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(I try to say) goodbye and I choke
I try to walk away and I stumble
Though I try to hide it, it's clear
My world crumbles when you are not near

~Macy Gray

MARSHALL

“Tay – “

*click*

“Tay –“

*click*

Goddamnit, Tay –“

*click*

Marshall slammed the phone down and gripped the counter to keep from flinging it against the wall.

In front of the television Nate stopped playing airplane with his truck and gave him an owl-eyed look that made Marshall force a smile at him and quit losing his shit in front of the kid. Nate already got squirrelly when his mom and The Dumbfuck started to bitch. It wasn’t Nate’s fault that Marshall had been a fucking asshole.

A stupid fucking coward asshole.

For the hundredth time since yesterday Marshall closed his eyes when the mind movie started, but he could still see. It really was like a movie that played in his head where he watched himself let the guys make fun of Tay; where he could see, over and over, the hurt on Tay’s face, the way he tried to play it off and how it didn’t work so bad. It wasn’t like he blanked out when he took the test; he could see everything. He remembered everything and every minute, from when he saw the guys over Tay’s shoulder to Tay walking away, was like a fuckin’ nightmare happening to someone else. Except it wasn’t.

Because he wasn’t even thinking, man, he wasn’t even seeing anything right then except Tay. How the highlights of his hair looked laying on the black of the sweater, how the blue of his eyes got a little dark when he got serious. How he felt Tay working up to something important, to maybe talk about what was happening when they got together, and Marshall wanted him to. Part of him was kinda scared, yeah, but it was a good scared; the kind that made your stomach hop around and your heart go faster. It reminded him of being at the top of the roller coaster at the amusement park he’d gone to with Ronnie: he knew the drop was gonna be scary as fuck but he knew it was gonna feel so damn good, too.

Then Proof and the guys showed up and everything changed lightening fast. Because he knew what they’d see when they looked at Tay, how Tay would look to them, and suddenly, it’s as if that’s all Marshall could see, too.

Tay’s girl-long hair that fell around his face to almost his shoulders, the way the sweater was fuzzy for Christ’s sakes, the way Tay sat and moved and fucking breathed. But mostly, it was the way Tay looked at everyone as they came up on them laughing and joking around. As if they were from another fucking planet, and that’s how his crew looked at Tay, too.

Except Marshall didn’t think that then, did he? He didn’t think that Tay was probably freaked out, that he wasn’t around peeps from the hood, ever. No, all he saw was the looks on the guy’s faces when they saw who he was with /rich fucking white boy. Rich FAGGY fucking white boy/ and—Marshall froze.

He didn’t unfreeze until Tay walked away and Marshall knew Tay had heard what he'd said. He knew from the hurt look in the sky blue eyes and the really tall way Tay held himself, like he had that time that Marshall first skated up to him when Marshall surprised the fuck out of him.

Marshall ran both hands over his face, but the movie reel didn’t stop. The movie reel had just gotten going and it was gonna finish with or without his permission.

 

“Move.” He’d said only making it a few agonizing minutes from the time the door closed behind Tay’s back.

“You okay?” Von asked.

“Move.”

“Marsh…” Proof said, taking his shoulder in one hand but he hardly felt it.

“Move the fuck out of the way!”

Proof and Denaun knew he wasn’t playing when he sounded like that and they slid out; Marshall took off at a run just in time to see Tay get on the bus and another set of doors close behind him.

He felt as if his heart had just fallen all the way to his shoes as the bus drove away and when a hand touched his back he jumped, breathing hard.

Proof stood there squinting at him in the yellow streetlight, and Jesus fuck, Tay was on a bus and it was dark, he’d let him get on a fucking bus at night….

“Look, I didn’t mean to fuck up your tutoring and shit.”

“I gotta go.” Marshall said through numb lips.

“For real, I don’t know…”

“Yeah, a’aight. I gotta go now.” And he’d run for the car.

*~*~*~

Two hours later he was driving around Tay’s hood like he was casing the joint and expected the cops to show up and question him any minute. He’d driven here instead of trying to tail the bus because he just couldn’t do the stop/start shit in traffic and he knew Tay would have to get a transfer but he wasn’t sure where. After two hours of waiting to see that he got home okay and not seeing him he’d bitten his nails bloody.

