I avoided the front steps of Bordner Building—that's where Matt and I usually hang out during free time—just like I avoided all "our" usual places. It helped that lunch was the only period we have in common. I had not let my eyes scan the cafeteria. No, I couldn't see him right now. I walked straight ahead, bought myself a sandwich and a can of Coke, then got the hell out of there before I ran into him. I walked around the school grounds, looking for a spot to eat, and settled myself under a tree near the flag pole, the front steps of Bordner Building in the distance filling my line of sight.
Thousands of memories assaulted me—Matt and I clowning around, me waiting for him after school hours, him waiting for me, the projects I had procrastinated on and we had completed in a rush right there on the steps, all the daydreaming we had done there, the excuses we had plotted for my parents when I got a black eye from fighting in the school garden. They almost put tears in my eyes. I knew I should've asked my parents to have me transferred, but it's my last year in highschool. I hoped this wouldn't be how I would spend everyday of this year. Then, there's that last memory that I have of him, that last day of our junior year, the one that had made me avoid him the whole summer and today, the first day of our senior year.
We always took the bus together; we never rode with anyone else, and that day was no different. I found him sitting on the steps, staring off in the distance. I was tired from running around after teachers, submitting late projects, and having my school clearance form signed by teachers who seemed to delight in dodging every student who sees them. I wasn't a dumb student but a lazy one. Matt was the opposite. He wasn't dumb; he's just not lazy. All his preaching never did anything for me, but he never seemed to tire from doing so. He's even sympathetic when I ran after teachers during the last weeks of school. Sometimes I hear him commenting on my laziness, which I, of course, never denied.
He didn't notice me even when I was already right behind him. I was sure I made enough noise approaching him. It was more than an hour after school hours, and I was really sorry to have kept him this late on the last day. I dropped my backpack behind him, but he didn't seem to hear it. I sat down next to him and wiped my face on his uniform to get his attention. Then, I laid my head on his shoulder, waiting for him to push me away like he always did. He didn't do that. Instead, he put an arm around my shoulders.
I remember closing my eyes. It had felt so good; I had never felt anything like that before. The heat I felt coming from his arm seemed to reach my heart, and I felt something growing in there and spreading to the rest of my body like wild fire. Whatever it was, it had made me sit closer to Matt. It had made me want to be close to him for the rest of my life. I remember inhaling as long as I can, filling my lungs with the scent of him. It felt like I could never get enough of him, but I would sure try to. We sat like that for a few minutes. I remember wishing that I could spend my life like that forever. I remember having the urge to wrap my arms around him.
And then I remembered that I shouldn't feel like that. I shouldn't want to be that way with another guy like me. I'd be scorned, laughed at, and humiliated. My parents had always made comments about them, guys who like other guys, and none of them had ever been good. I had made comments like those myself. The way they act, dress up, and talk like they're girls, I didn't want to be like that. My parents had said that the first step to becoming like that was having feelings for another guy. Next, I'll be wanting to dress up like a girl just so the guy would like me. The thought was sickening. I was sure Matt wouldn't want to be friends with me if I became like that and much more so if he knew how I was starting to feel towards him.
I sat upright as normally as I could without jerking my head off of Matt's shoulder although I was really close to it. An ounce of what little self control I had left helped. I couldn't even look at him. I stood up, letting Matt's arm on my shoulders fall. I felt bereft in an instant, like someone had stolen my life force. I looked at his hair, his shoulders, his hands, his feet, anywhere but his eyes. I was looking at the ground when I told him that we should probably go home already. He agreed, speaking to me like nothing had happened.
Walking to the bus stop, he was his usual chatty self. He never commented on my lack of response, but I knew he would soon. I remember putting an inch or two between us. In a second, though, we would be bumping shoulders again as we always had. He didn't even notice that I was trying to stay away from him. He acted like nothing had happened, and maybe nothing really did happen for him while sensations I had never known before ran through my body, all because he had put his arm on my shoulders. I felt violated by those sensations. I didn't want to feel them, but I liked how they made me feel. I liked how my shoulders seemed to seek Matt's shoulder whenever they'd lose touch while we walked. I should put a stop to this.
Sometime during the bus ride back home, I fell asleep. When I woke up, my head was on Matt's shoulder, and his head was on mine. I quickly sat up straight, waking him up and feeling my heart pound in my chest. I fixed my stare outside the windows where lamp posts went by, uncaring. I bit my tongue hard, trying to dissipate the magnetism my head felt towards Matt's shoulder, but it was to no avail. I saw my whole life destroying itself when Matt laid his head on my shoulder. I didn't know why I felt so wrong liking Matt this way. Would I feel wrong if I suddenly felt this way for a lamp post? Crazy, probably. I had decided that I would never see Matt again, but I would indulge myself in him one last time. I laid my head on his and fell asleep. Matt woke me when his stop was coming up. We high-fived, bumped fists, and said our see-ya's, me feeling my gut tighten the whole time. We waved at each other as the bus gradually sped forward. I craned my neck to look at Matt for the last time and felt hot tears sliding down my cheek one by one.
