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tell me a place where this is real

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Eric hates Taylor Blaine.


Eric searches for Kevin's eyes. Kevin looks away.


Dan suspends him from the team. “It's not permanent.” Eric doesn't care. Taylor has taken away the one thing he can rely on: basketball. He wants to break something.


Kevin tells him not to worry. Kevin has never had to worry a day in his life. How would he know? He doesn't say that, though. He lets Kevin keep on talking and his anger bottles up, gritting his teeth until his fists shake with the urge to hit something.


Peter is breaking his heart. His brother is so, so stupid. When would he learn he and Eric were not the same and never would be? Eric doesn't want this anymore. He has grown so tired of living a lie.


Eric alternates between chugging the beer and downing the pills. His music is too loud. In an imaginary future, he might have hearing loss. He hopes there is some type of afterlife. He hopes he will be forgiven of everything he did. God should know that he did try. But He just made it too hard.


Eric is alive and he feels both relieved and disappointed. He just wanted to sleep, really. He was only looking for peace. It is embarrassing to have everyone know he tried to kill himself. He doesn't have much else left to lose now. He tells Dan everything and Dan rushes out. When his father appears in the doorway, he shuts his eyes and wishes the pills had worked.


Dr. Graham makes him give a speech. A speech. About how he feels safe now and knows he can be his true self at Leyland. As if any of that is true. He sees some kids lazily waving pride flags in the audience and it almost makes him laugh. If this were happening to someone else, he would have pointed that out to Kevin and they would laugh and cover it up with coughs. But it’s not and Kevin is standing with the other boys in a suit, looking a little uncomfortable. He hates this. He hates how much he’s been saying he hates everything lately.


No one wants to talk to him, but everyone wants to talk about him.


Eric watches videos from before. He knows he shouldn't because it only makes him feel worse, but he wants to remember. Kevin and him saying dumb stuff and Wes doubled over laughing. The same Wes who won't even talk to him anymore is laughing at his joke. Eric looks at a picture from freshman year, so old he still has his curls. Kevin is with him and they're both smiling hard. Eric hasn't seen Kevin smile like that since they won state in March. They look the same except for their hair, but they've changed so much. Where did those boys go? Eric wonders when he lost the Eric in the photo. He doesn't think he could find him even if he knew.


Kevin doesn’t pass to Eric even though he is the only one open. They lose by two. The opposing team's fans yell at them the whole game because of him. Eric thinks it might be best if he quit the team but the damage is already done. Kevin stops him from going out for dinner with the rest of the team. He hates them all so much. He doesn't know why he ever wanted to be a Leyland boy.


The boys show up, full of misplaced anger, shoving him around, telling him it's him or Taylor. He bites his lip and dials Taylor's number. He tries to keep his breathing steady as he tells Taylor to meet him at the rec center. His heart is banging against his chest. He keeps on telling himself this is the right choice, that he doesn't have any other.


He sees it on the news first, Wes dead from a gunshot wound from a boy who used to go to Leyland. He doesn't need to know anything else. It’s Taylor. And because of them maybe. He stops himself from thinking that. It’s not their fault. Everything is because of Taylor. Taylor and his inability to shut his mouth, Taylor the liar, Taylor the killer. Taylor with the soft green eyes, fawning over him until he saw Eric didn't feel the same. It was so stupid to screw around with a boy from school. He should have known it would come back to him.If he could go back, he'd have blocked Taylor and deleted his account in case anyone else found out. He would do anything to go back to the way it was.


Eric finds it hard to blame anyone other than Taylor for Wes dying. It’s too hard. Until he hears about what Kevin did.


Kevin doesn't get it. He was always hard to love, so arrogant and never listened. He wants to say everything he has been feeling to Kevin, but that would only make him cry and he has never cried in front of Kevin. “You never even checked up on me. I was your best friend.” He could write a book from all of the things he can't say.


He thinks he would like to punch Kevin in the face and keep punching him until he knows how it feels to not be on top.


But he would feel so bad.


He still protects Kevin from Lesean at practice. It's stupid that he expects Lesean to be any better than everyone else. He just hoped there would be one person who wouldn't mention it. He yells in Lesean's face and feels Kevin’s hands pulling him back. “It's not your fight.” He wants to spit in Kevin’s face. Who is he to say? Who does he think he is? That's an easy question. Kevin thinks he is everything and they've all let him believe it. Their captain who can do no wrong. And a part of Eric still thinks that.


None of this is real. He wants to scream that in Dan’s face over and over. It's all some fantasy they can't seem to let go of.


Eric only remembers his encounter in fragments. Dave. Minivan. Beer and talk of his wife and kids. Doesn't let Eric talk. The yelling. A fist connecting with his lip. Dave on top of him. Where he shouldn't be. That familiar drowning feeling. Reaching for anything. Stabbing Dave with the bottle opener. Hearing him scream. Stumbling out of the car, stumbling all the way home.


His mom doesn't even want to hug him anymore. He wonders if he even deserves to be held by anyone after what he's done.


Taylor is ungrateful. After all he did to him, Eric still told the truth, even offered to say it in court. And Taylor didn't even want his help. Eric is bothered by how much it annoys him. The kid ruined his whole life for nothing. Eric didn't even have to say anything. If the roles were reversed, he doubts Taylor would have. God, you couldn't even be nice anymore. He needs to forget about this. He remembers this guy, Matt. He doesn't have a muscle car, but he’ll be enough.


Eric stands by where Matt told him to meet him. He watches a silver car speed past him, stopping too far away from him. He doesn't make any move to meet him. Eric remembers what his mother said, “Those dates you go on...that's how you deal with it?” And his father: “You're trying to kill yourself any way you know how.” His stomach lurches. He stares at the car as the door swings open. He could meet Matt and kiss him without even knowing whether he watches basketball or his last name or real age or what he’s studying in school and other things that maybe you should know about people before you meet up with them and make out. Or he could be like Dave and Eric would be ashamed if his dad saw another of his unexplained injuries. He could turn around right now and never message one of those guys ever again, even if they have muscle cars. He could try to find someone who doesn't make him feel disgusted after he leaves them. Maybe there is a boy somewhere who is feeling the same things he is. Eric finds that he wants to know that boy. Matt is getting out of the car.


Eric makes his choice.