I've paced this floor so many times in the last five minutes, I'm surprised I haven't worn a hole in it yet. Donny is in the hospital. What the fuck? How did that even happen? Did Brent beat the shit out of him, or did he hurt himself after he outed himself?
I don't believe he would, but he was terrified. Scared people do stupid things all the time, and I doubt Donny is immune to it. Hell, I know he can be stupid. Look at what happened between me and him. Doesn't change my concern, though. He's a good guy, and I hope he's all right.
Angie's phone plays a quick three note melody to notify her of a text, and she picks her phone back up to read it. As soon as she starts reading, I stop pacing and stare at her. "What's going on?" I ask urgently. "What did she say?"
"She doesn't know the details, but she found out from a mutual friend." She looks up at me with a stricken expression and adds, "Brent hasn't said a word to anyone."
"Have you asked Brent?" I ask, pausing in my pacing to lock gazes with Angie. "Or is this something you heard from one of your friends?"
"No," Angie replies, frowning. "I don't want to talk to him."
"Ask him, please? Donny may have fucked up, but he better be okay. Overall, he's a nice guy."
She sighs and picks her phone back up. "Let me see what I can find out."
I nod my appreciation even though she doesn't see it, and then turn away. "I'm going to try to text Donny."
I run up the stairs to my room and retrieve my phone from where I left it. After checking to make sure no one texted me, I switch over to my most recent conversation with Donny and text: R u ok?
Then I set my phone down and start pacing again. I hate this feeling of helplessness. The waiting is the worst part, especially considering this could be partially my fault. If I hadn't run out into the storm, Donny would have never chased me, and he would have never run into Brent.
The question I have to consider was whether Brent had anything to do with this, and what I need to do if I find out he did. I don't know what happened yet, and for all I know, Brent beat the shit out of Donny when they finally met up again. Could it be that Brent's anger was that compelling? Did he really hate the idea of Donny being gay enough to put him in the hospital?
But if that's the case, why did he bother coming back for me? I'm gay, too, and he knew it when he came back for us. If he really hated gay people, he wouldn't have come back, would he? He'd have left us to rot in the storm, and maybe even beat me for simply being alive.
Angie's voice interrupts my thoughts and my pacing, pulling me from my room to the top of the stairs. "Clint! Stacy says Donny's recovering, but his car is totaled and he's lucky to be alive."
"Fuck. What happened?" I ask. Donny's alive at least. That bastard will get a piece of my mind for scaring me like this, but at least he'll be around to hear it.
Angie looks up from her phone again and says, "They found him at the bottom of the mountain in a ditch. We must have driven right past him when Brent took us down."
Fuck. They found him at the bottom of the mountain. After he sped away from Brent, whom he wouldn't have run into if it weren't for me. "Shit. This is all my fault."
"Don't you fucking dare," Angie warns, standing up and turning to face me. Her eyes are intense and her tone unwavering. "It isn't, and you don't get to think that way. I won't have my brother doing this to himself."
"But if we hadn't-"
"No. Stop. Donny chose to run away from Brent and must have lost control of his vehicle. He should have known better than to drive that fast in the middle of a storm like that. He's lucky. It's not your fault at all, it's his."
I'm not convinced of her logic, but I am convinced Angie isn't going to let it go unless I do. Instead of pressing the issue of my guilt, I press for more information. "What else do they know?"
As if in answer to my question, Angie's phone goes off again. She unlocks it with an annoyed flick of her finger, her scowl deepening at first, then it falls as she reads the text to herself. "Everyone is saying Donny was..." the blood drains from her face and she looks up at me, her eyes wide and scared. "Clint... this isn't good."
"They're saying Donny was running away from his boyfriend, whom he tried to rape."
"Oh God, Brent fucking told everyone?" I ask in a frantic yelp. "So now everyone is going to know?" This is horrible. Maybe I misjudged the danger Brent presented. I didn't think he'd go that far, especially so quickly, but apparently he did. It's not something I'd expect of him at all, actually. He's such a physical person. It's one thing for Brent to have beaten Donny, but quite another for him to cause this amount of emotional damage to his best friend.
"Clint, we'll figure it out," Angie replies, nodding resolutely. "I'll defend you, don't worry."
What? Who cares if they know I'm gay? I mean, it's not how I wanted to come out, but if they find out it's me, it's not going to change anything for me. I want them to know anyway. This is about Donny, and I waste no time in letting Angie know. "I'm not worried about me. Yeah, Donny didn't listen when I told him 'no'. He was just being stupid. He's not a bad guy. This will fuck up his reputation and probably get him in a lot of trouble."
