Naive. That's all he was.
At fifteen years old, Brian David Gilbert had made that an obvious staple of his personality. Having been sheltered his entire life, he chose to cling to the childish world he knew as the other kids his age grew up too fast, desperate to find their independence. He caught turtles and fed ducks down by the pond while everybody else partied. He studied every night while the rest blew off homework in favor of more pressing matters.
He feared greatly for them, worrying that they were all trading in soaring teenage ambitions for cookie-cutter cubicle spaces; everyone knew that nobody around here ever left for work, travel, or otherwise. The town, smaller than a pinprick on a map, sustained itself on trades and apprenticeships, and the upcoming generation were never taught in school to pursue their own aspirations. There was a community college -- you could learn anything your heart desired there.
He also feared for himself. Though he'd never say it explicitly, Brian had grown tired of the place, tiny and hidden away as it was. He was bored with running the same day over and over again like a movie on repeat. He'd seen Groundhog Day a few times, and surprising as it sounds, he didn't want to live that reality.
But it seemed his unforgiving fate, destined to be just another nobody from birth. He had a set of helicopter parents to thank for that. With no real knowledge of the outside world, and alienated from the world he knew, he kept to himself more often than not. Video games and books were his only friends, but he thought higher of them than anyone he'd become acquainted with.
Brian was mild and well-mannered, smarter than most, but not nearly as wise-- yet. He was comparable to a fawn, with kempt tawny hair, hazel doe eyes magnified behind wire framed glasses, childish and gullible nature; each trait showing through a soft exterior. Underneath it all, his thoughts and feelings dueled over what would become of the boy, resulting in new anxieties every minute. His calm demeanor was starting to unravel, and he had taken up giving excuses as a hobby, not willing to chance a public meltdown. He'd been having those more often lately.
However, on this, just another brisk October afternoon, he found somebody who finally understood.
Trudging carefully through messy, leaf-and-mud filled sidewalks on the way home from school, Brian ached to be back in the comfort of his bedroom. It had rained the night before, and the dirt he was getting on his freshly cleaned converse was only the start of his problems. He was getting used to being a sophomore, but still didn't feel familiar enough. His heart raced laps around his ribcage whenever he thought about how little time he had left to figure himself out. Less than three years remained before he was on his own, and just the thought of it frightened him beyond belief. He felt the stress weighing on his shoulders as if he was Atlas.
Ten minutes passed, of which felt like hours, and the teen finally arrived home. He ascended the stairs to the front, pulling a silver key from his pocket to unlock the aging oak door. Upon pushing it open and stepping into the entryway, he deposited the key by its ring onto a wall hook immediately to the right, and kicked off his shoes. A glance up showed his brother, Patrick, scrolling through his phone in the living room, oblivious to who had just come inside.
With a half-hearted shrug, Brian turned to the steps and padded up to his room. He set his backpack next to his now-closed door and sighed, mumbling an, 'I'll get to that later,' in regards to his homework. Right now, he was far too on edge to read Orwell, even if he actually enjoyed novels. He just needed some time with Link, some time to feel brave.
The next few hours were duly spent playing Wind Waker, with the freeing idea that for once in his life, Brian actually knew what he was doing. His gameplay paused only once he realized that it was already 7:00 at night, and he hadn't eaten anything since lunch. Begrudgingly, he set the controller down, stood up, stretched a bit, then made his way back down to the kitchen.
The brunette hummed a made-up melody to himself as he rummaged through the fridge to find something he could eat quickly, or easily bring up to his room. After looking everything over for the third time, he settled on a leftover box of Domino's from the night before. Upon closing the refrigerator door, Brian, not paying enough attention, stepped forward and instantly ran into a figure considerably taller than him.
A yelp involuntarily escaped as he stumbled backwards and frantically juggled his meal, stabilizing himself and the pizza box after a second. He took a moment to gather his panicked thoughts before looking up at who he had inconvenienced. He scanned the stranger for a moment before catching and establishing eye contact with him.
He had to have been the same age as Brian's brother, but it was hard to tell based on how mature he seemed. He wore a black graphic tee, accented with an open red flannel, as well as black jeans, and combat boots to tie the whole thing together. His dark hair was long, reaching his chin, and it just slightly hid one of his eyes, which were adorned with glasses. Brian had never seen somebody so different.
He almost felt informal in comparison.
The younger of the two was the first to break the silence, stammering out a meek 'sorry,' in the hopes that he would be able to avoid any more interaction. He wasn't.
"You must be Brian, or so I assume?" The stranger spoke, the previously startled expression on his face softening as he disregarded the weak apology.
Brian shifted a bit, allowing a small nod before confirming, "Yes. Yeah, and uh, you must be somebody that I don't know."
"Hm. You got me there, whizkid. I'm Patrick Gill," came the response, along with an outstretched hand. Brian stared for a moment before tucking the cardboard box under his left arm and completing Patrick's handshake. "Your brother's told me a lot about you."
"Oh. Should I be concerned?"
A gentle laugh rang through the room. "Nah, nah. It's good shit. Promise," It wasn't enough to entirely calm the boy's nerves, but it did make him feel a bit better about this new face. "Actually, I think we have quite a bit in common."
"Is that so?" Brian was intrigued, and he let down his guard just slightly as he entertained this newfound acquaintance. He was known to be extroverted with the people he cared about, but he wasn't sure that he could say so about Patrick-- not now. "Enlighten me."
"Man, where should I start?"
this is a really angsty chapter i apologize--
i'm sure brian's brother is lovely in real life, but that doesn't show well in this story and i also apologize for that
"Pat Gill, you are utterly horrible at Smash."
