Disclaimer: As always, EGS does not belong to me.

The Shy Girl Effect

Chapter 2: Bridges Burnt

Justin sat on his bed, his hand still on the phone. What he had to say was going to break Melissa's heart; and even with all her annoying quirks she was still his best friend. He didn't want to be right about this, he wanted to be able to live a normal life. This was one hell of a detour on that road, he knew what people would think. The things they would call him, all because of something he couldn't control.

This was going to be the hardest thing he would have to tell anyone, and Melissa deserved to know more than anyone else. He couldn't let her go on thinking that there was a chance for them to be together, it wouldn't be fair to her. Just as he was about to start going over his speech aloud the door opened.

Melissa walked into the room and looked at Justin, he looked as though someone he loved just died. She went and sat down next to him, putting her arm around his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. "What's wrong Justin? What did you need to talk to me about?"

Justin stood up and took a deep breath, he couldn't bare to look at her right now. "Melissa, there's something I need to tell you. I don't want to hurt you, but if I didn't let you know now then it would just hurt both of us more."

She reached out and grabbed him by the hand, trying to keep him from leaving her. "Justin, please look at me? I want to know what's wrong."

Justin turned around and looked her in the eyes, tears welling up in his own. He attempted to speak, but the words got caught in his throat. As the tears began to roll down his face they seemed to remove the clog and he was able to speak. "Melissa... You're my best friend, and I'm telling you this so I don't lead you on. Please just accept what I am telling you now, because I don't want to say it again."

He took another deep breath, "I'm gay Melissa. I've had my suspicions that I might be for awhile, but I couldn't bring myself to accept it. I wanted to have that normal life with you, but after our date last night I can't deny it anymore. That kiss felt completely wrong, and that was what helped me figure this out."

Melissa was crying uncontrollably, shaking her head. Her whole world had just been shattered by this revelation. She refused to accept it, he was her man, he couldn't be gay. It struck her immediately, what this must have been. "It's that hussy, Rhoda isn't it? She took you away from me, didn't she? You can't be gay, so stop lying!"

Justin stomped his foot on the ground and started yelling at her. "Rhoda has nothing to do with this! She's a sweet girl and a good friend so leave her out of this! I would never lie about this to anyone, especially not you! Please stop denying it, it hurts more to see you hurt like this."

'No,' Melissa thought, 'He can't be gay. There's no way it's true. He's just confused, so I'll have to help him get fixed.' Melissa stood up and ran out of the room crying.

Justin shook his head, tears still streaming down his cheeks. Right now he was just glad that his parents were shopping, he didn't want to answer a lot of questions about why Melissa just burst out of his room crying. The way that she left, Justin had a feeling this was going to get out soon.

Rhoda waited at the bus stop Monday morning when Justin walked up alone. As he got closer the other kids backed away, whispering to each other. She wasn't sure what was going on, or why, but she was happy to see Justin.

"Hey Justin, how are you doing?"

He looked up at her and put on a smile, "Hi Rhoda. I'm doing all right. How was your weekend?"

"Pretty boring, I just read a book and played a few video games. What about you?"

Justin looked down at the ground, "I'd rather not talk about it right now."

Rhoda looked at him, she was wanted to know what he didn't want to talk about but she knew that she shouldn't press him. The bus pulled around and they got on. All the students fell silent as Justin walked onto the bus, he took the front seat right behind the driver and Rhoda sat next to him.

He felt like all eyes on the bus were on him, unfortunately for him it was true. He could feel their eyes boring into the back of his head. Each person with their own judgement of what he knew they had all heard. He heard a voice from the back of the bus, quiet but still there, "Why'd the queer have to be on our bus?"

For all the tolerance schools claimed to teach their students, tolerance to his kind wasn't taught. All they cared about was sexism and racism, any other reason for hating someone was fine. Moperville wasn't a big city, so most of the people there felt the same way about a lot of things, this was just one of the things they tended to look down on.

Rhoda knew that something was wrong, but wouldn't ask him about what it was, if he wanted to let her know what was wrong he would tell her. So instead of asking questions, she put her hand on his shoulder and said, "If you wanna talk, I'm here for you Justin."

He rested his head on her shoulder and tears rolled down his face. "Thank you Rhoda, you're a good friend." Rhoda just stroked his hair, she wished that he would be happy again soon. When he was happy, the world seemed brighter, but when he was this sad it was like an eternal night with a storm raging.

This continued for a few days, when they were together Justin would often cry on her shoulder, letting out the pain and stress of the day into her sweater. Finally he was ready to tell her the truth, so she would know why he felt this pain. She would understand, she had to, or else he would be alone forever.

Justin had kept his promise from the week before, and went over to Rhoda's house that Friday after school. He would tell her there, where they couldn't be interrupted. They walked into the living room and Justin took a seat on the couch.

"Can I get you anything Justin? A glass of water or a soda?"

"A water please." Rhoda walked into the kitchen, she couldn't be more excited about having him over. She had dreamed of spending time with him out of school for some time now, and was so happy that her dream was finally coming true. This removed any doubt remaining in her that he was anything but a good friend.

She returned with drinks and sat next to him on the couch. Justin thanked her for the drink and took a sip before standing up. He always felt the need to stand up before making big speeches, or at least when he planned them. "Rhoda, I want to tell you something. As you have no doubt noticed Melissa hasn't been hanging around with us at lunch, and I feel I should tell you why."

