The first file recovered by the cutest mascot any magazine has ever had ever 😉 is an original posting to Imagine Magazine of “Shelter: By Comicality” on June 24, 2012… Enjoy! – Matty
The springs of the worn out mattress beneath me were mercilessly digging into the softest parts of my chest and stomach that morning. I don’t think that I slept a wink last night. Sure my eyes were closed, my breath was steady, my body was still… but I couldn’t really call it sleep. More like a slightly deeper than normal meditation. And what was I meditating on? I was meditating on how I could possibly get myself a better mattress.
I could hear a baby crying in the background, and sat up to rub the sleep out of my eyes. The entire high school gymnasium was full, wall-to-wall, with emergency beds just like mine. Hell… some of them were even worse. I don’t know how many people were in this little safe house before I got there, but me and a truckload of other survivors were just brought in at about two o’clock this morning. You would think that traveling at night would keep us safe… but those things out there never sleep. So, who’s to say?
The lady with the red blanket draped over her shoulders… I remembered her from last night. She was sitting on the back of the army truck across from me. Shivering. She saw her husband get lost in a giant swarm of those monsters in the street. She hasn’t spoken a word since. I guess I wouldn’t have much to say either after what she’s been through. How do you erase something like that out of your mind? All of those people… biting and thrashing and tearing the flesh from people in long, bloody, shreds. She’s still trembling. Her eyes, focused on the gym floor with a blank stare. It hurts to look at her sometimes.
So I try not to.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where or when the outbreak began. The reports were all localized incidents. A ‘crazy person’ here… a ‘drugged up psycho’ there… nobody really connected the murders. Why would they? Denial creates excuses for everything. But then the incidents began to grow in number. The killings became more severe. They began happening two or three times a week in some areas, causing the need for curfews, and a hefty increase of police patrols at night. Then the major cities became infected, and the murder rate escalated to biblical proportions. By the time all of the police stations and national security agencies began synchronizing their efforts to find out what was going on… it was too late. There was no containing the outbreak at that point.
The news reports didn’t want to use the word ‘zombie’, for fear that it would cause a public panic. Right. Like the flesh eating creatures wandering the streets at night wasn’t enough to cause a public panic. I mean, let’s be honest… we’ve all seen zombie movies before. That’s what they are. Who sees cannibalistic dead people shuffling along in a giant homicidal mob and thinks, ‘Oh no… what’s going on? What should we call these things?’ Weirdness.
This was my first day here at this place as a sanctuary away from the madness outside… but it wasn’t my first day in this particular building. The army thought it fit to turn my high school into a habitat for all the survivors that they could round up. It was big enough to hold a large number of people, with plenty of space left over. We had a large cafeteria and rations of food, plenty of bathrooms… plus a high roof so the military could maintain surveillance on all sides of the building. Funny… out of all the times during my sophomore year when I just wanted to escape this place, I was actually happy to be safely locked inside at the moment. Even though it was supposed to be my summer vacation. Better in here than out there somewhere, trying to fight off a horde of the living dead with a stick.
I felt my cell phone buzzing in my pocket, and I saw my older brother, Cain’s, number come up. “Hello?”
“Jake? Is that you?” He asked.
“Who else would it be?” I grinned. “Where are you?”
The connection was a bit hazy and weak, but he managed to tell me, “I’m in one of the FEMA evacuation trucks now with a bunch of other survivors. I’ll probably be there within the hour.”
My brother was living on campus at one of the state colleges nearby, but it had been completely overrun in a matter of hours. It was only about 20 minutes away, but if his rescue convoy was anything like the one I was on… they were going to be moving slowly through the infected areas and picking up more stragglers along the way. To be honest, him telling me that it would only take him an hour to get there was wishful thinking at best. Still, it’s good to know that he’s close by. And safe.
As I walked down the school hallway to get to the bathroom and clean up, I saw a bunch of people from the area that I recognized. And yet, after the trauma that they had been through… they were unrecognizable. If that makes sense. Sullen, somber, faces. Numb with the lingering shock of seeing people they knew and loved being attacked in the streets. In their homes. Some of them making a last minute narrow escape through a window or crawlspace. Some… having to leave their love ones behind.
