Chapter Three

Christian was destroyed. He sat on the rock for some time, recalling every nuance of the conversation, trembling with excitement and terror. Wade had made it all seem so simple. He wanted to be friends again. For a moment, Christian despised the gratefulness, the feeling of helplessness that enveloped him. Wade had hurt him more than anyone had ever done before yet he was powerless to turn him away. He had to protect himself this time, though. He was fully aware that getting too close to Wade could be dangerous.

He wasn't completely sure if the chemistry between them was simply a product of his own wishful thinking or if there was a possibility that Wade was attracted to him. He cast the thought aside. It didn't matter. He was not going to find out.

Lakiesha and Reggie were holding hands on his back porch when Christian had composed himself enough to leave the protection and sanctuary of the woods. Reggie sure had moved fast. He didn't pay attention to anything else. The party was reaching its high point, music blaring, drunken bodies gyrating, fighting, and laughter. Christian made his way to the back porch, stepping cautiously, avoiding the press of people, and avoiding the sight of Wade, back at Tiffany's side..

"Where you been?" Lakiesha asked, her eyes were wide and her face relaxed the way it was whenever she drank anything with any alcohol in it. Still, at least she wasn't drunk. Christian was positive that if he tried to drive, he would kill them both.

"Back there," Christian said, gesturing behind him vaguely. "Could you drive me home?"

"What happened?" she stood up, concerned, letting go of Reggie. Christian gave her a pleading look.

"I talked to him," he whispered at her and Reggie watched the exchange with hooded eyes.

"Oh my God, what did he say?" she wanted to know, forgetting everything but the awe of the moment.

"Nothing, really," Christian told her. "Nothing bad. I think we might be friends again. He might come over. I don't know. I'm supposed to help him with Calculus and that's it. Just friends."

"Damn, Chris, you better be sure about this," Lakiesha said, her eyes clouding over with concern. "You know what he did last time." Christian nodded.

"I gotta get out of here," he said, running a hand through his hair, aggravated. "I gotta think."

Lakiesha turned to Reggie, who was watching them, seeking confirmation." Call me later," she told him lightly and he nodded at her but his eyes went back to his cousin.

"Who is he?" Reggie wanted to know.

"Reggie, don't say anything," Christian pleaded, still trembling. "He's nobody. It's nothing." Reggie wasn't stupid. He had probably figured out that Christian was gay a long time ago, but Christian wasn't out. The subject was not open for general discussion.

"Dang, Chris, I just wanna know what's going on," Reggie protested and Lakiesha pulled at his arm.

"You guys can talk about it later," Lakiesha said and Reggie softened a little, but he looked at Christian again.

"Do you need me to kick somebody's ass?" Reggie asked and Christian grimaced.

"No," Christian said emphatically, although grateful for the show of support.

"Alright," Reggie said grudgingly and Lakiesha kissed him on the cheek before grabbing Christian's arm and leading him away.

Wade sat on the bench in the boys' locker room after football practice on Monday afternoon, having made it through the weekend and the entire school day without seeing Christian once. It was almost a miracle because they had the same lunch period and study hall. Wade had feigned indecisiveness over his college applications in order to wing a hall pass from his English teacher and hole up in his guidance counselor's office for the entire study hall period.

Mr. Applegate, the guidance counselor, was a weird, little balding man who wore the dullest shade of brown tweeds imaginable and he could go on and on for hours about the benefits of higher education and college preparation. Wade had milked that for all it was worth and sat through a torturous lecture just so that he didn't have to look into Christian's blue eyes.

Christian. Wade felt as if he was going to lose his mind. Why had he gone into the woods after Christian at Reggie's that weekend? He had barely escaped their friendship with his virginity intact last time and then he hadn't had years of increasingly erotic fantasies about the boy stored up. Just one look and he was hard as a rock.

It wasn't as if he had to hang out with Christian. They could still be friends at a distance. He closed his eyes and remembered the brief moment when his shoulder had touched Christian's. He remembered the warm, electric feeling that had shot through him. It was the contact that he had been craving for the last four years and had never been able to feel. He could have had it a thousand times, no strings attached from some of the guys on the team.

