The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

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Chapter Three

Aspen

The light buzzing of my phone startled me awake yet again. I’d lost count of how many times this had happened, but I hadn’t bothered to pick it up or see who it was.

I wasn’t really in a position to care at the moment.

I didn’t think I’d left my bed in a couple of days. It might have been Sunday, but that could be off. I hadn’t showered, eaten, drunk, or simply gotten out of bed. It was warm under my thick, heavy blankets. They felt like a shield, and as long as I was covered, nothing could hurt me.

Except, deep down, I knew that wasn’t true. My brother could come in at any moment and decide he wanted to have some more fun. With my parents gone, he had free range to do whatever he wanted. When they traveled, I usually stayed out... But this time I didn’t feel like getting up. I couldn’t. My curtains had remained closed and I’d spent my time in the dark, sleeping and trying to forget about everything that hurt.

My weekend was full of nothing but pain. Physical, mental, the whole shebang. My brother didn’t come home and I’d never been so thankful in my life.

I’d gotten lucky—there were no bruises on my face from when he punched me, although the same could not be said for the rest of my body. At least those parts could be hidden by clothes.

My boisterous alarm rang out, adding to my already-intense headache and cluing me in that it was, in fact, Monday morning, which meant another day of being around people that would hate me if they knew I was gay, and another baseball practice that would push me to my limits on the pain spectrum. Despite knowing the weather was going to be over eighty degrees today, I wore a navy-blue, nearly-black long-sleeve with a square-graphic image in the center. I paired it with regular denim jeans. My outfit was practical and, above all, comfortable. Minus the fact that it made me ten times more likely to come down with heatstroke.

I grabbed my unbearable amount of gear and headed through the front door to be met with Rafe’s car parked outside. I threw my stuff into the backseat and climbed into the passenger seat.

I wanted to avoid the topic of why I’d been MIA all weekend, so I started the conversation first. “Did you have fun with Amelia?” I asked, fully aware that the two had gone on an obnoxiously sweet date whilst I’d hidden from my brother and struggled not to kill myself.

“Holy shit, dude, Saturday was great. We went to the beach, and damn, her body is gorgeous. There aren’t a lot of girls with asses like hers. And after that, we went to a drive-in movie and cuddled in the backseat wrapped in blankets. I even gave her my sweatshirt. She looked so adorable swimming in it!” Rafe rambled on and on about the pale girl with waist-length brown hair and greenish-hazel eyes, who he’d been dating for about two weeks now.

I couldn’t think of an emotion to describe how I was feeling. It was like a painful tingle radiating through my body and settling into the pit of my stomach. Rafe’s definition of a perfect date... all the things I’d never be able to do. The beach? I’d rather be caught dead than have to take my shirt off in front of him, so that was a hard no. I could go to a drive-in movie, but we wouldn’t be able to cuddle, not in this town. And his sweatshirts were the same size as mine, so there’d be no point.

“I’m taking her out to dinner this weekend and she said her parents are going to be out of town.” Although the sly smile on his face stung a bit, I was unfazed. This wasn’t the first time he’d had a girlfriend and I could guarantee it wouldn’t be the last. Rafe hadn’t been through a lot of girls or anything, he just seemed to have some issues with commitment.

“Looks like someone’s gonna get lucky!” I tried to offer some form of enthusiasm. My best friend liked to share details I’d have been better off not knowing, but at least he seemed happy.

“So,” Rafe started as he pulled into a random spot in the parking lot, “when are you going to get a girlfriend? I could name three people right now that are super into you.”

“I’m not really interested in dating right now.” False. I’m not interested in dating girls. “I’m just kind of focusing on baseball.”

He snickered, “I call bull. You already accepted your offer from the University of Rowland. You’re going to one of the highest-ranked schools for baseball in the nation with a major scholarship grant. High school baseball doesn’t matter for us anymore. In less than four months, we’ll both be playing for colleges. It’s a done deal.”

“No, I know.”

Baseball was a great distraction. It gave me something to focus on rather than thinking about how much I loathed myself. Not only was it a game of tactics and strategy, but also strength and physical skill. As a catcher, I got to play my own game by putting chess pieces exactly where I wanted them. I used to find that exhilarating.

“I wish we were going to the same school, though. It sucks that we won’t get to play together,” Rafe sighed.

Even if he said that, when the time came, I didn’t think he’d give me a second thought. Rafe would finally be able to move on with his life without worrying about a background extra.

