Hello everyone! It’s your friendly neighborhood author Michael Kudo here. I’m so glad to be back on TNA after a long long break (we shall never go that long again!) to bring you an announcement and a short story.
The announcement being that although I said a few months ago I was taking 2015 off from writing, the writing demons couldn’t keep quiet and as a result I have a novel set to come out late May/early June. You’ll know the specific date ASAP – TNA will be the first stop on the eventual blog tour.
I’m super excited about this novel – it’s much different than anything I’ve released before. It’s less dark humor and more…ripping out your heart. I hope you guys enjoy it when it comes out. I’m super proud of it.
As for the present! I wrote a short story for an anthology a few months ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t chosen to be included…but that doesn’t mean it has to go to waste. So for your enjoyment, here’s Until You Believe It.
Marshall reached for his backpack and began piling his supplies into it as the shrill sound of the bell resonated through the loudspeakers. Most of the kids in his class had already packed up their things and kept their eyes locked onto the clock, prepared to jump out of their respective seats as soon as they heard a single sound – but he wasn’t one of them. He much preferred to leave the class well after everyone else was already gone. The halls were far from his favorite place to be. It was almost like walking out into a jungle: people rushing about like wild animals, students in packs; some of which were waiting to pounce on the few kids who were solitary and easy prey. It wasn’t safe there.
When the last student was gone, Marshall swung the backpack over his shoulder and rose from his desk. With any luck, he wouldn’t be too late to his next class. That would be a long shot, if ever there was one.
Marshall paused, only inches away from the door. He turned around slowly. “Yes, Mrs. Richardson?”
“If I’m not mistaken, today is the fourth day in a row that you’ve left this room well after the bell. It would be rather foolish of me to simply assume your first period teacher is fine with your habitual tardiness, wouldn’t it?”
“I’ll take your stammering as validation. Now please hurry on to your next period and how about tomorrow you try not to be the last one out of the room again. Okay?”
“Yes, Mrs. Richardson,” Marshall muttered. It’s not like he wanted to be late for his next class. He didn’t have a choice. After all, it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t like how chaotic the halls were between classes. It also wasn’t his fault that the halls weren’t safe for him. It wasn’t really anybody’s fault, well…then again, that wasn’t entirely true. But it wasn’t like he could do anything about that.
Marshall shuffled out of the classroom and made his way down the hall. There were a few stragglers still ambling towards their destinations, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, had he gotten out of the classroom earlier. He was almost at the end of the corridor. His first period classroom was a bit farther away – just ‘round the corner and two doors down. If he could only just make it there without being noticed…maybe the day wouldn’t be so bad. All he had to do was turn the corner and everything would be fine.
Marshall stopped in place; his shoulders arched and his entire body tensed up instinctively. It was the one person in the entire world that he didn’t want to run into. But of course, had he managed to not run into the one person in the entire world he didn’t want to run into, it wouldn’t have been his life. He turned around slowly and mentally braced himself.
“Glad I could catch you, Porky,” Joel called, as he moved forward to stand next to Marshall. “You’ve been avoiding me, huh? I guess you don’t appreciate the time we spend together. I think my feelings might be hurt.” He laughed and his three friends joined in.
Marshall didn’t respond. He knew it was better to just ignore Joel and his band of rabid hyenas. He knew that the jerk was baiting him and he wasn’t a fish, so he wasn’t biting. No matter how great the provocation was.
“Awe, come on, fag-boy, are you giving me the silent treatment now? That’s not very nice. Now I’m definitely sure my feelings are hurt.”
“Don’t call me that,” Marshall muttered.
Joel’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh, so now you have a backbone? That’s real adorable, isn’t it guys?” He turned to his friends and they responded with cheers and more laughter. “So which of my little nicknames bothers you so much? Is it Porky? Are you that sensitive about your weight? Or maybe it’s fag-boy. Because we all know how big of a homo you are.”
Marshall kept silent. He definitely was sensitive about his weight but he didn’t want those jerks to know about it. They thought themselves clever by calling him Porky, after the Looney Tunes pig, because after all, his weight was an easy target to make fun of. He hated it, but again, he didn’t want them to know how much he hated it. He didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
“Come on, Joel, this is boring,” one of the hyenas declared. “It’s no fun if he’s just going to sit there and take it.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Joel replied. “Come on, fag-boy, say something.” He pushed his hands hard against Marshall’s chest, causing him to collide with a nearby locker. “Or better yet, do something.”
