He sat alone behind the bleachers, jacket pulled tightly around him against the chill of the spring rain. His dyed black hair poked out from under his hood and messily covered half of his face, making him appear almost withdrawn. I don’t know why I walked toward him, but something pulled me almost against my will. An unbidden urge to not be alone on this day of all days. Perhaps I knew if I didn’t talk to someone I was going to do something stupid, and some survival instinct deep within me decided that wasn’t going to happen; something within me wanted me to stay alive.
When I stopped next to him he stiffened, almost as if he expected me to attack him. “Foster . . .” I whispered, and he slowly drew the joint from his lips and let out a puff of strong-smelling smoke into the air before looking up and meeting my eyes with a wary stare.
“Seth McAllister . . . what can I do for you?” Foster McGuire said in a guarded tone.
I was on autopilot. My legs had brought me toward him by their own accord. He was a familiar face in a world I now found unrecognizable, and I didn’t know what to say, so instead I simply sat down, crossing my legs as I leaned against one of the metal supports for the bleachers and stared into the distance. I breathed in the scent of the pot Foster was smoking and let the miniscule traces of mind-altering substance lead me toward a better reality.
“You look like shit,” Foster observed. “Do you want a drag?”
I looked down at the smoldering joint he was offering me, hesitating only for a moment before taking it. As soon as it settled between my lips I inhaled deeply and held the smoke for a moment, letting it fill me and take me further from my present hell. I removed the joint and handed it back to Foster, blowing out the smoke in front of me in a cloud which now seemed strangely beautiful, then following it up with a hard cough. I didn’t feel much better, but at least I didn’t feel worse.
We sat in silence for several minutes as Foster and I finished off the joint and he put it out in the dirt next to him. Only then did I feel the urge to speak again, and I was surprised at how calm I was considering how my day had gone.
“Life is bullshit,” I breathed out bitterly.
Foster snorted and said, “No kidding.”
“You can relate?” I asked, chuckling softly.
“Why do you think I’m smoking pot behind the bleachers?” Foster said. “Barely even takes the edge off, anymore.”
I winced as I remembered what had recently happened in Foster’s life. His brother Royce had been arrested a month before, after a violent dispute with Royce’s ex-boyfriend, Griffin. I hadn’t seen Royce since then, and come to think of it, I hadn’t really seen Foster, either. “Point taken,” I said after a moment. “Sorry about your brother. It can’t be easy with your brother being arrested.”
Foster rolled his eyes and replied, “Royce was an asshole. He got what he deserved.”
Whether it was the drugs or the surprise of the simple, unexpected response, the truth of the statement made me giggle inappropriately and say, “Yeah, I guess he did.”
“You’re the first person who didn’t tell me I was a piece of shit for thinking that about Royce, regardless of what he did,” Foster said, turning to me in surprise.
I met his eyes and shrugged, smiling genuinely for the first time that afternoon. “I try to avoid judging people.”
Foster watched me with a blank stare for several seconds before nodding slowly, though some of his earlier wariness had disappeared. He finally looked away and cleared his throat. “So, what brings you to me?” He asked after a moment. “I don’t think you and I have spoken in years.”
“What was it, like fourth grade?” I asked, straining to remember the last time we’d even shared the same space.
“Something like that,” Foster replied, snorting again. I felt like I was missing something in his tone, but I couldn’t put my finger on it as he added, “Mrs. Callahan’s class, I think.”
“What happened?” I asked, shaking my head as I searched my memories. It had been almost five years, and everything was a little fuzzy prior to four years ago when Billy Carlisle had nearly beaten me to death. But there was a distinct memory of Foster and I playing together when we were kids, and I couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more memories like that. “Didn’t we used to be friends?”
Foster turned back toward me, his eyes filled with a complex mix of emotions I had no hope of deciphering. “Yeah,” he said warily, offering me only a shrug in explanation. “I guess we just drifted apart.”
I nodded and looked away, my interest drawn temporarily to a person walking on the other side of the chain-link fence which surrounded the school yard. He was too far away for me to recognize, but the way he was dressed reminded me of Logan, and an involuntary smirk spread across my face. “Too bad we did,” I said quietly. “This is the most real moment I’ve had in a while. Everything else has been so fake . . .” I trailed off with a sigh and looked at Foster, surprised to see him rolling his eyes at me.
“This is hardly real,” Foster said, inclining his head toward the remnants of the joint we’d just shared. “We’re high.”
“Barely,” I replied.
