I glanced at the glowing red numbers on my black alarm clock from where I lay stretched out on my already-made bed, fully dressed in my new jeans--dark blue, and not faded in any way. I didn’t care if it was in style. You’d never catch me buying a pair of jeans that looked like a car had run them over. I could make them look like that myself. And I was wearing a Dane’s House black t-shirt from the tattoo shop where Chad worked. My brother only did piercings there, but Dane had designed the blue dragon on the back of the t-shirt, an actual tattoo that was on his back.
I lifted the red notebook I was holding, one of the new ones that was supposed to be for school, and looked at my own handwriting over the first page of it. Two paragraphs of... well, nothing, actually. I’d woken up at four in the morning, my fingers itching to write. But, nothing in particular had come to me. I’d taken a look at the scarecrow painting on my wall, right where it was supposed to be--hanging so I could see it when I walked through my bedroom door--and I’d thought about Milo, and how I liked him, and how he didn’t like me, and how even though I thought he was full of shit, the fact that he kept saying that he didn’t like me, was actually starting to bother me. I started to write about something like that. A boy who didn’t like me. Two paragraphs worth. It was shit.
I leaned over my bed, dropping the notebook carelessly onto my white carpeting, and then the pen on top of the notebook before I rolled over, pushed myself up, and stood on my bed to better see out my bedroom window. From ground level, my window was facing the front yard, but I couldn’t see much beyond my mom’s flower bed. It didn’t really matter, though. I wasn’t looking for anything in specific, I was just investigating why there was no sun pouring into my room, like usual when I woke up. It seemed gray outside. Gloomy. It made me feel tired. But, I reasoned, I felt tired because I’d gone to bed at one in the morning, and woken up at four.
I was thinking about pulling back my thick, white comforter so I could crawl under it when my fire-alarm-sounding clock went off at exactly six fifteen. I turned my head to flash it a disapproving look before I slowly climbed off my bed, turned it off, and headed upstairs.
As always on the first day of school, my dad was in the kitchen waiting for me with banana muffins that he’d brought home from one of the bakeries the day before. My mom was long gone. During the school year, my mother wasn’t only a piano teacher, but also a substitute music teacher; and already, Little Creek Elementary School, located on the hill, needed one. We ate our breakfast, took a few minutes to feed all of my mom’s pets, and my dad left to work the same time I got into my navy-blue Buick and left for school.
The high school, named after Heywell’s first mayor, James Hellver, was commonly referred to as Hellschool, and was located on the south side of town. There was no going down the hill to get to it because, I suppose, it was considered to be on the hill. If I went out my back door, and walked for four miles, I’d run right into it. Getting there in a car was a little more complicated, since I was driving through neighborhoods. But basically, it was by the city park built on the land that my dad had donated. In the same area, there was the Heywell City Library, a Foodmart, one of the two Trust banks in town, and assorted restaurants, including one of my dad’s bakeries, the one I most frequently worked at.
The buildings in the area were somewhat newer than the old brick buildings you’d find downtown. The library was a two-story, long building that looked like it was entirely made of windows, while the school was void of any windows at all. Being the only high school besides the Stratfort Private School, Hellschool was a rather large structure. Sand colored, there were two stories that made up the main building where most classes were held. At the center of the building there was an open courtyard, where most of the clubs gathered throughout the day. The gym had its own building behind the school, and it was connected to our school’s two auditoriums. Outside of the gym, behind the school, there were two brick-colored double-wide trailers that had been made into classrooms for the electives that the school didn’t seem to have room for. Last year, Haily had gone to chorus practice there.
I parked on the east end of the student parking lot. It was a long walk to the school from there, but that put me right next to Caleb’s jeep, and we always parked there. It was less crowded, and given the fender-bender rates among students, a little walk was worth avoiding the trouble.
As I neared Hellschool, the spirit banners were visible at the front entrance. We had the worst school colors ever, if you asked me. Purple and orange. Even Caleb said that our cheerleaders were an eyesore because of it. But even so, I had to admit that our school did have spirit. The first day was not only one of the biggest social events we had all year, it was also the day that clubs were out in full force recruiting new members. The same applied for the football team, the cheerleading squad, and girls’ softball, which always started a month before baseball. There were no actual classes on the first day. The first few hours of the day were spent in long lines acquiring class and locker assignments, while the second half was spent introducing yourself to whatever teachers you happened to have that quarter. We were given a day-one temporary schedule and required to go to twenty- to thirty-minute classes starting just after a lunch break at noon. The classes on the first day usually only lasted a couple hours total. After that, everyone was divided into the auditoriums by year and we were all addressed by either the principal or the vice principal. But I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to get to any of this, and it didn’t look like Caleb was, either, when I found him waiting for me, sitting at the bottom of the four concrete stairs that led up to the building. He was staring at the sky accusingly, as if he fully expected it to drop something vile on him at any moment; as I took my seat next to him, sliding my backpack off my shoulders, I looked up, too.
The sky did indeed, seem gray today. Overcast with thin clouds, covering any sign of blue as far as we could see. It wasn’t cold, or even hot; and without so much as a light breeze in the air, everything seemed quiet, even among the static of mixed voices belonging to the masses. The atmosphere could be described as ominous. Normally, I liked to be more positive than that, but it was true. Mid-August in Heywell was generally sunny and warm, our fall not making its presence truly known until around mid September. There were only a few trees around town that had turned already, lending colors of red, purple, yellow and orange to the otherwise green landscape.
“What’s with this shit?” Caleb finally remarked, without looking at me. I didn’t have to ask to know that he was as put off by today’s gloom as I was.
“Maybe it’ll clear up later,” I suggested.
“Maybe,” he agreed. “This is just like that dream I had.”
“The one with the talking pizza.”
I shook my head. “No. That was a movie.”
“Whatever. It’s still like a dream I had.”
I finally looked away from the sky to face Caleb, noting the product in his hair he’d used to make his waves seem tighter, cleaner. His hair hadn’t looked that neat all summer. “Probably,” I said. “Where are Haily and Joe?”
Caleb yawned, pointing behind us with his thumb, in the direction where most people were passing us and entering the school. “Saving our places in line.”
“Dude, it’s an alphabetical system,” I responded. “The only two of us in the same line are Haily and Joe.” Caleb looked confused by that. I just laughed at him. We seemed to have that same conversation every year. He never seemed to quite grasp the fact that he actually had to stand in line on his own. “Let’s go,” I said. “I wanna know what our schedules are gonna be.” I stood, grabbing my backpack and heading up the stairs with Caleb right next to me. “What electives did you sign up for?”