Marshall grabbed his shoulder and winced a bit. Damn, it really hurt. He assumed after almost an entire semester of being shoved into lockers that he would be used to the sensation, but apparently it wasn’t the case. He threw a quick glance around the hall. There were no teachers in sight, of course. And the few students who were interested enough in the proceedings to look on didn’t seem to care enough to intervene. That was no surprise either. Joel and the hyenas were seniors and basically popular, so it stood to reason that nobody wanted to get in their way. Why would anybody want to jeopardize their social standing for one chubby, ugly, gay kid? Spoiler alert: they wouldn’t.
“So you’re not going to fight back, then?” Joel asked in a mocking tone. “You’re such a pussy, bro. You can’t even stand up for yourself when I’m in your space and pushing you around.” He shoved Marshall again and shook his head. “How pathetic.”
“Come on, we’re going to be late,” Hyena number two exclaimed. “The second bell is going to ring any minute now.”
Joel looked down at the watch on his wrist. “Yeah, yeah,” he shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, I’m not done having fun yet.”
“Yeah, but Joel you know that Mr. Franklin said the next time you’re late that you’re going to get detention and points off your grade.”
Joel snarled. He looked back at Marshall. “Okay fag-boy, you lucked out this time. But you better hope I don’t catch you around again. Because you’ll really get it next time, you got me?”
Marshall didn’t say anything again. He just nodded. He bent down to pick up his book bag which had fallen on the ground during the altercation. Before he could grab the strap, it was already in Joel’s hands. “Give it back!” he cried.
Joel ripped open the zipper and turned the bag upside-down, emptying its contents on the ground. He threw the bag at Marshall, who promptly caught it. “There you go, Porky. Have fun picking up your shit.”
Marshall sighed and waited for the crowd to disburse before he sunk to his knees and began collecting his possessions.
“Hey, you need some help?”
Marshall stopped what he was doing. With the way his luck went, it was probably one of the hyenas coming back to taunt him some more. His slowly elevated his gaze to face his potential aggressor. To his surprise, it wasn’t one of Joel’s friends at all. It was somebody he didn’t recall ever seeing before that moment, though vaguely looked familiar to him. The guy had bright glaucous colored eyes, which reminded him of a storm cloud and dark hair which made his pale colored skin stand out even more. He was beautiful.
“Did you hear me?”
Marshall blinked and simultaneously snapped back into reality. He had almost lost himself in the boy’s looks – not a good idea, especially when being gay was frowned upon by a majority of people. “Yeah, sorry, what was that again?”
The guy smiled. “I asked if you needed help picking up your stuff. I’m going to take your silence as a no.”
“No, no,” Marshall stammered. “I mean, no, I didn’t say no. I could use some help, if you’re offering.”
“Yeah, I’m offering.” The guy bent down and started gathering the pencils, pens, and pieces of paper that were closest to him.
After a few moments, everything was in a semi-neat pile in front of Marshall, who quickly stuffed it all back into the book bag. “Thank you,” he said softly.
“Don’t mention it,” the guy replied. He paused for a heartbeat. “I don’t think we’ve ever met before. What’s your name?”
“Marshall, Marshall Lawrence.”
“Nice to meet you, Marshall, Marshal Lawrence. My name is Andrew – but I prefer to be called Drew.”
Marshall rolled his eyes at the joke but couldn’t help the smile from crossing his face. “Nice to meet you, too, Drew.”
Drew returned the smile and rose to his feet. “I actually think I’ve heard about you…in passing, that is. I mean, your name, I’ve heard it before.”
“Yeah, I heard…is it true that you’re gay?”
Marshall didn’t respond immediately. He got to his feet and kept his gaze focused on the floor. It wasn’t as though he was ashamed of his sexuality or kept it hidden or anything, but he had just met somebody who was actually being nice to him – the first person to be nice to him since he moved to town and started attending the local school district. People in his new town didn’t seem too receptive to the idea of homosexuality as the friends in his old town were. He didn’t want to say something that would cause another person to hate him. Especially when said thing was a significant part of who he was.
