The office of our high school was a place I'd only ever been for registration. I'd never been a problem student, and I'd never made any requests of the administration, either. Except for my GPA, I didn't make much of an impact as a student, though people certainly noticed my cane. I hadn't even needed to take care of that detail, either, since my mother filled out the proper paperwork for me to have it long before I'd set foot in the school.
It felt a little imposing, approaching that desk with the tired-looking receptionist behind it. I didn't even know her name, which I realized could be perceived as rude if I addressed her without it, but it couldn't be helped. She didn't look up when I entered the room, and I had to get her attention somehow.
Thankfully, however, as the six others filed into the room right behind me, we made enough noise collectively for her to look up and notice me. She blinked at the seven freshmen standing there, and then stood up from her rolling office chair to greet us.
"How can we help you?" She asked, a pleasant albeit cautious tone. Her glasses hung on the edge of her nose, and she peered down through them at me, reminding me of the stereotypical librarian. I made a mental note not to bring that up in the coming conversation.
"We're here to register a club," I said.
"Oh?" the woman said, smiling kindly. She took a step around the counter and began searching for something. With a slight grunt of success, she picked up a clipboard with a stack of blue forms attached to it. "What kind of club are you trying to start?" She asked, holding the clipboard in front of her as she reached for a pen.
"A Gay Straight Alliance," I replied with confidence. The woman's hand stopped dead in the air, hovering over a cup filled with pens.
The woman cleared her throat awkwardly and said, "Oh. I see." She set the clipboard back down and walked back to her office chair, then reached for the phone on her desk as she sat back down.
"Is there a problem?" I asked, then bit my lip nervously. This wasn't looking good.
"Please, just wait a moment," she replied, lifting her free hand to stall me as she dialed a short number on her phone. A few seconds later she began a conversation with someone on the other line. "Principal Durant, you're needed at the reception desk. Uh-huh, yep, I'll see you in a moment."
She then came back to stand at the desk. Her smile was there, but the kindness was now gone and she'd replaced it with pity. This was going in all sorts of directions I didn't like, and it was time to get the other side involved before everything went to hell. "Is Vice Principal Singh in?" I asked.
The secretary shook her head and said, "She hasn't arrived yet, I'm sorry."
"She said she'd sponsor us..." I began, but then stopped as the tall and imposing figure of Principal Durant walked out from an enclosed office further back in the room. He smiled politely as he approached, but then stopped short as soon as he saw how many of us there were.
"How can I help all of you, today?" Principal Durant asked.
The secretary opened her mouth to respond, but I jumped in before she could and said, "We're here to register a club."
"Oh, well I don't see why you need me for that," he said, turning toward the secretary with a questioning expression. "What kind of club is it?" He asked, turned back to me. The secretary leaned in and whispered something in his ear and Principal Durant's face clouded over. "Oh... I see."
I nearly growled in frustration. Our school had some bullies in it, but typically the teachers and staff I'd encountered seemed rather open and liberal in their philosophies. I hadn't expected this level of resistance, and until I'd figured out how to handle it, I decided to forge ahead as well as I could. I slid my backpack off one shoulder and leaned my cane against the counter. As I dug into my backpack I said, "It's a Gay Straight Alliance, Principal Durant. I've gathered a list of signatures from people all around the school who would support such a club, including a few members of the faculty." As I finished, I withdrew the folder containing the signed papers and handed it to Principal Durant.
"I'm a bit skeptical of that, Mr. Thompson," Principal Durant said as he took the folder from me and placed it down on the counter without even looking at it.
"Mr. Thompson, it is my responsibility to protect the students here at Cloverfield High. I've heard that students who attend GSA's often become the prime targets for bullying. I'm afraid I can't encourage that sort of behavior, especially concerning the bullying incident which happened recently in front of the school."
"Are you talking about Sheila Niven?" Clint interjected.
Principal Durant blinked at the surprise interruption and turned to face Clint. "I'm afraid I can't release that information to a student, Mr....?"
"Clint. Clint Fjeldsted," Clint said, wearing his beautiful grin. "I was the one Sheila was bullying, or trying to. I noticed she'd disappeared from school for a while, though not for too long. Was she suspended?"
"I just told you, Mr. Fjeldsted, that I can't release that information to a student, even if you were involved." Principal Durant looked from Clint to Angie, and his eyes flashed with sudden recognition. Considering she'd also been involved in that incident, it was no surprise he knew who she was. Instead of acknowledging Angela, Principal Durant returned his attention to me and handed me back the folder without ever opening it. "As for the other matter, I'm afraid I can't allow this."