Finally, thank fucking god, he saw Tay walking slowly up the sidewalk head bowed and something in his chest just broke because Tay looked so down, so punked out. His hands shook with relief as he leaned over to watch Tay go up the steps and stop, run a hand through his hair and square his shoulders before Tay went in and Marshall had never, not never felt like so much shit in his life.

He’d driven home and glared at his mom until she got off the phone: “Alright! Alright! You don’t own this place, you know!” But Tay had hung up on him four times before he quit trying, and three times today.

He was going crazy.

He’d talked to Proof, and that felt all fucked up too, except he knew that would be a’aight. He wanted to ask him what the fuck that had been about, what the beef was, but he knew. Before, if he’d seen Proof sitting with Tay, he’d have done the same thing, probably.

So they stood next to each other against the jungle gym in the crappy trailer park playground while Nate swung on the swings.

“You ain’t been talking to me for a while, bro.”

“I talk.” Marshall said, hands in his pockets and eyes on Nate as he tried to swing higher and higher. He wasn’t allowed to swing and jump off after he’d tried it and landed on a rock giving him a knot on his head the size of a baseball for weeks.

Also, he couldn’t really look at Proof right then.

“Nuh-uh. You pass by on your way to see Blondie.”

Marshall pressed his lips together and turned to Proof who eyed him in silence.

“He saved my ass in Math. I’d be on the bench if it weren’t for him.”

“I hear you.”

Except Marshall didn’t think Proof really did and right now, just this minute, he didn’t care.

Too bad he hadn’t felt that way in the restaurant.

When he’d acted like a DICK.

“Marshy?” He pulled out of the black funk he was falling into and looked down to see Nate’s upturned face. “Why you sad?”

Sighing he bent down and hoisted Nate up on his hip even if the kid was getting too heavy for it.

“I was a dick to a friend of mine, dog. He’s mad at me.”

“Did you say you’re sorry?” Nate asked as Marshall sat them on the couch and Nate curled up on his lap clutching his toy truck. His socks didn’t match and his face was dirty.

“I’m trying, but it ain’t working.”

“What did you do?” Nate’s sleep voice sounded from under his chin and Marshall rubbed his back, the vulnerable bumps of his spine rising and falling under his fingers.

“I was mean.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Marshall whispered. He let Nate’s even breathing lull him a little and tried not to think about how he had maybe screwed this up with Tay for good. Just thinking about not seeing him ever, not being in his same space watching the sky blue eyes fix on him like he mattered made his breath start to speed up in panic.

He had to fix this. He did not accept that there was not way to fix this!

Laying Nate gently on the sofa and tucking a thin blanket around his curled up body he headed for the phone. Again.

“Is Tay there?” he asked the little kid voice that answered.

“TAY!” He held the phone away from his ears and waited, chewing on a cuticle.

After about a minute he heard muffled voices, like when someone held their palm over the receiver.

“Who is it?” the little girl asked importantly.

“This is Marshall.”

More muffled voices.

“He says he’s not here.”

“Avery!” It would have been funny except Marshall’s heart was pounding away and he stood, pacing around, holding the phone in one hand.

Then the line went dead.

The excited spark of hope in his chest died like a doused flame and he slammed the phone down, then looked over to the couch guiltily.

Nate mumbled then turned around, uncovering his back.

It was okay, it was okay, he told himself over and over.

He knew exactly where Tay would be tomorrow /unless he didn’t go/ that punkass voice whispered and he shut it the fuck up. He knew Tay would be skating tomorrow and he’d see him then. It was something.

Marshall got his Math book and sat at the table to do his work on autopilot.

It was something.

He had to stop himself from calling back half a dozen times.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*
The sound of the classical music when he opened the rink door filled him with relief and Marshall walked towards it, hand clutching the strap of his backpack.

He hung back a little just watching Tay skate because, no, he didn’t see that a lot anymore and it wasn’t because he thought he might not have that right anymore. It wasn’t.

Tay’s eyes were closed as he moved through the routine and Marshall watched the tips of his fingers point as he did a spin where he sat balanced on one skate, then lift, do a turn, and lift his leg high as he skated backwards, one hand holding the tip of the skate, the other falling in an arc to the side. He was so amazing to watch Marshall couldn’t believe things had gotten this fucked up this fast, that he’d let them.

