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Hey Guys! This is a new story I’m working on focusing on young romance. I’m still working out where I want this to go, so any and all feedback is greatly appreciated. Thanks for the continual appreciation of my stories- they really encourage me to keep going. Stay tuned for more of this series.
Chapter 1: The one person he didn’t want to be around.
Matt Stevens caught a glance of Oliver as he glided through the front of the class, snaking his way into the first row. There, just like every morning for the past two weeks, Matt watched as the sun peeked through the double pane windows, casting a distinct shadow against the profile of Oliver’s square jaw. “Ten seconds”, Matt muttered under his breath, “Ten seconds.” That was all the time he gave himself to stare at Oliver. He looked over to see Oliver’s jet-black hair shining like onyx, giving off a reflection against Matt’s phone. His fingers wandered up, ruffling the strands at the back of his head as if trying to make it look messier. Matt knew it was a nervous tick and he wondered if maybe Oliver knew he was being watched.
Matt leaned forward, double tapping on his phone to check the time. He knew his ten seconds were fleeting and he was about to steal more time. He sighed to himself, wishing he could just go up and talk to him like all the times before: sit beside him and steal some of that morning sun that Oliver seemed to hog, maybe even reach over and playfully mess up his perfectly combed hair. Under different circumstances, each of those hopes could have been possible, but not these days; Matt made sure of that. His throat closed at the daydream of talking to him. He wanted to, at least, be able to say his name out loud without the fear of being heard. He’d say his name and expect to hear his in return. He mouthed, “Matt”, but somehow heard it reverberating through the room.
A curious voice paused for a second before repeating, “Matt? Matt Stevens?”
Matt snapped back from his daydream. Looking up at Mr. Trevino as he read off a sheet, squinting through his thick framed glasses as if it were hard to read. Matt raised a hand, making his presence known. Mr. Trevino nodded, “Ah there you are!” The class snickered leaving Mr. Trevino raising his hands, “Alright alright, I know. Two weeks in and I’m still holding onto this attendance sheet like it’s my lifeline.” He leaned into the podium, “Well I’m teaching four classes of you seniors, so you try learning over a hundred kids’ names.”
The class died down as he cleared his throat, “Anyways, Mr. Stevens, I called on you cause you’re the first one up. Like I said last week, each of you will be paired up and will be working on a collaborative project from here to the end of the semester. It’s cumulative, so you’ll constantly be updating it and throwing in all the information that I…” He paused for emphasis, “Intend… to teach you.”
He trailed off, losing his place. He asked, “Hm. Where was I again?”
A hand shot up from the corner followed by a delicate voice, “I think you were about to assign partners.”
Mr. Trevino nodded, “Ah yes thank you.” He looked back over at me, “Mr. Stevens, you will be paired with Oliver…” Trevino hung onto the last syllable of that name, turning it into a question.
Matt muttered under his breath, “Morrison”, a little loud for his taste.
Trevino followed suit, “Morrison. Oliver Morrison”. Oliver looked up at him as he pointed in Matt’s direction, “Meet your new partner.”
Oliver turned, twisting slightly so that Matt had full view of his face. Matt stopped, dead in his tracks as if time had rewound itself: back to a time when things didn’t have to be so…distant. Remembering a time when he and Oliver spent a lot less than nine feet between them, and his name didn’t feel forbidden on his tongue. Matt cringed, shaking away the past and those thoughts. Oliver’s glance soon turned to a blank stare before turning back towards the dry erase board. Matt remembered when that glance preceded a smile. He wouldn’t be getting that today.
As Mr. Trevino trailed off with pairs of names, Matt sunk further into his wooden desk, wondering why the fates would be so cruel as to pair him with the one person he didn’t want to be around. It wasn’t until Matt heard the bell ring that he realized he had zoned out of the entire class. He gathered his books, pulling up a single strap of his backpack and raced out the door leaving Oliver caught in his dust.
Matt reached his locker in a flash. Flicking his wrist, he undid the lock and rested his bag through a single strap over his forearm before swinging it back over. He slammed the door to find Oliver standing behind it, somewhat hesitating whether or not he should be there.
Matt opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off with a direct and firm voice: “Look, I didn’t want Trevino to pair us up- he chose them at random. I’d ask to switch but I know he’s old school and that wouldn’t fly without a good reason”. Matt nodded, telling him he was listening. Oliver continued, bahis firmalar─▒ “It’s just a project. We meet only when we have to and get it over with as quickly as possible.”
