A/N – So sorry for the slow updates, I'm all up to my ears with projects and exams. Many thanks to those who subscribed on my fanfic ;) Finally, this is where it all starts, people. Keep Calm and Read On!
Chapter 4: Irritation
"Arrrghhh!" Jeff grunted, facing the floor full in the face. "N-not again!"
He hit the floor again this morning. The alarm clock was getting to him. He wondered when he will buy a new one as a replacement. But the thought vanished when a brand new sensation penetrated his head. It hurt more than it did yesterday.
He felt his head. At a single stroke of his middle finger, he found a small bump forming on his forehead – a pimple – and he just squashed it head-on onto the floor. The zit seemed to have protruded some liquid on contact. He was a bit disgusted as he touched it, but then he thought it was only human nature to have one of those… especially in his age.
"Jeff, you okay?" a voice asked kindly as his bedroom door opened.
It was Jake, his second youngest brother. A blonde like him, Jake was often mistaken as "Jeff Jr." since he also took his oldest brother's appearance and looks. Even girls Jeff's age are swooning over Jake, although puberty hasn't taken over his youngest brother yet.
Having a "less distinct nose," he was much more musically inclined than his big brother. Jake has a higher pitched voice than Jeff, a noticeable proof that he still has much to grow. However, Jeff wished his brother's voice would only change a little because their voices were perfect matches during songs with harmonies. On the contrary, Jake hated it because his classmates would often tease him for sounding like Bieber – not that he has something against him or whatever.
"I heard you yell," Jake continued in his still squeaky kind of voice.
Jeff propped himself up with head downcast. "Yeah, just stumbled from my bed – it happens. The stupid alarm clock did it."
"It's how it says 'good morning' to ya," Jake laughed. "Oh, yeah. Have you told Nick about the rehearsal today?"
The name hit a nerve. He suddenly remembered the cabinet, swarming of pictures of him, in Nick's bedroom. Jeff, still confused as ever, didn't confront Nick about it. He was afraid of what he might say, or how he might react to it. Truthfully, he didn't like to end their friendship just because of his suspicions. Maybe Nick DID have a reasonable explanation for that. Jeff felt stupid for not giving his best friend a chance, and more so, left him confused as he was yesterday, wondering what was wrong with Jeff. But Nick might think that Jeff was prying onto his things if he did inquire it and might evidently lead to distrust either way. Silence was the only answer, he exclaimed in his thoughts.
"Still with me, bro?" Jake asked suspiciously.
"Yeah," he replied. "And yes, I told him. But…"
"But I think he might not come,"
"He told you that?"
Jake raised an eyebrow on him. "He said he would come, but you don't want him to. What happened yesterday?"
The taller blonde, surprised by Jake's sharp intuition, stammered. "I-I… how…how did you know?"
"I can read you like a book," the short blonde replied, laughing quietly. "Seriously, you're a brother of mine. I know how ya think… Almost fifteen, I think, years we've been living together in the same house. You underestimate me, bro."
"Naaahhh, I think you have superior perception skills," said Jeff, trying to laugh it off.
"But seriously, what happened? You two hung out, right? And you came home early all blue and gloomy. I remember you mentioning coming home late yesterday." Jake said, sticking to the topic and making wild gestures to the air.
Jeff locked his eyes onto Jake's. "Nick might be gay."
The blonde tossed his head away dramatically. He waited for a reaction from his little brother. Seconds passed, and Jake still wasn't showing any signs of surprise. "You knew?" Jeff asked, annoyed.
"Well… sort of… yeah," he replied indecisively. "I had a sneaking suspicion that he was. Seeing that you two… almost always spend each time with each other, but… it wasn't really clear, okay? Look, you aren't even sure yourself!"
"You could've at least told me your 'sneaking suspicions',"
"What! Why would I? I don't break people's relationships with others!"
"Yeah, right. So much for being the 'charismatic' vocal of the group…"
"Hey! Leave me out of this, and how is that related to me not telling you my suspicions?"
"You started it! I didn't want to talk about it. And I'm dragging you into it," Jeff said, teasing his little brother.
