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Floor went better than expected. Though Declan did not qualify for that particular event final, he managed to produce a clean routine.

Where there were once falls, there were landings into leaps, which men rarely performed; It set him apart from the rest and greatly added to the artistry of his performance.

The following day, West Texas Gymnastics Academy ended in second. Declan, Jesse, Jason, Trace, and Skylar all medaled on Vault, High Bar, Pommel Horse, Rings and Floor, respectively, the following day.

After the medal ceremonies, they all piled into the van. It’d been a physically and emotionally taxing couple of days. Months, even. Looking down at his three medals, Declan felt an immense sense of self-validation.

Who would’ve thought that the obese teenager he was merely a couple years ago would have a legitimate chance of making it to a Nationals. In gymnastics no less.

A couple of the guys began discussing how they’d spend their prize money, in the event they made it to Worlds, while waiting on Coach Johnson to join them in the van.

“So, what would you spend your prize money on, fag?” Jason asked him.

“Uh… I don’t know. I’d probably just save it. It’s a lot of money.” Declan smirked.

“You’re telling me you wouldn’t buy anything?” Tommy asked bewildered, once they were able to situate him.

“That money is not yours.” Coach Johnson’s voice bellowed from outside, “You accept that money, and you can wave that NCAA eligibility most of you depend on goodbye.”

They’d been so entranced by all the possibilities that the thought never even crossed their minds. Most of them spoke of the money with selfish intent, but Declan saw it differently. He could help Gable out... Buy him a truck, help his family pay off their debt…

From a small idea started by Jason, the notion of a party swelled to epic proportions by the time they pulled into Rio Rojo.

“Look, I don’t care if it’s at my house,” Tommy began, “All I know is that this bad boy,” he pet his ankle, now encased in a cast and brace, “Is going to get me a lot of pussy.”

They shared a laugh and began to spread the word of the party that weekend. Declan decided to invite Gable and his friends in order to spend time with him and share with him how well he’d performed.

However, he was doubtful he’d even come, since Gable hadn’t talked to him almost two days prior the meet. Still, optimism lingered. Without missing a beat, he texted back saying they needed to talk.

They agreed to meet the night of, as Gable would be in town anyway. Declan closed his phone, as a long sigh escaped him. He looked up to Skylar approaching to claim the seat next to him.

“Still all about that dirt bag?” Skylar smirked. Declan furrowed his brow in confusion, “You always get that look of exasperation, when you talk to him.”

“Easy, he’s my boyfriend.” Declan retorted.

“As far as you know.” That stung him, “Look, all I’m saying is that you could do better; for all you know, he could be balls deep in some bitch right now.” Skylar shrugged.

“Jesus… You’re such a positive thinker… I really don’t think he’d do that,” Declan said, “Besides, I’m meeting up with him this weekend.” he smiled.

“Oh, is he coming? Are ‘The Plastics’ all coming?” he chuckled.

From the moment Declan had confessed to Skylar about the dynamics in Bethlam, he’d taken a liking to calling Gable, and his group of friends, ‘The Plastics’. They all followed Gable’s orders regardless of how ludicrous it sounded. If he were to ask them to jump, they probably wouldn’t even ask how high; they’d work their asses to fly. Declan thought it was funny, so he never openly opposed the name.

“Nah, Gable is just coming to talk before he goes home,” he shrugged.

“Well, how about before you meet up with your ‘boyfriend’,” he paused. The way he said ‘boyfriend’ dug into Declan like a dagger, “You and I get high?” his left eyebrow raising to an inquisitive arc.

“You’re going to smoke? What about work out?” Declan looked around, concerned, “Drug testing? Etcetera?”

Skylar smirked and shrugged, “Does it look like I give a fuck?” He made a goofy face, eliciting a giggle from Declan, “It’ll be out of my system in a couple days anyway.”

“Are you sure about that?” Declan furrowed his brow.

“For sure, besides,” he looked around, “the rules are meant to broken every once in a while. We deserve to celebrate correctly.” He winked.

That wink. That damn wink.

“Well, if you say so,” he shrugged, “but I’m not going to partake in that. Hell, I may not even drink.”

