Tai stared after Izzy, feeling a mixture of longing, heartache, and regret. He looked down at the watch in his hand.
"I just wanted you to know I loved you," he barely whispered, finding it hard to talk around the lump in his throat. "You don't have to love me back."
He fingered the watch, his last piece of Izzy left. The only part of him I'd ever be allowed to touch, he thought bitterly.
One hot tear escaped Tai's rapidly filling eyes. He ignored it, still staring at the gift he'd thought would make Izzy happy.
* * *
It was all Izzy could do to make his way to his own apartment. His eyes were near to overflowing, and his vision blurred and swam. He fumbled with the lock, then slammed the door behind him and made a dash for his bedroom.
"Izzy?" his mother called.
"Yeah, I'm home!" Somehow, miraculously, his voice didn't shake. "I'm going to bed!"
"OK." She didn't seem to notice anything wrong. "Sleep well, dear."
Yeah right. Izzy buried his face in his pillow, using it to muffle his sobs. Why am I crying? He didn't have to wait long before he could answer himself. Because he loves me and I don't want to hurt him. I'd rather die than hurt him! But I can't love him...
Izzy's sobs began to subside. I've been searching for "that someone", and I always just assumed it would be a girl. But that doesn't mean it has to be, does it?
He thought back to that moment when he'd looked back up at Tai. There had been love in that older boy's eyes... the kind of love that would only show when he looked at Izzy. And something inside the younger boy had responded to that. Or wanted to respond, anyway. Izzy remembered the dizzy feeling, and how quick he'd been to repress it.
All right, so I'm attracted to Tai. That doesn't mean a thing. I mean, I can't be in love with him, and I'd have to be. Otherwise I'd just hurt him later on. Izzy sighed.
"I'm confused..." He closed his eyes and attempted to make some sort of sense out of his jumbled thoughts and feelings.
At one level, he was almost angry at Tai for setting up the whole mess. I'd be fine if he'd never kissed me! But then, he had to feel sorry for the older boy. After all, he had to hold his feelings inside all that time. That couldn't have been easy. And it must've been hard to admitt them to me. Expect that he kind of had to. I mean, that kiss just happened, really...
Izzy shut his eyes and fell back into the moment. At the time, he'd been too shocked to really linger on it, but now he found he could bring up every single detail of it. Nice...
All right, Izzy thought, feeling his cheeks heat up. So I'm very attracted to Tai. That still doesn't mean I can love him, right?
Well, not the way he obviously loves me.
Izzy wondered what would happen if he told Tai exactly how he felt. More than likely the older boy would be OK with whatever sort of interest Izzy could offer. He'd probably talk his way into some kind of relationship, and then regret it when the whole thing became more and more one-sided...
I can't do that to Tai. Izzy sighed. He's probably the best friend I have. Things are just going to have to stay the way they are.
That settled, Izzy got up and started getting ready for bed. Good thing I thought this through, or I might've done something stupid.
* * *
"You know you want to."
"But -- "
"Come on, please? For me?"
"I can't ju -- "
"Yes, you can!"
"I'm sorry, but I -- "
"Just do it!"
"Forget it!" Izzy crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Yolei. "I refuse to become a part of this."
"But Izzy," Yolei pleaded. "If you just go to Kari and tell her we're going out, she'll back off and leave you alone! Don't you want that?"
"Yes, but I'd still have to deal with the fact that everyone would think we were going out!"
"We-ell," Yolei said, smiling sweetly at Izzy, "since everyone would be thinking that anyway..."
"Stop that right now!" Kari shouted, from behind them. "I can see you making a move on my guy! Lay off!"
"Your guy!?" Yolei repeated angrily. "He's my -- "
"STOP!!!!" Izzy yelled, irritated almost to the point of out-and-out anger. "Get this through your heads: I..DON'T...LIKE...EITHER OF YOU!!!! Now cut it out!"
Kari and Yolei stared at him in amazement.
Out of the corner of his eye, Izzy spotted Tai standing off to the side watching him, but he kept talking all the same.
"I've just about had it with you two, fighting over me all the time! You're supposed to be friends, and you're letting something like this tear you apart?" Izzy took a deep breath and continued, noting with satisfaction that both Kari and Yolei were looking at each other with a mix of guilt and sheepishness. "You know, I don't even think I like girls any more..." Now he was getting looks of astonishment.
Izzy avoided Tai's eyes even as he said, "Come on, Tai, let's get out of here. I think I need to cool off a bit."
"Oh...uh...all right." The sound of Tai's footsteps followed after him as he walked away.
"I hope that's the end of it," Izzy said fervently, once they were out of earshot. "I think I did a pretty good job of telling them off, don't you?"
"Yeah, no kidding." Tai caught up to him. "I don't think I've ever seen you lose your cool like that before." He hesitated. "Listen, Izzy... last night, you know..."
"It's OK, Tai." Izzy smiled. "I'm sorry I got upset. I'd like to stay friends. That is, if you think you can."
"Can I!" Tai let out a relieved sigh. "I was afraid you'd never want to talk to me again! Staying friends sounds great!"
"Good." Izzy shoved down a rush of disappointment at Tai's refusal to pursue the subject. "I don't think I'd like it if I never got to talk to you any more."
"That makes two of us. Hey, I just thought of something!" Tai stopped, and reached into his back pocket. "You forgot this last night."
