I picked up my glass and took a sip of wine, a fairly sweet red that was only just passable I thought, then looked back toward Rick, who's eyes were boring right through me it seemed.
He had an expression on his face that that said "tell me more"; you know, like that which a child gets when you are half way through telling them a story and they are sitting on the edge of their seat, waiting for the next installment.
Most of the other people at the table knew the whole story, from that day onwards, though they never seemed to tire of hearing the whole sorry tale of my love life whenever the opportunity arose... or quite often even telling it!
As I looked around the table and saw the rapt faces, nine in all, it seemed that tonight's telling of the whole saga wouldn't just be for the benefit of Rick and the couple of other new faces amongst us (a new boyfriend for Ed and a girlfriend named Karla for Keith), it seemed that it would also be to satisfy everyone else's thirst for excitement and scandal.
I took another sip of wine and briefly swirled the liquid around in my mouth, letting the flavor wash over my taste buds and deciding that it wasn't too bad a drop after all, then put my glass back down on the table. Just as I was about to go on with the story though, the waitress came over and asked if we were ready to order yet, which sent us all reaching for the menu's which were on the table in front of us, that we had so far ignored.
"Can you give us a minute?" Cyn asked her.
"Sure," she replied, looking down on us all and seeing five couples, three of which were gay, while only two were hetro, plus two empty chairs. With a benign smile that reeked of disdain she said, "I'll come back to you shortly," then turned and retreated into the kitchen, while all of us watched her disappear from view through a swinging door.
"Geez, what's her problem?" Brian whispered from my left. "Anyone would think it was a sin to have a night out?"
"Maybe she's the reason why we're the only table in here so far tonight?" Ed offered.
"Maybe?" answered Brian.
We buried our noses in the menu's and after a few minutes deliberation each of us decided on our orders and placed the menu back on the table.
Right on cue, or charming hostess returned, with notepad at the ready, and we all ordered. I didn't pay much attention to what everyone else was having, but I settled on something which I was assured by Cyn (who had been to this restaurant before) was absolutely divine.
Once more we turned and watched our hostess disappear into the kitchen, then almost as one the faces turned back toward me.
I took another sip from my wine glass, enjoying my moment of glory, with almost everyone hanging on my next word (well maybe not quite everyone, but it was nice to be the centre of attention at least every now and then).
"C'mon, hurry up," someone said from the other end of the table, which quickly broke the tension that hovered in the air around us and sent everyone into fits of giggles.
"Hey! How come he gets to tell the story all the time?" Cyn demanded. "Why doesn't someone else tell it their way?"
"Alright then..." I started to say, only to be cut short by Brian.
"Nah, let him tell the next bit," he said, grinning. "We can all add to it as we're going."
"I like that idea," Cyn answered, then turned back to me, smiling.
I figured it was my turn again, so I started telling them about what happened next.
"What a prick!" Brian said, once Thomas was out of earshot.
"Don't be too hard on him guys," I replied. "There was something heavy going down between him and Leo."
"Man... are you stupid or something?" Brian hissed. "You're letting this infatuation with the guy cloud your judgement here."
"Brian!" Cyn scolded. "Leave him alone. He tried to help Thomas, remember? Not everyone in the school is as thoughtful."
I think I blushed. Brian just scowled at me, his cute smile from just seconds earlier now little more than a memory. Nothing more was said however, as we all turned our attention to one thing or another.
When the bell rang a short while later, telling us that the day was officially over, Brian was flicking through some magazine and Cyn was rapidly scribbling something into her notebook, while I was off in another world; torn between the anger which I was directing at my parents, concern about Thomas, and confusion about everything that was going on in my life.
I think I said earlier that it was an amazing day! Well, the more I think about that, the more convinced I am that that was some kind of understatement.
"I gotta get out of here," Brian said almost before the bell had finished ringing. He picked up his bag and threw the magazine into it in one swift motion, then was heading for the door even before we'd had a chance to say anything.
"See ya tomorrow," I called out after him, but he just flopped an arm through the air in a half-hearted wave and kept walking.
"What's up his ass?" I said to Cyn once Brian had gone out through the doors. "He's been like a bear with a sore head all afternoon. He was going on about Thomas even before he had come over to our table."
"You can't figure it out for yourself?" she asked me.
"No," I replied.
"I'm sure that it'll dawn on you eventually," she said, while packing up her own belongings and then getting to her feet.
She turned as if to leave, then stopped and turned back towards me.
"Happy Birthday Chad," she said, then leant over and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks," I replied. "And thanks for the present. I love it."
"You're welcome babe. I'll see you tomorrow," she said, then turned on her heels and headed for the door, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Fuck! Why was it that I felt like crying?
* * * * *
When I walked into the kitchen I found my entire family there, sitting around the table talking, catching up with Matt and hearing tales about his life at sea.
