I had uttered the words before realizing what they would bring on. I felt ashamed for never even having thought of asking it before. These past few years had been just Hannah, Hannah and more Hannah until every waking moment -and even when asleep- was spent on the curly haired young woman. I knew as much as all the others that even though Hannah wanted to move us, change us, we couldn't just keep wallowing in the pits of despair the tapes caused. Tony had been with me through thick and thin and I had been nothing but ungrateful. My cheeks heated up at that. Sweet Tony. Always watching, protecting. I eyed the young man, his face as stoic as ever but his mouth slightly opened and sweat gleaming on his forehead from the heat of the sun. I waited, and finally he spoke.
'I've known for a long time. It just made sense. I wasn't attracted to girls, and I was to guys.'
Never one for lengthy explanations. Simple, direct and honest. I could appreciate that about him. If he wasn't bossing me around. Well, I even liked that. It felt natural. I glanced around the forest, it was quiet, and peaceful. I had to strain my ears to hear the bustle of the city and I found that I hardly missed it. It was hot and I debated taking off my sweater but then I stumbled, tripping on a small rock in front of me. In moments I felt a warm hand on my upper arm, yanking me back up against a solid chest. Tony.
'You need to be more careful Clay.'
Maybe I was mistaken, but I felt Tony squeeze my upper arm lightly before letting go. I breathed shakily. I had been so lost in thought, and once again Tony was there to save me.
'You already said that.'
'No. I-I mean for everything you've done this past year. I never said thanks once. Not with your support with the tapes, not for allowing me to call you in the middle of the night, not for anything. I really am grateful.'
'Don't worry about it Clay.'
Tony wasn't looking me in the eye. Instead staring at a point dead ahead. I searched his face for clues as to what he was thinking but I found none. His mouth was curled up in the slightest hint of a smile and his slicked back hair gleamed in the sunlight. How did he always manage to look this good? I knew I looked like utter and total shit, before I had hardly cared about my looks, only when Hannah was around. Now it was a matter of pulling on the least smelling sweater and rubbing my eyes twice before heading out. Tony was in many ways the total opposite of me, and I couldn't help but like that about him. The sun was setting by now and I realized we had walked for quite a while.
'Let's turn around and get you home.'
We headed back in the way we came in silence. I didn't mind the silence that much. Most of the past year had been spent in silence between us. We talked when we felt like it and that suited both of us well it seemed, but I could feel something had changed. These past few days I had been on a quest to 'move on' well, as much as that was possible with Hannah haunting me every step I took and every corner I turned. Maybe focusing on strengthening the bond between me and Tony would help. He was after all one of the few people I had left with the deaths of both Hannah and Jeff.
'I don't think I remember why you and Brad broke up. You seemed happy with him?'
'Why the sudden interest, Clay?'
'I don't know. I just feel I don't know you all that well. Which is weird since we're friends and we spend a lot of time together.'
I felt hot in my sweater, combined with the rising redness on my cheeks I must look like a mess to Tony. Why did I care anyway? Tony didn't seem to care how I looked. He sometimes made a remark that I looked tired, or bad. But never in a way that made me feel terrible. Tony had stopped dead in his tracks, which I only realized after a few more steps back into the direction of the car. I stopped as well, turning to face the dark haired boy.
'It was because I liked someone else, and he knew it. As terrible as it sounds.'
Tony looked me dead in the eye now, after sizing me up and down. His face still stoic and much like a marble statue I had once seen in France. I looked into his eyes as well, struggling to come up with words. I was too afraid to ask, not sure if knowing who he liked would make me feel better or worse.
We stood, facing each other for what seemed like hours. Neither of us uttering a word, and the sun setting slowly. The fading rays of sun illuminated Tony's face and made his tanned skin glow warmly. I felt as if he wanted to say something, but I couldn't be sure. Finally, the boy in front of me broke the silence and started walking again.
'We'll leave that story for another time, Clay. Let's get you home.'