“Robert and Aaron.”
No. Please. That can’t be. Is this a joke? Robert’s mind is running a mile a minute, while he just stares at Mr Thomas, while the teacher continues to list off the teams for the assignment as if nothing just happened. As if he didn’t just crash Robert’s heart. Every muscle in his body is rigid and he can’t move, can only sit there and stare.
He feels eyes burning on his skin like acid. Without moving his head - he still can’t! - he glances warily to the side. Aaron Dingle is looking at him. No, he’s glaring with a deep frown on his forehead.
Robert quickly casts his gaze to the front again and swallows hard.
There are unspoken rules of how the microcosm school works. There are the popular kids, the strong ones, the ones who lead the football team and get invited to all the parties. And then there is the big group of neutrals, pupils who want to fit in, who just want to sit their time in school out without getting in trouble. The third group are the nobodies. The invisibles. The freaks and nerds.
Robert is more than aware that he belongs to the last group, which usually doesn’t bother him - except Ross Barton decides to give him a hard time every now and then.
Aaron though. Aaron fits in none of those groups. He stays to himself most of the time and it’s kinda weird. Although being the captain of the football team and being faster than all of his teammates, he isn’t what you would call a jock. He isn’t surrounded by a group of boys and girls who are hanging on his lips. For what Robert has seen so far, he doesn’t have any friends at all. He eats alone in the canteen every day, always at the same table, barely looking at other people.
During class he sits at the window side, rests his head on his hand and stares outside, like he’s lost in thoughts. Not that Robert has been watching him secretly… he just noticed it. Robert wonders what he’s thinking about. Aaron’s grades aren’t good, which is no secret among the students - and Robert truly can’t imagine Aaron Dingle sitting with his nose in his books and studying.
Aaron Dingle is like a big scowling enigma. The only thing that Robert is fairly certain of is that Aaron hates his guts. The scowl he gets every time from the other boy kinda speaks for itself.
And now Ashley Thomas paired them up for a team assignment. They are supposed to pick a piece of English literature, modern or classic, and prepare a presentation in two weeks. Every team got a certain topic, Robert and Aaron got “friendship”.
Robert is close to freaking out. This is not good, this is not good at all. His brain is one of the few things he is proud of, but what is a blessing most of the time can also be a curse. Like right now, when his stupid mind creates all the possible scenarios that might happen in the next two weeks. And Aaron letting him do all the work and barely speaking to him is the nicest of the bad things that might ensue.
Being in the same class as Ross Barton has Robert somewhat hardened against bullying. Saying he was used to it would be too far of a stretch, but Robert definitely has met the other boy’s fists a few times now. Jocks and nerds and that.
He doesn’t know how Aaron will react to this assignment. All he knows is that he is so, so, so screwed. And that, when he is supposed to look Aaron in the eye in the next two weeks, he should stop jerking off thinking about him now.
Somehow he makes it through the rest of the hour and lets out a sigh of relief when the bell rings for the lunch break. For the first time ever he is glad that English Literature - his favourite class - is over.
It takes a bit of time to gather his stuff together and by the time he‘s finished, most of the others are already gone.
“Aaron!“ he hears Mr Thomas say, “A word.“
An annoyed groan follows. Robert doesn‘t dare look up from his backpack as he puts his book and pencils away. He is the last one to leave the classroom and from the corner of his eye he sees Aaron shuffling closer to the teacher‘s desk.
“What,“ Aaron says gruffly and Robert‘s heart speeds up at the rude tone he uses when he‘s talking to a teacher.
Robert hates that his dick is twitching in his pants, but damn, it’s kinda hot.
“It‘s about this assignment… I paired you with Robert for a reason.“
It‘s not like Robert intended to eavesdrop, but since his name was mentioned, he just has to know what Thomas says next. He lingers in the hallway right on the other side of the doorframe, stares at the linoleum covered floor and strains his ears.
“I’m not your enemy, Aaron, even though you think I am. In fact, I‘m giving you a real chance here. Robert is my best student and I don’t need to remind you that you need a good grade on this assignment, otherwise you‘re failing the class and need to repeat the year.”
Robert‘s jaw drops. Wait what?
Fuck, he knew Aaron’s grades are lousy, but he hadn’t guessed that he is going to be the final straw?! Surely Aaron is going to hate him even more now. This is awful. Robert wants to bang his head against the wall. Thanks, Mr Thomas, for nothing!
While he is still fighting his freak out, Aaron is suddenly standing in front of him, eyebrows drawn together to his trademark scowl and Robert wants to hide desperately.
“Couldn’t get enough of Thomas or listened in?” Aaron grits out.
Robert is a mess! This is the first time ever Aaron is speaking to him, with that sinful hoarse voice. And he is standing so close, Robert never had the chance to take such a close look! He can basically count his eyelashes and there are bits of stubble Aaron must have missed shaving this morning. God, Aaron is shaving and that’s… like… superhot. The only thing that keeps Robert from popping a boner in the school hallway is that anger that radiates from Aaron. He is definitely pissed off. Shit. Shit!
“We, errr, should meet to discuss the assignment,” Robert forces the words out of his mouth and he is honestly surprised that he got out anything at all.
Aaron closes his eyes, bites his lip and lets out a long breath through his nose, because this must be all so inconvenient for him. His shoulders are finally dropping. “Fine,” he sighs. “When?” He opens his eyes again and looks right at Robert.
They are so incredibly blue, baby blue, like cloudless summer days. Robert’s brain goes offline for about three seconds. “Err…” he blinks and Aaron isn’t that pissed off anymore and his eyes are so beautifully blue and Robert wants to touch that little scruff on his chin so bad! “Today? After school, in the library?”
Aaron tilts his head, thinking about that. “Kay,” is all he says, before he turns around and marches off.
“Okay. Cool!” Robert says after him. “Let’s meet at the entrance, yeah? It’s a date then.”
Two girls who are walking by start snickering and only then it dawns Robert, what he just said. It’s a date. Oh my god, really?! His face twists in pain. Please, no. What has he done? Why did he say that? Is this going to be like that for the next two weeks? Robert wants to die right then and there.
“Robert?” Mr Thomas just comes out of the classroom and frowns at him. “You’re still here. Oh, you are a bit pale… Are you alright?” The teacher gives him an examining once over, but Robert just nods like a robot.
He can’t believe he said that to Aaron. The nonverbal answer seems to be satisfying enough for Ashley Thomas and he smiles good naturedly. “I’m looking forward to your presentation, I am sure, you’ll do it fine.”
Robert nods again although his teacher couldn‘t be more wrong. This is going to be a disaster.
The library is a public library that happens to be right next to the school. It’s one of those huge brick buildings, old and dignified. Centuries of knowledge and literature agglomerated on one spot.
It doesn’t need to be said that Robert loves this place. That almost sacred atmosphere there, combined with the smell of paper and the endless shelves of colourful covers. The huge reading room in the middle of the building is his favourite: there are long rows of tables to study and research, but also soft seat cushions in the corners simply to read.
Robert could spend hours there. Has actually spent hours there, escaping reality to Neverland, Middle Earth and Hogwarts. Has met lifelong friends like Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Percy Jackson, Roland Deschain and Lisbeth Salander.
It‘s his happy place.
Today is the first time he isn‘t happy about being here. Because he‘s going to meet Aaron any moment. His embarrassing sentence earlier is still echoing in his head, a constant reminder of how awfully awkward this whole project is going to be. Robert pulls on the sleeves of his school jacket, pats off dust that isn‘t there, just to do something. He doesn‘t wanna look at his watch. He just looked at it 10 seconds ago.
Maybe Aaron isn‘t showing up. Shortest and worst assignment in school history. Robert never had an F before and it would ruin his flawless marks, but well, right now it still seems like the better option than suffering through the humiliation of working with Aaron for two excruciatingly long weeks.
Robert jerks and lets out a noise he isn‘t proud of. He swirls around and of course Aaron is there, looking sheepishly at him. Heat is flushing Robert‘s body and threatens to burn off the skin of his cheeks.
“Hi,“ he manages out through his tight throat.
Aaron is shuffling from one feet to another and Robert notices that he has changed already. He‘s wearing a black hoodie now instead of his crisp white school shirt and the tie, as if he couldn‘t get rid of it quick enough. It‘s a bit odd, knowing that Aaron must be storing clothes in his locker, but well, Robert has definitely a fair share of quirks of his own, so he is hardly one to talk.
And the hoodie looks good. Damn, Aaron looks even more bad boy-ish now. This might be a serious problem for Robert‘s concentration.
Robert‘s head snaps up and his heart is beating like a jackhammer because Aaron just used his name for the first time. Only after a few seconds he realises that Aaron must have said something else to him, because he‘s looking at him like he‘s expecting an answer.
So much for the concentration problem.
As soon as the word leaves his mouth he wants to kick his nerdy brain in the arse. Nobody says ‘pardon’ - Aaron must think he‘s a tremendous striver.
Not that he doesn‘t know that already from class. Robert wishes the ground would swallow him up.
All the bigger is his surprise when he sees the tiniest of smirks flicker over Aaron‘s face.
“I asked if we should go in,“ he says and it‘s the first time Robert hears this hoarse voice without an annoyed or gruff undertone.
It‘s soft almost. God help him, soft.
It‘s confusing, Aaron is supposed to hate him.
Robert nods, lost for words, and starts walking into the library. He uses the shoulder to push the wooden door open, knowing too well that thing gets stuck all the time. As soon as the smell hits him, he feels better, safer somehow. This is his terrain, the natural habitat of a nerd so to say.
“Hello Robert!“ a voice welcomes him and he turns to the left where his favourite librarian is sitting behind the information counter.
“Hi Pearl,“ he greets the older lady, “how is your back today?“
She gives him a broad smile, obviously pleased that he remembered how she told him about her spine last time. As if Robert could hardly forget that, since she was talking for almost 20 minutes about her sciatic nerve and he was too polite to interrupt her.
“Much better, thank you! Do you need another book recommendation? We have received new literature just yesterday and there are some real gems-”
“Actually,“ he starts, because this time he really can‘t listen to her rambling, not with Aaron right behind him, “we‘re here to study.“
He half turns around to Aaron, smiling, but the trademark frown and glare are back as if the short moment outside never happened and Robert‘s heart stutters and his smile falters.
Pearl eyes Aaron, gives him a long once over and Robert can feel him tensing up, sees his face closing off more and more.
“Lovely chat as always, Pearl. We‘re going in then, bye!“ he says quickly and nods for Aaron to follow him.
They walk through the huge glass doors into the big reading room, but Robert knows already that they can’t take a table because you have to be quiet in here. Still, he takes a moment to appreciate the beauty of the room as always. It’s a giant cube, over 80 feet high, and the walls are covered with endless bookshelves, small wooden balconies and narrow staircases. The tables are mostly taken anyway, so he leads Aaron through one of the various passages through the book walls. In the back is the stack, different smaller rooms, sorted by theme and epoches and authors. There are tiny tables and cube seats and talking is allowed.
When they find a free corner, Robert takes a seat and starts opening his backpack to take his notes out. After a moment he notices that he is the only one doing so. He glances up and sees Aaron still standing there, shifting from one foot to another, looking around warily. The discomfort is radiating off him.
Robert wonders what he’s done wrong.
The little encounter with Pearl seemed to have changed Aaron’s mood, but Robert can’t fathom why. He clears his throat.
“We should… errm agree on a book first,” he suggests to ease the awkwardness and get it started somehow.
Aaron huffs out a breath that sounds rather exasperated, throws his backpack into the corner and slumps down on the seat. He doesn’t take out any notes.
Oh, okay. Well then. Robert swallows.
“Okay sooo… our topic is friendship,” he mutters and tries to dive into the task ahead, his brain already scanning the stuff he read. “Maybe we start with what we’ve read where friendships are a central part of the plot and check if there’s a book we can agree on.”
It sounds like a good plan, reasonable, but Aaron just bites his lip and glares at the shelves as if they personally offended him.
Seems like Robert has to do the brainstorming alone. Great.
“Well, uhm, what about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer?” he asks.
Aaron swallows and starts bouncing his leg, otherwise he stays silent. Robert supposes that means he hasn’t read it, so he goes for a safe choice next.
“What about Romeo and Mercutio?” Oh, this could be a good friendship to analyse, plus there is loads of literature about Shakespeare already.
“Who?” Aaron frowns at him and Robert’s heart sinks.
“Romeo? As in Romeo and Juliet?” he tries carefully.
“Ah,” is all he gets in return.
Oh dear, this is like pulling teeth. “We read it last year,” Robert clarifies.
“I know now,” Aaron snaps at him.
“So… shall we take that?” Robert really wants this to work somehow. It’s not only about his grade, but also about Aaron’s. Ashley Thomas made it pretty clear how important this is for Aaron and Robert cannot understand how the other boy is so passive about it.
Aaron scratches his eyebrow awkwardly. “No.”
“Haven’t read it.”
“Y-... you what?” Robert stutters and stares at him, “We wrote a test about it!”
Aaron shrugs. “Used Holly’s notes,” he says gruffly.
Robert is this close to throwing the towel right then and there. Seriously, what’s the point? Maybe it’s for the best if Aaron has to redo the school year. Seems like he’s not the brightest candle on the cake anyway and could need the extra time.
“Just didn’t like that it was so old,” Aaron mutters and kicks invisible little stones with his sneaker on the beige carpet.
Really, Robert should grab his bag and leave right now, but there is something about Aaron that draws him in, something other than just his good looks. He can’t even put a finger on what it is.
“Okay, modern literature then,“ he says before he can overthink it. “What about Harry Potter?“
Aaron ducks his head sheepishly and fidgets with the seam of his jeans.
“What?! You never read Harry Potter?“ Robert shrieks incredulously and stares at Aaron with big eyes.
“It‘s… for girls, innit? I dunno.“
Aaron looks so uncomfortable, it‘s stupid and endearing at the same time. Like very, very endearing. Robert sighs, admits defeat and honestly wonders what the other boy actually has read so far, because surely there has to be something!
“Fine, what do you suggest?“ Robert throws his hand in the air.
Aaron tilts his head, his gaze is losing focus as he‘s staring into the distance and he sticks out the tip of his tongue.
Robert is dying.
Oh my god. He can’t do anything other than stare at the boy. Does Aaron even know how ridiculously hot he is?
“What about IT?“ Aaron finally asks.
“IT? Stephen King‘s IT?“ Robert gets excited quickly when Aaron simply nods. “Oh yes, this is an amazing choice! The Losers Club is perfect for our assignment, the strong friendship bond between the Seven is in fact the reason why they are able to fight against IT!” Robert’s mind is already running a mile a minute, trying to think of what should be mentioned during their presentation. He smiles at Aaron. “King is one of my favourite writers! Loved 22/11/63 and Mr Mercedes and the Dark Tower series. I am discovering his classics at the moment, Pet Sematary is next on the list. But IT is definitely my fav so far, it’s so cool that you read it too.”
They both like Stephen King. He had something in common with Aaron Dingle! For a moment he was convinced Aaron wouldn’t read at all, but maybe he underestimated him after all. He should give him some credit.
King is an excellent choice.
“Well,... actually I saw the movies,” Aaron admits reluctantly and the tips of his ears turn pink as he quickly downcasts his eyes.
Robert stares at him for a total five seconds. “Alright,” he decides and nods, “that’ll do.”
Although Robert vowed to himself that he wouldn’t jerk off to the fantasy of Aaron giving him a handjob - at least for as long they are working together on the presentation! - it’s almost inevitable that his hand sneaks under his blanket that night. And if he’s coming to the mental image of Aaron Dingle giving him his tiny smile in combination with that adorable blush then it’s nobody's business but his.
When they enter the reading room on the next day to start the actual work on their assignment, Robert heads straight to the left side of the cube. Aaron grabs his arm and Robert turns to look at him.
“Aren’t we staying here?” Aaron asks loudly and points to an empty table.
“Shhh!” someone hisses angrily.
Robert smiles apologetically and presses his pointer at his lips. His skin under his shirt feels hot and tingling where Aaron is still touching him on his biceps with his warm hand. And it takes all of Robert’s willpower to not think back to last night. God, Aaron Dingle, who is supposed to hate him, who usually just scowles at him, is standing right there and touching him! Robert’s brain goes offline for a short moment before it boots up slowly again.
Aaron is glancing around to whoever shushed him and his ears are glowing again.
Robert nods in the direction of a door which leads to a modern, white corridor of the new part of the building with floor-to-ceiling-windows on the left and various doors on the right side.
“Here are the private study rooms,” Robert explains and opens door number 5 with a key card. “Talking in the reading room is prohibited, but we can discuss our stuff here. And I thought we can work better here than in the stack where people are walking by searching literature all the time. You have to book those rooms beforehand and they’re normally booked out for days, but I bribed Pearl with her favourite cake from the café down the street. She basically never says no to sweets.” He quickly shuts his mouth as soon as he notices that he’s rambling.
The room isn’t spectacular, just a clean square with a table for six, but for their purpose it’ll do.
“You mean the old bag from the information desk?” Aaron asks and throws his backpack into the corner, what makes Robert wince, before he’s slouching down on one of the chairs.
Robert chuckles nervously, slowly pulling out his pencils and his notebook. “Yeah, she is alright actually. Bit of a chatterbox, but...yeah.”
When he comes to think about it he talks to her more on one day than to his classmates the whole week. Oh dear, good old Pearl is probably the closest to what one would consider as a friend he has. Robert has no idea what that says about him, if he’s honest, except it’s kinda sad. Aaron must think he’s a total loser.
“Yeah? Okay. Cool,” is all the other boys says, “I like it here.”
It’s an odd thing to say, Robert would rather sit in the reading room, being surrounded by all those fantastic books, hundreds of years of literature and wisdom, than sitting in this room with its boring white walls. He doesn’t comment on it though. A small part of him is still scared that Aaron hates his guts and for now it’s going comparatively well, so he doesn’t wanna push his luck.
The last item he takes out of his bag is his copy of IT, a well-worn soft cover. Aaron stares at the book and his blue eyes go big.
“That’s it?” Aaron takes the novel and turns it into his hand and thumbs through the pages.
“1138 pages,” Robert tells him, “It’s King’s second longest novel.”
Aaron gives him an incredulous look, shakes his head slightly and barks out a laugh that makes Robert immediately self-conscious. Great, he should just tattoo the word ‘nerd’ on his forehead.
“Sorry,” he mutters and ducks his head, “I dunno why I keep such random facts in mind.”
