Friday I came out of school stuck in my head. I'd been thinking about what Derry wanted me to do, but it felt odd because I'd never had someone sit for me to draw and actually, intentionally want me to draw them. I'd mixed in Luke's features for years, sure, but I'd also drawn in Jared, some of my teachers, models or celebrities from print or digital ads, and even my parents. The difference was I didn't ask them or tell them they were inspiring me in any way. I was wondering how to draw Derry - should I just revise the Quasar pose? Maybe I should go with something closer to who he was - like, he said he liked to sing, so maybe a singing pose?
I had to admit, despite the weirdness, I was excited about this.
I glanced up, pulled from my thoughts by the sight - and sound - of Jared leaning against my car.
"Hey," I replied, not sounding nearly as natural as I should.
Jared sighed, looked away and smiled in an unamused way. "I haven't heard from you. You okay?"
I adjusted my bag, which always seemed to grow heavier on my shoulder the longer it was there. "Yeah." Lonely, maybe. Feeling a little broken without my best friend, who is busy with his dating life and this strange new thing I have with Derry and how thinking of Luke still makes me ache.
Jared nodded slowly. "Lauren's party is Sunday at one. It'd be nice to see you there."
Anger flared in me. "So talking to me is about Lauren," I said sneeringly. I pulled the door open and tossed my bag into the passenger seat.
"Well you didn't seem like you wanted to hear from me," he said in a calm voice. I hate that. I'm angry, but if I don't talk like I have no feelings then I'm the out of control asshole.
"Why would I want to hear from my best friend?" I asked, looking at him. "The best friend who only has time to be my friend when he's not dating. The best friend who can't manage to balance his life if boobs are involved. My best friend who - "
"Hey, come on now," he said, his reasonable tone fluttering. "People grow and change. So do relationships, Jack. You're still the best friend I ever had, the same guy that got me through coming to a new town and surviving my parents' divorce. I haven't forgotten any of that." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Someday I'll get married, Jack. Maybe have kids. There are going to be other people in my life."
"Just no room for me, right?" I said, feeling like shit for being so weak and needy.
He sighed softly. "Jack, if you call me I'll come running every time. What we have...will always be there. This thing with Lauren, it's new. I admit, okay, maybe I'm a little overboard on spending time with her. I really want you to spend some time around her because I think you'd love her, too."
My jaw dropped. "You love her?"
He shifted on his feet, a chagrined expression on his face. "I'm not sure about that. I know I like her a lot, and I've liked girls a lot before. I do think she's special, though, and I'd like for you to get to know her, Jack."
I looked down at my car seat, offering me an escape from this awkward hell. "I don't want to be a third wheel."
"Then come to the party, Jack. It's not just couples and it's not just us three. Come hang out. Please? Hell, bring a date."
I looked up at him, feeling miserable but also missing him mightily. He reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.
"Please, Jack? I know it's a little messy right now, but don't give up on me, okay?"
I sighed and nodded.
"There he is!" Jared said, his tone growing happy and he slung an arm around my shoulders. "Want to go to Hero City tomorrow morning? Pick me up around ten? I heard they got in a new arcade game."
I sniffed. "Okay."
He squeezed me, a little side hug. "Chin up, Jacky-boy. We're going to get through this."
Going to Hero City with Jared was almost normal. I mean it felt almost normal. He didn't mention Lauren but a handful of times, and maybe he was just trying to normalize it. I felt a little ashamed that he was making this effort for me. Was I being unfair to him? How big a loser am I if I can't let him have his own life? Is the answer that maybe I need to find one for myself? But that means Jared isn't that big figure that he has been - and could I handle that? What about him, dropping me every time he chased a skirt?
We were headed back to his house so I could drop him off when my phone rang. It was tied into the Bluetooth of my car, so when I answered the number - one I didn't recognize - it came through the car speakers.
"Jack? It's Derry."
"Hey," I said, glancing at Jared as he raised an eyebrow at me. "What's up?"
"I was talking to Delia about the drawing you're going to do for me and she wanted to kind of see how it's done. I was wondering if you're free this afternoon? I could stop by or you could come over, since Delia's too strange to take to a new place. Ow!"
