A/N thanks to Jim for editing!
I woke, groggy but oddly calm, even as I noticed the light from the cell phone, indicating I'd missed a call. I ran my hand over my face, glanced at the clock and frowned as I slowly sat up, stretched, and walked across my room to peek out the blinds and confirm it was still just as dark outside as it was in.
I made no attempt to call Milo back; with my luck the timing would be awful for him, so I worked on getting dressed, my first attempt at pulling on jeans leaving the zipper against my ass. The second went better, and I was yawning as I pulled on my coat and walked softly through the house.
I didn't give my car much of a chance to warm up because I was worried about waking my parents and the heater didn't kick on until I was halfway across town, leaving my fingers cold against the steering wheel as I wondered where I'd put my gloves.
The phone started ringing again, but after I ran a red light trying to figure out which pocket I'd put it in I left it alone. I'd be there soon enough. Besides, now that I was waking up I didn't trust myself to talk to him over the phone. Something told me asking your boyfriend why he was lying to you should be a face-to-face conversation.
I turned on my brights as the road darkened, patches of ice still stuck to gravel because plows didn't come this way. I parked where my friends and I always did, next to the only other vehicle that would be there at four in the morning. It wasn't Milo's.
But it was one that was always parked at his house, and for a moment I found myself staring at the tinted windows until I was convinced no one was inside of the Subaru. Frowning, I zipped up my coat, reached for the flashlight in my backseat and got out of my car.
“Milo?” I called, not bothering to be quiet about it. I felt put out that he hadn't waited for me, especially since the times we'd come before when it was as dark as it was out he had a tendency to get turned around. Usually right before the bridge he turned down the wrong path. If he did it would only lead him back to the road I'd just driven down, but I still didn't like the idea of being separated.
I considered just driving back down the road in case he did end up that way, but ultimately decided to head to the lake, hoping he'd made it there.
I felt like I was moving fast, the cold air enough to wake me up as my breathing became harder, my coat a little warmer, but by the time I reached sand there was a warm glow against the dark blue sky, threatening day would be here soon enough.
I turned off my flashlight when I spotted a gleam of another one down the beach, closer to where I could just make out the shadow of the scarecrow and I followed it, sand kicking up under my feet, catching between my bootlaces. I smothered another yawn, the sky seeming to grow brighter with every step I took, irritating my eyes despite the fact that sunrise was a while away. The cold and the shadows made me want to crawl back into bed, but as I neared the light the shadow of a boy with dark hair, bundled in a comfortably worn green jacket became my focus where he sat on the sand, far enough from the water to stay dry, his hand moving a chalk pencil over the notebook propped up on his knees.
As I neared I could hear the scratching of his tool against the paper, a sniffle from where half his face was tucked behind the collar of his jacket. There was a shining gleam, the movement of something wet that dripped off the arch of his cheek and was caught by his wrist as he hastily wiped at it. He heard me approaching and turned his eyes on me, startled, before he doubled the effort to rid his tears, and anything I'd wanted to say to him, every account of why I felt so angry with him disappeared and I seated myself behind him, slid my cold fingers beneath the warmth of his jacket and pulled him to me as he sighed, dropped his pencil and covered his notebook with the palm of his hand. I glanced between his splayed fingers over paper and frowned at what appeared to be a sketch that looked suspiciously like his dad, only he'd smudged the chalk and the lines were somewhat aggressive, reminding me of something an adult might encourage a child to do for the sake of expressing themselves.
“What are you doing?” I asked. Because of all the things to expect when I came to meet him, it wasn't angry sketches or tears.
“I'm... nothing,” he muttered, taking another swipe at his wet face with his sleeve. I found myself lifting my palm to his cheek, wanting to help.
“I'm not,” he argued around a shaky, deep breath in an attempt to compose himself.
I decided against questioning him over it further and moved my mouth over his ear instead, pulling him tighter against me as he let his eyes fall closed. “Is that Juanita's car?” I asked.
Milo nodded. “My dad had mine towed.”
I winced over that information, but decided not to focus on it.
“Does she know you have it?”
His response as negative again, and my frown deepened. “Milo, please don't get in trouble. I don't want...”
“I'll be back before anyone wakes up,” he insisted, moving a hand beneath his coat in search of mine. “I needed to get out of there. Things aren't good, and I've got the biggest headache...”
“Okay,” I said, not liking the aggravation I could hear creeping into his voice, and he fell silent, still against me as he became calm.
“I didn't think you were going to wake up,” he finally said.
“Sorry. I didn't make it to the phone in time and I didn't think I should call you back.”
“You could. The ringer's never actually turned on.”
There was another note of frustration in his tone and I kissed the corner of his mouth reassuringly when he let his back relax further against my chest. “Is that what's wrong?” I asked. “You didn't think I was coming?”
“No,” he said quickly, then cut his eyes to mine. “You could have called, though.”
I smiled at him. “I'm sorry. I will next time.” When he looked satisfied enough by that I grew more serious. “What happened?”
Milo shook his head. “Same as usual, Nelson. He doesn't want me to see you, and I'm not going to listen. Can we not talk about it? Please?”
Before I could respond he turned, his eyes falling closed as he found my mouth with his. He tasted like the coffee he probably hadn't needed and his face was cool, still damp despite his efforts to wipe the tears way. But the way he kissed me made me want to forget about those things because when he did I almost felt normal again, only better because this wasn't like kissing him, waiting for the moment when he forgot to be nervous, or afraid. This was him, wanting to kiss me and not caring what anyone had to say about it.
