November Rain [Volume 2 of September Salt]

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4.. There's a Name For That

Chapter Four: There’s a Name For That

FREDDIE

Every thought I had was driven away or translated into Joey. The longer we kissed to a familiar soundtrack of rain that I was really beginning to like, the more I knew there was nowhere else I’d rather be.

My hands traced their way down Joey’s slowly soaking chest, stretching stomach, and paused to squeeze his waist. His hips twitched and froze, prequel to a familiar movement. I tried to still the confused frustration that spiked as I began to pull away, but Joey tugged me back. His tongue asked I reprimand him just before his bottom lip placed itself between my teeth and urged I nibble down.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered through the pinch, and I met his lips again with mine. It was a word we’d said too many times. Two disgustingly romantic bursts before we parted for breath, and I shook my head, disbelieving. Ryan was actually right.

“Did you just come out to me?”

His eyes were suddenly shy of mine, but he was smiling. Slightly. I realised that Joey was blushing. I stuffed my hands back into my anorak pockets and shook to generate warmth but managed only to spray Joey with the precipitation my clothes had carried. He quirked a brow at me as I suppressed a smile. Joey raked a hand through his hair and holy damn, the boy was cute. “I don’t know. I guess so? I was confused, Freddie. Fuck, I still am.”

“Are you gay?”

Joey shrugged. “Maybe. You tell me. Does liking kissing you make me gay?”

Smile to smirk, I shook my head. “You like girls too. There’s a name for that, you know.”

“I don’t know if I do,” Joey murmured. “I mean, maybe. Sure. But, with Courtney at least it was never…” My lips caught the attention of his gaze, and I couldn’t help but lick them absentmindedly. “Like this. I never…” My eyes widened. Joey’s took a staggered journey downwards, prompting my hand to leave my pocket and meet the icy blocks that were his. I took a step forward. Joey seemed to relax as my fingers almost automatically started to play with the unsuspecting joints of his. It felt oddly right, but stomach-churningly so. Something bad had to be on the horizon, every suspiciously joyful fibre of my being could feel it.

“What does this mean?”

A raindrop from the end of my nose dripped onto Joey’s forehead as he blinked up at me silently.

“What are we doing?” I rephrased. The blonde before me let his fingers slip from mine, leaving them colder than they’d been before.

“I don’t—not sure,” he said, the insecure sliver of a Joey showing his true colours once again. It was the rain. It was definitely, without a doubt, the rain. “I don’t know what you want, but, I’m scared and I’m sorry and I’m at least partly gay.”

Gay. Whatever the percentage, gay didn’t mean he wanted me all over him the second he’d figured it out. I cleared my throat, taking a step back. “I’m really glad you managed to clarify that-”

“Yeah.” Joey swallowed. “Me too.”

I don’t know what I had been expecting. I liked this guy. A lot, as I had for a ridiculous while been realising, but he was apparently on the verge of a huge journey of homosexual acceptance and, if it was anything like that of a lot of those I knew, it would include kissing a lot more guys than me alone. I fought the need to act selfishly, but couldn’t push the desire away.

“Ryan knows.”

Joey glanced sharply at me then and I laughed at the expression.

“Ryan?”

“I can’t believe he was actually right.” Joey simply stared at me. “Maybe I shouldn’t have. Sor—shit.” Joey laughed, and I joined him. It was odd the level of relief I was feeling considering I’d been so ready to give the Forget the Guy plan a go.

“What about Ryan?”

“He sort of convinced me into tricking you into meeting him tomorrow,” I admitted. “But you have to promise me you’ll still go.”

“I’ll go,” Joey replied without hesitation.

“Oh. Okay. Cool.” He dropped his gaze. “Can I ask something? Why’d you freeze before?”

“What?”

“Earlier. When we were kissing.”

“Oh.” Joey blushed. “I don’t know… I still liked it. Just… Felt like I was the woman.” I laughed aloud at that. “What? I don’t want to be the feminine one.”

I snorted and raised an eyebrow. “You know it is a lot more complicated than that, right? Though maybe it is slightly woke on your part that you’d think I’d like being the guy.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Joey looked genuinely confused, and that irked just the slightest, but he had a lot to learn, clearly. And… I apparently had a lot to teach.

