Chapter 9 — The Fear of Expectations and Resigned Loneliness

The double doors with their deep engravings swung open easily to allow Joe into the dark den. Feeling their way around, his questing fingers searched for the light switch protruding from the wall. Finding the switch, he flipped it upwards to turn on the lights. Instead of flooding the room with light, the bulb gave a weak glow, before a sudden spark rendered it useless.

Cursing his misfortune, Joe walked into the darkness and almost stumbled on the lampshade he was searching for. Feeling for the switch, he twisted it counter clockwise and groaned in frustration when it, too gave a stuttered spark and died. Giving up on electric lights entirely, he pushed aside the heavy curtains and allowed winter's moonlight to filter into the small room.

Beyond the glass doors was the backyard. Its structured flower beds were blanketed by the winter snow. Eerily glowing globes of light perched on intricately melded lamp posts. Their light stretched the shadows of the bare limbs of tress, making them seem like greedy grasping fingers beckoning him into the shadow of the night. It no longer frightened him as much as it had when he was little. He had conquered that fear a long time ago.

Stepping away from the dreary scenery, he collapsed onto the couch facing the glass doors. Lying down with his head pillowed on the soft arm of the sofa, he turned so he could observe the play of the moonlight on the marble floors.

The silence of the mansion had overwhelmed him, prompting him to leave the safety of his room and visit the den. Swiveling his eyes to the half-lit picture frames with their ghostly smiles, he revisited old memories. The memories were the same, remaining as they were, since his last visit. The ache and anger the memories invoked were the same as well, if not stronger.

Pushing aside his bitter contemplations, he thought of the recent past instead. He remembered the feel of lips upon his own and wandering fingers traveling over his body, awakening his desire. The press of a warm chest and grinding hips made him ache.

I shouldn't have left, he thought.

He cursed mentally when he felt himself hardening at just the thought of the brunette boy. Ghosting his hand down his stomach to his groin, he lightly ran his finger over the growing bulge in his pants. He bit the inside of his cheek as he fisted his clothed cock and began to pump in slow, leisurely strokes. Keeping in mind the den's tendency to resonate sounds throughout the main floor, he stifled his groans as he caressed his growing erection. The roughness of the cloth was enjoyable as it added delicious friction and teased the sensitive flesh.

He felt unhurried, immersing himself in the slow tingling that began to spread throughout his body. He noted the warmth behind his neck and the tightening of his throat, as well as the dryness in his mouth. His stomach felt tight and his breath hitched shallow and quick. He felt as if his chest wanted to implode into itself as the sensation of electricity running in his veins curled his toes.

"Jones..." he whispered into the dark. The vision of the boy stroking him, sucking him off, kissing him, and touching him flooded his mind.

He reached inside his pants to pull out his weeping cock. The dry hand surrounding his sensitized flesh caused him to wince, but he kept stroking, unmindful of the tiny discomfort. He ran his thumb over the small slit of his cock, smearing the head with pre-cum.

"Fuck, I want to see him," he groaned as his strokes became faster. He closed his eyes and felt all the previous sensations heightened when he thought of the boy. Pumping faster and squeezing his cock roughly, he arched his pelvis off the couch as he grunted his release. His mouth opened in a silent scream as his eyelids shut tightly. Taking the wet seed into his fist, he continued to stroke, riding out his orgasm. Sharp stinging sensations woke his every nerve as a warm flush covered his body.

He sucked in air greedily as spots slowly stopped dancing in his vision. Crumbling into the soft cushions of the couch, he tiredly watched the play of moonlight on the tiled floors. After a moment of rest, he reached for the box of tissue on the side table and cleaned himself off. He flushed at the thought of masturbating just by thinking of the curly-haired boy, and then wondered if Jones had done the same.

He stared at the shadow of the phone longingly until his heavy eyelids drew shut. His last coherent thought before sleep took him was the memory of warm arms surrounding him and a pair of eyes of the deepest hazel he had only seen in dreams.

Joe woke up to a cynical morning. Dark clouds hovered over the horizon, threatening to consume what little sunlight speckled the gray skies. Birds chirped in morose tones as if chirping was an unwanted chore.

