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The Bond That Holds Us

“So, this is where you come to ‘work out’,” Gable air quoted as he walked into the gym, “Looks pretty... Intense.” he joked.

It’d been a few weeks since the incident at the party, and things between he and Gable seemed to have gone back to how they used to be. It felt as though they were finally back at a good place, once again.

“Very funny,” Declan said as he hopped off the beam. He was both confused and excited to see jock.

“What’re you doing here?” he smiled as he hugged the jock, “I thought you had some championship or something?” Declan asked.

“You’re thinking football. We have a tournament this week for-” he was cut off.”

“Basketball!” he cheered, Gable’s face brightened, “See?! I’ve been paying attention!” Declan gleamed, “I’m not that clueless.” he added by poking Gable in the chest.

Gable stood there with his arms around the smaller frame. Even he knew that when things were good between them they were indestructible, but it pained him to know that they couldn’t always be like this.

There wasn’t any other place either one of them would want to be except in each other’s arms. Simple as that.

Gable looked down at the being in his arms and cracked a smile, as their embrace reached its pinnacle.

“So, are you going to show me what you can do on all this shit?” he motioned towards the gymnastics equipment.

“Well, I mean, sure.” Declan smiled rather coyly, “What do you want to see first?” he lifted an eyebrow.

“Do some flippy shit on the ball buster.” he nodded at the balance beam.

“Ball buster? You mean balance beam?” he joked, “Guys don’t compete beam, but since coach started making staff cuts, like I told you a while back, a couple of the guys and I had to start coaching little girls here.”

“Ah, I see… I’m guessing you chose the beam?”

“Well, more like it chose me, but yes,” He smirked, “And floor, but you’re correct nonetheless, Mr. Cask.”

Gable was adamant about seeing Declan train. He knew Declan felt at peace while he was in this gym, and he wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

He’d dabbled in gymnastics a few times, when he was younger, but he’d never witnessed someone training at such a high level.

Declan jogged over to the balance beam, saluted as if he was about to compete, focused on the end of the beam and ran towards it. He mounted with a round-off layout step out. He began to flail his arms gracefully and prepared for the next skill; a front somersault with a half-twist, Barani as it was known in the Code. He spotted, pushed off the beam, twisted, and landed solidly.

“Not bad, huh?” he smiled towards Gable.

“Not bad at all, but can you do that thing again?” he asked

“What thing?” Declan inquired.

“That thing when you did with your ass? It was hot as shit.” Gable winked.

“Great. Thanks for checking me out.” Declan said sarcastically. He bent over and shook his rear at Gable who, in return, whistled.

“Do something else!!” Gable shouted in almost perfect childlike demeanor.

Declan rolled his eyes and went through what he could do to impress his significant other. As the idea struck him, his face turned from one of contemplation to the sneakiest look he’d ever given him. Declan prepared himself for the next series. Without an ounce of haste, he pushed off the beam, into a full-twisting somersault. As he landed, they both head the gymnasium’s door open. The sudden distraction, balked his landing. Declan’s foot slipped off the beam, he pushed off it with his other foot, and managed to land on his behind.

Gable ran over to where Declan was. He was worried, he didn’t know if Declan was okay, or hurt.

“Careful,” Coach Johnson called as he slammed the door behind him, once in the administrative office.

They exchanged panic-stricken glances. Neither of them quite sure what to make of the situation, until Gable broke the silence.

“Are you okay?” he asked, concerned.

“It’s fine. My feet are too wide for it some times, besides… Everyone falls, that’s why there are mats.” He smiled and patted the soft surface beneath them.

Gable helped him up, and analyzed his physique in the process, needless to say he was impressed. He’d witnessed the teens transformation from morbidly obese to polished athlete firsthand. It had been incredible, and he admired Declan for it. He pulled him towards him and embraced him again.

“So, why are you here?” Declan tilted his head, “Are you okay? Do you need anything? Money?”

