Repeat After Me

The 8 Months Late Conversation

Just say no. Or actually yes. Wait, what? Which one is the easier route? I don't know. I don't know either. Ah, we are quite the pair, aren't we?

I take a moment and wander the slopes and peaks of Liam's face. There's a bit of hope and a bit of worry shining through his eyes, but even then, he maintains a neutral expression. Maybe that's something I liked about him, something that we shared. Never showing too much of our hands nor letting others see too easily.


I hesitate and rub my left arm, shielding myself a bit. "I don't know, Liam..." What do we even have to talk about anymore? Agreeing to keep his secret came easily enough; digging up our past was an entirely different and difficult matter.

He stares at me, and there's finally a little crack in the walls he puts up, walls built in secret, out of necessity. "Please." He raises an arm as if to reach out to me, but lets it fall.

I give him a wry, melancholy grin. "Well, since you asked so nicely." In spite of what I may tell other people, my heart is not wrapped in perpetual winter. His lips curve slightly upwards, a smile hiding in the farthest corners. "Do you want to do it here or...?"

"Or would be better?" I raise an eyebrow. "Nothing against your house," he quickly explains. "Just, I wouldn't feel comfortable here. I'd actually feel a little guilty seeing your mom."

Serves him right. I accidentally roll my eyes, and Liam squirms. "No! I mean, that's fine. I understand." I try my best at a reassuring smile. "Just let me go change, and I'll be right back."

I turn and head back to my room before he really has a chance to respond. As I rush up the stairs, I'm planning out what to wear all the while hating myself for caring that much. But then again, I reason, it's Liam. I shimmy out of my pajamas and don a black Eeveelution/Pink Floyd tee that's basically my favorite and a pair of neon blue jeans. Casual but fitted, nice but not a lot of effort. I stand outside my closet for a moment, hanging on to the door. Head low, I sigh.

Should you really be going if it seems like you're preparing for a battle? I don't think you're prepared. I know, I tell myself. I know. I know whatever it is Liam wants to talk about, it will probably be emotionally taxing and I will probably spend a lot of effort just to maintain composure. But I can't really say no. Not when he's looking like that, like he needs this conversation, like he's hurting. Because even if we aren't together, I still care and probably always will.

I stick my phone and wallet in my jeans, rush downstairs, and tell my mom that I'm going out.

As I'm locking the front door, Liam asks me where we should go.

With a light breeze tickling the hairs on my arms and a comfortable warmth meandering its way down my neck, the answer becomes evident. "There's a park really close by where very few people go. We should be able to talk in private, and the weather is quite pleasant today." Liam hums a quick agreement, and the two of us start walking.

Neither of us speak at all, but the silence is light and companionable. Every few steps, I can't help but notice that our shoulders are brushing. We're walking close enough together that it might seem like we're really close friends. Or something more. I pointedly ignore the implications.

I cough to clear my thoughts. "There's a park bench over there that seems like it's out of the way."

Liam nods. "Seems good to me."

As we seat ourselves, I make a point to leave some space between the two of us. Liam makes a point of scooting closer until my arm is flushed against his. Feeling like it'd be a bigger deal if I draw attention to the fact, I say nothing.

When Liam doesn't start speaking right away, I close my eyes and breathe in the spring air. Slow inhale, slow exhale. The tingles prickling my skin where my right arm sits dead still next to Liam's become a dull sensation that's much easier to ignore. Slow inhale, slow exha-

"Your shirt's cute." Nope, nope. Big exhale. "You all right?"

"Yes, and thanks. It's a play off of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon but with Pokemon."

"Mmm," he sounds. Rather than risk appearing nervous and excitable, I let the conversation lapse into silence. After a few more moments, he utter, "Silver."

"Silver?" I turn to face him part of the way.

"The only Pokemon game I ever played." He pauses, reciprocating my body language. "I liked it enough."

"Well, apparently, you have good taste. Silver was one of the most liked of the iterations out of all them all."

A mask of mirth covers his face as he smiles serenely. "Apparently I do."

Even as I don't respond, I feel a quiet tug at my heart as we sit there just looking at each other. The silence, the sunlight, the gentle heat...everything starts feeling a little picturesque, and I feel compelled to let it last as long as possible.

A minute drifts by before his eyes glance down at our hands. Slowly, Liam lifts his and covers mine. Half from muscle memory and half in the moment, I reflexively turn mine upwards so we're palm to palm. He positions his hand carefully so that we're mirrored, his fingers perfectly on top of mine. Then he plays the tips of his fingers against mine in some seemingly random pattern and rhythm before sliding them in between the gap, adding a slight pressure that makes me curl mine up until we're holding hands.

A heat flares and permeates upward through my arm until this deep sense of nostalgia and perfection grips my body. All at once, I bask in the comfort of being physically close and connected with someone and stark awareness of the loneliness to which I've grown accustomed.

When we feel the most intensely, we risk the greatest hurt. So says my head, so shall it be.

A series of buzzing sounds breaks my reverie. Liam awkwardly grabs his phone with his free hand and looks at the screen, a frown quickly settling on his face. His grip slackens just a bit, but I read the message all too well and extricate my own. I stand under the pretense of stretching while casually asking who texted him.

When I hear "Natalie," I can't help but smile forlornly. My brain feels unequivocally vindicated as I sit back down, placing both legs onto the bench as a buffer between Liam and myself.

Hoping to get the conversation over with, I ask calmly, "What did you want to talk about?"

