2. On The Way to Reconcile /1
Chapter Two: On the way to Reconcile
Replacing Art with Spanish meant that I no longer had a free period first thing Monday morning, so after registration (where Chou welcomed us all back to “What I’m sure will be a great term of hard work”) I headed up to the studios. The timetables had been shuffled a bit, so it was also a double lesson.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Art. I’d taken it for my GCSEs and, while I’d thought I’d been pretty shit at it, Mrs Cann had loved my work. Had to be better at it than Spanish, then. As soon as I walked in, Abby caught sight of me. She hurried over and grabbed my hand to lead me over to Mr Brown. I was given an A1 folder, an A3 sketchbook and a sheet of instructions for the current project; The Coast.
Abby’s table was in the centre of the room. I missed my Spanish window as she introduced me to the two others sat with her; Luke Bradley and Maddie Pearce. They both looked alright. I’d seen Maddie around before at least.
“If you need any help with ideas, let me know, okay?”
“Yeah, I will,” I told her, looking down at my blank page. The first task was to come up with a bunch of ideas—things that linked to the coast and could be the foundation of my project. Sounded easy enough but my first thought was surfing, and that led to kissing Freddie in the sea. Wetsuit to wetsuit. I shook my head as I bent a little over the desk and pencilled in summer barbeques at the beach. That had me remembering the days Courtney and I began, and how I could have never imagined it would end up like this.
Waves. Tides. Washing things anew. Standing at the edge of the shore and allowing wet sand to filter through toes as the ocean embraced ankles. Lights of a pier blinking lead to shoulder to shoulder with Freddie. Stormy nights at the beach. I drew an arrow from beach huts to watching the sea, to chilling with friends. The horizon; swimming towards it, even if you never reach. Sunset. Solitary at the beach—it was where I’d gone to be alone and think, but Freddie—
Holy fuck. Suddenly there was Freddie cold; Freddie’s shoulder; Freddie’s hands around my own. Freddie’s lips tasting of cider, salt and tongue, and my eyes were closed. Why the hell had my eyes been closed? And that slow heat grew again, butterflies recurring.
Something inside me wanted to return to that moment—over and over. Again and again, and –Abby leaned over to look at my scribbles.
“Whoa,” she murmured. “You’ve got quite a lot, there.”
“I guess so,” I offered with a weak chuckle. I hadn’t written Freddie’s name anywhere, but what I had written on the page still felt too personal to be shared. I lifted my chin towards her work. “What have you got?”
Abby looked happy enough to have her attention diverted as she pushed her sketchbook a little towards me. There was a photo of a little boy licking at an ice cream cone, and a half finished drawing beneath it.
“This is my little brother,” she said, picking up her pencil to twirl it around her fingers. “His favourite thing about the beach has always been the fact that we pretty much always get ice cream when we go, so I’m doing a series of paintings and studies of him eating cones and shit.” She grinned sheepishly. “It’s pretty dull, though.”
“No,” I replied softly. The drawing was really good. Her lines were sketchy and light, but accurately placed. “That’s pretty detailed.”
“Yeah, well. The hard part is going to be painting it. Might go for watercolours. But let’s have a look at yours, I’ll help you pick a focus—”
“N-no, I’m good,” I insisted, pulling my sketchbook away from her and elbowing a passer-by in the process. Maddie’s used paint water was spilt down my arm and onto my thigh as I shot into the air, causing the whole room to tune into the show.
“Shit, Joey, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good, Abby. Thanks. Um,” to the recipient of my elbow; “Sorry. Are you alright?”
It was Tom’s friend, Paige. She was wincing and clutching her side a little but dropped her arm and smiled cautiously when our eyes met. “I’m quite fine, thank you. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Just picked it up,” I said.
“I can see that.”
“Accidents happen, everything is alright. Would you like to go dry up, Joey?” Mr Brown asked, walking up towards us with a stick of charcoal in hand. He grinned. “When you come back, we can look through your ideas together. How about that?”
How about that.
Sherry and I were walking out of Business when I got a tap on my shoulder. I don’t know which of us was more surprised to see Ryan standing staring at us when we turned around—though we probably shouldn’t have been considering he was in our class and I’d noticed him sending us- or me, more specifically- glances through the hour lesson.
“Can I speak to you alone?” he asked, the question directed my way. Sherry crossed her arms, the answer she was going to give quite clear on her lips, but I spoke up in agreement before she could say anything.
“I’ll see you at our table?” I told her afterwards.
“Uh huh,” she murmured. “I’ll get you a pot of pasta, alright?”
I turned to Ryan once Sherry had left. “What is it?” I wanted to know. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder as a reply.