Drew looked at Marshall and nodded in understanding. He moved his hand forward and placed his fingers under Marshall’s chin, and slowly lifted his head. “You don’t have to worry, if you are gay, I mean. I’m gay too.”
“Really?” Marshall asked, fighting to keep the mixture of hope and excitement out of his voice. It wasn’t hard, considering he knew that even if it was true, that Drew was gay, there wasn’t anything to be too excited for. Drew looked like a GQ cover boy compared to him. He looked more like the person in the before photo from a dieting commercial.
“Yeah, I am,” Drew assured.
“That’s incredible…I think you’re the first person in this town that I’ve met who’s gay. Most people here seem against it.”
“That’s true,” Drew admitted. “Unfortunately, our town isn’t exactly super progressive or open-minded. But there are good people who don’t mind it as much. The key is to surround yourself with those people and ignore the douchebags.”
Marshall laughed. “That’s pretty good advice.” He tilted his head to the side and made a considering noise with his mouth. “How long have you been out?”
Drew’s face reddened. “To be completely honest, I’m not out…not entirely. I mean, my older brother and mom know, but nobody in school really knows. I think you’re the first I’ve admitted it to.”
“Are they okay with it? Your mom and brother?”
“They were shocked at first and a bit iffy. They assumed I was just confused. My mother said that I was just confused or something and not old enough to make such a big life decision. She’s over that now, and pretty accepting. My brother is another story…he doesn’t talk about it much. I think he’d rather pretend I didn’t say anything at all than accept the fact that his younger brother likes guys.”
Marshall noticed that the current subject seemed to bring a sad look on Drew’s face, so he decided to change the subject. “Well, thank you for helping me.”
Drew smiled again. “Don’t mention it, really.” He frowned slightly. “How did your stuff get all over the floor, anyway?”
“Joel Nelson’s handiwork. Do you know him?”
Drew paused for a moment. “Uh, not really. I mean, I’ve heard of him…but I don’t know him personally, or anything like that. I hear he’s kind of a jerk, apparently the rumors are true.”
Marshall opened his mouth to reply affirmatively but a loud buzzing sound from the loud speaker forced a groan from his mouth. They had exactly ten minutes to get from one classroom to another. They were given that time in case they needed to retrieve something from their locker, put something in, or go to the bathroom. The evil buzzing sound signified that he was now officially late to his first period class. And based on his track record, he was going to receive an earful from his disgruntled teacher. That was always pleasant.
“Shit,” Drew said, “I didn’t even notice that it had gotten so late. I was too…immersed in our conversation.”
“Yeah, me too,” Marshall said. “I really hope we can talk again…I mean, if you want to, that is.”
Drew chuckled and shook his head. “Of course I do, silly. Why wouldn’t I? It’s always fun to have a decent conversation.” He paused for a moment and looked as though he was debating on saying something else. “Especially when my conversation partner is so cute.”
Marshall blushed and didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know whether to read Drew’s compliment as a statement of fact or a joke. On one hand, he couldn’t think of a single reason why Drew would say something like that if he was joking because that would have been very cruel. On the other hand, he couldn’t believe that Drew could be serious because on a long list of adjectives to describe himself, cute was far from the top thousand. Maybe far from the top hundred-thousand.
“I’ll take your silence as a sign that you’re disgusted by my admission of how cute I think you are…and I probably should seek psychiatric help for thinking it was a smart idea to open my mouth. I’m sorry, okay?”
“No, it’s not that!” Marshall said quickly. “I…I’m not disgusted at all. It’s not every day that I hear something like that. So please forgive the brief existential crisis.”
“Ahh, I understand. Well still, I probably shouldn’t have been in such a rush to say that especially since this is the first time we’ve met.”
“It’s fine, I’m not upset. I just don’t believe you. I mean, you’re fit and attractive. It doesn’t make sense that you’d find me cute.”
Drew rolled his eyes. “You think that being fit makes somebody attractive? I hate to break it to you, but there are all different body types in the world and just because you have a little bit extra, doesn’t mean you’re not adorable. So stop with the self-loathing, please. That’s more of a…second or third conversation topic, don’t you think?”
