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speak to me

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Billy’s not deaf.

He’s not dumb, or stupid, or a handicap like some of the kids used to say he was back in middle school.

He just-- he doesn’t talk.

Billy Hargrove stopped talking the night his mother left him when he was ten years old, and he hasn’t spoken a single word since.

His father thought it was a phase, at first.

Neil Hargrove thought he could wait Billy out, make him slip up, get him to break the silent treatment bullshit and be a normal kid again.

“What, are you a mute now?” He’d sneered in Billy’s face the morning after his mother had left them, breath reeking of stale alcohol from the previous night, “You’re mad, is that it? Not gonna speak to me because I scared mommy away? Is that it?”

When he didn’t get an answer, Neil had scoffed, but let it drop, “Don’t be a pussy, son. Get over it.”

Billy had stayed quiet.

***

It’s not a phase.

It became apparent that it wasn’t some sort of teenage act of rebellion -- some sort of childish revenge -- after the first few weeks, and Neil got sick of waiting him out.

“Say something.” Neil slurred after almost a month of Billy’s silence.

Swaying on his feet, Billy’s father pulled another beer out of the fridge. Slamming the door shut hard enough to make Billy flinch, he stared at his son through bloodshot eyes, movements jerky and uncaring.

Neil had taken to drinking in the absence of his wife. It’s not like he wasn’t a heavy drinker before, but--

Hey,” Neil took a heavy swig from the bottle in his hand, words sloppy and empathetic, “I said say something.”

Billy didn’t say anything.

Just as suddenly as it was in his hand, his father’s beer bottle was shattering into pieces on the kitchen floor.

“Fuckin’ speak.” Neil roared.

Breath caught in his throat, Billy watched as shards of glass scattered around his feet. Beer began to spread across the dirty kitchen tile, soaking into his socks.

His heart pounded and his ears rang.

He stayed quiet.

Neil went ballistic.

“Say something! Say anything. Speak, you goddamn son of a bitch, speak!”

Billy didn’t say anything.

Moving faster than Billy ever thought he could this drunk, Neil strode forward and grabbed Billy roughly by the chin. Wrenching his son’s face to look up into his, Neil snarled, breath hot, fingers tight enough to bruise, “Speak.”

Billy didn’t speak.

The sharp sting of his father’s class ring across his cheek is a feeling that Billy will never forget.

Because when he didn’t speak up, it happened again. And again. And again and again and again and again--

Neil gave up after Billy’s face was red and bruised. After the skin was broken, blood weeping down Billy’s chin. After his eyes were wide and glassy on his father’s face and he was shaking and he couldn’t stop.

“Fine.” Neil spat, jerking his hand away from his son’s face like it burned him. He shoved past him and deeper into the house, words spat out like a curse, “Fine. Don’t talk. Perfect. Don’t ever fuckin’ talk again. Fine by me.”

The footsteps receded. The bedroom door slammed shut.

Billy’s heart pounded and his ears rang.

In the silence of the dark kitchen, a wretched, broken sob ripped through the air.

Horrified, he slapped both hands over his mouth and dropped down to his knees on the kitchen tile.

Glass grinding into his skin, beer soaking into his pajama pants, he squeezed his hands tightly around his mouth. His fingers dug in hard, hard enough to bruise.

Painful, awful sobs wracked his body. It made his eyes ache, his chest burn.

He wanted his mom. He wanted her to wrap him up in her arms and pet his hair and tell him it would be okay. He wanted her to cradle him while they lay in bed together and sing Tangled Up in Blue to him while he fell asleep. He wanted to bury his face in her stomach and breathe in and smell coconuts and ocean salt and he wanted his mom.

He wanted his mom.

Silently, Billy shattered into a million pieces.

He cleaned up the beer bottle, after.

***

When Billy meets Max, he’s twelve and there are scars on his knees.

He kinda likes her right away.

Almost.

“Billy,” Neil says, clapping a large hand on her tiny shoulder, the force of it making her frame wobble under the pressure, “meet your younger sister, Maxine.”

Her hair is fiery red, her eyes are frigid blue. She crosses her arms and huffs, “It’s Max.”