I followed Ryan outside, to the shed towards the field where equipment was kept. He’d had to chase some year nine kids away before we were alone, and even still he didn’t say anything for a moment. I adjusted my shoulder bag and regarded him carefully. I hadn’t forgotten what Joey had said about Ryan and Courtney sleeping with each other behind his back, but I doubted he would have told Ryan that as they didn’t seem to be speaking. What could Ryan want to speak to me about?
“I’m actually pretty hungry,” I prompted eventually, clearing my throat.
“Can you—okay, just,” he looked up at me, stepping forwards to lean on the cobwebbed surface of the shed door. My eye twitched but I decided not to interrupt him now that he’d finally started speaking. “Can you just get Joe to speak to me again?”
I blinked at Joey’s best friend. He was looking at me with such odd hope that I almost didn’t have it in me to break it to him.
“Why the hell would I be able to do that?”
Ryan’s face dropped. “You don’t need to hide it from me. I know that he’s been hanging out with you. I saw him getting out of your friend’s car the other day. And it was the same car I saw all of you guys in a while ago at the beach.”
“What? When?” My eyebrows creased. “It can’t be me—“ the second scenario he’d mentioned sounded like it could have been the day we went surfing—the day I’d kissed Joey, but I hadn’t seen Ryan skulking around, and that had been ages ago. When would Joey have met Curtis again? Though, maybe I should have been questioning Ryan’s apparent stalking tendencies.
Ryan didn’t seem to comprehend the confused expression on my face. “So you’ll do it then? Just tell him that I don’t give a shit that he’s gay—”
“-and I’m sorry about saying the shit I did at his—”
“-and I’m really sorry about Courtney, but I’m not exactly speaking to her anymore, if that helps.”
He paused where he stood and blinked back at me. His tangent had got him walking eights.
“J-Joey…” I cleared my throat again. “Joey isn’t gay, Ryan.”
“I told you that you don’t need to hide this shit—”
“I’m not hiding or denying anything!” I argued, stuffing my hands into my pockets to hide the fists they’d become. I couldn’t beat away the humiliation I’d felt after he’d rejected my kiss that night, and it would only be worse if it hadn’t been based on the fact that Joey’s orientation wouldn’t allow him to continue.
Maybe he just didn’t like me.
“Joey hasn’t told me shit. We don’t—” I stopped there, averting my eyes.
“Oh.” Ryan frowned. “So… He didn’t, like, confess to you, then?” I shook my head. “Shit. I swore he would. Maybe he’s still plucking up the courage.” I raised an eyebrow at Ryan as he smiled without humour. “Knowing Joey, that’s probably it. He’s definitely gay.”
“How do you know?” I asked slowly. I felt a little guilty, prying as I was, but more than anything I felt plagued by curious butterflies in my stomach. Joey was always pushing me away, but he was often creeping closer too. Two steps forward and one step back. He hadn’t had to accept my company at the beach either time—the Joey I’d thought I knew definitely wouldn’t have. Hadn’t needed to share his words as we shared a blanket and sat together, watching the fall of the last of the summer rain.
Then there was the kiss. I could have sworn that there was a part of him that had liked it. I’d felt it, and I wasn’t crazy. That kiss was, though. Driving me mad, still, and it had sparked fire inside of me despite the ocean of doubt around us. I’d loved it. I needed it again—Joey’s body so solid against my own—shit, not now. Ryan’s words, without evidence though they were, stoked that flame right back up, wild, reviving feelings I’d been trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to bury deep.
“How do you know, Ryan?” I repeated when he only stared at me. His cheeks darkened as he eventually let his gaze fall. His fingers found the padlock on the shed door and he tugged at it weakly.
“Sometimes… We—we watch porn and jerk off together, alright?” I could not have been more shocked to hear those words fall from Ryan’s lips, and I hated that I didn’t immediately erase the image that came to mind. My eyebrows seemed to climb a mile. It wasn’t like Tom and I hadn’t done the same in the past, or Jay, but I’d had relationships with both of those guys. I hadn’t been aware that straight people took part in the same activity. “Hey—Don’t fucking judge me, you dick!”
“Whoa, now,” I said, lifting my hands half in defence and half to hide a growing smile, “No judgement. So what? He wanted to watch gay porn or something?”
“No, fuck that! It was always girls, alright? But—I just… I started noticing that… He used to watch me, you know? More than the fucking screen, man.”
“Oh.” Watching the screen or not, it seemed like a pretty homosexual activity for Ryan to be doing too. Yet, if he still thought himself straight, what stopped Joey from being? Had he really been more interested in watching his friend?
“Yeah. And… And then Courtney complained that he never seems interested in going very far with her, you know? And it just, kinda, clicked. He’s a fag.” I lifted an eyebrow, and Ryan seemed to realise who he was talking to. “Sorry. You guys don’t like that.”
“Right,” I muttered.
