A/N: I just want to warn you that there's some homophobia in this chapter.
Chapter 12: Ambivalence
I'm standing in front of my closet, realizing that I have nothing to wear. After all, the clothes that I do own were approved by my father – not exactly nightclub material. Far from it, actually. It's times like this that make me miss my old clothes – the ones that are gone, literally up in smoke. I really should have started planning for this earlier, but I hadn't been sure whether or not I would really go out with Rylan. Perhaps I should just cancel the whole thing… I really would like to go, but part of me still feels so guilty about it – a big part.
I am vacillating between options: If I cancel, then Rylan will probably think that I don't like him, or maybe he would take offence to it, and I definitely don't want that. On the contrary, if I go out with him, then I'll be renouncing all that I've been taught – the fundamental elements that comprise my learned morality. In other words, leaving behind all that I know and venturing into a new phase of my life.
In one sense, I would be leaving my comfort zone, and in another, directly disobeying my father. After all, he would be furious if he knew that I was even considering this. However, I'm no longer a child – I can make my own decisions. Of course, my father isn't even here; therefore, he'll never have to know about this.
The issue, then, is that all of these negative notions towards my sexuality typically remain constant in my mind. From time to time, I am able to distance myself from them – to stifle their bothersome imposition on my life. Occasionally, though, I can't ignore their presence. Ah.
I debated the whole issue for a long time - weighing the pros and cons over and over again. I have come to the conclusion that it's probably okay for me to go out with Rylan this once. After all, it's not like we'd be doing anything wrong. We're just going to be hanging out - nothing immoral about that. Besides, I want this too much; this chance to spend time with him is something that I've desired for a long time - I can't just throw it away. I'm just going to try to enjoy it, try to suppress the irrational guilt with which my mind is often clouded.
Earlier, Rylan and I had told our friends that we're going to the dance together. Their reactions were basically surprise, disbelief, and honestly a little hostility on Matt's part. Nikki, at least, was nice about it. We were faced with a lot of simultaneous questions and comments from them: You're both gay? Seriously? This is kind of weird. I can't believe it! You've been dating this whole time? No? This is why you didn't want to go to the dance with me? We stayed in a tent together! Shit, you couldn't have said something?
I felt incredibly embarrassed and awkward about the entire situation, but thankfully Rylan handled most of it. I guess he's used to coming out. I'm honestly still a little in awe of the fact that he's gay, and that he's interested in me. I'm worried that I'll ruin it, though. This is really, really hard for me.
I bring my mind back to the present and continue to pull out hanger after hanger of clothing, but nothing is good enough, nothing appropriate for the occasion. Time is quickly running out… I sigh and return the hangers to the closet, put away the clothes that I have heaped up on the bed. I don't know what to do. I jump when my phone rings on the desk, and I walk over to it to pick it up. My heart skips a beat when I see Rylan's name.
"Hey," I answer, trying to sound nonchalant, as if the sound of his voice doesn't make my stomach flip.
"Hey, what are you up to?"
I look at my closet despondently. "Actually, I'm trying to find something to wear, but it's not really working out."
"Hm, I may be able to help you with that. Do you want hang out before we go?" he asks.
"Okay, you can come over to my building now if you want."
"Alright, I'll be there soon."
I hang up and then sigh. I feel my heart racing already; I am so nervous about this. Part of me still can't even believe that this is happening – that Rylan and I are actually going out together on a date. Ah, that word still makes my stomach tighten. I don't exactly know what to expect, but I really hope that it will be okay.
I think about that as I make the short walk over to Rylan's building. I press the buzzer for his floor and wait for the door to be unlocked. Once I get up to the third floor, I knock on his door, and Rylan soon opens it. He greets me, and I take off my shoes before being led over to his room. He shuts the door behind us, and I feel more than a little nervous – I've never been alone with him like this before.
His room is neat, although it has considerably more stuff in it than mine does. I look over at the pictures on his desk: There's one of him with a young man and woman – maybe his siblings. There's also a picture of Rylan holding up what looks like a grey tabby cat and some with people whom I assume are his friends. I also notice an acoustic guitar leaning against a stand on the floor.
Rylan's voice soon interrupts my assessment of his room. "So, you can borrow something of mine, if you want." He examines my outfit, and I feel a little embarrassed of what I'd picked out, but I really hadn't had much to choose from. "I think the pants are fine. As for the shirt…maybe we could find something that suits you better." he says.
Well, at least I got something right.
He walks over to his closet and opens it. Oh God, he's letting me borrow his clothes. He must think I'm so pitiful. I really do need to improve my wardrobe, though. "You don't have to do that," I tell him quickly, feeling ashamed.
