Noah and I had been walking in silence for what felt like forever, our footsteps the only conversation between us. The clouds hung over us, hungry for a storm, and smothered out the sun. I watched Noah in the still grayness of the day as we rounded the next corner, studying the way he was favouring one of his arms, the way they were crossed over his chest. His breathing was just barely irregular. Something was wrong; he was always so aloof, but now he seemed unsettled, unsure of what to do. His gaze didn't stay in one place for long, and his lips were parted every once in a while, as though he wanted to say something.
Worried, I slowed down and touched his shoulder. He twitched away from me, but turned his head to face me. His expression was vacant, as though he wasn't really there. It wasn't an angry or curious face, it was just... empty. I steered him over to the curb with a light touch on his shoulder and sat down, motioning for him to do the same. "Noah," I said quietly as he settled beside me, earning his full attention, "are you sure you're okay?" He nodded, his bangs swinging down across his eyes. He pushed them aside nervously. "Should we rest here for a little bit, anyway?" He looked down at the pavement, then glanced up at me with what seemed like apprehension. He nodded again, more slowly this time.
I shifted so that I could lean back on my elbows and look up at the sky. "It looks like rain, eh?" Again, Noah nodded. He turned a little bit, and the movement seemed to hurt him. "Noah..." His cold eyes turned down on me, and I felt petrified, he was acting like a kid, but he was still something dangerously foreign. But, I spoke regardless of my mixed feelings of concern and inferiority. "Are you hurt..?" His face went vacant again, and he studied me for a long, long moment. His cobalt eyes slid over me, making me want to squirm, but they somehow felt almost vulnerable. They didn't feel like they were boring into me, but rather just observing, not sure what to make of me. His head bobbed ever so slightly. My heart smacked my ribcage. Hurt? "Can... can I see?" I sat up, and reached for his arm, but he recoiled violently, putting almost a foot of space between us, and shook his head, then winced from the sudden movement. I kicked myself for moving so quickly. I don't know how many times I had told myself to think of him like a wild animal; something to approach cautiously, lest I startle it away. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Here, just let me look at it. I won't touch it, I promise." I scooted closer to him and held out my hand, palm up, as though waiting for the rain to touch it. Noah eyed it suspiciously, his gaze felt heavy, as though it were literally sitting in my hand. To my surprise, after a few moments, he reluctantly rested his arm on my palm. The gesture caused a slight flutter in my chest, and I mentally chased away the building excitement that spread through me. I used my other hand to gently tug up his sleeve, and he flinched at the movement, his features tightening as though it caused him severe pain. I gave the sleeve another tiny pull, and my breath abruptly caught in my throat.
His entire forearm looked shredded. Most of it looked like rug burn, but there was a horizontal gash in the middle, running the length of his arm, oozing blood. I swallowed hard and mumbled around the lump in my throat, "What happened? Did you fall down the stairs, or something?" Noah mulled over the thought and nodded unconvincingly, his cheeks turning red. "Why didn't you fix it up before you came out? You were in there long enough..." He shrugged and tore his arm from my grasp, pulling the sleeve into place. "S-sorry..." I stood, still queasy from the sight, and reflexively held my hand out for him, studying the street around us to try and figure out where the nearest first-aid would be. After a moment, I realized my arm was out, and I glanced down at him. To my surprise, I noticed him studying the outstretched hand, and a wave of embarrassment flooded through me. "Oh yeah, sor-" He planted his hand in mine and hoisted himself up gracefully. No sooner was he on his feet than his arms were crossed. He took it! He took it! I thought excitedly, my heart pounding violently in my chest. I was making progress, after all! I smiled graciously, trying to no avail to hide my unnatural pleasure, and said, "C'mon, let's go get you fixed up. There's a gas station up here, it should have something."
Noah sat outside of the gas station on the bench, looking dejected, while I went in and asked for the first aid kit. The plump woman behind the counter fetched it and tossed it to me, then continued with her work as though the question was something every-day. Inside of the white and red box, there was a dwindling collection of padding, gauze, ointment, and every thinkable kind of infection-fighting antibiotic. I sat beside Noah on the bench, and after much coaxing, had him pull up his left sleeve and hold his arm out over my lap. I was dabbing as gently as I could at his cut, and trying to distract him from whatever pain with conversation. "I'm surprised your dad didn't do anything. Did you even show him?" Noah shrugged and shook his head, watching my hands intently. "Why not?" Another half-hearted shrug. I was starting to doubt that he fell down the stairs.