Movement at the open doorway to the offices drew our attention before I could protest, and Donny shuffled through the door on his crutches. Brent followed right behind and asked, "What if we have the football team's support, Principal Durant?"
"Brent? Donny?" Principal Durant asked, and the use of their first names was not lost on me. He knew these boys and knew them well. "What are you boys doing here?"
"Sorry we're late, guys," Donny said, nodding toward his boyfriend. "Brent has a hard time getting up early for anything but football practice."
"Yeah, whatever," Brent said, lightly clipping Donny on the arm with his fist, "Gimpy."
Donny smiled at him and blushed, then coughed as he realized where he was and turned back to face Principal Durant. With nine of us now on the same side of the counter, we took up most of the space available at the reception desk, and I imagined we were starting to seem intimidating, especially with Brent and Donny, who were both larger than any other member of our group before they arrived. "Principal Durant, if you'll look at the list of signatures, you'll see that the entire football team signed Zane's petition," Donny explained. "If anyone tries to bully any of our members, they'll have to answer to us. We'll protect them."
Principal Durant took the folder back from me and flipped it open, glancing down at the page for a moment. He then met Donny's gaze and said cautiously, "I hope I'm misunderstanding you, Donny. Did you just imply that you'd hurt anyone who tried to bully anyone else? That would just make my job harder, and it's even worse than what I originally thought."
Remembering a piece of advice I'd received when I started down this course, I interjected, "Principal Durant, you can't stop this."
Principal Durant turned toward me with surprise. "What?"
"We're protected by law," I said, "We've met every requirement set out by the school for forming a new club, and we've come here to ask for your support, but you can't stop us from forming."
"You're protected by law?" Principal Durant asked. "What are you talking about?"
A flurry of motion behind the Principal drew everyone's attention to the lithe figure of Vice Principle Singh. She wore a dark purple dress which ended just below her knees, had long, curly black hair and a fierce expression. How she'd entered the office without us knowing would remain a mystery, but I was grateful she'd arrived. "They're talking about the Federal Equal Access Act," Ms. Singh said as she came to stand beside the principal and secretary. "I'm the one who told Zane about it in the first place. He came to me several weeks ago and mentioned starting a GSA, and I pointed him in the right direction."
The principal's face clouded over as his mouth contorted into a frown. "Ms. Singh, you were doing this behind my back?"
"Unintentionally, I assure you," Ms. Singh replied. "I didn't think this would be something you'd have an issue with, sir. However, it's my duty to inform you that if you continue to resist this, I'll have to inform the school board. These students have worked hard to be represented here, and I think you'll find it's in both your and their best interest to comply. If it'll make it easier on your conscience, I'll be watching over the club personally."
Principal Durant looked as if he wanted to press the matter further, but something in the intense smile on Ms. Singh's face gave him enough pause to reconsider. Shaking his head in defeat, the principal looked me in the eye and said, "Okay, you can have your club, but I don't want to hear about any problems or I'm shutting the whole thing down, got it? No kids getting bullied or anything?"
I wanted to roll my eyes but decided it wiser not to, though I still felt the need to drive my point home. "You can try, but the club will still be protected, Mr. Durant. I don't want to make a huge deal out of this, but we have a right to be represented. If need be I can and will get lawyers involved."
The mention of lawyers was enough, and Principal Durant recoiled at the thought. He shook his head one more time then replied, "Okay, Mr. Thompson, you win."
"Thank you, Principal Durant," I said, putting my hand forward. He hesitated for a moment then took it and gave it a firm shake. Smiling now, I continued. "I want you to know I appreciate that you want to look out for us, and I hope you'll see in time that this is the right move. We'll be stronger if we stand together. That's something we've all already learned."
"I hope you're right, Mr. Thompson," Principal Durant replied, wearing a smirk similar to my own trademark expression. He let go of my hand and then gestured toward Ms. Singh. "Vice Principal Singh will go through the details with you. Make it quick, though. The first bell will ring in just a few minutes."
"Understood, Principal Durant. And thank you."
"We're going to have our first meeting on Friday!"