Skylar shook his head, “Declan, our second place was mostly due to you. You’re the one who went for broke. You’re the one who kicked serious ass today. You’re a huge part of this celebration. You shouldn’t hinder yourself from having a great time. Besides, you’ll be with me… I’m going to make you have some fun.” He said, as he put his arm around him.

Their relationship always bordered on being more than just innocent banter, until there was that kiss all those weeks ago. Declan knew Skylar had feelings for him, but he didn’t quite understand the extent of his unrequited love.

Every single moment of tenderness, every lingering eye gaze, every ounce of contact… It seemed almost impossible for someone not to realize the fervor with which Skylar loved Declan with… That was… Everyone except Declan himself.

The following day, he invited Julia to a car dealership with him. For the past couple of years he’d been slowly saving up money he’d earned from working at both gyms to buy himself a car, but due to Gable’s car growing increasingly unreliable, and Julia’s seconds away from breaking down, he decided to take it upon himself to buy him a car as a token of his appreciation for him.

Talking about the prize purse made Declan realize the true potential of his efforts. If he worked hard enough, he could possibly make nationals, and perhaps even Worlds.

He could even vie for a medal, and win the prize purse. Knowing he had those possibilities clouded his judgement entirely. He was certain everything would work in his favor, regardless of what others had to say.

“So, what does he even like in a car?” He asked as they pulled into the dealership.

“He likes trucks. Big ones.” Julia said in between taps. She wasn’t particularly interested in the road trip, but obliged just to see if Declan would really go through with buying Gable a truck, like he told her he would.

She was sure of what she’d seen, but she also realized the truth beneath what was apparent; Gable was using Declan, and didn’t reciprocate the love he had for him, at least nowhere near as fervently.

“Trucks. Okay. Any particular brand?” he nodded.

“Ford. Definitely Ford. Toyotas are for pussies.” She responded stoically, “His words. Not mine.” She shrugged.

“Ford… Alrighty.” He contemplated.

After a while of looking around the dealership with a salesman, Declan and Julia settled on a blue Ford F150. As they drove away, Julia began to grow weary.

Declan could see the unrest in her eyes. He grew curious with each passing mile. She kept going through her contacts, and he switched from channel to channel. Anything to avoid conversation.

“Declan,” she spoke into the tense silence, “I really think that… If you’re going to do this… Just… Why don’t you just give him the money instead. His boss does have a truck that works perfectly fine. It’s only about a couple grand. This is seriously way too fucking stupid of you.”

He gulped. Was she right? Was he being stupid? What was he even doing? Why was he so insanely obsessed with this guy? He’d done nothing, but caused him heartbreak. It was obsession. It was… No. It couldn’t possibly be. He refused to succumb to the notion.

He pushed the thought out of his mind. He was convinced it would be the last thing Gable expected, but it was the right thing to do. He wanted to remove all doubts from the jocks’ mind that he would ever do anything to endanger their relationship, he wanted to prove his worth, and he wanted to cement the fact that what they had was eternal.

“You can’t go pro.” Coach Johnson’s voice boomed throughout the office, “It’s not a smart choice, and you’d give up your eligibility. The answer is no. I won’t allow it.”

“Isn’t the choice up to me? I mean, after all you’ve done, or well… Haven’t done is the better term, I don’t think you’re allowed to…” Declan inquired.

“Look, Decs, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but you’ll have to make the national team in order to get funding for your training.” Coach answered stoically, “You’re going to have to work your ass off to make that team, and I’m not going to coach you, if you give up your eligibility.”

“It’s not like you’ve been coaching me, as of late, any way,” he glared at him, “Don’t look at me like that, you said it yourself. Hell, you’re so piss drunk half the time that you don’t even show up.”

Coach Johnson walked around his office like a bull stuck in a cage. It’d been a long journey from the affable doormat he was to the strong-willed athlete he’d become. They were power struggling, and Coach couldn’t do anything about his intentions.

“Well, I’ve made up my mind,” Declan began, “I’m going to go pro. I need the money.” He exited the office on Coach Johnson’s heels.

“To think of how fucking hard I fought to get you in with OU? Michigan? ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?! DON’T DO THIS AGAIN, DECLAN!”