“I don’t remember,” Caleb said. “My dad filled out my requests last year.”
“You let your dad do it?”
“I was busy,” he replied, shrugging. “Plus, the whole thing’s stupid, anyway. In two years I only got one class I actually wanted.”
He had a point there. Our school’s more desired elective classes were limited. I’d been trying to get into basic art since I was a freshman, and it hadn’t happened yet. Of course, the school had their own alternative electives that they were happy to place us in. Cooking hadn’t been that bad during my freshman year, but last year the knitting club was something that I could have gone without. I probably wouldn’t have signed up for any electives if our school didn’t require two a year, just like they required physical activity for at least one semester a year. If someone couldn’t participate in gym because of a disability, they were required to study and take written tests all term.
Caleb and I made our way through the school, once again becoming familiar with the worn white linoleum floors, fluorescent lights, orange doors and purple lockers. A few teachers that my brother had last year stopped us to chat, mostly interested in how Chad was doing. We stopped at the vending machines near the school offices for some sodas, and Caleb complained about how they didn’t have the big peanut-butter cookies this year that everyone liked. On the way to the courtyard, we ran into random people heading in the same direction. Most of them were from our year, and many of them we’d seen over the summer, or even more recently, like Peter Forest and Teresa Milldrum.
When we did reach the courtyard, it was chaos. The school-endorsed clubs had gathered around several of the round, stone tables decorating the brick outdoor flooring along with the three large planters filled with freshly planted seasonals that looked pretty now, but would likely whither up and die in a month’s time. Coach Don, with his cropped black hair and hooked nose was out with his clipboard and had a whole line of guys waiting to get their names on it as he told them football tryouts started next weekend, on Saturday, at seven in the morning. Just like every year, Coach Don waved to Caleb and me, and told Caleb that they could sure use him on the team.
And just like every year, Caleb said no thanks and kept walking. Just like he couldn’t understand why he had to wait in line, he didn’t understand why anyone would want to spend their spare time tackling other guys and playing with a ball--which in Caleb’s opinion, didn’t even look like a real ball--when they could be out tackling girls. Caleb didn’t buy all of the fuss about girls liking sports players more, either. Last year when our school’s best wide receiver, Brandon Sholer, decided to tell Caleb that he could get more girls than Caleb because he was on the team and girls liked that sort of thing, Caleb stole Brandon’s girlfriend, just to prove a point. I’m not sure if he actually knew what his point was, though. He seemed more interested in pissing Brandon off at the time than anything else. There were simply some things I’d never understand about Caleb.
The courtyard was rectangular in shape, and besides the door we came through, there were four more orange doors, all open where people were dividing into lines according to their last names. I spotted Haily and Joe in one line. They were almost inside, and I waved at them before I pointed Caleb towards his line and headed for mine. It took about thirty minutes to get into the school and down the hall to a classroom where teachers were handing out our schedules. It only took me five seconds to strike up a conversation with two nervous freshmen who wanted to know if there was any truth to the freshman-hazing horror stories they’d heard about. I assured them that the worst they’d have to endure was having frosh stamped on their foreheads; and then explained how it had happened to Caleb, Haily and me our second week of high school at the hands of my brother, who’d made the whole thing feel more like a welcome party into adolescence than a hellish experience.
When I first received my schedule, I was actually happy with it for once. Other than biology and world history, I got English three, which was more or less a creative writing class. I also finally got basic art. I didn’t expect to learn in that class as much as I expected to have a free period where I could practice one of my favorite hobbies. It was well known that Mr. Allen was interested in free expression. As long as you were creating something in his class with the materials provided for the day, he was happy. But, my joy over getting a class that I actually asked for was short-lived.
I was settling into my locker, unpacking my bag after collecting my book assignments from the library, and planning on finding my friends when I was finished, when they found me instead. Haily, at least, got my attention when she stopped next to me and started unloading her books into my locker.
“Um... Haily? What are you doing?”
“I need to use your locker until I can get another one,” she informed me, looking somewhat agitated. I just shrugged and continued to unload my books, but grinned when I glanced behind me and saw Caleb just across from me, opening a purple locker next to the drinking fountain.
“What’s wrong with your locker, Haily?” he called over.
“I’m next to Assface,” she announced, and both Caleb and I paused to look at her as she continued to unload her things. “It wouldn’t be so bad if I could get him to stop talking. And smiling at me. All the fucking time. I was trying to put away my things and he kept asking me out--and then, he kept talking about you,” she said, stopping to look at me.
“Whatever,” I replied, shrugging. “Just ignore him, okay? I don’t mind if you use my locker.”
“Thanks, Nels,” she said, and I watched her push her braid back over her shoulder as she continued to occupy the two bottom shelves in my locker. “It’s just, he gets on my nerves, you know?”
“He gets on everyone’s nerves,” Caleb called, but then flashed me a smile when I looked back at him. “And we’re pretending that he doesn’t exist, from now on.”
I smiled at that, appreciating that he remembered our conversation from Saturday night.
“Well, it’s hard to pretend he doesn’t exist when he’s in my ear saying that Nels is talking to that friend of his so much that he must want to fuck him. I swear to god...”
“What did he say?” Caleb demanded, as I went rigid over Assface’s remarks. It was definitely disturbing to hear, but that could have been because there was a certain amount of truth in it. I forced myself to recover quickly, and I turned to face Caleb as he joined Haily and me on our side of the hall.
“Fuck what Assface said,” I insisted. “He’s not even worth talking about.”
“I guess...” Caleb replied, looking a little uncertain.
“It doesn’t bother me, okay?” I assured him. I lifted my schedule out of the back pocket of my jeans and held it up. “What lunch did you guys get?”
“Second,” Haily answered.
“Me too,” Caleb said, and Haily smiled at him.
“Second.” I looked up when Joe appeared behind Caleb, holding up his schedule. “But my locker’s on the other side of the fucking school. I’m surrounded by freshmen.”
“Don’t look at me,” Caleb informed him. “You’re not moving in.”
“What lunch do you have Nels?” Haily asked me, probably because I was frowning down at my schedule.
“First,” I said, drawing everyone’s attention because clearly, they thought, I meant to say second. “I have first.”
