Ask the Lonely
…Outside were solid rainbows
Inside is where the heart grows
Picking up the pieces
Something more to believe in
As you search the embers…
…Let down your defenses
Open up to the one who cares…
Hang on, no don't you let go now
You know, with every heartbeat, we love
Nothing comes easy
Hang on, ask the lonely
"Outside were solid rainbows, inside is where the heart grows…" I came to a pounding walk, breathing deeply in and out as I tried to cool down from the thirty-minute jog I’d just finished. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and blinked, the gym lights suddenly too bright for my vision to handle.
I was rounding the corner of the track, slowing my pace when I saw him – right by the door, leaning against the metal frame, hands shoved in pockets, staring at a spot in front of him on the floor, trying to look casual. There was Angelo; he looked up, straight into my eyes, saw me looking at him. He immediately straightened as if poked from behind and began to walk towards me. How long had he been there? I wondered as I took my sweaty headphones off my ears and headed in his direction as well.
"Um, hi," he said, looking at me in the strangest way that I couldn’t quite figure out. It made me feel…. something… I couldn't quite name it.
"Hi," I said, still a bit short of breath, wondering what it was that he wanted. "What's up?"
He looked at the floor again. "Oh, nothing."
I nodded. Well, this wasn't going anywhere – at least, not in the next century or two.
"Um, do you need something?" I asked, feeling that he wasn't about to say much more without prompting. Odd – he was usually pretty laid-back and talkative. Odd – I usually was, too. Then again, in the last couple of days… I had resolved to add water, and make myself stop feeling whatever it was that something – hormones, heart, something dumb like that – wanted me to feel. It was the only answer, and I knew it. I was being stupid and unreasonable, I told myself, and was promptly going to stop anything that had never started before it had the chance to start. So I had, and it seemed to be working…
He looked up again, focusing on me once more rather than the lines formed by the wood paneling of the gym floor. "Well, yeah, kind of," he finally said, then fell silent again.
I took my hair down and tied it back up again while I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t go on. "Well?" I finally asked – not demanding, just more gentle prodding.
"Well…" He looked down, looked at me, looked at my… hands?… looked at me, then looked down again. "Eh, nevermind," he finally said, turning around and heading for the door, leaving me to stand there alone. "I'll talk to ya later."
I watched him go, somehow each second wishing more and more that he wouldn't. As seconds slowed to hours, days, my memory forced me back through the past weekend: Friday night, our "dance," waking up Saturday morning to Jubilee's rumors and ridicule, spending the day watching The Sentinel in the rec room, inadvertently falling asleep, everything we'd done and shared as friends since I'd gotten here what seemed so long ago…
Suddenly, my stomach wrenched in nervousness, fear – I didn’t want him to go; somehow I felt that if he walked out that door, I'd lose him forever. What are you talking about?! I asked myself. Geez, it wasn’t as if he was leaving for good or anything –
"Angelo, wait!" I heard myself calling him, jogging over to his form, now stopped, turning towards me. I was not thinking, I was not thinking, stop, think!!
"Ange… I think… we – we need to talk," I said. Great – what was my mouth getting my brain into? Well, was I thinking yet? I didn't think so. At least, I didn’t think I thought so. I was not the "talking" type, even when I actually knew what I was going to talk about. But I didn't – I didn’t know what I was doing, just that if I didn't do it now, I never would… Never would what?! my brain screamed at me, even as it answered its own question, quietly, resignedly, terrified at the answer. This wasn't working, I needed to make it stop, and this most definitely wasn't the way…
Angelo, in the meantime, was staring at me – not blankly, not stupidly, but like he was arguing with himself behind those eyes, almost in the same manner that I was. "Yeah… yeah, we do," he said softly, then glanced around the room. Catching sight of the gymnastics mat, he motioned to me and I followed him over to its softer surface, sitting down indian-style on its springy surface next to him.
"I…" I began. In all actuality, I didn't know where to begin. What was I even going to say? What was he even going to say? Why couldn't I just talk, just make some joke about how dumb we'd been being, agree to stop it, and go on? Why wasn't it that easy? Why wasn't life ever easy?
"Okay," I began again, taking a deep breath, chanting Blairisms to myself: "I am relaxed, I am relaxed, I am relaxed." So then why was my heart racing and my stomach twisting out of control? What was I afraid of?
