The day slowed down so much after that brief time I spent with Elliot. Since I didn’t have any classes with him, it left my heart with a dull ache not knowing what he was up to or how his classes were going. For not knowing anything about him, I sure felt like I knew enough. At least enough to have that kiss with him in the hallway. I wanted to laugh at myself – it was only a few days ago when I wouldn’t have even entertained the thought of even having a boyfriend, let alone feeling a bit excited about it. Maybe my slipup with Aimee that Thursday turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Lunch finally came around and I saw Elliot sitting at our table, the one Dex and I sit at. Dex wasn’t there just yet – most likely in a lunch line still. He didn’t show anything but something told me that he was a bit pensive sitting there, and not around the same crowd he usually dined with. I could understand that in a sense – I’d feel weird not eating lunch with Dex if one of us moved to a different circle of friends.

Elliot’s face was mostly buried in his notebook, drawing away. As I sat down slowly, I took a good look at it and saw the outline of a boy’s face – one not his own. I sat there intrigued as his pencil added shadows, definition, and texture to the rough sketch. And as he filled in details, I recognized the face he drew.

It was mine.

In what seemed like no time, he was already adding a few final touches to my face, and from that picture, I looked a million times better than I thought I did. Did he really see me that way? Was this a deeper glimpse into this boy’s very soul, the one he tried to hide from everyone? “Nice picture.”

Elliot’s pencil froze on the page. He looked at me as he dropped the pencil into the notebook and slammed the binder shut. For a moment he seemed a bit nervous – his face actually gave it away – before he closed up. Yet, I could somehow tell that he only grew more nervous as time passed. “H-How long have y-you been sitting here?”

“Long enough to see you draw my face,” I said gently. “You make me look really good, by the way.”

I felt the air of tension lessen as he slowly reached for the binder again, opening it. “Y-You think so?” He once again turned to the picture he just drew. “No one’s ever made a comment about my drawings. Except…” He trailed off and didn’t elaborate.

“I think it looks better than I do,” I joked.

Elliot’s face hardened a bit more, if possible. His cheeks tinged just a bit, but I noticed it. “That’s not true, Chance. Nothing can compare to–” He stopped and just blushed a bit more. Before I could get Elliot to finish his sentence, Dex showed up.

“Hey Chance. Oh, who’s this?” Dex sat down as he tried to be coy and tossed me some chips and a sandwich – the food I asked him to get when I bumped into him before lunch began.

This is Elliot Pearson,” I said with a bit of pride in my voice. “Elliot, this is my best friend Dexter Pagano. He’s practically like another brother to me.” I noticed that Elliot tensed a bit. I glanced at him as he stared at Dex and saw something on his face that I wasn’t sure of.

“N-Nice to meet you,” Elliot said with a drop in his normal tone. It almost had a troubled sound to it. I think Dex noticed it too – whatever was on Elliot’s mind, it weighed there heavily.

“Nice… to meet you too. I think we have a class or two together but you’re usually quiet.” Elliot said nothing and flipped to a blank page in his notebook, hiding the one he drew of me from Dex. I tried to ask him what was wrong, but Elliot tuned me out and was lost to the lines and shadings on the page. Dexter and I conversed lightly as, every so often, I glanced at what Elliot drew. As time passed, I saw the room he drew become even more fleshed out, more detailed than what he just drew before this latest piece. I could see the pain he felt as he drew – the lines were heavier, angrier than his last. The overall picture had darker shading in a lot of places except near the center of the page.

Moisture started to appear on the page.

He started drawing what I assumed to be a person in the room. As more lines defined the shape of the person, more water fell onto the page. I glanced at Elliot and saw that his mask had shattered. He quietly wept as the drawing neared completion. I wanted to ask if he was okay, but something inside me told me to stay silent – that by drawing this picture Elliot was trying to allude to something he probably couldn’t bring into words. The strokes he used on the boy – I could tell by the features – were vastly different than what he used to show the room. They were gentle, almost caring as he added more and more details to his face, his body. And then, I could almost hear the pencil lead straining as he pressed hard once more into the page as he added yet another feature to the boy.

He drew some sort of wounds on the side of his head and chest.

I guessed they were wounds, for once he finished with marring the delicacy of the boy, he heavily drew darker, amorphous shadows pouring from those marks and onto the very detailed rug. During the rest of the lunch period, I just sat there transfixed as he added a second person to the room that I now realized was in disarray. He showed how the picture above the fireplace was cracked and the television sat upended with shards of glass scattered all over the floor. This one was a woman, fully developed and obviously older than the boy. And just like the boy, he added painful wounds, but to her leg and chest, and did the same thing. The pools coming from her somehow merging with the boy’s.