When I pulled away from his mouth I was regretful, but determined not to let him distract me as I met his eyes. “We have to talk,” I said. “Because I want to know when you were going to tell me you're leaving.”
The look on Milo's face was enough to tell me Jame hadn't been as full as shit as I was hoping he'd been, and I frowned as he avoided my eyes.
“It wasn't a sure thing,” he said quietly. “I didn't want to mention it until I knew for sure.”
“But you knew it would probably happen, right? You knew when you came out... and when you let me take you home with me. You should have told me.”
“Why? So you could stay away from me?” he asked.
“Exactly,” Milo cut me off. “Or you would have tried, but you never would have broken up with me. You'd wait for me to do it.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“No,” Milo replied, irritated. “And I don't want you to stay away, either... it's my dad's old school. That's where he wants to put me, Nelson. I don't want to leave, but what's the point in staying if he controls everything? I know we won't be together, but he can't stop me from talking to you if I'm there.”
“So why can't we just be together now? Before I have to leave? Why should I let him tell me what to do if I'm out of here, anyway? I'm done, Nelson; he can send me wherever he wants for the next five months because after that I'll be eighteen and he can fuck off for good.”
I blinked at that. “Five months? You're older than me?”
Milo rolled his eyes at me, the corner of his mouth quirking upwards and his eyes grew a little less watery. “I feel like it's years away. Because I want this to stop now. I think...I'll just go to his stupid school, I'll wait it out...but then I wonder what would happen if I made it so he couldn't send me anywhere. What if I just disappeared?”
“Disappear?” I repeated, incredulous as I found myself holding onto him tighter, like I was worried he'd do it at that very moment. “You're saying either way you're gone, so why...”
“Not from you,” Milo cut me off. “Maybe this way... I'd still see you.”
I remembered concerns my brother had had about my boyfriend, and suddenly they were mine, too. “What are you going to do? Run away and hang around until you turn eighteen? In Heywell? Where are you going to go, because you can't fold up and fit under my bed.”
He frowned at me. “I can stay on my boat. And I did the math, I have enough to get by for five months as long as I get my money before my dad notices it's gone.”
I blinked again. “You have a boat? What the hell were you doing at Hangman all summer?
Milo shrugged. “My mom was supposed to take me on a cruise for my last birthday, but she forgot and never showed up at the airport. So she got me a boat and my dad doesn't let me use it anyway, unless he's there. He's probably forgotten all about it.”
I shook my head at him. “Milo, you can't.”
“If I’m not around to go with him...He's leaving this afternoon. He won't miss this meeting so I've got two days before he'll be back to look for me. All I have to do is not show up.”
“Look at me. You know this isn't going to work. It'll make things worse and I don't want things to get worse for you.”
“If I don't do something I won't see you after next week,” he said, frustration creeping into his tone, as if he hadn't expected me to object to his plans.
I digested that, not liking it but nodding my acceptance, anyway. “But like you said, he can't keep you from talking to me... Milo you don't want to run away. You're smarter than that, and you might be mad at your dad but if you didn't care about him you wouldn't have spent most of the time I've known you worrying about what he thinks.”
“I don't care about what he thinks now” Milo insisted, regarding me pointedly. “I don't care what he thinks about you. What if I just want to stay with you?”
“If you do this that's not what will happen,” I insisted. “If you do this who knows where he'll send you.”
Milo turned away from me, shrugged a shoulder. “Well maybe by then I'll have less than five months to wait.”
I rested my chin against the back of his shoulder, closing my eyes. “Why are you doing this?” I asked quietly. “Five months, Milo. We could have been careful for five months. You didn't have to come out... you can't just run away.”
“You said you love me.”
I opened my eyes, stared out at the way what was left of the stars reflected off the water and laced my fingers together where they rested against his stomach. I had said that. At the time I hadn't even thought about it, just hastily wrote it on a sheet of notebook paper, shoved it into his glove compartment. I'd wanted him to know that, and that I hadn't forgotten about him. That he meant something to me, and that I could handle him ignoring me forever as long as he didn't hate me. I wanted him to know that I was still there, if he wanted me to be. I'm not sure I knew how to look five months into the future and see myself without those feelings for him because I didn't know how to look past tomorrow, and at the moment I didn't see tomorrow without feeling the same way about him as I had when I'd written that letter.
“I do love you.”
“Then why can't I just do it? Why can't I just stay with you?”
“I want you to stay, too,” I said, feeling helpless. “But we can't do things this way. Go with your dad if that's what he wants. Please. We'll figure something out before next week. I promise.”
He was silent for a moment, not believing me. But I didn't like making promises I couldn't keep. I had to figure something out. But for now I needed him to slow down, to just listen.
“Nelson? I love you, too.”
I closed my eyes, sighed as I snuggled closer to him. I'd figure something out. I didn't want to think about how I'd feel tomorrow if I didn't.
I felt rumpled and half asleep as I rushed into school fifteen minutes late, bothered by the sand that was still stuck my shoes. I hadn't had time to go home first because after following Milo home to make sure he actually went there and got back in okay, he'd called to tell me if I was going to stalk someone I shouldn't wave at them every time they looked in their rear view mirror. I'd pulled off the road and spent the next hour making him promise he wouldn't get into any more trouble. Which meant, he'd be gone for the next few days and probably wouldn't be able to call me. It was hard hanging up with him because despite his promise to not cause any more waves with his father, he was miserable, and I didn't know what to do to help him.