"I'm sure with his injuries he has plenty to worry about without that."
"You know what his injuries were?"
"No, but he must have some. Why else would he be in the hospital?"
"You're right," I say, sighing dramatically. I resist the urge to punch the wall next to me in frustration. No need for a broken hand when I already have a broken arm, even if I need to vent some of this anger. "What a fucking mess."
Without hesitation, Angie growls, "I'm going to kick Brent's ass."
The declaration shocks me out of my anger for a moment as I stare at her incredulously. "Can you?"
"You may have never learned how to fight properly, but I didn't take six years of Tae Kwon Do so I could sit around and do nothing when someone needs defending."
"You have a point," I say, but hearing her talking about Brent again brings the illogic of it all back to the forefront of my mind. This simply isn't something Brent would do, though I admit I don't know him well. "What if it's not Brent, though?"
"Who else would it be?"
"I have a suspicion about Brent, actually. Sure, he has anger issues, but..." I shake my head and meet Angie's eyes again. "This doesn't seem like the sort of shit he'd do. From my brief interactions with him, he seems like the type to solve his problems with his fists. I know I was accusing him earlier, but now that I think about it, it just doesn't make any sense."
Angie shrugs after a moment and replies, "Yeah, you may be right."
"He still must have told someone, though," I say, smirking at the futility of my attempts to figure this out. "No one else knows the details of what happened up there. I definitely didn't tell anyone, and you wouldn't have told anyone."
"No, I wouldn't."
"So he must have confided in someone, and that's where the story got out. Who would do that, though?"
"Someone close to Brent but a total douche? So..." Angie makes a show of counting off people silently on her fingers then looks at me and says, "Anyone on the football team?"
"I guess. Do you think Dad would give me a ride to visit Donny?"
"I don't know which hospital he's in. We can only assume he's at Springville Memorial, but we can't know for sure."
"Can you try and find out?"
"I can try, though no guarantee I'll be successful. I'm surprised you're so eager to visit him, though."
I shrug and look at her like she's crazy. "He'll need a friend right now. I've got to do something."
Angie's eyes widen for a second, and a small smile creeps across her face. She closes her eyes and nods to herself, then opens them again, but now they're wet. "My brother..." she chuckles.
She shakes her head as her smile widens. "Nothing."
"That's not good enough-" I begin, then I hear my phone ringing upstairs and instantly stop. It might be Donny. "Hang on, I'm getting a call."
I leap up the stairs three at a time, dashing into my room and snatching up my phone on the fourth and final ring. In my haste I don't take the time to read who is calling and simply answer, "Uh... hello?"
"Clint? Are you all right?"
Travis. Of all the people to call me now, it's Travis. I pull the phone away from my ear and stare at it, just to make sure I'm not imagining things. Sure enough, the phone displays Travis' name and number on the screen.
I return the phone to my ear and say, "Um, mostly. I broke my arm recently, but I thought you knew that." Despite my joy at Travis reaching out to me, I can't help but throw an angry barb his way. "Of course, since you seem to have forgotten you ever knew me, I guess it's easy to see how you forgot that as well."
Travis wastes no time in responding to my anger. "I'm so sorry, Clint. I was stupid."
"It's just that, Sheila..." he pauses, breathing deeply to cover up a sob, "she got to me."
"Because she calls you faggot?" I ask, my annoyance at a low simmer.
"What?" Travis answers, his tone shocked. "No..."
"Then what?" I ask, my face clouding over as I try to understand where Travis is coming from. He doesn't sound upset with me at all, and now I'm more off balance with him than ever. "Why do you have a problem with me being gay?"
"I don't," Travis replies, sounding scandalized that I'd even think such a thing. Of course, considering what I've been through with him, I'm completely confused now. Before I can ask what the hell is going on, Travis gasps and continues. "Shoot, I just reread your email and realize I never replied. I guess I can see how you got that impression. I didn't even think about it."
I'm truly at a loss now. "Then why have you been avoiding me? If not that, what?"
Travis sighs, and I can imagine him withdrawing into himself, even though I can't see him. "I told you Sheila is my next door neighbor, right?" He asks nervously.
"Yeah...?" I reply.
Travis' shaky voice begins to break as soon as he begins explaining, "Sheila c-caught me when I was out w-watering my grandma's plants after I sent m-my email, and she beat the c-crap out of me. She t-told me if s-she ever s-saw me at s-school with you, she'd k-kill me and th-then you. I-I c-could-dn't l-let her d-do t-that..." he trails off in a series of sobs, pulling on my emotions as I wipe my own eyes. The little fucker made me cry. Well, he's not going to get away with that any longer. Time to put a stop to this.