Something as trivial as the matter of when I would be eating my lunch probably shouldn’t have seemed like a big deal. After all, at least I was having lunch. It didn’t really matter when I ate it. Except, I was in high school. And, this had never happened before. Freshmen and sophomores generally had first lunch, while juniors and seniors had second. Of course, there were exceptions to this. Like, a large freshman class generally meant that a few lower classmen would end up with a second lunch period. Or, because of scheduling conflicts. I discovered that I had one of those when Caleb insisted that we all go wait in the line for people who hated their schedules. He was also the one who explained to the very tired-looking school counselor behind the computer that I had to have a second period lunch. I agreed. Unfortunately, it was my art class that was getting in the way. I had to call off all three of my friends when Joe stepped forward and insisted that the counselor change all three of their lunches to first lunches instead of changing mine to second. It was touching and all, but the counselor refused to do it. I decided that I could practice all the creative expression I wanted at home, and decided to have lunch with my friends. Of course, this meant a new elective, and there was only one left, I was told. Parenting. A class that covered pregnancy, childbirth and child development up to age five. It didn’t sound half as bad when I discovered that Haily was taking the same class by choice--at her mother’s request, she said.
The four of us spent some time walking around, getting to know where each other’s lockers were, and helping each other figure out where certain classrooms were. Haily and I couldn’t find our parenting class until Joe pointed out that it was in one of the trailers behind the school; and as we continued to compare schedules it seemed that the only class I had with Caleb was gym, directly after lunch, but I had world history with Joe.
The first bell of the day rang at noon, indicating that the cafeteria was open. But, like most juniors and seniors, we left for an hour. We took Caleb’s jeep and went to Hollander’s, one of my dad’s bakeries, all of which were called after his grandmother’s maiden name. It was close to the school, and while he wasn’t working, we still got a free lunch. The bakeries had recently started serving sandwiches, and the one next to the school was likely going to bring in all sorts of business because of that. It already seemed to be, as we sat at a white booth in the western-style establishment with a glass counter filled with goodies dividing the tables from the kitchen, and watched the place fill up.
The clouds hadn’t disappeared by the time we headed back to school, but the air was no longer still. It became windy, and cool. Not so cold that a sweater was required, but the wind was strong enough that tree branches began to sway as leaves rustled together above us.
For the first day, classrooms were crowded, so much so that there weren’t enough places to sit as teachers took a short amount of time to introduce themselves to more than one class at a time. Some of them would make a small speech and then ask everyone to introduce themselves as they left; and some would spend all the available time going over what would be covered in the class, and what would be expected from their students.
It was around two o’clock when everyone was called into the auditoriums to listen to the principal’s speach; but as I met Caleb on the way there, we decided to skip it. We found Haily and Joe, and like so many other students, we went straight to Hangman Cove where we stayed until four thirty, when the clouds above us turned dark and unexpected cracks of thunder brought large drops of rain, bouncing off the lake and muddying the sand.
That night, Chad and Leanna came over for dinner with me and my parents. Chad recalled some of his high school experiences while I told my parents about my first day, and my mom was excited about being needed at the elementary school for an entire month. Before Chad and Leanna left, I showed them both Milo’s painting. Leanna was impressed. I told them both about my encounter with Milo Trust the night before, and explained that I probably wouldn’t be seeing him again anytime soon and complained about the overpopulation of straight people in Heywell. Chad laughed at me and insisted that there were plenty of people like me lurking about, and that I simply wasn’t looking for them hard enough. But, he couldn’t exactly point any of them out to me, either. As for me, only one name came to mind. Too bad the guy who that named belonged to couldn’t seem to figure out whether or not he liked me.
The second day of school, was more like an average first day of school. It wasn’t too bad, if I didn’t think about how I ended up with a mountain of homework from every single one of my classes. I particularly despised the ones that handed out tests the first day covering material that we wouldn’t be studying until later in the year. At lunch, Caleb surprised us all when he wanted to go talk to Ronnie, the girl he’d been talking to on Saturday night at Hangman. He’d seemed particularly happy when he saw her. I’d gone to my dad’s bakery again with Haily and Joe, along with an entire group of people from our various classes. The first week of school, I always tried to set a goal of making one new friend a day. After lunch on day two, I was pretty sure that I’d filled my quota.
My last class of the day was parenting, and I’ll admit that by then I was ready for a long nap. I hadn’t exactly exercised my brain a whole lot during the summer, and jumping right into my studies again felt like a long, tedious task during my classes. I was simply looking forward to getting the last one of the day over with, even if that meant going home to do homework, because I had way too much of that to do before I could even think about going out with my friends tonight.
I’d never actually taken a class in one of the trailers before. I could already tell that it wasn’t going to be the most pleasant experience. Yesterday during orientation, I’d learned that it took ten minutes to get there from my locker, and we only had eight minutes after the bell rang to get to each class. That wasn’t a major problem, though, because also yesterday, my teacher, Mrs. Bates, explained that she knew how far the trailer was from the school and she was willing to give us a five-minute grace period. Since I had gym directly before her class, I’d made a deal with Haily since we were sharing a locker, and she’d agreed to grab my book, too, before she came to class. I’d actually arrived a little early. But, that only meant sitting in the room longer. It was cold, with the swamp cooler running at full blast--especially with my hair being damp from a recent shower after gym--and the room had a musty smell to it.
As I sat down in a red plastic chair at one of the four round wooden tables substituting for standard desks, I watched more people come in, and realized that the class was much smaller than it looked yesterday. By the time Haily sat next to me and we started discussing the possibility of getting everyone together to study at my house, there were only sixteen students in the room, including us. Two of them, I noticed, could probably use the class. Both senior girls with full bellies on them. I found myself hoping that we’d just be learning about childbirth, not experiencing it.
As promised, Mrs. Bates didn’t clap her hands to get our attention until exactly five minutes after the bell rang, at which point Haily and I turned away from each other to focus on her. Mrs. Bates was a short woman, probably in her late fifties, with short, straight gray hair that reached her chin and a pleasant, round face. She was wearing the same black boots she’d worn the day before, and today, she was wearing our school colors--a long purple skirt and an orange sweater that would be better suited for Halloween. She was one of those people who always looked like they were about to give someone good news. Even when that wasn’t always the case.
She looked her class over for a moment, making eye contact with each of us, all the while maintaining a friendly smile on her face. Haily and I watched as she moved to stand in front of the two tables on the far side of the room, opposite where we were sitting, and held up her hand.
“Will everyone stand up, please?” Mrs. Bates asked. There was a small rustle as we all did as she asked, waiting patiently when it took our two expectant mothers a little longer to stand. “Good.” Mrs. Bates smiled approvingly. “Now, boys, please come sit at these two tables. Girls, you’re on the other side.”
