Sunday, 3rd January ‘09
i’ve got an incredibly cliche thing to say today, the day before we go back to school: i don’t want to. the easy reason is there’s nothing to look forward to. we’ve got to give our language A Levels in June so everyone’s had to drop their CCAs, and that means no more choir after school with Amy and Peej. the difficult reason is that i’m tired. it’s hard to explain, because it’s not like i want to die, do i? i just want it all to stop. the studying’s gotten too much (what was i thinking when i chose biology? was definitely some kind of suicidal last year) and everyone’s already begun revising. all i’ve been doing for two weeks now is this: listening to music and binge-reading all the books i got from christmas. ridiculous! i don’t even take eng lit. seventeen-year-olds aren’t supposed to have so many regrets. are we?
“You look chipper,” Amy says when he trudges into homeroom on the first day of the rest of the year.
“You’ve looked better,” Chris adds from beside her. Phil forgoes the sarcastic reply he had for Amy in favour of scowling at him. Chris grins back at him, ridiculous angel that he is. Phil’s scowl deepens; Chris doesn’t even go here.
“Have you failed driving school again, then?” Phil asks, sliding into the seat beside Chris’.
Chris whistles once, says, “Straight for the jugular, eh?” His bright eyes are blazing with excitement, and his leg’s already begun to shake under the desk. Phil’s always likened him to a buzzing atom, forever ready to move on to the next hot thing. Chris has already been told on seven separate occasions to stop coming back to the school premises, but most of the teachers have given up trying to chase him out. He never sticks around for long, anyway. Last year, he hadn’t attended his own graduation ceremony.
Ignoring him, Phil leans across and says to Amy, “Do we have new schedules?”
“We might,” she responds. “At least, from what I’ve heard. Fingers crossed they’ve moved Psych to last block so we can skive off.”
“Fingers crossed,” Phil repeats, even though he knows he won’t be skiving off any classes this term. His mum’s stopped accepting I was bored as a valid excuse for getting home from school an hour earlier than he’s supposed to.
“Look at you,” Chris croons, “All grown up and proper with your places to be and your things to do.”
“You don’t have to be here,” Phil says. “Unless Peej dumped you, again.” He knows he’s being unnecessarily rude to Chris, but he also knows the boy will bounce back from it like he always does. When the bell goes and their form teacher walks in, stack of new schedules in her hands, Phil rests his head on the table and wills himself to doze off. Unable to fully slip into the unconscious, he registers when Chris leaves not too long after, and Amy moves into his vacated seat.
She pats the back of Phil’s head and says, “It’s going to be a good year, you know?” Phil gives a half-hearted, disgruntled snort. Amy leans down to say into his ear, “There’s a new kid, can you believe it? Nobody transfers this close to A Levels. I had a look at him earlier and he’s well fit. A bit weird, though.”
Phil snorts again, and thinks maybe he’ll skive off Psych with Amy this week if it’s been moved to last block. His mum doesn’t have to know.
The new kid’s in his Psych class.
He walks in well before the bell on Tuesday, walks right past where Amy and Phil are sitting close to the back. His eyes are dark and so’s his hair - he wears it in a messy fringe, swooping low over his eyes. He’s got the sort of cheeks that probably dimple when prompted; they look soft, at any rate. Amy swoons.
“Shut up,” Phil says, but he’s grinning, too.
“D’you think he’s gay?” Amy asks. She sounds, confusingly, eager.
“Doesn’t look queer, does he?” Phil shoots back. Ms. Darrel walks in then and everyone rises to greet her. Then she begins discussing their syllabus and all the topics they’ve got to finish this term, and Phil zones out again.
“What does a queer even look like?” Amy asks, relentless.
“Like Daniel Radcliffe, I suppose.” Phil shuts his eyes, head already pounding. It’s been literally twenty minutes into the new year and he already wants to call it quits.
“I thought he was bi?” Amy sighs. “So there is hope yet.”
Phil opens his eyes then, if only to laugh at her. “Do you ever stop?”
“I’ve got to get myself a date mate this year,” she tells him. “It’s on my bucket list.”
“You’ve got year-specific bucket lists?”
“I can have whatever I want to, Phil Lester.”
At that, Phil laughs again.
He doesn’t think about the new kid again until the end of their first week back. Amy left after third block Geog for a dentist appointment, and Peej skived off the last two blocks to meet with Chris for lunch. It’s unclear to Phil if the two of them are dating again or not, but he likes to not give it much thought.
So he’s walking home alone today, carrying three of his binders with him because he’s dead set on revising some this weekend, when he spots the new kid walking just a few paces ahead.
Not too many from their school choose to walk home on Fridays, especially not in January when the cold is still sharp and biting, so Phil’s a bit surprised. He hugs the binders closer to his chest and hitches his backpack up where it’s sliding down on his shoulder, and considers for the briefest moment speeding to catch up with the kid. It doesn’t take much contemplation to decide against it.
