A special thanks to my new beta, , for her constant enthusiasm and motivation.
A second, last-minute thanks to one of my lovely reviewers, Leigh, for badgering me to "get [my] ** in a chair and just start typing!" I appreciate the love. ^_^
Harry wished he could say he had awoken Saturday morning to the sound of melodious chirping in the air and the rich aroma of newly bloomed flowers unfurling through his room; instead, he awoke to the deafening sound of a crying baby somewhere outside and a blinding yellow reflected off stubborn, hardened snow. God, he hated New Jersey.
He made to roll out of bed before a sticky feeling between his legs made him blanch in disgust. He hated waking up dirty – despite the fact that he should have been used to it by now. He had spent the last three nights wanking himself to sleep, a certain young track star running through his mind. Pun possibly intended.
Although the bare logic of it made sense – young track star equals hot, therefore Harry fantasizes about said track star – the whole thing seemed quite paradoxical – even absurd – to Harry. Although he spent every night mentally fucking Michael every which way he could imagine – and he could imagine a lot – he spent every day planning just exactly how to avoid him.
It had only been three days since Michael had thanked Harry for defending him – Harry still thought it had been an utterly stupid decision – and yet it felt as though Harry had been running from him for weeks. He caught him between classes, during lunch, after the final bell, and even on the way to the loo. Well, actually, Harry had run into Michael that time, but he wouldn't have put it past the other boy to have planned to be there when Harry arrived. It was as if he had somehow gotten a hold of Harry's schedule and plotted out the perfect plan of attack.
At first, Harry had tried to get away with a mere nod of acknowledgement, but as Michael tried more and more persistently to get Harry to actually talk, Harry had abandoned all semblance of propriety and just begun making stark and obvious U-turns each time he saw a wisp of blond.
He hoped the message – whatever exactly it was – would come across clearly sooner or later.
For now, he tugged his briefs off with a grimace before tiptoeing his way to the bathroom. A quick glance at his digital desk clock told him it was still obscenely early. One of the great joys of having no friends to "party" with on Friday night: he inevitably fell asleep at 9 o'clock out of sheer boredom, only to wake up the following morning at 5:45 AM. Sarcasm definitely intended.
On the other hand, it did allow him to walk around the house naked and sneak away long before his parents woke up. As he slipped into the shower, he wondered what exactly his prospects for fun were on an early Saturday morning. For an infinitesimal, oh so very tiny moment, he thought of the school track field.
Since meeting Michael, it seemed that Harry's ears had become super sonic tracking devices, subconsciously tuning in to every conversation and picking out any mention of track. And apparently, it was all anyone talked about during this time of year. Using his newfound – and totally unappreciated – tracking skills, he had gleaned much about his school's track team.
Not only was Michael a star runner, but it seemed that the entire team was some sort of absurd monster on steroids. They had won every team event for the past twelve years, and although Harry thought it a rather primitive sport – if you could even call straight running and no tactics a sport – the entire school appeared obsessed with it. Basketball seemed a mere fancy with which to humor the "less talented" members of the student athletes.
The coach that ran the team was a die hard track alumn who refused to leave even after the school forced him to graduate (five years ago). Although he (Harry couldn't figure out his name. He had once thought he'd heard the word "socks" used to refer to the young coach, but of course that made no sense. Maybe "Knox"…?) had technically replaced the now retired coach (Finch), the two trained the team together. Practices were brutal and frequent.
So frequent that they extended to Saturday mornings.
Starting at 6 AM.
But this thought only very, very briefly flashed through Harry's mind, and then it was out, quicker than a messy-haired child running from a comb. That this quick thought kept flashing through Harry's mind so frequently it almost seemed –but only seemed – as if perhaps he was just having one long thought about Michael's early morning practice was of no consequence to him.
Because, of course, there was no way that he would race through the rest of his shower, rip his clothes onto his still wet frame, shove on his trainers, and slam through the front door in a frazzled attempt to make it to the track team's Saturday morning practice.
