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“So, what do you make of all this Gable stuff?” Sarah asked Michael, casually, as they sat down to eat at a local Mexican restaurant during their lunch period.

“Between him and Declan? I don’t know, really. I mean, Declan is gung-ho on him being gay, and as he and Gable’s friend... I don’t know whom to believe. Gable told me he’s not gay, and that he doesn’t know why Declan is so obsessed with him.” Michael shrugged.

“You actually talked to Gable?” Sarah inquired, bewildered.

“Best believe I did,” he started, but was interrupted before he could go on.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but...” A girl in a blue and yellow track suit interrupted, “I overheard you talking about a Gable?” Sheprobed.

“Cask.” They both responded.

“I know him; he goes to my school. I’m Brittany Perkins.” She introduced herself, “And for the record, Gable isn’t gay.”

“Well, our friend says otherwise,” Sarah replied.

“Probably some lovesick psycho.” Brittany shrugged.

“Declan is a lot of things, but psycho isn’t one of them.” Michael commented.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve read some of the texts they send back and forth, and Gable seems pretty into it.” Sarah added.

“I don’t know about all that. What I do know is that, as far as I know, he’s as straight as the day is blue.” Brittany spat.

“The day is gray.” Sarah pointed out, to which Brittany shot a patronizing smile at.

“Well, you know what I mean,” She rolled her eyes, “I’m going to go back and finish eating, I’m Brittany, by the way.”

“I know, you told us your name earlier. I’m Sarah.”

“I’m Michael.”

“It was great chatting with y’all!” Brittany flashed her best fake smile, as she walked away.

“What are the odds?!” Michael whispered.

“I don’t like that bitch,” Sarah squinted in her direction, “She looks poor, like she eats pot pie.”

Brittany returned to the table where the rest of the track team was eating... Her mind raced with the information she had just received. Was Gable gay? Who was this Declan character... How long would it take for the rest of the town to find out?

As the lunch break came to an end, Declan made his way into the choir room. It was his last class until he had to take off for Rio Rojo again to train. He’d been under so much stress from his parents, teachers, and coaches that he’d completely forgotten about the drama beginning to surround him and Gable.

“Declan!” Michael shouted from the other end of the choir hall, “We need to talk.” He approached him and grabbed Declan’s arm, dragged him to the practice room. Sarah following shortly behind.

“We met this girl from Bethlam during lunch,” He began, “Gable is straight.”

“Yeah, she said she knows him really well too.” Sarah included.

“Okay..? I’m not really concerned with that right now. I have too much on my plate to even begin to deal with all of that.” Declan shrugged.

It was true, District auditions for choir were weeks away, gymnastics still had the majority of his attention, he had so much homework he’d procrastinated to do, and graduation seemed like an ominous reminder of the time he was wasting.

“We just don’t want you getting hurt.”

The words clung to him like cement… He either had to keep his mouth shut, or just disengage from the situation as a whole… The decision would be a hard one, but he had to make it.

They’d been parked at Gable’s cattle barn for ages. It’d been an emotionally challenging week for them both. The beginning of which saw them emerging from a heated argument because of Declan’s inability to keep things to himself.

“I’m just sick and tired of this… Bullshit.” He confessed to the gymnast.

Declan looked at him intently. He didn’t know what to say, or do. There were days Gable seemed like an impenetrable fortress; everyone from his mom to his teammates to his peers relied on him for strength. He was a rock to many people… His community even. Declan knew that this was a side that many people weren’t privy to.

“I’m sorry for all this drama. I didn’t mean to cause a war.” Declan shook his head. After all, it was his fault that people knew about him and Gable.

“And I’m sorry for always bothering you with my problems,” he chuckled and rustled the teens shaggy hair.

Declan grabbed his hand and moved it to his cheek.

“I’m always going to be here for you.” He reassured and kissed the inside of his hand.

“I love you, and even though you fucked up, in a way, this is better for us.” He smiled, “Anyway, enough of that. What’s done is done… Don’t you have a meet this weekend?”

“Kind of, it’s a try out. If I do well enough, I’ll be added onto the roster.”

“Well, you better try your ass off.” Gable gleamed at him.

