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Shark(My demon in the dark)

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Giving in was far too easy. It wasn’t worth it. I craved pain like a heroin addict craves their drug. I had been clean for over two months but even now, after all this time, the bittersweet sting was familiar and it felt so good. I couldn’t remember why I had stopped. It made everything go away. My mind was a ruined wasteland and the sharp twinge was like a flood washing away the Earth, renewing it. It was glorious.

            I cried. It hurt, but in such a good way I never wanted to stop. I ached for it. Pain was the only thing that kept me going. I pressed a wad of paper towel against my skin, soaking up the blood. I applied Band-Aids and went back into my bedroom. Now I could sleep easy, knowing I wouldn’t dream tonight.

            When morning came, I couldn’t get out of bed. My mind yelled at me, I was lazy, weak, but I was oh so tired. I could barely breathe. My absolute exhaustion was weighing me down and all I wanted to do was sleep just a little longer. So I did.

            When I finally woke up for good, my mom was gone and school had started an hour ago. I decided that I just wouldn’t go. There was no reason to drag myself to hell if I didn’t have to. The only thing I had to do today (besides school, and it wasn’t like I was going to alive long enough for school to matter anyways) was see my psychologist. Dr. Springer was nice in a way, but always seemed disappointed in me. I didn’t like talking to her, but my mom got mad if I skipped. She was worried about me and thought she needed to fix me. I hated it. I wasn’t a troubled child, I wasn’t a troublemaker and I was perfectly fine the way I was.

            I made myself a cup of coffee, nursing it as I went back upstairs. I had a free day, and I was going to spend the entire day in bed. It sounded great and I couldn’t wait. The phone rang around noon and I didn’t pick it up. I was too tired.

            I fell back asleep for another hour or so. I woke up screaming. My bed sheets were soaked in sweat and my pillow was damp from tears. I couldn’t remember my dream but it must have been awful. I started crying. I was so scared.

            I got out of bed to get dressed. My appointment was in less than an hour. I pulled on a pair of filthy jeans and an old, well-loved band shirt. I stumbled down the stairs, poured another cup of coffee, and headed out the door. I didn’t like driving, and I was fortunate that school and the doctor’s office were both in walking distance. Walking cleared my head, and anyways, it was exercise and that burned calories.

            Waiting for the Dr. Springer was always awful. The adults gave me looks of pity, assuming the reason why I was here, and seeing other teens was just embarrassing. I tried to drown them out with music, but it didn’t always work. Finally she came out. Her office was nice. It had a couch and a plush armchair, plants and books everywhere. I hated it. It was too perfect, too staged as if she wanted everyone feel comfortable so we would spill all of our secrets. It didn’t work on me.

            “Good afternoon, Ryan. How are you today?” I just looked at her. She wrote something down on her pad. “What do you want to talk about?” I just glowered, then sighed.

            “I’m sorry. I’m just really tired,” I muttered.

            “It’s fine. You don’t have to apologize to me. Have you not been sleeping well?”

            “No. I get these terrible dreams that I can never remember when I wake up.”

            “That sounds terrible. How does that make you feel?” There it is. The classic question. I rolled my eyes.

            “It makes me feel scared.”

            “Scared about what?”

            “I don’t know, okay?” I snapped. I was sick of her trying to psychoanalyze me. There was nothing wrong with me; I was just weak. Everyone dealt with this stuff and I just couldn’t handle it. “You know what, I’m done with this.” I stormed out of her office and headed home, knowing she was going to call my mom but I didn’t care. I just wanted to go home and go back to bed.

            My mom wasn’t home yet and my dad was gone which was great. Dad and I… well, we clashed. A lot. He would drink a lot and come home angry. It was always just easier to avoid him when he was mad. He would hit me sometimes, and tell me the most terrible things. It was a wonder that I had any semblance of a self-esteem left.

            I curled up in my bed, wrapping my blankets around me until I was cocooned in warmth. I cried and cried. Everything was just so hard and I was so weak and I guess I just wanted to die. I knew what I should do. Creeping into the bathroom, I grabbed my pencil sharpener blade that was taped to the back of my dresser.

            It was so easy and it helped so much. I pressed the blade to my skin. Did I really want to do this? I did. The blade slowly dug into my skin. I dragged it, leaving behind a thin red line. I waited until the blood started to bead on the cut before making a new one. It felt so good. The sharp bite was intense, clearing the dull pain in my mind. It made my thoughts go away and lifted the oppressive emptiness. I didn’t want to ever stop, but I knew I had to. I made three more cuts, a total of five, then rinsed off the blade, dabbed some toilet paper onto the cuts and went back into my room.

            My mom called me down for dinner, but I stayed in bed. I wasn’t hungry, and anyways, I was too fat to eat. I went to sleep, hoping for a dreamless night.

           The next day I did actually have to go to school. I hadn’t showered in about a week and I probably smelled, but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was go back to bed. Grabbing a banana for breakfast, I headed out the door. I probably hadn’t eaten in like three days and I was ravenous. The banana did wonders for my headache.

            School had always been terrible for me. I was quite an introvert and had very few friends. Classes were hard and kids were mean and teachers didn’t care, and I just got lost in the crowd. It was nice to blend in, but not so nice when you were all alone. I dragged my feet as I walked to school, getting there just in time before the bell rang, early enough that I didn’t make an entrance but not so early that I had to sit there all alone. I had it all figured out.

            Some people, on the other hand, liked to make an entrance. And that someone was Frank. He barged into the classroom an entire ten minutes late, ignored the teacher and trudged to the back of the room where he flopped down into the desk next to mine. I stiffened. I didn’t like people sitting next to me, but Frank wasn’t that bad. He most likely wouldn’t even talk to me, preferring to ignore me over make fun of me. At least I hoped so.

            I kept my head down and didn’t talk for all of class, at least until my teacher said those dreaded words: “Okay, everyone, we’re going to start a group project!” The entire class groaned. Then she made it even worse. “Here are your assigned partners.” Today just could not get any worse. Until it did. “Ryan, your partner is Frank.” I sat there, stunned, then glanced over to Frank, who was smirking at me. Moaning, I dropped my head onto my desk.

            “We’re going to have so much fun together, Ryan,” Frank said, snickering. I dug my fingernails into my skin. It wasn’t enough. I needed to calm down. Surreptitiously, I scratched at the soft skin of my wrist. Much better. I could feel the anxiety and worry just drain out of me.