Once cleaned, his wound didn't look bad enough to need any special attention. It was just a few lesions on the surface, and had more or less stopped bleeding. "You don't really seem like the clumsy type," I laughed. "I'm surprised you fell." To my delight, Noah smirked, but his azure eyes didn't leave what I was doing. I tenderly smeared some ointment over the cut, applied some padding, and wrapped the gauze securely around most of his forearm. "Feel better?" I asked, smiling as best as I could, given the circumstances. Noah's eyes met and held mine for a moment, the worrisome redness no longer about them, and he nodded, picking lightly at the dressed wound. "Don't pick at that," I chuckled, packing up what was left of the first-aid kit and carrying it back into the convenient store. The woman at the counter, no longer busy, made about being nosy, asking if everything was alright, and what had happened. I avoided most of her questions and I thanked her again before returning to Noah, who had apparently gotten bored of playing with his arm, and was sitting on the bench, staring out at the street.
I stepped in front of him and smiled again. "Hey, uh, I have a serious question, it's just yes or no, so would you mind answering it for me?" Noah shook his head slowly, eyeing me suspiciously. "If I took you out to eat, would you actually eat anything?" For a moment, I thought he wouldn't answer, or that he hadn't heard me, but then he shook his head again, with even less speed this time, and looked down at the pavement. I sighed. Of course not. "Well, let's go anyway, and we'll see if you change your mind. Besides, we should be indoors when it starts to rain. Okay?" Another bob of the head, and Noah and I were walking in the general direction of the best Chinese place in town. It took us about twenty minutes to get there, and on the way I told Noah stories about Tracy and the other kids, and about my weird parents, and their weird thoughts. He seemed to listen, and every once in a while, a smile would play at his perfect lips. ...Did I say perfect?
When we got to the restaurant, which was decorated quite lavishly (a large, swirling expanse of red and gold plastic, and flashing lights) Noah cocked his head and met my gaze head-on, obviously curious about something. I grinned and and explained, "A little bird told me you liked Chinese food. C'mon." I urged him inside, and he stayed close to me as we entered the dark restaurant. We were seated by an overzealous Asian, and given our tickets for the buffet. After a while of sitting and waiting for him to move, I ended up having to drag Noah over to the aisles of food and make him fill a plate.
He eyed his food while I picked at mine, and I started to feel a disappointed heaviness in my chest. I wanted him to be comfortable enough around me to eat. I wanted a lot from him, I realized. I wanted to hear his voice, to hear his thoughts, and know his words. I wanted to see him smile without apprehension, to hear his laughter, and see those eyes lit with something other than barred doors. I wanted- Keith. You're being gay. Again. Concentrate, kid, concentrate.
It was sometime in the middle of my mental battle with my hormones that Noah picked up his fork. I watched in awe, physically unable to look away, as he took a bite of rice. His eyes turned up at me, and there was nothing pensive about his expression. For the first time since I had met him, he felt absolutely and completely real, solid, and... present. His face was alive and almost childish with confusion as to why I was staring, and his shining eyes were wide and in no way distant. How could such an ominous, stand-offish sociopath like him be so damn...cute? I didn't react right away, as I was too busy concentrating on the fact that my heart may have been doing back-flips. I bit my lip and tore my gaze away from him, an embarrassed heat rising in my cheeks. I swore I saw him smirk in my peripheral vision.
The rest of our meal consisted of mainly the same occurrences. Noah would take a few bites of food and glance at me, waiting for some sort of reaction, and I would look away sheepishly, trying to soothe the deepening blush on my face. At one point, Noah caught me red-handed, staring at him. An unfamiliar "What?" look, crossed his features, foreign to me in his new mood, but I just grinned and shook my head. "Nothing, it's just nice to see you eat something." That sounded straight, right? His face reddened a little bit, and he took another bite, averting his hungry eyes to the street outside.