The concept of self-preservation doesn’t always make those decisions any easier. Not for any of us.
They were serving breakfast in the cafeteria. An obscenely long line of people, waiting for a chance to get a plastic plate full of sticky, hot, oatmeal out of what looked like a janitor’s mop bucket. I was not impressed. I mean, either make me wait in line for something really awesome and tasty, or give me the crap stuff right away and let me choke it down without having to stand behind 50 other people while I anticipate how much it’s going to suck when I get up front. I did notice that they had some biscuits too. And some warm toast and jelly. Maybe I’ll just fill up on bread and leave the mop bucket oatmeal for the truly traumatized.
The wait for my brother was eternal. I didn’t really want to talk to anybody there. I don’t think they wanted to talk to me either. Everyone was sort of isolated by their pain, guarding themselves with a barrier of withdrawal that kept them from looking each other in the eyes. The fear was overwhelming. Fear that if they began to talk, to engage reality again, that they would open their hearts up to ‘feeling’ something again. And that meant being vulnerable to the loss of their friends and family to this terrible plague of destruction. I can understand. Maybe I could use the extra protection myself. Just in case things go wrong.
As I looked out of a nearby window, I saw some commotion going on at the far end of the school parking lot, and I pressed my face against the window in an attempt to see around the corner. It looked like the latest convoy of survivors had finally made it in, and the soldiers were granting them access. AWESOME!
I raced down to the North end of the high school where the newest refugees were being brought in. Naturally, there were plenty of other people who beat me down there, looking for friends and relatives of their own. But I didn’t mind being patient. My brother played basketball. He was like 6′ 3″, so I was sure he wouldn’t be hard to spot. I stood on my tip toes and I craned my neck. The soldiers closed the doors behind the crowd, and it crossed my mind to just grab my cell phone and call him to see if I could find him in all that mayhem. But just as I thought to reach for it… something caught my eye.
I guess he was one of the stragglers from the residential area surrounding the college or something, but… wow. I mean… wow. He was my age, give or take a year… with short, nearly buzz cut, blond hair. And a pair of the most amazing jade green eyes that I had ever seen. I nearly fell over with a swoon that literally took my breath away. I felt the wall press up against my back as I leaned against it for balance. His beauty was so unexpected. Was I staring? Was I blushing? Omigod… STOP that! Jesus! I could barely regain my senses as he walked past me.
Our eyes connected, but only for a second. And then he smiled. Maybe it was the way I instantly fixated myself on his gorgeous face. I tried to contain my fascination… but when those boyishly pink lips of his blossomed into a smile, an adorable set of dimples acting as bookends to his already stunning appeal… I felt my knees go weak, and my stomach fill with a frantic swarm of agitated butterflies.
I may only be fifteen years old, but he was… hands down, the cutest boy that I had ever laid eyes on. Like… ever. Mesmerized, I let my eyes follow his every step as he hoisted a rather large duffel bag up on his shoulder and continued walking down the hall as if he wasn’t the most beautiful boy to ever give grace to my hungry infatuations. Dear God… is he going to be staying here with me?
“Jake? JAKE!” Came a voice from the crowd. I saw Cain coming over with his little suitcase on wheels.
“CAIN!” I ran over and gave him a tight hug around the neck, so happy to be reconnected with my brother again! “You’re ok!”
“Of course, I’m ok. It’s going to take more than a zombie apocalypse to keep me down, right?”
“Damn straight!” I grinned. I was going to help him with his bags, but he opted to carry them for himself. “Are Mom and Dad alright?”
He said, “Yeah. I called them about three hours ago. They were moved to a secure location downtown. They’re going to try to get a transfer in the next week or so. The military is trying to get families collected all in the same facilities, but they don’t want to risk overpopulation or possible infection. So it’s going to take some time.” Cain kept walking forward, and he said, “I have to go and get myself sanitized and checked for bites, so I’ll come back and see you soon, ok?”
“Sure thing. I’ll be in the gym,” I told him, and then I had to let him go. The soldiers were very thorough about checking all incoming inhabitants. I had to go through the embarrassing process myself. Stripping down completely naked… being searched… and… handled. Then hosed down like some sort of animal. They tried to make it as humane as possible, but you can’t really be ‘hosed down’ in a humane way. It’s just not possible, you know?