Matt replied, retaining as much of his emotion as possible, “Yeah, that’s fine with me. You wanna meet up at Grindhouse at say, three tomorrow?”
Oliver shook his head, “I can’t do three- soccer practice. Are you cool with four?”
Matt nodded, “Four it is.” And with that Oliver turned and was on his way, leaving Matt just standing here in the middle of the hallway. Matt knew it was a bit cold, but these days, cold is what he deserved.
Matt looked around as he settled into a quiet table just off the counter at Grindhouse. Examining the room, he noticed the recycled wood planks that covered the walls with striations that looked like they were engraved by hand. He took a sip of his black coffee, wincing at the initial bitterness. He swallowed down and drank again, knowing that bitterness was something he had to get used to.
Oliver made his way over from the entrance, catching Matt’s glance with a blank stare. He sat, and Matt took in the clean smell of soap that oozed off him. He’d just showered, Matt deduced, as Oliver removed the few strands of damp hair that touched his forehead. Oliver remained quiet for a few seconds, gauging whether or not he should speak first. He eased into his seat, trying to make himself more comfortable.
They skipped pleasantries. Matt pushed a cup closer in Oliver’s direction, “I got you a drink if you want it.” Oliver raised his hands, about to protest. Matt explained, “I asked them to make it with soy milk. Unless your body suddenly developed a tolerance for lactose.”
Oliver made a face, muttering, “You remembered”. Taking a sip, he offered, “Thanks.”
Matt nodded, pulling out a Moleskine and a ball point pen. Changing his tone, Matt started, “So I think we should start by picking a topic. Now I hear Trevino’s a movie buff, so maybe we could incorporate some old classics…”
Oliver shrugged, shaking his head silently. Matt stopped, daring to ask, “Do you have any other suggestions?”
Pushing his chair back, Oliver peered his eyes, “What are you doing?”
Matt brushed aside the actual question Oliver was asking, answering plainly, “I’m trying to start this project.”
Oliver’s face turned red, frustrated at the obvious answer, “Cut the shit Matt! You don’t talk to me for what, five years? And you think a soy latte and some stupid group project can fix all of that?” He grunted, leaning over to gather his things. “I can’t do this. I’ll talk to Trevino on Monday and tell him I need to switch partners.”
Matt got up, grabbing Oliver’s shoulder with a firm grip, “Wait, Ollie-“
Oliver turned back enough to give Matt a menacing glare causing him to shift his weight in nervousness. “Oliver”, he corrected himself- knowing he lost the right for nicknames a while ago. But it was too late. Oliver pushed away from Matt’s grasp, bolting out of the coffee shop as quickly as possible.
Walking out, Matt recognized that familiar blue truck in the parking lot, shining bright like a polished piece of sapphire. He smiled at the memory of that truck and all the rides Mr. Morrison gave him through the years. It must’ve been as old as he was, and looking at it now, it seemed as though Oliver was taking as much care for it as his dad did. He knew that he couldn’t have gone too far, so he walked down the one-way street dotted with fruit trees on both sides. Eventually the buildings cleared, making way for a small park tucked in between two apartment complexes. Matt looked over to see Oliver’s jet-black hair standing out against the canvas of green water colors behind him. He walked over quietly, trying not to take him by surprise.
Matt finally reached Oliver, seeing him staring blankly ahead at the collection of shrubs and overgrown vines. Making his presence known, he sat down a few feet away on the same bench.
Oliver shrugged, “You just left, Matt.”
Matt swallowed down, preparing himself for the conversation to come.
Oliver continued, “All those years ago, you just left.” He looked over to Matt, catching his eyes, “One night we were hanging out in my room like we always did. And then the next day- “, he sighed out, lowering his voice, “It was like I didn’t even exist to you anymore.”
Matt leaned in, trying to make Oliver hear him, “I didn’t know what else to do. I thought it was the best thing to do at the time. We were kids.”
Oliver corrected him, “We were best friends.”
The two fell silent, listening only to the sound of leaves blowing in the wind and small birds rustling through the trees. Matt broke the silence in a strained voice, “I’m gay, Oliver.”
Oliver croaked his head, turning over to Matt as he continued his confession, “I realized that back when we were thirteen.” Matt’s voice started to crack as he let out the pain he kept in for the past five years, “I was so fucking scared. ka├žak iddaa I was just a kid, Oliver- I didn’t know how you’d take it.” He breathed out, steadying his voice, “So I made the decision to leave you out of my mess. And unfortunately, it meant keeping you out of my life.”
