A/N: I wasn't thinking of Eric van der Woodsen when I wrote this - I was thinking of a friend of mine - but I realized it uncannily fit with his struggle, too.

It reaches to the highest point in the sky, sharpened like a stake piercing the clouds. The Space Needle.

The map of tourist attractions in my gloves is cold. Everything's cold.

"It's cold," I state vaguely to the boy beside me, crumpling the guide into the pocket of my marshmallow jacket. I glance up again. Its stature hasn't changed, and though tiny flakes of snow clotted my vision, it is easily visible.

The boy beside me shifts uneasily. "Are we really going up there?" There are small traces of nervousness in his voice, but he keeps his head held high.

"Of course we are," I respond indifferently, though truthfully I am as apprehensive as he.

Derek shields his eyes with his hands as he peers up again, past the unrelenting, pale sunlight and the dots of snow. "You think there's stairs up there?"

He drops his hands to his side and they brush my fingertips lightly. Through the knitted fabric, my skin tingles and I force back a blush rising color into my cheeks.

"Probably an elevator," I reply, my voice cracking slightly on the last word.

Derek nods. He laughs, then. "We're a bunch of cowards." He gestures to the group behind them, a compact gathering of girls who all look alike and boys who stare ungraciously down said girls' shirts.

The way "we" floats so effortlessly from his tongue makes me want to voice my feelings, but I reminded myself just in time not to.

"We're different from them, s'all," I laugh. It's wonderful laughing with him. He has a nice smile, and bright eyes that shine when he laughs.

Before he can say a word, the teacher flutters past in a flurry of hushing and calming the chattering children. She whistles loudly to interrupt each conversation, glancing around at the kids first, then the Space Needle towering above them.

"We're going to be quiet and respectful..."

"I'm scared." When I was a child, I once climbed to the very top of the jungle gym, only to fall moments later. I ended up with stitches, a broken leg, and a sheer terror of heights.

Derek rolls his shoulders, and whispers quietly into my ear, "It's going to be pretty safe. No falling involved." His hot breath hits the cold spots on my neck, melting the flecks of snow and turning them to drops of water.

I didn't answer, turning away instead to glance at the girls behind us. They were pretty, vaguely intelligent, and polite. In the subconscious part of my mind, I knew they could be beautiful, but I felt nothing for their shapes. I felt nothing for them.

It starts, as usual, with a feeling.

Derek's eyes aren't anything special. They're a bland, almost gray, blue. But I can't stop looking at them. Into them. They surround me.

Derek's laugh isn't infectious in the true sense of the word. It's guttural, and sometimes loud and obnoxious. But I want to hear it more. It rings in my ears when I'm alone. When we're alone.

Our group walks into the Space Needle, all shining faces and excited thumps of the heart. Fear trembles in my stomach. Derek's eyes are all around me, urging me on.

"Mother, I'm gay." My voice had been so quiet, so soft, and hesitant. She would never accept it. She could never love me again.

"Eric, you're confused. You're too young to be gay." She continued to sip her champagne then and read her magazine.

"I like a boy." The words feel funny on my tongue. I like a boy. I like a boy. Mother, I'm gay and I like a boy.

But my mother went on as if those words had never left my mouth.

The elevator chimes, and the first group of adventuring eighth graders empty out, chatting loudly about their grand experience overlooking Seattle. None of them look scared, or even uneasy. Only grins.

Derek leans forward to capture my attention. "See? You'll be fine."

The doors close as we begin our ascent. The guide says the ride up will take 43 seconds, and we'll be on the observation deck, ready to view the city from a new perspective.

First ten seconds. Derek talks nervously with a girl beside him.

I like a boy, mother. I'm gay, mother.

You're confused, Eric.

Twenty seconds. Derek's eyes shine with delight as he awaits the excitement, and he finds my own gaze. I smile at him. He grins with natural goofiness right back at me.

Thirty seconds. My palms sweat with embarrassment. How can no one see how I feel? It must glow an insignia in my eyes, and through my chest my heart must be creating a tattoo of its wild thrashing. I want to scream. No one notices.

Forty seconds. Almost over.

When the elevator doors open and the students pile out onto the observation deck, I can finally say it. The words taste odd, and they are fuzzy and thick on my tongue, but they sound right. They sound true.

"I'm gay."

Everyone is speaking so loudly that it isn't even heard, and Derek steps past me without an inkling of knowing.