Silence Says

Toby didn’t like to talk to people or look them in the eye. He didn’t need friends. Or did he? Shipped off to summer camp, Toby had more new things to get used to than he could deal with. Could his cabinmate, Noah, offer the support he so desperately needed?

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3. Chapter 3

Toby woke up the next morning feeling hungry and irritable, but in other ways better. Some of the anxiety brought on by being in a new place had dissipated, at least for now. He knew from past experience that it would be back as soon as he was hit by the reality of the outside world again, but it was good to at least have a short break. Anxiety was exhausting.

When Toby sat up and stretched Noah, fully clothed and his hair wet from the shower, gave him a smile. Not for the first time in his life, Toby was glad he had the world's best poker face. He hadn't forgotten what he'd seen last night.

Unlike most summer camps, the cabins here came with their own tiny bathrooms. The extra luxury hadn't come cheap, but it was something his foster parents had argued was necessary because of his condition. For that, Toby was grateful. He couldn't imagine sharing a bathroom with dozens of other guys, having them see him naked. Seeing them naked. He wasn’t sure how his body would have responded to that, but if it hadn’t behaved he could have ended up in a lot of trouble. Knowing his sexuality, his foster parents may have considered that factor too.

For all he was cross at them for sending him away, Toby had to admit that his foster parents had been very good to him. He was the only child they were fostering, unlike other places he’d stayed which had housed as many as half a dozen kids, many of them with issues enough of their own to drive Toby into daily meltdown.

Toby went into the bathroom, locked the door, stripped down, checked the door was locked again, turned on the shower and waited for it to heat up, checked the lock, climbed in. It was a habit he'd gotten into at home despite the fact that his foster parents had never so much as accidentally jiggled the handle.

Showering was a relaxing process, reassuringly routine. A washcloth and body wash, from the top of his body to the bottom. He washed his hair on Mondays and Thursdays, though it irked him that a seven day week couldn't be divided evenly into two. He got out of the shower. Dried, dressed, brushed his teeth. By the time he left the bathroom, he was feeling almost calm.

His feelings of calmness were only slightly shaken when Noah looked at him and asked, "Breakfast?"

Toby nodded and Noah's lips turned up into a gentle smile. It was easier to look at his mouth than it was his eyes, and when Toby was feeling reasonably okay he could manage that much. Most people didn't notice the difference.

It was summer, too hot for anything but short sleeves, but Toby grabbed a hoodie and pulled it on anyway. Like pulling the blankets over his head when he was scared at night, the imaginary shield hoodies provided made Toby feel safer.

He followed behind Noah like a duckling as they left the cabin, right on his heel but never quite beside him. It was clear, as they walked down the row of cabins, that Noah had already made other friends. Two guys called out greetings as Noah and Toby walked past their cabin, and another gave Noah a friendly pat on the back as he dashed past.

Toby felt both invisible and too exposed all at once. He hadn't been acknowledged, but he was too close to someone who was fast becoming an attention magnet.

As they entered the cafeteria Toby flipped his hood up, both to hide himself and to shelter himself from the chaos he'd just entered.

"Aren't you hot?" Noah asked.

Toby nodded but stayed quiet. He might have said yes -- he still felt capable of speech -- but he didn't want to raise his voice over the din of the other boys.

Toby was more focussed on food this time, and as they made their way through the queue he carefully considered his options. Yogurt, that was okay. And fruit salad he would actually eat this time, yes. Dry toast? Why not? At least it was inoffensive.

Noah led the way to a mostly empty table and they sat down to eat.

Toby stayed focussed on his food while he ate, but Naoh spoke to the other boys who soon joined them at their table. Getting to know you things, mostly. Do you like any sports? Noah liked football, and surfed when he got the chance though he wasn't very good. How old are you? Noah was seventeen, a year older than Toby. What house are you in? Noah was in blue. If that was a camp thing, Toby could only assume he was in the same. He hoped he was, anyway.