Rhoda didn't let it show, but she was glad that Melissa was gone. To her it meant that she might have a chance of getting Justin for herself.

"After our date Friday night, Melissa kissed me, and it felt all wrong. After that the pieces started falling together, it wasn't long before I knew what was wrong." The tears began welling up in his eyes, remembering all the pain that this conversation had brought with Melissa.

"Since then, things have been falling apart. All of my other friends stopped talking to me, except you. So I think you deserve to know why I have been so down this week. I'm gay, and Melissa must have let the secret out."

Rhoda just sat there, she hadn't been expecting this. A part of her hoped that this was going to be some big confession of his love for her, that they could fall in love and be together. But still, whether he could feel about her the way she felt about him or not, being with him made her happy. He was her best friend, and that wasn't going to change.

Justin saw her lack of expression, and feared the worst. He couldn't have been more relieved when she finally spoke. "So what? Gay, straight, whatever you are, to me you're still just Justin. The only guy who has ever really seen me as something more than an easy mark for a cruel practical joke. My best friend."

Rhoda stood up and walked over to him, holding her arms out to her sides. He knew what she was offering and accepted it gladly, he hugged her tight. "You're my best friend too Rhoda. You're the only one still here for me, you'll never know how much that means to me."

"I will never leave you Justin. You're too important to me."

Months passed and Rhoda and Justin were becoming thick as thieves. Rhoda's feelings for Justin had not faded, but they had changed. She learned to love him as a friend, and not as some dream man.

Justin trusted her, they talked about everything from homework to cute boys that they both knew they had no chance with. He did her hair a lot, and loved to give her new styles. Right now her hair was just combed and straight, but he hoped to change that soon enough.

One day the two of them were out at the mall, shopping and just generally hanging out. They were walking through the parking lot, ready to take the bus home when some guys from school came up and surrounded them.

"Aww, if it isn't the fag and the girl that loves him. Ain't they just the sweetest couple you ever saw Ralph?"

"Sure are Frank. What about you Bill?"

"It's just too sweet for words. But wait, this ain't right. The queer is just walkin' around like a normal person. He needs some sort of mark, so people know what he is."

Frank sneered, "Yeah I know. We'll give him a rainbow. How does that sound queer-boy?"

Justin just ignored them, but Rhoda couldn't stand for this. "You jerks shut up! Leave Justin alone, he hasn't done anything wrong."

Bill walked up to Rhoda and pushed her down to the ground, "Stay out of this. This is between us and the queen here." Justin seethed with anger at what just happened.

"Leave her alone!"

The boys went on mocking him, "Aww, faggot gonna cry? Well, maybe we'll just keep on hurtin' her, what are you gonna do about it?" Rhoda stood up only to be knocked down again, she landed on her arm and screamed in pain. "What you gonna do to protect her, huh? You couldn't take us on if we were all blind-folded."

Justin may not have known how to fight, but he couldn't stand for this. He clenched his fists and punched Bill in the face. The other boy was knocked back by the blow, but quickly recovered.

"Looks like we got a fight on our hands boys. Let's get 'im!" The three all grouped up on Justin and beat on him as hard as they could. Fists were connecting with his face, gut, and chest. Before long he fell down to the ground, trying his best not to show the pain, but even still they wouldn't let up. Harsh kicks hit him all over, and there was nothing he could do.

There was nothing Rhoda could do either, she just laid there on the ground, holding her arm and failing to hold back the tears in her eyes, all the while yelling, "Stop! Stop! Please just stop it!"

Then, when it seemed that they would kill him someone stopped them. He looked tougher than anyone she had ever seen, like he could stop an entire army on his own if he needed to. He wasn't some giant, but the look of confidence on his face when he approached would have sent terror into the bravest man.

"You guys want someone to fight? How about you fight me? Or do you just like to pick on people that can't defend themselves?"

Ralph refused to back down, "You wanna take us on? Fine! We'll fight you too!" The others looked at each other, but decided not to argue with Ralph and fight this newcomer as well.

The stranger wasn't intimidated by their attack, he ducked down and sweep kicked all of them. He stood firm and waited for them to make another attack. Frank and Bill both backed away when they got up, but Ralph wouldn't be taken so easily. He tried to punch the other man in the face, but his move was quickly countered and he was on his back with a foot on his chest.

"Now you listen to me you worthless piece of crap. You're going to leave these two alone from now on, you got that?" The sheer look of terror in Ralph's eyes spoke louder than any man could. He nodded and the stranger removed his foot, the three boys stood up and scurried away from them.

The stranger bent down and looked at Rhoda, "Are you okay?"

She spoke very quietly, barely able to find the words. "Other than my arm I am doing fine, I don't think it's that serious. Please help Justin."

He nodded his head and walked over to Justin, who was lying on the pavement barely conscious. Justin looked up at him, and thought that his guardian angel had come down to protect him. He knew that he was in love with this stranger even though he knew nothing about him.

Justin spoke, coughing every time he breathed in. "I'm fine. Don't worry too much about me." His head fell to the ground, and the others knew immediately that he was unconscious.

The stranger picked Justin up and looked over at Rhoda, "I don't live far from here. We need to get you and Justin here fixed up, and I have a first aid kit at home. Come on."

Rhoda picked herself up and stood next to him. "You may have just saved his life, I have to know something. What's your name?"

"I'm Elliot, Elliot Dunkel."

The young lady nodded at him, "And I'm Rhoda Sophronia. It's a pleasure to meet you."