He turns his head and looks at me studiously. "I really don't mind. Come here."
Well, I guess he and I are probably almost the same size; he's just a little taller. I walk over to stand beside him in front of his closet, astonished by the sheer amount of clothing in there.
"What?" he asks, regarding my face curiously.
"You have a lot of clothes," I remark.
Not really? He could practically run his own clothing store in here. "Compared to me, you do."
"Well, you know..." he trails off as he begins sifting through his closet. "You like blue, right?"
"Yeah," I answer, surprised he remembers that.
"Okay...how about this?" He pulls out a fitted blue button-up shirt. "Maybe with this?" he says as he takes out a brown button-up vest. "It would match your eyes."
I can't help the blush that I feel creeping onto my cheeks. I nod, "Okay, sure."
"Yeah? Try it on first." He hands the clothes to me, and I make my way over to the washroom to change.
When I walk back to Rylan's room, I feel incredibly self-conscious. The sleeves of the blue shirt are a little long for me, so I roll them up to my forearms. It all fits fine otherwise. Rylan's typing something on his laptop, but he looks up when I walk in.
He walks closer, examining the outfit. "I like it. You look really good."
I feel my face heating up once again. "Thanks, and um, thanks for letting me borrow it."
He smiles. "No problem."
"Um, you play guitar?" I ask, gesturing to it.
"Mm-hm." He walks over to the guitar and picks it up. He grabs a pick from the desk and then sits down on his bed, strumming along the strings. I watch as he begins playing a fast tune. "You can sit," he says, nodding his head towards the desk chair. I turn it around to face him and then sit down.
"Do you sing, too?" I ask curiously.
He nods. "I actually used to sing in a band."
"Really?" I ask, surprised by his answer.
"Yeah, just this thing in high school with some friends," he says nonchalantly. "It was a lot of fun."
"That's interesting." Hm, I'm curious to know what his singing voice sounds like. "Can you sing something now?"
He stops his strumming and looks up at me. "Sure, any requests?"
I think about it for a few seconds and then shrug. "No, anything's fine."
"Okay." He pauses for a moment and then begins moving the guitar pick along the strings again, this time playing a slower tune. He soon begins singing. His voice is soft and melodic – beautiful, and I am highly impressed with his talent.
When the song is over, the room feels overly silent. I realize that my heart is pounding. "You have an amazing voice," I tell him sincerely.
He smiles at me warmly. "Thank you."
Later on that night, I walk into the nightclub with Rylan by my side. I'm grateful for the low lighting and soft ambiance; I feel hidden, concealed - although, my heart is still pounding, my hands shaking. The flashing lights flicker along the dance floor: green, purple, blue, red. The music is loud and the heavy bass is thumping throughout the room – a wild heartbeat.
I can't believe that I'm that actually coming here like this; it seems quite audacious. I feel more than a little uncomfortable being here with him, like I'm doing something wrong. Like the sky is going to open up, and fire will rain down and strike me. It doesn't happen, though; I'm still standing. Rylan seems completely unfazed, saying hi to some of his friends as if nothing is unusual about this. I wish that I could share his confidence.
We walk onto the dance floor – together – and I don't see anyone whom I recognize; it's not like I know many people at my school, anyway. The nightclub was booked especially for us tonight, and it's packed with people moving and dancing around us.
"Are you okay?" Rylan asks with concern in his voice. I must look worried or something.
I force a small smile, although it probably looks as fake as it feels. "Yeah, I'm fine."
He doesn't look convinced. "Are you sure you want to do this? We don't have to, if you're not comfortable with it."
I'm really not comfortable with it at the moment. This is so daunting, like facing a lifetime fear. I told myself I would do it, though; I want to follow through. "Yeah, I want to."
He smiles, "Okay, come on." He leads me further onto the dance floor, amidst the throng of moving bodies. I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack, a seizure, some horrible malady. When he places his hand on the small of my back, I nearly jump out of my skin. He gives me a confused look and then moves his hand away.
"Sorry, you startled me," I tell him.
He smiles slightly. "It's going to be fine, Noah. Try to relax, okay?" his voice is soothing, reassuring. I really want to believe him. I plead with my heart to stop beating so fast, my body to stop shaking. I'm trying really hard to be calm, but I can't stop worrying, and the guilty feelings are ever present.
Rylan's voice pulls me out of my inner panicking. "Noah?"
I look up at him, and he's watching me curiously. "Hm?"
"Dance with me."
"Oh, yeah. Right." I force myself to move along with the music, to ignore the part of my mind that is chastising me for doing this. I feel like any moment someone's going to turn around and point at us, drawing everyone's attention to the two guys dancing together. But that doesn't happen. I repeat the same mantra in my head an innumerable amount of times: No one knows us. No one cares.