(He hadn’t been actively looking , but he had noticed the boy sitting on his own during breaks. He walked into every Psych class with his head down, his long spindly fingers wrapped around the straps of his backpack. He never hung around after school, and stared intently at anyone who spoke to him, and Phil hadn’t been actively looking. He just. Notices these things.)
The quickest way for Phil to get home is to cut through the park behind his old elementary school; today, he decides to take the long way around, curious to see where the new kid lives. The curiosity isn’t unfounded is what he tells himself: nobody transfers so close to finals. There’s got to be something about the kid that’s worth discovering.
He follows him all the way to the Lancashire Projects, far enough that he’ll have to double back and still run quite a bit to make it home in time for tea. The lad walks slow, like he’s got all the time in the world, and Phil’s already regretting his decision.
He’s about to turn back, he even does , and then three things happen at once:
One. The kid stops walking (Phil watches him still, from the corner of his eye) and makes to cross the road, looking in one direction and then the other. His small face is scrunched up in concentration.
Two. Looking down the far end of the road, the kid begins to cross it.
Three. A black Sedan turns a corner, tires screeching, and drives full-speed past the Lancashire Projects. Drives full-speed into the kid’s blind side.
Phil acts on adrenaline alone. He sprints ( sprints. ) back, somehow reaching the kid before the car does, grabs him across the waist and drags him to the other side, out of harm’s way. The kid flails. The car whizzes by. Phil can feel the cold press of air in the back of his neck. The binders in his arms tumble to the ground.
“Fuck,” he says. And then, louder: “Do you not have fucking ears ?”
The kid’s still flailing in his arms, so Phil lets him go and bends to collect his binders. When he stands again, the boy’s breathing hard, looking down the road at the quickly disappearing car. Then he looks back at Phil and says, “Thank you.”
His voice is low, hoarse. Phil doesn’t want to find it as attractive as it does.
“Didn’t you hear it speed up?” Phil demands, his heart frantically beating in his chest as the events of the last two minutes catch up with him.
“Did you follow me all the way here from school?” the kid shoots back. His face is flushed, his chest rising and falling as he takes in huge, swooping breaths. He steps away from Phil and looks quite pissed at him, which is dumb, because Phil just saved his fucking life .
“I live down the road,” says Phil dumbly.
“Sure you do.” He raises his eyebrows like he doesn’t believe him, and then looks down the road again. “But thank you,” he adds, softer.
Phil can’t get over the way he talks: slow, deliberate. Like it’s an effort getting the words out. When Phil says, “It’s no problem,” the kid’s eyes don’t budge from where they’re focused on his lips. “I’m Phil,” he adds awkwardly.
“Phil,” the kid repeats, like he’s tracing the name with his tongue. Phil has to struggle not to shiver. “I’m Dan.” He sticks his arm out then, and Phil shakes it. It’s a warm hand, big, and pulls away too fast.
Phil steps back. “I’ll be going, then.”
“I will see you in school,” says Dan, all deliberate slowness and measured breath.
Phil walks ‘home’ in the wrong direction to keep with his lie, and while doubling back he develops a cold sweat and decides that the new kid probably wasn’t worth all that trouble.
Sunday, 10th January ‘09
so i survived the first week without incident. there’s a new photography CCA that’s open to final years but amy doesn’t seem very keen on it. chris has showed up for homeroom every day of the week so far and steals peej away for lunch, but i think he’ll drop it next week. if he doesn’t i’ve half a mind to tell him to leave peej alone. we’ll see. there’s a new kid called Dan and i followed him home friday evening because there’s definitely something odd about a kid who transfers mere months before finals. didn’t find out anything, though, although i did save him from becoming roadkill. he talks really slowly, like he’s got all the time in the world. kept looking at my mouth when i spoke, too. not like he wanted to snog me, but like he was memorising the way i said my words. it was weird. i think i’ll just avoid him.
“So,” Amy says during homeroom on Monday. “Rumour has it he’s queer.”
“Who’s queer?” asks Chris.
“Don’t tell him,” Phil advises. He’s got his nose buried in his chemistry homework, but he’s all ears to the conversation happening over him. “He’ll go and break Peej’s heart again.”
“It’s not mine to break,” Chris protests stoutly.
“Shut up,” says Amy. “Rumour has it Dan Howell is gay.”
“S’that his name, then?” asks Phil, at the same time as Chris goes, “He’s well fit.”
“He is,” agrees Amy. “ And off limits, now.” She sighs dreamily, eyes gone a bit starry.
Phil stares at her in confusion. “You alright?” he asks, genuinely concerned.
“Girls,” Chris waves a vague hand. “Do we have any classes with him?”
“You don’t even go here.”
“We’ve got Psych with him, don’t we, Phil?” Amy sighs again. “That’s third block today, before lunch.”