He sits down on his chair, facing Aaron, but he doesn’t dare looking up. His cheeks heat up quickly and he wishes he could hide under the table. Suddenly Aaron appears in his line of sight, because he bent down his head to meet his gaze.
“Why are you apologising?“ Because you were laughing, Robert thinks and just shrugs. “I think it’s phat.”
His belly starts weirdly tingling. Aaron thinks it’s phat. Then there it is again, that cute tiny smile on Aaron’s face that makes the sun go up.
Their eyes lock and Robert‘s heart does a little backflip.
“Bet school must be so easy with a memory like that…” Aaron reckons, fingers still playing with the cover of the book.
“Yeah, because being a nerd and getting bullied makes my life totally awesome,” Robert says bitterly before he can stop himself.
Then a series of emotions flickers over Aaron’s face as he’s sobering up and the frown reappears. “You what?”
That sweet little moment is gone and Robert imploringly wished that he just had kept his mouth shut. He doesn’t wanna talk about it and surely not with Aaron Dingle of all people. The boy who is his walking spank bank material for the past two years.
“Nothing,” he says quickly, trying to brush it off. If he’s doing it convincingly enough, they could finally start with their assignment. “Just… nevermind.”
He opens his notebook and pointedly ignores Aaron’s burning gaze, but his cheeks are heating up uncomfortably.
“Do you wanna take the notes?” he offers to change the subject and looks up.
As soon as he sees Aaron’s expression harden and closing off, it becomes clear that it was a rhetorical question.
“You’ve got the better handwriting,” Aaron mutters and shifts on his chair.
Robert sighs quietly, but nods since he basically expected no other reply. “Okay. I think we should start with a summary of the plot…”
They work on their presentation for the next two hours and admittedly it’s not that bad. Robert finds himself positively surprised. Although Aaron truly is not a talkative guy, he pipes up here and there and throws in some good points.
After the summary they move on to the characterisation of the Loser’s Club and while Robert is writing down what they have so far, Aaron is half lying on the table, head resting on his arms and looking out of the window. Robert carefully glances up and stares at him as discreetly as possible. The light shining through the windows illuminates his face and makes his eyes shine even brighter and even more blue than usual. How is that even possible? They are twinkling like gemstones and Robert is mesmerized. The little scruff from yesterday is gone, so Aaron must have shaved. Robert grips the pen so hard his knuckles are turning white and he bites his tongue to stop his mind from wandering into Aaron’s bathroom and imagining the things he does in there every morning in bright colours and tiny details.
Aaron standing at his sink, shaving, only a small towel wrapped low around his hips.
Aaron standing under the shower, hot water running down his torso, droplets sparkling on his skin.
Robert really, really should stop thinking inappropriate things like that now, because he can feel his trousers getting tight already. And that stupid uniform hides nothing.
“I think I like Bill the most,” Aaron says suddenly with a quiet, thoughtful voice, still staring into the distance.
“Yeah?” Robert puts his pen down and fully turns towards him.
“He’s… like, a leader, isn’t he? Other people think he’s stupid, but in fact he’s clever, although he can’t show it often with his words, because of his stuttering. He shows it with his actions instead, how he cares about others. And he’s brave and he loved his little brother so much…”
Aaron trails off, eyebrows drawn together, but this time it’s not his trademark scowl.
The nuances are slightly different and Robert recognises it as hurt. Aaron looks hurt.
Thinking about what he just said, it dawns Robert that the other boy might be projecting the characterization to himself.
“Do you have siblings?” he asks.
Aaron looks at him, without lifting his head from his arms. “A sister. Half-sister,” he corrects himself, “but she left with her mum. Haven’t seen her for years.”
Silence settles, Robert isn’t sure what to respond to that and thinks about Aaron’s words instead. He supposes there are a lot of people who assume that Aaron might be stupid and damn, he even includes himself in that category. Albeit finding Aaron extremely hot and gorgeous, the thought about being a bit… simple crossed his mind definitely more than once. Shame is flushing his body. He really should know better than to judge a book by its cover. No pun intended. He ducks his head and fidgets with his pen.
“Who’s your favourite character?” Aaron wants to know.
Robert tilts his head. “I think Ben.“
“The fat one? Really? Why?“ Aaron raises his eyebrows.
“I don‘t know… yeah, I mean, he is fat as a kid and a bit awkward, but he is super clever and when he grows up he transforms into this new man: good looking, successful…”
“And in the end he gets the girl,” Aaron throws in.
“Yeah,” Robert says quietly.
He’s known for about two years now that he also fancies blokes. Since Aaron walked into their classroom for the first time and Robert laid eyes on him. At first he thought he was gay, but girls were still hot as well and it confused the hell out of him. Consequently Robert did some research, because that’s what he does when he doesn’t understand certain things. As soon as he came across bisexual blogs he knew he found his answer. He groaned in annoyance, because seriously, being a nerd makes him an outcast already, he really didn’t need anything else on top. There were two gay guys at school and one lesbian he knew, but no one ever came out as bi as far as he’s aware of.
He is more relaxed with his sexuality in the meantime, but despite having accepted the fact for himself he hasn’t told anyone else yet.
Surely Aaron is as straight as they come.
“I thought you’d take Mike,” Aaron pulls him out of his thoughts.
“Why? Because he’s the lonely loser who stays behind?” Robert tries a joke but it falls flat.
“No?” Aaron frowns at him as if he’d said something silly. “Yes, he’s a silent guy, but he’s the one for research. He loves to study and books and becomes a librarian later. And yeah he stays back in Derry, but not because he’s a loser. I think he’s selfless and puts others first.”
Robert’s brain decides to take a quick time-out and his body starts tingling and buzzing everywhere. Is that what Aaron thinks about him?! Oh God can it please be what he thinks about him?
Aaron’s face is suddenly so open and genuine and without all his growly attitude, it’s weird! It’s off putting. They just look at each other for what seems like an eternity - but in reality it’s probably only seconds - and suddenly it gets so intense that Robert has to break the eye contact and swallow thickly to push his beating heart from his throat back down.
It was like Aaron could look into his soul. It was like he could see Robert.
Did this just really happen?
The buzzing sound of a vibrating phone is breaking the tension in the room. Robert pulls it out of his backpack and tries to hide his shaking hands.
“It’s my sister,” he mutters and accepts the call. “Hi Vic, what’s up?”
“Robert, where are you?”
“In the library. Why?” Dread is filling his belly, when he checks the watch. It’s not dinner time, so why does she sound so urgent?
“Have you forgotten? The vet is here. Dad says he needs all the hands he can get.”
“And?” Robert snaps, jumps up from his chair and starts pacing around. “Isn’t Andy there to help?”
“Course he is, but Dad says he needs you too,” his little sister explains, before she’s taking a breath and adds with a hushed voice: “He’s pretty stressed. Please come quick, Robert.”
He curses quietly. This is the last thing he wants right now. Robert hates the farm, hates working on the farm, it’s really not his thing. He isn’t as strong as Andy or as manually skilled as his dad and he always feels like an idiot when he is forced to work with them. Their snarky remarks and jokes at his expense aren’t helping that issue.
When Jack gets stressed it’s even worse. Robert really, really doesn’t wanna go home now. But he has to anyway, sooner or later. Better get it over with.
“Okay.” He sighs and his shoulders are dropping.
Why does this have to happen now, when Aaron and him got on so surprisingly well? It’s probably fate. They end the call and he turns around to Aaron.
“Everything alright?” the other boy asks him.
“My dad needs me on the farm,” he explains, keeping his voice as even as possible.
Inside he’s screaming. Robert is just waiting for the day when he can go to uni, preferably far away from here, when he can finally focus on his studies, on his future and his career. If being a farmboy is Andy’s choice of profession that’s good for him, but it sure as hell isn’t Robert’s.
“Oh.” Aaron gets up too and then he shifts uncomfortably on his feet.
“Sorry, I-” Robert swallows and starts packing his stuff.
“No, it’s fine.”
It’s awkward now… or maybe it just feels awkward to Robert, because all he can think about now is his angry dad, the stupid vet and the cows. However, the mood is ruined now and Robert wishes so bad that they could go back to how it was five minutes ago.
“Today was good though. Good start,” he says.
Aaron gives him that tiny smile again and it hits Robert that he’s dangerously close to not just having a sexual crush on his classmate, but to actually falling for him.
Maybe he already is.
Someone bumps into him from behind, causing Robert to stumble and drop his books.
“Watch out, Sugden!” Ross Barton walks past him and smirks nastily.
God, Robert hates him so much, he wishes he would fight back finally. He imagines pushing Ross around, making him suffer for whatever he did to Robert. He imagines Ross begging him to stop and apologising to him. In reality he’s just rubbing his shoulder and sinking to his knees to get his stuff together again.
When he gets up about a few seconds later, suddenly someone steps into his personal space and Robert instinctively flinches and takes a step back, expecting Barton again.
He looks up into Aaron’s frowny face and his heart speeds up painfully. Robert wonders if Aaron has seen that encounter with Ross and he instantly hopes not! He wouldn’t live that humiliation down. Aaron would think he’s weak or something.
“Sure, yeah. Totally,” he says quickly and does what he hopes might be a smile.
It feels fake. Aaron’s frown deepens and he narrows his eyes at him for a second as if he’s scanning for the lie. Right when Robert is tensing up, Aaron’s face falls and softens again.
“Err, listen. About our next meeting…” he scratches his eyebrow.
“Oh yeah, we didn’t talk about that yesterday, did we? How about today? We still need to finish the characterisation and I have quite a few-”
“I can’t,” Aaron interrupts him, “Today.”
“Oh.” The word leaves Robert’s mouth despite his will. He hates how small it sounded.
Aaron is probably bored with this assignment already and is looking for ways to skive, his vicious brain is quick to provide the reason.
“I’ve got training later.”
Oh, okay, that explains it. That is much better than being bored and wanting to skive. Of course Aaron’s got training, he’s the captain of the football team after all. Sexy jerseys and shorts and all that.
Before he can think of anything to say back, Aaron orders with a rather gruff voice: “Gimme your phone.”
“Your phone.” Aaron is avoiding his eyes, but holding his hand up expectantly.
Automatically Robert complies, trying to make sense of Aaron’s weird behaviour. The short sentences and the eyebrows are hard to read sometimes. Robert isn’t sure if he’s angry about something - and if so, about what? Has Robert done something? But why would he want Robert’s phone? It’s all so confusing.
Aaron takes the Samsung and types something in, then he hands it back.
There is a new contact in his list. It says Aron.
Normally, Robert’s brain is quick, but right now it seems to take a small eternity until he slowly, slowly realises that he just got Aaron Dingle’s phone number. His hands are getting clammy, making the phone slippery in his tight grip and what’s much worse: he’s flushing hot and his cheeks are burning.
“Call me when you want to meet,” Aaron says.
Robert looks up from the display into those wonderful blue eyes. “Okay.”
Oh God, he just got Aaron’s phone number. The other boy nods at him and then walks off. He stares at the number again and a huge grin is forming on his face. Carefully he casts a glance over his shoulder, where Aaron is walking down the school corridor with his backpack hanging over one shoulder and then Aaron turns his head and looks back at Robert.
Their eyes lock.
His heart does this sudden tick again, like a hiccup and it’s totally like a moment from a stupid highschool romance movie, but Robert doesn’t care. Cannot care, because this is the moment where he finally is falling in love with Aaron Dingle.
Robert is just enjoying a bit of fresh air on this warm summer afternoon, as he’s standing in the shadows of the huge school building. And while he’s watching Aaron and the other boys running around on the pitch, he’s convincing himself that this isn’t a creepy behaviour at all.
How come he only realises hours later, when he’s already in bed that night, that Aaron spelled his name wrong?
Robert stares at it a long time. It’s so weird - albeit a bit endearing as well. Maybe Aaron was just nervous when he was typing in his contact information? But then again, Robert can’t imagine Aaron being nervous about anything! It’s most definitely just a normal typo. It happens when you’re writing quickly.
Hi Aaron, it’s Robert. Do you have time to continue our assignment tomorrow? We still have to finish the characterizations before we get to the analysis.
He hits send and regrets it a second later. His message could be read pretty bossy, couldn’t it? Robert doesn’t wanna come across bossy.
Only if you have time, of course. If it doesn’t fit into your schedule we can also continue next week. No worries. Just tell me when it suits you.
Robert stares at his second text, realising that he didn’t make it better. Now it sounds like he’s free always, like he has no social life at all. Which, in fact, he hasn’t, but Aaron doesn’t need to know that embarrassing fact.
And then I’ll check if I can make it.
He bites his lip and rakes his hand through his hair. Why is he such a weirdo? An IQ above the average, but not being able to send a simple text message. Why can he recite the citric acid cycle, but can’t type out a random invitation to study?
The next ten minutes, Robert is looking at his phone like a hawk, opening his messenger every few seconds to check for a message from Aaron. Which is ridiculous, because his phone would tell him with a bing when he’d receive a new text. Robert made sure that his sound was switched on.
It’s likely that Aaron is sleeping already, it dawns on him, since it is almost midnight. He really should have checked the time before he sent a bunch of texts.
Sorry for disturbing you so late at night.
Realising that he disturbed Aaron’s night once more with apologising for disturbing his night, Robert lets out a frustrated groan and throws his phone on the nightstand.
Aaron hasn’t answered. Robert’s stomach drops when he stares at his blank display the next morning. This can’t be good and so it’s inevitable that his stupid brain starts overthinking everything.
When he arrives at school, he is a nervous wreck and he tries to tell himself that it’s totally irrational being on edge like that just because one of his classmates hasn’t responded to a bunch of text messages. It’s a thought that doesn’t help cheer him up unfortunately, because Aaron isn’t just a classmate, is he?
He is falling for Aaron, he knew it, and pretty hard too.
For the straightest of all straight guys - besides Ross Barton - in his class. Of course Robert is crushing on him, because he’s an idiot. It’ll only end up in eternal heartbreak for him.
It’s not like he can change it though.
Walking into school needs a lot of self-confidence today, the mere thought of meeting Aaron and looking into those bright blue eyes is freaking him out. When he spots Aaron in the hallway, Robert’s instinct tells him to run to the next toilet and hide in there, but it’s all too late when the other boy sees him too and even comes over.
“Hi,” he manages out and tries to act cool, not like he made a total loser of himself with his messages last night or something. Robert feels like throwing up.
“So, today then?” Aaron asks without further ado and catches Robert off guard.
“The assignment? You texted me?” Aaron frowns a little now.
“Oh yeah. You haven’t answered,” Robert says and bites his tongue immediately.
Aaron is scratching his eyebrow and kicks a little stone away. “Yeah, well, I’m more of a voice message guy.”
That doesn’t really explain why he hasn’t replied with a voice message, but Robert is willing to let it go and to put this awkwardness behind them again. For the assignment’s sake of course.
“Okay, noted. Today then.”
“I can basically do every day except when there’s footy training,” Aaron tells him.
That’s good information. Robert knows very well the training is Wednesday and Friday afternoon, but Aaron can’t know he knows that already, so he asks casually: “Uh-huh, good and when is that?”
Aaron gives him a confused look and Robert feels himself blushing.
“You know when.”
Robert chokes on his own spit and starts coughing. “What?”
“I saw you, you were watching us. Quite a few times,” Aaron says nonchalantly with this adorable small confused frown as if this is something totally normal and not first-class stalker behaviour.
Robert wants to die right then and there. The skin of his face is about to burn off, it’s so hot it actually hurts. His brain tries to come up with a logical response to that, anything that doesn’t make him look like the idiot with a gaping mouth that he is. And, seriously, what is his above-average IQ good for when it can’t provide the easiest things?
The school bell ringing for the first lesson saves him.
“We should...err…” he stutters, points in no specific direction at all, doesn’t wait for Aaron’s reaction and just turns around and walks off.
Falling in love with Aaron won’t be a problem after this assignment, Robert thinks bitterly, he’s most definitely gonna die of embarrassment anyway.
They are back in the small study room and Robert is writing again, while Aaron is half lying on his chair with his feet on the table and looking outside, lost in his thoughts. Robert doesn’t want to be that shallow and predictable, but those bad boy vibes are so damn hot and he is just a hormone driven teenage virgin, so sue him.
“The friendship makes them strong,” Aaron says into the silence of the room. Like he was thinking about that for a while now.
“Yeah,” Robert puts his pen down. “Their bond is something that scares IT and IT tries to break it several times, but doesn’t succeed. Friendship is like King’s counterpart of evil.”
Aaron looks at him. The sun makes his skin glow golden and his eyes are shining bright and Robert is so lost.
“I loved the scene at the lake, that was ace,” he says and smiles.
It might be one of the most carefree smiles Robert has ever seen on his face. Apart from those tiny smirks it might be the first smile ever, when he thinks about it.
Robert remembers the scene in the movie, where the seven are at a lake on a hot summer day and at first they’re jumping off a cliff into the water and then they’re fooling around, dunking each other.
“Must be cool to have such friends,” he muses wistfully.
Aaron leans forward on the table and puts his head on hand. “What about your friends?”
The question makes Robert frown and then he makes a big gesture to look around in the sterile, white room. “My countless friends you mean?” he bites out sarcastically. His only friends are his little sister and the talkative librarian in her 60s, and how damn sad is that.
The smile on Aaron’s face falls and he looks genuinely surprised. “You don’t have any friends?”
Sometimes he wonders in which reality Aaron Dingle is living. They’ve been in the same class for years now, surely he must know by now that Robert doesn’t have such things as friends. But then again, Aaron rather loves to stare outside the windows than taking notice of what's happening in the classroom.
Robert just shrugs as if he couldn’t care less about it and tries to play it cool, but of course it sucks. Of course he wishes he had someone to hang out with and do whatever kids do with their friends. Going to the arcade or something. At least that’s what Vic sometimes does with her girls. While he’s bemoaning the fact that his sister has more of a social life than him, Robert finds solace in his books.
“But you’re always nice. And clever and funny,” Aaron lists off.
And excuse me, what?! Aaron thinks he’s funny?! Since when?
Robert’s heart speeds impossibly up, as if it's trying to beat itself out of his chest. And Aaron thinks he’s nice. And clever.
Robert wants to kiss him.
He wants to kiss him so bad! It’s hitting him out of nowhere, this desire to kiss him, only once. Only once would be amazing. There is a little bit of scruff above his upper lip today and Robert imagines how it would scratch his skin, how they would kiss and kiss until their lips get numb and he got a nasty stubble rash under his nose. It would be worth it.
