolved and he’s going to fucking apologize.”
“I’m fine, Luke. I was just shocked.”
I kissed her hair. “Well, I’m making you breakfast anyway. What do you want?”
She decided on pancakes and eggs.
At ten-twenty I showed up at the park, and made my way over to the Gardens. I won’t lie, I half expected him to stand me up. I half expected this to be a joke, even though I really knew to think more of Elijah. Popularity didn’t have to mean he was a jerk. He’d certainly been nice at rehearsal, and he’d never once given me any trouble.
To my utter joy, when I reached the meet place, he was already waiting for me at one of the benches near the pathway that lead to the gardens. He looked up as he became aware of my presence and didn’t hide that smile. Ugh, he was so beautiful.
Luke, I warned myself.
“Hey,” I greeted him, aware I was smiling in response. I mean, come on, it was hard not to smile whenever Elijah smiled. The freaking world lit up when those lips curved up solely because the joy always reached his eyes. “I see you had the same ‘get-there-early’ idea as I had.”
“I always worry about being late,” he responded, “what with traffic and such, so I always aim to be early.”
“Great minds think alike, eh?”
If he was offended by my compliment (because it compared him to me) he sure as shit didn’t look it. The smile returned full bore, my own mouth automatically matching it.
“You’re quite the charmer when you want to be, Luke.” There went the butterflies in my stomach. “Thank you. So,” he reached into the backpack he’d brought, and pulled out two scripts.
I was surprised.
“Here?” I asked. But there were…people.
He nodded. “You’d be surprised how little people pay attention here.”
I took one of the scripts he offered, noticing all too much when my fingers brushed his. Our eyes met and for a split second I could swear I saw interest in those baby blues, but as I looked away, down at the script in my hands, I convinced myself I was only hallucinating. Why would someone like him ever be interested in someone like me?
“Where would you like to start today?” I asked him.
“I want you to tell me.”
I looked up, surprised again. “What?”
“You remember yesterday afternoon, right? When we practiced then?”
I nodded. Of course I remembered. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it…and…maybe even...daydreaming...about it...Ahem.
“So I want you to challenge me.”
I swallowed at that. Challenge him? But what if I pi—
“You won’t hurt my feelings, I won’t get pissed off. This is all helping me. Think you’re up for it, Luke?”
Oh, I just loved the way it sounded when he said my name. I became blatantly aware that if I wasn’t careful, this crush could get far worse, turning into an emotion much harder to get rid of.
“I’m nervous, but I’ll try my best.”
Elijah smiled a little. “You’re going to do great. So. Hit me with it.”
“Well, I noticed that while scene three you did struggle a bit, you actually struggled the most with scene nine. I don’t know if it was because it was late and you were tired or if it was because I can’t act but—” I cut off when he held up a hand.
“Luke,” oop, there it was again, “I don’t need you to act. Actually, it’s great that you don’t, because it challenges me to come up with the emotions entirely on my own.”
Well, fuck, now I just felt guilty.
He apparently read my mind.
“No, it’s okay!” He let out a little giggle when I sent him a dubious look. “Really. It is. I like that. That’s why I asked you to help me today. You’re the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced with my acting career and I fucking love it.”
Hearing him swear for the first time got my heart pumping far too quickly, if you know what I mean. I set out to distract him even though…well…why would he be looking in that area at all? Still…I was massively self-conscious about my body.
Things after that went so smoothly that time just flew. I had more fun today than I’d had yesterday. There was something about the openness of our location; it caused him to be more dramatic, to be louder, bolder. I felt myself inching, bit by bit, towards that dangerous point of no return, and the closer I got, the greater my conflict became. See, what I mean is, I wanted to fall in love with him. I’d never fallen in love before. At the same time, I was fairly sure it’d be entirely unrequited, and the pain I’d go through upon finally realizing that he would never feel the same…I didn’t want to feel that. I didn’t deal with pain very well.
Around eleven-fifty or so, we suddenly heard yelling and running feet. Looking up, I saw, to my shock, that his friends were here, and they all looked mad. The next thing I realized was just how close Elijah and I had gotten, so I took a couple steps back. As they reached us, one grabbed me, violently yanking me further away from him.
