Chapter Thirty-Seven: Speak of the Devil
Breaths heaved out of Michael's chest harshly, coming in pants that burned his lungs. His body was not yet ready for such physical activity, but his legs refused to listen to the way his body and mind screamed at him to stop, and continued pounding around the track. He wouldn't stop—no, he couldn't stop—because he knew that if he did, all he'd stop to would be the whispers of others, talking in low, but not low enough, voices about his waning appearance and unhealthy demeanor. The rumors were getting out of hand, and no matter how hard Justin and Rebecca attempted to shield him from them, it was impossible. Accusations of HIV, cancer, and other various diseases had circulated the gossip ring, and at first, it had almost amused him how wrong people were. But then things got uglier. Gay rumors followed the HIV ones, and if that wasn't bad enough, a was particularly nasty rumor claimed he had gotten the HIV from Rebecca, who had transmitted it to him on purpose, and was doing so to as many guys as possible to "take them down with her." Rebecca had not acted hurt, but it was easy to tell that she was. It didn't seem to matter one way or another though. She found solace once again in Justin's arms, because apparently Michael failed at even being a friend now too.
And speak of the fucking devil. As if the sheer exhaustion Michael was facing was not bad enough, Justin's dark head reared over a slope of frigid grass, lanky body moving at a slow, relaxed pace that pissed Michael off for the briefest of moments before his conscience caught up with him and refused to let him think that. He couldn't be mad at Justin for having perfect health and taking it for granted; after all, before he had fallen sick, he thought being active and carefree was just a way of life.
Justin raised a hand in greeting as he neared the vicinity Michael was still running in, his electric blue eyes narrowed as a particularly bitter wind blew it's way across the grounds. He clearly expected Michael to stop his fierce jogging pace once he got close, and the surprise showed on his face, as he did not and raced right by his friend. "Whoa, dude, slow the hell down!" Justin called out after Michael's retreating back. "What's up with you?"
Stopping so suddenly it was almost frightening, Michael whirled around, a few good yards from Justin and keeping his distance accordingly. "According to the doctor, my body isn't responding as well to my new organs as they wanted," he explained, his voice carrying in the wind, and for once he didn't care. At least if people found out about what he had, they'd stop the gay rumors. Hopefully. "I'm supposed to have another blood donation session, but that's not until next week, and Nurse Patty said I'll probably feel crappy until then."
They stared at each other for a few moments of silence, and those watching in the distance—it was the nicest day March had to offer so far, so there were plenty of students roaming the grounds—stopped what they were doing to watch, most hoping a fight would break out. While Justin and Bryan often got in fights, it would be something totally new and refreshing to see Justin and Michael going at it. The next second, much to several people's disappointment, Justin tossed Michael his almost-full bottle of blue Gatorade, and while Michael's basketball skills had greatly diminished, he still caught it with ease. "Drink up, man, you could use it."
Michael did just that without a second thought, chugging the refreshing liquid at record speed, and then promptly threw it back up all over the track.
Blanching, Justin looked hurriedly away from his vomiting friend. Great. People would be talking more than ever now. Why had he offered to go search for Michael? Gabby would have been more than happy to do it, and Rebecca could have used an evening out of her bed. It wasn't in his blood to be the nice guy, why on earth was he starting then? He took hesitant steps towards Michael, who was breathing heavier than ever, his hands resting on his knees as he threw up yet another time. "Let's uh…get you…inside or something, before you throw up all over everyone." He cringed again as blue-stained vomit splashed at his tennis shoes, coloring the otherwise pure white surface to match the blue ground. "Damn it, Michael, these are my favorite shoes!"
It was just like Justin to get ticked off about himself while someone else was in pain, and Michael couldn't help but chuckle weakly as he recognized that. Wiping his mouth off with the back of his hand, he blinked several times in repetition, attempting to clear his vision from the thick white fog of dizziness that had come over him. "Sorry."
Grabbing a hold of Michael's forearm roughly—perhaps rougher than intended—Justin dragged him away from the track, all the while glaring at a group of tittering girls who had formed nearby. "Wanna stop acting like stereotypical catty bitches and get the hell out of my way?" They scattered instantly like the group of fearful school children they were, which quite possibly made Justin loathe them more. If that were actually possible, anyway.
With impatience that was not surprising, but authority that was, Justin pulled a very pale Michael forcefully towards the east wing dorms, all but ignoring his protests to slow down or stop all together. It was with surprising strength that Michael finally jerked his arm away and collapsed on a stone bench, clutching his stomach tightly. "Justin. Stop."
Giving a frustrated sigh, Justin glared briefly, before having no choice but to plop down next to him. Stuffing his hands in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt, he did nothing but listen to Michael retch pitifully, his body heaving with the movements. Justin never was one who was good at showing emotions, except maybe with Delilah, and he was all too aware where that got him. Though desperately concerned and wishing there was something he could do, Justin remained still. "Freezing my ass off out here," he grunted after Michael had stilled for a few moments. "You must be dead."
