The Bully and the Brain. Chapter 7

Eboni: "You guys ready to order?"

Lee: "Bacon Cheeseburger special. Hold the pickles. Sweet potato fries."

Daniel: "There's a full menu and that's all you've ever gotten."

Lee: "I know what I like?"

We all chuckled at his expense, but he really had gotten the same exact meal ever since our parents had gone into business together and opened Kingston & Evans.

Eboni: "Daniel?"

Daniel: "The chicken Alfredo."

Eboni: "And Marcus?"

'' Just the meatloaf special."

Eboni: "With the garlic bread?"

I nodded in response and she made a note on her pad. She collected our menus and then she stepped away to tell a group of customer's to "Have a Great Day!"

Eboni: "Alright guys! I'll put this in and then we'll start closing up."

'' Don't stay late for us. We can always lock up."

Eboni: "I'll tell the crew."

She stopped at the door to lock it and turn the sign to "CLOSED" before heading back to run our order. Our parents had the best diner in town and that we could eat practically free was an added bonus.

As we sat back, the silence in the restaurant enveloped us. We had spent a few more hours at school and now, here we were. I knew everything was going to be fine with our friendship, but there was still some residual apprehension in the air.

Even though nothing was really different, something had changed and I wasn't sure what would happen now. Ashton was a factor now. He was somebody I cared about and I needed Lee to understand and back off.

'' Hey guys, I just want to apologize again. For everything. I fucked up big time."

Lee: "It's cool, Man. We're brothers. Shit like this happens and we move on."

'' Yeah, I know. I just feel like a dick."

Lee: "Yeah? Well, join the club."

We quieted down again as Eboni came to check on us and refill our drinks. She chatted us up a little bit and said our food would be out momentarily before heading to the back again.

Daniel: "Is Ashton okay?"

'' Uh, I... I'm not sure. He didn't respond to my last text message."

Daniel: "Oh. Well, I'm sure he's fine. Probably just doing like homework or something?"

'' Maybe."

Lee: "Can I ask you a question?"

'' Uh, sure..."

The tension spiked up as silence descended again. Daniel and I both looked nervous, but I didn't say anything as he Lee sipped his drink.

Lee: "What exactly is it that you like about Ashton?"

Daniel: "Lee!"

Lee: "What?! I want to know."

'' It's cool. Hmm.. well, I guess he's just a cool guy. He just wants a friend, someone to just be there, to just understand. He wants to finish school and get out of here, escape this city.
He doesn't pretend, he doesn't 'turn on' for anyone. I don't know. I like that."

Lee: "He's just weird. He never says anything. He never does anything."

Daniel: "Who would he talk to, Lee? You two made it impossible for him to even think of making any friends."

Lee: "Whatever."

'' Seriously, Lee. He's my friend and if you could just lay off of him..."

Lee: "Whatever, man."

'' Lee. For me. Please, just lay off."

He didn't say anything for a while. He looked back and forth between Daniel and I, incredulous. I knew how he must have felt, but this had to stop. I wasn't going to stop being Ashton's friend, and I wasn't going to lose my friendship with Lee.

One day, he would see how silly all of this was. See how wrong we had been. But, for today, I just wanted him to stop because he was my friend.

Lee: "Whatever, Marcus."

I sat back, eyes rolling. Lee could be so stubborn, but I knew he would be fine. I also knew he would leave Ashton alone. We had been friends for so long, and somethings I could just tell. He'd do that for me and I couldn't be more thankful.

Our food came out only a few moments later and for a while it was quiet between us. I knew I was processing everything that had just happened, knowing I had this small promise from Lee. Daniel was alternating between eating and texting, his face lighting up every time his phone vibrated with a new message.

Then Lee himself, he sat there, his arms folded and pissed. I knew he wanted to go off on me, probably on Daniel too. But, he didn't. After a while, his features relaxed, his anger slowly dissipating. Somethings in life just weren't worth being mad about.

