Take me back

Ouch05-17-2021, 2200 words

High school

They sat in the nurse’s office, Sol bruised and unsmiling, Chet with a black eye and a grin.

In cots across from each other, Sol looked at Chet and sighed. Chet was way too cheerful for someone who just gotten into a fight with a six foot two, two hundred pounds football player.

It was a long story.

The short version was that there was a soccer game, Chet was called out for cheating, and then it became a fight. The long version was mostly the same, except with more details so the entire thing actually made sense.

See, Chet was on the soccer team and that meant he played matches with other schools occasionally. The problem was his play style, which toed the line into rule-breaking but never went over it. Almost cheating but not quite, so he usually got away with it.

Except this time, some kid from another school, whose friends were playing, was watching from the stands. He saw Chet kick his buddies’ shins and didn’t like it. It was bad luck that he was mad enough to storm onto the field and worse luck that he was built like a brick.

No one knew who threw the first punch, just that a punch had been thrown, and then two boys were scrabbling on the field, each trying to beat the other into the ground.

There had been yells of pain, screams of anger, and enough foul language to make a sailor blush. A small crowd gathered around them, though no one dared step in - there was something about the way Chet didn’t hesitate to use his teeth while the other boy didn’t hesitate to knock his teeth out with his fists.

Sol watched from the sidelines as Chet got punched in the face and promptly proceeded to bite the other boy’s hand. Then he got up from his seat while questioning his life choices, because he was Chet’s best friend and cared too much to let him get hit repeatedly. Sometimes that meant doing the things no one else wanted to do, like getting between an American football player and a British football player.

After all, Chet wasn’t exactly winning the fight.

So, in one of the most terrifying moments of his life, Sol pulled them apart. It took everything he had to grab Chet by the arms and drag him away. No one was looking where they were hitting, which meant he received his fair share of blows and probably cried a little.

As they left, it was a testament to just how much he was dealing with that Chet stuck out his tongue and gave the other boy the finger.

Sol wanted to burst into tears.

So yeah, they were in the nurse’s office.

They were both a mess, faces bruised and dirt-streaked, clothes rumpled and torn. At least Chet was in his soccer uniform - Sol was in his school uniform. His parents were going to kill him.

Sol’s cheek stung from where he’d been punched and the rest of his body ached too. Watching Chet swing his legs merrily, an ice pack over half his face, he wanted to hold his head in his hands. Leave it to Chet Chester to cause problems, then smile about it. Sometimes he was way too much and Sol couldn’t keep up.

He was just a quiet kid whose life was supposed to be nothing of note whatsoever. He wasn’t supposed to watch fights happen nor jump into them. He wasn’t even supposed to have friends who got into fights. So it was really, really weird that his best – and only – friend was a guy who taunted football players until they were mad enough to explode.

Why Chet felt the need to do that, Sol didn’t know. But it was clear as the tilt of his head, the way he shifted to lean on one leg, hands on his hips like he was supremely smug about everything. Even if Chet hadn’t started the fight, in the sense that the guy approached him and not the other way around, anyone could’ve seen that he’d egged him on.

Sometimes it was like Chet had enough confidence for multiple people, like he thought he was invincible against the world.

Sol was glad he tore him away. No way Chet would’ve come out with anything less than a broken nose if he hadn’t jumped in. As it stood, he had nearly been elbowed in the nose for helping him.

With a sigh, he looked up to see Chet grinning at him.

“Cheer up, Sol!” Chet was saying. He leaned back and straightened his legs, stretching them out so he took up an obnoxious amount of space. “Your face looks like shit, go get an ice pack. The fridge is right there.”

Chet spoke while gesturing energetically with his hands, which Sol found both charming and annoying and couldn’t tell which it was more of. Though as he pointed to the fridge and shooed Sol away, it was closer to annoying.

“Fine,” Sol said and got up.

He was way too nervous as he walked to the fridge. The nurse had stepped out but it was still fine to open it, right? Sol didn’t know about touching things without permission, but it wasn’t like he was doing anything bad, he was just getting an ice pack. 

Sol rubbed his arm, which hurt terribly, and wondered if he should be icing there or his face. But the bruise would be covered by his sleeve while the one on his face would be there for everyone to see, so he slapped the ice pack on his face and sat back down.

“Everything hurts,” he complained, just for the sake of complaining. “Someone hit me in the face. And the arm. And everywhere else.”

Was it too much to ask that the two of them kept their fists to each other and not Sol? The least they could’ve done was aim properly.

Chet raised an eyebrow on the side of his face that wasn’t covered. “Me too, actually,” he replied. “Someone hit me in the face and the arm and everywhere else. It was a fight, Sol, what did you expect?” He lifted his ice pack and showed Sol the black eye that was beginning to form.

“Yeah well, I wasn’t even in the fight. I was trying to get you out of it.”

“I know,” Chet said and his voice dropped. “I know. Thanks, Sol.”

It was such a simple thing to say, but it made Sol’s chest feel tight nonetheless. He didn’t need Chet to thank him, not when they both knew no matter what Chet did, Sol would always have his back, but it was nice to hear. Really nice actually, and now Sol had to look away because he didn’t know what to say.