Summer vacation was miserable from the first day that it had started. Matt called, IM'd, emailed, and sent text messages to me, but I was determined to forget everything about him. I didn't answer nor return his calls, as well as the IM's, text messages, and emails he had sent me. I stayed out of the house the whole time and spent my time at the mall alone, hoping to dodge him if he ever decides to see me at home. It was a miracle I hadn't run into him at the mall. I did everything I could, but I still couldn't forget the way he had put his arms on my shoulders that day. It was on my mind every idle second of the day.
Three weeks into my misery, I stopped receiving emails from him. I thought he had given up already. I was miserable even more after that. But after two weeks, Matt sent me an email. His family had gone to Camiguin for a vacation. He had asked me before school ended if I wanted to go with them, and I remembered saying yes. There were photos attached to the email, and I suddenly asked myself why I was even opening his emails. I should've sent them to the trash can right away from the start. But I read on. It sounded like they had fun right until the very last line. P.S. I didn't have fun at all, Carl. I wish you were there. Everything sucks without you. I didn't know what happened. I just suddenly burst into tears. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I sat in front of the computer every night after that, debating with myself whether I should reply to his emails or not. If I hadn't opened his emails from the start, I wouldn't be in this position in the first place. But he just had this pull on me. It was like everything in me suddenly sought everything about him. Had I felt like this last year? Why had an arm over my shoulders changed everything? I was perfectly contented with us being friends before, but now, I was craving for the air around him like no other. I ached to be close to him. But I didn't want that. I wanted to be a normal buddy to him, not those limp-wristed guys who hang all over other guys. I was certain I was going to turn into something like that if I give in to these feelings. The "no" vote won every night until I had no chance to email him back anymore.
Senior year came much too fast, too soon, two months of summer vacation all gone and wasted.
I woke up this morning with a different feeling. It was strange, like an out-of-body experience. It was like waking up in a dream, a weird one, like walking upside-down on the ceiling instead of the floor. I felt like an automaton. Take a bath, wear my uniform, eat a little breakfast, ride the bus to school. I hoped Matt wouldn't ride the same bus I was on, but, for some reason, I felt like it didn't matter. I don't know. Everything's just confusing as hell, and I just felt detached from the real world today. I wasn't even on drugs.
Ding dong. I recognized my phone's message alert tone as I was about to hop off the bus. Stepping inside the school gate, I read Matt's text message. See you in school! Philippine schools weren't like schools abroad where each student had their own schedule. Each student belonged to a section of thirty students or less, and each section had a schedule that all the students that belonged to it follow. I didn't like this before, but now I found it useful. I knew which section Matt belonged to, so I went and checked its schedule out. We wouldn't be near each other, but I still would be careful in the halls. He would probably check my schedule out too. Then, there's also lunch. He was in the same lunch period as I was, and the school had only one cafeteria.
I didn't run into him in the halls, nor had I seen him at lunch. I guess I should be proud of my dodging abilities, but here I was, under the shade, recalling the past months and asking myself if it had been worth it. It would be. After I lose these feelings, it would be worth it. I may lose Matt, but I could gain another. I just hope there wouldn't be any repeat of this. I should try dating girls again. My last girlfriend just hurt me so much that I stopped dating for a while. But I would start again. Maybe I could still cure this.
Half of my sandwich was already gone when I saw Matt walking out of Bordner Building. He stood on the top step for while, his shoulders hunched down. I could guess what he was feeling; I was feeling it myself. When he sat down, he covered his face with his hands, and his shoulders started to shake. My vision immediately began to blur. I had never seen Matt cry before, not even when his grandma died. Never. But I had made him cry, and it hurt. It felt terrible. I couldn't take it anymore, so I turned my back to him.
I spent the time until the last school bell rang staring at nothing and reliving that moment at lunch. A few tears leaked out of my eyes, and I wiped it, not caring anymore of what others think. Why did I have to see him like that? Why did he have to cry when I was there? Why did he have to do that just when I already have strengthened my resolve? I walked to the gate with these thoughts echoing inside my head. I was so consumed with my misery that I didn't notice Matt until he had seized my wrist, making me jump involuntarily.
There was fire in his eyes, almost like anger. He squeezed my wrist hard with a shaking hand. I had to close my eyes just from the feeling of warmth that flowed through my body just from being near to him. I had to close my eyes as the feeling that I was trying to banish from my body took hold of me again. I thought of yanking my arm. I thought of running away fast. But I remembered that this was Matt. This was Matt, my best friend. This was Matt; I shouldn't be scared of him. This was Matt, and I had... hurt him. I opened my eyes again and looked into his eyes for a second before lowering them, silently submitting myself to him for now.
