The wind picked up a bit. Dark gray clouds were starting to blanket the sky as the sun begged to sneak from behind them. Shutting the front door behind me, a pit in my stomach began to deepen.
Will's pickup truck was parked in the driveway, he started it seeing me wait at the door. I couldn't see Jake from the porch.
"Justin! Will you hurry the up!", Will yelled at me as I stood frozen on the steps.
I approached the door with haste mostly from the tone in his deep voice. Opening the door and throwing my stuff down onto the floor of the trunk, "I'm sorry. Didn't mean to take so long..."
"What the hell were you two doing. I've been down here for-"
"Where's Jake?", I interrupted.
"AGH...blehhh.", Jake groaned in response from the floor of the back of the truck, as he lay on his stomach.
"AGH...I really can't do this. I can't face anyone...Not with everything that's happened. I can here 'em now! I'm dead...I'm a joke...I...just...C'mon. Let's just skip, please? Will, take us somewhere...anywhere far enough from that school and this dumb town!"
"We're gonna have to face it sooner or later. Why not now?"
Will veered from the curb on my street quickly.
"WE'RE? It's me that's been outed! It's MY fucking life!"
"I know, I know, but I'm not just gonna let you deal with it by yourself."
Jake jumped from the floor of the truck to my face, "Oh, are you coming out too? When were you planning on changing the status of your relationship and preferences?"
I found both Will and Jake's stares intimidatingly on me as the question was posed. Will's face was solid as stone as he waited for the answer.
"But, what? What, Justin?! You'll be there for me when no one is paying attention? You'll be there for me from the other side of the room? Just hoping that everything will be fine?"
"Well...you know I ca-"
"Yes, Justin? You can't, what?!"
"WILL YOU TWO SHUT THE HELL UP! Shit! When was the damn wedding, and why was I not invited? Sounds like the fucking 40th anniversary with you two.", Will screamed as he pulled the car roughly to the side of the road. "You know what? You two, from here until we get to the damn high school, are playing a mandatory quiet game. First person to speak gets thrown out on the highway at top speed. You got it? Justin?"
"AGH.", he exclaimed throwing himself back down to the floor.
I guess you could say that we both won. The trip was long...and silent. It was just our luck Will had pulled into the front entrance of the school where everyone was waiting this morning. Huddled in the usual groups and cliques, they all conversed and waited.
I knew they all knew. The truck. Those inside it. The secrets. Everyone peered inside. It was all in my head though...I have to be making this worse off than it really will be...
"Jake. Jake! Get up!", Will yelled pulling Jake up from the floor. "You gotta go, bud. Time to go."
Jake was finally ready to go. Something changed in that instant. He was ready to face it all. It was happening and he didn't care. "Well, let's get it over with, huh?" He languidly pulled himself out of the car and into the crowd. He shut the door forcefully, leaving me inside.
"Nice, Jake...", I murmured sarcastically.
"Look! It's Jake!", a girl screeched from deep in the crowd. They began to stir and moved toward the truck. Gathering my things and my own composure I started out the door. Will grabbed the door handle and shut it, keeping me from going outside.
"Take care of him, Justin. I...I don't know what you can do to help him out there, but he's in a bad place right now. Understand." Will grabbed my hand. His strong and muscular hand engulfing mine. He wrapped his fingers in between and squeezed. "Just...take care of him, Justin."
I wrapped my arms around him, giving the tightest hug I could possible. He reciprocated as I nuzzled my head into his shoulder.
I turned away from him and opened the door. The clouds parted just enough for the brightest sun ray to burst through and pierce my eyes. I shielded my face as I stumbled out of the truck. Will pulled away quickly from the lot. I lay on the simmering concrete in distress. Paper flew wildly from my open backpack. My hands searched for aid to help me stand, my mind for stability; unprepared. Quick footsteps darted across the pavement while also making contact with my fingers. The sound of motors pumping, the smell of gasoline, the simmering concrete beneath me baked my fingers, the voices of the crowd grew louder with each second.
"Jake?" "JAKE!", they screamed.
I found the curb and lifted myself from the ground. Zipping my backpack, I made way toward the crowd. "Jake?" A large guy pushed me forcefully as I approached, almost knocking me back down.
"Jake! Where have you been, man? It can't be true, dude!", one of his friends pressured the question upon him along with the rest of the crowd. It was as if the entire school piled onto the front entrance, gathering for the spectacle they wanted to witness.
I pushed my way into the epicenter of the giant crowd. "Jake...", I found him and grabbed his hand. He looked at me intensely. Our eyes connected by their share of fear and anxiousness. His face was pale and solid. He was afraid, uncomfortable, uneasy, and ashamed. I squeezed his cold and sweaty palms tighter. The crowd grew restless as they begged and pushed forth for an answer to their inquiries. I found myself forced back into the group - descending into the chaos. The crowd swept me into its wild wave of agitation. I lost Jake's hand.
"Justin...?", he searched for me.
"Jake! I can't-", I was completely enveloped by the crowd.
"HEY!", a voiced screamed from the center, finally calming the crowd. It was Sam, in all of his heroic glory. "C'mon, guys! What are you doing? Leave him alone. This is your friend! A guy you've known for so long. He's no different now. It's his life and I think we should all let up!"
