A/n: Do you have any idea how excited I am for this? VERY. I've had this planned for over a year now and I'm so happy that it's finally time to write and post. Anyway. Here's a little necessary info before reading can commence, so listen carefully.
This is a sequel to Clean Up On Aisle 7 in Shaun's point of view. I would suggest that you read the first story (if you haven't already) so you really have sense of what's going on, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. There will be some overlapping with events in CUOA7. Not much, though, and mostly in the beginning. Also, while Brady plays a part in the plot, he doesn't physically come in as a character that often. Just so you know. Yeah. So, enjoy!
Back to the Drawing Board
His Betrayal & Your Pain
"Um…it's Shaun, right?"
At the sound of my name, I glanced over my shoulder. Coming towards me was a guy in one of those Ralph Lauren sweaters with a zipper coming down from the raised collar to give the allusion of a V-neck. He was also wearing extremely distressed jeans that probably cost way more than they were worth, and preppy "tennis" shoes. His hair was styled, highlighted, and a blonde I'd never known to be natural. I recognized him at once from the GSA meeting that just let out and from some of the things I'd heard about him from Brady and Liss.
Though, those things weren't very good or flattering to Max, most of them having to do with the clashes he'd had with Liss over the GSA presidency. From everything I'd heard, Max was a—to use Liss's phrasing—the stereotypical, catty, flamboyant twink with a severe attitude problem. Considering I'd never met him before, I was disinclined to rely solely on her description. I preferred to form my own opinions of people without anyone else's bias influencing me.
Besides, when I had walked into the meeting room earlier, I'd seen Liss talking and smiling with Max, and shaking his hand. They must have settled their differences and let go of the hostilities between them for that to have happened. Liss would have never had done any of those things if Max had been acting how he'd been described to me. I doubted Max would have had joined the meeting today, either.
That didn't explain why he was coming up to me, however. Or why there was an anxious, uncertain, yet serious, expression on his face. It was my curiosity over those two things which made me stop and turn towards him.
"Yes," I said, nodding. Then, I raised my eyebrows. "What do you need?"
Max chewed the inside of his bottom lip and glanced around the hall before meeting my eyes again. "Do you have a moment to talk?" he asked. "Or do you have to get to class?"
"I was leaving for work," I told him. "But I don't have to be there until two, so I have time." I frowned thoughtfully and asked "What's wrong?" since something so obviously was. It only made my curiosity worse.
"Um…" He hesitated and glanced away from me again, fidgeting uncomfortably. I waited patiently for him to continue. If whatever he needed to speak to me about was this unsettling for him, I wasn't going to make things harder or more nerve-racking by demanding he spit it out.
"Were you…were you out with Brady Valentine's night?" Max finally asked, and my frown deepened, this time with perplexity.
"We had plans, but I got sick, so we had to cancel. Why?"
Instead of answering right away, Max just looked at me unhappily, his eyes clearly saying he wished he was anywhere except here so he didn't have to tell me whatever it was he had to. I blinked in surprised when I also recognized sympathy and pity in his gaze. What could have possibly caused him to feel those emotions towards me, someone he didn't even know?
That question was answered when he began speaking again several seconds later.
"Because I'm positive I saw him out with another guy that night."
I felt my face go blank, closing off and turning to stone like my emotions. All I could do was stare hard at him for a long moment before I could finally force the word "What?" out.
Max flinched slightly at the sound of my voice. I suppose I didn't blame him; it did come out in a dark, piercing, icy hiss. My expression probably didn't help much. People have told me how intimidating and menacing I was when I got like this. It wasn't something I could help, though. Shutting everything down until I could have passed for a marble statue was the only way I could keep my anger in check. It was the only way I could make sure I wouldn't yell or hit something.
Or, more accurately at the moment, someone.
Or, even more accurately, Max.