Billy shakes her hand. He doesn’t say anything.

Max’s eyebrows fly up, her tone snarky and sharp, and Billy respects her confidence, “Is he gonna say anything?”

“Billy doesn’t talk, Maxine.”

The icy blue staring up at him blows wide, brow scrunching up in confusion. She stares at him like he’s got two heads, like there’s something wrong with him.

She steps up to him, face twisted up all funny, like she’s looking at a science experiment.

“Say my name.” Max says.

Billy kinda likes her right away.

Almost.

He doesn’t say it.

***

Middle school was never easy.

Some kid thinking he’s tough hit a Hispanic boy, calls him fairy. Billy is fourteen and angry and he goes after the kid.

Billy hits him. The boy hits Billy back. It’s a rush.

They go back and forth. Billy smashes his fist against the kid’s ear, and the kid screams and Billy grins, wicked and bright.

Billy gets on top of him. He hits the kid again and again and again and again--

He looks back at the Hispanic boy when the kid underneath him stops moving. He gets up, maybe steps on the kid’s hand on purpose, just to hear him groan, and offers his hand to the Hispanic boy.

The boy doesn’t take Billy’s hand.

His hair is a mess of short black curls and his fists are balled up where he’s sitting on the ground.

He’s crying.

“I’m not a fairy,” he says, and when he looks up at Billy, his brown eyes turn glassy and golden in the sunlight, “I’m not.”

Billy doesn’t say anything.

The silence goes on for too long. The boy’s lip curls in a snarl, “Don’t believe me, pendejo?” He pushes to his feet, gets up in Billy’s face. His whole body screams defensive.

He shoves past Billy, spitting the words out like a curse, “Jódete, I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

Billy stays quiet and watches him go.

***

Max spends whatever chance she gets talking to Billy.

Billy’s fifteen and Max is eleven and annoying.

She’s relentless. Any time she sees Billy, she’s talking and talking and asking him questions.

So many stupid questions.

“Did school go okay?” Max asks him while they’re walking home one day.

The sun is hot in California and the wind feels nice while they walk. Billy kinda wants to just drop everything and take off for the beach. Wants to dig his toes into the sand and dive into the waves. It’s kinda the only thing he ever wants to do.

The wave was seven feet. Did you see it, mom?

Billy nods.

“What did you do?” Max asks, hoisting her backpack over her shoulder for the hundredth time. She’s got her backpack over one shoulder and her skateboard -- which is half the size of her little body -- tucked under her other arm. She’s struggling to walk with both and it’s starting to bug Billy.

Billy doesn’t answer.

“Do you have any homework?” Max keeps trying, and Billy grits his teeth, wishing she’d just give it a rest already.

He nods.

“In what class?”

Billy glares at her.

“What? I’m just trying to make conversation,”  Max huffs, tone still as snarky and sharp as the day they met. She’s still struggling to hoist her backpack over her shoulder without dropping her skateboard. It’s driving Billy insane, “So you can keep listening to me talk--“ she almost drops the skateboard, and the backpack slips off her shoulder entirely while she tries to catch it, “or you can tell me what class--.”

Gritting his teeth so hard his jaw aches, Billy snatches at her backpack and pulls.

Hey!” Max stumbles, tries to stop Billy from taking it without dropping her skateboard again, but Billy’s stronger and wrenches the backpack free of her grip, “Billy, what are you--?”

Billy slings her backpack over his shoulder. It’s much lighter than his own -- which he’s got three textbooks shoved into, along with a hundred other million things -- and keeps walking.

Max blinks, blue eyes wide as she stares after him, clutching onto her skateboard with both hands. There’s a little crease between her brow as she hurries after him, “Hey. Hey, Billy-- wait!”

Billy keeps walking, but then Max is grabbing his hand and pulling him to a stop, “Billy.”

He stops, eyes rolling, and turns back to her. He huffs, and raises his eyebrows, the universal sign for what is it.

“Why did you take my backpack?”

Billy shakes his head, and turns to keep walking home because they are not doing this right now. They are not about to have a heart to heart over a goddamn backpack.

Max has other plans.

