When It Hits You

Submitted into Contest #203 in response to: Write about two friends getting into a fist fight.... view prompt

40 comments

Coming of Age Romance LGBTQ+

He punched me in the face, my teeth rattling around in my mouth, my brain clanging against the side of my skull like the sharp crash of cymbals, and there I lay.


It was raining, and the bell for first period was well in the past, a distant, hazy memory as I tried to recover from Niki's dizzying blow.


"You're such an asshole," Niki spat at me, running his injured hand back through his short brown hair, clinging to his temples from the downpour. My vision cleared just enough to reveal to me that he had tears streaming down his face, turning away from me when he noticed the realization in my eyes. I opened my mouth, raindrops wetting my lips, but words refused to come out. Niki picked up the slack of my silence, kneeling in front of me, grasping the neck of my t-shirt, pulling his fist back to hit me again. I braced myself.


"Why were you looking at her?"


I was already frozen, in position to absorb another punch, but then my blood ran cold.


"Why are you always looking at her? I'm right here!"


Niki's grip on my shirt loosened until it was gone, and his hands instead covered his face, shielding himself as he sobbed. I laid on the sidewalk like a deer in headlights, wondering what my next move should be. What my next move was supposed to be. This was a confession I was simply unprepared for. I could stomach another round of punches, a few more slaps on the wrist, but what was I meant to do with this? A fragile, bloodied, scorned animal lay before me—his eyes pleading—and I was the monster who’d broken him down. How long had I gone on completely unaware? The world spun around me twice as fast all of the sudden.


"Niki..." I breathed, trying to reach a hand out to the boy, though he immediately stumbled back out of my reach, wiping his sleeve under his nose.


"Just leave me alone. Just leave me be, Jake..." the boy choked out, running down the school sidewalk back toward the road, disappearing behind a curtain of rain and fog. I watched him go, completely soaked, propping myself up on one of my elbows. The tables seemed to have turned, as then I felt like the poor, wounded creature left in the wake of unpredicted disaster, though that thought still felt selfish.


When I finally got up and made my way into the school, I dripped the entire way there. My face swelled, a bruise already yellowing the skin around my right eye. My sneakers squeaked as I walked into the nearest bathroom, staring at my pathetic expression in the mirror.


For whatever reason, I remembered the day Niki and I met.


He was a freshman back then, and I was a junior. It was only the third day of the school year, and for whatever reason Niki had become the odd one out. They'd singled him out as the freshman that everyone would bully to death. Ordinarily, I would have gone along with their unanimous decision and done everything I could to break him down. But then I saw him there, helping another freshman girl on crutches tie her shoe in the hall, all while a group of seniors badgered him. Something came over me, as I watched him be completely unbothered, helping someone worse-off than himself. I’d never seen a person our age act so… selflessly. It struck a chord with me. As much as I tried to put the boy out of my mind, I couldn’t.


That day after school I went to him as he sat on the school's back steps scribbling in a notebook. His hoodie sleeves rolled up to his elbows revealed a patchwork of scars on his wrists. His nails were covered in chipping, navy-colored polish. He looked tired, dark circles under his bright eyes.


"Hey." I'd said. He looked up at me for a moment but didn't respond.


"I'm not here to bully you."


"Aren't you a saint." Sarcasm so thick I couldn't help but laugh. I liked him already.


"I'm Jake."


A pause, I could tell he was sizing me up. I flashed my most charming, albeit crooked, smile and I watched his narrow eyes soften ever so slightly.


"Niki."


I sighed as I stared in the mirror, prodding my blossoming black eye with my fingers, wincing at the pain but feeling as though I deserved it. I prodded again, and again. When I'd had enough staring at my sopping wet clothes and bruising face, I walked out of the bathroom and was met with a class change.


I hadn't even heard the bell, but students bustled through the hallway, dodging me while continuing to stare through me. I'd grown more and more invisible as time passed since I befriended Niki. It was spring, nearing the end of my senior year, and I had less friends than ever. Truthfully, it hadn't seemed so bad... as long as I had Niki.