"Travis, calm down," I say, sniffling. "It's okay. We'll deal with Sheila. Why didn't you just tell me?"
"Because I knew you'd fight her," Travis says after a moment to collect himself. "And she's b-bigger than you. She'd k-kill you."
I smile despite the heavy topic and reply, "Wouldn't that have been my choice to make?"
"I wanted to save you."
"Thanks, but..." On the verge of tears again, I take a deep breath and change the subject. "Never mind, we can talk about that later. Why did you call today?"
"I had to see if you were all right."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"You weren't at school today, and everyone's talking about-"
I cut him off with a groan. "Shit. So everyone does know. They all know I'm gay."
"No. I don't think so. So few people even know who you are, yet," Travis replies, then picks up where he left off. "They're talking about Donny. They say he raped a boy up on Mount Shelly. Since I knew you were gay, and you didn't show up at school, and since he was so nice to you the other day..." Travis sighs and adds, "I didn't know if it was you, but with you missing..."
"Thank you for your concern, but I'm okay, really."
"So it wasn't you?"
"Actually..." I consider lying for a moment, then I decide Travis has earned my trust. "It was me, but that isn't what happened. Not exactly, anyway."
Okay, maybe he doesn't have my complete trust, yet. There's still one thing to resolve. "What guarantee do I have that you'll not blow it out of proportion like the Sheila thing?"
"I promise, okay?" Travis replies. "I'm really sorry, Clint."
"All right," I say, smiling once again. "How do you feel about coming over then?"
His excitement is palpable. "What's your address?"
After nearly ten minutes of deliberation, I decide it's better to put on pants before receiving company. Since it's Travis, who's already seen me undressed in gym, it was actually a difficult decision. Honestly, if it weren't ingrained in me that sitting around in your underwear with your friends is improper, I'd do it without question. But, alas, I am the product of my upbringing, and my upbringing wears pants.
Wearing the same jeans I wore to the emergency room last night, I walk down the stairs to speak with Angie again. She opens her mouth, and I know she's going to ask who called me, but I preempt her question by saying, "Angie, I have someone coming over."
"Who?" She asks.
I can't keep the grin from my face. "My new friend, Travis."
"Cool. Have you mentioned him before?"
"Not to you," I reply, shaking my head. Her smile becomes a glare and I scoff. "Don't give me that look, this was before we were besties again."
"All right," she says, sighing heavily. "I forgive you."
"You better. It's not like you've told me about all of your new friends."
"Fair enough. It's not like they'd be all that useful to you. Most of them I only hang out with so I can meet boys. It's the way things work in high school."
I fold my arms over my chest and ask, "So, why wouldn't they be of use to me? I want to meet boys."
"Yeah, but not straight boys," Angie says, snickering. "Is your friend gay, too?"
"I don't think so. It's pretty clear he likes girls, anyway. I suppose he could be bisexual, but it doesn't seem likely." The doorbell rings and I drop my defensive stance, crossing the room toward the door. "That's probably him."
When I open the door, Travis stands there, leaning against the doorjamb, panting like he's just run a marathon. He pushes his glasses up his nose and looks at me, gulping for air. "Hey, Clint," he takes a deep breath and then nods behind him to where a rusty but functional bicycle lays across my front lawn. "I rode my bike so I could get here quicker. So, what's the story with..."
He sucks all his breath in at once as he looks past me at Angie, who came to stand beside me in the doorway. His eyes widen and his cheeks color, and he looks from her face to her breasts, then looks away, coughing furiously.
"Travis," I say, trying hard not to laugh, "this is my sister, Angie."
Angie rolls her eyes and sticks her hand out for Travis to shake. "Nice to meet you, Travis."
Travis pushes his glasses up his nose again and stares at her hand in disbelief before finally taking it. He shakes it awkwardly and says, "Nice to uh, meet you, too, um..."
"Angie. You're Clint's sister?" Travis asks nervously.
I chuckle and remember Travis' earlier remarks about me having a sister. "My twin sister," I say, wiggling my eyebrows suggestively.
"Wow," Angie says, finally wrestling her hand out of Travis'. His eyes widen in shock and he looks away again. Angie sighs dramatically and then looks at me, and I can't help but laugh again. She rolls her eyes and says, "He's a cute little bugger, isn't he? You can keep him, Clint. Just make sure you walk him and feed him properly."
"All right, 7LB, you had your fun," I say, then pull Travis inside and shut the door. "We're going up to my room to talk."
"7LB?" Angie asks, but her eyes light up a second later and she says, "Oh, Seven Layer Bestie. Got it." She understands me. Only Angie speaks my language this well.