I hopped out of the car and we went straight to the locker rooms where we stored all of our gear before meeting up with our friend group in front of a specific cluster of lockers. Jason Wright and Isabella Singh were in the middle of an intense argument. I couldn’t tell if they hated each other and wanted to commit murder or were secretly in love and the sexual tension was killing them. Next to the pair were Devin and our other friend, Jamey Hinge. We’d all played baseball together at Cedar Heights since we were freshmen, except for Isa, who swam competitively.

“Aye, Alvarez, Ace, what’s up?” Jamey removed himself from the wall he’d been leaning against, giving us each a nod of his head.

“Did you guys hear about that freshman that just transferred here?” Isa shoved her hand in Jason’s face, pushing him away as she turned to ask us the question.

“Nah. Why?” Rafe asked.

“I heard he’s an ice skater!” she laughed.

“Ice skating? That’s kind of cool though, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Isa rolled her eyes. “But he does figure skating! You know, the one where people wear those super tight outfits with sparkles and sequins.”

“And it’s a guy doing that?” Jason scrunched his nose in disgust.

“That’s so fucking gay.” Devin made a gagging motion, which brought small laughs from the group. I had no choice but to do the same.

What was wrong with a guy doing figure skating? A sport didn’t define someone’s sexuality. And plenty of other sports had guys wearing tight uniforms; wrestling made guys look like they were dry humping each other.

“Should we go knock some sense into him?” Jason suggested.

The group seemed to be seriously considering it.

“Wait, guys. Hold on a second. You can’t just beat someone up, and you don’t even know if he’s gay, so just chill out a bit.” I wasn’t sure if Rafe’s comment was comforting or scary.

“Aspen!” A high-pitched shriek interrupted their conversation. Amelia jumped on my back, which had my eyes bulging out of my head and my body screaming in pain. I grabbed the five-eight girl’s long legs so she wouldn’t fall as she took hold of my cheek in her fingers and pinched.

I faked my smile, making sure my dimples showed while crinkling my eyes as I let out small laughs to hide my discomfort.

“How’s my twin doing today?” she giggled as I stood up straighter, getting her to slide off gently.

Amelia liked to joke around that we were related because we had some similar features. We both had baby faces, for example, and our eyes were both unusually large and round.

I glanced at Rafe to see how he reacted. Even though I was aware Amelia wasn’t into me like that, sometimes the way she acted seemed like flirting, and the last thing I needed was Rafe thinking I was trying to steal his girlfriend. If anything, it’d be the other way around—I’d much rather steal him from Amelia.

Unlike us, Rafe’s eyes were somewhat narrow and had a slight almond shape stacked with thick black lashes, making it seem as if he was wearing eyeliner. The brown of his eyes was a distinct color, not light and not dark, but a perfect in-between. His nose was prominent, the bridge inhumanly straight, the tip a soft L shape that made his features more delicate.

“Why don’t you two just date already,” Isa snickered.

I shot her a glare. “Don’t say that. You know Amelia and Rafe are together.”

“That’s right.” Amelia slung a stretched-out arm around my shoulder, doing the same to Rafe and forcing us to bend down so she could reach us. “Don’t tease my boys.” She let go of me and Rafe wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her body closer to his.

The first-period bell rang, forcing the couple to separate. We all waved our goodbyes and headed off to our classes. I walked into my physiology class with Isabella in tow, taking our seats at a shared desk.

We made small talk while waiting for our teacher to show up when one of Isa’s friends from the swim team joined us. “Isa, either put those heart-eyes away or ask him out already.” The blonde shot us a playful smirk.

“Shut up, Megan. Stop trying to project your fantasies onto me.” Isabella’s voice was high-pitched as she made fun of her friend.

I sat there awkwardly, throwing out small laughs here and there.

“Oh, come on, don’t lie! I know you fell for Aspen’s smile ages ago!” The blonde was loud and drew attention from some others in the class.

“Well,” Isa tilted her head to the side, “his dimples are to die for... but my parents would stop feeding me if I brought home a white boy,” she clicked her tongue. “They want a nice Indian man that’ll blend right in.”

“I thought you and Jason were dating,” I teased, trying to get under her skin.

“Jason? He’s black, not Indian, dumbass.”

“I know that. But if your parents do stop feeding you, Jason’s parents will take care of that. If anything, that’s even better for you.”

“Ugh,” she moaned. “The thought of Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s cooking makes me drool. Unfortunately, Jason’s too much of an ass. His ego makes me want to barf.”