I was so concerned over what he'd told me this morning, in fact, that I almost forgot the reason why school might be so different today, but I was reminded as soon as I walked out of my first class and came face to face with Theresa Milldrum and she made actual eye contact for the first time in weeks.
Naturally, I thought it was a mistake on her part and stepped aside to get around her, but when she stepped with me I narrowed my eyes on her, decidedly willing to take her down a notch if she wanted to harass me today.
“So you and Milo make out n'stuff?”
I cocked my head at her. “Seriously?”
She smirked at me. “What else do you do?”
“He can't answer that. Wouldn't want to make me go deaf,” Caleb remarked as he approached us, giving Theresa a gentle shove in the opposite direction. She rolled her eyes and blew Caleb a kiss as we walked away from her and I watched him catch it and then wipe it off on his shirt as soon as she was gone. He glanced at me as we navigated the halls. “She's not the only one asking those questions, you know,” he said.
“Perfect,” I mumbled.
“Oh, come on,” Caleb complained. “Nelson, I don't like hearing about it every time I turn around but at least more people are just stupid and nosy and not angry and picking a fight. It was a good thing that Milo did.”
I sighed, found myself giving into the urge to hear more. “What else are people saying? About him?”
Caleb shrugged. “I dunno, but it's not like he's here to hear it.”
“But I'm here to hear it,” I reminded.
Caleb gave my shoulder a firm pat. “Come on, it's not as bad as you think. Besides, Assface is all bent about it and that works for me.”
I rolled my eyes. “I'm done worrying about what Jame is or isn't pissed off about,” I stated. And I was. It occurred to me that Milo was right, Jame wasn't a problem for me anymore. The only way he could be is if I made him one. He could say whatever he wanted to about me and Milo, his opinion didn't matter, and I could say whatever I wanted to him; the only way he was going to be a better person was if he made the conscious choice to be one. I'd worry about him if he hurt Milo again.
“Whatever, I think it's funny as hell,” Caleb remarked. “He got caught in a lie and has himself looking like a jealous girlfriend.”
We reached my locker and I opened it before Caleb and I both reached in, because he'd left books in there and he cursed when the bell rang. “I swear there's less time between classes this week,” he complained. “I've gotta go; if I'm late again I'll be here after school for the next week.”
I nodded. “See you at lunch.”
He was already headed down the hall, navigating his way through people but stopped and looked back. “I forgot, I've gotta meet my sister for lunch. You wanna do something tonight?”
“Sure.” Because other than sitting around, worrying about Milo, I didn't have much else going on.
I was only halfway to class before the second bell rang, indicating I was late and I scowled over it, deciding Caleb was right and they must have cut down our time between classes. I considered picking up my pace to avoid walking in last but found myself moving down the opposite hall instead, pushing open the bathroom door and once I'd decided I was alone I dug the cell phone out of my backpack, turned it on and dialed Milo's number.
“I'm packing right now,” he answered, sounding aggravated enough to make me laugh.
“My dad thinks so too,” he muttered, then said, “Hey, I'm sorry about earlier. I just get so... I don't want to spend the next few days with my dad. I don't want to listen to him, I don't even want to hear his voice. I really just... I want to get away from him. Or make him listen to me. Just once, I want him to listen. I wish you were coming with us.”
“That would get your dad's attention,” I teased as I lifted myself onto the counter between two sinks.
Milo snorted. “Right. I'm sure he'd be fine with you spending the next two days in a hotel with me because he'll be too busy to notice what I'm doing. Are you sure I can't go live on a boat?”
I laughed, feeling relieved that he was at least joking about that now. “I'll see you when you get back. We'll figure something out.”
“When I get back, I'll be packing again, Nelson,” he quietly reminded.
I fell silent for a moment, convincing myself that I hadn't heard that. “I'll see you when you get back.”
Milo sighed. “Okay... I'm leaving this phone here, but keep yours around, okay? I'll probably have time to call you.”
There was suddenly another voice on his end, distant and male, followed by a commotion and then silence. I thought he'd smartly hung up on me for moment, but then I heard Milo's muffled voice responding to the interruption, unable to make out what he was saying, despite the way I strained to listen. When he came back on the line a moment later his tone was soft but rushed. “Is Jame at school today?”
“Um, pretty sure. What's going on?”
“I don't know. My dad just said Juanita's supposed to take me to the airport because he's gotta go over there.”
“Yeah. He wouldn't tell me why. I think Jame's mom might have called him.”
I frowned. “Why?”
“I don't know. Problems with his dad, probably. My dad's helped her before.”
“Really,” Milo replied, sounding amused. “He'll bend over backwards for someone else's kid... I want to find out what's going on.” He groaned. “He better not show up at the airport with Jame.”
I frowned and squashed the sudden urge to feel jealous. “Why would he do that?”
“Because he wants to make me miserable and he might have fun if Jame bitches at me until I throw myself out a window? Who knows, but something's up.”
“Stay away from windows,” I insisted. “You wouldn't be nearly as hot if you were all splattered on a sidewalk. Jame's in my next class... actually, the class I'm supposed to be in right now. Maybe I can try to figure out what's going on.”
“Don't,” Milo said quickly. “He's already not speaking to me, and I want it to stay that way until he can stop being an asshole. You bring out the asshole in him, Nels.”
“Fine, but if he leaves in the middle of class because he gets to go with you the next time you see me will be when I throw myself in front of your plane.”