Brian giggled from his position on the couch, in the middle of Pat and Patrick, of whom he had quickly come to learn needed some form of differentiation. Deciding this took many hours of deliberation on his part, meaning that his friend had told him to call him Pat and he agreed. Still, though, he insisted on using last names when talking just to go the extra mile.
It had been a couple months since the original encounter, wherein it was discovered that yeah, they really did have a lot in common. Be that as it may, they were pretty much polar opposites in every regard -- which only made the similarities they had that much stronger. They played off of each other perfectly, a sort of Mario and Luigi type situation.
Now, almost every day after school was spent the exact same way: Brian, Pat, and Patrick scrunched up in the Gilbert living room, playing some multiplayer game. Today, it was Super Smash Bros. Melee. Brian was just glad they weren't weird about him tagging along.
"You made me play as Pichu," Pat stated calmly, his blank gaze remaining fixed on the T.V. as he floated back towards the stage. Player one had booted him off.
Player two grinned and knocked out the COM's last life. "Come on, I'm sure people have won with Pichu once or twice--"
"Not gonna happen," The voice came from the other side of Brian, his brother's confidence level rising to finish off player three: Pat. It wasn't long before the youngest of the bunch was out, too.
"Unfair advantage. You basically live and breathe Samus," He objected, dismally tossing his controller onto the wooden coffee table in front of the trio.
Immediately, Brian felt the judging stares of both parties on him. "Shut up. Link's cool," He defended, though the statement didn't hold well pairing with his red-hot blush.
A scoff came from the side of his brother. "And Samus isn't?"
"Nah. But Pichu? The absolute raddest."
Pat grinned as he nudged Brian's shoulder with his own. "Not sure which way I should take that, so I'm just gonna assume you think I'm rad."
That earned an ambiguous look from the latter, who then returned the shoulder-nudge before yawning quietly. "I know I'm super lame for this, but I should probably head in for the night. Got a stupid math test tomorrow. But thanks for letting your annoying little brother play," He paused for a moment as he stood and changed his focus to Pat, "and I'll see you sometime soon."
And with that, Brian was gone up the steps. He stopped by his sister, Laura's, room for just a moment to check in with her about her day, then settled into his room with ease. These days, he was able to mask his fears much smoother; finally having a real friend made him feel less lost in the world. Sure, he still had absolutely no clue what was ahead of him, but at least somebody cared enough to find it out with him.
As he laid down and situated himself in the mess of covers on his bed, he heard talking coming from downstairs. It was hard to make out exactly what was being said, so Brian didn't try very hard. Sleep was more important. Though, he did catch a few odd words as he drifted off, "I know you're different, but he isn't."
Suddenly, things changed. For the next week before Christmas vacation, he was excluded from the group. After the first few days of rejection, he got sick of asking to join in, and gave up.
Brian isolated himself. He didn't know what had gone wrong -- they all were getting along so well just a day earlier. Had he said something? The questions multiplied and echoed through his mind without end, and suddenly sitting alone playing LOZ became miserable again. Only ten times more so than before.
Two weeks without school went by, then another three with. Nothing changed. Brian would sit alone on his bed, doing whatever homework he had while the two chilled downstairs, obviously not missing him. Sometimes his sister would come in and talk for awhile, which he appreciated immensely, but nothing felt the same; of course, saving for his anxieties, which had come back in full, if not more intense.
His birthday rolled around, falling on the 29th of January, but he didn't much care this year. Sixteen didn't bring much of value to him. Driving was cool, only that he was terrified of crashing. He could work legally, but he didn't think he'd be much use in any field.
There was one thing, though.
This night in particular, a meteor storm was supposed to be clearly visible in the sky, along with a lunar eclipse. Brian loved the stars, loved getting lost in the rows of light that dotted above. He hadn't gone out to stargaze in quite a while, but he figured tonight was as good a time as ever.
The rest of the day went as normal, adding in a few birthday wishes from family, but around six in the evening, he set up a prime viewing spot in his snow-coated backyard. It wasn't much, just a lawn chair and a few blankets, but it was all he needed.
Five minutes before everything was supposed to begin, Brian heard a knock on the door. He debated ignoring whoever it was, but decided against doing so after hearing a second knock. He got up and walked inside, enjoying the warmth of his central heating for a moment before answering the door.
There stood Pat, holding a grocery bag in one hand as his other cupped his nose and mouth to keep warm. He was underdressed, in only a thick hoodie and his usual black jeans. Brian stood in nervous silence, holding his breath as he noted, "He's not here."
To his surprise, Pat nodded in accordance, simply musing, "That's okay. Can I come in?"
"Uh--" Brian stammered for a moment, but stood aside as he murmured a quiet, "yeah."
The front door closed behind the elder as he stepped in and shook off the cold. Brian cleared his throat softly as he inquired, "What are you doing here?"
"Heard it was someone's birthday," Pat lilted, continuing towards the kitchen as the other boy trailed behind. The plastic bag he was holding dropped onto the counter, falling open to reveal a store-bought container of cupcakes, four to be exact. Any nerves that Brian had, dissipated with a humble smile.
"I'm sixteen, baby!" he chirped with a relieved sigh ensuing. "You don't hate me."
Pat glanced over with a concerned and almost dumbfounded expression, shaking his head slowly. "No way, man. Just… haven't gotten to talk."
Brian still yearned for an explanation on why, but left it at that. It wasn't important. "You've got poor timing, Pat Gill. I was just about to go out and look at space phenomena," he joked, cautiously taking a cupcake from the group.
"Poor timing? Dude, I was going to ask if you wanted to do that exact same thing," Pat admitted, following suit as Brian stared in curiosity.
