By now, Pedro is used to the shifty looks and the whispers that die down when he gets close, but he hasn’t experienced it from his friends in some time. Though he still doesn’t (dare) go up to Bea, he can feel her looking at him from where she stands with Ben (who seems to be joined at her hip these days. Seriously! A few months ago, holding hands was the equivalent of being held on a leash, and now she pouts if he goes to the bathroom!), and he just knows they’re talking about him. Strangely enough, so do Hero and Ursula, judging by the way they instantly shut up when he rounds a corner to come face to face with them. Balthazar’s no help here! He tried asking him at lunch, but all he got was a blush – that frankly looked adorable! – and a stutter that he doesn’t know, which of course means that he knows precisely what they are all talking about! A least it seems to be contained to their group of friends.
He is in a foul mood when he comes home. Even though he knows he deserved all the looks and the talk behind his back, he has begun to hope that they are beginning to put it behind them. He hasn’t forgiven himself yet, though, and he knows he won’t until Bea has forgiven him too. Hero can’t be trusted here, she’s too nice to hate him for as long as he deserves, but Bea has no such qualms. On bad days, he’s sure she’ll hate him until he dies, and on really bad days, he agrees with her. After everything came out in the open, he spent a lot of time thinking over his reasons for acting the way he did, and he’s not proud of the conclusion. Because the dirty truth is that a part of him was eager to have a reason to lash out at Bea, to make her hurt, and all because she had rejected him all those months ago. He might have been able to control his temper at Hero’s party if he hadn’t spent all of last period English the day before looking at Bea looking at Ben, a dazed look on her face and completely lost in her daydream. The girl he had spent the past few summers crushing on had fallen in love with one of his best friends, and he had only himself to blame.
That had come as a real shock to Pedro, when he realised that the plan ‘Team Love Gods’ came up with might actually work. Bea was never supposed to fall in love with Ben! He was supposed to act like a lovesick fool around her (well, he guess that part actually went as planned), and Bea was supposed to laugh at him, just like she had done to Pedro. She was supposed to turn to Pedro and complain about Ben, and everything would go back to normal between them. After the truth about everything came out, Pedro felt disgusted with himself. He’d manipulated his friends to get back at one of them with complete disregard for their feelings. It was worse than what John had done, because Pedro had done it to his two best friends, while trying to paint himself as the good guy.
“’All around great guy’, my ass!” he thinks, and kicks his cleats away to the other side of the hallway. The thumping sound makes John stick his head out of the doorway. Pedro tries to put on a genuine smile.
“Oh, hey bro, how was therapy?” John shrugs, but instead of going back to his room like he would’ve before spring, he comes out, and walks with Pedro to the kitchen.
“It was fine,” he answers, still favouring monosyllabic answers. After biting his lip, he decides to share a bit more. “She encouraged me to open up a bit more to those close to me.”
Pedro nods. “Yeah, that’s probably not such a bad idea. Guess we could all use that advice; we haven’t been doing so well in this family.” John grins at that, a weirdly lopsided smile that lights up his eyes.
“’Communication’” he says in such a way that Pedro knows he’s quoting someone, he just can’t figure out who. Instead, he settles on a “huh?” This, of course, makes John’s entire face lit up – and Pedro suddenly remembers the first Christmas John spent with them, when everything was still so weird, and Mum gave John a Blackadder boxset – and says with the most animated voice Pedro has heard from him in a long time “You haven’t seen the video?”
Pedro shakes his head, his stomach twists at his brother’s words. Recently, videos haven’t been all good, and he’s anxious to see what Bea or Ben did this time. His foul mood swims back to the surface, and he glares at the laptop John got from his room. He knows from the first second that this is going to be a painful experience, because Bea is snuggled up to Ben in his bath, wearing the clothes they wore yesterday, and something tells Pedro she spent the night after finishing that vlog, and he wants to punch something because they are so happy, and he’s so miserable.
His feelings after watching the video are a lot more confused.
He just sits there, staring at the screen after the video ends, not really noticing John sitting next to him. His thoughts tumble over themselves, and he can’t really focus on one long enough to figure it out before another one intrudes. There is one thought in particular that keeps pushing itself to the forefront of his mind, but he really hasn’t got a clue how to deal with that, so he just tries to focus on the other thoughts dancing around.
“So…” John prompts, and Pedro flinches, looking to his side. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know” Pedro answers truthfully. John nods, as if he’s expecting that answer. When Pedro keeps staring ahead of him, though, John nudges him in the side.
“Pedro, I’m supposed to open up to those close to me; it doesn’t really work unless you do the same.” Pedro nods, and tries to get his thoughts together long enough to share them. His first thought is to share the big one, but he stops himself. No matter how eager he is to have a close relationship with his brother, he’s certainly not ready to talk about that! Instead, he focuses on one of the lesser observations he made.