“Yeah?” he whispers.
The blue eyes are looking at him with a sudden intensity that knocks the breath out of Robert’s lungs. Usually Aaron is more absent than present - with his mind at least - and Robert often wonders where he’s drifting off to, but now he’s right here, looking at him. Looking into him.
Nobody ever has looked at him like this, has seen him like that.
“What about you? And your friends?” Robert genuinely wants to know more about this closed off boy.
Maybe his friends go to another school or are older and working already.
Robert wants to know everything and right now he knows close to nothing. Aaron likes football and black clothes and has seen IT. Not much, is it?
Instead of learning some information about Aaron, all he gets is the reappearing frown. Aaron’s face is hardening and Robert swears he can hear him shutting off, when he lowers his eyes.
He regrets having asked the question immediately. The moment is broken and Robert wants to kick himself for having ruined it. Why, why, oh why couldn’t he just shut up and enjoy it as long as possible? No, he had to open his stupid mouth and ask a stupid question.
They go back to working on their assignment again - Robert writing and Aaron throwing in his thoughts. It’s just like before. And yet different, Robert thinks when he’s glancing up and sees Aaron quickly casting his gaze away from him.
It’s another day of footy training, but Robert refuses to watch this time. Now that he’s aware that Aaron has seen him lurking at the pitch from his hiding spot in the shadows.
He tries to get into a new book Pearl gave him and although it’s not bad, he just sits there on his seat cushion in the reading room and stares at the bookshelves, replaying his conversations with Aaron.
The boy stays an enigma. Although there were moments Robert could see behind the facade of scowls and grumpy one-word-replies. Aaron isn’t the bully he once thought he was, the standoffish attitude isn’t aggressive at all. It’s more the opposite actually, Aaron seems to be rather shy and bashful.
After an hour Robert gives up and packs his stuff. He isn’t keen on going home, but sitting here is pointless. It’s Friday, which means the weekend is ahead and he should be excited about that and make plans like all the students, but Robert doesn’t like weekends much if he’s honest.
Weekends are for “supporting your family, Robert”, like his dad uses to say. Meaning helping on the farm, literal shitty jobs like cleaning the piggery and that.
He’s going to miss Aaron. Damn, he misses him already.
How is that even possible after spending that little time together?
Robert wants to bang his head somewhere. Why does he have to fall for the most complicated person in school? It’s like his stupid heart downright wants to suffer.
When he comes home, Vic is in the kitchen, pulling Coke out of the fridge.
“Hi, I’ll take one too, please!” Robert puts his bag in the corner and walks over to her.
“You’re late. Where have you been?”
“Library,” he says and takes the glass she’s giving him. “Ta.”
“Figures…” she mutters and he elbows her.
Vic just laughs. They lean against the counter and sip their drinks in silence side by side until his little sister asks: “So, was Aaron with you again?”
Robert nearly spills his coke.
“Sarina saw you,” Vic explains. “Are you friends with him now?”
“We’re working on an assignment for the English class,” he says defensively and hopes that’s it then, because he doesn’t wanna talk about Aaron, not even with Vic. Of course he’s not that lucky.
“Chris said you exchanged numbers.”
He thinks back to this remarkable encounter on Wednesday and the looks they shared. The memory alone makes him all fuzzy and warm inside, but he’s sensing Vic’s eyes on his face, his skin heats up quickly.
“Just to talk about the assignment. Why are you gossiping about it?” he snaps.
“Why are you blushing about it?” Vic counters.
Robert hates his body so much in that moment, because he’s blushing even more. “I’m not!” he shouts, cheeks burning like they’re about to fall off.
Too late he’s realising that he just made it worse. He should have downplayed it, finished his Coke and just headed for his room.
Vic scoffs, then she pauses and her eyes go big as if she just had a realisation herself. Robert’s heart stops and his stomach drops, hot and heavy.
“What? Aaron? Really?! Are you gay?” His little sister gapes at him.
It’s like time stops, when Robert starts panicking. “No! I-” Suddenly he remembers where they are: at home, in the house… where dad and Andy could be just around the corner. “Shut up!” he hisses and looks frantically in the direction of the living room, trying to listen if anyone is in there.
It’s hard to hear anything though, because the blood is rushing through his ears with a deafening swoosh.
Oh god, what if dad or Andy heard it? Fuck. Dad is going to be so angry and Andy… Andy will probably think he’s a perv or something.
“Rob!” Suddenly something grabs his arm and it takes Robert a moment to focus on Vic’s hand on his skin. “Breathe!”
Only then he notices how his lungs are hurting, aching for air and he takes big gulps and coughs pathetically. Vic is still holding his arm and looking at him with big eyes.
Robert closes his own for a moment, wishing nothing more than to escape from this moment. So, his sister mentioned him being gay and brought him on the edge of a panic attack. How embarrassing.
“Dad and Andy are outside, repairing something at the tractor,” Vic says, obviously understanding why he was freaking out. Great. Amazing. “Look, I don’t care if you’re gay.”
Robert wants to say that he isn’t gay, but all the energy is leaving his body and he just feels incredibly tired. Putting his glass on the counter, he pulls his arm free and walks wordlessly to the kitchen door.
“I mean it,” Vic says behind him, “I don’t care, Rob. Just-... be careful with Aaron, especially after what he did to Holly.”
Robert stops. He doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean. What happened between Aaron and Holly? School gossip isn’t his strong point exactly. For a moment he debates asking her what she means, but he doesn’t bite. He just wants to go into his room and hide in there for a bit.
He imagined countless times how he’d come out to his family and it always was a big declaration with loads of pathos and emotions. Never did he see his sister in the kitchen on a Friday afternoon, drinking a Coke.
Vic is in the stables, grooming her horse. Robert leans against the wooden gate and watches her for a moment.
Despite his biggest fear, she didn’t bring the subject up again. Even during dinner last night, she acted like always.
Although she’s annoying and irritating as hell most of the time, Robert really loves her. Not that he would ever admit it to her, of course. She reminds him so much of their mum and right now, when he’s standing here and looking at Vic, he’s missing his mum like crazy. It would be easier with her around. He knew she’d understand his bisexuality and support him no matter what. She’d be on his side against dad.
Robert can’t imagine his dad taking it well. Jack Sugden is an old-fashioned fella, stuck on a farm forever - with both his body and his mind. Everyone who isn’t straight is a fag in his eyes, weak and not “man enough”.
A movement to his right pulls him out of his thoughts. It’s Dumbledore, his horse, carefully nudging Robert’s shoulder with his muzzle.
“Hi buddy,” he says quietly. “It’s been a while, huh?”
He feels bad for not coming by more often. Kids from the village pay money to ride the horses, so he knows Dumbledore gets enough action and care, but still. It’s his stallion and he should look after him more.
“Sorry.” Robert gently strokes the warm fur between his eyes and pats Dumbledore’s neck. The horse huffs hot air against his arm.
“Fancy a ride, Robert?” He looks over to Vic who’s smiling at him challengingly. “Or are you scared that I’m finally faster than you?” she grins.
Robert snorts. “As if.”
30 minutes later he’s flying over the fields on Dumbledore’s back, galloping full speed. His legs are getting sore quickly because of the lack of exercise, but besides that he feels amazing. The wind in his face and the nature around him, Vic laughing and cheering on her horse next to him. It’s a perfect moment.
It doesn’t need to be said that Vic stands no chance against him - her Moonlight might be younger and more wild, but Dumbledore is still faster.
When they reach the forest, they slow down and Robert finally caves in.
“What happened between Aaron and Holly?”
He just needs to know it. Needs to know if they are together or having some friends with benefit bullshit going on, although it’s gonna hurt.
Vic casts him a quick glance and says: “They were dating for a few weeks last year-”
Okay, past tense. Last year. That’s good.
“-and then he slept with her and dumped her the next day.”
Damn, that’s awful. Robert doesn’t like Holly much, but not even she deserves being treated like that. A part of him refuses to believe that Aaron was so shitty towards her though, it might be just school gossip after all. A story that got worse and worse with every person who passes it on.
And didn’t Aaron mention that Holly let him use her notes to pass a test? Surely she wouldn’t do that if Aaron really acted the way Vic said.
“I’m just saying: he uses people,” his sister goes on when he stays silent. “Better be careful.”
“I’m not gay,” he says finally. Vic gives him a long look, clearly not believing him a all. “I’m not gay, but I’m not straight either.”
Robert takes a deep breath, relief flooding his body in a giant wave. He said it. He actually did it! There are no fanfares or people cheering for him, it’s just him and his sister, riding side by side through the peaceful woods.
“What? I don’t get it,” Vic frowns.
“I like both. I’m bi,” he explains. It’s the first time he says the word out loud. “I’m bi,” he repeats, just to taste it on his tongue one more time.
It feels good. Right. Freeing.
That’s it, it’s freeing. And right now, on the back of his horse, in the middle of Emmerdale forest, with being far away from the farm and school, he feels extra free. Damn, it’s good.
“Okay?” he asks and starts grinning. What a typical ‘Vic answer’.
“Okay!” she laughs, “What else do you want me to say?”
They look at each other and then they’re laughing at the same time. Robert is so glad that she knows now, that she is so cool with it. He doesn’t need to hide around her anymore.
“Okay is fine, I guess,” he says eventually, not capable of stopping himself from smiling.
On their way back home Vic asks him: “And what about Aaron?”
The farm is already visible in the distance and Robert’s high is fading quickly now. Reality is waiting for him, literally looming on the horizon.
“It’s complicated,” is all he says.
He knew Aaron was straight, but Vic has basically confirmed his suspicion now, so that’s that. Knowing and hearing it are obviously two different things. Aaron is not only out of his league, he’s also out of reach. Robert’s gonna be heartbroken after the assignment, when Aaron and him are going separate ways again and that’s a damn depressing perspective.
“It’s Aaron,” Vic scoffs without humour, “of course it’s complicated.”
His phone bings and Robert doesn’t get many messages, so naturally his heart speeds up a bit and it hiccups when he sees that it's actually a whatsapp from Aaron. Oh God, Aaron texted him! He can’t believe it! With a grin he opens the app.
It’s not a text, it’s an audio message and right in that moment a second one comes in.
“Hi Robert, I...err just wanted to ask if we’re meeting again tomorrow.”
Robert smiles and taps on the other message.
“Err… it’s Aaron. By the way. Uhm, bye.”
Clutching the phone close to his chest with clammy fingers, Robert may or may not let out a little squeal at how extraordinary adorable this is. Not only is Aaron thinking about him on a Sunday, no, he is just as awkward with whatsapp like Robert!
It takes him almost 10 minutes to calm down again and then he presses the record symbol and tries to make his voice as casual as possible:
“Hi Aaron, tomorrow’s fine. I’ll see if I can get us a room again…”
Oh my god, no, he can’t send that. Robert wants to redo the message, but his thumb slides off and he watches horrified how the two little ticks are signalling that Aaron has the message received. He tries frantically to delete it, but suddenly the ticks turn blue and Aaron is online. Oh no. Please no. It’s too late.
I’ll get us a room… Robert wants to die! Fuck, why is he so stupid, why is he such a social dumbass!
“Uh, obviously I meant a study room. In the library. Err, bye,” he adds quickly.
Robert slumps down on his bed, face down, wanting nothing more than to hide there forever.
He turns his head just so much that he can peer with one eye at his phone. It’s another audio from Aaron and Robert contemplates ignoring it. In the end his curiosity wins and he hits play.
A soft chuckle makes him shiver, then Aaron says: “You’re really something else, Robert. See ya tomorrow.”
There are no words to describe how Robert’s feeling right now. His whole body is tingling and buzzing with pure happiness and for a tiny little moment it feels real, as if him and Aaron are more than just classmates.
He’s playing the message over and over and the last thing he hears before he falls asleep later that night is Aaron’s raspy voice.
When Ms Finch enters the classroom for their math course, Aaron’s chair is still empty. Robert notices her dismissive glare at the absence of one of her students. Five minutes later, the door opens and Aaron walks in, totally calm and not rushed at all. His face gives nothing away.
God, he’s so cool. Robert stares at him mesmerized. He wants to be cool like that only once in his life.
“Oh, you’re honouring us with your presence, Aaron,” Ms Finch says sarcastically, “This time I’ll give you a warning. If you’re late to my class ever again, I’ll put you in detention.”
Aaron is slouching on his chair, looking at her unimpressed until she huffs and continues with her lecture about infinitesimal calculus. Robert is watching Aaron pulling a notebook out of his bag and a few pencils, but he isn’t taking notes. Instead he’s staring out of the window again.
Robert wonders where his mind goes in moments like this.
Suddenly Aaron turns his head and looks at him, their eyes lock and Robert knows he’s been caught staring. Right when he wants to panic, Aaron gives him a tiny nod and the corners of his mouth are lifting. It’s that little smile he’s given Robert quite a few times now and it always has the same effect: his intestines turn into a hot and tingly mush, his heart tries to thump itself out of his chest and his hands are getting clammy.
Aaron is greeting him.
He feels himself smiling back and has to bite his tongue to keep himself from grinning like a loon. Try not to be too obvious, he reminds himself.
For one second it’s just him and Aaron, no one else. Just them. Robert wishes so desperately it would last longer, but reality doesn’t give a shit about his feelings, because Holly leans over and whispers something to Aaron and the moment is broken.
Robert quickly looks down at his notes, his heart still beating like a jackhammer. He counts to 30 in his head to calm himself down. This afternoon he’s gonna be alone with Aaron again and he’s gonna relish every single second.
Of course Robert is in the best mood when he walks to the library in the afternoon, knowing that he will see Aaron in a few minutes. He’s humming a song from the new Taylor Swift album and he is so lost in thoughts, he doesn’t hear the steps behind him. He doesn’t hear someone calling his name.
He does feel, however, the hands that are grabbing his arm and his shoulder and are yanking him away from the building to the parking lot.
“What-?!” he shouts surprised.
The hand on his shoulder tightens the grip, the fingers are digging painfully into his flesh and making him hiss. Robert looks back as he stumbles along where he’s been shoved. It’s Ross Barton.
Robert’s heart sinks.
“Ross, what do you want?” It’s supposed to sound brave, but even Robert hears the tremble in his voice.
The guy pushes him against a wall, the hard impact is squeezing out the air of Robert’s lungs and his back is on fire immediately.
“I thought you were Mr know-it-all, Sugden!” Ross mocks him. His eyes are hard and ice cold. “Gimme your money.”
It’s nothing new, sadly. Every few weeks Barton is grabbing him, shoving him against something, demanding money. It’s still nothing you get used to.
With Aaron on his mind, Robert pulls out his wallet quickly and searches hectically for the bank notes. It’s not much, it never is. Jack Sugden only gives him a bare minimum of pocket money - if he wants more he has to earn it on the farm. He offers Ross his last bit of cash with shaky hands.
“Can I go now?” Seriously, he just wants to see Aaron now and forget this encounter ever happened.
Ross narrows his eyes and looks at him. “You’re eager today.” He snatches the money out of Robert’s fingers and mutters dismissively: “That’s all, Sugden?”
Robert just shows him the empty wallet. “I wanna go now.”
He attempts to walk past Ross, but the other boy is simply pushing him against the wall again. The stones are pressing into his skin painfully and Robert knows his back will be bruised tomorrow.
“You can go, when I say it.”
Robert looks around, but they are on the side of the building and where they're standing, people on the street can’t see them and the parking lot is empty. There is no one to help him. Fuck. He tries to swallow the panic down, but he doesn’t succeed.
“Chill, Sugden, we’re just having a nice little chat here,” Ross grins and pushes the money into the pocket of his uniform jacket. “Why are you in such a hurry?”
Ross stares at him and Robert lowers his eyes involuntarily and he hates that it makes him weak. He basically hears his father’s voice in his head to ‘man up a bit’. It’s not helping at all.
“Aww,” Ross cooes suddenly and laughs. It sounds vicious. “Is this because you’re meeting Aaron again?”
Robert’s head snaps up so quickly, he bumps the back against the wall, which makes him hiss again. God, he hates school gossip and he hates it even more now that he‘s suddenly a part of it. Ross’ eyes are lighting up at his reaction and he knows he’s onto something.
“Thought so. You two and that assignment? It’s like it’s meant to be, huh,” Ross mocks him viciously and cackles.
Robert desperately tries to push past him, but Ross is quicker and stronger and knows how to use his fists.
The punch hits right under his coastal arch into his stomach. Robert gasps in pain and for a second he‘s horrified he might throw up then and there. Breathing is difficult.
“I‘ve seen how you‘re staring at him, Sugden, it‘s pathetic.“
Robert closes his eyes in horror and he prays for once in his life that his face won‘t give his feelings away.
He isn‘t that lucky.
His cheeks are burning in seconds and Robert knows he‘s blushing, basically admitting his crush to the school bully.
Ross is laughing at him. It‘s worse than the fist actually. It hurts so much deeper. Robert wants to curl into a ball, shrink down to the size of a nut.
Suddenly he thinks about Ben Hanscom, his favourite character in IT. Ben, who was getting bullied by Henry Bowers and his evil friends. But Ben fought back, didn‘t he? He fought back and escaped and it‘s an absolute knee jerk reaction, but Robert throws himself against Ross, the moment of surprise being on his side.
Ross‘ laughter dies abruptly, when Robert‘s fist hits his face. Never been actively in a physical fight before, Robert‘s movements are a bit uncoordinated and his punch hits Ross‘ jaw hard, but not hard enough so he can run off. Ross recovers quickly and hits back.
It happens in a blur and all Robert sees are arms and fists and Ross’ red, furious face. His ribs are aching when a couple of punches hit him there and he struggles to keep himself upright. He manages to land a few blows, but when Ross’ fist crushes against his cheekbone with full force, he stumbles back until he hits the wall again. His vision goes black for a second and his stomach twists, the pain in his face is allconsuming. Another punch hits his temple and Robert’s knees are finally giving in and he goes down.
Hands are grabbing his shirt and pushing him flat on the ground, pinning him down. The new position is definitely not good for his throbbing head, because everything starts swaying and becomes indistinct. Ross’ face appears above him.
“You’re gonna regret this, fag!” he sneers.
It’s that damn word that awakens a last resistance in Robert. He is not a fag. Seeing red, he remembers how Vic told him about her self defense class she took two years ago: that if someone is restraining you by holding down your arms, you can still use your legs.
Robert pulls his right leg up and knees Ross into his balls with every bit of force his body is capable of at this point.
