Dark Star - 13. Chapter 13
The next day goes by similarly, with a few exceptions. First, it's Friday. Secondly, I wake up with Rufus snoring gently in the bed above me. It's a nice sound. Even before I open my eyes, I'm reminded that it's not a dream and that he's still here, in my room, and he's here because he needs me. It's beautiful and scary at the same time. If I fail him once more, especially before he deals with his dad's death, it will be over.
I can sense Rufus feels uncomfortable at breakfast. Mom initiates small talk and goes out of her way to make him feel welcome, but the way he doesn't look up from his plate leaves no doubt. He feels like a burden. Maybe even like an intruder. That's one thing for me to work on over the next few days.
Going to school together is nice. Feels a bit as if I'm walking my younger brother. At school, things are normal. A few people come to us to wish us luck or make sure we're for real or if it's just a prank.
Or like Amanda, who says, "Jim keeps telling everyone you guys messed around when working on the science project. Is that true?"
We deny it without confidence, only reassuring her that is exactly what happened.
"I didn't tell him, I swear," I explain to Rufus, who's giving me a death stare after she leaves. "I didn't tell anyone. Do you think I'm crazy? Just thinking about anyone finding out I might have gay feelings made me puke at that time. What? Don't stare at me like that," I say when he squints his eyes like a tiger, ready to pounce.
"I'm just pulling your leg. I believe you."
"Thank god. Now give me a moment. I need to have a word with Jim."
Jim is shocked when I confront him. "Well, didn't you fool around? I'm just sharing my suspicions, that's all."
"Should I share my suspicions about you sucking Clyde's dick?"
"Hey, it's not the same thing!" he says and looks around nervously.
"Kinda is, to me. So better stop that."
It works. After the third class, it all goes back to normal, and it's a day like any other. I manage to chat some more with Jim, but not too much because he still hangs out with Dwight, who keeps giving me an evil stare all day and makes sure I see it. Clyde just stays in the back. The balance has been shaken. A few shifts may need to happen before it settles back. Naturally, I gravitate more toward the rest of the class. I should learn everyone's names because I might need new friends. Ones that have previously been nameless to me. I could hang out with Rufus's friends, but they don't fully trust me. And, like, sorry, but they're just too nerdy for me. I'm afraid we wouldn't connect. Rufus can be nerdy, too, but it's not his whole personality.
The incident happens when I go to the toilets after the last class. Rufus says he'll wait for me outside so we can walk home together. When I'm done peeing, I leave the bathroom and face Dwight, waiting in the empty corridor. He's standing straight, his chin up high and his arms stiffly at his sides. He ends up looking part intimidating, part comical. I attempt to go for the stairs, but he stands in my way.
"Do you think I'm done with you?" he asks, pushing me away.
"Clearly not," I say and try to walk past him, but he pushes me again.
"How does your old man like it that his son is a homo?"
"Haven't talked to him yet. Why?" I ask, pretending I don't notice his confrontational tone.
"Then maybe someone else should do it for you, huh?"
"No need. I can handle it. Now, don't you have anything better to do?" I say, and this time I push him away. Is he so stupid to fight me inside the school? I can take a punch if it means his homophobic ass gets expelled for good.
"Don't you start with me, Webb."
"Who's starting? Just fuck off, and I'll never speak to you again."
"Yeah, right," he says and pushes me. "Admit, you jerk off thinking about us. You're fucking gross."
"Chill, dude, your baby dick secret is safe."
This makes his eyes turn red. He puts all his weightlifter's strength into the next push. I hit the tiled floor, and the force makes me slide away, spinning on my backpack like on a turtle shell. Fuck, why won't they make softer floors in a place where kids horse around all day?
"Better watch your back," Dwight says and leaves me.
I get up slowly. My back and my arm hurt, but nothing seems broken. Looks like my backpack broke my fall. I don't think I had anything fragile in there, so I'm fine. But it isn't over. Should I record his hate slurs and report the living shit out of him? I'd need a lot of evidence, otherwise, it would only piss him off more and achieve nothing. I guess the only solution offered by the system is to wait for him to really beat me up. I’m still due that punch in the face for being a dumb coward, so I might as well do a favor to our school… and bring doom to the one he ends up in.