Billy,” she’s still holding on to his hand, pulling him to a stop once more, “Jesus-- I said wait.”

Jaw working, Billy turns to look at her, agitation written all over his face. She’s staring at him, expectant. He makes the what is it face again.

When he just keeps staring, Max throws her hands up in the air, waving the skateboard around, “Answer my question, jackass. Why did you take my backpack?”

Billy wants to laugh. He almost does.

Something like an exasperated smile breaks across his face, and he’s shrugging, a little helplessly.

Because honestly, how the hell is he supposed to tell Max that he didn’t like seeing her struggle along when Billy’s right there and ready to help? Ready to take on any burden she has to make it at least a little easier for her, without words?

He can’t, so he just shrugs.

Max stares at him. He can’t look too long or he feels like he’s gonna drown in blue blue blue.

She asks, eyes hard, “Did you do it to be an asshole?”

Billy glares, but when all she does is raise an eyebrow, expectant, he huffs and indignantly shakes his head no.

“Okay,” Max nods, and she’s still staring at him. Like he’s some sort of puzzle she’s gotta figure out, “Okay. Did you do it because I was walking too slow or because I couldn’t carry the backpack and my skateboard?”

Billy nods-- a quick, jerky motion.

The crease between her brow goes deeper, “Yes to which thing?”

Billy throws his hands up in the air. He’s tired and irritated and he feels stupid about not being able to just tell her and he wants to go home.

He starts to move to walk away when Max plants herself in front of him and shoves one finger in his face, “One for walking too slow--“ she holds up two fingers, “--two for the skateboard. Which one is it?”

Billy wants to shove past her, wants to drop everything and go.

What Billy really wants is to curl up in his bedroom and pretend there are fingers petting through his hair. Wants to cradle himself in his bed and listen to Tangled Up in Blue. He wants to bury his face in his pillow and pretend he smells coconuts and ocean salt.

Instead, he looks down and sees Max staring back at him.

Billy feels transparent under her gaze. Like he’s made of glass, every part of him on display for her to see.

It’s not, but he feels like it is.

Billy’s gotta give her some credit, though. Max is trying, and that’s more than anything anyone else has ever done for him.

Billy holds up two fingers.

“Okay.” Max nods again, “You took my backpack because I couldn’t carry it with the skateboard, is that it?” her nose scrunches up, like she can’t believe what she’s about to say, “You weren’t doing it to be, like, nice, were you?”

Billy nods.

That shuts her right up. Blue eyes go impossibly wider, “Oh.”

Billy scoffs, rolls his eyes. Yeah, Max. Oh.

Billy might not be kind, certainly not nice, but he’s not evil.

Max goes a little soft at that. There’s something close to a smile ghosting on her lips when she says, “Thanks, Billy.”

Billy reaches out and ruffles Max’s hair. Gets it all in her face and pushes on her head, just to be annoying.

Hey,” Max swats his hand away. She’s scowling, but it’s fond, “I just said thank you for being nice. Don’t go right back to being an asshole.”

He grins, all sharp and bright, and Max grins right back.

They walk home together.

***

High school is better, sort of.

Billy is sixteen and his silence isn’t as well known here. He’s a big mystery to everyone else. The boy who never talks.

A couple of juniors corner him in the courtyard. One of the bigger ones, his friends call him Chase, steps up to Billy-- looms, really. He asks if Billy’s deaf, if he’s dumb, “Like my Aunt Marjorie. You need help wiping your ass too, mutey?”

His friends crack up and Billy doesn’t even hesitate. He just swings.

It’s satisfying, watching a kid like Chase -- who is much, much bigger than Billy -- stumble. Watching his nose spurt blood and Billy thinks that he did that. That kid got his ass handed to him, and that was all Billy.

It’s empowering, really.

Then there are three other guys coming at him, and Billy’s not ready.

One of them clocks him right across the temple, and Billy falls flat on his ass.

He tries to get back up, but then there’s a kid sitting on his legs and another is pinning his arms over his head and Chase is on top of him and squishing him down against the pavement. Billy thrashes, desperate to get the hands off off off.

He wants to scream. He almost does.