His bully screams, lets go of him and Robert uses the chance to stumble back on his feet. He needs the wall to balance himself and the pain in his head is excruciating, but Ross isn’t much better. He’s kneeling on the parking ground, hands pressed tightly on his crotch, cursing loudly.
Robert isn’t waiting for him to recover. He walks along the wall, tripping over his own feet a few times. The street is so close and yet so far away. With every passing second the panic increases that Ross might grab him again, pull him back behind the corner and finish what he started.
Oh God, he needs to get to the road, the road means other people, means safety. Ross won’t attack him there. Robert is too scared to look back over his shoulder, because his vision is still swimming and he fears he might trip.
Somehow he finally reaches the corner, the loud noise of passing cars sounds like heaven right now. Robert takes a few seconds to take deep breaths and only when he feels stable enough he dares looking back. Ross is nowhere to be seen.
He leans against the wall and closes his eyes for a brief moment, glad that this horrible moment is over. Carefully he checks with his fingertips for blood, but there is none. Small mercies. He can feel his eye swelling up already. The skin is hot and burning, the pain radiates deep into his skull. Nobody has noticed him yet, until a student walks by.
Robert knows immediately it’s Aaron before he even has properly looked at the guy.
“Oi! Robert!” Aaron shouts as he walks over to Robert and he sounds angry. “Where have you been?I’ve been waiting f-”
Aaron has stopped dead in his tracks a few steps away and stares at Robert’s face. His expression hardens.
“What happened,” he asks with a quiet, dark voice.
Robert swallows, not sure what to say. He doesn’t want to say he’s been bullied, he doesn’t want to be weak.
“Got mugged,” he manages.
“Who did this.” Aaron downright hisses.
He seems really, really pissed off and Robert isn’t sure what he did wrong, but he doesn’t want Aaron to be pissed off. All he wanted was to spend two hours in his presence and stare a bit at him, when Aaron isn’t looking.
“Who did this, Robert.”
He wonders if Ross is still there in the parking area, somewhere behind the building and his eyes flick involuntarily in that direction. Aaron follows his gaze.
“Is he still there?”
He doesn’t wait for Robert’s answer, he just drops his backpack and runs off.
“Aaron! Aaron, wait!” Robert shouts after him, but of course the other boy won’t listen to him.
After a minute that felt much longer, Aaron comes back. Ross must be gone, disappeared somewhere behind the library, Robert assumes.
“Do you know who it was?” Aaron looks tense.
At first he stays silent, but then he gets angry all of a sudden. Why should he lie for Ross, protect Ross after what he did? Robert shouldn’t be the one feeling bad - he’s the one that’d been attacked!
“Ross,” he says through gritted teeth.
He hates Ross Barton so fucking much. His laughter is still echoing in Robert’s head and he wants instinctively to flinch to get away from the awful sound, but he can’t, because it’s trapped inside him.
Robert nods, feeling very tired now. All the fight has left his body and the adrenaline is fading. Aaron scowls at him, obviously really pissed off, then his face softens a bit.
“Fuck, it’s swelling quickly. You need to ice that,” Aaron says quietly and lifts his right hand to touch Robert’s temple.
He freezes on the spot, can only stare into the blue eyes that are flicking over his injuries, full of concern. Robert can’t believe that Aaron is concerned on his behalf. The fingertips are ghosting over his bruised skin, featherlight and gentle. The touch doesn’t even hurt. More the opposite actually. It feels good. Amazing.
Aaron is touching him.
Aaron has surprisingly long eyelashes. Robert has never noticed those eyelashes before and god, that eye colour. They are standing close, even closer than they were last week in the school hallway. It would be just a small movement, to lean in and steal a kiss from Aaron’s lips. He wants it so much, only once, please.
The icy blue eyes are still flickering over his face until they finally lock on Robert’s. Even if he tried to, he can’t hold back the little gasp as the last bit of air is rushing out of his lungs.
Robert feels himself being pulled in, as if Aaron is a magnet and he imagines how they would kiss, how Aaron’s lips would feel. Would they be dry or wet, soft or firm and would Aaron kiss with tongue? Robert just needs to move a bit forward to find it out and he’d give anything, absolutely anything-
Someone is shouting after a child on the other side of the street, their eye contact breaks and the moment is gone. Suddenly the surroundings are coming back, the traffic, people walking and Robert realises in absolute horror that he actually leaned in a bit! Aaron lowers his hand and Robert snaps back quickly, groans when his abused back protests in agony at the sudden movement. His face is hurting again too.
“Go home and put ice on it,” Aaron says and the gruff undertone is swinging in his voice again. His expression is closed off, unreadable.
Before Robert can say anything, Aaron turns around and walks off in the direction of the parking lot.
Not only the special moment is gone, Robert realises, also his afternoon with Aaron. And his head hurts more and more with every second. He groans in annoyance. Fuck Ross Barton.
When he arrives at home, his left eye is already swollen and there is a nasty purple mark blooming under his eye and his temple. It looks just as bad as it feels. With a sigh, Robert presses frozen brussels on the side of his face. He hates them damn sprouts anyway. Knowing his look will elicit questions, he thinks about a possible explanation. No way he is going to admit that he got bullied. It would probably end up with Jack giving him an endless lecturing about how to defend himself better. He knows his father would think he’s weak. Just a bookworm with his mind full of fantasy worlds.
“What happened to your face?”
Wow, Robert doesn’t even get a greeting, when his dad and his brother come into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Jack stares at him, squints his eyes and the awkward silence is stretching. “You know, if I was a thief, I’d rob old, rich ladies, not some skint, teenage school boy,” his father says.
Robert doesn’t answer and keeps his eyes on the table.
“You’re not going into school tomorrow in that state, I’ll write you a note,” Jack decides.
“But dad! I have this important assignment!” Robert pipes up.
If they can’t work on it tomorrow, the next possible day would be Thursday. They would lose almost a whole week and they’re nowhere near finished!
And he wants to see Aaron. That’s actually the main reason for his protest. Fuck the assignment at this point, honestly.
Jack Sugden is sighing as if Robert is nothing but a big inconvenience - it’s a sound that he heard often enough to know that it’s probably true.
“You can work on it here.”
“But… it’s a team assignment, I’m doing it with my classmate.”
“Goddamn, Robert! Just tell him to come here then!” his father erupts disgruntled, “I thought you were the clever one, for heaven’s sake.”
Aaron could come here and his father did not just officially allow it, now he even suggested it. Robert’s heart jumps. Aaron is coming here, into his room! He quickly goes upstairs and grabs his phone from his bag.
“Hi Aaron. It’s me. Uhm. My dad won’t let me go to school tomorrow with my face and all and I was thinking…? That maybe we could work on our assignment here? At my place?... Err. Yeah. Bye then.”
Urgh, Robert really hates voice messages. He wonders if he ever won’t feel awkward recording them.
His phone bings only seconds later and Robert is surprised that Aaron replied so fast.
“Fine. How’s your face?”
He carefully lays down on his bed and smiles at the ceiling. The left side of his face is throbbing and stretching painfully and on top of everything he’s got a headache now. The rest of his body is aching too, the skin on his back is grazed from when he was pushed against the stone wall and his belly is bruising in 50 shades of blue.
Aaron cares how he is.
“Bad. I look like Rocky Balboa after fighting Apollo Creed,” he jokes and is weirdly proud of himself for coming up with that funny reply.
Aaron sends a laughing emoji.
Aaron Dingle uses emojis on whatsapp. Huh.
Robert stares at the display for minutes, not even caring how much his smile is hurting his face.
Robert is freaking out. Aaron is coming here in only one hour. For the third time today he starts tidying his tidy room. He always finds something that isn’t in its correct place, how is that even possible? Then he dusts off the surfaces and changes the sheets of his bed - the vision of Aaron discovering stains from his last night jerk off is the stuff of nightmares - so better safe than sorry.
The house is thankfully empty and quiet, Andy and his father are working and Vic is going to her dance class in the afternoon. Aaron and him will be alone.
The shrill sound of the doorbell causes him to jump.
He’s running down and although he knows it’s a bit late to be embarrassed of the state of the house, the feeling settles in his stomach now, hot and heavy. The Sugden farmhouse is an old cottage, inside and out. Most of the furniture is older than Robert and the wallpaper has definitely seen better days as well. But it is what it is. With clammy fingers he opens the door.
Aaron is wearing a black hoodie again, but still his uniform trousers, his backpack dangling casually from one shoulder.
“Ouch,” he pulls a face when he takes Robert in.
“Nice,” Robert mutters and turns his head away when he makes room for Aaron to come in.
He knows how he looks today - it’s even worse than yesterday. The Brussel sprouts did only help so much. Well.
“Shut up,” Aaron says without any trace of heat and walks past him, nudging him.
It would be an insanely cute gesture, if he wouldn’t exactly hit Robert’s stomach. He can’t hold back the quiet groan when his whole torso is tensing up in pain.
“Sorry!” Aaron says quickly, eyes growing big, “Rob, I’m so sorry!”
“Nevermind,” Robert waves him off and tries to reboot his brain as fast as possible, because Aaron just called him ROB! Oh my god!
He usually isn’t exactly a fan of the shortening, but damn, when Aaron says it with his raspy voice it’s doing all sorts of things to him. Very explicit things.
They walk through the dusky corridor to the small staircase and Robert is walking extra quick so Aaron doesn’t have much time to look around.
“Is this you?!”
Robert turns around on the stairs to Aaron who is three steps below him. Right now he is facing the wall, the family pictures to be precise.
There are various photos which show Andy, Vic and him in different ages when they were kids. His mum had nailed them at the wall, said they were cute and funny. Robert hates them, especially that one pic of him.
That one pic that showed him as a three year old on the potty.
He remembers how upset he was when mum put it up and he wanted to nick it secretly during her sleep. But only a few days later she got sick and everything went to shit and the picture was forgotten. After all those years Robert doesn’t see the photo anymore - it’s just there like a scratch in the wall or a stain on the floor that you simply don’t notice after a certain amount of time.
But of course Aaron spotted it. And recognised him.
Robert wants to die!
“What?!” he laughs and it sounds a bit too loud and shrill in his own ears, “no! That’s err… Andy, my brother, c’mon!”
Aaron looks up at him and Lord help Robert, he’s grinning! Robert has never seen him grinning like this before. It lights up the whole face and there are dimples on his cheeks and the blue eyes are sparkling.
“You mean that brother of yours?” Aaron is pointing to a picture right next to the potty pic that shows Andy and him standing side by side in the woods.
Robert wants to facepalm. This is the worst. The side of his head that isn’t blue and purple turns red, because of course he’s blushing now.
“Can we-... just…” He flails, pointing somewhere upstairs and deflates.
This is the most embarrassing thing ever. He loves his mum to bits, but damn Sarah, how could she do this to him? Aaron smiles, a real smile now, not just that little quirk of the corners of his mouth.
Relief is flooding Robert’s body when they’re finally in his room. This is safe terrain, he made sure of it earlier. Aaron takes a look around and his gaze lands on the bookshelf.
“You read them all?” he asks surprised.
“Yep,” Robert says proudly and puffs his chest.
The collection isn’t huge, but for a 17 year old it’s quite remarkable and he invested basically all his pocket money in the books. That and in his actions figurines, which Aaron is looking at now.
“Superheroes, eh? Batman or Superman?”
Robert snorts. “Ironman of course.”
That earns him another grin and he is slowly relaxing. It’s so unreal, Aaron being here in his room, talking about superheroes and not wearing his trademark scowl. Like if they were real mates or something. Robert wishes with every fibre of his body that it could stay like that between them, even after that stupid assignment.
“Shall we start?” His notes are already on the table, neatly expanded.
They are working on their presentation after that - meaning Robert is writing down everything, while Aaron is sitting on his bed and glancing over his shoulder. It’s weird, Aaron watching him and not staring outside, but Robert supposes it’s because his window is rather small and the only thing you can see from the position on the bed is the blue sky.
It’s a good weird though, Robert is hyper aware of every little movement behind him and his body is pleasantly tingling.
“Hey, would you proofread what we have so far?” He turns around and offers Aaron the papers.
Suddenly the frown is back, reappearing out of nowhere, and Aaron bites his lip. Robert doesn’t know why he’s hesitating - he’s kinda okay with their allocation of tasks, because he likes to be in control of this assignment, but come on! A bit more support from Aaron would be nice.
Eventually he takes the papers and Robert’s gaze flicks down to where their hands are almost touching and then he stills.
“What happened to your hands?”
Now it’s Robert’s turn turn to frown, because the knuckles are tainted in an angry red and they look like they’re hurting. Aaron draws his hand back quickly and pulls his sweater over the bruises.
“Nothing,” he mutters.
“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Robert argues, “Have you been in a fight?”
Aaron is nagging his lip again and starts bouncing his leg, but he stays silent, pointedly avoiding Robert’s eyes. With a sigh, Robert gets up and leaves the room, goes down into the kitchen and opens the freezer. He pulls out Brussels and spinach and hurries back upstairs.
“Here,” he throws one bag at Aaron who catches it effortlessly with one hand.
The second package he presses on his eye, because the skin started to itch and the pain was pulsing with every heartbeat. Aaron is still hesitating, before he puts the frozen veggies carefully on his right hand.
Robert is eyeing him thoughtfully. Aaron definitely has been in a fight, but he doesn’t wanna talk about it. At least he seems not to be injured besides his knuckles, so Robert decides to let it go.
“So, err,” he clears his throat, “proofread?”
He offers the papers again and this time Aaron takes them although he looks like he licked a lemon or something, before he’s shifting on the bed until he’s leaning with his back against the headboard. Aaron kicks his shoes off and gets comfortable and Robert’s stomach does a somersault at the sight of his boy on his bed. God, it’s a sight he wants to get used to.
Aaron starts reading and sticks his tongue between his lips, fully focused on the notes. The wrinkles on his forehead are deepening. He’s adorable.
Robert bites the insides of his cheeks to stop the little squeal of delight that threatens to escape his throat. He quickly turns around to his desk to get himself under control again. Following an impulse he grabs his phone and holds it up as if he would read something. In reality he opens his camera app and flips the mirror so he can see himself. Robert carefully angles the phone so that he can see less of his own face, but more of Aaron on his bed behind him.
He snaps the pic as subtly as possible and covers the typical noise of the button being pushed with a little harrumph.
Perfect. He zooms in the picture and stares at it. It’s a bit blurry, but still good enough. Robert adds it to Aaron’s Aron contact. He doesn’t know why he hasn’t changed the typo yet.
Robert jumps and drops his phone on the table. Aaron is behind him, holding the papers for him to take them and Robert is panicking if he might have seen the display of the phone for a horribly long moment. But Aaron’s face gives nothing away and Robert swallows thickly.
“Already finished?” he asks, trying to keep his voice even.
He thinks only a few minutes must have passed, but there was also a big chance he got lost in ogling the photo and forgot time.
“Yeah, yup,” Aaron says quickly and nods.
“Thanks,” Robert takes the notes back and thumbs through them. “Found anything?”
“Err, no. ‘s all good.”
Robert smiles at him. “Cool, thanks. Okay, uhm. So, could you read my handwriting easily or did you have any problems?”
“Why?” Aaron looks tense and clenches his jaw.
“Because if you can read it, I don’t have to type it off, I just need to make a copy for you,” Robert explains, feeling he might have said something wrong although he doesn’t know what, “you know, for our presentation?” Aaron’s face turns sorrow-stricken now and it’s odd. “Everything okay?”
For a moment, Aaron looks like he wants to say something, his hands are clenching and unclenching and his eyes are flickering in different directions, before he finally stills. He only nods sharply, but stays silent.
“Sooo,” Robert drags the word, setting for simply overplaying the awkwardness of the moment, “we should discuss our presentation. I thought about making a little powerpoint presentation for the class? We could add some stills from the films too. What do you think?”
“Sure, why not,” Aaron says, but his voice is quiet.
Robert is not expecting applause for his idea, but a bit more excitement would have been nice. The atmosphere has changed and he tries to recap how and when that happened. Robert wonders if he did something, but he can’t fathom what. It makes him sad, because that also means he has no clue how to get back to the good time that had earlier. Back to Aaron’s carefree grin and cute smiles.
Instead the scowl is back and Aaron stays mostly silent, except for occasional one-word-replies, until he leaves an hour later.
Robert lays on his bed, opens the pic of Aaron again and looks at it. Of course he couldn’t fall for someone easy, no he had to pick messed up. He sighs and gently strokes with his thumb over Aaron’s grumpy, little face.
When he goes to bed later that evening, he’s still thinking about what Aaron might have wanted to tell him and why he didn’t do it in the end.
People are staring and Robert wants to hide somewhere. He isn’t used to staring, usually he is more or less invisible to other students, just the boring nerd from the farm, so this attention is new and unwanted. It’s because of his face, because of the colourful bruise that is covering the left side.
Girls are whispering and pointing not-so-secretly at him - how rude - and boys are giving him all sorts of looks. Some are showing sympathy, giving him small smiles in a head-up-manner, but some arseholes are grinning. Robert realises they must know what happened and probably the idiot Ross himself has bragged about beating Robert up yesterday.
Ross probably told everyone that Robert’s gay.
The thought hits him like a freight train. Oh my fucking god, he’s been outed to the school and he wasn’t even there! And now everyone thinks he’s gay and it isn’t even true.
What if Aaron has heard the rumour.
Robert bolts for the next loo, runs into the stall and throws the door shut. He can’t breathe. He can’t. His lungs are shrunk down to the size of peanuts, there is no room for air.
Maybe Aaron thought Robert was trying to make a move on him somehow and that’s why he shut down yesterday… maybe Aaron thinks he’s a perv.
Black dots are dancing in his vision and he’s leaning against the door to hold himself upright. Everybody knows and he doesn’t know what to do. He desperately wishes he would have listened to his father this morning when the old man wanted to write him another excuse for school, but Robert, being the eternal idiot that he is, insisted on going… because of course he did, because it’s his only chance to see Aaron today. This afternoon is footy training and no time for the assignment and so Robert came in deliberately. Now he wants nothing more than to go home again.
The bell rings for the first hour, startling him and he gasps in air at the sudden shock.
His phone is buzzing his pocket and Robert pulls it out with shaky hands. It almost slips out of his clammy hands.
Rob, I swear I just heard it now, please don’t freak out but there is a rumour going around that you’re gay. If I’d known I would have told you, I’m so sorry. What can I do? Should I correct them?