1 Hour Later

I threw my phone down on the bed again, it flashing for a moment and then going dark. I had been calling Ashton for the last few hours, but his phone was going straight to voicemail. I didn't know what had come over me when I sent him that text and now I was in panic-mode.

It had to have caught him off guard, because as soon as I hit "SEND," I immediately regretted it. It's not that it wasn't true, because it was. I had wanted him to stay, to spend some time with him and show him my friends weren't bad guys. But, more than that, I was confused about how I was feeling and that's not something I wanted to drag Ashton through. He already had enough going on.

As I paced back and forth in my room, I went over my options. I could text him again and play it off as a joke, or I could be honest with him about how I...

Daniel: "Marcus."

I whipped around and Daniel was standing at the entryway to my bedroom. Where my bed was was separated by a short hallway and normally we would be either upstairs in the entertainment room, or we'd sit out in my front room. Seeing him back here had caught me off guard slightly and pushed thoughts of Ashton out of my mind for the time being.

'' Hey Daniel. What's up?"

I followed his glance to my bedside clock and seeing 11:15pm was startling, but I didn't make mention of it. We had just left each other a little over an hour ago, so I was wondering what was going on that he couldn't tell me around his brother. I could he looked extremely nervous,and I couldn't understand why, but I offered him a seat on the bed and I pulled up a chair for myself.

Daniel: "Your dad let me in. I hope it's not too late."

'' You're cool, Man. What's up?"

Daniel: "I just need somebody to talk to. I didn't want to go to my brother. Not yet."

'' Of course. You know I'm here for you, so let's talk."

Daniel: "I don't even know how to start. I've been freaking out these last few days days and the way things have been between us lately... I didn't want to make things any worse."

'' You're starting to make me nervous here, Daniel."

Daniel: "We're friends, right?"

'' Yeah, you're one of my best friends. Always."

For a moment, it was just quiet as he watched me. Assessed me.

Daniel: "I'm gay."

Silence enveloped us. Sweet, sweet silence. My mind was completely fucked and as tears formed in Daniel's eyes, I couldn't imagine what was happening on my face. I just couldn't wrap my mind around what he had just said.

'' Come again."

Daniel: "Marcus, I'm gay."

Tears slipped from his eyes, but all I could do was sit there as my friend fell apart in front of me. I wanted to reach out and comfort him, but I was more concerned with how he came to know. Was there a sign? Did he just wake up and decide? Did he meet someone that changed everything? Someone who flipped his life upside down?

My face betrayed my thoughts and Daniel cried harder as he jumped off of my bed and headed out of my room. I stumbled after him, my mind still in a daze, just barely snagging his arm before he would have been out of the door and possibly out of my life.

'' Daniel..."

Daniel: "Let me go, Marcus!"

'' No! Daniel, listen to me. I don't care if you're gay. I'm going to be your friend regardless."

That stopped him, his body going slack in response. I could see the apprehension flowing off of him, clouding the space that we were in. But, this was my friend, my brother, and it didn't matter.

Daniel: "I didn't ask for this, Marcus, I swear... I just can't change how I feel."

'' Daniel, you don't owe me an explanation. I mean, you like dudes, there's nothing wrong with that."

Daniel: "I just thought with Ashton, the way you guys were with him... I just don't want that to happen to me."

'' Uh, yeah... About that. Umm, you see that didn't really have anything to do with Ashton, or him being gay... Well, not him specifically. Well... it does, but..."

I told him. I didn't want to keep lying to my friends and I told him everything. I told him about what happened with Nathaniel and then how that pain ended up falling on Ashton's shoulders to bear. I hated myself for the things I had put him through and no amount of "sorry" or groveling I did would ever be enough to fix that hurt. But, that wasn't going to stop me from trying. I told him that too. I shared everything with him, for the first time I was open with someone about the feelings that I had, the feelings I was struggling so hard with.

Daniel: "Wow."

'' Yeah. Wow, is right."

Daniel: "You haven't told Lee?"

