DISCLAIMER: Another day, another…they don’t pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That’s what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
My march down the street is accompanied by a new mantra. I repeat the word ‘stupid,’ changing pitch each time I grumble under my breath. Without thought, a rhythm forms. It’s pretty good. If I had a partner, we could totally gripe rounds.
Did I even make it a block before my ‘stupid’ meltdown? I glance over my shoulder to check. Nope. Will’s house is right there, not even half a block away. I sigh. Head hung, focused on the cracks in the sidewalk—because Mom’s back—really important—I keep trudging. Like that even—
Go figure, I’m playing a kid’s game instead of doing what I should be doing. It’s dark. I’m two blocks from a cemetery in a town that makes Salem’s Lot seem like Mayberry. I should be paying attention. I’m not. I don’t feel like it. I don’t care.
Just one more exhibit proving that I really am an idiot.
But not just your run-of-the-mill idiot, I’m a high functioning idiot. I could be royalty among idiots. Like that thing about the man with one eye and all the blind people. If there was a kingdom of idiots, I could totally be one-eye guy.
How could I be so stupid? We were doing okay. Did I really have to ask her out? She was actually talking to me. Not yelling. We were talking and I got all giddy. My brain fell out. It was dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb da dee dumb, dumb. Dumb, dumb.
Well, I can’t take it back now. I have to go through with it. Make the best of it. Try not to lead her on any more than— Try not to lead her on anymore at all. Period.
But I am leading her on. By definition, asking someone out is totally leading them on. Things just don’t get much more on-leading. That’s the problem.
Oh, I know. I could play sick. Like that’d ever work. She’d hate me if she figured it out. And the likelihood of that is—well, it’s pretty likely. Like totally likely. I’ve never gotten by with playing sick. The whole ‘playing’ thing works so much better if you actually do the thing that you’re pretending to do. I don’t. At least not much. Not enough.
The sidewalk runs out. I have to pick a direction. A quick glance verifies that I am where I think I am. Which is good. Check: one ugly yellow house with a big, ugly urban assault vehicle in the driveway, right where it should be. Fantastic. I hate being somewhere I think I’m not.
I hang an ‘east.’ Mom will probably be curious what happened to my study session. She’ll wonder what class I’m going to flunk, but I can’t help that. It’s not like I have lots of places to go not study.
I s’pose I could swing through the cemetery. Do my not job and all that. My head’s not really in it, but after the day I’ve had, hitting something does hold a certain appeal. I turn around and head back to where I missed the side street. This time I might even pay attention.
Wouldn’t that be novel?
What I need to do with Will is just level with her. Yes, food will be had and a show will be seen, but that doesn’t mean anything. We aren’t dating. There will be no dating. Nothing about what we’re doing will be even remotely date-like, except—well, pretty much everything. She’ll probably even hold my hand. And I probably won’t stop her. I never do. I thought it was strange before. Kind of nice, but strange. Now?
Now I don’t have a leg to stand on. I got over it. I decided I liked it. I’ve even initiated the hand holding. I miss holding her hand.
And that so doesn’t mean I’m gay. That means I like holding my best friend’s hand. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay. I’m just not. I’m not attracted to her.
That isn’t strictly true. I am attracted to her. We wouldn’t be friends if I wasn’t attracted to her. I’m just not attracted in that way.
That seems totally reasonable for all of five seconds, then—hypocrite I am—I try to imagine what it would be like to kiss her. My first thought is ‘soft.’ I’ve kind of had a preview—what with the cheek kissing. The softness wasn’t unexpected. She is a ‘she,’ after all. Girls lack a certain level of scruffiness that guys grow into.
It’d be nice. Kind of sweet. I can totally see myself doing it. I just can’t see it being the same way it was with Angel. Not that I’ve had the nerve to kiss him again. He’s really yummy, but he scares the crap out of me. I know it wouldn’t be the same with Will. I can’t see her making me weak in the knees. I could kiss her. I might even enjoy kissing her. Kissing is an enjoyable thing. I enjoy holding her hand too. The contact is nice, but nothing about her makes me all warm and gooey inside. My heart doesn’t flutter. There’s no sparkage.
I don’t think it’d be that big a deal, which is totally the problem. She would. She’d think it was a huge deal.
Yeah, let’s not. Talk about something that she could potentially misconstrue. The whole ‘dinner and a movie’ thing would be small—
From somewhere behind me, a guy shouts, “Hey!” He’s loud enough to be heard over the herd of stampeding wildebeests that are bearing down on me from the same direction. I whirl before he gets to the, “Wait up!”
It’s only Xander.
My hyperactive conscience kicks in, flashing my face hot before I register why. I put my hand to my forehead. Dammit. It is hot. And no wonder. Was I seriously thinking about kissing Will? What the hell is wrong with me?
And what does the size of a potato have to do with how important something is? Why is it that every common colloquialism comes off like a non sequitur? And if they are non sequiturs, why aren’t they funny? ‘Martin Luther King had a dream. Dreams are where Elmo and Toy Story had a party and I was invited.’
Xander’s stampede comes to a graceless, thudding halt. He says, “Hi,” winded, like imitating a dozenish odd wildebeests seriously cost him.