Haily and I exchanged perplexed glances. Being separated by sex wasn’t exactly something we’d encountered in our other classes. But, assuming that Mrs. Bates had a reason for it, I tweaked Haily’s braid, flashed her a smile, before I collected my things and moved to the two tables near the far wall, covered with posters of children and illustrations of infants still in the womb, and sat down with the other six guys in the class. There seemed to be a lot more room at our tables than there were at the girls’ tables.
“That’s better,” Mrs. Bates announced. “Now, I want everyone to take a moment to get to know each other, and then you’ll need a pencil, and a single sheet of notebook paper. We’re going to play a little game.”
With that, the girls immediately turned around to talk to the guys at the opposite tables, and Haily turned around and looked at me. I’d sat on the side of the table farthest to the wall, so I could see her better.
“I don’t like you way over there,” she commented.
“Me neither,” I agreed, and then we were promptly interrupted by Mrs. Bates, clearing her throat.
“Please, only speak to the people at your table. Girls. Turn around.”
This instruction, and Haily and I exchanging a perplexed look before we did what we were told and I looked over the faces at my table. I was guessing that the guys with me were all freshmen, because I didn’t know a single one of them. It didn’t take long to fix that, though, as I initiated introductions. I’d just figured out that a fair-haired freshman who had probably been the king of his last school, was one of the two guys who’d I’d talked to yesterday morning while waiting in line for my schedule, when the trailer door opened and we were met with three late arrivals. There were two more girls, both apologizing because they were late, and then there was Milo Trust.
I had to look twice, because in no way had I ever expected him to walk into one of my classrooms. He was dressed in dark shorts and muscle shirt, suitable for the weather because the sun had decided to join us again after yesterday’s rain. He had a black backpack slung over his right shoulder and as usual his dark wavy locks framed his face in a flattering way. I might have thought I was hallucinating him, if it wasn’t for the fact that every single girl in the class began to whisper about him. Except Haily. She just looked back at me with a disgusted look that suggested she didn’t approve of him being there at all. I turned my head, frowning when I heard one of the guys at my table commenting that every girl who thought Thompson Trust and his offspring were anything special should be shot, but I redirected my attention when Mrs. Bates instructed Milo to sit with the “boys.”
Milo turned around, looked at the two tables where he could sit basically anywhere he wanted because of all the free chairs, moved forward, and paused when his emerald eyes fell over mine. He appeared oddly neutral over seeing me there, not at all as shocked as I was. As I gathered myself, I gave him a slight nod, my way of saying, yeah, I see youtoo, I suppose, and then I reached over and pulled out the vacant seat next to me. I never really expected Milo to sit there. I just wanted to give him the option. Though, that didn’t change how disappointing it was when he walked around the other side of the table, instead. It also didn’t change how surprised I was when he passed behind me, and suddenly seated himself in my offered chair, pushing his bag under the table in the process.
And... I stared at him. Couldn’t think of much else to do, really. If I had a crush on this guy, it seemed to be a bad one, because I found the way that he neatly laced his fingers together on the table and stared straight ahead quite fascinating. When I did look away I caught Haily regarding me inquisitively. It was a lot like the look I got from Caleb, right before he asked if someone was bothering me. I shrugged at Haily, and she turned back around, her long brunette braid falling over the back of her seat. I looked at Milo again. Mrs. Bates was talking again, but I could have cared less about what she was saying because now Milo was moving, and I was enthralled in the way that he was scooting back his chair and leaning down, his long, toned arms reaching into his backpack. Even under the unflattering fluorescent lights his tanned skin had an appealing glow to it. I watched him retrieve an orange notebook and a ballpoint blue pen before he paused, turned his head, and caught me watching him. He met my eyes for a brief moment before he continued sitting up, placing his materials on the table in front of him, which made me remember that Mrs. Bates had requested a piece of notebook paper and pencil for the game she wanted us to play. Tearing my attention from Milo, I reached to get mine, aware of the way that he was throwing sideways glances in my direction every so often.
“I didn’t sign up for this class,” he suddenly whispered, somewhat defensively, and as I placed my sheet of paper and a pencil on the table I actually wanted to clap my hands because Milo Trust was initiating conversation with me.
“I don’t think most of us did,” I replied. He gave a slight nod, and holding his pen in his hand he looked straight ahead, focusing on Mrs. Bates. “I thought you went to Stratfort,” I said after a few moments of deciding that I once again wanted to keep up conversation. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to try public school.”
“Oh. Do you like it so far?” I asked him.
He looked at me then, and seemed to consider his answer. “No,” he said genuinely, and I found myself grinning at him. For a very brief moment, I could have sworn that I saw a very faint smile on the corner of his full mouth before he turned his attention back to Mrs. Bates as she began to talk again, and I was forced to do the same because she was explaining what she wanted us to do. It sounded more like an assignment than a game to me.
Mrs. Bates began by explaining what a large responsibility it was to have a baby, and I felt sorry for the two mothers-to-be when she seemed to be directing her speech towards them a few times. She began to explain that besides caring for a child, there were several things a new parent needed to have before they even thought about bringing home a baby, and we were to write down everything that we thought belonged on that list of items over the next fifteen minutes.
“No talking, please,” Mrs. Bates had said, and then we began.
I only found it mildly distracting with Milo right next to me, scratching away at his paper. Like me, the other guys at the table seemed to be having a hard time knowing where to begin. I had no idea what a baby needed. But then as I thought about visiting Uncle Ray’s family, and my cousin Jay, several things came to mind and before I knew it, I had a decent list, including bedding and towels, because I remember my mother giving that kind of stuff to my Aunt Patty for her baby shower.
When our time was up, Mrs. Bates went on to talk about how it took two people to make a baby, and how in an ideal world two people would take care of the baby. She instructed us to put our pencils away and split up into pairs with our lists. The idea was to see if two lists combined would be enough to take care of a baby. Haily turned around after the instruction, her obvious choice in partner being me, but once again Mrs. Bates separated the girls from the boys by instructing us to choose a partner from our own table. I quickly looked at Milo, and he surprised me again by sliding his paper over without me even having to ask him to be my partner. I exchanged lists with him, and found myself staring down at his handwriting, which looked as beautiful as his paintings to me.