I almost didn't recognize him when I walked in. I think I stood there staring at him for a moment, before he got up and walked over to greet me, his hand stretched out in front of him, which I duly shook, only to then be pull into him and be given a huge hug.
"Who are you? And what did you do with my brother?" I jokingly demanded.
"Chad!" my mother exclaimed.
It didn't bother Matt though, he just tousled my hair and hugged me again.
Yup. This was definitely an alien in my brothers body!
Maybe it was the fact that he no longer wore that arrogant sneer that had seemed to be permanently etched on his face when we were growing up, or maybe it was the short cut hair and beefed up build, I'm not too sure, but he had certainly changed since I'd seen him last. He looked... well, he looked almost normal.
But he was still an asshole.
"Hey Chad, I almost forgot," Matt said, then started reaching into his carry bag. I watched as he brought out a package and then handed it to me. "Happy Birthday Bro!"
Shit! Someone remembered! Maybe he wasn't that big of an asshole after all?
As I took the package from him and said, "Thanks Matt," there was an audible gasp from the other side of the table.
We both turned and looked at our mother who was sitting there with her hands clasped over her mouth.
"Oh my god! We forgot your birthday!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah well. Shit happens!" I said rather dryly, to which Matt gave me a belt up the back of the head.
"Hey! What was that for?"
"It's not their fault. It was probably because I was coming home that they forgot. So, if you want to make something of it..."
"Yeah. Sorry," I replied.
I sat down at the table, with Sean smirking madly and my parents frowning at me, and shook the parcel that Matt had handed to me, trying to get some idea of what it might be. It looked and felt like a book, but the bastard knew I didn't like reading. Didn't he?
"What is it?" I asked, as I started to tear the wrapping off, half hopeful that he would spill the beans. He just grinned at me. All eyes were on me as I opened the only present that any member of my family had bothered to give me.
"It's not much," Matt said. "But I reckon you might like it."
Finally I got the last piece of paper off, leaving me holding what looked to be a blank video.
"What's on it?" I asked Matt.
"Go find out?" he answered, his face plastered with a wicked grin.
I got up from the table and trudged through to the living room, then switching on the television and pushing the tape into the machine.
We were all staring at a black screen for what seemed like ages, then some of my favourite words flashed up on the screen, followed by an all too familiar theme which came blasting out of the speakers.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
"What the...," I exclaimed, but then remembered who else was in the room. "It's not...?" I started to say, turning toward Matt and seeing him grinning at me.
"But it hasn't even opened in the cinema's here yet. Or anywhere for that matter! It doesn't open anywhere until this weekend."
"So, you get to see the long awaited Episode One before anyone else in your class. Hell, before anyone else in the town even!"
"Where the hell did you get it from?" I asked, still overwhelmed by the present.
"Ask no questions, be told no lies," Matt answered.
My parents didn't quite know what the fuss was all about, while Sean had a "take it or leave it" kind of expression on his face, but for the first time in my life that I could remember, I actually wanted to hug Matt. So I did.
"Thanks bro," I said to him.
"You're welcome Chad. Now everyone go and get changed, we're all going out to dinner."
"We are?" my father asked. "What ever for?"
"My treat," Matt answered, "seeing as it's my fault that everyone forgot about our Birthday Boy here. It's the least I could do."
* * * * *
"You got what?" Brian asked me the following morning at school, now obviously over his little hissy-fit of the previous afternoon. "How? Where from?"
"Matt picked it up someplace," I answered.
"Matt? As in 'steal our lunch money' and 'let's try some pressure points' Matt. Your brother? Fuckin hell! Has the Navy sent him soft or something?"
"No. More like turned him into a human being I'd say. You wouldn't even think it was the same guy. He even looks different."
"Shit! Miracles do happen. So, have you watched it yet?"
I just grinned at him.
"You bastard! And you didn't invite me over!"
"Hey, don't get all sore with me. As I recall you weren't even talking to me yesterday afternoon. And besides, Matt took us out to dinner last night for my birthday, seeing as everyone else forgot, and it was at like, midnight last night when he and I snuck out into the living room and put it on."
"Oh man, I'd kill to see that movie."
"Well, you won't have to go that far," I replied. "Come over home this afternoon if you like."
"Your place?" Cyn asked, having just joined us. "What for?"
We both grinned at her.
"Just what the hell are you pair up to?" she asked, standing there in front of us with here hands on her hips.
"Besides ours, Chad got one other present yesterday," Brian replied.
"Yeah? What was it? And who from?" she asked eagerly.
"It was from Matt," I replied.
"Sailor boy? I thought he was an asshole?"
"Well, he used to be. But the navy has changed him it seems."
"Turned him into a human at least."
"Well, that's a start then. What did he give you?"
"A video tape."
Just at that point Brian decided to show us his musical skills, forming a trumpet with his hands and giving us a rendition of the Star Wars overture.
"What?" Cyn exclaimed. "Not... not... Episode One?"
Brain and I just grinned at her.
