So, everyone knew. I went to bed thinking that everyone I cared about at school and at home knew. The thing is though, I didn’t even really know myself. Not until I looked at Ally, in all her hurting and tears. I realized that I cared for her, but never the way she wanted. That her tears were the result of my negligence, even if I hadn’t really been able to admit that to myself before then.
If I had any idea or picture of what my future would be like, a guy wouldn’t have been part of it.
Now though, I was sitting here at lunch, across from Luke with no pretenses at the table. Cindy had finally come to her senses and let him start back when the new semester started at the beginning of January. The way Mom described it, after having some talks with Henry at church, was that Luke was surly all Christmas break and had refused to do the homework the school had issued through the homeschool program. Mom told me that Henry couldn’t keep a straight face despite it all. Even I had a fun time picturing it. Luke didn’t look too troubled that he was now scrambling with after school tutoring to get his missed work completed on top of his new homework.
And Luke was no longer just the church kid that I inexplicably befriended, like some puppy found on the side of the road. Everyone at the table, except for Connor and Bailey Ashton knew the truth. The differences being that Ally wasn’t speaking to Lily for already knowing, and Heather never missed a chance to remind me that she already knew. That she knew the moment that I turned down a blow job from her back when we dated. Completely forgetting that when she asked, we were cuddled in the living room with Mom just around the corner in the kitchen.
It took a week or so for Toby to stop apologizing around me. I had to threaten to have Derek kick his ass if he didn’t shut up. He was grounded for destroying the living room, but he no longer looked so beat up about getting that postcard from his mother. With everyone back together, we had to connect our table with a second one, getting nasty looks from the cafeteria attendants, even though we had promised to put them back after the dismissal bell rang.
“Heather will you remind everyone that we still haven’t planned the Senior prank,” Ally demanded when the chatter between all of us at the joined tables hit a lull. Heather rolled her eyes and shot a glare towards Ally before turning to the rest of us.
“Ally wants to make sure you guys know we still haven’t talked about the prank,” Heather repeated as Lily snorted, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Tell Ally to get over herself and just talk to me,” Lily countered, turning to face Heather. Ally was only a few chairs away, but when I looked over at her she didn’t give any sign of having heard what Lily said. I couldn’t help being a little amused seeing Lily angry. It was something new to me and by the way Derek reacted he wasn’t used to dealing with an upset Lily either. She was also so tiny that it was difficult to take her seriously.
Ally on the other hand, her glares towards me, daring me to talk to her whenever I forgot about the silent treatment always cut right through me. She couldn’t hide all of her hurt behind her anger, not like she did with Lily, who only betrayed her by keeping secrets. I had done most of the hurting.
“Heather, tell everyone that we can’t have a lame prank like last year,” Ally said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Ally to her credit had a point. Last year the seniors thought it was funny to just spray paint the football field with their names. The only thing funny about it, was the few that wrote perverted shit as well and the athletic director giving the groundskeeper hell for mowing the turf down to the ground in the spots Welker wanted erased. It took all of a week for the paint to wash away in the weather. This year had to be better now that I was a senior, I wasn’t planning on going out like that.
“For fuck sakes,” Heather groaned pushing her long brown hair out of her face. “Would you both just shut up?”
“No,” both of them said in unison. Olivia laughed loud enough for a few tables around us to fall silent and look in our direction. If anyone was loving the tension at the table, it was her. Luke hadn’t really calmed down from the news that Ally had found out about us, either. I would catch him glancing towards her whenever he thought no one was looking. If anyone had the motive and opportunity to tell Cindy about us, it would be her. At church, in front of everyone Luke grew up knowing. The promise she made didn’t seem to hit home either, not like it did with me. He hadn’t seen the anger when I mentioned keeping my secret. Despite everything, I trusted Ally not to tell anyone, it was what gave me hope that I could somehow fix things with her before we parted ways completely next fall.
“How about this for a prank,” Connor started, he was still sitting at my side, at least now he had decided it was okay to sit across from Olivia. I didn’t really like being sandwiched between him and Bailey Ashton though, but I kept my mouth shut just liking that we were all sitting together.
“Oh shut up, Connor,” Ally huffed, “I already know what I want to do as a prank, I was just trying to get everyone’s attention.”