Oliver sat there, heavy on the bench like he had just been assaulted with a truth he had waited years to hear. He sympathized with Matt, he really did. But he knew that no amount of logic or empathy could take away from how he felt- abandoned. He calmed down a bit, reminding him, “That wasn’t a decision you were supposed to make on your own.” Oliver stood up, looking Matt in the eye, “I would have accepted you, but you didn’t even give me the chance.”
Matt was hit with so much emotion that he couldn’t even respond. All this time he thought he was doing what was best for Oliver, but he now realized, those decisions tore him up inside. He reached out to catch Oliver’s arm- the second time he did that today. He begged, “Please don’t switch partners.” Oliver turned back, listening, “I need to prove to you that I fucked up.”
Oliver looked down to see the shaking mess before him. Matt’s eyes grew heavy, filling out his thick brows. He couldn’t stand seeing him sad like this, then again, he hadn’t seen him like this for so long. He nodded, giving in to his offer despite every instinct telling him to refuse. He quipped, “You have five years of making up to do.”
Oliver half expected a laugh from Matt. But the boy was so distraught that humor was the furthest emotion he could feel. Matt gathered himself offering, “Meet me tomorrow- my house. We can talk about the project…”
Oliver cut him off, “Or we could just talk.”
Stepping onto the pavement, Oliver looked around at the houses that surrounded him. He walked, fighting the urge to turn back with every step. Matt only lived four houses over and he’d done this same walk many times before. But this time was different. When they were still friends, the walk seemed too long- like every minute not spent together was wasted. Today it felt daunting.
Knocking at the door, Matt finally answered in a grey shirt and shorts. “Comfortable”, Oliver thought as he stepped into that familiar house. These days Matt seemed so wound up like he was walking on eggshells with every hesitant step. Oliver was the opposite, gliding his way through life with little worry about what people thought of him or consequences yet to be seen. That was, except for everything related to Matt. Since his leaving, Oliver built up a wall around him. The carefree attitude was a front- one that not many people could see. Oliver pulled off his shoes, setting them beside the coat rack.
Matt offered, “Oh you really don’t have to do that”
Oliver brushed over the comment, “I live in an Asian household, remember. You can’t just step into a home and not take off your shoes.”
Matt nodded, clarifying, “Half-Asian”
Oliver turned back, instructing, “Don’t get smart with me Stevens. You’re on thin ice.” Matt would have apologized on instinct alone, but the slight crack in Matt’s otherwise straight face told him he was joking.
Looking around, Oliver asked, “Where are your folks?”
Matt rubbed the back of his head, “They took a day trip down to Monterey. Katie’s been begging them for months about taking her down to check out the aquarium.” He caught him about to ramble, forgetting he couldn’t talk to Oliver the same way as before.
But Oliver took him by surprise, remembering, “Katie? You mean little Katie? She was barely walking the last time I saw her.”
Matt rolled his eyes, “She’s doing a lot more than walking these days.” Oliver laughed, sympathizing with Matt, though having never been in his situation. He walked over to the armchair, sitting before being offered to. Oliver eased into the cushions, leaning in as if it was his own house. Matt smiled, impressed at how easy Oliver seemed to make himself at home. But Oliver wasn’t here to reconnect, he was here for answers.
As Matt swung around and took a seat at the nearby couch, Oliver asked, “So why’d you leave, Matt?”
Matt leaned forward, “I told you- I realized I was gay and I-”
Oliver cut him off, “And what? You didn’t think I’d be there for you? You thought I’d throw away our friendship…” He made a face, emphasizing the ridiculous argument, “because you like guys? Did you really think so little of me?”
Matt shouted, “No! God no! Shit Ollie, I didn’t know how you’d react. All I knew was that I felt different and I didn’t know who would accept me!”
Oliver shot back, “You should have talked to me, Matt. I deserved to know!”
Matt felt his anger build. He was hearing the words that were coming out of Oliver’s mouth- words that he had rehearsed in his head over and over. But here, he felt attacked. Oliver wasn’t accepting his reasons, and it frustrated Matt to his core because he needed Oliver to understand. He raised his voice even louder, “You don’t get it Oliver! I realized ka├žak bahis that I wasn’t like everyone else. I wanted so badly to live a normal life but that would’ve meant sacrificing myself in the process.”
