Ryder Sullivan…we all know a kid like him…the quiet kid in the back of the class room. The one everyone picks on for being different…the one you hear people call the school shooter…the kid, people joke they’ll be friendly to so when he finally snaps he might just spare them. As I watched him weave through the hallways on the last day of school I couldn’t help but wonder what a toll that takes on a person. For god’s sake people tell him to his face that one day he’ll be like the kids in columbine or Virginia tech, and why? Because he keeps to himself? Because he wears dark colors? Because he keeps his hair on the longer side, and is in a band? Worst of all, this whole time I’ve been turning a blind eye to it. I’ve been letting it happen in my school.
As I walked up to the podium to deliver the goodbye speech for the year I couldn’t help but let those thoughts creep up on me, let them make me pause with nerves “Sorry” I laughed, realizing I was blanking in front of the whole school “Finals just have me a little burnt out, I’m sure you can all relate.”
“WE LOVE YOU TEDDY!” I heard a lacrosse player shout, doing his best to rally behind me…why can’t they show Ryder this support? Why only me?”
“Love you guys too” I smiled, starting to get a little more comfortable “What can I say? We survived another year. You survived another year! Maybe halfway through you wanted to quit, maybe you wanted to just give up and run away…but you made it, and no matter what grades you got, whether it’s an A+ or an F, be proud of yourself. You stuck with it; you made a commitment and honored it.”I announced, nodding to myself“You made it past the crazy teachers, the last minute paper, and the stress of finals! And now…now it’s time to party! To my seniors, I’ll miss you guys, thank you for showing us how to be leaders. To my sophomores, I hope you’ve found your place, next year you’ll have to be leaders. To my freshman, I hope this place has started to feel like home…you’re going to be here awhile, and finally...to my fellow juniors, rest up this summer, because next year we run this place!” I paused as the rest of my class began to shout with excitement “We’ll be a year away from graduation, a year away from being free men and women, a year away from the world! But before any of that, we’ll be leaders here. We’ll be counted on to guide the younger clases with strength, with honor…” I paused searching the crowd for Ryder, but couldn’t find him “With acceptance. Rest up this summer…the best is yet to come!”
I nodded to the teachers and administration as I slowly made my way back to my seat. Cheers and laughter echoed as a result of my speech, as a result of the words I said. I closed my eyes and took a breath, reminding myself of how much influence I have around here, about how much I can change things.
As the assembly wound down I got met with the normal barrage of kids saying goodbye. I’d be lying if I said I remembered all their names, but it was my job to act like I did, my job to play that part.
“Someone’s off his game today.” Blake teased, leaning against the locker next to mine.
I threw on my normal smile and glanced over to him “I’m all good.”
“Doesn’t look like it.” He muttered, as Mike moved through, pushing him out of the way.
“Got 4 kegs for the party tomorrow bitches!” he shouted, grabbing onto my arms “Who’s ready to get fucked up?”
“I am” I nodded, smile growing “And I know for a fact Blake is.”
“Oh hell yeah” he let out, smooshed between Mike and the locker “Bet Ryder is too.”
“Ryder?” Mike repeated, shaking his head “Teddy, please tell me you didn’t invite that fag!”
“I did” I confidently shrugged “It’s my house…I’ll invite over who I want, and watch your language.”
“Oh please, you know I wasn’t talking about you.” He ignorantly dismissed “Besides why are you always so hell bent on committing social suicide?” He grunted, squeezing me a little tighter.
“It’s called being a good person” I leaned forward, and looked deeper into his eyes “You should really try it sometime.”
“Doesn’t suit me” he dismissed in a laugh, finally letting me go “See you later losers” he teased, giving Blake one last shove.
“You know he’s totally hitting his peak right now right?” Blake laughed, as the big figure turned the corner.
“Oh yeah” I nodded with a smile “He’ll wind up pumping gas for the rest of his live, and couch jumping from yours, to mine, to Liz’s.”