"Really," he echoed.
Brian was amused. "You're going to freeze solid out there," He observed, to which Pat just shrugged. "Alright, then. Come on."
He led the aforementioned out to where he had planned to be, now ditching the lawn chair in favor of a thick blanket atop the snow. He grabbed the remaining blankets and motioned for Pat to sit beside him.
As soon as he did, Brian pushed the fabric into Pat's lap, proclaiming, "I can already see you shivering."
There was no protest, partially because Pat had a mouthful of cupcake. Brian could feel the cold setting in, but he was fine. For now.
Eventually, as they watched the wonders in the sky, Pat noticed shivering to his left. Without missing a beat, he slid nearer to the boy, enveloping him in the same blankets he'd earlier given up. Neither of them spoke, but Pat could tell his companion was grateful by the way he leaned in towards him.
They idled in silence, both appreciating the other's company for the first time in a month. Brian felt something sparking in his chest that he couldn't describe, something he'd never felt before. He didn't know if it was bad or good, but either way, he couldn't think of a better way to spend his birthday.
That is, of course, until his brother came home. As soon as Patrick saw the pair cuddled up to one another, he snapped.
The back door opened, then slammed, and Brian jolted so bad at the noise, Pat would easily have been concerned. That is, if he wasn't already turned around to see who was approaching.
Brian had to take a second to recover from the scare, his breath jagged and fast. He looked back after recouping to see a familiar face. "Oh, hey--"
"Get up," His brother cut him off, seething. "Both of you."
Brian was beyond confused, but Pat seemingly knew exactly what was coming. "'Trick, it's not what you think." He stated calmly, remaining where he was on the ground. Brian wasn't so bold, however, and stood up slowly to face his brother.
"What's going on?"
"Stay quiet," Pat cautioned, leaning back on his hands as he stared up at their aggressor. "Go ahead, do your worst."
Almost as if given permission, a flurry of spiteful words filled the air. The rant went on and on until Patrick finally pulled his former friend off the ground by his collar and clenched his jaw. "I don't care who you choose to be, so long as you leave my brother out of it. I warned you and still you pull this shit?" He let Pat go after a moment more, ordering, "You better go now. Leave. Get out of my sight."
He stared hesitantly, almost as if weighing his options, and spoke again, "Okay." He took a few steps away, then paused. "Y'know, it's real cute that you're so protective of your brother. Real cute. He was doing absolutely nothing wrong, you just want an excuse to be homophobic. Glad you showed your colors before I dug too deep."
Before anyone had time to react, Pat Gill had disappeared into thin air. Brian was on the verge of tears, unsure why any of this was happening. He didn't even know what they were talking about, he didn't know why Patrick was so mad, and most of all, he didn't know if he was going to get hurt. His questions went unanswered, a few more even adding to the mix as a familiar voice rang deep in his ears.
"You. Stop being so fucking gay."
this chapter is super long and mainly fluffy filler so enjoy--
also quick note! i'm going to be on a two-week trip starting tomorrow so i may not be able to post anything until july i'm s orry
Like a persistent ghost, the events of a few nights prior continued to haunt Brian.
Firstly, because of the way everything had gone down. He'd never seen anybody so mad before, much less his own brother. If Pat hadn't kept his composure for so long, Brian was sure that things would have ended with blood in the snow, and he wasn't sure whose it would be.
Secondly, he was beating himself up over not knowing what had ignited the fire. It had to have been something that he did, right? He'd made some stupid mistake and Pat just got wrapped up in it… right? That's what he took away from the rant the latter had given before ditching, why else would he call out the fact that Patrick was too protective?
But most importantly, what did those words mean? They dripped from the tongue with such malice that they had to have symbolized unspeakable things. By ill luck, Brian wasn't on good terms with the in-crowd like Patrick was. He wasn't able to find loopholes in his parents' strict grocery list of rules, it was impossible for him to find out about pop culture. The latest culture he knew was found towards the end of an American history book, on the classic rock stations that were allowed on the radio, or through whatever video games he was able to get his hands on.
The sentences of their rants repeated themselves, droning on in the same hateful tones so frequently that it made Brian's head hurt. One stood out to him, though, having been directed at him specifically. 'Stop being so fucking gay.' What had he done to deserve the reprimand? What could he do to stop?
It was now February 3rd, just more than half a week later, and Brian wondered if he was back in his lonely limbo. He hadn't seen Pat since that night, and he was surely not to see him around the house after school anymore. Things downstairs were eerily quiet, since the excited yelling of teen boys had been nixed from the agenda.
It was about eight p.m., and he was catching up on 1984 by George Orwell. Normally, he'd do so on the floor or his bed, but tonight felt different. In his room was a bay window, one that overlooked the street they lived on. It was sometimes fun to people-watch the neighborhood from the windowsill, finding out interesting things about otherwise boring people -- but that's not what Brian wanted tonight.
The streetlights that illuminated the sidewalks for lone passersby in the night made him feel at peace, the occasional dim flickering bringing him back to earth when he needed to be grounded. Of course, being winter, the nights came sooner and he needed the extra help of a desk lamp to be able to see the static text on the pages. But if it worked, who cared? He'd been falling behind on homework lately because of a lack of focus, his mind drifting to other things that made his entire being shake; sitting here, above the world for once, in light that welcomed him instead of hurt his eyes, tamed that just long enough for him to be productive.
Every now and again, a car would drive past, and the allure of someone's low-beams would pull him from his study briefly. He longed to be in one of those vehicles, speeding off towards the highway out of this place with the windows down and the radio blaring. It didn't matter where he stopped as long as it was far, far away.