That was unexpected. I see his, “Hi,” and raise him a, “What’s up?” The unexpected part was the look he gave me. It was weird—one of those expressions that comes and goes so quick it makes you wonder. The whole ‘facial schooling’ thing takes over, wiping the evidence away. Quite a feat, considering all the knee groping and hyperventilating that’s going on in front of me.
At least they’re his knees.
He exhausts all available platitudes with the expected, “Nothing,” while I wonder what he was thinking—with the look and the weirdness. What does he know? I mean, I am near Will’s house. He knows that things have been weird. Does he get ‘why’ the weirdness? Has she talked to him like she does with me? One against the other. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Whatever. That’s not her style.
I turn away, gesturing for him to come along. He can if he wants. It might actually be a good thing. Considering my general level of preoccupation and resulting aloofness, he might just work as an early warning system should things go the way they usually go. Which is to say: wrong.
Our trek to the cemetery is pretty uneventful. Considering the fact that the gate was in sight, that’s good. Xander’s almost breathing normally by the time we get there. I reach into my bag and take out a bottle of holy water, which I toss to him. He catches it and I grab my stake.
I love this gate. It’s big fun. The hinges announce our presence to everyone within a five block radius. The dead things are either running or congregating. I do what I usually do after opening it. There’s a crypt to the left of the entrance. On the other side of that are a few normal graves and in front of them is another crypt. It’s the obvious place to go. I wander over to my feeble ambush spot and sit down on the one headstone that gives me a clear view of the gate. It’s a compromise.
What in my life isn’t?
Xander joins me. It takes a few moments for me to get that he really wants to say something. He keeps trying to be sly, sneaking peeks. That doesn’t go very far with me. I feel his eyes on my back and turn to break the spell. That repeats too many times for me to be comfortable. I wasn’t comfortable the first time. By the fifth, I want to snap, ‘What?’ just to watch him jump.
He gets over it, takes a clue and deigns to ask, “Did you see Will tonight?”
“Yeah,” I reply. Now I wish he’d kept his mouth shut. I don’t want to talk about Will. Of course, what I want never really matters.
He gets this annoying, thoughtful look on his face. I glance again and happen to see it before the mask swallows it up. I wish he wasn’t behind me. Not that he is. He’s actually beside me, but considering where my attention is—on the gate, where it should be—he’s effectively breathing down my neck. It’s annoying. More annoying than pensive Xander. I guess it’s been long enough. I turn to face him.
“Be careful with her,” he says. “Please.”
“Me?” I stammer. I want to say more, but—
“You,” he confirms.
I’m not the one who— The whole time I’ve known you two, Will’s been throwing herself at you. She’s been wondering what’s wrong with her. Wishing, hoping, pining… She’s totally smitten. And you?
“Nothing,” I reply. Does the word ‘blind’ mean anything to you?
It’s me I don’t get. I shouldn’t be in this. I mean, yeah. I get the ‘friends’ thing—the ‘confidante’ thing. That part’s understandable. Expected even. It’s how I got promoted from spectator to participant that has me totally stumped. I feel like I missed the geriatric patriarch bellowing for me to ‘come on down.’
I also realize how unfair this whole thing is. Xander’s been nothing but a friend to Willow. No mixed signals. No ‘friendly’ dates. He doesn’t even hold her hand. Not usually. Not casually like I do. He’s actually innocent, which must be a new experience for him.
And oh, boy is this fun. Xander has his searching look on, like he’ll ever figure me out. I can’t. Why should he be any better at it than I am?
The gate is a much easier thing to watch. It’s safer for us, because vampires, and it’s way less judgey. The introspection’s another matter. I’m sick of introspection. Trying to figure out where I went wrong is an ongoing hobby that I could totally live without.
It’s time to go. No one’s coming. I hop down from my perch. The thudding sounds tell me that Xander’s following. We weave between headstones and crypts, making our way to the main entrance. I could practically do this in my sleep. It’s weird that I feel at home in a cemetery—one of the many signs that my life is just too screwed up for—
“Are you gay?”
Aghast, I whirl on Xander. “What?” I snap. “No.” Could I be more defensive?
He looks at me as if to ask that very thing.
Great. Just great! He generalized. I overreacted. Now he thinks I’m gay.
He takes a step back.
I unclench my fists. It’s a good place to start. Not threatening my friends.
His eyebrow’s cocked, questioning. I have no clue what to say. I turn away, keep moving, keep going. I need to get out of here. A few headstones and a crypt later, the perfect thing comes to me. I give him a taste of his own medicine. “Are you?” I know he isn’t, just like he should know I’m not, but I can’t help myself.
I give him a sidelong glance, accusing him with my eyes, just like he did me. He’s actually considering my question. He’s taking the moral high ground, acting mature. It makes me want to hit him. I stop and prop myself against yet another headstone. This place is nothing if not consistent.
He takes the one in front of me. “No.”
That’s it. That’s all he says—straight-faced and everything—leaning casually against Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael’s grave. Xander’s totally secure. I’m the one with the problem.
That does it. I’m done. I spring to my feet. “I’m going home.”
End of Part Seven: Lines Crossed
Continued in Part Eight: Crossing the Rubicon
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