“I will, and, look... I’ve been thinking...” Declan began.

“Oh, yeah? I was beginning to think you didn’t know how to do that.” He cocked his head; brow furrowed, sarcastically.

“Yes,” Declan rolled his eyes, “Maybe I could switch to homeschooling. It would give me more time to train and less of a chance of me slipping up or people digging further.”

Gable thought about the proposition. He tipped his head up to look at the setting sun.

“Do you think your parents would let you do that?”

“Well, they’ve been nothing short of supportive, and they’ve seen how much gymnastics means to me,” he nodded, “what with the long hours, keeping up my grades, my weight loss, etcetera… I think I can at least make a good argument for it.” He joined the jock in staring into the Texan sunset.

They sat in silence for the next few minutes. Neither of them really knew what to do or say. Declan sighed and, although against his own judgement, decided to finally break their barrier. His attention shifted from the setting sun toward the being next to him. As if by chance, Gable’s own focus shifted to Declan, at the exact moment. He slowly reached for the jock’s hand.

“What are you doing...?” he whispered, afraid to break their gaze.

The gymnast continued to explore him with his hand. Fingers trailing across the jock’s visage, tangling themselves in his thick brown hair, tracing patterns on shoulder, coming to rest on the small of his neck.

“Wha-” Gable was unable to finish, as Declan pulled him closer, using his other hand to hold his face, their lips interlocked. Gable’s immediate reaction was to attempt to pull away, however, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Their kiss elicited moans from the pair the more involved it became. The jock began to do his own exploration of the gymnast’s smaller frame. His hands caressed and squeezed different parts of Declan’s body, until landing on his bottom, causing the gymnast to moan with unbridled fervor.

“I have to get home.” Gable breathed heavily.

Declan agreed by mere glance.

“Let me know what your parents say, okay?” Gable asked as they hugged goodbye.

“Will do. I love you.” Declan smirked.

“Love you too.” Gable said and walked away. As he got into his car he gave Declan one last smile, and, before long, he was gone into the golden gradient of the West Texas evening.

Declan sat there with his eyes as wide as saucers. Had he heard correctly? Had Gable really said those three words to him? Those three syllables he’d longed to hear from someone. Eight letters. He sat there for a while trying to come to terms with what had just happened.

Finally, after regaining some decorum, he backed up, and drove away. His mind raced at the speed of light as he made his way back to Crest.

In retrospect, he wasn’t entirely sure if his parents would agree to this agreement, but he hoped with all his might that they would. He wanted to focus on his training, but, more than anything, he didn’t want to further complicate things for them… Especially now that he knew that he loved him.

“Of course,” Karen nodded, “Your parents said yes to homeschooling, right?”

They were sitting in Declan’s room. The once promising Spring day, had turned bleak and dreary; rain splashed upon the window pane. There hadn’t been a sign of lightening, yet, but it was a stark contrast to the beautiful days they had experienced as of late.

“Not at first, but eventually they grew to understand the situation. I was out of public school a couple weeks later.”

Declan walked over to his bed and plopped on it. His knee ached, and there wasn’t much he could do about it. He wasn’t to take more than the recommended dosage of pain medication, and he had already taken some earlier that day.

“What happened, then?” She cocked her head. Her brown hair had begun to regain its life. It wasn’t as stringy and faded as it was a few weeks ago. She no longer had such evident signs of fatigue, the circles around her eyes were gone, her face looked fuller. She looked healthy.

“Well, I concentrated on my training, and did all my coursework during breaks.” He recalled.

They spent the rest of their day talking about each other’s lives. She was a dancer who had experienced immense strife as well. Her parents had died when she was younger, her brother was into drugs and in and out of rehab himself. She lived with her aunt, and had been raped by her boyfriend, and his friend, prior to arriving here. She, much like Declan, controlled her weight to regain some sort of subconscious grip on her life.

“I don’t know what to say,” Declan attempted to empathize.

“It’s my past,” She sighed, “I’m getting better every day. Hell, the first few weeks I was here, I thought I was pregnant.”

Declan’s jaw dropped.