“We should probably go in,” I murmured. “You’re soaked.”

“Yeah,” he replied, making no attempt to move. “I am.” And then Joey simply stared at me, the corners of his lips still hinting at happy as my beam became the sun.

“Oh my God,” Tom said.

“I know. And then we kissed.”

“Holy shit,” Tom crooned.

“Right?” I sniffed. “I think I like him.”

“Uh-oh.”

“What?!”

“Just… Uh-oh,” Tom repeated, and his lips stretched slowly. “A good uh-oh.”

“Am I fucked?”

“Well, you or Joey, yeah.” I threw a pillow directly at Tom’s head and he laughed aloud. “Hey! I’ve been rooting for you two this whole time and this is what I get?”

“Yeah, right. We’re not together, Tom. His coming out just happened to lead to him kissing the only gay guy within reach.”

“The only gay guy within reach who he literally asked to accompany him,” he teased. “God, you can be dense, Fred. Are you for real?” Then he crinkled his nose. “I smell rum!” As did I. Sure enough, as I turned my head, Sherry, Paige and Jenny were walking in, armed with alcohol, costumes, Halloween make up (as we decided the mystery gang have been murdered by a psycho Scooby) and edibles. Tom and I offered them a heartfelt round of applause.

“Okay, come, come,” Paige commanded, waving Tom and I down from her bed and onto the kitsch carpet spread across her bedroom floor. We obeyed, kneeling like excited children on Christmas Eve as the girls laid the goodies out in a sinful circle in the middle. Tom was already reaching for a glass and bottle number one of rum as Jenny started pouring coke into the four remaining glasses. We were all mixed up and ready to drink when Sherry lifted her heady beverage into the air. Her grin was infectiously wicked as she took her time observing the group to ensure we were doing the same to her.

“I love you guys so very much, and I am greatly disappointed that this is our first time going out like this since the end of summer.” There was a great Hear, Hear! to that. “But, this means we have an obligation to go hard tonight, and have a fucking grand time. To a bloody good night!”

“To a bloody good night!” the rest of us yelled in unison, liquor raised. Tradition demanded that the first toast was always downed, so we did this merrily. The issue was, we never really stopped.

JOEY

A Hulk-ed up Harry was definitely enjoying holding Abby’s hand. It seemed to me like he considered it even more of a treat than he did the sweets piling up in his pumpkin-shaped bucket. Tyrone, a quiet ten-year old with the funniest one-liners I’d ever heard, was leading our group dressed as Yoda. Charlotte, on the other hand, having settled on a space monkey, was dazzled by the costumed characters trolling the streets. She had taken on the task of rating the style, quality and originality of each outfit and executed her role with authority.

“That’s the sixth vampire,” she announced for the third time. (She was losing count a little.) “And that guy didn’t even bother to wear a cape!”

“Not all heroes wear capes,” Tyrone chimed in, causing the corners of my lips to rise. “Why should all vampires?”

Abby looked to me as the two continued to bicker, grinning. “This is actually so cute. Wish I’d brought my little brother, now. I think he’d have loved these guys.”

“Why didn’t you?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t think about it. He’s out with his friends anyway, and it’s a bit of a long bus journey for just an hour of trick-or-treating, but if your mum’s got Harry and Charlotte over often, you think I can get him to stay at yours one afternoon? I can bring him over after school.”

I tugged Charlotte closer to me firmly as she gestured a little too wildly, almost knocking out a toddler fairy who had escaped her mother’s grasp. “I’m sure my mum would love that.”

Once the kids had been dropped safely back at home, diving into their candy collections like the little monsters that they were, Abby and I bid my mother a goodnight. I knew, of course, the amount of sweets the kids were ingesting would ensure she had no such thing, which may have had something to do with the twinge of her lips in reply looking more like a grimace.