“Plus, I don’t know. I’ve know the guy for more than ten years now, you know?” Joey’s dad, dead a decade, flashed into mind. Then mine. “I kind of… Always felt it. You can feel that shit, can’t you? But I don’t give a shit.” I both nodded and shrugged, feeling interest in the conversation fade. I still wasn’t sure what to think. Ryan shook his head. “Maybe I should have said this to him sooner.”
“Uh,” I cleared my throat once again, not knowing if Ryan was right about Joey, but a little touched on the short blonde’s behalf. “This is sweet of you, by the way. If he’s really gay, I think you need to say all of this to his face. He should hear it from you.”
“The dick isn’t fucking speaking to me right now. Even got his mum to stop—fuck.”
“Well, you did sleep with his girlfriend.”
“He told you that then, did he?” Ryan muttered dryly. He ran a slightly shaking hand through his sand brown fuzz of a haircut with a sigh. “He kept telling me how he wasn’t into her anyway, you know? I told him to end it. I didn’t think he’d give a shit; it’s just sex.”
“I don’t think it’s about the sex.” Ryan simply stared. “What do you want me to do?”
“I just miss him so much,” Ryan said quietly. He wouldn’t look at me, but he looked pretty cut up about it. For a moment, I felt jealousy spike up inside, but I quickly reprimanded myself for being so goddamn ridiculous. “I need him to speak to me.”
“What am I supposed to do? It’s not like I can stage some sort of meeting between you two,” I murmured. “Corny.”
Ryan glanced up at me, eyes wide. Oh, no. “Why not? That’s exactly—that would work. He’s speaking to you, right? And you guys met at that beach—it’s his favourite place, man. Just, tell him to meet you there. On… On Wednesday.”
“I’m working Wednesday,” I protested. Ryan looked at me like I was stupid. My cheeks reddened. “And that doesn’t matter because it’ll be you seeing him.”
“Great!” he said, a weak smile playing on his lips. “Want my number? Let me know what time and stuff?”
“That’s crazy,” Sherry admonished.
“It could work, though,” Tom conceded. I probably should have regretted telling them the plan, but it was difficult enough not revealing the possible truth of Joey’s deviant sexuality. That explained why the guy hadn’t backed Joey up—he’d clearly believed that the two of us had been doing exactly what had been rumoured.
Ryan had swayed me a little there with how convinced he’d been, but Joey had still been pretty vocal with his gay slur against my father, and his laughter at Lowood’s homophobic jokes. Sure, there were self-hating closet cases, but I wasn’t convinced he was one of them.
Soaked, drunken beach-Joey flashed to mind then, in all his self-hating glory.
I took my phone out of my pocket and stared at it momentarily. “So I should do it, though, right?”
Jenny shrugged, “Why not?”
“The question is why? What have either of them done for you?” Sherry asked, swirling her spork around a mostly empty pot of pasta. I glanced from her to my phone. I wanted to tell her about how I felt about Joey, but she’d already been acting weird recently. She wouldn’t like it.
“I’m going to do it,” I murmured, tapping out a short message to the one in question; Hey. Can we meet at the beach on Wednesday @ 5? Need to apologise.
If I organised it early enough, maybe I could meet him quickly first before I had to go to work—and before Ryan arrived. I’d just tell Ryan to meet him twenty minutes later; that gave me enough time to say sorry for the kiss and leave. That was all.
If he even agreed.
“What do you need to apologise for?” my best friend asked.
“No,” I replied quickly. “Ryan needs to.” Sherry let her spork fall.
“Joey was in my art lesson today,” Paige said.
“Art?” Tom repeated, wrinkling his nose in confusion. “For the first time?” Paige nodded.
“He said he’d just picked it up.”
“Really?” Sherry chimed in with a smirk. “But his window seat!”
“I guess he didn’t pass Spanish then.” Four pairs of eyes swivelled over to me. “He… He said if he didn’t catch up with his Spanish coursework he’d be leaving the class,” back at his house, when I’d discovered how straight his teeth were. “So that must be why he’s in Art. For the first time.”
I instantly wished I’d taken up tutoring him more.
“I thought it was weird that Ryan came to you about this, but clearly he realised more than I did that you’ve been pretty close to this guy.”
I bit my lip, glancing at the others, but none of them said a thing, seeming to be thinking something similar. “Sherry,” I protested weakly as she began to clean up her finished lunch.
“I’ll see you later, I need to get some books from my locker,” she announced, before standing and pushing away from our table. I watched her leave, confusion on my features. Paige sent me an encouraging smile as Jenny pushed her cup of juice over to me.
“Are you going to miss having him in Spanish?”
I scoffed and shook my head. When three pairs of eyes continued to blink at me, I scoffed to distract again.
“Freddie,” Tom sang, a stupid smile growing.
“Guys!” I laughed. “We barely ever spoke in Spanish!” and yet I already did.
Miss him, that is.