Please don’t freak out, she wrote. Bit too late for that, Vic, he thinks hysterically as his breathing is becoming quicker with every inhale. So it’s true. It’s true. And he doesn’t know what to do, his super clever above-the-average-brain is bloody useless once more and everything is just a blur, a white noise.
He bangs his head against the door, ignoring the pain from his injuries. A bruised face is his least problem right now.
It takes almost 10 minutes to get his breathing back to normal and gather his composure again. Taking a last deep inhale, he opens the door and walks back out on the hallway again. It’s empty, all the students are already in the classrooms. Robert contemplates running home, his instinct to leave and hide is overwhelming, but now after the initial shock has settled a bit, anger is slowly mixing into his wild running emotions.
Anger that the decision of when and how to come out has been taken from him. It’s his life and his goddamn choice, not Ross flaming Barton‘s. Robert hopes he gets the chance to kick Ross in the balls once more - he’d do it with more power the next time.
And it’s not even true! That bugs him the most, if he’s honest. He’s not gay, he’s bi.
Only when he stands in front of his classroom door, he realises that he must have walked here like on autopilot. A strange calmness is washing over him, when he understands what he’s going to do next. He‘s watching his own hand pressing down the handle, opening the door and it‘s weird. It‘s like watching someone else.
But fuck it. It‘s now or never.
All eyes are on him, including those of Ashley Thomas.
“Robert…!“ his teacher says surprised.
Still standing in the doorframe, he looks around, but tries to avoid at all costs the direction where he knows the blue eyes are staring at him.
Ross‘ table is empty and Robert almost regrets that his bully is going to miss what he‘s going to say now.
“You might have heard some gossip about me, but it’s not true. I‘m not gay,“ he says loud and clear, takes another breath, “I‘m bi.“
His classmates start muttering, exchange bewildered looks and then someone - Robert isn‘t sure, but he thinks it‘s Holly - begins to clap and others fall in. After a few seconds his whole class is applauding.
He finally closes the door and walks to his table on stiff legs. Adrenaline is pumping through his body, his heart skyrocketing in his chest.
Did he really do this?
One look at Mr Thomas‘ flabbergasted face tells him that it happened. He just came out.
“Well, err. Robert. That was quite a revelation, I‘d say you‘re in good company, as some of you might know - or have not known and so I‘m telling you now - for example Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde were also bisexual,“ Ashley Thomas says, quickly slipping back into professional mode.
Robert has never been more grateful for having him as a teacher.
“Kristen Stewart is bi, too,“ Sarina, a girl to his left, stage whispers to her friend Kira who nods knowingly.
“Oh really?“ Mr Thomas frowns and tilts his head, “do I know her? What novel did she write again?“
The class is laughing, but Robert sits there silently, still processing what he did. It‘s bizarre. Unreal.
He is shocked about himself, but also proud and deeply relieved. It‘s like weight is lifted from his shoulders.
After swallowing a few times, he bends to get his books out of his backpack and this time he allows himself to glance over to Aaron.
Aaron is not laughing with the others, he is still looking at Robert, his expression unreadable.
Robert‘s heart sinks. He just had this major moment of being brave and standing up for himself, but it might have cost him whatever little mate-thing that was blossoming between him and Aaron.
Maybe he just should have kept his mouth shut. Maybe he just made an unforgivable mistake.
There is this spider in the corner of his ceiling and Robert named it Peter Parker. Peter is just sitting there, unmoving. Bless Peter, he‘s living a reality without love and heartbreak, without bullies and stupid schoolmates, without social pressure and judgement, without self identity crises and coming outs. Robert wonders if Peter is a happy spider, doing all that spidey stuff like sitting around, eating flies and creating a web. He probably is.
Robert is lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, his mind as blank as the whiteness above him. He doesn’t know how long he’s there like this, when the door opens and Vic slips in. Wordlessly she lays down next to him, curling up at his side, just like she did years ago when mum died.
He wishes so, so bad that Sarah was here right now, he really needs her. She would know what to say to him, she would know how to support and get him through all this. His eyes are tearing up and he closes them quickly to keep them from spilling over.
“That was brave today,” Vic whispers.
Robert nods. Yes, he was brave. And so stupid.
He hasn’t talked to Aaron yet. It was nice, having him in his life for 5 minutes. Pretending for a moment it could be real. But now it just hurts so very much, his injured face is nothing compared to his chest. There is a damn void inside of him and Robert just wants his mum to hold him and tell him that it’s gonna be alright again.
“It’s gonna be alright, you know.”
Despite him feeling like shit, he smiles at Vics words, because his little sister knows that this is what he needs to hear right now. He’s kissing her hair.
If only she’d be right.
Vic’s waking him up the next morning, when she leaves his room. Robert’s neck is a bit stiff, from holding her the whole night, but otherwise he’s grateful that he could get some sleep at all.
Yawning, he grabs his phone from the nightstand and nearly gets a heart attack when he sees a new message from Aaron. It’s been sent after midnight. It takes him almost 15 minutes to convince himself to open the whatsapp messenger. When Aaron turns out to be biphobic, it might break him, he just knows it.
“Hiya, uhm, it’s me,” Aaron’s quiet voice is rasping out of the speaker, “I just wanted to ask you something, because, err… my dad is gone for a conference and I got the house to myself, so we could maybe meet here and err… I was thinking we could maybe do a little IT movie night to freshen our memory or something…. Uhm, yeah. Lemme know.”
Robert is staring at his phone with a slack jaw and wide eyes. He listens to the message again. And again. And again.
Aaron is inviting him to a movie night.
He’s never got out of bed so quickly, he nearly trips over his own feet. Oh my god, oh my god! For a moment, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He kinda wants to scream, but that would cause unnecessary questions from his family - especially his father - so he needs to find another way to get rid of that sudden energy that is almost choking him.
He opens his Taylor Swift playlist, hits play and dances through his bedroom. Shake it off and all that.
Telling his dad during breakfast that he’s gonna spend the afternoon and the evening at a friend’s is a conversation that Robert never wants to have ever again.
Andy frowns at him, stating loudly that he doesn’t have friends - thanks for nothing, really - while Vic’s eyes nearly bulge out of her head when she’s mouthing ‘Aaron?’ behind Jack’s back. His father, however, just gives him a long, silent look and finally asks with a calm voice: “Is this about a girl, Robert?”
“No!” he shrieks immediately and feels his cheeks heating up.
“Don’t lie to me, son,” Jack reminds him with a stern voice.
He knows he’s blushing furiously under the gaze of his family and he hates that his body always reacts on its own will and Robert is just totally helpless against it.
Jack is shoving a mouthful of beans on his fork. “Just don’t knock some girl up, Robert, I’m too young to be a granddad.”
Vic almost spills her orange juice, Andy grins at him and Robert wants the Earth to swallow him up quickly, please.
“It’s not a girl!” he shouts angrily, which is technically the truth.
He flees from the table.
Setting a foot into the school building scares him to shit, but Robert knows it‘s inevitable, he has to face the music sooner or later. His coming out must be the number one gossip today, so Robert gives himself a ‘grit your teeth and get to it’ pep talk.
He straightens his shoulders, keeps repeating ‘fuck it, fuck it, fuck them’ in his head and walks down the hallway.
It‘s like he‘s bloody Moses and parting the sea or something, because the other kids step aside when he walks by. They‘re gawking and whispering like he‘s some rare animal in the zoo and Robert hates it.
“Hi,“ says a voice suddenly beside him.
Robert jumps and stops. It‘s a student called Matty. He's a class beneath him.
“Sorry, didn‘t wanna give you a heart attack,“ the guy apologises with a smile. “Just… here!“ He‘s holding up a flyer for Robert to take.
“The Hotten High LGBTQ+ support group,“ Robert reads aloud and looks up surprised. “We have a support group here?“
Matty nods, still smiling friendly. “Yep! We meet every Wednesday after school, if you‘re interested. Details’ on the flyer.“
“Wow, I didn‘t know that,“ Robert mumbles.
He always thought there are only two or three students out, maybe he should have paid more attention to the gossip before.
“I know it feels like you're alone right now…“ Matty starts and slaps his arm good naturedly as if they were old mates, “but I promise you‘re not. Come by if you like. See ya!“
Matty gives him another nod and walks away, while Robert is still standing there, perplexed. He reads that flyer about 5 times, folds it and puts it into the pocket of his school jacket. He really might give it a try, a part of him simply wants to know who‘s in this group apart from Matty. The bigger part of him feels grateful that there are others who feel the same and understand what he‘s going through.
The realisation alone is comforting.
He looks up and sees Ross walking in his direction. For a horrible moment, he is back behind the wall of the library and feels the fists hitting his body and hears the laughter hitting his soul.
Robert steels himself for another jostle, another insult, another hateful glare when their eyes meet.
To his surprise, Ross quickly looks around as if he‘s searching for someone and then changes the side of the hallway, like he‘s avoiding Robert or something. There is a cut on his lower lip and he‘s got an impressive shiner himself… and Robert wouldn’t believe it if he hadn’t witnessed it with his own eyes: Ross Barton looks upset, maybe even a bit scared. The bully hurries past Robert, without even so much as looking at him. No insult, no pushing around. Just nothing.
Robert is left dumbfounded. What the hell was that? And where did he get those injuries from?
He remembers Aaron‘s red knuckles from Tuesday and how Aaron asked him repeatedly who’d beaten him up and he wonders…
But that can‘t be true, can it? Aaron wouldn‘t get into a fight with Ross... for him, would he?!
Aaron lives in one of those typical townhouses with their red brick walls and tiny front yards. Counting to ten, Robert is wiping up his hands for the third time on his jeans.
Yep, he’s wearing jeans. Because he went home after school and changed his clothes in record time and no matter how hard he tries to convince himself that he didn‘t do it to impress Aaron - of course he did it to impress Aaron. He is such a lost cause, honestly. Robert must have missed the point where his sexual crush turned into a full blown obsession.
Just when Robert has finally built up enough courage to lift his hand to the bell, the door is being yanked open.
“Thought I saw you standing there,“ Aaron says and there is this tiny smile again, the little quirk Robert adores so much.
He‘s still standing there, thumb hovering above the bell, like an idiot and only then Robert notices the strip of frosted glass in the middle of the door. He wonders if Aaron knows how embarrassingly long he stood out there and heat is flushing his body. God, Robert really hates how easily he blushes.
“Hi,“ he says and ducks his head.
“Come in.“ Aaron steps aside and Robert does absolutely not take a secret sniff when he walks past him in the small corridor.
Aaron smells amazing. Like lemon and peppermint and something musky.
The inside of the house is no surprise, beige carpets, magnolia walls and fairly small rooms. The kitchen is to the left, the living room to the right. The interior is minimalistic and functional, there is no decoration, pictures or flowers or anything to make the place somewhat ‘homey’. Aaron leads him upstairs. There are three doors, the first one is ajar and Robert spots beige tiles, which means this must be the bathroom. Aaron opens the second one and when Robert walks in, his heart is thumping frantically because he is actually in Aaron Dingle’s bedroom and how amazing is that?!
The room is fitting every cliché how a bedroom of a 17 year old boy looks like: the walls are papered with different posters - Robert spots football players with red jersey’s and fancy sports cars and some rock bands. Right above Aaron’s bed are the Kaiser Chiefs looking back at him.
Every surface is stuffed with… stuff! Empty bottles, screwdrivers in different sizes, tangled cables, various technical gadgets and games for the playstation that is fixed right under the telly next to the door.
There are no books, no magazines, nothing to read at all, Robert notices.
“Oh please,” he turns to Aaron, “you didn’t have to clean up just for me,” he jokes with raised eyebrows.
Now it’s Aaron’s turn to blush, he’s scratching the back of his head and looks overall adorable when he admits: “Yeah, sorry, I mean, it was worse before…“
Robert wants to kiss him stupid. It‘s so endearing he melts inside, everything turns mushy and gooey and yeah okay, the result of Aaron‘s try of tidying up is poor, but at least he made an effort at all.
And then there is Ross as well…
“Ross looked pretty rough today…“ Robert says apropos of nothing, voice trailing off at the end.
Aaron hums and Robert notices from the corner of his eyes how he attempts to tuck the sleeves over his bruised knuckles as subtly as possible.
“Must have gotten in another fight…“ he muses.
Aaron hums again, kicking invisible stones with his feet. “Must have…“
He‘s wearing Simpson‘s socks and Robert doesn‘t know why that‘s cute, but it is.
“Do you know who did it?“ He wants to know and heart is beating so fast, he‘s ready to pass out.
Aaron shrugs and shoves his hands in his jeans pockets. “Karma, maybe?“ he mutters, looks up and grins sheepishly.
Their eyes lock and Robert‘s breath hitches.
“Karma?“ He can‘t help but grin back and mirror Aaron‘s pose.
“Yeah, you know what they say… Karma is a bitch,“ Aaron says and then he throws his head back and laughs, honest to God laughs!
Dimples on his cheeks are showing and his Adam‘s apple is bobbing up and down and Robert can only stare at him, mesmerized.
Aaron Dingle got into a fight - for him!
They actually manage to finish their presentation although Robert is extremely distracted. Aaron is sitting close to him, a lot closer than usual and Robert can feel the heat radiating from him. All his senses are hyper aware of every move Aaron makes. How he‘s resting his head on his arms, how he‘s tapping with his fingers on the table, how his leg is bouncing up and down relentlessly. How he‘s nagging his lip. Dear Lord, the lip biting, it should be illegal. Robert is holding his pen in a death grip and swallows when he sees the mouth being all rosy, slightly swollen and shiny with spit. He wonders if that‘s how Aaron looks when he’s kissed someone.
Robert would give anything to find it out from first hand experience.
“So, err, that’s it then,“ he says with a breathy voice and clears his throat awkwardly, “I‘m gonna make the powerpoint presentation tomorrow when you‘ve got training.“
Aaron looks at him, his face is open and his eyes widen and his mouth falls open. “Robert…!” The blue eyes are scanning his face and then exhales long and loudly, before he says: “Look, I know you did most of the work so far and… uhm, you don’t have to do that.”
“It’s okay,” Robert says quickly. “I like doing it.”
And although he truly means it, he’s cringing at his own words as he’s manifesting his image as a nerd, a weirdo without a social life. But instead of being put off, Aaron smiles at him.
“I mean, you heard Thomas, didn’t you? You’re totally saving my arse, mate. Thank you. Seriously.”
And then he puts his hand on Robert’s shoulder and gives him a tiny squeeze. The palm feels solid and incredibly warm on his shirt, the pressure on his skin is perfect. And the blue eyes are meeting his own and there is this pull again, this overwhelming need to lean in and kiss. The lips look so kissable and Aaron is so damn close, Robert can see a few hairs on his chin and-
He can‘t do it.
Aaron is straight.
“No problem at all!“ he says with a fake gleeful voice and puts on a broad smile while he pulls away a bit too quickly. “You said you wanted to watch the movies?“
“Errr… yeah.“ Aaron frowns and looks like a confused puppy, before he clears his throat and gets up from his chair. “I‘ll get us some snacks and drinks…“
Robert looks down on his notes in absolute concentration and fiddles with his pen, while he listens to Aaron walking out of the room and stomping down the stairs. Slowly deflating, he lowers his forehead on the desk and bumps his head twice against the wood.
He really needs to stop making things awkward between them. If he only knew how.
Did Robert mention that he hates his body sometimes? Now is that time again. His body is ruining what could be a perfect moment and probably his only chance to get this close to Aaron ever again.
When Robert was shifting awkwardly towards the headboard, Aaron told him: “What the hell are you doing, take your shoes off and get comfy.” And that’s how they ended up more lying than sitting on Aaron’s bed, watching the first part of IT and eating crisps out of a bowl.
Their arms are touching occasionally and Aaron has patted him on the leg twice already to point out something on screen. Little does he know that Robert can hardly focus on what’s happening in the movie right now when he is too busy to glance sideways without moving his head.
Aaron is so damn cool, how he’s lying there with his skinny black jeans and his black hoodie, his legs spread wide and his crotch on display. How is Robert supposed to not stare?!
He’s a mess.
He’s sweating. Why does he have to sweat now? It’s disgusting. And it probably smells, oh god, what if he’s stinking? How embarrassing is that?
Robert is frozen on the bedspread, afraid to move, because there is also another horrifying problem. His dick decided to get hard right now, the bloody traitor. Literally. He found a position with his legs where he thinks it’s hidden, but as soon as he’ll move it might be visible. And also it’ll cause friction he really doesn’t need. And of course his stupid mind is in the gutter and imagines all the stuff he wants to do with Aaron on this bed.
Damn. All the stuff Aaron could do with him. Fuck.
The thoughts are not helping with his sweating, at all. It’s a vicious circle.
Aaron is so close and yet so far away. Robert would only need to turn his head to press a soft kiss on his brown hair and yet he’s out of reach. It’s the best moment in Robert’s life and pure torture at the same time.
“That scene’s so good,” Aaron whispers next to him and he does that lot.
He’s making comments here and there, references to other horror movies he’s seen. It’s clearly a genre he likes. And he keeps touching Robert casually, it’s actually astonishing, because he never thought of Aaron as the tactile type. The boy just keeps surprising him in the best ways - two weeks ago Aaron was this closed off, not very bright maybe-bully. Now Robert knows better, has seen a thoughtful, funny and caring side.
While he’s looking at Aaron’s hands and especially his fingers, he wonders once more what else he doesn’t know about him. There is still so much to discover.
When the first movie is over, Aaron gets up from the bed, mutters a: “Be right back,” and leaves the room.
Robert waits like two seconds before he moves his stiff legs with a happy sigh. He lifts his arms and the damage is not as bad as he feared, which is another relief. Shifting down on the bed, he puts his head on Aaron’s pillow and takes a sniff with closed eyes. It smells like Aaron. Good. Amazing. The bed is warm and comfy and Robert wants to stay here forever.
He takes another look around in Aaron’s room from his comfy position. The whole technical stuff is catching his eye again. Now that he’s got the time to have a closer look, he spots a toaster, a hairdryer, different remotes and small tools. It’s a bit odd. Why would Aaron have a hairdryer with his buzz cut?!
Suddenly the door opens, Aaron comes back in and stops dead in his tracks, when he sees Robert snuggled up on the bed. Thinking he might have overstepped a mark, Robert quickly gets up into a sitting position.
“Sorry,” he mumbles and feels his ears burning.
“No, it’s...it’s fine, mate,” Aaron says and clears his throat.
The word ‘mate’ triggers a lot of complicated emotions in Robert. It’s cool, it’s great, Aaron calling him mate is more than he could ever dream of two weeks ago and still… And still it’s not enough. He doesn’t want to be mates with Aaron. Fuck.