Rebecca's enthusiasm was uncharacteristic of her, but I found it infectious nonetheless. Getting the GSA off the ground had taken some weight off my shoulders, and had filled me with a sense of accomplishment; I'd done most of the work to get it started, and seeing it unfold in front of me was amazing.
"Yep, I'm excited, too," I confirmed with an enthusiastic nod.
"Do you think your girlfriend will be able to come, Rebecca?" Greg asked, smiling supportively. It was good to see them smiling at each other again. "Ms. Singh said we could have guests."
But then I caught something in Rebecca's expression which made me pause in my celebration. Her smile remained steady, but I saw definite sadness and uncertainty in her eyes. Maybe it was just the reminder that her girlfriend wouldn't be coming to Cloverfield after all and I was overthinking it. It felt like more, though.
Still, her own excitement continued to show through as she nodded and replied, "I'll ask for sure. I bet she'd love to come."
"Wait," Clint began, staring critically at Rebecca. "So you're a-"
I had to interrupt him before he went any further. "Whoa there, Clint. Did you forget the rules about the GSA which I went over with you already? We're not supposed to make assumptions about other people's sexuality."
Clint covered his mouth and looked away in embarrassment. "Sorry," he mumbled through his hand.
To her credit, Rebecca just laughed and answered the question Clint had been about to ask. "But yes, I do like girls. Not a lesbian, though. I like guys, too."
"Hey," Travis interjected, "me too."
"Nice!" Rebecca replied leaning over the table and in front of me to get to Travis and offer him a high-five. Travis met her hand with a loud clap which startled Angie from her lunch. Her head swiveled to Rebecca for a moment, then back to Travis, and I wondered what went through her mind then. Did she think something was going on?
If there was any time for jealousy to form in Angie's mind, Rebecca was quick to divert the conversation as she inclined her head toward Greg. "I'm also the first girl Greg ever dated."
"No way..." Clint said, glancing between Rebecca and Greg.
"Yeah. It didn't really work out," Greg said. "That was actually before Zane came out to me, and I was a bit..." he shifted uncomfortably as he sought for the right word. ". . . less evolved than I am now."
"But I still like him," Celeste interjected, leaning over to kiss Greg's cheek. As Greg blushed, Celeste smiled at Clint and began, "Even if Zane and I-"
I cut her off quickly, darting a warning glare at Celeste as I said, "There's a lot of history in our group of friends,"
"That's great!" Clint said. His volume lowered as he went on, meeting my eyes as he added, "I'm looking forward to making some history of my own with you people."
"What I was going to say," Celeste said, apparently missing my glare or not caring about it, "was that I was Zane's first kiss."
I groaned and braced myself for the potential fallout. How would Clint react to knowing I'd once kissed a girl? How would he react to knowing he wasn't my first kiss? I shouldn't have worried, because Clint's smile never left his face, and instead it only widened as he said, "Heh. And his gayness didn't immediately vanish?"
The secret was out, I figured I might as well participate in my embarrassment. "She kissed me because I came out to her," I explained, keeping my eyes on Clint despite the color in my cheeks. He nodded encouragingly, and knew it didn't matter to him. He liked me anyway.
But he was loving this moment, and he turned to Celeste for clarification. "Oh? Why is that?"
"He came out to me and the first thing I did was kiss him," Celeste admitted, her cheeks coloring. Her tone remained even as she explained herself to Clint. "I'd had a crush on him since second grade, and I hoped I could kiss him straight. That didn't go over very well."
"After I finally managed to get her off of me, I told her to leave and then refused to talk to her for a couple of months." I smirked and then nodded to Greg. "Greg finally got in the middle of it and helped us make up."
Right on cue, Greg said, "That was after I evolved a little."
"Yeah," I said, "things were rocky with Greg for a while, too."
"Not nearly as long, though," Greg added. "My parents were actually the ones who helped me see that Zane was still the same Zane. My pastor helped, too."
Angie snorted and said, "Wow, open-minded Christians. Who would've thought?"
Everyone turned to stare at her, but she wasn't looking up. She was staring at her food and stirring it idly with her fork as she half-listened to the conversation. Travis put his hand on her shoulder and she started, blinking as she met Travis' gaze. "Angie," he said quietly, "this isn't the time, nor the place."
"Did I say that out loud?" Angie asked, eyes widening. She met the gaze of everyone at the table with a quick, seeking glance, then bowed her head again. "I'm sorry. I just have something else on my mind. If you'll excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom."