I payed for the food at the counter, and thanked the man as well as I could in English. He didn't seem to speak much other than Chinese. Noah and I made for the door, and just as we were about to reach it, it swung open away from us. A dashing young man with short, blonde hair and a hinting of stubble across his face stood on the other end. He looked a little startled to see us so close, but a smile plastered itself to his face, and he stepped aside to hold the door. I smiled at him and offered a brief thanks as I crossed the threshold. When I looked away from him, to the sidewalk ahead of us, I froze dead in my tracks. He wasn't alone.
Just outside of the door, poised to step forward, but looking just about as surprised as I was, was another boy. He was , tall, slender, and solid as a rock, dressed casually, though still with an uncanny sense of fashion. He had sensitive brown eyes, tidy, auburn hair, and a sensual, emotional face. Something about him was just exotic and emotionally enthralling. Now where have I used that description before? A sardonic grin spread across Adam's lively face, and I instantly regretted not taking the ten minutes to finish my last plate.
"Keith!" he cooed, stepping forward. I hated the way he moved; like a snake sliding across the surface of water. "What are you doing here?"
I retreated a step. I'm playing hockey, Adam, what else would I be doing at a Chinese restaurant? "J-just catching an early supper," I offered, creeping slowly around him, trying to make for an escape. Then, it occurred to me that I had Noah in tow.
Adam noticed about the same time I did and asked vehemently, "Who's your friend?" He motioned to Noah with his hand, but his flashing brown eyes still pierced like needles into my soul. Another step toward me froze me in my tracks, and I glanced nervously at Noah, trying to swallow my thundering heart.
Noah was unnaturally calm beside me, his gaze transitioning between the two boys, somewhat... unintimidated. He felt dangerous in a way that made me wonder if he was going to kill these boys, or invite them to supper. His air of apathy seemed to calm my quickening pulse, and I managed to take a few even breaths. "Don't worry about it," I mumbled, trying again to move away.
Before I realized what was happening, Adam's cool, texture-less fingers had snaked around my wrist, whipped me around, and slammed me against the concrete wall so hard that it knocked the breath out of me. I coughed, trying to take in air through short, haphazard gasps. He was too close; his scent, the cool, lifeless feel of his body against mine. A flood of memories started to beat at the walls that I had carefully used to seal them away. Forget. Forget. Forget... His mouth was so close to my ear that I could feel his breath sliding like the broad side of a knife over my skin as he whispered, "Do you cry for him, too?"
I shuddered and my breath hitched, nerves exploding down my spine and an anxious weight filling my chest. Suddenly, I felt so... dirty. I tore away from him, shoving him backwards and stumbling a few feet away, praying that Noah followed, and that I wouldn't have to go back for him. My legs carried me, knowing far faster than my mind that it was time to go. Around me, everything felt unreal, like I had walked out of a dream into a nightmare.
I don't know how many yards away from the scene I was before I bothered to glance back. Noah was striding toward me, hands in his pockets, and behind him, a worried blonde was fussing over Adam, who was doubled over, cursing. Had he hit him? I didn't know, nor did I care. If he had, then good.
When he was close enough to hear, I mumbled an apology to Noah for my actions, not really meeting his eyes. "I know it has nothing to do with you, and I didn't mean to drag you into that situation..." I stared at his hands, still slipped into his pockets. As we walked, he pulled them out, allowing them to swing by his sides. A red smear was visible on the ball of his left hand, poking out from under what I could see of his bandages. For a short while, there was silence, just the swirling flood of scenes of Adam that I thought that I would never see again. My heart wrenched with guilt, realizing how odd such a scenario was, and I how I wouldn't explain it to Noah. More emotion to the plate, I suppose.
