Tears streamed from my face as I ran. I had fallen a couple times and my knees were bloodied up, but I couldn’t even feel the pain. I just kept running, my feet pounding against the pavement as I tried to get away from him. I couldn’t stop. If I stopped moving then it would catch me.
But I had to stop, after a few more minutes. I fell again and then could barely move when I managed to get up. I looked around at my blurry surroundings. I was in a park. Fine. I stumbled down a hill and then found a nice patch of grass to collapse on.
There I cried for quite a long time, not caring who saw me. I buried my face in my hands and cried until I couldn’t anymore. I had the hiccups and I felt sicker than ever before. I got up and stumbled to a trashcan, throwing up into it.
I felt someone watching me and I looked up, seeing some guy just staring at me. Probably thinks I’m drunk. I pushed away from the trashcan and collapsed on the grass again, beginning to shiver. I felt hot with bitterness and anger but it was pretty chilly out.
After wallowing on the ground for quite a long time I finally pulled my phone out and turned it on. I had several missed calls and missed texts from Hal, and a couple from Vi. Great. He had called her.
I texted Zari. Can I stay at your place for a couple nights? I knew I couldn’t go back home, not right now. I hoped that Zari let me do this…
For the next three nights I crashed on Zari’s couch. He wanted to know what happened, but I refused to tell him. I somehow managed to go to my first class the next day but then remembered all my books were at home. So I just skipped my second and third class, though I went home to get my books during the third one since I knew both Vi and Hal had class at that time. There was a note on my door, in Hal’s handwriting.
Seb, if you come back–please stay. We need to talk.
I ripped it off and threw it in the trash, storming into my room and grabbing my backpack and my laptop. My laptop had another note taped to it. This one was from Vi. Asking me to please call, or stay. I threw that away too, then went back to Zari’s place.
Of course both Vi and Hal stopped by his place while I was there. The first two times I managed to escape out the back door but the third time–when it was just Hal–I didn’t have time so I locked myself in the bathroom and turned the shower on, pretending I couldn’t hear him. I stayed in there for two hours before Zari knocked at the door and told me he was gone.
I didn’t believe him so I stayed for another hour, and then Zari knocked at the door and begrudgingly said Hal was really gone. I turned off the shower and came out, glad to see that Zari was telling the truth. He begged me to tell him what was going on but I told him it was none of his business–though I did wonder if he knew about me.
I knew I couldn’t stay away forever so after the fourth day was up, I returned to the house. I knew they’d both be home and I took in a deep breath before going in, acting like nothing had happened.
“Sebastian!” They both jumped up when they saw me and I focused on my bedroom door, knowing if I saw him right now I’d break down again. How was I going to survive sharing a room now?
“Hey guys,” I muttered, going to my door. “How about pizza for dinner?” I opened the door and waited for a second. They were both trying to talk to me and I shrugged. “Pizza it is, I guess.” I went into my room, putting my backpack and laptop up.
Hal came in after me and I was expecting him to apologize or something, but what he said was much worse. “Sebastian, I’ve been so damn worried about you!” he growled.
My heart fell and I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from gasping for air. “D-didn’t mean t-to worry you,” I managed.
“Can we please talk?” he said, his voice lower than mine.
I spun around, managing to smile. It felt like someone punched me as soon as I saw him. “What’s to talk about?” I asked lightly.
That was like a baseball bat to the brain. I bit down on my tongue again. “Congratulations,” I hissed. “I didn’t say that before. Congrats. I hope you two are very… happy… together.” I turned my back to him, squeezing my eyes shut.
“Can I please explain?” he asked.
“What’s to explain?” I demanded. “You have a boyfriend. Congratulations. Sorry I… flipped out like I did but…” I took in a deep breath, the lies pouring out rather easily. “I have a boyfriend too. Well, it’s a long-distance thing so you know how that is. I just miss him, really miss him. So when you mentioned Todd I felt… sad since… I wish my boyfriend was here.” I turned again, meeting his gaze defiantly.
Hal scowled at me. “You’re lying to me now.”
I put up my hands. “I thought we were friends and you’re calling me a liar? Thanks.”
“Seb…” He stepped close, his face close to mine. I felt like I was falling out of a plane or something. “You swear? You swear that you have a boyfriend?”
I gulped and kept my eyes locked on his. “I swear,” I lied.
There was a stretch of silence and then he pulled away from me, hand on his forehead. “I see. Well, I’m… happy for you, too. So are we still friends?”
