I found it easy to hold my head up a little bit higher than usual after leaving that classroom. Walk a little bit taller as I made my way down that hallway. Hell, I even let a delightful little smirk cross my lips as I marched through the crowded masses of school students on my way to lunch. Even though I was walking all by myself and didn't look as though I had anything to smile about at all, the bubbling 'soda pop' energy inside of me refused to let me sulk for one moment over what I had just done. Maybe Mr. Raffe was going to fail me right away. Maybe he's going to work even harder to make my life a living Hell after my brazen display of defiance and dissatisfaction. Who knows? I think I felt too good to care! Hehehe, it was the kind of feeling that I thought I'd only experience the day I eventually cracked my father in the head with a crowbar and got him to bleed and cry and HURT for me the way I hurt for him during my entire childhood. It might seem evil, but it would be worth it. SO worth it!!!
I probably looked super crazy to anyone who paid me any real attention, but who gives a shit? For once I was happy to be happy. If that makes any sense. Sure, that nagging voice in the back of my mind kept telling me not to get too cocky, trying desperately to remind me that any hint of good fortune was simply not in the cards for me. That I didn't deserve it. That I hadn't earned it. I was beneath the concept of joy, unworthy of bliss...and any extended moment of pleasure that I derived from this life was either a nasty trick or a failure waiting to happen. Yes, my mind was buzzing with a dozen ways to beat me down again and make me doubt myself right back into a state of depression.
But I didn't listen this time.
That game has grown tired. Old. I've got a new game to play now. One that's a lot more fun.
Before long, I noticed that little voice in my head shrinking. Losing its hold on me. For once in my life, I was beginning to believe in something more than hidden secrets and leaping from one painful experience to another while trying to survive it all during the short moments in between. There was something better in this life for me. I know that now. And no amount of brainwashed misery was going to snatch this moment away from me today. I DO deserve to be happy! Just like everybody else. I just wish that I hadn't wasted so much time realizing that.
Feeling like this is...it's just crazy! I'm going to totally exhaust myself if I keep running around just...vibrating like this all the time. Hehehe, it tickles too much!
I can't believe that Brody knows about me. About my dad. About my life. And yet, he still hasn't given up on me. Even when I, myself, had given up on me. There's something truly inspiring about that. He's a keeper, that Brody. A keeper for sure.
I went to my locker and opened it up, setting my backpack inside. But I didn't go anywhere this time once I closed the door and put the lock back on it again. Instead, I calmed down, wrestled with the nervous jitters in my stomach, and I turned to lean my shoulders against the wall of lockers for an extended moment or two to see if Brody would come by to spend his lunch hour with me like he said he would. There was a small amount of doubt in the back of my mind, but it was getting easier to ignore it with every passing day. Brody had proven himself, time and time again. I wanted to trust him. It's time that I let goof the unwarranted suspicion and just...tried to enjoy this experience for what it was. It wasn't easy. Not by a long shot. But he was worth the effort.
Just RELAX, Zack! Stop fidgeting! Stop worrying! Just...let things happen. And trust that everything wil be ok if you stop picking it apart before it even happens.
Yeah...that's it. Just breathe. Smile. Wait. It's ok to want something special in your life for once. Let it happen. Let life take you where it wants while you simply appreciate the ride.
It's not like I had any control over things anyway.
Sure enough...just a few minutes later, I caught sight of my immaculate sweetheart from the other end of the hall...those hazel eyes of his practically drowning out the mindless high school drones surrounding him with their brilliance. A select few strands of those big, dark, curls lightly brushing over his forehead. The novelty of his staggering beauty never failed to catch me off guard, making me wiggle with excitement as his jaw-dropping good looks approached me with the gait of his graceful walk. Every step bringing him within 'touchy' range, causing my heart to beat so fast that I found it hard to stand still. My baby. My one and only. Relax, Zack. Just soak it up. Let it sink in and enjoy the moment. Ignore the inner voices. He's the real deal. It's time I started taking his love at face value instead of making him bend over backwards to convince me he cares about me all the time. I can do this. He's here to see me. To see ME. Hehehe, stop shaking so much! He's going to make fun of you if he sees you trembling like this!
Brody finally got close enough to speak to me, already with a subtle blush of his own. He raised an eyebrow as his smile caused me to giggle with glee. "Well, this is a bit of a surprise. Hehehe!" He said.
"You're, like...actually HERE."
"Well, it is my locker, you know?" I smirked.
"I know that, but..." He seemed to get even more bashful at that point. "...I was a little bit late leaving class. I thought..." He peeked up at my eyes and said, "...I thought you might run off without me. I was worried that I'd miss you."
I can honestly say that I was proud to tell him, "Maybe I'm finally learning the trick to waiting for my 'escort' before I dash off to lunch all alone." With that, I winked at him, and he giggled sweetly, winking back at me.