“I never had a chance. With Beatrice, I never had a shot with her. She fell in love with Ben when we were fourteen, and she never let it go. There was nothing I could have done; it was doomed from the start.” And as he says that, he feels his chest lighten up, as if he can finally let go of his resentment towards Bea for rejecting him. She’d never considered him for a very simple reason: he wasn’t Ben. She’d already met her perfect match, so why would she consider something less than perfect? With the resentment gone, he can also realise it wasn’t so much his romantic feelings towards Bea that hurt, it was his pride! And though it doesn’t make him less of an ass, he can finally begin to feel happy for his two friends. He twists his head to look at John, who looks back at him with a slightly superior smile on his face.
“I could have told you that three summers ago, you know. Would have saved you a lot of trouble.” He doesn’t say it in that infuriating tone he used to have before; instead, it’s a much softer, teasing tone, like they’re finally just brothers, teasing each other. Pedro feels his mouth stretch into a grin of his own.
“Oh, yeah? Well, what else can you tell me about my life, little bro? You know, to save me future troubles” he shoots back, not expecting the answer John returns.
“Just the fact that you’re scared to think too closely about what Ben and Bea said about Balthazar liking you, since you like him back, but you’re still too insecure to come out as bi.”
The kitchen is silent for almost a minute after that, Pedro staring at his brother with his jaw hanging open, and a hint of panic in his eyes. After a while, he manages to get his jaw to work so he can reply to his brother.
“Wha—, how did you know?” comes our hoarsely, and he tries to swallow a few times to get some moisture back in his mouth.
John just shrugs. “I’ve known Balthazar’s got a been in love with you from the moment I came to Auckland, and I realised you were bi that autumn you came back from football camp and blushed every time you mentioned Thomas.” Pedro finds himself blushing again. Thomas had been a teammate at the football camp in Hamilton, and he’d been Pedro’s first (and so far only) kiss with a boy. The last night before they went home, Thomas and he had been out, playing a one-on-one football game. When they’d taken a break, Thomas had leaned over and kissed Pedro on the mouth, completely stunning the fifteen years old boy, who’d been too shocked to kiss him back, but who’d spent the entire night running his hands over his lips. Come to think of it, Thomas looked a bit like Balthazar, with a slight frame and unruly hair, and really soft lips, and— Whoa! He wrenches his mind back to the conversation he’s having with John.
“And you’ve known all along, and never said anything?” At his brother’s headshake, he presses on. “Why? You said yourself you tried to disrupt my life; outing me would have been a perfect way to do it.” John frowns at him.
“There’s nothing wrong in being bi, Pedro. It’s nothing you need to be ashamed over. Besides, I just figured it would make you even more popular. You’d probably start a Pride Club, or something, and end up President of it.” John grins at his brother, making it clear that he’s joking. “I think that was what bothered me the most,” he continues in a pensive voice, “the fact that you talked so much about playing along to fit in, when you’d have a lot less trouble being yourself than I had. It just felt like you were taking out your frustration on me, and I resented you for it.” Instinctively, Pedro reaches out to grab hold of John’s shoulder, and this time, his little brother doesn’t shrink from the touch. Instead, he leans back towards him, and for the first time, they hug each other voluntarily. Sensing his brother wanted to say more, but needed a break from all this opening-up, Pedro decides to ask something he’s been thinking about for a while.
“Do… do you think I could come with you to therapy some time? To talk things through with you and someone who’s not mum or dad?” John smiles a genuine smile at his brother, before nodding.
“Yeah, I’d like that.” After a few moments of silence, John seems to once again seize the opportunity to be the teasing little brother.
“So… Now that you know how Balthazar feels, what are you going to do about it?”
Pedro swallows audibly, but tries to vocalise his feeling. According to Ben, it’s all communication! “I… I don’t know. I think I’m too messed up to do anything about it now, but when it’s all sorted out, I guess I… I’d like to see what’s there between us.” It’s the hardest confession he’s ever been forced to make, but it’s also something that brings butterflies to his stomach. Just the thought of reaching out to touch Balth’s hand with his makes tingles shoot up through his entire arm. He looks up to see his brother watching him, an open smile on his face, happy that he’s finally admitting his feelings. They move into the living room, where John brings out his Blackadder, and Pedro brings in all the snacks he can find from the kitchen. They’re still there when their parents come home, and they’re both surprised when the adults just kick of their shoes, and sit down on opposite sides of their boys and asked what they’ve missed. When it’s time for dinner, they don’t order one pizza each, like usual, but instead two big family ones to share, where Pedro and John get to choose the toppings. It feels like the ending to a ridiculous American film, where the perfect family is all happy together, which has never been their case with them. But now, everything is changing.
And for the first time, the Donaldson's actually do feel like a family.