            The bell rang and everyone shuffled out of the classroom, but I was tugged backwards. Turning around to glare at my accoster, my withering stare withered when I saw Frank, standing with his arms crossed.

            “We do actually have to do this project. Give me your number.” Shocked, I did what he asked. We exchanged numbers then I bolted from the classroom.

            I went straight to my little hide-away, an empty janitor’s closet that had long since been disused. I kept it hidden from everyone, and I only came here when I needed to be alone. God knows the bathroom is a terrible place to hide. I didn’t want to work with Frank! His friends were usually mean to me and he seemed to just not care. I startled when my phone buzzed. It was Frank.

Frank: I’m coming over to your house today for the project whats your address??

Ryan: I live right off of Callahan Road. It’s the small white house.

Frank: Okay see you after school

            Shit! Why did he have to come over to my house? This was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut that something terrible was going to happen.

            The school day ended far too soon, and I walked home. Frank was waiting outside of my house by the time I got there.

            “What took you so long?” he asked.

            “I walk home.” He looked at me quizzically. “It clears my head. And I enjoy it.” He just shrugged. I grabbed my key and unlocked the door. The whole house reeked of alcohol and I knew my dad was home. Frank wrinkled his nose.

            I stepped inside, planning to sneak Frank up to my room without my dad seeing, but no such luck. He stumbled into the living room, swaying with each step.

            “You’re back from school?” he slurred. “Who’s that with you? Is that your boyfriend, you little faggot?” I cringed, and Frank looked like he was about to murder my dad.

            “Frank, head upstairs. My room is the first one on the left,” I whispered. He looked angry, but followed my instructions. Facing my dad, I spoke to him. “No, he’s just a friend.” Dad took a step closer to me, grabbed the collar of my shirt, and dragged me until I could smell his foul breath.

            “You know I don’t like it when you lie to me.” He slapped me across the face. “Don’t you dare lie again. You know I hate faggots.” I took a deep breath.

            “I’m sorry, Dad. I won’t lie again.”

            “You better not. “ He hit me again, then sent me upstairs. “I don’t want to hear you or your little friend at all today!” I nodded, and slunk upstairs. Frank was pacing back and forth in my room.

            “I’m sorry that happened,” I muttered. He spun around to face me.

            “Did he hit you?” I nodded. “Does he do that often?”

            “Not too often.”

            “Ry, you should tell someone. He can’t keep hurting you!” Frank gently brushed his hand against the red marks on my face. “I’m really sorry.”

            “Don’t be. It’s usually not bad. It could be a lot worse. I’m strong and I can handle it.” Frank frowned. I continued. “I don’t want to leave my mother alone with him. Even if I left, she never would.” Frank kept staring at me. It made me feel ill. I didn’t like attention. “I don’t want your pity. And don’t you dare tell anyone at school about what happened.”

            Frank looked really upset. I had never seen a crack in his tough, bad-boy persona. It was terrifying to see that he was actually human. “Okay,” he said. “But if you ever need anything, you’re going to call me.”

            “Sure.”

            “Okay, we’d better start working on our project.” We sat down on my bed an opened our textbooks.

            “Wait, what’s this project again?” Frank laughed.

            Frank left around ten. I slipped him out quietly and my dad was none the wiser. I went to bed without dinner, and fell into an uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

I couldn’t breathe. And when I woke up, I still couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air, dying inside and out. My vision was blurry and dizzy and my chest felt like it was going to explode. And then I actually woke up. For real this time. I sat up in bed, absolutely soaked in sweat. My heart was still pounding and I was still hyperventilating, but at least I was semi under control.

I took a deep breath and willed my heart to slow down. Trying to ground myself, I pressed my cold, shaking hands to my face. I shoved the sweaty bangs out of my eyes and checked the clock. It was around four in the morning. What a great way to start the day. It was too early to get up and too late to go back to sleep. And I didn’t want to anyways. Sleep was scary. I hated not being aware. Plus sleep meant bad dreams, which sucked. So I got up anyway. The best part of having an alcoholic dad is that he slept in late. I was able to take a shower, washing away the nightmare with the sweat. I was never really sure what I was dreaming about, but I didn’t think I wanted to know.

The cold water definitely woke me up. I should’ve waited for the water to heat up, but I tried to look on the bright side. I was much more alert now. I quickly showered, so I could get dressed. Long sleeves were a must, but besides that, I just put on random things from my closet. I didn’t have many clothes, so picking out what to wear in the morning was never a challenge. I checked the mirror; there was a faint red mark on my cheek, but it wasn’t that noticeable. I was sure it would be fine.

It still was early. Only five now and I didn’t know what to do, but I needed to do something. I was getting antsy, so I went outside. Fresh air always calmed me down. I sat on my porch. For a long time. And I got to watch the sunrise. It was stunning. It almost made me want to get up tomorrow morning just to see it again.

But with the sun came the day, and with the day came school. I started to walk, but took a detour. A long detour through the neighborhood. I was just avoiding going to school, but I didn’t want to be late, so I reluctantly headed towards school.

I slipped into my seat just before the bell rang. Today was going to be awful, I could tell. My hands were shaking as I tried to take notes. I couldn’t read my own handwriting. And then my pencil flew out of my hands. I needed to calm down. I wanted to, but my heart wasn’t listening to me, and I felt scared. But I was strong, and I could handle this. So I started pinching myself really hard on the soft inside of my elbow. It wasn’t really enough but it would suffice until class was over. As soon as it was, I was getting the hell out of there.

The moment the bell rang, I was out of my seat and heading toward the door. I just needed a few moments alone. I kept some band-aids and a blade wrapped in a couple tissues in a pocket in my backpack. It wouldn’t take too long and would do wonders to help me survive the day.

I had to fight against the current to get to my hiding place, but someone pushed me against the lockers. Brendon Urie, the resident asshole, pinned my wrists above my head.

“Look who it is! The poor little emo kid. Have you cut yourself today?”

“Brendon, please. Let me go.” I tried to pull away, but he was a lot stronger than I was.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?” he snarled. “I’m so sorry.” I sniffled, and that just made him laugh. “Aww, look! I made him cry! Did I hurt your feelings?”

“Please.” I was so fucking done with today.

“Guys, let him go.” Frank was standing in the hallway, looking pissed. “Come on, Bren. You’re better than this. Don’t waste your time on him.” Brendon sighed.

“I guess you’re right.” He let go, and I glared at Brendon first, then Frank, as I rubbed my wrists. “You got lucky.” He and his posse left, though Frank didn’t follow.