While Gable’s visit had taken him by surprise, he took it in stride. However, he couldn’t help but think that some hidden agenda accompanied his sudden appearance.

“Hey, now,” Gable replied, “I never, said that. No, actually, I’m here because I wanted to invite you to my basketball game this coming week. It’s a big one, and I’d really like it, if you were there.” He neared the teenager and planted a kiss on his forehead.

“Damn, I really wish I could, but I,” Before Declan could finish; he noticed the look of dejection that had instantly swept over Gable’s face. Rarely, did he ever make it a point to request his presence at one of his athletic events, so he understood the reprehension.

He thought about what skipping their last practice before the meet on Saturday would mean, but quickly dismissed the idea.

“You know what?” He finally decided, “I’ll be there. I may be late, but I’ll be there.”

Gable’s face lit up.

“Bad ass! I’m excited now.” He smiled toward the teenager, “I’m going to get going, though, I need to get back. I’ll see you tonight? We can go have an early dinner, since I have family in town.” He suggested as they walked to the door.

“Yeah, I’m down.” Declan nodded.

“Alright, cool. I’ll text you. Give me a kiss.” They kissed. Gable placed his hand on the back of Declan’s head and pulled him even closer. “Love you, kid, don’t be late!” Gable winked.

“I won’t! Love you too.” Declan smiled as he watched the jock walk away.

He honestly didn’t know if he’d be able to make his game, but he knew he’d die trying, if he had to.

In the midst of attempting an array of skills, ending with a full twisting dismount, Coach walked back into the gymnasium from his office.

“I thought I told you no outsiders in the girl’s gym?” He reprimanded him.

“Sorry, he stopped by for a few minutes.”

“Well, don’t make it a habit. How are things going around here?” At second glance, Coach Johnson looked eerily different. The circles around his, once, kind eyes had darkened significantly. His brunette mane now looked wiry in comparison to the perfectly coiffed tuft it used to be. He appeared stressed, and reeked of alcohol, but Declan wasn’t completely sure how to bring that up.

“Uh, things are going pretty smoothly. Privates and Rec classes are seeing record enrollment. We almost have enough capital to hire a couple coaches, which will really help us out, so, yeah, we’re doing great.”

“Good. How about you? You look lighter.” Coach Johnson surveyed him from head to toe.

Declan had been binging and purging for the past couple of months and he was finally really noticing the results. He’d dropped a significant amount of weight, but no one really knew of the true severity of his eating disorder.

“Thanks, just working out a bit longer, watching what I eat. Just little things.” He shrugged.

“Good, I’m glad. You’ve come a long way.”

“Thanks.” Declan looked around awkwardly. Coach Johnson had disappointed him not only as a coach, but as a human being as well.

He’d broken his promise of personally training him as of late, he’d led him to develop an eating disorder, and had abdicated his duties as their coach, leaving them all of the work in addition to their grueling work outs, and coaching duties here, at the sister gym.

“Decs, I’m sorry,” the grown man began, “I fucked up.” His voice cracked, “Look, kid, I know it’s hard to understand, but us adults fuck up, some times. It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault but my own.” Tears were beginning to fall down his weathered face, “I broke my promises, and well... I can’t say I feel bad because well... Look at you. You’ve blossomed into this great athlete.” He patted the teen on the back, “You’re one of the bigger reasons why the gym didn’t close down. You’ve followed through with everything you intended to do. That’s more than most men twice your age can say. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t even know what I’m doing. I mean, look at me… I’m piss drunk right now. Hell, half of the time I don’t even coach you guys anymore.”

Declan’s eyes began to water. He’d never seen someone break down in front of him like this, save for Gable.

“Well, we’re all old enough to know how to coach ourselves. It’s not a big deal.”

“Declan, you don’t get it. I failed you. As an adult, I should be the one setting an example, instead of fucking everything up.”

“It was my responsibility.” Declan smirked.

“No, Declan... It wasn’t. You picked up the slack when I wasn’t around. You stuck around even after I berated you.”