I do notice a few people looking at us weirdly, but nothing beyond that. There is one guy in particular who's been staring at us rather strangely for a while now. I don't know what his problem is – we're not doing anything to him.
Everyone else here seems to be busy doing their own thing – dancing, laughing, having fun. I guess this isn't as big of a deal as I thought it would be. I loosen up and allow myself to dance a little closer to Rylan and he smiles down at me in approval. I sway against him and shiver as he runs his hands up and down my sides, the heat burning through the fabric of my shirt. His shirt, actually.
Rylan leans down and whispers in my ear, "Are you okay with this?" His breath is hot on my skin, his voice like silk in my ear – it takes me a moment to realize that he asked me a question to which he's now waiting for a response.
"Yeah," I say. I mean, for now I am. I definitely like being this close to him, but I want to be closer. In a sudden surge of bravery, I ignore my reservations and bring my hands up to the back of his neck, feeling the soft tips of his hair. He rests his hands on my waist, leans his forehead against mine, and we sway together like that. I feel like I'm dreaming – a dream from which I never want to wake.
"See? This isn't so bad, is it?" he asks after a moment.
Well, no one's tried to murder us or kick us out yet – although, I suppose that legally they couldn't do that anyway. "No, it's not," I agree.
"I'm really glad you came."
"Yeah, me too." After all, I faced my fear of coming out. I'm still struggling with the moral aspect of this, but I'm trying my best to push those thoughts aside. I don't want to ruin this.
Once the music changes to a more upbeat song, we pull apart slightly. I look past Rylan and notice that there are a few people watching us, causing me to feel uneasy. My gaze meets that of the same guy from earlier. He's still watching us, looking scornful. It's starting to make me uncomfortable. I don't think Rylan notices it – he seems perfectly calm, assured.
I spot Bree and Luke dancing together. I catch Bree's gaze and she smiles at me. She then looks at Rylan questioningly. Luke follows her gaze and he looks surprised, looking from me to Rylan. Bree appears to whisper something to him and then she comes walking over to us. Prancing, really, in her short, green dress and heels.
"Hey, Noah, you came!" she exclaims. Her gaze shifts over to Rylan quizzically. At the sound of her voice, he turns around to face her
"Hey, yeah, um, Bree this is Rylan. Rylan, Bree," I say as I gesture between them.
"Nice to meet you," Rylan says.
She smiles at him. "Same. Do you mind if I steal Noah for a dance?"
"No, go ahead. I'm going to get a drink. Would either of you like anything?" he asks.
"No thanks," I tell him.
"I'm fine," Bree says.
"Okay, I'll be back." I watch as Rylan walks away through the dancing crowd.
"So, what happened? Who is he?" Bree asks immediately. She begins swaying to the fast, lively music, and I dance along with her.
"That's the guy I was telling you about."
"Uh, you said he was straight. Or did he suddenly decide to switch sides?" she asks jokingly.
"No, I thought he was straight, but he's not."
"Well, that worked out nicely. And he's hot, too. Good for you," she laughs.
I smile. "Yeah, thanks."
"You have the cutest little dimples when you smile." She reaches forward to pinch my cheek.
I cringe away. "Please don't do that."
She retracts her hand. "Fine, but you should smile more. You always look so serious."
"Yeah..." It's not like I usually have much to smile about.
She asks me some more questions about Rylan throughout the remainder of the current song. When it ends, Luke comes over.
"I'm going to have to steal her back now," he informs me. "Hey," he says to Bree in a much happier voice.
She smiles at him and says, "Hi." Luke pulls her closer and kisses her, making me feel completely awkward. I still don't understand their relationship. What does she even see in him? Besides his physical attractiveness, I guess.
Since Bree seems to have completely forgotten about me, I walk away through the crowd, looking for Rylan. I head in the direction that he'd gone, but I don't see him anywhere. I walk over to the bar, but he's nowhere to be seen. Where could he have gone?
I stop walking amongst the masses of dancing people. I feel really out of place just standing here alone, so I decide to walk over to the washroom to get away from the loud music and the crowded dance floor. Once inside the bright, white washroom, I'm relieved to see that it seems to be empty. I look at myself in the mirror for a few moments. I feel quite hot, so I splash some cold water on my face.
I jump when I hear a sneering voice behind, "Well, look who it is." I wipe my face with the back of my hands and turn around to see that guy who had been watching me and Rylan before. His eyes are cold, hard. I instantly feel my heartbeat accelerate in alarm. What does he want? Whatever it is, I'm sure it's not good.
