Drake wasn’t at school the next Monday, which was a shame, because there was so much more I wanted to talk about with him. I mean, I’d just found out my lifelong crush had feelings for me too; how could I spend a second apart from him?
I sent him a few texts that day. The first one asked about where he was, and the last one just said, “Hope you’re alright dude. It’s stupid, but I miss you.”
It was lunchtime before I got a response. Not much had changed since fifth grade; I still sat with the same group of people. And, even if I didn’t like all of them anymore, I was glad to have a place where I belonged. When my phone buzzed, I practically tore my pocket apart to get at Drake’s message.
“Hey I’m fine, just woke up, probably gonna stay home today.”
Well there went that hope. I responded, “You were gone for half of last week, I don’t even know how often this month. Sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah Regis. I’ll be okay.”
I put my phone back in my pocket, and told Iris that Drake wouldn’t be at school that day.
“Again?” she asked, after swallowing a bite of what passed for food in Foxboro High School. “What’s wrong with him this time?”
“Nothing, apparently. He didn’t say,” I shrugged. She stared at me, until I added, “I know, it’s bullshit, but that’s what he said.”
She dropped her spoon to the tray. “You’re damn right it’s bullshit. Why doesn’t he just say it?”
“Embarrassment?” I suggested. “Pride? Secretly a superhero and has to hide from the world?”
“A hero, huh? We must be thinking of different Drakes.”
“Give him some credit,” I said. “He’s better than… than Mason here, isn’t that right Mason?”
He looked up from the other side of the table. “What are you cocksuckers talking about?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “Thank you.”
“What, they can’t both be villains?” Iris asked.
Mason leaned in closer. “Seriously though, what?”
Waving her hand in the air, Iris answered, “Drake, I guess. We’re worried about him.”
Mason grabbed his fork and pointed it to Iris. “You and Drake need to fuck already.” And then pointing to me, he added, “And you need to stop letting him fuck you.”
“No Iris, I mean it. I know this little fag has been with every dude desperate enough to try him, I just never thought it would be Drake.”
“How?” Iris questioned. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Why the hell else would I find them passed out spooning on the beach? Besides, you’re not sayin’ I’m wrong.”
“Exactly, talking to you is pointless. Come on Regis, the bell’s about to ring, let’s just go.”
The two of us stood up and walked away, traversing the crowded lunchroom. I thanked her for her help, and let her know how close I was to saying the wrong thing.
“I know,” Iris noted with a shrug. “But look, don’t worry about him. He’s just an asshole.”
“I know he is, and I know it shouldn’t matter what I am, but to a lot of people it does—”
“Well to me it doesn’t, okay? And it doesn’t to Drake, and we’re the only ones who really know. So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that everybody else has such a problem with it, alright? Just… just forget about it.”
I turned and walked in the other direction. I bumped into a few people in my haste to the front door, but when I arrived, there was no one to stop me from leaving. And fuck it; if Drake could miss weeks, then I could miss half a day.
After placing my hand on the metal bar, I heard her again. “You’re one person. You can’t change the world.”
“I know Iris.” My hand lingered on the bar. In the glass door’s reflection, I could see that she was pretty. Even through the glass’ glare, and through her crossed arms, and through my own frame of mind, I could see that she was an attractive person. I could even see that she was trying to watch out for me. But in spite of all the things I could see in her, what we couldn’t see was eye to eye. “Even if I can’t change the world, it wouldn’t kill me to help a few people out.”
I pressed on the door and began walking. Every space I passed in the parking lot was full, and as I walked by the cars, my vision became focused on one thing. I walked a bit faster, making my way between the aisles as quickly as I could manage. When I arrived in front of Mason’s car, I stopped. I rested a hand on the hood. A lot of things crossed my mind as I stared at the metallic beast, and in hindsight, I wish I’d followed through with every destructive impulse. I just didn’t have the nerve to. As soon as I’d arrived, I broke my gaze and continued walking away from the school.
Nothing could divert me from my course, not that anything was trying. I walked down streets I’d known all my life, inhaled the familiar spring air, and observed all of the houses that never seemed to change. It felt strange to be the only one around. Before and after school, there was always someone in sight. But apparently for six hours every week day, Foxboro became the most tranquil ghost town on the continent.
I arrived at a familiar house and stood in the doorway. I took a moment to breathe, and to make sure I looked alright. Normally I wouldn’t have cared whatsoever, but normally I didn’t have a special someone in my life.
I knocked. When there was no response I knocked again, continuing until the door opened to reveal a poorly shaven teen with distant look in his eyes.
“Hey Regis,” Drake said, leaning against the doorway. “What’s… what’s up?”
“That’s what I’m here to find out. Maybe it sounds dumb now that I’m actually here, but I’m worried about you.”
“yeah, it’s just… can I come in?” I asked. He nodded and stepped to the side. As we walked into the house, I continued, “You’ve been acting different lately—”
“I’m sorry, have I ever acted especially normal?” Drake asked as we stood in the entryway.
“Point taken, but I think it’s bad this time. You’ve always been pretty open with me and with Iris, and probably with Mason for reasons that confuse the hell out of me. Why don’t I ever see you at school anymore?”
“I’m fine, man. I’m just sick,” he said.
“You don’t look sick, you look like a mess. You’ve been wearing the exact same clothes for a couple days now. Did you just wake up?”
Drake crossed his arms and glanced away. “When I texted you, yeah. So what? I just couldn’t sleep last night. I was up until, like, four.”