Mrs. Bates next instruction was for us to go around the room and read our combined lists. This took a while, because after each group read she explained what they were missing and why it was so important, constantly reiterating that no one present was ready to take home a real baby. I did the reading when she reached Milo and me, and we managed to impress her. Milo was the only one in the room who’d come up with things on his list like a good paying job, college savings, and safety equipment for around the house. I came up with a nanny. Mrs. Bates looked nicely impressed by the time I was finished reading.
“Very good, boys,” she commented. “It looks like all your baby is missing is diapers.”
Milo and I exchanged glances, and I watched him roll his eyes.
“Our baby doesn’t have diapers,” I told him.
He smirked. “I’m sure you have a few favorite shirts hanging around.”
For the rest of the class, Mrs. Bates mostly talked, and we started to read the first chapter of our Introduction to Childcare books. I didn’t talk to Milo, but I did find myself comfortable in his presence, and once again I wondered about him, and hoped that by the time class was over he wouldn’t be asking me why I was sitting next to him.
He went to my school. This was a situation that I hadn’t quite imagined. And now that I had a class with him, it meant that I’d get to talk to him. I didn’t exactly have a good track record when it came to talking to him. All of our conversations seemed to end badly, and I was hoping to change that. I thought about what Chad had told me to do. Really introduce myself to Milo. Let him know that I wasn’t a complete asshole. Of course, in order to do this I’d need a reasonable amount of cooperation from him.
I decided to say something to him after the bell rang, and everyone began to gather up their things as Mrs. Bates instructed us to read the first chapter in our books overnight. He had his backpack in his lap, and was zipping it up when I turned to him.
“Hey,” I said, and he lifted his eyes long enough to let me know I had his attention. “Listen, I know we haven’t exactly gotten off on the right foot...”
“Don’t bother doing that,” he cut me off, but I refused to be discouraged. I smiled at him instead.
“I’m Nelson,” I continued. “And I like the way you paint.”
Milo cocked his head at me, looking somewhat amused, but said nothing as I stood up and went to meet Haily so we could walk out to the parking lot together.
Parenting quickly became my favorite class of the day. From the moment I stepped foot in the school, I looked forward to getting there all day long. Milo was in that class with me. We didn’t exactly talk. It became very clear very quickly that Mrs. Bates was a lecturer who didn’t want boys socializing with girls while in her class. Haily wasn’t very happy about this. She probably thought that I should have been more upset, since it meant that I could never talk to her. But, I was too preoccupied with Milo for that. There were no assigned seats, just tables, and every day he sat next to me, and every day before class I’d... introduce myself. On Wednesday, as soon as he’d sat down I’d told him that I was Nelson, and that I liked to draw comics. After school, when class got out and we were packing up, I’d told him when my birthday was. I’d only smiled when he said he already knew, because Haily had mentioned it when she bought me the painting, which I’d reimbursed her for since.
I think by the end of the week, Milo found my new hobby of introducing myself to him and giving him any little fact I could think of, as funny, and maybe a little irritating. He’d been rolling his eyes at me by Thursday. But, at least he wasn’t flat out telling me to go away anymore.
I never saw Milo outside of class. I guessed that he had a first lunch, because I’d looked for him, but never saw him. I could have been wrong, though. My friends and I left campus to eat almost every single day. I never saw him in the halls, either. I saw Jame, though. Twice a day on the way to and from world history. He’d started aiming his smile--the one meant to annoy Caleb--at me. And truth be told, I was beginning to understand why Caleb wanted to hit Assface all the time. But lately, Caleb wasn’t even mentioning him. Like the rest of us, he was settling into the new year easily, and helping me with my English assignments. I’d been interested in creative writing, but I’d had no idea that I’d be expected to read my assignments in front of the class. I didn’t share anything I wrote. Caleb had been helping by forcing me to read my assignments to him before I brought them in to class, and I had to admit that it was helping, just like it helped for the four of us to get together every other afternoon to study. It seemed that we had a lot more homework this year than last, and that made finding time to stop using the more intelligent part of our brains a little more difficult. Of course, we still made it to Hangman with our classmates every once in a while after school, and on the weekends. Although, the first weekend after school started was used to go to parties people were throwing as a back-to-school thing. The second weekend, though, it was back to Hangman.
The first week of September, we’d made it through three weeks of school and the beginning of fall seemed to come a few weeks early as blue skies clouded and the trees began to turn. People were finding more leaves on their lawns than in their trees, and Caleb and Joe were beginning to talk about charging people for cleanup services. I helped my dad cut down a good portion of the field one last time for the season, and the venders at Hangman Cove began to thin out.
It was Sunday, an hour after I got home from church with my family, Grannie Tenny, and Mr. Hoover, and I was in my Buick, still dressed in my black slacks and green dress shirt, on my way to pick up Caleb from the city park, where his older sister had left him when she thought she was having contractions and drove herself to the hospital without warning. It had turned out to be a false alarm, but Caleb was still stranded, and from the looks of it, entirely insulted as I picked him up across the street from the library in the park’s little round-about parking lot, right across from the jungle gym, swingset and larger of the three yellow slides.
Caleb had a downcast expression as he moved into the passenger seat of my car. His blond waves were windblown on his head and he looked somewhat disheveled in his baggy jeans and the black jacket, torn at his left shoulder.
“You wanna come over for a while so you don’t have to kill your sister?” I asked him.
Caleb nodded, his bottom lip pouting beneath his cleft chin. I waited for him to close his door before I started driving. When I noticed smoke in my car with a distinct scent, I looked over at Caleb and the packed red pipe in his hand.
“Run into Sam, did ya?” I asked, and then waved Caleb away when he offered the pipe to me.
“I’m having a really bad day,” he said glumly.
“Come on, Caleb,” I insisted, cracking my window. “It’s not that bad, and Julie probably didn’t mean to leave you. She’s eight months pregnant. I’m not taking her side. But give her a break.”
“I don’t care about Julie,” Caleb responded. “She’s always crazy, pregnant or not. But it was really fucked up of her to leave me. It’s just this stupid dream...”
“Another one?” I asked, not surprised at all as I glanced in his direction, trying not to laugh at the way he looked incredibly serious while hitting the pipe again.
“No, not just another one,” he stated. “The same one. I mean, the same, but different... but they’re all the same. Dude, I’m dreaming about a girl.”
And that was enough to make me laugh. “And this is new to you, Caleb?” I remarked. “Do I need to have the talk with you, because...”
“I’m serious, Nels! It’s the same girl, all the time. What do you think that means? Like, I should ask her to homecoming or something?”
“You mean it’s a girl you know?” I asked, sobering. Usually Caleb’s dreams were either weird, or full of sex with random women from magazines that I had no fascination in looking at.
