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breathe (for I am here with you)

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All Bobby could hear at the ripe time of 2:11 AM was the drone of the air conditioning cooling off their humid Florida home (was it either not working well enough because of the hot summer air, or was the sweat due to his panic? He wasn’t sure), along with the sound of his own breathing gradually getting louder. Basically, he was panicking. He didn’t know what exactly was going on, all he knew was that it wasn’t good. He’s had freak-outs before, like before big tennis games and a few times before major tests, but never any this bad. He could feel his senses slowly become hazy and his breathing become shallower as his attack got worse. He didn’t know entirely what caused it, but knew what it was about. Liam. His family. His feelings. Himself. A lot of things, technically. Long story short, Bobby was afraid. As a 14 year old boy, that’s not something he would typically admit to himself or anyone else. But here he was, having what Elena would probably call a “panic attack” in his room during the middle of the night, and he was afraid.

He started getting lost in his thoughts after his attempt to do whatever “calm his breathing” exercise he had been taught by his mom years ago hadn’t worked. Realistically, he knew his family wouldn’t care that he was-- that he had feelings for a boy. Camilla was gay, and that was his moms best friend. He was pretty sure Elena had mentioned having a friend from her school who was gay as well. His mom had preached how he and his sister could love whoever they love or be whoever they are from a young age. So, he didn’t know where his utter fear came from. He thought about all the times he heard boys at this school equate gay with stupid, and the slurs the same people would throw around with such ease in the hallways and locker rooms. What about the boys? He wracked his brain for anything Danny or Ziggy (or Liam, his mind added) might have said against people...like him. Nothing popped straight out at him, but he still wasn’t sure. They were so happy for him when he and Monyca-with-a-Y started dating. Would they be disappointed if he told them? Would they stop being friends with him? These thoughts only made him panic more, the idea of losing his best friends that he had for all of middle school. He wouldn’t be able to handle losing them.

He wasn’t exactly sure when he made the decision to leave his house out his window and walk to the tennis court, but next thing he knew he was standing in the middle of the court at just past 2:30 in the morning, the cool night breeze blowing past him. He vaguely remembered thinking he needed some fresh air and grabbing some shoes, but how he made it all the way here, he wasn’t sure. His mind was still foggy and his senses dulled, despite having calmed down a bit compared to earlier. Another thing his panic-riddled brain somehow remembered to bring was his phone, but no racket, which defeats the purpose of being at the court. How fortunate. It’s not like he would have been able to play to calm down anyways, so he didn’t know why his auto-pilot led brain took him here. He scanned his current surroundings, hearing the sound of crickets and the occasional car driving past. The lighting was dulled, only a few street lights aiding him to see along with a few nearly-burnt out automatic lights at the court that switched on at this arrival. It would be almost scenic, under different circumstances. He moved to sit on the hard ground of the court, craning his neck a bit to look up at the sky. His breathing was much slower than earlier, but many of the same thoughts still ran through his brain. They’re going to hate you. He doesn’t like you back. You lied to them. You led on Monyca. He’ll hate you.

He sighed and ran his hands through his hair and down his face, trying to scatter the thoughts from his head. He stared back up again, getting lost in the many spots, speckles, lights, and the darkness between them. His mind wandered to Liam. He thought about how he felt towards him, how just a few months ago he never would have imagined himself anywhere near where he was now. He thought about how Liam made his heart speed up in the way girls always failed to do, the way he had to stop himself from staring for too long so he wouldn’t get caught looking at him. The way he wanted to be with him, hold his hand, do embarrassing couple stuff. He just wishes he could tell him, lay it all out there and finally get the weight off his shoulders that he’s been carrying around for way too long now. He’s pretty sure what was going on the whole night must have been making his logical thinking skills go basically nonexistent, because without even realizing it he had pulled out his phone texting Liam to meet him here and sent it before he was able to stop himself.

He felt his heart drop to his stomach. Shit. What did he just do?

The quick spreading panic began again as he stared down at the message displayed brightly in the phone in his hand. He would have sent a frantic, “Nevermind! Ignore that!” after his message had his hand not started shaking too much to even type as his vision began to double at the same time. “Oh god, not again, not again,” ran through his head as his breathing began to shallow out like it had been doing earlier in the night. He looked around quickly, noting that he must have dropped his phone at some point during this since his hands were now empty as he brought them up to his head as he tried to catch his breath again. He messed up. Why was he such an idiot? He wasn’t sure how much time passed while he was like this, but the next thing he heard faintly was someone's footsteps walking up to the court.

“Bobby?” the voice called out, “You here? Hey-- Bobby!” Liam shouted out after noticing the state the other boy was in as he approached. He ran up to him, slightly unsure of what to do.

