Paper Walls - 22. Chapter 22
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Hearing our feet hit the ground in a rhythmic pattern made me happy. It was consistent and steady. Callen hasn’t said much since we met up to go running, and I was okay with that for now. Practice was boring; we just reviewed tapes on the upcoming opponent. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous, because here we are in the playoffs, and there is a ton of pressure on me.
To be late fall, almost winter, it was still hot and muggy, so I was drenched in sweat. We finally reach his grandpa’s cabin. At the steps, Callen sits down and peels off his shirt, and I follow his lead by taking my own off. Taking a seat next to Callen, I look at him, and he stares back at me. “Penny for your thoughts?”
“How’d you know?” he asks, looking at me.
I shrug my shoulders, “You haven’t talked at all and that’s not like you.”
Callen lets out a long sigh. “The normal bullshit, my mom. I got to see my little brother for a few minutes the other day. It was nice.”
Callen looks at me hard, and I feel like he wants to address the awkward feeling between us. “What’s with Tyler?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not stupid, Ryder!” he says, raising his voice.
I get up, and my stomach explodes with butterflies from being nervous. I hate it when anyone starts getting worked up. “I know you aren’t stupid. I never said you were.”
“So, are you and him a thing?”
I kick the dirt and avoid eye contact before I finally tell him that we are. He lets out a sigh, gets up from the steps, and punches the beam on the porch. I take a few steps back because I have never seen him this angry before. “Callen….”
“It’s fine,” he says in a clipped voice.
I fold my arms across my stomach so he doesn’t see my hands trembling. “Callen, I’m sorry.”
I want to reach out and hug him, but seeing his outburst makes me even more nervous. I keep my distance from him, until he sits back down and puts his head in his hands. I hear him let out a cry, and see his whole body wrack as he starts to cry harder. I walk over to him and sit beside him again. “Are you okay?”
He doesn’t say anything, but I can hear him just crying. I hesitantly put my hand on his bare shoulder, and he shudders even more once I make contact. “I’m sorry,” I hear him mumble.
Finally looking up at me, his eyes are bloodshot, and his face is flushed. “For being such a fucking mess, and not good enough for you.”
“That’s not true, Callen! You are a great person, man. You just have a lot of things going on. You are more than good enough. I don’t think us not being together is the real reason you are so upset, is it?”
He shakes his head no, while trying not to cry. He pulls out his phone and pulls up a picture, and shows it to me. I take the phone and stare at it. It’s so weird - in the picture, there is, like, a little clone of Callen standing right beside him. “That’s my little brother.”
“He looks just like you,” I say, handing the phone back to him.
He takes the phone, looking at the picture one more time before he puts it back in his pocket. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to have a breakdown and scare you. It’s just, after getting to see my little brother and spend time with him, and not even knowing when I get to see him again, it frustrates me.”
I shrug my shoulder as to say it is not a big deal. “No worries.”
“Ryder, you know you are terrible at lying, right? I know I scared you when I hit the beam.”
“Maybe a little,” I confess, not making eye contact.
Callen lets out a sigh. “Does he treat you right?”
“Tye?” I ask.
He nods his head. “Yeah, is he good for you?”
I give a smile. “He is. He is really a great person. He understands my tics, and he can tell when I am not okay. I am not saying this because you and I could have never worked out, but I think we make better friends. I can be there for you more as a friend than a boyfriend.”
“Ryder, we talked about this already. I understand. Hell, I was the one who proposed it. I just didn’t think I would be jealous once you found a boyfriend.”
I laugh. “You have nothing to be jealous of! You are a great person, and if you put yourself out there, you will find someone who likes you.”
He gives me a playful shove. “Enough with all the sappy talk. I guess our ‘friends with benefits’ thing is over, huh?”
I giggle. “Yeah, it is.”
He perks up. “So, did you ask about going to visit Shawn?”
The butterflies explode in my stomach again. “I did, they said no. Jeremy is flying up to go spend the holidays with his mom. He hasn’t seen her since he moved down here with us, and Mom doesn’t want to chance me having a major breakdown, flying without Jeremy. Plus, there are other things going on.”
I can tell his enthusiasm is slowly leaving. “What’s going on?”
I turn my whole body towards him. “You can’t tell anyone just yet, but Coach has taken a job at UT after this season, and we will be moving closer to the college.”
His face says everything I knew it would. “What the fuck?! He’s leaving our school? You are leaving our school!”
“Yeah, but it’s not like you and Garret still can’t come visit. Besides, man, there is more than that as to why I can’t go.”
“What else? Is it Tyler that doesn’t want you to go?”
I get defensive. “Tyler said I should go!”
He puts his hands up as to surrender, “Okay, okay. Easy, man, I was just wondering.”