“Whatever,” Foster said, shrugging as he looked away. “You can’t say you haven’t had any real moments. Don’t you have two boyfriends you’re madly in love with?” He looked at me for confirmation, and when I just stared back at him he continued a bit wistfully. “Logan Whitmore’s hot. So is Grayson . . . I’d fuck either of them.”
I blinked in surprise at the blunt statement. Not only had I been unaware of Foster’s sexuality, but I’d never expected him to speak so candidly to me, almost a complete stranger. “Wow, you don’t hold back, do you?” I asked after taking a moment to compose myself.
“Who the fuck cares?” Foster replied, shrugging. “Why waste time? Just say what’s on your fucking mind.”
I nodded at his explanation, internalizing it while I thought of how to respond to his initial question. Logan and Grayson had become such a major part of my life, I wasn’t entirely certain what to do now that I couldn’t go to them for advice. However, at the moment at least, I had Foster. With a resigned sigh I said quietly, “I’m not sure I’m with them anymore.”
Foster was quiet for a moment, and his face remained as blank as it had before, though the complicated emotions in his eyes were as prominent as ever as he asked, “What happened?”
“Maybe it was always doomed to fail,” I said after a few seconds of consideration, shaking my head helplessly. “I knew it was a mistake . . .” trailing off in thought, my mind wandered back to the night Logan and I had decided to include Grayson in our inner circle. Then my thoughts were immediately drawn to the incident which had led to that decision.
“What was?” Foster asked, regaining my attention.
I sighed and explained, “I keep thinking back to that night of the Valentine’s dance.”
Foster shook his head in confusion and said, “I didn’t go.”
“Right,” I said, remembering I hadn’t seen Foster that night, or at any of the school dances for that matter. “But I’m sure you heard what happened, the entire school was talking about it for a few days.”
Foster shrugged and said, “I don’t listen to gossip, either. I don’t really talk to anyone.”
“Then how’d you know I was even dating Logan and Grayson?” I asked.
Foster looked at me and said carefully, “I watch you guys sometimes. I said I’d fuck either of them, didn’t I?” He smirked and added, “If it means anything to you, I’d fuck you, too.”
My eyes widened momentarily, and then an involuntary giggle passed my lips before I said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“That’s probably just the pot talking,” Foster replied, chuckling.
“Meh, I’ll take it,” I said, sighing, “it makes talking about this easier.” Foster nodded and smiled encouragingly and I continued with our earlier conversation. “So, the night of the Valentine’s dance . . .”
“Grayson paid for a kiss from Logan. Then he got embarrassed and ran off. Logan chased after him and caught up to him in the hall. I followed but kept my distance—I didn’t want to intrude,” I explained slowly.
“No, of course not,” Foster replied, shaking his head.
I sighed and went on. “Well, Logan kissed Grayson, and it was one of those perfect moments, you know?”
“Not really,” Foster said, “maybe you can elaborate?”
I paused for a moment as I thought about how to explain what I meant, and I found my mind to be surprisingly clear. Talking to Foster was easy, almost natural, as if I were speaking to someone whom I knew understood me intimately. “It was like time stopped, and you could feel the energy in the air.” I stopped and turned toward him, and for a moment I swore I could see some sort of tether of light between us, pulling us together. “Kinda like now.”
“So it was like being high?” Foster asked, giving me a half smile.
“Yeah, I guess that fits,” I said, chuckling dryly. “Except it was like watching someone else be high.”
“When you think about it, Grayson was chasing after Logan for a while,” Foster said sagely. “I’m sure he was pretty euphoric.”
“Only problem is, Grayson wasn’t the only one who had that kind of experience,” I replied, sighing as I remembered the look on Logan’s face as he kissed Grayson. “Logan was just as invested.”
“Huh . . .” Foster said thoughtfully, staring into the distance as he thought over what I’d just said. Then he turned back to me, eyebrows raised quizzically. “So, why is that a problem?”
“It wasn’t like that for me and Logan when we kissed, at least that isn’t how I remember it,” I replied. “It wasn’t like that for me and Grayson. It’s funny,” I continued, chuckling mirthlessly, “even though I was there first, I’m actually the third wheel.”
Foster snorted and asked, “Where’d you get that idea?”
“I should have never tried to take the relationship beyond friendship,” I replied, shaking my head ruefully. “That’s not what I wanted.”
“Bullshit,” Foster said immediately.
My eyes widened at the quick response. “You don’t believe me?”
“Nope,” Foster replied firmly, meeting my eyes. “You’re not the type to do things you don’t want to do.”
“Yeah?” I asked a touch defensively. “If you know so much about me, then why did I go after Logan when I only wanted his friendship?”