“Shit. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m in a better place now. I’ve learned to forgive and not hold onto grudges. That, and I think I’m slowly starting to build the courage to go back to dance. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but this time,” she emphasized ‘this’, “This time, I’m going to do it the right way.”

He smiled at her. It was true; recovery is a lifetime process. Once he began to accept responsibility for his actions, everything would fall into place. It would take time, but the more open he was towards treatment, the easier it’d be.

Declan set his eyes on the end of the tumbling track. He had put in the hard work and dedication to get back to this point. This is what he wanted. This is exactly where he longed to be at the beginning of this entire journey.

The cartwheels, round offs, and back handsprings had come back with relative ease, but it was the harder skills that he had trouble executing.

Skills he’d once been able to throw as warm ups; the full twists, the somersaults… Nothing was coming back without a challenge. It was though as if the mental block he’d accrued from years of being out of shape had annihilated any confidence he’d cultivated within himself years before.

“Just go for it,” Coach coaxed him, “the only way you’re going to get anywhere is by starting. You know that.”

He continued to breathe in and out, attempting to reach some sort of serene plane of clarity. He’d second guessed every attempt before; Coach Johnson’s incessant encouragement pushing him closer and closer towards attempting an actual tumbling sequence.

“Decs…” His voice carried off.

Declan sprinted down the tumble track and launched himself into round off, followed by two back handsprings. Coach Johnson’s voice pierced his concentration, with a thunderous roar.

“Now!” he indicated.

Declan reached the pinnacle of his vertical, tucked back, and flipped his legs over. As he opened his body, his feet dug into the mat. He fought with his entire might, and for a second believed himself to have stuck the somersault, but he continued to roll back due to the surplus of rotation.

“Not bad.” Coach Johnson conceded, “You need to open up sooner, engage your core and knees. You’ll have that back in no time. Try it a few more times. It’ll get easier.”

Declan repeated the sequence time and again, until he managed to consistently stick the somersault. He laid down and looked towards the ceiling, chest inflating and deflating until reaching a calm, rhythmic, pattern. His thoughts resembled the air in the gym; cloudy.

His eyes glazed over, and he finally allowed himself to focus on the state Gable and him were at. They had gone from not talking for weeks, even months, to jumping right back into things as if nothing had transpired.

Gable was a difficult character for him to read, at this point. Not to mention that he didn’t have the slightest clue as to what to do when it came to being in a relationship. Declan had never seriously dated a girl, much less a guy.

Declan, on the other hand, learned everything he knew about love from shows on television like “Will and Grace” and “Sex and the City”. So, it was safe to say, he too was equally as inexperienced.

As he walked off the mat, he heard the gym door open, and the room fill with conversation. The collegiate team had arrived to train, which meant it was time for Declan to delegate himself to conditioning and stretching.

“Hey, Declan,” Skylar approached him. His demeanor was volumes more relaxed than Gable’s. Skylar was his complete foil, not that it didn’t mean that he wasn’t an incredible athlete in his own right, because he was. However, unlike Gable, Skylar didn’t take things as seriously, and was definitely much more levelheaded.

“How was your workout?” He sat next to Declan.

“Eh, it was alright,” he shrugged, “I’m starting to somersault, but it feels like I’m taking forever to progress towards harder skills. I can’t even double, yet.”

“Key word ‘yet’, you can’t rush it,” he placed his hand on Declan’s shoulder, “remember, you can’t run before you crawl.”

Declan hung his head and nodded on agreement.

“You’re right,” he conceded, “I just want to show coach I’m good enough for the collegiate team.”

“And you will,” he assured, “you just have to give it time. What’s the hardest skill you have?”

Declan sat there thinking. He didn’t want to exaggerate, but he didn’t want to undersell himself at the same time.

“Well, I’m pretty sure I can get a full around. On high bar, I can do a Tkatchev, and on vault I have a laid out Yurchenko.”

“That’s good!” Skylar lauded, “What’re your goals?”

“I want to qualify to nationals.” Declan smirked.

Skylar’s eyes widened, he sighed, “Well... I don’t know how feasible that...”

He was cut off by one of the collegiate guys.

“Ay, Sky!” He called out.

“Sorry, it was nice talking to you.” He apologized, and walked away, “What up, Jason?”