Blake rolled his eyes, knowing it was true “Maybe it’ll humble him.”
“Nah” we both agreed, as I finally cleaned out the last of my locker “Goodbye school, hello summer 2k17”
“You’re so corny.” Blake groaned at my words “Ryder was venting to me about you.”
“No he wasn’t” I shook, heading to my beaten down old car.
Blake joined me, and threw his bag into my back seat, expecting one last ride home for the school year “Yeah he was” he chuckled “He said you’re as fake as a doll, and that he can’t wait for you to never talk to him again.
“What’s his deal?” I frustratedly poked “I’m trying to be nice here…I’m trying to help him.”
“You ever stop to consider he doesn’t need help?”
“He gets shoved around every second of every school day, why wouldn’t he need help?” I grunted, finally getting the car to start. My family isn’t poor by any means, actually were pretty comfortable, but buying a rundown beater was my parents way of making sure I stayed grounded…that I stayed grateful for everything in my life.
“He’s a free soul.” Blake informed, sounding as though he fully understood him “He honestly doesn’t let any of that get him down, he lets it out in his music, and he doesn’t want anyone he deems as insincere weighing him down.”
“Because that’s healthy.” I let out in an unintentionally judgey tone.
“Sorry it doesn’t meet your standards” Blake sarcastically let out “I don’t get why everyone has to say that to him. I mean you let out all your stress in lacrosse…why can’t music be like that for him?” I shrugged my shoulders not knowing the answer to it “Doesn’t your family like love music? I mean isn’t your uncle even some type of producer?”
“But what Teddy?” Blake pressured “I’ve seen the pictures of you guys singing along near your fire pit and pool, I don’t know what’s gotten into you these past few days man.” He continued, as he laid into me “I think you’re either spending too much time with the lacrosse team, or with Mike.”
“I guess so” I shrugged
“Well your better than that” he encouraged, as I pulled up to his house “I’ll see you tomorrow brother.”
“See you tomorrow” I nodded, as he grabbed onto his backpack and climbed out of the car.
I drove down the street, and around the corner to my house, and spent the night thinking over his words. I am better than this…I should be better.
After a night full of reflecting back on everything…the day I’ve been waiting weeks for finally came, and damn did we start early! It must’ve been about 10 am when Mike arrived in his truck with 4 large kegs full of cheap beer. I know that might not sound like a lot, but to about 60 15-18 year olds…well that could get us all pretty shitfaced…not to mention people were usually pretty good about bringing various bottles and drinks themselves. I made sure to put out a bunch of garbage cans, and lock the screen door before the party began, guaranteeing things could stay control…at least I hope so. This must be the 3rd summer party I’ve thrown with alcohol, and it’s never gone wrong…well not yet anyway!
At some point Ryder Sullivan finally showed up, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little tipsy when I walked up to him. “Hey man” I goofily let out, slowly walking up to the quiet figure standing alone “Glad you could make it!”
“Save the shit Teddy” he groaned, doing his best to ignore me “Do you know where Blake is?”
“Last time I saw him he was chugging something.” I laughed, looking a little closer at him. A new neon green streak shined in the very front of his hair. The sides and top were cut cleanly, but the front was always where he let the length show…and for whatever reason the very front of it was green! “Yo, I’m not that drunk right? You did something to your hair?”
“Yeah” he muttered, self-consciously reaching up to it.
I quickly reached over and swatted his hand away “No, I didn’t mean it like that, it looks cool man.” I laughed, beginning to back pedal “Come on, lets get you a drink.”
“I’m okay” he waived off “My grandma’s coming to pick me up later, and if she smells alcohol on my breath she’d kill me!”
“Then stay the night” I dismissed, not putting much thought into it “At least like 10 to 15 people wind up doing it every night, I don’t give a shit.”
“I can’t just stay the night, I barely know you.”He mumbled, looking away.
