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The points of both their lives had reached an apogee.
They had always been different: one was solitary and liked it that way, the other preferred to be in a group, though tonight would prove the exception. One took school seriously, to an extent – making A’s and B’s with the occasional Spanish “yes” thrown in for good measure. The other? Well, he would just toss his hair out of his eyes and smirk whenever anyone asked. Most would drop the question, which was good for him because he didn’t know – and he was scared. The fear of his academic failure paled, however, with the fear he faced of his future after tonight – after the conversation.
Barring social and academic dissimilarities, each had always held a certain animosity towards the other. They were rivals on their school’s track team; both of them competed to win the most races, get the fastest times, jump farther, work harder. Their attitudes had sculpted their bodies into granite.
Both would never accept defeat – at least, that was the case until recently. They both had engaged in fistfights at school over the same girl, sparring verbally and physically with equal fervor. Time after time, the blonde one walked away victorious-albeit-bleeding, but – last time was different, had the air of true finality. The one with the raven hair had succumbed at last – but never had he conceded.
Instead there was only a whisper, spoken to the floor in resignation and hesitance: “Meet me at the lake, where the road meets the water.” The other was so startled by the subdued quality of the request that he could only ask when.
One was suspicious – years of living with no father figure had molded him into a mannequin with shifting eyes, eyes that hid a wellspring of both pride and pain. Love was a textbook subject to him; he’d known of it but only a little, and never experienced it. He told himself he didn’t need it, but he had always known that he was lying. Now he was driving, navigating the twists and turns of the asphalt with ease, shaking in his anxiety and trying to control his nerves, driving without knowing why.
The other was much the same – he’d relied on friendships to escape his parents’ murder. Life hadn’t been too kind to him; it was why he had a smart comeback for anything said to him. He had known lust, flirted with attraction, and once – only once – had his heart ever beat for another. Now, he was sitting in his car, tearing his hair out with worry and debating whether or not to just drive away.
Headlights sliced bright knives into his rearview mirror. The black-haired one – Dallas – took a deep breath and slipped into the feathery drizzle of the night.
Jet, the blonde, stepped hesitantly out of his SUV, his hair already plastered to his skin. The ground – which seemed undecided as to whether it was muddy or not – squelched under his feet as he paused in front of the orange hood to see the silhouette standing at the water. He crossed his arms and kept his face blank as he spoke. “So.” Dallas turned his head, acknowledging the other’s existence.
Jet paused, shifting closer to the water’s edge so that he and Dallas were facing each other. “Why am I here?”
The other only swallowed, trying to get the courage to speak.
“Is this about Cherise?” Jet demanded, stabbing a finger at the statue in front of him. “Because if it is – ”
Dallas raised a weary hand and took a weary breath. “I don’t…” He cleared his throat. “I don’t want to fight – anymore.” He was already breathing hard, as though the statement alone had been a marathon.
Jet paused. “What?” he murmured. Quickly, he switched gears back into suspicion. “Yeah, right!” He threw a punch at Dallas’s head, but only connected with strands of onyx.
Dallas stood a little further away from his earlier position. “No…” he started, blinking fast and clenching his fists in frustration. “No. I’m serious.” He sighed and let his shoulders slump. “I’m done.” The moonlight glinted off of the teeth that were biting his lip.
Jet, still crouched in a fighting stance, let his lip curl in a snarl. “Why don’t I believe you?” he asked sarcastically.
The other man let out a sorrowful little chuckle. “Because after how I’ve treated you, you shouldn’t. And if I were you, I wouldn’t believe me either. That’s your right.”
Slowly, Jet relaxed, returning to normal posture. “You…you don’t want to fight? Why?” His eyes still retained the cold calculation of a combatant.
Dallas shrugged. “I don’t know… I – I guess I just…” He trailed off without finishing.
The blonde blinked in surprise. He’d never seen Dallas so unsure before. “Is this about – ”
“No, it’s not about Cherise. It was never about her.” Dallas shook his head to emphasize his point.
“It wasn’t?” Jet shook his head to keep the water from dripping into his eyes. “You’re kidding me, right? If it wasn’t about her, then why all…all this?” He gestured at the air between them, as if their contention was made manifest by this movement.
“I…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it.
“Are you jealous? Is it because of my grades? Is that it?” Jet shook his hair again.
“Are you – Is it – No! I’m not jealous of your grades! I don’t care about grades!”
“Then what? What reason could you possibly have to – to constantly anger me like that?” Jet laughed in his skepticism but internally was dying to know the answer.
Dallas threw up his arms in frustration. “I can’t!” He turned away, towards the water, and ground his foot into the mud in an attempt to vent his anger.
Jet stalked towards him, veiling his curiosity with furious persistence. “You can’t what, Dallas? You can’t stand to see me? You don’t like how I don’t talk to anyone at school? What?” He was less than a foot away from Dallas’s halo of black hair.
Dallas exhaled, a long low breath that shuddered and shook like the surface of the lake. He let a tear escape from the corner of his eye. Slowly, he turned to face Jet.
“I can’t keep this up anymore.”
Jet was floored. The entire time he’d known Dallas, he’d never seen him be anything but livid, or competitive at the very least. The vulnerability implied in his display of emotion told Jet that something big was happening. “What do you mean, ‘can’t keep this up?’” He softened his voice a bit, to where it sounded like he didn’t want to murder anyone.