Declan watched the teen walk away. He couldn’t understand his newfound infatuation with him. It was as if every time they interacted, he lost himself in the cadence of his voice. It was intoxicating. He was intoxicating. His smell, his smile... Every aspect of him. It was like when he first met Gable.

He shook his head, grabbed his belongings and walked towards the locker room. He placed his bag on the bench in front of his locker, and unlocked it. The clatter of the opened locker echoed against the walls. He searched for his cellphone in the abyss.

Upon reaching it, he found it to be vibrating furiously. Gable had sent him a bevy of electronic correspondence; most just giving him words of encouragement. Before responding, he attended to his post workout routine: Stretching, conditioning, stretching, icing, and another round of stretching on top of that.

He tucked the phone into his shorts, and walked towards a folded chair and a mat rested against the wall. He placed the chair near the bench, and rested his right heel upon it; his left, upon the mat. He sat there, in over split, for what seemed an eternity; bouncing, making sure not to over stretch, lest he pull something. His gaze was transfixed on the wall before him, lost, in thought.

He questioned the frisson he’d felt towards Skylar. Was it possible that he’d found someone better than Gable? No. He shook his head. Could it be that the infatuation he felt towards Skylar stemmed from camaraderie? That seemed like a more plausible option.

The door opened and interrupted his thoughts. Before he could react, a familiar voice rang through the room.

“Hey, Declan!”

His knee buckled underneath him, pain surged throughout his body, as he curled over.

“Oh, shit! Are you okay?!” Skylar rushed over to aide him.

Declan clenched his knee in pain. He rolled onto his side with tears forming in his eyes. The pain causing his stomach to churn in agony. Skylar’s comforting words soothed him, as the pain slowly subsided, and he regained his composure.

“I’m so sorry,” Skylar apologized profusely, “I didn’t mean to startle you like that… Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Declan pulled himself onto the chair with Skylar’s assistance, “My knee cap just shifts, occasionally… Just means I have to strengthen it that much more.”

Skylar grabbed him some water from the cooler and squatted next to him.

“I was actually going to see if you maybe wanted to hang out after you got done with your ice bath.” Skylar cracked a smile.

Declan looked deep into his eyes, and lost himself again, like so many times before. He finally saw it; while Gable’s eyes were filled with the desolation of years gone by, Skylar’s radiated warmth and innocence not unlike a puppy’s.

“I won’t have much time,” Declan frowned, while he shook his knee about one last time, “I have to head right back home, as soon as I’m done here.”

“Ah, alright,” he responded dejected, “Well, another time.”

Declan nodded, and walked off to ice his muscles. Skylar stood there briefly, looking at the teenager longingly. He hadn’t the faintest idea why he had this innate sense of belonging, when he was around him. He too shook his head and walked off, before anyone wondered where he’d gone off to.

The ice cold water prickled Declan’s skin, while thoughts raced through his mind. Skylar, Gable, school… Everything created a polluted stream of thought within the confines of his consciousness.

He stood in front of the mirror as he finished toweling off after the ice bath. He meticulously scanned every aspect of his body. The excess mass had melted off in such rapid succession that his skin had become to grow loose, giving him a soft, pudgy appearance. He tugged an pulled, grimacing at how it draped from his abdomen.

It bothered him, but it just meant that he would have to work that much harder to tighten it. What would Gable say, when he saw it? The thoughts sped through his mind at the speed of light… He shook the musings out of his heads, and went off to do his conditioning.

After he put himself through one last thorough stretching, he showered, gathered his things, and made his way out of the gym.

Loud thuds emanated each and every time one of the collegiate team members landed a skill. Declan looked over, just in time to see Skylar tumble across the spring floor. He performed three incredibly powerful back handsprings, after an equally impressive round off, into a sky high laid-out somersault. He twisted once, twice, three times… His body attempted to pull around the last revolution, but he landed short.

“You’ve got to work on that form, Sky,” Coach Johnson yelled out from the vault, “otherwise, you will never get that quad around.”

Skylar caught Declan’s eyesight, raspberried, and winked at him. He was the complete polar opposite of what Gable stood for… And Declan loved that about him.

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