Guys fooled around all the time and Wade had indulged a few times, but it had always left him feeling empty inside, sunken and guilty. Years ago, he had given up on the secret feel-ups and silent caresses. Every face was Christian's, all eyes were a crystal blue, every body was long and languid with muscles that roped evenly, symmetrically across a slender frame. Every head was covered with the silken texture of nearly white-blond hair that was just a tad too long. When Wade closed his eyes, he could picture every detail of Christian's smile, the teeth that were perfect from years of braces, the tiny lines that indented his cheeks.

Wade was so in love that his stomach hurt and he could feel the prickly sensation of tears at the backs of his eyes. He had been in love with Christian since the fifth grade. Lifting the veil of denial left him nearly breathless and aching.

"You had a good arm today," Jon's voice boomed from out of nowhere, interrupting Wade's thoughts, and Wade opened his eyes, still quivering.

"Thanks," he said, his voice was slightly hoarse.

"You okay, man?" Jon asked, sitting down next to him.

Wade moved as if waking up from a dream. He tried a half-grin. "I'm cool, why do you ask?" he questioned.

"Cause practice ended a half-hour ago and you're still sitting in here in your cleats," Jon said, his brow lifting. "You sure everything's okay? You've been kind of weird for the last few days."

"I'm good," Wade said, reaching down to remove his cleats. Jon stared at him for a little while, then stood and went to his gym locker, pulling out clothes and his gym bag.

"I've been your best friend by default for the last five years, I think I know when something's bugging you," Jon said a little angrily. Wade felt a stiff panic clench his guts. He tried a wide smile.

"What could be wrong with me?" Wade asked, all innocence. Jon shoved his legs into jeans and yanked a shirt over his head, intense brown eyes locking with Wade's for a few moments.

"What do you mean my best friend by default?" Wade asked, belatedly.

Jon shook his head, laughing to himself. He zipped his gym bag shut with a snap and slammed his locker shut. Then he walked around the locker room, peering in every corner, his odd behavior making Wade begin to sweat. Jon returned to his side a few moments later.

"I've been your friend for over ten years, Wade," Jon hissed quietly. "Let's see. You were my fucking hero all through elementary school. I practically worshiped the ground you walked on, remember? I used to have to beg you to come and play ball with me or hang out at my house, remember? Do you think I can't remember why that was? It was because you and Christian Donovan were like conjoined twins, that's why. I was never as close to you as he was and when I tried to hang out with you two, I was like a third wheel. I remember how close you were."

"So," Wade said casually, although his pulse was racing at just the mention of Christian's name. "Friendships end all the time."

"Don't bullshit me, man, who the fuck do you think I am?" Jon asked angrily.

"Shit. Okay. Fine," Wade said, running a shaky hand through his head. "Give me your theory on this."

"I don't have a theory," Jon said, deflating a little. "I only have facts. I know that Christian was at Reggie's place on Saturday and I know that you followed him into the woods. I know that you stayed there and talked to him for over a half-hour and I know that you've been acting like a prick ever since."

"Okay, I talked to Christian, big deal," Wade said, shrugging. Jon came and knelt in front of him, placing his hands on Wade's knees. Jon peered up into his face.

"I love you, man, like a brother," Jon said quietly. "You've done so much for me, put up with all my shit and the way I go on and on about Shannon. I'm just telling you that I know there's more to this than what you're making it out to be. I'm not trying to attack you or anything. I just want you to know that you can talk to me anytime...about anything."

Christian waved at Lakiesha across the crowded hall as she rushed toward her fourth period English class. The one thing he hated most about school that year was that he and Lakiesha had been assigned different lunch periods. He moved quietly towards the cafeteria, his backpack slung over his shoulders. He was missing Wade, which was insane because he knew that the night at Reggie's had been crazy, an aberration in time.

It was for the best that they didn't renew their friendship, Christian tried to convince himself. What he needed more than anything else was to get Wade completely out of his head.

When Christian spotted Wade standing in front of his locker, alone, he was still trying to convince himself. It was Wednesday, five days since Wade had followed him into the woods and made his declaration. It was patently obvious that Wade was having second thoughts about the whole friendship thing. There was no way that Christian should go over there and try to talk to him. He hadn't been in study hall in three days and hadn't sat at his usual lunch table, either. It was clear that he was trying to avoid Christian.

Somehow, though, Christian couldn't stop his legs from moving in the direction of Wade's locker. He stood behind Wade for a few endless moments while Wade dug through his locker. After a small pep talk, he reached out and put a hand on Wade's shoulder. Wade nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned around in a flash, staring at Christian.