I make sure I look normal and go outside.
"Feeling alright?" Rufus asks me as we start walking.
"It took you a while."
"It was the lunch. I don't think that tuna was fresh. Anyway, it's the weekend! Whoop, whoop! What do we do? Do we go out?"
Rufus looks down. "I don't know if I'd enjoy it right now…"
"We don't have to. I'm up for anything," I say.
"Sitting in your room and making sad noises?" he looks up at me hopefully.
"That doesn't sound half bad if it's with you."
"Aw, thanks. Look, I'm not always like that. I'd love to go out with you."
"Then… movies? Tomorrow? You and I?"
"If that's too soon, just say so. We can bunk up in my bedroom and watch Netflix."
Rufus hesitates for another second before smiling. "You know what? Let's do it. Tomorrow."
"You're not doing it just for me, right?"
"More like for us," he smiles, exposing his teeth. He shines so brightly my problems evaporate in an instant.
"Oh, come here, you," I say, pulling him closer with my arm. We walk like that for a few seconds, but then it becomes awkward, so we let go, giggling like schoolgirls.
We spend the evening just hanging out and chilling. Later, Mom asks if we want to hang out with her. The TV runs in the background, and we all talk about little things, avoiding delicate topics like death or being gay. It's good that Dad isn't here because Rufus grabs my leg multiple times when trying to catch my attention, and I ruffle his black hair more than once when he does something cute. Mom seems conflicted.
"That is so cringe," Rufus slaps his forehead.
Some dating reality show is running, and I'm not even paying attention.
"What's your problem?" I challenge him. "Are you sending us on a guilt trip because we're not watching the Discovery channel?"
"No, I just… is there anyone who doesn’t watch this show ironically?"
I puff my cheeks and exclaim, "Hey! It's my favorite show! Take it back."
Rufus tilts his head and pokes me under the ribs. "Oh yeah? So what's the title?"
“Uh… it’s… Tanned People Juggling Tacos on Ice."
"Nice try. You would die if you tried actually watching it for a few minutes."
"Oh yeah? So what's your favorite show? Huh? I'll wait."
Rufus shrugs. "I don't watch TV."
"From now on, you do," I say and take his head in my hands, forcing him to watch.
"No! Stop it! I can't take it!" he screams, trying to turn away from the screen.
"A few more days of it, and you'll start enjoying it. That's how it works," I smirk.
Mom covers her mouth with her hand, but I can see her barely containing laughter. Looks like she can't help herself when my chemistry with Rufus sparks out. We're having fun to the point where we don't even think about going upstairs until Rufus starts yawning and almost dozes off on my shoulder. I don't want to push our luck, so I take him upstairs so he can go to bed.
"Is it fine if I don't brush my teeth today?" Rufus asks me with dreamy eyes.
"Bad, bad boy," I lean over and kiss him. "Sweet dreams, Rufus. It was a great lazy day with you."
He gives me such a smile that I almost jump into bed with him. But then, his eyes get watery, and his voice breaks when he says, "Thank you."
"Oh no…" I say and lay down on top of him. I'm not exactly light anymore, but Rufus squeezes me so tight I almost lose my breath.
"There, there," I comfort him as he cries. "I'm here."
When I wake up in the morning, I stretch out and listen for Rufus's breathing, but I can't hear it. I sit up and look at the bed. It's neatly made, but the boy isn't here. I look at the time. It's almost ten. How is it possible? It's been a while since I slept so long - and so well.
I go to the bathroom to wash my face and hear the voices of Rufus and Mom from the living room. I'm intrigued, so I stop for a while. I'm not eavesdropping; just making sure Rufus isn't getting bullied. I hear it's him speaking.
