Inspiration photograph courtesy timeisjustanumber on tumblr
Worth Waiting For
Caden wasn’t out. I was.
Yet, I loved him more than life itself. My heartbeat fluttered at every little touch, with every last kiss; my soul seemed to sprout wings and fly whenever he was around, whenever he’d smile in that shy schoolboy way of his.
I wouldn’t lie—knowing that I was his secret, his hideaway lover, kept shrouded from the sunlight in his life? It hurt, but I understood why he did what he did. His home life was a hot mess. His father was a fly-by-night playboy who’d never paid a dime of child support and his mother was an angry drunk. I’d never seen Mona sober, honest to god, and I’d known Caden since we were twelve.
I’d loved him just as long.
For four years, I longed to tell him the truth. I ached to tell him how I felt about him. How I got lost in his whiskey-lullaby eyes. How the low bass rasp of his voice on the phone line, late at night, did all sorts of magical things to me. How I wished I could cradle his face in my hands, smooth back his floppily-unkempt brown hair and lay a gentle kiss atop his nose.
I wished I could promise him the world.
When I did finally confess my love for him, Caden didn’t say anything for several long moments. Our eyes locked together and in their dark amber depths, I saw my soul reflected back at me.
“I love you.” The word had slipped from my mouth, lonely spirits seeking refuge.
“I know.” He’d smiled, then, with a sorrowful tilt to his full lips. “But we… We can’t,” he’d said, ever so softly. He dropped his gaze to our hands, to where I’d flattened my palms against his to hook our fingers together. “I can’t. Not where people can see. I’m sorry, Ryder.”
I shook my head and stepped forwards, drawing our linked hands to my chest. “Then let’s be us where the people aren’t.” I bit my lip, worrying it between my teeth. “I can wait for you, Caden. I can wait until you’re ready.”
His fingers squeezed over mine. “It’s not fair to you.”
“I don’t care. I don’t. So long as we’re together, I’m happy,” I’d promised him.
It was mostly true. My longing was different these days. I wished with all my heart that Caden would be brave enough to step out of the shell that he’d built around himself. I knew it was a safe haven. A fortress where no one could hurt him, because how could they hurt him if they didn’t know the truth.
He told me I was lucky, because my family was the type that welcomed me and my newfound pride with open arms and tears of happiness. He told me that Mona wouldn’t understand, that his older brother would shit a brick. He told me that it wasn’t safe for him, but it didn’t stop me from wishing.
How long until I ran out of wishes?
I gazed up at the snowflakes that drifted down around me, lazy and slow. They settled over my coat and hat with the barest of noises in the silence of the night. My hands in my pockets, I strolled down the lane, void of traffic and people alike. The street lamps that lined the road glowed down over the sidewalk, catching the snowflakes in their yellow pallor.
I stood outside the elementary school playground. When I was seven, the swing sets and the slide seemed so much bigger, so much more vast… Now, I saw it for what it was: A small square of land with an ancient aluminum slide and a rickety swing set, its chains squeaking gently with each soft bluster of wintry air. The chain-link fence that surrounded the lot was old and rusty and peeled away at one corner where the neighborhood kids snuck in after hours. After so many repairs, the school finally gave up trying to mend the hole.
I smiled at that. How many evenings had we spent together out here, stolen away on a pair of swings, holding hands beneath the cover of darkness and talking without so many words?
I breathed in the crisp smell of winter—clean and fresh and untouched—and closed my eyes. I tilted my face back until I felt tiny snowflakes gathering in my lashes to melt against the warmth of my skin. My cellphone stayed eerily silent in the back pocket of my jeans. Where are you?
Meet me at the school. I need you. That was the last text he’d sent. Two hours ago. I would wait for him. I promised him that I would. It didn’t matter that we had class in the morning, though we were only a couple weeks away from graduation now. Soon we’d don our caps and gowns and take the short walk into adulthood. After that?
They said that the world was our oyster, but could I spend the rest of my life, hung up on a boy who may never give me all of himself? Were we doomed from the beginning, undeserving of a happily ever after?
I twisted around at the sound of my name, almost moaned from the busted lips of my best friend, my secret boyfriend, the guy who meant everything to me. In the dim glow of the street lights, I saw the dark smear of blood over his nose and mouth to drip down the front of his hoodie. He stood there with his arms wrapped so tight around himself, as if he was desperately trying to hold the broken pieces together.