“Don’t encourage him.”
“I’ll be there,” says Chris.
Blowing out frustrated breath, Phil snaps his book shut and raises his head to glare at Amy. “How do you even know he’s queer?”
“He gives off that sort of vibe, doesn’t he?” She scrunches up her small face and holds her fingers against her forehead like the antennae of an insect. “I’ve got my gaydar all polished up.”
“Your what ?”
“But you said you heard rumours,” Phil persists, ignoring Chris.
“Oh, yes.” She lowers her hands and looks about. Then, with a lower voice, she says: “I overheard Elizabeth Farthing talkin’ about him in the loo before. Said she saw him staring at some bloke like he wanted to eat him. And her cousin from Donny told her once ‘bout a lad called Dan who got beat up every day for being queer. Doesn’t take much to put two and two together, does it?”
Phil’s tummy does a weird somersault at that. “Mightn’t be the same Dan,” he says.
“Mightn’t,” agrees Amy. “Say, what do you have when I’ve got Geog? There’s an ice cream shop by Tain Square that I’ve been meaning to visit.”
Dan is early for Psych again, and walks past Phil to take up a desk at the back of the class. He doesn’t look at him once, or acknowledge him at all. Phil pays attention to the lesson and tells himself sternly that he doesn’t care.
He lasts all the way until lunch. “What d’you think is his problem?” he asks Amy when they’re walking to the front to meet Chris.
“Who?” She looks up from her disc player, where she’s sliding in a new mix Phil made her over the weekend. “Dan?”
“He’s been all.” He makes a vague gesture. “Weird.”
“No more than usual.” Amy frowns. “D’you think they’re - you know - beating him up here, too?”
There it goes again, Phil’s stomach doing the loop-de-loop. Ignoring it, Phil says, “I’d hope not.”
“We’d know, though, wouldn’t we? They can’t do that sort of thing.” Her voice gets louder by the word. “It can’t be legal .”
“Bullies don’t get thrown into jail,” Phil says, affecting a casual shrug. “Are we going to Tain Square for ice cream, then?”
“We need to talk to him,” says Amy with fierce determination.
“We won’t do anything of the sort,” Phil says swiftly. “Look, there’s Chris.” He’s hanging out of the window of his beat-up red Mustang, waving wildly at the two of them. “D’you think he’s gotten his license yet?” Phil asks lightly, the moment they’re within hearing range.
“Fuck off, Phil Lester.” Chris grins at him, then throws a paper bag at Amy. “Picked up burgers from the shack for ye both. I’m takin’ good old Peej for some ice cream and there’s only enough space for the two of us in this beauty.”
Phil rolls his eyes but doesn’t say anything, because Chris cancels lunch plans as quick as he makes them. As Amy peels open the paper bag and peers in, Phil says, “I thought you were going to pop by for Psych to get an eyeful of the new kid?”
But Chris is already distracted, leaning over the other side to open the shotgun door for Peej, who’s just come running out of the building. After making sure his beau is nice and settled, Chris turns back to Phil and says, “Didn’t need to.” He throws the car into gear. “I’ve lost interest, haven’t I?”
“How come?” Phil asks. He’s already pulling away.
“He’s a bit mutton, isn’t he?” Chris hollers out of the window. Then he drives out of the school car park at breakneck speed, leaving him and Amy in a cloud of dust.
“Come on,” Amy’s saying, tugging at his arm. “Burgers for lunch. Does this day get any better?”
Monday, 11 January ‘09
so the new kid is deaf - i didn’t see that coming. a lot of things suddenly make sense. amy’s going to try talking to him tomorrow because he hasn’t got any friends yet and he’s deaf and potentially queer. i can’t stop thinking about that last bit. i’ve never met an in-real-life queer before (at least, of what i’m aware). i don’t think chris counts. in other news, i’m joining the photography cca because i need something different to put on my college apps besides science fairs and that cross-country i did two years ago. i ran into dan when i went to the office to hand into my cca form - literally ran into him. i guess he didn’t hear me coming. he said “it’s you again” and i said “we’ve got to stop meeting like this” and that made him laugh. he’s got a nice laugh, and his eyes go all crinkly afterwards. i think i’d have said more, except he walked away then. we’ll see if we can get him to sit with us for lunch tomorrow.
“So there’s a party,” Chris says at lunch on Wednesday.
“There’s always a party,” Phil returns, even as Amy perks up beside him.
“Really?” she asks, eager as always. “Where? Will there be spliffs?”
“There are always spliffs,” says Chris grandly.
“Then you can count me out,” Phil mutters.
“Really?” Chris raises both eyebrows. “Hot boy Howell’s going to be there.”
“What?” Phil looks over his shoulder at the bins, where Dan’s gone to throw the remnants of his lunch. He’s been sitting with them for lunch for two days now; he doesn’t say much, just eats through his sandwich and lets them talk around him. “How’d he get invited?”