Marshall couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, fine. As much as I’d rather be here talking to you, we should probably get to class before we get in even more trouble. The corridor aids will think we’re skipping or something.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Drew replied. “Well, I’ll see you later, Marshall. It was really nice meeting you.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Marshall handed the lunch lady the money for his meal and walked over to the table where Drew was sitting. It had been a little over a month since they had first met and it had been an amazing couple of weeks. They had lunch together and hung out after school every single day. And even better, they were getting closer. Drew had given him his first kiss. It was almost too good to be true. “Sorry it took so long, the line was ridiculous.”
Drew half-shrugged. “I know how it can get. Don’t worry about it. At least you survived the journey and made it here alive. That’s what counts.”
“Yeah, we all know how dangerous the lunch ladies can be when they’ve gone too long without a cigarette.” Marshall picked up his fork. He impaled a few of his French fries and brought them into his mouth.
“So how do the fries taste?” Drew asked.
Marshall swallowed and shrugged. “I don’t know, frenchy? Haven’t you had cafeteria French fries before?”
“Actually, I’ve never had French fries in general,” Drew admitted.
Drew shook his head. “Nope. They’re typically a fast food thing and my family doesn’t really go out for fast food. I’ve seen them on the menu, just never really been compelled to try them before. Especially when the choice is between them and nachos. Nachos always win, it is law.”
Marshall blinked and just stared blankly. “Wow…you’ve never had a French fry before. You poor, underprivileged, child. Do you want to try one?”
Drew looked at the plate of French fries in consideration. “I guess it couldn’t hurt. I mean, it’s not like eating those things can kill me or anything.” He glanced sideways. “They can’t kill me, right?”
Marshall laughed. “No, they’re perfectly harmless. I promise.”
Drew picked up a French fry and deposited it into his mouth. After a few moments he pushed the plate of fries closer to Marshall. “They’re okay, but I don’t see what the hype is. They’re nothing special.”
“To each his own,” Marshall replied. “I think they’re amazing.”
Drew scoffed. “Says a lot about your taste. I actually feel bad.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you think French fries are amazing…and you’ve said that you think I’m amazing, which is an issue because those two are mutually exclusive. Do you see the problem here?”
“Yeah, you’re a nutcase. That’s the problem.”
Drew threw Marshall a mock-affronted look. “If you’re not going to take my feelings seriously, we can’t have this conversation.”
Marshall threw his hands up in defeat. “Okay, fine. Clearly my taste in food is bad because my taste in you is the superior one. Are you happy?”
Drew gave a smug smile. “Yes, I am. But it doesn’t matter, really, because it’s blatantly obvious that out of the two of us, I have the superior taste.”
“Oh yeah?” Marshall inquired. “Why do you say that?”
“Because I’m attracted to you.”
Marshall didn’t know what to say to that. He blushed and suddenly became very interested in the pool of ketchup on his plate.
“Oh come on, it’s not like you don’t know how absolutely attracted to you I am. Don’t be all bashful about it.”
“So you say.”
Drew glared. “I don’t just say it, I mean it. And you should start believing it, too.”
Marshall took a sip of his chocolate milk and then sighed. “I know, I know. But you don’t understand what it’s like to grow up with everyone telling you how ugly and unattractive you are, and then having somebody just magically appear in your life and tell you different. It’s strange, okay?”
“You know, your life would be a lot less complicated if you just accepted my opinion that ninety-nine percent of the world are stupid as fact. Because anybody who could look at you and not think you’re beautiful can’t be very bright.”
“Even with how fat I am?”
“You don’t need to be so hard on yourself,” Drew chided. “You say fat with the same hatred that I’ve heard people say slurs. Having a bit of weight isn’t bad. I’ve told you this a thousand times. I’d rather be with somebody who had a bit extra than somebody who is too skinny. Not that there’s anything wrong with skinny people, but I like guys who have a bit of meat on them so I don’t feel like I’m going to break them. It’s just personal preference. So to me, you’re perfect.”
Marshall smiled in spite of himself. “That’s…very sweet of you to say. I’ll try my best to believe you and not put up such a fight in the future.”
“That’s all I ask. Anyway, I’ll be right back. I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Do you need company?”
“Nah, I’ll be fine. Plus you have to finish eating your mediocre fries,” Drew remarked. And with that parting shot, he left the cafeteria.