With all of that energy, that detail, poured into that picture, Elliot couldn’t help but nearly ruin it with the amount of tears that dripped from his face and onto the work. It was as if his very soul spoke to me at that moment. But I couldn’t quite make out what it was trying to tell me. I couldn’t help myself when I placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and squeezed it trying to give him some comfort. Again, his pencil froze in mid-stroke – he had started angrily drawing a third person with thick, heavy lines – and looked over at me. His face was a mess with water streaking it every which way and even a bit of snot dripping from his nose. I said nothing and just handed him a napkin. He took it.

And then ran from the cafeteria.

“What’s up with him?” Dex asked as we both saw him disappear out the door. “And he left his notebook behind.”

“I-I know,” I said shakily. I had to ask Elliot about this picture and why it upset him so much. I mean I could sit there and guess but with the amount of emotion he poured out just now, I didn’t want to guess wrong and belittle his feelings, even by accident. I grabbed his notebook as the bell rang. Instead of immediately heading towards my next class, I stopped off in the nearest bathroom in case Elliot ran there. He didn’t and I sighed.

After that period, I stopped off at my locker and when I opened it, I saw a note drop down. I grabbed and read it, finding it to be from Elliot. The first thing he said was he apologized for rushing off as he did at lunch, but didn’t elaborate as to why. He told me he would still come to my locker but he might be late and asked for me to wait for him.

The rest of my day was fraught with worry – about Elliot. Was he really okay? Was he still hurting over that picture? And what did it really mean? But eventually, the last bell rang and, hoping Elliot was actually able to get to my locker on time, I made my way to my locker as I didn’t want to keep him waiting. All of these weird feelings kept surging inside of me the more I thought about Elliot. Nothing negative, just my emotions seemed more… susceptible to any passing thoughts of that boy.

I stood in front of my locker a bit nervously, clutching Elliot’s notebook. Dexter offered to give it to him during one of his later classes but I said I’d like to give it to him. I think my friend chuckled slightly and just walked away at that point, leaving me heading towards that class blushing a bit. Was I that obvious towards Elliot? Or… were there rumors already circling about us kissing? Aimee walked by me and half-glared, half-smirked at me as she continued on her way out. She even winked at me over her shoulder and blew me a not-too-subtle kiss. I just rolled my eyes and continued to wait for Elliot.

“What’s up, bro?” Dex said as he sidled up to me. “Ready to jet?”

“Um… no. Not yet. I’m, uh… meeting someone. In a bit.” Suddenly, I just couldn’t talk about Elliot when that was one of the things I wanted to do, and desperately so. All sorts of advice that Dex used to shove at me when he referred to girls went ignored and now I wished I had paid more attention. And knowing he already went over things, I didn’t want to give my friend the satisfaction of giving him the upper hand on me – he’d never let me live it down.

“Oh?” Dex said coyly. “Would this someone be the one that sat with us at lunch?” Dex smiled and raised an eyebrow. I pushed him.

“Dex… knock it off…” I tried to turn and hide my face but Dex saw it and slapped my back.

“I knew it! I knew it!” His voice carried down the hall a bit louder than I wanted it to and I quickly clamped his mouth shut.

“Pagano, I swear you keep this up and I’ll… well, I’ll think of something.” I pouted as I let go of his mouth. “Look… can I just call you later? I just…” I sighed and nearly whined. “I want to walk home with Elliot. Um, a-alone, if you don’t mind. Wait! No, can you like, walk a few yards ahead of or behind us so that we’re alone, but if something comes up you can help out?”

Dex’s killer smile softened. “Sure Chance. I can do that for you.” He glanced in a direction and patted me on the back. “I’ll wait for you near the doors and tail you at a distance. But just this once, okay? I’m not your babysitter.”

“Thanks Dex.” My friend walked off and just as he passed by me, I saw the boy I waited for. Elliot just shut his locker in a semi-panic and walked towards me. I saw relief wash over his face as his eyes locked onto the binder I held.

“Is that mine?” he asked once he was close enough to. “I-I think I left it at the table…”

“You did,” I said as I offered it to him. “I made sure no one else got it.” I nodded towards the door and Elliot started walking towards it. I followed. “I-I hope you don’t mind, but… I flipped through it a bit. I made sure no one was around me when I did. You’re a great artist Elliot. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“N-Not recently… in fact, this is probably the most conversation I’ve ever had. But, most of that is my fault.” He started to open his notebook to the first picture as we cleared the main entrance. It was one of me standing at my locker, deep in thought as if I wasn’t sure what books I needed for the rest of the day. It wasn’t up to his current standards, so I guessed it was one of his first drawings – at least in that particular notebook. “This right here… is the first time I saw you. It was, I think, the third day into the year.” I had to stop him from walking out into the street as a car whizzed by. He just shrugged his shoulders as we continued. “You looked so lost that day. Unsure of just about everything. It was also the last time I think I saw you really smile.”