Chris shrugs carelessly. “May’ve gotten in with the right crowds.”
“I did see him with Marcus from the football team at the field yesterday,” says Amy thoughtfully. “They were having a proper kick-about.”
Phil blanches. “Marcus’ crowd is hardly the right one,” he says, and then realises he’s being ridiculously protective of a boy he’s said a total of ten words to. He resolves to shut up for the rest of lunch.
“Depends on how you look at it,” Chris says with a filthy grin. “So.” He knocks Amy’s shoulder once. “I’ll see you this Friday? We’re going to be in the barn.”
Amy wrinkles her nose at that. “I hate the barn,” she says. “It always smells like cow shit.”
“Haven’t you heard?” Chris cackles. “The walls are made of it.”
It’s an old joke, but Amy laughs at it anyway.
Thursday, 14 January ‘09
finally begun revising! i’m three weeks behind the rest of the cohort but it’s something. started with bio (like chris would say: straight to the jugular) but browsed through some psych today. weirdly enough, it reminded me of dan - or more specifically, how little i know about him. the only class we’ve got together is psych and i don’t even know what his other subjects are. although i have seen him hanging around the art classrooms. he’s been sitting with us for lunch since tuesday. he doesn’t say much, but he follows our conversations with his eyes and he laughs when we do. he’s still a bit queer (queer as in strange, not queer as in gay) but i think i’m getting used to it. there’s a party tomorrow in the barn, and amy’s been trying to convince me to go to it with her. i won’t, although i’ve no doubt i’ll be dragged out of bed at three in the morning to go pick her drunk arse up. such are the woes of being a good friend.
On Saturday morning, Amy calls him at half past two, drunk off her arse and crying quite loudly. Phil huffs and puffs and grumbles quite a bit, but he gets out of bed and goes to pick her up, because he’s a lot of things but he’s not a bad friend.
“Was Dan there?” he asks when he’s pulling in front of her house. Amy’s snoring softly in the backseat. “Amy,” he says, reaching back to shake her awake.
“Get your hands off me,” she snaps drunkenly, scuttling away. Then she opens her eyes and frowns at him, yawns. “Time’s it?”
“We’re at yours,” Phil says, trying very hard not to frown back. “Get up.” She does, pushing the back door open and all but falling out of the car. Phil gets out and goes around to make sure she doesn’t fall over before she gets to the front door. She falls into his side when he gets to her, and he takes her arm around his shoulder and hauls her up the driveway. “Are your folks home?” he asks. She shakes her head, almost imperceptibly.
“Was Dan there?” he asks again.
This time, she nods. “He danced a bit,” she says, giggling. “With all the pretty girls. Chloe and Danielle, there with him all - ” She hiccups. “The whole time.”
“He danced?” Phil asks, confused. They get to the front door and Amy leans against it, watching Phil get the spare key from under the potted plant in the verandah.
“He wore his hearing aids,” she slurs after he gets the door to open.
Dan never wears his hearing aids during lunch, but sometimes Phil sees him put them on for psych. He’s never asked Dan why he doesn’t want to hear them talk when they eat; he thinks, if he were deaf, he wouldn’t want to hear Amy and Chris bicker for forty minutes either.
Phil helps her up the stairs and, after she divebombs into bed and immediately begins to snore, pulls off her shoes and gets the blankets up over her tiny frame. He hitches open a window to get rid of the stink of beer, and then drives home.
“You didn’t come on Friday,” Dan says, mouth full with sausage and bread. Phil looks away from where he was watching Amy try to sail a chip into Chris’ waiting mouth - they’ve been trying for the past twenty minutes, and not a single chip has gone in yet. The bench is scattered with them.
“I said I wouldn’t,” Phil says, trying not to sound too alarmed that Dan’s speaking to him.
“I thought you would anyway,” Dan replies, shrugging. He takes another bite of his hotdog, then smiles around it. Phil smiles back if only after a moment’s hesitation.
“Was it fun?” Phil asks once he’s swallowed.
“Sort of.” Dan shrugs again. “The girls in this school are friendlier than - they’re quite friendly.”
“They are,” Phil agrees, even though Amy’s the only girl he’s ever had a proper conversation with. Then, he realises maybe Dan isn’t talking about having conversations with them. “Friendlier than the girls in your old school?” Phil prompts.
“Kind of.” Dan smiles again. “They never spoke to me in my old school.”
He doesn’t say it like it’s a sad thing, but something twists inside Phil. He doesn’t know much about Dan but from what he can tell, he’s an okay sort of lad. Girls should pay attention to him. He’s got that whole pale-tall-scruffy-cute thing going for him; that’s what girls go for, isn’t it?
“Hey,” Dan says, and now he’s pointing at a badge on Phil’s schoolbag. “You a fan of Muse?”