I’d been Mr. Popular before he came along. Everyone knew me. I was the everyone’s-friend type of guy. For a long time I interpreted that as true fulfillment. The more people I had on my team, the more valuable I was as a person. It wasn’t until Niki came along that my mind changed about all of that.


A few weeks into junior year there was a fire at my house. Just my younger sister fucking around with some candles unattended, no big deal. We had to rewallpaper some of her room, but nobody was hurt. Around town word travels fast about things like that though. I remember walking outside at 3 A.M. that morning as the firefighters were rummaging around inside and seeing only one thing.


Niki came dashing around the corner of the neighborhood on his bike, tossing it onto the grass of my front yard. He elbowed his way through the small crowd of neighbors that had gathered, and came straight to me.


“Are you okay?” He gulped for air between words, having just hauled ass the whole six blocks it took to get from his house to mine. I remember thinking I’d never had someone look at me like that. Not the way he inspected my clothes, and searched my body and eyes for any sign of injury.


“Yeah. I’m fine,” I’d said, unable to hold back a small chuckle. I was in disbelief he’d rushed over at such an hour to check on me. Then he’d….


He’d blushed at me.


Suddenly I was back in the school hallway, a puddle of rainwater once again forming at my feet. I swallowed a lump of guilt that was swelling in my throat like a water balloon. That long, huh? I’d been that oblivious? My chest felt tight.


“Jake?”


My head snapped to the left and I saw her, Caroline. I’d known her since we were kids, pushing each other to the grass during recess in first grade. She was one of the only people who still spoke to me, even without my Mr. Popular title. When Niki’d said ‘Her’…. I knew it was Caroline.


“Hey,” I managed, my voice wavering slightly. I swallowed hard again.


She walked up to me, her green eyes running over my soiled clothes and then inspecting my injured eye. Her dirty blonde hair fell in ringlets around her shoulders, bouncing above her porcelin skin. I could see us holding hands on the swing set… sitting knee to knee on the bleachers at every school assembly since forever.


“Who did this?” She asked finally, her soft voice dripping with concern. I looked up and met her eyes, but couldn’t speak. I could feel the tears welling behind my face, threatening to boil over like a pot left unattended. My silence was futile in trying to keep my tears inside, as I could see Caroline’s face twist as I officially broke.


“What, Jake? What happened?” She moved closer and cupped my cheeks in her small hands, staring up at me. And then she said it.


“Where’s Niki?”


I felt my breath catch at her words, the sound of each syllable echoing in my brain. Where’s Niki.


She’d seen me in tears, soaking wet, injured, and had asked me where Niki was. Had any person other than Niki left me in such a state—she was right—Niki would have been the one by my side through it all. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to escape.


“Do you think we’ll get married someday?” Caroline smiled, a black watermelon seed on her seven year old chin. Her hair was longer, and pin-straight. That sundress she wore, white, but stained with pink fruit juice—I remembered it so well.


I took a bite of my slice of watermelon, sitting across from the girl at the rickety picnic table, fireworks exploding overhead as dusk had finally come.


“I guess,” I’d replied, though my voice had been drowned out by the sound of our other school friends running by, giggling as they swirled their sparklers around in the night.


“Promise me we’ll get married,” Caroline had said then, thrusting her tiny pinkie toward mine, fireflies twinkling above a plate of discarded watermelon rinds across the table. I saw myself moving my pinkie toward hers, felt the grasp of her finger in mine. A firework whistled into the sky, coloring the blue dusk purple with a huge, deafening burst, and I was back in the hallway.


“I’m sorry,” I choked out suddenly, my hand coming up to momentarily cradle one of the girl’s against my face. She looked startled by the sound of my voice.


“I have to go,” I explained, pressing my lips into a line, tasting the saltiness of my tears. Caroline looked at me blankly for a moment, and then it was like she caught up to me. I could see her begin to understand. And then she smiled.


“Go find him.”


A sob fell from my lips, and I nodded my head. Ten long steps later I was dashing out of the school and down the sidewalk where I’d watched Niki run away an hour or so beforehand. The rain had slowed signifigantly, now nothing more than a sprinkle. I was thankful for that, though as I ran water splished out of puddles on the pavement at every turn.