“I definitely understand that,” I said as I watched other students pull out their notebooks. I had no reason to do that, though. As a second-semester senior going to college on a sports scholarship, anything better than failing was an A in my book.

“Where does he even find that confidence?” The sheer thought of Jason irritated her.

I grinned. “All the guys on the baseball team are like that.”

“Stop smiling!” Isa’s friend whispered. “Unless you want to be hit on by every single girl in this class,” she winked at me.

Isabella ignored her. “You aren’t though.”

I plastered a cocky smile on my face, getting ready to retort, when a voice snapped, “Mr. Ace. Ms. Singh,” our heads whipped up to the teacher, “If you two don’t want detention, I suggest you stop talking while I’m trying to lecture.”

Isabella raised her arms in defense as we quieted down, putting an end to our discussion.

The day passed by slowly. The heat had been getting to me since my second class and I could feel sweat dripping down my back. I walked with Devin and Rafe to the locker rooms to get ready for practice, slipping into the bathroom unnoticed. I tucked my white compression long-sleeve into my grey belt and white baseball pants that completely covered my grey socks. I wore the same black cleats I always did and matched it with a grey cap. Even if I was wearing a lot of layers, I’d do whatever I could to make it easier to deal with the weather.

Gradually, everyone made their way onto the field and started warming up while waiting for the coaches to show. Rafe and I lightly tossed the ball around on the grass in right field. Before I had time to put on my catcher’s gear to help Rafe get his shoulder going for pitching, Coach Gale called us over to sit in a circle to the side of our dugout.

I was overly conscious of Rafe’s knee resting atop my outstretched leg while he sat with his legs crossed in a pretzel shape. The warm touch made it challenging to focus on Coach’s words.

“We have our game against Riverside tomorrow and I’m sure you’re all aware, but if we win this last playoff game, we’ll be heading to States. I have no doubt you’ll pull through, since we did the same last year. Our fielding, our batting, our pitching and catching, and our overall teamwork are better than Riverside’s. But that doesn’t mean you boys can slack off. A win is never guaranteed, so let’s practice hard and earn it!” He knew what we needed to do and there was no room for negotiation.

We worked on refining various plays for the entire practice. It was a harsh workout, but just mellow enough that we wouldn’t be exhausted going into the game tomorrow. It was an away game, which meant we’d have to drive to Riverside High School. The school was within our district, but was one of the farthest from us. To make it on time, we’d get to skip our last period.

I wouldn’t say that I was excited when I played baseball. I think ‘excited’ was too strong of a word. Baseball used to be one of the few things that still made me happy, but my emotions weren’t exactly what they used to be, and I no longer experienced the same eagerness or enthusiasm when I played. I was fully aware that my interest and love for the sport was slowly fading; baseball had been a part of me for my entire life, and at this point, I only still played because I didn’t know what else to do.

It was the last part of my being that had survived life’s tribulations, the last semblance of my life before it’d gone to shit, the only string holding me together. I’d watched those strings break, one by one. And this one, too, was thinning. Soon, it’d snap.

Chapter 4: Aspen

“I got it! I got it!” our left fielder shouted as the baseball fell perfectly into the net of his glove.

That was the third out.

My team jogged back into the dugout to prepare for our first at-bat. I sat at the end of the bench and leisurely took off my bulky gear while our first batter stepped up to the plate. Jamey dug his foot into the box, hunching over slightly in his stance. His job was to get on base and steal when our second batter gave him an opportunity.

The third person in our lineup was Devin, the most consistent and reliable power hitter on our team. I stood in the on-deck circle behind the third base foul line, taking practice swings and trying to ignore any soreness in my muscles and joints.

Devin connected with the ball, sending it just over the second baseman’s head and landing where the dirt met the grass. That hit sent Jamey home and our second batter to third base, while Devin was called safe at first.

Now it was my turn. I placed one foot inside the box, turning my body to look at my coach for a sign. Swing away. As always. I’d held the fourth spot as the cleanup hitter in the lineup since I joined the varsity team as a sophomore. My job right now was to get the biggest hit I could to send our runners to home plate.

I let out a slow breath to focus my mind. I raised my bat, placing it above my head as I adjusted my grip on the handle. The pitcher started his windup, probably hoping a faster ball would be more likely to get me out, but the catcher’s way of thinking was too simple. When his arm came swinging down and the ball was released from his hand, I took a step with my left foot and cocked my bat.