Then his head is being slammed down, and his world spins.

Chase spits in Billy’s face. Calls Billy mutey bitch.

His friends cackle and Billy’s heart pounds and his ears ring.

And just as suddenly as Chase’s ugly mug is in his face, it’s not.

Billy blinks, dazed, and all the hands he wanted off are gone. He realizes why a few seconds later.

A Hispanic boy is dragging Chase off of Billy by the hair. His eyes are brown and angry and in the sunlight they turn golden.

From the ground, Billy hears, “Get him, Chase! Fuck his fairy ass up!”

He hears a punch land. Hears someone snarl, and it’s guttural, furious Spanish. Then there is the quick swish of something sharp in the air.

Shit. He’s got a knife. Go!”

And then the Hispanic boy’s face is hovering above Billy’s.

He asks, pushing black curls out of his face, “You okay?”

Billy doesn’t say anything.

“Hey. Did you hear me, cariño? I said are you okay?” There’s an earring that looks like a spike dangling from his left ear.

Billy still doesn’t say anything.

The Hispanic boy offers to help Billy off the ground. Billy takes his hand-- the spike is actually a feather. It’s silver and intricate, dangling from a little chain.

Cómo te llamas?” The boy tries.

Billy stays quiet.

He eyes Billy for a moment, before his head tilts to the side. He looks at him funny; a look Billy is used to at this point.

Everyone always looks at him that way when they first find out.

“That pendejo called you a mutey bitch.” there’s blood pouring from the boy’s nose from where Chase’s hit landed, “Is he right?”

Billy jerks away from the question, takes a step back like some sort of caged animal. Bares his teeth in a silent snarl and everything. Shakes his head vigorously no. The movement makes his vision swim.

Those golden eyes are on Billy, and it burns, “Then why don’t you tell me your name?”

Something hot and defensive and very close to shame writhes under Billy’s skin. Jaw working, he looks down at his shoes, body warm and fists clenched tight at his sides. He doesn’t answer.

The boy laughs, “Cálmese. I don’t care if you don’t talk.”

Billy looks back up at him, shifting on his feet. Unsure. Untrusting.

The boy holds his hands up, like he’s gonna spook Billy away with one wrong move. Black curls flop into his face when he laughs, “It’s good, really. I don’t know you’re name and you don’t have to tell me. My name’s Angel. I’ll just call you cariño, vale?”

Billy stares at him. Angel is smiling and there’s blood from his nose staining white teeth pink.

Billy thinks he likes Angel’s smile.

***

Max still asks him questions, but she’s kinder about it, now.

She asks him easy things, stuff he can shake his head yes or no to.

They fall into a routine while they walk home. She skateboards and asks questions. He carries her backpack and shakes his head yes or no.

It’s nice.

***

Billy doesn’t ever talk, so Angel always does.

He talks in English while they’re at school. He talks in Spanish when they’re not.

Billy’s fascinated by how easily Angel switches. How the words just roll off his tongue like water.

Like speaking is easy. Like it’s nothing at all.

Billy watches him, sitting with his elbows braced on his knees by the bonfire, sparks mixing with the stars that are shyly peeking through the sunset, while Angel talks in rapid Spanish to the girls across the way.

The beach is cool tonight. The sand beneath his toes and the beer can Angel pressed into his hands make goosebumps run up his arms, but sitting close to the bonfire helps.

In the sunset, the waves are dark amber.

“It’s a party, cariño,” Angel had said. He pulled off his shirt and dropped it in the sand next to Billy, and suddenly there was bronze skin everywhere, “Have some fun.”

It’s a party. There are people all around the fire laughing and dancing and talking.

Billy’s not.

He’s watching Angel talk to the girls. Their skirts are short and their hair is pretty. Billy thinks maybe he wouldn’t mind holding one of their hands, maybe he wouldn’t mind kissing one.

His eyes are drawn to bronze skin, drawn to the black mop of curls that fall into Angel’s face when he laughs. His eyes follow the way brown eyes catch in the firelight, the way they turn golden.

Angel’s teeth are white and sharp in the sunset. Billy catches glimpses of them as he leans in to whisper in girls’ ears, and they blush and giggle and something funny twists up in Billy’s gut.