Foster let out a frustrated growl and then replied, “Because you needed him. People need friends, and sometimes they need more.”
For a moment I let my anger get the better of me, and was eager to put Foster on the defensive. Without thinking about the potential consequences of the question, I asked, “Then why don’t you have any friends?”
“Fuck you,” Foster spat, face contorting into a scowl. “You know why.”
I immediately regretted my earlier question, but I was genuinely confused by Foster’s response. “I do?” I asked.
Foster’s hands clenched into fists as he accused, “You’re the one who walked away from me.”
“I did?” I asked, cocking my head to the side in my bewilderment. My mind once again raced back across the years to our elementary school, trying to get through the fuzzy memories which didn’t seem to want to be any clearer.
“You’re serious?” Foster asked after a moment, seeing my genuine confusion and recognizing it for what it was. “You don’t remember?” He asked, some of the tension leaving him.
“I don’t,” I replied, shrugging helplessly. “What happened between us?”
Foster sighed and looked defeated as he folded his arms over his chest and sunk against the bleachers again. “It doesn’t matter . . .” He muttered.
“Sure it does,” I replied, reaching out and putting my hand on his shoulder. He tensed up immediately and pulled away from my touch. “I’m sorry, Foster,” I continued, withdrawing my hand. “There’s a lot of shit I don’t remember, honestly. You heard what Billy Carlisle did to me, right?”
“You mean when he beat the shit out of you and put you in the hospital?” Foster asked, a noticeable sharpness to his words. “Yeah, I was paying attention.”
I began to wonder if he’d been lying to me earlier about why he knew so much about me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to press the issue. Instead I said cryptically, “You seem to do that a lot.”
Foster raised his eyes and fixed me with a hard glare. “Are you accusing me of something?”
I shook my head and smiled, deciding it was better to avoid pressing him while he was angry. “No.”
“Good,” Foster said firmly. Sighing, he continued a few seconds later. “So what happened between you and your boyfriends?”
I watched him for a moment and then asked carefully, “Do you actually care? Why are you listening to me? You don’t have to listen to my problems, you know.”
“Fuck if I know,” Foster replied, snorting. “Maybe because I’m high and have nothing better to do?”
I laughed weakly and said, “I suppose that’s fair.”
“So, what’s up?” He asked, returning the conversation to our main topic.
I hesitated, unsure how I wanted to approach the subject, then decided it didn’t really matter what I told Foster. I knew somehow he wouldn’t tell anyone else, and that was enough for me to trust him. “Did you know Logan was scared of sex at first?” I asked.
“Nope,” Foster replied, shaking his head as he avoided my eyes. “That’s not something I would have figured out.”
I smiled to take the accusation out of my next words as I said, “Just checking to make sure you weren’t stalking me entirely.”
Foster’s head snapped toward me quickly, but seeing my smile he looked away and blushed, then answered simply, “Nope.”
“After Logan and I first told each other how we felt, we started kissing,” I explained, remembering our first time together fondly. “Kissing came naturally, but when I tried to go further, he always froze and stopped me.”
“I can see that,” Foster said, nodding. “Sex isn’t something everyone wants to rush into.”
“With all your comments about how willing you’d be to fuck me and my boyfriends, I’m a little surprised to hear you say that,” I said lightly, hoping he wouldn’t be offended.
I was wrong, and he returned his glare to me again. “You don’t know everything, Seth,” he said testily.
I raised my hands defensively and said, “Of course not, but—”
“Drop it,” Foster warned.
“Okay . . .” I said slowly, nodding until Foster looked away again. I took a deep breath, making sure Foster was ready for me to continue and then said, “So, Logan wouldn’t let me go further. I asked him why, and he never had a good answer.”
“Once Grayson made our couple into a trio, things started to change, but I’d already begun to grow accustomed to the way things were between Logan and I. We just weren’t going to have sex, and, to be completely honest, I was kind of okay with that after a while.” I shook my head and stared into the distance, though my thoughts were far away, remembering what it was like during those times. Logan and I had had an intimate relationship without ever needing sex, and I’d grown to love it. “I love Logan, and I didn’t want to push him into anything he wasn’t ready for.”
“You just said you love Logan,” Foster said, turning back to face me. “That’s present tense. Told you that you wanted him.”
I shrugged but was forced to acknowledge his point, at least in part. “Love comes in different forms. Love isn’t always sex.”
“And sex isn’t always love,” Foster said, smirking as he looked away again. “Point taken. I should know that better than anyone.”
