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  1. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    I'll get it formatted and up tonight! You guys are amazing shaming all those lurkers! LOL
  2. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    The SS stories are in chronological order top top to bottom, left to right. Some stories take place at virtually the same time and there is some overlap on occasion.
  3. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    Brax's mom moved away, but Brax is old enough to make his own decisions. I never get much deeper into his backstory, but I don't think I've hinted at his mother using Brax against his father.
  4. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    Sorry, no. It takes place roughly during the beginning of C&K, and although B and J are mentioned, they aren't really participants. You'll recall Garrett was a teammate, but nothing else was really mentioned - other than him being 'loose' or 'easy'.
  5. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    Some history on Sanitaria Springs.
  6. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    PCE represents the 120th episode and first SS novel. While it's not including any of the more well known members of the ensemble cast, we do get some mentions and one solid appearance from one who was only mentioned before. Austin is his given name, Hamster the nickname based on his surname of Hamilton. The 121st episode, Never Fall in Love which is based on Garrett French, last seen in Candy & Kisses, is in editing.
  7. The next few weeks were tense as things slowly settled into a new normal. Things weren't really any different between myself, Teo and Alessia, but things with my mother were very up and down. She would yell at me, trying to enforce her old rules and I wasn't having any of it. I constantly questioned if I'd be able to keep it up, but my blood would boil every time she started her crap. I wasn't spending any time at the Petrakises' house. I just didn't know how to be around my...father. Maybe it was a little ungrateful. I guess he could have made different choices after finding out my mother was pregnant. He'd kind of been there. The deception clouded everything though, like ash after a fire; it left everything coated in a layer of mistrust. Halloween came and went. I wasn't really into the Halloween dance that year, so I skipped it. I got overtures from Alessia and Brax. Even Teo told me I should go, but I didn't feel like it. In fact the only new thing was that Cole and I were working on the science labs together. The first few weeks we had met at the school library after his practice, but football games were officially over and now we had to make a choice. “Well, my little sister will be at my house,” Cole said uncertainly. “My older sister is home now, from college. And my mother...she can be weird.” “My mother is home, but she's weird all the time. We can go to my house if you want,” I offered. It felt weird to say that, since I'd never invited anyone to my home before. I mean, Alessia and Teo just kind of walked in, so they didn't count. Cole fell silent for a moment and then nodded. “Okay. When?” I thought. “The next lab is due Thursday, right? I have to work Wednesday, so tomorrow would be best. Does that work for you?” Cole appeared to think again, and a slight blush accented his face. “Yeah. Haylee was talking about going with her to the Harvest Ball planning committee meeting, but I think I can get out of it.” I looked at him for a minute. We had agreed to meet in the library Monday afternoon to plan. There were two labs due this week, and we'd put the finishing touches to the first, but we both had to leave – me for work, and he had chores at home, including watching his little sister while his older sister worked. “Are you sure? I don't want to get you in trouble with your girl.” I mean, if he wanted to handle his relationship that way, that was his business. I'm not even sure why I brought it up. In fact, that thought felt so true, I started to pack my stuff up and not wait for his answer. “I think we're going to break up,” he said quietly. I paused. Cole had never said anything of a personal nature to me, and I was little stunned. I mean, yeah he'd been reluctant to ask me for help to start with – had his hand forced by the teacher – but we'd always kept things kind of light. I stopped picking up my things and looked at him. “Are you all right?” He leaned back and nodded. “Yeah. Of course.” So, say something showing you're human and instantly close off. Got it. I pushed a folder into my bag. “Drew did you ever...like, think about dating a girl?” Okay, that was weird. “Not really.” He looked over at me. “Didn't you ever want to fit in?” I stilled my hands. “Yeah, a lot. My mother has something wrong with her – I don't even know what. She was paranoid and would freak out if I was at a birthday or something. It was embarrassing. Then, later, she wouldn't let me go anywhere – not unless it was with Allie and Teo. Even if I wanted to date, I couldn't have. Besides...I was under the radar, so not that many people know, or care, that I'm gay.” He nodded slowly. “I got into a fight with my dad early this year,” he said slowly. I watched him as he worked through what he wanted to say. “He walked out on my mom – on the family. Did you know that?” “I'd heard something like that,” I confirmed. “Rumor mill,” he snorted. “Well, what people don't know is that he left my mom for...a man.” “I'm sorry, Cole,” I said. Of course Alessia had filled me in, having gotten the information from Haylee, but he didn't need me to say something like that. “I'm not sure why the sex makes a difference. If he'd left for a woman, would it hurt less?” He tilted his head and looked at me. “You know, he said something like that. While we were arguing, I mean.