“Thanks, I guess.”

“No problem.” He sighed, and ran his hand down his face. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself?”

“What’s the point? It’s not going to stop anything.”

“Not with that attitude,” Frank said. I laughed humorlessly.

“They’re going to hurt me anyways. Had you ever thought that maybe I deserve it?”

“Ry, don’t say that.”

“Just leave me alone. I have to go to class.” I walked away but he held onto my elbow.

“No, you don’t. You have lunch right now.” I glared at him. “You’re sitting with me today.”

“Do I have to?”

“Yes. Now come on. I want you to meet my friends.”

“I thought Brendon was your friend.”

“No. I just talk to them. We more mutually benefit from each other, less friends. I’m talking about my real friends. I think you’ll like them.”

We went into the cafeteria, and Frank led me to a table near the back. A group of kids were sitting together.

“Hey, guys. I brought someone new. Everyone, this is Ryan. Ryan, this is everyone.” I looked at him, overwhelmed. He chuckled. “Don’t worry. We don’t bite. Unless you want us to,” he smirked mischievously. He started to introduce some of the people. “This is Gerard and his brother Mikey, and Mikey’s boyfriend Pete, and Pete’s friend Patrick. And this is my girlfriend, Jamia,” he said proudly, hugging a pretty girl. She rolled her eyes, and gently shoved him.

“You’re such a dork,” she said.

“And that’s why you love me,” Frank smirked. She rolled her eyes again, but laughed.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ryan,” Jamia said. “Come sit down!” She smiled at me. So I sat down, tense and scared.

“So, Ryan, how’d you meet Frank?” someone asked.

“Group project,” I whispered. I was so out of my element. I didn’t even like people. I didn’t want to sit there. I wanted to go home. I dug my fingernails into my skin, trying to ground but it wasn’t helping. I felt nauseated.

“You don’t talk much, huh?”

“Hey, leave him alone,” Frank said.

“No, it’s, um, it’s fine. I actually have to go.” I stood up, grabbed my backpack, walked away.

“Wait, Ry! Don’t go.” I shook my head. I needed togged out of there. I needed to be alone. I headed straight for my little hiding spot. The moment I got there, I collapsed in the corner, crying. I dug into my backpack, before finding my little blade. Just one. Maybe two, I promised myself. I knew there was no point, I was going to keep going until I felt better, but I liked to lie to myself.

I rolled up my sleeve. I needed to do this. One quick strike to get started, and then I slowly dragged the blade across my skin, watching the blood bubble up. It felt good and I felt sickened.

“Oh, no Ry.” Frank was standing in the doorway, staring at me. I pulled my arm in tight against my chest. He crouched next to me and gently pushed my sleeve up. “Why would you do this?” I yanked my arm away.

“Why do you think?” I snarled.

“You don’t need to do this. You’re stronger than this.”

“Stop.”

“Promise me. Promise you won’t do it again.”

“No fucking way.” I pushed my sleeve down, blood making my sleeve stick to my skin. I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder, and tried to walk away, but he pulled me back. “Leave me alone!”

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. He looked shellshocked.

“No, you’re not. You’ll be over it soon. Look,” I sighed. “Just leave me alone. I’m fine.”

“You’re obviously not. Let me help you.”

“You think you’re helping? You think that drawing attention to me is helping? You think that making me feel more guilty than I already do is helping? You’re not helping! You’re making it worse.” He didn’t stop me from leaving this time. I was grateful for small mercies.

Chapter Text

“Rough day, huh?”

“Hmm?” I looked up to see the barista smiling at me. “Yeah.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m alright.”

“Are you sure? My shift ends in a few, so we can head over to a better coffee shop. Starbucks doesn’t really cut it.”

“Don’t you work here?”

“So I should know.”

“Okay.” I smiled. “That actually sounds really nice.”

“Cool! I just need to wait for the next person to take my shift. My name’s Dallon by the way.”

“I’m Ryan.”
“Nice to meet you, Ryan.” The bell jingled as the door opened.

“Hey, Dal.” I stiffened.

“Hey Brendon,” Dallon said. I silently begged for Brendon to not notice me. Today was obviously not my lucky day,

“Hey, fag!” Brendon’s hand slammed down on my shoulder, but I didn’t turn around.

“Hey, sexually repressed homophobe who needs to get a life,” I muttered. Dallon stifled a chuckle.

“Bren, that’s not okay.” I could almost hear Brendon rolling his eyes but he tightened his hold on me.

“I’m gonna go,” I whispered, shifting to try to get out from under Brendon’s arm.

“Hey, wait. Brendon’s next shift so I’ll be done in a moment.” I settled back down. My hands were shaking. I needed to get a grip on myself. I took a deep breath and felt a little calmer. My hands were still shaking, though. “Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go!” We stepped outside and he led me down a few streets to a small hole in the wall café. He held the door open for me. The person behind the counter smiled when we walked in.

“Hey, Dal, you brought a friend?”

“Yup.” He walked inside but I still stood in the doorway. “Are you coming in?” I nodded, and stepped forward. There was a nice atmosphere inside. It was quiet and warm and just felt comfortable. I loved it.

Dallon must have been a usual, because the barista knew what to make him. I ordered something random off of the menu out of panic and indecision. Caffeine’s caffeine, though, so it can’t be bad. After getting our drinks, we sat down at a table in the corner and proceeded to sit there awkwardly until I broke the silence,

“I like this coffee shop. How did you find it?”

“I’ve been coming here since high school. It was a nice place to study and relax. A good friend showed it to me and I’ve practically never left. It feels like home.”

“Why don’t you work here then?” He laughed before responding.

“I felt like working here would ruin the good feeling. I wouldn’t like being here as much if I had to.”

“That makes sense.” We were quiet for a bit.

“What about you? Do you have a place that feels like home?”

“Sort of. It’s less of a place but more of an activity. I play guitar, and I can just get into this mindset of peace. It’s almost heaven.”

“Nice. I play the bass. And you’re right, music is heaven.”

“Playing it is better than listening to it, though. When I pick up my guitar and play a favorite song, it’s like I’m limitless. I’m no longer a person, I don’t exist because I’m just connecting with the music in a way I can’t when I’m just listening. I’m not me and it’s exhilarating.”

“I’ve never heard it described like that. You make it sound really beautiful.”

“It is,” I smiled.

“You seem happier. Smiling looks good on you.” I blushed, and ducked my head. “And so does blushing. You’re very cute.”

“Thanks,” I whispered. No one had ever said that to me.