"So, you can be trained after all. It's not impossible, after all. You're just friggin' stubborn." He laughed.
"Trained? I wouldn't exactly say THAT. I just...I was looking forward to maybe...well, you know...hehehe!"
"No. I don't know. Go on. Tell me."
"I don't have to say it. Don't be a brat."
"I like being a brat." Brody grinned, giving me a gentle poke in the stomach with his finger. "Go ahead. Say it. I wanna know."
With a heavy sigh, I said, "I like spending time with you. Alright? Happy now?”
“I don't know yet. Are you happy now?” He giggled in return.
“Whatever.” I said, the emotional pressure building up inside me until I almost couldn't look at his pretty FACE without swooning to the point of losing consciousness right there in that hallway. Oh God...loving Brody was a miracle in itself before the events of the last day or two. But now that I've opened myself up a little bit more to let his true feelings in…? To let them envelop me in the warm glow of his unwavering affection for me...it was like nothing that I have ever experienced before. It was a comfort and an inspiration. A full body buzz that made me feel like I could levitate right off of that floor if I didn't release some of that intense energy through giggles and awkward hand gestures. “Are we going to lunch or what?”
Brody smirked, “You in a hurry or something?”
“We can't just hang out here in the hall for the rest of the period.”
“So let's go hang out somewhere else, then.” He said. “Let's get out of here for a while.”
With a sideways look, I asked him, “Where are we going?”
“I don't know. Vegas? Hawaii? Paris?” He giggled, already reaching for my hand to pull me along.
“Hehehe, I'm serious, Brody.” I blushed.
“What makes you think I'm not serious?”
I rolled my eyes. “That hardly sounds like a very feasible plan f action.”
“Aww, darn. You caught me.” He said, then letting his smile soften a bit as he stared into my eyes. “In that case, I'd happily settle for going some place where I can kiss you. How's that?”
Wow...I love it when he talks like that!
“Quit being so...ugh...” Can I say it? Will I allow myself to say it? “...So CUTE!” Sometimes, I can still feel the restraint inside. I can sense myself holding back, and having to force myself to mellow out before I chicken out. It takes guts to flirt with a beauty of Brodie's caliber. I don't think I'm really all that familiar with having guts. It's kind of cool.
“I'll quit being cute when you quit being cute. Deal?” He said. “Now let's get out of here before I get even cornier and say something REALLY dumb!”
I didn't mind holding his hand this time. In fact, all I could do was stifle my own snickers as the tingly sensation of palm to palm contact surged through me like the warmth of a cup of hot chocolate on a Winter morning. I can't believe I'm doing it! I can't believe I'm making this work!
While I was almost kind of hoping that other people would notice us practically skipping past them in the hallways together while headed for one of the side doors...I don't think they did. And if they did, they didn't care to make much of a fuss about it. Which is just fine with me. Even though…well, you know...hehehe, I kind of wanted to gloat a little bit. But whatever. I've got a full fledged HOTTIE holding my hand right now! That's all I'm concerned with at the moment. What else could possibly matter at this point?
Where Brody was taking me in such a hurry, I wasn't sure. But I followed him anyway. I mean...was he really taking me somewhere to make out with me??? Hehehe, it was certainly unexpected, but I'd definitely skip a lunch period to swap spit with my number one sweetheart!
As soon as we got off school grounds, the air got a little bit sweeter. At least for me, it did. And when Brody spontaneously leaned over to kiss me on the cheek without warning, I nearly burst into a big gay fireworks display of cotton candy and glitter! Hahaha! I'm serious! I had opened the floodgates now. I had officially lifted the dishonest mask and let down the force field of paranoia and pain. Now I was stuck just trying to hold onto something solid while trying to keep from being swept so far off of my feet that I'd never find my way back to Earth again.
I began to worry that such a wonderful feeling wasn't meant to last when I noticed these little pauses in Brody's conversation. I mean, it was subtle, sure...but I could detect a slight hesitation in his words here and there, and it began to worry me a little bit. Even though he was smiling the whole time that he was walking at my side...I couldn't help but to recognize the discomfort in his silence. I'd turn my head to peek over and make sure that he was ok, and he'd grin and try to cover up his questioning expression...but he never did it fast enough. I always caught a glimpse of awkwardness, and it began to tug on those severely weakened heart strings in my chest.
I could tell that he wanted to say something. That he wanted to talk about...'it'. The big 'it'. And a part of me really wished that it didn't have to be a part of this sweet moment between us today...but…
Brody wasn't going to just let me sneak past him with this, was he?
His smile, faded but still visible, he eventually noticed my own collection of clumsy silences being added to his own, and said, “Look...about this morning...”
