**Author’s Note: This story takes place in the year 2003. It contains strong language and touches on a sensitive subject. Continue with caution and enjoy!**
© 2016 by Shalaena Medford
Ely walked into the fading light of the evening. He tore the hospital bracelet from his wrist, picked a direction, and began walking. The looming silhouette of the Grossmont High School campus pulled Ely from the depths of his own dark thoughts. Rival territory.
He stood, toeing the blue paint of the G that marked the center of the football field. He’d played a few games on this turf and won most of them. Coach called him their secret weapon. How could he not be when he had been raised as though he was in boot camp? Run for miles with fifty-pound packs, weighted push-ups and sit-ups, squats with a fifteen-pound rifle held over his head. He had to be the perfect JROTC cadet and maintain grades worthy of any Ivy League school he wasn’t allowed to apply for.
Glass shattered in the bleachers. Ely walked toward the yellow and blue benches. The sun had set, but there was something—someone—darker than the typical night shadows, curled on one of the concrete footpaths, their feet propped up on an aluminum bench, head resting on the one behind. Ely reached the bottom step. A pale face turned to look at him, a cigarette glowing at his lips. His short hair, clothes, and boots were black.
“The fuck you lookin at?” he slurred.
“I’m not quite sure.”
“It’s called a faggot. Move along.”
“Shouldn’t call yourself that.” Ely ascended the stairs to stand over him.
He laughed a puff of smoke through his nose and opened a fresh bottle of whiskey. “Why not? Everybody else does.” He clenched his jaw and blinked back the anger glistening in his eyes, then took a drink and cringed.
“Congratulations?” He squinted up at Ely. “Aren’t you the Helix quarterback?”
“They don’t let fairies do big boy things.”
Ely shrugged and scraped his toe along the cement. “I dunno, I’ve done alright with the big boys.”
The teen stared at him, face blank and cigarette threatening to fall from his lips. “Yeah, and this is fruit punch.” He tipped the bottle back and pursed his lips to swallow.
“So, you think I should have just stayed in the closet instead of giving my dad an excuse to do this?” He motioned at the black eye and split lip. The swelling had gone down during his forty-eight hour stay at the hospital, but it still stung to touch.
Bullies. That had been his dad’s excuse. Pathetic. The least his Marine father could have done was let him return home to get a few things after pressing all of his weight into the knee pinning Ely to the floor. The knee that bruised his sternum and squeezed the air from his lungs until his vision spotted. Instead he’d been disowned. Exiled from his own home.
Rethink your life choices, the note in his wallet had said, or don’t bother coming home.
Ely turned away and descended a few steps.
“Re-closeting. Good idea,” he shouted. “Tell me, what’s your plan for your future? Like when dear papa wants a daughter-in-law and grandchildren he can beat the shit out of if they turn out gay?”
Ely stopped and stared at his feet.
“Not so easy to shove a wacka…wackity…wavily-wacky…” He squinted at his knees as though the answer was written there. He took a drink and sighed in defeat. “A blow-up thing back into the closet once it’s been…blown up?”
Ely rolled his eyes. He stared up at the face illuminated in the night by the glow of the cigarette cherry. The dark eyes glittered as they studied him in return.
“What was it like when you came out?”
The teen laughed. He stood, swaying with inebriation as he fought to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from the step. “I didn’t have to come out. When you talk like I do and act like I did—before my excitement for the world got beaten out of me by asshole jocks like you—you don’t have to come out. You just say ‘yes’ when someone asks.” He took each step with care, then stopped to stand toe-to-toe with Ely. “Maybe you’ll figure out a way to crawl back into your special little closet where everyone still loves you and daddy is proud to call you ‘son’. Until then?” He took a drink of the whiskey, put the cap on, and shoved it into Ely’s chest. “You’re gonna need this.” He continued his staggering journey down the steps. “I’m Jeremy, by the way.” A hospital bracelet danced around his wrist as he tossed Ely an apathetic wave goodbye.
Ely stared at the bottle, then turned to watch Jeremy reach the bottom step. “Where are you going?”
“To finish…a project. Good luck with your re-closeting.”
As Jeremy turned away, the bright white of bandages across his wrists caught Ely’s eye. Ely exhaled, set the bottle on a bench, then jogged to where Jeremy wove side-to-side, his elbow bumping against the railing. He took Jeremy’s arm and put it over his shoulder, wrapping his own arm behind Jeremy’s back.
“What are you doing?”
“Where do you live?”