“It’s true.” He reached across the table to grab one of my hands. I resisted pulling away. I needed to work on being more “trusting” or something like that. “You seem nervous.”

“I’m just not really used to people being nice to me.” I spoke honestly, but didn’t look him in the eye. I was ashamed of myself.

“Well, that’s an absolute tragedy. You seem like you deserve nice.” He started to lightly rub the top of my hand and I pulled away.

“Please stop.” I hated myself for how quiet my voice was, how weak it was. He looked stricken.

“Shit, I’m so sorry. Are you, like, not gay?” He winced. “Sorry, that sounded so crass, but what Brendon had said made me hope-“

“No, it’s not that, I just don’t feel very comfortable with this right now.” He looked so sad. “I’m really, really sorry. Please don’t get mad at me.” By the time I had finished speaking, I was borderline whimpering in fear. I hated hated hated myself for being so weak.

“Why would I get mad?” Dallon glanced up at me. “Ry, you’re crying.” I shook my head.

“I’m fine. I think I’m going to head home. Thanks for talking with me. It was nice to meet you, Dallon.”

“Can I get your phone number?” I nodded, and typed it into his contacts, before sending myself a text.

“See you later, Dallon. I’m sorry.”

The walk home was awful. My head was just chanting over and over again that I’m weak. I couldn’t even have a conversation, this was probably why I didn’t have friends. I guess I didn’t deserve friends. I was a walking piece of shit and everyone knew it.

I took a detour through the park. It meant more time away from home, more time away from life in general. The park was pretty in the afternoon. No one really walked down through the woods, so I usually had it to myself. I could soak up the quiet and the solitude and feel calmer. Maybe it was my home, like Dallon’s. That was a comforting thought that I kept in my head as I walked to my favorite spot in the forest. There was this massive tree that towered above me and it made me feel small, but not in that bad, I’m-not-good-enough way, but in the I’m-a-part-of-everything-around-me way. I didn’t feel so alone with my tree friend.

 

***WARNING EFFECTIVE NEXT PARAGRAPH***

 

It was getting dark, but I wasn’t too worried about being out at night. I had always felt safe in the woods. I finally got to my tree but someone had left a book at the base of the trunk. I picked it up, but didn’t open it. It looked like some sort of journal or sketchbook. Something private. I left it on the ground, and walked around to the other side of the tree. I threw up on the ground. A body was hanging from one of the branches. I looked at it closer and started to retch. It was a kid from school, one of Frank’s friends. I had just met him a few hours ago and he was dead. I couldn’t even remember his name. And he was dead. I didn’t need to check for a pulse or anything; I just knew he was dead. He was dead, and I wasn’t. I was fucking jealous of someone who had committed suicide. I was despicable. Truly and utterly disgusting. And I was still making it about me, right in front of this dead body that used to hold a person, and I was being selfish. I needed to stop being so self-absorbed and actually do something. I didn’t know what to do. What was I supposed to do?

I called 911. I didn’t know how to explain to the receiver what had happened because I didn’t know myself. All I knew what that someone was now dead. Someone who shouldn’t be dead.

A hand on my should startled me and I jerked away. It was a police officer. He asked me a few questions that I answered as honestly as I could. I didn't know his name, though. I couldn’t remember. They took his body away, covered with a sheet. I threw up again. It cemented that he was dead. Dead was permanent. He was permanently gone. I wanted to be gone don’t think like that. I was escorted off the premises, but I caught a whispered name as I left from the officer paging through the book on the floor. Gerard Way. That was his name. And he had a younger brother, too. Mikey? Oh fuck what was going to happen? The body was now a person who had relationships, who had friends and family. It wasn’t just an it anymore, he had been a real human being who really existed and now didn’t. Gerard Way was dead. He was dead.

I walked home and locked myself in my room. Dad wasn’t home, and nor was my mom, so I didn’t have to deal with other humans. I sat with my back against the door and just cried.

School was strangely normal in the morning. Seeing everyone else walking around, going on with their lives sickened me. It’s like they didn’t know. They probably didn’t, or at least didn’t care. It turned out that they didn’t know, because most people were shocked when the principal came on the loud speaker to announce that “Gerard Way had sadly passed away” and all of the crap about how he’ll be missed. I heard someone whisper “Good riddance. I’m surprised he lasted this long,” and someone chuckled. I caught the middle of the announcement, where he said that “Gerard’s body was found by a fellow student in the park” and I tuned out after that. I didn’t need to hear more.

The rest of the day was more sickening than before. At least earlier, people hadn’t known, but now they were making jokes about someone’s death and it felt like a stab in my heart. The speculations about who found the body were getting wilder and wilder, but no one mentioned me, so I was safe. Frank, though, caught my eye in class and mouthed ‘Is it true?’ I shrugged it off like I wasn’t able to understand him. He sent me a text.

Frank: meet me after class I need to talk to you

I shook my head slightly, but Frank glared at me with red eyes until I sighed and nodded. I still tried to slip out quickly, but Frank cornered me before I could escape.

“Is it true that you found him?” he whispered. I nodded, and Frank wrapped me in a hug. I stiffened. “I’m sorry that it was you.”

“How did you find out?” I didn’t want other people to know. It felt like it wasn’t something to be shared. I owed it to Gerard almost to not talk about it.

“Mikey told me. One of the cops told him, I guess. He’d like to talk to you, if you’re okay with that.” I didn’t feel like I had much choice, so I followed Frank to the cafeteria. All of his friends were somber today, and the missing member was painfully obvious, even to me. I felt like I was going to throw up again. They were looking at me pityingly, even Mikey. He shouldn’t be pitying me, his brother died! I didn’t deserve it, he did. Something actually bad had happened to him, not to me.

“Hey, Ryan,” Mikey muttered. “Can I talk to you?” I nodded jerkily. I didn’t want to talk to Mikey, but he led me into the hallway and leaned against the wall. “The police said you found his body.” It wasn’t a question. He knew. The whole table probably knew, and the whole school would know by dismissal.

“I’m so sorry.” I felt like he was going to be mad at me, angry that I hadn’t done something or hadn’t told him myself.

“I am, too. I’m sorry you had to be the one who found him.”

“You lost your brother.” Mikey nodded numbly.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Could you tell me, though? What he looked like?”

“He looked… gone. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine, Ryan. Don’t worry about it. I’m gonna go back to my friends. You’re welcome with us any time, okay?” I didn’t say anything. “Take care of yourself, Ryan. I think Frank’s worried about you.”