He wonders what it would be like if Angel were to smile at him like that. Wonders what it would be like if Angel’s teeth were to catch on his ear, if his lips were to graze his skin.

Billy can’t look anymore, so he looks down at the sand bunching around his toes.

When he dares to glance up again, Angel’s pressed up to a girl’s side, Billy thinks her name might be Mía. Her pretty blonde locks are everywhere, obscuring Angel’s face while he whispers in her ear. He winds an arm around her waist, tucks her hair behind her ear, exposing the tan skin to the firelight. He’s whispering something and she’s pressing close to him, delicate, painted fingernails tracing over the bronze skin at his collarbone.

Then Angel’s teeth are glinting in the firelight and he’s kissing her neck--

Billy looks at the shirt in the sand next to him.

He drains the rest of his beer in one go.

***

Max is quiet while they walk home.

Typically she’d be doing her twenty questions shtick already, wobbling her way down the sidewalk while she tries to skateboard as slow as Billy’s walking speed. She’s gotten pretty good.

Today, though, she’s walking with her skateboard in her hands, not saying anything. She keeps sneaking all these strange little glances at him, though, and it’s got Billy on edge.

Finally after a few minutes of silence and those sneaking, worried glances, Billy has enough. He moved to her side and elbows her. Not hard, but enough to jostle her, to get her attention.

“Huh?” Blinking like Billy pulled her out of some sort of deep thought, Max looks up at him. A deer caught in the headlights, “What is it, Billy?”

Billy nudges her again, softer this time, gaze expectant. He hopes it’s enough to convey what’s wrong?

It must be enough, or maybe Max is just getting better at reading him, because she shakes her head, waves him off, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

But it doesn’t sound like nothing, because there’s a little crease in between her brow and she looks worried and Billy doesn’t like it at all.

So he sets a hand on her shoulder and stops them.

“It’s nothing,” Max insists, but she’s not looking at him, and her arms are crossed and her entire body is screaming with uncertainty, “I’m fine, Billy, seriously.”

He squeezes her shoulder. Tell me what’s going on.

“It’s just--“ Max bites her lip, and when she looks at him, she looks nervous, “It’s just that I-- I bought something yesterday and I haven’t showed you yet because I don’t know what you’re gonna think and I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

Billy’s at a complete loss. He just keeps his hand on her shoulder, and shuffles a little closer. Hopes it’s enough to tell her it’s okay.

Max stares at him a moment longer before she’s pulling her backpack off of Billy’s shoulder.

Billy lets her. Watches as she rummages around inside of it and then she’s pulling out a thick looking book and holding it up for Billy to see and she’s saying, “I know you don’t like to talk and I would never, ever force you but-- but I thought this would make it easier for you and I to communicate? Sort of. You totally don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I just thought-- I don’t know what I thought. Just take it.”

Billy takes the book from her.

He reads American Sign Language Dictionary on the front cover.

Something warm and strangely sharp spreads inside of him. It makes his chest hurt.

He and Max don’t touch. They’re just not like that.

Billy hugs her tight. Hugs her like he’s never hugged anyone-- tight and warm and maybe a little desperate.

Max hugs him just as tight, little body folding into Billy’s arms like it’s the only place she wants to be.

He should hug her more often.

***

Angel sits with him at the bonfire tonight.

The girls are still there. Their skirts still short and they’re still shooting Angel smiles and calling qué guapo, chico!

Mía, the blonde one with the curls, keeps waving, keeps winking and blowing him kisses. But she doesn’t come over, even though she’s dying to. Billy can guess why.

Neil Hargrove had a bad day today. His favorite basketball team has had a pretty tough losing streak.

Billy’s got the black eye to prove it.

Angel smiles back at her, calls salva un poco de amor por mí, Mía, but he’s not sitting with them.

He’s sitting with Billy.

He buries the two beer cans he’s holding in the sand between them, and then Angel is talking, “¿Duele?”

Billy looks back, face scrunching up in confusion. He’s picked up a little Spanish from his time with Angel, but he’s not an expert or anything.