"I…when I dropped my sister off at the restaurant she works at, Brady was there, getting out of a truck with someone," he then explained in a rush. "A tall brunette who looks like he's in his twenties and should be a model." Suddenly, he winced and gave me an apologetic look. "Sorry. I just…that's just how I remember him. Anyway, um…I saw…before they went inside, they…they kissed. For a long time. I didn't think anything of it until today when you said Brady's your boyfriend. And—" Max cut himself off, running a hand through his hair and gazing at me with wretched eyes. "Fuck, I'm so sorry, Shaun, but Brady's cheating on you."
Once he's finished, I continued to stare stonily at him, my jaw now clenched. Max stared back, seeming extremely nervous and getting more so with each second that passed without some response for me. The silence between us lasted about two minutes before I was confident I wouldn't yell if I opened my mouth.
"No," I said. I shook my head and gave him a damning look. "No, he's not."
Max gaped at me in bewilderment. "But I saw it! I know it was him and—"
"Well, you were mistaken," I snapped and growled, glaring so intensely at him that he actually took a step back. "It couldn't have been Brady because Brady would never do something like that to me. Never," I repeated with as much indignant conviction as I could put into my voice without shouting. Then, I turned on my heel and began to stalk away.
"Shaun!" Max called out, but I ignored him. I didn't pause to look back. I didn't even glance briefly at him over my shoulder.
I just kept walking with my head up, my eyes focused in front of me, my shoulders straight, and my expression reflecting only dignified indifference and composure.
The only things which showed how furious I actually was were my hands clenched so tightly into fists at my sides that my knuckles were bone white.
What am I doing here?
That was the question that kept popping into my head as I wandered through Grant's. A variant of it (What am I doing?) had plagued me the entire drive here. I did my best to ignore them so I could just concentrate on my search for Brady. That was rather difficult, however, when the answers to both of those questions were the reason I was searching for him in the first place.
I had spent the past five hours at work thinking of everything Max had told me, trying to figure out why he would fabricate a lie like that. He didn't know me, making the possibility that he'd done it because he didn't like me improbable. As far as I knew, he didn't have a problem with Brady, either. Unless you counted the fact that Brady helped Liss take the GSA presidency from him. Perhaps that was why Max had done this? To get back at Brady?
Shaking my head slightly, I decided that couldn't be the reason. It wouldn't make sense for Max to hold a grudge against Brady when he had reconciled with Liss. So, what was his motive? Why would he have told me something like that?
Because it's the truth.
My hands clenched into fists and my stomach twisted at the unwanted thought. It was the same one that had kept intruding every time I'd attempted to make sense of this earlier. At first, I had simply pushed it away. Now, though…
I had to admit it made more sense. Also, it would explain a lot of Brady's behavior in the past several weeks. His parents' arguing and divorce couldn't completely account for the strange way he'd been acting. He hadn't been himself since I'd gotten back from France. I couldn't explain exactly what was different; Brady had just been acting off. It was a very subtle change—hardly noticeable at all. The only reason I had was because I'd known him so well for so long.
Of course, it was that fact which made it nearly impossible for me to believe Brady was doing what Max claimed he was. I knew Brady cared a lot about me and wanted to be with me. That had been made obvious from how he would always bring up how he wanted us to be "out" and how he always wanted to be close enough to me to touch whenever we were together.
Actually, when I really thought about it, that wasn't the case lately. He hadn't mentioned us coming out once in several months. What was more, at that party a few weeks ago, he hadn't seemed to want anything to do with me until we'd gone upstairs, away from everyone else, where no one could see us. That wasn't like Brady at all.
To be honest, the way he was whenever we were together wasn't like him, either. He just didn't seem as…interested anymore. Instead, he always seemed distracted, like he was thinking about something else.
Or someone else.
I ground my teeth together. This was the problem I'd been running into all day whenever I'd tried to reason everything out. It all made sense, but it didn't. A part of me was so adamantly against the possibility that Brady was…cheating on me that I just couldn't believe it. While, at the same time, another part of me could clearly see how the pieces connected together in a way that made it hard to disbelieve either. I just didn't know what to think.