"What drawing, Jack?" Jared asked.
"Oh, I didn't realize you had company," Derry said, though he didn't sound sorry. I mean, why should he, I guess.
"Jared and I were out to Hero City," I supplied.
"Hey," Jared said. "What's the drawing project?"
A female voice, Delia I assume, said, "Jack's going to draw Derry. Derry was showing me Jack's Instagram and I'm totally impressed. I just want to see how you go about creating stuff like this. It sounds cool, you know?"
"I do," Jared said sagely. "We should get together. I'd like to see this myself." He glanced at me and grinned.
"Cool," Derry said, sounding uncertain. "So Jack, my place or yours?"
"Where do you live?" Jared asked before I could think of a reply.
"Cornflower," Derry replied.
"Oh, that's like three blocks from my house." Jared nodded to me in question as he said, "Jack would need his stuff, but then we can swing by? I can walk home from there."
"Uh, sounds good. See you soon," Derry said and he and Delia giggled for the briefest second before cutting the connection.
"You were going to sketch him today anyway, right?" Jared asked, seeming amused.
"Probably," I said, grumbling. "I mean, I wasn't before he called. Not sure how I feel about an audience." I paused. "Don't you have a girlfriend to get to?"
"I am all yours for the afternoon," he said, leaning back and smiling at me. Goof. Jerk. Friend. Ugh. "So. Derry Keefe, huh? When did that happen?"
Crap. "This week. He liked my art competition drawing," I said. It was true, if not the whole truth.
"The super hero pose? It was pretty good," Jared said. I looked at him with wide eyes. "What? You don't think I couldn't spot your artwork?" He started to laugh and I smiled in embarrassment. It was nice to think he knew me enough to recognize something I'd done. Or was it that I had such a crap style it made it easy to tell I'd done it? Ugh. I pulled into my driveway and dashed inside for my sketchpad and pencils before rejoining him in my car and heading over toward Derry's house. Cornflower was part of a bunch of streets with plant names. Jared lived on Larkspur and between his street and Derry's were Daisy and Chrysanthemum.
"Hey, uh, I just realized I sort of invited myself along. Do you mind if I come with? I mean, I wouldn't have thought to ask before, but since we haven't been hanging as much...." He looked a little abashed, which was good, I guess. I could limit my potential stupid moments if he weren't there, but the truth was I liked having him with me. His reminding me earlier that I'd been there for him while not bringing up how he'd been there for me meant a lot to me.
I smiled at him. "All good."
As we walked up the driveway, Derry opened the door and waved us toward him. He looked dressed to swim in trunks and a tee shirt. He smiled at us as we approached the doorway.
"Come on in. Delia's upstairs, it's the second door on the right. Want something to drink?"
"Um, water?" I asked. I don't know why my throat felt so dry.
"Sure," he said and glanced at Jared.
"I'm good, thanks," Jared said. Jared and I climbed the stairs to the second floor and headed for the doorway, open with Delia Hernandez wearing shorts over her one-piece bathing suit.
"Omigod!" she said, kind of slithering off the bed and approaching me with a huge smile on her face and the spark of excitement all around her. "I am so looking forward to this! I loved your sketch, by the way - I totally think you should be one of the winners."
"Uh, thanks," I said and laughed lightly, nerves taking hold. Of course, the last thing I wanted was for her to mention how she and Derry figured out it was mine in the first place.
"So," I said to cut her off. "Have you guys been talking about what to draw, exactly?"
"We kind of have," Derry said as he walked in and handed me a glass. Derry plopped onto his bed, Delia next to him and Jared turned a desk chair around and sat back to watch.
"So, um, what kind of ideas do you have?" I asked.
"Not an freaking clue," he said seriously and laughed. "I mean, I have no idea what would really work, you know?"
"Uh, yeah," I replied, leaning back on his desk beside Jared. "Well, I draw a lot of comic book style characters, like the one you saw. Quasar is kind of an obscure comic, but that issue really caught my attention."
"I know, blond twink!" Delia said and Derry laughed as he looked at her. I glanced at Jared who was chuckling with them.
