#7 GOING UNDER
Alex lay on his bed, text book open and the end of his pen between his teeth. He huffed out a sigh and threw the pen down on his notepad. “I am never gonna get this Shakespeare crap,” he groaned. “All these whys and wherefores and, ugh...I need a break.” He looked over to where Tom was sitting at Alex's desk, an identical textbook open and pen moving frantically over the paper in front of him. “Tom?”
“Hmm?” Tom briefly looked up and then back down at the page.
Alex frowned. Tom was his best friend. Had been since his family had moved in across the street when the boys were both twelve. Now they were in their senior year of high school and talking about which colleges to apply for. But that wasn't what was worrying Alex. There was something going on. Over the last couple of months, Tom had become more and more withdrawn, and Alex didn't like it. “Wanna take a break? Play a little Guitar Hero? You still owe me a rematch, dude.”
“Sure, I just wanna finish this,” Tom replied, not moving his attention from the page he was writing on. “You set it up and I'll be done in five.”
“Are you gonna talk to me?” Alex said softly when Tom sat down on the end of the bed beside him ten minutes later.
“About what?” Tom gazed at the screen.
Switching off the T.V., Alex took the guitar from Tom's hands and put it on the floor. He took Tom by the shoulders and turned him to face him, and studied his pale, heart-shaped face. “You can tell me anything, you know that, right?”
“I know,” Tom replied. “I will tell you, soon. I promise.” He stood up, so swiftly that Alex almost toppled off the bed. “I gotta go, more college applications to fill out,” he grinned, turning towards the door.
“Tom, wait.” Alex reached out and put his hand over Tom's where it rested on the door handle. “You're scaring me. What's going on?” He lifted his other hand without thinking and put it against Tom's cheek. “Please talk to me.”
Tom's hazel eyes drifted shut and he leaned into Alex's touch. “I don't want you to hate me.”
“Hate you?” Alex said incredulously. “I could never hate you, Tom. I—” Alex swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. “You're really scaring me.”
“Don't be scared,” Tom said softly, bending his head and pressing their lips together, pulling back with a quiet snick. “Shit, Al, I'm sorry—”
Alex's eyes widened as they stared at Tom in stunned silence for about three seconds before he curled his hand around his friend’s neck and pulled him down, slanting soft plump lips across Tom's wide mouth. His moan was swallowed when that wide mouth parted beneath his and Tom kissed him as if the world was ending. He reveled in the feel of Tom's long fingers buried in his hair and the way Tom tilted his head so he could ravage his lips. When oxygen became an issue, they broke apart, but not letting go, breathing in each other’s exhalations.
“Tom?” Alex finally managed, his fingers still clasped around the nape of Tom's neck.
“Please don't hate me,” Tom whispered, closing the bedroom door behind him and leaving Alex with his fingers pressed to his lips.
Had that really only been a week ago? Alex sat cross-legged on his bed and pulled at the tie around his neck, loosening the knot, and throwing it onto the chair beside his desk. Stupid tie had been trying to choke him all day. He was grateful his Mom had not caused a fuss when he said he had a headache and wanted to go home. Although he’d felt the weight of her gaze on him until the front door had closed behind him.
So here he was, sitting on his bed and wondering what the fuck he had been doing in a black suit on a bright sunny day, when he should've been shooting hoops with Tom in the back yard.
What he'd been doing standing between his mother and father on a bright sunny day, when he should've been beating Tom at Guitar Hero.
What he'd been doing listening to the scatter of earth upon highly polished wood on a bright sunny day, when he should've been listening to Tom complaining about his latest pimple.
Rubbing his hand across his eyes Alex sighed as he flopped back onto his pillows and turned onto his side. His gaze rested on his desktop and he frowned at the folded sheet of paper sticking out of his Shakespeare textbook. He reached out, pulled the paper from between the pages and his breath caught in his throat when he saw his name in Tom's looping scrawl. Sitting up, he opened it with shaking fingers and began to read.
Please don't hate me. I've wanted to tell you so many times, but I never knew where to start or what to say. You're the one who's good with words, not me. Jeez, I practically let you do my talking for me until I was fifteen, lol.
Something happened a couple of months ago, when I went to that concert with my cousin. He ended up meeting a girl and ditching me, so I had to walk home, remember? I didn't realise They were behind me until They shoved me into the bushes. They took what was left of my money and hit me, which is how I really got the bruises. I know I told you I fell over a couple of times on the walk home and I'm sorry I lied, but I couldn't tell you the truth. Couldn't tell you the other things They did. How They really hurt me.
My grades are slipping and every college I've applied to has turned me down. I've hidden the letters from my parents, but they're starting to get suspicious. I can't tell them why I haven't been doing the course work, or why I haven't been able to maintain my grade point average. That I've ruined all the hopes and dreams they had for me.
I’m drowning, Al and I don’t know what to do. I'm not sleeping, and when I do, I have terrible nightmares. I know you’re worried and I want to tell you, but I just can't bring myself to say it. To tell you how dirty I feel. How worthless, how second hand. Afraid that I'll tell you that I've always hoped that my first would be you. But I could never be good enough for you now. You're sitting on your bed right now and you've got that cute little crinkle above your nose you get when you're concentrating and I want to kiss you so bad I can hardly stand it.
I love you. I needed you to know that. I think I've loved you practically from the first moment we met. I just wish I could be brave enough to tell you, before.... Hopefully before I go tonight, I can pluck up the courage to kiss you, and hopefully you don't punch me in the face, although it would be a small price to pay to feel your lips on mine.
I want you to know that it’s your face I'll carry with me wherever it is I'm going, and I know we'll see each other again.
I'm sorry, Al, so sorry.
Please don't hate me.
I love you.
Alex stared down at the sheet of paper as the words blurred. He hadn't cried when his Mom and Dad woke him up a week ago, tears in their eyes and shock on their faces. Hadn't cried when they'd told him Tom had taken all of his mother’s sleeping pills. Hadn't cried when they'd told him he would never see his stupid face again. Hadn't cried when they'd told him Tom was dead.
But he cried now. Fat, heavy tears that fell onto the paper and smudged the ink as he held the note to his face and sobbed for all he had lost. For the best friend he'd ever had. For not being able to go with him to that concert. For not being able to protect him. For not being there when he needed him most. For not being able to say goodbye. For not having the courage to tell Tom the one thing he had longed to tell him.
Alex's breath hitched in his throat as he curled into a ball on his bed, the paper held against his chest, over his beating heart. In a voice thick with tears and grief, he said it now.
“I love you, too.”