-The Ride Home
By the time Spencer and Nix arrived back to their hotel room, it was late in the night. Nix’s friends headed to the bar, but not wanting to feel like the seventh wheel, Nix declined in favor of sleep.
“I’m going to shower,” Nix announced. “Do you need in the bathroom?”
Spencer shook his head.
“I don’t think so.”
“Alright, well, as you know the door doesn’t lock, so…”
“You are aware that the shower makes noise, right?”
“I was just going to say that if you needed the bathroom while I was in there to announce your presence, and if necessary do not flush.”
Spencer’s face mock-fell.
“Dang. There went my evil plan to give you a cold shower.”
Nix rolled his eyes and gathered his clothes.
“I’m sorry to ruin it,” Nix said sarcastically before entering the bathroom and shutting the door.
Nix emerged a little while later in a pair of pajamas. His short hair was still damp from the shower. He tucked away his clothes into his suitcase and made his way to the bed, noting Spencer had changed into sleeping clothes as well.
“What a day,” Nix said, pulling the covers over his legs.
“That’s an understatement,” Spencer replied.
Nix laughed, but after a few seconds, his laughter dried up.
“Dexter told me what he said to you after you gave me your Benadryl about laying off you for a while. I’m just sorry it took me almost dying for him to get his head out of his ass and realize you’re more than just a decent human being.”
Spencer smiled slightly, but he realized Nix did not know everything Dexter and Riley knew.
“I’m sure Dexter has his reasons for… well, you know.”
Nix looked over at Spencer sharply.
“How can you say that, Spencer?”
“If I were you, I would be mad at the entire frickin’ world. I’d be mad at Dexter, at Riley. Hell, I’d be mad at me! But you’re not…?”
Spencer shook his head.
“Because I deserve it, Nix.”
“No, you don’t!” Nix immediately disagreed. “How can you even entertain that idea?! No one deserves it and especially not you.”
“What if you’re wrong? What if I do deserve it? You don’t know the entire story, Nix.”
“It doesn’t matter if I knew every excruciating detail of the story, Spencer. You don’t deserve being ridiculed, being beaten up, or being lonely.”
Spencer laughed a couple of times self-depreciatingly.
“That’s the story of my life.”
“It shouldn’t be.”
“Regardless, it is.”
Nix sighed. Spencer turned over and ended the conversation. Everything about the younger boy’s posture screamed defeat and acceptance. Nix resisted the urge to cuddle against Spencer’s back and promise him he would change Spencer’s outlook on himself. Instead, Nix rolled over the opposite way and fell asleep.
Hours later, Nix woke to the sound of muffled sobs. He turned himself over to see Spencer’s face in the darkened room. The younger boy’s eyes were clenched shut, and tear stains ran down both cheeks. Spencer had attempted to stifle his sobs by burying his chin in the crook of his elbow.
Nix’s heart broke at the sight, and he briefly wondered how many times Spencer had cried in his sleep or how many times Spencer had cried himself to sleep.
Neither of those facts mattered at the moment, though. Nix scooted himself closer to Spencer and gathered the younger boy in his arms much in the same way he had done the night prior. The second Spencer was settled against Nix, the younger boy froze. His sobs abruptly ended.
Nix began rubbing soothing circles on Spencer’s back and buried his face in Spencer’s brown hair, breathing in the scents of Irish Springs soap and late autumn leaves.
After the initial shock of being in Nix’s hold, Spencer’s sobs began once again. Nix took to whispering nonsense words of comfort into Spencer’s ear. He prayed his words would bring an end to the younger boy’s anguish, even if it was just a temporary end.
Nix got his wish after ten minutes as Spencer’s tears subsided. It was another five minutes of awkward silence before either of them spoke.
“I could-hic-n’t sleep.”
“I noticed,” Nix replied lightly. “You want to talk about it?”
Spencer stiffened. Nix knew the answer without the younger boy’s verbal reply, but Nix also knew it he had to get the younger boy to talk.
“I’d rather not.”
“From my experience, keeping something like this inside of you where it’s left to simmer and boil over is not the greatest way to deal with it.”
“From my experience, I’ve never had another choice.”
“But you do now.”
Spencer was quiet for a few seconds.
“How do I know you won’t use what’s inside of me against me? That you won’t run to Dexter and Riley with this? That I won’t be better off without telling you?”
Nix leaned back to where he could look Spencer in the eye.