“No. It's ok. No biggie. That whole thing was...you know...stupid.” I said, hoping that would end it and we could get back to gumdrops and sunshine as quickly as humanly possible.
“I just wanted to say...”
Brody made sure to look over at me directly.
I made sure to look down at the sidewalk.
He said, “You know...Adam and Sam feel really bad about this morning.”
“It's alright. I'm sorry if I overreacted.” I replied, still focused on the sight of my sneakers making contact with the concrete beneath my feet.
“They really did mean well, Zack. We all did.” He said.
I didn't even realize that I had sped up my pace, taking larger steps and attempting to hurry towards our destination...even though I had no idea what our destination was at that point. “I know. I don't mind.” I said. But I could already feel my breath getting heavy, my heartbeat being suffocated as it tried to hide its growing anxiety from him. “It's better that we just forgot about the whole thing. It's not all that important.”
“Not that important?” He asked. My heartbeat suddenly began beating even harder than before. And it wasn't out of joy. “Did you really expect us not to react, dude? Not to care about you?”
I began feeling faint. The fear of exposure made my head swim, reminding me that I was still a novice at sharing this much of my life with somebody else. He wasn't going to let me ignore or avoid the topic...so I used my second best weapon, and tried to divert the conversation with a bit of humor instead. “Nah, I know you guys love me. Hehehe! I was just hoping it wouldn't make the rumor of the day, that's all. It's hardly the kind of thing that's worth spending an excess of brain power on an average school day. I'm not all that interesting, hehehe!”
Brody was quiet for another brief moment, but after taking a short breath, he touched my arm and said, “You act like you're just joking around...but I know you're not.”
Dammit! Ok...so Plan C is to change the subject. “What's wrong with joking around. I thought you 'liked' my jokes. Why don't you try making ME laugh for once, huh? Hehehe!”
Another failure on my part.
He gathered up a little more courage, and he slowed down his pace in an attempt to keep me from practically running away from him. He sighed, “Zack? I'm not trying to be...I mean...I don't want to make this weird, but...can I ask you something?”
It felt like something was squeezing the oxygen out of my lungs when he said that. My legs instantly got weak, and my footsteps felt labored and graceless as I tried to think up other ways of NOT having this conversation. But...even though I was on the verge of hyperventilating and dizzy from the threat of saying something that might make him absolutely HATE me for who I am...I worked to remind myself that I was going to try to be better about this sort of thing. It was going to be a serious FIGHT to speak the words out loud...but for Brody? I'll try.
“Yeah. I mean...if you want to, sure.” I said.
Brody asked, “If...somebody were to say something...I mean, just to try to help you out of your...'situation'…?”
“But somebody wouldn't DO that, Brody! Right??? Because I begged them NOT to do that and they PROMISED me!” I answered abruptly.
Defeated, Brody said, “I know. I promised and...I don't like it. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to leave you alone about it.”
I fought to stay steady. Remain calm. You can do this, Zack. You've got to grow up. You've got to learn how to do this.
So...I was truthful when I said, “I'm sorry. This is just really hard for me to talk about. Ok?”
I looked into Brody's eyes, and he appeared a little reluctant to ask, but said, “How long have you been...I mean...how long has your dad been…?”
“Abusing me?” Did I say that? Really? Has it gotten easier to say out loud? I always felt like the word itself was enough to choke me to death before now. “I don't know. It's hard to tell.” I told him. “It's been so long that I really don't remember much of a life without it.” I was trembling inside. I was almost sick from the jitters I felt. “That's the honest truth, Brody. Ok?”
“I'm sorry.” He said. “Am I pushing?”
I don't know...was he? Should I tell him that? If I do...will he abandon his questioning altogether? Or should I, for ONCE in my pathetic life, struggle through whatever this intense barricade of fear and secrecy and actually TALK to somebody about this?
“You're not pushing too hard.” I said, but I still felt a touch of humiliation for having this be a part of my life. I don't think anyone will ever know what it's like to look back at their childhood and see a horror movie full of torture and torment instead of the sunlit memories that most people have growing up. Not only did I want Brody to know about it...but I almost wanted to protect him from it. That's just how much I cared for him. Because I'd rather carry the burden on my own...then ever let something so unforgivable, so atrocious, take away from the glowing brilliance of Brody's smile.
That would be a pain that I couldn't live with.
“What would happen if you just...left?” Brody asked me, once again taking a hold of my hand, giving it a supportive squeeze. “What happens if you tell?”
The tremors in my gut got even worse, but I kept trying. Kept forcing those buried feelings to the surface without allowing tears to form in my eyes. I can only afford one shameful display at a time when it comes to standing in front of the most incredible boy in existence. I swallowed hard, and said, “Ummm...I don't know. To tell you the truth, it was never really an option before.”