I slowly let out my breath and this time I didn’t lie. “I couldn’t bear not to be friends with you, Hal. You’re my best friend. I–I want to still be friends.”
And I knew that I did. Looking at him, I knew I couldn’t just throw him out of my life. Stupid crush or not, I cared about him as much as Vi or Zari. The thought of us not being friends hurt just as much as the thought of him having a boyfriend. It was just something I’d have to deal with. Because I couldn’t stand otherwise.
He held out his hand and I took it. “I want to be friends too,” he replied and then yanked me close for a tight hug. My heart shattered all over again, being in his arms like this, but I tried not to let it show on my face. He let go of me and smiled. “I’m glad.”
“Me too,” I replied, pushing my hair from my eyes with a shaky hand. “So… pizza okay for dinner tonight?” I looked at him and he nodded. I gave him a smile then slipped past him to the living room where Vi was waiting. We stared at each other for a minute then I pulled my phone out to make the order. After I was done, she seized my wrist and yanked me into her room.
“What the heck happened?” she demanded as soon as the door was shut. “Hal called me the other day, totally freaking out cuz he said you freaked out and ran off! He said that you…” She stopped and then waited for me.
“I told him I was gay,” I said and then folded my arms, glowering. “Which apparently he already knew. How did he know, Viola?”
She reeled back and spread her hands out, giving me a sheepish grin. “I sorta told him? He needed a place to stay! And he didn’t want to move in cause of all the problems he had before, so I told him.”
“How did you know I was gay?!” I demanded, stomping my foot. “I never told you!”
“I guessed it. And then after that, it was kinda obvious.” She reached over to take my hands, trying to soothe me. “I was waiting for you to tell me but you never did. Zari knows too. We figured it out together.”
I snatched my hand away. “Lovely,” I grumbled. “Did you tell anyone else?”
“No, just Hal. I–” She frowned and then tapped her chin. “He said you flipped out when he told you he had a boyfriend. Do you… like Hal?”
“No,” I replied angrily. “I don’t. And I think that’s a good place to end this discussion because I am quite mad at you!” I left her room, knowing I’d make up with her fairly soon.
Things were super tense over the next few days. I pretended like I was fine, Hal pretended that he was fine, and Vi kept begging for my forgiveness which I gave her after less than a day. She sniffled at me, apologizing for guessing and I sighed, promising her it was fine. I reminded her how hard it was for us to keep secrets, and she gave me a big hug.
“I’m just sorry things are so messed up between you and Hal,” she said and I shrugged. Things would get patched up eventually. Once my heart finished breaking and started mending itself.
During this time, I spent some time away from him. We still watched movies and stuff but I knew it’d be better if we weren’t around each other as much, so as February came to an end and March began I found myself taking walks twice a day.
After a while, I realized that I saw the same guy at the same cafe on my morning walks and we eventually started nodding in greeting when I walked by. One morning he wasn’t there when I passed the cafe, but was at the park–which was where I usually sat for a few minutes before heading back.
He nodded, and I nodded back, heading to my usual bench. I wasn’t too surprised when he came over and sat down next to me. I folded my hands in my lap, hoping he wouldn’t try to make conversation.
“Hey,” he said and I looked down at my lap, feeling uncomfortable.
“Hi,” I mumbled.
“You must like walking.”
I pressed my lips together and shrugged. “Yeah, it’s all right.”
He was very quiet for a moment and just when I was ready to get up and say goodbye, he turned to me. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
I faced him,. my eyes big. “N-no, I’m sorry,” I whispered, looking at his face and trying to figure out if I had seen it somewhere before.
He smiled and settled back against the bench. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though I can’t say it doesn’t hurt a little bit.” He chuckled, shaking his head, his hair brushing along his shoulders. Then he put his hand against his heart, a tender gesture that for some reason surprised me.
“I mean, the one time we really met was one of the best nights of my life to me but it’s been a while so…” He trailed off and looked at me. “Now you probably think I’m sort of creep.”
I coughed. “N-no, I just feel bad that I don’t recognize you. Were we in class together?”
“No. It’s been longer than that. Actually…” He counted on his fingers. “It’s been four years. More than four years. So it’s not a big surprise you don’t remember me.”
I slowly looked up at him, his voice suddenly very, very familiar. No. Th-that was impossible. But he was smiling at me and I gasped out, covering my mouth. “You’re–the boy–the mask–“
His eyes flashed with amusement and he grinned. “Nice to see you again too, Mr. Tiger.”