“It’s really not a big deal.“”

“Declan, you’ve got to stop being so God damned selfless.” The conversation turned.

“Wait, what?”

“You know what I mean,” he said sternly, “You’ve got to stand up for yourself. You’ve got to stop letting people take advantage of you.” He was shaking violently. His eyes widened with every word.

“Coach, are you okay?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just... Do what I told you to do. Grow a spine.” With that, he stormed out of the gym.

Perhaps it was his immaturity that hindered him from understanding the situation in its entirety, but he knew enough to know that his coach wasn’t okay, and that there wasn’t much he, or anyone, could do about it.

Darkness surrounded Declan, as he ran aimlessly throughout the night. There was nothing behind him, before him, or around him… All he could see were the stars that radiated with immense splendor over him.

His direction twisted and turned, but nary a clue of where he was came to him. Anxiety, not unlike the one before he competed, shrouded his judgement. His breath grew shallow, his pace quickened, the beating of his heart resounded in his ears. His inability to control the situation took precedence.

Before him, a spring board materialized. Instinctively, he slammed his feet onto the board, flipping his body onto the familiar four inch wide platform he’d grown to love these past few months and straight into a perfectly extended split leap.

His body dictated every which movement, from that movement on. Without warning, he glided through the air with reckless abandon, performing each skill as if he were tumbling on the blue spring floor back at the gym.

Involuntarily, he launched into a front aerial into a leap so over extended that his head and the back of his knee almost touched into a full twisting laid out somersault into direct swing down the moment his feet landed back atop the padded surface. His eyes widened. These were skills even the most seasoned of competitors had difficulty learning, much less competing.

His arms pushed through his shoulders, and elevated him into a handstand, followed by a kick over to a side aerial into switch split leap directly into a half twisting back handspring followed by a sheep jump… Nothing… It was like child’s play.

His body set into a pirouetting sequence, and the moment he placed his foot in front of him to catch his balance, two figures manifested before him, not unlike the dream he’d had all those months ago, only, this time… It was him.

Before him stood the Declan he once was; five hundred twelve pounds, sad, alone… Without the slightest of clue of what to do with himself; his innocence untouched, his hair unkempt, but seemingly happy. Conversely, to his right stood the shell of the obese teen. Declan saw the reflection he’d seen so man times before him; affected, stressed, and gaunt. However, he knew this was what it took to become the person he knew he could be.

He prepared for his dismount, and took off without hesitance. Round off, back handspring, triple full. The moment he landed, his knee brought him to the floor in a fit of pain and tears.

As he came to full lucidity, his knee shot pain throughout his body. These dreams took a much heavier toll than he could ever explain to anyone. Even making his way to the bathroom was laborious.

The scorching water cascading over his hands scalded them, but he refused to move them in attempt to cleanse himself from the pain exuding from his knee.

Regardless of the progress he had made while in rehab, it was at times like these he didn’t feel any different, if he were to be completely honest with the man in the mirror.

All he could think about was the life he used to live and how fervently he wished to return to it, but he knew that was impossible. Even if he were to return now, he wouldn’t stand a chance of competing until well into the next competitive season, and he knew how much of a gamble that’d be.

He returned to his bed and looked to the ceiling. He prayed he could, for once, have a peaceful nights rest, but, as always, life seemed to have its own way of making his unbearable.

“Where were you?” Gable inquired as he pulled up to his cattle barn, “I texted you two hours ago.”

“Practice ran kind of late at the gym. One of the girls couldn’t get some of the new choreography, and before that I had some beam individuals… And before that, coach had this weird breakdown in front of me right after you left,” Declan said as he walked towards him, “But, I’m here, hi!” He leaned into kiss him, but Gable stepped back.

“Yeah, two hours too late.”

“I’m really sorry, Gabe,” His shoulders hunched over, hands in his hoodie, “You look really good in your new letterman, though.”

Declan attempted to smile at the jock, but it was evident Gable wanted no part of it. His body language was evasive, he didn’t look as warm as he had earlier that day.