“Well what is it then?” Olivia asked, always ready to stick up for Connor. He slumped his shoulders and took a few drinks of his water.
“No, I don’t want to say anymore,” Ally said, “especially not to you, why are you even still sitting here?”
“Can we just all calm down?” Bailey Ashton asked, and I rolled my eyes refusing to look at him. I still hated that I naturally hated him, but at least he was still Ally’s distraction. Everyone fell quiet again though, even the people that were sitting with us at the other end of the joined tables. They were Bailey Ashton’s friends, the basketball team and their girlfriends mostly. Now that football was over and basketball underway, they were the talk of the school. They weren’t any better than the football team though. I was still lucky to even be mentioned in the morning announcements over the intercom system. I blamed Welker for that, hovering over Rick’s shoulder telling him what to talk about and tapping his watch to keep him within the five-minute window.
“Heather, remind Ally that she dropped me last practice,” Lily countered, her arms still crossed. “That it hurt and was totally on purpose.”
“Heather, tell Lily that she kicked me in the forehead, also on purpose,” Ally hissed ignoring Heather’s sigh.
“I did not,” Lily countered, directly addressing Ally for the first time in weeks, then huffed when Ally turned her head in the opposite direction. “Heather, tell…”
“No, no, I won’t tell!” Heather yelled so loud that the entire lunchroom went quiet. I looked across the cafeteria to where the teachers sat. They were looking around to see where the disruption had come from. When I looked back, Heather’s face reddened, and she slouched in her chair trying her best to ignore all of the sudden attention.
“Guys,” Derek started, but the glare that Lily shot him, shut him up.
“You guys are idiots,” Olivia said when the people around us lost interest in what we were talking about again. “I mean honestly, complete idiots.”
“Be quiet, Olivia,” Luke hissed nudging her with his elbow.
“No, they are idiots,” Heather hissed standing from the table with tears in her eyes as she grabbed her tray, her food for the most part untouched. “You all need to get the hell over yourselves, we’ve been friends since grade school.”
“Well,” Ally started, but fell quiet as Heather whirled around and walked through the maze of tables with people watching her. She dumped her tray, completely upsetting the cafeteria attendants when she ignored the recycling protocol and left the cafeteria before the dismissal bell was due to ring.
“Well I hope you two are happy,” Toby said shaking his head as he quickly shoveled a few bites of food into his mouth before he too stood and followed Heather out of the cafeteria, narrowly missing his teacher that tried to stop him at the exit.
“What’s her problem?” Ally asked, shaking her head.
“My prank isn’t dumb,” Connor added before taking another drink from his water. I chewed on my bottom lip when Luke attempted to stifle a laugh. Despite the tension at both tables, Connor’s timing couldn’t have been better.
“Well what is it?” I asked, desperate to change the subject.
He never got to answer though, as the dismissal bell rang surprising us. We scrambled to get the tables back to where they were supposed to be. Connor looked completely put out, finally being listened to only to be interrupted by the end of lunch.
“Tell me later?” I said as I walked beside him to dump our trays.
“Well I was kind of ready to get started,” he answered shrugging. “Try to get Ally on board though, we need her.”
“Alright,” I said, cocking an eyebrow as he shrugged and stepped past me with a small smile.
“What do you think it is?” Luke asked as he fell into step beside me after emptying his own tray. He was really the only student to follow the recycling protocol down to the letter plastered in neon on front of the trash cans. We would be parting ways after we left the cafeteria, so we slowed our pace and let the noise from everyone else die down as they filtered out into the hallway.
“Probably something lame,” I answered, “I mean it’s angel boy Connor.”
“But Olivia probably has her hand in whatever his plan is,” Luke countered smirking as he knocked his elbow against mine.
“Then I’m scared, she might be the reason Welker finally kicks my ass out,” I added hating that I had to casually step away from him as he turned and headed up the stairs to the second, and then the third floor to his classroom. Mine was on the bottom floor just down the hall. It was usually made a lot worse by Lily, Heather, Toby, and Derek all parting with a kiss. Today though I was the only one standing at the crossroads to everyone’s next class, I didn’t have anyone to say see you later to, so I shrugged and went to class well before the tardy bell rang, something I hardly ever did.