She slid off the bench without another word, letting Travis' hand fall away. He didn't try to resist, and I had the impression he was just as surprised or more than the rest of us. Only Clint seemed to have some idea of the answer as to what was going on in his sister's head, though I felt the explanation he gave had little to do with it.
"My sister's a little bitter about religion," Clint began apologetically. "Growing up in Salt Lake City, nearly everyone around us was Mormon, and they're definitely not the most open-minded people out there."
"I get it," Celeste said, watching Angie go before turning back to the rest of us. "My parents aren't open-minded, either, and neither is my church. I go to the other church in town, the one Greg doesn't go to."
"But you're a rather open-minded Christian, obviously. I mean, you helped start a GSA this morning," Clint said. I noted relief in his eyes, as if glad he no longer had to defend his sister. I made a mental note to ask him about it later, but quickly forgot about it as Celeste revealed something I'd never expected from her.
"I'm not really sure I'm a Christian anymore..." she said, shrugging noncommittally. Greg recoiled from her as if she'd slapped him, and she turned to look at him. "Sorry, Greg, you know I've been having doubts. I still go to church with my parents, though. I'd never hear the end of it if I didn't."
"Despite her current dilemma," I said, giving Greg a look I hope he'd read as 'don't fuck this up', "Celeste is one of the best people I know. Plus, she and Greg make a great couple."
Greg pulled Celeste close and said, "You're right, we do." He nodded appreciatively to me and said, "Thanks, Zane."
"How come the rest of your friends aren't sitting with us today? I feel like I've barely met any of them? You had such a large group here the other day..." Clint said, taking the subject down a new road. I wondered if his ADHD was kicking in, or if he simply found the conversation awkward.
Either way, I let him have his way. How could I say 'no' to that gorgeous face? Besides, the conversation was starting to get a little heavy. "Oh, the rest of the group are people who only hang out with us every once in a while. Greg, Celeste, and Rebecca are my only close friends." I nodded in the direction Angela had gone and added, "I hope you three will make a habit of sitting with us from now on, too."
"Yeah, Donny and Brent are now back with the football team every week, so we don't see much of them, anymore, so it looks like it'll just be us." He wrapped his arm around a currently despondent Travis and hugged him slightly. Travis barely reacted at all. "As long as you have room for us, I think we'll be around."
I smiled. "For you, I'd make room."
"I wanted to ask you something, too."
I glanced at Greg briefly, remembering our earlier conversation then asked, "Would you be able to come over today?"
Clint shrugged. "I'd have to tell my dad, but I'm sure he won't have a problem with it."
"Okay. Let's meet after school, then."
Greg and Celeste walked with me to the front of the school. At the beginning of the school year we'd made sure to have our last class of the day together, even though it took a little bit of rearranging to make it happen. Thankfully the administration was usually rather flexible on that matter, and we'd managed it fairly easily.
I appreciated that I had them with me, but I was growing tired of the distance between them. They'd been silent about it since the end of lunch, but I knew it was about to come up. Greg had always proven predictable when it came to matters of the heart, and sure enough, he broached the subject as soon as we stepped outside.
"What was that all about at lunch?" He asked Celeste.
She played innocent, though she definitely knew what he meant. "What are you talking about?"
"The whole 'I'm not sure I'm a Christian' thing..." He replied, his face an expressionless mask. I hated where this was going, because I knew Greg could be a stick in the mud on this issue, especially where his girlfriends were involved. He'd broken up with Rebecca more from the fact she wasn't a Christian than because she was bisexual.
I'd thought he'd made it past thinking that way, but it appeared he still had some room for growth. I supposed it was my time to give him some advice for a change.
"You should lay off, Greg," I said before Celeste could answer. "She probably doesn't want to be interrogated by her boyfriend about that." She looked at me and mouthed her thanks, and I nodded back at her in support.
Greg swiveled toward me and said, "Shut up, Zane."
I met him with a blank stare and repeated his same thought process he'd used on me earlier that morning. "Just trying to do the right thing as a loving friend."
He stared at me. A second later he laughed helplessly and nodded his appreciation for the comment. "Okay, I deserved that." He turned to his girlfriend and said, "Celeste, I'm sorry."
She crossed her arms over her chest and said, "You better be."
"I am," Greg insisted. "Can I make it up to you?"
"Ice cream?" Celeste asked, her eyes lighting up.
Greg nodded. "Ice cream."