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. I mean. It feels like it should make a difference. He's with this guy and still trying to be a dad.” “I guess...if it were a woman he'd left for, maybe she'd want her own family. You hear things like that,” I said, trying to reassure him. “You know, how people's dads walk off and start new families, like the kids they had before don't matter.” His head twitched like he wasn't sure if he wanted to nod or shake it. He sat in silence and I wondered if I'd said the wrong thing. “Cole? Are you okay?” He finally did shake his head slowly. He looked up and said, “Don't you think it's wrong that he was married to my mom for so long? Had kids? He didn't just find out he's...gay now, right?” I shrugged, but tried to give him a sympathetic look. “I don't know, Cole. I feel like I always knew I liked guys more. Teo told me he didn't really know until he was about fourteen. He says some people take longer, and that some people were forced to hide because of their families or other society-like pressures.” “Like what?” I widened my eyes and shrugged. “Like, maybe their parents were super religious and wouldn't have accepted them. Maybe they had a lot of shame put on them, so they tried to fit in – for too long. Teo says a lot of gay kids commit suicide when people reject them just for being who they are.” He looked down into his lap. “Shit,” he said quietly. “I mean, I don't know your dad, Cole. I'm not trying to say any of this relates to him, you know? I just...what did you, you know, argue about?” I asked, trying to help him, but feeling like I was prying. For a long time I didn't think he'd answer, which would have been all right. He seemed to want to talk to me, though, so I hoped I could help him out. “I asked him why he had kids. Why he stayed with mom. Why he got married, if he knew he was gay,” Cole said quietly. “And?” I gently prompted. After another lengthy delay, he said, “His parents gave him home treatments to stop him from looking at other boys. Ice baths at night before he went to bed. Other stuff that sounds too crazy to believe. He said...he pushed it down as far as he could, but he'd always been unhappy. Unhappy not being able to live as himself. He told me he loved mom, but not in the way she deserved.” He cleared his throat. “I guess his parents changed a lot when his sister came out. I didn't even know I had a lesbian aunt out there.” I sighed. Adults are fucked up. “Look, I don't know if this helps you, Cole – but adults fuck things up about as much as we do.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, my mom had an affair. I'm, like, her bastard love-child. That's why she treated me like she did – like I was going to go out and impregnate every girl I met and leave them to raise a kid on their own – like she felt after my father got her pregnant.” He blushed slightly and looked back down at his hands. “So you think I should forgive my dad?” I sighed. “I don't know, Cole. I'm still having trouble dealing with what I think of the whole situation, and I'm not going to tell you what you should think or feel.” He snorted and looked away. “You're the only one.” After a moment I asked, “What does Brax think?” He turned his gaze back to me. “He thinks my dad is trying to be honest with me, and it's not easy for him either. He said he thinks I should try to forgive him and fix what I can.” I nodded my head. “Well, not the worst advice, but he doesn't have to live with this. You do.” “Yeah,” he said, and started to pick up his things. “I just figured since his folks were divorcing, he'd have some...ideas, I guess.” I stood up and slung my bag over my shoulder. “Unless I totally misjudged Brax, he picked the advice that would let you heal fastest. If you forgive your dad, you can take comfort from him and it gives you some support. That sounds like a totally Brax thing to do.” Cole shouldered his bag and faced me. “Yeah. Puts me at odds with my mom, though. She says he betrayed her, and I can't help but feel bad for her, too. It's like if I forgive him so I can move past this, I betray her, too.” I nodded in sympathy. “You can't control other people's feelings. What happens between you and your dad doesn't have to be something your mom knows about. I...well, like I said, adults fuck things up too. Don't worry so much about their feelings. Worry about yours – someone has to.” His fingers fiddled with the strap on his bag. “I don't fight with him all the time. I go to see him and sometimes it's like he never left. We do stuff. We talk. He and Keith even got a larger apartment so us kids could stay over sometimes, but mom hasn't really allowed it.” “I hear about that sometimes. Parents using their kids to fight about the divorce,” I said quietly. “It's hard enough having the family break up – for everything to change. Change is weird.” He bobbed his head. “Um, see you tomorrow? I can walk with you after school.” “Teo might give us a ride, but yeah. Later, Cole.” We parted and I made my way to work. The shift was going uneventfully until Brax showed up. He greeted me and I smiled. “What can I get for you?” “I applied online. I'm supposed to speak to the manager, I guess,” he said. I raised an eyebrow. “Mom said I had to get a job now that football is over. Gas, car insurance. You know,” he said and rolled his eyes. “Be responsible.” I grinned. “I'll get Theresa for you.” I found her in her broom-closet of an office, angrily fingering her keyboard. I mean that literally – one finger on each hand stabbing down as if the keyboard had said something rude and had to be punished. “Theresa? There is an applicant at the front desk to see you.” “Oh?” She glanced at the clock. “Crap. It's later than I thought. Happens all the time, you know. You get older, lose track of everything.” “Um. You should hire this one.” She stood up. “Oh? Why is that?” “He's a reliable person, good character, and I can go behind his back to his girlfriend if he makes any problems. She'll kick his ass.” She grinned at me, showing her tobacco stained teeth. “I like the way you think. He a friend of yours?” “Yes.” “Well, he's off to a good start, then. Let me go meet him.” Theresa went out to interview him and I dawdled, trying to see how