Not long into another boring lecture about some British poet though, my name echoed across the intercom system. Along with the names of my best friends, aside from Luke. Connor’s nasally aunt told us to meet in front of the Principal’s office to wait for further instructions. Cocking an eyebrow, and looking at a completely put out teacher, I shrugged and gathered my things and left the room with a few whispers following me out the door.
When I got there, being the closest to the offices, I saw a guilty, but upset looking Heather standing next to the guidance counselor Mrs. Lane. She gave me a welcoming smile as Heather stared down at her feet, her cheeks flushed, and her eyelashes matted together from crying.
“I’ll go get a room ready,” Mrs. Lane announced after Ally turned the corner. Stepping around us, I stifled a sneeze. Mrs. Lane was known for her overpowering perfume.
“She was one of the staff that was eating lunch,” Heather mumbled, finally looking up at the two of us. Ally had kept her distance from the both of us and stood closest to her Father’s closed door. I expected him to stick his nose out any moment to likely glare and place all the blame on me. We hadn’t had one of our talks for awhile.
“You could have told her to mind her own business,” Ally hissed crossing her arms.
“Not really,” Heather shrugged, not hiding any of her anger when she looked over at Ally. “You are driving me crazy.”
“Me?” Ally asked just as the noise from Toby, Derek, and Lilly coming from the same science class hit the bottom floor. Both girls bit their bottom lips and looked away from one another falling back into an uneasy silence. I never knew what to do when I saw two girls arguing, knowing that I was the cause of it only made me feel worse. If I could have ditched whatever intervention Mrs. Lane had concocted, I would have. By the looks on everyone’s faces, that seemed to be what we all wanted to do.
“We in trouble?” Derek asked as he sat down on one of the metal benches outside of Welker’s office. He gently pulled Lily down to sit with him, but she was distracted by Ally and Heather.
“No,” Heather answered, “Mrs. Lane ran me down.”
“No shit?” Toby asked, “she came out of her broom closet?”
“Yes, I did, Tobias Marks,” she said as she appeared around the corner stifling any laughter that would have come with Toby getting caught. Mrs. Lane wasn’t a scary woman; she was too short and too smiley to be scary. She also wasn’t taken seriously by anyone at the school, even the teachers paid little attention to her pamphlets and invitations to after school lectures. “Come along, the Spanish room is empty this period.”
We all sat in an uneasy silence. The only noise coming from Mrs. Lane herself as she tapped the eraser end of her pencil against the Spanish teacher’s desk. The erratic thumping would have been annoying if I wasn’t so nervous. She hadn’t made any attempt at getting any of us to talk yet, which only added to my uneasiness. Instead, it was like she was waiting for one of us to get tired of sitting and explode. She did make us sit in the front row, turning the chairs around so that we had to look at one another. My view at the moment was of Lily holding Heather’s hand. She was no longer crying, and her face had gone from beet red to a softer shade of pink, but every now and then she would sniffle and I would watch Lily gently squeeze her hand. All of which annoyed the hell out of Ally who was obviously pretending to be paying more attention to what Mrs. Lane’s pencil was doing and ignoring everyone else in the room.
“For fuck sakes,” Derek bellowed. The chairs screeched as some of us jumped at his sudden outburst.
“Language, but finally some progress,” Mrs. Lane breathed her pencil falling silent. She looked more excited than concerned about the swearing as she pushed her glasses up to the top of her head.
“Guys,” Derek continued after a quick glance towards Mrs. Lane. “We’re about to graduate, this is our last year together, can’t we just get over the bullshit?”
“No,” Ally countered crossing her arms. “And I’m not going to talk with one of Dad’s coworkers in the room as it is.”
“Come on Ally,” I said, sighing. “I’m sorry I…”
“No, Jackson, don’t talk to me,” she interrupted, still glaring at Mrs. Lane at the front of the room.
“We only have about fifteen minutes before the next period, unless you want to stay with me after school,” Mrs. Lane announced, glancing down at her watch. She would be the rare person on the planet that still wears a watch. It went with the hand knitted sweater and floral blouse underneath.
“You can’t keep us after school, you’re just a guidance counselor,” Ally argued, turning completely away from me. It meant that she had to turn in her desk. Having her back to me made me feel worse than her glaring at me. I wanted to get all of this sorted out, but Mrs. Lane being in the room would mean me talking in front of a stranger. I hadn’t told anyone outside of my friends, not directly, the only way Coach knew was the surveillance and Charlie kind of had me figured out.