Dallas closed his eyes and clenched his fist again, feeling his nails dig into the soft skin of his palm, creating evanescent crescent moons. “I mean, I can’t do it anymore, Jet. I can’t pretend…” He pursed his lips. “I can’t pretend that I don’t think about you all the time, or – or that you aren’t in my dreams every night.” He tapped the toe of his shoe on the ground to wedge his foot more securely in his shoe, and continued.
“I can’t put on this mask of not caring anymore. There’s never a moment where you’re not on my mind. I can’t look at you and keep this quiet any longer. There’s a charade that I have and I…” He sighed again and turned away. “I just can’t keep it up. I can’t do it.”
If Jet was floored before, then now he was completely flat. He found it hard to breathe; no one had ever said anything like that to him at all. He’d never felt so…appreciated. Still, though, he wasn’t about to let himself surrender to his emotions. It wasn’t in his character. “What about Cherise?”
“I told you, it was never about her. I like her as a friend, she’s fine. But she’s nothing compared to you. Your laugh, your smile, the way your eyes flash when you get angry…” Dallas wiped some tears from his eyes and fell silent.
Jet found himself thinking back to his memories of Dallas. Unfortunately, most of them were fistfights. But he now saw them in a completely different way. Last month, when they’d been against each other, Dallas had grabbed him by the back of the head and slammed him into a row of lockers. Normally, this kind of thing wouldn’t have been given a second glance. However, seeing it from the new perspective, Jet couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, he’d enjoyed Dallas’s touch.
Jet snapped back to reality as Dallas started beating his own chest with one fist and yelling profanities. “What are you doing?” He grabbed Dallas’s arm to stop him. The drizzle had become a complete downpour.
“I knew this was a bad idea. I knew I never should have brought you here. I just thought you should know…” Jet couldn’t tell from the rain, but it seemed like Dallas was crying again.
“Thought I should know what?” Jet insisted. Dallas wouldn’t say anything. Jet grabbed his shoulders. “Thought I should know what, Dallas?”
“I created this rivalry as an excuse to be near you, to touch you, to see you, even if it was in a fight…You take everything so seriously, and it’s enthralling. Forget Cherise, Jet. In the end it was you. The one I wanted to be with…it was always you.”
Jet backed away in shock. There was nothing that could have possibly prepared him for this. He didn’t know how to react. One part of him was fighting it, saying that it was impossible, that this feeling wasn’t for him, that he should remember that. The other part…the other part was quietly insisting that this was what he’d always been missing. This was what he’d been waiting for. He’d always wanted acceptance; he’d tried being himself at school and it got him nowhere. He was waging a private war within.
Dallas saw none of this, lost in his own battle to get the words out. Finally, he pushed it out in the open: “Jet… I – I love you.”
It was the thing Jet needed to hear the most, just never from the person he expected. His heart was tearing in two. He’d never felt…cared for, like this, even for a moment. He was reeling, wallowing in the mire of his past and the uncertainty of his future. Unsure of whether to take the leap and risk his vulnerability, or stay safe and grounded like he always had, he stood, immobile.
Dallas misinterpreted Jet’s silence for rejection and sank to his knees in the mud. There it was. He’d bared his heart and it had cost him dearly. He punched the mud in his anger and tried not to cry too loudly. His dreams of a golden-haired future were slipping away, drop by drop. His sobs mixed with the rain and he struggled to breathe, drowning on land.
Jet was still silent.
Dallas closed his eyes in anguish and waited for the final punctuation mark on the chapter of his unrequited love: the sound of tires on asphalt.
And yet he heard nothing but the rain.
Instead, he felt a hand covering his own. Dallas opened his eyes to see Jet, kneeling in the mud with him. The look in his eyes was that of rebirth. Dallas flicked his bangs to the side so that he could see, and though the rain made it hard to tell, it appeared that Jet was crying softly.
He didn’t say anything, and he didn’t have to.
Slowly, Jet leaned in towards Dallas, looking past the diaphanous sheen of tears that blurred his vision. He took a deep shuddering breath and forced himself out of the last vestiges of the suffocating grip of his own numbness. Dallas stared at him, shuddering in the fear of the unfamiliar. All Jet could see was this juxtaposition, this beautiful black-haired angel kneeling before him in the mud. He took Dallas’s face in his hands, gently, as if he were touching a baby.
Their lips met, lightly. Each one drank in the other, understanding that this was different for both of them, this was unknown territory, but also knowing that that was okay, that was to be expected. The moment seemed to last forever – neither of them wanted anything more than each other, than the presence of someone else to dull the anguish that pervaded both of their lives. Their fears melted under the pressure of lips.
Slowly, longingly, Jet pulled away from Dallas, only an inch or two. Dallas looked at the blonde with teary-eyed bewilderment and relief. “Jet…what…what are you – “
“I love you too, Dallas,” Jet whispered. He smiled softly. “I think somehow I always have.”
They knelt there, as the rain slowly dissipated, leaving only the violet infinitude of the lake and the evening. No words were spoken. No words needed be said.
It was all contained in the singular microcosm of the silhouette. Two figures, leaning into each other for support, but the intermingled hands suggesting more than friendship. The heads, each bent towards the other in a state of benighted intimacy. The hearts, unseen, but beating as a singular unit.
The hearts, held together by love.