it was going. I was reasonably sure he'd get the job. “New hire?” Molly asked, sidling up beside me. “Hope so. I told Theresa he'd work out,” I told Molly. She smiled a little. “He's cute. We have a history of that, you know.” I raised an eyebrow at her and wondered if this college girl was about to hit on me. “We had a guy that worked here a few years ago. This girl came in and took a picture of him working and posted it to a board about hot guys at work.” She grinned. “He was pretty popular for a while.” “That's weird,” I told her. “Eh. Austin handled it gracefully. I miss him.” She shrugged lightly and went back to the drive-through window. I scooped up some fries to eat on my break, and then turned back to watch Brax get interviewed. Theresa stood up and I slipped from behind the counter to join them. “Okay if I take my break?” She turned to look at me and rolled her eyes. “He got the job! Take your break! Lazy bum,” she said, giving me a small grin. I smiled at Brax. “Grats on the job.” “Thanks for recommending me,” he grinned in return. I plopped down across from him and placed the fries between us. “Have some,” I invited. He grabbed us some ketchup and I asked about the interview. He said it wasn't anything interesting, just general questions. “Cole said you guys are almost done with the labs for the week?” Brax asked. “Yeah. We did one today and he's coming over tomorrow to finish the other one.” “I appreciate you helping out my boy,” Brax said with a serious expression. “Home life is rough right now.” I leaned back. “He mentioned. Hey, how did you become friends with Cole anyway? Seems like an unlikely friendship.” He leaned back and his lip curled in amusement. “So three weeks before school starts I show up to football camp. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm a Gatorade guy. I drink my water, but I need my Gatorade. So who forgets his Gatorade? This guy,” he said, hooking his thumb at himself. “Who gave me one? Cole. Who showed up the next day with extra just in case my dumb ass forgot it again? Cole.” I raised an eyebrow. “You guys bonded over sports drinks?” He leaned forward and placed his forearms on the table. “Drew, why do people think there has to be some big dramatic thing to start a friendship? He was nice to me, showed me some consideration. I gave it back to him. We spent time together because of it and he's my boy. Hell, what about you and me?” “How we met? You mean when your dumb ass didn't have a pen?” I grinned at him. “Only I get to call me a dumb ass, dumb ass,” he replied, snickering. “Still, neither of us saved each other in war. It was a pen. Then I started dating Alessia, you looked out for me – for her, but make no mistake, for me too. I play football, I'm a jock – but I'm not an idiot, either.” I frowned. “I thought we agreed you're a dumb ass?” “I'll dumb ass you,” he said shaking his fist at me. “So I know you were saying before how you didn't think much of Cole. Changed your mind?” I tilted my head to one side. “He's not as bad as he used to be. I think he's warming up to me a little. He talked to me today about his dad and stuff.” “Yeah. Parents divorcing is bad enough, but you start adding the complications of parents dating and shit – it's nuts. I feel for him, I do. My dad cheated, but he didn't even move in – it was like a casual, constant hook up. A fuck buddy.” I frowned. “He threw everything away for a hook up?” “Pretty much. We used to get along, but you don't pull that shit on my mom.” “Wow. I'm sorry, Brax.” I hesitated, thinking about my philosophy that everything breaks, everything is made to be broken in the end. I guess his old life was broken, but it was so a new one could be formed. He shrugged. “I miss my old life, friends, house and shit. But I'm doing okay. I still talk to my old friends, I have some new friends and a firecracker on my arm. I'm going to make it.” I chuckled at his description of Alessia. “Now, you skipped out on going to the Halloween dance with us. I know you had shit in your life, but that's over now. Right?” I pursed my lips. “Did Alessia explain things to you?” “How you and I will be brothers-in-law one day? She did.” I smiled at him. “Well, you know it's kind of an on-going thing then, rather than being over.” “I don't see why you can't come to the Fall Ball then. Everyone should have a chance to get dressed up and slow dance, bruh.” I rolled my eyes. “You and Alessia can do that. You don't need me for that.” “Still. You should come hang with your friends.” I tilted my head from side to side. “I'll think about it. Or is this another bet between you and Allie?” He chuckled. “No bet this time.” Brax left and I finished up my shift. I got home quickly enough, to find my mother more alert and watching TV. “Andrew?” “Yeah, Ma.” “Come here.” “I'm going to take a shower.” I heard a spring in her recliner boing as she put the footrest down. I set my feet and squared my shoulders as she darted out of the living room, then skidded to a stop, surprised to have found me there. Her eyes narrowed. “Where's your paycheck and stub? You didn't give it to me Friday.” “I tore up the pay stub, and the cash is mine. I earned it.” “You live in my house!” “Do I? Or does it belong to my father? Whose name is on the deed? Who pays the mortgage? Does he pay for the groceries you have delivered? Does he do all this so you can sit in the living room and do nothing?” The sound of her hand hitting my cheek in echoed in the room. I glared at her. “Do that again, and you'll regret it.” My anger was bubbling, ready to boil over. I was ready to reach out and hit her back. She stepped back, the reached down to pick up a shoe from the pile beside the door and flung it at me. Then she grabbed another. I picked the shoe up and winged it at as hard as I could – I kept returning each one she threw at me. At some point I started to scream at her, saying all the things I had bottled up for years. It was ugly. And stupid. She finally retreated to the living room, screaming how I was ungrateful. I went upstairs and angrily