Brian neared the end of the assigned novel, about ten pages from finishing it, when a snowball struck his window and fell apart. He normally would have jumped out of his skin at anything making noise near him when he was focused, but the sound was so muffled, it just snapped him back to reality. Bookmarking his progress, he sat up from his prime reading position to see the perpetrator.
Standing on the sidewalk just outside of the Gilbert house was just the person Brian had expected, and just the person he needed. A grin crossed his face as he pushed open the glass panes and leaned out just slightly. "Hello, Pat Gill," he cooed, hoping he was quiet enough. God only knows what would happen if his brother heard him. "What are you doing?"
"Came to talk," Pat shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. He came slightly more prepared today, but still looked cold in the bitter wind.
Brian gave a questioning look, crossing his arms over his chest. "Kinda hard to do that around here."
"I know. Wanna go somewhere else?"
"Are you suggesting that I sneak out?" He raised an eyebrow.
Pat gave a shrug. "Yeah, kinda."
Brian glanced away as he mulled it over, soon turning back with a sly smile as he broke and opened the window a bit wider so to climb through. "Pat Gill, you are going to get me into some real trouble."
"Great. That's the plan."
Pat's house felt more like a home than his own, with a strong smell of cinnamon warming him as he walked in. It made Brian think of when he was younger and his mom used to make gingersnaps while he waited in the living room and neatly colored in a book of blank mandalas.
It was a little smaller than his own house, but that didn't dull its charm. As the elder led him through, Brian noticed how many more trinkets and pictures were on display than at his place, and he relished everything he saw -- even if he didn't recognize most.
Pat stopped upon reaching the kitchen, smiling at somebody who was busy putting away groceries. The younger boy presumed that she had just gotten home. "Hey, mom. This is Brian."
She glanced up at the sound of Pat's voice, and returned his gesture. "Oh, hi there! It's nice to meet you!"
Brian's eyes lit up as he was addressed, offering a small wave. "Nice to meet you, too."
"We're just gonna go down and talk for a bit," Pat noted, to which his mom nodded in response.
"Alright! Let me know if you need anything."
He hummed in acknowledgment, then led Brian down the basement stairs. There was an unfinished den, but it was furnished enough to stand its purpose. Pat found a place on the loveseat and patted the cushion beside him, where Brian then settled in.
"Your mom's nice." He mentioned, taking in the atmosphere of the room. Around the room were various posters of wrestlers and bands, the likes of which Brian hadn't ever heard of. He felt like a foreigner.
"Yeah," Pat pushed his hair back, sighing when it fell in the exact same spot as before, "she's a good mom. Sucks that she's got to put up with the shit she does around here."
"Oh," Brian frowned, joining his hands together in his lap. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. She's strong."
"She seems like it."
"Mhm. Speaking of…" Pat turned a bit to face Brian, "how are you holding up?"
Brian tilted his head the way a puppy would, slightly puzzled. "What do you--" He paused for a moment as it clicked in his mind, then let his gaze fall to the floor. "Oh. No, yeah, I'm fine. Just wasn't expecting it."
"I know. Sorry."
The boy shrugged it off, going silent. Now that he was thinking about it, he had a swarm of buzzing questions in his head again. It was too much. It was too much. "Hey, um... what does gay mean?"
Pat stared for a moment, almost in disbelief. "You-- you don't know?"
"No, I, uh-- is it bad?"
"No way, not at all… why? Did he call me that after I left?"
Brian drew in a deep breath, his chest tight. "No. He called me that. I-I don't know, it just sounded--"
"Hey," Pat cautiously reached out, setting his hand just above his friend's shoulder blade. He could feel how tense he was, all the muscles that had knotted up showing their presence. This wasn't just some random question, it had to have been building up for a while. Or at least, he must have been stressing over this greatly in those five days. "I know how it sounded, but… you've had a crush or two, right? Being gay is just, well, getting those same feelings, only for guys."
"Oh. Alright," Brian went blank. It wasn't hard to process, but the fact that such a simple concept had to be spelled out for him made him feel like a toddler. "People around here don't seem open to that. Pat, are you…?"
"You're right. And not exactly," An expression just short of amusement played on his face, which helped relieve a bit of the stress Brian harbored. He let his arm drop from the former's collar back to his own side, tentatively elaborating, "I'm bisexual."
"Both," He deduced, using a basic knowledge of prefixes before Pat had to explain any further. God forbid he feel anymore like a child.
"You got it," Pat affirmed. Sinking back into the couch, he gave a little chuckle, "I've got a lot to teach you, it would seem."
"Wait, would you?" Brian looked up finally, his wide eyes imploring for more, craving the worldly knowledge he so lacked.
The elder's heart practically shattered from those starved hazel eyes and those two words alone, not realizing until now truly how deprived of information Brian was. "Yeah. Yeah, of course," He promised, "you'll just have to tell me where to start."
"Hm. I don't know, what's, like, trendy these days?"
"First off, you sound like a middle-aged white suburban mom," Pat observed, earning a laugh from Brian. "Second… have you ever heard of the Avengers?"
And so it went, Pat vividly describing the buzz of the superhero movies with Brian watching in wonder. The next week and a half of sneaking out entailed a marathon of the entire Marvel cinematography, the likes of which Brian had never seen before. It was fantastic.
Then came music.
"Today, Pat Gill," Brian started, fixated on a poster on the ceiling. This time, he was lazily lain across Pat's lap instead of sitting beside, which would later form into a habit carried out through most of their chats, "you should show me a thing or two about modern music. I've only ever listened to stuff from the 60s and early 70s and you would not believe how many fucking times I've heard Brown Sugar."