He's like, “Of COURSE it's an option, Zack! You could tell somebody! You could...” But as soon as he started getting all excited and bossy about it all, he saw the look of embarrassment in my eyes, and he managed to contain his easy answer to it all. “I'm just saying...”
“I know.” I said. The only thing that hurt more than having to make myself so vulnerable to his questioning was the idea that I'd somehow have to allow him to make me feel so STUPID for not taking the easiest way out of the most hurtful, most oppressive, part of my life. God...why are people so eager to assume that they'd have a remedy for something like this? I mean, really? Could they do it? Could they walk a few blocks in my shoes and still have the energy to hold their heads up? Could they live my life for a single day and not want to totally kill themselves before it was over?
I fought the urge to withdraw from him. I fought the urge to resent him for even asking. It takes practice to not see the slightest request for information and trust as a total invasion of privacy. But I tried my hardest. I swear!
He said, “I don't mean to be insensitive. Honestly. I just...I can't wrap my mind around the fact that you've kept something like this a secret for so long. I mean...doesn't it, like...well, don't you ever…?”
I felt bad for making him struggle so much to talk to me in a 'careful' and tactful way. But I think that struggle helped me to understand his questions more clearly. “I make it through just fine. It's...probably not as bad as you think. You know? I mean...” I stopped myself, wondering where all of these new excuses were coming from. “I just try to keep him from being mad at me, I guess. Some days I'm good at it...and others...I'm...” The shame started to creep into my mentality again, but I fended it off. “...I'm just not good enough.” I said.
“That's total bullshit.” He said. My Brody...always the honest one. “How can you live like that? Day after day, thinking so little of yourself that it's ok to merely survive by not pissing off someone who's supposed to love you no matter what?”
There's still a part of me that wants to be defensive. A part of me that wanted to argue. To protect myself by protecting my father. And I KNOW that sounds ridiculous! Really, I do. But hating yourself is a hard habit to break when it's all you've been taught.
I shrugged at first. Lowering my head again. But I forced myself to lift my chin again and try to give him a decent answer. Maybe even give myself a decent answer for a change. “Sometimes...it hurts. Well, MOST times it hurts. And I struggle to understand it, but I struggle more to avoid dealing with it.” I said, my eyes misting up slightly. “The pain is just like any other pain. It's almost like when you twist your ankle...and it sucks, but after a while you just learn to walk with a limp. The 'suck' doesn't go away, but you learn to put it out of your mind and retrain yourself to walk a different way until it's better. As long as you don't aggravate it...you assume it'll be just fine in time.”
Brody looked so sad. I don't like it when Brody's sad. He asked, “I know it'll be difficult and all, but...can't you and your mom just...leave? Just say, 'fuck it, we're outta here', and put him in jail where he belongs?”
“I don't know, Brody. It's not like I don't think about it. It's not like it never crosses my mind that one phone call, one eye witness, or one conversation with a trusted teacher or something could make this all go away. It'll never reverse the damage that's been done, but...I could stop it from getting worse. Sure, I think about it. I think about it all the time.” I told him, quickly wiping a single stray tear off of my cheek before he saw it. “But...after being beaten and defeated so many times...thinking that you have any chance of making it better is like standing on the side of a cliff and trying to tell yourself you could fly...if only you had the courage to step over the edge. I know you think I'm weak and scared, but it's true. I don't have that kind of faith. I AM weak. And I AM scared. What seems so simple to you is coming from a completely different mindset. One that hasn't been battered into submission the way mine has. Things are different for me. So very different.” A short silence caused me to peek over at Brody to gauge some kind of reaction. He was the one looking down at the sidewalk this time. “Does...does that make any sense?” I asked, nervously...hoping that I didn't wreck our lunch date already.
See? There's a reason why I don't ever get the chance to talk about these things.
Brody seemed a little misty eyed himself, but that's when he smiled at me. His eyes glistening with a defiant withholding of tears. And he just put a hand on my shoulder to lean in and kiss me on the cheek. Then he says, “Yeah. I guess it makes a little sense.” Adding, “But I wish it didn't. I wish I could see things from your side so I could figure out how to help you, Zack.”
“You are helping, Brody. Believe me.” I grinned. “You're the lightning bolt that I wished for. You're exactly what I needed...to make things better.” Shit...now he's gotten me started. More tears came to my eyes, but it was mostly an expression of joy and relief combined. Wow...he really is the cure for the sickness inside of me. Who knew there even was one?
Brody reached up to help me wipe my tears away with his thumbs, gently caressing the sides of my face. “Don't you go getting all emotional on me right now.” He giggled, a tear of his own rolling down. “Man up. We're almost there.”
“Almost where? Where the heck are you taking me?” I sniffled.
“Just fix yourself up so we don't go in there looking like a couple of sad orphans. Come on, now. You'll like it.”
Lead the way, Brody. I'm right behind you. Always.