DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
KEEPING THE DISTANCE
The usual chatter of the football game coming from the flatscreen across the room was broken as the front door to our apartment burst open with a resonant bang. Richard, lounging graciously on the sofa like a Persian cat, squeaked two octaves higher than normal before growling a word that would have easily earned him detention if he were in a classroom.
"Jesus!" Douglas, who was sitting beside his son, exclaimed as he swiveled to face the noise.
William and I just exchanged rattled glances.
[Just in case you're wondering; I ceased to call Douglas and William "Uncle" upon their wishes. Well, it was fine for me. When I would address them as such, it would only be for formalities.]
"I hate to disappoint you, Coach, but it's just me," said the boy standing by the doorway. "Though, I've been told the resemblance is quite unsettling." Then he flashed that wonderful smile of his and turned to Richard, "You ready?"
"You bet I am!" Richard answered excitedly.
"Have you heard of 'doorbells', Daniel?" William interrupted jokingly as Richard got up from the spot he's been sitting on for almost two whole hours.
"It's nice to see you, too, Will," he greeted my uncle playfully, "And, yes, I do have heard of such electronic devices. Though, yours seems to have trouble doing its job today. I've been buzzing for you out there for almost five minutes and no one's answering!" he exclaimed.
"Really?" William asked, his forehead knotting, "I guess I have to check that damn thing again, then. But how'd you get yourself in?"
"Oh," blood flushed his fair-skinned cheeks, making his seraphic face the most wonderful sight in the whole wide world. I wanted to taste them.
'SHIT! Focus, Bruce. Focus.' I told myself.
"I used the spare key Richie gave me." I heard Daniel mumble.
"Well, that explains it!" Doug muttered, turning to his son, with no amusement in his voice. "Do you really have to give your keys to your boyfriends?" he exclaimed, "I'm not blaming you for this." he quickly added to a blushing Daniel.
"Dad!" Richard responded, aghast. "There's nothing wrong with-"
"Oh, really?" snapped Douglas, cutting him off. "Remember that Hamilton kid?"
"That - That was different." he choked as his expression suddenly changed - from one of pain to fear, then to one of hurt to regret. "He was my boyfriend. That was a long time ago. And Daniel and I are just friends. He's the closest I have to a best friend, if you haven't noticed. And, honestly, he's earned it! He's almost family . . . and I think Bruce would agree with me on 'that.'" he added, looking hopefully at me.
Upon hearing that, my head spun quickly to face Daniel's still-blushing features.
"Okay, that's enough," William interrupted before Douglas could speak, sensing my sudden lack of comfort. "Richard, your father's right. You shouldn't just give the keys to this apartment to anyone who you think are trustworthy enough. We're lucky Daniel's nothing like Beau." he glanced apologetically at Daniel.
"Alright. Fine. I'm sorry." he said in a tone that was clearly not sorry enough. I can still see how affected he was about what his father said about the Hamilton kid - Beau? I wonder who that was. "Now, is it okay for us to leave, already? We'll be late for the movies."
Douglas pursed his lips but said nothing. Uncle Will nodded.
Richard walked away from the sofa and, stomping, made his way for the door. "Bye." he called grumpily without a backward glance.
"See you, guys. Sorry." Daniel curtly said to Doug and Will. "Bruce." he added as he returned my stare for the first time; his big, brown eyes locking with mine. Brown eyes always seemed to be plain and boring for me, like a shallow puddle of mud. But every time I see Daniel's, it always feels like I was falling into the depths of the bottomless chocolate ponds that they were.
'Bruce.' I replayed in my mind the moment when he said my name. Just hearing him say my name, no matter how plain and simple he says it, does wonders to my heart. Even that single syllable made it beat faster than a car's engine. A year ago, I would have asked myself what the hell was happening to me. But now - now that things have been much clearer to me, much more in perspective - I know what was happening. My heart flutters the way it does because it knows that it likes the boy that was standing on the doorway. It knows it has feelings for him.
But, I have to control these feelings if I don't want to disappoint anyone. If our first date and what happened on his birthday were signs, then its meaning is quite understandable.
The door slammed shut, leaving an irritated father, a concerned uncle, and an annoyed me.
"Damn, I hate that boy!" Douglas suddenly spat.
"Carl Douglas Connor!" Uncle Will voiced my shock. "How could you say something like that? Daniel's been nothing but a real friend to us. He's one of your best swimmers!"
"No, I did not mean Daniel." he responded quickly, "I meant that boy - Beau." he spat the name as if it was poison in his mouth.