Having turned the corner of my street, Abby pulled out a pre-mixed bottle of vodka and passion fruit juice from her bag and offered it to me proudly. I grinned her my thanks as I took it. Mum had made me promise not to drink too much, but I would certainly stop a shot or two from that point. Maybe. Just then, however, it was all about starting right, even if I couldn’t end so. I was nothing but nerves vying between cowardice and courageous energy. Not only was I attending a huge event without the only person I’d ever leaned on besides my mother, I’d kissed Freddie again. I’d admitted to him fractions of the confusion I felt, and I had no idea where we stood from now on, but it didn’t quite feel like solid ground.

After gulping down a sweet mouthful, I passed the bottle back to my friend and got my phone out to text Curtis. On our way. Are you still waiting at the bus stop?

“I never tried that mix,” I marvelled. “That’s, like, really sweet.” Abby hummed in agreement. “Also, I wanted to thank you.”

My partner-in-costume flapped her left hand at me as she took a swig of her own. “It’s no big deal, get me some ciders later. No doubt we’ll be through with this in no time.”

“No, I mean for coming trick-or-treating. You didn’t have to do that, I’m sorry. I know it’s kind of lame.”

Abby looked at me incredulously as she sipped. “What makes you think that?” I shrugged in reply. The fact that Courtney had said it over and over, maybe. And even Ryan would give the odd look every now and then, though he was never as outspoken about it, possibly as he’d grown up alongside me and watched mum house several kids over the years. “Well,” she continued. “Don’t even mention it. Plus, you’re getting me into a uni party. Consider us even.”

That was true, and despite my earlier resolve, I was getting nervous. Curtis had offered us a lift that I had turned down since I had to be with the kids, so he was going to either meet us at a bus stop nearby the party or would already be there. Arriving with him, however, would have been a lot easier than turning up knowing no one—besides Abby, of course.

The party wasn’t far. It was a twenty-five minute walk into town that turned into thirty-five due to the occasional pauses to indulge in Abby’s adventures to off-licences for cigarettes and more alcohol, and my tipsy piss in the only empty alleyway we found on the way. By the time we arrived, I was drunk enough to have accepted an offered cigarette, but not so much so that street signs blurred into “music-video dancers” as Abby loudly announced they did for her.

The party was in full swing. Bodies were spilling out of the semi detached house and onto the quiet residential street. Even what I could see from the garden, which seemed to curl around the right of the house, was comfortably inhabited. The noise was enough to result in more than one neighbour peering out suspiciously, but Curtis had told me earlier that though police had often been called on parties on the very same street, all the other student houses had been given invites. Those that weren’t student houses had been approached by any one of the ten students living in the property, with a basket of baked cookies and a plea for one night of wildness before their November deadlines. So far, it seemed the sweet treats had done their job.

The alcohol, however, had not. Standing before the front door, I felt all pretence of a brave-face seep away. Curtis hadn’t replied. What if he had never arrived? The fear of abandonment I’d been trying to beat away, keeping in denial, attempted to flare up again. Luckily, Abby had no such hold ups.

“What are you waiting for?” She shoved me forward, just as the door was opened by a sexy bumble bee who flew right past us clumsily, fell onto her knees on the road, and emptied her stomach. I could smell the spirits and bolognese from where I stood.

“Oh shit,” I said, as two of her friends ran after her, wailing about how she’d done it again. Abby didn’t hesitate like I did; her hand grasped mine and she pulled me in through the dark, crowded hallway and into the void.

There were two sources of music, both heavy in bass, causing the ground beneath our feet to rumble. Despite getting crushed between people on either side, I felt the corners of my lips rise. My partner-in-costume turned her head to face me as she paused by a two-door intersection. The music was louder here. On the left, a popular rap beat blared. On the right, some cheesy nineties tune had the room crooning along with it.

“So! Let’s find your friend. Which way?”

“Maybe we find more alcohol first?” My words were already slipping around my mouth, unanchored, but I wanted to be brazen and carefree too.

“I like the way you think, Joe,” she grinned wickedly. “More drinks first, and then we dance!” And hopefully, we would find Curtis somewhere along the way.