In thin gray sweatpants and a t-shirt, Michael was definitely nearly dead. It was hard to tell what was hurting him worse, the cold or the upset of his stomach. "You can go in," he offered, rubbing beads of sweat off his forehead before they had a chance to chill him worse. "I'll be in as soon as I can…well, move."
The tone of his voice was so low and embarrassed that even Justin couldn't shove back an insulting comment, though several graced the tip of his tongue. "Becky would kill me. I'll stay." That much was true, as he knew he'd have both Rebecca and Gabby to face if they heard that he had left Michael outside sick by himself, but even so, Justin couldn't have done it anyway. He was an asshole, he was bitter, he was lonely, and he was pissed off, but the least one could say about him was that he was loyal, almost to a fault.
So they sat on the bench together, frozen grass underfoot, steadily clouding sky overhead. When the sun dipped behind a few suspicious-looking thunderheads, Justin wordlessly pulled his sweatshirt off and handed it to Michael, who was shivering beyond control. Had anyone been around, Justin would not have made the gesture, and Michael definitely wouldn't have accepted—how gay would that have looked?—but fortunately, no one was, so Michael pulled it on with a simple nod of thanks.
"Joanna was in Eric and Bryan's room the other night," Michael commented eventually, scuffing his vomit-covered shoe against the cold grass. Justin's thick eyebrows rose but he remained silent, waiting for him to go on. "Lacy told me, you know, the blond junior in my study hall."
"Who looks like a fish," Justin agreed, nodding slowly. He didn't look at Michael, but instead watched a group of boys—freshmen, by the look of the titchy things—crowded around in a circle some ways away, smoking cigarettes and attempting to look cool. Their first cigarettes, probably, judging on how several of them were hacking their lungs out. It didn't seem so long ago that he, Michael, and Bryan were that young and attempting to fit in just like those kids. Suddenly feeling very old, and like childhood and happiness had been wasted on him, Justin rested his head in his hands. "Which one was Joanna screwing?" It took every ounce of self control he possessed to force the mental image of Bryan—or possibly even worse, that undoubtedly STD-infested prick Eric—getting it on with Joanna, because no matter how whorey and pathetic she may be…she was still a Bell and still his little sister.
"Eric, from what Lacy said." There was a pregnant pause, as Michael swallowed quite noisily, knowing he couldn't just stop there. "'Cause she was with Bry last week."
"They share girls now?" Head back up and expression incredulous, it was hard for Justin to believe that the guy he had once considered his best friend in the entire world had sunk to something that low. Sure, Bryan had always been pretty promiscuous, and Justin had always been well aware of his nighttime activities, but this was an all-time low, even for him. While it had once scared him that Bryan was all over the map when it came to girls, as he feared for his friend's health, it was hard for Justin not to wish some sort of fatal STD on him at that moment. AIDS would be nice. Had Gabby been there, she could have supplied him with a whole list of various STDs with terrible symptoms, but alas—or perhaps it was for the best—she, like Rebecca, seemed to be content to stay in their dorm as of late.
Color rushed into Michael's pale face so quickly it was alarming. He'd never feel comfortable discussing sex with anyone, let alone actually get comfortable enough with a girl to actually do the deed. That was probably in his best interest as far as long-term went, but he couldn't help but feel socially awkward and stunted presently. "I…I guess so. Candace was around Bryan a lot last week too."
For such a nice guy, he sure knew a lot of gossip. One of the benefits of having so many female friends trusting and confiding in him, probably.
"Figures. Asshole." Large hand running over his dark hair, Justin's entire body seemed to slouch down in depression as he noted sadly, "I think you and I might be the only guys around here who aren't completely obsessed with sex."
Saying that about himself was a pretty big stretch, really, but we'll let him believe it. For now.
Michael made an unintelligible, embarrassed noise that sounded something like, "Mmhmmnughnmm." He had no response for that, and Justin couldn't exactly make a comeback to a word that didn't exist, so the two resumed their silence for a while, as Michael rubbed his aching, weak legs, attempting to get the feeling back into them, and Justin picked at the seams in his jeans. "Gabbster's been asking about stuff a lot," Michael stated abruptly, causing the by then frozen solid and scowling Justin to jump slightly as he jerked out of his thoughts. "You think I should tell her about…all this?"
'All this' did not have to be clarified, as Michael rarely ever referred to his health as it was: absolute shit. 'All this' seemed to be the only thing he was comfortable with calling it, and while Justin had good-naturedly mocked it at first, a sharp reprimand—more like screaming at—from Rebecca had set him straight. "Probably. She's mellowed out a lot; she might not even spaz now. And if she does…smack her around a little bit. That usually shuts her up."