“If I can't splatter on a sidewalk you can't be roadkill,” Milo reasoned.
I sighed. “I'll talk to you soon,” I said more to reassure myself than anything.
“Okay... I wasn't just saying it because I'm leaving, you know. I love you.”
I closed my eyes and smiled. “I know.”
I wished I could spit on Mr. Trust. Dehydrate myself in the process, make it a nice, nasty one. But that wouldn't be polite, and would probably open the door for him to blame my parents for more of my personality flaws. But I really, really wanted to spit on him.
After talking to Milo I shouldn't have been surprised when no more than fifteen minutes after I made it to class, Jame was called out. He didn't look like he knew what was going on, but I had a feeling he wasn't going to mind missing the next few days of school and the suspicious, jealous side of me had a feeling that Mr. Trust was taking Jame out of town with him to spite me. The more rational, curious side had me wondering what was going on at home with Jame for the circumstances to arise in the first place.
I was jealous, not heartless. Besides, if something was going on with Jame then it was bound to bother Milo sooner or later. Maybe he'd been feeling betrayed by Jame lately, was seeking distance in one direction and moving closer to me as a result--an effect I didn't mind at all. But I hadn't deluded myself into thinking that Milo had given up on Jame Graham completely. I just hoped that whatever was happening, it wouldn't worsen Milo's situation. Because he was angry. I think more than anything else, Milo just wanted to feel like he had control--over anything. I'd hoped that if he went with his dad then maybe they'd find the time to talk. Maybe Mr. Trust would change his mind and Milo wouldn't be going anywhere. Inflicting Jame upon an already sensitive situation worried me. I wanted to be the one there. I wanted to know what was happening.
But by the time lunch came around, Milo was likely on a plane and I couldn't call him, so more waiting for me. It was aggravating, wondering if Jame was with my boyfriend, if his presence would prevent Milo from picking up a phone.
I went to Hollander's on my own, not wanting to deal with curious looks and comments about Milo at school, and was disappointed when my dad wasn't there. I'd been hoping to find out if he and my mom had come up with any ideas regarding how to deal with Mr. Trust's attitude. The fact that my mom had given her blessing when it came to me seeing Milo gave me hope at least; it had taken some of the pressure off. If I was going to get in trouble just because I wasn't willing to give him up, at least I had my family behind me. The fact that my mom's concern wasn't just for me was all the more touching. But I couldn't talk to her about it now, and I couldn't talk to my dad because he wasn't working, Caleb was with his sister and Milo was gone, and that all left me trying to sort through my frustrations on my own, made worse as I came to accept that for now, I couldn't do a damn thing about anything.
When I got back to school I was late again. It was becoming so common that my teachers had stopped asking about it. Just asked for my homework or in some cases, handed over make-up work. I wished that I could care more, like I had back at the beginning of the year when I was eager to make it through the day, spend my last hour sitting in Mrs. Bates’ class with Milo, teasing him when she was too busy to notice. More things had mattered back then.
I parked next to Caleb's jeep, and was momentarily pleased when it looked like he was still in it. I'd left my car, made it almost to his driver-side window and then froze when I noticed a dark head of hair behind the glass, obstructed by a thick cloud of smoke filling the inside of the jeep, and it was Joe's dark eyes that turned in my direction.
I felt put off. It wasn't like I should have been surprised. Caleb gave Joe his keys all the time. But I was surprised, because as far as I could tell, I hadn't been the only one who Joe wasn't talking to. It had bothered me, but I'd been too busy worrying about everything else to worry about this particular friendship. But still, as his expression turned resigned and he gave me a nod before reaching over to unlock the passenger door, I realized that regardless of how he felt about me, I didn't want to give up on Joe anymore than Milo really wanted to give up on Jame.
I walked around the jeep slowly, feeling awkward and unwilling to meet Joe's eyes as I got in, sat back in the seat and tried not to notice that the air was so thick with marijuana that I could feel it sticking to my skin. A cautious glance at Joe and I found him staring straight ahead, his knee up and resting on the steering wheel. He wore his black beanie low on his head; it covered his eyebrows and his thick lashes shaded bloodshot eyes. He wasn't having a good day. I could tell because he'd gone all out for the extra-large blunt, and it looked like he'd been busy with it for a while. And when he passed it in my direction, I took the offering and tried not to get too excited. Joe didn't share his pot with people he didn't like.
But I guess I was still considered borderline where he was concerned, otherwise he would have commented on how weak the hit I took was before I rushed to pass it back to him. I decided to take the initiative. It wasn't like my day could get much worse, and conversation with someone who it used to be easy to talk with should have been a cinch.
“I had a freak-out and told my dad that sometimes, I smoke with you.”
This is the part where Joe was supposed to call me an idiot and threaten to do me bodily harm if my parents called his parents after that confession. Instead, he took another drag, let it out slowly and kept facing ahead.
“Yeah?” he finally said. “I told my parents that it turned out Nels likes guys and I don't know if I can handle that. My mom thinks it's best if you don't come by anymore. Caleb, either. She thinks the two of you seem close.”
I opened my mouth to respond to that but when I realized I didn't know where to begin my teeth clicked together as I shook my head. “Oh my god.”
Joe nodded slowly, as if to agree with me. “I didn't want Haily to know, so I told her to fuck off, and she did... her mom's not like mine. My dad... I don't think it bothers him so much...”