undressed for my shower. My gaze fell upon the book I'd read for English. Mr. Rockland had been right – I really liked the book, so much so I'd blasted through it and was on my way through the book for the second time. With that thought I started to calm and thought I should ask him for more book recommendations. I climbed into the shower to wash off the burger stink, letting the last of my anger go down the drain with the wastewater. I turned over what Brax had said about little things leading to people making larger relationships. I suppose that was true, really. You see things like that in movies or read about them in books, how a chance encounter leads to marriage or larceny, depending on the story. Brax and I started talking because he'd needed a pen, and I was next to him by the seating chart. He's smart, and he may have cultivated me since I was friends with the girl he was so enamored with, but I don't think he'd have stuck with me if he didn't like me. I smiled to myself thinking of Cole, joylessly offering his extra Gatorade to Brax. Then making sure to have an extra just for Brax, probably while not smiling or anything. I guess there was more to him than I realized, and maybe his stand-offishness had more to do with the crap at home than with school or the people around him – or me, for that matter. I toweled off and headed back to my room, only to find a mess. It was obvious someone had gone through my things, but when I saw my wallet lying open on the floor, I knew without a doubt. I opened it to confirm, and my money was gone. “You bitch!” I snarled. I pulled on sweat pants and thundered down the stairs. “Give me my money!” I yelled as my feet hit the ground floor. I swept into the living room to find her standing from her recliner, nasty look on her face. “It's mine!” she snapped. “The hell it is,” I told her and advanced, looking for where she might have stashed my cash. “This is my house and you will follow my rules and respect me!” She revealed a hidden belt, something she'd had tucked into the chair with her. What happened next is hard to relate. Even though things had been tense at home, and I'd largely ignored her, this was intolerable. I'd had to fight to be able to get a job just to get out of the house, and she had been taking my paycheck for the entire time. She said I'd squander it, and I had to beg for it so I could go to school events with Alessia and Teo or the movies or anything else. But something had broken inside me the day I'd found out what sort of deception had been laid upon me. There was a fight. There was a lot of screaming. I felt the stinging slap of the belt a few times before I got it away from her. She clawed at me and I shoved her, and sent her tumbling back into her recliner. She looked at me with naked disdain, and made melodramatic statements about knowing I'd turn on her one day. I forced my hands into the pockets of her house dress and she fought me, but I got my hands on my money. She pulled my hair and slapped me in the face, and I finally slapped her back. She burst out in tears and flew into a larger rage, which I hadn't thought possible. She began picking up objects in the room and throwing them at me. The ruckus on the inside must have been audible outside. I was shocked to feel large arms grab me and turn me away from my mother, and a mans' voice booming at her to stop, to just stop for Christ's sake! “Let me go!” I hollered. “Just chill, buddy,” Teo said in my ear. I struggled and he let me go, giving me a gentle push toward the living room doorway. I turned and he stood in front of me. “Olivia! Calm down!” Mr. Petrakis was holding his hands out to his sides and blocking my mother from seeing me. “She stole my paycheck from me!” I said loudly. “Drew...fuck, man,” Teo said and I looked at him, wondering what his problem was. He pointed at my body so I looked down. My chest was scratched and I became aware of a burning sensation on my back – likely where I'd absorbed a blow from her belt. “Olivia! You cannot do this! He is your son!” Mr. Petrakis said, his tone exasperated and pleading. “Yours too, or did you forget?” I snapped. Teo's eyes went a little wider. “Look who grew a set,” he said quietly. “Andrew, we can talk after. Go upstairs. Teo, take him.” My mother wailed, albeit quieter than she had been. I turned grudgingly as Teo placed a gentle hand on my shoulder to steer me from the room. We climbed the steps to my room, and I restlessly began to pick up the things my mother had gone through as he sat on my bed. “Did the fight start up here?” he asked. I shook my head. “I was in the shower and she ransacked my room to steal my pay.” I glanced at him. “She started when I got home, telling me how I hadn't paid her last week, basically.” He shook his head. “Glad you stood up to her. She's kind of crazy, Drew.” I sighed in frustration. “Yeah, I know.” “Glad you stood up for yourself, though. Looks like you paid for it.” “I'm fine,” I said and sniffed. “Want to come next door for a while? They could be downstairs for a long time,” he said quietly. I thought about it for a minute, but rejected the idea. “I don't think that's fair to your mom. It's like rubbing this whole thing in her face. I'm sure she feels disrespected by me coming and going in your house.” “Well, I think that should be something we talk with her about,” he said, leaning back. “You're family, and none of this is your fault. She should be mad at Dad, and maybe your mom, but she shouldn't take it out on you.” I sighed. “I don't think it's that simple.” Now that I wasn't engaged in fighting and had calmed down, I didn't like the way I was dressed. I pulled on a tee shirt, but I'm not a fan of not wearing underwear, so I went to the bathroom to put some on before putting my sweatpants back on. Back in my room Teo was looking at me with interest. “What?” “You're different,” he said. It was a statement, and I nodded my head. “Everything is different. I thought everything at home was broken before, but I'm beginning to wonder if it was just the first sign