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Completed word count: 77,500
Sitting on the muddy bank with my feet in the water, I grinned over at Cassius. He stood, holding his rod, gently reeling in his catch. A wide smile stretched across his lips as he gazed at the moving line.
“Looks like a big one,” I said with a chuckle, focusing on the splashes.
“That’s what he said.” His response was quick, just like it usually was, the amusement there but disappearing a second later as I jolted in surprise at his words, head turning quickly toward him.
He. He said he.
Wide-eyed, Cassius stared at me, color in his cheeks and a look in his eyes I’d only seen once before. Fear. That time was when he’d stolen a bottle of vodka from his folks’ liquor cabinet, only to realize a little too late that there was no chance his parents would believe a raccoon got into the house and knocked the bottle over, hence the reason the bottle was empty and in the garbage.
No, sir. Not in our bellies.
My words snapped him out of the silent stare off, but it was too late for his catch. The line went slack, the fish having wriggled off, making its escape.
Continuing to stare out at the water, my pulse loud in my ears, I held my breath. Aware of every movement my best friend made, I waited. Waited for him to make a joke. Waited for him to address the giant mammoth between us.
Was it a slip? Was it a jesting?
And still I waited. At the clearing of his throat, I finally sucked in air, the action loud and shuddery.
“So yeah….” Sitting beside me, our shoulders brushing like they always tended to do when we were together, Cassius trailed off.
Discomfort rolled off him. I felt it in the tension of his arm against mine. Realized it in the shuffling of his ass as he went to put some distance between us.
Reacting on instinct, I clamped down on his forearm and finally angled to glance his way.
His deep brown eyes were wide, the strange fear in them easy for me to read. Because of course it was. But I didn’t like that particular emotion one bit.
Cassius and I spent almost every waking moment together. We had for years.
We knew almost—almost—everything about each other.
He. He said he.
Punching out “Holy shit,” I held him tighter. I couldn’t let go. Couldn’t organize my words fast enough.
The terror I saw staring back at me every time I looked at myself in the mirror splintered. Cracked wide open. It usually sat heavily on my chest. A dense boulder that threatened to catch my breath and make it disappear for good.
How could it not?
Fuck, I couldn’t even think about them without breaking out into a sweat of self-hatred and loathing.
But this was Cassius.
He was the brother I never had. My best friend always.
The one person who I knew I could finally share my truth with.
The worry in his tone snapped me out of my spiral. Though it did nothing to calm my pulse or my fast breaths as they sawed out of me.