“Yeah, I know her,” Caleb replied. “It’s kinda freaky, I think. Like, do you ever have any really, really hot dreams about someone you know?”
I had to pause and think about my answer for a moment. “Not really.” Caleb probably wouldn’t want to hear about my most recent recurring dream, where Milo Trust invited me over to his house and asked me to take off my clothes. Then, he’d paint my portrait and tell me to go away. “Who’s the girl?” I asked.
“Ronnie, something. I don’t know her last name. Do you think that’s bad? Shouldn’t I know her last name?”
“Caleb, they’re dreams, and you don’t even know most of the girls’ last names that you’ve fucked around with in reality--and Ronnie... isn’t she that one girl...”
“Glasses, brown hair, really cute nose, nice little ass...”
“Ask her to homecoming,” I cut him off.
“Yeah,” I said as we turned onto my street. I followed the road down until I reached the long dirt driveway and followed it all the way up to the white brick house where I parked in front of the garage and leaned back in my seat, not getting out. Caleb offered me the pipe again. I took it this time, and after nearly choking myself on some particularly strong shit, I handed it back to him.
“What if she says no?”
I laughed. “Dude, when have you ever worried about a girl saying no?”
“I don’t know,” he responded defensively, and I studied him for a long moment. He actually looked nervous, and fidgety as he brought the pipe back up to his mouth. This really wasn’t like Caleb at all, especially when it came to girls.
“You really like her.”
“I did not say that,” he said. “But yeah, maybe.” I unbuckled my seatbelt, but made no move to leave the car as I leaned back in my seat and bemusedly watched a goofy smile crawl over my best friend’s face as he stared straight ahead at the white garage and passed the pipe to me. “She’s in health class with me, and she gets really shy when I talk to her. Like, she can’t even talk sometimes. I kinda think it’s annoying, but the other day I was talking about a bunch of shit, you know? And like, someone brought up Assface, and you know how I get when...” I nodded, and Caleb smiled. “Anyway, she just got really annoyed with it for some reason and told me to shut the hell up because I was being stupid.”
“And this is a girl you like?” I asked incredulously. Although, I wasn’t really one to talk. He hadn’t told me to shut up for a while, but if I had any sense when it came to Milo Trust, I’d just figure out that he wasn’t into me and move on.
“Yeah. So you think I should ask her to homecoming?”
“Sure,” I replied, shrugging. “Why not? And... I don’t think she’s gonna say no.”
Caleb just smiled for a moment, seemingly thinking to himself before he turned his glossy chestnut eyes on me. “So what about you?”
“Homecoming,” he said. “You gonna ask Haily? You know she’s waiting for you to.”
My smile faltered at that.
“Nah. I don’t think so.”
“Why not? You have someone else in mind?”
“No... I just don’t wanna... I mean Haily...”
“Dude, we all know she likes you, so stop with the modesty and just say it.”
“I don’t want to lead her on,” I stated, and Caleb rolled his eyes.
“I don’t know why you guys don’t just hook up,” he remarked. “She likes you; and, she’s the only girl you ever hang out with.”
“I hang out with girls when I’m with you all the time!” I retorted.
“Yeah, but that’s different. You never even wanna hook up with them. You know, if you’re into Haily...”
“I’m not, Caleb,” I said honestly. “I love her, but it’s not like that.”
“Okay... hey, no big deal. I just thought I’d ask. You could still think about taking her to homecoming, though. I mean, it’s not like you’d be leading her on if you just went as friends.”
I sighed, not really wanting to think about anything as complicated as Haily and how to handle whatever interest she had in me. “Maybe,” I replied, and when Caleb’s brow went up, I added, “I’ll think about it.”
It was a Wednesday morning, and once again, rain had chosen to fall over Heywell during daylight hours. I’d left for school early because both of my parents had gone to work early--my mom, still filling in at the elementary school a week after her time there was supposed to have ended; and my dad to the bakery on the north side of town, which was having a problem with one of the ovens. Driving to school the rain was coming down so hard and the clouds were so thick that I’d hardly been able to see. At least I stayed dry, though. I’d remembered an umbrella, and I’d dug my black raincoat out of the back of my closet for extra protection. I wasn’t necessarily fond of rainy days. When the skies turned gray over Heywell, everything else seemed bleak, too. But, this was a good rainy day, I decided, when I actually saw Milo Trust outside of the brick-colored trailer that we attended parenting class in.
The halls were mostly empty, forty-five minutes before the first bell rang, and Milo was sitting in one of them, leaning back against a purple locker with a notebook in his lap, his jeans-clad legs outstretched on the white linoleum beneath him. His usually light flowing hair, which hung perfectly around his face, was dripping wet, pushed back out of his way and dripping down the side of his face; but he seemed unbothered by it, bundled tightly in a dark red coat. What he did seem bothered by, was the pen in his hand as he moved it over his paper violently and then inspected it, looking irritated. He seemed to be out of ink. I had a pen out of my backpack before I even thought about approaching him.
He appeared startled when he looked up and found me standing over him. I was pretty sure that I was still smiling.
“I’m Nelson, and I have a pen you can borrow.”
I held a black ballpoint down in his direction, and after his very scrutinizing emerald eyes flashed over me for a moment he took it and turned his attention down to his notebook.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, sniffling as he pushed more wet hair out of his face.
I cocked my head to get a better look at what he was working on, and then abruptly took a seat next to him, leaving a respectable four inches between us as I looked down at the neatly written paragraphs leading halfway down his paper. He went momentarily rigid when I sat, and when he turned his head to look at me, he was glaring sternly.
“Look,” he said cockily. “I’m kinda busy right now, so I don’t really even have time to tell you to go away, but I swear to god, if you so much as start a sentence with I’m Nelson...”
I interrupted him with laughter. “What are you working on?” I asked, and he turned his attention back to his paper.
“My history teacher gave us this stupid assignment yesterday because some fuckhead pissed him off. I was up all night reading eight chapters and now I’m supposed to have five thousand words by the time class starts.”
“Hey,” I said, taking interest. “You don’t have Mr. Danner, do you?”
Milo looked at me, frowning again.
“Dude, don’t worry about it,” I insisted. “He’s never even gonna look at that paper.”
“What do you mean?”
I grinned. “I’m Nelson, and I had him last year,” I announced. Milo flashed me an impatient look, so I continued quickly. “He’s a hothead. He assigns shit like that when he’s pissed off. Last year, I wrote a three-page essay on why I had five toenails on my left foot and how I kept them clean. He never knew the difference. All he’s gonna do when you get in there is hand out one of his stupid tests, and it’ll probably be open book.”
