February passed in a flash. It was, of course, a short month, but to Cyrus it seemed to last only a week or two. Perhaps it was because he was dreading his visit to Princeton, or maybe it was due to other Hayden-related reasons. Regardless, at the moment, Hayden’s excitement was only bringing Cyrus down further.
“Can you stop? Please?” Cyrus finally asked, cutting off Hayden’s cheery whistle.
“Sorry,” Hayden replied, chastised.
Cyrus frowned into his suitcase as he shoved another shirt in. “It’s okay,” he said.
He could feel Hayden’s eyes on him. “It’s going to be okay, you know,” Hayden reassured. “You’ll nail the interview; I know it.”
“Doesn’t mean I want to go,” Cyrus grumbled. “And then the fact that this is now a freaking school trip sucks too.”
“How’d your mom swing that one, anyway?” Hayden asked, packing his own bag.
“She was talking to the school guidance counselor, and apparently they have other students interested in going, so they’re willing to send a bus on a college visit. Spring break - what better time?” he said with a bitter scowl as he stuffed a pair of socks into a pocket on the side of his case. “For once in my life I have plans…”
Hayden came around to Cyrus’s side, placing a light hand on his forearm to still his angry, jerky motions. “There’ll be another chance, I’m sure. The invitation is always open, you know.” He let go.
Cyrus could still feel his skin tingle where the contact had been. He kept his eyes down as he nodded. “Yeah, well…” he trailed off, deciding to change the subject. “So, when’s your flight?”
“There’s a shuttle to the airport at seven tonight,” Hayden said. “I’ve got all day to wait.”
“I wish I had all day,” Cyrus commented. “I leave in a half hour.”
“Rough. All day on the bus, then?”
“Most of it,” Cyrus said. “Then I have my interview, take a tour, and get back on the bus to come back. I’m back for a night, then on the next plane out to Canada.” His sigh was as deep as his loathing for the trip. “Promises to be bucketloads of fun.”
Hayden gave him a sympathetic look. “Hey, you done packing?”
“Great,” Hayden said, grabbing his jacket. “We have time to grab some ice cream before you go. That ought to cheer you up.”
“Hayden… I should be prepping for the interview or something,” Cyrus said. He couldn’t quite pin down why he was hesitant to go with Hayden, but what seemed most appealing at the moment was sulking in his room. Even as he was speaking, Cyrus knew his protests were pointless. He knew he would end up agreeing, for it was Hayden, after all.
“That’s what the car ride is for.”
Cyrus sighed. “Alright.” He didn’t miss the flash of pity and concern that flickered behind Hayden’s eyes as Cyrus brushed past him. Sure, ice cream ought to help him out. Definitely. Still, he followed Hayden out, just like he always did.
“I have to go up and grab my bag,” Cyrus said almost an hour later when they returned to the front of the dorms. There was a bus idling outside, waiting to take him and the others to Princeton. “I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be here,” Hayden said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Cyrus nodded, heading upstairs two steps at a time. His mood had actually improved, but he still sure wasn’t happy about going. Cyrus hurried to his room, grabbing his suitcase and lugging it out. He glanced at the time. If he hurried, there’d still be time to say goodbye to Hayden. He shouldered his light backpack and took the stairs down, skipping every other one again. When he reached the bottom and pushed through the doors, Cyrus immediately glanced around for his roommate.
Spotting him standing near the back of the bus, Cyrus frowned. He wasn’t alone; Hayden stood talking to the red-headed Clay. Or perhaps talking wasn’t the right word - it appeared to be developing into a heated argument. Cyrus took a step towards them when someone caught his arm. He turned.
“You going on the Princeton trip?” one of his chaperones asked.
“Yes,” Cyrus choked out in a hurry.
The man nodded, moving his hand to Cyrus’s shoulder and him towards the doors of the bus. “Best get on the bus. It’s leaving any second.”
Cyrus spun around just in time to see Clay tear away from the argument and storm towards the bus and climb on, brushing right past Cyrus as if he were invisible. Hayden watched him go, his face grim. The bus started up, and Cyrus had no choice to hurry aboard. Just before he walked through the doors, Cyrus locked eyes with Hayden.
In an instant, Hayden’s mask of anger shifted into one of dull horror and realization; terror flickering in his gaze. The chaperone pushed Cyrus through the door, and he was left with only the fleeting image of that terrible look on Hayden’s face. As the bus pulled out, he longed to yell for it to stop. He almost begged for them to turn around, just to make sure Hayden was okay. But he didn’t. Princeton, his mother, his future… Cyrus didn’t call out. He didn’t have a choice.
It took a little while for Cyrus to compose himself, for him to settle the awful nausea threatening to tear up his stomach. Never in his life had Cyrus wished for a cell phone more.
Scooting to the edge of his seat, he glanced up the aisle, spotting Clay in a seat near the front. He was alone, sleeping slumped against the glass of the window. Cyrus clenched his fists. Barely able to restrain himself from demanding to know exactly what Clay had said to Hayden, Cyrus’s only logical thought was that he couldn’t rage at him or threaten him with the teacher chaperones in the next seat forward.