It was a minute or two later that I wondered… is that gorgeous boy that I saw before going to go through this same treatment? Is he going to get naked in front of some soldier, and allow him to wander the curves and smooth glory of that graceful body with his hands? Head to toe. GOD, what a job! I wish I could watch. I wish I could stare at the whole process through a two way mirror and fist my erection to the point of blowing my load right there on the glass! I can’t think of anything hotter than stroking myself to the sight of that boy in his birthday suit from a place where he couldn’t see me doing it.
Wow… I’m gonna break a few blood vessels down there if I keep thinking like this.
It was going to take quite a while for my brother to be processed along with the others. There was at least a count of 250 with the last convoy, and each inspection was sure to be quite thorough. They couldn’t afford an infection getting past them and running wild throughout our only stronghold against the masses of undead creatures outside. But as I waited for him to get ready, I noticed that the beautiful boy that I had seen earlier had already been through the quarantine and had gotten showered and re-dressed. He went to stand in line to get something to eat for lunch. From the looks of it, it was patties of Salisbury steak and hash browns. There was a container of green beans or two on the table, but it didn’t look like it was going to last for much longer, even though they only gave half a spoonful to each patron.
I wasn’t really hungry. I haven’t had much of an appetite since last night. But just seeing that beautiful boy… walking over to get a tray and stand in line… I suddenly found myself wanting to get something to munch on. Or… at least suck on. Oh no… wait… that’s vulgar. Hehehe! TRUE… but vulgar. How about I just start off by saying hello, and then move on to the more ‘perverted’ thoughts later?
Might make things a little less creepy.
I started walking over to get in line, and saw an old man moving to get in front of me. No no no! I did NOT want him standing between me and my future husband! Fuck you, old man! I saw him first! I don’t know if anyone could tell how fast I was moving, but if I had to run top speed and hockey check that old geezer up against the gymnasium wall, I would. Get away from my newest obsession, you bastard!
Practically skipping two steps for every swing of my leg, I jumped in line behind the cutie in question before the old man had a chance to complain. Yeah, maybe it was rude… but it was worth it.
The boy in front of me turned his head as my sneakers squeaked to a halt behind him. He only glanced for a minute, then giggled shyly and turned his head forward again. I felt my knees dip involuntarily from the cute way that he did it. It really made me smile.
A bit sheepish in his approach, he eventually turned back around and mumbled a gentle, “Hi…”
“Hey…” I responded. I was hoping that our conversation would go beyond that, but seeing as he was too shy to really say anything else… the pressure was all on me. And I don’t deal with pressure very well. Especially when it comes to talking to one of the hottest boys on the whole damn planet. So I waited a minute or two, and I said, “Salisbury steak…”
He seemed confused. “Huh?”
“That’s what they’re serving up there. Salisbury steak. Have you ever… um… been to this school before?”
“Oh… no.” He said softly. “I was in another district. I went to Eastern Hills.”
“Ah, I see.” I had absolutely NO idea where Eastern Hills was. I wish I played a sport. Then I might have a bit of a broader knowledge about the surrounding schools in the area. “How come they didn’t just take you there?” I could kick myself for such a dumb question. NOW it sounds like I don’t want him here. Smooth move, Jake.
“There was a safe house there, but I guess security accidentally let in a few of the infected. Turned out to be a bloodbath over there. This place was the next logical building to make a sanctuary for people in the area.”
“Oh. Yeah. That makes sense.” I felt the line inching forward, and I just… I just wanted to make some kind of real connection before lunch was served to us both. I don’t know why. It’s not like I really expected this super-hot boy model to really notice me and make me his boyfriend. But for the time being, I just couldn’t stop myself from keeping close enough to try.
We got to the front of the line, and he was getting his food. It smelled like… well, like high school lunch. And that’s not really a good thing. Not today, anyway. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” I said. He gave me a sideways look. “The food. It’s actually pretty ok, once you get used to it. Well… the Salisbury steak is. Can’t say much for the rest of it.”
“It already smells better than the one at our school. Ours looks like cooked rat, smothered in horse snot,” he said, and it made me laugh.