I’d hoped to relieve Milo. I’d expected to, actually. Instead, I’d caused his eyes to widen and the next thing I knew he was tearing open his black backpack and rifling through it almost frantically.
“No, no, no,” he mumbled, and for a moment, he sounded like Juanita.
“No, no, what?” I asked. But, I didn’t get a response as Milo rushed to close his backpack, taking it with him as he stood up off the floor and wasted no time in moving down the hall. I wasn’t far behind him with my bag and umbrella, catching up as we passed the offices and headed towards Hellschool’s main entrance. “Milo?”
I was with him when he pushed the doors open, and stopped in his tracks as we listened to the clatter of the rain falling, splattering as it hit the cement steps leading down from the building. It was coming down even heavier than it had been when I’d driven to school, and water was running all over the parking lots, into the drains.
“No, no, no,” Milo mumbled again, right before he turned back into the school at a much slower, defeated pace.
“Um... I’m Nelson and I’d like to know what’s going on,” I tried, but all that earned me was a glare. “Seriously. Come on, maybe I can help. What’s the matter?”
“I don’t want your help,” he responded gruffly, now pushing invisible, wet hair out of his face.
“Yeah, I know,” I said conversationally. “But I’m persistent. So how ‘bout you tell me, and then I’ll go away.”
He regarded me suspiciously. “Chemistry. You just reminded me that I have an open-book test in chemistry, and I was studying for it last night and left the stupid book in my room.”
“You were studying for an open-book test?”
“I study, okay?” he retorted.
“So if you need your book, why not go get it? Or borrow one, or...”
“We’re supposed to bring our book to class every single day. Another stupid rule. And I can’t go get it because my dad drove me to school today.” I smiled at that, and he looked at me like I was crazy. “You said you’d go away,” he reminded me.
“Yeah, I know,” I reasonably admitted. “But I’m Nelson, and I have a car.”
Milo stopped walking to look at me skeptically as he pulled his red jacket tighter around his body. “I can’t take a ride from you,” he finally said, but at least he seemed to consider it first. In response, I released an exasperated sigh.
“Yeah. You can,” I said seriously. “But we have to leave now if we don’t wanna be late.” Milo frowned at me, obviously unsure. “Look, I’m gonna start walking to my car. If you wanna ride, you can come, too. Otherwise, I’m going out for breakfast, anyway. Want anything?”
Milo arched an eyebrow at me, but then became serious.
“Fine. Where’s your car?”
I feigned shock. “You want to go to breakfast with me?” That was met with another stern look. I laughed and turned back towards the doors, nodding my head for him to follow. “Come on,” I insisted, and then held out my umbrella, placing it so close to him that he took it instinctively. “You take that.” As I pulled up the hood on my raincoat, I hoped he’d actually use it. If he got any wetter it was going to look like someone had tried to drown him, and as cute as it might have been, the idea of Milo catching a cold wasn’t something that appealed to me at all. I guess it didn’t appeal to him, either, because as soon as we got outside, the umbrella went up and I quickly led the way to my car, trying hard to see with the rain coming directly at us, hitting my face. When I looked back, Milo seemed okay, though, holding the blue umbrella close to his head.
“Why do you park all the way back here?” he demanded when we reached the Buick and I unlocked his door first.
“This is where I always park,” I replied, and then stopped myself from opening the door for him when he reached for it, too. I heard another vehicle coming and instinctively looked up, frowning when I spotted the headlights of Caleb’s jeep turning into the parking lot. “Um, hurry up and get in,” I said, moving quickly to my side of the car. Milo was already in and buckled up by the time I turned the keys to start it.
“Avoiding your friends now?” he remarked.
“It’s not that,” I replied as I backed out of my space and headed in the opposite direction from which Caleb was coming. And, it really wasn’t that I wanted to avoid my friends. I just really didn’t feel like explaining to all three of them the reason why I had Milo Trust in my car when we were clearly in a hurry. And, maybe I was avoiding them. Just a little bit.
As we left the school I focused on the roads, and the way that water seemed to be pouring over my windshield, despite my windshield wipers working at full force. As I took the back roads, through my own neighborhood, I began to remember that it was no short drive to Milo’s house, and there was a possibility that we’d be late getting back regardless. But as we reached the hill, where the view of Heywell and the lake was obstructed by clouds and fog, I kept going. The rain was still thumping so hard on the roof of the car that I hardly heard Milo when he finally spoke.
“Thanks for doing this.”
I glanced over at him, a satisfied smile crawling its way over my lips. I so wanted to make him repeat that. But he already looked so miserable that I didn’t dare. Instead of commenting, I turned up the heater, hoping that he’d dry off some before we did get back to school.
The last time I’d been to Milo’s house, I remembered the dark colors and the garden surrounding had looked beautiful against the blue sky, the sun shining down over the yard. In the storm, it looked kinda creepy. Tall and dark with fogged-up windows and the black gate surrounding it--closed, I noticed. Milo instructed me to get closer to it, and I did so, looking over at him and expecting him to open it with one of those nifty key cards that movies are so fond of. If I’d known that he was just going to get out and slide the gate open, I would have offered to help him. But, before I could even think to do that, he was running towards his house, and I was pulling into his driveway.
I know it probably should have occurred to me to just wait for him in the car, but, it really didn’t. If anything, I think I was actually eager to see his room again, all of those paintings scattered in it. I decided to leave the car running as I pulled up my hood and made a quick run for the house. He’d left the front door cracked and I’d moved in easily. The house was dark, the outline of the furniture in the living room appearing to be even darker spaces, but there was a light on upstairs--in the hallway, it looked like. I moved towards it, up the wooden steps and once again found all doors closed in the hallway except for Milo’s, which was wide open.
I stopped in his doorway, pausing in time to see a glimpse of his lower back as he finished pulling a dry, grey sweater over his head where he stood in front of the opened closet. But Milo, as worth looking at as he was, was not what caught my attention. I was rather alarmed to find that Milo was the only thing in the room worth looking at.
“What the hell happened in here?” I blurted, and he released a small gasp as he spun around to face me.
“What are you talking about?” he responded, obviously not pleased that I’d taken it upon myself to barge in.