"Ooh, he swears," The other teased, to which Brian just grinned.
"On occasion. Anyway, you've got so many posters promoting so many bands and I have no prior knowledge of any of them. So, show me something worthwhile?"
This sentiment held tightly over their heads for visits to come, with Brian soaking in the best that Pat had to offer. First came the bands that defined Pat's aura and character, traditionally emo stuff such as My Chemical Romance, old Fall Out Boy, Brand New, and so on. Brian loved them, of course he did, but personally fell in love with the songs that graced his ears later on. The acoustic renditions of otherwise heavy songs, stripped instrumentals that were flawed in the best way, lush and low-key vocals with nothing to hide… it was an experience like no other.
He was sure that his adoration showed, but remained unaware of how, exactly.
It didn't much matter, though, because Pat had picked up on it quickly and was eager to share new cuts he'd found on the daily. Even when they were talking about something else, playing a video game Brian never knew existed, or otherwise, mellow guitar lines strummed quietly from Pat's phone and kept the atmosphere right where they needed it. It was cathartic for both of them.
As the nightly endeavors resumed, summer approached quicker than ever. For once, Brian was glad to have more free time. His parents still worked per normal, and the only obstacles he'd face were his siblings. Laura, however, wasn't much of a problem in the first place. It was Patrick he had to worry about.
The days grew longer, meaning that the time the two decided to meet at had to be pushed back to account for the extra daylight. This wasn't much of an issue, though, as they had more to burn since school wasn't holding them back. In fact, Pat was actually graduating along with Brian's brother.
The night before the ceremony was spent up on his roof. Brian had made an excuse to his brother in order to hang out for the whole day, and they'd had an 80s high school movie marathon as a sort of last blast before it was all truly over. Pat's mom had enhanced the experience, bringing down the occasional pitcher of homemade lemonade and various snacks. By now, Brian was starting to consider her more of a mother figure than his own; that's not to say that she was a bad mom, but she was always out for work and hovered over his shoulder anytime she wasn't.
Now that they'd finished The Breakfast Club, they had gone out to watch the sunset. Luckily, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and only a few pink clouds stood in the way of the sight. Sitting up here with one of the only people that cared about him made Brian feel some sort of way. His mind had gone a little foggy and his heart was beating out of his chest, but all things considered, it wasn't unpleasant. It was just curious.
Once the sky had started to darken, Brian let out a deep breath and laid back, staring up at the stars. Though stargazing was a hobby they'd shared, they hadn't really gotten a chance to do it -- save for his birthday -- so this was lovely. He still felt as though he were tipsy, a smile playing on his lips as thoughts of the last six months, as well as those to come, ran through his slightly-impaired mind.
"Mm, Pat Gill? Have you ever wanted to just get out of this place?" He asked eventually, the silence, though refreshing, starting to grow old on him.
"It's all I ever think about," Pat laughed, fixed on a constellation above. "I guess that's another thing we have in common."
Brian nodded, following Pat's gaze upwards with his own. "Virgo's pretty tonight," He remarked, focusing his attention to Spica as he divulged further. "We should get out of here."
"Now? Your brother would kill me."
"No. I guess we'd have to wait two years."
"That's a long time."
"Yes, I reckon so."
"Reckon?" Pat scoffed lightheartedly. "Yeehaw, cowboy."
"Shut up," Brian giggled, "this is serious business. We gotta make a game plan. How about the night of my graduation?"
"You really want to do this, huh? I'm honored that you wanna deal with me in a car for however long it takes."
"I've dealt with worse. Besides, this is exciting shit! I'd be the annoying one--"
"Not annoying," Pat countered, glancing over towards Brian, whose eyes gleamed with desire much stronger than he'd ever seen before.
"Whatever. But like, Pat, you're already my gateway to the outside world. I've experienced so many new things because of you," He met Pat's stare, a slight blush suddenly dusting across his face. "I don't know who else I'd go with, and I couldn't do it alone."
"You're sappy," Pat stated, contemplating the proposal for a while before nodding. "Okay. We're getting the hell out of here, together. If I don't die first."
Brian hit Pat's arm, rolling his eyes. "Don't say that. I love you, man, we're gonna make it through just fine."
The next day after graduation, Brian worked quick to find Pat outside. He had to run off pretty soon as he had to congratulate his brother before he wandered off and saw the two of them, but before leaving, he pushed a bouquet of colorless carnations into Pat's arms.
"White's supposed to mean good luck and thanks, so take it as you will. Here's both ways: congrats on graduating and thank you for getting me through this past year!" He beamed.
Pat had left his acoustic guitar out in the basement after practicing the night before, and now Brian was a) mad that he hadn't brought it up to him before, and b) intrigued to hear him play. Pat could never say no to Brian, so he caved.
"Fine, fine, you win. I'm not that good, though." He warned, before setting the guitar across his lap and starting to play one of the only songs he knew without a tab. Pat wasn't one to sing in front of others, but Brian was -- and lucky for them, Hey Jude was one of the songs he'd heard on his parents' radio.
As soon as he had picked up on it, Brian joined in, voice much stronger than you'd expect from somebody as introverted as him. He'd hummed in front of Pat before, but full fledged singing was something very new. It almost threw him off from the right chords. He felt high off of Brian's voice, and he wished he could listen to it all day. Part of him wanted to play forever, but the song had to come to a close eventually.
But he was just fine.
Mid-July brought breakthroughs like no other. At the same time, Brian and Pat both had come to realize the feelings they got whenever they were together; the heat that rushed to their faces at minor gestures, their pulses pounding loud in their ears, the way they couldn't pull their eyes off one another. This was no fluke. This wasn't something they could just brush off.