"Yep," I reply, nodding. "Gotta keep it on the down low."
"What about Travis?"
"He's on the down low," I say, reaching out and ruffling Travis' hair as if I'd done it a million times before. "He's short, remember?"
Angie laughs as Travis stares at us in bewilderment and readjusts his glasses. His hair is messy, but he doesn't do anything to fix it. I shrug and start walking up the stairs, not bothering to look if Travis is following. I know he will. There's no way he'd feel comfortable alone with my sister, especially since she'd probably scare him away if he tried to stay behind.
Sure enough, as soon as I walk into my room, he's right behind me. I shut the door behind us and he jumps at the sound of it closing. I raise an eyebrow and he blushes and looks away from me, back toward the door. He sighs contentedly and I chuckle.
"What was that 7LB thing about?" He asks when he swivels back to face me.
I wave away the question and say, "My sister and I invented a new nickname for each other. Don't worry about it."
"Cool," Travis replies, ginning. His smile falters as he adds, "Wish I had something like that."
"You can, actually. You can be a 7LB, too, if you want."
"Really?" Travis asks, the excitement in his face reaching legendary levels. This kid needs more friends. Oh wait, that's what I'm for.
"Sure." I shrug. "We're friends, aren't we?"
He looks away again and says quietly, "If you'll still have me."
"Well, I'm not too happy with what you did, but I can understand why you did it. If you promise not to do something like that again..." I trail off with another shrug. I seem to do that a lot around Travis. It must be his indecisiveness rubbing off on me. Mental note: stop shrugging.
"But how am I supposed to protect myself from Sheila?"
"Don't worry about her," I reply, shrugging. God dammit! "Watch your back when you're outside and get your grandparents attention if you see her coming. That'll do it."
"What about school?"
"I'll take care of that. Don't worry about me. She'll never see it coming."
Travis groans and replies, "You're not going to fight her, are you?"
"Not if I can help it," I reply, "but you don't have to fight to take your enemies down. Sometimes there's other ways, and the bullies usually end up destroying themselves."
"Okay. How is that done?" Travis asks eagerly.
Oh yeah. I guess I need a plan, huh? Well shit, I'm fresh out of those. It's not like they usually work, anyway. I mean, the last plan I made gave me a bloody nose, a broken arm, and a date with a guy who ended up making unwanted moves on me before ending up in the hospital. My plans are foolproof! Fuck, I can't even come out right, how am I supposed to-
Wait a minute, that's it! "Well, first I'll make myself a target," I say, nodding as a plan begins to formulate in my mind. "She hates gay people, right?"
Travis shrugs. "Seems like it. I don't know why she targets me, though. I'm not gay."
"She thinks you are for some reason. I wonder if she'd still treat you the same way if you had a girlfriend," I mumble thoughtfully.
"You can get me a girlfriend?" Travis asks.
My eyes widen at the hope in Travis' voice. Keep dreaming, buddy. I can barely dress myself, and I'm gay. I know jack about getting ladies. Of course, I can't let him know that. Time to change the subject. "I don't know, but I can give her a gay kid to target. That should work, right? She already hates me."
"What are you going to do?"
"I have a plan, but I still need to work out the details. I'll probably need your help, though. The last time I developed a foolproof plan, I ended up with a cast." I raise my arm for dramatic effect, and Travis gets the message.
"Okay, I'll do whatever you need."
"Cool. Let me work out the full plan and get back to you. I'll have to take my time on this one."
"All right, if that's what you want," Travis replies, shrugging. "So, you still haven't told me what happened with you and Donny."
I move over to my desk chair and remove the pile of dirty laundry from it. I pick it up and set it down facing the bed, then pat it several times while looking at Travis. "Sit down. This is going to take a while, especially since I'm sure you'll have questions."
Travis had enough questions to keep him at my house well into the late afternoon. Around five o'clock, Dad came home with Chinese takeout, and invited Travis to stay over. I won't bore you with those details, because not a whole lot happened, other than Dad and Travis discovering their mutual love for Star Wars. It's not something my sister or I ever gained an interest in, so Dad spent the entire meal sharing references with my best friend, while Angie and I looked on with horrified fascination.
All scary movies must end eventually, however, and after dinner, Travis left. I escorted him to the door with my Dad in tow, but after we reached the door and Dad saw Travis' bike, he offered to give him a ride home. They left together, talking about some Star Wars book series which apparently is better than the movies, and I was left in blissful silence.
At least for the thirty seconds it took for Angie to open her mouth, which brings us to now. I'm standing with my hand on the door, wondering when or if Dad is going to come back and Angie says, "So that was Travis, huh?"
