10. Without You, There’s No Me


The following chapter is different from what you’re expecting if you have watched LS the Series, Season 2. Some will be similar and some may come as a surprise. Hopefully, you will enjoy it all. Please, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

 

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Chapter 10

Without You, There’s No Me

Win made his choice, the choice I forced on him. I really thought Mark was the better match for him, someone who had no fear of showing his affection, someone Win’s parents didn’t seem to mind. As long as Win was safe and happy, that’s all that mattered.

Days went by and we didn’t talk. It was lonely and empty days. I continued with the motions of my life, pretending I was fine with the way things turned out. My reputation as the Band Club Casanova was intact, though there really is no reason for it and that mask of mine is starting to crack. I’m not even sure why my friends ever believed it to begin with. Who would want to be with me? I’m nothing. I’m a skinny guy with a loud mouth who has a hard time even looking in a mirror anymore for fear of what I’d see when I look into my own eyes. I’m a coward who runs away.

One of the most torturous truths about school is that you can’t escape. Everywhere I turn, I see Mark and Win studying together, playing together. It’s just plain evil that we are in the same class… and it is my few moments of heaven. I get to see Win’s smile, even though it is never turned towards me anymore. In fact, he avoids looking anywhere near my direction but it doesn’t matter. I can see the upturned corner of his lips and the crinkle by the side of his eye. Sometimes, I can hear his quiet giggle. He is still smiling and it both kills me and heals me.

My club’s marching band left for Europe so the club room is strangely quiet these days. P’Ohm is moping about, obviously missing a certain cute someone though he tries to hide it. We have an unspoken agreement not to speak of any of it or bother each other when we’re in this room together. I’m not sure how much he knows, or thinks he knows, about my life but I appreciate the space he gives me to breathe and to work through my confusion. Everywhere else I have to pretend that everything is great, that I’m the usual goofy Per without a serious bone in my body, and it’s exhausting. Here I can be who I truly am. Sometimes p’Noh joins us but it’s like he’s not even here since he rarely notices much of anything outside of his confusing relationship status. This club room is my safe zone where I can run away from the constant presence of the person I most want to be near and the person I have to pretend to be.

Why is it that when you try to avoid someone that is the one person you see everywhere? Walking across campus, I’m hoping the fresh air and sunshine can help clear my head of the image of Mark whispering intimately into Win’s ear this morning before class started. I deliberately picked this walkway because I know Win wouldn’t be here. He should be on his way to the library with loverboy, not walking towards me on this path, not here with said loverboy practically attached to his hip. This is not supposed to happen.

Continuing to walk, I try to keep my face neutral and just slide past them. I would have succeeded too if I didn’t feel thin, soft fingers wrap around my wrist. The familiar feel twists my heart and I feel it thumping hard in my chest. I miss this hand. Without thinking, I look up into Win’s eyes and time stops. It’s just the two of us again and everything else melts away. A movement from the corner of my eyes catches my attention and the spell is broken. I am reminded that this person no longer belongs to me. This person belongs to him. Coldness drenches me and I turn away, pulling out of the warm grasp. I don’t look back. With measured steps, I head back to my haven. Class will start soon but it will have to start without me.

Another day or three goes by as I while away the time in a fog of miserable emotions. The start of the academic competition pulls me back into the land of the living somewhat. Our campus, usually only occupied by Friday boys, is overflowing with boys and girls in a variety of school uniforms. The crowds of new people, including cute girls, is entertaining enough to brighten even my mood.

The center of all this activity naturally draws me and I spot a few friendly-looking girls sitting in one of the halls getting ready for their turn to compete. I can tell they are nervous so I decide to see if we can distract each other for a little while. Maybe they can relax for a bit and maybe I can forget for a bit.

Half way through our conversation, I see Win walk through the door and down to our school’s team with a folder. He leans on the table and points something out to p’Oil, who grabs his pen and signs the paper indicated. As they’re talking, I notice a large bandage is wrapped around Win’s left forearm and my blood runs cold. Ignoring whatever the girls are saying, I stand up and walk to Win. He is just turning to leave when he sees me and stops. My eyes can’t move away from the stark white fabric covering his skin and my fingers lightly graze over it.