Thus explained why I was here. Confronting and talking to Brady about this was the only way I would learn the truth. Hopefully, all of this would turn out to be a big misunderstanding. It was possible. Max could have merely seen someone who looked like Brady. Also, the answer as to why Brady hadn't been acting like his normal self could just be what was going on with his parents. If he had talked to me about it like he'd promised, I would probably be able to say that for s—
My steps halted. My heart stopped. My breathing ceased. All I could do was stare down the aisle I'd just happened to glance into as passed by, in complete shock and disbelief at what I was seeing.
No. It's not…please don't let it be…oh, god...
I watched Brady lay his hand against the cheek of some guy—the guy he was currently kissing. The sight caused the reality to strike me as hard and painfully as a train.
Max had been telling the truth. There weren't any more doubts about that. How could there be when I could see it with my own eyes now? It made my stomach drop and my insides turn to ice. What really killed me, though, was the genuinely happy smile Brady gave whoever this guy was when they broke apart.
That was my smile. It was the one he would always give me after we kissed. What was he…? Why…?
Brady, how could you?
He and the brunette talked for a moment. I was too far away to hear anything they said, but I could see enough. The way they stood so close together made me nauseous. How Brady looked at him with such obvious affection hurt. I became incredibly angry each time he touched Brady.
But it was when I witnessed them kiss for a second time that my heart broke.
I breathed raggedly, struggling to keep myself under control, as Brady and him finally pulled away from each other. It wasn't going so well. My emotions were just too strong and volatile. I was too angry and upset. Everything just hurt too much. It made me want to leave so I didn't have to look at Brady or him anymore. I wanted to get out of here so this would all go away. More than anything, I wanted to wake up and realize that this was all a nightmare.
It wasn't, though. This was really happening, as much as I wished it wasn't. And, as much as I wanted to, I couldn't leave. Not without confronting Brady first. I had to as much as I knew it was going to suck even worse than it already did.
So, after waiting until he was no longer in sight, I began making my way towards Brady. My stomach churned, my hands trembled, and my throat was constricted. Though I no longer had control over any of those things with how wretched I was felt, I hated myself for it. It meant I was weak. I wasn't allowed to be weak, even when I was in this much pain. No matter what, I should have been able to handle and control it. That I couldn't was completely unacceptable.
When I was only a few yards from him, Brady reflexively turned his head in my direction. He went rigid when he saw me and I watched the emotions fly across his face in quick succession. Shock, panic, guilt, desperation, defeat, and horror. That was all I needed to know that he knew he had been found out. I didn't have to say a word to him; my expression had probably told him everything.
After stopping several feet in front of him, I just stood completely still and stared. I was waiting to see if Brady would give an admission of his wrongdoing without me having to say anything. No such luck. He just stared right back at me in silence with a horribly guilty and miserable look. It killed me. To the point where I just couldn't take it anymore.
"How could you?" I asked, and loathed how my voice came out in a broken whisper.
"What?" Brady said. There was now a rather convincing clueless look on his face, but it didn't fool me. The moment I saw it, I knew exactly what he was trying to do and the fact that he actually thought playing dumb would work pissed me off. "What do you m—?"
"Don't!" I snapped, my hands cutting through the air in a violent ceasing motion without my permission. When I realized what was happening, I stopped halfway through with sharp intake of breath, my eye widening incredulously.
There had never been a time when I'd been so upset that I wasn't in control of my actions. This wasn't okay. I needed to get myself under control.
Clutching my hands into tight fists, I forced myself to drop them slowly back down to my sides. Brady watched me anxiously. I stared back at him with incomprehension, hating every second of this.
"Don't lie to me, Brady," I told him. As much as I tried to keep it from happening, my voice still came out in a broken, choked whisper. "I saw you. I saw you—"
Suddenly, the pain was so intense that I just couldn't continue. I clenched my eyes closed and turned my head away from him with a wince.