Myself. My heart. It was wrong, and I couldn't stop it. That's what I was afraid of. And my mouth was ignoring my brain, ignoring what I wanted, and was going off on its own, and Angelo had no way of knowing that I didn't really mean to be saying anything - !
He was watching me, almost as if he wanted me to talk, to explain this so he wouldn't have to, as if he was scared of something. Well, I certainly was. Very scared.
"I don’t really know how to say this," I admitted. "I don't even know what I really want to say. I mean, everything was cool, this weekend… this weekend was fun, despite the fact that we were both dead sick…" He smiled at that. "And I think… something… I…"
I couldn't find the words – I didn’t have it in my pathetic little vocabulary to express whatever it was that I couldn’t figure out that was making me feel like this. Oh God, what was I supposed to say to him?
He nodded, even though I hadn't said anything even remotely coherent in my incessant babbling. "I know," he said, looking down at the mat, my gaze following his until it reached the blue of the mat in between us, broken only by our hands – one tan and small, one grey and long – sitting outstretched, before back up again. He lifted his hand as if to… but then he looked up, hesitated, set it back down again, looked down.
"Angelo…" I looked up at him. He was so… I could not do this. I would not do this. It was against everything I'd ever been, against anything I'd ever believed. So why did I still want…? It hurt so much, I couldn't take it. Everything inside me hurt, just to sit there and look at him and know that I couldn't ever –
"I… I don't know how – "I was not going to cry, I was so not going to cry, not in front of him, too…
"Oh, Al." Before I knew it, he was hugging me. And somehow he was making it all better. Was that what this was all about? Making all the hurt and pain and whatever this was causing me to hate feeling go away? How did he have the magic to do that? I didn't know, but somehow suddenly it didn't hurt so much, somehow it started to feel better. But that was wrong…
"I can't…" I managed to get out, suddenly finding myself holding him as tightly as he was holding me, not wanting to let him go, because he made it all better and the bad feelings weren't so bad anymore…
"Why does it hurt you so much?" he asked after a long minute, letting go a bit and pulling away to look at me, his eyes boring into mine, searching for answers I couldn't find myself.
I looked down, shook my head, concentrated on the blue of the mat. "I don’t know," I admitted. "I don't know…"
"I don't want to hurt you," he said softly – almost so softly that I had to strain to make out what he'd said. He let go completely and put his hands on the mat, bracing himself to stand.
So that was it. Well, that solved everything, I guessed. He would go away, and I would go away, and I would continue to feel nothing – nothing but hurt, anyway, 'cause that's what seemed to stick around – and it would be…
I really was losing him forever.
How completely dumb and apathetic could I really be? He was about to stand up and walk away and for a moment I honestly doubted that I would ever see him again. But that was wrong.
Forever, as I'd learned, was a long, long time.
But I didn't want to lose me, either.
He stood, and looked down at me, sitting sprawled and pitiful on the gym mat. Those eyes… He…
"Angelo," I pleaded. "Please."
What was I doing?
Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God
"Please. Make it stop hurting."
He crouched down, looking me straight in the face. "How?" he beseeched me, looking at me with such… affection behind those eyes that I told my beliefs to go visit Lucifer on a permanent vacation. I'd found something more to believe in now, and I had been wrong before… So wrong…
What could I say? I was at a total loss for words. How could I tell him…? Ask him, beg him to stay…? I looked at him, looking into those eyes, begging silently, imploring him…
"Don't cry," he was suddenly begging me, his face much closer to mine, his arms wrapping around me. Since when was I crying? Was that why my cheeks were wet?
I was lifted into the air as he stood, cradled to his chest as if it took no effort to lift me at all (which I knew could not be true), his cheek brushing my sweaty hair. "You smell nice," he informed me softly.
"Angelo!" I nearly burst out laughing, despite all this, in a moment of pure nonthinking and regularity in all of this mess. "I need a shower! I'm all sweaty!"
"Nah…" was his playful reply, and I knew it was all right now. It hadn't even taken words. I honestly believed that if it had, then I really might have lost him. I still couldn't find those words. But, without them, he knew, and I knew. And it didn't hurt anymore.