“My parents are adopting another kid,” I blurt out.
Callen snaps his head up and looks at me as if I have two heads. “Adopting another kid?”
“Yeah, I just found out. That, and how Coach is taking the job.” I kick the dirt with the toe of my shoe.
Callen bumps me with his shoulder. “Are you okay with that?”
I shrug in response. “I don’t think it really matters.”
“Dude, of course it matters if you are okay with it.”
Letting out a sigh, I get up and pace a few steps. I need someone to know how I feel about this situation. I should have told Tyler, but I feel like he would have judged me and hated how I’m acting a bit selfish for not wanting another kid around. Even though I know Tyler isn’t like that he would probably understand it’s just my insecurities eating at me. I finally turn back to Callen. “On one hand, I want to feel happy that, hey, this kid will be safe, and with a family to love him, but on the other, I feel like they want a second chance to have another kid because I was a failure.”
“Dude, shut the fuck up. You are not a failure, man. ‘Cause if you’re a failure, then I am, too, because my mother still thinks I choose to be gay. Dude, have you gotten to meet this kid?”
I run my hands through my hair. “No, I haven’t met him. His name is Wilder, by the way.”
Callen shakes his head. “What? That’s his name?”
I let out a giggle. “Yeah, poor guy.”
“Who the hell names their kid that?!”
“Pretty much what I said.”
Callen checks his phone. “Come on, man, we need to get back. Me and Garret are supposed to get our plane tickets today. I still wish you were coming with us.”
“Me too, man. Hopefully, they can come down for the summer. That would be so sick!”
He shoves me playfully. “Race you to the first stop sign.”
“Dude, you are so done for!” I say, laughing.
I let out a yawn and get up to stretch out the kinks in my body. I have been doing homework for the last two hours, and I am so over it. I leave my room, headed for the kitchen to grab something to drink. Before I can round the corner, I hear Jaxson talking to someone. “Well, who are you?”
“I’m Jeremy,” the other voice replies.
“Okay, Jeremy. Well, what do you want? You interrupted a very important game,” Jaxson says in an annoyed voice.
“If it was that important, why didn’t you let Tyler answer the door?” Jeremy retorts.
“Maybe it’s because he’s doing homework. Not that it’s any of your business. Again, what do you want?”
I round the corner and see Jaxson hasn’t let Jeremy in the house yet. I know I should jump in, but this is too funny for me. So I lean against the wall, watching the madness that is Jaxson, who is full of shit today.
“Well, can I talk to him?” Jeremy asks.
“What do you want to talk to him about?” Jaxson counters.
I hear Jeremy let out a sigh. “Aren’t you missing an important game?”
“It’s possible, but maybe this is more interesting.”
“And here I thought Ryder was a handful. Listen, little shit, can you just please, for the love of god, get Tyler, so I can talk to him?” Jeremy says, and I can hear the impatience seeping through into his words.
I laugh out loud, because I can see Jaxson widen his stance, which means he’s about to argue with Jeremy. “Oh, what are you, Ryder’s boyfriend or something? I am not little. I am fourteen! Besides, you are being a dick.”
I finally decide it’s time to step in. “Jaxson, dude, it’s cool.”
“He’s lucky. I could have taken him,” Jaxson says. Walking by me, he throws a glance back at Jeremy and rolls his eyes.
“What the fuck was that about?” Jeremy asks, looking uncomfortable.
“That would be Jaxson on a good day. Did you need something?” I ask, trying to be as confident as Jaxson was.
“Yeah, I just wanted to talk.”
“Come in. We can go to my room since Jaxson is eavesdropping on us,” I say, looking back to the living room, and Jaxson snaps his head back towards the TV.
I lead Jeremy to my room, and I can’t stop my heart from racing. I have no idea what he is doing here, and it scares me. I open my bedroom door and let him in first. I close the door and watch as he looks around my room, and turns to face me. “Why are you here? Better yet, how did you find out where I lived?”
“Hey, I didn’t come to fight or tell you to stay away from Ryder, and finding out where you lived was easy. Dr. Kim gave us the address when Ryder stayed the night here.”
I shift my weight to one foot. “So, you didn’t answer me. Why are you here?”
“Can I take a seat?” he asks.
I nod to the computer chair, and I make my way over to the bed, taking a seat. “How much longer you going to stall?”
“I wanted to know why you have an issue with me, because it seems like you and Ryder are going to get serious, and if that’s the case, I want to know if I can trust you.”
“Ryder has no clue that you are here, does he?” I say, getting a little more apprehensive.
He shakes his head. “No, he doesn’t, and I would like to keep it that way.”
“Why? Afraid he would get pissed off that you are going behind his back?”
