FIRST-PERSON STORY DUE.(7-15 pages, 2,500-5,000 words.)
Be With Me
My stomach hurts from where Austin hit me, but at least the mark isn't obvious this time. Cody had insisted I pull my shirt up to show him the black and blue circle blooming across my abdomen. His mouth fell into a little "O" of concern and then he'd suggested we skip eighth period.
A little after two, we've found ourselves outside the movie theater on Main Street. It sits on the corner next to the ice cream parlor, jutting into the sky, a somber monolith of tan brick. The overhead marquee spells out its three titular movies in faded letters, and Cody stands beneath it, debating which one we'll see.
Cody's taking way too long.
"C'mon," I grouch. "We're going to see whatever's playing first anyway."
I grab Cody's arm and impatiently pull him into the building.
An old woman sits inside the narrow ticket booth. There's a plate of glass between her and rest of the large room and everything is draped in dusty velvet curtains.
Her lipstick is several shades too red and it makes her thin lips stand out starkly against her white skin. She smiles though and talks pleasantly with Cody as he asks for two tickets. We pool our funds quickly and scrape up just enough money to get in.
In auditorium two, the lights are already down. We navigate our way up to the balcony and find seats far away from the young couple coiled together in the front row. I can feel Cody's eyes on me, insistent, pleading for my attention, but I don't want to talk. I just want to watch Cody's stupid movie and forget about Austin; just for a little bit.
Cody clears his throat, loud enough to be heard over the movie's title music and I know I won't get any peace. My fingers curl into the hard plastic of the armrest.
"You need to let him go," Cody says. "I'm sorry, Mikey. Austin's bad news."
"Don't call me that."
"Fine, but you need to listen to me."
I glare at the screen.
Cody says my name several times, but I continue to ignore him. I can see him pouting from the corner of my eye. It takes him a minute, but he eventually takes the hint. He turns his attention back to the movie, muttering under his breath with discontent.
I don't care what he says. Cody's never been in love. He doesn't understand the longing that clutches my body every time I see Austin's face. He thinks I'm stupid for loving him after all the abuse he's put me through, all the names he's hurled at me. I agree with him sometimes. I think I'm stupid for loving Austin, too, but I'm starting to find that that's just what love is. It's stupid and it fucking hurts and it's dangerous, too, because I can't stop myself from wanting him even after everything.
"You're just a dumb kid," I say and Cody turns to look up at me, his expression already contorted with indignation.
"You assume Austin hurts me because he hates me?" I talk over him. "Right?"
"What other reason is there?" Cody sneers.
"He's protecting me," I say. "If he isn't hard on me, someone else will be. And someone else might not stop at punching. You heard about that guy from Danville same as I did. The miserable bastard was stupid enough to get caught eyeing up men in a cowboy bar and what happened to him?"
Cody's wide eyes shine in the dim light. "They found his body in a ditch—"
"Naked, castrated, his face bashed in," I add harshly because I know Cody won't. "You want that to happen to me?"
"So, Austin's protecting you?"
"Because by beating you, he's keeping you safe."
I sigh. "We can't be together now, but if I just put up with this bullshit and wait, he'll come back to me."
"Mikey, are you even listening to yourself? The only thing keeping you apart is his hatred!"
I clench my jaw.
"He doesn't care about you. He's not protecting you. He's dating that girl. Jenna. You're in denial." Cody says bitterly.
I pull away, wrapping my arms around my chest, but Cody grabs my wrist. His fingers dig into my flesh with a needling insistence.
"Listen to me!" he says. "If you don't stop following Austin around he'll kill you! Mikey?!"
I rip my arm away, standing so I tower over his smaller form. "Don't fucking call me that!"
I remember too late that we're in the middle of a theater. The couple up front have turned to gawk at us, their faces illuminated by the movie's reel projector. I turn and run down the aisle, ducking out into the hall and collapsing against the curtained wall, breathing hard.
Cody appears after a moment, looking sheepish. "Think we can get a refund?"
I'm in no mood for conversation and Cody seems to realize this, as he takes charge without being asked. He leads us back to the lobby, back to the friendly lady in the ticket booth.