The conversation continued as we walked over to the couch in the living room. “Look, I know you’re into the whole stoic thing. I keep a lot inside too, so honestly, I get it. But if something’s wrong, I want to help you.”
“Shit, you’ve been my best friend since we were kids,” Drake said, sitting down. He closed his eyes when I sat down next to him. “If I have something to say you’ll be the first to know, but I… I can’t talk about it.”
“But there’s something wrong,” I asserted. “I promise I won’t make fun of you if it’s embarrassing, or anything like that. You remember last weekend; if you can tell me that kind of thing with no problem, then it worries me what you keep a secret.”
I put a hand on his shoulder, but he was quick to pull back from the contact. “It’s just stressful, you know? In a few months our lives change forever, and everyone else seems to be taking that pretty well.”
“Drake, is that it?” I asked. It was inconsiderate of me, but I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. “Believe me, you’re not the only one freaking out about graduation. But most people are pretty good at hiding it. I’m actually surprised you’re not one of them, considering how quiet you usually are.”
“Well, quiet and indestructible are a little different,” Drake said, his eyes still shut tight.
I sighed. “Hey, I’m sorry, okay? I know I said I wouldn’t make fun of you, and I’m not trying to. I just expected it to be a lot worse.”
His eyes opened, and he did something that he never did; he expressed himself. Not just in words, but in every aspect. His face wasn’t a blank slate. It was worried, and it scared the hell out of me.
“Regis: it is worse, alright? A whole hell of a lot worse.”
I nodded, but Drake closed his eyes again. This time when they opened, they’d returned to neutral.
“Forget it,” he said.
“No, look at me,” I insisted. As intimidating as his openness was, I’d become infatuated with it. I wanted more. “You’re right, we are close to graduating, and I’d hate it if anything happened to fuck it up. So tell me what’s wrong. You can start with another easy one, if there is another one of those.”
“Fresh out,” Drake said, and the hint of a smile broke through his inhibitions. Then it disappeared, as he seemed to remember how exposed he felt whenever he showed an inkling of real feelings. Even when he did speak of emotions, it was as though he were describing what someone else might feel, and not at all what he was going though. That detached way of speaking is how he continued when he told me, “I’ll put this as clear as I can, because it makes me sick, and I never want to say it again. There have been a lot of school shootings lately; I want to set the fucking record.”
I had no words. In that moment, I felt gravity pulling me downwards. The sound of his breath and the absence of mine left a forceful impact. I knew what Drake had been staring at in the fire.
Breathe. Escape wasn’t an option. So just fucking breathe.
Drake collapsed back into the couch. “You don’t believe me.”
“Of course I believe you, I just don’t know what to say.”
“Say you don’t hate me, or hell, say you do,” Drake suggested. “Just say whatever you’re thinking.”
I began to speak, but there was a hesitation. I didn’t hate Drake at all, and at the time, I didn’t believe there was anything which could change my mind. But what was I honestly thinking in that moment? In that brief hesitation?
I arranged the words as carefully as I could. If I couldn’t escape my thoughts, I at least wanted to escape their directness.
“I think I’m nervous, and I think this is crazy. But I think I still love you.”
I leaned forwards and wrapped my arms around Drake. Both of our breathing came a little easier.
“Thank you,” he said, his expression on the verge of giving something away. “I missed you when I had to hide so much.”
“So what do you want to do?” I asked.
He backed away from my embrace, saying, “No idea. I can tell you all of the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to talk to a therapist because I like my thoughts to be my own, and I don’t want to take any medication because I could never be sure what’s real and what isn’t after that. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I don’t want to keep holding everything back. So I don’t know if I want to do anything at all.”
“Well can I ask one more thing?” I requested. Drake nodded. “What makes you want to do that? I’m not saying you’re a bad person, and I’m not even saying it would make a difference if you were. I just want to understand this.”
“I’m just sick of the bullshit I see in the world,” Drake began. “I’m not mad at anyone in particular, except maybe myself for thinking this way. I hate people, but not for anything they’ve done. I get that it makes no sense, trust me, but I see myself in them, and it’s not a good thing. Then there’s the whole nothingness train wreck.”
“Drake, be honest,” I asked him, wrapping my hand around his. Again, he nodded. Breathe. “Are you telling me you want to die?”
He laughed. Even if it only lasted for a second, that second was too fucking real, and I was left holding his hand. I felt him as his body shook, just once, with amusement. “Regis, after everything else I just said, how could I possibly want to live?”
“It’s not fucking funny!” I shouted, and I pushed him away.
“No, it really isn’t,” Drake said as his twisted smile faded. “But did you really have to ask? I may be crazy—I may be completely fucked up in the head—but sometimes I like to think I’m still smart. And if I follow through with any of this, I’m smart enough to know my life might as well be over whether I’m dead or not.”
Breathe, dammit. “I love you Drake. I don’t think you could change that if you tried. But you need help. Are your parents still out of town?”
“For the rest of the month, but they wouldn’t do anything.”
“Well then you can stay at my house,” I offered. Looking around the room, I added, “Or I can stay here. It doesn’t matter where. I just don’t think being alone every day is helping you.”
“Okay, sure, we can spend tonight here. But can we stop talking about this for now? It’s bringing me down even more than usual.”
“Gladly,” I approved. I stood up and stretched, after being physically worn out by a conversation. I couldn’t help but smile at Drake as I asked him, “Christ, what happened to us?”
He laid out on the couch and shrugged. “I think we got older, nothing else to it. You got smarter, I got fucked. It happens.”