Bobby turned his head and looked towards Liam by his side. He couldn’t get out any words, only managing to stammer out a few incomprehensible sounds, but Liam must’ve been able to figure out well enough what was happening based on the state of the boy in front of him.

“It’s alright Bobby, breathe, it’s okay, breathe with me, you’re alright,” Liam repeated like a mantra trying to help Bobby calm down. He frantically (but also simultaneously trying to hide his own panic and fear as to not worry Bobby even more) was trying to get the boy on the floor to calm down and back to a normal state. Kneeling down next to him to get on his level, he copied some random calming method he recalled from some TV show he saw once and hoped it would work for Bobby.

Slowly, with the aid of Liam there with him, Bobby’s breath mostly returned to him and his mind stopped racing as much as it was. He turned to look at Liam and his face flushed. He finally registered the hand Liam had on his shoulder and the other one gripping his hand, and suddenly his skin felt hot. He looked down and released his hand from the other boys, ignoring the pounding of his chest he told himself was just because of his panic.

“Uh, thanks coming man, I’m so sorry, you didn’t need to, I’m sorry for making you come all the way out here--” Bobby rambled out awkwardly, a poor attempt at an apology, embarrassed from making Liam literally help him come down from a panic attack and for dragging him all the way to the tennis court at this hour in the first place.

“It’s all right man, really,” Liam replied quickly, “I knew from your message something was up that wasn’t good. I just-- I had a bad feeling. You’re my friend, and you were clearly upset. I don’t mind, really.”

“Right. Yeah, I knew that.” He let out a strained and short laugh, and, after a beat, “God, this is embarrassing, isn’t it?” He looked down and wrung his hands together in front of him awkwardly, not knowing what to do with them otherwise.

Liam turned to look him in the eyes again. “No, not at all,” he furrowed his brows, “Bobby, you were having a panic attack, that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Lots of people get them. Plus, helping you out? That’s what friends are for, I’d feel shitty if I didn’t come help,” And, after a short pause, “So…do you want to tell me what’s going on that led to you texting me to meet you at the tennis court this late? I mean, I’m always down for a game, but this seems a bit different,” he finished lightheartedly, but still with a serious tone.

Bobby looked away at the subtle reminder thrown in the middle of that. Right, friends. Of course. “It’s... nothing. I don’t know. Something. It’s dumb, honestly,” His eyes stared back down to the ground and he didn’t dare look up again. He swallowed hard and shuffled his feet in front of him.

“Bobby, that didn’t look dumb,” Liam prompted, concerned, trying to get an answer of the other boy.

“I…okay. It’s because…” he started, “um… high school. Yeah, haha. I know. Dumb! I’m just…nervous about that. Stupid, I know.” He stumbled out. He couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do this. What if he rejected him? Drag his best friend all the way out here just to spill all his dumb embarrassing feelings and then get rejected? He couldn’t, nope. Can’t do it.

“That’s not stupid. It makes sense to be nervous about high school, it’s a big step and...it’ll be super different. But, don’t worry, my older brothers have all been in or are still in high school and they say it’s not that bad, really.” Liam responded. Bobby was about to respond, until Liam continued, “But… that’s not actually what this was about, was it?”

Bobby groaned and flopped down onto the ground, his back laying against the court, hands over his face in embarrassment. “No, it’s not,” he admitted with a sigh. Liam leaned back as well, now laying next to Bobby on the ground, their arms just barely brushing. Bobby felt his body tense up slightly at the faint contact, “Do you want to talk about what’s actually going on?” he asked once he laid down. He didn’t respond right away, his thoughts all over the place.

“I don’t know. Maybe. No. Yes? No,” the paler boy answered, unsure.

“Well, I guess we can just lay here then,” Liam responded with a small shrug. The air was thick between them and Bobby wasn’t sure if his lack of breath was because of the panic attack he just had or because of the closeness of the other boy. He used almost all of his willpower to avoid turning his head to look at Liam and to stare up into the stars instead (was it cliche to say that looking at Liam would be prettier?). There was no speaking between them, just the sound of the two boys’ light breathing and all the surrounding noises of the nighttime, however Bobby could hear the intense sound of his heartbeat in his own ears. Bobby's mind was racing for different reasons that earlier, most of his abilities to function gone due to their proximity and how personal this moment seemed. He let out a breath and finally spoke before he could stop himself again.