“You, too, Mikey. I’m sorry.”

Chapter Text

I skipped my last classes after lunch. I didn’t know where to go, though. The coffee shop was a no because I didn’t want to see Dallon, and the park, the forest, was a definite no.  So I just went home. I regretted it the moment I stepped inside, but I had already committed, so I shut the door quietly and made my way upstairs to my room. I didn’t get far.

“Why are you home?” My shoulders slumped and I turned to face my dad. He looked angry, but mostly sober.

“Why do you care?” I should not have said that. His beady eyes turned even beadier, if the was even possible.

“Why wouldn’t I, George? You’re my son, after all. Even if you’re a failure.” His sober words hurt more than when he was drunk, because now he was in control of his actions. He enjoyed hurting me, I could see it in his face that he enjoyed tearing me down. “I heard on the news today that some kid at your school killed themselves. I’m honestly disappointed it wasn’t you. Would’ve made my life easier.” I took a step back. “You can’t even face the facts like a man! No one wants you. Why would they?” I bolted before he could say anymore.

I locked the door to my room, and collapsed onto the floor. No one wants me. No one wants me. Why would they? He’s right. He’s always been right, that I’m worthless. I felt this heavy, dark anger fill me, not towards my father, but towards myself. I shouldn’t have let myself get this way. I shouldn’t even exist. I made everything worse. My parents wouldn’t argue if I didn’t exist, my dad wouldn’t drink and my mom would come home more. I should have killed myself, and every day more it takes me, I prolong everyone else’s suffering. I wanted to be dead. But then I thought of Gerard, and I retched. My stomach was twisting, from shame and guilt, but mostly jealousy.

I retched again, and scrambled into the bathroom. Nothing but bile came up. But now I was in the bathroom, and I had a blade hidden in the back of a cabinet, behind the over-the-counter painkillers. It kind of was a painkiller, at least to me. It felt good and once I started, I didn’t want to stop. I wondered what would happen if I went a little too deep today, how long would it take for my blood to drain, leaving me empty. But I didn’t deserve that. I deserved pain, and not the helpful pain, I deserved to be punished, for being so weak and so worthless. Everyone else should be able to see it, too. I etched a shaky “W” into my arm, deeper maybe than I should have gone. It felt like giving up. Good. I followed it up with “EAK” to have permanent proof on my body of how despicable I was. No one would want me, especially now. I had doomed myself to loneliness, and I felt sick pride in that.

I wrapped my arm up tightly, and slipped back into my room. I made a little cocoon out of blankets on my bed and curled up, trying to fall asleep even though it was still early in the afternoon. I was tired. My phone buzzed, and I ignored it, but it buzzed again so I checked my messages.

Dallon: Hey

Dallon: Just wanted to check in, see how you were

My hands were shaking, but I responded,

Ryan: Can I call you?

I didn’t wait for him to respond, and he picked on the first ring.

“Hey, Ry, what’s up?” I couldn’t speak. “Are you okay?”

“D-do you want me? Like do you want me to exist?”
“Shit yeah of course I do. Are you okay, though? You don’t sound too good.”

“I’m fine,” I lied, I couldn’t breathe.

“No, you’re not. Can i come over to check on you?”

“You can’t come here.”

“Can I meet you somewhere, then?”

“Your coffee shop. The nice one.”

“Perfect. I’ll see you soon.” He hung up, but I stayed there for a moment longer, before I forced myself to get up, to stand up. I snuck quietly down the stairs and out the door. It was going to be a longer walk this time, since I couldn’t cut through the forest.

Dallon was already seated and on his second cup of coffee by the time I arrived. He looked relieved to see me. He grinned, and I tried to smile back. It was hard, but I managed. I sat down across from him.

“You don’t look very good.”

“Thanks. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”

“You know what I meant,” he sighed. “Look, are you okay? You really didn’t sound alright over the phone, and I’m a little scared.”

“I’m fine.” He looked at me. “Not really. Something really bad happened.”
“Do you want to talk?”

“No.”

“I think you need a distraction. Do you want to go over to my place? Listen to some music or watch a movie?”

“You’re not a serial killer, right?” He chuckled.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Then sure. A movie sounds good.” He grinned, and I was able to smile back more easily. His cheerfulness was infective.

“Cool! My car is parked down the street.” I followed him out. Music turned on when he started the car, but he lowered the volume down to where I could barely hear it.

“My mom used to tell me to not get into cars with strangers.”

“It’s a good thing I’m not a stranger, then.” I didn’t get how he could always be so positive. “I live like five minutes away so it’s not a long drive. What movie do you want to watch?”

“I’ll watch anything.”

“Okay. We can pick something out when we get home.” Dallon lived in a nice apartment. He had CDs and books everywhere.

“You play the bass?” There was a gorgeous instrument in the corner of his living room.

“Yeah, I love it.”

“I used to play the guitar.”

“Why’d you stop?”

“Um, some bills were overdue and my parents had to sell it to make a payment.”

“That’s awful. I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s fine. It was a long time ago.”

“But it still sucks.” I just shrugged.

“It’s not a big deal.” I wandered away to look at some pictures he had on the counter. I didn’t want to talk about that anymore. “Are these your friends?” I was looking at a picture that looked around a year old.

“Yeah. They’re pretty great people.”

“They look nice.” And they did. Dallon had his arms around two other guys, and they were all smiling at the camera. They looked happy.

“They really are. What are your friends like?”

“I, I don’t have any.”

“C’mon, you must have someone. You’re too nice to not have any friends.”

“Well, I have you?” I looked at him hopefully, and he smiled at me. “And I guess I have another friend, but probably not anymore.”

“What happened?”

“Something bad. I did something bad.” I should have told Frank. He had looked mad at me for not telling him, and for avoiding him. Mikey was lying when he said Frank was worried about me. I wasn’t welcome in their group, even if they said I was.

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. Will you tell me?”

“Please don’t get mad at me,” I whispered. He nodded. “I found, um, his friend’s body after he killed himself and I didn’t tell Frank.”

“You found someone’s body?” I nodded, ashamed, and Dallon wrapped me in his arms. “I’m sorry that happened. I don’t think he’s mad at you for not telling him. That must’ve been horrible for you. When did this happen?”

“Yesterday. After I saw you.” He just held me tighter, and I started to cry into his shoulder. He pressed a kiss into my hair, and we sat there for a while.

“Thank you for telling me, Ryan. That was very brave of you.”

“I’m not brave. I’m weak.”