"... he always acts so tough, but he took it really badly. He had always been mad at Dad for leaving us. They'd often argue during visits and then wouldn't talk to each other for months. But when… When the news came, it was Mom and I who had to comfort him."
"Had they made amends before it happened?" Mom asks.
"Not really. They hadn't spoken in a while."
I hold my breath. Poor Tim. Now he'll never get to make things right. The finality of it overwhelms me. I sit down on the stairs, listening to them talk.
"And your mom?"
"She's more like me. She doesn't show her feelings unless she really trusts someone."
"She did seem completely fine over the phone," Mom notices.
"Yes. That's how she is. When I was at home, though… she cried all day."
"Yes. I was there for her, but I didn't shed a single tear until the funeral. When Mom moved in with her sister… I think she did it, so I didn't have to watch her suffer."
I can hear my own heartbeat in the silence as his words sink in. I still can't believe they were all so close, even though the man was a convicted murderer. Even though Rufus hasn't seen his father every day, he never stopped being an integral part of the family. And now he’s left a huge hole. Makes me think how many times a month I really talk to my father. I'm lost in thought when Mom finally breaks the silence.
"Rufus, come here," Mom says, and I hear the soft sounds of clothes rustling together. "This is all very sad, but also very beautiful. If you all have to take your time and go through it separately, so be it. No one can tell you how to deal with grief. If Tyler is someone who makes it easy for you… then you're lucky to have each other. He needs you too."
"Do you think so?"
"I know so. Don't ask me how."
"Yes, Mrs. Webb."
"You can stay as long as you want, Rufus, but don't stay too long. For your own sake. If you want to stay close together as a family, you have to share this pain, too."
"I think you're right, Mrs. Webb. I'll call Mom later."
"Good. I have to get going. Go wake up Tyler. Just because it's Saturday doesn't mean he can sleep all day."
Rufus mutters something in reply, and they start moving around. Slowly, I get up and go to the bathroom.
We leave the cinema hall chatting and laughing. I've had a great time, and I think Rufus has too. I keep catching him staring in the distance with empty eyes from time to time, but these episodes are short and far apart. Most of the time, he's his old self, kinda shy, kinda happy, always curious, and most of all, having a good time.
"Not the worst use of thirty bucks, huh?" I ask him as we mix with the crowd. I like the buzz of the mall on weekends. This is where everyone hangs out before hitting clubs or parties, and there's this feeling of excitement and expectation in the air. I know it's silly, but I feel like the lively crowd validates our little date. We're not holding hands, we're not kissing, but we've been to the movies together and stick to each other like glue.
It's almost perfect. I can't see how this could go south until I see Dwight. We're just going down the escalator, and he's going up on the other side. I pretend I don't see him, but he howls at us, and when he's passing by, he jumps across and lands just behind us, making heads turn our way.
"Hello, ladies," he says as he gathers us in his arms. "Having a lovely evening so far, huh?"
"Fuck off, Dwight," I say and get out from under his arm.
"Hey, I'm here with my friends; why don't we all hang out? Hey! Guys!"
There are four of them waiting on the lower level. They look older than us, but maybe they're just big and testosterone-packed. I faintly recognize some of them. They're in Dwight's weightlifting team. Now I'm getting a little nervous. Not because I might get a punch or two. We're inside a crowded mall; what can they do? But I can see Rufus is looking around in fear. If Dwight's plan is to make our life a living hell without getting in trouble, it won't be easy to get rid of him.
Meanwhile, his friends block our way with nasty faces.
"Are these the fairies you told us about, D?" one of them asks.
"That's right. My friend here pretended to be straight to check us out in the locker room. Can you believe it?"
"Easily. He looks like a fucking perv."
Blood starts boiling inside me. They're scaring Rufus. Not gonna let it happen. As calmly as I can, I say, "Hey, where are your girlfriends? Or is it just you boys tonight?"
Dwight doesn't like my comment at all. "If you want to talk, how about we take it to the parking lot? Way more privacy down there."
Rufus looks at me with panic as one of the boys takes his arm, and they start leading us to the elevator. It doesn't look good. We're desperately outnumbered. If they get us away from the crowd… it's probably time to scream for help.