“They’re sick, yeah,” Phil says immediately. He touches the badge, then looks at Dan. “You like them too?”
“Sort of.” He grins a bit crookedly, like he’s trying to reign it in. “Before I got my hearing aids, I’d bought a disc and played it really loud on the speakers. You can hear the - feel the music, through the ground, it sort of. Thrums. It felt nice.”
“Have you listened to them since?” Phil asks. “Like, properly listened?”
Dan shakes his head, cheeks pleasantly flushed. He looks embarrassed.
“You can come over,” Phil says. “To mine.” His heart’s thudding a bit in his chest, but that’s just because he’s never had to invite anyone over since middle school. Amy always pops by when it gets too quiet in her house across the road from his, and Chris and PJ have never been. “I’ve got their newest album. You could give it a listen, see if they’re - you know. All that.”
“Sure,” Dan says at once. “If you don’t mind.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Phil says, and jostles their shoulders together.
Dan still speaks slow sometimes, like he’s feeling his words out in his mouth before he says them. Like he wants to make sure. Sometimes, if Amy talks to him too fast and he isn’t wearing his aids, she has to repeat herself, slower. But there’s a familiarity in the way Dan’s eyes never leave Phil’s lips, always reading.
Sometimes, Dan signs when he talks, spells out small phrases with his hands like he can’t help it. He’s doing it now. They’re walking home from the chip shop and he’s telling Phil about something that happened during math with his mouth and hands. He’s speaking so quickly he doesn’t even realise he’s signing at the same time, until Phil reaches out and takes Dan’s hand in his.
“When did you learn to do that?” he asks, when Dan falls silent. His hand goes limp in Phil’s, but he doesn’t let go of it yet.
“Ever since primary school,” Dan says. He looks down between them, where Phil’s holding his hand, and Phil thinks he might imagine it when Dan grins just the bit. “My mum made all of us get classes.”
“Your family?” Phil asks.
“Yeah. My dad, her, and my brother. It was before I got my hearing aids - I got those in year seven because I couldn’t lip read fast enough during classes and we didn’t have any interpreters - at home we used to sign all the time. I only ever used my voice in school.”
Phil lets go of his hand then, using it to scratch the back of his neck self-consciously. He doesn’t know why he held on for so long, besides the fact that - it felt nice. “When did you learn to talk?” he asks Dan next, because now that he’s begun learning things about this boy he doesn’t think he’ll be able to stop.
“I wasn’t born deaf,” Dan says. He laughs a bit. “I thought I’d told you this before? Weird that I haven’t. I lost my hearing over time, and by then I already knew how to speak. It was strange to have to talk without being able to actually - actually hear myself do it, you know? But I got used to it.” He shrugs. “Didn’t take very long.”
Phil nods, eyes on the pavement. He can’t get rid of the feeling that he should have known these things by now, and he would have, if he hadn’t spent the last several weeks being caught up by the idea of Dan being deaf and - potentially - queer. They get to the end of the road and Phil grabs his hand to steer him left. “Tell me about your brother,” he says, and doesn’t let go the rest of the way to his home.
“This is the prettiest room I have ever seen,” Dan says, standing at the door of Phil’s room and looking adequately in awe.
“Shut up,” Phil tells him, but he’s blushing.
It’s not a very pretty room. There are band posters on the ceiling - most of them are Muse, interspersed with some My Chemical Romance ones and a lone Britney Spears his cousin had gifted him for his birthday - and his desk is a mess of books and files. But the bed’s kind of nice; the quilt on it is two inches thick and spread evenly across, making it look bouncy and comfortable all at once. There are photographs on the wall behind his desk from all the summers past, wonky ones taken with his camera of he and Amy at the beach and the mall and the park, a rare one with PJ in front of the Christmas tree at Tain Square. They’re nice photographs - Phil’s quite fond of them.
As it turns out, Dan had been talking about the seven throw pillows on the carpet.
“I can’t believe you’ve got seven,” Dan says. He sits down on one of them and bounces, face the epitome of delight. “It’s so soft .”
Phil snorts. “You’re a proper kid, you,” he tells him, but goes to sit on a throw pillow as well. “When I was studying for my GCSEs,” he begins. Dan looks at him, smile soft and gentle on his face. “I got into the terrible habit of studying on the floor. I couldn’t get anything done at the desk and when I got on the bed I always ended up dozing off, so. There really wasn’t any other choice.”
“You could’ve gone to the library,” Dan says, grinning stupidly.
Phil makes a face at him. “So when my mum found out I’d been spending most of my evenings on the carpet with my books and everything, she got me the pillows. Sometimes I fall asleep down here.” He motions to the one Dan’s sitting on - it’s striped with dark blues and greens. “That’s my favourite one.”
They look at each other for a long, drawn out moment, and Phil’s heart thuds in his chest. “Right,” he says, getting up. “Let me get the album out.”