My eyes followed the ball as it spun toward me. I didn’t blink and waited until the ball was in an ideal position. I swung my bat, making sure my form was perfect while the barrel hit the lower center of the baseball. How stupid. Calling for a fastball from a pitcher with weak control against a slugger with a high batting average. The catcher must’ve been green.

I sent the ball flying into the outfield so high it got lost in the sky, dusk encasing the sphere and rendering the baseball invisible in the purples and peaches of the darkening mosaic of clouds. I sprinted toward first, rounding the base and going straight for second. My teammates cheered as the ball landed well behind the center fielder, allowing our two runners to cross home base. It would’ve been a home run if they’d had a fence. The third-base coach flailed his arm around in large motions, urging me to keep going. I rounded second and darted toward third. The coach yelled at me, telling me to go down. I started my slide off to the side of the base just as the third baseman caught the ball. When he slammed his glove down to tag me, I glided straight past the base; the fielder missed me by a hair as I twisted my body and grabbed the white rubber with my hand.

“Safe!” the field ump shouted from between second and third.

I looked into the dugout at the gleeful guys pressed up against the chain-link fence, slapping the helmets of the runners I sent home. Rafe stood just feet away from me, getting ready for his at-bat. The proud smile on his face was enough to pump me up for the rest of the game.

We crushed them. Riverside was barely even competition for us when we were at our best. I ended the game with two triples and three doubles, Rafe getting on bases with one triple, two singles, and two walks. Our battery only allowed five of their batters to get on base throughout the entire game. It was nearly a complete shut-out, and damn, it felt good. Our season wasn’t over yet; we won our league’s playoffs, which meant our next game would be at States.

I talked to Rafe on the side of our huddled group after shaking hands with the other team; he was so animated and excited.

“Weren’t you the one who said high school baseball didn’t matter anymore?” I questioned.

Rafe gave me a coy smile. “Just because it doesn’t matter doesn’t mean it’s any less fun.”

“Understandable—” cool water suddenly gushed down my head, drenching my clothes and leaving small, partially melted ice cubes on top of my hair and between my jersey and undershirt. My body went rigid at the icy feeling, my arms and fingers pointed toward the ground as straight as possible, and my jaw hung open. Rafe took a similar position, shaking his hair out like a dog.

Our teammates and coaches surrounded us, screaming and laughing as they celebrated. They’d dumped the water from the orange cooler onto Rafe and me for carrying the game.

“Okay, okay,” Coach Gale shouted over the boisterous team, raising his hands in the air to get everyone’s attention. “Quiet down. I’m sure you’re all tired, so I’ll keep this short. I’ll be receiving our schedule in a day or two. Our first States game will be this Saturday. I’m not sure who we’re playing yet or if we’ll have to travel, so keep your agendas open and plan nothing for this weekend.”

A thrill shot through me at the prospect of being away for the weekend. It’d be a much-needed break from Alex and having to worry about him.

The coach continued his speech and explained our upcoming practice schedules. While he talked, my gaze wandered downward. My eyes widened and a slow panic began bubbling in my gut. My white sleeves had become see-through, making the unbandaged old and new cuts visible. I shifted my catcher’s bag toward the front of my body, awkwardly hugging it with my arms in an attempt to hide the undersides that hosted countless scars.

My expression contorted as the players continued to listen to Coach Gale. “It’s single elimination, so we can’t afford to lose…”

Rafe tapped the top of my shoulder and I winced; the bruise, while fading, was still tender.

My head whipped to the side to look at him. Rafe surveyed me before asking, “Why are you holding your stuff like that? Did you hurt your shoulder?”

That sentence caused Devin to snap his neck toward us. He brooked his weight right next to Rafe, so it wasn’t difficult to overhear.

“Aspen, is your arm hurt?” Devin took injuries blisteringly seriously because if someone played on one and made it worse, there was a chance they could ruin their chances of playing in the future.

“No, of course I didn’t. Rafe was just asking why I didn’t have my bag on my shoulder,” I explained.

Devin took my words with a grain of salt as he crossed his arms over his chest and hesitantly placed his focus back onto our assistant coach who was talking about the highlights of our game.

“So?” Rafe spoke, pushing me to answer his question.

“Am I not allowed to hold my bag in my arms? Why are you being so nosy?” My words came off harsher than intended.

Coach Gale dismissed the team and people either headed to their cars or the guest locker room.

Nosy? I’m worried about you!”

“I’m literally just holding my bag! What’s the big deal?” I didn’t understand why our conversation was escalating. I could guess that it was because Rafe was tired of my roundabout replies, tired of me.