'' Fuck no! Not until things play themselves out... Why haven't you?"

I could see the fear in his eyes. Lee meant everything to the both of us and we could both feel that going up in flames. Lee was so stubborn sometimes. There was no telling how he would react and I knew exactly why Daniel was hesitant. Our reasons were the same.

Daniel: "You know Lee. He's just old fashioned. He doesn't like change and I don't want to lose my brother."

'' You won't lose him. Lee loves the ground you walk on Daniel. You're his brother. His best friend! He's not going to let that go. Not over something like this."

Daniel: "I keep trying to tell myself the same thing, but I just don't know. He can be so, difficult."

'' Yeah, he can. But deep down, Lee's a good guy. He'll be fine."

Daniel: "I hope so. Do you plan on ever telling him?"

For a moment, I didn't respond. Like Daniel, I was afraid of losing Lee as a friend as well. Even before Nala died, I had been friends with Lee and Daniel. We had all been close, but I was the glue that held everything together. I just didn't see my life without Lee and Daniel in it. I had already had to deal with losing two of my best friends, I just couldn't take losing another.

'' Yeah. I mean, we should be able to be honest with him. Right? He should accept it for what it is."

Daniel: "Yeah. I, uh...,. Well, I hope so."

We chatted for a while longer and then Daniel made his way home, leaving with a ton of questions, all of them swimming around in my head, begging for my full attention. I had just gone off the deep end for confessing to Daniel how I felt. I had no idea how to explain how I felt about Ashton, but when I was talking to Daniel, it all just seemed to make sense.

I reached for my phone again, my heart already falling in my chest, disappointment ready and waiting to strike. I was expecting to see nothing, but there was one unread text message waiting for me.

Ashton: "Me too. =\"


I sat in the middle of my bed, knees pulled to my chest. My phone sat across from me, on the bed, daring me to pick it up. Marcus' text had completely thrown me for a loop, and hours later, I still had not managed a reply.

What the hell was I supposed to say to that? "Wish U had stayed!," played over in my thoughts for hours. I dissected what he could have possibly meant a thousand ways, getting a migraine along the way.

Things had been strange between us the last few days. We had been hanging out so much before I finally got the permission to go back to school, that I hadn't even realized it. He'd bring me homework, notes from class, those silly recordings, all because he didn't want me to fall behind.

Then, we'd sit there for hours, just the two of us. Usually my mom was at work anyway, but even if she wasn't, it'd be like we were in our own little world. I'd catch up on my homework and he'd be on his laptop, maybe writing in his journal.

Once everything was done, we'd sit there and just talk. We'd talk about the project some, but mostly, we just got to know each other. He opened up about his aspirations, what colleges he was really excited about hearing back from, places he wanted to go. It was really like looking at a different person when he talked about life after high school.

It was great getting to know him, and taking some of the focus off of me. I knew that Marcus still had so many questions to ask me, more so now that I had tried to kill myself. There was so much still between us, parts of me that I had no desire to share, but I would because that's what this time called for. I would be honest, because I wanted for someone to just understand. To get what it's been like for me. And I would do the same for him.

Deep down there was fear. I was still scared that one day, I would wake up and this had all been some sick joke. Marcus would go back to hating me, his friends would go back to torturing me, and everything would be back to normal. Tears threatened, but I banished the thought.

Marcus was my friend and I trusted that. He said that he wasn't going anywhere, and I believed that. I believed in him. I had shared things with him that no one had ever bothered to care about and he had shared things with me as well.

I picked up my phone, my eyes going to his message again, reading it over and over. Ever since the 8th grade, since the first time I had noticed Marcus, I had been captivated by him. Everything he did was perfect, everything he touched turned gold. He seemingly had the perfect life, add in that he was the best looking guy at school and it was no wonder I had lost my good sense.

But now, things were changing. We were friends and sometimes, it seemed that there was still more to it. That there was something happening with us, but I just didn't understand what it was. It was silly thinking, but sometimes I wondered.