By the time they'd finished eating Toby seemed to have been more or less forgotten which, he told himself, was good. That didn't stop Toby from following Noah like a lost puppy as they left the cafeteria, of course.

Outside the cafeteria they were broken off into colour groups. Toby was fairly sure he was supposed to be in the blue group with Noah. It was led by the same camp councillor who had gotten angry at Toby the previous day. He didn't seem angry now, though, even offering Toby a smile when he noticed him. Toby dropped his eyes to the ground and hunched his shoulders. He didn't want any kind of attention.

The councillor announced that rock climbing would be their morning activity, but when they actually arrived at the site Toby saw that what they would be climbing was not actually rocks. It was a large wooden board out in the woods with brightly coloured holds screwed into it. Plastic, he discovered when he tapped one of the holds with his knuckles.

Toby went and leant against a tree as the councillor gave safety instructions and explained the gear, an uncomfortable mimicry of the previous day's activity. Noah was over near the front of the crowd, enthusiastically volunteering to go first. As the equipment was set up, Toby was left alone.

Noah went up with the first set of climbers, his movements confident and the muscles in his arms flexing as he pulled himself up. Toby was so busy watching that he didn't notice the councillor's approach.

"You don't have to have a go if you don't want to," the councillor said before Toby had a chance to prepare himself to dig his heels in and kick up a fuss. "If you like you can just watch."

Toby wasn't very good at picking up on tone, but this one he'd heard often enough to recognise. It was a change in attitude that told Toby loud and clear that either someone had informed the councillor of his condition or the councillor had come to his own conclusions.

"It looks like fun, doesn't it?" the councillor continued, his voice slow and gentle like he was talking to a small child. "Would you like to have a go?"

"No," Toby said, quiet but firm. When he was little his mum had told him that his first word had been 'no'. It had certainly always been his favourite, even if it sometimes didn't work.

"Are you sure? You don't have to go all the way up and there are safety ropes to catch you if you fall so you won't get hurt."

If he'd been a more articulate sort he might have said yes, I know how safety ropes work, but I don't feel like climbing, thank you. Instead he made a sound of frustration and began picking at the bark of the tree he was leaning against. Apparently that was an acceptable way of declining, though, because the councillor left him alone after that.

Noah came jogging up to Toby not long after, his skin glistening with sweat and a grin on his face. "You should have a go! It's fun!"

"Don't like heights," Toby murmured.

Noah lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face, revealing a swathe of well toned, lightly tanned skin. Toby's eyes lingered, then quickly dropped to the ground when Noah let go of his shirt.

"Being afraid is half the fun," Noah insisted.

"Maybe if you're not always afraid," Toby groused before realising how dramatic that sounded. He dug a hole into the leaf litter with the toe of his shoe.

Noah acknowledged Toby's response with a hmm and a shrug before moving on. "You should probably take that thing off before you die of heat stroke."

Toby just shrugged.

"At least take the hood off, man," Noah said before, with a casual swipe, doing it himself.

Toby's response was a sound, not a word, an irritated grumble as he stepped away from Noah and pulled his hood back into place. He held tight to the edges of it as a precaution against it being tugged down again.

For a moment Noah just stared before shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. "Fine. Roast yourself alive."

Toby was feeling the way he'd always hated being described as grumpy and doing what he'd always resented being called sulking. Arms crossed firmly over his chest, head down, lips pursed. Don't sulk, Toby, he'd been told a million times, often with an exasperated sigh tacked on somewhere. Not his current foster mum, though. She'd always tried to get to find out what was wrong, get to the root of things. Usually she only succeeded in getting silence or excessive distress.

When Noah returned a few minutes later and held a bottle of water out to Toby, it was Toby's first instinct to say no, maybe shout it, and shove the offering away. It was what he usually did when someone had wronged him, rejected them on every level.