“What do you mean?” We lapsed into silence as we walked the remaining couple of blocks to my house, Elliot deep in thought. Almost like he was fighting himself yet again. “Well, here we are. Home sweet home. We have probably a half hour before someone else gets home.” Elliot nodded as I unlocked the door. “Want anything to drink? Like a soda?”

“Coke please, if you have it.”

“Sure.” I grabbed two from the fridge and offered one to him. He accepted and looked around a bit. “We can just sit here in the living room or… o-or we could, um, go to my room?”

“H-Here’s fine.” Elliot quickly sat down on the couch and I sat down with a bit of space between us, suddenly self-conscious. I felt the cushion move and a bit of extra warmth right next to me as Elliot sat down up against me. The feelings from our bodies touching were… amazing. But I managed to stay focused as he draped his notebook across both our laps.

“So…” I said awkwardly. Elliot ignored me and flipped his binder to a different page. This one had several sketches of me at different points in the day and over the course of several days.

“Like I said, that third day was probably the last day I remember seeing you truly smile,” Elliot continued. “But just like everyone else, you didn’t see me. But that’s not really your fault,” he quickly added as he saw me ready to protest. “I… I’ve done my fair share of trying to blend into the background. Unfortunately, I did it too well.” He flipped the page again. This time it was not only me but Dexter as well. Both of us were leaning against the lockers, Dexter animatedly talking about something – Elliot managed to show that twinkle in my best bud’s eye when he’d start going on and on about girls. And there I was, standing there with a mix between a scowl and a pout. “I think I drew this one probably a month or so ago. This is usually how I saw you.”

“I didn’t mean to look so… angry. Now that I see it, I look just pissed about something.” As I said, I glanced through his book and saw that most of the subject matter revolved around one individual – me. But as oddly as I could have been upset or angry about it, I was okay with it.

“No… I think I know why you were. I was near that day and I heard him – Dexter? – talking about dating this one girl and gently prodding you to go on a double date with him – I think he tried to do that a lot to you. Anyway, just the way you were standing that day, along with your face…” He trailed off and flipped to the next page, this one being the one he drew of me at lunch. Looking at it again, I saw that I looked genuinely happy, almost carefree. “Then lately, I’ve been seeing you like this.”

“I think that’s been your doing, Elliot.” I took in a breath and slid my hand over his. “Ever since I got that rose from you… I’ve changed a bit.”

Elliot looked a bit scared, but he too took in a breath, flipped his hand around, and squeezed mine. I tried to quiet the gasp from the sensation I felt from his soft hand. He quietly giggled at my reaction. “Well, ever since I saw you that third day, there was just something about you. Something that I couldn’t quite place. And the more I thought about you, the more I wanted to get to know you. I know, that sounds so corny, but it’s true. I just… I-I just never had the courage to ask you about it – even subtly in case I was wrong. I’ve never had that courage. Well, at least…” I noticed his voice waivered slightly near the end, as he also looked away from me. I just squeezed his hand a bit.

He turned to the tear-soaked page.

“Pl-Please… bear with me a-a bit, Chance.” He sounded so stricken it was all I could do not to wrap him up in a hug, or at least rub his back, but I couldn’t do either of those things. I just sat there and squeezed his hand again. “Th-This part is almost too p-painful to repeat… but I-I need to t-talk about it. M-My therapist says it sh-should help.”

“Elliot…” I couldn’t think of anything else to say; his finger on my lips would have stopped me even if I did have something else to add.

“Chance…” His finger fell from my lips slowly. “This…. This p-picture I drew at l-lunch… this happened. This isn’t anything sick or twisted that I imagined. No, if only it was that simple…” I saw him close his eyes shut tightly. “Wh-Why did my stomach have to b-bother me?!” I said nothing, just allowing him to get past this on his own. I just continued to hold his hand. I think I was still a bit stunned to see such a strong emotional outburst from him, especially twice in one day, when from what I mostly know about Elliot is that he’s very private and normally stoic. But he interrupted my thoughts with a hand squeeze of his own. “This… this all happened when I was nine years old.

