Chapter 24: Not Alone Any More
It took a little while, but at last Cyrus and Hayden broke apart and stayed apart. Hayden headed for the shower, finally acknowledging the after effects of his night of drinking. Cyrus picked up his coffee, taking a sip and realizing it was cold. He smiled wryly, his chapped lips curling, and found that he didn’t care one bit.
Cyrus had forgotten all of his anger, and found that he had already forgiven Hayden. How could he not? Things were finally going his way, and he wasn’t about to ruin it worrying over what was now in the past. All he wanted was for Hayden to realize how the previous night could have ended under different circumstances, and to keep him from ever doing something so reckless again.
When Hayden got out of the shower, he emerged dressed in an olive green t-shirt of Cyrus’s that, due to his slightly larger frame, clung tightly to his chest. Staring unashamedly, Cyrus came to the conclusion that Hayden could borrow his clothes absolutely any time he wanted to. Hayden caught his gaze and grinned.“Hey.”
“Hey,” Cyrus replied as Hayden came to sit next to him on the bed, their arms pressed together. Cyrus loved that he didn’t feel awkward or pressured; it just seemed natural. It was just like when they were only friends, except that Cyrus could now reach down and intertwine his fingers with Hayden’s. Not wanting to dismiss the opportunity, he did just that. Hayden turned and smiled at him.
“So, how’d you get out of going to Canada to come chase after me?” he asked.
“I begged my mom,” Cyrus replied. It took a minute before he could continue; Hayden’s thumb was rubbing small circles on the back of Cyrus’s hand, and it was doing crazy things to his train of thought. “Then, when she’s in, she’s in. She flew me down here, got me the hotel, a private driver and everything.”
“Wow,” Hayden said. “I feel special.”
“You should feel ashamed,” Cyrus muttered, not really putting much feeling behind the words. “Your brother was so worried about you when you didn’t make it in by curfew. He covered for you, but if I hadn’t been there… Hayden, you were passed out at a party full of strangers.”
Hayden hung his head, embarrassed. “Yeah, not my brightest moment.”
“And whose hotel room did you think you woke up in, anyway?” Cyrus asked.
“I don’t know. I thought maybe I did something stupid,” Hayden replied.
“You did do something stupid. What made you think getting wasted was a good idea?”
“I wasn’t thinking, really. I mean, I only had a few friends left before, then Clay told me he was going to tell you, and… The one person other than Will that I couldn’t stand to lose, and just like that…” Hayden trailed off, shaking his head. “I panicked. I ran. I drank. I thought I’d never see you again, and that was as good a reason as any to blackout, don’t you think?”
Cyrus squeezed his hand. “Just, never again, okay?”
“Promise.” Hayden grinned, “Besides, I don’t need to now, do I?” He leaned over for a quick kiss.
“Hayden, you know I’ve, uh, only ever dated one girl before, and that really didn’t end well,” Cyrus admitted. “I’m kind of out of my element here. I don’t want to ruin this.”
“You won’t,” Hayden promised. “I’m new at this too.” Cyrus was too slow to hide his surprise. “Well, I had, uh… something with Clay. I don’t really know what it was. Him using me, mostly,” Hayden corrected. “But that didn’t last long or end well either, so…” He shrugged. “We’ll just take it slow, okay?”
Cyrus felt relieved that Hayden was on the same page. “Okay.”
“What time is it?” Hayden asked, glancing around for the clock.
Hayden ran a hand down his face. “I should probably get back and explai- apologize to Will.” He swung his legs off the bed. “Do you want to meet us for lunch, maybe? I’m sure he’d like to meet the guy that saved his brother or whatever.”
“Of course. I’d like to meet him officially too,” Cyrus said earnestly.
“Okay. How about Neal’s Grill in town at twelve?” Hayden suggested.
“Sure,” Cyrus said, stretching and running a hand through his messy hair.
Hayden nodded, pulling on his shoes. “Great. I hope you don’t mind hanging out with my little bro today. But he goes back to school tomorrow,” he said with a wink. Cyrus felt his face heat up as Hayden grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. “See you in a few hours, okay?”
“I’ll be there,” Cyrus promised.
