College Days Ch. 04bykitten2010©
I'm considering starting some sort of social networking page for my writing if enough people would be interested in following. Most likely it will be Twitter. This is mostly so I don't lose touch with you lovely readers when I go on hiatus (it happens, silly life). Comment or feedback to let me know if this is something I should bother with or if I'm just flattering myself.
Brady got on the Interstate 45 feeder and turned into the shopping center. Ezra's stomach made a little gurgling noise. Brady smiled and pulled Ezra close to kiss his forehead. "I bet that last time you came had less to do with me and more to do with the thoughts of a Chinese buffet," he teased.
Ezra blushed and then retaliated. "I'll never tell."
Brady yanked the keys from the ignition. "Well, I thank you for sparing my pride." Brady stepped out of the truck with a bounce in his step. He was feeling so happy, and he knew part of it had to do with the morning of nothing but love making, naked cuddling, and napping. There was more though. If it was even possible, he was more in love.
Brady and Ezra entered the restraunt just as Grace was getting her change. They got her attention and she waited for them to pay so they could all sit together.
"So, Brady," Grace said. "I noticed you weren't in class today." The smile on her face revealed that she knew exactly what had been happening.
Brady cleared his throat and laughed. "Yeah, sudden sickness that disappeared just now. Let's go get food. Grace, I just saw them bring out some fresh Mongolian pork."
Grace scooted awkwardly out of the booth and waddled off to satisfy her craving for the peppery food. Brady and Ezra shared a smile and followed her to the buffet.
As they ate, Brady noticed Grace looking out the window.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Oh, my cousin was supposed to be meeting me. He's late, but no big deal. I could stay here all stinkin' day."
The waitress came and refilled Grace's glass of water. The liquid was gone before the waitress turned to walk away, not that it mattered to Grace, who waddled as fast as she could to get more of the pork from the buffet. Ezra watched her, smiling. "She's so happy to be a mom," he commented.
Grace returned, sighing. "You know, when I saw that little pink plus I swore I wouldn't be a stereotype. But, yeah, I am. And I don't care anymore."
Ezra asked Grace a few questions that she gladly answered. Things about how far along she was, names for the babies, all the nice gear that Grace's well-to-do relatives had floated her way to get out of a baby shower obligation. Things Brady hadn't even realized Ezra would be interested in. He'd always assumed that they wouldn't have kids, not just because that was biologically impossible, but because Brady had never seen himself as a parent. That was before Ezra. Brady briefly daydreamed of Ezra holding a little bundle of pink and it made sense to him. It felt natural. Ezra was so loving and gentle, any baby would be lucky to be his, and Brady would love and protect anything that was an extension of his love for Ezra. He hoped that one day it would be more than a daydream. With so many children desperate for love, surely at some point in their lifetime, adoption would be possible.
Brady had been so caught up in his thoughts, he hadn't realized Grace pointing out the window. "There's my cousin. Late as usual. I swear, don't know what to do with that boy."
Brady shifted uncomfortably as Myles entered the restaurant. He knew that Myles recognized them by the light blush that faded before he arrived. Grace was oblivious to the fact that they all knew each other and made introductions. Myles kept his face in a mask of indifference. In the past, this would have irked Brady, but now he could understand the motive of confused feelings and made no move to reveal the events of the night before.
Myles trudged up the stairs to his apartment. He threw his bag by the door. He wasn't normally a sloppy person, but he was tired. He replied to a text from Grace, lying about a headache and a nap in his future. Well, the headache wasn't a lie, but the nap was. He felt exhausted and yet knew that if he laid down, he'd remain wide awake.
He managed a smile as he tossed a few pellets of food to his hamster, Angie. He even let himself imagine that the look in her beady little eyes was one of gratitude and not the desire to nibble a hole through yet another of his shirts. He watched her stuff the pellets in her mouth and carefully shuffle into her soup can to arrange the pellets into a pyramid. He decided at least one of them should have a good day, so he tossed a treat in as well. The sound of her nibbling filled his otherwise empty apartment.
Even though he knew he wouldn't sleep, he crashed on his bed anyway. He considered crying, but decided against it. He'd dealt with depression since he was about nine. He could get over this funk. He'd done so for ten years, with no one ever having the slightest clue. Except Grace. Grace always knew. Just like she knew about the cuts he hid with long sleeves when they were twelve. And the pills at thirteen. And the drinking at fifteen. And about the car accident that wasn't entirely an accident when they were sixteen. He knew she would find out soon enough about the dangerous, self destructive fooling around. Especially if she was now hanging around with that couple from the other night. But he lied to himself. Told himself he was glad for a rest from her constant mothering.
But he did want her to find out. And to come knocking on his door, ready to do anything to slap him out of it. She would make him a meal, make him go to sleep, be there when he woke up to give him an equal amount of hugs and slaps upside the head. She would put her arm around him, ask him to go see someone about this. He would shrug, claim to feel totally better. He would believe it for a while. But then, he'd be back into the same spiral. It didn't matter how hard he tried to fight it. How much money he spent on new distractions. It never worked. It never really had, except once. After his second surgery, when downing a bottle of painkillers had seemed mightily appealing and Grace had arrived with a box of rodent supplies and, in a smaller cardboard carton with air-holes, there was Angie. At first, he had eyed her with the same smoldering anger and sadness that veiled everything in his life. But then she grew on him. And he grew fond of watching her run around and play.