Pat was falling for Brian, and that's why he had to leave.
Brian was falling for Pat, and that's why the sudden disappearance killed him.
i'm back! i'm so sorry for disappearing for like. three weeks-- i didn't get much time to write while on my trip which set me back a little when i got home, but i finally got it done :) this chapter is a bit angsty as well but it's the last of its kind, i promise!! good times are ahead!
"God-- I'm so sorry about that, my parents went a little crazy on the pictures."
"Nah, no worries! It was kind of fun, actually," Brian grinned over at his prom date from the driver's seat. Fixing her hair on the passenger side of his car -- well, his father's, because his own was in sore shape -- was Simone de Rochefort, one of the prettiest girls in the senior class.
For the first half of high school, he never would have thought that any girl as pretty as Simone would so much as speak to him. Things quickly changed. They'd started talking in the halls between classes mid-junior year, her having just relocated to the town and settling her things in the locker beside his. He was one of the few people who actually used them; with five AP classes, he'd be crazy not to.
Conversation sparked one day when she noticed a couple subtle pins on the pocket of his backpack: one of an NES controller and the other a miniscule replica of a Pokémon Blue cartridge. Turns out, both of them had a great enthusiasm for video games, sharing interests in a lot of the same titles. This common ground spiraled into a friendship, which ended up being beyond beneficial for Brian as Simone grew in popularity, the friends she gained becoming his as well. He finally felt like he had a place in high school, and it was with Simone.
Bonds grew stronger over the last few months of their junior year, to the point where they were hanging out at any opportunity they could through summer. Sure, there were sometimes other friends around, but everybody knew they preferred each other's company. Both families were practically pushing the two together, so it was no surprise that they had linked up by Christmastime.
Which brings us to mid-May, a handful of coffee dates and dozens of after-work hangouts later. Their last stretch of high school was coming to a close quickly, prom being tonight, finals in a week, and graduation the week after that. It was a bit of a sudden awakening, but everyone was prepared to leave. If you had asked Brian a year ago if he knew what to do after he was on his own, he probably would have melted down on the spot -- but not now.
That's beside the point, though.
"You look absolutely gorgeous, if I haven't said it already," Brian mentioned as he switched into drive and started off towards the school. It was early, about three in the afternoon, but they had to be there beforehand to do the grand march. He still had some social anxiety, so the idea of showing off in front of the school scared him a bit, but he had no choice. Simone had been voted onto prom court.
She flashed a grateful smile, adjusting the corsage Brian had gotten on her wrist. "You're one to talk."
"I can't just look like some jabroni when I'm Simone de Rochefort's prom date," He claimed, gaze flitting from the road to the rearview mirror as he added, "even if I'm no king."
She rolled her eyes playfully. "You're always a king. Prom court isn't shit."
"I'm glad you think so."
"Mhm," Simone hesitated before reaching over to fix Brian's shirt collar. "I couldn't care less if I win tonight or not. Prom's supposed to be this fuckin' blowout event for us before we're in the big leagues. It's not like being queen's going to get me CEO status in some giant corporation. Although, that'd be kickass."
"That is true," He chuckled, turning on his blinker as he pulled left into the school parking lot and found an open spot. "You'd be good as a CEO. You'd also be good as a prom queen. Winning should get you a free ride into some local company."
"Nah. I'm gonna go independent," Simone declared, checking herself over in the visor mirror, then shifting to look at Brian. "You ready to fuck this up?"
Simone didn't end up winning prom queen, but that didn't matter; she had fun, and so did Brian. They danced until they couldn't anymore, reminiscing on nostalgic 2000s songs (most of which didn't do much for Brian, seeing as he'd only found them two years prior), and some classics from other eras. Post-prom went the same way, only more lax, and by the time they were finally off on their own again, it was three in the morning. He would have loved to just ride through the rest of the night with Simone, but he'd promised her parents otherwise.
So that was that.
Sunday was spent sleeping, mainly, just trying to recover for the last real week he had of school. Then came the studying .
While most people took easy classes their senior year to breeze through, Brian had different plans. Similar to his junior, he had taken almost all AP classes -- and sure, the AP tests were long over at this point, but that didn't make the final exams any easier.
He shut himself up for the week before, doing nothing but hardcore rereading and cramming. He'd take a break every hour or two to respond to texts from his friends, but otherwise stayed focused on his work (for the most part). Saturday did bring change, though, as he took Simone out for a quick coffee date to make up for his absence.
However, something seemed a little off this time. He just couldn't put his finger on it, but he could have sworn the air of it all had changed. Unfortunately, the nerves he had dwelling on it were taking up more time than he had available, so he decided not to worry until he had time to think more.
That time arrived soon enough, with senior finals ending halfway through the week, and the school abandoned by the eldest students for its last few days of school. It felt weird to Brian, being out before everybody else, even though it had never seemed out of place to him in the years prior. In a way, it just made things that much more real to him. He was really done with the first chapter of his life. This was it.
On Thursday and Friday, Brian called band meetings. This wasn't a difficult task seeing as the only other member was Jonah, whom Brian had met through a mutual friend, and he lived on the road adjacent to his.
This little project of theirs had only started around the end of last summer, but it was already the talk of the town. Everybody wanted them to play gigs at their parties, at this point all of which concerned graduation, but they'd only accepted one request: Simone's.
Brian had insisted that there was no need for money, they'd just be happy to have somewhere to play, but his defense was weak against hers. So they had a gig, near the end of Simone's graduation party, when everyone had previously said their congrats and just wanted to have a little fun before the night came calling.