Moving from his curled position on the couch, Joe groaned as his body complained in the form of aches, punishing him for falling asleep on the couch rather than the soft comfort of his bed.

He sat up shakily, rubbing at tired eyes. In the distance, he heard the squeal of tires on slippery pavement. A moment later he heard the rattle of the mechanical gates opening and then closing. His parents had left for work.

Pushing up his sleeves to check his watch, he was startled to realize he was going to be late for class. Grumbling, he trudged to his room to take a quick shower.

"No, this can't be happening..." Joe gaped, disbelieving and waving away thick clouds of smoke as they engulfed him. He coughed, watching dejectedly through watery eyes as the bus turned a corner and then disappeared completely in the distance.

"If only I hadn't..." Joe looked down at his shoelaces and cursed the faulty strings. They had become unraveled during his sprint for the bus. Running on the snow covered frozen ground was already too perilous; running with unraveling laces was just begging an accident to happen. So, he had paused to secure the binds, but in doing so, had missed the bus.

He checked the bus schedule and found that if he waited for the next one, he would be ten minutes late for class. Having already missed the student council meeting, he refused to be late for his group presentation.

The thought of his group brought Jones to the forefront of his awareness. The prospect of seeing the brunette again after the other night made the morning's misfortune seem almost tolerable. He quickened his already rushed pace and ran until he sprinted past the school's closing gate.

Outside of his classroom, he straightened his jacket and finger-combed his mussed hair. Deeming himself presentable, he entered just as the warning bell rang.

"Good morning, Joe!" most of the girls in the class bellowed. The boys greeted in the form of grunts upon his entrance. A few raised their chin in a silent greeting, but only one gave him a secretive smirk.

Joe nodded distractedly to those who called for his attention. His entire awareness was pulled to one individual. He approached the desk with determined steps, stopping in front of the brunette boy. Before he could utter a word of greeting, Demi approached the pair and gave a greeting of her own. With hurried words, she discussed with them how they should proceed with the presentation. Nodding to some of her suggestions, Joe leaned against Nick's desk, reclining his arms behind to support him and at the same moment brushing his fingers with Nick's own on the desk's surface. The simple touch had unexpectedly driven the entire negative mood from his being and calmed him.

He left his hand beside Nick's and felt a thrill of surprised excitement run down his spine when the boy didn't move away.

They were in a relationship, he thought, awed. He still could not comprehend their new circumstances without pausing to gape or feel the need to blush. He scoffed at his ridiculous thoughts as he divided his attention between Demi and the warm presence behind him.

A couple of minutes later, the teacher came in to announce the beginning of class. He sat with his group until they were called to present. Joe was thankful it went smoothly. With the luck he woke up with, he wouldn't have been surprised if a bird smacked into the window and interrupted the flow of their presentation.

Lunch found Joe in the school council room, buried in permission forms while attempting to tally the list of students permitted to participate in the year's retreat trip. In between crossing off names in the list and looking over the forms, he nibbled on his lunch. However, the workload that followed his task left his lunch nearly untouched.

He kept his eyes on the door, realizing that he was expecting Nick's presence at any given time. A few members came and went, but the brunette boy never made an appearance. On the way to his third period class, he realized that Nick had never sought him out before. It was always he who did the seeking.

The rest of the day allowed no time to meet with the brunette boy. A sequence of uninterrupted meetings with students and teachers finally came to a stop two hours after school had ended, and by then, he was sure that Nick was no longer in the school.

On his way home, he wondered about his past actions toward the boy. He was intrigued as to how his motivation to embarrass the boy originated from the overwhelming need to extinguish the light that drew others to him. He frowned at his pettiness and wished he had known better.

His commute home was quiet and lonely like it always was. He didn't want to think that the absence of the brunette was the cause, but he was reminded of days when he had not seen Nick. Those days, he thought, were lonelier. Feelings were amazing, he thought. Once you allowed them recognition, they changed you immediately.

Eventually, he reached the gates that encased his home, or rather his house, because "home" implied there was warmth and love present in the structure. He looked at the mansion and thought that it was nothing but a waste of unnecessary space, housing three strangers.

During dinner, as cutlery slid against smooth porcelain and a couple of murmured conversations between his parents and his silence, he thought his loneliness had never felt as great as it did then. The feelings he kept within seemed to amplify as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom and heard the doors shut in his parent's bedroom. Two separate bedrooms. Two doors.