“Mom and Dad were worried about me when I threw up a little blood that day. Both wanted to go with me to the doctor’s, but one of them also thought they should be home for when Mitch would come home from his friend’s.” His other hand lightly traced the drawing of the injured boy on the page, making sure his touch wasn’t too heavy – I could tell that he didn’t want to smudge the sketch of that kid at all. “Mitch is my older brother and was at a friend’s house for a sleepover party for that friend’s birthday. So… anyway, it was decided that Dad would take me and Mom would wait for my brother to get home and let him know what was up.

“Mitchell isn’t like the typical brothers I hear about at school. He’s always been so nice to me, making sure that nothing was wrong with me, helping me with my baseball swings out in the backyard… stuff like that. He’s the one that encouraged me to draw when he saw me doodle one day.” His finger still traced the boy’s face along the edges, as if he was trying to ease that child’s pain, lost in the hypnotic motion along with his monologue.

“Anyway… my parents knew that if something was wrong with me, Mitch would be worried too. So I went to the office and they just said I had an ulcer from eating too many acidic foods – at that age I was heavily into spicy things. So the visit took an hour… but… b-but…” Elliot broke down, unable to continue.

“Elliot… what happened?” I asked quietly, just loud enough to be heard over his tears. His head had found my shoulder and just leaned against it as he let some of his pent up pain out. Something told me that he needed to tell me, as horrifying as it is, given the gruesome nature of the drawing.

After a few minutes, he managed to collect himself. He sat up straight. After wiping at his face and nose with his arm – I was too slow offering him a tissue – he resumed speaking, his voice hard and almost distant. He had stopped caressing the boy’s face.

“Both my mom and my brother – the brother who loved me so much – were killed that day.” I think the way he said it made me gasp in astonishment. “From what I was told, Mitch had come home from the party early – his friend had to go visit his grandparents and dropped him off home a bit earlier than expected. He had gone to our room and dropped his things off and stayed in the room for a bit. There was a bit of a struggle, so he must’ve heard the noise coming from downstairs. He opened the door to investigate and jumped when he heard the gun go off twice. He had to have seen Mom fall to the ground with a wound in her left leg and straight through her heart. The police think he tried to run to her in a grief-stricken state when he was pushed down to the ground. Before he could react, he too was shot – once just grazing his head and then in his heart too.” Elliot looked up at me, his face once again wet from his tears. “Chance… they were killed all because they thought the house was empty and wanted to rob us! They saw the car leave – the only car we had at the time – and assumed it was clear! But then my mom must’ve heard them and tried to stop them! Half my family died all because some jerks wanted to sell our stuff for either drugs or alcohol!”

“Elliot,,,” I had to soothe the rage that started to seep forth. I think I had a foothold inside Elliot’s head, but just barely. His eyes appeared glassed over and unfocused. “Elliot… I… I-I had no idea. I don’t think anyone did. But… thank you for telling me this. Thank you for trusting me enough to pour your heart out. And, for what’s it worth, I’m terribly sorry that you lost them back then.” My words somehow tamed his building anger.

“Chance… that happened to my family five years ago and I still hurt over losing both my mother and brother. Hell, for a time I think I even lost my father. We moved as soon as Dad found a house only a few blocks from here.”

“You live near me?” I asked, a little surprised. I never saw Elliot outside during this time. He nodded.

“Yeah, I live just across the park. I think I’ve seen you there a lot during the summers with some friends, mostly with Dexter. But my point is, that after five years… I-I still miss Mitch. He was thirteen then but he was still my rock, you know? We talked about everything. And… even at the age of nine… I… I-I felt that I was going to be different. I started talking to him about it, about being confused. And you what he did for me?” Elliot paused and then stared me intensely in the eyes. “My big brother just kissed me on the head and chuckled a bit, saying it was okay to be different. I even went so far as saying that looking at my friends back then made me feel funny. He just shrugged and said that he was cool with it, that he’d always love me. Always, Chance. But now… n-now h-he’s gone…”

I didn’t really know what to say to Elliot. What does one say to such a heavy burden of pain? Such pent up sadness… my first impression of seeing Elliot’s pain on that first day when we bumped into one another… it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what he is feeling or has felt. For five years since, he’s isolated himself, not really allowed to talk about it with a peer, only a clinical expert. While I bet it’s helped him to talk the therapist, it also doesn’t compare to talking to a friend or a significant other.

“Elliot… all I can say again is that I’m sorry for your loss. I really am.” I placed an arm around his shoulders and hugged him a bit. He brought a hand up to that arm and squeezed it forcefully, but I could tell it was meant to show his deep appreciation. I just sort of held him there, like that, with no more words between us. They felt fake and shallow anyway; what I was doing now felt real, true, to how I should react to news of this magnitude.

And then it hit me, full force.