The door flung open and out came the two's only sister, Jessie. Her features are strikingly familiar with Jeff's. The only difference this time is that she's a girl and has longer hair. With no tinge of brown in her hair like his, her hair is much more noticeable when she ties it into a pony tail.
Jeff caught a glimpse that she only wore a pink nightgown that crept only down to her thighs. He admires her for being bold in what she wears, even if she was unaware that, sometimes, they are overrated and his brothers would notice that she was a bit of a "flat-chest." Jeff constantly reminds his brothers not to tell Jessie about this information when she's out of earshot and at times that they make fun of her crazy outfits.
"People!" she shouted. "It's eight a.m. in the morning and what's with all these noise!"
"Speak for yourself," replied Jake sarcastically.
"Yes, crack your jokes, Jake," she snapped at him. "I just got up from my ten-hour siesta, and I would appreciate if you could tone down your voices."
"Aaaand… what good would that do to us?" Jeff smirked.
"Nothing! Who said this was about you?" Jessie retorted, making a face that confirms she's a woman.
She slammed the door to their faces, leaving the two almost breathless. "Scary," Jake mouthed.
"Scared? Not me, I'm not!" the older blonde sneered.
"You're the one to talk! You couldn't even tell her she's a flat-chest!" laughed Jake. "You were the one who came up with that, ha ha!"
"Shut up." He was defeated. "Let's see you try."
"You said I'm scared... and I definitely am," Jake defended himself, running towards the door and scurried off. "Don't forget about the rehearsal!"
"WIMP!" called Jeff. "I'm not going to catch you! You don't need to run! AND YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO TELL ME THAT!"
Jeff was left alone. The first thing that came to his mind was to freshen up for the rehearsal and to try to get rid of the irritating blemish on his forehead. Almost in a reflex out of consciousness, he rubbed the pimple with his right hand. "Argh," he grumbled, scowling mechanically on the floor. Right hand still on his forehead, he swiped his blanket from the floor and placed it neatly back to his bed.
He headed for the towel rack and rushed to the bathroom. Jeff almost slipped on the wet tiles out of sheer aggravation, but he steadied himself and grasped the metal towel bar. The blonde stared onto his reflection upon it. Images of Nick crashed into his mind, deluding the tall blonde into so much confusion. His head ached; he clapped his palm onto his forehead and the pimple spurred prickling pain into his mind. He let go of the bar and lost his balance. The blonde fell with a loud thud, hitting his head hard on the cold, rigid floor tiles.
The door flew open. His vision was blurring. He can vaguely hear somebody swearing. "Jeff? Jeff! Jeeeefff! Can you hear me? Fuck! Waaake up! Oh, shit. Mooooooom!"
His left arm twitched. Something red glared back from his wrist. Kee… alm… on… Still swimming in images of him and the brunette, he remembered once again the baller he gave yesterday. He uttered, "Nick." Then everything sank in total darkness…
There were hushed voices. He can barely catch some of them.
"…were talking… yeah, 'bout him… outside…called… Nick,"
All he heard was blah, blah, blah, Nick. Where was he? He tried to open his eyes, but he lacked the strength to do it yet. His head still ached; he couldn't even remember where he was last. The pain subsided as his breathing became stable and linear.
The voices trailed off. He was in complete silence yet again. The atmosphere induced him to sleep once more. Sick images of Nick, cross-dressing along a walkway, found their way into his unconscious mind. The blonde stood below, among the sidelines, cheering on for his best friend in a surreal pageant show. He saw Nick's face full of happiness. The brunette looked brightly at him and waved. The blonde waved back and wolf-whistled.
It seemed like hours have passed and he found himself to be awake for a second time. His dream was disrupted by a sudden jerk from his feet, a sensation he occasionally experiences when feeling tensed. It was nothing but a dream. Jeff found it bizarre, dreaming of his pal cross-dressing and him supporting his best friend's odd activity. He still has not confirmed his suspicions so it was altogether an awkward dream to reminisce.
He tried to open his eyes again. His eyelids flung open and horror struck him. His eyesight has gone entirely fuzzy and blurry. He blinked – no luck. He did it again. Same result. He shut his eyes firmly that he didn't notice he was biting his lips.