But then I see a familiar face in the crowd. He's looking bored and holds half a dozen shopping bags, clearly waiting for someone and not happy about it. Our hope for salvation.
"Tim!" I call him, and he turns in our direction. He comes closer when he sees us.
"Rufus, are these your friends?" he asks, sensing trouble.
Rufus only looks at him with a mix of fear and relief. Dwight and his friends step back. Funny. Tim is shorter than any of them, but they don't dare to talk back when Rufus gets out of the circle and almost hugs Tim. I follow and stand next to them.
Tim looks each of our oppressors in the eyes. "Don't fuck with my brother," he tells them before we leave.
There's a weird silence as we sit in the back of Tim's car.
"Will you tell me what happened or not?" Tess asks from the front passenger seat.
"They had some bullies on their tail," Tim says. We stay perfectly silent, just as he asked us before we joined his girlfriend in the clothing shop.
"What did they bully them for?" She asks and then turns around abruptly to face me. "Wait, I haven't seen you before. Aren't you by any chance…"
"No, they're just friends," Tim interrupts. "Stop nagging them."
"Why don't you let the boys speak for themselves? Rufus? Are you sure you're just friends?"
Rufus and I look at each other and then at her, tight-lipped.
"Hello? What's the conspiracy?"
"I forbid them to tell you," Tim's impatient behind the wheel. "And anyway, I don't have fifty bucks right now. I'm broke, so it doesn't matter who they are."
"I knew it!" Tess claps her hands. "I knew Rufus was too cute to stay a virgin for too long."
"Don't get too excited, Tess. They barely hold hands."
"What they do or don't do is not our business, right boys?" she turns back to us. "You're Tyler, right? Tell me about yourself. What's your zodiac sign?"
Tess and Tim keep us entertained for the whole ride home, and I almost forget that we barely escaped being beaten up or worse. Rufus is silent. I find his hand, and it's as cold and sweaty as before our science presentation. I can't protect him alone. I have to figure something out because it can't keep happening to him.
When we park in front of my house, Tim turns around to look at his brother. "Tell that classmate of yours that if he keeps giving you a hard time, we're gonna talk differently."
"Okay, Tim," Rufus mumbles.
"You know I'm not joking, right? I don't care if I'm next in line to go behind bars."
We stand in our yard for a few minutes after they leave.
"Are you okay?" I ask Rufus, who doesn't look okay at all.
"What if they don't leave us alone?" he asks fearfully.
"We were unlucky to meet Dwight today. If he keeps giving us shit at school, sooner or later, he'll get caught."
"Yeah, but what if he hurts one of us before it happens? If Tim learns about it… he's been arrested before. I don't want him to get in trouble because of me."
"We'll figure something out. Now, don't let that turd destroy our evening."
"He already has."
"No, he hasn't. The evening is not over. I have a little surprise for you."
"Really?" Rufus still doesn't look convinced, but a soft smile creeps onto his face.
"Someone likes surprises," I wink at him and take him by the hand. "Let's go in. I'm hungry.
We arrive right on time for dinner. To my surprise, Dad is home, so we sit down and talk about our days. It's mostly him who speaks, and I quickly tune out because his mind is occupied by the vote that's on Tuesday. I could kiss Rufus in the mouth, and he wouldn't notice. He's talkative as ever but also somewhat nervous. Does it mean things don't look well for him? His "I'll be in my office if you need me" is half-assed, and I wonder whether he will be working or just downing one whisky on the rocks after another. I haven't seen him drunk in a while, but if he ever reaches for the bottle, it's in stressful times like these when he feels like the situation is out of his control. Well, it will be over in just three more days, for better or worse.
Rufus still seems shaken by the encounter at the mall. He stares at the TV and barely nods when I talk to him. No snarky comments about how cringy it is, either.
I nudge him and whisper. "Let's take you to my room, huh?"
He nods absentmindedly.