I think I was almost too infatuated to focus at that point. Geez… his eyes are REALLY green! You know that? A girlish giggle escaped my lips before I could contain myself and stop my knees from wobbling.
“Well… see ya ’round, ” he said. And just like that, he took his tray, and he was gone.
I wanted to chase after him. That was too short a conversation for me to be satisfied. Please come back! I was just getting enough courage to talk to you! Arrrgh! What a waste of a golden opportunity. Ugh!
My brother got out of holding after another 45 minutes or so. But by the time he found me in the gym at the top of the bleachers, I had already let the regret of not talking to my dream boy the way I wanted to overwhelm me to the point of minor depression. I guess I was just searching for a touch of a silver lining in this dark storm cloud of misery surrounding us all at the moment. The idea that I might be trapped in a confined area with a boy that had effortlessly surpassed every wet dream fantasy that I had ever had… it just helped to give me hope. You know?
Once the sun set over the horizon, Cain let me talk to Mom and Dad on his cell phone to let them know that I was alright. Naturally, they were worried about everything that was going on, but Cain was an expert at making them feel better. I wish I knew how to do that. It might come in handy for the day that I come out to them as being… ‘me’. If you get my drift.
Cain knew about me. Somehow, I think he’s always known. But he took the news well when I made the effort to actually say it out loud. When I came to spend some time with him after his inspection, I think he could immediately tell that something was wrong with me.
We were sitting in a corner, trying to find some privacy among a crowd of people. It wasn’t as hard as you would think. Everybody was so preoccupied with their own stuff that they shuffled right by us… most of them looking a lot like zombies themselves. I could hardly tell the difference. Their eyes had become so empty. Their stares so blank. I’ll bet that all the petty shit that used to bother them so much, the prejudices and the arguments and the complaints… I’ll just bet it doesn’t matter so much to them now. Which begs the question…
…Did it ever really matter at all?
My brother was telling me about how he and a few of his friends survived the lifeless takeover of his college campus. He seemed really happy about it. It was refreshing to see a genuine smile in this place. “Dude… me and Jamie bolted, right? We see those things coming in the glass door by the candy machines, so we run into the staircase. There’s even more of them coming up the staircase. I still had the bat in my hand, and Jamie had his hockey stick from practice. We go racing up the stairs to the roof, and we shut the door behind us. We were just gonna chill up there until the military trucks arrived to take us to a shelter. There were a lot of people in hiding… but the problem is, they were hiding too deep, you know? They wouldn’t even know when the army got there. We wanted to see them coming so we could signal them for a rescue.” Cain said, his gestures getting more animated by the second as I smiled and clung to his every word. “Well, we’re walking around, thinking we’re safe, right? The door’s closed, we’re high fiving each other and shit… and then we hear this shuffling sound. So we turn around… and one of these fuckers had made it up to the roof! We’re like, how the hell did THIS happen???”
“Holy shit! What’d you do?” I asked.
“Well, there was only one of ’em. So we figure, we’re gonna have to fight this thing and push him off the roof. So Jamie is like, ‘Dude, you go in, and I’ve got your back!’ Great fucking friend, right?” he said. “But I’m like, ‘Ok. Whatever.’ So I go up to it, and I swing the bat as hard as I can. I’m expecting this thing to get knocked backwards on his ass or something, like a normal person… but I guess these creatures get kinda soft after being dead for a while. So, DUDE… one swing, I take its head clear off! I mean, it was like I was swinging for the cheap seats with that one. It didn’t even fall over; I batted his brains away so quick! It was crazy!”
“Are you kidding me right now? Come on…” I grinned.
“No! Jake, that’s the honest-to-God truth! I was so stunned by what I did that Jamie had to run up and knock him off the roof for me. It was weird. I never knocked the head off of something before. Friggin’ CRAZY, man!”
Just as we were sharing a light giggle over the whole situation… I saw him again. The boy from earlier. Just walking down the hall like a… like a normal person. Oh God… he was sooooo beautiful. Those green eyes seemed to weaken the lining of my stomach, a bout of near nausea taking over as I fought to look away. He only gave me a timid smile as he passed. Just enough for those sweet dimples to cave in on the sides of his lips like cute little sinkholes. And by the time he had passed us, I was already dizzy with a serious case of puppy love.