Celeste squealed with delight and then skipped down the cement walkway toward the road. When Greg didn't immediately follow she turned around and asked, "What are we waiting for?"
Greg laughed then turned toward me and asked, "You okay walking home without me, Zane?"
I thought of Clint and answered, "I won't be alone."
Celeste and Greg left hand-in-hand, smiling and laughing as they walked down the walk and around the corner. Even with their occasional disagreements, they really did look good together. I was happy to know them both, even if they sometimes stressed me out. Hopefully this new matter of Celeste's lack of faith wouldn't be thrust on my shoulders. I had enough things to worry about right now.
And I only seemed to add to them. Not only did I burden myself with being the best student I could manage, but I was now organizing a GSA, would soon be tutoring my boyfriend-well, I hoped he'd soon be my boyfriend, anyway-and still had to worry about my friends. I didn't mind, usually, but things were slowly starting to add up, and I could feel the weight bearing down on me. Right now, my backpack didn't seem so heavy considering everything else in my life.
"Hey there, stranger," a familiar voice said from behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw Rebecca walking toward me.
Smiling, I reached out one arm to invite her into a light hug. "Rebecca!" I said as I patted her back and she wrapped her arms around me, "It was so good to see you at lunch today, and thank you for coming this morning."
"Of course, I wouldn't have missed it," She said when she pulled away from me. "We haven't talked in a while. You got a moment?"
Forgetting about my earlier worries of overburdening myself, I disregarded the nervousness in her eyes. I still had a little room to help someone out. "For you? Anytime."
Rebecca nodded but didn't immediately begin. I took a step backward and sat down on the low cement wall which ran alongside the walkway, then patted the spot next to me. She sat down and shifted for a moment, trying to get comfortable, though whatever weighed on her mind prevented that from happening. "Um..." she began after a few seconds. "I don't really know who else to talk to about this, since I don't have any other gay friends..."
I gently rested my hand on her arm to comfort her. "I'd be happy to help."
"Do you ever feel like you might not be sure you're really gay?" Rebecca asked suddenly. I started at the question, wondering where it was coming from, and I needed clarification.
"Do you mean, 'have I ever stopped liking boys', or do you mean 'have I ever thought I liked a girl so I must not be gay'?"
"The first one. I'm already bisexual. I'm just not really feeling as drawn to Michelle as I used to be."
"Uh-oh..." I said, more to the fact that her relationship wasn't doing well. I didn't mind that she might be questioning her sexuality, though I did need to clarify this point as well. "And there are no other girls?"
Rebecca sighed. "Not that I've really noticed. You know Michelle was the first one who ever really made me question my sexuality in the first place."
Michelle's cousin had grown up in our town before moving away a year ago. Michelle often spent her summers in Cloverfield, and so she'd developed a lot of friendships with the kids in town. Rebecca had always been drawn to her, and I hadn't known until after I came out that she'd had a crush on Michelle the whole time. Once I knew, however, it was easy to spot. "Yeah, I do remember that."
"So," Rebecca said awkwardly, "do you think something's wrong with me?"
I patted her arm and said, "No. I definitely don't think that."
"So, what then?"
"Maybe you're just more selective with your girlfriends than your boyfriends?" I suggested. "It's not like bisexuality always has to be fifty-fifty."
"Truth is," she said hesitantly, "I told her not to move here. Her mom didn't take the job after that."
My eyes widened. "Oh?"
"Yeah..." she sniffed, and a tear rolled down her cheek. "We're almost broken up."
"I haven't spoken to her in a few days..." she shrugged and looked down at her hands, then sniffed again. "More like a week, actually."
For wanting to avoid overburdening myself with my friends' problems, this certainly wasn't going to help. I definitely wasn't going to leave her hanging, though. "Well, maybe things will change?" I offered, though from how she sounded, I doubted that would be the case. "The only thing I can really say is that I know there's nothing wrong with you." I hugged her, hoping for her sake that things would work out. Maybe I could call Michelle and try to work things out...
Rebecca's words pulled me out of my thoughts as she said, "Thanks, Zane. You're the best."
"Nah," I replied, "we all know who that really is."
I was about to turn it around on her and tell her she was the best, but then I saw Clint walk out of the school and start looking around for me. He had his hands wrapped around the straps of his backpack and a worried expression on his face. "Clint!" I shouted, waving him toward us. His eyes lit up upon seeing me and he started in our direction.
