The sun shone brightly and I blinked trying to see across the road from me without being blinded by the bright light. The school bell had just rang and Clay would be getting out of the building soon. The building that seemed to have so many memories, most of them bad because of the dark absence of Hannah around every corner. Clay. A dark cloud seemed to hang heavily over the gangly boy everywhere he went now. Dark bags under his eyes, the scar on his forehead standing out even more than when it was still a wound. Clay Jensen was still struggling every day and there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to do something, anything and everything but it never seemed enough to lift his spirit.
For a moment I closed my eyes, attempting to think back to the day they had climbed the boulder and Clay had shouted, for a moment his eyes lighting up and I knew he had been invincible then. Only if for a second. I knew there and then that I loved him. As a friend, as something more. This past year I had tried to put my back to it and move on. For a while with Brad, and then alone. But it was hard. Seeing the one you loved struggling for air, always drowning, always sinking. I opened my eyes and saw Clay approaching me. We had this pattern now. I would always be waiting for him in the afternoon after the last school bell, every day. Unfailingly. Most times Clay got in the car and we drove around before I brought him back home. Some days he just gestured to his bike silently and sped off alone. I didn't mind. Clay approached the car, his dark green sweater creased and his eyebrows furrowed.
'Clay. Want a ride?'
I nodded silently and moved to the drivers seat, not bothering to put on music. Clay would do it if he wanted to. I changed gears and sped off. For a moment sighing heavily before eyeing the boy next to me out of the corner of my eyes. This was a bad day. I could see it.
'Please, Tony. Let's just drive in silence.'
I nodded and took a sharp left, heading towards the outskirts of town. We passed the cliff Clay had almost jumped off, but I didn't slow down. Not wanting to remember that particular event. We were silent for a while and I listened to the slow breaths of the boy next to me.
'Where are we going?'
'On a walk.'
'Not a climbing experience again, right?'
I snorted. Even in his bad mood Clay always managed to be surprisingly funny. I just shook my head and focused on the road. Clay was on my mind 24/7 these days. The only time I got to take off from it was when I was working on my car. Even in my dreams the doe-eyed teen haunted me. Not that I slept often. Clay had made it a habit to call me awake at night after another nightmare about Hannah. My thoughts were interrupted, and as if Clay knew I was thinking about that he spoke up.
'The nightmares are getting worse. She keeps asking me to go away, I want to stay. I try to stay but these invisible strings pull me out of the room and there is nothing I can do as she bleeds to death in front of my eyes. Will it ever stop?'
'I-eh. I don't know Clay.'
I didn't. Both of us knew this seemed to be a new part of Clay's life now. Much like everything in his life it seemed to evolve around Hannah. I felt a pang of pain in my chest. I knew I shouldn't be jealous but for a moment I felt nothing but envy for the long since passed girl.
'My mom is forcing me to take these anti anxiety meds, and antidepressants.'
'Are you taking them?'
'No. What if it makes me forget her?'
'You could never forget her, Clay. It's not possible. Neither of us ever will.'
I sighed and parked on the side of the road, to our right was a meadow surrounded by woods. The perfect place for a walk. I got out of the car and waited for Clay to follow me. We took off in silence and I made sure to stay close to Clay, but not as close as to touch. I had always been careful with that. Always letting Clay be the one initiating. Especially after I told him I was gay. Clay had been so surprised where I had been so sure everyone knew. I had dated Ryan, Brad. How could it be any more obvious? But Clay was oblivious as always. Oblivious to me being gay and oblivious to me loving him. I could hardly blame him for it, I knew every waking thought was spent on Hannah. Always on Hannah. I knew Clay wasn't gay, I had never seen anything that would suggest. I thought back to the moment he found out.
'You mean with the tapes and all, and not in a romantic way?'
That exact 'sure' was the most difficult thing I ever had to say. I wanted to, desperately so, tell him I liked him, I loved him and I would do anything for him. I had been so nervous, sweating, not able to look him in the eye. I felt as if that sure had come out as a mere whisper. But Clay never commented on it, seemingly content with the answer and moving on. I was sort of glad our dynamic hadn't changed after that, and sort of upset. If I had more balls, maybe it could have been something more.
'How did you know you liked guys?'