"Hey, Wade," Christian said with a shy smile. Wade stared at him as if he had grown two heads.

"Chris," was his only response.

"I saw you standing over here and I thought I'd say hey," Christian began, babbling nervously. "You said you needed some help with your Calculus, right? I thought maybe we can get together this week or this weekend, maybe? I've got a shit-load of Calc work to do and I could probably help you right along with it, you know?"

Christian watched as Wade's eyes darted around the emptying hall and he felt something in his chest cave in. Silence reigned for endless moments and tears gathered in Christian's eyes. This was what it felt like. Wade's rejection. He needed to remember it, bottle up the feeling and give himself a dose of it every time he had the stupid idea to let Wade back into his life.

"Or I can just stand here like a fucking retard and let you shit all over me...again," Christian said quietly, his eyes revealing his pain.

"Hey, Christian," Jon came across the hall, pounding Christian on the back with a heavy hand. "How ya doin' buddy?"

Christian looked over at Jon, masking his face into blank lines.

"On my way to lunch," Christian said, moving away from the duo.

"We're going over to that burger place to get slushees and fries, you wanna come?" Jon asked guilelessly. They both stared at him as if he had gone insane.

"Nah," Christian said. "Thanks for the offer. Makes me feel like a real human being." He shot a pointed look at Wade, who was standing there, with gaping eyes like a dead fish.

"You should come," Jon said.

"I'm sorry," Wade said suddenly, out of nowhere. Both Jon and Christian turned to look at him, incredulous. "Maybe we can do Calc this weekend."

Christian's shoulders slumped. He was suddenly drained.

"Um – sure, whatever," Christian said. "I can write my number down for you."

"I know it, 555-7890, right?"

"Y-yeah, it never changed."

"Okay," Wade's eyes locked with Christian's. "I'll call you after the game on Friday and we'll set up a time, okay?"

"Okay," Christian said and turned away, walking towards the cafeteria.

"Hey, about lunch with us," Jon called. Christian turned around again, walking backwards.

"Next time, Jon," he said and disappeared into the crowded cafeteria.

Jon looked at Wade and grinned, punched him in the arm.

Wade sat across from Tiffany at the long dining room table at his parent's house on Thursday evening. It was one of their famous suppers, where they invited all of the prominent members of the community and church for what his mother demurely called supper. In fact, there was a four course meal painstakingly prepared by their chef and two "house assistants".

It was at times like these that he was most grateful that Tiffany was in his life. She fit right in with his parents and the vision they had for him. Immaculately and femininely dressed in a light crème dress with a wispy overlay and her blonde hair tied back in an intricately knotted coiffure, Tiffany was the center of attention. Wade was aware, too, of the fact that he was considered by his father and his colleagues to be on a path to great things. He didn't want to do anything to discourage that.

"What's this I hear about you going to New York State?" Governor Andrew McKinley boomed from the far end of the dining table, his elegant wife at his side. She seemed to reflect her husband perfectly, one neatly arched brow raised in question as they stared down the table at Wade. Wade wiped his mouth with his linen napkin and cleared his throat.

"Tiffany was accepted there last year and they, later, spoke to my counselor and coach about a football scholarship," Wade explained, his heart speeding up a little. As excited as he was about going to NYSC, he was sure that his family would object. They envisioned an Ivy League education for him.

The governor glanced at Tiffany and she smiled sweetly at him. Wade could visibly see the softening of his expression.

"I did think that Stanford or Brown might be better choices, but it would be a shame to leave Tiffany alone there," Wade explained lightly. "It seems important to me to preserve my relationship with Tiffany and NYSC has an excellent Political Science program."

This was accepted by all without another word and once again knives and forks scraped porcelain. Wade glanced at his father at the head of the table and could sense his silent approval. They all knew that Tiffany was not only breathtakingly beautiful but intelligent and charismatic as well. She was above reproach, the daughter of a preacher and as delicate as a lily. She would make the perfect politician's wife and they all had high hopes for Wade.

"Governor McKinley, Wade can always go to Stanford or Brown for his graduate studies," Tiffany said in her demure, delicate way, further endearing the adults. There seemed to be a general consensus among the table that what she said was just right.