“Joe,” I cut him off before he could get further into the thoughts that seemed to be pouring out. “Caleb isn't...”
“I know. Neither am I, but that doesn't mean she's not worried about it happening if I'm around you enough.”
My brow flew up. “Well maybe I should talk to her, because it doesn't work that way.” If I was contagious I would have started rubbing against every guy I wanted to see naked a long time ago, including Joe.
Joe snorted. “Won't help. She was married before. I didn't know, but I guess he left her.”
I let out a breath. “He was gay.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “She said he called it open-minded.”
He smoked more pot, his eyes fluttering reluctantly in my direction and then away again. When he spoke his voice was so soft I hardly heard him.
“I don't have a lot of friends, Nelson. It takes me a while to... people don't like me until they get to know me.” I opened my mouth to object but he cut me a challenging glare that I could hardly argue with.
“They just don't get your sense of humor,” I tried. Only, if I was going to be honest here, I guess I didn't always get Joe's sense of humor, either. In fact, if he wasn't Haily's cousin, and if I hadn't developed such a huge crush on him within the first two seconds of meeting him, I wasn't sure we ever would have been friends at all. But regardless, I liked to think we had been. That was supposed to count for something, and what I was hearing was unexpected. Unexpected was an understatement.
I'd sat down and had dinner with Joe's parents. They'd come to our barbeques and his mom had given me a hug and told me everything would be alright during Grandma Tenny's last health scare. I liked her. She wasn't supposed to be one of the people who made my mom cry after church.
But lesson learned, I thought bitterly. There were a lot of people I'd genuinely liked, people who it turned out, I hadn't known at all.
“I don't have a lot of friends,” Joe repeated. “And to be honest, I hate trying to make new ones. And you... I fucking hate you right now.”
I frowned at him, but somehow his comment was less of a blow than his revelation about his mom had been.
“My mom says you have a choice about it, and I think I agree with her,” Joe admitted, but cut his eyes to me before I could respond to that. “So maybe you're just stupid... and I think it is gross. But when I got us all arrested last summer you said I was stupid... it never meant we weren't friends. Haily and Caleb...they don't want me to tell you that, what I think. And I can't tell them that I can't even think for myself so I go home every day, and I sit in my room, and I go crazy. But as long as I'm doing it there, my mom won't think I'm hurting her and my dad won't tell me off because I'm upsetting her. But I think you should know. And I want you to know how pissed off I am about it. Becausefuck you.”
I found myself narrowing my eyes, mostly because I had the sudden urge to tell him off. If my being gay was a choice--well so fucking what. I chose to be attracted to who I was attracted to rather than ignore it. I chose to let myself have feelings for Milo Trust and I was lucky enough that he returned them and I chose to live my life in a way that wasn't a complete lie regardless of the fact that sharing that life with the whole fucking town had been a choice taken out of my hands. I was no different than I'd ever been. Maybe a little more cynical, maybe more cautious with my trust and harder with expressing my feelings because I was afraid they'd be dissected and scrutinized before I could blink, but those changes were part of my circumstances. I was still the same. I was still the guy who woke up on his seventeenth birthday with a supportive family, too many pets and three friends that I'd do anything for. That meant Joe, too. So I took in a breath, let it out and forced my voice to sound calm when I found it.
“I'm sorry about your mom. And you shouldn't lie to Haily and Caleb... trust me on that one. They can handle it, and they're not going to hold it against you to protect me. Because I don't care about your parents until they say something that would hurt one of mine...Me? I don't think they can hurt me. I don't think most people could hurt me anymore. Not because they're ignorant, or mean. And I don't care if you think it's gross because that's coming from the guy who had chlamydia for Christmas last year. I'm gay. I'm not apologizing for it. I don't need to make excuses for it, and I'm still your friend, even though you're a complete dick. And I'm not apologizing for that.”
Joe frowned as he attempted to hold more pot in his lungs, his words coming around small coughs. “You're not apologizing because I'm a complete dick or because you're still my friend?” he demanded, as if he'd be offended to hear the wrong answer.
I stared at him, perplexed, his eyes meeting mine until his coughing became a sudden bout of suppressed laughter. I found myself waving the smoke out of my face, laughing along with him as I shook my head. “How about I don't apologize for either?”
I scowled at my mom as she took the mug of coffee out of my hands, replaced it with a glass of milk and dumped my much-needed caffeine down the sink. “How was school?” she asked, eying me warily as she opened the refrigerator in search of something for dinner.
I sipped the milk, thought about asking her to put chocolate in it and then set it down on the table in front of me and slid the glass aside. “Fine, I guess. Joe's coming over for dinner, and then we're going out with Caleb. Is that okay?”
My mom glanced over her shoulder as she started unloading an assortment of vegetables from the refrigerator onto the counter next to the sink.“It's been a while since we've seen Joe.”
“Yeah. We talked some today.” I stared at the back of my mom's head, not sure what reaction I was waiting for. I guess after the things Joe had told me I'd been trying to figure out if she already knew where his family stood when it came to me. But she gave nothing away, just nodded.
“That's good. Is Caleb staying for dinner, too? What about Haily? She hasn't been around.”
“Caleb said he'd meet us later and Haily has a new guy.”
My mom brightened at that last part. “Good for her.”
I nodded in response, my mind wandering away from our conversation quietly in other directions. I must have spaced out because the next time I looked up half the vegetables were chopped and my mom was telling me to finish my milk. I obediently lifted the glass. Worked on emptying it.