Noah jiggled the water. “If you're going to keep that thing on, at least have something to drink. You're going to dehydrate real fast if you don't.”

Toby hesitated another moment before huffing and letting go of his grudge as best he could. He made sure to grab the bottle out of Noah's hand rather than take it nicely, though.

The warmth of the water gave it an unpleasant taste, but Toby drank it anyway. He had to admit, he was thirsty.

When Toby had finished drinking and handed the water back, Noah went back to hang out with his friends. They were, understandably, better company than Toby. Nobody without years of training or a very charitable heart actually wanted to spend time with Toby, and even those people might have been faking it for all Toby knew.

Noah took another turn at climbing a while later, and Toby found himself watching again. The way Noah slipped and caught himself every now and then suggested his was an inexperienced climber, but he was, in his own way, still skilled. He had focus, determination, and didn't give in to frustration like Toby would have.

Toby wasn't sure if he wanted Noah or he wanted to be Noah. Unlike Toby Noah had patience and grace, and it seemed to take no more than a few words and the right body language to make him friends. He made everything look so easy.

On the other hand, Toby wanted to feel those muscles when they flexed, wanted Noah's hand on his back, sliding under his shirt. Toby didn't dare contemplate what he wanted beyond that. He wouldn't get it and he didn't need to be harbouring any more fantasies than he already had. Not of Noah's lips, or ass, or what his hands could do, not of... Toby bit the inside of his cheek. Yes, he definitely needed to stop.

Noah stayed with his friends all throughout the activity, but as soon as the lunch bell rang he was at Toby's side. “Lunch?”

Toby nodded. He wasn't exactly feeling cheerful or relaxed, but he thought he could probably deal with the stresses of the cafeteria without it ending in a public meltdown.

The councillor stopped them before they could leave. “Noah! Do you think you could make sure Toby gets down to the lake for your next activity after lunch?”

“Yeah, of course. I went down there yesterday so I know where everything is.”

“That's great. It's really good of you, looking out for him like this.”

“Yeah, well, you know. Cabinmates and all. Gotta take care of one another.”

“Right, right,” the councillor said to Noah, then gave Toby a little smile almost as an afterthought. “Well, you boys had better get to lunch. Take care.”

Noah waited until they were well out of earshot of the councillor before murmuring, “What an asshole.”

“He was nice to you.”

“Yeah, to me,” Noah stressed. “He treated you like you were retarded. At best.”

“I'm not retarded,” Toby grumbled.

“Yeah, that was kind of my point. Don't worry, we have a different instructor for canoeing at least.”

“It'll just be the same,” Toby said, his voice taking on a whine. “I'm not stupid. I get good grades, I just...” Toby tugged at his hair in frustration, becoming even more annoyed when he was reminded that it was shorter now. It was easier to take care of but it was different, just like everything else here was different, and that made him angry.

“I know you're not,” Noah said, the calm confidence of his voice a soothing balm against Toby's mounting distress. “Sometimes it's more important to people to feel like they understand than to take the time to actually understand. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Also, anyone who treats you like that is a massive douchebag who deserves as little respect as they give you. Don't put up with that shit.”

It was a nice sentiment, an appreciated one, but the only ways Toby knew of not putting up with people treating him like he was retarded only strengthened their assumptions. He couldn't make a calm and sensible speech like Noah just had. Toby expressed his emotions by shouting, crying, or lashing out when someone finally managed to push him far enough to break his silence. All that got him was in trouble.

By the time they reached the cafeteria, Toby felt irritable but not actually upset. Noah was on his side. Noah was next to him, backing him up, and on his side. Just enough to hold on to, to keep himself afloat, like a life raft on stormy seas.

Having each step of whatever he needed to do clearly laid out in his head helped Toby relax. He entered the cafeteria, he picked up a tray, he joined the queue with Noah. When a link was broken in his plans, though, Toby would find himself at a loss as to what to do. Toby stared at the empty serving tray labelled fruit salad and his brain staggered to a halt. He was having fruit salad for lunch. There was no fruit salad. He had no contingencies planned.