“Grayson talked to me about it almost a month ago . . .” I said slowly, remembering the day we’d first started working at Café Perk Me Up. “He told me he wanted to take our relationship to the next level. I can’t blame him, I mean, most teenagers want to have sex.”
“Sounds like a reasonable conversation topic for boyfriends to have,” Foster replied.
“Yeah, but the problem was he was talking about having sex with me if Logan wasn’t ready to move on . . .” I said, laughing nervously. I really didn’t see anything funny about the situation, other than my own failure to realize what had been happening right in front of me.
“Interesting,” Foster said thoughtfully. “That makes sense, too, doesn’t it? Adults have a hard enough time with multiple partners in a relationship. I can’t imagine how teenage hormones would help matters any.”
I sighed and nodded. “Turns out, you’d be right.”
Foster turned toward me, his head inquisitively cocked to the side. “Go on.”
“We agreed to talk to Logan, but I kept making excuses not to. I knew Logan would tell us when he was ready, or that’s what I thought, anyway. I wasn’t really in a rush,” I explained, feeling my emotions starting to surge to the surface. Now that I was getting close to the meat of the issue, the drugs weren’t strong enough to keep my voice from trembling. “I guess Grayson got sick of waiting, and . . .” I paused, unable to continue as a sob threatened to steal my words.
I looked at Foster and frowned, but then forced myself to continue. “I originally had a dentist appointment after school today, and so I didn’t walk home with Logan and Grayson like I normally do. One of my mom’s patients had a crisis, so she had to cancel last minute, and after I made a quick stop at home I headed toward Logan’s house. I just let myself in like normal, and I headed up to Logan’s room . . .” I hesitated again as my voice cracked, but then I swallowed hard and went on. “When I opened the door, Grayson was on his knees, Logan’s dick was in his mouth and Logan was moaning . . .” I shook my head as the image came unbidden to my mind. Logan’s eyes had been closed as his hand had rested gently on the back of Grayson’s head, fingers entwined in Grayson’s hair. “He had that same look on his face as when they’d kissed in the hallway . . . that look of pure bliss.”
“Fuck, Seth,” Foster said, shaking his head as he reached out and put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, dude.”
“It took them a few seconds to even realize I was there,” I said quietly, “I barely realized it myself, as I’d stopped breathing. Then they looked at me and immediately pulled apart, talking over each other to explain themselves, but I couldn’t stay there. I ran out of the house as quick as I could, and kept running until they were no longer chasing me.”
“That explains why you looked like hell when you got here,” Foster observed, giving my shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“And it’s only going to get worse,” I said, unable to prevent the sob from rising this time. Tears began flowing down my face as my hands clenched into fists, my voice rising as anger forced the sobs away. “They betrayed me. My two best friends in the world, the people I cared about above anyone else, and they fucking betrayed me! What the fuck am I supposed to do now?”
Foster answered immediately, and his response caught me completely off guard. “You’re asking me of all people?”
“Should I not be?” I asked, turning to him in surprise as my anger halted slightly.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” Foster asked, biting his lip nervously. It was the first time I’d seen him this concerned in our entire conversation, and the conflict in his eyes appeared to have dissipated almost entirely.
I felt my anger begin to fade as I focused on this new turn in the conversation and said quietly, “Foster, if I knew what you were getting at, I wouldn’t be asking.”
“Maybe one day you’ll figure it out. But . . .” Foster shook his head and then growled in frustration, pulling away from me and standing. He turned away from me and I watched him in confusion until he finally looked back at me with a determined expression. “Seth, I’ll give you my advice, but you’ve got to promise me something.”
“Okay, what is it?” I asked, eager for clarity.
“Promise me you’ll do whatever makes you happy,” Foster said.
“Even if it hurts other people?” I asked.
“You have to take care of yourself, first,” Foster replied, nodding with determination. “You have to be honest with yourself, first.”
I felt somehow I owed this to Foster, though I didn’t know why. I found myself nodding and replying, “Okay, I promise.”
“Go talk to your friends,” Foster said nodding back the way I’d come. “They probably didn’t try to betray you, those teenage hormones probably just got the better of them.”
“But . . .” I said uncertainly.
“You love Logan, right?” Foster asked, smiling.
“Yeah,” I replied, nodding.
“And Grayson?” Foster asked, his smile widening. There was a touch of sadness there which made me feel guilty for some reason as I nodded again. “Then go talk to them,” he continued. “You owe them a chance to explain.”
I sighed and stood up, turning toward Foster as I stretched out my legs. “I suppose you’re right.”