What would happen if I told Marcus how I felt? There was so much I wanted to say, so much that I wanted to tell him. Some things I had wanted to say before this project even started, others I felt he had a right to know because of the project. Every time we talked, I had to restrain from spilling my everything to him.

As I read his text again, my stomach did flip over flip. My mind played tricks on me, giving me false hope that there was more meaning in his text than I had any right to expect. In my head, I already knew how this played out. Hearing his story about Nathaniel, I knew I would never cross that boundary. Marcus was my first real friend and I didn't want to ruin that.

My thoughts were all over the place, so much so that I didn't hear my mom knock on my door, or when she subsequently came in. She was almost standing directly in front of me before I even noticed her, but still, I couldn't even respond, my thoughts going a mile a minute.

I could see the worry on her face as she placed her hand to my forehead and asked me if I was okay. I hated worrying my mom, especially after everything I had put her through in the last few weeks. I nodded my head, confirming that I was fine, but even that only seemed to worry her more.

Mom: "Are you sure you're okay?"

'' I'm fine, Mom. I just have a lot on my mind."

Mom: "Anything I can help with?"

I wanted to be honest with her, tell her exactly what was going on with me, but the words wouldn't come. I had no idea where to even start, where to begin telling her the mess I had gotten myself into. Marcus was off-limits. I had put him there, I made it a point to put him there.

I didn't want to feel the way I felt, but it couldn't be helped. How do you just turn that part of you off? How do you say to yourself after so many months of hiding, and telling yourself that what you felt was wrong, that it was okay? That everything would work out and that this person wouldn't hurt you?

Truth is... you don't.

'' I'm okay, Mom. It was a stupid thought anyway."

Mom: "Alright. Well, maybe come downstairs? Keep me company?"

She looked skeptical, but she didn't say anything. She walked to the door and I jumped off the bed after her. Anything would be better than thinking any more on the situation...

'' Sure, Mom."

I mentally cringed as I pressed "SEND" and set my phone down on the kitchen counter beside me. I was sitting atop the counter, my mom moving around me as she made a light dinner for herself. She had gotten off a lot later than she was supposed to and thankfully she had called ahead to tell me to take care of dinner for myself.

She eyed me carefully as she noticed my eyes lingering on my phone. She hadn't said anything, but I knew the conversation was coming. Instead of dwelling on that, we just made small talk about our days.

'' So they hired someone new on? Is that going to affect your hours any?"

Mom: "It shouldn't. She's a part-time student, so she said that she would just be picking up a few hours. She was really nice. Everyone seemed to take to her well enough."

We exchanged a worried glance, both remembering how past new hires had come in nice enough, but always ended up giving her a hard time as well. The girls at her job always made little remarks, making fun of my mother, judging her. They didn't like my mother and they made no attempt to hide it, and that wasn't good for business.

My mom's job had been threatened so many times, she was always really careful to not rile any feathers.

'' Good. That's good."

My mom went back and forth from the kitchen to the stove as she cooked up stir fry for herself. I could tell she was tired and as I saw the pink envelope stashed under the newspaper, I knew she was stressed about other things as well. I knew my mom had been falling behind for some time now, the bills starting to increase and her just not making the necessary money to pay them was hitting her hard.

She had been working non-stop at the restaurant for the past few weeks and it was wearing on her. She never stopped though. I knew she was tired. I could tell as she moved her hand to rub her neck, the pressure bringing the scar on her neck into focus.

The skin there was a shade lighter. If you got close enough, you could see the jagged line from behind her ear, that traveled down her neck and even under her shirt. We were both scarred. Some were just easier to hide.

'' I was thinking about maybe picking up some actual hours at Fromran's. Get on the schedule. I can start helping out around here."

Mom: "What?"

'' We're falling behind, Mom. If I pick up some hours, I can start paying some of the bills. Taking some of the stress off of..."

Mom: "No."

'' But, Mom... I can help..."

Mom: "I don't need you to do that, Ashton!"

