16: Coming to Terms

I find myself sitting by myself for lunch today. Seemed as if everyone has plans, clubs, or study groups, which leaves me in the cafeteria with no dialogue except what was going on in my head.

Sure, there's the banter of the multitudes surrounding me, but my table is devoid of others students. I probably should be annoyed that I have a buffer of avoidance around me, but for once I'm enjoying not being bothered, even by friends.

Glancing down at my tray, I realize this is the first time in like six months that I've had to buy a school lunch. Chalk that up to a late start on my morning and a rush to get out to meet the transport. I admit, the fare is actually halfway decent, and I am enjoying the change from my normal brown-bag lunch. Just the fact that it's hot, is nice. It's also nice to be able to appreciate the taste of it.

My new meds are actually allowing me an appetite, and I hope I don't start gaining weight because food tastes so much better now than it did a month ago.

My current prescription is that much closer to what Mom and Dad have been hoping for – what I've been hoping for. That is, to act as much like myself "pre-aggro" as possible. No more zombieland, no more fear of lashing out uncontrollably. It's a huge relief.

Uncle Tom feels more refinement is needed, and is working with the company to alter some things, but the new gemue-specific regime is doing me a lot more good than harm.

For that I am grateful.

None of us are sure about the longevity of my need for the mood leveling drugs. Uncle Tom is talking about a trial over the summer to see if my condition is temporary. Away from other students and in a controlled environment. If the tendencies are still there, he plans on periodic checks after that in the hopes they can get me off the meds for good.

As much as I know better, I hold out hope that he's right – that once my hormones balance out, I can be me without help from medicine. I know too many people who are stuck with their regime for life, and I hope to avoid the same fate.

That or possibly maim somebody though?

The choice is a no-brainer.

Coming to terms with my propensity to get violent has been tough. Mom and Dad are still paying some restitution to the families of those people I injured that night – even when those guys instigated the whole thing. One will never have full use of his arm again because my teeth severed too many nerves in his arm. The guy whose skull I cracked is having to relearn everything from feeding himself to being able to write again. Despite they started it, I feel horrible for how I paid them back for jumping me.

I frown at the thought of that unpleasantness and do my best to let it slip quietly into the back of my brain again.

As I spoon some of the vegetable medley between my lips, a shadow falls across my table. Lowering my spork and lifting my head, I'm surprised at my company.

"Cory," I utter, feeling my bangs tickling my brows.

"May I?" Cory asks, and the tone of his voice is not one I've heard from him before.

I wave vaguely with my utensil. "Go for it."

The place is packed due to the inclement weather outside, but there are other seats. It leaves me wondering why Cory chose to sit here. There is a strong desire to shoo him away and continue to enjoy the relative silence, but I promised Mandy that I would be nicer to Cory. Despite that she and I are technically broken up, I mean to keep that promise.

I side-eyed Cory as he lowers himself onto the bench. I'm still not a hundred percent sure he won't try something, despite what Mandy says about him wanting to break bread. Cory is now seated on the opposite side of the table but diagonally from me. It would have been weird for him to sit directly across from me, and would definitely have put me on the defensive.

Before Cory starts into the food on his tray, he leans back and shoves a hand into his pocket. When he pulls it back out again there's something clutched in his loose fist. Lifting it over the edge of the table, he places the object just to the left of my tray. Then he starts picking at his food.

I stop chewing mid-bite, staring at the small toy that now lords over my lunch. I pull a face and lean closer, realizing it's familiar to me. It is one of those cheesy dinosaur figures. Its coloration long since worn off and leaving only the base tan coloring of the plastic behind. I can recall the toy – but it can't really be the one I lost so long ago, can it?

Brows still pinched, I set down my spork and reach over to pick it up. Sure enough, the base is etched with my initials. "Wh… Where'd you get this?" I ask. "I haven't seen this in ages."

Cory licks his lips, looking my direction, but not meeting my eyes. "You gave it to me." Then he does meet my curious gaze. "We used to be friends."

"Did we?" I scour my memories, having difficulty coming up with an instance I ever willingly hung out with Cory. I struggle a few moments more but shake my head in the negative.

A sad smile moves over his expression. "We shared the same Kinder class when you got there. I remember because you were a late register – that and your face was so different. You met Mandy first, only because you and her sat at the same table."

I have no recollection of this, like at all. To be fair, my first days in Kinder were a knot of elation for seeing the bigger world and anxiety because even back then, I'd been thoroughly schooled not to talk about the family secret.

"As soon as we hit recess, I went to talk to you. You, me, and Mandy used to play all the time. You gave that to me," he points to the toy, "after the show and tell one time, because I told you how much I liked the Utah-Raptor."

My brows lift closer to my hairline.

"I knew you didn't remember that." He seems disappointed. "My mom and dad didn't like that teacher, so they pulled me out mid-year and moved me to another down the hall. I was so upset, because I didn't fit in nearly as well in the new class." He sighs heavily. "I didn't see much of you after that. Mandy and I stayed close because, well, we live down the street from one another."

I'm flabbergasted, and unsure what to say. I wonder if me not remembering this early friendship is why he was so acerbic to me in more recent years.

"I didn't always hate you. Actually, I don't think I ever hated you," Cory sighs.

I've completely forgotten my lunch because of this earnest admission.

"So, then, why…?" I trail off not even sure how to pose the question.