He led me through the gates, his grip on my wrist less tighter now. That feeling I had this morning came back, like I was in another world again, watching myself. Matt pulled me through the crowd of students that I haven't been paying attention to since this morning, and we walked to the bus stop with him still holding my wrist. I wished I were as comfortable of my sexuality as he was. I couldn't even bring myself to look at him. Everytime I thought of looking at him, I remembered the way he cried during lunch, and it made me feel so ashamed of myself. I felt more shame with that on my mind than at the way people looked at us as we passed by them. The bus driver raised his eyebrow at us, but I didn't care. I just felt so out of it, almost totally uncaring. I just wanted to get this done and over with.
We sat on our usual seats, me next to the window and Matt on the aisle seat. I kept my stare outside the window, feeling Matt's grip on my wrist tighten.
"What did I do to you?" I squeezed my eyes shut for a second at the anguish that I heard in his voice.
"It's not you, Matt. It's me," I told him, still facing the window, my voice nothing but a whisper.
"Dammit, Carl! Look at me!" I turned to face him, his anger, his sadness. "What did I do to you?"
"It's me, Matt. It's me. You did nothing. I just..."
What exactly do I tell him? How do I tell him that I wanted to put my head on his shoulders? How do I tell him that I wanted to hold his hands forever? How do I tell him that I wanted to feel his arms around me... and his lips on mine? How do I tell him that those were the things that kept me away from him? I had to stay away from him or those feelings would plague me for the rest of my life. Yet, being near to him this way made me feel like there was nothing more right in the world.
Thinking of these things, I had suddenly found my solution. If I told Matt about them, I wouldn't have to worry about staying away from him anymore. He himself would stay away from me. And when I finally cure myself of these feelings, maybe we could even be friends again. I would definitely miss his friendship. I had missed it last summer.
I turned to face the window again. I was scared, but I drew comfort from the hand gripping my wrist. "I'm scared, Matt. I'm scared to be like them. I don't want to be like them. But I can't control it. I keep feeling these things everytime I'm around you. I don't want to feel that way, but I do. And I'm scared it would turn me into something like them. My parents, you, everyone would stay away from me if that happens. It scares me."
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't want to be queer," I said, only loud enough for Matt to hear. "I don't want to have a limp wrist. I don't want to wear girls' clothes. I don't want to be like Ryan." The school queen struck a pose inside my head, and I shuddered just from thinking of becoming like that.
"You're not going to become like that, Carl. Not unless you already were from the day you were born."
"Will you help me, Matt?"
"Then please stay away from me."
Matt's hand on my wrist jerked, like he suddenly got electrocuted, but he didn't let go.
"Stay away... from you?" he said, his voice breaking when he said the last word.
"I feel... these things when I'm with you."
"You feel like you want to become a girl when you're around me?" he asked, his voice so soft I almost didn't hear him.
I shook my head. "Not yet. But I know I'd be like that soon. My parents said so. They said... they said guys like those start off from liking other guys first." I knew I got my message across now. I liked him much more than the word "like" would allow. I was glad he hadn't made me turn to face him. I felt so ashamed of what I said. At least, he would leave me alone now.
"Your parents sure did a number on you," he muttered. Why wouldn't he leave already? What was taking him so long? "Look at me, Carl. Please?" He squeezed my wrist once, and I turned to face him but couldn't meet his eyes. "Do I act like a girl? Do I have a limp wrist? Do I swish my hips when I walk? Do I talk funny? Do I act like Ryan?"
I shook my head no, still unable to look him in the eyes.
"If what your parents said are true, then I should've been doing all those things a long time ago. Everytime you're around me, I feel so alive, so big, like nothing could ever take me down. I know what I am feeling, Carl. I've fallen for you, and I had hoped that you would fall for me too. I've felt this way for a long time. Have you ever seen me doing all those things your parents said?"
I felt the back of his fingers brush my cheek. It seared me to the bones. It made my blood speed through my veins and arteries.
"I don't care whatever you might become, Carl. Just let me stay in your life."
I gazed into his eyes, overwhelmed. I felt the feelings that I had been fighting with flare up inside me, refueled. I put my hand over his, and he leaned in, still looking in my eyes, the longing in them too great for me to resist. I closed my eyes as I felt his lips touch my own, and for a few seconds, I stopped breathing and my heart paused from its work. Some things are just more important. And when the kiss ended, fire reigned inside of me. I wanted it to burn all my doubts away.
I leaned back into my seat and faced the window again, but everything was different now. I didn't know what it was. Something inside me had stirred, and now I was willing to defy everything I knew to be right just to be with Matt.
He put a hand on my neck and pulled my head down to his shoulders, and I sighed from the now familiar feelings that I get just from being this way with him. His arms around my shoulders and his head on mine took me to another world.
"Do you still think it's wrong, Carl?"
I tried to get even closer to him.
"My head tells me it's wrong. But here," I said, putting my hand over my chest, "Nothing feels more right in the world than being this way with you."
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