As the music faded out Tay ended with one hand on his chest and the other stretched out as if asking for help, face upturned. Marshall wanted to step on the ice and take Tay’s hand as it hung there, half opened and inviting, but then Tay opened his eyes, saw him, and the peaceful, serene expression dropped off his face.

Marshall approached the exit off the rink as Tay skated over and stood there biting at his nails watching as Tay undid the laces of his skates. He wore black skating pants and a long sleeved gray t-shirt with a black dragon design on it, the trails of a bright green scarf swinging in the air as he bent. A fall of blond hair covered his face and Marshall’s hands itched with wanting to touch it, to ruffle it off Tay’s face like he sometimes did, but he knew he didn’t have that right anymore. Not right now.

“Did you do any work?” Tay crossed his arms and talked to the floor and the question threw Marshall for a second because he’d been so busy trying to catch Tay’s eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s, hold up.” Marshall had to dig in his backpack for the handful of geometry problems he got through last night before giving up. He kept getting the right answers and that never happened so he didn’t trust it, and besides, he kept thinking of Tay and losing his concentration.

He watched Tay’s dark lashes run over the paper and that panic started again in his gut, that feeling that he’d fucked this up and it would never be the same, not never…

Marshall stepped closer recklessly, brushing their arms together and Tay looked up, sky blue eyes surprised and guarded and Marshall could smell clean and Tay. “You hung up on me.”

“No, I didn’t.” Tay moved back and Marshall stepped forward, wondering if he’d just lose it and dive into Tay’s neck like a vampire.

“Look, yo, I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Tay looked down at the paper, not looking at him, but not moving away.

“Don’t hand me that. We gotta talk.”

“About what?”

“A’aight, fine. We still studying?” he demanded, and where did he get off sounding angry? What the fuck was wrong with him???

Tay looked up and Marshall knew that look. He’d seen it the first day Tay talked to him on the ice: cold, calm nothing. “I don’t break my promises. I’ve worked just as hard as you have. These are right.”

“What?” Marshall took the paper shoved at him and crumpled it one hand as Tay started for the locker room.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t fuckin’ walk away from me!” He blocked Tay’s path, in his space, close enough to feel the warm heat that always seemed to come off Tay’s skin, even through clothes.
He got Tay’s stare, held it fiercely, gripped the cold sky blue eyes until they started to thaw a little, to melt into sad, confused, hurt that made Mashall’s chest ache. “Tay,” he started softly and Tay stepped back so far it looked like a fucking dance step. They stared at each for a second until Tay hugged himself, turning away.

“I’ll see you at the library on Friday. I’ll meet you there.”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“No.”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“No.” Tay said in a voice Marshall knew he couldn’t change.

“Why the fuck not?” he demanded, and angry again, because, yeah, that was gonna work.

“You need to be careful. You’re friends might see.”

Shame so sudden and deep came up on him; he didn’t even flush; he stopped breathing. It was like a pressure right on his chest and he blinked as Tay walked to the lockers without looking back, and it seemed all he’d seen forever was Tay walking away from him and it sucked. He hated it, he hadn’t seen Tay smile since that moment at McDonald’s and he felt like a fuckin’ plant deprived of the sun.

He couldn’t wait for Tay to come out and watch him walk away again. He could not fuckin’ take that one more time, so he left, ran out of the rink and tried to slam the door except it was one of those springs that didn’t slam, so he ran some more until he found a dumpster between a building and an empty parking lot and pounded viciously. He hit and hit for he didn’t know how long until he couldn’t feel his hands. Marshall stopped, breathing hard, hands numb from the cold and the abuse, and then he turned because he couldn’t stop himself from looking back at the rink.

He saw Tay standing next to his bike and when he looked in Marshall’s direction Marshall ducked behind the dumpster letting the shadows hide him. He watched Tay look around then put his hand in his pocket, a sad look on the beautiful face and he wanted to run across and shake Tay, make him listen, except what the fuck was he gonna say? What could he fuckin’ say to make shit good again?

Tay got on the bike and pushed off, hair flying in the cold breeze and Marshall stayed looking in the direction he left for a long time. His nose started to run from the cold and Marshall wiped at it, the ice of his fingers startling for a second. He hadn’t even realized he’d been shaking.