I stand at Cody's back, silent, brooding, as he uses his polite words and smiles to get us a refund. I start to feel impatient again… Cody's always so fucking sweet. He and the old lady make small talk as she counts out our bills in slow motion. I'm vibrating with anger by the time she starts pushing our cash back through the little window. I snatch them up immediately, grab Cody's forearm, and pull him violently out the door.
Cody doesn't say a word. He lets me take the lead down Main Street, heading south, towards his house out of habit. At this odd time of day, the street isn't too crowded. The only interlopers are a woman down the street pushing a baby in a stroller and a middle-aged man standing out in front of Carrington Hardware, smoking a cigarette. When he sees us approaching he tosses the cigarette to the ground and grinds it between the heel of his boot and the grit of the uneven sidewalk. Then he retreats back into the store. The woman with the baby follows his example and quickly crosses the street.
Stupid rednecks, I glare across the street at the woman, but she doesn't turn. Too good to even share the sidewalk...
I tighten my grip on Cody's arm as we pass the hardware store, glancing inside. A long narrow counter sits with little buckets of washers and O-rings next to loose rolls of sandpaper. The shelves behind the counter are lined with little boxes of nails and screws and staples in various sizes. Beneath them stands the man with the cigarette from before and an even older man with a white bushy beard and suspenders. They lean on the counter, watching us as we make our way past the shop. The younger one says something to the other from the corner of his mouth, and the second man smiles. He straightens slightly, running the fingers of one hand through his beard. He says something then, something that makes the first man break into laughter, something that makes his own smile widen. I look away when he waggles his fingers at us, a rude grin stretching his face.
I grit my teeth.
"Ow, Michael, you're crushing my arm."
I release Cody as we pass the hardware store and round the corner onto Third Street. Anger boils in my gut.
Cody loops his arm around me, looking up with concern. I shake him off.
The hurt in Cody's voice transforms my anger into an irritable defiance. I pull him close again, feeling kind of stupid about as I do. Stil, I let his body melt into my side. "Do you want to have sex?" I ask.
"Really?" Cody looks skeptical. "That came out of nowhere." He smiles a little and looks up at me, his eyes shining with amusement. He's trying not to, but I can see how badly he's hoping I'm not kidding around.
It's not that I'm joking… I really do want to fuck right now… But not because I love him or because I'm attracted to his pale, skinny body.
I don't ruin it for him… I don't bother to explain. I'm not in the mood; it's just that I need an outlet for the aggression that fights to beat it's way out of my chest at any moment. Sometimes, I can barely breathe the anger constricts me so tightly… Short of lobbing a brick through the front window of Carrington Hardware, Cody's body is going to have to be my only release.
HIs house sits in the middle of Third Street, in a row of ancient two-story houses. Overgrown trees line the sidewalk and crooked white fences border patchy, unkempt lawns. The once stately white of the houses has been turned dusty gray and brown from the street and the fine brickwork is crumbling away. Cody's house is obscured from the road by a tall oak, the branches of which lean heavily on the roof of the porch. When I come to visit, I usually wait for Cody on the front walk instead of the rickety porch. I don't want to be under that fucking roof when it finally caves.
"Shoot," Cody says as we get closer. "Leon's already home."
I follow his gaze, catching sight of the red F-150 sitting in the drive.
"The dreaded stepfather," I mutter.
Cody groans. "I swear, Leon's driving me completely insane. Just last week he gave me his old porn collection. Said it'd 'man me up'," he shudders dramatically. "I had to look at boobs, Mikey. Big fake boobs."
"You poor thing."
"Naw, at least he hasn't forbidden me from seeing you. I thought your grandpa was going to crucify me that time he walked in on us."
"You deserve it. You're always so loud when I fuck you."
Cody blushes and I laugh.
"I guess we're going to your place," he says, nervously licking his lips.
My smile fades. I like the time constraints of Cody's house. We go in, fuck, and then I get to go home. Cody always wants me to stick around, but he never pushes the issue. He knows how much I hate his whining. His parents aren't too fond of me either, and that's as good a reason as any for leaving posthaste.