Glaring out the window, Cyrus tried to force the tension out of his body. After all, he had an interview in just a few hours. Even though it had been on his mind for weeks now, it was currently the furthest thing from important. It was funny how that went.
Princeton was nice. Or at least, Cyrus would have thought it was nice if he were paying any attention to it at all. The one good thing about his preoccupation with whatever was going on with Hayden was that it completely distracted him from the nerves associated with the interview portion of the visit.
The whole thing passed in a blur. They asked some questions about his goals, about his grades, and about his favorite movie, of all things. Cyrus couldn’t remember his exact answers, but he had the impression that they were well formed and at least semi-eloquent. Still, it was quite a relief to have that off of his shoulders. Whether he got in or not was now out of his hands for good - the way it should have been all along.
The tour was uneventful. The buildings looked kind of nice, not that Cyrus could tell any of them from the ones he had just passed minutes ago. Their tour guide waxed on about something historical, but Cyrus kept getting distracted by one face always looming at the side of his vision.
Every time Cyrus looked over at him, Clay was staring back. It was unnerving to say the least, not just because staring generally had that effect, but also because Clay’s expression was cold. Calculating. It was as if he was trying to evaluate Cyrus, judging him the way a boxer would before a fight. Cyrus wasn’t against fighting at the moment, but it still put him on edge. By the end of the tour, it had almost pushed him over the edge.
Finally, Cyrus couldn’t take it anymore. The group had just finished with a statue of one of the university’s presidents or some other person of importance, and as they began to move on, Cyrus grabbed Clay’s coat, holding him back. Cyrus waited until the others were out of earshot before saying in a low, hard tone, “What the hell is your problem?”
Clay was completely unfazed. “Just waiting for the right moment to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” Cyrus hissed. When the other boy just smiled, Cyrus tried another approach. His eyes narrowed. “What did you say to Hayden just before we left?”
Clay’s lip turned up in disgust. “Oh, that. Well, I just assured him that I’d tell you before we got back.”
“Tell me what?” Cyrus growled, shifting so that the statue hid them from view of the group.
A perverse form of pleasure seemed to overtake Clay’s features. “Well, that he’s gay, of course.”
Cyrus felt like his heart had stopped beating. All he could do was stare until he somehow realized that he still had the ability to articulate words. “What?” he breathed.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” Clay said, his lip drawing up. “Just plain creepy. And that he wouldn’t even tell his own roommate?” Clay leaned in, suggesting in a whisper, “How many times do you think he watched you sleep? Watched you change?”
Clay didn’t realize that Cyrus’s heart was currently leaping with joy. Even so, he was furious at Clay for forcing Hayden out this way. It wasn’t fair to him. It wasn’t fair to anyone. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded, voice still low, despite the fact that no one was around.
Clay looked appalled. “Why am I doing this?” he repeated. “Because I used to be you. I used to be the roommate who Hayden adored. But I used to be normal. And then one day, out of the blue, he just kissed me! Can you believe…” he trailed off, shaking his head and curling his lip. “He made me gay!” Clay accused.
Cyrus looked at him like he had three heads, all with the IQ of an ant. He was getting angrier by the second. “Nobody makes you gay, you ass. It’s not a goddamn infection! If you weren’t gay, did you just tell him that you weren’t interested? Because I know Hayden. He wouldn’t have forced you into anything you weren’t comfortable with.”
Jaw clenching, Clay was silent. It all made sudden sense to Cyrus.
“You didn’t refuse him, did you? You liked him too.” He felt a spark of jealousy. “And then something happened to tear it all down. And you’re pissed.” Cyrus could almost feel the wheels turning in his own head as it all fell together. “You’ve been blackmailing him, haven’t you? It was you who let slip about Hayden’s school situation. That’s why you don’t like him anymore.”
“Yeah, it was me,” Clay snapped. “I was trying to do you a favor.”
“A favor?” Cyrus repeated in disbelief.
“I was trying to get you to cut him off before he got his claws into you,” Clay hissed. “Before he turned you into someone like him.”
Cyrus blinked at him. “Someone like you, too.”
“Yes!” Clay said. “I was trying to help.”
“That is some twisted version of help.” Cyrus’s face hardened. “You're messed up, you know that? What good is ruining Hayden’s life going to do you?”
Clay didn’t reply.
“You are sick,” Cyrus spat. “You’re sick, and you want to know what?” He took a step forward. “I’m not disgusted by what you told me. I’m glad.” Cyrus spread his arms wide. “Looks like you’re too late to save me. And I couldn’t be happier.” The venom of his tone contrasted his words, but it didn’t matter. Cyrus’s heart was pounding with invigoration.
Cyrus met Clay’s eyes one last time before turning and storming off. His thoughts were reeling, and so much new information was rattling around in his head. There was one thought that stood out from the rest, though. I have to talk to Hayden. Cyrus was already formulating a plan.
In just a few hours, he would be back in the dorm where he could look up Will’s home phone number on Hayden’s computer. He could wait for Hayden’s plane to land, then he could talk to him. Cyrus could tell him everything he’s kept bottled up for so long and hope and pray Hayden felt the same way. In just a few hours, these repressed emotions would plague Cyrus no longer, for better or for worse. Cyrus stomach was twisted in a knot, but he smiled. There was a chance.