I had felt Elliot’s pain as if it were my own. I have no idea how I’d react to losing Dustin and my own mother on the same day in a senseless act of violence. All I can feel is the immense pain I think I’d feel if it happened. But that’s not the biggest thing I realized. It was at that very moment, having this kid, Elliot Pearson, bare all to me in such an intimate way, that I truly fell for him. Hard. For such a horrific act, this boy managed to persevere through it all with no one to hold his hand through it. Sure, he still needed to work on it some, but for a nine year old boy with no network of support… that to me shows courage of a sort that I don’t think I’ll ever come across again.

During my half-hug to him, Elliot turned to face me, and time once again came to a halt. His piercing, calm eyes seized my gaze and held on for dear life. I didn’t mind at all – I wanted my eyes to be at his tender mercies. Slowly, he took the initiative and cupped my face gently. His thumbs ran across my cheeks softly, lovingly. I quivered at his touches and just when I didn’t think I could stand it a moment longer, he pulled me towards him. We joined once more at the lips and he passionately kissed me. I felt his emotions being fully unlocked during that kiss; the level he pushed it to far surpassed anything I could ever dream of.

It was unfortunate that both Dexter and Dustin walked in.

“–might need to be a bit….” Dexter trailed off just as he saw us break apart, both of us blushing heavily and breathing a bit hard. “Well… I expected this to be happening, but not down here.” Dexter grinned a bit as he nudged my brother. Dustin’s eyes were shining brightly as he looked towards Elliot.

“Are you Chance’s boyfriend?”

“Dustin!” I snapped with embarrassment. Before anyone else could respond, I held up a hand. “Sorry, bro. Just… I don’t think that’s a polite question to ask.”

Elliot shook some of his nerves out. “I-I guess it’s a fair question, though.” His eyes found mine. “If he’s okay with it, I’d like to be.”

I smiled a bit. “You still have a school dance to take me to.”

“Yes!” Dustin jumped and cheered, making me laugh. He high-fived Dex who started laughing at the energy my brother displayed. I couldn’t help but be whisked away by his mood and started laughing too.

“Dusty, you’re celebrating like you’re the one that got a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

“But I’m so happy for you, Chance,” he said with some seriousness. “If he can make you happy again, then why shouldn’t I be too?” Once again, his eyes lit up. “Maybe we can play outside again… like we used to!”

“I’m Elliot by the way,” he said as he offered Dustin his hand. Dustin briefly shook it and then grimaced. “What? It’s clean you know.”

Dustin made a face. “How do I know that? I just saw you kissing my brother! You might’ve had that down–”

Thank you, Dustin…” I interrupted him making Dexter laugh so hard he fell to the floor on one knee. My face had to have been glowing. “Keep this up and I’ll tickle you when you least expect it and make you pee yourself.”

“I was only joking around!” he pouted.

“So am I.” I smiled, catching him off-guard. His eyes went wide and just glanced at my friend.

Dexter looked at Elliot. “Whatever you did to him, I approve. He’s not so uptight at the moment.”

“All I did was this.” And with that he pulled me into another lip lock, but kept it short.

“Well, keep up the good work.” Dexter laughed as he guided Dustin up to his room to give me and Elliot some privacy. I looked at Elliot and for the first time, I saw him smile. Not a timid, self-conscious smile. But one that made him look all the more enchanting. He actually seemed more real the more he smiled and not some sort of… puzzle I needed to solve.

“What?” he asked with a giggle.

“It’s just… with you smiling… you’re so handsome. It’s hard not to stare at you right now.” Elliot rested his head on my shoulder.

“Then I guess I’ll have to do it more often, now won’t I?”

“I won’t object, that’s for sure.” I nudged Elliot and he looked up at me from my shoulder. “Are you okay with… being thrust into the limelight a bit? I mean, the whole school knows about me. So, with how you’ve been looking at me lately I don’t think we’ll be able to keep us under wraps.”

Elliot sighed a bit. “Honestly, I don’t know. I think I’ll be okay with it, but it’s going to be a lot different than what I’m used to doing. Normally, I can go a day with barely the teachers saying anything to me. As long as you’re in my corner… I don’t care.”

I leaned down to kiss the side of his head. “Good, I’m glad. That means I won’t have to restrain myself if I see you in the halls.” I chuckled a bit. “For someone that used to be so afraid of this, I’m quite comfortable right now. I mean, not completely, but I think I can adjust some more.”

“What is this ‘this’ you’re talking about?” Elliot asked.

“Me being a boy and having a boyfriend. That ‘this’.” I felt Elliot’s head nod a bit against my shoulder, his hair tickling the side of my neck. “But like you said, as long as you’re in my corner, I don’t care.”




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