The joke was weak and downright lame, but Michael appreciated the lightening in the mood nonetheless, and smiled gratefully, though the smile was directed at his sneakers, as he couldn't look Justin in the eye. "Thanks, man."
Justin liked being thanked, and never questioned when someone uttered those one or two words that ultimately made him feel useful and needed, so even though he had very little idea what Michael was thanking him for, he took it. "No problem. And hey, it's not—"
A feminine voice, one that Justin had once regarded so as sweet and beautiful that it could bring him to his knees, called his name out into the cold air, and he cringed quite visibly as the muscles in his back and shoulders tensed greatly. It was without a doubt that before he even turned around that he knew who was saying his name, and even clearer that he had no desire to see that person whatsoever.
Since their breakup, Justin had trained himself to ignore everything that had to do with Delilah. It was hard, but it was a way of life after a while. He didn't even glance at her in the hallway, no longer frequented the places she and her girls hung out, and calls from her went ignored—thanks largely in part to a vicious Gabby. The Delilah who approached him, Candace in tow, naturally, had longer hair than she had when they were together, and she had put on some weight, but she looked good. Her eyes were still the same blue that, in Justin's eyes, was the most amazing color in the world, and her lips as soft and perfect as ever. God, she looked good. She looked better than good to him, and it took a lot of effort to scowl at her as she wrapped her creamy Cole Haan jacket tighter around herself. "What?"
She seemed startled at the harshness his tone held, and blinked a few times. Closing the gap between them with a few steps, she pulled off her signature "innocent" look: looking at his face, dipping her eyes to the ground, and then biting her lower lip in faux contemplation as she looked at him again. It was the look Justin had always succumbed to, and she knew it. "I just wanted to say hi." All too aware of the look Michael was giving her—not a look of loathing, but perhaps of distrust and uncertainty—she relaxed quite a bit when Candace slid her way over to him and settled sweetly in next to him, wrapping her arms around him in an attempt to get him to warm up to her. Now that Michael's focus was off her, Delilah found it much easier to approach her still-scowling ex, and she crouched down on the grass next to him, brushing her hair out of her eyes with a delicate hand, and then resting that same hand gently on Justin's knee. "I miss you."
Justin stared blankly at the small, perfect hand rested boldly on his knee, not sure how he was supposed to react. No, he was sure how he was supposed to react, he was supposed to shove her away and tell her to go to hell, but the words and movements froze before he could get them out. Delilah had a sort of power over him and they both knew it. That power became more blatantly obvious as her hand began caressing slow, gentle circles into his leg with the caring and tenderness that Justin so badly craved. His mouth opened but no words came out, and the tension unwillingly left his shoulders as a gust of wind blew Delilah's sweet perfume in his direction. It was so easy to get lost in the moment and pretend that nothing bad had happened between them. That there had never been any heartbreak, no false accusations, no deception with Bryan, no—
What tension had left Justin returned in a second, as speak of the devil, Bryan and Eric came out of the main building and made their way towards them. Between Eric's swagger and Bryan's strut, the two of them together oozed an aura of pure arrogance, the intensity of which was hard to imagine. Bryan was his calm, cool, collected self, and if he felt any uncertainty approaching his two ex-best friends, he didn't show it, but allowed the smallest of smiles to grace his face as Candace squealed in obvious delight, hopped up, and raced to him, throwing her arms around his neck. He hugged her back briefly before stepping out of her embrace all too soon for her liking, and shifted his focus to the crouching form of Delilah, who's hand had froze on Justin's knee mid-caress. Her face turned crimson abruptly as she felt his eyes on her, and her hand darted away from Justin and down to her side as though she had been burned.
If Justin had stared blankly before, it was nothing compared to what he did then. He seemed confused only for a second, but that was understandable, as Delilah was renowned for fogging up his brain and making clear thinking nearly impossible. The next second, his eyes flew from Delilah, to Bryan, and then back to Delilah. It made him physically ill to witness the way she stared at Bryan, a look of uncontrollable lust that he felt incredibly foolish for never noticing before. Love does sees through rose-colored glasses, but that excuse didn't make him feel any better. Michael was not the only one who was feeling nauseous anymore, as Justin dropped his eyes to his feet. Seeing the vomit on his shoes didn't help in the least. "Looks like you miss him more though, huh?" he asked quietly, knowing that if he looked at her, he'd lose the guts to fight her seductive power.
While previously crimson, Delilah went positively puce, mostly out of anger, but perhaps out of embarrassment as well. "I don't know what you're talking about," she told him regally, standing up coolly and tipping her chin so she was literally looking down her nose at him.