The party already had a better vibe than the one at my birthday had. It was a thousand times busier, no doubt messy, and the way some people slouched as some made out, and some fell against any and all available surfaces, (a girl dressed as Alice was grinding against a wall as if it would open up a door to Wonderland the harder she did so), there was clearly more alcohol and drugs circulating than I had experienced before. But the loud volume was a friendly, if wild, one. The crowds were constantly fluctuating, groups being built and broken as I watched through an unsteady gaze. I would have been happy to sidle into a corner simply to people-watch if Abby hadn’t tugged my arm as she yelled a Whoop suitable for the cave girl she was impersonating and scampered forward to the slightly ajar door at the end of the hallway. Even if we hadn’t realised it was the kitchen, someone had incidentally announced that there would be free shots, and they were not wrong. An odd Winnie-the-Pooh/Freddie-Krueger mix was holding a bottle of rum in each hand, pouring it ceremoniously straight into people’s open mouths. I only laughed and conceded when Abby pulled us towards him, and, unprompted, we were awarded in sync.

“Ryan!”

My heart plummeted. I snapped to the right, eyes following the voice who had woken me from my alcohol induced daze. This meant, of course, half of the shot Winnie Krueger had poured missed my throat and ended up perfuming my neck and chin instead. The rest went down the wrong way. I choked through a couple of pats on the back, donated to me by a mystery hand and squinted my eyes through the ordeal in search of Ryan’s signature smirk.

A mustard and green wizard was leaning over the marble kitchen island, holding tightly onto a bottle of Jack. He started to gesture in a way that was either a beckoning wave, or the beginning of a spell, when a guy who could be read as not getting into the dressing up spirit strode past us and into the wizard’s arms. His, beanie, red and white striped top and lensless glasses meant he was probably attempting a lazy Where’s Wally, but either way—he was not my best friend.

I cleared my sore throat, wiping my face with the arm not holding my plastic club. When I turned back to Abby, she was somehow watching me in the middle of topping up two plastic cups she’d appropriated with one of the bottles I was sure Winnie-the-Krueger had been brandishing.

“Let’s take these outside, shall we? I need a cigarette.”

I could have kissed her, apparent homosexuality be damned. There was a list of things I wanted to forget. And remember. Indulge in, and forget again. Ryan’s absence was one of those, but it always came up, without fail.

I took the cup Abby offered and followed her to the back door.

It wasn’t unbearable, but it was pretty cold outside, considering the fact that I was practically topless, a black strap connected to a painted sheet-over trackie-bottoms combination, connected by a plastic bone we’d found at the party store. Still, I decided not to complain as Abby was wearing even less and seemed unbothered. She offered me a cigarette and lit me up once we’d retreated to a corner by a tree wrapped in rainbow fairy lights. A few tokes in, I caught her watching me intensely again.

“What’s up?”

She released something in between a sigh and a laugh and shook her head softly, lifting the cigarette to her lips again. “Okay, I am probably too drunk for this conversation, but first of all, are you okay?”

“Yeah, of course I am.” My head was beginning to feel too heavy for my neck, but it was easy for me to smile at her. I thanked the rum in my cup.

“Joe,” I froze as her hand lifted, trailing along my hairline from my forehead to the back of my ear. “You can tell me what’s up, okay? I’m... I wasn’t going to believe the stuff everyone was saying but, just so you know, I don’t give a shit even if you are.” Her hand slipped a little to rest on my shoulder. “They’re all pieces of shit for treating you like that.”

“Right...” I murmured, eyes dropping to the ground in front of us. I slumped against the tree and took another drag. The tar was scratching at my throat but I didn’t let that stop me. “But I’m a piece of shit too.”

Abby grinned. “Sure you are. But I think you’ve got a thin layer, you know. The kind that a little digging will get rid of pretty quick. So...” I sighed at the inquisitive look she gave me. She probably wouldn’t press if I asked her not to, but the whole damn school thought they knew the truth anyway. Why couldn’t I tell someone who didn’t hate my guts?

“I don’t honestly know. I think I might be. I’m not sure.” Her eyes brightened in a way that terrified me. “What?”

“So you like Ryan, right?!”

I choked once again, spluttering out as Abby smacked my back. “No! I mean—” I shook my head as I threw the cigarette away and hacked another few coughs. “Why would you think that?”