Foster nodded and said, “Then go. What are you waiting for?”
“Thanks, Foster,” I said once my legs were ready to move. I reached out and touched his elbow gently then pulled my hand away. “I owe you one.”
“Whatever,” Foster said, shifting uncomfortably as he looked away, “just go.”
“I won’t forget this,” I said, smiling.
His sad smile drew my full attention as he turned back to me and said, “See that you don’t.” And then he turned on his heel and started walking in the opposite direction of my destination. “See you around, McAllister.”
I watched him go for only a moment before turning to walk the other way. Foster was right, I did owe my friends a chance to explain, but I already knew what I had to do. Although I still didn’t know everything about the situation, there were some things which were already painfully clear.
The walk back to Logan’s house had done me some good, but now there was a new problem. I was hungry. I’d heard about the munchies before, but I’d never been high, and this was a completely new experience. I was tempted several times to turn a different way and find something to eat, but I forced myself to remain focused on the task at hand.
But by the time I knocked on Logan’s door, food was all I could think about. When Logan opened the door and stared at me with a guilt-stricken face, the only thing I wanted to do was push him away and walk into his kitchen.
“Seth!” Logan said in surprise, then stepped aside slightly as Gray jumped to his feet and came to join him at the door. He was wearing the same expression as Logan, and seeing them both standing together brought me back to the matter at hand.
“Logan. Gray . . .” I said, meeting each of their faces in turn, “we need to talk.”
Gray shared at Logan and then said, “We’re glad you’re here.”
“Are you?” I snapped in a sudden surge of emotion, feeling a scowl flash across my face and then disappear as quickly as it had come. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and then smiled sheepishly and said, “Sorry, I guess the pot must be wearing off. Either that, or I’m more pissed than I thought.”
“You’re high?” Logan asked, sharing another look with Grayson, this one worried.
“Not really,” I replied, shaking my head as I met Logan’s worried stare. Then I added, “Not anymore.”
All Logan could say in response was, “Oh.”
I nodded slowly and frowned, then waved for Logan to step aside so I could enter his house. He did so numbly and I stepped in and around him, then moved around Grayson as well as Logan shut the door. I started toward the couch in the front room and then flopped down onto it casually. Grayson and Logan shared yet another look, and I started to get annoyed by them avoiding the situation. With a humorless grin I asked, “So, how long have you two been having sex?”
Logan seemed surprised at my candor and looked away guiltily, but Grayson recovered more quickly. He cleared his throat and said weakly, “That was the first time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were planning on it?” I asked carefully.
“It just sort of happened,” Logan said. Pretty much right before you walked in. It’s not like we planned it.” I watched his eyes and was pretty certain he was telling the truth, but then I saw Grayson look away with obvious guilt in his eyes. Logan could very well be genuine, but I remembered the conversation I’d had with Grayson a month before, and had a feeling there was more going on than Logan realized.
“I see,” I said neutrally, processing the thought. Another wave of hunger assaulted me and I remembered my initial course of action. I stood up and started walking deeper into Logan’s house, not thinking of how my actions would look to the others.
“Where are you going?” Grayson asked with a touch of worry.
“I need to get something to eat,” I explained without emotion, meeting Grayson’s eyes. Then I turned to Logan and asked, “You still have some chips? I’m starving.”
“Yeah,” Logan said uncomfortably. “Help yourself.”
I turned away from them and walked into Logan’s kitchen, making a direct line for his pantry. I’d returned to autopilot, and I opened the door to the pantry and reached in to grab a bag of Doritos without having to think about it. As soon as the chips were in my hands the bag was open and I was shoving chip after chip into my mouth while lost in thought.
Nothing which had happened in the last few minutes had changed my mind. My determination was as strong as ever, and if anything, Grayson’s guilt reinforced my decision. While I’d originally thought this was going to be complicated, it was much simpler now that I was here and the issue was staring me in the face.
I looked down at the bag of chips in my hand and saw that I’d already eaten half the bag, but I was still hungry. With a smirk I realized that only half a bag of chips wasn’t going to be enough, and I took another handful as I walked back toward the front room where Logan and Grayson were waiting.
They looked up at me expectantly as I stepped into the room, and I smiled as soon as my mouth was free of chips and said, “Well, I’ve been doing some thinking.”
Grayson looked at me worriedly and asked, “Okay?”
“I think . . .” I began, then noticed a thin layer of cheese dust on my fingers and licked them clean.
“What?” Logan asked, a frantic look in his eyes. I watched him for a moment, seeing pain in his eyes which I hadn’t expected to see, but it didn’t change anything.