I can't do this. I don't want to. I can't—
I have to. I have no choice. Just calm down.
It was easier said than done. I had to take several shaky, deep breaths before I could continue.
"I saw you kiss him," I said. I was grateful my voice didn't come out in a whisper, even if it was quieter than I'd hoped. It was then that I realized I had yet to reopen my eyes. So, I did as I said "Twice," even though it was harder than I ever thought it could be. Brady's flinch at whatever he saw when he looked at me didn't help.
I blamed all of that for the involuntary, humorless, disparaging laugh/sob that escaped my throat. Ashamed at my lack of control, I immediately covered my face with my hands afterwards. My entire body was trembling, too. Those signs of weakness only made me feel worse and hate myself more. When added to how overwhelming and unstable my emotions already were, it just caused me to react and act with even less restraint and control. It was awful, but there was nothing I could do at this point to stop it. I was completely helpless. And that knowledge made me so angry that I had to do something to let it out.
So, I threw my hands down to my sides again and regarded Brady with a severe, penetrating glare. "How long?" I demanded. "How long have you been cheating on me?"
Brady, who had frozen when I'd looked at him, just stared at me with a wretched and reluctant expression. After almost thirty seconds had passed without him making any indication that he had any intention of ever answering me, I couldn't deal with it anymore. My impatience was too strong and I wanted an answer now.
"Brady," I hissed through clenched teeth. It was the only way to keep myself from yelling. "Tell me."
The instant after I'd made the command, Brady blurted out the answer. I'd known he would, but what he said greatly overshadowed that insignificant triumph.
"Since New Year's. At the wedding I went to. That was the first time I slept with Jason."
Brady looked absolutely miserable as he confessed that. There was no possible way, though, that whatever he was feeling was a quarter as horrible as what I was. To know that he had been cheating on me since January just killed me. What made it worse was, not only had I been out of the country when it'd started, but that had been around the time I'd realized I loved him. It stung and hurt and broke my heart so badly that I honestly felt empty and numb on the inside. So much so that I was completely out of it. I didn't even realize I was speaking until I was already halfway through the sentence.
"And you went out with him on Valentine's Day," I said.
A look of bafflement flashed across Brady's face, probably wondering how I knew that. He didn't ask, however, which kind of surprised me. He just nodded and said, "Yes."
Even though I'd known the answer before he'd told me, the actual admission from him still struck me like a physical blow. I stared at him with wide eyes, taking a staggering step back from him. It wasn't something I planned on doing; it just happened. Once again, I hated myself for not being able to control my actions, but by then I'd reluctantly come to accept there was nothing I could do about it anymore.
"How could you?" I asked again. My voice sounded hollow and heartbroken, which made sense because I felt hollow and heartbroken. More accurately, I felt like my heart had been completely ripped out.
I had no idea what I looked like at the moment, but from what Brady did next, I could guess it wasn't good. There was no other explanation for why, after everything that had just happened, he would still think it was okay to reach out with the obvious intention of touching me as he said the last thing I wanted to hear out of his mouth.
"Shaun, I can explain—"
Without thinking of anything besides the fact that I did not want him near me ever again, nor did I want to hear some bullshit excuse, I just reacted. My hand hit the middle of his chest, shoving him backwards into the shelf. The shocked look on his face, along with how several jars fell and smashed to the floor, was vindictively satisfying.
That satisfaction was extremely short-lived, however. The feelings of grief, betrayal, indignation, and loathing were just too strong to be kept at bay. So strong, in fact, that I was having a hard time breathing. I knew I was on either on the verge of hyperventilating or crying.
"Fuck you, Brady," I said. I had to force the words out of my mouth because my throat was quickly constricting with an oncoming, unwanted breakdown. "Fuck. You."
And that was all I could take. Desperately needing to get out, I turned away from Brady. I wasn't quick enough, though. Before I could even take a step, I broke down, the sob I tried to hold back just coming out as choked sounding. The unwelcome tears fell ruthlessly from my eyes.