Cody is already leading the way to past his house though, and I reluctantly follow him down the road. We travel down a few more streets, residential and quiet in the early afternoon light. Cody picks up a stick and taps the ground in a chaotic rhythm as we walk. He starts humming the lyrics to some song while I try my hardest to tune him out… Eventually, we come to a stop at the top of Creek Lane, looking down at the trailer park just over the bridge. The dirty creek water flows sluggishly between the rusting iron struts below and tall weeds grow up from the banks to wrap around the railings.
"I can't see your grandpa's truck from here," Cody says.
"He's working," I say. "He won't be back until midnight."
Cody's eyes are bright. "My curfew's not until 8. We've got a lot of time."
Five hours. That is a lot of time…
Lately, I've been trying really hard to limit our time together. When we're alone for long stretches, Cody starts to get weird. He asks for stupid, mushy things like kisses and he tries to do dumb stuff like cuddling and holding hands.
I hate doing stuff like that and it's really started to dawn on me in the past few weeks, how messed up this whole situation has become.
Cody's two years younger than me, and we haven't a single thing in common, besides the fact that were both gay that is.
The town's general hatred of homosexuality is the only reason we're friends. We'd only started having sex because Cody had suggested it, saying he just "wanted to experiment". And yeah, it always feels good and Cody's cute and eager to please, but he's started to do this thing where he plasters himself to my side after sex, resting his ear on my chest, listening to my heart. His tender smile, the obvious joy he gets from our coupling churns my insides into hot liquid and I can't afford to feel all gooey if I'm ever going to get Austin back.
Cody bounces ahead, eager to reach the privacy of my bedroom. I drag my feet, conflicted. By the time he's crossing the bridge, I've fallen so far behind that he stops to wait for me, poking his head over the railing to gaze down at the muddy water.
"Would you get mad again if I kissed you?"
I roll my lips inside my mouth, catching them with my teeth. "I told you we can't do stuff like that in public."
"Nobody can see us." Cody pulls away from the railing, closing the distance between us with incautious strides until we're standing toe-to-toe. He slides an arm around my waist and I can't stand to meet his eyes anymore. I look over his head, towards the hill we just came from. "Just close your eyes. Be with me."
"Cut it out." A car, or rather, a beat up, rusted piece of shit, appears at the top of the hill.
"C'mon." Cody pushes up on his toes, trailing his lips along my jaw. "You like my mouth."
The car drives closer. "Cody—"
"Please. You won't regret it," he says, his hand creeping downwards, towards my fly. "It'll be worth it."
"Stop it!" I push Cody away, my heart pounding. The car is familiar. The white Sunfire with the fake hood scoops and the chipped paint has been a familiar figure since last year when Austin's older brother passed it down to him.
Cody follows my gaze, noticing the approaching car at last. He scoots closer to me, but carefully aligns himself so we don't touch. I wish he'd get lost.
The car stops in the middle of the bridge, right in front of us. Austin already has the window down and he regards me with a neutral expression, his icy gaze trained on mine.
"Michael. I need to talk to you."
"What?" Cody moves in front of me, blocking my sudden and completely involuntary movement towards the car. "There's no way you're going with him! Mikey, he just finished using you as a punching bag!"
"Mikey?" Austin chuckles.
I turn on Cody, pulling him around by the scruff of his coat. "Get out of my way. I know what I'm doing."
"The hell you do!" Cody grabs at me, but I shove him away. He tries to get around me, towards Austin and his car and I lunge for him, seizing him about the waist and yanking him back. Cody stumbles, falling back and hitting the railing with a dull thud.
We stare at each other, irritation pulling my mouth into a sneer. There's a wet glaze over Cody's eyes. The tears make them glitter.
"Are you coming?" Austin calls.
"Yeah," I say, my gaze still locked with Cody's. A single tear rolls down his cheek and he sniffs, wiping the wetness away with the back of his sleeve.
"He's going to hurt you," he says.
Austin revvs the engine and a tight anticipation winds around my heart. "I have to go."
