Chapter 2Mature

Toby was on his ninth sudoku puzzle. He hadn't counted -- it was a new book and they came conveniently numbered. He was practised enough at them that he only needed to dedicate part of his mind to the process. The rest of it was free to defrag as he tried to let go of the dramas of the day and relax.

There was a sound outside the door and Toby quickly clamped his hands over his ears, ready to block out the sound of the door slamming open. There was no slam, though, just a quiet creak as Noah pushed it open and stepped in. Noah shut the door just as quietly and Toby allowed his hands to fall back down to his lap.

Toby kept his head down and his eyes on his sudoku book, but he could hear Noah's approaching footsteps. Noah stopped next to Toby's bed and, when Toby still failed to acknowledge him, dropped something in front of Toby. Three somethings, Toby saw when he looked.

It was almost reflexively that Toby reached out and straightened the new items on his bed out into a row. A can of soda. A chocolate bar. A bag of chips.

"The 'no food outside the cafeteria' rule doesn't apply to overpriced vending machine food," Noah explained. "Funny that."

"Oh," Toby said. He wasn't sure whether he was being given the food or simply shown it, and he wasn't sure how to ask.

For a moment they were both silent as Toby stared uncertainly at the food. It was Noah who spoke next. "I wasn't sure what you'd like. They have some different ones if you want..."

That was it, confirmation. They were for Toby. Why they were for him Toby still wasn't sure, but it would have to do for now.

"Thank you," Toby said as he reached for the food. Basic manners had been drilled into him, rehearsed over and over, so those words came more easily than most.

Noah lingered beside Toby's bed, his fingers tapping a rhythm against the wooden sideboard. What was he waiting for?

"Do you want some?" Toby tried, holding up the chocolate bar and chips and, just for a moment, meeting Noah's light blue eyes. They were nice eyes. Toby wished looking at them didn't make him feel so uncomfortable.

"No, I'm good." Another moment of silence hung heavy in the air. "So you're feeling better?"

Toby nodded his head and made a sound of confirmation as he turned the chocolate bar around in his hand. Toby's foster mum was always saying that it didn't matter which way you opened things, that it was only printing on packaging, but the whole idea of opening something upside down just felt wrong to Toby.

When Noah went back to his side of the room it was with a sigh, and Toby was left feeling like he'd done something wrong. He wished people would tell him the rules, lay them out clearly, instead of just assuming he knew them. This was why friends weren't worth the trouble. Toby appreciated the food, but the whole thing had left him with a pile of unanswered questions that would nag at him incessantly.

Toby swallowed a sticky mouthful of caramel, nougat, and chocolate. "Do you want me to pay you back?"

It came out as more of a question than it was. A double question.

Noah glanced up from his mobile phone and waved a dismissive hand. "Nah, it was just... I thought you might be hungry. My dad gave me spending money because he's an idiot who didn't even look at the brochure. Yeah, Dad, there's going to be a gift shop at the summer camp."

Toby had money with him, but not because he thought he would need it. He'd been with his current foster parents for two years now, but he still made sure to keep all his most important things with him. Not that there'd ever been a time when he hadn't been allowed to get his things before moving to a new home, but it had always just felt more secure that way.

"Want to go for a walk?" Noah offered. "There's a lake."

"No," Toby said a heartbeat after Noah had finished his question. Too fast. He'd been told his tone of voice was flat, monotonous, no matter his mood, but little things like this betrayed his feelings.

Noah shrugged as he pushed himself up out of bed. "Well, I'm going. Maybe you can come next time?"

"Maybe," Toby agreed, and meant it.


When Noah returned it was dark and Toby was asleep. The quiet sound of the door creaking open woke him. Toby had to struggle against the blankets swaddled tightly around his body to roll over to face Noah. It wasn't as good as the weighted blanket he had at home, but as it was what he'd done before he'd gotten his special blanket the sensation had been familiar enough to lull him into sleep.

Noah leant against the doorframe, the moonlight from outside outlining his form. "Coming to dinner?"

"Ngh," said Toby before correcting it into a word. "No."

"Hmm," was all Noah said before leaving again.

Toby secured his blankets around his body properly again and went back to sleep.

The next time Toby woke was to Noah returning again, this time for real. Noah took quiet steps across the room to his bed, apparently unaware that he'd already woken Toby.

And then Noah took his shirt off.

Toby couldn't see much through the darkness, just the general shape of Noah's body where the dim moonlight lit his bare skin, but somehow it made Toby's stomach squirm in a way he wasn't sure it would have in full daylight. He shouldn't have been watching, he was socially aware enough to know that, but he couldn't help it. Even as Noah slid his jeans down his legs, Toby couldn't help it.

Toby was relieved -- disappointed -- when the strip show went no further than that. He'd seen more than he should have, not as much as he would have liked. Amongst all the guilt and the low burn of lust, Toby felt sad. He couldn't imagine anyone ever revealing themselves to him like that willingly. He was too weird, too unstable.

Even those who were paid to be nice to him and to help him seemed uncomfortable with the idea of him having a sexuality at all. It was like, in their eyes, he wasn't fully real. A partial person with pieces missing, a few extra bits that didn't really fit. However nice, however helpful, they saw him as the thing they had decided he was, the thing they were comfortable with him being, and nothing else.

Noah slipped into his bed and after only a few seconds of shifting around he lay still and peaceful. Normal people were so weird.

The End

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