Mortified at losing my composure so utterly that I was actually crying in public, and hating myself more than ever for it, I hastened my pace. As I rushed down the aisle, I kept my head bowed, both in shame and an attempt to hide my weakness. I just couldn't bear it if anyone saw.
It was only when I ran into someone at the end of the aisle that I looked up. Of course, the moment I did, I wished I hadn't. I wished I had just kept walking, because then I wouldn't have been standing face-to-face with the guy my boyfriend cheated on me with.
Jason and I merely stared at each other for a moment. I didn't want to; I just wanted to leave. But I was rooted to the spot. Jason's expression was to blame. Though it was almost blank and a little hard to read, even for me, I could somehow tell just from looking at him that he had heard everything. Something in his expression also told me he hadn't known Brady was with me—that he hadn't known Brady was cheating on me with him. Yet, at the same time, there was recognition in Jason's eyes, which made it perfectly clear that he still knew who I was.
It made everything worse.
Honestly feeling like I could die since that was how horrible everything was, I pushed past Jason and practically ran out of the store to my car. I needed to get away as fast I could. From Brady. From Jason. From this place.
If only it was possible to get away from the knowledge of what they had done and the heartbreaking pain it caused me.
I could have made it to my room without hassle if I hadn't slammed the front door.
But I hadn't been thinking. Despite getting my emotions under enough control and calming down enough to drive, I was still so incredibly upset that I hadn't realized what I'd done until it was too late. I winced at the sound, cursed myself, and began heading quickly for the stairs. Maybe I could get up them before—
"Shaun? Honey, what's wrong?"
I froze where I was, closing my eyes and letting out a shaky, exhale of defeat. Then, I reluctantly turned around to face my mom. She was standing in the entranceway of the dining room with a concerned expression on her face as she stared at me. I did my best to give her a reassuring look in return.
"Nothing," I lied. "I was just preoccupied and so closed the door with a little more force than necessary. Sorry."
"Are you sure?" mom asked, walking over to me. She peered intensely into my face, her immaculate eyebrows furrowed together. I tried to hold her gaze, but it was very hard. "Your eyes are red. Do you think you're getting sick again? You're not warm," she added thoughtfully as she touched her hand to my forehead. Afterwards, mom caressed my cheek. "Still. How are you feelin—?"
I knocked away her hand, whirling around, as a pathetic, weak sound bubbled out of my throat. There was something about the obvious love, care, and affection she was showing me that made all the horrible emotions I'd felt at Grant's come back just as strong as they had been during my confrontation with Brady. The tears that had stopped falling after ten minutes of intense concentration before leaving the store parking lot started again just as mercilessly and unwelcome as they had the first time. There was nothing I could do about any of that besides put my face in my hands because of how bad the pain was, and hate myself for not being able to handle it.
"Oh, god—honey, what happened?" mom asked. Her voice was now panicked and upset, which made me feel even worse. She put a hand on my shoulder, but I shrugged her off.
"Don't. Just l—"
"Are you hurt?" she asked, and it was clear that she hadn't even heard me. That always happened whenever she thought something was wrong. She would never listen; she would just start fussing and not stop until she was satisfied everything was better. This was especially true when it came to me. "Are you okay?"
"Mom, please," I begged. My hands were still covering my face, so my voice was a bit muffled. "Please just leave me alo—"
"Are you in some sort of trouble?" mom continued, talking over me. "Are one of your friends?" She suddenly gasped. "One of them didn't die, did they? Oh, god. Is that what happened, Shaun?"
"No," I told her. "Please just stop. I don't want t—"
"Then what's wrong, Shaun?" she demanded. "What happened to make you so upset that you're—?"
"Brady's been cheating on me!" I snapped, tearing my hands from my face and whirling back around. "That's what happened. Okay? Are you satisfied?" I stared at her with a wild, desperate, and expectant expression. "Will you leave me alone now?"