“Who gives a shit?” I blurted out, hearing the party raging on behind me.
He let out a deep breath and shook his head “This is your problem…you never stop to consider what other people are thinking.”
“Whatever man” I shrugged, taking another sip “This isn’t very rock and roll of you.”
“What?” he shook, making a face.
I shrugged once more and smiled “Blake told me you love your music, and by all the shirts I see you wearing, I’m gonna guess its rock music…being sober at a party…being all structured…that’s not very rock and roll.”
“Eyyy” Blake shouted, stumbling over and throwing his arm around me “Look who fuckin made it!” Blake took a look from him to me and rolled his eyes “What’s the issue between you two now?”
“There’s no issue” I shrugged “Ryder’s just not living up to his hype as a musician, he wants to stay sober all day.”
“Teddy man” Blake shook “You know I love you, but this is part of his problem with you! You peer pressure the shit out of everyone! It’s why Ryder never wants to see you again! You never just leave things be!”
“I never said that.” Ryder lied in a blush.
I let out a long sigh, and titled my head “Sorry, I’m being a dick…I’ll just leave you be, I’m glad you made it.”
“Fuck it” I heard him mutter “Get me a drink.”
“Thatta boy!” I shouted, grasping onto Blake “Let’s get this going.”
The party seemed to rage on all afternoon, I can’t say I remember much of it… but I’m pretty sure I spent most of it standing on the tables, standing on the amps…hugging random people, starting random conversations…just doing everything and anything to keep my social status up. Every now and then I would randomly pull Ryder into a conversation or seek him out to see how he was doing. I could tell some people were giving him dirty looks, but as long as I stuck by they were talking with him…or at least being friendly.
“Hey man” he drunkenly tripped into me “I can still stay the night right?”
“Yeah man!” I laughed, a little too gone for my own good “my house is your house for today! Blake’s staying the night too! It’ll be like a chill after party party!
“Why do you do this to yourself?” he shook, talking openly to me for the first time.
“Do what?” I laughed, looking at the party going on around me.
“This!” he repeated “Talk to everyone! Give everyone everything! What’s in it for you?”
I shrugged my shoulders not knowing the answer “It’s just fun man, it’s nice having all these friends.”
“Are they really your friends though?” he pushed “Do they really know who you are? Or do they just want to be seen hanging out with Teddy Haner?”
“Man we’re too drunk for this deep bullshit!” I laughed as his words began to sink in “Tell me about your music, what’s it like?”
“You don’t want to know about that.” He bashfully shrugged “It’s stupid.”
“No it’s not! My family loves music, my dad and uncle break out guitars at every family event!” I elaborated, recalling Blake’s words to me just a day ago “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want toknow.”
“It’s just a rock band” he let out, not sure if it was safe to talk about or not “I play with a few guys I met at some open mic nights, it’s really no big deal.”
“So you’re a singer?” I pushed, as people around us started to dance. He bit his lip, refusing to share. “Keep it to yourself if you want.” I laughed, leaning over and giving him a playful push “but since we’ll never talk again, it’s your last chance to tell me!” He swayed his head starting to think it over “Come on, I can’t make fun of you for it if I can’t talk to you!”
“Fine!” he exhaled, starting to let the alcohol talk “I play at Shortways every Friday night…it’s really nothing big, just something I like to do.”
“Have any of your friends or family ever went to see you?” I poked, glad he was finally opening up.
He shook his head, and I knew I had hit a sensitive subject “Blake said he’d go one night, but that’s it.”
“Yeah? I’ll take him next Friday! Maybe we’ll bring Liz too, you like her right?” I pushed with a devious grin “Come on, she’s sexy as hell!”
“Teddy…” he uncomfortably let out “That’s not funny.”
“What? She is!” I insisted, not understanding what he meant “I guess it’s not cool for me to say it because she’s like a sister to me!” I giggled looking over at her, dancing and running around “but it’s not like I like girls, plus she is good looking!”