I turn my back on him. It's easier than I thought it'd be to do so. It feels completely natural to return to Austin's side, sliding into the passenger seat of his shitty Sunfire. Austin takes off as soon as I shut my door, leaving Cody standing alone on the bridge.
"I've been looking for you," Austin says, his eyes glued to the road. "It's funny. You've been stalking me for weeks, but the one time I need you, you decide to run off with your boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend."
Austin snorts. "Whatever you say, Mikey." He turns up the volume on his radio, and loud country music filters through the speakers. With the music, further conversation is impossible, but I don't mind. My reasoning has run dry and I can't think of a single thing to say. I can't stop staring anyway. He has dimples in his cheeks that I want to kiss. His wide hands clenched around the steering wheel make me long for his touch. He has hair in his face and as my staring intensifies, so does the inappropriate urge to brush the fine blond strands away so I can see his eyes again.
It's his eyes that always draw me in. I think of them often, I think of Austin obsessively, as Cody says it, but thoughts and memories can't sustain me for long and when the ache of Austin's absence flares into an agonizing longing, I know I have to seek him out.
That morning, I left the trailer 40 minutes before school so I could walk to Austin's house and be near him. Before, when my longing for him was fresh and new and burned my insides to cinders, I regularly attempted to approach him. Austin, though, was never alone anymore and after getting my ass kicked more times than I cared to count, I'd stopped making it a regular habit.
But I couldn't stay away.
I still needed to be near him, whether he was aware of my presence or not.
In the past few weeks, I'd started coming to his house before school every few days. Each time, I would crouch behind the garage and if I was lucky Austin and his brother would come out onto the porch and talk. I could never hear what they were saying, but I liked seeing Austin's face and the expressions flash like quicksilver across his strong features. Austin and his brother waited together, talking with an ease he and I used to share, and then Jenna would arrive, her red Volvo glinting in the early sunlight. Austin would get in the passenger seat, kissing her in greeting, while his brother went back inside to prepare for work. I watched Austin and Jenna as she turned her car around in the long driveway and headed back to the road. I was left to walk to school alone, a familiar anger bubbling up and overtaking my fruitless longing.
When I arrived today, however, I was surprised to see Jenna's car already parked in the wide space between the house and the garage. It sat beside Austin's beat-up Sunfire, both of them empty.
I waited, confused, what the hell were they doing? They were going to be late; they were going to make me late!
There was a great crash from the front of the house. From my narrow field of vision, I could see Austin storming out of the house. Alone. He leaped off the porch and rushed to his Sunfire, fumbling with his keys.
I stepped out from behind the garage and called to him, hopeful that he'd give me the attention that was impossible with his usual entourage, but Austin looked up, flinching, his eyes darting and red-rimmed.
"What are you doing here?" he asked quickly.
My chest grew tight. "I came to see you."
"How did—what the hell, Michael?!"
"Can we talk?" I asked. "We could go somewhere—"
Austin slammed his fist onto the hood of his car. "Jenna's inside. My whole damn family's inside. You'd better leave before I have to hurt you."
"They don't have to see me. We can leave, right now." I gestured to Austin's car, the only thing separating us. I moved slowly around the hood, edging closer to him, thrilling at the way his eyes followed my every step. "Fuck school, let's skip like we used to, do something fun for once. Just you and me."
Austin's face began to fill with red. "Get the hell out of here," he gasped.
"Why? I belong here, with you," I said, watching Austin's eyes flash with acknowledgment. "I know you don't want to hurt me. I know you still care about me."
"That's enough," Austin said through his teeth.
"You don't want them to know, I get that," I said, creeping closer, focused on his eyes and the bridge of his nose flushed an appealing red. "You don't want anyone to know you're gay—"
Austin grabbed the front of my shirt, drawing me in the rest of the way so our bodies were pressed together, his fist digging into the underside of my chin. "Who said I'm gay?!"
I licked my lips. "I knew you'd be like this," I said. "I always suspected you were like me, but you're just so fucking stubborn."
"I will hit you, Michael."