"Well, um, I meant the pose really," I said. "If we did a super hero...."
"You know what I like about comics? You can see each person's muscles. Like, yeah, they put female characters in bathing suits, essentially, but the guys look like they had bikini briefs on and just had their bodies painted, you know what I mean?" Delia said.
"Yeah," Derry said thoughtfully. "I think I lack the muscles, though."
"Well, he's an artist with an imagination. I'm sure he can add muscles, right Jack?" Delia asked.
"Yes and no," I replied, shifting on my feet. "See, if I made a body like superman or something, it wouldn't look right proportionally with Derry's face because he's not a body builder. Weight gets distributed so even young body builders have extra meat on the face. Make sense?"
"Sure," Delia said thoughtfully. "So you're saying you could add in something like abs, some definition but not make him look like the Hulk."
"Right," I said. "Also I'd have to, um, get his other muscle tone right. Thighs, if they were facing front, for instance. Calves if it was, like, an over the back image."
"Like this?" Derry asked, looking back at me over his right shoulder. Delia jumped up and mimicked him, looking over her left shoulder.
"Um, right. I mean, assuming super hero, you know? Spandex costumes and all." I swallowed. My gaze flickered down to Derry's legs - pale, of course - but they looked pretty nice to me. I could easily imagine them as they thickened toward his butt. If he were in spandex. Um, underwear. Crap.
"So you're saying I'd have to strip down for this?" Derry asked, and I swear he was flirting.
"Well," I replied slowly, trying to force the image of Derry in his underwear from my mind. "I had an idea."
"Oh? What is it?" he asked, Delia nearly echoing him. They both turned to face me and Jared looked up with amused curiosity.
"Um. You said you liked to sing. So what about a pose with a wireless microphone or something? Mouth open like you were belting a song out?"
"Oh! Maybe like this," Derry said with excitement and crossed his room to shuffle through some papers and magazines on his desk. "It's in here," he said as he flipped through a magazine and then turned it toward me. It was an ad with a blue-green background. A singer I now knew as Brendan Urie, lead singer of Panic! At the Disco was leaning back slightly, mouth open in song with a microphone in front of him. Bars ran behind him, about halfway, tapering up and down.
"Yeah, something like that," I said with a nod.
Derry looked at Delia. "That sounds so cool, me doing a Brendan!" She laughed with him and then he looked back at me. "I love it! So how do we do this?"
"For starters, I need you to pick a pose that you can stick with for a while because you're going to have to stay still. We can take breaks, but I need you to kind of stay one way so I can sketch."
"Okay. Okay. How about this?" He struck a pose and Delia critiqued it. He struck another and she shot it down.
"How will you keep your mouth like that for along time? I mean, he has to hold still, right?" she asked me. I nodded. The brainstorm was interrupted by Delia's phone ringing. She frowned as she looked down at it before answering. Her responses were unhappy grunts culminating in an exasperated 'fine!'.
"I have to go watch the rugrats," she said unhappily, addressing us all with a sweeping gaze. "Jack, you have to text me some progress pictures, okay? Maybe you could do one of me next? If I'm nice about it?"
Derry laughed aloud and she pushed him over onto his bed where be bounced once, breaking his laughter down to giggles.
Delia smiled and headed to the door, telling Derry she'd talk to him later and then heading downstairs.
The next few minutes were filled with Derry and I working on a pose he could stay in for a stretch of time. We adjusted where he stood with respect to the available lighting in the room and once we had all that worked out, I told him to go get a drink or pee because he'd be stuck like this for a while. He said he was fine. I took a picture for later reference and then sat down with my back to his desk and started to sketch him.
I learned to sketch when I was about ten. My mom had picked up this wooden posing dummy from a garage sale and I'd used it to create several books of sketches. Having Derry holding still was a similar experience and I found it fairly easy to sketch his leg placement, foot direction, one arm out to a side with fingers spread wide and the other bent as if holding a microphone. My goal was the get the major parts in place and then let him rest before working on the first round of details.
"I need to move," Derry said.