I saw Cain looking at me with a smile once I was able to focus again. “What?”
“What was that?” he smirked.
“What was what?”
Cain looked down the hall at the gorgeous boy as he got further and further away from us. “Well, you certainly didn’t waste much time calling dibbs on the pretty ones, did ya? Hehehe!”
“What? Hehehe, what are you talking about?” I blushed.
“Did you talk to him yet?” he asked. I didn’t want to answer. I hated to think that I could be so transparent. But Cain just folded his arms. “I’m just gonna keep asking you questions, you know? And I’m going to get louder every time you don’t answer me…” he said, already raising his voice.
“ALRIGHT, already! Hehehe… I…” He was waiting for me to continue, but it was embarrassing. “…I tried, ok? Sorta. But I only talked to him once. And it was… ‘uneventful’.”
“That’s ok, little bro. It’s only your first day here. It hasn’t even been 24 hours, and already you’re snuggling up to some young hottie.” Cain said with a playful butt of his shoulder against mine. “Listen… the next time you see him, just be sure to get his name, and tell him yours. Chat him up a little bit. Everybody’s practically a stranger to each other right now. They’re all looking for something friendly and familiar and comforting to hold on. You can start off by being that guy for him. You know what I mean?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah. I suppose so.”
“Yeah. And if by the end of the day tomorrow, he’s letting you ram your cock up his tight bubbled ass, then that would be even better!”
“Hahahahaha!!!! What the…! God, Cain! You’re such a pervert!”
“You know you were thinking it!”
He always knew how to tease me just enough to where it did the job, but never came off as mean or overly offensive. He danced on the line every now and then, but never crossed it. However, once the giggles died down, I ran my fingers through my hair, and I gave him a look as the doubt and worry of the situation bled back into my conscious mind. “I know that you’re probably going to treat this like it’s something easy…” I said. “…But… with all that’s going on, I really don’t want to have to add a rejection and possible heartbreak to my list of things to worry about. It’s bad enough that I have to think about flesh eating ghouls waiting just outside the fences… I’ve gotta worry about having my insides go rotten on me too?”
Cain put an arm over my shoulder and pulled me close. “First of all, don’t think you’re in love. You’re NOT in love. Not with somebody you don’t even know. So if you’re bearing the weight of your entire romantic future on just one conversation with some cutie you saw in the hallway… don’t. It’s NOT that serious,” he told me. “Now… if you guys get to talking, and there’s this subtle ‘thing’ going on between you two… you find out that you’ve got things in common, you share an attraction, you make each other laugh, and the feelings begin to grow from there? THEN we can start talking about the fear factor involved. But for right now, he’s just a cute boy that you saw in the halls, and you want to get to know him better. Take some of the pressure off of yourself. Relax.”
“I knew you were going to treat this like it was trivial…” I said.
“Right now, it IS trivial. The fun part is finding out if you can build on that until it’s more than just another pretty face. You can do this. Just go talk to him. Get up, find out where he’s going, and talk to him. There’s a population of zombies outside, Jake. It’s not like he can really GO anywhere.”
I squirmed a little bit, the possibility of meeting this walking love-poem-in-the-flesh eating away at my confidence as fast as I could produce it. “What if he’s like, ‘Get away from me, fag! I hate you!’?”
“Then you punch him square in the nose and walk away. THAT would be the easy part.” Cain grinned. “Listen… you know how people say they’d never date you unless it was the end of the world? Well, a zombie apocalypse is about as close as anyone is ever going to get to that particular scenario. So why not go for it? Take a chance. For the first time ever… all of humanity, the young and the old, are being faced with their mortality all at once. The little things don’t matter. The labels cease to maintain their importance. And if, by chance, we all die tomorrow… people are realizing that we will have wanted to have spent these last few hours doing what really makes us happy. Something that tells us that we got a chance to really live. And if there’s a CHANCE that this boy is like you, and he’s feeling just a fraction of what me and the rest of these scraggly survivors are feeling right now… then you talking to him is going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“Sooooo, you’re saying…?”