"Clint? Wait, wha-" Rebecca pulled away from me, confused, then she saw Clint come toward us and laughed, "Oh, your boyfriend's here. I suppose you would think he's the best."
"He's not my boyfriend. Not yet, anyway," I replied, rolling my eyes. "And you're the best, Rebecca. Don't forget that."
Clint stopped in front of us and asked, "Hey, you ready to go? My dad gave me the okay."
"Sweet," I said, grabbing my cane and setting it before I hopped off the wall. Rebecca slid off the wall to join me and gave me a final hug before pulling away.
"You two have fun, all right?" She said, giving Clint a knowing look before turning back to me with twinkling eyes. "See you at lunch tomorrow."
I nodded and touched her arm gently one final time before letting her go. "I look forward to it."
We'd barely left the school grounds when Clint started in with the questions. "So, what's the story with Rebecca, huh?" He asked.
I searched his face for any sign of jealousy or suspicion, hoping he didn't think she and I had something going on because of our physical closeness. I didn't see anything, and I nearly breathed in relief. "Oh, that little thing back there?" I asked, Clint nodded, I continued. "She had a problem she wanted my advice on. Not sure I really gave her anything concrete, but she's smart, and I'm sure she'll figure it out."
"And she used to date Greg?" Clint asked. I wondered if he thought the two questions were related, but I didn't press that line of thinking.
"It didn't last long," I replied. "A few weeks at the most. Greg used to be a little more judgmental of LGBT people. When he found out she was bisexual..."
"I see." Clint nodded. We walked in silence for nearly a minute before he finished his thought and asked, "But he's not anymore?"
"Nah, he's the coolest guy you'll ever meet."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Clint said, glancing over at me. I tried to catch his gaze, but he was looking forward again when I turned toward him.
"Huh?" I asked.
Clint smiled and said, "I'm pretty certain I'm walking with that guy right now."
"Well," I said, blushing, "I'm certainly walking with someone cuter."
Clint giggled then said, "Now you're lying."
"Not lying, just flirting, and probably doing it badly."
He shook his head and replied. "Nope. Doing it just fine." He glanced down at the cane between us, then at my open hand on the other side. "Hey, do you need your other hand free?"
"No, wh-" I started to ask, but then Clint darted behind me and reappeared on my other side. Before I knew it, his hand slipped into mine and our fingers entwined naturally.
"I..." he said, glancing at me nervously, "I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. This feels..." I didn't know how to finish that sentence. Clint had held my hand at his house when he led me on the tour, but this was different. This was the first time we'd touched after the kiss we'd shared, and the first time we'd held hands without some other reason justifying it.
Our hands fit well together. They were approximately the same size, though his was calloused while mine was smooth. I wondered what had made his hands that rough, but I didn't mind it at all. It added another side to Clint I hadn't noticed before; somewhere within him was a ruggedness which contributed to his overall character.
Holding hands with Clint felt right, and though my usual vocabulary could describe almost anything, words failed me here. I just wanted the warmth, the gentle rubbing of his thumb against the back of my hand, and the touch which signified his physical proximity. This was better than I thought a relationship could feel, and I didn't even think of us as being in one, yet.
Clint seemed to agree with my assessment, as he glanced down at our joined hands then blushed a little as he looked at me. "Yeah..." He said quietly, as much at a loss for words as I was.
So I decided to change the subject, and continue to enjoy holding his hand without trying to describe it. I thought about the day I'd had, remembering our lunch hour especially, and said, "I'm glad you're comfortable around my friends."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Clint asked.
I shrugged and replied, "I was a little worried you'd not like them."
"Heh. I like everyone. Believe it or not, I even like Sheila."
"Really?" I asked, stopping to stare at him and halting Clint's forward momentum. He nearly pulled me over as I tried to stop, and I almost had to pull my hand back, which was the last thing I wanted to do. Holding onto Clint's hand was the best thing I'd felt in years, and the next words he said only made me want to hold on more.
Clint smiled nervously and ran the fingers of his open hand through his hair as he maintained my gaze. "Yeah. I don't think of her as a bully, even though she is one. I think of her as a broken person who doesn't know how to fix herself so she wants to make the world more like her."
"That's fucking deep, Clint." I didn't usually curse, not because I had anything against it morally, I just didn't see the need for it most of the time. In that moment, Clint completely caught me off guard, and I didn't know what else to say or think. I didn't know where this boy came from, but I hoped he'd never leave.