Lying on the cool sheet of his bed while tracing the shadows playing on the high plaster ceilings with his eyes, he hoped for a better day to follow such an empty one. Beyond his shut windows, he saw the snow finally fall and hoped Nick was some place warm.

"Hey, Nick! Are you sure you don't want a ride? It's blowing out there!"

Nick heard the keeper of the arcade yell to him over the howling winds. He waved off the offer, bowing to show he appreciated the gesture, and then waved goodbye as he braved the cold. He pulled his hood over his quickly numbing scalp and hunched as he hurried his stride with careful steps.

Coughing violently as the icy wind burned his windpipe, he pulled his scarf over his chapping lips. He realized too late that it was a mistake to have stayed an hour longer. There had been warnings of heavy snowfall throughout the day, but he had ignored them in favor of fun. As an afterthought, he acknowledged that he also liked crowded places; it was easy to get distracted. There was no time to think of his empty apartment when he was too busy enjoying himself.

He cursed fluently when he managed to side-step a wave of muddy slush as an uncaring driver hurried past, but he ended up stepping into a pothole filled ankle deep with the icy slush anyways. Shaking his drenched leg, he walked home with a temper that he thought might have melted his path.

Swinging his apartment door open, he stepped inside and upon shutting the door, he wasted no time in ridding himself of his soaked clothing. A trail of garments followed him to the bathroom. He turned the knob for the hot water in his tub while he stood in his boxers, shaking as the coldness of his apartment embraced his already numb body. He hopped around a bit and rubbed his raised skin, trying to generate some warmth. After waiting for his body to thaw a little, he lowered himself into the filled tub, and only then did he allow himself a sigh of contentment.

Watching the steam rise to the ceiling, he let his seemingly frozen brain do a bit of thawing itself. He allowed it to wander and to contemplate. He was amused to find that he had been doing a lot of that lately.

His voice echoed in the small room as he rested the back of his head against the rim of the tub while his body lay unmoving, swallowed by the warm water.

"I didn't see him today."

"Well, except for the first period."

"Even that was brief. We had that presentation..."

Nick grew silent and then laughed softly at how outrageous it felt to think of someone in such context. It was frightening to think that he'd just found out how Demi and the other girls felt all the time. He laughed out loud then; it was far too amusing. Shaking his head, he grew quiet once more, but allowed his thoughts to run rampant in his mind, and guiltily continued his amusing thoughts.

Nick hopped out of the bathroom as quickly as he could and poured himself into some warm clothes.

"I always forget to set the damn heater..." he mumbled as he walked on cold wooden floors. Before he had an opportunity to turn on the heater, the phone's ring interrupted him. Flicking the switch quickly, he walked back to the living room to answer the ringing telephone. He glanced at the clock quickly and then frowned at the late hour.

"Who would call so late? People are sleeping, you know." He ignored the fact that he wasn't sleeping; that he was wide awake. He just felt the necessity of a complaint.

He flopped noisily on the couch and reached for the phone, contemplating putting on a sleepy voice just to make the caller feel guilty. He grinned deviously, but his grin soon fell away when he heard the voice on the other line.



"We decided to stay two more months. How are your funds?"

"They're fine, Auntie."

"Good," she said in her typical glacial tone, and then Nick heard the careless slam of the phone followed by a continuous beeping to indicate the other caller had hung up.

"As short as possible, huh?" he asked into the beeping line before hanging up as well.

He was surprised that she even cared to ask at all, but he would not deceive himself into believing it was any concern for him that drove her to call. It was simple obligation and nothing more. He felt the slow stinging at the base of his throat, but cleared it harshly. He engulfed a lung full of air and released it slowly, smiling in the end.

"It's all right, you don't need them. You're fine, everything is fine."

He got up and stared at the phone blankly. "Was I stupid to think it was Jonas?"

He scoffed after a moment of feeling ridiculous.

"Right. What was I thinking?"

He shuffled off to his bedroom and grabbed a comic book on the way, feeling he would need the distraction. He felt certain that no thought was safe to fall asleep on that night.

With Love, Carlie :D