Marshall couldn’t help but smile. It seemed to be a recurring element whenever Drew was around. It was like the guy had the ability to summon happiness. It was wonderful. It was one of the many reasons why he was glad they had met. Maybe moving and leaving behind his friends wasn’t so bad, after all. Not if he found the one person in the world who could make him truly happy. That trumped everything.
Marshall dropped his fork in surprise. He knew exactly who it was, the voice was unmistakable. Not to mention the trademarked hateful nickname. It was Joel alright. But it wasn’t his lunch period. He had no reason to be there. The one place outside of the classroom that was safe, apparently wasn’t.
Joel walked over to the table and glanced around. His group of lackeys followed closely behind. “Two lunch trays? Damn, the lunch ladies should be ashamed of themselves. I can’t believe they’re contributing to your illness like this.”
Marshall clenched his fists. He wasn’t going to let Joel get to him. Especially not when he had somebody like Drew in his life. He outright refused to be bullied anymore. “The other tray isn’t mine, it’s a friends.”
“You actually have a friend? That’s adorable. Who is it?”
“It’s none of your business.”
One of the hyenas jeered. “Joel, man, are you going to let him talk to you like that?”
Joel frowned. “I think you better watch how you talk to me, fag-boy. You wouldn’t want to piss me off.”
“Then go away,” Marshall declared. “Because I’m done letting you pick on me. I’m tired of taking your crap, Joel.”
“Oh is that so?”
“Yeah, it is.”
Joel grabbed Drew’s milk carton and dumped its contents onto Marshall’s plate, drenching his uneaten cheeseburger.
“What’s going on?” Drew asked, walking back up. He noticed Joel and his face hardened. “What are you guys doing over here? This is a junior lunch period. You’re seniors.”
“We know what we are,” Joel remarked. “The better question is, what are you doing near fag-boy?”
“He’s my friend,” Drew proclaimed. “So you better leave him alone.”
“Yeah, really, unless you want me to inform that corridor aid that you guys are in this lunch period illegally. I think the standard punishment is two days of suspension. I’m sure that would go over well with your father.”
Joel’s eyes narrowed for a split-second and he growled in frustration. “Whatever, I have better things to do with my time than mess around with Porky here.” He made a beckoning gesture to his friends. “Come on guys, let’s go.”
Drew watched as they all walked away and shook his head. “Those guys are so immature, aren’t they? Especially Joel.” He glanced down at the table, specifically Marshall’s lunch tray, which was covered in milk. “Ugh. I can’t believe he did this.”
Marshall half-shrugged. He pulled a bunch of napkins out a nearby dispenser and began sopping up the milk. “I’ve been dealing with this crap since the beginning of the school year. I’m used to it by now.”
“That’s my point, you shouldn’t be used to it…because they shouldn’t be doing it. It’s bull crap.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, but what can you do? I’m stuck dealing with Joel and his little friends until the end of the school year.”
“Have you tried talking to someone about it?” Drew suggested. “Maybe one of the teachers or something?”
“I’ve tried telling teachers but it’s their word vs. mine. And unfortunately, he’s older and knows most of the staff, so they don’t really believe me. They think I’m being a crybaby or a trouble maker. So there’s nothing that I can really do except grin and bear it until then.”
“God, he’s such a jerk. I can’t believe he’s doing this kind of crap. He’s always been kind of stupid but actual bullying? That’s so–”
Marshall stopped what he was doing and turned slightly. “What do you mean, he’s always done stupid things?”
Drew shrugged and flicked his hand as if he were dismissing the question. “I don’t know, I was just annoyed…I misspoke or whatever.”
“It doesn’t sound like you misspoke. It sounds like you know Joel personally. What’s your relationship with him?”
“Come on, Marshall….”
Marshall shook his head. The look on his face was unflinching. “No, I will not come on. I asked you before if you knew Joel and you said that you didn’t. You told me that you knew of him, but you had no connection to him. Obviously that isn’t true. So answer the damn question. How do you know Joel?”
Drew took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Before I say anything, I want you to know that no matter what I say, it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
“Just tell me!”
“Joel is my older brother.”
Marshall couldn’t help but gasp in shock. Was this really happening? Did he really allow himself to get feelings for his tormentor’s brother? He had to have misheard him – of course, he didn’t hear Drew correctly. That had to be it. “What did you say?”
