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if you're a work of art, i'm standing too close

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Bobby should be happy.

That was all his mind would come up with as he lay in bed staring at his ceiling fan that night.

He has CJ, who he likes so much. His first boyfriend, first kiss with a boy, first boy who liked him back. First boy who liked him at all. So, he should be so happy.

But still—all he can think about is Liam. Liam, Liam, Liam, the name a constant yet faint ringing in his ears.

He knew he was screwed the second it all came crashing down that one day in the lunch room with Danny and Liam. If only Danny could have kept his mouth shut, then maybe he wouldn’t have been stuck (again) with the incessant nagging in the back of his mind that won’t seem to leave no matter how hard he tried to focus on other things, like the boy he actually has. He was fine before that conversation, a little heartbroken, sure, that he was never able to confess his (very intense) feelings for Liam or that Liam didn’t like him back, but still fine. He had—largely—moved on. He met a boy at night league who he liked and who liked him back, who he went on a date with, who he kissed. He accepted that he and Liam were
never going to happen, and he was content.

So why isn’t he happy?

It was his face. Liams, that is. The expression he made when Danny revealed he had a “big crush” last year that he never told anyone about—not even Liam, his newest found best friend. It planted a small seed of thought in the back of his mind, one that spread and spread and couldn’t be ripped out from its roots even if you did everything you could to get rid of it. It grew, infected, disrupted everything he had created and built up until this moment, disturbing the soil of the new life he made as a high schooler. Digging up the old (but were they really?) feelings for Liam and making him unsure, unconfident in his own relationship and standing with CJ.

Everything was totally, completely chill before that, he tells himself. Truthfully, the feelings were always there, hiding and idle behind the facade of “new feelings” and “old feelings” that he created. He realized it was similar to the metaphor of the new gills and the old gills he had come up with not long ago in that conversation with Sam—except as much as he tried to tell himself he only had the new ones and that the old ones were gone, in this case it wasn’t so simple: he still had both, just like the gills. The look on Liam's face brought all these thoughts back to the forefront out of the box he had shoved them into and now it was all Bobby could think about. That face. Liam’s. The image of it, the indecipherable expression completely unreadable to most. But Bobby knew. Or at least had a pretty good guess. There was something behind his eyes and he knew it, and now everything he had constructed was breaking in his lap. Liam knew, and he knew that he knew, and now it seemed Liam had a secret of his own.

-

Bobby found himself in front of the mirror, once again, lost in his thoughts and his reflection—it wasn’t that he didn’t like CJ. He definitely did, and the sparks he felt during his first kiss with the boy (or a boy in general) confirmed that. Despite this, he just knew that things were different with him and Liam versus him and CJ. With Liam—it was easy. Of course it was, Bobby scolded himself, Liam is his best friend as well. With him, things felt right. With CJ, it felt good too, but it just wasn’t in the same way. He was older, of course, which didn’t help in the “chill” department. He also hasn’t known CJ for as long—sure, they’ve had their “moments,” but they didn’t quite compare to stuff like being locked in the closet at Jupiter or any of the other crazy scenarios they got themselves into. With CJ, it feels good, but with Liam, it feels right.

Bobby isn’t quite ready to unpack that train of thought yet, so he heads back to his bed so he can sleep before the hell that is school in the morning.

As he laid down after all his deep-introspection-shit, there was one thing Bobby knew: He was fucked. He was really, really, fucked.

 

——

 

It was morning. Bobby’s head was cleared of all the stressful thoughts that you only seem to have once the sun goes down, the streams of consciousness that occur only when lying in your bed late at night until you're finally able to fall asleep. The morning was like a breath of fresh air to his mind; a breeze that blows away the fearful thoughts of the night. Not fresh enough, however, he thought as he trudged through the morning with the energy, or lack thereof, any high-schooler at 6 am would have.