She was somewhere behind me now, going through cabinets, pulling out what she needed.
“If I had a friend who lived out of state... could I go visit them? You know, on some weekends. Something like that.”
My mom walked around the table to face me and unloaded the ingredients she needed, her eyes regarding me worriedly. “Who's moving?”
I tried to smile to take away her worry but it obviously didn't work as she sighed and regarded me with pity.
“He's really sending Milo to that school,” she said, exasperated.
My eyes widened and I stood up, grabbing what she'd left on the counter just so I'd have an excuse to follow her to the sink. “You knew?”
My mom's head snapped in my direction, her frown suggesting I'd just accused her of something. That's probably because I had. “Nelson...”
“Why didn't you say something?” I demanded.
“Because as far as I knew, it was just something his dad mentioned when he and Emily were fighting. She didn't give any indication that it would happen.”
“Well it's happening!” I snapped, and when my mom raised an eyebrow at my tone I took a step back from her, frowning because I was angry and she was the last person I should be taking it out on. “You didn't tell me.”
She sighed, dried her hands on a dishcloth and turned to better face me. “Nelson, I can't tell another parent how to raise their child. But your dad and I have decided we're going to talk to Mr. Trust. I can't promise you...”
“You can't promise me anything,” I interrupted, my frustration making itself known. “Because Milo's right, he won't listen. So what could you do?”
“I wish you wouldn't be so worked up about this,” she said, sounding impatient. “I know you care about him--I hear you. I don't want to see you upset about all of this after everything else you've been through and I know it's hard not to be. But, try to have some patience, Nelson. When I spoke to Emily she said...”
“Emily said.” I rolled my eyes. “Emily left Mr. Trust. Milo doesn't have that option.”
“She knows more about what goes on in that house than we do,” she countered. “As far as what's going on with her and Milo's dad, it's not really any of your business. Now, she's said more than once that things need to be approached carefully with Thom.”
“And what happens when he doesn't care about what you have to say? I promised Milo we'd work something out, even if he has to go. If I could just tell him I'll be able to visit... and I will pay for it, mom, I just want...”
“I'm sorry, Nelson, but before I can answer that I think I'm going to have to have a talk with his dad.”
“What?” I demanded, incredulous. “You're the one who said I should see him and not get caught.”
My mom rubbed at her temple. “That's because I don't think it's right to keep the two of you apart just because you're both boys, and clearly on this end, it's done more harm than good. But now you're talking about getting on a plane and that's something I'm going to have to think about. Your dad will have to think about it. And I'm going to have to see what Mr. Trust has to say because I don't want you or Milo in trouble.”
“Seeing each other now gets us in trouble and that's bullshit!”
“Which is why I haven't asked you to stop yet, and I'd hate to have to rethink it so please calm down and give the situation a little time.”
“I don't want to give it time,” I said stubbornly. “I'm tired of giving it time.”
“I know you are. But right now, there's nothing you can do about it.”
It was probably a bad night to invite Joe over. Actually, I was pretty sure the only reason I'd asked him was because I thought he'd say no. I felt pretty awful for it, when the thought occurred to me. But he'd surprised me. As insulting as he could be he seemed to mean it when he said we were friends. He was still a jerk, but I guess he could be my jerk.
He was making an effort, but he probably wished he'd stayed at home when we sat down to dinner.
It was awkward, and, not because of Joe. If anything, he probably made my parents’ night because he could talk to them with words. Key element in conversations, words. I couldn't find mine. I couldn't find my ears, either, because Joe elbowed me at least three times when I spaced out and stopped listening to people.
I was still upset about Milo. And it was probably stupid of me to direct it towards them, and in all honesty I had no idea what I really expected them to do about it. The fact that they were willing to try to talk to Mr. Trust should have been good enough. Hell, I'd suggested it to Milo before my mom ever said it was going to happen. But all of a sudden... it wasn't enough. Nothing anyone could do would be enough.
And I was relieved when I escaped, rolling my eyes at Joe when he told me I needed to wake the fuck up if we were going out. But that's because I wasn't ready to vent to him. Or confide in him. I was gay. He didn't like it. We agreed to disagree... but that didn't mean that I didn't feel a little bit hurt every time conversation dulled into awkward silences. And even if we were making an attempt to keep a friendship, it didn't mean I wanted to mention Milo to him, and I had a feeling he didn't want to hear it.
Caleb, for his part, didn't give any indication that my inviting Joe out with us was anything out of the usual, but I couldn't help but notice that I wasn't the only one who seemed to have a strained relationship with Joe.
It was interesting to see him and Caleb together, made me see what I hadn't since the rift started with Joe. Caleb had said that Joe had stopped talking to him and Haily, and after talking to Joe I understood why, but Caleb didn't. When we couldn't see a movie, and we couldn't stop for food because the two of them couldn't agree on anything, I told Caleb myself.
Caleb didn't hide the fact that he was offended about what Joe's mom had to say and Joe didn't hide that he agreed with some of her opinions. I already wasn't having the best night, so Joe once again expressing that he didn't like the choices I'd made just brought me down more. Caleb intervened when he drove us to his house, raided every alcohol stash he had and his parents’ liquor cabinet before we invaded his garage and I proceeded to drink myself stupid.
The bickering and tension didn't last long and suddenly I was convinced I was the life of the party, harassing my friends into juvenile banter until I got dizzy enough to fall down. I barely avoided hitting my head on the mirror sticking out of Caleb's mom's car. He and Joe picked me up, laughing as I told them I didn't feel a thing. The next thing I knew Caleb was using my keys to unlock my front door and he and Joe were pushing me through it, whispering that I should stop laughing and get to my room before I woke up my parents.