Drew looked apologetic. “The older brother I told you about when we first met, was Joel…I’m his brother. Well, half-brother, technically. But we grew up together…in the same house and everything. Please don’t be mad.”
“So…you lied to me and expect me to not be mad at you?”
“I didn’t mean to, honest,” Drew promised. “And I know that you have every right to be pissed off. But please hear me out.”
“Yeah, right…I think I’ve heard enough from you to last me a lifetime. Go to hell, Drew.” Marshall turned and rushed out of the cafeteria. He didn’t know where he was going or what he was going to do, but he knew that he just couldn’t be there. Not with Drew. He needed somewhere quiet, somewhere he could think and be by himself. The library was the perfect place for that. Luckily for him, it was close. He continued down the hall. As he was turning the corner and nearing the library, someone grabbed his arm.
Marshall knew who it was without even turning around. “Let me go, Drew.”
“I can’t do that,” Drew replied. “I need you to hear me out first. Please.”
Marshall laughed derisively. He ripped his arm out of Drew’s grasp and turned around to face the guy that he thought he could love – thought could actually love him. “Why should I listen to anything you say? It’ll just be more lies. I’ll bet this was some plan that you and your brother cooked up one day. Let me take a wild guess. You can act nice to the fat, ugly homo and pretend like you’re interested so that when he decides to takes a chance and believes that somebody could actually find him even remotely attractive, you could pop the illusionary bubble and all laugh at how stupid he is. Did I get it all or am I missing something?”
“No, it wasn’t like that at all!” Drew cried. “Please, believe me. I never intended or wanted to hurt you like this. I just wanted you to give me a chance.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Joel and his friends are huge jerks so it’s not exactly like I wanted to publicize any connection to him, you have to understand that. In fact, people don’t know that he and I are related. We have different fathers, so different last names. The truth is, before we actually started talking, I saw you around and I always thought you were cute. I didn’t act on it because I didn’t know if you were gay or not and I wasn’t really interested in putting myself out there only to get shot down. But then one day I heard my brother and his friends talking about you and how you were gay and…I wanted to see if I had a shot at winning your heart. And I couldn’t tell you he’s my brother because I didn’t want you to not talk to me. That’s it. There was no plan. Joel had no idea until today, honest.”
Marshall scoffed. “Yeah, that’s a real nice story. And I’m sure you and your brother spent many hours thinking it up.”
“Damn it, Marshall, I’m not lying to you.”
“For once, be still my heart.”
“Please, don’t be like this. You have to understand that I didn’t want it to come out like this. I wanted to wait for the right time.”
Marshall closed his eyes. There was a cold, burning sensation in the pit of his chest and he could feel a lump forming in his throat. He knew what was going to come and he was using all of his willpower to resist and begging his body to not show precisely how much he was hurt. He felt the first tear slide down his face and knew it was a lost cause.
“Marshall,” Drew breathed. He made a motion as if he were going to embrace Marshall but appeared to think better of it. “I know you’re upset and I totally understand why, but please don’t cry….”
Marshall opened his eyes and placed a hand between Drew and himself, noticing the former’s movement. He didn’t need nor want Drew’s comfort. And he knew if Drew touched him in that moment, he would lose himself in his sorrow and become intelligible. “You have no idea how badly you hurt me today.”
“No, it’s my turn to speak and you will let me say what I have to say,” Marshall said coldly.
Drew opened his mouth to respond but immediately closed it and nodded.
Marshall took a breath to steady himself but couldn’t stop more tears from betraying him and decorating his cheeks like melancholy war paint. “You couldn’t even begin to understand what I go through. Every single day your brother and his friends torment me. For the first couple of weeks I tried to not let it bother me. Eventually it did. And I tried getting help but nobody ever seems able to do anything. The teachers don’t pay attention and my father tells me to man up or whatever. And sometimes…it gets so bad that I think about killing myself, just so it’ll all stop.” He paused to take another breath. His whole body was shaking with the effort to not become a sobbing mess. “And then I met you. And for the first time those scary thoughts didn’t surface. And you actually made me feel like I was beautiful…like somebody could actually want to be with a guy like me with a body like mine. And now I find out that it was all a lie. How am I supposed to feel, Drew, I mean, God, how the fuck did you expect me to react?”