"In a minute," I replied, pencil lead scritching on the paper.
"Jack. I really need a break," Derry whined.
"You have to go for more than twenty minutes, Derry," I said quietly, pencil still moving.
"Jack. It's been an hour and a half," Jared said with a chuckle.
I jerked and looked up, glancing at the clock on Derry's bedside table. Wow, he was right. "Um, sorry, Yeah, let's break. Good job, Derry. Seriously."
Derry relaxed, stretching for a minute before heading from the room. Faintly I could hear him passing water, but Jared nudged me, trying to get a look at the paper.
"I can see all the bones there, Jack," he said with admiration.
I cleared my throat. "Thanks." I tried to step back and look at what I had accomplished rather than what I felt I still had to do. I'd drawn the arms and legs pretty well, though I'd left the toes undefined since I assumed he'd want to try to put a costume on or something else for details. I think I had the rest of the basics laid down, all in black and white so far. I could add in color - probably would need to for his hair, since he'd made a comment before about me having used black hair in my school sketch.
"Wow, kink in the neck!" Derry said coming back into the room. "How does it look so far?" he asked excitedly.
"Dude, he made you look pretty good!" Jared said as Derry craned his head around to see. I turned the pad toward him and Derry's smile grew wider.
"This is going to be perfect, Jack!" he said with enthusiasm.
"You guys get along pretty well," Jared noted, a bland tone that gave away nothing, except the remark itself brimmed with questions.
"Yeah. So far," Derry replied, ominously in my opinion.
"Well, maybe you wouldn't mind doing me a favor?" Jared asked. The back of my neck prickled. It was my stupid meter. I think it just detected Jared about to do something dumb, but I wasn't sure what that could be.
"Maybe," Derry said, cautiously. Smart fellow, right there.
"My girlfriend Lauren, she's having a spring party tomorrow. I twisted Jack's arm into coming, and he's being a good friend and kind of soldiering on." He leaned forward and stage whispered. "I'm afraid he'll get bored or sneak off if I'm not looking. You think you could be his plus one?"
Derry raised an eyebrow and looked at me. I hurriedly gained my feet. "Um, don't listen to him, Derry. I will probably just make an appearance - Jared will be hanging out with his girlfriend anyway, so, I won't be there for that long."
"See what I mean?" Jared said and smiled. "He needs a friendly face. What do you say, Derry? Got plans tomorrow?"
I had never wished for someone to be a religious freak and go to church all day on Sunday's more than I did right that second.
"I like parties," Derry said. Crap.
"Perfect," Jared said with a grin. He patted me on the shoulder. "I have to get going. See you tomorrow, Jacky-boy."
He smiled at Derry and headed down the stairs, the front door closing behind him moments later.
"Lauren Tichmann is a twat," Derry said matter of factly, his tone more like the night I ran into him at the supermarket. "Valerie Goodwin had to be her lab partner last semester and Lauren stole the credit for all their work."
"Really?" I asked, that information not seeming to line up with the girl I'd met.
"Vile," Derry said. "Delia knows more, I don't pay as much attention to the girls, of course."
I smiled lightly at his comment. "So are you a fan of Panic!?" I asked.
He smiled widely. "I love them. Every album is something different. I like that they aren't cookie cutter type music." Smiling he sang, "I've got high-high hopes!"
"I know that one!" I said, sort of glad he'd picked something I'd listened to.
"So this party thing...why does Jared want you to go so badly?" he asked. He had a habit of cutting through BS and getting down to business. I wondered if he liked me at all, considering how his mood seemed to be more to the point when it was just the two of us.
I closed the cover of my sketchbook and put my pencils away in their case. I placed both on the desk and then sat down in the chair, turning to face Derry. He'd decided to sit as I'd done so, one leg folded underneath him as he waited for me to reply.
I thought for a moment about how to explain, never even giving a thought to the idea of not answering him. "Is Delia your best friend?" I asked.
"Has she dated?"
"Yeah. She's dating Ahmed Mousaraff right now. Why?"
"Do you...I don't know, maybe it doesn't work the same way for you," I said and rubbed my palms on my jeans. "Jared is my best friend. We do everything together, tell each other just about everything."