“Hey, what’s with all the tech stuff?” he asks to distract his stupid mind.
Aaron looks around and scratches his eyebrow. “Oh, I like repairing things,” he says and Robert can’t understand why he looks almost embarrassed about it.
The other boy nods. “Yeah, some of the stuff is from the neighbours, they bring it over and ask me if I can fix it.” Aaron shrugs. “It’s a nice bit of cash on the side.”
Robert just stares at him in awe. He is a total technical doofus himself, circuit boards are just funny green panels with loads of metal on it. Physics is actually his only failing.
“Good to know,” he smiles at Aaron and his heart does this painful tick again, when he gets one in return.
Aaron’s face looks so good with a smile on it. How it lights up his whole… everything. Then he sits down on the bed again and shifts closer to Robert, when he starts the second movie. It starts with the scene with the two gay boys, Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty, who are leaving a funfair in Derry. Robert remembers the chapter in the book, remembers the scene in the film and when the boys lean in to kiss, Robert’s body is flushed with a sudden heat, because he’s watching two blokes with Aaron and damn, he wants nothing more than to do the same with him right here on the bed.
And then the homophobe bullies are showing up and the beating starts and the sounds of the punches and broken bones and pained groans are echoing through Aaron’s small room.
“Hit ’im!” they are shouting on the screen and Robert is suddenly back behind the library, back with Ross and his laughter and insults and his fists.
Something is touching his hand and Robert notices half-surprised-half-shocked that it’s Aaron’s hand on his own.
“He got what he deserved,” Aaron says quietly and looks him straight in the eyes. “Ross, that fucker. If he goes near you once more, he won’t know what’s hit him.”
It’s the confirmation for Robert’s assumption. Aaron beat up Ross as a revenge for what he did to Robert. Aaron got into a fight for him.
Aaron, with his earnest, insistent and open expression and his warm, firm grip.
Robert just blinks and swallows, all words and thoughts stuck in his head. They continue watching the movie, but all he can focus on is that hand that’s still touching him whenl the credits are rolling 2.5 hours later.
Doing the powerpoint is actually easy and without any distractions Robert is determined to get it done quickly. Pleased with the outcome, he saves it on a stick and shuts his computer down.
Then he curls up on his bed, puts headphones in and starts his music, constantly thinking about Aaron, who is probably soaping up his naked body in the shower with his football teammates right now.
Friday well spent.
“Hi Aaron, err… it’s me-”
“Hi Aaron, it’s Robert. I thought we should… uhm-”
“Hi Aaron, Robert here, I-”
“Hi Aaron, I have finished the presentation and I thought…. errr-”
Robert groans into his pillow. God, he hates those damn voice messages. He hates them! Taking another deep breath, he’s pressing the record button again.
“Hi Aaron! It’s Robert, I’ve finished the powerpoint and I just wanted to ask if you’d wanna come over to practice our presentation, since it’s due on Tuesday?”
He sends it, before his brain can overthink it. Of course he’s aware they could also practice on Monday and although he wants to convince himself it’s not just an excuse to see Aaron on the weekend - it’s basically just an excuse to see Aaron on the weekend.
He misses Aaron.
The skin on his hand is still tingling where Aaron touched him on Thursday, when they were hand holding while watching a movie on Aaron’s bed. Robert had to pinch himself quite a few times since then, just to make sure that this really happened, that this wasn’t just a wild fantasy.
The bing signalises a new message. Just reading the name Aron on his display makes him all warm and fuzzy.
“Okay, fine. When?”
Three little words that improve Robert’s Saturday immediately. ‘2pm’ , he types in and gets only seconds later a simple ‘k’ back. The grin on his face is almost hurting his cheeks.
Aaaand there goes his brilliant mood. It’s his father shouting from downstairs and this is hardly ever something good, especially on the weekend. Robert sticks his head out of his room and barks back: “What!”
“There’s a fence broken near the barn, Andy is out fixing it. I need you to do the piggery!”
Robert groans in annoyance and bangs his forehead against the doorframe. The piggery, fuck, of all things! He hates the bloody piggery!
“I can’t! My mate is coming over around 2 to prepare our school assignment!” As soon as the words leave his mouth, he knows it won’t convince his dad.
“Better get your arse out there quickly then. Otherwise I’ll send that boy away. I mean it, Robert!”
The fight is leaving Robert’s body, it’s pointless anyway. As long as he’s stuck here, Jack will boss him around as he pleases and he’s forced to play along. As soon as he can go to uni, he’s gone, Robert thinks bitterly for probably about the millionth time. With one last glance at the watch on his bedside table, he curses quietly and goes down to change into his overall.
Goddamn pigs. Robert’s wellington boots are ankle deep mucky with their dirt, he’s sweating under his overall and stinking of pig shit. It’s disgusting. He really needs a shower now and fresh clothes before Aaron gets here.
Of course, when he’s hurrying across the yard to the house, Aaron is already standing there, looking a bit lost, with his phone in his hands. Robert nearly trips over his own feet in shock, which is exactly the moment when Aaron is lifting his head and spotting him. The blue eyes are giving him a slow once over and the mouth is twisting into a smirk.
Robert feels like there should be a new word invented for this kind of embarrassment, he just wants to disappear in thin air. He hates that awful green overall with its dark shoulder part and he knows how he looks wearing it. Ridiculous.
“Hi,” he says it feels hella awkward as he walks over to Aaron.
“Hi, farm boy,” Aaron grins and Robert is not quite sure, but he thinks Aaron is winking at him?!
This time, Robert actually does trip over his feet, because his knees are suddenly made of jelly and those damn rubber boots are two sizes too big anyway, so he stumbles forward like a duffer.
Aaron steps towards him and grabs his arms out of reflex to hold him upright. Their faces are only inches apart, but this isn’t a magic Twilight moment - Aaron is not Edward and he is certainly not Bella in this scenario. Robert’s reeking of pig and sweat and he pulls back so quickly, he almost loses his footing again.
“Sure, yes. Yup.” Robert’s face is heating up and he knows he’s blushing again under Aaron’s worried gaze. “Err. Let’s go in. I need a shower. You can go up into my room and I’ll be there as quickly as I can.”
He opens the front door for Aaron, not meeting his eyes when the other boy walks past him and then he heads to the side entrance of the house. They have a workspace to change their clothes and clean their boots. No dirt in the house always was Sarah’s creed. Robert chucks the wellies off and gives them a makeshift cleaning before he strips out of his overall.
It takes him almost three seconds of standing there, shivering in his briefs and T, when the realisation settles in that in his rush earlier he didn’t bring any fresh clothes.
And Aaron is upstairs.
Robert sinks down on a wooden chair in the corner and puts his face in his hands. Why does he always have to drop the ball, can’t he be cool for bloody once in his life? He wants to scream in frustration. Staring at the overall hanging from the hook he contemplates if he should put it back on, but the smell is holding him back. The house would reek of pig and it’s against what mum always said.
He takes one deep breath and gets up. Best to get it over with quickly. At least the shirt is clean. And he’s not wearing his Christmas briefs that say ‘ ho ho hoe’ right above the crotch, so small mercies, Robert supposes.
When he enters his room, Aaron is standing at the window and looking outside.
“Hey that was really qu-” the rest of Aaron’s sentence ends in a coughing fit, because he turned around and spotted Robert.
“Sorry, I just…” he mutters and hurries to his drawer, “need to...err.” Robert doesn’t even look, he just takes the first trackie who comes along. “Be right back.”
He tries to tell himself that Aaron sees other boys like this all the time, when he’s got his footy training. A guy in his briefs… pfft, surely this situation is not much different for him. The problem is, Aaron might be used to it, but Robert isn’t.
The only upside of this humiliation is that it simply can’t get any worse. That has to be a low, right? Robert leans his forehead against the tiles, while the warm water is washing over him. He just wishes it would rinse his embarrassment off as well.
It’s better now that he’s clean and changed, although his hair is a bit damp. Aaron is still standing at the window and stares outside like he always does, lost in thoughts. The sunlight illuminates his face in the best way and makes his eyes shine brighter than a clear summer sky.
“Okay, shall we start?” Robert asks.
Aaron startles slightly and turns his head. “Hm?” he makes, sounding like he just woke up.
“Hey, where have you been?” Robert jokes and Aaron ducks his head, before he looks outside again bashfully.
“Just thinking…” he mutters and bites his lip, then he straightens his shoulders. “Never been on a farm actually. What animals do you have here?”
The question takes Robert by surprise. He didn’t think Aaron would be interested in the farm - but then again, so many things about Aaron aren’t like he expected before, so he shouldn’t be surprised, really.
“I could show you around, before we start with the presentation, if you like?” he offers, following a spontaneous idea.
Anything to keep Aaron here a little longer, he thinks and he can’t hold back the smile when Aaron nods at him.
“As long as my trainers don’t get mucky.”
Robert is throwing head back and laughing, because oh damn, this is the most adorable thing he’s ever seen! Apparently Aaron Dingle loves animals in generals and calves in particular. Currently he’s wearing Vic’s wellies - which are a little bit too small for him, but Mr don’t-get-my-Nike’s-mucky squeezed his feet in determinedly - and he’s kneeling in the hay stroking the brown fur of the two baby cows who were born only two weeks ago.
“Aren’t you cute!” he cooes quietly - honest to god cooes with a little pout. “Yes, you are. You are!”
Robert secretly snaps another pic of Aaron, just to have some real proof that this actually is happening and not just a crazy dream.
“What’s their name?” Aaron wants to know without looking up, still stroking and petting the animals.
It’s not that Robert feels a tiny, little bit jealous here. “They don’t have names.”
“No?” Aaron says indignantly. “How rude is that, eh?” he says to the calves and tickles the fur on their head while they keep trying to lick his skin with their long tongues. “I think I’m gonna call you Mr Brownie and you’re… Biscuit!”
Robert hums. “Try Saltimbocca and Steak, they’re going to end up at the butcher’s in three months,” he says dryly.
Aaron looks finally up with huge eyes, then he glances back down at the little cows. “Oh.”
His expression is so miserable that Robert has to laugh again and this time Aaron chimes in. It’s amazing, showing him around. Robert never had someone over to show around before. They don’t go into the piggery, because he had enough of them bloody pigs for today, but after the calves, Robert leads Aaron through the cowbarn and the hen house. Aaron actually finds an egg and is delighted about it.
Robert has never seen him like that. So open, so relaxed, smiling so much. He can’t help but feel a little bit proud that he might be the reason for Aaron’s good mood. Well, the farm technically, but it’s his family’s property, so that counts. And although Robert doesn’t care much about Emmerdale farm, seeing Aaron so interested and being taken with everything is stirring something inside him.
They spend a long time in the machine barn. Aaron takes a closer look at all the different vehicles they got, the tractor seems to be of special interest to him.
“It’s pretty old,” Robert explains lamely. It’s a bit embarrassing.
“Those old motors are basically unbreakable, if they’re looked after,” Aaron mutters absently while he’s carefully touching some of the visible cables and plugs.
“You know something about motors as well?” Robert asks, staring at Aaron’s back and wow, his arse, when he bends down to inspect it closely.
His hoodie rides up a bit and he’s wearing neon yellow briefs and Robert swallows hard. Neon yellow, fucking hell. Aaron Dingle is a box full of surprises indeed. And that bum in those tight fitted black jeans…
“A bit, yeah,” Aaron tells him, “fixed a car in our street a few weeks ago. It was an old Volkswagen.”
“Oh, wow! Did you learn this somewhere? Is your dad a mechanic or something?”
“Nah.” Aaron looks over his shoulder back to Robert and smiles. “Watched a few youtube videos.”
“You’re kidding!” Robert stares at him with an open gob, but Aaron’s grin just widens and he shrugs casually. “Really?!”
“There’s a tutorial for everything on youtube.”
Laughter bubbles up inside Robert and soon they are laughing both, loud and carefree in the old barn. The fact that he always assumed Aaron wasn’t the brightest candle on the cake just because of his grades, is filling him with shame and he’s sobering up quickly. If Aaron really taught himself all that knowledge, he’s an autodidact and most definitely very intelligent.
Robert ends the little tour in the stables, where Dumbledore is greeting him from his box with a loud huff and clattering hooves.
“Here are our horses. This fella here is mine,” Robert says and walks over to the black stallion, who sticks his head out eagerly to get some strokes and Robert complies obediently. “Hi buddy.”
He is so absorbed with petting his horse that he doesn’t notice at first that Aaron didn’t follow him in the stable. Robert turns around, frowning, just to see the other boy still standing in the door, hands in his pockets, shifting on his feet. Aaron doesn’t look happy.
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Aaron says and bites his lip, “Horses… are just- like… big?”
“Aaron Dingle,” Robert smirks, “are you afraid of horses?”
He knows it’s nothing to make fun about, but he can’t resist teasing him a little bit with this new knowledge.
“Shut up,“ Aaron laughs, but he won‘t step closer to the horses.
“C‘mere,“ Robert waves his hand and when Aaron is giving him a hesitating look, he insists: “Come.“
Aaron takes a few steps closer then, but his tension is palpable and his eyes keep darting nervously around. For once in his life Robert isn’t overthinking a situation and he feels extremely brave when he takes Aaron‘s hand and lifts it towards Dumbledore‘s head.
“Wait!“ Aaron sounds panicked and Robert stops midair. “What if it bites?“
If it wasn‘t for the genuine concern in those amazing blue eyes, Robert might have laughed at that. His buddy is the friendliest, most indulgent horse ever.
“Trust me,“ he says and their eyes lock.
It‘s one of those moments again, where the air around them is suddenly charged and Robert gets goose pimples all over his body and a shiver is running down his spine. He wonders if only he feels it, if it‘s just some wishful thinking because he‘s falling for Aaron and his mind reads more in situations than there actually is.
Slowly Aaron is relaxing, his face softens. “Kay.“ It‘s barely a whisper.
Robert needs another second to get the order from his brain to his muscles to move, then he carefully guides Aaron‘s hand to Dumbledore‘s forehead and places it gently on the dark fur, right underneath the white blaze. Aaron is shifting from one foot to another, licking his lips and staring at the stallion without even blinking.
“Shhh,“ Robert shushes his horse and pats his neck to make him hold still. Dumbledore is standing like a statue, but his ears are constantly twitching to all directions, before he finally points them forward. “Good boy.“
His hand is still on Aaron‘s and Robert pulls it back reluctantly to not make things awkward again. Every fibre of his body longs for the skin contact, but right now him and Aaron are sharing this almost intimate moment and he doesn‘t wanna torpedo it.
“My mum loved the horses. She went riding with us basically every day.“
Robert can‘t remember if he ever talked with someone who wasn‘t his family about his mum after her death. The answer is most definitely no. Right now though, with Aaron, the words just spilled out of his throat, before he could even think about them.
“She died,“ he adds quietly, although Aaron hasn‘t even asked the question.
It hurts, it still hurts after all those years. Fuck cancer for taking his most important person, for ripping his world apart.
Aaron stays silent and Robert is grateful for it. The words ‘I‘m sorry for your loss’ are just hollow to him. He heard them too often and they aren‘t helpful at all.
“Maybe this is why I like it here the most,“ Robert goes on, looking at Dumbledore and gently stroking him, “I kinda hate the pigs, the cows and the hens are okay, but I really love the horses. And the stables. After she died I spent hours here, just to be close to her or something.“
He used to hide in here from the world in general and his father in particular, always with a book and a blanket. And then he read and read, fleeing from reality into fantastic adventures and places far away from Emmerdale farm until it got dark.
Robert laughs, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Pretty pathetic, huh?“ His ears are burning with shame.
“No, it‘s not.“
He turns to Aaron again and the boy‘s face is so open and soft and his blue eyes are full of sympathy and something else that Robert won‘t allow himself to hope…
Everything around them seems to disappear, it‘s just him and Aaron. He‘s hyper aware of how close they are standing together, their bodies almost touching and it wouldn‘t take much… just leaning forward a little and he could kiss Aaron.
There is this pull again, as if Aaron is a magnet and Robert is powerless against it.
Aaron‘s eyes flick down to his mouth and back up again, it was just a brief blink-and-you-miss-it-moment, but Robert didn‘t miss it! He saw it and now he sees how Aaron is licking his lips and he‘s not imagining that, is he? Heat is flushing his body, setting his nerves on fire and he just needs to lean in a bit and kiss. Only one kiss.
The voice outside causes them to jump apart, Dumbledore huffs surprised and steps back. Panic is paralyzing Robert, now that he knows his father is just outside the barn.
The door is being yanked open and Jack Sugden is standing there, glaring at them.
“I called you, didn‘t you hear me?“ he asks and his gaze wanders between Robert and Aaron back and forth.
“I was Aaron showing around,“ Robert forces himself to say. His lips feel numb. “This is Aaron, from school. Aaron, this is my dad.“
Jack comes in and offers his hand and Aaron shake it. Robert tries to swallow his panic down, but his heart is still beating so fast that he fears he might pass out. What if his dad would have come in here without shouting his name and saw them standing close? How could he be so stupid and wanting to kiss Aaron out here in public in broad daylight, when his family or the horse girls from the village could show up any time?
Robert feels sick. He needs to get out of here.
“We wanted to finish our assignment now,“ he says.
Jack gives him an unreadable glare and nods. “The assignment, of course.“ He looks at Aaron. “Robert is barely talking about anything else these days.“
It might be just a fatherly observation for an outsider, for Robert hears the mocking undertone. The words cut deep like a knife, especially because they’re being said in front of the boy he loves. His role as the school nerd confirmed once more from his own dad. Robert wants to die of humiliation.
Aaron just stays silent, bless him. Robert might just love him a little bit more in that moment.
“You should hurry then,“ Jack addresses him again, “me and Andy need to go to the hardware store to fix the fence, so you‘re on milk duty later.“
The protest is bubbling inside him, demanding to burst out, the words are on his tongue already, but he doesn‘t wanna cause a scene with Aaron next to him. He forces his feelings back down, takes a deep breath and nods.
His father seems almost surprised that he agreed so quickly and he looks pleased. He pats Robert‘s shoulder and his fading bruises from the encounter with Ross are still hurting at the contact.
A moment later they are alone again and Robert strains his ears, hears Jack talking to Andy, car doors being opened and shut. The engine starts and goes louder until it slowly fades when the car drives off.