"Oh," said Uncle William, sadness filling his eyes. "I still wish things ended differently between them. But . . ."
I wanted to know more about this mysterious Beau Hamilton, but Doug and Will ended their conversation with that. I guess I'll have to get the details from Richard himself.
Then I thought of Richard and Daniel - or, more specifically, about Daniel.
Three weeks ago, Douglas explained everything to Daniel about what really happened on the field. The night after their conversation, Daniel gave me a call. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was doing one of my assignments when my phone rang.
"Hello." I nervously answered, knowing who I was talking to; worried that if I sounded too pleased he would immediately end the call, or if I sounded too arrogant he would hate me again then would end the call.
"Hi." he replied calmly. I can see his face then, as clear as if he was standing next to me. He sounded nervous, too. I've spent countless days with him to know how to decipher the feelings behind the expressions pasted on his face, behind the steadiness in his angelic voice, behind the small gestures that he does with his small, soft hands. "Bruce?" he said breathlessly.
"Bruce," his voice shook as he whispered the words, "I'm sorry."
I immediately had the sudden urge to wrap my arms around him and comfort him. "Daniel, it's okay." I answered as sincerely as I could. "I understand why you would immediately think that it was me. I've thrown you to places before for so many times, who says I can't do it again, right?"
"But, Bruce," he gasped, surprised, "You've been . . . you've been so good to me. I should've listened to you. I should've trusted you. I'm so sorry."
"Shush . . ." I croaked, "Don't be sorry, okay? Just know that I only did it to protect you. Okay?"
I can see him nodding in my mind. "Okay." he whispered as he choked down a sob.
"Please don't cry, Danny." I soothed. FUCK! I am hating Keith more by the second! Cutting him off would be one thing, but threatening me to expose Daniel's sexuality? How could he be so cold?
"I'm sorry," he choked again, "It's just that . . . I can't imagine how I would survive if the things that happened to you would . . ." he sobbed more steadily now, "If it would happen to me."
My heart twisted as I listened to him cry, the images of my past life in Texas flashing before my eyes. "Danny, listen to me." I spoke to him with a more solid voice. "I will never let anything like that happen to you. I promise you that. For as long as I am here, I promise. Do you understand me?"
A heavy gush of air came out of his lungs - more of a gasp than of a sigh. Relief clearly washing over him as I listened to the change in the rhythm of his breathing.
"Daniel, do you understand me?" I asked him again, more firmly this time, when he didn't answer.
He took a deep, raspy breath before answering. "Yes . . . Yes, Bruce, I understand."
I nodded without my knowing, silently sending a "Thank You" to the man upstairs.
"Thank you, Bruce." he said to me before hanging up.
Well . . . that was the longest conversation we've had ever since. Our usual exchange nowadays when we get to cross paths at school would either be a friendly 'Hey' or an innocent 'Hi' added with a few awkward comments about something trivial like the weather which was basically the same for most days.
Then, there would be Richard. For most of the times that I see Daniel, Richard would be there hanging around in the picture with him. I don't know if anybody noticed how gay Richard was. Well . . . maybe they'll think he's just really fashionable. Whatever.
Lunch was the time that I would always see them together. Lunch for me now is my personal Purgatory. Lunch for me now is a constant torture; a certain stage in my day-to-day life where I am endlessly shown the things that I desired and can never ever have.
'You two are already bonded, my son. Anything deeper than that would be a sin. Not only against God, but also against yourselves. Fight your feelings, Bruce. Don't let it conquer you. For the thing that you want from him is something that you should never have. You can never have him, Bruce, and that's the tragic truth. I'm sorry for not telling you sooner.'
Those were the words from my mother's letter.
I really hated her for that. I hated her for telling me. I hated knowing the truth. It was just too late. The moment her casket was lowered to the ground, I ran away from the monster that she was. She knew the truth and she kept it from me. She kept it from Daniel. She knew how I felt about him and she just smiled at us like everything was fine and never told me. That day, I wasn't crying for her. I hated her. I cried for the truth that she so selfishly kept for herself. The truth that she so cowardly revealed in a letter. I hated her.
So, now, every time I see Daniel, I would always remind myself of her letter. I would see him and I would always have to control my feelings. All the times that he isn't in my sight is like Heaven for me, for seeing him is only a constant reminder of the things that my mother said. But, then again, every single time he was by my side was like Paradise - an oasis in the middle of the hot, harsh deserts that was my life.