that the wheels were going to come off everything. Sort of like the check engine light in the car – that's the warning, but then you get to the mechanic and find out the whole thing is going to grind to a halt or something. I don't know. What do I know about cars?” “Sounded legit to me,” Teo said with a chuckle. I sighed and sat down in my chair, rubbing my face. “This is fucked, Teo.” He made a little grunt. “It's been a bad few weeks, that's true.” I dropped my hands to my lap and pressed my palms together. “You're back with Hector?” “Not really. We went out a few times. I wanted to be out of the house, Hector wanted to try and fix things.” He shrugged. “He gets points for trying.” “I guess he must like you to make the effort, right?” He grunted. “He likes the way I look.” “Has to start somewhere, right?” He tilted his head side to side. “We'll see. I told him there's a game store I want to hit up. They have card games every Saturday morning and I'm thinking I want to go check it out. We'll see if he comes with me.” I frowned lightly. “Isn't it okay if you guys have separate interests?” “Some, sure,” he said. “But so far all we have in common is being gay and smoking hot.” He curled his lips in amusement. I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, I guess I can see that. I guess you can't have sex all the time.” “I am not that easy,” he said with a snort. “In my experience?” I raised an eyebrow at him. “A little staring at you goes a long way.” He flopped back. “I am never going to live that down, am I?” “I'm not telling people I kissed my brother,” I said with a little laugh. We hung out and chatted for about an hour before Mr. Petrakis – my father – came upstairs. He gave us a tired smile. “Boys,” he said acknowledging us. “Teo, why don't you head home and let Andrew and I have a word, eh? Thank you for your help.” Teo patted my shoulder and headed out of the room. Mr. Petrakis took a seat in my desk chair and I sat on the edge of the bed. I was nervous, considering this was my first interaction with him since everyone found out the truth of things. He gave me a wan smile. “Everything is poof,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. He dropped his hands to his lap and then laced his fingers together. “I'm sure you have mixed feelings about all of this. I did the best I could, Andrew. I'm sorry you've suffered so much. I thought it was...the best I could do,” he repeated, finishing quietly. Softly I said, “Cheating on your wife wasn't your best. Moving your mistress and her bastard in next door to you wasn't your best. Leaving me with a mentally unstable woman wasn't your best. Honestly, Mr. Petrakis, if that is your best...maybe you should keep it to yourself.”
  8. Dabeagle

    Chapter 6

    You guys are amazing. I'll get to work getting it ready to post.
  9. Dabeagle

    Chapter 6

    A friend of mine was in a bad marriage - and the circumstances were that religion tied them together until the end and she was an alcoholic. Due to their circumstances, she slept on the floor of their bedroom, even though they were both miserable and they never divorced - she had a stroke well after my friend retired. Amazingly he thinks God was looking out for him because she stroked out after 30ish years of marriage (I think).
  10. I'm looking for an artist to create an image for an upcoming story - the sequel to my novella Panic! If anyone is interested, please DM me for details. If you have a talented friend, please pass my information along!

  11. She came to a sudden stop, her mouth slack and she looked at me. It was almost as if she were unplugged, then she looked away and walked toward the living room. I moved to block her, but she shoved past me and scuttled to her recliner. What happened next is fuzzy in my memory. There was a lot of yelling. She stayed in her chair but threw things at me, telling me to shut up. The remote, for instance. I remember the sound of the plastic hitting the wall. In the end she wouldn't repeat it, but I'd heard. Teo was my brother – half-brother. Alessia was my half-sister, then. Mr. Petrakis, who always treated me like one of his own...well, I guess that came naturally. I became white-hot angry and sneered at my mother. “You cheated with a married man, and you've held me hostage all this time? You've punished me all this time?” I shook my head in disgust. Pointing at her, I said, “You'd better not ever lay a hand on me again. I am done listening to you. Do you hear me? Done!” She shook her head and kept saying 'no' over and over, but I had no time to worry about her being broken. I was too worried about my own damage. I turned and walked upstairs, suddenly feeling unnaturally calm. I guess I'd always thought the term bastard could be applied to me. I never knew if Chambers was my mother's maiden name or my father's surname. I'd assumed it had been my father's, but looks like I was wrong about that. Wrong about so much. No wonder Teo and I looked similar. Teo. I'd kissed my brother. I'd beat off thinking about my brother. I felt a little sick at the realization. I shed my clothes and climbed mechanically into the shower. I cleaned by rote, feeling lost. My mother had always been a dead weight on me. I hadn't realized at first. I think everyone thinks their home life is normal – average. But not compared to the Petrakises'. The only one who seemed...unhappy was the mother. Holy shit. No wonder she never went on any trip I was taken along on. No wonder she always left the room or was less than polite to me. I was a living reminder of her husband's infidelity. Considering how close in age Alessia and I are, he had been sleeping with them both around the same time. How fucked up is that? Jesus. My world was spinning, and without the suffocation of my mother I was afraid I might spin off into oblivion. I felt dizzy and squatted down in the shower, wrapping my arms around myself and letting the water cascade over me. Slowly I became aware of time passing. The water grew cooler and I turned it off. I toweled dry, feeling