“I like you. I…yeah.” He admitted, breaking the silence. Bobby felt his heart rate speed up after his blunt confession, “I’m sorry,” he shook his head lightly, “I have...feelings. For you, I mean. Like in the way the boys thought I liked Monyca-with-a-y but didn’t. Couldn’t,” He made the mistake of turning his head towards Liam, who was already looking at him with an unreadable expression, and making accidental eye contact for a few seconds too long. After a beat of silence just a second too long for comfort, Bobby went to stand up quickly, making himself slightly dizzy in the process. “I- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, it’s okay if you hate me, I’m just gonna go home, I’m sorry--” he blurted out in a slight panic. Bobby stood up after him.

“Bobby? Bobby!” He interrupted his anxious rambling. “I don’t hate you. It’s okay,” he reassured.

“It’s fine. I know you don’t feel the same way, I’m sorry for dumping this on you. Just go home, again man, I’m sorry for all of this” He ran a hand through his hair and exhaled. “Just, I’ll see you--” He was suddenly cut off with the feeling of Liam's lips against his own. After his second of shock passed, he leaned into the kiss. He felt a hand against his hip as he placed his own on Liam's cheek. It felt right, so much more right than kissing Monyca-with-a-y. This must have been what he was missing. It was nearly perfect. There was a warm feeling blossoming in his chest, and skin was hot where Liam was touching him. They were close, closer than they ever had been before, and yet it felt as if they weren’t close enough. He pulled him in further as the kiss deepened. The world almost felt like it disappeared around him, the only thing he could focus on being he and Liam. After what felt like an eternity but was probably no more than 10 seconds, Liam pulled away, resting his hands on the other boy's shoulders, faces still close enough to feel each other's breath.

“I like you too, Bobby.” He said airily, followed with a small laugh.

Bobby bit his lip, ‘Yeah, I think I got that,” he laughed back. They stood like that for a moment, in each other's arms, staring into each others eyes, breathing almost in sync. It was perfectly cheesy under the starry night sky, although he was pretty sure most people don’t get together on a tennis court of all places. He had a light smile on his lips paired with a blush on his cheeks, and so did Liam.

“So…” Bobby started, dragging out the ‘o’ on the word. They both laughed. They pulled apart from their embrace but never looked away from each other, and still stood pretty close together. “I think it’s probably time we head home isn’t it? It’s nearly 3 AM now,” he finally finished.

Liam looked at him with the most loving expression Bobby has probably ever experienced in his entire 14 years of living. “We probably should. C’mon, I’ll walk you,” Liam said, reluctant about moving from their current position, but with a smile all the same.

“Are you sure? I was the one who made you come all the way out here just for me, and then you’d have to walk back by yourself,” Bobby responded, weary.

“It’s okay, genuinely. Let’s go before it gets any later, we don’t have our bikes so it’ll take a bit to walk,” Liam reassured him. He grabbed the other boy's hand gently and interlocked their fingers. They smiled up at each other softly then began walking out hand in hand.

////

As the pair approached Bobby’s home (more specifically, his window in the back of the house), they slowed to a stop. The walk home was mostly silent, but definitely didn’t lack any bashful glances and small smiles. They turned to each other, their still locked hands swinging down between them.

Bobby, breaking the silence, spoke, “Well, here’s mine.” They each stared at the other, not wanting to leave each other's presence. After a moment, with Bobby initiating it this time, he leaned in to give Liam a shorter but still sweet kiss as a form of a goodbye. It gave him just as many butterflies as the first time. He smiled at the slightly taller boy before turning to go open his window. He paused mid-turn and spun back to face Liam again.

“Wait, so...what does this actually make us?” He questioned, voice slightly hushed to avoid being heard by any of his family members (he did not need to be grounded for another week for sneaking out, no thank you).

“Boyfriends?” Liam offered with a hopeful tone.

“Boyfriends,” Bobby echoed back with a smile as an agreement. He went to turn around once again, but hesitated before stopping. “Why don’t...what if you just stay here?”

“What? Are you sure? What about your mom?”

“Oh well. I’m pretty sure she’s scared of coming in my room after the bra incident to be honest,” he chuckled, “and I don’t want you walking home all the way across town by yourself at,” he paused to look at his phone, “2:56 AM anyways. We live in Florida, you never know what could happen out there,”

Liam hummed and weighed his options for a short moment (it wasn’t the hardest decision with the cute, pleading face of his boyfriend--going to have to get used to saying that now, but he wasn’t going to complain--staring at him waiting for a response). “Alright, fine. But if I get caught in your house in the middle of the night, I’m putting this all on you,” he joked. Bobby hopped into his room through his low window then reached out a hand to help Liam in after him.

Once they were both inside, they moved across the room as Bobby pulled him gently by his hand, and settled in as comfortably as they could on Bobby’s twin sized bed meant for a single person. The pair laid there, holding each other in their arms, until they fell asleep with smiles on their faces.