"We don't have to be public." Trembling, I ghost my fingertips up Austin's arm "I don't care if we meet in secret. What we have is nobody else's business."
Austin's free arm wound around my back, drawing me closer, into his body. I buried my face into his chest, breathing in his scent, closing my eyes and listening to the sound of his heart pounding against his ribs.
Jenna's voice, high, shrill, sounded from the front of the house and Austin pushed me away, his eyes panicked.
"Get out of here," he hissed. "Go!"
"I don't care about that stupid bitch—"
Austin drove his fist into my stomach, forcing me to my knees. I gasped for breath.
"Get off my property!" he shouted. And I did.
I crawled back behind the garage and then after I got my breath back, I walked through the fields bordering Austin's property and towards the road. I walked to school, not because I wanted too, but because I knew Austin would be there.
I'd had Austin's attention… I'd had his eyes on me. Cody would catch up to me in school and immediately start questioning my dust covered knees and the limp in my walk, but I couldn't stop thinking about Austin's gorgeous eyes…
Now though, Austin seems unaware of my gaze as he drives us towards the scrap yard without so much as a glance in my direction. It's been so long since we've done something as normal as to share a car ride that just sitting beside him fills me with a giddy sort of terror. What does he want to say to me? What is he going to do to me? My heart's still racing, panic battling excitement, I wish he'd look at me.
Before we reach the scrapyard, Austin slows the car and pulls into a dirt service road. He drives up it a little ways until we're hidden from the road by the copse of trees on either side. He parks and gets out, moving to lean against the hood. I take a deep breath and follow him.
"I'm sorry about this morning," Austin says without looking at me. "It's just that with Jenna there… I didn't want her to see you. Start asking questions."
Austin crosses his arms, shifting slightly and putting an incremental distance between us. I wonder if he's thinking about October, the bonfire, the party where Austin had dumped Jenna and I'd outted myself with an ill-timed kiss.
That particular night flashes in the back of my mind: ashes dancing in the air, the bitter taste of cheap beer on the back of my tongue, Austin's sharp blue eyes glinting in the firelight, his face warm and flushed from the heat, full of expectancy.
It had seemed so natural to lean in and press my lips to his and for a moment I'm sure that his mouth had moved against mine, kissing me back. But then he'd tore his mouth away and the sudden coldness between us had sent ice through my veins, had frozen my heart dead. I'm not quite sure that it isn't still…
The remains of my heart sink into my stomach. "What?"
"She told me today. Before school." Austin's looking at me and though I've been wishing for it, I can't bear to meet his gaze now. "I didn't know who to go to. You're the only one I could think of."
I stare hard at the ground, at the patterns my sneakers leave against the blistered soil.
"I don't know what to do." Austin's voice sounds thin like it's stretched over an impossible distance. "I thought maybe we should talk about adoption, but she immediately freaked out and started talking about getting married and getting a place together." He clears his throat. "I—I don't know what to do."
I turn cautiously, meeting his eyes. "Do you want a family?"
Austin lifts his chin. "No. Not right now, anyway." His voice shakes, but he doesn't look away. "I don't think I have a choice."
"There's always a choice." My whole body shivers with an electric need. This is it. This is my moment to offer myself up. Austin had never been happy with Jenna anyway. They'd dated off and on for three years, breaking up when Austin got tired of her and getting back together when the other guys started taunting him about never getting laid. I never understood why Austin let the others bully him into a relationship he didn't want. I'd put up with their taunting and insinuations for years with my nose in the fucking air. I wasn't about to deal with some girl I could never care about, I was waiting for Austin.
Silence stretches between us and Austin's looking at me the same way he looked at me that night nearly three months ago, his eyes glinting, his face expectant and I open my mouth to say something, anything that'll make Austin stay by my side forever, but he speaks before I can finish composing my speech.
"Does your grandpa still have that liquor cabinet in the living room?"
I falter but manage to nod.
Austin smirks. "I could really use a drink."
I expect Austin to drive us back to the trailer park, but he says he doesn't want anyone to know he's visiting me. His car parked out front would give his presence away, he says, and so we walk the two miles back to the trailer, leaving his car hidden off-road.