I ask Win what happened, if it was his dad again. The thought that his father was continuing his abusive behavior made me feel ill. My stomach churns and I glance up waiting for Win’s answer. When he says that it’s only an accident and that he fell down, I have a hard time believing him since he won’t look me in the eyes. Then he says that I don’t need to care about him anymore, which makes me wince inside.

Our conversation is interrupted by Mark who comes over and asks if Win’s arm still hurts. He starts apologizing and Win glance over at me and then down at his bandage almost guiltily. My gaze goes from Mark to the bandage and back to Mark. His words swirl around inside my head until I realize what they mean. This damage wasn’t done by Win’s father. This was done by Mark. Mark hurt Win… Mark hurt MY Winnie!

“It was him, wasn’t it?” My mind goes black and red tinges my vision. The only thing I know is that I want to hurt the demon in front of me. My fists fly and I feel a satisfyingly solid impact but I don’t get nearly enough damage in before strong arms and hands restrict my movement. I fight against them, trying to twist away and attack the evil person again. They don’t understand. They don’t know. It’s my Winnie. I can’t let him hurt my Winnie. I can’t stand by and do nothing… not again. I struggle but they hold me tight.

I scream that I’m Win’s friend and have the right to protect him. Mark yells back loud enough for most of the school to hear that he’s Win’s boyfriend. That freezes me solid and instantly restores my senses. He said it. He actually said it. These are words I really don’t want to hear, am not ready to hear. As long as neither said anything, I could ignore the most deeply hidden part of me. Now, I am forced to face that hidden corner. With his few words, my last glimmer of hope is gone and I’m left with the realization that I am hopelessly and completely in love with my best friend.

I barely register being dragged to the headmaster’s office. My actions are on autopilot as he lectures us on fighting and how we damaged the school’s reputation at such an important event. Maybe he thinks my devastated expression is contriteness because he leaves it off as a warning and lets us go. Closest to door, I walk out first and almost run into Win as he paces outside. My heart leaps and then breaks because he is there for his boyfriend, not for me. Why would he be waiting for a friend who has treated him so miserably lately? He must be waiting for Mark. I don’t speak. I can’t. Again, I just walk away without looking back, the pieces of my heart left fallen at Win’s feet.

Later, some of the students around me start whispering about the new couple on campus that both admitted to dating and broke up today. I don’t know how to take this or what to do so, after classes, I hide out in the club room. P’Noh is there and I decide to ask him for some advice. Our club teases each other a lot and can be a little rough, but p’ has the biggest heart of anyone I know. He always does his best to take care of us.

The words come tumbling out and p’Noh listens seriously. It’s a relief to finally tell someone at least part of what is going on inside my head. After a long pause, p’ looks over at me and nods, as if he’s giving his approval.

“I think you already know the answer.” Setting his hand on my shoulder, p’Noh gives it a quick squeeze. “The best thing you can do is tell the truth. No more hiding.”

“The t-t-truth?” My words stutter out and I look back at him hesitantly.

“It’s the best thing you can do, Per.” Standing up, Noh smiles down at me. “I know there is a lot more that you aren’t telling me but, if there is one thing that I do know, it’s that you and Win need each other. Being separated from him, you have been miserable for weeks now. You both need to talk because this can’t go on. Go figure this out and I don’t want to see your ass back in this room until you do.”

“P’Noh??” This is where my jaw hits the floor. I didn’t think p’ noticed anything. He always seems so lost in his own world most of the time.

“Get the hell out of here.” Dragging me up by my shirt, p’Noh pushes me towards the door with a wink. “For what it’s worth, you both have my vote.”

“Thanks, p’.” I walk out but pop my head back in when another thought strikes me. “You and p’Phun have my vote, too.”

As I hurry away, I laugh at the cherry red blush that consumes p’Noh’s face all the way to his ears. He cusses at me but I’m too far away to hear the words clearly. It makes me laugh even more and I run towards home. I need to find Win and his home is the most likely place to find him at the time of day.

I don’t get very far when I see Win running this way. My feet quicken and so do his. Stopping a few steps apart, we drink each other in. I’m not sure why he is here or where he is going and I don’t care. He’s here when I want him to be and that’s enough. We slowly move closer until we are a breath apart.