“Leave me alone.” Jeremy tried to yank his hand free as he twisted to escape. His feet tangled around each other and he tipped forward. Ely’s grip tightened as his right hand shot forward to bar across Jeremy’s chest. Jeremy wrapped his calloused fingers around Ely’s forearm, grasping at his skin. Jeremy pursed his lips and stared at the ground, then met Ely’s gaze. “That way.” He jerked his chin to the west. They walked in silence for several minutes. “Why are you helping me?”
Ely shrugged. “Like you said…”
“What did I said?” His brow furrowed. “Say.”
“Can’t shove a wacky, wavy, inflatable-arm tube-man back into the closet.”
Jeremy snickered. “Okay, I know I didn’t say that.”
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
Ely chuckled. They continued for several blocks, Jeremy stopping once to vomit over a Yucca at the edge of someone’s rock garden. He spat for the umpteenth time, wiped his mouth with a bandage, then turned his gaze to look at the side of Ely’s head.
“So, is what they say about you true?”
“That depends on what they say.”
Jeremy licked his bottom lip. “They say you’re smart. A smart, hot, jock.”
“I don’t know about hot.”
“Well, that was my two cents.” He spat again. “What does a smart jock do after high school?”
Ely’s jaw tensed. “Join the Marines.”
“I didn’t ask what daddy wants you to do.”
“I…want to go to Harvard.”
“Harvard?” Jeremy gaped. “For what?”
Ely chewed on his bottom lip. “To learn.”
“Everything.” He met Jeremy’s scrutiny. “I don’t know. I just…want to keep learning. And play the drums. And not care about what anyone expects me to do.”
“No more pl—playi— with…” His words stuttered through his laughter. “I’m sorry.”
Ely rolled his eyes, his lips betraying him to join in the laughter. “If you’re about to say ‘playing with balls’—”
“Ha!” Jeremy surged forward, shaking with his laughter.
Ely gripped him tighter to keep him from falling to the sidewalk. “Let’s just…get you home.”
Jeremy took a deep breath and nodded. Then fell into silent shaking as he tried to stop laughing.
When they stumbled into the apartment, Jeremy made a pit stop in the bathroom. Ely took in the small space with curious eyes. It wasn’t messy to most standards, but to his family it counted as a small disaster. Magazines sat open and butchered on the coffee table, unwashed dishes were piled in the sink and stacked on the counter. A thick layer of dust had collected on most surfaces and the items upon them—books, knickknacks, a cheap television, a new Xbox console and an old original PlayStation with their games stacked between them. Ely tapped a note written in quick, looping hand as he read the message.
Please come home safe. I left you some dinner in the fridge.
I love you.
Jeremy stumbled out of the bathroom and into his bedroom, then flopped onto the bed beneath a Halo poster next to one of Ville Valo—a heartagram pendant on a silver chain hung from the corner thumb tack. Every wall had been covered with posters, or pages torn from magazines—anything ranging from Lacuna Coil to Silent Hill. Others were images of tattoos or interesting artwork or people with unique and colorful hairstyles on pages taken from stylist magazines—some were accompanied by a doll’s head that Jeremy must have given the same hairstyle to.
On the other side of the room was a long table cluttered over by cut up paper, origami figures, whittled wood, a cheap plastic doll in a bench vise whose hair had been chopped and smoothed into an asymmetrical cut with blue highlights—her lost hair and a blue sharpie lay beneath as evidence. There was even a mannequin head with a platinum blonde wig pinned and sprayed into a classy up-do, next to an extravagant, handmade wooden clock that looked like it had been broken and put back together in near-perfect condition—except for the inch-wide chip that gaped open on the front like a missing tooth. The only clean area was where his tools were kept; various types of scissors and combs, razor sharp X-Acto knives, thick woodcarving knives, chisels, rasps, and sandpaper.
Ely tore his attention away from the rest of the room and moved a stack of CD cases from the bed—Opeth, Pain of Progress, and Emilie Autumn, none of which Ely had ever heard of—then swung Jeremy’s feet onto the bed.
Jeremy grabbed Ely’s wrist. “If I asked you to stay and make sure I wake up…would you?”
Ely took Jeremy’s hand, turning it over to expose the bandage on his wrist. “Do you actually want to wake up?”
Jeremy chewed on the inside of his lip. “Maybe I just needed a good reason.”
“Like a friend?”
Jeremy nodded. “Just for tonight.”
Ely sighed. “Yeah. I’ll stay. Just for tonight.” He sunk to the floor, leaning his back against the bed. “Goodnight, Jeremy.”