When we arrive, I let him inside, gesturing Austin ahead of me and towards the liquor cabinet stuffed between the television and the kitchenette. He unlatches the door, selecting one of Grandpa's finest whiskeys. He gets two glasses from underneath and pours us both a healthy amount.
"Here." He holds a glass out to me. He's already nursing his own, his eyes narrowing a bit at the taste. "I think we should get really wasted."
As long as Austin continues to speak to me, I have no objections. I take the glass and down my drink, wincing only slightly. Austin smiles and pours me another.
Our months of separation fade away as we polish off Grandpa's whiskey. He starts to tell me about all the things I've missed over the past few months. How Nick finally saved up enough money to get the Confederate flag inked across his shoulder blades. How Patrick's girlfriend had given him a black eye when he'd suggested a threesome…. There are tons more stories and they get funnier and more ridiculous as the evening goes on.
We eventually leave the living room, gathering together several more bottles of alcohol and carrying them to my bedroom at the end of the hall. My room's the second smallest part of the trailer, the bathroom being the first, but the closeness doesn't seem to bother Austin.
We crowd together on my bed, leaning into one another with a drunken solidarity. Austin continues his running monologue and at first, I listen closely, smiling and laughing in all the right places, but after a while, his words and his laughter grew faint and I find myself instead focusing on the thigh that rested against my hip, the shoulder that affectionately nudged against mine. The stories, the slow burn of the alcohol, the pressure of his casual touch remind me of so many other afternoons we wasted together bullshitting and my chest floods with warmth. It's like waking from a three-month nightmare, like coming home after a grueling journey… And then Austin has to go and ruin the illusion.
"You should have been there," he says, and though I automatically agree, I have to choke back the immediate temptation to remind my bedmate of his gay-bashing crusade, the reason behind my perpetual absence. We've been existing in a bubble of drunken hysteria for the past few hours and though I know we can't keep it up forever, I'm in no hurry to return to the status quo.
Austin's hand settles on my shoulder and I instinctually arch into the contact.
"I miss you," he says, speaking roughly as if the admission hurts.
"I'm right here."
"That's not what I mean." His grip tightens, fingers digging into my skin. "I miss my best friend."
I suck in a breath. I want to be his everything, but all he can focus on is the past…
Heat stings the corners of my eyes and I turn my focus onto the weak beam of light filtering through my bedroom window, painting a rectangle of dull orange on the floor. I stare at the patch of light, imagining I can see it moving as the sun creeps under the horizon. I stare until the urge to weep subsides.
"Why did you have to kiss me?" Austin whispers. "You were my best friend and now it's all fucked up."
"It was always messed up; I finally just decided to tell you the truth," I snap.
Austin raises his voice. "You didn't tell me anything. You just embarrassed yourself in front of everyone. You forced me to be your enemy. You ruined it all on your own."
"You want the truth?" I'm sick of this blame game; I know what I did. That's not the point! His hand falls away as I turn on him, crowding into his personal space. My knees dig into the mattress, my fingers tangle in the bedding and we're so close, I can feel his breath ghosting across my cheeks. "I love you," I say, and Austin's eyes widen. "I've loved you since we were boys in scouts together and you helped me with my knots and we slept in the same pup tent. I loved you since elementary school when you'd always share your food with me when grandpa wouldn't give me lunch money. I loved you before that even, when mom died and you came to the funeral and held my hand. I've always loved you and I can't change that."
So close, Austin's eyes are startlingly blue. I want to fall into them and languish in his unwavering attentions, but Austin blinks and I let my gaze slide away. I have a sudden flash of memory, of the first time I'd realized I loved Austin for real. We were fifteen and Austin had just gotten back together with Jenna after another of their serial breakups. We'd sat side-by-side on this very bed, our knees touching as he'd proudly announced that he was no longer a virgin. He'd watched my face, eager for a response that didn't come. He'd nudged my shoulder, laughed, asked for my congratulations but I couldn't do it. I couldn't be happy for him. I had tried to picture the two of them lying in a nest of blankets in Austin's bedroom, self-conscious after the fact, but sated and warm. The image made me sick. I hated Jenna's doll-face and her fragile feminine body. I hated the thought of Austin and Jenna together, hated that they were together. I wanted to be the one Austin bragged about. I wanted to be the one he loved.