Angel gestures to his own face, where Billy’s black eye would be on him, “Your eye. What happened?”

Billy shakes his head. He sharply taps his index and middle finger against his thumb twice without even thinking; sign language for no.

He and Max have been practicing sign language together every night now. She sneaks into his room late and they work on it, huddling close next to Billy’s shitty bedside lamp and practicing simple phrases together.

Neither of them are very good yet, but--

But Billy was able to muddle his way through telling her that he had algebra homework while they walked home today, and Max had smiled so big Billy might as well have said it out loud.

There’s a slow smile on Angel’s face when Billy looks. Angel copies the movement, tapping his fingers together twice. The firelight paints his face in yellows and oranges, “What’s that mean?”

The smile gets bigger when Billy smooths out some sand in between them, and Angel leans in close, shoulder pressing up against Billy’s, while Billy carves the word NO into the sand in between them.

Billy repeats the motion while Angel looks between him and the word in the sand, “No, you don’t wanna talk about it?”

Billy nods.

“That’s fine. I won’t talk about it, then. I’ll talk about something else. Is that okay?”

Billy does the sign for yes, makes his hand into a fist and bobs it back and forth.

“Does that mean yes?”

Billy gives him a thumbs up.

Angel throws his head back and laughs. The silver feather turns orange when Angel turns his head just right.

Billy smiles at him. His fingers twitch, and he wants to reach out and rub the feather between his fingers, he wants to push the black curls out of Angel’s face so he can see his golden eyes and Billy just wants.

Billy wants a lot.

It doesn’t help when Angel leans close to Billy’s space, like their sharing a secret. His breath is warm on his ear when he half whispers half says, “You’re funny, cariño. Did you know that?”

Billy huffs, insides warm at the compliment. He shakes his head, signs no again.

Angel’s teeth glint in the firelight.

“Pretty, too.”

Billy’s heart pounds and his ears ring. His breath catches.

He doesn’t say anything.

Angel leans into Billy’s side, fingers tangling in Billy’s curls, breath ghosting against his cheek, “You’re hair’s getting so long.”

Angel keeps talking, but it’s going in one ear and right out the other. Because all Billy can feel is Angel’s fingers in his hair, twisting it around and tugging a little every so often. Angel shuffles closer, so he can lean his head against Billy’s, and Billy curls in close to his side without a second thought.

He can feel Angel’s hand trail down to his nape, then back up in to his hair, a steady, lulling rhythm. It’s slow and careful and it's the closest thing to a hug Angel’s ever given Billy and Billy eats it up as much as he possibly can, not wanting to waste their closeness for even a second.

No one’s ever touched Billy like this. No one’s ever sat with him and pet his hair like this. Not since, well.

Not since his mom.

Billy thinks of coconuts and ocean salt. Thinks of a white dress with blue and red flowers. Thinks about gentle fingers carding through his hair, pulling him farther and farther away from reality. Thinks of a quiet, sweet voice singing heading out for the east coast, Lord knows I've paid some dues, gettin’ through--

“You still with me, cariño?”

Billy opens his eyes. He hadn’t even realized he closed them.

He’s got his head on Angel’s shoulder, face tucked up close in the crook of his neck. He smells like bonfire smoke and cigarettes and cinnamon.

They’ve turned into each other, bodies pressed flush-- hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. Angel’s got one hand still carding through Billy’s hair, the other is holding on to Billy’s hand, thumb drifting carefully over his knuckles in his lap.

It’s safe and warm and Billy doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

“You’re tired,” There are lips hovering near his temple, and Angel tugs gently on Billy’s hair, “Venga, give me your keys. I’ll drive you home.”

He stands and the spot beside him is cold and Billy hates it. Craves the warmth he left behind, and if Billy squeezes his hand maybe a little too tight when Angel offers it to help him to help stand, Angel doesn’t say anything.

Billy lets Angel guide him away from the firelight.

He doesn’t let go of his hand.

***

It happens in the passenger seat of Billy’s Camaro.

And it happens fast.

Angel’s on top of him before he can even think, fingers tangled in his hair, mouth against his, pressing Billy down down down.