Despite Candace's best efforts to engage him in conversation, or even something physical as she stroked his thigh, Bryan ignored her and continued watching the unfolding drama that was Delilah and Justin. It was hard not to think about how smiley Justin had been when they were first into their relationship. He was rarely seen without a bright smile plastered onto his face, and weeks, even months went by where he didn't say a sarcastic word to anyone, but was instead too ecstatic to bring anyone down. And now all that was gone, and it was all because of him. He pushed his hair out of his face roughly and turned away from Candace towards Eric, who had been admiring Delilah's backside in a rather spaced-out manner. "Dude, lets go."
Eric jumped at being addressed, and blinked his bleary eyes several times. Bryan knew for a fact that he was stoned out of his mind, because he had watched him do it, but anyone else within a fifty-foot radius could have told anyway. There was a long pause in which he stared at Bryan uncertainly, trying to make out what he said. Maybe he comprehended it, maybe he didn't. Chances were that he got bored and decided he didn't care, and his eyes roamed the ground until they landed on Justin. No matter how stoned he was, hatred for his basketball co-captain could not disappear, and it was for that that he blurted out in pure spite, "Justin, I fucked your sister last night."
Michael cringed for his friend, though Justin let on no outward sign that he had heard Eric's crude words, but anger radiated off his body like heat, a hand curling uncontrollably into a fist in his lap. He didn't want to get into a fight, regardless of provocation or not, as he had been in a few too many detentions for Headmaster Coates' liking, and was currently under the warning that with one more, he'd be out of the school. Whether the threat was empty or not was not something he wanted to find out. That became increasingly harder as Eric, in his stoned, smug state, continued, "And Bry had her last week. She wasn't that good of a fuck, really, which is weird, because with as many guys as she's done, you'd think she'd have at least a little skill. But whatever, from what everyone's saying, she's still better than you."
"Hey, guess what? I feel great." Michael leapt to his feet, and then instantly regretted the decision as his legs nearly gave out on him and the world spun uneasily before his eyes. Regardless, he stubbornly remained standing, folding his arms across his chest. "Justin, lets go find Gabbster and Becky and…go out to eat." The fact that he had just thrown up multiple times didn't seem to bother him, or perhaps didn't seem as bad as continuing to sit there and listen to Eric.
Hearing Rebecca's name made Bryan feel a little nauseous as well, and he pulled out of Candace's tight hold she had around his waist. Her increasing clinginess was not lost on Bryan, but he never stopped to ponder it, simply assuming that she was doing it to piss Rebecca off. He shot her a look that quite clearly said, don't do that, and forced a smile in Michael's direction. "Will you ask Becca to call me? Tell her I—"
"No," Justin answered brusquely, jerking to his feet as well. "Any shit you'd have to say to Rebecca would only hurt her worse than you already have. Think about someone besides yourself for once and leave her alone." His memory flashed briefly, and his conscience, small as it was, reminded him how Rebecca had laid in his arms for hours, too numb to cry, too upset to stop shaking, as she told him that yes, she was pregnant, and no, she wouldn't tell Bryan, because he didn't want anything to do with her, so why would he want their child? Dragging a hand over his hair, Justin shook his head sadly, pushing that thought as far away as possible. He began to leave, Michael closely on his heels, but stopped suddenly and turned back around. "And one more thing. Mom called me last week to tell me that Joanna had a pretty bad case of herpes, so I should watch who I get in contact with. You might want to get that checked out."
Okay, so the story was purely fabricated, and it was pretty childish, but Justin couldn't help but feel smug as he walked away, victory washing over him more with every step he took. He tried to focus on that instead of his longing for Delilah, worry for Michael, the mess with Bryan and Rebecca, and the catastrophe his senior year had been…but it wasn't easy.
IMPORTANT: There is a huge change in the "Lindsey" chapter. Not the prologue, but the one titled simply "Lindsey." For plot purposes, it had to happen. It'll make sense in the end, but for it to make said sense, you need to go reread it, or more specifically, the end.
A/N: This is actually one of my favorite chapters I've produced in a while, mostly because I adore Eric, which I'm sure most of you would find hard to believe. Regardless, I feel pretty confident about this chapter, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Alas, the end of this story draws to a close. I'm not sure how many chapters there are left, but I'm willing to guess no more than five. That's crazy to me, because I can't imagine what it's going to be like to actually finish a novel, as this will hopefully be my first. I'm sure it'll be exciting and yet sad, but I'll still have to edit the whole thing and probably delete this and repost the hopefully better, edited version. Ahhh! I can't wait.
I would love to have comments, questions, suggestions, anything regarding this story. I want to know how this would end in your perfect world, you, the reader. I'm confident with how this will end, but hearing how you would do it will make my day. Thoughts on characters, couples, situations, and the plot as a whole are seriously loved too. Let me know what you like and don't like! I love feeling as though I've improved in my writing, and constructive criticism helps me do that.
My new one-shot "Bullshit" is out and I'd love some feedback on that too!
Lots o' love, God bless,