“All due respect Mrs. Lane,” Lily said, still holding firmly to Heather’s hand. “Maybe we would feel more comfortable speaking amongst ourselves, with you out of the room.”
“I see,” she said eyeing her watch. “I can stand outside the door.”
“I still won’t talk,” Ally said, sighing. “Can I just leave?”
“Ally,” I hissed my anger getting the better of me. “Please, I didn’t want to be gay or whatever I am it just happened, I’m sorry I was dating you when I figured everything out…”
“Jackson!” Ally screeched turning to face me. “Stop.”
“No, I won’t stop,” I countered crossing my arms. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I hurt you, I…”
“Shut up,” Ally hissed, reaching out she grabbed my arm, giving it a squeeze, digging her nails into my arm.
“Let him speak,” Mrs. Lane encouraged, and I glanced over to see that she had risen from her seat, her eyes were doing an unsteady sort of blinking. This was probably the highlight of her career playing out right in front of her.
“Mrs. Lane, please give us a few minutes,” Ally pleaded, “I promise to behave.”
“Alright,” she said sighing as she dejectedly pushed her chair out of the way. We all watched as she slowly made her way to the door, slower than any normal person would walk. “If you need anything, Jackson I have pamphlets to help you better understand...”
“Please Mrs. Lane!” Ally said, earning me another squeeze of her hand. I would have jerked my arm away from her grip, but I didn’t think I could do it without getting stitches. This close to the district qualifying meet I didn’t want to risk it.
When the door closed behind Mrs. Lane, it felt like a wave of uneasiness left the room with her. Finally mustering up the courage to look away from the door to Ally, I didn’t see what I expected to see. She looked at me like I was some sort of idiot, her eyes squinted, her head tilted.
“What?” I said when no one else said anything.
“You’re a complete dumbass,” Ally answered letting go of my arm. I glanced down to see white indentations in my arm where her nails had been. They quickly turned an angry pink as I rubbed my other hand gently over my arm to ease some of the pain.
“Well you weren’t talking and I’m tired of this shit,” I said, still angry.
“You do know who one of her best friends is, right?” Ally asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Other than my father.”
“No,” I said, still investigating my arm. “I fucking don’t. And that hurt.”
“Cindy Clarke, after your mother decided to shun her anyway,” she answered, “who do you think has been homeschooling Luke all winter and getting nowhere?”
“No,” I said, my heart beginning to race. I looked at her for any sign of a lie or any attempt at being mean to get back at me for everything that I had done. Instead I saw that she was actually about to cry.
“Yes,” Ally answered, “and we all know Mrs. Lane is the biggest gossip, she sucks as a counselor that’s why nobody talks to her.”
“Why were you treating us all like shit anyway, Ally?” Toby asked, crossing his arms. “None of this would have happened.”
“Shut up, Toby,” Ally said. “I was hurt, I thought I loved, well never mind.”
“Sorry,” I repeated, feeling my face getting hot.
“And you know how difficult it is being the principal’s daughter, everyone treats me differently because they think I am getting a free ride through high school. I can’t be prom queen or homecoming queen, I thought that if Jackson and I were together, I’d have a better chance,” Ally muttered looking down at her hands.
“Ally,” Lily started as I stood from my desk.
“I gotta go,” I said, glancing around at everyone.
“Why?” Derek asked, “We’re getting all this shit worked out.”
“I don’t want Luke blindsided,” I answered swallowing against a dry throat. “Do you think she’ll figure things out?”
“That Luke is the one you left me for?” Ally asked and part of me wondered if she was enjoying this at least a little bit. I wouldn’t hold it against her. “She might, I mean she does have a degree in counseling surprisingly.”
“He’s in class, dude,” Toby said, “you go dragging him out of class people will talk, just calm down.”
“My big fucking mouth,” I hissed sitting back down in my desk. “Why the fuck does everyone have to know everyone else?”
“Small towns,” Derek shrugged. “What can Cindy do anyways, he has all of us.”