The rehearsals went well, though they spent a lot of time just coming up with joke songs with the help of Brian's sister, Laura, and laughing until their sides hurt. This was something they did often before getting to their original songs, sort of as a warmup and sort of as a way of keeping things friendly as opposed to stiff. Still, good rehearsals.
Saturday and Sunday, he impulsively cleaned his room, figuring it best to have it out of the way now before he had to pack up and dig around for everything. Then Monday rolled around.
"Hey, can I come over in ten?" Simone's voice crackled through his phone.
Brian nodded, though she couldn't see, as he made himself comfy on the living room couch. "Yeah, of course! Everything okay?"
"Yeah, I just… I gotta talk."
That scared him.
Instantly, his mind flooded with the worry of last week's date, which he had somehow forgotten about. He stressed himself over her tone and previous actions in the eight minutes it took for her to traverse to his house, wondering if he had done something wrong. Maybe he hadn't been paying enough attention to her? God, he hoped not.
Maybe he was the opposite. It wasn't unlikely for him to be too overbearing, he'd always been clingy with the people he really liked -- but he thought she knew that. He thought everybody knew that.
Finally, Brian heard a faint knock on his door and got up to greet Simone. He offered a subdued smile as he stepped aside to let her in, accosting her with a soft 'hey.'
"Hey," she echoed, ducking her head as she kicked dust off of her shoes. "Thanks for letting me come over, I know it was a little last minute and all."
"You're always welcome over here, you know that," he reassured her, gently taking Simone's hand in a loose hold.
"I know," she voiced, looking up to reveal dried tear-tracks under puffy eyes. Brian went rigid. "Can we sit?"
He stammered for a second, still half in shock, before finally mustering out, "Yeah, yeah! No problem at all," and leading her back into his living room.
They found a suitable place in the middle of the sofa, still joined at their wrists as the quiet set in. Brian didn't mind it, though, simply thumbing little circles into the back of Simone’s hand as the seconds ticked by. He knew she clearly would need a bit to gather her thoughts and her words. Which she did. In time.
"Brian, I-I don't know how… how to say this," she began, unable to meet his gaze with her own. "I mean, there's no good way to put it, but I can't-- I can't sugarcoat this at all.
"I've been obsessing over this for... god, it's gotta be a couple months now. I kept trying to push it back in my mind because I always just assumed it was some weird passing phase that I was going through, but in the last week I've come to terms with the fact that this really isn't going away and… I need to face it.
"I think… I'm aromantic," she concluded, clearly struggling in holding back more tears. Her voice broke as she added, "meaning quite literally, it's not you, it's me."
"Oh, Simone…" Brian gave solace as Simone fell into his chest and started to weep, holding her cautiously. He brushed a hand lightly through her hair, his own head filling with impressions, but he couldn't deal with them now; she needed support more than anything.
"I'm so sorry," she choked, "I don't even really-- understand it either, I-I just… I'm in love with you, I'm sure of it, but-- I guess not, romantically."
His heart sank, getting lost in the same pit that had suddenly overtaken his stomach. He felt some relief knowing it wasn't something that he had done, but was still crushed, for obvious reasons. Regardless, he softly cleared his throat, trying to get rid of the feeling he felt rising. "You have nothing to apologize for. You can't really… control -- these things, and you're not letting me down any, I promise. You could never. A little heartbreak isn't going to kill me, and I'd much rather live my life knowing you're happier as my friend than continuing to date you when you don't experience the same things as me."
"Stop talking, you're too good at it," she laughed, faltering slightly as the sound melted into another sob. "God… you're incredible, Brian, y'know that? I couldn't have ever , i-in a million years, asked for a better response or-- or a better best friend. I just hope this doesn't… change anything."
"Never," Brian countered as Simone raised her head to rest on his shoulder.
She stayed quiet for a moment, seeming to calm down slightly with a few deep breaths, before asking in a whisper, "Can I give you one last totally-platonic cheek kiss?"
He chuckled. "Go for it."
That she did. After things had settled enough, the two pulled up a familiar file, a half-finished run of Kirby's Epic Yarn, and played co-op for a while. It was nice to be able to continue cracking stupid jokes like before, going through the game in double the time it should take due to them fucking around, though something still lingered in Brian that he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge.
No way was he going down that path again.
Unfortunately, that sentiment, one he'd held to for the last twenty-odd months, was struck down as soon as Simone left a couple hours later.
He lay across his hardwood floor, parallel to the old blue couch he had been on just minutes ago. His eyes traced random patterns in an otherwise boring ceiling, his mind racing a thousand miles an hour. He was crying, but was far too dazed to really notice.
Of course he was upset; the love of his life couldn't see him, or anyone for that matter, as more than friends. He'd tried not to show his pain around Simone, but the floodgates burst once he was alone.
But more than that, this heartbreak sent him reeling back to a distant place -- one he didn't care to revisit, one he had tried his absolute hardest to repress, one that had broken him first.
Memories with Simone bled into corresponding ones from deep in his archives, the similarities between each working their way further and spindling a web of connections until Brian couldn't handle the idea of holding back anymore.
He was abruptly thrown back into the shoes he used to fill junior year, every thought and emotion he'd deserted becoming his own again. Hurt: why would he do this? Did I do something wrong? Angry: promises mean absolutely nothing. They're made to be broken. Miserable: now I have nobody. I'm destined to be alone. The most prevalent, though, was that of uncertainty over everything he'd experienced in the past year, now doubting the highs and questioning the lows.
Did I ever really feel happy? Did I ever really feel sad? Did I even feel anything at all until it was all over?