Austin tries to touch me now, but I draw into myself, the cold jealousy his relationship with Jenna instills in my heart making me shiver.
"Don't touch me unless you mean it," I snap.
Austin ignores me. His hand cups my face. It's broader than mine, the fingers shorter, but twice as strong. He pulls my face around and draws me closer. "I'm not gay, alright? I love Jenna."
My throat constricts.
"Do you understand?"
The agreement sits bitterly at the back of my throat. I nod.
"Good," Austin says, his voice tight. "As long as you know this isn't going anywhere."
Austin tilts my head back, his fingers pressing into the soft underside of my jaw. I stare into his eyes, the blue so flawless that I can easily spot his hesitance.
He isn't going to kiss me…. He has a girlfriend, a baby on the way, friends who respect him.
I was stupid to think I could ever have him…
"Michael," Austin whispers. And then his eyes are sliding shut and he leans in the last few inches to touch his lips to mine. I sob into his open mouth, God, I want him. He pushes me back on the bed and climbs on top and everything feels urgent. He's tearing at my clothes and I pull at his, and I swear, nothing feels better than his skin against mine.
When we're through, Austin pulls me down onto the bed beside him and throws an arm across my waist. I lie, limp, listening to his ragged breathing fall even, letting the sound of it lull me into unconsciousness.
I wake to the bed shifting.
There's a tendril of morning light slanting through my window, illuminating Austin's naked body as he dresses. He shifts slightly and I get a glimpse of the red mark my teeth left on his shoulder. I flush with warmth, feeling true untainted happiness for the first time in years.
Hidden there, under the blankets, I watch as Austin finishes dressing. He shoves his feet into his boots, pushes fingers through his hair, and then, without looking in my direction, he starts to leave. He has his hand on the doorknob when I call out to him. I hadn't meant to speak, but his unceremonious exit seems so startling.
Austin turns, his eyes going wide.
"You don't have to leave," I say, sitting up. The blankets fall away, and Austin's flustered gaze slides over my body. He slinks from the door and back to the bed, almost as if he can't resist.
"I left my car on the side of the road."
"I'll get dressed. We can go get it together."
Austin shakes his head. "I need to get home. Jenna will be calling soon."
I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from insulting the stupid girl. "We could meet up later then. In the scrap yard. Nobody ever looks for us there."
"No, that's a bad idea."
"But it's Saturday. We could hang out for a while, get high like we used to."
"Did you hear me? I need to get back. I can't stay."
"I know. But maybe later—"
Austin's eyes glint like chips of ice, his cheeks, the bridge of his nose, are flushed with his frustration.
"I just thought that we could—"
"I told you last night, this isn't going anywhere," he says. "Michael, I'm not gay."
I want to remind him of all the things we did the night before, things that blatantly conflict with that last assertion, but Austin's face is beet red and his hands are balled into fists at his side.
If there's one thing I've acquired in these past few months it's an intimate knowledge of just how hard he can punch…
Gently, I touch his arm. When he doesn't immediately react, I work to uncurl his fist, stroking my fingers across his wide palm. "Alright," I say. "But come and see me. As soon as you can."
Austin bows his head, staring at his hand held loosely between my own. He clears his throat. "I can't promise you anything. I can't even promise I won't hit you again. If you try to mess with me or Jenna—if you tell anyone about this—"
Austin reclaims his hand, pressing it against his abdomen. He strides to the door, opens it just a crack. "I'll see you around," he says as he slips out.
I collapse back onto my bed.
Grandpa's snoring in the next room. I can hear it through the wall.
I wait an appropriate amount of time for Austin to make his escape before I venture from my room to take a shower. I get dressed in the usual, jeans and flannel.
I go back to my room after that and salvage the remains of Grandpa's liquor cabinet. I'm amazed he hadn't noticed the empty spaces last night when he'd come home, but I put the bottles back into their places.