My lungs burned and my mind raced. I dug my phone out of my pocket and called Niki’s number, holding the phone to my ear in anticipation. Though, all three times I was sent to voicemail. I tried to imagine where he might have gone. No way he would have gone home… he hated it there. He didn’t have any other family in the area. He wouldn’t have gone to my place after how pissed he was at me…


In the middle of the sidewalk, my legs stopped moving and I felt a cool wave of realization wash over me. Of course, I thought. My body turned and carried me back toward the school as I hoped my hunch wasn’t leading me astray. But as I ran, growing closer with every passing moment, gasping for air with every step, I yearned to turn the corner and see him there.


The steps behind the school, made of chipping cement, outlined by a rusting handrail, just the same as they always had been. And there he was, sitting on the third step just like he had the first day we spoke to each other. I didn’t stop running until I reached him, holding my tired body up, grasping onto the railing as I stood in front of Niki.


He looked up at me with puffy eyes, rubbed red around the edges from crying. I could tell he was still angry from the way his hazel eyes, shaped like a fox’s, turned to slits when he saw me. He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when I collapsed into him. I let go of the handrail and fell to my knees on the staircase, my arms snaking their way around the boy until he was enveloped in me, our clothes still wet, sticking to one another. He didn’t hesitate to embrace me, just as I’d expected.


“Forgive me,” I said softly, clutching the boy’s t-shirt in my fists, burying my face against his shoulder. He shifted at my words, one of his small, gentle hands running through my damp hair.


“Jake…” Niki breathed, his entire demeanor softening suddenly. I cut him off before he could continue.


“I don’t want her,” I blurted out, surprised by my own words, just as I could see he was from the way his eyes widened at me. We stared at each other, holding one another like we might disappear without the physical contact.


“Forgive me for not seeing it all this time,” I whispered, just audible against the sound of the rain once again picking up. It padded the pavement the way my footsteps had: running, desperate. “I don’t know how to do this but… I wanna try."


Niki’s eyes changed again, softening around the edges, staring at me with such warmth I felt my chest tighten. His hand reached up and cupped my cheek, his thumb moving over my skin ever so slightly. My head cocked to the side, naturally falling into his touch. The tears came again, just in time to match the quickening pace of the rain. We spoke without our voices, communicating only with our faces. I saw him say everything was okay, his index finger outlining my ear, and my tears just kept coming.


“I’m sorry,” Niki offered, his gaze focusing on my right eye. I hadn’t even remembered his punch, the feeling of his palm so effortlessly comforting to me. I shook my head as if to dismiss any of his guilt, the rain now soaking us once more, a complete downpour. Sitting there on the steps, I relived the first moment we spoke all over again. Niki’s scars. The cool breeze of the ending of summer. His sarcasm. His hair. The notebook he held. The way I’d hung on his every word. Truthfully, I may have fallen in love with him first. As if reading my mind, Niki ran his hand back through his sopping wet, brown hair and smiled encouragingly as he spoke to me.


“You can kiss me.”


I, to my own surprise, didn’t hesitate at all to close the gap between us. As our mouths met, I realized how many times before I had wanted to do that. My entire body lit up, exploding from the inside out like a firework. I could feel him smiling into our kiss, cradling me in his arms. I could feel his gaze, looking me over in the dark, making sure I was okay after the fire. I could feel the breath of his voice when he laughed into my ear at the movie theater, constantly chattering throughout every film we saw. I could feel the texture of his skin, his scars like a bumpy roadmap. I could taste the cinnamon of his favorite gum brand. I could smell his dog Clem on him, mixing with the clean scent of the rain that day. 


I could feel my pinkie wrapped up in Caroline’s, imaging he’d been sitting across from me at that table all those summers ago.


“Do you think we’ll get married someday?” I imagined in Niki’s voice, but smaller, trying to invent a memory. I could see him there, in a pair of multicolored swimtrunks just like the ones I’d had on. No scars… so much life in his eyes.