I stepped back as she yelled at me, my eyes going wide. I couldn't ever even remember a time when my mom had yelled at me. I had always been a good kid, never really needing to be reprimanded. Hell, I was always too afraid to leave her side. Then, after Arizona, we moved here.

'' But, I just... I just thought that if I..."

I couldn't even finish my sentence. I wanted to walk away, to go upstairs and just get a moment to myself. I could tell my mom knew she had upset me, but she didn't say anything. We had always been so in-sync, it had always just been the two of us. But, now it seemed like just about everything in my life was just changing.

Mom: "I can handle this, Ashton. This isn't the first time we've been here, and I've always handled it. I can take of it."

'' Okay, Mom."

Mom: "We'll be fine."

'' ...okay, Mom."

I pressed myself against the counter, still emotional. I wanted to leave, but my body stayed. I hadn't seen much of my mother in the past few days, and I missed her. We rarely got into fights, but whenever we did, it was really hard on both of us. We could both be so prideful.

I just wanted to help out, let her know that I was on her side. She worked crazy hours at a job that she hated, put up with the worst co-workers ever and all to make sure I had everything I needed. She was in school finishing her degree in Business Management, trying to make a better life for us, but it seemed she was getting taken out at every turn. I just wanted to take some of that stress off of her.

A few minutes later, we were both still at the kitchen counter, a plate between us. I was still atop the counter, nibbling on some of her food. I wasn't extremely hungry, but after cooking, she said she wasn't even that hungry any more and I didn't want to waste the food.

We had just finished talking about me getting a job. I had explained to my mom the reasons for wanting to get one, and after a while, she agreed that it would be a good idea. She said that we were going down to the bank the next day and that she would open up a savings account for me. That way I could deposit my earnings into the account and start building up some money for college. I told her I wanted to help her, help with the bills, but she said it would be helping her and that was our deal. There was no use arguing with her, so I accepted.

She stepped away for a moment to grab us more cranberry juice, and then she was back. She eyed me as I responded to another text from Marcus, her eyes going from curious to parental.

Mom: "Is everything okay?"

I looked at her and the floodgates almost opened. How did things get so confusing so fast? It was just a few short weeks ago that I was practically invisible, and now, I was having to contend with emotions that were completely new to me. Liking someone? I never even prepared myself for that happening in high school. The reality of how much things had changed was daunting and my phone sounding off again just hit that home all the more.

'' I'm so confused, Mom."

Concern was heavy on her face. I had avoided telling her for so long, afraid of what she would say. Afraid she would agree with me on everything, agree with me that my thoughts were foolish.

Mom: "Come on. Move over."

I moved enough for her to sit down beside me. My phone slipped out of my hand, landing on the counter beside me, my eyes locked to it the entire time. I held my breath, waiting for my phone to turn itself on and display another message from Marcus, but the screen stayed dark and I visibly relaxed.

Mom: "So, let's talk..."

I didn't even know where to start. It may have been weird, but I could really talk to my mom about anything. There wasn't a wall built up between us, maybe it was because she was so young when she had me, or maybe she just had that way about her. I could talk to my dad too, but he wasn't here. My mom, she was always ready to see me through whatever I was going through.

This however was completely different. We had never even talked about anything on this level before and I didn't know how she would react. I had never had a crush before. Never anyone who set my heart racing or jumbled up all of my thoughts just looking at them. Not until Marcus.

Some of his actions had me confused, like at the diner or the text from today. Even the conversation we had at the hospital gave me pause for just a moment, but he was straight. Marcus was straight.

'' I like Marcus. A lot. I've been over it and over it, trying to go over everything that's happened between us, but... I like him."

Mom: "Oh."

She scooted back a little bit, pressing her back against the cabinets behind us. All of a sudden, she looked a whole lot younger, her thoughts now spinning like mine. I always forgot my mom was just a few years older than me. She had always been just Mom, but now, she looked as lost as I felt.

