They’ve been friends since well, forever. Partnered up in every gymnastics class, cheering on from the side-lines at guitar recitals or science classes. Billy and Kim are the sort of ‘forever friends’ the kind that will probably never lose touch with one another. Their friendship runs deep. Kim is the first-person Billy comes out to, she hugged him as he broke down from nervousness, sat with him for hours holding his hand as Bill Nye played out on Netflix, just talking to him so he knew it would not change anything between them. Kim told him all her secrets as well, made him scrapbooks of not just their ranger adventures, but his science experiments, there brief escapades as punks and so on. This friendship was how Billy knew that Skull had no chance with Kim romantically, nothing, none, no chance. And Skulls attempts to woo Kim were always going to fail. But Skull, has broken free from years of being Bulks mindless scrappy, has mellowed out, or mellowed out as much as a 16-year-old with a reputation for attitude and a high enjoyment of smacking gum. And so away from Bulk’s eyes Skull comes up to Billy one day after class (well after a club with the corridors deserted) and offers to walk Billy home. In between Skull’s incessant chatter, about Kim and how he’s failing just about every class, Billy maybe, and somewhat on accident, comes out to Skull. Except Skull, instead of reacting with a scoff and perhaps pushing Billy to the street. Just slaps Billy on the shoulder with a eye crinkling smile, and offers to carry Billy’s books. They meander through the streets, heat from the setting sun dying around them,
The conversation shouldn’t flow, but it does. “I’m afraid to tell my dad” becomes “I’ll tell my dad tonight”, the “I think I have a chance with Kim” becomes “I know I don’t, but its just something more to do”. Billy’s shocked Skull has managed this air of politeness, its like they’ve been friends since first grade, instead of tormentor and tormented. Skull leaves Billy with his bags on the front porch of the Cranston house. William takes Billy’s coming out with a smile and a hug to his son, a thank you for the honesty and a snark at where Billy goes all those times. By the time dinner and family bonding time is over, its late. Billy’s ready to sleep forever and not ponder the crazy day, when his phone flashes blue. A facebook notification.
“Eugene ‘Skull’ Skullovitch wants to be your friend”, a quick swipe accepts that. He replies to a few missed texts from Kim and Jason, and just as his head hits the pillow a final message, from Skull.
“hope ya dad got it ya know. thx bills” (That text is the first he replies to the next morning as he blinks sleep out of his eyes.)
And so that’s how Skull and Billy become firm friends. Except in secret, hidden away from everyone else’s eyes, dusk walks home from clubs, nods exchanged in the youth centre.
It’s Skull who comes up with the idea, he’s sat outside the high school waiting, swinging safety pin stitched denim covered legs, back and forth, jaw working through a pack of blueberry bubblegum. “We should date” its said in a snort followed by the clarification “fake date, you know, for fun, make Kimmy jealous”. Billy doesn’t reply, rather just nods his head. It’s dumb, the rational part of his brain knows it, probably just a ploy for Skull to rip him to shreds in front of the general school population, but the alternative is to say no, and the fear of losing Skull as a friend is suddenly at the forefront of Billy’s brain, overwhelming the rational sane part. Skull takes his books and his sweaty palm, walks them home hand in hand, same conversation as normal, but disappears with a kiss planted on Billy’s cheek and a “thank ya”. Billy clicks on the facebook relationship notification and lets the anxieties fill his mind. Kim and Trini both send him the same sequence of emojis, to which he replies “I’m sorry but this is indecipherable”. Kim just sends a bunch of smiley faces and exclamation marks in return. Trini sends “Be careful but I’m happy”. Jason just sends a selfie of him and Zack mid gym train, holding a notepad up with a crudely drawn thumb up.
Billy wants to tell them the truth almost immediately, how easy it would be to group text “it’s a lie, a rouse, to make someone jealous”, but that would give the game away. And he would normally go to Kim in situations like this, well hypothetically would have gone to Kim, because he’s never found himself in a situation like this before, and Kim’s like the root cause of the issue in a roundabout way. The only alternative is to text Skull.
From Billy C to Skull [20.59]
Are you sure this is a good idea?
From Skull to Billy C [21.00]
Make kimmy jealous, get to hang out with you in public. Sounds good.
Another minute later, Skull sends a picture, of a chubby cat lying on top of a pile of clothes.
From Skull to Billy C [21.01]
My cat says hello
And so Billy goes along with it, goes along with the handholding in the school corridors. The weird fumbled and spit covering speech Bulk gives him about protecting Skull. Even the occasional names he gets called in the corridors are faced with Jason protecting him, even Skull stands up for him once or twice. It’s nice, safe. Everyone is supportive of him, in a way that before he was scared off. Kim the most of all. There all sat at the table eating fries, Skull’s hand loosely entwined with his, when they overhear Kim say to Trini, “At least it means Skull won’t try to hit on me anymore and it’s a plus that Billy looks so happy”. Billy’s stomach sinks because he knows that’s the end of this, the moment he looks up into Skull’s eyes this stupid fake relationship he shouldn’t have any investment in will be over, and the friendship he was just getting attached too will be done as well. And then the familiar beeps signal out from his watch and instead of meeting Skull’s eyes, he just looks down and mutters apologies as he makes a hasty retreat.
Billy’s never been one for being good at avoiding, he lets the anxieties and fears build up in his awkwardness, too open and friendly by nature, ready to tackle things head on if he’s pushed a little. Yet hiding from Skull comes easy, because the fear of being hurt is too great. Days are spent in command centre, ignoring the beeping of his phone, texts from Skull that are lacking in grammar but not lacking in heart “wre r u?” and “srry if I did sumthn”, texts from Jason that say “hope you and Skull are okay”, and the stinging one from Bulk of all people, who it transpires later got Kim to give him Billy’s number. “Skull ain’t the same, he looks lost without you”
So Billy sends a text, the one he should have sent months ago to the group chat. “It was all faked just to make Kim jealous” And ignores the way his heart sinks the same way the broken heart emojis appear on his screen, the pity style texts from his friends. And the way Skull doesn’t meet his eyes anymore in the corridors. How he can’t quite identify the feeling in his chest, as loss or heartbreak in the way he reads in books as tender and all teenage hormones.
Billy just let’s the fact that he was the one that messed it up keep him awake late at night. For weeks until he feels wrung out, just coursing through club and rangering.
And then Skull’s there, sat on a bar outside the youth centre, in dungarees and a vest that’s seen better days both in terms of stains and staying together.
“Hey Billy, Missed walkin’ you home, want some gum?”