“You really don’t know?” he let out, making a face.
“Know what?” I shrugged throwing my hands up, accidentally spilling out most of my drink.
“I’m gay” he anxiously let out “How do you not know? That’s like the number one thing I get shit for.”
“What?” I let out, taking another look at him “No you’re not”
He let out a deep sigh, and shook his head “Trust me, I wish I wasn’t”
“What? Why?” I poked, leaning over and catching him on the shoulder with my hand “We don’t have to deal with lady drama, or accidental pregnancy or…or pms rage!”
He nervously laughed at my drunken words, but I could still see some sort of pain in his eyes “It’s easy to say that when you’re not the one getting heat for it….people like you, but when it comes to me…they just act different”
“HEY!” I shouted, climbing onto a nearby amp “If any of you fuckers have been making fun of Ryder for being gay, you can pour out your drink, and leave! Making fun of him for it, is the same as making fun of me for it!”
Most of the party turned to me and shrugged their shoulders “It’s cool with me” Someone shouted back, as a few others muttered their support.
“If I hear about it happening again in my school, shit will go down!” I announced “Now let’s fucking party!” I screamed, jumping from the amp into the large pool nearby. I couldn’t tell if the look Ryder flashed me was anger or appreciation…but I could see things would never be the same between us…and honestly, I didn’t care.
Finally as the party wound down and people stumbled home, it wound up just being me, Blake, Liz, Mike and Ryder left over.
“I thought you said a lot of people stay over?” Ryder nervously poked, looking at the group left over.
“They usually do!” I laughed, looking around “What the hell happened here?”
“You threw a party dipshit” Mike exhaled, leaning back on his arms to try and prevent the inevitable spinning
“No, where did the people go?” I pressured, kicking him lightly with my foot.
“There’s an after party somewhere.” Blake shrugged doing his best to not vomit.
I went to stand up, but immediately fell back down “Well what the hell are we doing? Let’s go!”
“Dude” Liz laughed, staring at me “You’re too fucked up to be going anywhere other than to bed! Man this is worse than you were over winter break!”
“The golden boy of Hudson High is a drinker?” Ryder poked turning towards Blake.
“I told you, Teddy’s not who you think he is.” Blake laughed but quickly took a breath to steady himself “He’s like his own little crazy creation. Raised by a hippie and a perfectionist…little man is what he is.”
“Don’t call me little man” I protested, with a shake of my head “And Ryder, why do you have all these wild assumptions about me?”
“Because we’ve been in school together since kindergarten, and I’ve seen you act the same ever since.” He shrugged, making a face “Everything you do has to be perfect, and everyone around you has to be happy. You don’t actually care if they know you, or if you even know them…you always offer support, but you never actually stick around long enough to help.”
“Ohhhhhh” Liz let out, looking from him to me “He’s got you nailed!”
“I’m not like that” I defended, trying to think clearly on who I am “I’m just…look when you have all these people trying to talk to you, you get lost and forget some stuff. I’m only human.”
Ryder shrugged his shoulders once more and tilted his head “Does the school know that?”
“Alright” Blake shouted “I’m too drunk to hear the two of you figure out a friendship right now…just…Ryder…hang out with us more, you’re cool, we’re cool…it’ll be cool! And stop assuming things about Teddy because of what you see at school.” He slowly turned his head to me, careful that he wouldn’t vomit “Teddy, stop being so defensive. Ryder’s absolutely right, you can be fake as hell sometimes, and I know you know that. We’ll just…we’ll work it out another day.”
“Another day” I nodded towards Ryder.
We stayed up a little bit longer until finally we went inside and all passed out. As I woke up the next morning I looked over at my 4 sleeping friends and shrugged, so Ryder might be one of us now…I thought over, taking a closer look at him. When he’s not angry…he’s actually kind of cute. That oddly perfect styled haircut that went along with his soft features and thin body. I nodded my head as I sat back on the couch and looked at him…it could be because we’re the only 2 gay kids in Hudson…but I could totally see myself falling for him…not that he would ever fall back. I think he’d rather die alone with 20 cats!