"What?" I ask confused. He takes a step forward, and I notice how much taller he is than I, how small the washroom is, how he's blocking the exit, how there's nowhere to go...
"You know, people like you disgust me," he spits.
I try to remain calm. "I don't even know you."
"Well, maybe we should get to know each other a little better," he says in a cruel, sarcastic voice. He continues walking towards me, fists clenched at his sides. I step back, feeling the panic rising through me. I wish that someone would walk in here. I wish that someone would stop this.
"What? Your boyfriend isn't here to protect you?" he asks mockingly. He pushes me hard, and I stumble backwards. He brings his fist up in the air, and I raise my arms in defence, closing my eyes, waiting for the blow. It doesn't come.
Instead, I hear a sharp voice from behind us. "What's going on?"
I open my eyes and look past the guy to the doorway, and I'm shocked to see Luke standing, there, looking furious.
"This has nothing to do with you," the guy says to him.
"Yes, actually, it does," Luke says, with so much venom in his voice. His blue eyes are icy. He walks forward, advancing on the guy who in turn steps away from me, turning his attention to Luke. "What the hell is your problem?" Luke asks menacingly.
Luke is standing up for me? I must be losing it.
"I was just about to teach the little homo a lesson," the guy says. His words sting; they make me feel slimy, disgusting.
Luke steps closer to him. "Why don't I teach you a lesson? You worthless shit. Get out of here," he practically growls.
The guy raises his hands in defense. "Okay, whatever. God, calm down." He shoots me a dirty look before leaving the washroom. My heart is pounding, my breath coming in quick, shallow gasps. I stare at Luke in surprise, and he looks back at me.
"Are you okay?" he asks after a moment. His voice is softer, the venom from before is gone.
I nod. "Why did you help me?"
He looks surprised by the question. "What was I supposed to do? Stand there and watch him beat you up? Shit, I'm not that heartless."
"So, you're gay," he says after a moment.
"Huh." He has a pensive look on his face – not exactly the reaction I'd expected from him. "Well, don't stay by yourself like this. There might not always be someone around to help you. I wasn't even going to come in here, but this girl spilled some of her drink on my shirt," he sighs, gesturing down to a dark stain that I hadn't noticed.
"Oh. Yeah I know, I just… I didn't think that would happen."
"There are some messed up people out there. Anyway, you might as well go back out. I don't think that guy will bother you again, but just stay with your friends," he says. I think this is the first time he's been civil with me. It's...strange to see him like this. Nice, but strange.
"Okay, I will. Um, thanks again."
He nods slightly, and I turn and walk through the door. I can't believe that Luke actually stood up for me. I would have thought that he'd be happy to watch some guy beat me up. I definitely never would've expected him to intervene on my behalf or even act like he cares about me. I mean, he's always made it very clear that he doesn't.
I head back onto the dance floor, remembering that I couldn't find Rylan before. My heart is still beating faster than usual, and I still don't see him. There are so many people here, and it's pretty dark; it's kind of hard to make out faces.
Finally, I hear his voice from behind me. "Noah, there you are."
I turn around, relieved to see him. "Where were you?" I ask.
"I was with some friends, but when I came back to find you, you were gone."
"Oh. I went to the washroom after a while because I couldn't find you." I feel my heartbeat quicken even more at the thought of the guy who'd been about to hurt me. What would have happened if Luke hadn't shown up? That thought really scares me. I don't think I should tell Rylan about what happened; I don't want him to feel guilty about bringing me here.
"Oh, well, I'm sorry about that," he says.
"No, it's okay. It wasn't your fault. This place is really crowded."
He nods. "Yeah it is. Do you want to get out of here? Or we could stay longer if you want," he says.
I actually do want to leave. I don't want that guy to come back – finish what he started. "No, let's go."
"Okay." He guides me to the entrance of the club. We step out into the dark, cool night. The street is lit up by store signs, street and car lights. The moon is glowing solemnly above us. We begin walking down the sidewalk, towards the bus stop.
"So, did you have fun?" he asks.
Honestly, it started out okay, but after that bathroom incident, I feel really bad. That basically ruined it for me. I don't want Rylan to think that I didn't enjoy myself, though. "Yeah," I say, trying to make my voice sound sincere.
He smiles. "Good. I'm glad. I wasn't really into the music, though. I mean, there were a few good songs, but nothing amazing. But, you know what? I don't really want to talk about that right now." He stops walking and turns to face me, so I stop as well. He takes my right hand and laces his fingers through mine. His voice drops a pitch lower, "I don't really want to talk." His eyes gaze into mine for a moment before he steps forward, leans in and presses his lips to mine.