"Jeff," someone called his name, "you awake?"
The voice sounded familiar. The speaker was a male. It was a lower kind of baritone. He spoke friendly and pleasant. His voice almost sounded like a sigh. He loosened his firmly shut eyes.
"Nick?" he replied back. "Are you there?"
The speaker exhaled noisily and replied, "Yeah. Your family was here with us a little while ago. They left us."
"Where are we? I can't see a thing!"
"Well… we're at the hospital. See, you bashed your head onto the floor. Nasty, really. Your impact and blood loss resulted in temporary blindness," Nick answered heartily, giving emphasis to "temporary."
Ah, yes. He remembered. Jeff basked in so much contusion that he fell off balance on the bathroom floor. Just then he remembered about his last conversation with Jake.
Jeff groaned. "Temporary! But what about the rehearsal? The gig? Oh, god, the gig! We're playing tonight at Newport Music Hall!"
"That was two days ago, buddy! Calm down. The doctor said you need to rest. You should be able to recover your eyesight by three or four day's time."
"Three of four! That's almost a week!" Jeff shouted. "Screw this."
"They will be back later if you were to ask. They just ate lunch somewhere. 'They' as in your family, but your mom isn't here. She's at your house preparing something for you," Nick exhaled noisily again, almost sounding like a laugh. "I was wondering what happened. Jake called me up suddenly saying you knocked yourself out on the bathroom floor."
"You said there was blood loss?" Jeff asked incredulously. "That's gross. And to think on my own bathroom..."
"I was gonna say 'it's your fault anyway'," explained Nick, "but it'd sound tactless on my part. Anyway, don't stray from the question, what happened?
"Lately that's the question plaguing from everybody's mouth," Jeff answered bluntly. "Let me put it this way, I ran into a convulsion."
"That'd be a nice and short way of putting it, I guess, although I can't help but feel there's a story behind it."
Nick was urging him, he could sense it. He badly wanted to ask Nick about the misgivings he could feel from their last meeting. The blonde grasped the edges of the blanket over him with a tight fist. Although Nick couldn't see this, the brunette got the impression that his best bud was struggling for something.
"D'ya want to talk about it?" Nick suddenly asked nicely.
Jeff tossed his head, hesitating. "I do…"
"Then tell me,"
His reply was forceful but still, friendly and welcoming. Jeff racked his brains for a subtle way to settle this. But his mind still hurt, adding the itchiness the pimple is causing. He wanted the feeling to end.
"Nick. Why are you so nice to me?"
Jeff could feel that his best friend was surprised of this because an awkward silence followed seconds after his question. "Nick? Are you still there?" Jeff called out, a bit impatient. "Yeahhh," Nick heaved a sigh. "Why are you suddenly asking that?"
"Just answer the question…"
After heaving another sigh, Nick rubbed his nose. "Well… uhm… Is this a trick question?"
"Niiiiicccckk… seriously now..." Jeff sounded a bit too impatient.
"Okay! Okay! Just as I said, is this a trick question? We've been through this before. You're my best pal, okay? Stop asking."
"Oh, so now I should be the one answering questions, is it?" the blonde replied hostilely.
"Easy. Watch it," Nick said, trying to calm him down. "You should rest. We can talk about this when you're recovered…"
"I want to talk about it now, Nick,"
The brunette flinched as he heard his name. It seems that Jeff meant business and wasn't fooling around with the question. To Nick, it would appear that the blonde knew something beyond his awareness. What could be driving Jeff to this? Nick knew he lacked courage to confront people, even now his best friend is somehow browbeating him and yet he still doesn't converse clearly. He was afraid of what Jeff has to say; especially since he has this sinking feeling that it all started that day they last met…
Nick closed his eyes. I get it, he thought. He knows, he saw. "Did you see it?" he asked silently.
Jeff was glad he finally got in the momentum. He sensed that Nick has, at last, come to a realization.
"Did you see it?" Nick was now the one asking the question, quite forcefully so.
"I… I didn't mean to…" said Jeff, sounding innocent.
Nick's noisy exhaling turned into a loud grunt. "And what did you see, specifically?"