as if I were running the towel over an empty husk. Everything I thought I knew seemed upended. I dressed for work, brushed my teeth and then went downstairs for my coat and shoes. I looked into the living room, but my mother was looking away from me at the wall. Sniffling. It was a pitiful sound. Still, I found it hard to be sympathetic. Maybe if I knew more, I'd feel differently, but I didn't. I put my headphones in and trudged through the snow to work. It was Friday so I'd get paid – and this check would be all mine. Once at work I hung up my coat, sniffed and grabbed a paper towel to blow my nose. “Hey. What's with the red eyes?” Theresa, my manager, asked. I turned toward her and her eyes narrowed, yet her tone was incredulous. “Are you stoned?” “No, I'm not stoned,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “I just had some big shit go down at home is all.” She studied me for a minute. “Okay. I'm watching you, though. You start getting the munchies, I'm going to send you for a piss test.” I stared at her. “You're going to go through that trouble to fire a minimum wage employee?” “Your brain isn't done growing, yet. That shit will mess you up. You come in stoned, you might burn your ass on the grill – or burn the place down.” I stared again. “Theresa, if I burn my ass on the grill I have more problems than some MJ. And I'm not stoned.” “Order up!” Jorge called from the line. Theresa gave me the stink eye for a minute, then turned to take care of the order. I clocked in and took over the register while she went to do inventory and whatever else a fast food manager does. Order food, maybe. Make a schedule. Go have a cigarette. I should have said something to her about her smoking, considering she was ranking on me with that accusation. Ten minutes later Molly, a part timer who was in college, came back behind the counter. “Hi, Drew.” “Hi, Molly. Are you counter tonight or am I?” “Theresa was going to have you spend some time on the drive through tonight, I think. Double check with her just in case.” She leaned forward and smiled. “I wasn't really listening to her.” I smiled at her and wandered back to the rear door. I poked my head out the back and spotted Theresa, sucking on her cancer stick. “Theresa?” She didn't seem to hear me. “Theresa?” I asked, raising my voice. She turned her head toward me, but her eyes looked a little unfocused. “What? Oh, Drew. What's going on?” “Molly is back from break. Do you want me on drive through or the counter?” “Give the window some time, you could use the experience. If you get the hang of it, we can bump your pay a little.” “Okay.” I ducked back inside and went over to the charging rack for the headsets. I flipped a switch that turned off the interior speaker – something they used during slow times – and sent the signal through the headphones. I went to my station and organized for a minute, still thinking about events of the afternoon. I still felt thrown off by everything. My balance – the world I thought I knew – was tilted on its side and kind of kicked onto the floor, stomped on and then lit on fire. I went back and forth as to whether I'd be able to keep up resisting my mother and her bullshit, overcoming my programming. Idly I wondered about Teo and Alessia. Things would be different, now. They'd know my mother cheated with their father. That I was their half-brother. That...we'd all been lied to. How would they react? Would they lay some...blame on me? And what about Teo and those kisses? Thinking back, comparing the two, I found that the second one was lacking. I mean, yeah your mother losing her fucking mind partway through played a part, but I wasn't seeing stars or anything. What did that mean? I felt weird thinking that he was kind of hot, even if knowing he was actually related to me cooled my jets a bit. I didn't want to try it again, that was for sure. Unfortunately, I think I suck at kissing. I'm not even sure why Teo kissed me at all. There was no lead up, no 'hey you're kinda cute' or anything. I had no clue. An ass grab or something would have been nice. Ugh. A car pulled up to the drive-through speaker. “Welcome to Flubberbuster's, may I take your order?” I asked. “Hey – the fries fresh? They sucked last time.” I rolled my eyes. “They are in the fryer right now, sir.” “I think I should get that order for free, honestly. You're probably lying to me. I can drive over the hill and get a burger for a buck fifty, so I'll need you to mark down your burger for me, too. Got that?” “Sir, I cannot mark down product even if I wanted to – the system won't allow it.” “Look, kid. I spend a lot at this place – you should know me, or you haven't been working here very long. If you have to, ring me up for a junior burger, but make sure I get the double bacon combo. It's not that hard.” I took a breath – what an idiot. “Sir, that would be stealing and I would be fired. If you want the bacon combo, I can certainly place that order.” “Look you stupid fucker, this isn't that hard. You guys gave me crap food last time and I expect you to make good on it. I can go right over the hill to get better food, cheaper. So quit fucking with me and start making my sandwich, bitch.” I was getting pissed by this time. It had been a long day. “What size, sir?” “Extra large,” he said, sounding satisfied. “Extra large bacon combo. Six-thirty-eight is your total, please drive up.” “Don't you fucking charge me, you little asswipe! I'll call your fucking corporate office and get you fired! I told you, over the hill has better and cheaper – you're lucky I bother coming here!” “Okay, Karen,” I said agreeably. “Then you go over the fucking hill and get your food.” “You motherfucker!” I heard tires squeal and moments later a middle-aged guy with thinning hair stormed into the restaurant. “Where's the fucking manager?” Theresa looked up from the tray she was loading with food. She handed it to the customer and then turned her attention to the guy. “Is there a problem, sir?” “Your staff sucks ass! That little motherfucker told me he'd replace my