Robert lets out a shuddering breath he didn‘t know he was holding. Only then he realises that Aaron is still there, standing silently next to him and watching him. The trademark frown is back on his face and Robert would give anything to read his thoughts right now.
“We should errr..“ he mutters and points to the door.
Once again, a moment between them is broken and irretrievably lost and replaced by an awkward tension. Robert wonders what would have happened if Jack didn’t show up. Would he have kissed Aaron for real? He’ll never know. It‘s frustrating as hell.
Back in his room, he gets the notes he prepared from his desk.
“Here, I made you a copy,“ Robert says and hands them over.
Aaron looks a bit startled. “Thanks,“ he mutters and eyeing the papers warily, his frown intensifying.
Okay, Robert isn‘t overly keen on presenting their discourse in front of the whole class on Tuesday either, but he really did his best to get them a decent grade, so a bit more enthusiasm would be appreciated.
“I thought we could practice how we present it, who says which parts and all that.“
Aaron‘s expression turns downright miserable.
“Do you have another suggestion?“ Robert asks.
“No, it‘s just…“ Aaron pauses and bites his lip, “I thought we-... I thought you were writing stuff down again, or something.“ He shifts on his feet.
“I finished that yesterday, remember?“ Robert is getting slightly irritated at Aaron‘s odd reaction. “Today we should do the practical part.“ He grabs a neon marker and holds the pen out for Aaron to take, “Here, for you, so you can mark your parts.“ Aaron hesitates. “You can start with the first part.“
“You should do it alone first, since you wrote it and then we decide which parts I take,“ Aaron replies and Robert‘s eyebrows fly up to his hairline.
After everything that happened in the past few days, this is such a set back between them. This is like on their first day, when Aaron was blocking out every suggestion Robert made. He thought they were past this. Vics words not to trust Aaron are echoing in his head, basically warning him that Aaron would just use him to save his grade.
He throws the marker on his bed.
“Why should I do it alone?“ he snaps, “I did it more or less alone so far. Now it‘s your turn!“
Aaron looks like a kicked puppy and Robert regrets immediately how harsh the words sounded. He doesn‘t want to end this afternoon in a fight, not after how close they had been earlier.
“Just read the first part with the introduction and the summary until the characterisations, I‘ll do that part.”
Aaron lowers his eyes, his face twisting like he‘s in pain.
“I-... I can‘t,“ he says so quiet, Robert almost didn‘t hear it.
“What? But you said you can read my handwriting!“ Robert frowns. He is pretty sure they talked about a few days ago and his memory is usually pretty good. Especially all things concerning Aaron. “I could have typed it off, if you‘d told me.“
“That‘s not it, I just…“ Aaron trails off and the sentence is still hanging there, unfinished.
“Aaron,“ Robert tries to keep his voice even although he is really getting impatient now. Why does the other boy have to be so difficult now all of a sudden? “Just read it.“
“I said I can‘t!“ it bursts out of Aaron, before his mouth shuts with an audible click of his teeth.
A series of different emotions is showing on his face and in the end he grits his teeth and his expression hardens. Robert takes a surprised step back and sees Aaron’s ears burning as if he‘s embarrassed.
“What?“ Robert asks dumbly, not sure if he‘s missing something here.
This isn‘t about his handwriting, is it?
“Fuck that. Fuck that presentation, I‘m not doing it,“ Aaron hisses, throws the papers away and storms out of the room.
Robert watches dumbfounded how the notes are slowly flying to the floor while Aaron stomps down the stairs. He wants to move, wants to shout after him, but he can‘t, it‘s like he‘s frozen to the spot. His brain is still trying to comprehend what just happened.
When the front door is closed with a loud bang, Robert lets out a long and shaky breath.
What the hell?
Maybe other kids his age would think what an exceptional arsehole Aaron Dingle is, shake the anger off and move on with their life - that stupid grade be damned - but this isn‘t how Robert works. He can‘t stop thinking about this afternoon, while he‘s guiding the cows into the milking parlour.
At first they were so close, Aaron was so carefree and relaxed and so, so incredibly cute. He trusted Robert with Dumbledore, that has to mean something, right? And then this eye contact, this moment between them. He could swear it wasn‘t just him. Wasn‘t Aaron slowly leaning in as well? Wasn‘t he looking at Robert‘s mouth and licking his lips?
His whole body tingles from the vivid memory alone.
And then… it all went to shit. First with his father and then in his room. Aaron‘s reaction to the handwritten notes was so strange.
He puts on the milking machines with practiced movements, but his mind is still in his bedroom, analysing what happened with Aaron.
That‘s what he said. Why would he say that?
Robert thinks back to every encounter he had with Aaron in the past two weeks and suddenly something clicks inside his head, like a puzzle piece falling into place.
Aaron was so uncomfortable in the library, only in that white room he could relax. The missing knowledge about any of the literature Robert suggested and the lack of books and magazines in his bedroom.
I am a voice message guy.
Robert wants to smack his forehead in frustration that he didn‘t notice all the signs sooner.
Aaron can‘t. Aaron can‘t read.
When Robert doesn‘t understand something, he does research, it‘s just his nature of finding things out, learning something new. Whereas most of his classmates are mourning about the stuff they need to learn at school, it‘s no hardship for Robert, actually he likes reading about new things and memorising them.
Dyslexia is definitely a new thing for him. He browses different sites, takes some notes when he finds something interesting and prints a few pages out. Apparently 9 million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate - a number that pretty much shocks him. How is that even possible and how could Aaron manage to get school so far without anyone noticing?! Robert can‘t get his head around it.
He reads about the social stigma, the daily struggle and the feeling of being left behind. He reads how some people may exclude themselves from certain situations to protect themselves and wow, that does sound a lot like Aaron Dingle.
It‘s way past midnight when he shuts down the laptop. Robert rubs his eyes and sighs. He‘s not looking forward to the talk he‘s going to have with Aaron, but it‘s also inevitable.
Even though Aaron might wanna push him back, Robert won‘t back down just to avoid a fight. Aaron is too important to him.
If anyone had any doubts about Robert being a creep, they can feel disabused now. He‘s currently lurking in Aaron‘s street like a stalker, watching the town house and wishing he would have come up with a plan what to do actually.
He only knows he can‘t do this on the phone, he needs to talk to Aaron in person, so he decided against messaging or calling. So he came here with the bus, determined to get Aaron to open up, but on the way from the bus station to the house, his bravado left him. What if the door gets slammed in his face? What if other family members are there? Or what if nobody is at home at all? It‘s Sunday after all, they could be in a restaurant or visiting friends or or do whatever families without a farm do on weekends.
While Robert is still trying to build up some courage to walk over there and ring the bell, the door opens and a man walks out. He‘s in his mid-forties or something, so it might be Aaron‘s dad. Robert watches him leaving the street in the other direction.
Damn, it‘s now or never, he decides.
The doorbell is shrill and ringing and makes Robert wince. Only seconds later he hears footsteps coming closer.
“Did you forget your-” Aaron stops and freezes when he sees Robert standing there.
The blue eyes widen and Robert‘s heart speeds up. He honestly expected the door getting slammed in his face, but Aaron is just standing there in silence, looking more guilty than angry. Robert takes that as a good sign.
“Can I come in?“
After hesitating a short moment, Aaron steps aside to let him in. The house is quiet, there is no sign of anyone else being at home which is good, because Robert really wants to do this without an audience.
Aaron leads him upstairs and into his room. Robert is not surprised seeing a bigger chaos than on Tuesday, the amount of empty energy drink cans alone must have doubled since then. But he isn‘t here to judge the tidiness of Aaron‘s room, in fact he couldn‘t care less right now.
“Look,“ Aaron starts and scratches eyebrow, “I‘m sorry. For yesterday. You really should do this whole thing alone and get your A or something. As you said, you did all the work anyway, so you deserve it.“
It‘s unbelievable how seemingly easy Aaron is giving up on that project, that he‘d rather repeat the school year instead of telling Robert he‘s illiterate.
“Read this!“ Robert is holding the pages up he printed last night.
Aaron looks taken aback and his eyes are flicking to the text and then back to Robert‘s face.
“I said you can do it alone!“ he spits out angrily.
But Robert knows better. Aaron isn‘t angry, he‘s scared, his blue eyes are full of fear.
“It says there are many organisations around the UK to help illiterates and it‘s never too late to progress,“ Robert recites the article calmly.
Aaron flinches like he‘s been slapped in the face and Robert‘s heart is breaking for him, when he sees tears swimming in his eyes.
“You can‘t read it, can you.“
“I‘m not stupid!“ Aaron cries out, quickly wiping his face with his sweater paws. “I‘m not!“ He shakes his head and stumbles back.
“Hey,“ Robert says quietly in the same tone he uses to calm down Dumbledore, “hey, I know you're not.“ He turns the pages, so he can read them. “There are 9 million adults in the UK who can‘t read, 9 million! You‘re not alone, okay?”
Aaron is still shaking his head and presses a hand on his mouth, but he can‘t hold back the sob no matter how hard he tries.
“There is loads of help available,“ Robert goes on, “it‘s nothing to be ashamed of.“
It‘s this last sentence that finally breaks Aaron and he starts crying in earnest. Robert throws the papers on the bed and follows his instinct. He pulls Aaron in for a hug and wraps his arms around him. The urge to comfort is overwhelming and he feels like crying himself. He can‘t imagine the immense pressure Aaron must have felt hiding this huge secret, but he’s not alone anymore.
For a moment he is rigid in his arms, just frozen and Robert feels Aaron’s heart beating incredibly fast through the layers against his own rib cage. Then, very slowly, he’s relaxing and hands are being laid on Robert’s shoulder blades hesitantly.
“It’s okay. I promise,” Robert whispers, because he needs Aaron to know, to understand.
It’s how they’re standing there in the messy childhood bedroom for god knows how long and Robert never wants to let go. He’s pressing his face in the crook of Aaron’s neck and breathes him in, fully aware that this isn’t the moment for his crush, but he can’t help it. Never has he been so close to someone outside his family, physically and emotionally. They’re flush from head to toe and it feels so good.
Robert can’t fathom how people are saying two blokes being together would be unnatural, when it feels so damn fucking right.
All too soon, Aaron pulls back with his head bent down and he quickly turns around and sniffs.
“If you tell anyone I cried, I’m gonna ruin our presentation so you’ll only get a C.” Aaron’s empty threat comes along with a coy, watery smile over his shoulder.
Robert smiles back. “I won’t,” he promises, but then he gets serious again. “You gotta tell Thomas though.”
“Yeah, sure. No way.” Aaron turns around and shakes his head, his face hardening, like the stubborn idiot that he is.
“But he could help you!”
Aaron is giving him a long look and his eyebrows are slowly rising.
“He could!” Robert insists. “Maybe there are courses he can book you in or programs you could take part in.” His head is running a mile an minute with all the possibilities that are out there for Aaron he read about last night.
“I’m not your charity case, Robert,” Aaron grits out with a strained voice.
He’s totally getting it wrong, Robert realises with a sudden fear. The last thing he wants is Aaron to retreat into his shell, not after he finally solved this enigma.
“No! No you’re not!” he says quickly. “But… all I’m saying is there is help, alright? And Thomas… and the other teachers… they need to know. They have to mark you differently or something.”
“Yeah, cos I’m a freak,” Aaron scoffs bitterly and sinks down on his bed.
Robert gets it, of course he does. If anyone is an expert in feeling embarrassed and alien and out of place, it’s him after all.
“It’s actually pretty surprising they didn’t notice themselves,” he says to stir the conversation in another direction, away from Aaron’s self-doubts.
The question is circling in his mind since he found out yesterday… how could Aaron hide it for all those years? Despite the tests they had to write and all. It’s unbelievable and downright scandalous that no one noticed anything.
“They’re idiots,” Aaron shrugs and rubs his face.
“No, seriously. How could you hide it?”
Aaron stays silent for so long that Robert thinks his question is simply getting ignored, but then the other boy starts to talk quietly: “They only see what they want to see. When I came to school, my mum left us. I guess I was just the regular ‘problem kid’ back then.” Aaron’s using air quotes and his face turns sad, when he’s staring at the distance and his eyes are losing focus. “I never learned it properly. Reading, I mean.”
Robert sits down next to him. He doesn’t comment on it, not wanting to interrupt Aaron.
“My dad was too wrapped up with his work and the divorce, he mostly ignored me and let me be. Every two years or so we moved when he got transferred to another position.”
Misery is radiating off Aaron in giant waves and he looks so heartbreakingly sad and lost that Robert wants to hug him again. That truly sounds like a lonely childhood, no wonder Aaron is so closed off.
“But you passed tests?“ Robert asks and Aaron nods. “How?“
“I can read. A bit,“ Aaron says, his ears are glowing and he rolls his shoulders uncomfortably. He clears his throat. “It‘s just… slow and… long texts are a problem. And I cheat.“
The last sentence was being sad with a tiny smile and sounds almost smug, it makes Robert laugh.
“Holly is helping me.“
Oh. Holly. The laughter dies quickly. Of course Holly is there for Aaron.
“Are you… you know…” he‘s blushing again and he hopes that Aaron would get the unspoken question, but according to the adorable confused frown that‘s not the case. “Together… or…“ Robert trails off.
He‘s such a masochist, but he just needs to know. Otherwise his brain is going to drive him insane. It‘s better knowing now, ripping the plaster off so to say, to get used to it. To draw a line under this crush.
Under his first love.
“Ooooh!“ Aaron pulls a face. “No! No. No. That‘s err, no. I mean, we were, but…“ he stammers, “not anymore. Doesn‘t work for me.“
Robert wants to jump up and cheer and high five someone, but in reality he‘s just sitting there trying to keep his face even. He nods like he isn‘t arsed at all. Totally cool.
“I thought it was pretty cool… how you spoke up in front of the class. Saying you‘re bi and that,“ Aaron admits and bites his lip again.
It‘s kind of a weird topic change, from Aaron being illiterate to Robert‘s sexuality and Robert is slightly surprised, but in a good way. The words are unlocking a box of butterflies in his belly and he feels a warm buzz all over.
“Have you ever… err,” Aaron coughs awkwardly, “like… been with a guy?”
Maybe it’s that buzz - Robert will definitely blame it afterwards on his good mood, his excitement, his hormones or whatever - that causes him to open his mouth and say: “No. Why though? Are you offering?”
The joke is spoken out before his brain can catch up and then the words are hanging there between them and Aaron’s eyes grow big and his jaw falls open. The atmosphere is shifting, like the universe is suddenly tilting to the side and Robert realises in absolute horror what he just said.
“Sorry, forget that.” He looks away miserably, feeling his face burning once more with shame.
It’s maybe just his thing, to ruin every good moment him and Aaron are having. Why is he such an idiot, it’s so damn frustrating. A hand is touching his cheek with a warm and firm grip and his head is being turned back and then Aaron’s lips are on his own.
Robert lets out a little shriek through his closed mouth, Aaron still pressing against him. It’s a shock. Is this a prank? Why is Aaron kissing him? Oh god, Aaron is kissing him! And his lips are so soft and perfect and oh god, this is his first kiss ever. With Aaron Dingle.
It takes his brain about two second to catch up with his body and then he kisses back, because he simply can not kiss Aaron back. His hands are flying up, grabbing blindly at the black jumper. He needs to hold Aaron, because he fears otherwise it might not be real.
Is this real? Please let it be real.
Aaron parts his mouth and Robert takes the invite immediately, slides his lips between Aaron’s. Somewhere back in his mind is a quiet voice warning him to pull the ripcord now, because there is no way that Aaron is actually into guys and surely not into him! He is probably just some experiment or something and it will cause nothing but heartbreak and pain afterwards, but Robert can’t stop. He can’t.
This might be his only chance with Aaron and he’s going to take it.
Aaron’s hand is still resting on his jawline and the thumb starts stroking softly right next to his ear. It’s such a sweet little touch that throws all thoughts out of the window. Robert is gone, too far gone to care now. He’s getting a bit more confident now and sucks in Aaron’s bottom lip to gently nibble on it. The humming sound he gets in return is like music to his ears. He did this, he caused that little moan. Robert wants more.
He opens his mouth and Aaron gets it quickly, mirrors Robert’s movement and then their tongues are sliding against each other.
It’s amazing. Perfect. And Aaron tastes so fucking good, Robert is nearly losing it at how good this is. Better than he ever imagined.
His hands are still holding Aaron’s hoodie in a death grip and Robert forces his fingers to relax. He wants to feel, so he starts stroking over Aaron’s chest up to his shoulders and down his arms.
“Robert,” Aaron whines breathlessly into his mouth and the sound jabs his crotch like a dagger.
He’s so hard in his jeans already and Aaron moaning his name is definitely doing it for him. Without breaking the kiss, Aaron is suddenly moving, getting up from the bed and turning towards him. Then the bed dips when he’s kneeling, straddling Robert’s hips and then Aaron carefully sits down on his thighs.
The new position forces him to tilt his head back and look up to Aaron and it’s strangely hot. Also, their bodies are now closer together and Robert can touch him everywhere now. On his arms, his back and his neck. He plays softly with the hairline and scratches carefully the warm skin. Aaron shivers above him and moans again.
Robert gets lost in feeling, touching, tasting, he doesn‘t know how much time is passing, only that his neck is getting a bit stiff, his lips are swollen and numb and his briefs are damp with precome. He doesn‘t wanna stop.
Pulling Aaron with him, he‘s leaning back down on the mattress and that‘s yeah, even better. Lying there with Aaron on top of him. Their crotches are rubbing against each other and Aaron is just as hard as he is.
Robert moans at the sensation and Aaron repeats the movement with his hip.
“Wait!“ he cries out and blinks his eyes open, dazed.
“What?“ Aaron wheezes.
The blue in his eyes is almost completely gone, his pupils are blown and lust-clouded. He‘s so beautiful, the most gorgeous boy Robert ever has seen and he loves him so much.
“Stop. Or I‘ll… I‘m…“ Robert is blushing furiously.
He‘s just a virgin after all and this is his crush doing all the stuff he was fantasizing for years about, so of course he‘s about to cum into his pants.
Aaron doesn‘t seem to mind, because he‘s cursing and kissing him again so hard their teeth are clicking, then he‘s climbing off Robert‘s lap only to palm his jean cladded cock a second later.
“Aaron!“ he moans loudly, not able to hold it back.
And then it‘s going quickly, like in a haze and Robert can barely keep up with anything, because all his blood is below his waistband. Aaron fumbles with the button and the zipper of Robert‘s jeans and then he‘s suddenly half naked on Aaron‘s bed and his trousers are pushed down to his knees.