Izzy knew what was coming. "Tai..."
"No, don't say a word." Tai looked him straight in the eye. "I bought it because I loved you, and I still love you. I want you to have it. Please."
"Tai, I don't think..."
"Good. Don't think." Tai grinned, but his eyes were serious. "That's your biggest problem, Izzy. You think about stuff too much. Start feeling instead. It'll make things easier, trust me."
Izzy stared at Tai's face. Something in the older boy's expression seemed to suggest that this was very important to him. And somehow, Izzy just couldn't say no.
"OK," he whispered finally, taking the watch from Tai's hand. "I'll wear it all the time -- well, most of the time, anyway. I promise."
Tai smiled. His eyes caught Izzy's and held them, and for the longest tiem, the younger boy couldn't turn away.
* * *
Do I really think too much? Izzy hunched over his computer. He grimaced. I think that question answers itself. Hmm.
Izzy closed his eyes for a moment, and tried to let himself "feel" instead of "think". He pictured Tai's face for a moment, attempting to capture the emotions it caused. Longing, for one. Happiness. Warmth. Safety.
Relaxing, Izzy let himself slide into those feelings. They felt nice... really nice...
"I don't want anything from you."
Izzy looked up at Tai's face. His eyes were sincere, and they warmed when directed at him. He couldn't help revelling in the safe way he felt, cradled in that gaze.
"I just love yo. Just let me keep loving you; that's all I want."
Izzy hesitated. "Is that why you gave me the watch?"
"Yeah. I bought it for you. But knew you wouldn't let me, so I pretended it was for me."
He knew exactly what had to be said then. The line that came next. "You'd better..." Izzy choked on the words. He cleared his throat and tried again. "You'd better..." Somehow, he just couldn't say it. His fingers clenched tightly around the watch in his hand.
"You're thinking too much," Tai whispered, warning.
That was when Izzy looked up again, and realized that he was all alone. Tai had left him.
"You had your chance..."
"Mmm... huh?" Izzy was jolted awake suddenly, and realized he'd fallen asleep bent over his computer. Great. That's got to be good for my neck muscles.
"What a weird dream..." he murmured, not quite sure what to make of it. I wonder if -- Izzy shook his head. Stop thinking! You're making things worse! Just because you're in love with Tai and can't admitt it doesn't mean you've got to -- Izzy stopped short.
I'm... in love with Tai? He blinked, then smacked a hand to his face. What an idiot I am! Making all those stupid excuses just because I didn't think I could love him! Oh good god... Somebody shoot me now and put me out of my stupidity!
Izzy grabbed the phone. Well, I'm about to fix this right now! he told himself angrily, punching in the Kamiyas' number.
"Kari? This is Izzy. Is -- "
"Izzy! I knew you weren't telling the truth today! You want to ask me out, don't you? Well, the answer is yes! Any day, any time, anywhere! Just name it!"
Izzy sweatdropped. "Actually, I was calling for Tai. Is he there?"
"Oh... no, he's out. With Sora." Kari laughed. "Do you think she's his girlfriend?"
I sure hope not! "I don't know... listen, do you know where they went?"
"To that 'blading arena, I think. A bunch of other kids were going too, so it's not a date. Too bad." Kari snickered.
"OK..." Izzy paused for a minute. "I'm sorry for yelling at you guys today. I was feeling irritable, that's all."
"Oh, it's all right." Kari sighed. "Yolei and I made up right after. You were right when you said we shouldn't just let our friendship go like that."
"That's good. See you, Kari."
Izzy dropped the phone and ran to grab his shoes. He had to get to the arena right away, before he started thinking again and ruined everything.
* * *
Music blasted into Izzy's ears the moment he entered the arena. Yikes... how can people talk when it's this noisy? Paying the admission fee, he hurried into the main area, looking around.
"I don't see Tai anywhere..." Izzy winced. Sheesh! I can't even hear my own voice! How am I going to tell him over all this racket!
That wasn't a problem yet. Izzy carefully dodged a few 'bladers and made his way around the rink. He had to find Tai before he could tell him anything.
"Hey Izzy!" Sora waved, and skated over. She had to shout to be heard over the music. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for Tai!" Izzy yelled back. "Do you know where he is?"
"Uh-huh. TAI! Over here!" She pointed, then smiled. "He's coming! See you later!"
"See you!" Izzy immediately forgot about Sora as Tai skated over. His stomach was churning, and his heart beat about 90 times per second.
Nervous? Oh yeah.
"What's up, Izzy?" Tai shouted, reaching him.
"I wanted to tell you something!" Izzy yelled.
"Can it wait? This is a bit awkward, don't you think?"
"No!" Izzy sighed. "It's important!"
"It can't be that important! Come on!" Tai skated forward a bit. "Grab some skates! You can wait until after we're outside to tell me -- "
"I LOVE YOU!!!" Izzy bellowed, as loud as he could.
Tai stopped in his tracks. Slowly, he turned to face Izzy, who was breathing hard and shaking all over with emotion. He skated back.
"What did you say?" Tai asked, in a tightly contained voice.
"I love you," Izzy repeated. "OK?"
Tai didn't even bother to answer. He grabbed Izzy's shoulders and kissed his right in the middle of the arena. After a moment of surprise, Izzy relaxed into the embrace, without even thinking about it.
Something told him he wouldn't be doing much thinking as far as this was concerned.