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Something Like Falling

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Lips pressed together, hands knotted into hair, breath shared between the small space they held themselves in; Andrew felt like he was falling and the longer it went on the more devastating the crash.

Neil doesn’t protest when Andrew jerked away, doesn’t follow as Andrew escaped. Andrew slipped outside, lit a cigarette, and drew. He held the smoke in his lungs.

A count of four, exhale, smoke curling skyward. There was too much feeling where there should be none, a pipedream to good to be real, too real to last.

Andrew stubbed out the half-smoked cigarette under his shoe and went back inside, a mug of fresh hot chocolate left still steaming on the table beside the coach. The mug was a miserably bright orange, doubtlessly one of Neil’s. Seeing it twisted Andrew’s stomach in a way that he didn’t want to consider.  

Andrew poured it down the sink without taking a sip.

Neil knew something was wrong, it was clear in the broken off kisses, solo cigarettes, and locked doors.

He knew better than to push, Andrew had been pushed more than enough in his life.

Instead, Neil took what was offered, gave everything he could in truths, and sweets, and space, and let the days of winter break tick by.

It came to a head when Andrew came back late, the telltale spots of purposeful purple shown with knowing precision, on Andrew’s neck and over his collarbone.

Neil felt something inside him break, something nameless turned jagged, but he doesn’t say a word. Andrew was never his, and he’d always promised he’d lose interest.

Instead of words, Neil grabbed his keys, carefully not watching Andrew threw his coat onto the couch and headed to the shower. Didn’t notice, wouldn’t notice, that Andrew didn’t spare him a glance.

With deceptively calm fingers Neil teased out a key from his ring, and then another. Placed beside a cooling mug of hot chocolate they looked almost picturesque.

Neil left the door locked behind him.

It took everything he had not to look back.

Andrew didn’t believe in regret.

Seeing the two keys on the table, one for the front door of the house, the other for the car; Andrew thought he might have to reconsider.

Wymack didn’t question Neil when he knocked despite the hour being shockingly close to sunrise. Neil, in turn, doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation, muttering a thanks to the coach before crashing on the couch. The rest could wait, for now, Neil would sleep and hope he’d wake to an earlier time.

Andrew hardly saw Neil outside of Exy practice, the team seeming to have taken several steps back since they had left for break. Andrew didn’t care about that, ignoring Wymack’s tirades and Kevin’s rants. He stood idly in the goal as it lit up red time after time.

Night practice afforded him more glimpses of Neil, though the striker had taken to meeting him and Kevin at the court and running back alone afterward, returning to his new hole up in Boyd’s room night after night.

Andrew didn’t miss the slow disappearance of clothes from Neil’s drawers, finding yet another key left behind once they’re empty of everything but the clothes that they had gotten him for Eden’s.

Andrew pushed away the stir of feelings instead of trying to decipher them, locking them away with the key he dropped in with the abandoned clothes.

Nicky scampered out of his way as Andrew left the bedroom, going first to the roof and then the amphitheater. Being on the roof felt too much like hitting the ground.

Andrew almost missed falling.

The first game back was borderline disastrous, a win wrestled away from the Catamounts by the skin of the Foxes’ teeth.  Palmetto was back to the team they were pre-Neil, Class I on raw talent with a disruptive lack of organization, an unplayable apathetic Andrew with neither the promise of sobriety or Neil able to make him raise a racquet.

Wymack was fuming in the locker room for debrief, waiting on Dan and Nicky to join after they had broken off to deal with the press. Once they entered the room, before they could even sit, he began.

“I don’t know who was playing on my court tonight but it wasn’t the Foxes I’ve been training for the past four months.” Preston, the freshmen goalie, looked cowed, but the rest of the team preferred either no reaction or a pointed glare at Andrew. The blond didn’t react.

“Your personal lives may be out of my pay grade but if it’s going to interfere with my team then it becomes my problem. So figure it out, before our match against ASU. Dismissed.” Andrew is the out of the door, followed quickly by the freshman, Aaron, and Kevin. The rest of the team spared Neil anxious looks, they hadn’t missed that he’d been talking less off the court, but they follow after as well; Neil acting as the tail.

“Neil,” Matt dropped back in step with Neil, speaking softly so the others couldn’t hear. “If you ever need to talk you know I have your back, right?” Neil managed him a weak smile, fake enough even the freshmen wouldn’t fall for it.

“I’m fine Matt, thanks.” The words felt counterfeit but it was all he had. Matt looked unconvinced, but let Neil push past him. “Don’t wait up for me after.” Neil didn’t wait to see Matt’s face fall, stepping into a stall, shedding his clothes, and turning the water all the way up.

He could feel his skin turning pink under the spray’s heat but he doesn’t care enough to adjust it, instead setting his face to the cool wall as the water pounded against his scarred back, carrying sweat and weakness away with it.  

Andrew didn’t wait for his monsters to finish showering, getting into the Maserati with still damp hair.

He drove aimlessly around campus for awhile, speed to slow to do any good at detangling the knotted thorns that had taken hold of his chest, a knot that seemed to grow and constrict by the day and hour.

He found himself back at the Foxhole Court, parking lot completely empty of fans and players alike. Save one, redheaded striker only now just making to leave. Andrew pulled up beside him, rolling down the window but saying nothing. Neil’s hair was still wet, dark where it curled over downcast eyes.

A few breaths pass and Andrew almost pulled away, thinking himself unwelcome, before the door opened and Neil climbed in.

The window is rolled up and they drive for a few minutes in silence, radio muted, before Andrew leaned over. He clicked open the glove box.

“Something of yours is in there.” Andrew doesn’t miss the nervous flit of Neil’s eyes, and swallowed. The knot tightened so hard around his lungs he could hardly breath. It was worse than falling.

Neil reached forward with careful fingers, pulling out the trio of keys with stunted breath. Andrew can feel blue eyes on him but continued to stare at the road. He needed to turn the words over and over in his head, weeding out any uncertainty.

Two minutes passed before Andrew finally opened his mouth. “I made a mistake.” The knot loosened its hold by just a margin, letting him suck in a breath. It was the opposite of his fingers, tightened around the wheel.  

“I- we were never-” Andrew cut him off, veering sharply to the side of the road.

“We were. I hurt you.” Andrew tapped his fingers against the wheel. “I didn’t realize.” Neil’s eyes were wide, fingers white around the keys. They would leave marks. “He didn’t do anything else.” Neil’s eyes fell to the loop, fist opening and closing around the keys. It settled on closed when he looked up.

“What now?” Andrew’s chest finally loosened at the question, thorns retreating as he held the answer off by lighting two cigarettes. He handed one to Neil, feeling fingers curl around it.

“That’s up to you.” Andrew took a drag, seeing Neil mirror him.

“Nicky’s been missing Eden’s.” Andrew shifted back to drive and pulled back onto the street.

“If they’re not ready in fifteen minutes we’re leaving without them. Make sure they grab us something presentable to wear.” Neil nodded and sent the text, the rest of the monsters waiting for them at Fox Tower, with a bundle of clothes in Nicky’s arms. They pile into car.

“Did you guys finally make up?” Nicky asked immediately, voice loud in excitement.  Neil beat Andrew to the radio, turning it up loud as a warning.

Andrew was feeling, but it really wasn’t that much like falling. It just took him too long to figure it out.