“I think it’s time we broke up,” I said, surprising myself by how calm I was. Logan and Grayson both looked at me with horror, and I drew out a handful of chips and shoved them into my mouth as they recovered.
“Seth!?” Logan asked, taking a step toward me with desperate eyes locked on mine. “Why? But—”
As soon as I could swallow I did and cut Logan off with an upraised hand. “Hold on . . .” I said calmly, then drew another chip from the bag and gestured with it pointedly to my two friends. “I think we all need some time to process what happened. If we were all meant to be together, we would have waited until all three of us were ready, at least that’s my point of view.”
“You can’t be serious,” Logan said, his eyes growing moist as he continued in a desperate whisper, “It was a mistake, Seth.”
“Yeah, it was,” I said firmly. “I think all of it was, well . . .” I paused and smiled fondly, “maybe not all of it. I’m not talking about not being friends, but I think I’m a better friend to either of you than I ever was a lover.”
I put the last chip in my mouth and started chewing, the loud crunch in my ears stealing the power of the moment as Logan pleaded, “Seth, I love you.”
“Me too,” Grayson added, and I looked at him with a question in my eyes. Regardless of what his intentions had been, I saw the sincerity in his gaze and nodded slowly, accepting the emotion for what it was.
“I know you do, but . . .” I shook my head and reached into the chip bag, seeing that I was almost out. I dumped the last bit of chips into my hand and then looked between them, somehow remaining unfazed by the emotions in their eyes. “I don’t know how else to say it, and I’m not going to pull any punches. I’ve become more of a third wheel every time. You two were meant to be together, and I’m just not.” I shoved the rest of the chips into my mouth and then crumpled up the chip bag, walking back into the kitchen to throw it away.
When I returned to the room, Logan was staring at me like he was going to be sick, but it was Grayson who spoke to me. “But you and Logan—”
“Are still best friends,” I said, cutting him off. “This isn’t going to change that.”
“And, you and me?” Grayson asked hesitantly.
“Are still best friends . . .” I said after a brief pause. “This isn’t going to change that, either.” Grayson nodded and I started toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Grayson asked, his tone noticeably worried.
“I’m out of chips,” I said, shrugging nonchalantly. “I’m going to go find some.”
“Seth, don’t leave like this,” Grayson pleaded.
“Don’t worry, guys, I’ll be back,” I said with a shrug as I opened the front door. “I just don’t know when. Until then, I hope you’ll both be happy.”
Logan started toward me, his voice desperate as he shouted, “Seth!”
I stepped through the door and shut it firmly behind me, then started down the street toward my home. Despite eating the entire bag of chips, I was still hungry for more. I was drained, empty, and desperate to find something to fill this new void. There was only one place to go, and only one person I knew could help me.
A scent of sweet chocolate wafted toward me as soon as I walked into my house. I began to salivate as my nose led me forward and into the kitchen where I saw Sora standing with her back to me, humming a tune I didn’t recognize. She turned toward me as she heard my footsteps and asked with a warm smile, “Seth, what are you doing home? I thought you’d be with your friends.”
“Hey, Sora,” I said in greeting as my eyes locked onto the two brownie-laden plates in front of her on the counter, noticing the frosting-covered knife in her hand. “Oh . . . my . . . god. You made brownies! I love you!”
I moved around her and started toward the brownies, eyes wide with delight. Sora caught me as I stepped past her and then gripped my chin, turning my face toward her as she asked, “Seth, are you high?”
I pulled away and returned my attention to the brownies as I answered, “Yep.”
“Mom’s going to kill you,” Sora said, shaking her head in dismay.
I glanced back at her and grinned as I replied, “Better make sure she doesn’t see me, then.” Then I started reaching toward the frosted brownies on one plate, ignoring the unfrosted brownies on the other.
“Hey, I’m taking those to a party, don’t touch,” Sora said, slapping my hand and pulling the plate away. “You can have the other plate.”
“The whole plate?” I asked, turning my eyes toward the other plate, hardly deterred as I took the plate in one hand and a brownie in the other. “Yes!” I shouted excitedly before taking a big bite of the brownie and taking the plate with me toward the kitchen table.
“That’s not what I . . .” Sora began, then shook her head helplessly. “Never mind, I guess it’s fine. Are you going to tell me why you’re high?”
Her question brought my situation back to mind, and I remembered I’d come to her specifically seeking clarity. After taking a couple more bites of brownie I looked up at her and said quickly, “My two best friends started fucking each other, and left me out of it. I just broke up with them. I think it’s for the best.”