I turn to look back at her and see her worried expression. "Yeah. Something wrong?"
"No," she replies, shrugging. "You can be friends with whomever you want."
I stand up straight as a confused scowl creases my face. "What does that mean?"
"He's a little nerdy, don't you think?" Angie asks as if I'm stupid.
"So...?" I say, tilting my head to the side to see if the new perspective will return Angie to normal.
"Nothing, it's just..." Angie sighs. "I've never thought of you as nerdy. It makes you two look sort of weird together."
I take a step back and shake my head in bewilderment. I never knew my sister could be this judgmental. "Travis is the only guy who's reached out to me this whole time. I don't care if he's nerdy. His friendship means a lot to me."
"Well, he's not the only one who reached out to you. There's Donny, too."
"I guess," I say dismissively. What does Donny have to do with Travis? "But it's not like I give a shit what other people think of me based off who I hang out with. Travis is a good guy, who happens to need friends. I don't need to know anything else."
Angie shrugs and turns away, then says over her shoulder, "You're not going to win any popularity contests that way."
So what? Is this who my sister really is? Jesus! No wonder we've had our differences over the last few years! "Who cares about popularity?" I ask, taking a step after her.
She spins back toward me and replies, "I do."
"Enough that it'll stop you from being good to people?" I ask incredulously.
"You're making a good point, but..." Angie shakes her head and then shrugs deeply. "I don't know. On the one hand, you're totally right, but on the other hand, I still need to survive high school."
I sigh and walk past her toward the stairs. "Whatever, Angie," I mutter as I step around her.
"Are you mad at me?" She calls out as I reach the top of the stairs.
"A little bit, yeah," I reply before continuing to my room.
I step inside my room and reach for my jacket as she says loud enough for me to hear, "Sorry to disappoint you."
I close my eyes and wish for the strength to deal with her right now before putting on my jacket. I take it slow to make sure my arm gets through the sleeve safely, then finally walk back out to find Angie still standing at the base of the stairs, waiting for me. I guess I have to address this.
"Angie, last night you showed me how awesome you can be when someone you care about needs you. Right now..." I close my eyes and take a deep breath, but when I open them, my disappointment in my twin remains the same. Nothing changed in that instant when I tried to shut out reality. Looks like she really is as much of a bitch as she is my best friend. "Right now you're reminding me of why we drifted apart in the first place. Figure out who you are and then get back to me. I'm here for you, Angie, but I'm not going to let you treat my friends like shit, either."
I move past her as she stares at me open-mouthed. By the time she answers, I'm already at the door. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to go see Donny," I reply as I pull open the door. "There's a bus from here to Springville which stops right in front of the hospital. I checked it out on my phone during dinner."
"You don't even know if he's there!" Angie says, clearly still unnerved by my behavior. "I wasn't able to confirm it!"
"Beats sitting around here waiting for answers," I say, zipping up my jacket and stepping out onto the porch. "Let Dad know I'll be back late."
"Whoa there, how about I drive you instead?" Dad asks as he bumps into me on the porch. "You said you're going to see Donny?"
"Yeah. We told you about the accident over dinner?" I reply, surprised to see him. "How'd you make it back so fast?"
"I didn't actually leave. Travis decided to ride his bike home after all," Dad says, shrugging. "But, if you're going to see Donny, I'd rather take you myself."
I bite my lip nervously, then glance back at Angie to see what her thoughts are on the matter, but she's no longer there. I'm flying this one without my copilot, I guess. I'm not sure I want Dad there, but he also has the ability to tell me I can't go. Better not risk refusing his offer. A compromise will have to do.
"Okay, but I'll need to speak with Donny alone. There are some things we have to resolve. If you're comfortable waiting outside the room..."
"Sure, but I'll be there if you need me," Dad says, putting a hand on my shoulder.
I glance back to the base of the stairs, still absent of my best friend, whom I thought I could rely on in any situation, even when we were at each other's throats. Too bad I can't have everyone there when I need them.
"All right, Dad. Let's go," I say, closing the door behind me as I look up to meet his eyes. "And thank you. I don't know what we'd possibly do without you."
Dad smiles appreciatively and wraps his arm around my shoulders as he leads be down toward the car. "Thanks, son. Let's try and make this a quick visit, though. I'd like to be back before ten. You've missed enough school recently as is."
"I could always break my other arm to get out of school tomorrow," I reply, grinning.
"Nah, you'll just have to write with a pencil held between your teeth," Dad says, ruffling my hair. "Now get in. It's a long drive to Springville, and we're losing daylight."