"When you started seeing Mandy in Middle School." He nods to answer my half-spoken question. "That's when things changed."

My mouth tightens into a moue of consternation. "So, you do like Mandy. I've suspected as much." I nod, thinking I'm pinning down the reason for all of our animosity. Protectiveness wells up in me over my relationship with Mandy.

I freeze when I notice he's negating my guess. "No. That's not it. That was when I realized – I'd never stand a chance with you."

My heart stops for just a moment. Then it starts thumping crazily. "Wait, you're…?"

He nods. "I was just realizing it back then. And… you were my first crush."

I swallow heavily, the admission shedding a whole new light on how things have played out the past three years.

Cory adds, "That didn't stop my desire for you – you dating Mandy. But I was angry – maybe because we weren't friends after kinder – definitely because I wanted your attention. I started picking on you just to get you to notice me."

I can feel my jaw falling open, and make myself pull it shut.

"I know, not the healthiest way to get attention." Cory laughs, but it is humorless. "When I discovered you were gemue, too? I felt so betrayed, angry with myself for falling in love with someone who would never have me. I simply didn't know how to handle it. That's why things blew up last year."

Cory… in love with me… I never would have guessed. I find myself rubbing the scar on my lower lip and reliving what happened the second half of last school year. Still, I can't bring myself to appropriate words. I shake myself out and drop, "I'm… sorry," on him. I can't even say why I'm apologizing, but it feels necessary.

"Don't be." His smile is a little more solid. "I can't make you into something you're not. Human – gay. Or, hell, somebody who likes boys now and again." He pauses, scrutinizing me, a small flare of hope behind his gaze. "Do you?"

I negate that, still mute.

"No. Didn't think so." He shrugs as if it's no big deal. I can tell it's quite the opposite. A sigh escapes him, and I can't help but feel bad. "Wanting what I can't have is on me – but sometimes heart and brain disagree about things."

"I had no idea," I say, shaking my head. "I mean Corbin must not know, or he'd have told me. You and I both know he can't really keep secrets."

"No, he can't," he agrees and then his grin loses some of its glitter. Cory stares at his tightly laced hands. "Until now, I never told anyone but Mandy."

"Is that why Mandy arranged the meeting back in October?" I ask as that puzzle finally all fits together.

Cory nods, before joking, "It went so well, too."

I find myself scratching the back of my head. "With our history… can you blame me for how I reacted?"

"No, not at all. I've been an ass." His expression is pained. "I'm trying to be better."

"Same," I utter.

"I won't say it's easy," Cory admits.

I fold my hands on the table and watch him a moment, before saying, "Thanks for telling me. I'm sorry things didn't turn out differently."

He glances down and his voice is bitter when he sighs, "Yeah, me too."

A silence falls at the table. We fill it awkwardly with feeding ourselves. Cory finishes before I do, and starts to rise.

"Cory?" I stop his retreat. "Here."

I hold up the little worn Utah-raptor figurine.

"That's yours," Cory says.

I shake my head in the negative. "I gave it to you. Keep it. Who knows, maybe we can be friends again?"

An unsure smile crawls over his expression. He reaches out, plucks the figure from my fingers, stares at it for a few moments before stuffing it back in his pocket. "Thanks. And for letting me… get things off my chest."

"Sure." We stare at each other for long moments. When it starts to feel uncomfortable, I break the impasse by saying, "You should rejoin the group. I mean if you can get over hanging with a gemue."

It comes out more stinging than I mean to, but I'm trying to get a feel for how that attitude has changed – if it's changed. While I can see how his feelings for me may have exacerbated things, there is that core issue that neither of us has addressed in this conversation.

He shoots me a beleaguered look. "I can try."

I try to assure him by saying. "That's all I can ask. I promise, I'm past the biting phase."

How I can make light of what happened at the movie theater is beyond me, but I'm sure, even without him saying it, it's a worry for him.

A short laugh escapes Cory, but there is uncertainty behind the sound. "I don't know," Cory mutters.

"It'll be fine." I stand up and sweep my tray off the table into my hands. We walk side by side towards the tray deposit. "I know Mandy misses having you around."

"There'll be questions." He sounds nervous.

"Probably." I drop my tray off. "But they're your friends, too. No judgement, I promise."

"I'll… think about it."

With that we part company, and the conversation leaves me with a lot to think about.

A/N: FINALLY a breakthrough on how to forward this story! I originally was going to do a straight follow up to all Michael's testing with Tom, but gawd I had no idea how I wanted to accomplish that without being terribly boring. Then this thought came to me about Cory returning this toy to Michael from a time when they were friendly... BOOM! This chapter was the result!

I started writing this yesterday. Funny thing was I've been writing on Lost and Found so much recently (before that ending Refuge) that I began writing this in Third Person, Omniscient, Past-Tense. When I realized what I had done I was five pages in... and had to update it all to be it's proper first person, present tense.

I have had this plot point about Cory in my head for like eight months. Getting the point introduced to the story proved another matter. As I wrote the point in here, I had a moment of heavy doubt about the believability of the exchange, not to mention the desire to be respectful in my handling of a LBGTQ+ character. So I came to a screeching halt, seeking the advice/feedback of several friends who are in that community.

To my relief they both said that it read well. I hope you all will agree.

I still have a few more things to wrap up with this story, but I don't see it taking more than maybe two or three chapters.. (At most)

Thanks for reading! Please Read and Review, please share this story with your friends if you like what you see!