They lie side by side on the narrow bed, Phil’s worn out disc player sitting between them with the earphones unplugged. Phil puts the disc in and gets the first track playing, and stares at Dan from the corner of his eye to gauge the boy’s reaction to his favourite band in the entire universe. It’s a new experience for Phil - he’s never before listened to Muse with someone else, Amy generally preferring softer, more pleasant music. He doesn’t know what to expect.
“I like it,” Dan says, breathlessly, at the end of the first track.
“Yeah?” Phil takes the disc player and skips forward to the eighth. “This one’s my favourite.”
They go through the album in the wrong order, Phil jumping forward and backward, eager to get Dan’s opinion on all of them and unwilling to hold out and do it properly. Dan loves every one save for the ninth - “it makes my hearing aids go fuzzy” he says with a frown, and Phil is helplessly endeared. After, he puts in an older album and they talk through it, about their psych assignments and their language A Levels they’re giving in June - French for Phil, Spanish for Dan - and where they’re applying after. It’s ridiculously easy to talk to Dan. Almost as easy as it is to talk to Amy and that - that’s saying something.
Dan leaves at half-past seven, after Phil’s mum comes home and pokes her head in to find them sat on the throw pillows again, Phil’s favourite superman comic spread out in front. “So you’re Dan,” she says with a sparkle in her eye. Phil stutters, and Dan laughs.
Saturday, 20 February ‘09
man, i’m knackered. two months into the year and i already can’t wait for it to end. amy’s been going to too many parties, wakes me up on saturday mornings begging me to drive her home. i’m concerned but she says she’ll work it out so there’s really nothing i can do. chris got his driver’s license last week, not like that changed anything. he still drives like a madcap, puts the rest of us in danger for being in the same dimension as his arse-old car. but he took Peej out on a proper date yesterday, they went to see a movie and everything. i don’t know if that means that they’re queer, or even queer together, but it’s sort of nice to see them finally finally try to figure it out.
dan’s been coming around almost every day lately. he says he can’t study in his own house, it’s too quiet (ha!) with inactivity. he sits at my desk and i sit on the floor and we work quietly until dinner. sometimes he stays to eat, sometimes i drive him back. sometimes he lingers a bit and leans in and i don’t know what to do with that. i’m trying very hard not to think about it. it’s worked so far.
“Have you ever kissed a girl?”
It takes a moment for Phil to process his question, but his heart begins to skip and stutter in his chest immediately. He looks up from his biology textbook to see Dan already looking at him, perched on Phil’s wheely desk chair. He hasn’t got his hearing aids in.
“I haven’t,” Phil says. Clears his throat. He wants his follow-up question to be: why? But that would be too much, so instead he asks, “How about you?”
“Nah,” Dan answers. He shrugs a bit, then smiles. “S’because I’m gay, innit?”
“Are you?” He repeats the word in his head. Once, twice. Gay.
“Yeah.” Dan licks his lips, smile fading a bit. “I thought you knew.”
“I heard - um.” The blood rushing in his ears is so loud he can’t hear himself try to think. “I guess I sort of. Maybe?”
Dan laughs, waves a hand at him. “It’s fine.” Then, leaning forward: “How far along are you?”
They’ve been working on the same bio topic for three hours now. “Fourth unit,” Phil tells him, then lets his book snap shut. Falling back against a throw pillow, he says, “I think I’ll take a break.”
Phil shuts his eyes and listens to the familiar sound of Dan picking himself off of the wheely deskchair and falling onto the floor beside Phil. He lies down, too, letting their shoulders bump. It’s not an unfamiliar position for the two of them, lying side by side on the floor in between of cramming for the upcoming exams. Phil wonders faintly if it’s supposed to feel weird now that he knows for sure Dan fancies boys. (It doesn’t.)
They stay that way for a while, eyes closed, breathing deep. Then, Phil hears himself ask, “Have you kissed a boy, then?”
He feels Dan’s eyes burning a hole into the side of his neck when he answers, “Not yet.”
Chris throws a party the Friday after their language A Levels, and because it’s Chris, Phil’s bullied into going. He drives to Amy’s, first, compliments her nicely on her green sequined dress, and gets punched in the shoulder for his efforts. When they get to the flat Chris rents with five other jobless twenty-somethings, loud music pounds out from behind the closed doors. Phil rubs at his face and tries not to look too miserable. Amy bounces on her heels.
When Chris pulls the door open, he also pulls the two of them into a stinky, sweaty hug. “I haven’t seen you guys in ages ,” he slurs, already drunk. He brings them to the kitchen and gives them a cup of beer each, then takes Amy’s hand in his, already tugging her away. “Pretty boy’s in the balcony,” he tells Phil, and then the two of them disappear into the crowd.