Even though his classmates and some other Juniors - Richard's classmates, probably - would be sitting with him during lunch, I still feel really annoyed and irritated if Richard or the others would make him laugh. I would always tell myself then that I shouldn't feel that way. That I can't feel that way. Sometimes, when that moment happens, I would wonder if this was how Keith felt when I was around Daniel; if he was jealous when I was around him.
Probably not, I decided. Keith only looks at Daniel as his closest friend.
But still . . . seeing Daniel laughing with someone else should bother him, right? Isn't that what a friend should feel? 'Cause even though it's against everything that I know that was right, I believe that I look at him as more than just my friend. No matter how wrong it may seem. I fucking love the guy, for Christ's sake!
"Love." I hissed the word. Thankfully, both my uncles didn't notice.
I can't believe I would be capable of it. After all the things that have happened to me, I never knew my heart could be foolish enough to open itself again for this kind of human emotion. I always thought that loving was for the weak - for those who have nothing else to hold on to. I loved my mother, yes, but I always thought that loving your family doesn't count.
So, when the moment that I realized I loved someone other than my family, it scared the shit out of me and it caused me to do all these horrible things that would make that someone hate me. For I deserve nobody. I didn't deserve him. I don't deserve Daniel.
'You can never have him,' she said.
"Well," I asked her, "are you happy now, Mom?"
1st Week, November 2010
"Now, I want you to go find a group. Have at most three persons for each." Ms. Barker called over the ruckus that we were already doing. "And, once you get a group, discuss how you will manage your presentation. Use the guidelines on the board. Please remember that this is thirty percent for your Midterm grade."
I scanned my surroundings and caught Jonathan Plum's knowing look. Aside from me, he was one of the - hmmm, how do I describe this - one of the "teacher's pets" in our class. His look was clear, it was saying "Wanna be group mates?"
I raised my eyebrows twice, saying, "You bet I am!"
He crossed the room and stopped, sitting awkwardly on top of my desk. "Thanks." he muttered and we started discussing.
We were halfway through discussing the first topic to report when someone cleared his throat. Quite intentionally, at that. So, I looked up from our draft. "Yes?"
"Well . . . Jonny's already here, so, I figured, why not complete the trio?" It was Miranda "Ms. Vain" Burns. Another "teacher's pet". But I never liked her arrogance, saying she would be, if not was already, the next Steve Jobs.
"Oh." I turned to Jonathan and his expression was apparently just like mine. 'Hell fucking NO!'
I was about to say no to her when Bruce was suddenly hovering over my shoulder. My whole body shuddered when he spoke. "We're already complete, Burns. Fuck off!"
That annoyed me. This was the first in over a month now that he was this close to me, and I remembered why I should keep it at that.
"Oh, sorry, Bruce." I spoke, turning to him, and the moment the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to slap myself so hard. "But we already said Yes to Miranda." Ow! Jonathan kicked my shins at that. But I ignored him and signaled for Miranda to grab a seat.
He then left. God, I didn't have to look at his retreating figure. I know I maddened him. My subconscious was slapping me savagely.
Sigh. This is for the best.
"So, I'll see you later after class, okay?" Miranda Burns said sweetly as she turned towards her next class. I just smiled as convincingly as I can.
"You can wipe that ridiculous smile off your face now. I never liked her that much, too." Stacey said amusedly upon seeing my expression. "Why did you have to work with her on that assignment again?"
"It's not as if I had a choice, Stace. It would've been Bruce if she did not come." I answered grumpily. "And I can't have him near me."
"Then why didn't you say no to him? Or to her? Or to both of them?" one of Stacey's right-hand man - er, woman - asked.
"I don't know, Diane." I responded stoically, "I guess I'm just too kind for my own good."
"No one's that kind, Daniel." Tessa mentioned.
"Well, I'm a saint, then." I answered. "A fucking preposterous saint."
"A guy called me preposterous once. I think he liked me!" Diane exclaimed thoughtfully. "What does that mean, really?"
And we laughed, much to her confusion.
"Hey, I need to go to the bathroom, okay?" I excused myself. "I'll see you in History."
"'Kay, Daniel. See you." Stacey waved.
We were walking on the most unused building in campus so no one was around as I entered the tiled bathroom on the ground floor which was located under the stairs. As I got in, I immediately checked the cubicles. I never liked to use the urinals. They were just too 'public' for me.
There were three cubicles. The first door was slightly occupied. I say slightly because things were swimming in the water – 'unflushed' organic things, if you know what I mean. So, with great gut power and responsibility, I flushed them and skipped the first one and moved on to the next stall.
Occupied. It was locked. That was odd! No one really uses this bathroom anymore. Only the occasional strays - like me. Why is it locked? Anyway, I shrugged it off and moved on to the next.