I contemplated taking Noah home and turning in for the night. My chest felt weighted, and I didn't know if I would be able to enjoy any more of our trip... It was then that I felt something soft and warm smooth slowly over the palm of my own hand. The hairs on the back of my neck shot up, my stomach dropped, and my eyes darted to where Noah's fingers closed loosely through mine. I turned my chin up to look at him, and met his eyes for the hundredth time that day. He looked concerned, and it felt like the first genuine expression I had ever seen on his face. Suddenly, I felt weak, and vulnerable; the ups and downs of living were getting to me. I wanted to throw myself at the pavement and curl up there, beside a dumpster or under a box. I wanted to escape my mistakes, to bury my face in my hands, and hide from the world. Noah's hand tightened for but a brief second, sending electric tremors scorching down my spine, and then it was slipping away to be crossed over his chest with the other arm. I smiled weakly. "Thanks..."
My body still hadn't recovered from being so close to Adam. I was still shivering, wanting so badly to just cry and take shelter away from that snake of a man. My gut was twisted in a knot, and so many memories flooded my troubled head. How could he say that? After everything...Why can't I just forget? A thousand churning emotions welled in my chest, and I thought I was going to be sick if I was forced to wander much farther in public. I steered Noah around the nearest corner, and led us toward the closest park that I could think of.
I didn't speak on the way, still flustered. I was feeling testy, and the fact that speaking would only mean holding yet another one-sided conversation with myself only made it worse. Noah kept shooting me these confused, concerned glances, begging with his eyes to know something. This must be how Noah feels, I thought absentmindedly. People looking at him with concern and paranoia... It's anger inspiring.
I worried my bottom lip, the churning whirlpool of emotion making me sea-sick. As we stalked over the grassy lot between the street and the playground of the park, Noah stayed very near to me, and his presence grew less and less irritating. For once, it felt like the companionable silence between friends, and I felt like I didn't need words. Noah's shroud of muteness and distance had me constantly on my toes, and it felt like my efforts were to no avail. But there were words inside of Noah, as many or more than there were inside of me, and though I didn't need to hear them, I wanted to know them.
We took a seat at one of the benches that over-looked the park, and I pulled my knees up to my chest like a child. I was small enough to sit comfortably this way on the bench, and for this, I was thankful. Noah took his place beside me, relaxed and slouching back against the back of the bench with his ankles crossed in front of us. His fingers played at his bandage again, digging tenderly under his sleeve. For a while, we were both silent, staring at the odd fabric I had wrapped his arm in. That event felt so far away after our stay at the restaurant, but to Noah, I'm sure the pain was still fresh and new.
"Feeling any better?" I asked around the growing sore in my throat. It was hard to speak without the tears coming. I was really being childish about the whole situation, getting so worked up over nothing, but there were just too many scenes floating around in my head like little play-back videos of the nights of being ravished and- I swallowed. None of that, Keith, I reminded myself. Noah, having just noticed my question, nodded slowly beside me. His expression said that his injury wasn't his main concern.
In an effort to distract him (and myself, really) from the matter at hand, I stood and trotted over to the playground. I followed a spiraling set of blue metal stairs to the top of some oddly tall tower littered with slides. When I looked down from my new-found perch, Noah was watching me with an expectant look on his face. "Come up!" I called, waving at him. He smirked, to my delight, and stood. I tried (to no avail) not to notice the two inches of bare, solid stomach under his shirt as he stretched, or the sharp, definite bones of his hips, or the way his back arched when his arms were above his head... Keith, you fag.
Noah made his way up the stairs, taking his time, and just before he reached the platform I was pacing, I slipped down one of the winding slides, gliding into the woodchips that surrounded the equipment. He cocked a brow at me from the platform, obviously unamused by my game of tag. "Well," I said, resting my hands on my hips and tipping my head back to look at him, "you're it." As if I had said something vulgar, his perfect eyebrows shot up, under his hair, and his sapphire eyes widened. At first, I worried that he would deny my invitation and retire to the bench again, but (as predictable of the unpredictable), a playful smile pulled his lips apart, and he disappeared from my view.
I heard one of the spastic rattle, and I darted over to another set of playground equipment, running the narrow wooden passages. A few short fleets of stairs, a net bridge, and a set of monkey bars later, I found myself at the top of the structure, scanning the ground for Noah. I didn't see him anywhere... I was scanning the streets around the park, worried that maybe he had become irritated and left, when I heard him creeping up the set of stairs nearest to me. I whipped around in time to catch him moving toward me before I back-pedaled. "Shit!" I coughed, throwing myself down the nearest slide. Noah was fast behind me, not wasting any time fussing about the slide, and I was lucky to make it back to the first platform we had been on without getting caught. I had made my way to this one when I realized that he was no longer close behind me.