“I’m saying, if you don’t peel your butt off of this linoleum floor and go after him, you might as well throw yourself over the fence and let the walking dead have their feed. Without passion and hope, you’d just be a big chunk of animated clay anyway.” He sure knew how to phrase things once he got going. He looked at me and said, “No, seriously, dude. I wasn’t kidding. Get up and go get him. Go. Quit being a wuss.”
I stood up and dusted myself off. Still not sure that I could actually go through with all this, but willing to at least fake some sense of self security in order to try. “Are you gonna be here when I get back?” I asked.
“Oh gee… I don’t know, Jake. There are soooo many places for me to get lost between here and the soda machine. Just go already. And remember… the bullshit doesn’t matter when it comes to the end of the world. Use that to your advantage.”
Ok… I can do that. I mean… it doesn’t matter, right? Even if he knows I’m gay, who cares? It won’t matter. He might even… like it. Or something. Besides, this school is huge. Chances are I won’t even find him in all this mess.
At that moment, I turned the corner… and there he was, sitting by the window. Damn. The ONE time I ask fate to ‘lose’ somebody, it smashes him right back in my face within the first five minutes.
The whole high school was fixed up with searchlights and the like, and the gleam from their illumination was shining through the window, causing his adorable face to glow with all the splendor of an angel straight from Heaven’s golden gates. It made my knees weak as I fought the fear and tried to approach him from the side.
And ice cold shower of insecurity suddenly washed over my shoulders. And as I saw him turn his head to look at me and smile, I asked, “What’s your name?”
No! Yikes! Could I have at LEAST said ‘hello’ first? What the heck did I do that for???
He grinned for a second, and although his expression gave me the indication that he thought it was weird for me to blurt out such a strange question with no build up, he said, “It’s Alex.”
“Alex. Ok… um… Alex. Cool. I’m… uh… my name is Jake.”
“Good to meet you, Jake,” he smiled. I was feeling woozy, actually interacting with him again. Especially up close.
I saw him look back out the window, and I turned to look with him. If nothing else, the small size of the window brought us closer together. Wow… he smelled like ‘cake’. Yellow cake. I don’t know why that was the first comparison that came to mind… but it was the only thing I could really associate his sexy fragrance with. “What are you doing?” I asked.
Alex scooted over a bit, and he gave me some more room to see. “The army is keeping the flesh eaters at the gates. They’re trying to find a way in, but every time they try to climb the fence, sharpshooters pick ’em off.” He said. “There’s too many of them to just gun them all down. I guess they’d find themselves low on ammo if they did that. Which is never a good thing a guess.”
“Heh, yeah. I guess,” I said. My stomach was wiggling like crazy, but I stood my ground and refused to run away.
“So… are you here with your parents, or…?” he asked.
“Oh… no. Just me and my brother.
“Oh. Dude, I’m sorry…”
“No, no… Mom and Dad are alright. They’re just being held at a different facility. It may be a week or two before we all get to see each other again.” I told him. “And you? Are your parents downtown too?”
His smile faded slightly. “I don’t know. I tried to call them a few times…”
He looked at me for a moment, then slowly shook his head. “I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, though. Probably laying low until they can find a safe passage to one of the checkpoints. Or maybe hitch a ride with one of the rescue convoys. I’m sure I’ll hear from them soon.”
There was a brief, but incredibly sad silence between us. But after that, we actually began to talk a bit more with each other. It started slowly at first, but gained in momentum as our conversation slipped into a much more comfortable vibe. Cain was right. Once I got things underway, talking to Alex wasn’t all that scary at all. In fact, it was downright fun. Apparently, he was being chased as he saw a fleet of military vehicles pass through his suburban neighborhood. It was just by luck alone that he was able to catch up to them and hop on before he was caught and devoured alive. But unlike the other people in this safe house… he hadn’t been traumatized to the point of numbness. Instead, he embraced the fact that he was alive. He was thankful for the good fortune. And that little light of hope, twinkling brightly in those awesome green eyes… I think that was the most attractive thing about him.
“How do you think it’ll all end?” Alex asked out of the blue.