“I don’t know if I can trust you alone with him! Does he know about your arrest record? Does he know that you were hospitalized for an OD? These things concern me when it comes to Ryder. He is like my little brother, and he has been through too much pain and heartache to have someone in his life that is toxic,” he says, standing up.
“How the hell do you know all about me?” I ask.
“It’s easy to find things out about people when they are getting involved with someone that you love and want to protect. Your arrest was online. I had to pull some strings with a guy on the football team to get the rest.”
I stand up and get in his face. “Yes, he knows I was hospitalized for OD’ing. No, he doesn’t know about my arrest record, and I will tell him. I get it - you want to protect him. Guess what? So do I! So don’t think you are going to come into my home and bully me. Ryder is old enough to make his own damn decisions on who he chooses to date without you telling him it’s ok or not! You know why I don’t like you? You look almost exactly like my ex. The one who put me in the hospital multiple times, the one who got me in trouble and arrested. I swore to myself a long time ago I would never let him use me, or scare me ever again. So yes, you freak me the fuck out, but I’m not scared of you!”
He backs up. “Okay, let’s calm down. Look, I am sorry. I didn’t realize….”
I cut him off in mid-sentence. “That’s right. You didn’t realize because you didn’t bother to ask. You came in here, guns blazing, but you weren’t prepared for me to counter everything you just threw at me, did you?”
His mouth is open and I back up, just in case he decides to hit me. But then, he relaxes and says, “I’m sorry. Look, I was completely wrong to come here like this. It’s just, when it comes to Ryder, I get extremely protective.”
“I get it, I really do, but coming here, making a spectacle, isn’t going to help anyone. How do you think Ryder would feel about either of us if he knew what was happening right now? You coming here behind his back and me not telling him all my past just yet. He’s been through enough, man. He doesn’t need severe trust issues on top of everything else. You know he thinks the world of you, and he would be hurt if he knew you were doing this?”
He runs a hand through his hair. “You’re right. He would be so pissed off at both of us…. You really care about him, don’t you?”
I nod my head. “I really do, and it’s just as scary for me as it is for you. I don’t want to get hurt, nor do I want him to get hurt. Just, with Ryder, I feel like I am not a complete fuck up, and I think he feels just as comfortable with me.”
“I think he is comfortable with you, I haven’t seen him this happy since we were both back up north. I just don’t want him hurt.”
Before I can answer, there is a knock on my door. I open it and Jaxson is standing there. “What?”
He rolls his eyes. “Are you two done yet?”
“What do you need?”
“Well, I wanted to whip someone’s ass in a game, but now I’m hungry, and Mom isn’t home, and you know she doesn’t let me use the stove. So, if you two are done having a lover’s spat, can one of you please take me to get some food? I am the one who still needs supervision!” he says, and throws his hands up dramatically.
I hear Jeremy crack up laughing. “Holy shit, is this how he is most of the time?”
I glare back at him. “Try all the time.”
Jaxson sighs. “I am still right here, and I am still hungry. So let’s stop dicking around and get some food.”
“Jaxson, calm down, dude. When Jeremy leaves, we can go get some food.”
“Well, when are you leaving?” Jaxson asks, looking at Jeremy.
I don’t think Jeremy is used to someone being so forward with him. He looks a bit confused. “Well, I’m pretty hungry too, so how about we all go get some food? While Tyler here gets dressed, I will whip your butt in some football.”
Jaxson grins. “Okay, meathead, but if I win, you’re buying me ice cream afterwards.”
“It’s on, shrimp.”
Jeremy walks past me, and they both leave my room. I honestly don’t know what to think at this point. I close my door and try to find something to wear. I guess this could be a good thing, and give us a chance to get to know each other for Ryder’s sake. It’s Jaxson I am worried about. I know how he gets with new people.
Getting out of the shower, I towel off and slip on some boxers, leave the bathroom and walk in front of the mirror. Looking at myself. I smile. I reposition myself in my boxers and run my hand over my stomach, admiring how I look, and think how Tyler would react to seeing me like this. I stretch, making a grunting sound. I feel so good after the run with Callen. To think about it, I don’t feel stressed or any heaviness in my chest for the first time since moving to Austin. I hear my stomach make a grumbling sound, and the hunger hits me.
I make my way to the kitchen, open the fridge, and look inside. I move the milk to see if there is anything to eat, and of course there isn’t. Mom is out shopping right now. I take the milk and pour a glass of it, Putting the milk back into the fridge, I hop on the counter and drink the rest of the glass.
The doorbell rings, and it scares me so much that I almost fall off the counter. I walk to the door, opening it just enough to poke my head out the door, and I see Renee standing there. “Uh… hey.”
She turns around and smiles at me. “Hey, you!”
“Wh-what’s up?” I ask, trying to stay behind the door, considering I am just in my boxers.