Mom: "Your first crush, huh?"

'' Yeah."

For a while, we both just sat there. Thinking things over, I guess. I mean what the hell was I doing? Marcus was straight. He was straight, dammit! He wanted me to stay so that I could get to know his friends, or help him with his Economics homework. He didn't want me to stay because he had a thing for me. That kind of thinking was ludicrous.

Mom: "What are you thinking?"

'' That I'm an idiot."

Mom: "No... Not even. You're young and the heart wants what it wants."

'' It's stupid, Mom. It's stupid to even think about him like that."

Mom: "I'm at a loss for what to say here, Ashton."

I had never seen my mom look so lost before either. I had never seen her look at me like she was looking at me now. Like there was this part of me that she never knew, or she forgot existed. We were in uncharted territory. If I was honest, I was pretty scared too.

Mom: "Part of me wants to tell you to go for it. Put yourself out there and it all might work out. He might feel the same way. I mean, it's so clear he cares about you... I just don't know."

I processed that for a moment, hugging my knees to my chest.

'' What about the other part?"

Mom: "The other part of me, the part that wants to protect you from everything... That part of me says to let it go. Be okay being his friend. That having a part of him is better than not having him at all. You could get hurt and you could lose him entirely."

'' Why is it so hard? Why does it have to be all or nothing?"

Mom: "Ashton, sometimes, how we feel about someone just isn't worth the price we have to pay for it. Sometimes, we just have to be happy with how things are. You can go after one moment of potential or put it to rest. It's a hard choice."

'' What would you do?"

Mom: "It's not about me. This is about you, Ashton and how you want to handle this. You can do nothing or you can tell him. It's all your choice and that choice wouldn't be the same as mine."

'' But if you had choose... What would it be?"

Mom: "As your mother, I'd say to leave it alone. That it's just not worth the risk, with everything that has happened. It's just not worth it."

My world shook and then fell. I could feel tears coming, feel the heat beating it's way to my cheeks...

Mom: "But. As a person who has loved... As a person who has been loved... I'd hope you'd tell him. I'd hope that even if it doesn't go the way you'd like, you went after what you wanted. I'd hope that you'd give yourself a chance to maybe find something special with someone."

I stared wide-eyed at her. My mom had always been an inspiration to me. Her strength unequaled in my eyes, but I had never seen her as a woman until now. Other than my dad and Vincent, there hadn't ever been anyone in her life. Of course she would know what it felt like to go through what I was going through now. She had been with my dad for years until he went to the military and even now, she said he was the only person she could ever love.

Mom: "Too mushy?"

'' No. Not at all."

Mom: "I just want you to do what's best for you, Ashton. The rest will fall into place."

'' Thanks, Mom."

Mom: "Any time, sweetie."

For the rest of the night, we just sat around catching up. We stayed up a lot longer than we should have, but it was good to just be able to spend time with my her. Sometimes I wondered how we managed, our situation was unlike any other, but somehow we made it work.

Monday Morning

I fooled around in my locker for a moment, getting things ready for my day. I tried to will away the headache I could feel coming, but my thoughts were so consumed with Marcus and everything that had happened Friday. Not only did I have the semi-uncomfortable "first-crush" conversation with my mother, but I still didn't know what exactly was going on when it came to Marcus.

We had text the majority of Friday night, even after my mom and I went our separate ways. Luckily he had some family stuff to do over the weekend and other than a "good morning." text, we didn't really talk Saturday or Sunday.

I made sure that everything I would need for the day was in my bag, then I closed up my locker. I should have headed to class, but I just stood there for a moment. My thoughts were spinning like crazy and I wished for just a moment of quiet, just a moment where all of my thoughts would clear and I would just be able to breathe.

That's when I saw him. It still baffled me that he was was able to have such an effect on me. Just seeing him there, walking in with his friends, was enough to quiet my thoughts and relax my nerves. It was like he was my very own drug.

It was a calming moment. Even though he was part of my stress, and he was walking towards me with Lee, it was a calming moment.