He sighed and sat up, glancing at Angie's quiet cage. He hated it, but he knew deep down what would take away what little strength he had left. Angie just wasn't playful anymore. She was getting old and had truthfully outlived his expectations.
He felt like he was made of paper. And then he felt stupid for feeling like that.
Myles hated the thoughts swirling around in his head. He wanted to sleep. Though he didn't often allow himself to take that road, he went to his medicine cabinet and took a dose of cough suppressant.
He woke up at noon, rolling over. His hair felt grungy. His mouth tasted bad. He went and took a quick shower, but it didn't make him feel better. He picked up the bag of treats and shook it next to Angie's cage. Usually she would peek out of her hiding spot. Cold dread washed over him. He couldn't bring himself to open the cage door.
He dropped the bag, slowly dragged himself to his phone. It was dead. He didn't feel like plugging it in. Didn't feel like doing anything. He wondered when it had happened and felt guilty for sleeping through it. He wondered what he was even going to do. He stepped outside into the breezeway, hoping for fresh air. He glanced out at the grassy area and wondered if anyone would complain if he buried Angie there. And he wondered how he would even do it with no shovel or anything.
He heard people laughing as they came up the stairs and ignored it. They would just pass him by, surely. His apartment was across from an elderly woman and surely they weren't there for her and he knew they weren't there for him. They were probably on their way to the top floor apartments.
Myles heard a deep voice say, "Go on without me," and then felt a big hand on his shoulder.
He turned around to see Derek's face. His heart raced and he felt his face get hot. "Hey," Derek said. "Thought that was you. Glad to see you're alright..." Derek paused and leaned down to meet Myles' averted gaze. "Wait, are you alright?"
Myles was about to give his standard headache line, but for some reason the truth slipped out in a whisper. "My hamster died." Myles expected to be laughed at. A big guy like Derek would think he was pathetic.
"Sorry about that. I know how that feels. My fish died yesterday."
Myles stiffened, knowing when he was being made fun of.
But there was something about Derek's eyes when Myles finally met his gaze. Derek wasn't making fun of him, or even joking to lighten the mood.
Derek's eyes were like melting chocolate. Myles felt just fine staring into those eyes. A feeling he'd never really had.
"I love all animals," Derek said. "So it was hard to flush the little fish. You probably think it's a bit stupid for a grown person to be torn up about that."
Myles nodded. He felt a lot of comfort, but he knew that he couldn't let Derek stay. He was still having those stupid feelings. Hadn't the Brian fiasco gotten it out of his system? Or the debacle before that? Why couldn't he stop that self destructive tendency?
Derek patted Myles on the shoulder lightly. "Need any help, little guy?"
Myles shakily said, "Yes." Despite the voices in his head warning him not to. Myles let Derek follow him into his silent apartment, over to the silent wire cage. Derek leaned down and looked inside.
"Want me to get him?"
"Her..." Myles said softly. "Please..." He coughed. He was not going to cry in front of this guy. Or anyone. No one could know that he was so upset about a little rodent.
Derek's large hands were steady as he pried open the door with his thumb and index finger, carefully reached inside, and picked up the soup can. "Got a shoe box?" Derek asked.
Myles went to his closet and dumped a new pair of Converse out of their box. He wondered what Derek would say to the friends that had gone on to do their thing without him. If they would all laugh at him later.
Once Angie was safely in the shoe box, Derek stepped outside. Myles remained in the apartment. He looked at his phone, considering plugging it in and calling Grace. Before he could decide, Derek was back at the door.
"I found this," Derek said, lifting his arm to indicate a garden trowel.
"You don't have to..." Myles said. His voice was so soft, he knew right away Derek would think he was just saying that. But he did mean it. He wasn't exactly used to having anyone other than Grace around when he fell into one of his spells.
Derek flashed his brilliant smile. "I don't mind. I really do understand."
Myles looked at his shoes as he followed Derek outside. Derek insisted that he do all the work. Myles stood awkwardly, trying not to watch the faint shimmer of exertion gathering on Derek's muscular arms.
After twenty minutes of careful shaping of the deep hole, Angie was given a proper burial. Derek even insisted on stealing a smooth stone from the landscaping to mark her spot. Even though Myles knew that the rock would probably get tossed by a lawn mower, he was glad it was there. He thanked Derek for helping out, but saw that the group Derek had arrived with was in the parking lot.
"Thanks again," Myles said. "You should go with your friends."
"Oh, hell, forgot to mention. I just moved in." Derek smiled and stretched.
Myles' heart flip-flopped as he took in just how big Derek really was. "I...I guess I slept through the noise..."
Derek put his arm around Myles. The blond fought the urge to melt into that light embrace. Derek patted Myles' shoulder again and smiled at him. This was a different kind of smile, a private one. Every bit as glorious as Derek's wide grin, but it made Myles gulp for air.