I made it to my room without incident if I didn't count stubbing my toe, stumbled into bed and tried to fall asleep with my eyes open, my mind blissfully empty.
Until I heard the phone ringing next to my head.
My throat burned, my eyelids were too heavy to lift upward and my voice cracked when I brought it to my ear after blindly searching my sheets for it.
“Hi,” Milo whispered, sounding sympathetic. He had no idea. “Sorry about waking you up, this was the only time I could call...”
“It's okay,” I insisted, sitting up, too fast as my hand flew to my head in an effort to keep the insides from spinning. I bit back a groan and cracked my eyes enough to find that it wasn't the middle of the night, but early in the morning. “Are you okay?” I croaked, turning up my nose at the taste in my mouth. It had been a while since I’d been the life of a party, but I didn't remember it ever leaving me half dead before.
“Yeah... are you? You sound kinda...”
“I went out with Joe and Caleb last night,” I cut him off, and the breath of air he let out against the speaker suggested no more explaining was needed and sent goosebumps down the nape of my neck.
“Did you at least have fun?” he asked, amused.
“I'm sure someone will tell me I did in the morning,” I remarked.
Milo chuckled softly, but abruptly cut himself off and lowered his voice even more, making me wonder how close he was to his dad. “Jame's here.”
“Yeah. I figured. So like I said, are you okay?” I made an effort to lay back down.Slowly...slowly. The back of my head landed gently on my pillow and I sighed, deciding that staring at my ceiling helped the room to stop spinning.
“I'm ready to be home,” he replied.
I sighed, ready to have him home, too. “What's going on with Jame?” I asked, because if I didn't it would drive me crazy. “He's not causing you any trouble, is he?”
“Actually, we've talked a lot,” Milo said carefully, as if he wasn't quite sure news like that would sit well with me. But then, I wasn't entirely surprised.
“That's... good. I think.”
“I think it is,” Milo said, reassuring. “I mean, there are some things... I don't know if I trust him, Nels. But right now he's going through some stuff and I'm trying... I don't know. I think he's trying, too. We talked about you.”
Something about that revelation had me waking up a lot faster, my head clearing. “Okay.” I tried to sound calm, but I'm not sure Milo bought it because he didn't waste time in explaining himself.
“It's not like he can say anything to my dad that I haven't already... every time I talk to Jame and your name comes up, it's like he's waiting for you to go away. I told him it wasn't something that was going to happen... I don't want that to happen. I think he might get it.”
“He might get it?” I asked doubtfully.
“Maybe. I don't know. It's like he doesn't get why I just can’t do what my dad wants me to. But at least, maybe Jame's figuring out that my dad isn't perfect. The reason he's with us is because his mom's leaving his dad. I guess Jame's worried about her getting bullied, so he's freaking out. My dad waited until they were on a plane before he told him.”
“Yeah,” Milo agreed. “But that's just like him. He doesn't think about other people. If he's in control then everything's right in the world. Anyway, I guess he told Jame he was staying with us for a while, until his mom figures stuff out.”
I frowned. “Great.”
“He needs to be out of his house, Nelson. I get that. But it doesn't matter anyway. I probably won't be around long enough to notice.”
I must have fallen silent for too long.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered.
“It's okay. I just...” Didn't want to hear that.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
I shook my head against the phone as if he were supposed to see it, pulled the covers over my head to block out the light and thought about telling him that I was fine, that I'd see him soon, and everything would be okay.
“I think I'm going crazy. I try to forget about what's happening, but I can't. It's hard to pretend everything's okay. I don't know if I can keep doing it.”
“You don't have to pretend.”
“I want you to stay. I want to do something about it.”
Milo released a small, rueful sound. “I'm still willing to live on the boat.”
I found myself smiling, eyes drifting closed. “I think I'm about ready to jump on it with you,” I remarked.
“Really?” he asked, suddenly optimistic.
My eyes opened, my eyebrow raised. “Milo...”
“Shit. I have to go” he suddenly whispered. “I'll see you soon.”
“I...” There was a click as the line went dead and I pushed aside my blankets as I glanced at the clock in my room. I considered bypassing school to go back to bed, but that wasn't the way to convince my parents that I was responsible enough to visit Milo after he was gone. But if I was going to school, water... I needed lots of water.
My mom was up, waiting with breakfast, but she didn't attempt to discuss my recent mood with me. Instead she told me she loved me, said I wouldn't be going out on school nights anymore in the near future, and sent me off to school. I was just unlocking my car when Caleb pulled up the driveway, Haily and Joe with him. He figured after the night before, I'd need a ride. I felt less stupid when it became clear that I wasn't the only one with a hangover as Haily made obnoxious, high-pitched noises just to fuck with us and Caleb and Joe told her to shut the hell up right along with me.
We spent the second half of the drive talking about Joe's parents and what it meant for them to disapprove of certain friendships he had. Haily didn't take it well, to learn certain members of her family weren't as open-minded as she thought, and I think she convinced Joe to talk to her parents about it. I hoped he would, that it would help. Caleb approached the situation less carefully, deciding he didn't like what Joe's mom had said enough to stay away, but he had no intention of holding it against Joe.
I hoped that we could work around all of it, but it didn't sit well with me that my personal life had once again affected someone I cared about, when it shouldn't have had anything to do with him.