“Because you saved my life without even thinking twice about doing it. Because you’re the first person that’s challenged me to be myself and stand up for what I believe in. Because before I met you, I was a shell of a person dealing with a horrible break up and watching my pain flaunted in front of my eyes every single day. Because I owe it to you to be a friend.”
Spencer sighed and dropped his watering eyes from Nix.
“You must think I’m weak,” he said quietly. “We’ve slept together for two nights now, and I’ve cried on you twice.”
The phrasing of Spencer’s words went missed by each occupant of the bed. Spencer and Nix both knew there were more important things then laughing about words.
“I don’t think you’re weak, Spencer. That’s actually the complete opposite of what I think.”
Spencer’s eyes met Nix’s once again, and Nix was taken aback by the amount of self-hatred within the sapphire orbs.
“If I tell you my story, you will think I’m weak—and that’ll be the nicest thing you’ll think of me.”
The seriousness of Spencer’s tone destroyed any contradiction Nix was going to make. So Nix said the only thing he knew to say.
“You’re not alone, Spencer. Whatever may have happened, I’m here for you no matter what.”
“You say that now.”
“I’ll say that then.”
Spencer sighed. Nix could see the younger boy’s resolve waver to the point of disappearing.
“I hope so.”
“I know so.”
A smile ghosted across Spencer’s lips.
“I still can’t tell you, though. It’s too personal, and you’ll be too close. You can’t be close to me, Nix. I can handle anyone but you. People get hurt around me, and I can’t stand the thought of you getting hurt because of me.”
Nix did not know what to say in response. He just stared into Spencer’s eyes until the younger boy dropped his gaze. He buried himself back into Nix’s chest and willed the tears to stop coming. Nix tightened his hold on Spencer, and the two eventually fell asleep.
The next morning came soon enough, and Nix soon found himself sitting in the back seat of the bus beside of Spencer.
“Do you ever answer your phone, Phoenix?”
Nix looked over at Dexter and shrugged.
“Your mother called Riley about half an hour ago because she couldn’t get a hold of you.”
“What’d she want?”
“Your dear little brother didn’t come home last night.”
Nix’s heart stopped beating for a fraction of a second.
“So I texted Trudy,” Riley said. “She told me Max had stayed at the Dillons’ last night.”
“Max stayed where?!”
Riley exchanged a worried look with Dexter.
“At the Dillons’,” Riley repeated.
“As in Arthur Dillon’s house?”
“Do you know any other Dillons?”
“What was this about not having to worry about him getting screwed over by them?” Nix asked sarcastically.
“Hey, don’t shoot the messengers.”
“Where is he now?”
“Why don’t you call him?” Dexter suggested.
Nix reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Dialing his brother’s cell phone number, it rang three times before a voice full of sleep answered him.
The only time Max’s speech was not perfectly eloquent was when he was half-asleep. He was not going to be half-asleep for long, though.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Maximilian Markus Willows?!”
Max, realizing who he was talking to, cursed loudly. A sound of bedcovers ruffling could be heard in the background.
“Well, I was participating in the art of sleep, Phoenix Anthony Willows, but my ass of a brother decided to give me this wonderful wake up call.”
“You’re lucky I’m not in town, Max, or I’d be driving over to kick your sorry ass out of that forsaken house!”
“Oh dear brother of mine, thou art the king of overreaction.”
Nix seethed in anger. Max waited patiently for Nix’s verbal response.
“What are you doing at Artie Dillon’s house?”
“Who told you I was at Artie’s house?” Max asked, perplexed.
“Stop avoiding the question, Max.”
“I’m not at Artie’s house; why would I be?”
“I’m not as oblivious to things as everyone insists I am, you know.”
“That knowledge is not virgin to me, Nix; however, you are misinformed. I am not at the dwelling of Artie Dillon.”
“Then where are you?”
“You’re not at the house.”
“How do you know I am not?” Max challenged.
“Mom called me,” Nix replied, neglecting to inform his younger brother that he had not actually spoken to their mother. “So where are you?”
“In bed,” Max repeated. “I have a swim meet in about four hours, Nix, so if you do not mind, I will speak to you then.”
The call ended. Nix resisted the urge to redial his brother’s phone number; he knew it would be futile. Max had probably already turned off his phone. Nix turned back to Dexter and Riley.
“Well, he’s not at Artie’s house,” he announced. “That’s about all I got out of him though.”
“He talk you around in circles?” Riley asked in amusement.