“Are you watching me?” Ryder angrily grunted as he slowly shrugged awake.
“No” I quickly shook off “I was staring off, and guess I had just been looking in your direction.”
“Wher-where am I?” he softly groaned, looking around “I feel like shit.”
“You’re in my basement” I smiled as he looked around at the other 3 passed out on the floor “Don’t you remember? We all got super drunk, decided you were our new friend, and passed out.”
He let out a long moan, as it all came back to him “I never agreed to that! What time is it?” he poked, digging into his pocked to find a dead phone.
I shrugged before looking down at mine “2 pm” I giggled “We drank a lot.”
“Dude!” he yelped, starting to panic “My grandma is totally going to kill me!
“Oh relax” I waved off “You’re 17, she’ll understand.”
“Not her! She does nothing but worry!” he grumbled, throwing his head back “Do you have a charger? I have to get her to come pick me up!”
“I’ll just drive you” I waived, slowly standing up. He shot me a weirded out look, before nodding his head and realizing he didn’t really have a better option “Just tell her we all went out to a diner this morning, and wound up staying there a little too late. We all had different phone chargers, and you left yours at home, so your phone was dead and you couldn’t let her know what was going on.”
“Where do you get this stuff from?” he poked, gingerly getting up and following me into the garage.
I proudly shrugged my shoulders and smiled “Always think 5 steps ahead.”
“Are they going to be okay in there?” he poked, turning back to the 3 passed out on the floor.
“They’ll be fine” I comforted “They’ve been coming over since pre-k, they know where everything is.” He rolled his eyes, and reluctantly got in my car, carefully looking at it “Isn’t this car just perfect?”
“There’s no way it’s actually yours.” He let out, taking a closer look at the inside.
“Yeah” I nodded with a smile “It’s mine, everyone always cracks jokes about it. How haven’t you heard them?”
“Sorry I don’t keep up with your life.” He grunted with a pout “I know I’m probably the only one.”
I ignored his jab, and slowly pulled out of my garage “Well you’re still talking to me, so that’s a good start.” He turned his head as I looked to him, and bit his tongue “Have fun yesterday?”
“It wasn’t that bad” he admitted, keeping his pout.
“I’m glad” I nodded, stopping before I could leave the driveway “Now are you going to tell me where to drive or…”
He took a deep breath, realizing that I actually needed to drive to his house “Drive to Skyline cemetery”
“Why?” I laughed “Are you that worried about me finding out where you live?”
“That is where I live” he grunted, keeping his face towards the window.
“Really?” I gently poked, finally getting on the road “You’re just one big cliché aren’t you?”
“Great, another thing to get made fun of for” he grumbled, more to himself than to me.
I let out a deep breath, and looked at his face through the side view mirror “I’m not trying to make fun of you…I won’t tell anyone, I swear.”
“Don’t do me any favors.” He griped, still not budging.
I bit my tongue for a few seconds, before finally starting to get annoyed “You know what?”
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to let me know.” He complained, finally looking over to me.
“I’ve been nothing but nice to you since Monday, but you’ve given me nothing but shit for it!” I began, trying to avoid yelling “You’ve made it perfectly clear that I don’t know you, but you don’t know me either, so do me a favor and cut me some fucking slack here.” I began to grip the wheel extra tight, doing my best not to come across as too angry “I get it, you don’t want fake people in your life, but how will you know who I am if you don’t give me a real chance?”
“Maybe I just don’t want to.” He stubbornly exhaled “Is it that hard to believe that not everyone wants to be your friend? Are you so conceded that you actually think everyone has to bow before you?”
“I never said that.” I yelped, doing my best to keep my focus on the road “I just figured since you don’t really have any friends you would like to have a new one.”