“Whatever,” he spat, “I can’t hang out long, now. I told you I wouldn’t have much time. I have family here.” He said sternly.

“Alright, well… Uh… What do you want to do?” Declan smiled.

“I have to head back in a bit. Can I borrow some cash for the weekend?” He asked without hesitation.

“Uh… I thought you said we were going on a date?”

“Not anymore.” Gable looked away, “Can I just borrow it or not?”

“Yeah, sure.” Declan nodded, “How much do you need?”

“How much do you have?”

“Um… Let me check.” Declan walked back to his car. Although, he was bummed out because of their time being cut short, at least he had gotten to see him. He grabbed the envelope that contained his cashed check from the gym.

“I have about two hundred.” Declan lied.

“Can you do two fifty?” Gable pushed.

He looked down. Surely, it wouldn’t always be like this. He couldn’t say no, but something inside him urged him against giving him the money.

“Yes or no?”

Declan sighed and nodded. He gave him the cash, and before he knew it, he was gone into the night. He felt used… He didn’t even know if it was worth it anymore, but… He knew he loved him, and he would do anything in his power to make that boy happy.

Dejected, he leaned against the hood of his car, and looked towards the heavens above and examined the glittering West Texas night sky.

He felt so insignificant, considering the grande scheme of things. While he felt guilty for betraying his promise to Gable’s mother once more... He felt even guiltier for continuously putting his life at risk by choosing to be bulimic.

It wasn’t just a figment of his imagination any more; he’d lied about extended bathroom visits, washed his hands meticulously and brushing his teeth fervently… It had begun to take precedence over his life.

How could he possibly blame Gable for being so upset with him, if he couldn’t abide by his rules? In complete retrospect, Gable had so many more problems than Declan had… Everyone from his family to his peers and teammates depended and looked to him as a bastion of fortitude to maintain their morale, and yet, here he was, having succumbed to this disease because of his inability to cope with the grueling demands placed upon him by proxy of his own decisions.

Again, he looked up into the West Texas night sky and allowed himself to weep for the time being.

Moments later, his phone vibrated within the confines of his pocket. He, hastily, pulled it out, hoping… No… Praying, it was Gable apologizing. However, much to his chagrin, it was Skylar.

"Hey, just seeing if you got home okay. Let me know :]"

Declan weighed his options; He knew he could stay at Skylar’s place, and it would spare him the drive home. Additionally, he’d feel a lot better about things with Gable, if he had someone to talk things over with. However, he knew that in his current state he might succumb to Skylar’s allure and cheat on Gable.

Without giving it much more thought, he called Skylar.

“Hey!” his cheery timbre rang through the speaker.

“Hey, can I spend the night?” Declan sniffled into the phone.

“I don’t know, can you?” He joked.

"May, I spend the night? You and your fucking grammar,” Declan chuckled and rolled his eyes.

“Yes,” he chuckled, “I’ll see you in a bit. You know how to get here, yeah?”

“Yes, sir, I’ll be there in a bit,” and with that, he hung up.

He got in the car, and about thirty minutes later, he was at Skylar’s door waiting for him to answer. His heart bled within the confines of his chest from the pain Gable had inflicted on him earlier. The moment the door flung open, he completely fell apart.

“Hey! Declan, What’s happening?!”

Declan couldn’t form words, through his tears, so Skylar did what any sensible person would do. He walked towards Declan, embraced him, and got to feel, what it was like to truly be there for him, for the first time.

Once inside, having calmed Declan down, and eaten, they began to go over that night’s events.

“He treated me like I was disposable, Sky,” Declan shook his head, “I’m so fucking stupid.”

Skylar rubbed his back. He hated seeing him like this. He hated the fact that he constantly put himself through this bullshit just because he loved that sadistic asshole. It pained him how much it seemed to hurt him to be treated like this.

“You deserve so much more, Declan,” he furrowed his brow.