“And you made that decision while you were high?” Sora asked dubiously.
“Yep. But I’m still sticking by it,” I said before polishing off the first brownie and starting on a second. “I received some good advice from Foster McGuire, of all people,” I added offhand, and Sora choked in surprise.
“Foster McGuire?” She asked, giving me a strange look. “You haven’t hung out with him in years. How did that happen?”
“I ran into him right after I walked in on Logan and Gray,” I said, shrugging and wondering why she was acting so strangely. “He talked me down.”
“Doesn’t sound like Foster’s style, but I guess you two used to be best friends, so maybe it came naturally to him this time,” Sora said, shaking her head in wonder. I shrugged as I quickly devoured the second brownie and picked up a third while waiting for her to continue. When she did, she had an amused smile and a distant look in her eye. “I suppose it’s kind of funny, thinking about it now and how you’ve changed.”
I cocked my head to the side without taking a bite of the third brownie. “We were really that close?” I asked, shaking my head. “I don’t really remember much.”
“Part of your memory loss? Must be, if you forgot what happened between the two of you,” Sora said, sighing as she turned away from me.
“I guess so,” I said, suddenly more interested in the conversation than eating the third brownie. “He wouldn’t tell me about it. Would you mind filling me in?”
Sora turned back toward me and bit her lip uncertainly. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’ve been dying to know all afternoon,” I said, setting the brownie down and pushing the plate away from me.
And so she told me, and each successive word made my eyes widen further and further. By the time she was done, I’d lost my appetite entirely, no matter what the drugs had wanted. But certain cravings remained, and I knew only one thing which would satisfy the hunger consuming me then.
Mrs. McGuire was slender, almost skinny, and the pallor of her skin made her appear almost sickly. Her eyes were tired and I could tell she hadn’t been eating well. Those same eyes widened with surprise as she saw me standing on her doorstep, and I wasn’t surprised. I knew who she was now, though I wouldn’t have been able to recall her face if I’d thought about it an hour earlier.
As soon as Sora had begun telling me what had happened, it had begun to come back to me. I’d learned more about myself in the past hour than I was comfortable with, but it had been necessary. So much of this day had thrown my whole perspective on life completely into chaos, but there were answers to be had here.
“Hello, Mrs. McGuire,” I said formally, smiling weakly. “Um, I’m here to see Foster.”
Her eyes took on the same guarded look I’d seen on Foster’s face earlier in the afternoon. She didn’t trust me, and I didn’t blame her. “I’m sorry, he isn’t home,” she said coldly, “but I’ll tell him you stopped by and—”
Foster spoke up from behind her. “It’s all right, Mom,” he said, stepping into view and smiling at me curiously. “He can come in.”
Mrs. McGuire met Foster’s eyes and they shared a few seconds of unspoken communication before she nodded once and said, “Okay, if you’re sure.”
Foster nodded and then turned toward me, waving me inside. “Come on, Seth. We can go to my room.” I stepped inside as Mrs. McGuire gave me room, watching me warily. I nodded to her in thanks and then followed Foster upstairs and down the hall to the last door on the right. It was a walk my feet remembered well, and every step I took brought to me an almost overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I knew this house almost as well as I knew my own, I just hadn’t realized I’d been missing it.
We walked into Foster’s room and he waited for me to enter before closing the door behind me. “Sorry about my Mom,” Foster said with a weak laugh. “She knew I didn’t really want any visitors. She’s been pretty protective of me ever since Royce, you know . . .”
“Yeah, I’m still trying to come to terms with everything,” I said, scratching my head as I looked at him and sighed. “I’m so sorry, Foster.”
“What?” Foster asked, giving me a look of complete confusion. “You apologized earlier.”
“Not for this, I didn’t,” I said, locking my eyes on his. “Foster . . .” I began feeling a lump form in my throat. “I have no idea why I was such a jerk to you all those years ago. I wish I could remember everything, but . . .”
“But you remember some of it now . . .” Foster finished for me, his complexion paling as he turned away from me. He crossed his bedroom and stood in front of his window, looking out into his yard. “Shit, now I’m not sure if I’m supposed to still be angry or not.”
“Sora filled me in,” I explained, taking a step toward him. “It’s coming back to me.”
“How much . . .” Foster began uncertainly. He glanced back toward me then began again, “How much do you know, now?”
“You kissed me,” I said simply. He turned toward me completely and I smiled meekly and continued. “We were wrestling in my back yard, and you kissed me.”
Foster sighed and said, “If you know that, you know all of it.”