"I like people," Clint said, awing me further with each word, "I only wish everyone could see the good in others, and stop focusing on things they didn't like."
"Clint?" I asked, nodding slowly.
"I want to keep talking to you, but..." I bit my lip and looked down at our hands.
Clint sucked in his breath and braced for me to say something awful. "What's the matter?"
"Can we just walk for a little while? I..." I stroked the back of his hand with my thumb and felt my cheeks color. Embarrassment wasn't something I usually felt, but right now, I didn't trust myself to express the emotions I was feeling, then I looked at Clint and saw him waiting expectantly, and I realized I had to. I couldn't leave it hanging like that. Taking a deep breath, I explained, "I just want to keep holding your hand, without having to worry about conversation. This is more than enough for me, and I think if you keep talking I'll die in euphoria over how amazing you are."
He blinked at me then grinned. "Well, we can't have you dying, can we?"
I started walking again, and Clint stayed by my side step for step. We walked in near silence, though occasionally I'd catch him humming some tune or making subtle clicks with his tongue. His eyes were everywhere, and it didn't take me long to realize he was trying to memorize the route to my house. All these little distracted quirks didn't bother me, they fit Clint and made him more real to me.
And I never doubted his investment in our time together, for every time I started to wonder if he remembered I was there, I felt his thumb slide along the back of my hand. His subtle touch let me know that wherever his attention was temporarily diverted, he was grounded to me in this moment.
It was euphoric, as euphoric as listening to this avatar of teenage energy talk about any subject, and I was overwhelmed that he was coming home with me. I'd dreamed of having another person in my life for so long, but this feeling was beyond anything I'd expected. Despite the short time I'd known him, I knew I was falling in love with him just by existing near him.
So transfixed was I in Clint, I almost missed my own house, and only realized it when we passed my mailbox and reached the driveway after walking past most of the dying grass in front of my house. I pulled up short and Clint nearly walked away without me until my hand dragged him back.
He looked at me in surprise and I gestured at the three-story house next to us and said, "This is it."
Clint did a double-take as soon as he turned toward the house. It was among the largest homes in Cloverfield, and with the pool at the back of the house it was even bigger than it appeared from the front. Maybe if I'd heeded Greg's words earlier that day, I wouldn't have felt as I did then, wondering what Clint thought of it. Did he think I was some stuffy rich kid? Did he think I'd been holding back from him?
But the enthusiasm in his voice told me none of those things, and instead told me I had nothing to worry about. "Wow, what a place!" He said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. "My Dad has built houses like this, but I've never met anyone who lives in a place this big. I'm excited to see the inside."
"Yep. Home sweet home," I replied, then guided him up the driveway. "Come on, I'll give you a tour."
We walked in through the front door and I heard sounds in the kitchen. I moved toward the sound and found my mother preparing a snack for herself at the kitchen counter. The scent of freshly toasted bread filled the room, and a jar of peanut-butter sat open on the counter.
My mother looked up from spreading the peanut-butter on her toast and smiled at me, glancing between me and Clint. "Welcome home, Zane."
"Hi, Mom," I said, returning her smile as I nodded toward Clint, "This is Clint."
She glanced down at our joined hands and her smile widened. "I had a feeling."
"It's nice to meet you," Clint said pleasantly, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. I blushed a little at the squeeze then noticed my mother suppressing laughter. I didn't know what was so funny.
"Well, any friend of Zane's is a friend of mine," she replied. "Especially if they make him blush like you do.
"We're going to go study, Mother," I replied, narrowing my eyes dangerously. She laughed and I rolled my eyes before pulling Clint through the swinging door into the dining room. "Come on, first things first, now that I have you here..."
"What's up?" Clint asked as I stopped at the dining room table and finally let go of his hand. I didn't want to, but I needed it free to take off my backpack. As soon as the pack hit the table I turned toward him and grinned evilly.
"It's time we got started on that tutoring," I said.
"Dammit!" Clint said, groaning. Then he stopped and stared at me, a small smile creeping back onto his face. "Wait... do I get to sit next to you while we study?"
"Yeah..." I replied with a bewildered grin.
"Then what are we waiting for?" Clint asked, swinging his backpack off his shoulders and setting it down on the table next to mine. As his hand came back to his side, his fingers reached out and brushed mine, stroking the back of my hand. With a knowing smile he said, "Let's get started."