There was just no way.
Twenty minutes later, Harry wondered just exactly how masochistic a person could get.
What the hell was he doing, racing to school at six o'clock on a Saturday morning? He gazed out for a moment, panting slightly as he took in the school entrance view, just 20 yards away. The field lay behind it, and although Harry had never really stopped to think about it, he assumed he would have to enter through the front of the school and exit out the back entrance in order to reach the field.
Was the school even open at this time on a Saturday morning, or did the track team have a special key to get through the field gates?
Well done, Harry, he thought sarcastically. He amazed himself at his capacity for sheer failure in the realm of forethought.
He was on the verge of leaving when a series of whistles caught his attention. He was sure it was the ones used to signal the start of a run. Furrowing his brows in a moment of consternation, he finally decided that it was at least worth a try.
He shrugged and jogged past the last few yards to the entrance and with a deep breath, grasped the handle firmly between his left hand and pulled. He was met with immediate resistance as the lock clanged loudly against the door. He stood still for a moment, his hand still gripping the handle, as he tried to stifle a rising wave of dismay.
It's for the best, he thought, and finally let go.
But before he had moved two paces, a blur of green flashed across his peripheral vision, and he turned to see a distraught looking boy running around the side of the school. His too-short shorts and violently bouncing gym bag gave him away, and Harry tried to follow him as surreptitiously as possible. He jogged behind him to the edge of the right side corner, and then peeked around just in time to see the other boy disappear through a side door entrance.
Well, duh, he thought to himself before grimacing at the American term.
He waited a few extra moments just to be safe, and then jogged towards the side entrance. With a quick peak inside, he pulled the door and carefully inched his way in.
He found himself in a long and narrow hallway, the walls on either side of him formed by some sort of glossed over brick. Perhaps it was merely wood made out to look like brick…?
With no sign of the other boy or any other doors, he felt immediately claustrophobic; but he forced himself forward in search of another exit. After all, he hadn't come all this way for nothing.
The hallway ended in a sharp right, leading down another tapered hall. He looked nervously back to the only certain escape before plowing on forward. Was it just him, or were the walls getting closer together?
Just as he thought he might begin hyperventilating, he reached a heavy, green door, through whose window he could make out a dingy looking locker room. He pressed his face against the glass to look both ways. It didn't seem as though the boy was still there.
Gently, he pushed the door open and snuck in, turning around to take in his surroundings. It had been almost exactly one year since he'd last been in a locker room, and he had forgotten just how atrociously foul they smelled. He smiled at the thought that if American locker rooms smelled as badly as English ones, perhaps the two countries weren't all that dissimilar after all.
The door suddenly slammed shut behind him, and he nearly jumped two feet in the air. A jerk of his head reminded him that these heavy doors always took several seconds to slam shut, and he heaved a shaky sigh of relief.
He really was getting in way over his head, sneaking into the bloody school locker rooms to get a peak at his new stalker on the track field.
The locker room was quite expansive, and it took him several confused turns to maneuver himself to a potential exit. The door had no window, and so he gingerly clicked it only slightly ajar until the slimmest sliver of sunlight streamed through.
This had to be the field entrance; but he could not be sure how far away he was from the actual field. He didn't want to open the door only to walk right onto it, stuttering out a ridiculous lie to cover up for his presence in front of all the track team. Several moments of indecision wracked his mind before he finally realized how quiet it was.
Which probably meant he wasn't all that close to the field after all, considering the no doubt heavy thuds of feet trampling across the field.
Only slightly less apprehensive, he pushed the door wide enough to slip through sideways, and quickly slipped into a small huddle on the ground, his back tightly pressed against the wall. He wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
Perhaps a hundred yards away from him and about 20 yards below, lay the track field in a valley of sorts, with bleacher seats set stadium style in two semi circles around the various fields.