Drew sighed. “I didn’t…I mean, I didn’t want it to come out like this. I had planned to tell you, I swear, but I just didn’t know when I’d have the chance. I wanted to give us time to grow closer together so that we’d be on a strong enough foundation to handle anything. Even Joel.”
“That’s a sweet sentiment, but it means very little when the foundation you speak of was being built on lies. How could you ever expect me to trust you?”
“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” Drew confessed. “I was too focused on the prospect of us being together that I didn’t consider the consequences. And I know I said it before, but I’ll say it a thousand times if I have to – I may have lied about my brother, but I never lied about my feelings for you. Or how beautiful you are. That was all genuine.”
Marshall shook his head. “How can I believe that? Because it really just seems like one big ploy to make me look like an idiot. I don’t know how I look, but I certainly feel like one. So mission accomplished, I guess.”
“Will you please stop with that? I already told you, there was no plot, ploy, plan, or scheme. It was simply a desperate attempt by an equally desperate kid to win the heart of a really wonderful guy…that went horribly wrong. And that’s the honest truth. I don’t know what else I can say to make you believe me.”
“Well that makes the both of us. Because I honestly don’t know a single thing you can say that’ll make me believe you. I want to, God knows I do, but I don’t think I can.”
“Please don’t say that,” Drew begged. He was crying now too. “I don’t want things to end like this. There’s practically nothing in this world that can’t be fixed with enough hard work and dedication. I’m willing to do anything to make this work. Please, Marshall….”
Marshall stared at the floor. “I just need some time, okay? I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I just need to think things over. After that, we can talk and see where things go from there. Okay?”
Drew wiped his eyes off on the back of his right sleeve. “Yeah, I understand. I just hope with time when you think of me you think of forgiveness and not hatred, even though I probably deserve it.”
Marshall sighed. “No matter how upset or pissed off I am, I don’t think I could ever hate you, Drew. It’s just not in me. Just give me some time.”
Drew nodded. “I will. And again, I’m sorry.”
“I know you are. And I am too.”
Marshall picked his back pack up as the bell rang. It had been almost three weeks since the worst day of his life and subsequent fight with Drew. Initially, he was worried that he would bump into Drew between classes and during lunch and it would be upsetting, but he hadn’t seen Drew since that day. He assumed that Drew was giving him the space that he asked for, but it still struck him as odd that he hadn’t even seen him in passing. Even odder was the fact that Joel and the hyenas hadn’t bothered him at all. They seemed to be acting as though he didn’t exist. Which was fine by him. It sure as hell was better than being assaulted or having his stuff thrown around.
Marshall entered the cafeteria about fifteen minutes later. Even though it had been a while since the whole issue with Joel, he still felt a sense of unease being in the room. It was fortunate that he spent such a small percentage of his school day in there, and that during most of the week he ate lunch in the writer’s club classroom. Small blessings. He got in line and grabbed his tray. His stomach growled like a pack of wolves. Boy was he hungry. He stepped to the side and looked ahead. Fortunately, there weren’t many people in front of him. It would only take a few minutes before he could get his food. Of course, time had the annoying habit of feeling longer when you were looking forward to something. Each second felt like an eternity.
Marshall was almost at the front of the line when he heard the cafeteria music suddenly stop and saw a few people whispering and then turning to look towards the stage. Curiosity got the best of him and he turned to see what the commotion was. Standing on the stage with the principle’s microphone in hand, was Drew.
“Hello, everyone. Can I have your attention please?”
Marshall’s eyes opened wide. He had no idea what Drew was doing at the podium but he knew it was probably going to get him in a lot of trouble. Maybe even suspended.
Drew glanced out into the crowd and licked his lips nervously as the cafeteria quieted. “A few weeks ago I met somebody real amazing…like seriously amazing. And I became good friends with that person. And it got to the point where we were considering dating.”
He paused as someone cheered. “Yeah, it was nice alright. But the thing is, I screwed it up. I lied to this person and really hurt their feelings. I wasn’t brave enough to be honest with them, even though they had been honest with me from the start. I had their trust and I destroyed it. And for that, I couldn’t be sorrier. This whole situation sucks so badly because I think, for the first time in my entire life, that I might be in love. And the worst part is, because of my actions, I probably ruined any shot I had.” He scanned the crowd and his eyes met Marshalls. “And I want that person to know that I know I already promised to give them time, but every single passing second spent without us being on good terms, is agonizing. I want things to be fine again. I want to be able to look into your eyes again and not see heartbreak. And most of all, I want to be able to hold you and let you know how beautiful you are each and every day so you never forget.”