“What? The zombie thing, you mean?” Alex laughed at me, and I blushed. “Oh… yeah, I guess that would be the situation to talk about, wouldn’t it?” Then I looked out the window, seeing the masses of undead growing in number. “I don’t know. I mean, obviously they’re not going to just… disappear on us. And I doubt there’s a way for us to kill them all. So who knows? Maybe we just have to wait it out. Just kinda… sit here and see what happens.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Or maybe we could just…” His sentence was cut short. I don’t know what made me do it. I just… I felt like I couldn’t help myself anymore. He was being so sweet, and so cute, and so… amazing. We had been talking for the better part of an hour, and even though we had just met, I already felt attached to him in a way that BEGGED for a stronger connection. So, without being able to control my instincts any longer, I lunged forward and kissed Alex on the lips.
Maybe it was awkward, sloppy… hardly the intimate connection I was hoping for. But as his eyes widened, I felt myself get lightheaded and my legs turn to jelly. Not one of my finer moments, I assure you.
During a moment like that, a nanosecond can seem like a lifetime. And his shock kept him from responding for more than a few billion of them.
“Okaaaay… so… I’m guessing that I just made a total ass out of myself. And I’m going to go crawl into a dark corner and hide now…” I said, already feeling the weight of rejection practically squeezing the air out of my lungs and creating extra resistance on my already labored heartbeat.
I turned to walk away from him, and Alex called out to me, almost as if he were stuttering from panic. “W-W-Wait! Jake… I… I mean… I…” I stopped walking, and slowly turned around, wincing from the emotional pain and bracing myself for whatever string of harsh words and insults might come next. “How… how did you know?” he asked. I was confused for a moment, but he rolled his eyes and said, “About me. How did you know about me?”
It took a moment or two to sink in. And even then, it felt more like a wet dream and less than reality. But even when I had figured it all out, and a tidal wave of unrestricted JOY rushed into my heart to take the place of the fear and uncertainty that dwelled there just moments before… I still couldn’t find any words to engage him.
I shuffled from one foot to the other, fidgeted with my hands, and toyed with my hair. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. I just stood there, looking around, hoping to keep my body from shaking me to pieces right there in front of him.
It didn’t take long for him to notice that I didn’t ‘know about him’. That I had just taken a chance; the biggest leap of faith that I had ever taken in my life. And, thank God… he seemed really flattered by that. So… instead of pushing the issue, and witnessing me dance around with a jittery stomach and wobbly legs, PRAYING that he’d let me run away before it all became too much for me and I passed out on the spot… Alex simply said, “So… I’ll see you tomorrow for breakfast? We can stand in line together.”
I took the subtle hint and nodded. “Yeah. I’ll… um… I’ll be there. Definitely.” Then I looked at those dimples, and repeated, “Definitely.”
“K.” He sighed. “G’night, Jake…”
“G’night, Alex…” And I turned around, half dizzy, half happy, half scared, half erect! And I practically skipped around that corner before I did anything to ruin that very perfect moment. Oh my God! Oh my God!!!! I didn’t know what to do with myself, but the smile that broke out on my face threatened to tear me open if I didn’t keep it under control.
Was that it? Was it really that simple? Was that all I needed? A momentary weakness and a severe lack of good judgement?
As I came back to where Cain was sitting, I saw him examining my face for a hint as to how things went. I think I was so blindsided by the whole event that he couldn’t read me at all. At least not from a distance. Worried for my emotional well-being, he looked at me walking towards him, and silently asked me what happened by displaying a thumbs up sign… and then a thumbs down sign.
Unable to hold my glee in for a moment longer, I gave him the biggest, most ridiculous smile of my young life… and I gave him the thumbs up.
Cain quietly cheered for me, and gave me an enthusiastic high five when I got close enough for contact. “Thatta boy!” he whispered. And before I knew what hit me, I was locked in his tight embrace.
When I went to sleep that night… those same bothersome springs digging into the softest parts of my chest and stomach… I squirmed around just knowing that Alex would be there in the morning. Waiting to grab a few musty old spoonsful of oatmeal out of what looked like a janitor’s mop bucket. And that his smile would be tailor made just for me.
Even when the world comes crashing down upon us, and the apocalypse is close at hand… there’s still life in this place. Real life. And it begins with the potential created by me and Alex sharing just one awkward kiss by a high school window after dark.
You know, it may only be my first day… but I think I’m gonna like it here!