shit meal from the last time I was here. I told him the food over the hill is way better and cheaper, and that little fuck told me to go over there and get my fucking food, then!” Theresa turned and looked at me over her shoulder. “Did you tell him to go over the hill?” I looked her in the eye. “Yes.” The corner of her mouth curled. “Good boy.” She turned back to face the customer. “A drive-through person would never supply you with a replacement meal without a receipt – especially that employee. Take your language and your attitude and get out of my store before I call the police.” His face contorted in rage. “Fuck you! I'll never be back here again! You'll be out of business in no time!” “If it means not seeing you again, it can't come too soon,” Theresa said. “Now, bye-bye.” He snarled, turned on his heel and stomped out the door, slamming it open. Moments later I heard tires squeal. She looked back at me. “No one gets paid enough to put up with that. But don't make it a habit.” The next few hours were uneventful, which I was grateful for. Things went steadily, but then business died. I was working steadily, minding my own business, when it all changed. Of course it had to, but I wasn't sure how to handle the change. Brax came in with his arm around Alessia and Cole followed, holding the door for Haylee. Did she know yet? Had she known before? Is that why she was protective of me? “Bruh, wish you hadn't had to leave,” Brax said as they reached the counter. I gave him a little smile and nodded at him. Alessia looked at me with a pleased expression on her face – and then her expression turned stony. “What did she do?” Shit. I guess my eyes must still be red or something. “Not now.” “Drew-” “Not now.” She stared at me. She started to open her mouth, but I beat her to it. “I swear to God, Allie, if you don't drop this right this second I will never speak to you again.” Her eyes went wide. There was a measurable pause before her eyes narrowed. “Later, then.” “Later,” I agreed. She looked at me again. “'Less? I have to go to the bathroom. Come with me?” Haylee asked. Alessia waited a beat. “Sure. Come on.” The girls headed away and Brax let out a low whistle. “Bruh – Drew, my man. You have been helping me avoid that look and that tone. I am so grateful right now to know what you've been saving me from. That was nuclear. I'm going to walk funny for a week and that look wasn't even aimed at me.” Cole stood behind him, just to his left. He was studying my face, but staying quiet. “Do you know what you want to order?” I asked Brax. “Gotta wait for the girls,” he said with a little smile. “Hey, you want to hang out tomorrow? Cole's going to help me snow blow after we drop the girls off and stay over. We're going to hang out and play some video games and eat junk food. Want to join us?” I looked away for a moment. It was on the tip of my tongue to say no, due to my mother. But then there was the no I had to tell him since his girlfriend would be in full meltdown by tonight. I guess I should warn him. Looking back to him I said, “I think Alessia will need you tomorrow. Thanks, though.” A look of curiosity settled on his face. “Any idea what I'm going to be dealing with?” I pursed my lips. “Sorry, Brax.” He nodded his head slowly. The girls reappeared and Haylee said she really wasn't hungry. A discussion ensued and they eventually left without getting anything. I clocked out and cashed my check. I purposely shredded my pay stub and threw it away. This time I was keeping what I had earned. After donning my coat I popped my headphones in and stepped outside, and was beyond shocked to see Teo's car in the lot. What could he want? A tremor of anxiety ran through me, and settled into the pit of my stomach. Teo climbed out of the car and waved to me. “Drew. Come on, it's cold.” Well, it has to happen some time. I walked to his car, trying to get a read on him. Teo had gotten mad at me once in a while over the years – and I with him. We'd never really come to blows or anything. Because of that I really didn't think of him as a violent person. I won't say I thought he would leave me dead in a ditch somewhere, but I worried that the thought did cross his mind. He climbed back in and I sat down carefully on the passenger seat. “How'd it go?” he asked. Before I could reply, he said, “Fuck that. No small talk, right? This is a fucked situation.” I cleared my throat. “Yeah.” “I am so pissed at my dad for cheating, Drew. You don't even know. It makes total sense now why my mom never goes anywhere with us. All she does is sit in her room.” He paused. “You know what I found out? They don't even sleep together. She sleeps on the floor every night, rather than sleep with him. He actually expected me to be sympathetic.” I glanced at him. “Why doesn't she...leave? I mean...it has to kill her with my mother and...and me next door.” He snorted and shook his head. “God. That's why. God says marriage is forever, she says.” I made no comment. I guessed things were more or less okay with Teo and me, since he was giving me a ride home and talking to me. He was also driving the correct way to go home, so no worries about dropping me in the middle of nowhere to freeze to death. Mostly. “I'm sorry,” I said, though I wasn't sure what I was sorry for. That we had a mess to contend with? That his mother was cheated on? That my mother was the one his father cheated with? I wasn't sure. Maybe all of it. