I made sure not to let Clay notice just how nervous I had been back in the woods. Sweat had run over my back in torrents and I was sure Clay must've noticed something. The intense staring match hadn't done anything to keep my secret safe either. For a moment I thanked the gods for having made Clay so oblivious to everything but I knew the charade wasn't meant to last. For my peace of mind I needed to come clean sooner rather than later. I was more than content being Clay's friend but the itching feeling under my skin that yearned for Clay became bigger by the day. It was dark now, the streetlights having turned on and the roads quiet. I drove a little harder than I was supposed to do. I never did that but for now I needed it to clear my mind.
'You know Tony, we're not on a racing circuit.'
I suddenly remembered Jeff, and that Clay had seen the boy in the car wreck. I slowed down in an instant, fear rising up my chest. I really needed to be more careful. Next to me Clay relaxed again and was now looking out of the window. The shabby houses -much like the one I lived in- had made way for pretty suburban mansions. Clay's parents weren't poor, that was for sure. Just a few more blocks and then Clay would be home. My eyes drifted to Clay's lap, where his hands were. Soft, unlike mine, small. Everything about him made me want to protect him with my life. As if Clay always needed saving and I was the only one allowed to do it. I felt a need to claim him, as silly as it sounded. Sweet Clay.
'Of course Clay.'
I pulled up in front of the Jensen house and waited for the gangly boy next to me to move. He didn't. He was sitting there, looking at the house and then at me. As if debating whether or not to go home or stay with me. His eyes were big, the streetlight illuminating his features. The scar looked softer in this light, less menacing. I wanted to run my finger over it.
'I'm not sure I...'
'You want me to stay for a while?'
My heart warmed when I saw how his cheeks tinted slightly pink in embarrassment. Before he could answer I got out of the car, grabbing my leather jacket with me. Clay followed suit silently. I eyed the window on the first floor.
'Want me to climb up or?'
'No just come on in, I'm tired of hiding things.'
After the tapes that didn't surprise me. Clay had always valued honesty, no matter how difficult it was. I appreciated that, having hidden things more than once. Even for Clay, the boy I loved with all my heart. Perhaps that was why I liked him so much. So sweet and honest. Always forgiving, and always feeling wholeheartedly. I could barely grasp the extent of how heavy he felt things. A blessing and a burden. Clay had climbed the steps to the front door and let us in. The lights were off downstairs, I couldn't hear his parents. I flicked on the light of the kitchen and we examined the note there.
Dinner in the fridge, we're at Grannies.
'You should eat, Clay.'
I worried about him. He only ate when others told him to. He looked even skinnier than this time last year and the lack of sleep wasn't helping either.
'So should you.'
I settled at the kitchen table as Clay rummaged through the fridge, pulling out several plates. Everything was served cold so all he had to do was settle it on the table and grab some plates and knives for us. We ate in silence and I could feel Clay's eyes burning holes in the side of my head the entire time. I ignored it at first but it didn't stop.
'What's up, Clay?'
He was silent for the longest time, and I searched his face. Eyebrows furrowed and his lips curled in a slight pout as if he was thinking about something extremely difficult. My eyes traveled down his neck and arms. His hands were balled up in fists, tightly clenched. I was beginning to get a little worried.
'I. I'm just. I don't know.'
'What can I do?'
I wanted to, desperately so, grasp his hand or hug him tightly but I didn't dare doing so. I didn't want to make him feel worse than he was already feeling. I remembered the time on the cliff where I hugged him tightly, letting him cry out. He had clung onto me then, as if I was his lifeline. The only thing that kept him from drowning. I wanted to be his lifeline, and maybe I needed to be as well. To keep myself from drowning. Tears were forming in Clay's eyes and I immediately shot up, despite the promise to myself not to touch him unless initiated by Clay himself I pulled him in my arms hugging him close to me. It took him a few seconds before I felt him wrap his arms around me as well.
'It's okay Clay, let it out.'
I felt tears wetting the front of my t-shirt, but it didn't matter. I hugged him closer and rubbed his back. Closing my eyes and basking in the feeling. There was no need to talk about it now, he couldn't just yet. He needed to calm down first. Stroking his back calmed me down too. I wanted to know what was wrong as much as I knew not to push him to tell. His frame shook and he clenched his fists in my shirt. I didn't mind. I never would with Clay. Minutes passed, hours maybe. I lost track of time. Though, slowly but surely Clay quieted down and the wails turned to soft sniffles. I pulled back, my arms still around him and my face close to his. A trail of tears ran past his cheek and I wiped it away with my thumb before I could stop myself.
'No need to thank me, Clay. Let's get you to bed.'
Clay nodded mutely as I pulled him out of his chair and led him upstairs. He pulled off his sweater and jeans before crawling into bed silently. I stood, hovering above him for a moment. Should I stay? No. It was weird to stay. I couldn't. Clay's eyes were still opened, and watching me closely.
I turned around to head back out, my hand on the light switch. Lingering.
'W-would you mind staying until I fall asleep?'