Shortly after arriving at the school, Bobby found CJ waiting for him by the doors. He flashed a soft smile at him that Bobby quickly reciprocated, and after taking his hand, CJ began walking him to where he meets up with his other friends in the morning before they all go to their respective classes. After a brief walk, he spotted Danny and Liam from across the foyer, lounging around in their normal spot, not having noticed him and CJ’s approach yet. They caught up to the two boys, both of them in the idle, boring chatter one can only muster in the morning before classes with the little amount of brain power that’s awake at that point. The respective boys noticed Bobby’s arrival with CJ in tow, both throwing out a casual greeting to the pair. As Bobby looked at them, he caught Liam’s eye for a moment with a vague glint in his eye that Bobby couldn’t quite decipher. He then saw Liam’s eyes flicker briefly to CJ beside him, hand in his own, fingers interlocked still. Liam gave CJ a look-over, the already odd look in his eye slightly shifted to an even weirder one at the change of focal point, then went back to his conversation with Danny that Bobby was beginning to catch bits of context of, any semblance of discomfort gone in an instant.

Weird. Bobby wouldn’t dwell on that one. After all, nighttime thoughts. That is definitely not an 8 am thought. So, he left it alone. For now.

Bobby was snapped out of it by CJ removing his hand from his own after giving it a small squeeze, followed by a quick goodbye as he explained his need to get to the junior wing for his first class so he wouldn’t be late. Just like their routine every day. Simple. Bobby nodded and watched him walk away. They still had a few minutes before the first bell would actually ring. Bobby turned his attention back to the conversation Liam and Danny were having, Liam no longer paying CJ any attention, and Bobby trying his best to piece things together and join in when possible until the shrill of the bell indicated it was time to start heading to class, all of them going in different directions.

-

The school day ended quickly and boringly. It was a boring day, just like most. Thoughts of CJ, then Liam, flashed through his mind in between lessons of pre-algebra and English grammar that he mostly tuned out anyway. On his way out of the building, he spotted Liam and jogged to catch up to him.

“Oh, hey Bobby!” Liam called out, any hint of discomfort from this morning nowhere to be seen. Bobby returned the greeting, sending the other boy a smile and a nod.

“What’s up? Do you have night league tonight? Night league was so fun that night that I came, and honestly, I miss playing with people my own age—not that the retirement home is bad, of course, but…” Liam rambled on to Bobby as they began their walks home. Bobby briefly thought about inviting Liam to night league—a chance to play with Liam again like last year and a chance to hang out with him as well…outside of school. He quickly came to realize that’s not the smartest decision, as he wasn’t sure how it’d go over to hang out with his boyfriend and the boy that he feels bad about thinking about because of said boyfriend at the same time, together. He doesn’t think he could handle it honestly. Would probably combust or something. Maybe crash another car.

He turned to Liam while they walked, steps slowing, resisting the urge to invite him to join him in a few hours for night tennis. “Well, see you tomorrow man,” he choked out as they reached the road where they needed to take different ways. “Yep, see you,” Liam called back swiftly and casually. As he walked away he threw a quick glance behind him towards the other boy, just in time to where he swears he saw Liam just turning his head away from doing the same thing. Bobby’s gait briefly staggered but he continued on his walk home in the cool heat of a Florida winter.

-

Night time thoughts: the ones nobody welcomes nor wants, and the ones you really, really wished would just be “never” thoughts instead of popping up right when you're ready to finally relax and get a good sleep. The ones that keep you up for minutes, hours, dwelling on them and being unable to relax your mind enough to fall asleep. For Bobby before, this was his feelings for Liam and wondering if he was gay or not. Now that he had those established, he really thought he would be in the clear, but the world doesn’t work out for him like that.