At last. It was empty. I shoved myself inside and locked the door. I was bringing my History book so I balanced it on top of one of the partitions. As soon as my cock was out, the lock on the center cubicle's door clicked and someone shuffled out hurriedly. I heard him use the sink first before getting out of the bathroom.
I emptied my bladder in record time: twenty seconds. After doing my business, I got out of the cubicle and washed my hands.
I got myself out of the bathroom, hearing the rickety door slam behind me. It was ten strides later 'til I realized that I forgot my History book inside. I turned back and was almost at the door when it suddenly swung open by itself. I swear I would've shouted myself crazy if no one was behind the moving door.
"Tyler! What are you doing here?" I demanded, quite sharply due to the shock that went through my body. How could he . . .?
"Mockins?" he turned a pale shade of white as he wheezed out my name.
Tyler Jones was one of the Juniors. He was also a member of the Football and Wrestling team. And most importantly, he was one of Murphy's goons. I know him quite intimately, actually, seeing he was only one of the handful of guys who has occasionally dumped me with the garbage. But I don't hate this guy. I never hold a grudge. I know that he was only acting upon orders.
'Keith's orders,' my subconscious hastily added.
"How did you . . .? Where you in there just now?" I asked, my curiosity peaking to the point that I was flushed with blood. I wasn't gone that long and I would've seen him if he went inside the bathroom. There was no other way in or out but past me.
"Um. Yeah. I got in and realized I didn't need the release," he stuttered while fumbling with his belt, "So, I immediately got out." he ended his explanation with a forced kind of chuckle.
'Well, if you just got in, I should've passed you along the hallway, shouldn't I?' I wanted to say. But I didn't. I just said "Okay," and I shrugged and moved my way past him into the bathroom.
And 'release?' Interesting choice of words.
As I got my book out of the bathroom one thought remained in my mind. 'Tyler Jones was definitely not alone in that cubicle.'
Well . . . whatever he was hiding, I'm sure it's his own business. But, still, it left me curious what that stud was doing inside that cubicle.
Hmmm . . . Interesting.
"Hey, Stacey! Wait up." I called as I saw her leave for the day. She turned just enough for me to see her mouth and whisper "bleachers" before picking up her things and heading out of the door.
Okay. I can understand that. She doesn't want anyone seeing us together. And the bleachers were practically deserted this time of day; practice hasn't started yet and no one but the Football team has permission to use the grounds, so it should be empty right now.
So, five minutes later, I was making my way to the football field. I saw that most of the kids were already walking off to different bus stops, some lucky ones driving home.
Stacey was waiting on the seats nearest to the entrance. No one was around. Great.
"So, how did it go?" I asked as coolly as I could when I reached her.
"I hate this!" she hissed, not answering my question, and glared at me, "I'm not doing this anymore."
"Please, Stacey. You're the only one who can do this for me." I reasoned. "You can't stop now."
"I don't like it!" she argued. "I was just with Daniel earlier. You saw Miranda from Life Science earlier, right?"
I rolled my eyes and nodded. While I was busy talking with my group, I saw her flirt with Danny. "So?"
"You know everybody can't stand that attention-seeking bitch!" she said matter-of-factly.
"Stacey, your point?" I cut in impatiently.
"Well . . . she wanted to join Daniel's group for the reports . . ."
Really? Is that what happened? Hmmm . . . "Then, I guess, he declined like a normal person should?"
"But, that's just it!" she exclaimed, "Daniel said yes."
That made me smile. I shook my head bemusedly. It was SO Danny to say yes to something like that. God, that guy could be so selfless if he wanted to!
"Why the hell are you smiling?" Stacey demanded, aghast.
"Oh, nothing. Go on." I said, wiping the smile off my face.
"Then after that, I asked him why he said yes to her." she paused. "Do you know what he called himself after he explained why he unflinchingly accepted Miranda's proposition. A fucking preposterous saint!" The smile was probably back on my face because Stacey was suddenly attacking me with her fists. "God, Keith, you're such a stupid guy!"
"Stacey, stop it." I held her at arm's length. "You're not getting anything from doing that!"
She took a deep breath without taking her glaring eyes off me. "I'm not spying on Daniel anymore. And that's final!"
"Stacey, please! Please be reasonable. Only you can do this." I pleaded. "Besides, it's not like you're doing something wrong-"
"Well, I may not be, but you definitely are!" she retorted. "Why don't you just talk to him yourself, like a normal person would?"