Rufus sits on my bed with the same look in his eyes, and I hug him from the side. "Don't let them get to you, Rufus. Dwight is just pissed off because I saw his micropenis. Even assholes like him will get over it in a few days." I didn't say this last part with enough confidence, and I hate myself for that. Dwight can be pretty stubborn, especially if something pisses him off. "And if not, he will take it one step too far, sooner or later. And that will be his end."
"If he tries anything ever again, and I mean anything, I'm reporting him," Rufus says calmly, but his throat is squeezed.
I look at him for a while. He's not about to play games with Dwight. Maybe he trusts the justice system and school institutions more than I do. If we report him for something minor, it may only change things for the worse. But what if we wait? Can I risk him cornering Rufus in an empty parking lot to get the best results?
"You're right, Rufus. If he ever touches any of us or says a single slur, we'll report his ass."
"It's not what you would do, right?"
"You got me there. I would not. But now that we're out, we should set an example for other kids who are bullied or still in the closet. Can't let them see that a guy like Dwight can go unpunished. And if the school doesn't do any…" I stop because my mouth is sealed by Rufus's soft lips. My initial surprise fades quickly, and I relax, enjoying the moment and hugging him even tighter. What were we talking about?
He breaks the kiss and touches my chin. "We are on the same page, Tyler."
I roll and lay us down on the bed, caressing his hair. "I love that we are, Rufus. In a few weeks, our biggest dilemma will be whether to do it in the bed or in the shower."
"Maybe sooner," Rufus says with a sly smile, and I kiss him again, powered by the vision of us making love in a place and time of our choice. I put my right hand at the back of his head, and my left hand travels almost all the way down to his butt, where I stop, not yet ready to cross this line without permission.
And who knows, maybe the permission would come. His arms around my neck and pressing our heads together leave no doubt - Rufus wants me close. Closer than he wanted me in a long time, maybe ever. We run our hands up and down our bodies, and before I know it, it gets really steamy. So yeah, who knows how it would roll out. And it's not even about the open door. It didn't stop us the first time we fooled around in Dad's office. And back then, we weren't even on the same page. Shit, we weren't even on the same book.
It's all because of the damn egg. Or rather, someone who throws one right at my window where it splashes with a bang.
"Faggot! Come out!" a muffled shout comes through the closed window and breaks our honeymoon. I jump, and my heart races. I cower and want to pretend I'm not home, but the fear in Rufus's eyes awakens bloodlust in me.
I jump to the window just as another egg explodes right before my eyes. It's already dark outside, and I can't see shit, but I'd recognize this voice any day.
I rush to the door, pointing at Rufus, whose panicky eyes follow my every step. "Stay here. Turn off the lights, go to the window, and record," then I force myself not to slam the door behind me and descend the stairs in three leaps.
"What was that noise?" Mom asks, barely looking away from the TV.
"Nothing, Mom, it's Dwight. I'll be right back."
"Say hi!" she yells after me as I go outside.
Oh, hell yes, I'm gonna say hi. I storm out on the porch and see Dwight holding a pack of eggs and wearing the ugliest grin I've seen on him yet. Behind him, there's one of his friends from the mall - the one that held Rufus. Their eyes are relaxed and unfocused. They were drinking. I glance up at my window, and I can see a little shiny dot where the glass isn't stained by the egg bomb. Good. We might be doing this my way after all. I've been waiting for this punch for a long time. Time to repent.
"Get out of here, Dwight," I say with as much authority as I can produce.
"Look who's here," he says and drops the eggs on the lawn. "And where's your little boyfriend? We wanna fight you both. Two versus two, fair fight."
"I mean it, dude. You're drunk. Get out of here before you regret it. Go home."
Dwight takes a few steps forward in my direction. He's been drinking, but not very drunk yet. Not drunk enough to make me stand a chance against him in a fistfight. Likely not drunk enough to hold back his punches. This may hurt.
"Bring his faggot ass down here, or it's gonna get nasty!" Dwight shouts. He is dead serious now. "We just wanna talk. I know he's here. Don't make us search the house!"