“Win.” Out of breath, his name is all I manage to get out.

“Per.” He says at the same time, his voice almost breathless, too.

“You can go first.” After the way I have been treating him, I’m surprised he is willing to talk to me.

“Just now, my mom told me about her meeting with you.” Win pauses as a pained expression crosses his face. “I’m sorry you had to find out everything that way. All of this time, have you been disgusted by me?”

“I haven’t.” It’s the truth. Never, not once, have I ever been disgusted. Confused, hurt, and angry but never disgusted. “You’ve always been my friend.”

“Don’t force yourself to tell me that.” Looking down, Win shakes his head sadly. “I understand, but I wanna tell you that I never wanted to hurt you. I don’t want you to worry when you are with me or force yourself to stay with me. I am aware of what position I have in your life and that I can only be that much to you.”

“Win, I’m sorry.” My gaze lowers to his inviting pink lips and, for the first time, I don’t deny that I want to taste them. Grabbing his shoulder gently, I pull him closer. I give him time to back away if he wants, or run away if he needs to, but he stays and our lips brush in the softest whisper of a kiss. I back away, letting my hand fall.

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“It’s alright.” Win’s eyes are wide as he stares at me. “I said, it’s alright. You don’t have to do this.”

“I can’t love you the way I used to.” Mesmerized by his beautiful eyes, I trace my fingers down the side of his face wiping away his silent tears. My voice is quiet and I lean my forehead against his. “But I promise to love you this way forever… if you’ll have me.”

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Win’s smile blossoms and blinds me with its beauty making me smile, too. This is the smile that I have missed so much, showing itself in all its glory. This smile that is reserved for me and is mine alone. I am never going to lose this smile again. It doesn’t matter if I have to fight the whole world.

Raising his hands, Win places a finger on either side of my smile. He moves those fingers over to either side of his own mouth, looking impossibly cute. This makes me smile wider as I realize what he’s trying to say without words, but I wonder if he knows that he is my smile, too.

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“Are you sure, Pepper?” Win wraps his arms around my waist and his smile dims. “It won’t be easy to be with me. You know how my father is.”

“We’ll figure it out.” Wrapping my arms around his shoulders, I pull him in for a hug. As always, he fits perfectly and it feels right to have him like this. “I’m never leaving you again. If your parents can’t change their thinking, you can always move in with me. I’ll take care of you, Winnie.”

“That is the second time you’ve said that to me. This time I’m keeping you to that promise.” Win snuggles into my chest and then pulls back slightly. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about my mom anymore, at least.”

“What do you mean?” That lady’s last visit is burned into my memory so I don’t see how I can’t worry about dealing with her. I give her honor for bringing my Win into this world but I have a difficult time giving her any respect beyond that.

“When we talked earlier, she asked about this.” Win holds up his bandaged arm. “She asked if you did this to me.”

“Me?!” Outraged, it comes out as a yell and Win winces. “As if I would ever harm even a hair on you!”

“That’s what I told her. I explained what happened and then she asked about all of the other bruises and cuts I’ve had.” Win’s voice fades away and he looks down. “She’s never asked before. I thought she knew, but she didn’t. Not really. So, I told her everything. All of it. I told her the truth… and I told her that you saved me, that you protected me. I couldn’t let her misunderstand you like that.”

“Oh, Winnie…” He probably doesn’t know that tears are streaking down his face like a river as his fingers clutch at the fabric of my shirt. “I didn’t do much, not nearly enough. You still got hurt.”

“NO!” Shaking, Win shouts at me and pulls me close to lay his head on my shoulder as I rub soothing circles on his back. “You did everything you could. You were… are amazing. I can’t believe you can’t see that.” He leans up and presses a kiss on my lips without warning. “Without you… there wouldn’t be a me.”

“Well, damn. I really have completely lost to you, haven’t I?” At his confused look, I chuckle and kiss his forehead. Really, I lost my heart to him a long time ago. I just never realized it until I almost lost him. We still have a lot to deal with but, with Win by my side, I feel like I can do anything.

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