Mom just stared back at me with incomprehension, frowning in confusion. "What? What do you mean?"
"I mean he cheated on me," I repeated, my voice breaking with a sob halfway through the sentence. Tears were streaming down my cheeks now. "As in he's been seeing and sleeping with someone else behind my back."
"Honey, I don't understand," mom said. "How is that possib—?"
"For fuck's sake—I'm bi, mom!" I burst out miserably, ripping my fingers through my hair. "Brady and I have been in a relationship since June and…and I just found out he's been…he been…"
I hid my face in my hands again, crying harder than I had at any point while I'd been at Grant's. Somehow everything felt more painful now than it had then. I didn't know why. All I knew was, more than anything, I just wanted to lock myself in my room. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible with mom still standing across from me. And though I couldn't see her, I could sense the way she was staring at me.
"You…you were dating another boy? You're—attracted to other boys?" mom asked in almost a whisper. She sounded incredulous, shocked, and appalled. The latter was what made me lower my hands down so I could see her expression. It mirrored her tone perfectly. "How did this…? Why, Shaun?"
Her very apparent dismay and disapproval at my sexuality made everything worse. It didn't help that I noticed she had also moved a small step away from me. Holding back something that was probably a sob, I stared at her wretchedly.
"This is why I kept it a secret," I said, my voice thick. "This is why I never said anything because I knew you would react like this. I knew you wouldn't understand and—fuck!" I shook my head violently. "I can't deal with this on top of everything else. Why couldn't you have just left me alone?"
Then, without waiting for an answer, I turned away from her once more and began heading towards the stairs. I managed to make it all the way down the hall before mom called out to me.
"No," I growled.
"Shaun," mom intoned warningly, and after nearly nineteen years of conditioning, I stopped at once. Angry, upset, miserable, and aching for two different reasons now, I grudgingly looked back at her.
"I'm not going to tell your father," she said.
If I were daft, I would have mistaken that for a reassuring statement. As it was, I wasn't. Her voice when she spoke those words wasn't reassuring. It wasn't a statement, either. A threat out of distress would be a closer way to describe it. What mom might as well have had said was "Please, don't you dare let your father find out," or "You can never let him know since it's too shameful and wrong for you to be anything but heterosexual." Her expression said that clearly.
I sent her an incredulous, injured look. She gave me an uncertain, disappointed, and repelled (though, I could tell she was trying hard not to let that emotion show) one in return. That, along with the pain from learning of Brady's betrayal, made me feel more miserable than I could ever remembering being in my life. So miserable, in fact, that I had then rush of upstairs in order to get into my room in time before I broke down.
Not caring anymore—incapable of caring anymore about anything besides the anguish I was in—I slammed my door shut and sunk down heavily on the edge of my bed. For the longest time, I just sat there with my head bowed, crying. I watched with morbid fascination as tears dripped onto my trousers with my fists resting on my knees, clenched so tightly that my fingernails were cutting into my palms. My body was being racked by sobs I was desperately struggling to suppress.
In less than two hours, my entire world had effectively come crashing down. I'd found out about Brady's cheating in the worst way possible and lost him. As a result, I'd had to unwillingly come out to my mom, only to have been subjected to her condemnation—which I had known would happen. The single consolation I had was that dad was working in the city tonight and hadn't been home for any of this. I couldn't stand to think what his reaction would have been.
Even with that, however, I was still in agony. How was it possible to feel this much pain without any of it being physical? How was it possible to be hurt so badly by someone that it honestly seemed like he had torn out my heart and smashed it to pieces? How could I ever be happy, or even just okay, again? It seemed impossible after everything that had happened tonight.
It felt like I was dying. I wasn't, but it felt like it, and it was awful. To the point where a part of me actually wanted to die. That wasn't an option, though. So, I did the next best thing.
I buried my face in my pillows and wept until I couldn't anymore.