His voice cracked, “Life was fucking rough when I realized it! Slowly, everyone put it together and I was constantly tormented. I couldn’t go a day without hearing people talk behind my back or worse, call me names to my face. My life was a fucking mess and I couldn’t have brought you into all of that.” Matt’s emotions turned from anger to depression as a steady stream of tears fell down his eyes. He’d held all of that back for so long that he was shaking.
Oliver sat there in disbelief. The truth, he realized, was hard to take. He got up and sat next to Matt. Wrapping a single arm around his shoulder, he felt the boy trembling in fear. Matt had just relived all the pain he’d ever felt and Oliver wanted nothing more than to take his pain away. He swallowed the bitter truth, trying to wash away the selfishness he’d held onto. As Matt eased into his breathing, he wiped his face, trying to clean himself up.
Oliver kept his hand there, digging his arm into Matt’s body to tell him that he was still there. But he needed to speak one last time. He said, “I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that Matt, I really am. I don’t know if I would’ve had that much strength.” His voice changed from gentle to stern, “But you forget that my life wasn’t any easier. I was going through my own hell.” He stopped himself from choking up, knowing Matt had shared enough emotions today for the both of them. He finished, “It could have been a lot easier if we had each other.”
Matt wiped the last of the tears on his face. Turning to Oliver, he put his hand on his shoulder, “I missed you so much, dude. Will you give me another shot?”
Oliver pulled him into a hug, taking Matt by surprise. He patted his back as he commented, “Yeah Matty, I will. It’s just nice to have you back.”
Matt could feel a smile sweep up against his face. That was the first time Oliver had called him that nickname in years. It felt nice- like being welcomed to a place he thought he’d never visit again. Oliver looked around, still feeling the tension that lingered in the air. He leaned back, opening his arms, “You know what we need? We need to go out and do something.”
Matt chuckled, “You wanna go out?”
Oliver nodded, “Yeah! Things have been so…” he carefully chose his words, “heavy…these past few days.” He stood up, beaming with excitement, “Let’s just go do something- get our mind off things.”
Matt thought for a second, not feeling up for an outing. But looking up to see Oliver with a stupid grin plastered on his face and outstretched arms, reaching out for them to go, he shook his head in disbelief, “Okay sure, we can go. Here, let me get my keys.”
Oliver smiled, putting on his shoes, “There he is!”
Oliver ran out to the passenger seat of Matt’s black Four Runner as Matt locked the front door behind him. Unlocking the car, they stepped in. Matt nervously rubbed the edges of the steering wheel, nearly building up enough friction on the polished leather to start a fire. Oliver noticed, asking, “You alright there?”
Matt confessed, “Yeah. This just feels a little..” he looked over, “weird.”
Oliver nodded, pulling up his elbow so it rested at the window sill, “Good weird?”
Matt smiled, taking in a breath, “Yeah, good weird.” He chuckled to himself, “I’ve never done this before.”
Oliver changed his tone, answering sarcastically, “Driven a car? It’s real simple.” He leaned over, turning the key in the ignition, “You start by turning it on, then you shift the gear from…”
Matt interjected, shaking his head, “Reconnected. I’ve never reconnected with someone before.”
Oliver looked over at Matt’s nervous face, offering a kind smile, “We were close once, yeah?” Matt nodded as Oliver continued, “Well, don’t think of this as us starting all over again. Think of it as you and me, un-pausing where we left off.”
Matt eased up at Oliver’s logic, shaking away the inhibitions, “I think I can do that.”
Oliver rolled his eyes, “Good. Now can we please get going? I’m starving here!”
Matt let go of the ball, sending it straight down the lane. “Strike!”, he yelled out, turning back on his heels as Oliver came back with trays of food in hand.
He sighed, “Another strike? What the hell man! We came here for a friendly game- not for you to hustle me!”
Matt came over to the table, swirling in the seat so that he was facing Oliver, “It’s to my fault you suck ass.”
Oliver shot back with a mouth full of fries, “Hey, it seemed like more of a fair fight back when we were kids.”
Matt sipped his soda, “That’s cause we bowled with the railings! And I was getting strikes back then without even bumping them!”
Oliver rolled his eyes, “Okay we get it- you’re good. Now shut up and finish your burger. I forgot how slow you eat.”
Matt took a bite, replying, “I don’t eat slow, you just inhale everything! What is it, Oliver? ‘Swallow first, chew later’?” Oliver laughed, nearly spitting out his drink. Matt finished, “I swear, where does it even go?”
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