What was I talking about? I regarded him incredulously and then looked around his room, shaking my head and feeling more or less disappointed. Mostly more. Looking directly towards his bedroom window, the view I’d loved so much the last time I was there was gone. Or, not gone so much as hidden, I suppose. Outside looked atrocious facing the hill and dark, low rain clouds had covered the lake and surrounding area; within them there were small flashes of lightning that looked like they were close to the downtown area, where the sheriff’s department was. I guess it wasn’t a terrible view in its own right, but it was hard for me to see when I was so focused on all the blank walls in Milo’s room. All that was left were a few spots of hanging masking tape that had once held up sketches. The only color I could see was the burgundy comforter on his unmade bed, and the various paint-spattered rugs that were still on the floor. Even the smell of paint was gone, covered by the strong scent of sandalwood incense.
“You got rid of your paintings,” I said, frowning, as I continued to look around. There wasn’t even an empty easel left.
“I didn’t get rid of them,” Milo responded, as if it were obvious. “I just moved them.”
I turned to face him, confused as I watched him pull his dark red coat over his dry sweater and I backed up, seating myself on the end of his bed. “Why?”
“My dad doesn’t like them in here during school,” Milo said simply. “He wants me concentrating on my homework.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” I said bluntly. “You don’t have to get rid of them to... that’s just stupid.”
Milo shrugged as his eyes drifted to the floor on the side of his bed closest to the desk, which had also been cleared of paintings to make room for books. “Not really,” he said as he slowly walked over, and I watched him conspicuously shove something under the bed with his shoe. “I really can’t have them in here when I’m trying to do homework. I have no self-control. If it was all right in front of me, I would have spent last night painting, not studying.”
“So what?” I asked, standing up and moving around his bed, curious about what he was trying to hide from me. “You just stop painting?”
“No,” he said irritably as I moved to stand next to him alongside his bed and looked down towards the floor. “I just study. And, it’s not like it’s any of your business, anyway. Shouldn’t we go back to school? Nelson!” Milo raised his voice, and quickly made a grab at my arm when I nosily knelt down and reached under his bed. But, that didn’t stop me from grabbing a long blue sketchbook with loose pages in it. Milo was still holding my arm, painfully tightly, when I stood up with it. “Give me that!” he ordered, reaching for it. I didn’t bother trying to hold it away from him. “You can’t just... fuck, you can’t just come into someone’s room like this!” he informed me as he grabbed the book and pulled it away. Only, as he pulled, my fingers were still holding onto one of the loose pages, which I’d spotted color on, and as the book left my hands the thick white piece of paper slid out of it and I held it up, sitting back on his bed while my eyes took in a page full of greens and blues. It was a colored-pencil drawing of the lake, I was pretty sure, the focus being a small paddle boat with two young boys in it. One falling backwards, out of the boat, while the other reached for him. But, it didn’t seem like a sad or heart-wrenching drawing as much as a comical one, given the startled, but not frightened look on the falling boy’s pink face and the shocked look on the dark-headed boy reaching for him.
“Give it back.”
Nelson’s voice had me looking at him again. His focus seemed to be on the drawing in my hands, his green eyes on it in a concentrated way. He’d placed the book on the desk behind him and now he was standing there almost carefully, his damp hair had fallen over his face, and he looked more than a little furious, maybe even panicked.
“This is good,” I told him quietly. “Everything you do is good. You shouldn’t stop.”
“Fine,” he said. “Thank you, okay? I appreciate the compliments--but I’d appreciate it more if you would just knock it off!”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?” I asked curiously, seeing nothing wrong with complimenting him. Hell, I’d be complimenting him a lot more than I already was if I knew for a fact that he might be more open than your average male to something like that.
“Just please give me back my drawing,” he said, and I sighed as I held it out for him, turning it around in the process. My eyes hit the back of the paper and that was all it took before I had it out of his grasp and in my hands again. “Don’t!” Milo insisted. But, it was far too late for that, and once again I was staring myself in the face.
It was just a pencil sketch this time--colorless, but most definitely me. Added bonus: I wasn’t naked, so no need to blush furiously. Besides, Milo was already doing plenty of that for both of us when I looked up to meet his eyes.
“I draw faces all the time,” he said quickly.
“Repeatedly?” I asked, feeling rather amused with how flustered he seemed when I turned the paper around for him to see. There was more than one sketch of me, all head shots, but I was wearing a different expression in each one. In the first, I was smiling; in another, I looked angry; in one, I was frowning; and in the last my expression was sultry. Teasing. I was fascinated by all of this. Not like Milo, who looked like he wanted to crawl under his bed and die as I finally gave the piece of paper back to him and he spun around to shove it in his book. But, I frowned when he refused to face me again.
“I think you should just get out now,” Milo said quietly, his shoulders stiff as his back faced me.
“I’m your ride back to school,” I reminded him.
“No thanks,” he said sternly.
I sighed. He was embarrassed. I didn’t want him to be. “I draw you, too,” I admitted. “I mean, I’m not as good as you are, not even close.” And, I didn’t draw him naked. I straightened where I was sitting when Milo suddenly rounded on me, glaring.
“What the fuck is with you?” he demanded. “Seriously. I don’t get you. Why are you always trying to talk to me? I mean, I think I pretty much covered that I don’t like you, right? If you were normal, you would have either walked away or taken a swing by now. So, really. What the fuck?”
I took in Milo Trust’s words, and finally, I found myself frowning--really frowning--at him. It wasn’t his green eyes doing the glaring now, but rather, my blue ones. I was glaring quite furiously, actually, because Milo Trust had just implied that I was the one with a problem. And, maybe I was. But at the moment, it was either the sharpness in his words and the fact that they stung, or that I was simply fed up with being nice to him only to receive nothing in return, that played a part in the way I stood up and faced him directly.
“Oh shut up!” I snapped, and Milo blinked at me. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to try to be nice to someone as stupid as you? You wanna talk about someone who has a problem, fine. Let’s talk about yours.” Milo opened his mouth, obviously having a retort ready on his cute, pink tongue but I shut him down before he even got it out. “Stop acting like you can’t stand me. It’s getting old.”
“I’m not acting...”
“Bullshit. I mean, come on. You want to know what my deal is? Fucking think about it, you moron. I mean, I’m a guy, Milo. How many guys are following you around trying to get your fucking attention? You keep looking for reasons why I seem to like you, right? Fuck.” I sat back down on his bed, frowning to myself and feeling all together frustrated before I met his eyes again and forced myself into a suitable calm. “I’m just trying to get to know you.”
Milo shook his head at me. “Why?”
“Because,” I responded quietly, “I’m Nelson. And, I’m gay... and I think you are, too.”