Although the kiss lasts only about three seconds, it's like an alarm goes off in my head that I can't ignore. When he pulls away, I take my hand out of his and look down at the ground. My mind is spinning, although whether it's from the kiss or the rapidly accumulating guilt, I'm not sure.
"What's wrong?" Rylan asks, sounding confused.
I can almost hear my father's voice in my head, telling me of eternal fires and never-ending punishments. Of torment, agony and sorrow. I remember the look of pure hatred in the eyes of the guy who'd been about to hit me. All that hatred directed towards me – coming from someone I don't even know. People like you disgust me.
The realization hits me hard: "I can't do this," I mutter under my breath.
"What do you mean?" I can hear the disappointment in Rylan's voice, and it kills me. I wish that I could do this – let go of my inhibitions and just be with him, be happy.
I look up at him feeling foolish, ashamed. "This- this is wrong."
He looks stunned by my words – eyebrows raised, eyes wide. "Wrong? I thought you wanted this," he sounds offended. Oh God, I'm offending him. I should just stop talking now – I'm only going to make this worse.
Yet, I don't stop talking. Instead, I dig myself into a hole with my words – a cold dark, place that I know will destroy me. I gesture between me us with my hand. "This is a mistake," I whisper, repeating what my father would say, what he has said. But why must this be a mistake? What is so bad about it? The fact that we're two guys somehow makes it wrong – that's what I've been told my whole life. That's what echoes through my mind almost every time I think of a guy that way.
"A mistake?" he repeats incredulously. The repulsion is clear in his voice. He takes a step back – away from me. "You think this is a mistake?" he asks, sounding angry. Oh man, I'm ruining it. This is the first kiss I've had with someone I'm actually attracted to, and I've ruined it. Now he's probably going to hate me.
But my mouth keeps spewing the words, those awful words that will undoubtedly tear down everything between us, anything that he feels for me. "I shouldn't do this; it's wrong." I look up at his face, and he looks so hurt. I'm hurting him. I didn't mean to do that. I just… I don't know what to do. I'm scared.
"So, you don't like me," he sighs. "You know, you could've just told me that – but fuck, you don't have to be so rude about it," his voice is cold now. I wince at his words; I've never seen him so upset before. I do like him, and I do want this. I want it so badly, but I just… I feel so guilty. I feel so bad. How can I explain that to him? He probably wouldn't understand. The problem isn't that I don't like him, it's that liking him makes me feel like I'm committing a crime.
"That's not what I'm saying," I say in a pleading voice.
"It sounds like that's exactly what you're saying. I'm gonna go now. I'm sorry that I'm such a mistake to you," his voice is bitter, but I can see the pain written all over his face; it makes me feel even more horrible. "Shit," he mutters as turns and begins walking away from me.
"No, Rylan, you don't understand!" I follow after him, but he just starts walking faster. I stop when I realize that it's hopeless. He's gone; I've lost him. All because of my intolerant father making me feel guilty about being gay. I watch Rylan's retreating figure with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Rylan's been nothing but nice to me, and I hurt him. He thinks that I don't like him and probably that I'm a jerk, too. I could hit myself for this; I want to hurt myself the way I hurt him. I'm carefully resisting the urge to slam my head into the brick wall behind me, because I'm aware that it wouldn't solve anything, but I know that I deserve the pain.
I recall the feeling of Rylan's lips against mine: soft, warm, inviting. I didn't deserve that; I don't deserve him. I bite down hard on my lower lip – despite the sharp pain that it causes – until I can taste the coppery blood in my mouth. Right now, I hate myself.
I look around warily, remembering what Luke said about not staying alone. I guess I should head back now. Rylan's already gone. He's gone, and I just ruined our friendship – ruined anything I could have had with him. It ended before it could even begin; my father would be proud.
When I get back to my residence, I slam the door shut behind me and don't bother to turn the lights on. I storm towards my room, becoming increasingly angry. I'm so upset with myself for messing things up with Rylan – it just feels like everything is falling apart.
I walk into my room and shut the door, but don't slam it this time. I take off the clothes, Rylan's clothes, and change into my own. I can't believe that I blew my chance with him; he may never want to speak to me again. Why would he? If only he would let me explain... But what is there to explain? I'm afraid to go after what I want, afraid to be with him. Rylan deserves better than that, anyway.
I begin to chew on my lower lip, causing it to start bleeding again. I still feel like I'm being pulled in two different directions, rendering me ambivalent towards the whole situation. I lose either way: date a guy, and give in to what my father would call "immorality" or don't, and live life alone, miserable.
Maybe I'm just not meant to be happy.