Myles trudged back to his apartment as Derek jogged to talk to his friends. He sat on his couch, not wanting to see the empty cage where his pet had lived for years. He had given up trying to pretend he wasn't sad about it. And surprisingly, though he was still upset, he felt less crazy. Like maybe he wouldn't go into a total tail spin over this.
He finally got around to plugging in his cell phone. He had two missed calls, one from Grace and one from his mom. His mom probably just wanted to know why he hadn't called that "decent girl with a well connected father" so he elected to ignore her.
Grace answered right away. "Where you been, cuz?" she asked.
He hesitated. "Uh...Angie died..."
"I'm alright." And he did mean it. It wasn't a lie.
"Do you need me to come over?" He could hear the rustle of her trying to find her keys.
"I'm actually OK. A friend helped me out." As he said the word 'friend' there was a knock at his door. He went to see who it was as Grace talked about getting her wedding band back from the jeweler that morning.
Derek was standing at the door with a pizza box in his hand. "Grace...Grace, someone's here to see me."
He could tell from the silence that Grace had that annoying, know-it-all grin on her face. "Later," she said.
He opened the door and said the best, "Hello," he could manage with his heart pounding rapidly.
"Hey, sorry to bother you," Derek said. "I just realized I had an entire pizza leftover and I wondered if you would want to help me get rid of some of it."
Myles nodded and let Derek in, realizing for the first time how out of place Derek looked in his apartment. He realized no one but Grace and the guy who delivered Chinese take-out had ever even stepped foot in his apartment.
"Do you want to heat it up in the oven?" Derek asked.
Myles nodded and got a cookie sheet out for Derek, who put the oven on low heat and set the timer. Myles didn't mind how Derek acted so at home. He actually preferred it. He had no real experience at playing host. As he watched Derek bend slightly to adjust the heat on the oven, he was glad. He wondered if maybe this meant he was learning to be less anxious. Maybe he could have friends over. He'd had to make friends first.
Derek caught a glimpse of the empty hamster cage and offered to clean it up.
"No...I'll do it."
Derek shrugged. "Its kind of a sad thing to have to do though. Let me, I don't care at all."
Myles provided a trash bag and a cardboard box and Derek began to clean and store the now useless pet supplies. Myles' phone played the Imperial March from Star Wars and he groaned, knowing it was his mother. He didn't really feel like talking to her, but knew that if he didn't she would just keep calling.
"Hello," he said into the phone. He literally felt like he was deflating. He hadn't realized how good of a mood he'd been in until she called.
"Myles, why haven't you called Pricilla? Certainly you haven't been busy studying and we both know you don't work very hard."
"Actually, I have been studying, Mom...I just don't want to date anyone..."
"She's a decent looking girl. You must not want your father to be governor. He needs her father's support. He holds a lot of sway with the Baptists. You do so little as it is, it's the least you could do. Honestly, Myles, I'm shocked. Your sister is at Rice campaigning for your father and yet you do nothing. I doubt one date will cut into your busy schedule doing absolutely nothing important..."
"Losing signal, Mom..."
"She's decent looking girl, Myles. Are you out of money yet again? I don't see why you cost so much money. Your sister got so many scholarships. I know you aren't that smart, but you never really apply yourself."
"Low battery, Mother..."
"Myles, you will call this girl and you will pleasantly ask her on a date. Once you have a day and time, you need to get here as soon as possible so I can make sure you have some idea of how to act. You're so sullen and disagreeable. I wish we had someone else to offer up. But all that man wants is to set his ugly daughter up with someone. He knows the heifer won't get anyone else. You're probably the best she can do."
"You'll need a haircut, of course. And probably a shave. I swear, anyone would think you were raised by pigs with the way you act. It is absolutely horrid and disgusting."
"Bye, Mom." Myles pressed the end call button and turned his phone off. He sighed and put the phone back on the charger. Grace would probably call him tomorrow and he actually wanted to talk to her.
Derek was whistling from the bathroom as he rinsed everything off. "Man, parents can be crazy sometimes," Derek commented.
Myles felt like he should make some lighthearted response, but he wasn't in the mood anymore. His emotions had gone up and down so much in the past few hours he felt like he might be sick. He already felt shaky. He hated the constant belittling. Most of it came from his mother. His father was much too cold and calculating for that behavior. So much so, that Myles was almost sure that good ol' Dad knew the dirt that Myles had gathered on one of his main competitors. And there was no way that his father would allow him to drift so far away that he couldn't be bribed and guilted into letting that leak to the local media.
Myles was afraid that his nervousness was becoming entirely too obvious. He'd done alright while eating pizza, even managing not to blush when Derek joked about how much Myles could eat for such a skinny guy. Myles considered himself to be about the most inept conversationalist ever, but Derek kept the talk running smoothly.
To Myles' surprise, Derek didn't excuse himself after the meal. Not knowing what to do, Myles flipped on the TV. They sat, watching the first X-Men movie in silence.
It was then Myles realized Derek was very close to him and had a strong arm around him, his hand making lazy designs at the small of Myles' back.
Myles wondered for a moment if he'd just been on a date without realizing it.
At that moment, Derek leaned in close and gently kissed Myles on the lips.