Declan froze in his steps. College Gymnastics was what he’d dreamed of once he realized how good he was becoming. He knew what those scholarship opportunities could do for him. He could wait to go pro. He stood there debating for a few seconds, but he had only one option in mind, and he was going to do it.

The process to go pro would be a stressful one, but he paid the down payment on the truck, nonetheless, fully confident he would have a long and illustrious career.

“Declan. Don’t. Seriously. Don’t do it,” Julia warned as they parked, “I’m begging you. Please.”

“I’m making the worst mistake of my life, aren’t I?” His head dropped.

It finally dawned on him. It hit him like a bus driving into a brick wall. He was way in over his head. As he drove down the road towards Julia’s house, she looked towards him. There was an incredible sadness in his eyes. It gleamed with the immiseration of a hundred year long winter.

“Declan, don’t be upset… Like I told you,” she began, “If you really want to do something like this for him, give him the money.”

Declan nodded his head and drove back to the dealership.

“Get in, loser.” Gable’s phone read. He hopped out of his bed and looked outside the window. It was him again. Why did Gable continue to give him any sort of attention? He knew he couldn’t do this to himself anymore, but more importantly, he couldn’t do this to his own reputation. He sighed, fixed his hair, and put on a sweatshirt. It was time to end this whole ordeal.

He walked out of his house and climbed into Declan’s car.

“Look, we’ve got to talk.” Gable muttered.

“Me first,” Declan smiled, “Do you have five minutes?”

Gable decided to humor him, and obliged. They took off towards the cattle barn, perhaps if he upset him he would drive off and leave him there, he figured. The walk wasn’t a terribly long one.

He couldn’t bring himself to even listen to him anymore; it was unbearable. The timbre in his voice cut straight through him. He hated the shitty mini van he drove. Every single mannerism caused his blood to boil.

“Well?” Gable questioned, as the engine’s roar eased into an easy murmur.

“Okay, you know how much you mean to me, right?” Declan looked longingly at the jock.

“Yeah,” He looked forward; unwavered by the remark.

“Well, at first… At first I was going to do something incredibly irresponsible, and, by proxy, I guess immature, but… I realized I would probably make you insanely uncomfortable.” Declan admitted.

Gable was taken aback, what was he talking about?

“What the fuck are you even going on about?” He sat up.

Declan produced a large envelope, and handed it to him. Gable furrowed his brow, as he opened the parcel and examined the contents. He extracted three stacks of crisp one hundred dollar bills.

“What the fuck is this?” he snapped.

“Well, I’ve been saving up for some time, and, although I wanted to use this money on other things… I know how much you need it… To buy a new car. Besides, I’m giving up my eligibility. I can do this. I can really go somewhere with gymnastics. I know I can.” He smiled hopefully.

“Declan, you’re giving up your eligibility?” Gable’s tone changed.

“Well, yeah. I figure I could just work my ass off, place at state… Make the national team. Then, work my ass off some more and make Worlds. And, soon, I can start getting sponsorships and what not.” He shrugged.

“That’s not how it works, Declan.” Gable barked, “You can’t fucking expect to make the national team just like that. It’s the NATIONAL team.”

Declan was taken aback, he’d never been so unsupportive before. He searched his eyes for the warmth that once seared his insides against the blistery West Texas winter.

“Hey, watch it.” Declan rose his voice, “I was almost nationally ranked last year.”

“Almost means shit. You even said you didn’t have the difficulty to… Qualify for that classic thing bullshit.” He spat.

“I can petition to be unranked and train at the Olympic Training Center. Any way, it doesn’t matter now, okay?” Declan’s voice cracked, “I did this for you. I did this for our anniversary. I did this, because I love you.”

Gable rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Well, thanks. Look, I got to go.”

“Are you kidding me?” Declan’s eyes narrowed.

“Yeah, look.. I got to think about some stuff. I can’t do this right now.”

Declan glared at him, “So, what then?”

“What the fuck did I just say? I don’t want this right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this.” He looked down, “You and me. The bullshit this has become.” He shook his head and slammed his fist onto the dashboard.

“Watch it.” Declan warned.

“Yeah.” Gable nodded, “Fucking take me home.”

“Asshole.” Declan muttered as he obliged and drove into the sunset.

They sat in the same awkward, still, silence he and Julia had sat through beforehand.