Eyes searching, Liam doesn't respond immediately. "Everything?" I quirk an eyebrow inquisitively at his tone. "Nothing." He splays his arms wide on top of the back of the bench and lolls his head back, eyes closed. "Just..." I watch the way his long eyelashes fan so beautifully, dark like his slightly furrowed eyebrows. "Just," he whispers before letting his voice trail off.

I know he's trying to work it out in his head, and difficult matters are by their nature...difficult. So I wait. I gaze short, black hair ruffling in the breeze. I remember how soft it is. I remember...a lot. More than I should. More than I want to.

"I'm sorry," he says finally.

"Why," I retort. "For what?"

"Everything," he repeats, though he's lifted his head to look at me. There's a pathetic imitation of a smile.

I shrug as best as I can. "I've already forgiven you." He lifts himself up again and turns to face me, shoulders hunched towards me, eyes intent. He wants me to know he's entirely focused on me. "And I understand."

"I wasn't ready," Liam laments.

"I know..."

"It wasn't fair to you." Each word is punched with conviction. I shrug again.

"I was happy enough. I mean, look at you," I joke. "You could've had any of the gay guys at our school."

He frowns. "Jack." He says nothing else, but the single utterance is laden with meaning.

A ghost of a laugh escapes me. "You're right. You're right. I shouldn't sell myself short. I'm a little bit short, but that's besides the point."

We languish for a glimpse before the air hangs with an unspoken tension. "I," he starts. "What if...what if I'm ready now?"

My first instinct is to light up. That's the foolish one. My second is the one of self-preservation, the one that lets me keep my body still as stone. The latter wins out.

"Liam." The words are hard to formulate, so I just blurt them out as they come. "What? Why? This...what?"

"If this were any other situation, I'd be laughing because I've never seen you at a loss for words."

I flounder, hanging my head against my folded arms. "It's just...your parents. Your friends. And you don't have to. There's not enough reason to. We talked about this. Extensively."

"Maybe there is a reason to," he quips. So easily, I almost believe him.

On an impulse, I swing my legs back down, grab his hand, and scoot directly next to him. He rests his chin on my head as I lean on his shoulder. "Be logical. We literally...just pretended to not know each other."

He laughs, a quiet rumble that echoes through his chest and into mine. "I'm so dumb."

"No, you're not."

"I got to thinking at the end of the day. Thinking about the kind of person who would still be thoughtful of his closet-case of an ex. Someone that cares enough to pretend in front of his peers even when he has so few reason to do so. Someone that kind, that great," he enunciates, "why did I let my relationship with him end?"

"I stand corrected," I chuckle.


"I was kidding." I prepare to richochet off a list of reasons. "Look, Liam. We're high school juniors."

"You are correct." I roll my eyes and smack him softly with our entwined hands.

"We only have a year left."

"A year is a long time."

"And after, we'll be going off to college."

"We could go to the same one."

"Most high school relationships don't last through the transition."

"Do you have numbers for that? And some do."

Sensing how obstinate he's being, I pull out my set of trump cards. "Liam, stop. Your parents are fairly conservative, as are your friends. You don't want to alienate your teammates on the soccer team because what it might ruin your chances of getting an athletic scholarship." I hesitate before driving the nail in, "And...what about Natalie?"

I straighten myself and attempt to remove my hand, but he holds on tight. "I don't know."

"It isn't fair to her."

"I know." He gently runs his thumb over my knuckle as he repeats himself. "I know. I just thought everything would be easy now. It's been over eight months since we broke up. I thought it'd be easy to interact with you. I thought it'd be easy to pretend. But it isn't."

"It's okay," I supply, trying to be reassuring.

He chokes out a pained and frustrated laugh. "But it's not. I just want to be ready so badly, to have it over and done with. To get rid of all this fear and just take whatever comes."

"But you can't."

He shakes his head. "No. Not completely anyway."

"And I get it." I squeeze his hand. "Everybody comes out in their own time, whenever that is."

His eyes are nothing if not morose when he says, "Why are you so damn reasonable?"

"It's a gift and a curse." I sigh. "And if we're on me being reasonable, I know why you feel like you have to date Natalie. I do, but she's going to be a casualty in this farce."

Liam grimaces because he's smart and a fairly honest person, current evidence notwithstanding. "Don't worry. I have an inkling of a plan."

Intrigued would be an understatement. "Oh?"

"It's just going to last until after the dance." His knees start bouncing, a sign that he's stressed. "I'll try to break it off after because it would worse if I broke up with her before homecoming."

I nod sagely, fully behind his reasoning. "Still, plans don't always work out the way you want them to."

"Have faith. After being in the closet for so long, I think I can last a few more weeks."

I should have smiled more confidently at that moment, but for some reason, I was failing miserably.

For the next few minutes, neither of us says a word. Feeling as if the conversation was coming a close, I start putting up the defenses I had let down in my surprise. There was no way I would survive the next few weeks without being able to compartmentalize.

I should've realized the folly of my plan.

With a few words, Liam crushed my hopes of ending the year out peacefully. "Just...don't write me off completely, okay?"

A/N: Is this what's considered a cliffhanger? I don't know...An update in 7 months...that is much quicker than the last one. So by this pattern, the next one should be sooner? Please let me know what you think of the chapter, if you are so inclined. As always, I'm striving for fairly "realistic" conversations. I just wonder if I'm successful or not.