I looked down, acting as if I was suddenly interested with the M&M wrappers littered on the ground.
"I can't begin to understand why you'd even want me to watch him. You don't even talk to him - your own BEST FRIEND!" she continued. And when I think she was finished, she started laughing. I just creased my forehead at her. "Keith Princeton, you're stupid!" Stacey said. "Do you even know what's going on with him and Bruce?"
I flinched and I suddenly had the urge to punch something - anything - just to release the rage that I instantly felt upon hearing that.
"He's avoiding him, you know." she said in a whisper, "Cause the fucking guy thinks you'd appreciate it and you'd see he was sorry for whatever it was he did." Stacey shook her head and she hissed, "You know, I always tell him that you just don't care."
'NO! That's not true!' I wanted to scream. 'Of course, I care!'
"He thinks he's the baddest person in the world for hurting you. But, the truth is, Keith, YOU are hurting him, TOO! You can't even imagine how bad he feels about himself right now. How can you not see that?"
"And what about me, huh?" I snapped at her. "What about how I feel?"
"Oh, what YOU feel?" she answered with a mocking glare, "What are you really feeling, Keith? What? I remember it, you know. One day, you're best friends with him and the next you're telling me you hated him. What the hell happened overnight?"
I answered her back with a cold, menacing look. She flinched, but otherwise, she was not as intimidated as she was before when we started dating.
"See! You always cut me off!" she exclaimed, pointing out my hostile expression. "Every time we talk about serious things like your feelings, you immediately shut yourself off like a clam."
I continued glaring at her, knowing that she was right. Honestly, I didn't know how to answer that. 'How am I feeling? What am I feeling?' My mind registers these questions but it never processes them, thus, it gives me no answer.
"Open up, Keith." she said my name as calmly as she could. "Tell me what you're so afraid of?"
This time, I flinched. 'What was I so afraid of?' I asked myself.
"This is useless. Please, Keith . . . talk to him before it's too late. Girlfriends? We're so easy to replace. But a best friend?" she wavered, "I don't think so."
Her words slapped me like the cold, harsh waves of the sea during the month of February. I watched her retreating figure, thinking about what she just lectured me.
"Oh, Stacey." I groaned as I slumped on a seat, burying my face in the palm of my shaking hands. "Why do you always have to be right?"
I switched the phone to loudspeaker and placed it on top of my desk. It was now emitting too much heat that my ears couldn't stand it anymore. "So, what do you think? Is it working?" I saw Duke's ears perk up as he heard Richie's chirpy voice from the phone.
"I don't know. Honestly. I just have no idea if it's working." I answered.
"Well, then, why are you doing this? Why do you have to distance yourself from him? It's getting you nowhere." Duke was now crouching near the desk - his ears at full attention, his nose sniffing the air, his tail wagging from left to right - curious about the invisible source of Richie's voice. I giggled at my dog's innocence, or ignorance, or whatever.
"Um . . . have I missed something?" Richie wondered aloud.
"I was asking you a question and you answered me with laughter." he said, "I can't seem to understand the joke in it, Daniel"
"Oh, sorry." I giggled, "It's not you. It's Duke. He's curious about the loudspeaker."
"Oh," he said, finally understanding the humor. Then in a childish voice, he cooed, "Well, how are you boy?" he whistled. "How're ya buddy?"
Duke, upon hearing the familiar sound, barked at the phone and vigorously wagged his bushy tail all around the place. I giggled once more while scratching his ears, then I returned to my laptop and continued the Powerpoint presentation that Miranda and Jonathan assigned to me. Duke went on barking.
"He seems fine." Richie noted on the dog, "Well, how about you? You haven't answered my question, by the way."
"Um," I sighed, turning away from the screen and plopped down on my pillows. "Richie, I don't know."
That moment, I heard my mom call me down for dinner. I answered her quickly.
"Then, clear it up with him. Haven't I told you that he misses you?" I heard Richie say seriously.
I sighed again and my heart fluttered. "Countless times."
"Well, he's already forgiven you. You're not angry with him anymore. He misses you. And you miss him, too. But you don't want to be with him." he said incredulously. "I don't know what the two of you are waiting for."
Yet again, another sigh came out of me. And, again, the truth came out of my mouth. "I don't know, Richie. I have a bad feeling. I think something bad is about to happen." I stressed as I returned to typing our Science report.
"Hmph . . . I hate it when people say that!" Richie said grimly. "'Cause sooner or later, it all comes true."
I groaned into the palms of my hand. "Well, I hope it doesn't, Richie."
I hope it doesn't.
*End of Chapter 13*