Noah rapped Toby on the shoulder with his knuckles. “What's the hold up?”

“There's no fruit salad.”

“Okay.”

“I wanted fruit salad.”

Noah placed a hand on Toby's arm. “Well, you're going to have to have something else.”

Toby jostled his arm and made a noise that sounded something like nnh, a rejection of the touch and an idea that sounded like more than he could deal with just then.

Noah held his hands up in surrender. “How about a salad?”

“It has chicken in it,” Toby said as though the issue with that should be obvious, before realising it would need further explanation. “They always end up leaving slimy bits in.”

“Sandwiches?”

Toby shook his head. “They all have things I don't like.”

“Crackers?”

Toby opened his mouth to point out some issue with that, then realised there wasn't one. “I will have crackers.”

“Good. Now get moving before people start getting cross at us for holding up the line.”

They found a table with some of Noah's friends and sat down. One of them saw the plate on Toby's tray, piled high with crackers, and laughed. “Dude, your cabinmate's weird.”

From the corner of his eye, Toby saw Noah shrug. “Not in a bad way.”

“No,” the boy was quick to say. “Just. Is there...”

Toby knew the end of that sentence. Is there something wrong with him? When he looked up, though, he saw the challenging glare on Noah's face that had interrupted his friend's question.

“Don't talk about him like he's not here. It's rude,” Noah said before turning his attention to his food.

The boy, as expected, didn't redirect his question to Toby. The tension mostly dissipated now, Toby began to nibble on one of his crackers. Bland, but inoffensive.

Something touched Toby's arm and he jerked it away. He looked up to see the boy withdraw the finger he'd used to poke Toby.

“So, what’s your name?” the boy asked.

Normally Toby might have ignored the question, hunched his shoulders and dropped his head, but Noah was watching and Noah still thought Toby's weirdness wasn't a bad thing. “Toby.”

The boy held a hand out to Toby. “Mark.”

Toby stared at the outstretched hand for a moment before turning his gaze to Noah for help.

“He doesn't like being touched,” Noah explained.

Sometimes,” Toby murmured, his voice barely audible over the noise of the cafeteria. When Toby wasn't overloaded, when he liked the person, and when they knew how to touch him in ways that didn't make Toby feel uncomfortable, he quite liked it. Gentle hugs, affectionate hair petting, soothing pats or rubs on his back. Of course, all of those things would have been quite different coming from someone like Noah than from Toby's foster mum.

Mark pulled his hand back and strummed a rhythm on the edge of the table. “So... enjoying camp so far, Toby?”

“No.”

“He's still getting used to things,” Noah explained, though Toby wasn't sure this was somewhere he could ever find a comfortable place. Maybe if there was some set routine in place like there was at school, the same classes in the same places on the same days at the same times with the same teachers. From what Toby had read on the camp's website, though, the activities were wide ranging and could change without much notice depending on weather. How could Toby possibly relax when there were so many unknowns?

Mark nodded. “First time away from home?”

The answer to that was more than Toby wanted to share with Mark, would require more words than Toby felt like he could put together just then. Toby turned his attention to his food and began constructing a cracker pyramid.

“Well okay then,” Toby heard Mark say.

“He's a bit stressed out right now,” Noah explained on Toby's behalf. “Don't take it personally.”

“I was just trying to be nice,” Mark grumbled, but he left Toby alone after that.

Toby forced down just enough of the crackers to relax the cramp in his stomach that told him he was hungry. He didn't feel hungry. He never did when he was stressed. Everyone always acted like he was on some kind of hunger strike, like he was refusing to eat just to make a point. But he just... wasn't hungry.

The bell rang, signalling the end of lunch, and Toby toppled his cracker tower before following Noah out of the cafeteria. Time for canoeing.

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