"Shit! How did he get that? Can I come over too? Can Stan come?" she asked eagerly.
"Jesus, Cyn. Aren't you over him yet?" Brain chided.
"Yeah, you can both come. This afternoon after school, alright?"
"Just try and stop us," they both replied at the same time.
The bell rang a few minutes later and so we all headed off to class.
Brian and I walked to our first class together and sat in our usual space in the back of the room, chatting amongst ourselves about the movie, when my obsession walked in, looking as aloof and superior as ever.
"Oh shit. Here we go again," Brian whispered.
"Please give it a rest Bri. O.K.?"
He cast one glance in our direction, then sat himself down in the front row.
If he wasn't so fucking gorgeous I could quite easily dislike him, just like everyone else seemed to, but to me he was more than just another class mate. He was the embodiment of all that I admired in a guy, and as Garth Brooks sings (almost), "and each night I'd spend praying, that god would make him mine."
Prayers that were, so far, unanswered.
* * * * *
We all met in our home room after the last class, which for Brian and Stan and I was Gym, then started toward my place from there.
When we reached the front gates of the school though, I stopped. "Oh shit, guys. I left my bag in the locker room, I better just run back and get it."
"How about we just wait here for you?" Brian asked.
"Alright then. I'll only be a minute or two," I answered.
I left them at the gates and headed back towards the gym at a fast walk. After a fairly exhausting game of basketball this afternoon, I didn't much feel like running, but I didn't want to waste too much time all the same.
Just as I turned the last corner however, where I expected I would have the building in sight, I was confronted with something else, Leo Ryan and some of his football buddies, who I literally ran right into.
"Hey, watch where you're going you little faggot," Leo spat at me, then grabbed me and physically pushed me up against the wall.
They were all laughing as the disappeared around the corner and I straightened myself up.
"Assholes," I said aloud, safe in the knowledge that they were now out of earshot.
I quickly covered the last few yards to the gym and went inside, heading straight toward the locker room. I didn't see anyone, but I could hear the showers still running and saw some clothes still hanging on a peg, so I assumed that someone must have stayed back for an extra workout or something.
After retrieving my bag from my locker I was about to get out of there, when I heard a sound coming from the showers. At almost exactly the same time I glanced at the clothes that were hanging on the pegs and realised who's they were. I'd know that jacket anywhere, I thought, I'd stared at it often enough.
It belonged to Thomas.
For the second time I heard the noise coming from the showers, so carefully I let my bag drop to the ground and crossed the floor of the locker room to the open doorway into the showers.
Unlike any other day, when the room would be half filled with steam and naked jocks, today it was cold and wet. There was one jock still here though. But there was also blood everywhere.
I just stood there taking in the scene. Totally shell-shocked and unable to move.
Thomas wasn't standing under a shower letting everyone admire him this time. He was curled up on the floor in a fetal position, his knees drawn up to his chin and his arms wrapped around his legs, hugging them to his body.
There was blood all over the floor. There was blood all over Thomas.
I didn't move. I couldn't move. All I wanted to do was throw up.
But then I heard it again.
It wasn't a cry. More like a whimper. But it was enough to bring me back to the present.
Quickly I went over and turned off the tap, then leant down in front of him.
"Help me," he whispered.
"Of course I will," I answered, placing my hand on his bare shoulder and trying to comfort him.
I could feel him shivering under my touch and it was then that I knew I had to get him out of there, off this cold and wet tile surface.
"Thomas," I said, leaning down close to him. "Can you sit up? We need to get you off these tiles."
He said nothing, but I could see the fear in his eyes. And the pain. He did try to sit up at least.
"Who did this?" I asked him, as I helped him.
Then I remembered Leo and his buddies. Laughing. Calling me a faggot .
"Was it Leo?" I asked.
He didn't answer. But then again, he didn't really have to.
It was a struggle, but I managed to get him to his feet at least, and out into the locker room and onto a bench, taking it one step at a time and with Thomas constantly whimpering in pain.
He was still shivering, but I quickly managed to find a couple of blankets in a cupboard near the first aid room, which I wrapped around him, trying to warm him up, and also covering his nakedness, should anyone else come in.
"I'm going to get you some help," I said to him.
"Please don't leave me," he croaked.
"You need help," I said to him. "Just give me a minute, alright?"
He nodded briefly, and so I left him there, while I went first out into the gym, calling out for anyone who may still be in the building, and then outside.
I didn't want to leave him alone where he was, but there was no one about that I could call out to. I called out for help, but the school was almost empty, I was sure, except for the area where the buses picked up students every day, near the front gates, but that was way over the other side of the school, and I didn't want to have to go all the way over there.
I frantically looked around for someone, or something, that could help me, and then, just as I was about to give up my gaze settled on the emergency bell for the fire alarm.
The sign read, "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS."
I figured this was an emergency, so that was what I did, then went back inside to Thomas, with the sound of the fire alarm ringing in my ears.Next Chapter Previous Chapter