The old man's collection of Civil War pistols are stored on top of the cabinet. They're in terrible condition, but I know for a fact they still work. If he ever gets wind of the activities I got up to while chugging his favorite liquor, he'll surely use his collectible weapons on me.
But that's a distant worry. It's barely even worth thinking about right now…
Suddenly, there's a knock on the front door.
I drop everything and hop over the couch. Anxious, my hands tremble as I open the lock. My heart drops a little when I see not Austin, but Cody, standing on the front step.
The boy isn't smiling. He doesn't even look happy to see me, but he immediately reaches up and touches my face. "You look like you're in one piece. What happened?"
I take Cody's hand and lead him outside, shutting the door behind us. We walk away from the trailer and towards the pond at the edge of the park's property.
"We slept together," I say, unable to stop the smile from splitting my carefully blank expression. "He even spent the night."
"Isn't that what 'slept together' means?"
I laugh. "We had sex. There. Is that good enough for you?"
Cody's mouth curls downwards and he doesn't say anything.
"Hey, sorry if I hurt you yesterday. I was an asshole, but I didn't mean it," I tell him.
Cody hitches his shoulder in an approximation of a shrug. "So, what's going to happen now? Are you boyfriends?"
"No." I'm still smiling, I try to stop, but I eventually just give up. If anything, I know I can trust Cody with my true feelings. He can't hurt me.
"So, it was just a one-time thing then?"
"No," I say again. "But Austin got Jenna pregnant. He can't promise me anything right now."
Cody's mouth falls open. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, but it's early yet. He still has time to decide what to do about it."
"What do you mean? There's only one thing he can do," Cody says. "He's going to be a father."
I laugh again. "Are you really that naïve?" I loop my arm around Cody's shoulders and he sags into my side. "My father was never in my life and look at me, I turned out just fine."
"He wants to see me again," I say.
"He actually said that? Or are you just reading into things."
I press my lips to Cody's hair. "You little shit. I'm not making this up. He told me he'd see me around."
"'See you around'? Sounds like something you'd say after a really bad one-night-stand."
"Oh, and how many one-night-stands have you had, again?"
Cody shrugs out from under my arm, scowling at me. "I don't have to be experienced to recognize bullshit when it's standing right in front of me. Austin's a jerk. I don't care how much you think you love him, he's done nothing but hurt you," he says. "For some reason, you're dying to let him do it again!"
"If this is about jealousy, you can save it. I told you from the beginning that I'm in love with Austin. I'm only sleeping with you because you begged me."
Cody's eyes well with tears.
"You're crying now? Jesus Christ…."
I turn to head back, sickened by the look on his face, the tears in his eyes. He's such a child.
"If Austin loved you, he never would have abandoned you," Cody says slowly." Jenna wouldn't be pregnant either… You and I would never have met."
With my back to him, I don't hesitate to roll my eyes. "What do you know?"
"More than you think I do."
I glare at Cody. "He's only doing what he has to. He's fighting to survive this stupid redneck hell of a town."
"He should be fighting for you," Cody says smartly.
Anger lances through my gut. Why can't he just agree with me? Why does he have to be so fucking stupid? I'm to blame for this whole situation and yet he insists on accusing Austin. The thing that he doesn't understand, even after all our time playing friends and messing around is that I need Austin. In any way I can get him.
"This is what I get for trying to force his hand," I say, the words like bile. "This is my punishment."
"But it'll be over soon. I know it will because this shit can't last forever. He'll come back to me. There's no other way this can end."
"Because I saw his eyes last night. He's still the boy I fell in love with." Cody's right behind me. I can feel his warmth leaching through my shirt. I exhale, the breath swirling past my face in a misty cloud. "I love him, Cody. Don't you understand?"
Cody's arms wrap around my waist and he buries his face against the curve of my back. He doesn't speak, doesn't move, just clings for all he's worth.
I sigh, putting my arms over his so that they rest together at my stomach. I wish he wasn't so needy, wish he wasn't so weak, but I feel some strange sense of obligation to put up with it.