Night league was NOT chill on this occasion. Not that anything happened per se, it was still a fun night of games and messing around with the other clubgoers. More specifically, CJ was not chill. He was just off for most of the night from the moment Bobby arrived. He didn’t know the problem, so he chose to act like he couldn’t tell and just was normal (maybe he had a bad day at school? Or home from his family? He didn’t want to bother him more by possibly pointing out his odd mood and asking). Alas, his worries were confirmed when CJ made a passing comment about Liam: “…that one boy you’re always with…” offhand. Mid conversation. Only a few words. And yet Bobby could hear the bite, the annoyance in his tone when he made the statement. Bobby doesn’t even think he would have noticed the hint of oddness of the comment and CJ’s tone had he not already been wary of CJ’s mood prior.

So, CJ didn’t quite like Liam. Interesting. Bobby said nothing about it, of course. Just nodded along and kept listening as he spoke, trying to not make a visual reaction to the part about Liam as well as trying to not look too disinterested (he knew his thoughts were elsewhere the entire night but he tried not to show it).

He shook his head to try and get rid of his overthinking and went to bed.

-

It was the afternoon after school got out. The guys all were free, so they decided to go to Danny’s to chill in his garage and play video games for a while.

Bobby was sitting on the right, with Liam next to him in the middle and Danny off on the other edge of his garage couch that “definitely didn’t have mold.”

The most recent round they played ended with cheers and screams from the three boys, celebrating their win with shouts and shoves and laughs. Liam side-shoved Bobby with a cackle. Their shoulders brushed. Knees nudged. It was a casual, normal level of contact between two friends.

Bobby froze.

Suddenly the space on the already-cramped couch seemed even smaller, the space between specifically those two boys even thinner. Was his breath getting shallower? Bobby couldn’t quite tell. He told himself it was the thin air of the garage. Said in his mind the laughing was taking the breath from his lungs. Time felt like it had halted but he knew he hadn’t—the laughter and gentle shoving between all three of them was still happening, maybe less so, but still there. Bobby felt outside of it all, his body acting out the scene but his mind 5 feet away watching it happen, feeling entirely different. He could feel the slight change in the atmosphere. He wasn’t sure if Danny even noticed the shift, or was just ignoring it.

Mind slightly back in his own body, It was at this point where he made the mistake of glancing up. Liam’s eyes met his own. He had that soft, soft smile on his face—and an even softer one in his eyes. It was at this point that he lost it (only internally, of course). He tore his eyes away and would’ve ripped himself away physically if he could’ve without it making him fall off the couch. Instead, he settled for a small but definitely-not-subtle scootch to the side. His eyes found Liam’s again, because of course they did. The soft look turned to a concerned and sad one. Even a hint of disappointment. The smile fell. Bobby knew he wasn’t trying to hide his expression anymore, either. He just hoped it wasn’t the fear that was visible to the other boy in the middle of the couch. He couldn’t tell if it had fallen silent in the dim garage or if his ears were tuning everything else out.

It ended up being Danny that brought the two back to reality, reminding each that he was in fact still there as well. He wasn’t dumb about it, of course—a simple cough and lighthearted, upbeat comment about how fun the level they just played was snapped both of them out of it quickly. Liam went back to normal instantly, acting like nothing had occurred whatsoever. Bobby coughed then laughed it off as well just a moment after, returning to the conversation about their video game and to the world of consciousness in general.

It was at that moment where Bobby noticed one last glance from Liam, where his act faltered: a brief flash of the same look of sadness and concern, eyes meeting eyes, before going back to the conversation with the easy smile returned to his lips.

Bobby fell into his thoughts once again and got suddenly hit by what was probably the most crushing weight of guilt he’s ever felt. What was he doing? He had a boyfriend. He shouldn’t be sitting on a probably-moldy couch having things he can’t describe any other way other than “moments” with his best-friend-questionably-ex-crush after a round of video games! He should be over him. He was over him. The feelings were supposed to be dead and gone and never come back after Bobby failed to confess to him and knew he would never be able to. He accepted that, and he moved on. Sadly, it seems life doesn’t seem to work out that way for him, the simple ways never being the ones that go the ways he wants.

He wondered when the feeling of guilt would go away, if ever.