His dick is slicked up with precum, the air feels cold on his skin and he feels exposed and very naked. Oh god, Aaron is staring at his cock and licks his lips subconsciously.
Robert goes for Aaron‘s jeans with shaky fingers, it takes him two attempts to get it open. Aaron is helping him to shove it down and they‘re both bare arsed and breathing harshly.
Aaron‘s cock is thick and perfect and Robert feels like coming from looking at it alone. All the things he imagined in the past two years of what he wanted to do with this dick are running through his mind.
He wants to touch. Following the instinct, he wraps his hand around it and it feels hot and solid and heavy in his grip. Is this really happening?
“Wait…” Aaron breathes and reaches up under his pillow.
His hand comes back with a little bottle, a cap pops and then there‘s a cold jelly on his dick. Lube, Robert realises, Aaron‘s got lube. Suddenly he‘s imagining Aaron jerking off right here on this bed, fucking his lubed up fist, making all sorts of hot noises.
Robert holds his palm up automatically and Aaron squeezes lube on it, then he throws the bottle carelessly away.
The first touch of Aaron‘s slick fingers is like a shock. Robert throws his head back and gasps harshly. Oh god. Oh fucking god. Aaron Dingle is touching his cock.
He reaches out to do the same and it‘s a bit odd, because he can only use his left hand, but Aaron seems to like it anyway - by all accounts of the broken moan that slips through his parted lips.
They end up lying on the side, feet still dangling in the air, jeans and briefs around their knees, jerking each other off. It only takes a few frantic strokes for Robert to come undone, his body is burning with passion, every nerve is on fire, it’s almost too much to bear. Aaron’s face is only inches away and although Robert’s eyelids are getting heavy, he forces them to stay open. He doesn’t wanna miss one second of Aaron’s blissed out expression, his open mouth and his little eyebrow twitches. And the moans and grunts, god it’s pornographic.
Heat is coiling in his belly and his balls are shrinking, he’s so close.
“Oh fuck! Aaron!”
It’s that little word that tips him over the edge, he usually hates the shortening of his name, but right now it’s like a pet name and it sounds amazing when it comes from Aaron in this high pitched, needy, breathless tone.
Everything dissolves in a white heat and he closes his eyes and just rides on his high.
Robert hears a harsh groan and erratic breathing and he feels a warm liquid running over his fist when Aaron is coming only a second after him.
Robert’s body is shaking and trembling and he can’t stop it, while his heartbeat is so fast, he thinks might pass out. No wonder the French call it ‘le petit mort’ - the little death. Never has an orgasm been that intense and Robert has has his fair share of experience in orgasms, even if just from masturbating. He didn’t think it could be like this with another person, if he’s honest. He feels like he’s broken apart and Aaron put him back together.
Robert is flying. His body is tingling everywhere, even his lips are feeling weird and he keeps licking them, convinced he still tastes Aaron there.
He starts grinning like a loon. He just had sex with Aaron Dingle. If you count a handjob as sex, which Robert totally does. Aaron gently cleans him up with a tissue and Robert blinks his eyes open to look at him. The blue eyes are looking at him softly and Robert loves him so much. Right before he is about to say something really stupid much too soon, Aaron leans in and kisses him again. It’s different now, sweet, slow and relaxed as they’re both still bathing in their post-orgasmic bliss.
Robert’s eyelids are fluttering shut again and he feels so deeply content and satisfied in this moment of pure perfection. The endorphin rush is slowly wearing off, making him tired. The last thing he notices, before he drifts off, is Aaron snuggling up against him and whispering something in his hair.
A door slams shut.
Robert startles and groans. Probably Andy again, that lad has never learned to close a door the normal way. Damn, Robert is still so tired, he’s not ready to wake up. Although something feels weird. His bed feels weird. And also…. his eyes fly open in shock.
Aaron is sleeping next to him, peaceful like a baby.
Oh god, he is at Aaron’s. Robert looks down. And he’s still half naked. Because they had sex. On this bed.
Reality is crashing down on him, now that his lust clouded brain is sober again. Panic grabs ahold of his body and all he knows is that he has to get out of here! He can’t stay here and wait until Aaron wakes up and tells him right into his face that he was some sort of bi experiment. It’ll break him.
Fuck, it’s already breaking him. Robert’s heart is clenching and shrinking and he sits up and tries to breathe somewhat normal through his nose, but he’s from one second to another on the edge of a panic attack.
Was has he done? How could he be so stupid? He should have stopped it, he knew it would hurt afterwards, didn’t he. He had no idea how much it would hurt though. It’s like a cold knife is being stabbed into his chest.
“Aaron, I’m home!” a voice shouts from downstairs and fuck! This must be Aaron’s dad who just came back.
For a few long seconds Robert is just frozen in shock, then there are footsteps on the stairs. Aaron’s dad must be coming up. Robert jumps up from the bed and nearly trips, because his bloody jeans are hanging around his ankles. He pulls them up quickly and hurries to the door to listen to what's happening in the house.
What if he’s coming in here and Aaron is softly snoring on the bed, half naked?!
Robert hears a door being shut and the sound of the tap. Aaron’s father must be in the bathroom, so this is his chance! Without thinking, Robert runs into the corridor and down to the front door.
He flees from the house and from Aaron and from everything that happened earlier. Too bad he can’t flee from his feelings as well.
After the night of hell, Robert feels like a zombie. Awful, just awful. Tired is the understatement of the year. He’s hollow inside. There is this huge void and incredible sadness. He’s just sad.
He always thought it’d be enough if he could have it once, if he could kiss Aaron once, if he could be close to Aaron once. He’d given anything for it.
And what a fool he’d been, because now that he had it, it leaves him in limbo. It feels like there is no coming back from it.
The memory is imprinted in his mind and soul, he still can feel Aaron’s touch and hear his moans and see his face. Yesterday felt so good, so amazing and now… nothing is left. Nothing.
And when he thought going to school after his coming out took a lot of effort, this is a whole new level. Robert is absolutely terrified of meeting Aaron again. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he sees those blue eyes again.
He’s finding out soon. Holding the straps of his backpack in a death grip to prevent his hands from shaking, he’s walking the school hallway to their classroom. His stomach is slowly twisting and turning and Robert feels like throwing up any second. Then he spots the all too familiar buzzcut and his guts are suddenly hot and heavy.
David Metcalfe, the coach of the football team is talking to him and Aaron is nodding along. Then they are parting and Aaron turns around in his direction and Robert’s breath hitches when their eyes are locking.
During his sleepless night he imagined all sorts of different scenarios of this moment. In no scenario he imagined Aaron looking through him as if he was made of glass though. Robert is standing there, frozen on the spot and watches him walking away.
Like Aaron hasn’t even seen him. Except he definitely has seen Robert. But he’s ignoring him.
Aaron must be pissed off and there is only one explanation for it: he’s regretting it. He wanted to try out the same sex thing out of curiosity and discovered it’s not for him. And now he doesn’t want anything to do with Robert anymore. He’s probably disgusted.
It hurts so much, Robert wants to scream in frustration and pain.
His legs are stiff and somehow like jelly at the same time and he feels like he’s staggering when he’s walking into the classroom. Aaron is already on his seat, staring outside the window with an unreadable and unmoving expression, not giving a damn about anything. Robert tries to swallow, but the tennis ball sized lump in his throat makes it almost impossible.
What follows is the weirdest school day of Robert’s life, where he just sits on his chair, physically present, but everything is just a blur and he can’t follow anything that’s been said.
Robert doesn’t dare turn his head to look at Aaron, but he keeps secretly glancing sideways.
He can’t believe it was only two weeks ago when he sat here and Mr Thomas teamed them up for the assignment. So freaking much has happened since then and Robert would give anything to turn back time and go through it all again. Without making the same mistakes.
Somehow he makes it to lunch break and while all the others are hurrying to get into the cafeteria, Robert takes his usual time to get his stuff together, but then he realises that he didn’t even get it out. He stares at his empty desk, absolutely dumbfounded. He didn’t take any notes, he didn’t even take his books out. Nobody noticed it and asked if everything’s alright, neither the teachers nor his classmates. It’s how Aaron said: they see what they want to see.
“Aaron! Robert!” Mr Thomas calls them and Robert is surprised to see Aaron still here.
Aaron was already on his way to the door and is now turning around with a bored expression on his face. He’s not, however, looking in Robert’s direction at all.
“I’m really looking forward to your presentation tomorrow,” Ashley Thomas smiles.
Aaron scoffs at that, his face is twisting in disdain and he walks out wordlessly. It’s like a slap in Robert’s face. Getting beaten by Ross is nothing compared to this, honestly. He just wants to hide somewhere and cry, but instead Mr Thomas is coming up to him.
“Everything alright?” the teacher asks concernedly.
“Yeah, sure, course.” Robert swallows.
“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ashley Thomas nods at him and leaves him alone in the classroom.
Robert just puts his face in his hands and lets out a long and shaky breath. There is no need to rush, he isn’t hungry anyway.
He spends his lunch break outside, hiding in his usual spot where he was watching the football team so many times. The pitch is empty now and Robert just stares into the distance. He’s thinking about what to do next.
It can’t go on like this. He can’t go on like this.
He needs to talk to Aaron to resolve this awful tension between them and honestly, what is there to lose anyway? It surely can’t get worse than this. Robert uses the rest of the break to bolster himself up for the confrontation, but as soon as he finds Aaron alone on a bench in the school yard, his heart sinks into his boots again.
Turning around and walking away is a close thing.
“Fuck it,” Robert mutters to himself, forces his stupid brain to shut up and stop overthinking everything and then he strides over to Aaron.
The other boy sits with his back to him, hunched over something and when Robert is close enough he sees that it’s his phone and he stops dead on his tracks. Aaron is staring at the display. There isn’t instagram or tiktok open, or an article, or a stupid game. Aaron is staring at his lock screen.
Right underneath the huge numbers of the watch is his face. Robert’s face.
It’s a picture of him.
Robert is on Aaron’s lock screen.
“Am I your lock screen?!” he blurts out, because… what?!
Aaron startles and jumps up from the bench, pressing his phone quickly to his chest. But Robert has seen enough. The picture was taken in the white room of the library - which means it was almost two weeks ago. It shows him bending over his notes and writing down something.
“You weren’t supposed to see that!” Aaron spits out upset and he looks like a deer caught in headlights.
And then - Robert can’t believe what he’s seeing - he’s blushing. This time it’s not Robert’s stupid body who gives his true feelings away all too easy, it’s Aaron’s cheeks that are turning pink.
If it was possible to love this boy any more, Robert would right now, but he is already completely and irrevocably gone on Aaron.
He pulls out his phone and his clammy hands are shaking. “You’re mine.”
And with this declaration he turns his display for Aaron to see. It’s that pic of him lying on Robert’s bed. A bit blurry, but damn, still sharp enough. Literally.
Robert’s heartbeat is so loud and rapid in his chest, he wonders if Aaron can hear it actually. The blue eyes are flicking back and forth between the phone and Robert’s face, slowly widening.
“But...but…” Aaron stammers, “you were just gone!”
The words hit Robert like a punch in the stomach. He stares at Aaron in confusion. Is that why he’s being ignored all day? Because Aaron woke up alone and thought Robert had abandoned him? That’s ridiculous!
Robert was so caught up in the conviction Aaron would regret it, that it didn’t even cross his mind the other boy might feel the same for one tiny second.
“What?” he shrieks, “Your father came home, you were sleeping and I-... I just panicked!” He flails around as if to underline his point. “I thought you’d regret it anyway.”
Now it’s Aaron’s turn to look confused. “What?” he frowns.
“I thought this was just… you know… an experiment for you or something,” Robert admits shyly. “Since you're straight and all.”
Aaron snorts at that. “And you didn’t think that I might not be so straight when I came like three seconds after you touched my dick, Mr Smarty-Pants?” His blue eyes are sparkling and that in combination with the blunt choice of words knocks the breath out of Robert’s lungs.
“Uhm, no?” he whispers unsure.
Aaron nods knowingly and that tiny smile that Robert adores so much is tugging on the corners of his mouth again.
“Well. I’m gay.”
Robert can’t quite recall when exactly this day turned from being a complete emotional disaster to the fucking best day ever. A broad grin is spreading on his face. Aaron is gay. Aaron kissed him and had sex with him. Aaron made him his background picture.
They were basically as good as married.
“I wanna kiss you, so bad.” The rush of adrenaline and endorphins make him brave enough to admit it.
And it’s true, the need to be close to Aaron and touch and kiss is overwhelming, but they are in the middle of the school yard and there are other students around, holding him back. Aaron’s face softens and Robert can’t believe he’s on the receiving end of this affectionate look.
Aaron leads him back to Robert’s favourite spot behind the school at the football pitch.
“Heard this is a good hiding spot,” Aaron teases him with a smug grin.
It’s still an embarrassing thought that Aaron knew for god knows how long that Robert was often sitting here and watching the football team during their practice like a weirdo.
“Shut up,” Robert smiles.
“Hmmm, make me then.”
Aaron leans against the wall, all cocky and confident and so damn fucking hot. Robert doesn’t even think twice - actually he’s not thinking at all - when he’s closing the gap between them and grabs Aaron’s face and kisses him.
Just like that.
Because he can do that.
Yesterday was his first kiss ever, a moment and a feeling Robert will never forget - but this, here, in broad daylight, is almost even better. This time they both know what they’re doing, what they are feeling. It’s not just some sexual experiment, not just some frantic fumbling. It’s slow and sweet and genuine and full of love. Robert loves Aaron so much.
He gently strokes over the cheeks, loving the little scruff he feels under his palm. Aaron’s hands are climbing up his arms, his shoulders and down on his back, they determinedly pull him closer, until Robert’s body is pressing against him.
They are grinning in each other's mouths and Robert blinks his eyes open, just to see Aaron lookin back at him.
It’s still unreal.
Robert pulls back, but only about an inch. “Are we boyfriends now?” he whispers.
He always thought he isn’t keen on labels, since he started his research about who he is and who he likes, but damn, he wants this label. Robert’s cheeks are heating up once more, but this time it doesn’t feel like a curse, because this time Aaron smiles back at him and he looks just as affected like Robert.
“I mean, we touched each other’s dicks and we’re already lockscreen-boyfriends, so yeah… I guess, we are,” Aaron grins and Robert peppers little kisses on his mouth and chin and jawline and every bit of skin he can reach. “Oh god, my boyfriend is a sap!” he laughs.
Robert is flying. He never felt so alive and elated before. His face is hurting from smiling, but he can’t stop. Although Aaron should really stop talking about touching dicks, because this is causing a problem in his school pants already.
“And my boyfriend is an idiot,” Robert says light-heartedly.
So that’s established then.
They spend the entire afternoon there, sitting on the ground, talking and kissing and talking and kissing.
At some point Robert admits that he was crushing on Aaron right from the moment he walked through the classroom door the first time.
“Yeah. It was so damn confusing at first and I never thought, it would lead to anything anyway, you were just so… you know…” He chuckles.
“No, I don’t actually,” Aaron says, clearly enjoying this. Idiot.
“I don’t know… you are the cool football captain, wearing your scowly face all the time…”
“I do not scowl!” Aaron scowls and causes Robert to laugh.
He hums and Aaron nudges him gently with his elbow. “Really though,” Robert says, “you were so out of my league.”
Now he gets a real frown. “Why would you say that?”
“Because I’m just a weird nerd?!” Robert snorts and shrugs, because isn’t that totally obvious?
Aaron’s frown deepens. He isn’t laughing along and Robert's smile falters when he’s feeling self-conscious like he just said something wrong.
“Stop saying that. Actually I always thought you’re out of my league, because you’re so clever and you always know everything and I-” Aaron bites his lip and starts pulling out gras between the cobbles.
He looks so sad and miserable now and Robert can’t have that. Aaron should never feel like he’s not good enough.
“Hey,” Robert touches his arm, “You’re not stupid.” He looks at him with all the love he has, to make him see that he really means it, although Aaron doesn’t seem to be fully convinced yet. Robert promises himself to change that in the near future. “I mean, you’re still an idiot, but you’re not stupid,” he adds a little joke to ease to highly emotional tension.
Aaron is throwing his head back and rasps out a beautiful hoarse laugh and his whole face is lighting up. Robert smiles and ducks his head. His boyfriend is just the cutest ever.
Robert is lying on his bed and although he barely slept last night, he isn’t tired at all. Quite the opposite actually, his body is buzzing with energy. The events of the day are replaying in his head over and over and it still hasn’t sunk in. It still feels like a weird dream.
His phone bings and the message from Aron is proof that it did happen. That he’s got a boyfriend now. It’s a text message, but it only says one word:
Robert’s pressing his face into his pillow and squeals in delight. The thought about sleeping is ridiculous now and he considers a quick jerk off to get rid of all the excitement. Suddenly another inspiration hits him, he gets out of his bed quickly and walks over to his desk. He uses his copy of IT to lean his phone against it, opens the camera and flips the mirror. Angling the Samsung towards his bed, he tries to find a good picture frame and when he’s satisfied, he hits record.
His watch says it’s 10 past midnight, but maybe Aaron can’t sleep either, so Robert records a whatsapp for his boyfriend.
“Hi Aaron, err, it’s me. Look, I know you said you wanted me to do the presentation alone, because you’re too scared to read in front of the class and I get it. I do. But…” Robert pauses, but his thumb is still pressing the button, because he literally won’t let this go. “This is about your assignment and your grade too and Thomas will give you an F and then you fail the class and that’s not fair! It’s not fair! So, I...uhm, recorded a video. I did the whole presentation and explained which parts are yours and which parts are mine. I know it’s not much time left to rehearse it, but…” He chuckles softly. “You’re the guy who can fix a car after watching a youtube video, right? I’ll send you the file and… yeah. It would be cool, if we could do it together.”
He closes his eyes briefly and lifts the finger to send the whatsapp. Then he looks down and sees the double tick turning blue, so Aaron must listen to the audio right now.
There are some tough challenges ahead like dealing with Aaron’s dyslexia, making it official in school and coming out to his father and his brother. Pretty scary stuff. But with Aaron by his side he might actually feel brave enough to go through it all. Together they can face everything.
“Robert… I don’t even know what to say…” Aaron’s voice is shaky and thick with emotions. “You’re really something else, you know?”
Robert smiles at his phone, feeling warm and fuzzy inside when he curls up on his bed. He’s missing Aaron and wishes he could be here right now. He hits record:
“Yeah, I know.”