“All I wanted to know was if you were hurt! Why are you getting all defensive?!”

We were yelling at each other, but after our lengthy celebration, the other team had vacated the area, leaving just me and Rafe in the giant backyard of their school.

“I’m not!” I shouted back.

“You are, Aspen! You made it painfully obvious that you are the second you got defensive over a simple question!” His arms flew around, a more-than-livid look on his face

“It’s a fucking bag, Rafe. Get. Over. It,” I seethed.

It’s not that I didn’t understand where he was coming from. I did. It was that I couldn’t have him invading my psyche like this. He’d never understand the consequences. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d fought or even argued. Rafe was always putting up with me, despite how tough I made everything. I should’ve been thankful. It was a wonder he’d lasted this long.

“Is it that difficult to tell me what’s wrong?” Rafe’s voice cracked, as if he was wounded.

I looked at him apprehensively, but stayed silent.

“Fourteen years, Aspen. It’s been fourteen years and you’re getting mad because I asked you what’s wrong?” His raspy tone was soft and low-pitched.

“It’s because nothing’s wrong. You’re being annoying. There’s no need to overreact.”

Overreact? Fucking overreact? You’re the one who’s overreacting! I was worried about you so I asked a question and all I get for that is being called annoying?” Rafe said, exasperated. “If you’re so fine, then prove it. Just put the bag where you usually do and I’ll forget you said that.”

Holy shit, Rafe. I called you annoying. Stop acting like I actually did something to offend you!” I took an unsteady step backward, my heart pounding in my chest.

“If you don’t let go of that fucking bag, then I’m going to assume you’re lying and are injured. I won’t stand for you ruining your dream because of a damn high school team.” He took a threatening step toward me and I took another back, nearly tripping on the grass behind me.

“I told you I’m not injured! Why won’t you just believe me?!” A lump formed in my throat, the one that always warned me when I was about to cry.

Rafe was scaring me.

“It’s a bag! Why can’t you just do what I’m asking! I never ask for anything from you! Ever! Just this once, I’m asking for a favor. Please,” Rafe begged as he got even closer to me.

I clutched the gear tighter, knowing the dripping fabric encasing my arms revealed everything from my wrists to the base of my jersey sleeve.

Rafe reached an arm out to snatch the bag.

“JUST FUCKING BACK OFF!!” My shout echoed around the empty field, my eyes squeezed shut.

His hand froze, hovering just above my catcher’s bag. I slowly peeled open my eyes, Rafe hesitantly retracting his arm. The look of hurt that flashed across his face pained me, but I didn’t have a choice. Rafe didn’t give me a choice.

The corners of his mouth quivered, and the ends of his eyes seemed to droop downward in defeat. “I’m sorry that worrying about you makes me such a shitty friend.”

“Come on, Rafe! Don’t pull this bullshit! I set my boundaries loud and clear and you chose to ignore them.”

“I just don’t understand why you need those boundaries in the first place! You don’t tell me shit about your life! With how you’ve been acting, it feels like we aren’t even friends anymore.”

“... not friends?” I muttered, staring daggers into the ground as my vision clouded with salty water. Those words muddled my mind. My thoughts became muggy and all I could hear was Rafe’s voice on repeat, as if it was stuck on an endless loop.

He let out a deep, aggressive puff of air, like he was dumbfounded by my presence. “I can’t deal with you right now.” His words were like a stab to the heart. Rafe threw his frustrated hands into his hair, glancing from me to the distant parking lot. “Fuck this.” He turned on his heel and left me behind.

I watched Rafe chuck his gear into the trunk of his car, not looking back once as he got into the vehicle and drove away.

He left me.

He left me in Riverside all alone, with no way to get home. No money and a practically dead phone.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cried; a numbness had taken over years ago, forcing certain emotions to become foreign. But today, tears pricked my eyes. A single drop slid down my cheek, followed by a plethora of others. I didn’t cry out, but I wept in my own, silent way.

It wasn’t like I expected him to stay forever. I knew that one day we would separate from each other and go our own ways. I was well-aware that I was nothing more than a troublesome shadow following Rafe everywhere he went. It’s just a matter of time. That was what I kept telling myself.

I sniffled, pushing my bag back to my shoulder and wiping my runny nose. I pulled my phone out of my backpack and pressed call on Devin’s number. He usually drove a bunch of guys to games so they could all save gas, but he didn’t pick up. I assumed it was because he was driving, but Jason and Jamey didn’t pick up either. I decided it would be best to convince myself they were just blasting music so loud they didn’t notice I called them. It’d make me feel better that way.