Good, he thought. The chances of someone spotting him were much lower than he had initially anticipated; they would have to look up in order to see his small, huddled form; and even then, they would probably only see him if they knew what to look for.
Just before the closest of the fields, stood the green-clad boy who had led him here in the first place; his arms flailed about desperately as he faced two larger, looming figures – no doubt Finch and maybe-Knox. The rounder of the two coaches pointed his arm angrily in the direction of a distant and unpopulated field, and the boy slumped his shoulders and walked away. Harry could only guess that he had arrived late and was now forced to run laps as punishment.
Although he wasn't quite sure that running laps could actually be used as punishment when the entire practice and sport, itself, revolved around running.
Harry shifted his attention back to the closest field, where perhaps two dozen boys jogged at varying speeds. From this distance, he couldn't tell one from the next, and he once again congratulated himself on his magnificent tact and foresight. What the hell was the point of coming all this way to get a glimpse of Michael when he couldn't even tell which figure he was?
A quick glance at his watch told him it was just thirty minutes past six. Perfect, he thought. Another hour of staring aimlessly at nondescript figures. It did not occur to him to simply leave.
As the hour rolled past, he began to note the different relationships among the athletes. Unlike basketball, track did not require every member to communicate with each other. It was a lone sport, each runner utilizing his own strategy and never needing to confer with anyone else.
The difference was obvious in the team's chemistry. After each set of laps, the runners huddled into separate groups to stretch and drink. The groups varied in size from two to about seven, except for one boy who always stood a good ten feet away from everyone else. No one made a move to include him.
When the next run took off, Harry kept an eye on him. Maybe-Knox motioned everyone's attention, and select boys stepped forward as he gestured to each one. On his last gesture, the lone boy moved forward, too, and joined the group that had gathered before the coach. After a few moments of speech, the chosen runners spread out across the track and crouched down into position. Harry never took his eyes off the loner.
A whistle blew, and they were off. At first, Harry was surprised by how slow they seemed. Whenever he thought of track, he thought of unrestrained speed, pumping each leg until they seemed as though they might explode. This seemed controlled, restrained.
But as the runners reached the half-way point, they suddenly picked up speed, and it became a real race. Three runners quickly fell behind, another few leveled up somewhere in between, and two runners appeared as though they would no doubt tie for the lead. Having looked to all the runners for a moment, Harry struggled to figure out which of the two was the lone boy he'd been watching. Neither of them looked very much like him.
And then it hit him. At least ten feet ahead of the two boys he'd been watching, ran the loner from before. He made everyone else look positively slow, and Harry wondered why they couldn't just pick up speed like the other boy. He made it look so easy.
This was Michael, he realized, and it was exactly as he'd said. He was the fastest runner on the team – by a landslide.
Harry ignored the tiny leap of glee in his stomach and focused on Michael's racing form. He wished he could see him running up close, see the muscles flexing in his thighs with every lunge he took, the translucent sweat streaking down his pale neck, the rise and fall of his heaving chest.
A thrilling joy rushed through him when Michael passed the finish line, far ahead of the other athletes. He slowed into a light jog before exchanging a few words with the two coaches, each of which patted him roughly on the back.
Harry did not realized what was missing until the other runners passed the finish line. They barely slowed down before the onlookers rushed up to congratulate them. The camaraderie was evident in its contradiction to Michael's solo standing. Harry felt oddly disgruntled by the scene.
He soon learned that track runners did more than just run, after all. He sat through countless sit-ups, push ups, and other toning exercises. It almost made him ache with the urge to push his own muscles once again.
Before he knew it, the track team began uniformly walking in his direction, and he realized the practice had ended. He nearly tripped over himself trying to run out before anyone discovered him. Through the locker room and claustrophobic hallways, and then he was outside once again, trying to figure out his next move.
He had just sat through an hour of admittedly creepy stalking. Was it really logical to just run off without having made any contact with Michael? Perhaps it was less logical to try and explain to Michael why he just so happened to be randomly loitering around the school grounds at 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning.