It mattered so much to know the answers for once, and at the same time, it didn't matter at all.
Pat was back, and he was devastated over it, and he would be no matter what.
And then he was back in his living room, eyes wide and breathing jagged. He tried to focus his energy back to getting over Simone, but it was no use. He still needed to get over someone else first, a person that he thought he'd forgotten about. At least Brian still had Simone.
There was also something he now had to address. Once Pat was gone, Brian had tried to erase any trace of an attraction to guys from his mind -- and for a while, it worked, mainly because he was too crestfallen to even talk to anybody. But then he had Simone, whom he'd fallen for almost instantly, and nobody else compared.
His brother never called him gay again after that summer, and he saw that as a win in his book. Only now it was coming back to bite him in the ass, much more of a sore subject today than it would have been had he just accepted things.
That wasn't easy, though, even now with the clear proof that he was more than just straight. He had so much respect for his older brother, and he knew that being even the slightest bit fay would bring disappointment that he'd never be able to live down. He was sure that Laura would be fine with it, maybe she even had a sneaking suspicion of such anyway -- but his parents? No way.
But… maybe it didn't matter. He was going to leave before the fall, and he didn't particularly plan on coming back in the near future. Maybe… now was as good a time as ever to face things.
He had expected some giant weight to lift off his chest, give him some room to breathe, all that jazz, but nothing happened. Perhaps he'd come to this conclusion subconsciously and already come out to every part of his being, besides himself.
Whatever. He had to go to work.
And so went the rest of the week, him drowning in existential crises for a few hours until he had to pull himself together to ring people's groceries up. He felt like a wreck, and progressively started to look more like one with each passing day.
One more band practice was called late Friday, though Jonah was far too concerned for Brian's health to do much playing.
"Brian, man… you're not looking too great. Do you need to take a break or something?"
He gave a doleful smile as he strummed a few chords on his ukulele, posing a simple, "It's that noticeable?"
Brian did eventually clean up his act for Saturday morning. He had no choice, unless he wanted to explain everything to the various family he had coming to see him graduate.
Which felt nothing like the movies, by the way.
But, he got his diploma nevertheless, so it stood its purpose.
After the ceremony was an introvert's nightmare, even at a small school like his. There was a sea of people inside the school and outside, and Brian could hardly find his family outside of the auditorium.
Once he did, a lot of catching up ensued. Most lived in town, but never had time to visit due to work, which felt a bit ironic. Regardless, they hadn't seen Brian in years.
He chose not to bring up his breakup when asked about his love life, just responding in a shrug. What did his romantic endeavors matter to them anyway?
It felt like hours, but eventually he was freed from small chat with his relatives and allowed to get ready for the night, because he had made a commitment and that wasn't going to change just because his relationship status had changed. Normally, graduation parties weren't held the day of, but Simone did things a little differently.
It started at five for her family, allowing them to just give congrats like, y'know, most grad celebrations. At seven, the live music kicked in and friends were added to the mix. Brian and Jonah, otherwise known as The Altogether, didn't necessarily play music to dance to, but that wasn't the point. They were there to entertain in the background.
Which went down pretty well, actually. Simone met with them a few minutes beforehand to thank them again, and then they were on. Half of the songs they played were covers, half original works, all meticulously planned and performed with grace. By their midway point, they'd gathered somewhat of a crowd, which wasn't the intention but was very much appreciated.
They ended their set with two of the more hard hitting songs they'd written thus far, Clean Slated State, and Night. The former caught a few new ears, drawing in a bigger crowd of people for their final tune.
It didn't carry much weight, though, because everyone had turned to listen when the final melody began.
Night, are you here again? Night, won't you let me in?
Brian had written these lyrics a little after his friend's disappearance, but never set them to music.
I have lied here waiting
That's where Jonah came in, playing a random string of notes one day that inspired his entire vocal line.
But when I lay me down to rest, it's part of some eternal jest
And now that the lyrics were striking something in him again, he sang with more fervor than ever before, voice sailing high above the notes.
Though, since you left me here, I've grown, I still wish I weren't here alone
Jonah went into a small solo section as Brian built up the strength to sing the next set of lyrics, gazing out at the audience as he took the mic off of its stand.
Night, can you find your way? Night, since you couldn't stay?
He stepped forward, moving carefully with the mood of the music.
You will find me waiting
He scanned the faces in the crowd as his heart raced, trying to fight off thinking about the meaning in his words for the sake of his public image.
For some sign Callisto won, a chance to see her wayward son
As he distracted himself by looking out on everyone, he noticed a lone stranger leaning against the back wall.
But until then, I'll hope you're right, and I'll walk with you through endless night
His eyes wandered up to observe the strayer, idling away from everyone with a red solo cup in hand. He almost looked familiar.
Brian's voice cracked as he realized. They made solid eye contact as he breathed the last ascent, frozen in his step.
The song ended, but he stood still. He looked like a deer in the headlights as the last chord Jonah played faded out. Forgetting where he was, forgetting he had a microphone still up, he whispered two words more harrowing than anything he'd ever said.
Chapter 5: quick update, i guess
hey y'all, it's been a while. i would like to apologize for the lack of updates lately, i've been hella unmotivated and super busy between work and stage management for a local musical-- i've also just not been in particularly the best mental state in the last few weeks and i've been battling that as well. i'm hoping to work through for everyone who's been waiting on more as i do still plan to finish this by the end of the summer, but unfortunately i don't think i'll be able to pump out content every few days like i could at the start. i hope you understand!! i'll delete this once i have another chapter, but until then i love all of you and any support would be much appreciated!! see you soon. :)