Oh shit! Before I had time to completely even process what was happening, they were both standing in front of me. I eyed Lee carefully and I could still see the disdain coming from him, but he wasn't insulting me. Or hitting me. So, I guess that was a good sign.

Marcus on the other hand looked almost nervous. It was just the three of us, so it just made things even more awkward. I wanted to just say something. Tell him exactly how I felt and damn the consequences. The reality of it though, I was scared shitless. What if I was reading it all wrong?

Marcus: "Hey."

'' Hey."

Lee rolled his eyes and I was wondering why Marcus had even brought him over here. It was so awkward standing here next to both of them, and I could see Lee felt the same by the way he was fidgeting. I wasn't comfortable this close to him and I'm sure the feeling was mutual.

It was quiet again for a moment and I wanted to ask what he wanted, but he started talking and my focus shifted back to him.

Marcus: "I know you have to get to class, but this is important..."

'' Okay. What is it?"

I waited with bated breath for him to say something, but he was looking at Lee expectantly, clearly waiting for him to say something. I thought that maybe Lee hadn't heard him, or gotten the signal to start speaking, but he was clearly going for obliviousness. But, as the seconds ticked along, he couldn't stall forever. He rolled his eyes at Marcus and then he turned to me.

Lee: "Look, I'm sorry about... You know.... Whatever happened between us. I don't have any problems with you."

I stared at him incredulously, my mind obviously playing tricks. I don't know where his temporary brain fart had originated, but after seeing the accomplished look on Marcus' face, I knew he had some responsibility in the matter. Part of me was grateful, not having to deal with his shit anymore. The other part of me was cautious. Hate isn't the type of emotion you can just turn off. I knew being Marcus' friend provided somewhat of a buffer between us, but I just didn't trust Lee.

'' Uh... Okay. Thanks."

They exchanged a look, then Lee quietly walked away. Marcus moved a step closer, but he waited until Lee was completely out of earshot before he let out a huge sigh of relief. I was guessing that whatever conversation they had about the situation hadn't been entirely pleasant.

'' That was unexpected."

Marcus: "Yeah, I know right."

I watched as everyone walked by, their eyes locked on us. Wondering just what exactly me and Marcus were talking about. For the most part, I was completely comfortable around Marcus and my body language showed that. Months ago, I would have shirked away from him, scared of what he might possibly do.

Now though, that fear was gone. As we both rested against the row of lockers, I knew the same was true for him as well. Whatever he had against me in the past, for whatever reason it was... well, it just didn't matter anymore.

'' Why'd he do that?"

Marcus: "Because he's my friend and I asked him to. I told him it was important to me. That you were important to me."

His voice faltered slightly and that gave me pause, but I didn't mention it.

'' Thanks. I appreciate it. I know it couldn't have been an easy conversation."

Marcus: "Lee's not a bad guy and he has a big heart. He's just... he requires a lot of patience."

'' I'll have to take your word for it."

We talked for a little bit longer, but if we didn't get moving, we were both going to be late for homeroom. As we separated, everything I had been thinking about swarmed back, and my headache returned full force. My imagination was on overdrive and it seemed every feasible outcome passed through my thoughts at least twice.

If I told him, so many things could happen. What if he did go back to hating me? Or if he said that he didn't care that I liked him, but that he wasn't interested in me like that. That would probably hurt more than anything.

Then there was the alternative. What if he did like me back? If he felt the same, then what? We'd have some epic romance? I wouldn't even know where to begin thinking about a boyfriend. I had always been too scared of anything sexual and with my scars... it just wasn't something I liked to think about.

Sure, Marcus knew I had them. He had seen them before, or seen some of them the first time he was at my house. It had never come back up, but I knew one day he would ask me. Even if it wasn't for the project, but just as us moving closer as friends, romantically, whatever... He would want to know.

I guess I just wasn't ready to share my demons. Not yet.

And there it is. The latest chapter.

Read it and comment.