“I promise we will,” I’d say, taking his hand, mine slightly bigger than his—just like always. We’d sit and watch as a firework soared into the sky and burst into unimaginable vibrancy, coloring the moisture of our eyes like shining oil slicks.


“What is it?” Niki asked then, looking down at me where we sat on the steps, having broken our kiss.


I turned, staring up into the sky as light dusted through the grey clouds, blue peeking out. The rain warmed, still covering us, but a small, faraway patch of color appeared. A sliver of rainbow shone, dancing as the rain swayed with the wind.


“Nothing,” I smiled, leaning back into the boy’s arms, resting my shoulder blades against his chest. He wrapped his arms around me and I felt my entire body relax. It wasn’t all those summer’s ago… but it would do.

June 20, 2023 16:02

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

40 comments

Allan Bernal
16:50 Jun 20, 2023

Very good descriptions of emotions and drama! I love the line where Jake says he’s trying to invent a memory, that was clever

Reply

Brynn Helena
16:56 Jun 20, 2023

thank you so much!! :) <3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Eline Pols
20:50 Apr 11, 2024

This is Such a powerful story

Reply

Brynn Helena
20:57 Apr 13, 2024

thank you!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Virgil Birgil
17:42 Feb 14, 2024

My heart is SCREAMING over this. The care and love put into this work is everything as someone who grew up queer. Your writing is so absolutely heart warming :)

Reply

Brynn Helena
18:21 Feb 14, 2024

thank you so much!!! means the world :) <3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lily Rama
03:07 Aug 05, 2023

Loved this story! The characters are so well rounded and very dynamic. I love Niki so much. Keep writing!

Reply

Brynn Helena
15:39 Aug 05, 2023

thank you lily!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Young Akpasubi
19:33 Jul 29, 2023

So creatively written. Well done.

Reply

Brynn Helena
14:56 Jul 30, 2023

thank you!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jody S
22:23 Jul 02, 2023

Beautifully rendered. I liked the way you wove in memories and then tried to invent a memory. That was nice! I like the description "could feel the breath of his voice when he laughed into my ear at the movie theater, constantly chattering throughout every film we saw. I could feel the texture of his skin, his scars like a bumpy roadmap. I could taste the cinnamon of his favorite gum brand. I could smell his dog Clem on him, mixing with the clean scent of the rain that day." That tells so much in a small space. Just a personal note because...

Reply

Brynn Helena
04:33 Jul 03, 2023

ah thank you so much for reading and for such a lengthy comment! i always appreciate feedback. i'm sorry to hear this would be triggering to you, i thought because the prompt is about a fist fight that it would be obvious what the reader was getting into. also, i like to think i made it rather short and reasonable for them to end up together in the end. especially knowing the context that they were obviously good friends and had a foundation beforehand. i don't think i characterized niki or jake as the type of people to be violent often. ...

Reply

Jody S
13:37 Jul 03, 2023

I REALLY didn't like that they used the fist fight as a topic because it can be such a trigger for so many, but again. Just me. When I thought about it, I tried to take it back to the "old fashioned" version of what a fist fight was (in my mind) which was two people trying to settle a score...the let's take this outside crowd. . I guess I wasn't expecting what would be considered a domestic violence situation to land in this topic bucket. I think you have a really interesting story that would be 100% better without the fist fight (yeah, I...

Reply

Brynn Helena
19:12 Jul 03, 2023

i see your points!! thanks again for reading, i do plan on expanding their story!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
David Sanchez
03:00 Jun 27, 2023

Beautiful story. Lovely writing, especially this passage: "I could feel the breath of his voice when he laughed into my ear at the movie theater, constantly chattering throughout every film we saw. I could feel the texture of his skin, his scars like a bumpy roadmap. I could taste the cinnamon of his favorite gum brand. I could smell his dog Clem on him, mixing with the clean scent of the rain that day. " Excellent job. As Kevin Logue said, this story is a contender to win. For sure.