“Dude, what the fuck are you doing?!” another yelled at Elijah. There were three others not including the one yelling at Elijah, and two of those three were coming over my way, cracking their knuckles, while the third branched out towards Elijah. In all, there were five aggressors.
My arms were pulled behind me. I struggled against the hands binding me which only made my captor tighten his grasp. I decided it was probably a good idea to stop struggling. As I’d hoped, his grip lessened to a bearable level.
“What the hell, guys?! Let him go!” Elijah demanded to no avail.
“This will hurt a lot less if you don’t fight,” my captor said in my ear, “so please, fight.”
What the hell was going on?!
The one that had been yelling at Elijah, a tall guy, kind of bulky, with bright blonde hair and contrasting dark brown eyes, glared at me.
“How dare you hang out with him? We got wind of a lowlife like you poisoning the very existence of the school’s king! And you’re going to pay for that!”
“NO!” Elijah screamed but it was too late.
The one that had branched out towards him now blocked his path to me while the one that had spoken proceeded to slam a fist into my face, followed immediately by a slam into my stomach. All air rushed out of me, immense pain following. The other two (who were not holding me or blocking Elijah) got in some punches as well, Elijah loudly protesting all of this, trying and failing to get past the one friend blocking him. All of a sudden, there was a shrill whistle; I looked up in time to see the friend blocking him reflexively flinch away. Elijah pushed past.
“WOULD YOU STOP?!” He bellowed. He shoved everyone not holding me captive away from me, and then glared viciously at the person behind me, who immediately released me. I fell to the ground, too weak to hold myself up. Elijah fell to one knee beside me, his hands gingerly resting one on my arm, the other on my back. I was shaking pretty baldly, but at least I wasn’t bleeding much. My lip was split, and my nose had a mild stream going but that was it. My stomach was killing me the most but I didn’t think any injuries were fatal.
He looked at his friends, a mixed expression of fury and pain on his face.
“Why the fuck would you beat him up?! He’s never done a god damned thing to any of you!”
The one that had thrown the first punch was looking confused by Elijah’s anger.
“His brother ran into us in town and told us of your whereabouts,” Dave set this up?! “Said he was hanging out here with you. You have a reputation to hold up at school. Hanging out with scum would damage that. We just did what Zach would’ve done. Plus, he’s a faggot. We beat up faggots.”
Elijah stood, so angry now his hands were shaking.
“You seem to have forgotten, Andrew, that I’m also a ‘faggot’,” he did air quotes around the word, “So why the fuck haven’t you beaten me up?”
“Well, obviously you’re the exception given your social status at school. That fucker is at the bottom. He needed a lesson.”
Elijah stood in place, fuming silently, for a few seconds before proceeding to punch Andrew.
“Fuck you, Andrew!” He looked at all his friends. “If you all give a good god damn about me, you will walk the hell away RIGHT NOW! You are going to stop being such fucking jackasses! You’re going to stop beating up anyone that’s not the same as you! I honestly expected more of you! Jesus Christ. I can’t fucking even right now!” He picked up the scattered scripts, put them in his bag, zipped it up and slung it over his shoulder before he continued speaking: “And for the god damned record, this meeting was my fucking idea and Zach is wrong! Unlike you, I treat other people as my equals, because they are fucking human beings and they deserve at least that!” He helped me to my feet. “I better not see any of you shits again until Monday! I control my damn life. NOT YOU! Remind Zach of that, too!”
Rant over; he helped me to our cars. I saw the dilemma.
“I can dr—”
“You are not fucking driving, Luke. I am. Give me your damn keys.”
“What about your car?” His very nice car, I had to admit.
“I’ll get it later.”
“But what if—”
“Luke, pardon me, but shut the fuck up and get in the god damn car! I’m taking you home, I’m cleaning you the fuck up, and you are going to fucking let me!” He blew out a breath. “Please!"
Despite the pain that was making itself more readily apparent, I also felt attraction towards him.
“Okay,” I said, chuckling softly. I was also strangely amused.
My laugh got him to soften a bit; a small grin tugged at his lips, the emotion partially replacing the anger seething in his eyes.
“And stop laughing,” he muttered as he helped me into the car.
That only made me laugh more. I must have a concussion because he was right. None of this was actually funny.