The sky in Shadyside was covered in a thick layer of gray clouds that afternoon, as Buffy Driscoll made her way to the basketball court in the park. She assumed it would be empty given the weather, which would leave her the perfect opportunity to practice some of her skills solo. Something she hadn’t been able to do in what felt like ages. As she got closer to court she could hear the sound of a basketball bouncing repeatedly against it. She rolled her eyes but knowing two people on the court was better than nine, continued her walk.
Upon arriving she saw who was making the noise, it was T.J. Kippen, someone, she was not too pleased with at the moment, his movements were almost mechanical, he was just throwing free throw after free throw keeping his eyes locked on the net. He didn’t even see that Buffy was there.
“Hey Kippen!” Buffy Shouted. No response. “Theodore Jackson! I-“ Buffy was going to say more, tell him off for hurting Cyrus the previous week or something but T.J. had turned to her, his eyes were puffy and bloodshot his face grim. She has never seen him so upset. Not when he when he found out about his dyscalculia or even when the whole gun fiasco happened. This was different T.J. looked completely distraught. It really was different for T.J., he had never felt like that. He had ruined something amazing for good that time and he was too terrified of other people’s opinions to fix it. He was losing sleep from guilt and sense that no one in the world could never know what he was going through.
“Buffy I screwed up! I really did. I know that. Yell at me if you want, I probably deserve it.” He let out, his voice shaky and weak.
“T.J., are you okay?” Buffy asked genuinely worried for her old teammates well being.
“Yeah I’m fine, I’m fine.” T.J. croaked.
“No, no you aren’t” she walked over to him grabbing the ball out of his hands before he could make another shot. “C’mon Kippen let’s talk.” She tried to sound as delicate as possible gesturing over to a nearby bench. T.J. found himself following Buffy over to the bench and sitting beside her despite every part of his consciousness yelling at him to stay put or better yet run in the other direction. “So,” Buffy said facing T.J. whose head was down.
“Buffy I messed up I really, really messed up. I hurt the one person I care about more than anything and that is always there for me and now I don’t know what to do.” T.J.s teary eyes had now developed into a sob. He couldn’t hold it any longer everything felt like it was about to fizz up over the top and he was absolutely terrified. “He hates me Buffy, doesn’t he?”
“T.J., Cyrus could never hate you. He’s just upset you bailed on him and I think confused. Why did you bail? You clearly care.” Buffy had a pretty good idea why T.J. was so upset but she did wonder why he would bail. It didn’t make sense if her suspensions were right and T.J. liked Cyrus why would he drop him for Kira of all people.
“It’s a lot. I don’t know how to explain it. T.J. replied. “It’s just a lot.” His heart was pounding through his chest.
“You can tell me anything, Kippen.” Buffy said patting his back. “I’ll try to understand, I want to understand.”
“Promise you won’t tell anyone?” T.J. didn’t know what he was doing. Was he really about to open up to Buffy? Was he ready? He could barely breathe well enough to get his words out.
“I promise. Not a soul.” Buffy responded.
“Buffy I-“ The rest of his words got stuck in his throat. He scanned the area around them a few times over then tried again. “Buffy I-“ he couldn’t do it. “Sorry, I’m scaring myself.” He got out instead with a soft chuckle interrupting his tears.
“T.J. it’s going to be okay. I promise.” Her heart broke for him. She wished he didn’t feel so scared. No one should have to feel like that. T.J. scanned the area a final time.
“Buffy I like Cyrus.” He choked out. Sobbing harder now.
“Okay.” Buffy insured him. “That’s okay.”
T.J. couldn’t believe what he had just said. He really laid his darkest secret out on the table. It all hit him with a wave of emotions. It felt so good to be free and so terrifying because now that he had said it it was real, it was permanent and there were no take backs.
“I really wanted to do the costume with him I really did. I kept running through ideas in my head when I found out about costume day. I couldn’t settle on just anything it needed to be perfect.” He told Buffy. “Then I thought of somersault and it was perfect. It was our thing.”
“That’s great T.J..” Buffy smiled.
“I got all excited to tell Cyrus, it’s dumb of me I know but I couldn’t wait and then I did and he agreed and was really looking forward to it.” T.J. had stopped crying and was grinning ear to ear talking about the costume. If he didn’t think about what ended up happening it made his heart flip.
“Cyrus was really looking forward to it too. So what happened. If you were so excited and you like him. Why would you bail?” Buffy questioned.
“I didn’t want to Buffy, I really didn’t want to.” His face fell again. The rest hurt so much to say. “It’s just Kira-“
“What about Kira?” Buffy asked. She was almost scared to hear the response. She didn’t trust Kira, not one bit.
“She saw- she saw me and Cyrus hanging out the other day and I don’t know, maybe she caught on or I don’t know but she she ended up coming up to me and asking me if I wanted to do a costume with her. I told her no because I was already doing one with Cyrus you know. Then she said ‘so you’d rather do a costume with Cyrus than with me’ and I knew what she meant by that. She meant I’d rather do a costume with a boy than a girl and maybe I shouldn’t want that.” He was crying again “She said it in a way that made me think I shouldn’t have wanted to dress up with Cyrus. That it was wrong.”
“T.J. there is nothing wrong with you. It’s okay if you want to dress up with a boy or date Cyrus. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Buffy grabbed T.J.s hand. Not knowing how else to confront him.
“Buffy I feel weird, and I got scared. Scared that yeah maybe I’m weird or wrong or something and people can see straight through it. So I changed costumes, that way people wouldn’t know I’m weird and I screwed up my chances of ever being friends with Cyrus again, let alone more in the process and it sucks. I had something good and I ruined it.” T.J. let it all come out then, he let all his feelings be known as adrenaline rushed through him. He had said so much at that point he had nothing more to lose and it was starting to feel good.
“T.J. you’re not weird for liking Cyrus or wanting to dress up with him. It’s okay and Cyrus won’t be upset with you if you tell him what happened.” Buffy told him. “I know it’s scary and you don’t need to do it if you don’t want to, you’re in no rush but if you decide you want to, I promise Cyrus will understand and be okay with it. Cyrus really cares about you.”
“He does?” The thought made T.J.s feel funny.
“He really does. He hasn’t stopped talking about you. He’s mad but I can tell he misses you.” Buffy said. The thought of Cyrus being mad at him crushed him but the thought of Cyrus still thinking about him made T.J. feel like he was on the top of the world. Maybe Cyrus liked him too.
“Will you come with me to tell him?” T.J. asked Buffy. Buffy was proud of T.J. he had made just big progress in just a few minutes on that bench.
“Of course Kippen, I’ll be by your side the entire time if you want me to be.” She gave his back and extra pat.
“Do you know where he is?” T.J. asked surprised by is own confidence.
“The spoon I think, why? Do you want to tell him right now? Buffy asked back.
“Yeah, I think I do.” T.J. stood up. “You ready?”
“Yeah are you?” Buffy stood up next to him.
“Yeah” T.J. copied. The pair walked down away from the basketball court and into town without saying a word, the sky still dismal above them.
The door of the spoon was in arm's length away but T.J. couldn’t get himself to reach out and open it, he was terrified again. Buffy opened it for him walking inside first and gesturing for him to do the same. They found Cyrus alone in a booth toward the back of the restaurant sipping on a milkshake with a green straw. T.J. sat down opposite of him, Buffy next to him. He was hurt, mad at T.J., he would’ve gotten up to leave but Buffy was blocking him in and truthfully he missed talking to T.J.. T.J. took a deep breath.
“So, there’s something I have to tell you.” He said. They had all come a long way since they first met.