“You’re welcome,” he mumbled, hoping he wasn’t making a weird expression. The ice pack was cold against his cheek, and he shifted slightly. “As long as you weren’t the one who hit me in the face.”

“Pretty sure that wasn’t me,” Chet said and smiled. He leaned forward, studying Sol’s bruise. “Yep, totally the other guy, that bastard.”

Actually, Sol had seen a flash of freckles before he’d seen stars so he had a feeling the other guy, as much of a bastard he was, wasn’t the one who did it. Not that he was going to say anything about it to Chet.

“Yeah. Fuck him,” he said instead. It was possible that he was a bit of an enabler.

“Right?” Chet said and frowned. “I didn’t even do anything and he just stomped on the field and started yelling in my face.”

Sol made a sympathetic noise and nodded.

“He said I was cheating, and I wasn’t. I have the entire rulebook memorized,” Chet said. “Everything I did was within the rules, it’s not my fault if the rules are stupid. Make better rules if you don’t want people taking advantage of them!”

It was nice that Chet was willing to admit he was twisting the rules so he could play soccer like a madman. Sol thought that made him kind of cool.

Chet propped his chin on one hand and managed to look both thoughtful and mad at the same time. “At least I got him back. You saw me kick him in the shins, right? Bet he’ll have a bruise for weeks. I hope he thinks of me when he sees it.”

He had the beginnings of a wicked smile on his face, though it dropped once he saw Sol’s unease. Back slumping, he let out a low sigh. “Okay, okay, I’m done talking now,” Chet said.

“Sure.” Sol figured Chet had a lot to get out and hoped he had done a good enough job listening. “I hope you... feel better?” He nudged Chet’s foot with his own, and Chet brightened.

“I do! Talking always makes me feel better. Talking to you always makes me feel better.” He paused and fell into a contemplative silence.

When Chet spoke again, there was something new in his voice.

“You were great back there. I was gonna get my ass kicked and you really helped me out,” Chet said. He looked down at his feet and jiggled a leg. “Actually, you do that a lot? Helping me and being there and stuff. It’s… really nice. You’re really nice.”

There was something helpless about his words, small and tight and unsure. But when he looked up again, Chet’s mouth was set in a hard line.

“I think I might like you. We should go out.”

Sol opened his mouth and nothing came out.

Chet was saying he liked him. Chet was saying he liked him and they should go out.

Suddenly, the room felt far too warm. Even the ice pack on Sol’s face wasn’t cold enough, not with how his cheeks felt like they were burning up. Sol wanted to duck his head and run outside for a quiet corner to hide in. But Chet’s stare kept him pinned in place. He looked like a cornered animal that was waiting for Sol’s next move. The way he glared at him was intense, like he was challenging Sol to say something about it.

“Um,” Sol croaked and that was good, that was the start of something. Of what, Sol wasn’t sure, but it was something.

Chet made Sol feel things that he didn’t understand. He didn’t know why he always went to Chet’s games, or jumped into fights for him, or sat in the nurse’s office with an ice pack on his face. It was just what he did because he was Sol and Chet was Chet.

They were friends. They were friends. If Sol liked being around Chet, liked talking to him and seeing him happy, it was because they were friends. And it was scary to think about them not being friends.

Going out with Chet meant things would be different in a way Sol knew nothing about. It wasn’t like he ever dated anyone before, so already, he was hopelessly out of his element.

What would it even be like?

Sol couldn’t imagine them going on cute little walks, getting ice cream and staring longingly into each other’s eyes. Thinking about holding Chet’s hand made him dizzy and faint, and he was terrified of how Chet would feel leaning into him. Maybe Chet would be all warm and comfortable and he’d even loop an arm around Sol’s waist. Then they’d be close, really close, and all Sol had to do was duck his head down before they were...

No. No. Sol wasn’t doing this. He wasn’t thinking about it. He wasn’t having a quiet freak-out in front of Chet, not at all. He was going to pull himself together, look up, and actually give Chet a response.

And oh no, Chet looked exactly how Sol felt.

Chet was still sitting there. He was shifting uncomfortably, glancing at Sol one moment and looking away the next. He was dead silent too, which wasn’t like him at all and that was how Sol knew he was terrified for real.

Sol must’ve been quiet for so long that it was making Chet think the worst, when in truth, he didn’t want to reject him or anything like that. Sol didn’t want to turn him down or break his heart, he just didn’t know what to say. He was afraid of saying the wrong thing.

But it was okay. Sol was going to open his mouth and say words, actual words that Chet would understand right away.

He steadied himself with a hand on his knee, the beginnings of a syllable on his lips, and then Chet interrupted him.

“Nevermind, forget it,” Chet said, tense enough to make Sol stop in his tracks. “I wasn’t thinking. I was joking. Kidding around! I didn’t actually mean it, okay?” He laughed and it was not a pleasant sound. “I say weird stuff after getting hit on the head.”

This was what people did when they were embarrassed, take it back and pretend it didn’t mean anything. But, Sol thought, this was also what people did when they were joking and the other person had taken them too seriously.

Sol didn’t trust himself to know which was which.

But as Chet resolutely turned away from him, Sol wanted to tell him that he would’ve said yes.