“She can do a lot,” I said remembering how torn up Luke was when he first kissed me under the dark canopy of the small grove of trees between our houses. If it hadn’t been for those trees we would be proper neighbors, but the distance they seemed to cause and the secluded safety was really all an illusion. Still he felt safe enough to be himself, even if I wasn’t. He was the one taking all the risks, he was the one that nearly broke down as he repeated over and over again how he couldn’t be gay. Cindy could wreck his entire world if she was to know his secrets. I doubted I would be enough to stand in front of the destruction she would cause him.
“Don’t start freaking out,” Lily said, no longer holding onto Heather’s hand. “If you freak out, you’ll do something stupid.”
“I’m sorry, this is all my fault,” Heather said, “If I didn’t act like a big assed baby and run out of the cafeteria.”
“No, we’ve all sucked lately,” Toby offered and despite it all, a few of us laughed. My stomach was too knotted up though. When the bell rang Mrs. Lane came shuffling back into the classroom just as we were darting towards door. She had to hold out her arms to stop us.
“We’ve worked everything out,” Ally said, forcing a smile. “Back to being friends, yay.”
“Jackson,” Mrs. Lane said, “may I speak with you?”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, and I noticed the pamphlets in her outstretched hand.
She allowed everyone else to file out of the door and I watched as she realigned all the desks back into place as the Spanish teacher Miss. Rozales came back into the classroom from her break. She smelled of spices that always made my stomach growl there was no doubt that she was an excellent cook, part of our immersion was to have a party where we sampled dishes originating from Spain. That and watching her favorite romantic comedies in Spanish even though nobody knew what they were saying despite all the teaching she did.
To her credit, Mrs. Lane hid the pamphlets as she led me to her office. It really was about the size of a broom closet, the desk taking up most of the space. There was only a small chair across from her where I could sit. Taking it, I watched as she squeezed passed all her books and junk to get to her own chair. Studying her desk, I saw that she had more pictures of her cats and dogs than she did of her and her husband. When I looked back up at her, her face was beaming with a wide smile.
“Jackson,” she said, still beaming. “Do you have any questions for me?”
“No,” I answered, shrugging as I slumped farther down into my chair.
“Have you come out to your parents?” She asked taking out the stack of pamphlets again. “I have one here that covers that excellently.”
“They know,” I answered, chewing on the inside of my bottom lip.
“Oh,” she said, her smile faltering only briefly. “I know health class requires sex education, but I’m not sure they cover homosexual curriculum in there all that thoroughly.”
“They do,” I said, my face getting warm. “It was hilarious watching the assistant football coach talk about anal sex and all that.”
“I see,” Mrs. Lane said as she placed a second pamphlet aside. “Well have you experienced any bullying?”
“No, Welker would say I was the bully,” I answered glancing towards the closed door. The door handle was within reach, but I doubted I could bolt from this cramped office without falling over something.
“Are you finding more homosexual youths to hang out with?” Mrs. Lane asked and when I didn’t speak, she slid over another pamphlet with gay youth community centers listed on it. Taking that one seemed to satisfy her and with a small nod and smile I stood ready to leave.
“Oh,” I said, “please don’t tell anyone, other than my family and friends, I don’t want…”
“Oh honey, I would never,” she said smiling patting my wrist. “But I am thinking about starting a gay, straight alliance group.”
“Oh,” I said, “this late in the year?”
“Never too late,” she said smiling. “Well I’ll let you get back to your last class.”
“Alright,” I said, hoping that she would keep her word and wasn’t the gossip that Ally made her out to be. Mrs. Lane may not know about Luke, but Cindy would definitely put every piece together and I doubted this small town would survive Cindzilla if that day ever came.
After school and practice I came home expecting Mom to at least be around. I wanted to tell her about coming out to the guidance counselor. Mostly to see if she knew Mrs. Lane growing up. In this small town, it would be a surprise if she hadn’t known her. Rarely does anyone come to live here from the outside unless they’re forced to by love and marriage.
Not seeing her, then reading a missed text during practice from Mom saying she had to work late, I sighed and went up to my room. The forced meeting in the Spanish room had me avoiding my friends, even if Ally was one of the ones who actually texted me. Ignoring them I finished up what little homework I had while I ate what Mom cooked and left for me in the microwave. Teachers just didn’t care to give seniors that much homework, maybe because they were actually worried that we might fail and they would have to deal with us another year. It almost felt like old times, being alone in the house while both my parents were out. For some reason though, I felt completely worn out, but too awake and worried to actually go to sleep. Knowing I had a rough couple of weeks coming my way though, I knew I didn’t need to get into any bad sleeping habits. So when ten rolled around I turned off my television and pulled down the covers. Not feeling any urge to jack one off before bed, I rolled over and turned off the lights.