“You’re not weak.” I looked up at him, still crying a little.

“I am we-“ Dallon kissed me. I stiffened, then almost melted into his arms. I felt safe.

“I’m going to do that every time you say something bad about yourself.”
“Why? I’m not worth it.” He smirked, and kissed me again.

“You’re very worth it.” We sat on his couch, cuddling and kissing for a long time. I knew he was just pitying me, but I went along with it. He probably just wanted to have sex, and I was a last resort, an easy target. I was okay with it, because I felt more comfortable now than I had in forever. “It’s getting dark,” Dallon whispered in my ear. “Do you want to stay here tonight or should I drive you home?”

“Can I stay here?” I didn’t want to leave the safety of Dallon for my house. It didn’t deserve to be called “home.”

“Of course!” Dallon looked excited and happy. “I don’t have much for dinner, we could order a pizza or something?”

“I’m fine with whatever.” I probably wasn’t going to eat anyway. I just realized that I was staying here overnight, and my stomach was flip-flopping with anxiety.

“You’re easy to please.” I just shrugged. “We can figure it out later. I only have one bed, do you mind sleeping with me, or I should I sleep on the couch?”

“Can I sleep with you?” I blushed when Dallon smirked, and I realized the double meaning of  what I just said.

“You’re cute when you blush,” he said, and kissed me gently. “What do you like on your pizza? I’ll order some and then we can go to bed.”

He placed the order, and we were back on the couch, just sitting there together. The doorbell rang when the pizza guy arrived. I followed Dallon to the door, holding his hand. The delivery person looked familiar, and then I realized it was Frank, underneath the obnoxiously bright uniform. He recognized me as well, saw that I was holding Dallon’s hand, and gave me a sharp, judging look. I glanced away. I could still feel him watching me.

We ate quickly and quietly. “Hey, Dallon? Do you, um, have anything I can sleep in?” Jeans and a hoodie over a t-shirt with slight blood stains wasn’t my version of comfortable night clothes.

“Of course.” We went into his room, and he rummaged around in his dresser until he found a pair of sweatpants and a shirt. “You’re shorter than me, but these should hopefully fit.”

“Where should I change?” I was ashamed of my body, of my scars especially.

“The bathroom is right through there.” I gave him a grateful smile, and slipped into the bathroom. His pants were far too long, so I had to roll them up at the waist. He didn’t have a shirt on when I came back, just a pair of pajama pants. My mouth went dry.

“Do you want to lie down with me?” I nodded, and climbed onto the bed next to him. He laid on his side, facing me, and stroked the side of my face before kissing me, harder than before. He rolled over me, and looked me in the eye. “Is this okay?” I nodded. I wanted to be okay for him. I wanted him to like me and I just wanted him to want me.

Sex hurt a lot more than I expected, but Dallon was nice about it and gentle. I didn’t tell him that it was my first time.

The alarm I set in the mornings for school woke us up. I forgot that I had to go to school, and Dallon’s apartment was too far for me to walk.

“Dal? Do you think you could drive me to school?”
“Why do you have class so early?” he said, blearily.

“I’m not in control of when my school starts.”

“Where is it?”
“It’s the high school by the park and Starbucks.” He jolted.

“You’re in high school?” I frowned.

“Yeah. You didn’t know?”

“No, I thought you were in college like me.” He looked horrified. “How old are you?”

“I just turned sixteen. In August.”

“Shit. I just slept with a minor. That’s illegal. You should have told me!”

“How old are you? I thought you were about my age, and it didn’t even matter to me.”

“I’m twenty two. And I’m going to be in so much trouble.”
“No, you’re not. I agreed to it, and I wouldn’t tell anyone.” I was getting scared, too. Scared that he wouldn’t want me anymore. “Do you not like me anymore?” I asked in a small voice.

“No, Ryan, it’s not like that, but I could get arrested.”
“It doesn’t bother me.” I needed him to still like me, so I wrapped my arms around his shoulder. He leaned into me.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” he asked. “I really like you, but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m fine.” As if to prove the point, I kissed him. I felt him relax against me.

“Thank you.” We sat there for a few moments, before I spoke up again.

“I still need a ride to school. I’m sorry.” I ducked my head, afraid he’d get mad at me for asking.

“No problem. Do you need clothes to wear?”

“Just a shirt or something.” He gave me a soft sweater that smelled like him, and the sleeves went almost to my fingertips. I loved it.

The drive to school was quiet, but not awkward. He gave me a kiss before he dropped me off in the school parking lot. A few people saw, but no one really cared. Except for Frank, who was glaring at us. I waved goodbye to Dallon, and he drove off. The moment he was gone, Frank walked next to me.

“Who’s he?”

“My boyfriend.”
“Isn’t he a lot older?”

“So?”

“That’s dangerous, Ryan. He could be a sexual predator or something.” He seemed panicky. “Oh, god, please tell me you’re not sleeping with him.”

“Why do you care? It’s none of your business.”

“You are! Are you so lonely you’d sleep with anyone?” I paled, and walked away. He tried to grab my sleeve, but I dodged out of his grasp. “Ryan, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.” I just shook my head and kept walking. So much for a possible friend.

Chapter Text

Frank was looking at me all class, but I ignored him. I knew he felt bad, but he must’ve meant it. So I continued to ignore him, and just shook his hand off when he tried to pull me aside after class.

“Ryan! Please.” I flipped him off and kept walking. I should’ve known that he was too good to be true. Frank had been nice to me, but it was now obvious that he looked down on me.

It was only solidified during lunch. I was hiding in the bathroom this time, because Frank knew where I usually hid. Frank and Mikey came in, so I closed the stall door and pulled my feet up so they couldn’t tell someone was there, and just in time.

“I feel bad for him.” I was pretty sure that was Frank.

“I do, too. It shouldn’t have been him.” Mikey sighed. “You know, I walked in on Gerard one time after he had slit his wrists. He looked so pale, and he had lines, scars running all the way up his arms and I thought he was going to die. I can’t imagine actually finding him dead. I still don’t really think he’s dead, like he’s still here and we’ll sit with him at lunch and he’ll be doodling little vampires or whatever and we’ll just pretend to be happy.”

“You were pretending to be happy?”

“Yeah. I’m just so fucking mad at him, though. How could he have left me? He knew I needed him and why was he so selfish? Why couldn’t he have taken me with him?” It sounded like Mikey was crying right now, and I felt embarrassed that I was overhearing it. It felt too private. “I just want him back, Frank!”

