From the security of distance, the little boy running across the grassy field seemed almost carefree. His white t-shirt was plastered to his skinny chest and the air had blown the shirt out over his back. Shoulders, arms and legs pumped furiously and his overly long blond hair blew back away from his thin face. He stretched out his arms as if he were giving up his soul to something high above him. To anyone looking, he seemed the image of the restlessly clear day that lay before him. No one would guess that there were demons chasing him and tears streaming the length of his suntanned cheeks.
He crossed the field and headed into the woods and the protective shield of pines, cedars and oaks. When he reached the largest tree, his legs stopped. He rested against it for a moment, catching his breath in giant gulps, then he vaulted up the tree as only twelve year old boys can. In the middle of the tree, he found a wide and solid branch and lay against it, hidden by the gigantic leaves of the tree. He felt the freedom and comfort of his invisibility and he began to feel calm. His breathing slowed with his small heartbeat, but the tears remained.
I'm not a faggot. He heard the words again and again in the gravelly voice of the one he idolized. I'm not a faggot. His tears slowed and he hugged the tree branch as close as possible.
When the hysteria subsided, he was left with an awesome pain, made more dramatic by his youthful imagination. The pain, however, was legitimate and his heart ached inside of his chest.
Only hours before, he had been sitting beside Wade Harrison in the corridor at the art museum. It was the seventh grade final trip and Wade was determined to make it better than any others. The two boys were inseparable at the best and worst of times.
Sneaking away had been Wade's idea. Wade was the leader, the adventurer. Christian, a meek and timid boy alone, had been happy to follow. With smuggled potato chips and twenty-ounce colas, the boys had slid away from the tour and into a back corridor.
Behind the staircase, two hands dug into the bag of chips and mouths crunched noisily, Christian's eyes wandering frequently between the watch on his wrist and Wade's face. They had to meet the other kids at the bus before it left at noon. He looked over at Wade for a moment. Christian tamped down familiar feelings, odd stirrings that he chose not to think about. Stirrings that made his heart beat faster and his breath come quickly. His hands began to tremble ever so slightly as he dug into the bottom of the bag.
Wade was a boy and he was just like other boys, Christian told himself. There was nothing special about Wade. Then, why do you want to kiss him more than Julie Edwards? Christian was a boy, too, and he wasn't supposed to feel that way. He had wanted to kiss Julie...just not very much. He didn't want to think about it, but there were no more chips to distract his hands. He leaned against the back of the staircase and tried to look normal. Then he felt Wade's gray eyes on him and he was scared to look. He stared at the brick wall in front of him instead. Someone had scribbled their name in black on one of the bricks...Casey 4ever.
"Chris," Wade's voice was weird. Christian didn't look at him. His heart was pounding in his small chest and he felt hot and cold at the same time. Then, he felt it. Wade's fingers on the back of his hand, tracing the tiny veins and cupping gently. Christian stared straight ahead, scared.
"Chris," Wade, after a moment, almost whimpered.
Christian turned his palm to face Wade's. It was a surrender. Wade clutched it tightly. Christian looked over at Wade for the first time, uncertain and shaking. He looked down at their entwined hands and then back up into Wade's gray eyes. Wade leaned in closely and kissed him. Time seemed to stand still and stars sparkled in the backs of Christian's eyes. His heart thundered in his chest at the warmth and softness of Wade's lips on his own. It was nothing like with Julie. It was so right...like he was coming home. Christian gave in and tried to kiss him back, but Wade began to pull away. Wade yanked his hand free and stared at Christian, accusing.
"You better not say a word to anyone," Wade yelled and Christian drew back, shaking. Wade surged to his feet and Christian stood, too, on wobbly legs.
"W-Wade, I won't," Christian stammered and Wade stood before him, simmering with confused anger and eyes wet with un-shattered tears.
"You'd better not," Wade warned and for good measure his fist connected with Christian's stomach. Christian doubled over in pain.
"I'm not a faggot," Wade hissed angrily. "I'm not, Chris. I'm not a faggot."
But I am, Christian's heart screamed the words, but he was too afraid to open his mouth. He huddled near the ground, bawling, and Wade ran away.
Christian lay against the tree branch and wiped away his tears as he remembered what had happened earlier that day. On the bus ride home, Wade had moved away from the seat they shared and all of the boys had followed him. They hadn't even glanced back at Christian. He was just Wade's friend to most of them. The boys' laughter came to Christian in snatches and from a distance. He stared out of the window, numb, all the way home.
He had stopped only to drop his books on the steps at home, kissed his mother on the cheek and taken off across the field to the tree. It was his favorite place. It had been his secret, but the year before he had shared it with Wade. The tree that could hide a boy completely. He and Wade had lain on the branches together and watched as the world spun by. A certain peace had settled over him during those times. With Wade, he didn't need to hide. They were the same. He didn't have to be alone.
Wade wouldn't be his friend anymore. Wade would think he was a faggot, but Christian didn't care. It had all been too good. He had learned long ago when his father disappeared that people would only come and go.
He didn't need Wade Harrison. He didn't need anyone.