I must have fallen asleep pretty quickly, despite my racing thoughts. The next thing I knew an ice cold something slid down my arm. My eyes shot open to complete darkness and when I felt a weight beside me on the bed, I rolled away quickly and the only thing that caught me was the floor. Landing with a thud of rumpled covers I fought my way out and stood while the person in the bed was laughing.
“Sorry,” Luke whispered, as I flipped on my nightstand lamp.
“What the hell?” I asked turning away from him to hide my undeniable morning wood, forgetting that he had already seen me naked.
“Mom and Dad were called away to Grandma’s,” he said, his voice still barely above a whisper.
“What?” I asked, reaching up to rub the sleepiness from my eyes as I turned back around.
“I said, Mom and Dad had to go to Grandma’s,” he answered, and I saw that he was dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. “Her caregiver said she was sick.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I huffed. Bending down, I grabbed my covers and tossed them to the foot of the bed.
“I bet she’s fine,” Luke said, shaking his head, but he didn’t elaborate. “I just didn’t want to be home alone.”
“Are my parents home yet?” I asked, glancing down at my digital clock. It was just after one in the morning, so it was likely at least Mom was home by now.
“Your Mom’s car is in the drive,” he answered shrugging. “I guess she forgot to lock the door, I didn’t even have to use the spare key she gave me.”
“She gave you a key?” I asked finally calming down enough to get back into bed.
“Yeah after we,” he started then smiled. “I thought I could sneak in and not wake you up.”
“You probably wouldn’t have, but you’re so cold,” I countered frowning. “You shouldn’t be here though, I told Mrs. Lane about me when she had us all cornered earlier.”
“Told her what?” He asked and I both hated and liked how he was still sprawled out on my bed waiting for me to keep closing the distance between us.
“Everything I had to tell her,” I answered, “not about you being with me, but just me.”
“Oh,” he said, his eyebrows coming together.
“And Ally said she was a big gossip and that she’ll tell your mother,” I continued as I reached up to scratch the back of my head, more out of nervous habit than it actually itching.
“So, she gave you a ton of pamphlets,” he said, cocking an eyebrow.
“Tried to, I only needed one,” I answered then fell silent until he started laughing.
“She kept asking me why I was doing the home school program, Mom never told her,” Luke explained, sighing. “I told her that I didn’t want to, but Mom thought I had bad influences in my life.”
“And?” I asked leaning against the headboard, my heart pounding in my chest.
“She gave me pamphlets on making good choices and knowing what makes good friends,” he answered shrugging. “She is all about her pamphlets, but I don’t think she’ll tell Mom about you. Even if I told her that you were one of my best friends.”
“Do you think she’ll put the two together?” I asked and he smiled and rolled to a sitting position beside me taking my hand in his. They were still cold, and I glanced out my window before turning back to him.
“No, I don’t think so, but yeah she might,” he said a small smirk playing on his lips.
“Aren’t you scared?” I asked, turning to face him.
“Terrified,” he said, turning to look down at our hands. “I almost told her everything. I wanted to know if at least one person outside of you and your friends could accept me. Because I know I won’t be so lucky with my own mom.”
“I’ll be there, if it happens,” I promised squeezing his hand.
“I will need you to be,” he said looking back up at me as my heart raced for an entirely different reason.
I didn’t know how long we looked at one another before Luke smiled and pulled me in for a kiss. Having both my hands in his, we sort of bumped foreheads first, but before I could laugh his lips were grazing mine and the laughter died as I forced my hand out of his to reach up and grab the back of his head. He kissed me again before breaking away and sliding down in the bed, pulling the covers up over himself.
“We better get some sleep,” he said smiling up at me, his head on my pillow.
“Alright,” I said, ignoring how raspy my voice sounded as I slid down into the bed myself and flipped out the nightstand lamp once again. This time his hands weren’t so cold when they found my arm and then I smelled his shampoo when his head found my shoulder and I closed my eyes and for the second time tonight forcing myself to fall asleep.