Cyrus was early, of course. He got a table at the little burger joint and waited for Hayden to arrive with his brother. He had let Mr. Hill off for lunch, unsure of their plans afterwards. Staring down at his water, Cyrus stirred it idly with his straw, watching the lemon wedge swirl around and around.
“Am I interrupting something?” a familiar voice said from behind him.
Cyrus looked up, fighting a warm smile. “Yes. I was unravelling the secrets of the universe before you so rudely derailed my train of thought.”
“Ha ha,” Hayden said dryly, eyes twinkling. “We both know you finished doing that years ago.” He grinned before stepping aside to reveal Will. “And finally you meet,” Hayden said dramatically, waving his hand between the two.
Offering his hand, Cyrus said, “Hi, Will.”
Will smiled so broadly Cyrus wondered if it hurt. He was only slightly shorter than Hayden despite the fact that he was a few years younger, and Cyrus could see the resemblance in their eyes. Will’s hair, however, was longer, straighter, and smoothed down to hang over his forehead in contrast to Hayden’s disheveled spiky look. “Hey, Cyrus,” Will said, accepting the handshake. “It’s great to finally meet you. Thanks again for last night.”
“You don’t need to thank me,” Cyrus said earnestly. “If anything, I should be thanking you. If you hadn’t contacted me, I might never have found Hayden.”
“And that would’ve been a shame,” Will said, sliding into the other side of the booth.
"I second that.” Hayden sat across from his brother, his leg pressing a warm line against Cyrus’s. Casually reaching for a menu, Hayden opened it up and started skimming. He closed it a few seconds later. “Well, I’m ready.”
“That was fast,” Cyrus commented.
“I get the same thing every time I come here,” explained Hayden. “I try to switch it up sometimes, but I can never bring myself to do it.”
“What do you usually get?” Cyrus asked.
“Pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries,” Hayden said proudly. “Best barbecue ever.”
Cyrus closed his own menu as the waitress came around. “Well, I’m sold,” he said.
“How about we just make that three?” Will said as Hayden placed the order. When she had departed, they turned to idle conversation. “So, how are you liking Greensboro?”
“I’ve somehow managed to be all over it and yet only see the insides of record stores,” Cyrus replied, grinning wryly. “But it seems nice. I like it.”
“Woah, you went to record stores without me?” Hayden asked, pulling a face of offense.
Cyrus rolled his eyes. “I was looking for you, you idiot,” he insulted, but there was affection in his voice.
“Still, though,” Hayden grumbled. “Did you at least buy anything?”
“No,” Cyrus said, “I was kind of pre-occupied.”
“Well, you’re going to have to show me your favorite,” Hayden said. “I don’t think I’ve been to any around here.”
“I didn’t know we had any, either,” Will admitted.
“I managed to find no less than five,” Cyrus said. “Some of them were… Well, let’s just say I could live a long, happy life without ever stepping foot in them again. A few were nice, though.”
Cyrus fiddled with his napkin, just for something to do with his hands.
“So you’re into Hayden’s kind of music, then?” Will asked conversationally.
It took a moment for Cyrus to consider his answer. At one time, he would have responded that no, he wasn’t, but now… Cyrus certainly had heard a lot of it. He owned many of Hayden’s favorite records, and he found himself playing them more often than his own. Sometimes tunes would get stuck in his head, and he’d end up humming them all day. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
Cyrus caught a glimpse of Hayden beaming out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve converted him,” Hayden said proudly.
“Classical,” Cyrus said. “And some folk in there too.”
Will turned to his brother in exasperation. “You haven’t converted him; you’ve corrupted him!”
Letting out a laugh, Cyrus asked, “What do you listen to?”
“More modern stuff. Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Mystery Jets…” he shrugged.
Cyrus nodded, pretending he recognized them. It would have worked if Hayden hadn’t given him away.
“That’s his I-have-no-idea-who-that-is-so-I’ll-just-nod face,” Hayden said. “It made unfortunate appearances every time I mentioned Bad Company or Zeppelin or pretty much any other good artist.”
“I know who they are now, doesn’t that count for something?” Cyrus asked.