The crowd slightly stirred in some agreement.
"Yeah. Now everybody, move the hell along!"
Sam wrapped his arm around Jake, taking him underneath. The two disappeared behind the front doors of the school as the giant crowd followed.
I stood, alone, nearly at the edge of the parking lot - distraught, dejected, deserted. I planted myself on the curb and buried my face into my hands. Clinched into a ball, I sat. It was quiet now. The world was still, except for the wind that blew lightly in the trees. It cooled my hands and arms as the beaming sun stung my neck.
I left Jake there. There was nothing for me to do. Lame and afraid. Scared and dumb. I could have stopped it all. I could have disappeared into the glass doors with him beneath my arm. How I want to hold him, his head in my chest, my hand caressing his hair. A soft kiss, a gentle touch. Jake is mine and I want to be his. I wanted to cry. I wanted to just burst into tears, bawl, make my eyes sore, let the snot run down my face while not being able to control the overflowing tears. I couldn't. I sat there for an eternity. I just sat and felt as sorry as I could.
The last bell to get to class rang and I finally got myself to stand. Before completely turning around, I found Kristen waiting for me inches away from my face.
"Shit! Kristen, what the hell?"
"What is going on?! Jake just waltzed in the school in shining gay armor. And with Sam's arm around him! What happened?"
"I really don't feel or want to talk about..."
"You never want to talk about anything anymore! What's wrong with you?"
"What's your deal, Kristen? All you do is hound and prod into my personal life! A lot has happened these past couple of days! Why can't you just leave me the fuck alone!"
"Oh, a lot has happened to you? How do you think I feel not having my best friend to talk to this entire week! All you've done is mope around and look depressed. You're sad, Justin. Just pathetic. And if you don't really want me around then you're getting your wish." She turned and started off.
"Have a nice life, Justin!", she snarled. Giving me a middle finger salute, Kristen disappeared behind the glass doors and into the school.
The last bell rang, I was late now. The entrance quad was completely deserted. I opened the door to a blaring loud speaker reciting the morning announcements - my ears went deaf. I roamed the hallways, miles away from my classroom. I passed the D-Wing and thought of Ms. Adams. I should go visit her, see how she's been. I hope she's been able to stick it out. I wouldn't have.
The announcements ended and I gained my hearing again. I've been walking for almost 20 minutes. I saw that door, that chair, that poster...
"Justin...", a voice called faintly.
I walked drowning out the sound, quickening my pace.
"Justin!", the deep husky voice grew louder with their firm steps.
Still ignoring I drifted down a staircase.
"JUSTIN!", it was close and roared in my ear.
I lost step and began to fall towards the ground down the stairs. He grabbed my arm and caught me, holding me, wrapping his free arm around my back, almost cradling me.
"Justin, what...what are you doing?", Mr. James asked, his fresh breath cool on my face. I looked up from my rattled daze. I lay almost limp in his arms. Looking into my hazy eyes and pale face, "What's wrong?"
Lifting my head, "Nothing...I just don't...I just have to-"
He quieted me, "Just...Let me walk you to class, huh?"
I remained in his embrace not answering the question, feeling the heat from his body through the tight suit. I looked deep into his sparkling emerald green eyes. He wanted to help a sad and afraid student. I wrapped my arm around his neck and he moved closer to my face. We looked at each other for seconds-on-end.
Pulling me up from his hold, "C'mon, Justin. I'll walk you down."
We began roaming together, his arm around my shoulder.
"So where am I taking you?"
Scratching my forehead, "Uh...Mrs. Joyce..."
"Eeeh...", he jokingly let out the uncomfortable sound.
"I know she's not gonna be too happy with me being late...sorry if she yells at you."
"Mrs. Joyce. I think I can take her. You're with me so she'll just have to deal with it!", he laughed.
We continued our journey silently for some time now. I stayed under the protection of his arm, my head close to his chest. I wrapped my arm around his waist.
He asked backing away, "So, do you know what that commotion was this morning...?"
Crestfallen and confused, "I...uh...I'm not sure, I got here kind of late..."
Now removing his arm, "Oh, it was pretty intense, I heard. When I got there everyone had already left the quad."
Muttering quietly, "Not everyone..."
"What was that?"
"Well here we are! Mrs. Joyce..."
I stood staring at the tired old wooden door.
"Well...you gonna open it, Justin?"
I shook my head dumbly in strong resistance.
Before he could finish the last syllable, the door was wide open and all of the eyes of the class were upon me.
"Justin Clark! What do you think you're doing, showing up-", Mrs. Joyce screamed, but was interrupted seeing Mr. James appear behind me in the door way. "Oh, Mr. Ja-"
"He was with me" , in a firm tone.
The class began quiet whispers.
"He's fine. Go ahead and excuse him from a tardy.", he commanded Mrs. Joyce as she looked away and scoffed. "Have a nice day, everyone!" A couple of girls replied with a flirtatious "Bye, Mr. James!" as Devan teased them; laughter ensued.
"Alright, well...see ya later, Justin.", Mr. James whispered to me giving an honest side hug.
The door slammed loudly behind him.