“Well, I was just around the neighborhood, and thought I would drop by and see what you were up to,” she says, and flips her hair over her shoulders.
I feel heat wash over my body. “I just got out of the shower, and was looking for something to eat.”
She reaches out and touches my damp hair. “You are so adorable. I am hungry, too. Why don’t we go get something to eat?”
I just look at her for a second. “Um… I don’t know. My parents aren’t here.”
She laughs. “Just text them, Rye. I am sure they won’t mind at all. Besides, it’s just food - not like I am asking for a date.”
My stomach rumbles, and I put my head down. Out of all the times, it picks now to rumble. “I need to get dressed….”
I look up at her and she is smiling, because she knows she’s won. “Well, can I come in?”
“I’m just in my boxers,” I tell her, and my cheeks get warm.
She rolls her eyes. “You act like I have never seen a boy in boxers. I do have a brother.”
I step back from the door, and let her in. I can instantly feel her eyes on me, and I start to feel self-conscious. “I’m just going to go throw on some clothes.”
I take off to my room, taking deep breaths to try and calm the nervous feeling in my stomach. “You are seriously hot. You know that, right?” I snap my head up and see that Renee has followed me to my room.
“Uh… thanks,” I say, trying to find my gym shorts.
She grabs my hand and turns me around. “Hey, what’s the rush?”
I hold my breath, trying to hold off the sinking feeling in my stomach. She puts her hand on my chest. “I just want to get dressed so we can go,” I whisper.
She runs her hand down to my abs, and to the waistband of my boxers. She slips a finger under the band and pulls it out. I grab her wrist. “What, you don’t want to?” she asks, looking at me as if I am crazy.
“Stop,” I say my voice shaking.
I step away from her, and I back intothe drawer that was pulled out in my dresser. I can’t catch my breath. “Ryder, what’s wrong?” I hear her, but her voice seems so distant, like she’s on the other end of a long hallway.
I start to see black dots in my vision, and I start getting dizzier. Where is Jeremy? I need him…. I feel myself hit the wall, and I slide down, wrapping my arms around my knees. I can hear Renee, but I can’t stop shaking. I feel like I am going to puke. I have to put my head on my knees because I am so dizzy. I feel my chest tighten. I feel shame wash over me. I can’t control myself. I feel like I am going to pass out.
Suddenly, I am back in the orphanage,I just want my blanket. I can feel the hands around my neck, choking me. I hear the yelling, and I am jerked forward away from the attacker. “Hey… Ryder… buddy… hey… look up, man.”
I feel someone has wrapped their arms around me. I don’t know who it is. I start to panic, and I hear the smooth voice again, “Hey, relax, Ryder. I got you, buddy.
“Renee, get the fuck out of here!” I can feel the booming voice rumble in the chest I’m pressed up against.
“Listen to my voice. You’re safe, man.”
I start to shake again. I don’t feel safe. “I need you to clear your head man,” the voice says again.
“I… can’t,” I choke out.
“Yes, you can. Think about how we have the last playoff game this week, man, then it’s state! Think about how we are going to win state, man.”
I start to think of the plays in football, how they are simple, they are constant. They don’t change. I know I can execute each one of them with precision and timing.
“Think about the play that you taught us last week. How it’s going to leave me open in the end zone.”
I start to process what the voice is saying, but it’s not Jeremy that will be open in the end zone, it’s Garret. The play makes it seem like I am going for Jeremy, because that’s the viable option, but it’s a fake. They will cover him, leaving Garret wide open. Coach was actually proud of me when I came up with that play.
Thinking about the play, I can start to feel my chest loosen a little from the tightness. My breathing is starting to become more even. “There you go. That’s it. Just breathe, man.”
I don’t know how long I stay wrapped in his arms, and against his chest. I start to count the heartbeats - something about the steady beating helps soothe me. I wasn’t even aware that I had stopped shaking, and that I could breathe normal again.
I finally pull away from the embrace, and the smell of his cologne finally hits me. I don’t recognize it. I look up, and I’m shocked to see Garret on the floor with me. I think he sees the look of fear come over me.
He pulls me back into his chest, “It’s okay, man. No reason to be scared.”
I pull gently away and scoot back. “I am sorry, I… why are you here?”
He stands up and offers his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me up. “Renee called me.”
“Why did you come?” I ask, not really understanding.
“Because I know what it’s like to have a panic attack and not have anything to keep you grounded.”
I sit on my bed. “How do you know?”
He sits next to me. “I used to have them at least four times a month when I was fourteen. They sucked, and my dad was always the one to keep me grounded.” He puts a hand on my shoulder. “Besides, I meant it, man. Think of how amazing it’s going to be when we win state.”
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