I was still feeling a little down about it all when we reached the school, but halfway through the day I found myself smiling again, mind wandering to my wake-up call from Milo. I wondered if it was normal to feel both happy and sad over the same thought. And I wished I had what it took to stick to the happy. He'd see me soon. Whether or not it would happen didn't matter because it felt good to hear it.
I caught sight of Brandon Sholer as school ended for the day and started heading in his direction, deciding that I'd have to talk to him sooner or later, but then he looked up and spotted me. He winked, flashed the dimples and walked away. Maybe later then. But his actions made me feel better, too. Obviously, Brandon Sholer and his feelings were willing to stay off my list of worries.
I spent my afternoon with Chad and my dad repainting our deck because it was finally above freezing and I went to bed early, still needing to recover from the night before and in the morning I woke up, went to school and checked the phone relentlessly. He'd be back before I even made it home. And when I heard from him it would be another matter of when I could see him. I was ready to hear from him.
But Milo didn't call before school was out, leaving me in search of other distractions. I studied with Haily at her house for a while, catching up on past-due work and gossip as she talked about all the people I didn't care about anymore. She also confided that she was more than just a little interested in Jerry but wasn't sure if she wanted to start dating him yet. Apparently, after the drama I put her through she thought it was a good idea to take a break about obsessing over a guy for a while, at least until she was convinced there weren't any secrets in their closet that would set her up for heartbreak. We took a break from studying, went out for milkshakes and walked around some shops for thirty minutes before I dropped her off so I could get home and stop giving my parents the cold shoulder.
I think I felt disappointed, when I came home to an empty house and a note from my dad saying he’d come home early to take my mom to a movie. But maybe that was because Milo still hadn’t called and it had started stressing me out.
He was back. Should have been back hours ago. And it was driving me nuts to not just get in my car and drive past his house.
Feeling alone and wanting my sketchbook I headed to my room, dropped my backpack on the floor and scooped one up, grabbed a pencil and lazily dropped myself onto my bed, my hand positioned and ready to bring pencil to paper. I almost didn't hear the doorbell. I'd turned on the radio upstairs because I'd know my parents were home when the music stopped.
I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket as I got up, suddenly hopeful that I'd missed a call from Milo, the one where he told me he was standing at my front door. I hadn't, but felt hopeful anyway as I dropped the device on my bed and jogged up the stairs and headed for the front door.
I probably should have looked before I opened it. Smart people look first.
Mr. Trust looked so flustered I wondered if his frown lines had permanently carved themselves into his face, and the way he turned his cold stare on me had me tempted to slam the door in his face and go hide under my bed. But instead I found myself holding the front door, shielding my home from him as he stepped closer.
“Is Milo okay?” I asked, my mind trying to come up with any reason why the man would be here. None of them were good.
But Mr. Trust seemed offended by my question. “Don't screw with me. Where is he, Nelson?”
I frowned. “I don't know,” I said honestly.
“You expect me to believe that?” he demanded, waving a piece of paper in my face. “What is this, huh? What does this mean? Is he on drugs?”
“What? No!” I said quickly, even before I snatched the paper out of his fingers because he wasn't holding it still long enough for me to take a good enough look. What I found was Milo's neat cursive in bold dark letters reading Gone Fishing and a realistic sketch of a hand giving the bird that had me raising my eyebrows and cautiously handing it back. “Yeah. He definitely left that for you.”
“Where is he?” he asked again, his tone suggesting it was taking a great deal of patience for him to even be standing in front of me.
“I honestly don't know where he is right now,” I insisted.
He narrowed his eyes. “If I find out you're lying...”
I opened the door wider, beginning to feel a little impatient and offended myself. “Wanna come in and check?”
To my surprise, he was suddenly moving past me. Leaving the door open I followed after him with caution. “So do you want the full tour or do you think you can manage?” I remarked.
He stopped halfway through the living room, and his posture grew stiff as his eyes fell on Milo's painting before he turned slowly and regarded me in a way that made me wonder if he had any idea what he was doing. “He went to his room, twenty minutes later I checked and he was gone,” Mr. Trust said as he crinkled the paper against the palm of his hand. “He'd tell you where he is.”
“He would if he could call me,” I remarked, and Mr. Trust gritted his teeth. I shook my head at him, feeling less nervous than common sense told me I should. “Why don't you like me?” I asked, before I could stop myself.
His eyes widened, incredulous. “My son is missing.”
“And I don't know where he is, and I didn't tell him to take off,” I countered, half tempted to tell him that Milo wanted to run away all on his own. Maybe I should have.
“Alright. Fine. You get to come look for him with me.”
My jaw dropped before Mr. Trust grabbed my arm, and my first instinct was to resist as I dug my heels in the carpet. “I think they call this kidnapping!”
My mom's voice was shrill, panicked. I looked up in time to see my dad move between me and Thompson Trust, who let go and put his hands up, seeming startled. My mom pulled me further from both men and gave me a shove in the opposite direction. “You go to your room,” she ordered.
Normally I would have objected to that, but this time I reached to where Milo's message to his father had landed at my feet, picked it up and fled without another look at his father, my thumb sliding over Gone Fishing as I headed to my room, shaking my head and chewing the inside of my lip.
I reached my bed, grabbed my phone and looked down to find three missed calls. We really needed to work on our timing. I dialed and when he answered on the second ring I let out a breath. “So,” I said, “where the hell is this boat?”