I paced around the platform for a moment, then resigned myself to yet another slide, searching as I slid down. I rounded the last turn of the slide, still fruitless, and was just about to the end when, out of nowhere, Noah was at the end, his hands planted on either lip of the slide. I hit him head on, almost full speed, but didn't manage to knock him down. Instead, I wound up practically pressed against him, my legs tight together between his. He was so close. Damn, he was so close. My heart was lodged in my throat, pounding up a storm as I took in his heat, his scent, the playful expression on his grinning face, the way his tousled hair framed his shining eyes... Dammit, Keith, I chastised, scowling inwardly. "Got me," I managed to breathe.
His smile grew and he laughed, not a chuckle, not a half-hearted "ha", but a full-on laugh. For the first time, I heard a slight hint of what his voice may have sounded like, in his charmingly deep laughter. He backed up, and when I stood, still flustered, he ruffled my hair and turned back to the bench, where he plopped down and cast me a signature "What?" look when I didn't immediately follow. I was too busy trying to still my rapid pulse to worry about following him, but my feet carried my fluttering chest cavity over to the bench, and seated me beside him. I had forgotten all about Adam.
Beside me, Noah was fidgeting with his bandage again, picking at the end. "Does it hurt?" I asked, worried that our playing had irritated it. He glanced up at me, as if surprised to hear me speak, and then nodded a little uncertainly. For some reason, I didn't think to ask before I reached out, gently seized his wrist, and pulled his arm toward me. And, for some reason, he didn't resist. I slid his sleeve up to his elbow and bit my lip when I saw that he had bled through the cotton pads and the gauze. "This looks terrible..." I admitted, running feather-light fingers over the thickening line of blood-stain. "Maybe we should get you home... Your parents can take you to the hospital and have you checked out, there. It's hard to believe that you got that from falling..." He withdrew his arm and tugged his sleeve back into place, though his fingers still played at the ends of the bandage. I gave him a sympathetic expression, adding, "I'm sorry it hurts..."
"T'en fais pas, mon doux."
I think I stopped breathing. I had no idea what he had just said, but he had said it, nonetheless. The words (or word, I didn't know) had glided from between those flawless lips, riding on his enchantingly sultry voice. Perhaps my heart would burst from being overstimulated, or perhaps the electrical charge in my skin would set me aflame. I didn't bother trying to stop my jaw from hitting the pavement beneath my feet. "D-d- You. Did you just? You- You spoke? Really? I have no idea what you just said. W-w- You spoke? You? I- Just- French?" Good job, Keith, way to sound intelligent.
Noah laughed another hearty laugh and grinned widely at me, amused with my pleasure and my tattered mess of words. This side of him, this happy, grinning side of him with glittering eyes and soft, parted lips, was so foreign to me, and yet, it felt so familiar. Who'd have thought that, after all of my toils at school, all I had to do was invite him to hang out once, and I would be rewarded with everything I wanted... Not everything... Shut up, Keith.
Thunder ripped through the sky, shattering my alternate reality of gay and shoving me back into the average reality, where Noah was watching me expectantly, waiting for something. His eyebrows were raised, and those stunning eyes were turned on me, staring into my own with an odd sense of patience. He smiled weakly, the soft pink of his lips lightening with the tension. I was willing to bet that, for all of his cold features, those lips were hot, and as soft as gossamer. Surprised by that thought, I coughed and bolted abruptly to my feet. It was definitely time to call it a day, before I leapt blindly on the next chance to have my way with him. "Y-you ready to go?" I asked, aware of how shaky my voice was.
Noah eyed me suspiciously, but nodded and stood. No more words, it seemed. I wanted more, but acknowledged that the fact that I had gotten anything at all from him was a gift in itself. I couldn't help the smile that seemed to set itself in stone on my lips. I walked Noah home in almost silence, and bid him a fond farewell on the curb outside of his house. He gave to me one last glimpse of his dreamy grin before he disappeared inside, and the memory of it followed me home.