Phil takes his cup and wanders out of the kitchen, sidesteps the makeshift dancing space where about a million people seem to be grinding on each other, inebriated out of their minds. And it’s not like Phil is against having a good time - the Lord knows he’d appreciate a good drink now that he hasn’t got to worry about his verb forms and compositions anymore - but he finds himself seeking out the balcony anyway. He’s been to Chris’ flat a total of two times before, so in the end it doesn’t take too long.
The balcony is a simple affair. There’s a bench and a few potted plants, and the sliding doors are - miraculously - soundproof. Dan’s sitting on the bench, face tipped up, foot tapping out a rhythmless tune on the linoleum tiles. Phil takes a second to take him in; the broad of his shoulders stretching out the black t-shirt he’s got on, the pale column of his neck, his messy nest of dark hair. Everything about this boy is familiar and new all at once.
Phil steps carefully into his view before saying, “Hey.”
Dan grins up at him, bright and eager. “Phil,” he says warmly. He scoots down the bench to make place for him.
“Haven’t got your aids in?” Phil asks, sitting down.
“Don’t have to,” Dan answers. Like always, he keeps his eyes on Phil’s lips, darting them up to his eyes every other second. “Can feel the music without them, it’s so loud in there.”
Phil laughs shortly. “Chris doesn’t do anything by halves,” he says, and Dan laughs at that, too.
“Have you had something to drink, then?” Phil says after a moment. He’s looking down at his cup of beer, speculating if it’d be intelligent to take a sip. He isn’t playing designated driver tonight; Amy’ll probably crash on the kitchen floor and stay there for the night. She’s done it before.
“Nope,” Dan answers.
“Are you going to?” Phil presses.
Dan shrugs, like it doesn’t matter either way. “Do you want me to?”
It’s the way he says it - like, if Phil said he wanted Dan to get drunk, he would. He doesn’t know what to do with that knowledge. “Have you ever played a drinking game?” he asks, still looking down at his cup.
“What kind of drinking game?”
“Never have I ever,” Phil says off the top of his head. “Or, you know, truth or dare. Seven minutes in heaven. That kind.”
“I haven’t,” Dan says. It sounds like he’s smiling; Phil looks up to find out that he is. “Can’t play those between the two of us, though.”
“We can play never have I ever.” Phil swallows. Shrugs. “If you want to, I mean.”
Dan shifts then, moves to sit across the bench, a leg on either side. Phil does the same, scoots a bit closer, and sets his cup of beer between the two of them. “Okay,” he says, licking his lips. “Say something you’ve never done, and if I’ve done it I’ll drink.”
“I know how to play the game, Phil,” Dan laughs. His eyes go a bit crinkly at the edges, like they always do when Phil makes him laugh. “Okay,” he says, sobering up. “Okay.” He looks off into the distance for a while, thinking of a good question.
Phil tries not to stare.
“Never have I ever sneaked out,” says Dan eventually.
“Easy,” Phil says. He takes a sip of the beer, flinching a bit at the taste, and sets it back down. “Every Saturday, Amy makes sure of it. Never have I ever gotten drunk off my arse.”
“I haven’t,” Dan says. “Never have I ever cheated on a test.”
“Not fair,” Phil complains. “You’re trying to get me drunk.” He takes another sip of the beer to the sound of Dan laughing softly. “Never have I ever had a crush.”
“ Now who’s being unfair,” Dan grumbles. Phil has to stop himself from whooping when Dan takes a gulp.
“Was it a lad?” Phil asks after he’s swallowed.
“That’s for me to know,” says Dan cheekily. “Never have I ever, um. Hm. Had a thing for Amy.”
“That’s bullshit,” Phil says, laughing.
“Come on,” Dan coaxes, like he’s waiting for Phil to take a sip. Phil stops laughing quickly when he realises Dan’s being serious.
“Ew,” Phil says. And then, with more feeling, “ Ew . I wouldn’t fancy Amy if she was the last bird in all of England.”
“A bit dramatic, are we,” Dan teases, but there’s a little crease between his eyebrows.
“Come on,” Phil says. “You can’t have honestly thought I fancied her.”
“How was I to know,” Dan defends. “You’re with her all the time.”
“I’m with you all the time, too,” Phil says before he can think about it. Then he flushes. “Whose turn is it anyway?”
“So you’ve never fancied her?” Dan presses. “Not even for a second in primary school?”
Phil frowns. “Stop being stupid. Never have I ever - been bullied in school.” He only says it because talking about Amy reminded him of what she’d told him in the beginning, the first time they’d ever talked about Dan. About what Elizabeth’s cousin from Donny had told her about a deaf boy who got beat up every day.
He isn’t expecting Dan to lift the cup to his lips, so when he does, all he can do is stare at him for a moment. Then he says, “Dan.”
“What?” Dan asks after he’s swallowed. “Everyone gets bullied in primary.” His words slur together, make him sound endearing when they really, really shouldn’t.