“Uh, because he talked about you guys, you know, doing stuff together at your party, and then Courtney outs you as gay and suddenly you guys aren’t hanging out anymore? It’s pretty obvious, even if everyone else seems hung up on you and that Lewis guy.”

“Oh.” Fuck. It was a pretty good argument, actually. I downed the rest of my drink and pressed the cool cup to my forehead. “Yeah. Well. That makes a lot of sense. But... I don’t think so?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.” I gestured to her for a sip of her cup and she complied, sucking hard at the few embers left of her straight. “Honestly, I don’t know though. I don’t know anything about this. I don’t know where my head is. I liked Courtney at some point.” But, then again, I have never had wet dreams about her or any other girl in my life like I had about Ryan and Curtis. But maybe that was a (recurring) fluke, since I’d never had a desire to kiss Ryan while awake.

Of course, the whole thing was irrelevant now that Freddie and I had kissed, and I’d enjoyed it. Kissing Courtney had been nice too, but- never the same. I’d always found myself thinking too much during our kisses. How soft her lips were. What to do with my arms. Whether we had kissed for long enough, or not. It had never seemed long enough for her. And, hey, my mind raced with Freddie too, but somehow things also felt instinctual. Almost… Holy.

What the fuck was wrong with me?

“Okay,” I began, “Can I ask you something? Like, really personal? You can’t tell anyone.”

Abby crossed her heart and zipped her lips, limbs completing the movement in the lethargic way that announced its own drunkenness without need for words. My grin in reply was far too easily offered. In my head, I knew that I would never be revealing what I was about to if not for the alcohol spiking my veins and Abby’s fingers still brushing up against my neck. It felt nice.

Fuck. Maybe there was hope for my sexuality yet. I suddenly became aware of how close Abby’s face was to mine. She was blinking at me patiently, green eyes wide with inebriation. Fuck.

“I won’t tell a soul.”

“Okay, cool, um... It’s just...” I cleared my throat. “I... I don’t know if I know what it means to like someone. I don’t think I like Ryan that way, but he’s the closest thing I can imagine to it in that he’s my best friend. No offence or anything but, at times I considered him my only friend. He’s always been there, which is why it hurt all the more when... I can’t imagine—” I felt tears brim then, and as I tried to hide them by turning my face away, Abby caught my cheek more gently than I thought possible in her state. She drew me back to her. “I can’t imagine going on much longer without him. I don’t want to. But...”

There was no judgement in her expression yet, but knowing what I was going to say next, I let my eyes drift downwards even as my face stayed caged towards her.

“While I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to kiss him, when we were younger I used to have dreams about him where I’d do that kind of shit. And, recently, I kissed a guy like everyone’s been saying, not that they even knew, and I think I liked it.”

I looked up at her then. Abby was staring at me with her eyebrows furrowed, lips twisted.

“And Courtney?” she asked.

“What about her?”

“Well, I keep hearing you refused to have sex with her. Why?”

I shrugged. “I just don’t think I’m super sexual. Kissing was alright with her until I started feeling like it wasn’t good enough. I just... I always felt guilty. Too much pressure. I thought about it in the beginning for sure. But... it kind of scares me.”

“Hmm,” she said, and then her head dropped down.

“What the fuck, are you okay??”

Abby straightened slowly, laughing. “Totally, but I think I may be too drunk for this conversation. Wanna kiss me to find out??”

“What the fuck?” I laughed back, very slightly relieved once again, but my heart was swelling and there was a sadness embedded in there somewhere. “No, that’s okay. Or maybe later. Fuck it. I’m confused. Another drink?”

“First, another cigarette!” And once I reached for one after she pulled another two from her pack, my friend pulled me into a tight hug.

“I just want to say,” she murmured into my ear, “It’s okay to be confused. We’re fucking young.” Abby lit my cigarette as we separated. I smiled at her thankfully, though the slightest bit confused when I saw an oddly knowing glint in her eye. Students and cigarettes were forgotten as she whispered, “Fuck it,” and pulled my face towards hers.

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