The sound of voices interrupted his thoughts before he could make up his mind. He ran around to the front of the building, and slipped behind a cluster of nearby trees.
A few familiar faces walked out first, followed by the boy who had gifted Harry with his still prominent bruise and his two henchmen. A few more unrecognizable faces, and then Harry found himself waiting for quite a while before Michael finally stepped out. The blond looked tired, and a little sad, and Harry couldn't help the dip of concern that hollowed out in his belly.
Michael seemed to drag himself in the direction of what Harry could only imagine was his home, and Harry followed. He kept a large distance between them as he trailed behind, not quite yet ready to reveal himself. He couldn't think of any excuse for his presence, but decided he could always just refuse to explain. After all, he had apparently acquired a "mysterious" reputation at school, and this would fit in rather appropriately with that image.
When they finally reached a fair distance from the school, Harry picked up his speed, and called out, "Hey!" The other boy flinched and tensed up, as if preparing for a fight, and Harry slowed his approach, flummoxed. But as soon as Michael saw it was Harry, his frame loosened, and his eyes went wide with disbelief. He searched around for a minute, as if seeking out a clue that this was some sort of bizarre dream before finally breaking into a hesitant, but involuntarily wide smile.
"Hey," he replied tentatively. "What are you doing here?"
As planned, Harry merely shrugged. "Dunno. Just up early. Been walkin' around for a bit."
"Right." His face still revealed confusion, but he seemed to accept Harry's answer.
"So…" God, Harry thought. He had no idea what he wanted to say.
The two stared at each other for several long moments, unsure of what to say, but neither wanting to end whatever it was that was happening.
"Um," Michael stammered, breaking the silence first. "It's not even 8 o'clock in the morning, yet. Do you, uh… I mean, have you had breakfast?"
"Er… no. I guess not."
"Cool, well... do you wanna…? I mean, my mom always makes really big breakfasts on the weekends – because I run and all, and I mean, I bet your mom does, too, but, oh god. This is gonna sound so dorky. Christ, what am I doing? Um, I mean… well, if you wanted, uh… my house is just, like, a few blocks away, and I don't know where you live, so maybe that's closer, but, um… I don't…. think…. Um, do you wanna, I don't know, like, come over to my house, or something? I mean, if you want."
Michael's face had turned increasingly red throughout his entire, broken speech, and Harry could almost feel the heat radiating off him. He thought it might be mean to laugh, so he didn't. Though only just barely.
It seemed an innocent enough gesture: breakfast on an early Saturday morning. But to hear him stumble through the entire invitation, Harry could tell it meant much more to Michael.
He weighed his options for a moment. He could say no. It seemed the most logical option. It would preclude all complications, and keep things simple.
But it would also keep him lonely and miserable.
He could also say yes. It would complicate things beyond imagination, and terrify him every time he walked through school afterwards. It would make him face things he'd been avoiding for so long, and it almost guaranteed a terrible outcome.
But it also promised a glimpse of relief, of happiness, and moving forward. Why couldn't he just give in? Why couldn't he just follow Michael home like a normal kid with a crush and try to make something happen? Lord knows he wanted to. He'd thought about this boy every day.
It had been so long since he had felt like he had a single friend, so long since he felt accepted. It had been so long since he felt normal, and happy, and loved.
Of course, he didn't think that saying yes to breakfast with Michael equated to normalcy or love or even happiness. But he did think it was a step in the right direction.
So he just smiled and nodded, and said yes with his eyes.
And the two walked up the hill, two feet apart, each pretending they were holding hands.
xoxo Spideria xoxo
** Note: This kind of felt like a half chapter, so I'm tempted to write the other "half" this weekend rather than leaving you guys hanging about what happens at Michael's house. I'll start typing it up tomorrow. If I get enough reviews, I'll try to finish it up by Saturday night.