His teeth are sharp against the skin at Billy’s throat. Billy wants them on his neck, his face, his stomach. His breath makes goosebumps ripple across Billy’s skin, and the things Angel does with his tongue are too much too fast.

But it doesn’t go very far before Angel is pulling back and out of Billy’s space. Billy’s lips are already bruised and he goes to chase after him but Angel plants a hand on Billy’s chest and keeps him there.

There’s a heavy spike of fear in Billy’s gut, and for a minute he’s terrified that he did something wrong, but then Angel’s hand is cupping his face and tipping it back so he can look up at him.

“You’re so pretty, cariño,” He breathes, and his eyes are dark and his voice is wrecked with want and Billy is two seconds away from melting into a puddle underneath him when Angel says, “But you gotta tell me first.”

Angel makes his other hand into a fist and bobs it back and forth. He then taps his middle and index finger twice against his thumb.

Yes or no?

Billy looks up at him, looks into those golden eyes that burn so bright it hurts and all Billy wants to do is tell him that he’s fascinated Billy from the moment they first met, that he’s beautiful, that he’s everything Billy has ever wanted.

He signs yes.

That’s all Angel needs.

With a sudden surge of motion, Angel connects he and Billy together again. It’s fast and rushed and when Billy gets his hands up Angel’s shirt his world spins.

Angel make quick work of Billy’s belt, and Billy tries not to lose it too quickly but Angel makes it hard. He’s still kissing Billy as he pushes his way into his pants, and then he’s kissing Billy’s throat, breath hot and teeth sharp. He growls, and Billy’s nerves sing, “Hands up, baby.”

Billy shudders and does what he’s told. He grips the head rest and shimmies underneath Angel’s weight, attempting to spread his legs out as wide as he can in the cramped space of the car. Angel eases back to watch him, give Billy a little more space to move. He hums, low and pleased and the noise makes heat pool low in his belly and Billy tries not to squirm, but his body is fucking humming with nerves, with the anticipation.

It doesn’t take long for Angel’s fingers burn. He kisses Billy stupid while his fingers push and it hurts, but it’s good and Billy is helpless in how his back arches, how he clutches desperately at the headrest.

Angel’s touch has Billy panting heavier by the minute, and he desperately tries not to go fucking crazy while Angel works. His hips buck up without his permission, and he can feel Angel’s smile against his throat, sweet but sharp, electric but soothing.

“You’re doing so well. So so well,” He praises, and his fingers twist in a way that jumpstarts Billy’s nerves into action, pleasure zipping down his spine. He bucks helplessly into the sensation while Angel worship his neck with his tongue. He says, “Te haré sentir bien, cariño. You’re so good.”

It’s not long before Billy’s eyes roll back and his mouth falls open, breathing loud in the quiet car.

Billy wants to cry and whine and beg for more, for anything Angel will give him.

But he doesn’t.

He’s quiet when he falls apart.

His muscles go tight tight tight, and then he breaks, panting hard, slumping back. His limbs are useless -- fingers still in a white knuckle grip on the headrest -- and his face is numb.

Angel kisses him through it while Billy goes boneless, whispering praises in Spanish in his ear. It’s soft and sweet and everything Billy wants.

After they’re done, Angel’s voice is husky and his smile is dazzling, “You’re beautiful, cariño.”

Billy thinks he loves Angel’s smile.

***

Angel walks with Billy and Max after school.

Billy is seventeen and nervous about the way Max is staring at him. She’s fourteen and her eyes are wide as she spots the lanky Hispanic boy following after Billy in a leather jacket and tight ripped jeans.

Max starts signing the minute he comes up on her, setting the skateboard down at her feet -- where she unceremoniously dumped her backpack when she first saw him coming -- hands quick and abrupt in their motion, “Who is he?”

They’ve gotten pretty good at this over the past months. Billy doesn’t even need to think before signing back.

“He’s a friend.” He assures her.

Billy prays that she’ll let it drop. He picks her backpack up off the ground where it lays at her feet, hefting it over his shoulder before continuing, hand movements just as quick as Max’s, “He lives a block away. He’s walking home with us today, okay?”