Marshall couldn’t believe his ears. This was either the most romantic thing he had ever heard or the craziest. Probably a bit of both. But in the middle of all the disbelief, there was a surge of relief. Drew actually did care about him. It wasn’t all lies. And it meant that somebody actually did find him attractive. It meant that somebody actually could love someone like him. It meant they could be together. It meant everything.
He watched as two corridor aids came into the cafeteria and Drew was escorted off stage and presumably taken to the main office. Which was a good thing, because they honestly didn’t need an audience for the conversation they now needed to have.
Marshall made his way to the office. He looked into the windows on the door: the room was empty, save for Drew who was sitting in a chair by the principal’s door, staring at the wall and looking dejected. He walked inside and cleared his throat loudly.
Drew immediately looked up. “Marshall,” he exclaimed. “I didn’t expect you to see you here.”
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to be here. Is anyone else here?”
“Nope,” Drew replied. “They’re all eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge. So can we please talk about what just happened?”
Marshall nodded. “Wait. I have to ask you a question before we proceed with this conversation.”
“Are you out of your damn mind?”
Drew laughed. “Woah, what do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean. You stole the principal’s microphone and went on stage, during lunch and declared your love for me in front of the entire class of juniors. I’d say that qualifies you for the psyche ward, wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t think so,” Drew replied. “I didn’t exactly declare my love for any specific person or gender. As far as the rest of our grade is concerned, I was talking about some random girl I met.”
“So you were able to say what you had to say, charm me, and avoid any of our bigoted classmates giving us crap,” Marshall said slowly. “That’s smart and devious at the same time.”
“Well, I’m more than just a pretty face.”
Drew’s mouth gaped. “I can’t believe you just said that!”
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t smart for you lie, either. But I’m willing to forgive you because of your recent confession in front of our peers.”
Drew breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s wonderful. To be honest, I was hoping it would be enough to get you to forgive me.”
“I’d say you did a good job,” Marshall said with a smile.
“If you really mean that, then I’m sure you won’t mind if I ask for a bit of insurance?”
Marshall’s eyebrows knitted close together. “Insurance, huh? What exactly did you have in mind?”
“I’m probably going to get suspended for my little display of courage on the cafeteria stage,” Drew explained, “I think, given the circumstances, the least you could do to reward my bravery is give me a kiss.”
“You think you deserve one?”
Drew formed his mouth into a pout. “Come on, I think I deserve at least that. I mean, you’ve forgiven me and everything is right with the world. I think it would be the perfect way to put everything behind us.”
“Oh God, not the pout,” Marshall exclaimed. “Anything but that, you know I can’t resist.”
Drew smirked in satisfaction. “Well then stop resisting and come over here.”
Marshall didn’t need to be told twice. He moved forward and closed the distance between them like lightning. He tipped his head forward and pressed his lips against Drew’s. The moment their lips touched it was like static surged throughout his entire body. It felt right. When they finally pulled apart, he couldn’t help but swoon. “You’re really good at that,” he informed.
“I’m glad you think so,” Drew replied. “By the way, have I told you how beautiful you are?”
Marshall beamed. He took Drew by the hand and pulled him to his feet, into a hug. “I believe you’ve mentioned it once or twice, or a thousand times.”
Drew leaned into the hug and allowed his head to rest on Marshall’s shoulders. “I’ll say it a thousand more until you believe it. I love you, Marshall.”
“I love you, too.”
About the Author: Michael was born and raised on the Jersey Shore – the geographical location, not the TV show. As such, he cannot boast having tanned skin, a rock-hard body, or being BFFs with Snooki. His version of GTL is gaming, Tumblr, and Lounging. He didn’t know what to do for a living until he wrote a couple of fun short stories as an English class project and made people laugh, something he’s always enjoyed doing and decided that’s what he wanted in his future.
A self-described “Otaku” (person with obsessive interests in manga, anime, and/or video games) Michael spends most of his time enjoying those things, becoming emotionally attached to fictional characters and collecting every bit of My Little Pony merchandise available.
He lives with his fiancé of five years in the heart of NJ.
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