Out In The Open.

We cut school during lunch period and drove up to Anderson Park.  The woods were still gray and the air was still brisk.  Though it had just turned February, the park benches and the walkways were filthy with dried, brittle leaves as if it were autumn.  As we made our way through the park’s paved path, our steps were pillowed by the soft crunch that only withered, dry leaves can provide.  With a heavy heart, I kept my gaze low, staring down at my boots, not daring to make eye contact.

“Hey.  Is right here cool?”

Reluctantly glancing up, I followed his gesture to the nearest wooden picnic table.  I nodded.  “Yeah.  Sure.”

Taking the lead, he made his way to the table, swinging towards the farthest side.  To my chagrin, none of the tension had dissipated away.  What am I doing here, I kept thinking.  This – none of this can end well.

“So,” he dragged out cautiously.  “We’re here.  What did you want to talk about?”

For a split second my eyes widened in response.  “Right,” I stammered out.

“Dude, is everything alright?”

No.  Nothing was alright.  Now let us go back to campus.  “You know that essay I asked you to look over last week,” I started carefully.  He stiffened up and nodded solemnly, his eyes shot away to the side, no longer meeting my gaze.  “Well, did-did you read it?”  I couldn’t stifle the cringed expression, gritted my teeth a bit, at the meek pitch of my voice.  For a minute we let silence blanket us, each studying the others’ expression and body language.  I was the first to break the insufferable cloak of silence.  “You – It’s – it’s fine.  Let’s just – let’s just go back.”

“Blake,” he interrupted.

“This was stupid,” I muttered.

“Blake.”

“Nah, dude.  It’s cool.  Let’s just go.”

“Blake!”  His tone was serious and called out at a louder volume.

“What?!”  I shouted.

“Please,” he lowered his voice.  “Let me speak, man.  Jeez!”

I sighed.  “Alright.  Fine.  Then speak.”

“Jesus Christ, dude.  Hold on.  I’m – You know I’m not good at things like this,” he countered, almost pleadingly.

“Things like what?”  I challenged.

“Fuck,” he exhaled slowly.  “You know, emotional shit.”  Apparent irritation poured into his facial features, trickling down into almost a sneer.

“Great.  Emotional shit,” I laughed bitterly, my sarcastic words saturated with venom.

“Hey.  Fuck you, dude.  You know.  You know me.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Still biting off a scorn off my face, I nodded.

Taking his cue, he rubbed his face into his hands and sighed.  “Don’t worry,” he offered.  Both palms of his hands muffled his words.  “Don’t worry,” he repeated.

I exhaled loudly a lung-full of air.

He shot his head up in surprise, which then bled away into an angry glare.  “Well,” he began, his tone sarcastic.  “I can see that you’ve been losing sleep over this.”  The accusatory words were drenched in snide.

I just rolled my eyes in response, my gaze d darting away and toward a pick up truck coasting into the parking lot.  “Hmm,” I added with a shrug.

“It’s just – I’m trying to find the right words.”  He drummed his fingers on the table.  “I’m not surprised,” came out slowly.  The reply staggered clumsily over itself.

“Go fu – ”

“Hey!”  He shouted.  “Hey,” my friend repeated in a calm voice.  “Easy, bro.”

“You – ”

“I’m not calling you a flamer or anything.  It’s just, well it explains a lot of little things that I’ve ignored.  We, uh, we did kinda make out at that party that one time.”

“Dude!  Tyler!”

“What?  It’s true.”

“I thought we agreed to never mention that again.”

“This kind of situation merits bringing it up.  Besides, we were like what?  Fifteen?”

“That was only two years ago, asshole,” I laughed.  “And it was a dare not a pass at you, you fuck.”

“Whatever.  The point is I could tell you were into it,” he accused, stifling a wry grin.

“Fuck you!”  I laughed, getting up to throw a punch at his shoulder.  Tyler quickly moved away and dodged the blow, smiling tauntingly.

“I guess I’ve always known, man.  It was only a matter of you figuring shit out.”

I took my seat again.  “Jesus.  You’re such a fucking whore, you know that?”

He hummed in agreements and reached for my hand.  “I want you to know that I’m sorry.  For all of it.  I didn’t mean to avoid you.  I guess I just didn’t know what to do or what to say.”  I had not been expecting this.  I mean, sure, I wasn’t foolish enough to wish for any sort of party or a celebratory pat on the ass.  If anything, I truly believed that this would explode in my face.  I expected something more – some sort of reaction, regardless of good or bad.  Instead, I was gifted this lack of surprise.  Ease flowed between us like nothing had happened.  Although it lacked reaction, it’s substance was more transitional if anything.  It brought forth some moisture in my eyes.  I was busy fighting the telltale blur encroaching on my vision when he added, “so, are we cool?  We still bros?”

That was it?  Lifting an eyebrow, I studied his expression, scanning for any clue of deception.  There was no lie.  He definitely looked uncomfortable, like it was him on the ledge reaching for a hand, but there was no hit of feigning the offer.  “Yeah,” I replied.  “Yeah, man.  We’re cool, bro.”

“Sweet.  Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

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