“Was it because you’re deaf?” Phil asks, realising belatedly that he could’ve phrased it better. Dan doesn’t seem to mind.
“What do you think?” he says, smiling wryly. “S’in the past, anyway. What are we gonna do about it now, eh? Never have I ever - ”
“I don’t want to play anymore,” Phil says, cutting him off.
“Oh.” Dan swallows, scratches at the back of his neck awkwardly. “Are you pissed or something?”
“I’m not.” Phil exhales loudly, tries to chase away the weird feeling building up in his chest, tries to ignore the way it warms him to the bone. “I just don’t want to play anymore, alright?”
“You haven’t got any right being mad - ”
“But I’m mad anyway,” Phil says, cutting him off again. He doesn’t know what’s gotten into him - he can’t shut up. “It pisses me off, alright? That some stupid - stupid people in primary were mean to you ‘cause of something you couldn’t help. It’s not right.”
The embarrassment crashes around him all at once, because Dan was right, he doesn’t have the right to be mad about something that happened to Dan, and years ago, at that. He’s about to say sorry, and then maybe drive home if he’s not feeling too drunk, but when he raises his head to look at Dan again, the boy’s looking at him with enough fondness in his eyes to render him breathless.
“You’re my best friend,” Dan says, softly. “Didja know that?”
“You’re mine too,” Phil says immediately. “And I’m sorry.” He reaches out to take Dan’s hand in between both of his, because he needs to make sure Dan hears him. “I’m sorry it happened to you. And you’ll tell me if it happens again, won’t you?”
“I will,” Dan says, and squeezes his hand back. “I’ve never had a best friend before.”
Phil wants to cry with everything he feels in that moment, a tug in his tummy so strong he thinks he might explode with it. He scoots closer to Dan on the bench, until their knees bump together and their hands get caught in between of their chests. He doesn’t know what to say anymore, because Dan’s looking at him with so much of affection, and there’s something tender about the moment, something he can’t put into words.
Phil leans forward, rests his lips against the shell of Dan’s ear. “I want to kiss you,” he says there, feeling Dan’s exhale on the skin of his neck.
“I can’t hear you,” Dan says, quietly.
“I want to kiss you,” Phil says again, heart thudding almost painfully in his chest. He drags in a shaky breath; Dan smells of childish delight.
“For God’s sake - here.” Dan grabs Phil’s shoulders and pushes him back, but Phil’s still leaning forward, and their lips brush with the softest of touches. Dan doesn’t move away. “Say it here,” he says, eyes wide open.
“I want to kiss you,” Phil repeats, and then Dan swallows his words and all the air around them in a kiss.
He hooks his hands around Phil’s neck, grabs at him almost desperately, but in contrast the kiss is sweet, gentle. Dan breathes like he’s been starved of air but his kisses are feather-soft, almost not there at all. Phil is immediately breathless, heady with the feeling of kissing Dan and having him kiss back.
When he pulls back, he asks, “Do I look queer to you?”
“I don’t know,” Dan mumbles, kissing him once. “What does a queer look like?”
“I don’t know,” Phil laughs. He grabs Dan’s waist and adds, “You are entirely too far away.”
When he kisses Dan again, he watches the boy keep his eyes open through it. He touches the skin in between his eyes and says, “Shut them.”
“No,” Dan answers, not looking away from Phil’s mouth. “Don’t want to miss anything.”
“You won’t,” Phil promises. “You’ll feel me when I say something.”
“Yeah?” Dan breathes out, a barely there whisper.
“You’ll hear me,” Phil says. “Come here.”
Dan leans in again, his eyes falling shut.
“What did you do?” Amy demands to know come Monday.
“What has he done?” Chris parrots, confused.
“I bumped into Dan in front of the lockers,” Amy says. “He was humming a thingamajig not very quietly.” She sticks out a finger and pokes Phil square in the chest. “Philip Lester,” she says. “You’ve made a deaf boy sing.”
“I haven’t,” Phil protests, but he’s blushing.
“Why are all my friends gay?” Amy wants to know.
“I’m not gay,” Chris says. Both Amy and Phil stare at him. “What? I’m bisexual. It’s a thing.”
“If you say so,” says Amy suspiciously.
Sunday, 10 June ‘09
i kissed dan yesterday, at the party. neither of us were drunk (well, not very). he tasted warm, like a good dream, and we stayed at the balcony of chris’ flat for what must have been an hour, at least, just kissing. i don't know if amy saw us together or if anyone did, really. dan didn’t seem to care too much about being found out, so i think maybe him being friendly with marcus was a smart move after all. i met him today at the park (dan, not marcus) and we walked to Tain Square to get ice cream. his strawberry tasted quite nice when i kissed him after. (i think i might be a bit addicted to it now.)
i dont know what we are yet, or if i’m even queer. but i think i’ll figure it out. all i know is that it makes sense, me and dan. it makes a lot of sense.