Max looks like she’s about to protest, brow drawing together, lips pressing into a thin line -- Billy can tell that her hands are about to fly, just dying to rip him a new one -- but before she gets the chance there’s an arm sliding around Billy’s shoulders, and a familiar “Who’s this, cariño?” in his ear.

Angel is grinning -- Billy doesn’t even have to look, he can hear it in his voice -- and he knows he’s gotta give Max a better reason when he sees her eyebrows shoot up to her hairline.

He signs, movement a bit jagged with his nerves, “His name is Angel. It’s just for today, I promise. Please?”

He adds that at the end, because he feels like he should.

Max stares at the two of them, and Billy’s sure that those blue eyes miss nothing with how sharply they cut through him. Her gaze narrows, and Billy braces for the worst.

Then, to Billy’s utter and complete surprise, Max signs a quick yes, okay and then she’s saying out loud, “I’m Max, Billy’s sister.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister, Billy! You never tell me anything,” Angel’s lilt is heavy with tease, and he gives Billy the most obvious wink he’s ever seen before he’s moving forward to shake Max’s hand, “My name is Angel. The pleasure is all mine, chica.”

Max’s nose scrunches up in complete suspicion at this strangely friendly display Angel’s putting on before her, and Billy tries not to grin too much.

“Thank you.” He signs to her, after Angel had strolled off towards his block -- not without a wink and too long hand touch to Billy’s lower back, that Billy has no doubt Max saw -- and it’s just the two of them walking home again.

“He’s weird.” Max says immediately, shooting a bewildered look off to where the Hispanic boy is walking away, and it catches Billy so off guard he almost laughs.

He shrugs, grinning, a little stupid and a lot helpless, and there’s a long moment where Max gives him a look, but it’s fond.

“You like him.” She says it aloud. It’s not a question.

Billy swallows. He prays she understands. Understands how much admitting to it really means.

How dangerous it is to admit it at all

He nods.

Max smiles, and something tight inside Billy shakes loose, “Okay.”

They walk home together.

***

Neil finds out.

Billy comes home late with a hickey on his neck and a silver spike dangling from his left ear. He’s not hiding it -- he doesn’t want to hide it, he swore to the boy with golden eyes and a silver feather he wouldn’t ever hide it, no matter what -- and Neil sees.

Neil sees and he goes fucking ballistic.

By the time the rage is done, by the time the fists stop coming, by the time Susan stops screaming Neil stop, stop, please, Neil, please--

By the time Neil believes he’s beaten the homosexual sickness out of his son, Billy’s face is purple and bruised and throbbing so bad Billy knows it’s never going to stop. Something stings on his brow -- the parting gift of his father’s class ring -- and there’s blood weeping down into Billy’s swollen eyes.

By the time Neil stops, Billy is holding on by a thread.

With a look of pure disgust, like he can’t stand the sight of his own son, Neil lets go of Billy, and Billy drops. 

His father strides past him and deeper into the house, towards the sound of Susan’s poorly hidden sniffling. Billy hears him say something to her, words spat out like a curse. He doesn’t remember the exact words, but he gets the gist.

Start packing your shit. We’re not staying here anymore.

The footsteps recede. The bedroom door slams shut.

Billy feels himself shattering into a million pieces on the kitchen floor.

Then Max is there in front of him.

Her blue eyes are wide and glassy on his face and she’s shaking and Billy doesn’t think she can stop.

He reaches for her, and she comes into his arms and she’s crying I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so so sorry-- and Billy can feel it.

He feels the ache in his chest, the wicked, overwhelming pressure in his throat that’s barely being held back, threatening to break past his lips and rip through the air of the dark kitchen.

His chest heaves with it. The need -- the desperate, horrible need -- to cry out.

To sob, to scream, to talk, to speak--

He feels it.

He feels it and he bites it down.

Silently, Billy holds Max tight while she cries in the middle of the kitchen.

There’s nothing to clean up, after.

***

When Neil Hargrove moves them to small town backwoods shithole Hawkins, Indiana, Billy is seventeen and there’s a scar on his brow.

He kinda hates everything about it right away.

Almost.