“Pull over” he let out “I’ll walk the rest of the way. Thanks for the party, and letting me stay the night.”
“Ryder…” I exhaled “I didn’t mean it like…”
“No, I get it.” He interrupted, in a low voice “Just stop the car, not like I didn’t know this was out of pity anyway.”
“It’s not out of pity…I just said that because I was angry.” I confessed in a groan “and sit back, because I’m not stopping.” I started to push down harder on the pedal, while staring him down to prove it “Look I’m sorry, but what did you think was going to happen if you kept pushing my buttons?” He looked down but didn’t say anything “I get that you’re angry because everyone gives you shit, but why are you taking it out on me? Monday is the first time in a long time I’ve even spoken to you.”
“Because why do you get it so easy?” he finally admitted, turning back towards me “Why are you accepted for being gay but I’m shit on? Why does everybody hate me, but love you? All I’ve ever wanted to do is get through school without being noticed, and play my music, but all your little cronies have made that impossible.” he confessed, finally giving me real reasons for his attitude “Everyday it’s Ryder sing me one of your faggot songs! Or Ryder for 20 dollars I’ll let you blow me! Or Ryder please don’t shoot me when you finally snap! Every goddamn day!” he exhaled “And what do you do? You, the one everyone praises, the one everyone says is so nice? You sit with them, laugh with them, help them, act like they’re not the bad guy. They go from beating the shit out of me to waiting on you hand and foot, so yeah I have good reason for my bad attitude.”
I let his words stain the air as I kept my eyes on the road, not knowing what to say “Ryder…” I began not even sure where to start “I never knew it was like that for you…I never…I had no idea…I mean sure I heard something every now and then, but I didn’t know it was that bad...” I looked over to him, and saw he wasn’t buying a word of it “I’m serious Ryder, why the hell would I let that happen? Why would I let you get bullied for being gay when I’m gay?”
“Because you can’t relate to it.” He groaned, not exactly sure how to feel.
“I do” I shrugged in a nervous laugh “When I first came out…I got a good amount of shit, but I…I had Mike there protecting me.” I realized, starting to snap into reality “You’ve had no one.” I gasped as he slowly started to make sense to me “Ryder I am so sorry…I…I’m an asshole.”
“Your words not mine” he teased, finally realizing how serious I was being “Just…it’s not your problem.” He decided looking back out the window “Don’t worry about it.”
“It is my problem.” I comforted, seeing the cemetery in the distance “I’m the school president, I should make sure this shit doesn’t happen…and I’m gay…I should’ve had your back since day 1.”
“Teddy…” he groaned eager to get out of the car.
“Nope” I confidently blurted out “From now on you can count on me to be there for you, you just have to come get me.”
“I really don’t need that.” He grumbled, not sure how he should feel.
I slowly crawled to a stop as we reached the front gate “Welp now you have it.” I smiled, turning towards him “Thanks for coming, it was nice to have you…I guess I’ll see you Friday.”
“Friday?” he repeated in a confused voice.
“Yep” I nodded “At Shortways, remember I told you that me and Blake are coming?”
“No…No” he repeated, remembering more details from yesterday “No, you’re not…”
“Yep” I laughed, keeping my smile “I want to see you put on a show.”
“Teddy, please don’t come” he pleaded, nervously biting his lip.
I shrugged my shoulders and gave him a friendly push “I am…don’t worry It’ll just be me and Blake, and I won’t tell a soul…my uncle and dad love rock music so it won’t even be weird to me!”
“I…” he began but stopped, finally getting out of the car “Thanks for the ride.”
“See you Friday” I shouted, as he slammed the door.
He shook his head once again, and disappeared into the distance. This whole time I honestly thought he had no reason to be an asshole to me, but now I see it…now I know he did. That’s going to change now…I won’t be that guy anymore…I won’t let that happen. Like Blake said I’m better than that…I’ll live up to what people say about me…I’ll be the one he needs.