Reply

Brynn Helena
12:50 Jun 27, 2023

thank you so much!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ellen Neuborne
18:05 Jun 25, 2023

“I don’t know how to do this but… I wanna try." I don't know if there's a more beautiful thing one can say to another person. Well done.

Reply

Brynn Helena
18:24 Jun 25, 2023

thank you so much!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kevin Logue
15:57 Jun 25, 2023

Great wee story Brynn, lives the back and forth of the memories then the blending and replacing of them, nice touch. Best of luck this week, I'd say you'll be a contender 👍😁

Reply

Brynn Helena
16:22 Jun 25, 2023

thank you so much!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
L J
15:12 Jun 25, 2023

Terrific..sweet..lovely. .angst. You got them all. I could feel the torment that Nicky went through and the sweetness of the realization at the end. Just some technical points: NIKI is the short form of Veronica; NICKY is the short form of Nicholas so you may want to change the name, it was a little confusing . The other minor point: When I write, I love to use flashbacks. I Think it gives depth to the characters. What I would suggest is when you are doing the flashbacks, write them in Italics so we know we are in a new situation or add --...

Reply

Brynn Helena
15:44 Jun 25, 2023

thank you so much for the compliments and the notes!! i greatly appreciate it. as for the name "Niki" i borrowed it from a korean musical artist who uses that as his stage name. it's taken from his full name Nishimura Riki (the first two letters of his sir name + the last two letters of his first name). i just always thought it was a fun twist on Nicholas or "Nicky", i think the interesting spelling is intriguing. again, thank you!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
John Siddham
08:07 Jun 25, 2023

Beautiful feel good story so well crafted. Well done Brynn!

Reply

Brynn Helena
13:25 Jun 25, 2023

thank you so much!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Helen A Smith
06:47 Jun 25, 2023

Beautiful flow to this story. I felt like I was there

Reply

Brynn Helena
13:25 Jun 25, 2023

thank you!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Timothy Rennels
18:16 Jun 21, 2023

Wow. I'm spellbound. This felt like a fragmented dream where you wake happy.

Reply

Brynn Helena
18:23 Jun 21, 2023

wow, thank you so much!!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Martin Ross
14:17 Jun 21, 2023

Hope you’re entering the contest — this is a beautiful, thoughtful, perceptive winner. I normally leave any copyediting/proofreading notes to others, but in the interest of patching the one micro opening flaw in a perfect story, it should be “there I lay.” Otherwise, an absolute diamond of a story. Thanks!

Reply

Brynn Helena
14:30 Jun 21, 2023

you're so kind! i did enter... fingers crossed. thank you so much!!!! :)

Reply

Martin Ross
14:45 Jun 21, 2023

I’m rooting for you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Wally Schmidt
13:55 Jun 21, 2023

The ability you have to absorb the reader in your story is incredible. The story doesn't build per say, but somehow you manage to do it from the very first line and then take us on the journey with you. Stellar storytelling Brynn!

Reply

Brynn Helena
13:57 Jun 21, 2023

what a compliment! thank you so much!! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
02:29 Jun 21, 2023

This is really well written, some great visceral scenes of conflict in this. Midway, I was thinking a popular senior boy would never be friends with a freshman, and then it all made sense. (I had missed the lgbtq+ tag at the start.) That's a great first line btw, you have a lot of talent at bringing metaphors and the five senses into your writing.

Reply

Brynn Helena
03:04 Jun 21, 2023

thank you so much!!! :) i appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Colleen Ireland
01:44 Jun 21, 2023

So touching and realistic; I felt like I was right there with them. You did a wonderful job with the flow, present to past and present, like a river!

Reply

Brynn Helena
01:44 Jun 21, 2023

thank you so much!! i'm always hesitant to use flashbacks because i worry the transitions are rocky, so i appreciate your compliment :)

Reply

Colleen Ireland
01:54 Jun 21, 2023

YW. you did it seamlessly and it added the needed depth to the story. Again, well done!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Sara Herrera
18:16 Jun 20, 2023

How the realization blooms from the pain. Just beautiful.

Reply

Brynn Helena
19:08 Jun 20, 2023

thank you so much :,) <3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.