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Seventeen

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It’s a few months after they meet when things take a turn down a romantic road. It started with quick kisses after hours at the skatepark Matt loved so much and slowly but surely became sloppy handjobs in the front seats of Matt’s car whenever they drove into the hills to get high together. Joba didn’t really think life could get any better than hanging out with someone you really liked at 2 am. Of course, it could only carry on for so long before Joba started questioning what he and Matt really were, and what he even meant to Matt.

He’d considered Matt his boyfriend after the night they spent sprawled out on Joba’s roof, Matt’s head laid on his chest as Joba quietly pointed out all the constellations that glimmered in the night sky. Matt would make soft approving noises every time Joba finished naming each of the stars, trying his best to listen intently as his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. But even then, he hadn’t ever asked Matt what he thought they were. Matt had his own friends, Nick Lenzini and Ian Simpson on the weekends and St.C’s football team on every other occasion. He’d stopped trying to talk to Matt during school after the team captain spread a rumor that Joba was gay. It was a stretch to most of the outsiders, but nearly everyone believed him much to Joba’s disbelief. Some others thought it was ridiculous, bringing up his ex-girlfriend at every given time to prove how ‘straight’ he was. Joba would glance over to Matt who’d roll his eyes or leave the room whenever it was the topic of the table. He supposes she and Matt must’ve talked at some point, both of them being on the school’s sports teams.

Everything was going great for a while but it all seemed to collapse when Romil Hemnani, one of the star football players for St.C’s, was found dead in his family’s swimming pool.

Joba was horrified of all the rumors that spread after he died. First, it was the rumor that he was secretly gay and had been hiding a secret relationship with another guy from school. That turned out to be true when the police returned his phone to his parents, deleted romantic messages from a contact under the name ‘Helmet Boy’ had been found tracing back nearly a year before the entire thing went down. The second rumor had been that he killed himself. It also turned out to be true when the police came across a handful of handwritten letters addressed to family members, friends, Jade, and the elusive figure only known as ‘Helmet Boy’. The police explained that they couldn’t give the letter to him due to there being no evidence of anyone named Helmet Boy in any of Romil’s belongings and chose to release what the letter said to the general public.

‘dear helmet boy,
im so sorry but i cant do it anymore.
i love you.
-slb.’

Later on when everything died down a bit, everyone at school found out that Jade knew who Helmet Boy was. During one of the bigger parties thrown during the year, she got blackout drunk and talked about how she’d driven to Romil’s house after practice one Friday afternoon and used the spare house key to get inside and saw him giving Helmet Boy a blowjob. Matt said she started crying and kept saying saying she knew who it was but couldn’t reveal who it was because she loved Romil too much to give up the kid's real name.

“It’s crazy,” Matt said one evening as they laid in his bed. His parents were out of town for the weekend and still didn’t know about Joba. He would be lying if he didn’t say it bothered him but he knew Matt’s parents would try to send Matt back to Mississippi. He couldn't bear being the reason Matt would have to endure that kind of pain again.

“What is?”

“The whole thing with Romil and Helmet Boy. He didn’t seem like the kind of kid who wanted to kill himself, and Jade must’ve really loved Romil if she didn’t want to give him up for anything… even cheating on her with a guy.” he says turning his head back to look Joba in the eye. His leg shifts, suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable under the circumstances.

“I mean… Romil didn't want it to get out either. We don't know why he didn't just break up with Jade,” Or leave the football team, he thinks silently. He knows Matt does the same thing, keeping his sexuality a secret to retain his status as an stand-out member of St.C's community. He purses his lips.

“Has anyone talked to her recently? Asked her how she's holding up?”

Matt shrugs, his shoulders digging into the soft flesh of Joba's midsection. He frowns and brings his hand up to run through Matt's hair. There are a few tangles that his fingers catch a hold of, Matt's breathing hitching slightly every time Joba cards through one.

“Do you know if the police ever figured out that whole 'S-L-B’ thing?” he asks, his hand stopping as he really thinks about it. That had been the whole thing about Romil's passing that really confused people. Everywhere around his room and on his belongings they'd found the letters ‘SLB’ written in Romil and an unknown person's handwriting. He had known Romil, not very well, but he had hung out with him during parties that Matt threw. Romil had always been an outlier on the football team, coming off kind and funny rather than crass and offensive like the rest of the team.

“I think they said it was an alias he'd gone by with that Helmet Boy kid,” Matt says after a couple beats of silence.

Joba's phone starts ringing in his bag, thrown haphazardly on to the chair next to Matt's desk.

“Are you going to get that?” Matt asks, glancing up to make eye contact with him again. Joba shakes his head and waves it off.

“Letting it go to voicemail… I'd rather stay right here with you,” He says with a smile in his voice. Matt flips over and crawls up the bed, stopping when he's straddling Joba's thighs. He presses a kiss to Joba's temple before letting himself melt against his side, head resting against his shoulder. He breathes in deeply, letting his eyes shut.

“Please don't be gone tomorrow morning,” Matt says, barely above a whisper.

“I won't,” Joba says simply as he hears Matt's breathing begin to even out.

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It’s the next day when Joba finally checks his phone and finds that there’s a voicemail left by Ian. They weren’t close friends, but Matt had given him Joba’s number after one of his parties. He’s a bit confused by the whole thing, but he decided to listen to it anyway. He had left Matt’s house a couple hours earlier after he got a text saying his parents were on their way home. After a bowl of cereal and a few quick kisses, Joba headed home, not wanting Matt to get in trouble for him being there.

He puts his phone up to his ear and it starts with complete silence, nothing but a bit of static coming through the line as he continues to listen. He’s straining to hear anything until he hears a hiccup followed by a sniffle and he gets really concerned, wondering if Ian is okay and why he called in the middle of the night. He’s sure there’s not going to be anything but Ian crying for the entire voicemail. It’s almost all inaudible crying until the last couple seconds of the voicemail play.

“I’m Helmet Boy.”