Lost was the intense romantic connection they’d once shared. It was evident; their steadfast love had ceased to exist. What was left were the waning memories of the love they never had.

They neared Gable’s house, and it was then he looked towards the teen.

“You fucked up.” He shook his head.

“What do you mean?” Declan looked forward, tears in his eyes.

“You got obsessed with the idea of this. Us. You pushed me, and pushed me and pushed me.” He grit his teeth.

Declan was unable to maintain himself; he cracked. All the emotions he’d kept bottled up exploded around them. Tears ebbed and flowed down his face.

“Why are you doing this,” Declan cried, “don’t you love me?”

Gable failed to answer.

“Please, Gable… Please, tell me what’s going on. Don’t do this right now.” He begged, panicking at the thought of losing the one person he loved most in this entire universe.

“Gable, please… Tell me you love me… PLEASE… TELL ME!” He attempted to grab the jock’s arm, but he swung it out of his grasp.

“You’re embarrassing yourself.” Gable snarled and slammed the car door the moment he pulled into their house. Envelope in hand.

Declan dry heaved so heavily on the way back to his home in Crest, he swerved, driving into a shallow ditch. His head banged upon the steering wheel, but he continued sobbing heavily. His heart pushed against his uvula and larynx with inexplicable force.

Gable was right… He had fucked up, and there was nothing he could do to remedy the situation, this time around.

Declan stared at the toilet before him. It was taunting, urging him to expel the food he had just gorged himself with.

"Throw it up. You don’t need it. Throw it up. Do it." The voice sneered within him, “You want to get to Nationals? You want to keep Gable? You want to lose weight? You want that Arabian Front mount? What about the Schewfelt? The Dragulescu?

He began to sweat profusely, his hair dripped sweat down upon his face. Those very drops raced the tears his eyes expelled down his visage, and onto his shirt. Everything within him urged him to regurgitate the contents within his straining stomach. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t allow himself to give in.

"You won’t get anywhere by eating that burger, or all those fries. Or that fucking milkshake. Fucking fat ass faggot.” The voice berated him, ”Gable will leave you. You’ll never amount to anything but a fat piece of shit. You’re disgusting.

He couldn’t deter it anymore; he lunged towards the toilet, and looked into the basin. His reflection’s eyes longed him to not do it, the warmth had vanished from them. The circles around his eyes imprinted his skin now. His cheeks had failed to retain their jubilant fullness, his skin void of the rich brown it once was.

Without giving it second thought, he stuck both his index and middle fingers down his throat, all the way past his uvula until he was tickling the back of his throat. The food came rushing back instantaneously, most of it making it into the toilet. However, convulsion after convulsion made it a messy situation.

Some of his regurgitated meal splashed onto the floor and onto his feet. He panicked, and hastily cleaned everything up as best he could. He flushed, twice, and proceeded to thoroughly wash his hands and face.

Again, he looked at his reflection, this time in the mirror. He looked gaunt, defeated. His hair significantly thinner than a mere few weeks ago. His eyes seemed hollow. He looked past the reflection and into his soul. He’d lost himself, yet couldn’t bring himself to admit it.

He had been the one to choose this life. He wanted to lose weight, he wanted to please Gable. He wanted to honor the promise he had made to his team and coach. However, he failed to adhere to his and his parent’s own guidelines... To not let it all get to him.

The lengths he’d gone through to be here, in this very moment in time, were unimaginable. Home school, starvation, binging, purging, sadistic work outs, heartache... All for what? To stand on top of a podium? To date someone who clearly didn’t reciprocate his feelings? To be the bulimic ghost of the optimistic teenager he once was? Sure, he was overweight, but at least he was happy. People liked him that way.

He had no idea what he was doing anymore. However, he knew he couldn’t give up, and that he’d have to bear the burden of his choices. After all, what kind of example would he be, if he were to give up?

“And then what happened?” The patient to his left asked. They were all listening closely.

“Well, I don’t know why I still gave him the money… I guess I felt sorry for him.” Declan shook his head.

That wasn’t completely true. He wanted to help him out, and give him everything he wanted. He thought that giving him that big of a gift would entice him to work on their relationship… Though he was, ultimately, wrong, as he’d come to find out in the weeks following him gifting Gable the money.

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