Panic ripped through me, followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of concern.
“Oh my god, Caden! What happened?” I was at his side in an instant. He threw his long arms around me and buried his face in my jacket, and I held on tightly. He began to sob in broken, jagged breaths. It broke my damn heart. “Cade. Talk to me. What happened? Did she hit you?” The idea of Mona, drunk off her ass and taking her self-destruction out on Caden made me ache.
He wiped snot and blood away with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. His eyes were wild, glancing back and forth, up and down—everywhere but at me. “Y-Yeah, I… I told her, Ry. I told her the truth and I shouldn’t have, ‘cause she was drunk, but I thought maybe, maybe she’d just hiccup and tell me to go out and buy her smokes, but she freaked. She really… Fuck. She’s so pissed.” He raked his hands through his hair, yanking at the nut brown locks.
“I’m sorry, baby,” I murmured with emotion thick in my throat. He’d come out. Isn’t that what I wanted? But he looked so broken, so scared. “Come here, Caden.” I pulled him closer and wiped the blood away from his face with the stray Kleenex I found stuffed into my left coat pocket.
He sniffed and closed his eyes. “What happens next?” he whispered. “I can’t go back home.”
“No. You’re not going back there. You’re coming home with me,” I told him firmly. “My parents adore you. They know, and it’ll be okay. I promise, we’ll get through this. Graduation isn’t too far away and then we’ll be free to get real jobs—not some dinky ass part-time burger flipping jobs, either. I’ve been saving money anyway, for an apartment. For us.”
His eyes went wide. “For us?”
I nodded with a small smile. “If you wanted.”
But instead of looking relieved, his expression crumpled like a torn page tossed into a waste paper basket. He swiped a hand over his face when tears began to fall once more. “Ryder… What the hell do you see in me? I don’t deserve you.”
“You’re wrong,” I said gently. I caught his hands in mine and drew us together, like I had the day I poured my heart and soul out to him. I kissed his knuckles and pulled them to my chest. “You deserve the world and if I could give it to you, I would in a heartbeat. I wish I could take away your pain and give you bravery instead. You are sweet and gentle and the kindest damn person I’ve ever known, okay, and I love you.”
He pulled his hands free, only to rest them on either side of my neck. His cold fingers trailed over my skin and I shivered, but it was soon forgotten as he kissed me. His lips brushed over mine with a tender sort of ferocity that made me reach for him, to drag him closer. “I love you, too,” he murmured against my mouth, voice hitching. “So, so much. I’m a fool and a coward and—”
“Shh.” I bit his lip, tugging it between my teeth. “You are not.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
He melted into my touch, wrapping his arms around me in a tight hug. I buried my face in the crook of his neck, breathed in his summer-sky smell, and listened to the rapid thud-thud of his heart. I clung to him and we stood there, under the snowflakes and the lamp light, for what seemed like forever until, finally, he let me go.
Caden dragged in a deep breath and let it seep back out between his teeth. “You think so?”
It took me a moment to realize what he was asking. I nodded. “I know so. Come home with me tonight, and tomorrow night, and every night after that. If anyone is undeserving, it’s your mom. She can’t see how great of a person you are through the vodka-induced coma she’s living in.” I snorted.
He cracked a small grin. “You’re right.” He reached his hand out to me, palm up and fingers waiting. “You think your parents will freak if they find me in your bed come morning?”
My own smile felt positively wicked as I leaned up and planted a swift kiss on his lips. “Probably, but who cares, right?” I took his hand in mine and squeezed. His laugh made heat bloom to the surface of my chilled skin, reverberating up my arm to swell inside of me. It felt like hope. It felt like love. “I think so long as we’re both wearing pants, we’ll be fine.”
“Aw. Where’s the fun in that?” He giggled soft.
“That’s why we’re gonna get an apartment together, remember?” I tugged on his arm. “It can be a pants-free zone. We just have to wait a little bit longer. I can wait for you, Caden. I told you that a long time ago.” I felt that truth deeper than the marrow in my bones. The smile that stretched across his face lit up my world.
“I know. Some things are just worth waiting for.”