He ignored the bunch of guys as they shouted and laughed after him, their sniggering reaching his ears and scratching at the auditory part of his brain. He heard remarks of, "Backs against the wall, dudes. The poofter's on the prowl," and girls coming up to him asking, "Are you a cock sucker?" as their friends squealed and dissolved into a mass of high pitched giggles. He ignored them all, but he couldn't ignore the feelings of hurt and fear that twisted and knotted in his gut. It hurt him to think that his life would be reduced to taking the constant jabs and jeers and homophobic behaviour he would endure if he were to come out, and he also feared Daniel finding out and realising the secret affection he held for his friend. Daniel was hardly thick when it came to people after all; he would work it out when that single detail took a place in his whirring brain.
Bam. Just like that, the subject of his thoughts becomes as real as the stone he stumbles on as he turns to the voice. He manages to catch his balance, but to no avail does he evade the chance for the names and the laughter to swarm back towards him, causing a deep shade of scarlet to grace his cheeks. He walked quickly past Daniel, a simple indication which his friend had learnt to understand as "Let's get away from here."
"Okay," Daniel spoke softly as they walked down by the park round the back of the high school. "What was all that about?"
"They're talking," Kris murmured. He was clearly on edge, his eyes darting about as if he were checking whether they were really alone.
“Who’s talking?” Daniel asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
“Everyone.” Daniel watched his friend closely. Kris licked his lips nervously, the excess moisture drying quickly before it was replaced with another flick of the tongue. He’d never seen him like this before. “Haven’t you heard them, Daniel?” Kris asked all of a sudden, breaking the train of thought which had started to form in Daniel’s mind. “Haven’t you heard what they’re saying?”
Daniel shook his head uncertainly, and watched the frustration take over his friend. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Kris exclaimed, walking back and forth as he clenched his fists in his hair. “I just need more time.” He seemed to be speaking more to himself than anyone else. “I haven’t even told my parents.”
“Told your parents what?” Daniel asked.
Kris looked to him, as if surprised to see him there. His lower jaw quivered as he tried to form words, his brain ticking over what he could give in reply. He licked his lips again; Daniel could see the saliva dry upon his lips again, like his words. He was confused – why was Kris acting so weird? He looked into the dark blue eyes, saw the emotion which swam in their depths, but couldn’t put a finger on what it was that he saw beneath the lenses. Fear was evident, but why? And there was something else, but what?
“Hey, gay boy!”
Kris tore his eyes away from Daniel’s, snapped out of the daze which had started to fog his previously anxious mind. Everything came flooding back, hitting him in the gut, as he watched the gang of boys approach them cockily.
“Hey Kris,” one of the boys sneered, “are you a bit strapped for cash for new clothes? Or do you just prefer the gay look?” The gang laughed and jeered as Kris bowed his head to hide the fresh redness of his cheeks.
“He’ll be wearing fishnet t-shirts next!” another joked. They left, shoving Kris to the floor as they passed him. He stayed on the ground, propped up on his elbows, as he watched them leave, before diverting his eyes to look at Daniel.
“Thanks a lot,” he scoffed as he picked himself up off the ground.
“Thanks for what?” Daniel asked, confused.
“Exactly,” Kris replied simply. With that he tried to leave, only for Daniel to grab his forearm. He exhaled in exasperation, and took a deep breath to calm him before he turned to face his friend. “You didn’t even think to stand up for me, did you,” he stated softly. He tugged his arm free from Daniel’s grip and sat on a nearby bench, biting his fingernails. It didn’t escape Daniel’s attention that Kris always did this when he was nervous. He remembered when they were kids; he used to imagine Kris nibbling away, through nail, skin and bone, until all that was left was a bloody stump where his middle finger used to be. For months he tried to stop this habit, but even now he did it. It simply gave him something to do, rather than fidget and look awkward.
“I thought that’s what friends do,” Kris continued, his voice slightly muffled by the fingers in front of his lips. “I thought they stood up for one another.”
Daniel sighed. “I couldn’t think straight,” he tried to explain as he walked over to sit next to Kris. “I didn’t know what to do-”
“So you just left me to it?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“It sure felt like it.” He waited for Daniel’s next reply, but it never came. Instead, the next thing he knew was being held in Daniel’s arms. A heart was beating beneath his cheek, strong and steady rhythm – babboom, babboom.
“I’m sorry,” Daniel was saying, not realising that Kris wasn’t particularly listening. “You’re right: you are my friend. I shouldn’t let them get you down like that.”
“It’s okay,” Kris whispered. His eyes were closed as he breathed in the natural scent of the other body. The warmth dissipating from Daniel, the feel of him holding him, the comforting aroma of earth and musky sweat; he never felt so calm. His instincts told him to snuggle closer, and so he did, and he smiled as he felt the firm arms around him, a hand rubbing circles into his back. He’d never felt more at peace than he did now, and he found himself pleading inside for this moment to last forever.
But of course, there was no answer to this wish, and Kris felt as Daniel finally pulled away. A part of him screamed to hold on and never let go, tell him how he felt, but he ignored the impetuous voice. He let go, if not a little reluctantly, and risked a look at Daniel. A slight frown creased the other boy’s forehead, but otherwise he seemed unfazed. They left together, in an awkward yet somewhat comfortable silence, Daniel every so often patting Kris on the back when he felt he needed the encouragement to continue through the rest of the day.
I’m going to have to say something. He knew this already, but it didn’t make it any easier to tell Daniel. But he would. Soon.