I nodded, "But when he starts to date someone, he seems to forget I exist. I hate that. It feels like a pretty face and some tits instantly overshadows the years of friendship we have."
Derry nodded slowly. "Delia's not like that. She goes on dates and hangs out, but I see plenty of her. We text and hang out."
I pursed my lips. "Sometimes I think Jared just can't handle more than one relationship at a time. That he's hardwired somehow." I looked at Derry critically. "I worry he'll fall in love and I'll lose him for good. He actually is a really good guy, except when he's dating."
Derry nodded slowly. "Well, I guess everyone is different."
"How were you when you dated?" I asked, my voice trailing off. I'm not sure I should have asked that. I didn't know if it brought up bad memories.
"Little of both, I think," he said. "I'd drop everything if Luke called, but I did still see Delia. What does this have to do with the party?"
I twisted my fingers together. "Jared thinks Lauren is pretty nice so far. I haven't seen much of him for the last three weeks or so. In fact, today was the first day we hung out. Last time I saw him to talk to before that was...the night of the school dance."
"I wasn't at the dance. I was at the Panic! concert," Derry said quietly, focused on me.
I stared at him for a moment. Thoughts started to form and then drifted off before they could fully form. Then, quite suddenly, an idea clicked into place. A horrible idea.
"You were out with Josh."
Derry nodded. "He asked me to the show; said his dad got him tickets."
I sighed. "Luke said that his dad had bought tickets, but that Josh was stiffing him on the ticket he was supposed to pay for."
Derry sighed. "Yeah, Josh told me that. He only asked me to go because he wanted to get at Luke."
I felt a protective flash for Luke. "Why would you agree to do that?"
"I didn't know until later. I thought Josh was asking me out because he might like me." He hesitated. "He just used me to dig at an ex, that's all. Besides, I love the band."
I frowned and looked down. "I'm sorry he did that to you, Derry."
He was quiet for a moment and then said, "He told me, after, that you guys had kissed, too. I kind of started putting things together, then. Made me feel little bad. I guess Luke wasn't...into you."
I was quiet for a moment before it kind of fell out of me. "I'm kind of stupid, Derry. I was treating the concert like a date and Luke was thinking he was just going with a friend." I looked up at him. "I always stuck up for Luke because he was my best friend's brother and...and...."
"Because you loved him."
My mouth opened and closed a few times and then I said, "I thought I did. Maybe I did. Maybe I do and always will, a little, in that place where you keep kid things that you can't let go of. A favorite toy, birthday party. First kiss. Stuff you don't think about much, but they still are valuable enough to hold onto."
Derry studied me in silence, his eyes darting about as he looked at me. "That was kind of poetic, Kaniecki. I just see him as a person, now. I used to be pretty infatuated with him. Thought about him too much. When he dumped me I was pretty hurt. I'm not ashamed to say I cried. Then I was angry. Eventually, though...I got over it." He smiled lightly. "You will, too."
"I'm not stuck on him, not anymore," I said slowly, as if thinking it through for the first time and speaking as the thoughts occurred to me. "I haven't spoken to him since that night, but it was pretty clear whatever fantasy I had of him liking me wasn't real. The...confusion and...I don't know...not horror, but something in the same category at the thought I might be gay and like him. I don't know. Kind of...put the fire out in me."
We sat in silence for a minute or more, absorbing what had been said. Processing. Accepting, perhaps - I know I was.
"So," Derry said softly. "What do you want me to do at this party? Skip it? Call Lauren out for her fakeness?" He smiled at me and I couldn't help but smile back.
"I'd appreciate it if we could just hang out. I, uh, told him I'd go, so I will." I paused and said, "Actually, if you don't want to - "
"I will," he said and stood up. I felt like this was the prelude to letting me know we were done so I stood as well, but I was surprised when Derry stepped in close to me, eyes studying my face. I stayed still, watching him as he watched me.
"Fact is, Jack, everything I'm hearing says you're lonely. I am too. Maybe we can be lonely together and it won't be so bad."Next Chapter Previous Chapter