Hayden looked over at him. “Yeah, I guess it does.”
Under the table, he reached for Cyrus’s hand and intertwined their fingers. Cyrus had to force down both a blush and a smile, unsure of what Will knew about them. “Yeah, well, when I met you, you couldn’t tell the difference between Beethoven and Tolstoy.”
Shrugging, Hayden admitted, “Still can’t.”
“Obviously,” Will cut in. “Tolstoy is an author.”
Cyrus glanced at him, impressed. Will may have only been thirteen or fourteen, but he seemed older. “You know him?”
“I know of him,” Will said. “Not much else, though.”
“Hang on,” Hayden said. “Were you testing me?”
“I failed, didn’t I?”
“Darn,” Hayden said, though, if the smile tugging at his lips was any indication, he wasn’t too broken up about it. “Guess I’ll have to find some way to make it up to you.”
Hayden squeezed Cyrus’s hand. Meeting his gaze, Cyrus could see the playful light twinkling in his eyes. It was so refreshing to see Hayden this happy and not brooding over his loss of friends. Cyrus’s entire body warmed at the thought that he was part of the cause for such happiness. He wanted to lean over and kiss Hayden right then, but Will was across the table, and the food was heading their way.
When the waitress set down their plates, Cyrus and Hayden were forced to break their handhold. It was okay, though, because Cyrus knew it wasn’t a one time thing. He never thought it could be this way, but it seemed that he was allowed to hold Hayden’s hand just about whenever he wanted now. If that wasn’t a cause to smile, Cyrus didn’t know what was.
“This is delicious,” he commented. “Good choice.”
“When it comes to food, never doubt me,” Hayden said, popping a fry into his mouth. “When it comes to anything else, you have my absolute permission.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Will said, smearing a glob of sauce off of his lip.
“Mhmm,” Hayden hummed around a mouthful of food.
The waitress had plopped a few napkins and wet wipes on the table, but not nearly enough. Hayden snatched one of the two packs of wipes, and Cyrus and Will both stared at the other before Will offered, “I’ll run to the bathroom; no problem.”
Cyrus was about to protest, but he was already gone. Ripping open the pack, Cyrus began wiping the sticky sauce off of his hands. He had never realized how many facets his hands had until every one was caked in barbecue sauce.
“You have some on your face,” he alerted Hayden just as the other boy was going to discard his wipe. “To the left,” Cyrus tried to guide him.
“No… I’ll get it.” Cyrus raised his own wipe and was in the process of clearing away the spot when Will returned. He was allowing himself to linger far longer than necessary, but dropped his hand immediately upon Will sliding into the booth.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Will said dryly. “I’ll just be puking in the corner.”
Both Cyrus and Hayden turned to him in surprise. Will raised his brows. “What?” he asked. “You think I haven’t figured it out? You’ve been making heart eyes at each other this whole time and sitting really close. You think I don’t know you’re holding hands right now?”
“Uh…” Cyrus glanced at Hayden, trying to gauge his reaction.
“Are- are you okay with it?” Hayden managed to get out.
Will smiled. “Of course. I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time. It’s a huge improvement over yesterday, I can tell you that. Plus, Cyrus, you seem like a pretty cool guy.”
“Thanks,” Cyrus replied.
“Sure,” Will said. “Seriously, I’m happy for you guys and whatever. Now can we go? I seem to remember you saying something about frozen yogurt.”
“I said no such thing,” Hayden replied indignantly. Will’s eyes widened in his best puppy dog look. “Huh, you know, my memory’s coming back to me.” He laughed. “Come on.”
Cyrus paid the bill, refusing the protests of the other two, then followed as Hayden pushed his way out of the booth. As he passed Will, he ruffled his hair affectionately and Cyrus smiled. Even though Hayden never said it outright, Cyrus got the feeling that this lunch was a test of his own. It was clear how much he valued his brother’s opinion and approval, and Cyrus was glad to have passed. He wasn’t sure what would have happened if he didn’t, but at the moment he couldn’t have picked two people who he’d rather have accept him. The entire world could disapprove, but as long as Hayden and his brother still liked him, Cyrus was set. He was happy, and it was wonderful.