“I sometimes swear we’re not related.”
“Hope you don’t swear on the Good Book,” Dexter replied. “You’d be struck down by lightening on the spot.”
Nix laughed. Dexter could still see signs of worry on Nix’s face.
“Look, wherever your dear brother is, he’s more than likely OK,” Dexter reasoned.
Nix gave Dexter a look that challenged the taller boy’s words.
“He answered the phone, didn’t he?”
“And he talked you in circles with that tongue of his?”
Nix nodded again.
“See? He’s perfectly fine. I mean, even if he is kidnapped or something, they’ll let him go pretty dang soon,” Dexter went onto say. “There’s only so long you can stand that clever mouth of his.”
Nix laughed once again, knowing all too well the logic in Dexter’s wild scenario.
“You’re right. I guess I should wait ‘til we’re back home to threaten to kick his rear end.”
Dexter shook his head.
“Go ahead and plan it, but wait ‘til we’re home to carry it out.”
The last person had gotten onto the bus by that time, and Mrs. Hannegan was counting them off. Satisfied that she had the correct number of students, she instructed the bus driver to begin their journey with the destination of the high school.
With the bus on the highway, Dexter and Riley both turned back to the occupant of their respective seats. Parker and Kendall were already cuddled against each other. His arm was wrapped around her and drawing her nearer to him; their earlier almost-falling out was completely undetectable this morning. Riley and Ember were laughing and flirting. Nix did not rest his attention on those two very long. Reese had already stolen Dexter’s jacket and had it draped over her shoulders.
Nix turned his attention to the occupant of his own seat. Spencer was leaning against the window, almost asleep. He had not gotten much sleep the night before because of his nightmares so Nix could only hope the younger boy would get a little rest on the ride home.
A couple of hours passed. Nix spent the time looking out the window and chancing glances at Spencer. He noticed Spencer’s face was getting paler each time he stole a glance at the sleeping boy.
Spencer’s eyes opened immediately. Nix realized Spencer was sleeping as well as he had originally thought.
“Are you feeling OK?”
Spencer faked a smile and nodded. Nix saw right through it.
“You have motion sickness now, don’t you?”
The change of Spencer’s expression screamed the response at Nix. Nix felt his heart clench and anger boiled inside of him. Because Nix had an allergic reaction to the honey, Spencer did not have any medicine to ease his motion sickness and was going to suffer.
“It’ll pass,” Spencer assured Nix.
“But you’ll suffer.”
Spencer shrugged. “You didn’t have to.”
Nix stared at Spencer in response.
“Lay your head on my shoulder,” Nix told him. “I have to be warmer and more comfortable than that metal siding of this bus.”’
“You’re not worried about what people will think? It’ll look weird.”
“I don’t care,” Nix replied. “I just want to help you out, and if anyone asks, I’ll tell them the truth—that you’re sick.”
Nix took off his letterman jacket and motioned for Spencer to lie against his chest. Spencer hesitated a couple more seconds, taking that time to compose himself, and then obliged. Nix adjusted the two of them until they were equally comfortable. He then laid his jacket over Spencer’s abdomen.
“That should keep you warm,” Nix said to him.
Nix wrapped both his arms around Spencer in a protective way, and Spencer snuggled back into his hold, pretending Nix viewed the moment the same way Spencer did—romantically.
“You know, Nixie, I do have an extra blanket if you two need it,” Reese offered to Nix’s right.
Nix looked over at her. Her expression was mostly guarded, but he detected a faint triumphant expression on her fair face. His eyes then traveled to gage her boyfriend’s response. Dexter’s face was taunt, but there was a look of understanding beneath his eyes that Nix had never before seen in relation to Spencer.
Reese offered Nix a green blanket. Nix took it from her.
“Thanks, Reese,” Nix replied.
She smiled in response, and Nix turned back to Spencer. He draped the blanket over both him and Spencer but left his letterman jacket where it was. He returned to his previous hold on Spencer.
“Does this help at all?” Nix asked.
“More than you know.”
Nix tightened his grip on Spencer, refusing to analyze the feelings that were running rampant through his body. He did not want to dissect whatever this was with Spencer, not now anyway with the younger boy in his arms. Nix did not want to know why he was feeling protective of Spencer or why butterflies were nesting in his stomach at the mere thought of Spencer or even why the mere graze of Spencer’s skin set each of his nerves on end. Nix just wanted to enjoy the ride for a little while longer.
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