Author's Note: Please excuse how short this chapter is, but since I was uploading two at once, I figured I could get away with it.
By the time Monday came again, Jay had mixed feelings about the necessity of going to school. He hadn't talked to Sarah or Odette at all since the party, fearing their probing questions as to exactly why Charles hated him even more now than before, and he wasn't ready yet to take his place at the usual lunch table. Before he had decided to curl back up in bed and forget the world, his mother was in his room, pulling the blankets off him and telling him to come downstairs for breakfast. He knew there was no getting out of it – she knew every trick in the book, and wasn't about to let him skip school for no good reason. His mind was made up for him. He was going.
He ignored everyone at school as much as he could until lunch. As the bell rang, it sounded more to him like a death knell, and the cafeteria where his inquisitive friends sat would be the end of him. Walking in and sitting down, he braced himself for some of Odette's enthusiastic questions, but Sarah cut her off.
"Erik told me what you said, so don't start to play dumb. How badly did you screw things up for yourself?"
He blinked at her, dumbfounded. Sarah's blunt and tactless accusations weren't even close to what he was prepared for, and he was taken completely by surprise. "Wait, what?"
"You heard me," she said, ready to motivate him the only way she knew how, "I know you screwed things up, but just how badly? Can you fix this, or did you burn the bridge and turn the river under it to boiling magma?"
"I-I don't know," Jay stammered, feeling backed into a corner, "And wait – What makes you think I want to fix things with Charles, anyway? He's a complete douche, and I'm done with him."
"No you're not. Look over at where he's sitting right now," Sarah said, and Jay followed her instructions. He glanced over at the table where Charles and Metis were sitting, and turned back quickly, lest Charles catch him looking. However, a quick glare from Sarah had him looking at them again, and Jay noticed the two friends looking more awkward than Jay had ever seen them before. He let his eyes linger on Charles' expression, caught somewhere between careful sarcasm and poorly hidden self-pity. Jay wanted to smack himself as he dwelled on how cute Charles' little pout was, and how strangely sweet his knitted eyebrows seemed.
"You know, if you weren't staring so much, I'd agree that it's probably over between you two," Sarah began, snapping Jay out of his reverie. "But you still like him. You need to man up, Jay, and take some responsibility for your mistakes. You're not even close to done with him and you know it; you're just running away like a coward so you don't get hurt."
The look on Jay's face let Sarah know that she had pressed all the right buttons. He needed this tough love to get him into gear, because otherwise she knew he would only mope around feeling sorry for himself. He'd never take the initiative himself to get up and tell a guy he was interested, so Sarah had to do it for him. Sure, she worried about her friends, and all Jay's protests coupled with the nasty rumors she had heard about Charles would usually have been enough to put her off the possibility of any relationship they might have, but she knew that a boy like Charles was just what Jay needed. He would provide the spark to move Jay long after she couldn't.
Without another word about it, Jay accepted what he needed to do. As always, Sarah was right – he was running away from Charles the way he ran away from everything when things got too tough. This time, though, things would be different. He'd talk to Charles on his own terms and explain just how he'd been feeling for the past few months. Their relationship couldn't be any worse at this point, so Jay figured he had nothing to lose.
He called Metis as soon as he got home from school, and apologized for the way he had acted the other day. Deciding to take the plunge, Jay set up a surprise meeting with Charles for later that day – he hated the pressure of waiting, and wanted to get it over with as quickly as he could. Pulling off this bandage would hurt, Jay was sure of it, but it might turn out well in the end. He kept his hopes up and prepared for what might be their final confrontation, hoping he'd make it out alive.
Jay drove past Metis' house five times that evening, waiting for the signal that Charles was there and that Jay should make his move. Five times, his car slowed to a crawl as he scanned the house for the fake candle that would be glowing in the picture window; four times he sighed deeply, not realizing that he had been holding his breath; three times he counted the seconds as he waited around the block before he made his next pass, knowing that if Charles saw his car, it would all be over. Twice, Jay prayed to anything that would listen, including Flying Spaghetti Monsters, Athena, and the Pope, but once, only once, Jay gasped and hit the gas pedal a little too hard, peeling away from Metis' house after seeing that tiny electric flame illuminating Charles' coat, thrown carelessly onto the couch.
He parked around the block so that no noise would betray his arrival. Charles was supposed to be surprised by his visit and if he wasn't, if an errant gravel crunch or slamming door caught his ear, Jay lost his most potent weapon. Having quit smoking months ago, he knew there was no excuse but nerves as to why he was breathing so heavily or why his hard was pounding so hard in his chest, and he tried to take his mind off it by going over the plan once more in his head: Jay would apologize to Charles, take some abuse, explain why he had done what he did, take some more abuse, beg for forgiveness, take some abuse, curl up in a corner and cry, take some abuse, hang himself in Metis' closet…
Standing on the front lawn of some stranger's property, Jay wondered what he was doing. He shouldn't be here – hadn't he made up his mind about Charles, after all? Wasn't he just giving in to the same pushy friends he had sworn not to follow so blindly? He almost had himself half-convinced that he should turn around and go when Sarah's words echoed in his head.
Wasn't he just running away?
Shambling forward, a zombie to his pride, Jay walked up to Metis' front door and rang the bell. According to plan, Jay was ushered in silently and pointed towards the den, where Charles sat, waiting. Jay stepped as lightly as he could, making it halfway down the hall before he stopped. The dragon he had to slay waited before him, mere feet from where he stood; Jay knew deep in his heart that it was a battle he wouldn't escape unscathed.