Dwight yells so loud that his voice echoes in the neighborhood. Someone's gotta be calling the police by now. At least, I hope so because this looks bad. This fucker means every word. He's just drunk enough not to care about the consequences.
The adrenaline rushes in my veins. I know one thing for sure - he's not getting through that door. I curl my fists and also step forward. "Snap out of it, dude. Go home. Let's talk when you're sober. If you still wanna fight, I'll fight you!"
He looks like he's considering my offer but then just says, "Nah," and makes another step in my direction.
"Last warning!" I yell.
"Or what?" He takes two steps dividing us, and pushes me away. But I was ready for it. I step back and spring forward, pushing him before he can regain balance. Dwight stumbles and almost falls, but his buddy catches him from behind.
"You shit fuck faggot dipshit motherf…" he growls as he takes a run-up at me, and I almost shit my pants. He's coming at me like a bull, but his right hook is slow and predictable. I dodge and counter with my best uppercut right at his chin.
There's a nasty sound of Dwight's teeth smashed together, and his head is thrown upwards. He stumbles back again, and this time his friend doesn't make it in time to catch him. He falls on his ass and lies flattened on my lawn. My fist is burning with pain.
I've been in a few fights, and having Dwight on my side ensured victory every time. I've never been against a superior opponent until now. If I had, I would know I should go with the flow, kick a few teeth out of his mouth, and then call an ambulance. But I made a mistake - I thought I had already won. And the mistake turned out to be painful for both of us.
With the help of his bud, Dwight slowly gets on his feet. He's dazed, but not out. I got him good. "Get the fuck out of here, or I'll call the cops!" I basically scream now. And it works. Kinda.
Dwight's friend is almost as big as him, but he's pulling him away, eager to end this feud. But Dwight is too pissed to give up. I've never seen him so pissed before, and Dwight gets pissed off at least twice a week. He stumbles a little, and his eyes can't focus, but he's ’foaming at the mouth’ angry. His every breath turns into a growl as he slowly stands on his two legs. He pushes the other dude away and charges at me with fury in his eyes. If I wasn't in battle mode myself, I would probably faint. But I am.
I hold my guard back and see him readying his right fist again. Like the last time, I try to dodge, but this time I fail. Dwight has just enough clarity left to feint the right hook, and instead, he wallops me with a vicious punch in my stomach with his left fist. The air is forced out of my lungs, and I see stars. I don't register the next hit. It erases my short-term memory when it connects. The next thing I know, I'm lying on the lawn, almost dying from the excruciating pain and struggling to breathe. From somewhere far away, I hear a voice. I think it belongs to my dad.
"Get off my fucking lawn!"
I open my eyes. I see the scene upside down and watch as Dwight stumbles toward the house. Dad stands on the porch with a gun in his hand, and he aims it at Dwight's chest.
"Not another step, you scum, or I'll blow your brains out."
"You won't get away with it." Dwight mumbles. His tongue must be swollen from my punch. I only see his back, but he looks like a zombie, hunched and stepping from left to right. But he's still coming at my dad.
"One more step, and you're dead, you fuck. Don't make me do it," Dad warns and cocks the gun.
Shit, no, no, no! Don't do it, Dwight. Go home! I want to scream, but I almost cough my lungs out in the attempt. I can see crimson drops on the grass blades under my mouth. Dwight doesn't know dad has been waiting to exercise his second amendment right all his life.
I open my mouth again just to cough more blood. Then I hear a shot, and Dwight falls flat on the lawn a few yards away. From behind him, I see Rufus standing just behind my dad with the phone in his hands. I think I can hear the police siren from a distance.
"Tyler!" he screams and kneels in front of me, crying. "Are you alright? Tyler? Tyler!? Should I call an ambulance?"
I want to tell him I'm fine, but his face doubles before my eyes, and the street lights dance around it. Then everything disappears.
Can't believe there's only one more chapter to go! I hope you enjoyed this one. Let me know in the comments!
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