I pulled up my GPS, punching in my address. I let the device in my hand fall to my side when I started lifting my feet.

A two-hour walk...

My battery wouldn’t last that long. I’d probably get lost, too.

I closed all the open apps on my phone except for the navigation, turned the brightness down, and pressed the Low Power Mode button. As I was doing so, my phone began to ring.

It was my mom, who was supposed to get home yesterday. I hurriedly wiped the tears off my face despite knowing she wouldn’t be able to see me.

“Hi, mom,” I answered the phone, raising the tone of my voice to get just the right amount of happy inflection.

“Hi, Aspen! How was your game?”

“It was great, we won!” A phony smile appeared on my face. It helped to get into character.

“Congratulations, sweetheart! I’m so proud of you!” I heard her whispering something to someone else in the background before asking me another question. “Are you home yet? Did Rafe give you a ride?”

“Yeah, I’m in the car with him right now.”

“Okay, okay. Tell him I say hello.”

“Will do,” I chirped.

“No, Jessica! I told you this has to be done in a larger font, our client is older and will have trouble reading this.” She paused for a second. “Sorry, Aspen. I know I said your father and I would be home Monday, but we had an emergency at our office in Turin, so it looks like we won’t be able to come back until Thursday or Friday.”

“Oh.” Crap. “That’s fine. I can manage on my own, I’m not a little kid.”

“Ask your brother to bring home some dinner if you’re not going out with friends. Even if you spend all your time with Rafe, don’t keep mooching off of Teresa. You can rely on your brother a bit more since we’ll be gone for a couple of days this time,” my mom rambled on. “If you go into the fridge, you’ll find some—” the phone cut off.

I pulled it away from my ear; the screen had gone black. I sighed and put my phone in my back pocket. I ogled the sky; I somehow always found myself walking home and away from Rafe whenever the sun was disappearing.

I knew the general direction to Cedar Heights, but there were so many turns along the way that it’d be impossible for me to remember the specific roads I needed to take.

***

I’d been right. I got lost. Thirty minutes into my walk in the grueling heat and I was already met with a view I’d never seen before. I’d definitely never driven past this block of houses, and the surrounding streets were unfamiliar. Overall, I had no clue where the hell I was. I had no choice but to go back the way I came and try a different route, hoping something might look familiar while I tried to avoid getting mugged.

The sky turned black as nighttime approached. There were no visible stars in the sky due to the heavy pollution in the city. I couldn’t tell how much time had passed when I finally got to the major intersection just blocks from my house. My feet ached and I shivered from the chill, bits of dew collecting on my socks as I treaded through grass.

The main issue arose when I saw the sun peek out from behind the clouds to the east. My lack of sense of direction really came to bite me in the ass. I couldn’t say I was particularly surprised. It didn’t feel like I’d been out all night—my endless thoughts had this strange way of making time pass.

If the sun was up, then it was probably just before five a.m. Even though I was frustrated and upset that Rafe had left me to find my way home, I couldn’t find it in me to be mad at him. It was my fault anyway. Every time I went the wrong way, I decided to backtrack, which added several unnecessary hours to the trek.

He probably assumed I’d be able to catch a ride from one of the guys or even my brother. Maybe he thought I could take the bus, and there was also the possibility that he’d forgotten that I had the sense of direction of a newborn baby that hadn’t even opened its eyes.

If I was going to lose my best friend, I’d rather it be from something like this than going through the pain of him finding out I was gay, let alone in love with him.

Would he call me a creep? Disgusting? Would Rafe be repulsed and dread the fact that he’d changed in front of me?

The natural light made my fatigued eyes burn. Alex’s car wasn’t in the driveway, so I assumed he’d stayed out again. No complaints here.

I made my way up the stairs sluggishly, tossing my bags into the corner of my room and throwing all of my clothes into my laundry basket. I lumbered into my bathroom with a fresh towel wrapped around my waist.

It was like it was calling my name, that drawer.

What was the point? I’d pushed away the only person keeping me alive.

He hated me… thought I was annoying, nothing but a nuisance.

Do I really have anything left to live for?

What about baseball? No... I played baseball because it was an excuse to stay close to Rafe. I’d lost interest in the sport long ago, around the same time I’d lost interest in everything else that used to make me happy.

Should I just... do it?

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