“I just can’t, Skylar,” he buried his face in his hands, “I love him, but I can’t go one like this. I do so fucking much for him, and he just doesn’t care.”

Skylar shook his head, and grabbed his hand. Declan looked into his eyes, and smiled. They sat like that a for a brief moment, before Declan neared him and placed his head upon Skylar’s shoulder. This… This actually felt more like home than Gable had ever felt.

“I wish you knew how much you mean to me,” Skylar whispered into his ear.

Declan so desperately wished he didn’t love Gable. Here he was, head on Skylar’s shoulder… Skylar being someone he knew, for a fact, could never even imagine hurting him… And, yet, he continued to choose Gable regardless of his insensitive and prideful behavior towards him.

He hated knowing that he could change it all, and be happy for once, if he wanted, but he never would.

“I do.” Declan looked him in the eyes.

Skylar half smiled, and kissed his forehead, “Well, shower up, and let’s go to sleep, alright? You need a good night’s sleep.”

Declan agreed, and followed him up to his room. He prepared the shower for Declan, and returned downstairs to get some fresh towels for them.

The moment Skylar exited the room, he positioned himself over the toilet. He had to do it. He had to vomit the food he had just consumed. There was no need for him to have eaten earlier, especially if he wanted to be as good as Skylar, and even more so, if he wanted Gable to view him in the same light as all those other girls his friends continuously attempted to set him up with.

His conscious urged him to shove both his index and middle finger down his throat.

"DO IT,” it commanded, ”Do it, before he comes back. NOW!"

Declan obeyed. He shoved his fingers down his throat, and the food came up effortlessly.

Once. Twice… Three times he gagged himself and purged the food into the toilet. However, on the fourth, he missed completely. His vomit splashed all over himself and all over the tile floor.

He panicked, and went into overdrive. He wrapped the toilet paper around his hand, and began meticulously cleaning the floor, toilet, and anything else he had gotten chunks of food on.

“Everything okay?” Skylar asked as he made his way up the stairs, “Right is hot, left is cold! Don’t forget! They’re fucked up here…”

Declan’s heart pounded in his ears, he quickly disrobed, and wiped everything down with his shirt, tossed them into his hamper, and got into the shower. He turned it on, and looked out the door to see Skylar’s shadow nearing the door way. He analyzed the bathroom floor to check for any missed spots, and then looked towards the toilet.

He’d forgotten to flush.

"FUCK." He thought.

Almost involuntarily, he ran out of the shower, and hit the handle just as Skylar walked in.

Declan looked up and connected eyes with him. Skylar’s face dropped, but he dare not acknowledge what he’d just walked in on.

“Here’s a towel,” he half smiled at him, seemingly oblivious.

“Sorry, I had to use the toilet, and forgot to flush, so I had to jump out of...” He lied.

“No worries,” he stopped him, “I’ll leave you to your shower,” he nodded and walked out.

Declan walked back into the shower, turned it on, and stood underneath the scalding cascade washing over him.

Had Skylar walked in any sooner, he would’ve seen exactly what Declan had done. He couldn’t allow himself to be so careless, he thought to himself. If he was going to continue binging and purging, he needed to be excessively vigilant as to when he did it.

Skylar sat on the edge of his bed, silently. He looked towards the bathroom door, and shook his head. He didn’t want to find out this way.

He wished he would have come to him first, but now he knew what Declan was doing to himself. It killed him to know that he couldn’t bring it up… He knew Declan would feel as though he were micromanaging or judging him.

He cried silently, as Declan showered away. It devastated him knowing the internal turmoil he must facing, for him to be putting himself through this. He hated knowing Declan was in pain. He hated knowing he couldn’t protect him from the pains of life.

Declan walked out of the bathroom a while later to find Skylar asleep on his bed. He smiled, changed into some clothes he’d left out for him on his desk chair, and crawled into the bed with him. Hopefully, he didn’t realize what he’d been doing in the bathroom. Part of him hoped that he believed his story, but he knew Skylar had to know, on some level.

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