"Um… it was… empty? What are we talking about?"
"The cabinet. Please, tell me honestly, Jeff." His tone became more like a whine to the blonde. He also seemed to be pleading. Jeff knew at once that Nick was already aware of what he saw. He was just assuring.
"There were pictures at the door… of me…"
Finally, the truth comes out. Jeff was the one who heaved a sigh now. He was glad he got that off his chest. What a burden it caused, bringing about injury further. However, he realized how awfully silent Nick had been.
"Are you mad?" the brunette asked out of the blue.
"N-no! I'm not mad. I just don't know how to act in response… That was why I asked you why you were so nice."
"Oh, so that's what this is all about," Nick said. "To be honest, I dunno too. It happened all of a sudden. I'm sorry I can't explain everything straight right now. Just knowing that you already knew caught me off-guard too."
Jeff smiled at him.
"Don't strain yourself. Rest. As I've said, we can talk about this when you recover. Anyway, I have to go now. Just came by to visit. Bumped into Wes again this morning, he's sending his regards, along with the rest of the Warblers," Nick sniffed. Jeff thought he might be crying silently.
"Say 'hi' to them for me," the blonde said, "and thanks."
"Rest easy, Jeff," the brunette advised him. "We're nothing without a leader."
Jeff almost laughed. He called out, "Hey! Hey! Nice comeback. And not to mention late! Ha ha ha!"
He heard Nick laugh silently, his footsteps trailed away from his bed. The door opened and he heard a faint, but audible "I love you, Jeff."
Jeff was taken aback. It was the sweetest thing he ever heard in his entire life. Riley did say this some time ago, but it didn't sound sincere or at least pleasant to his ears. This time, however, was different. Jeff found himself blinking back tears that welled from his eyes. A sensation best expressed only in his bedroom, away from prying eyes. Yet it felt like it had been years since his last.
He meant to reply, but uncertainty held back his tongue. The words choked in his throat. "I… I…" The door closed disdainfully on him. Nick was already gone.
Tears overflowed from his eyes, streaming fast past his cheeks and flowing to his ears. He wiped them off hastily, conscious that somebody might be there, but there wasn't any. Suddenly, the door opened once more. He could hear his brothers and Jessie filing inside the now crowded room. JC, his youngest brother, sneaked up to his bed and whispered, "What was that all about?" He sniggered.
"Shut up," croaked the blonde.
"Now don't aggravate your brother any further," Jeff heard their father warn them. "Take a breather, Jeff. Your mom's worried sick about you. She's bringing you your favorite dinner tonight – she's still preparing it at home though. She wants it perfect for you today. Oh, and not to mention Jake here who found you lying unconscious on the floor. You should be grateful to him too."
"Yeah, you should!" Jake said. "And I cleaned your bathroom. That was disgusting, ugh…"
"Don't get so cocky," scolded their father. "C'mon now, kids. I'll drive you home. I'll be back by half an hour, Jeff. If you need something or something's hurting or whatever, there's a buzzer beside you. It'd call your nurse."
"Your nurse is h-a-w-t!" Josh, his other brother, whispered to his ear after their father is entirely out of hearing range. "Get well soon, bro."
Jessie called out to him. "See you on the flip side. And, please, try to recover fast, would you? I wouldn't want a bedridden brother in front of our band's fans."
Jeff thanked his siblings and bid goodbye. With another shuffling of feet, out they went, leaving Jeff bathing in the complete, refreshing silence. He flung his right hand to where his father indicated the buzzer. There it was. Josh's comment on his attendant, the nurse, escalated his intrigue. But the thought of Nick dropping the "I love you-bomb" on him clouded his mind. He wasn't sure what how he should react. It, however, seemed to him that those were the words he was longing for from Nick.
The blonde found, yet again, himself blinking back small amounts of tears welling from his eyes. Only this time, the tears trickled down his cheeks, leaving a tiny, wet spot on the white sheet in which Jeff lay upon. Minutes later, the spot dried, leaving a small stain that the blonde would lie on top of, pressing together the mattress and the stain.
He wished he knew what he should reply to Nick, although one question also popped in his mind… Am I gay? He thought sharply.