“I know, Mikey, I do too. We all miss him.”

“He promised me he wouldn’t try again. He promised me. Why would he lie to me?”

“I don’t know why.”

“I just want him back. Why couldn’t I have saved him?”

“I think it was too late for him. He didn’t want help anymore.”

“I should’ve still been able to do something. He was my brother. I should’ve been able to help him.”

“You couldn’t have. But right now, you need to take care of yourself. That’s what Gerard would’ve wanted. He would’ve wanted you to be happy.”

“How am I supposed to be happy?”

“I don’t know. Just keep going, I guess.”

“Do you know how Ryan’s holding up? He seemed pretty nice when we met earlier but I guess I’m a little worried about him. Maybe I could help him like I should’ve helped Gerard.” No way. I didn’t want to be “helped.”

“He’s struggling, I think. I made him pretty mad this morning, though. But he looks bad. Very bad.”

“How’d you make him mad?”
“I said something stupid and he won’t let me apologize or even talk to me.”

“Maybe I could talk to him.”

“You can try. He doesn’t really let anyone get close to him.” Frank sighed loudly. “He’s hurting pretty badly, though. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I found him cutting the other day.” Why would Frank tell someone? He just kept hurting me more and more. I shouldn’t have been so hopeful about him.

“Like Gerard?”
“Maybe worse. It looked really bad.”

“Jesus. I”ll try to talk to him, help him out a little. It might make me feel better, if I could help at least someone.”

“Good luck with that. Come on, I think lunch is almost over.” They walked out. I was absolutely fuming. I wasn’t a fucking charity case, I didn’t need help or pity or anything. I needed to be left alone. I stayed in the bathroom for the next period, slipping out near the end, so I could avoid the crowded hallways. I didn’t want to be around people, but specifically Frank.

I was really pissed. I didn’t want to be their fucking project so they felt better about letting Gerard die. And anyway, I wasn’t even worth their worry. It should’ve been me who died, and then everything would be easier for every goddamn person alive, including me. Especially having Frank “help” me. I wasn’t going to trust him. I shouldn’t have.

Avoiding him didn't work out too well, because he cornered me on my way out of the building. He must’ve been waiting at the door for me to walk by.

“Ryan, we need to talk.”

“No, we don’t.” I tried to move past him, but he pulled me to the side.

“Yes, we do.”

“Fine,” I snarled. “I don’t want to talk to you, so just get it over with.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“For what?” Frank looked at me, confused, and I sneered. “For basically calling me a slut, or for trying to ‘help’ me so you and Mikey feel better about letting your friend die? Or for telling Mikey something that is no one’s business, not even your own? I asked you to leave me alone, Frank.”

“All of it, I guess. How did you know I talked to Mikey?”

“Does it really matter? I heard you, and what you said hurt me. You know what? I’m done with this.” I walked away, but he grabbed my arm tight, so tight it hurt as his fingers dug into the myriad of cuts and bruises I had on my bicep. “Let go of me.”

“No, not until you let me talk!” I punched him, not very hard, but hard enough to split his lip. I stared at him, shocked, as he wiped away some of the blood on his mouth.

“I am so sorry,” I gasped, then bolted. I had promised myself I’d never hurt someone, especially out of anger, but I just did. I was going to turn into my father. I didn’t want to be like him, but I was. I hit Frank and I had always told myself I’d never hit someone. I knew what it was like to be on the receiving end and I didn’t think I could ever do it to someone else. I guess I was wrong. I was just as bad of a person as my father was. Maybe I deserved him. Maybe I deserved everything I had been given in life.

I ran home. School wasn’t even over, but I was done with the day. I just wanted to go to bed and hopefully never wake up. I was sick of being alive.

Dad, of course, was angry when I got home. Something about “never going anywhere if I skip school” and “I’ll turn out just like him” and “I was probably getting fucked by some guy like the whore I am last night.” He didn’t know how close he was. So I just let him get madder and madder, and just let him get violent. I deserved it.

After, I hid away in the bathroom. The door had a lock, so it felt safe. In the mirror, I had a split lip to rival Frank’s, as well as a black eye, bruises, and some dried blood in my hair. I looked like shit. I was shit. I deserved it, I deserved all of it, I deserved pain and suffering and death. I wanted to die. I wanted to die so badly it physically ached and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t feel anything besides the thumping of my heart reminding me that I was still alive. It needed to stop. I wanted my heart to stop.

I retched into the sink, and stood there, panting. The medicine cabinet was behind the mirror, and I opened it, scrambling through the bottles until I found a massive bottle of acetaminophen. Painkillers to kill the pain. It made sense in an almost humorous way. I choked down a handful of pills and god was it painful my stomach was being ripped i felt like i was being stabbed why was dying so painful

 

 

I woke up covered in yellow vomit mixed with slightly dissolved pills, and it was puddled next to my head as well. I couldn’t remember what happened, but the half empty bottle of off-brand Tylenol that was spilled on the floor next to me gave it away. I felt nauseous and dizzy. Why didn’t it work? Why wasn’t I dead? It wasn’t fair I should be dead! It wasn’t fair. I threw up again, retching desperately on the floor. My body was paying the price right now, but I couldn’t help but feel like I deserved the suffering. That maybe I deserved it so much that I wasn’t allowed the luxury of death. I deserved hell.

Chapter Text

I took a shower, to try and clean myself off. I ended up sitting on the floor of the shower, sobbing. I was such a failure. And my entire body hurt, a deep ache that scared me a little. I sat there until the water ran cold. Then I wiped up the floor, trying not to think about what happened and what I wished had happened. It almost hurt more to know that I didn’t succeed.

It was early afternoon when I finally left the bathroom. I’d been unconscious or just unaware for almost twenty four hours. There wasn’t any point going to school, especially since I was going to be in trouble because I punched Frank. I ended up just going on a walk, hoping the cool air would make me feel better. It didn’t, but I kept walking because I couldn’t stand being in that house I was supposed to call home.

I made my way to the coffee shop that Dallon worked at, hoping to see him. He smiled and waved when I walked in.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
“I didn’t feel like going.” I gave him a guilty grin, but he frowned at me.

“Ryan, what happened to your face? You look like shit.” I lightly prodded the bruise under my eye. I winced.

“Nothing,” I said quietly, ashamed. He was going to know how weak I was. I didn’t want him to pity me, too.

“Come on, we both know that’s not true. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.” He shook his head, but didn’t press.

“Do you want to do something when I get off work?”