“Yeah,” I said, shuddering as I saw the question in his eyes and remembered how those eyes had looked five years ago. “I know how I pushed you off of me and punched you as hard as I could, then told you to run home like . . . like a . . .” I stumbled over my words as my whole body began trembling. I couldn’t bring myself to repeat the hurtful words I’d said to him at the time.
“You don’t need to say the words,” Foster whispered, his eyes filled with an unspeakable pain, just as they had been then. “I remember them.”
“And then we stopped talking,” I said, unable to stop shaking. “I told our friends to stop talking to you, that you’d done something unforgiveable, and . . .” I choked back a sob and then continued my confession at a whisper. “I turned everyone against you.”
Foster cleared his throat and said quietly, “You were a different person then. I saw that this afternoon.”
I took a step forward and then found my legs giving out beneath me. I barely made it to his bed and sat down on the edge of it, feeling a wave of weakness travel through my body. “Doesn’t really excuse it though, does it?” I asked quietly.
“Can we talk about something else, please?” Foster asked, turning toward me with red eyes and an expression displaying so many emotions I couldn’t begin to decipher it. “The past is the past,” he said, shrugging as if it didn’t matter, and then offered a new topic. “Did you talk with your boyfriends?”
I nodded and said weakly, “We broke up.”
“Really?” Foster asked, he took a step toward me and then sat down on the bed next to me. When I looked at him he seemed just as surprised as I was that we were sitting so close, but he didn’t move. “That’s too bad,” he said slowly, “I’m sorry, Seth.”
“Yeah, um . . .” I said nervously. There was something strangely natural about this new bend in the conversation, and I struggled to figure out what it was as I continued. “I realized I’d rather be friends with them than boyfriends, but we need some time apart. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to face them again, but eventually . . .” I shrugged and added, “I’ll go back to them.”
“So,” Foster said, and I could sense his disappointment even though he was trying to conceal it, “you’re only broken up for the moment?”
“No, we really aren’t boyfriends anymore, even now that I’m no longer high, that’s pretty clear,” I said carefully, keeping our gazes locked together. Those brown eyes of his held me captivated for a moment as I noticed the flecks of amber hidden within them. I remembered staring into those eyes time and time again, but those memories were distant, now, and I longed to make fresh ones. “But they’re still my best friends . . .” It hit me then, the natural feeling which I’d been trying to name ever since we’d began talking. Foster had once been my best friend, and that connection had never fully disappeared, despite the years we’d spent apart. He was still a part of me, and being this close to him again made me crave his presence like I’d never wanted anything before. “I wouldn’t mind adding to that number, though.”
“We tried that, once,” Foster said cautiously, though I could see my same longing reflected in his eyes. “I don’t think I could do that again.”
“You tried that with old Seth,” I replied, feeling an old grin return to my face. The impish smile of my childhood I’d worn time and time again whenever Foster and I had gotten into mischief. “You said it yourself, I’m a different person. Please, give me another chance. Right now we’re both alone. I’d rather have someone to share the misery.” I reached down and touched his hand tentatively. “Wouldn’t you?”
Foster glanced down at our hands and asked quietly, “What happens if I decide to kiss you again.”
Instinct took over, and my hunger for Foster pulled me forward, aching lips pressing against his as they’d longed to do for years, unbeknownst to their owner. The kiss was quick but electric, and when I pulled away, Foster was wearing the perfect grin to match my own, the reflection marred only by the look of absolute wonder in his eyes. “Do it,” I said, eyes flashing with excitement. “I plan to.”
“Huh . . .” Foster said thoughtfully, then sighed contentedly, closing his eyes for a moment in blissful repose. “I might be able to get used to that.”
“You better,” I said, no longer tentative as I took his hand and squeezed it firmly. “I’m here to stay, this time, until you send me away.”
“Do you want to stay forever?” Foster asked, blushing as soon as he realized what he’d said.
“Yep,” I replied, nodding firmly.
“Sorry, I meant ‘dinner’?” Foster asked, laughing nervously.
“Sure you did,” I replied, snickering, then giving Foster’s hand another squeeze. “That sounds great, too.”
Foster grinned and nodded. “I’ll go tell my mom to add another plate.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
Foster stood and started to let go of my hand, then spun back and pressed his lips to mine, kissing me deeply. When he finally pulled back there wasn’t a trace of doubt in his eyes. “It might be five years later than I wanted, but I’m glad you’re here,” he said, grinning wide.
“Me too,” I said, smiling gently. “And this time, we’ll get it right.”
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