“I’d love to.” I sat at the bar as Dallon worked, just chatting with him and I felt lighter than I had in a long time.

The door opened and Brendon walked it. I’d forgotten that he worked here.

“Hey, Ross, I missed you at school today.” He clapped his hand on my back and I jolted forward.

“Sure you did.”

“You’re right. I didn’t. School was much better without you. Almost like everyone was happy because they didn’t have to deal with you.” He was probably wrong, but only because most people didn’t know I existed. “And what happened to your face? I need to thank whoever did that for me.”

“Please stop, Brendon.”

“Who was it? I bet it was Frank. He was probably done pretending to be nice to you.”

“Stop.” It was just a whisper, not very assertive at all, and Brendon just laughed.

“Hey, Bren, if you’re done being mean to my boyfriend, you can go start your shift so we can leave.” I sat up straighter, proud that Dallon called me his boyfriend. Brendon, on the other hand, gagged.

“You’re gay, too? That’s disgusting. And I actually thought you were cool.”

“And I didn’t think you were an asshole. I guess we were both wrong.”

“I’ll meet you outside, Dallon.” I stepped outside. No one had ever defended me before. Dallon was like a dream come true.

“Alright, Ry, I’m ready. Do you want to come back to my place?” I nodded. I’d do anything with Dallon. I was very grateful to have him. He kissed me on the cheek and led me to his car. He let me control the radio, and I skimmed through stations until I found a song I liked. I rarely had the chance to listen to music on a good sound system. My crappy drugstore earbuds were fraying, and one bud barely made sound anymore. “When we get home, Ryan, we really need to talk.”

“Okay.” I turned the radio up a little louder. I didn’t think I was going to like what he wanted to talk about. We got up to his apartment, and he sat down next to me on the couch.

“Alright. I’m really worried about you. You look like you’re half dead right now.”
“I’m fine,” I mumbled.

“You’re not. Is someone hurting you? You didn’t get those bruises on your own.”

“No one is hurting me.”

“Please don’t lie to me. Is it someone at school? Are they bullying you?”

“It wasn’t anyone at school.”

“Brendon was being rather mean to you. Is he always like that?”

“He’s usually worse,” I scoffed. “But he’s the worst at school, so it’s not too bad.”

“So there are others. Why don’t you do something? Like talk to a teacher?” I shook my head.

“No way. It’s not gonna do anything. And everything they say is true, so maybe I deserve it.”
“No one deserves to be bullied.”

“I do.”

“You don’t.” He wrapped me in his arms, and I relaxed into him. He felt safe.

“You’re too nice to me.” He kissed the top of my head.

“I’m not. You deserve it.” We sat there for a while. I could feel his heart beating, and it calmed me. My own heartbeat terrified me, but knowing that someone who was nice to me was alive was a happy feeling. “Will you tell me who it was? I want to help you.” I pulled away from him.

“I don’t need help. I’m fine.” He looked a little shocked that I had actually raised my voice a little. “Can we please stop talking about this? I have it under control.” He sighed, but nodded. I smiled, and leaned back into him. He had listened to me.

I stayed over again that night. We slept together, but he didn’t mention my scars. I wasn’t sure if he noticed them, but I hoped he hadn’t. I wanted him to still like me, and he was already looking at me with a bit of pity.

I woke up early, like I always did. I didn’t want to bother Dallon again, so I sat quietly on his couch until he woke up. School was starting soon, but I wasn’t going to go. The very idea of school filled me with dread, and I didn’t want to ever go again. It wasn’t really my choice, but I’d push it off as long as I could. I thought about Frank, and how mad he must be. He was just another reason to not go to school. Him, and Brendon. Maybe if I apologized to Frank, he wouldn’t hurt me as badly when I went to school. No apology was going to help with Brendon, but I could at least try with Frank.

Dallon ended up driving me to school, because he didn’t want to be a bad influence on me. I only missed one class, which was unfortunate. I kept my head down in the halls, avoiding looking at people so they wouldn’t see my bruises. Frank stared at me as he walked past in the hallway, and my phone buzzed a moment later.

 

Frank: Meet me in that closet you hide in next period

Frank: Please

 

At least he said please. I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice, so I circumnavigated the clumps of people blocking the halls and headed to my empty closet. I left the door slightly ajar, and sat in the corner. I needed to get my breathing under control. He walked in, and stood there, looking at me.

“I’m sorry.” I braced myself for his anger, but it didn’t come. He only sighed.

“I am, too. I pushed you too hard and I’m sorry. And I shouldn’t have talked about you with Mikey. I was just worried about you.”

“I’m fine, Frank. You don’t need to worry.”

“I can’t help it.” He sat down next to me. I slid over just a bit so there was space in between us. He frowned, but didn't mention it. “You’re too easy to worry about. You’re like a puppy who needs protection.”

“I’m not a puppy.”

“You’re right. Maybe more of a koala. You sleep a lot and are surprisingly aggressive.”

“Thanks?”

“No problem. But seriously, I’m worried about you.”

“You don’t need to be. I’m okay. Really.”

“Tell that to you face. Ryan, you’re covered in bruises. Was it your boyfriend?” he asked suspiciously.

“Dallon? No! He’d never hurt me.”

“You sure about that?”

Yes.”

“He’s not pressuring you into anything?”
“No, Frank! He’s not doing anything wrong. Please stop asking, you’re making me paranoid.”
“I’m sorry. I was just a little doubtful. I want you to be in a heathy relationship. People tend to take advantage of you.”

“No, they don’t.” He looked at me dubiously, so I amended, “maybe a little.”

“So what’s Dallon like?”

“He’s amazing. Like truly amazing. He lets me stay overnight when things get too rough at home, and he just makes me feel safe.”

“Stay over, huh? Do you have sex?”

“I’m not talking to you about my sex life! Would you want to tell me about Jamia?”

“Maybe,” he smirked. “And it’d make you jealous.”

“Please don’t. I don’t want to know. And sex makes me uncomfortable.” Frank looked at me quizzically, so I told him. “I think I’m asexual. It’s just so awkward and pointless and just gross. I really don’t like it.”

“But you sleep with Dallon.”

“Yeah. I like making him happy, and he makes me feel wanted. Some discomfort is worth it.”
“You’re too nice.”
“Thanks?”

“That’s not a compliment, Ryan. You just scare me, with letting people do whatever they want to you. You need to stand up for yourself.” I winced. He was right, but that wasn’t going to change anything. I was a coward.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Nothing worth doing ever is.”