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said. We pulled up to a stop light and I looked over at him. “Teo?” “What?” “Why did you kiss me?” He glanced at me and gave me a small smile before the light changed and he accelerated through the intersection. “Truth? When I saw you in Alessia's room the other day, you seemed kind of appreciative of how I looked. You blushed and it was cute. I thought, 'You know, it sucks no one has ever kissed this boy,' and I figured, what the heck?” “So...pity.” He chuckled. “No. Probably my narcissism and thinking you looked cute like that, and hey it was a shame. You should have had a string of boyfriends by now, if it weren't for your mom.” I nodded slowly. Well, that wasn't the worst reasoning, I guess. “And the second time?” He tapped his fingers on the wheel. “You may find this hard to believe, but...I think that there are these rare moments in life. Little slices of perfection when someone looks their very best. Like, apex cute. When I ran up to give you back your phone and you turned to look at me, you had flushed cheeks from the cold and your lips were slightly parted. Your eyes were kind of wet, and I was just struck that you were the most adorable boy-next-door in that moment.” My cheeks felt hot, but I nodded. “I know what you mean. Sometimes a person looks just right.” “Exactly. No more of that, though. It's kind of...ick, you know? You're my brother. Even though we can't get preggers, it's not really on my to-do list.” I snorted. “You date older guys anyway. I wasn't sure why you were kissing me. It was confusing.” “I'm sorry, bud. I can be an asshole sometimes, I guess. I didn't think you'd mind too much since you were single.” “No, it wasn't that I minded. I was just confused.” I hesitated. “Does Alessia know?” “She should, or will when she gets home. I told Dad he had just the one chance to explain to her before I did.” I pressed my hands together. “He must be angry.” Teo let out a breath. “He's too busy dealing with his kids who are angry at him. Are you pissed at him?” I shrugged. “I don't know. I'm mad at my mom. I guess, maybe, he did what he could. I'm guessing he doesn't believe in divorce either, so...it wasn't the worst thing he could have done, I suppose.” He pulled up in front of his house. I reached down to unbuckle the seat belt and he asked, “So, you got your eye on any guys?” “No one serious,” I said. “Anyone you think is hot, though? Brax could be a nice specimen in a few years.” He winked suggestively and we both laughed. “Brax is nice enough looking, and a decent guy. He's a good friend, I think. I don't...really feel like that for him, though. I mean,” I said quickly, “I like him a lot.” “Yeah, I get it. You don't have to get a boner over every attractive guy.” I nodded, guessing that was close enough for this conversation. He patted my shoulder and I nodded at him with a tight smile. We said goodnight and I went home. I kicked off my shoes and barely glanced at the living room before climbing the stairs. After a shower I settled in on my bed, but I wasn't really tired yet. Idly I wondered what it would be like to go on a date with a guy. The movies, maybe. We could share snacks and maybe hold hands. If we were really bold, maybe make out during the movie – but movies were kind of expensive, so maybe only make out if it's a streaming thing or something. Yeah. I felt a little jealous of Alessia and Brax – or more accurately, their relationship. I never felt alone when they were dating, but I kind of wanted some of that for myself. I heard a door close downstairs, and it sounded like the back door that led into our kitchen. Moments later stairs were being climbed, it sounded like two at a time. Alessia burst into my room, loudly enough that I sat up. I was worried it might have been my mother for a second, even though the sound of the door didn't make sense in that context. Her eyes locked on me. “That fucker.” I pulled my legs back, sitting Indian style. She walked over quickly, climbing onto my bed and sitting with her legs splayed behind her in a 'w' shape. She stared at me, but I didn't know what to say. “Did you ask your mom what happened?” she asked. I shook my head slowly. “I was too busy being angry at her for keeping me a prisoner all this time. Punishing me for her mistakes.” She pursed her lips. “It couldn't have been the only time.” “What do you mean?” “Think about it. The one time he cheats, he gets a woman pregnant? Cheaters are cheaters. Who knows if there are any other siblings out there.” I nodded my head slowly, still not sure which direction she was headed in. “So...you're pissed?” “I screamed at him,” she said, her voice dropping. “I don't remember the last time I screamed at my father.” I felt bad for her. Everyone got shocked today. “I don't understand something,” she said. “Just one thing?” “Well, one major thing. He said something that made me think Teo was making him tell me, or he'd tell me himself. The thing is, how did any of this come out? How did Teo find out?” I frowned. “Didn't he – I mean, he's home, right?” “No,” she said, sounding like she was pouting. “Hector called. I think there was some kind of booty call going on. I think Teo went just to get out of the house. I mean, Hector is kind of hot, but you know how Teo feels about people not knowing who he is and him knowing who they are. He's not about staying with someone for looks.” I nodded and let out a breath. “Well, he mercy kissed me the other day.” “He – what?!” I nodded. “Um. When I went to get your bag from your room. He was in the hallway in just his underwear and, I guess, I was appreciating the view.” She dropped her chin. “You were checking out Teo? Teo? Drew! Even before this you were like a brother! Eww!” I frowned at her. “What happened? He kissed you?” I shrugged. “He said it was a shame I'd never been kissed.” “Well, yeah. Shouldn't have been him, though. That was days ago, how does that lead to tonight?” I sighed again. “When he dropped me off he, um, did it again. My mom caught us and she lost her shit.” I cleared my throat. “She screamed at me inside that we were brothers and it was sick. I guess your dad's reaction was odd enough that Teo must have pushed him for an explanation. Got more than he bargained for.” “Well, yeah. I mean, double eww once you found out.” She paused and tilted her head. “Did you...like it?” I tilted my head to one side and brought up one shoulder in a half-shrug. “It wasn't impressive. I was confused. I thought kissing would be, like, sparks and stars in your eyes and stuff. It wasn't, though.” She studied me for a moment. “It's because he wasn't right for you. I bet something in you recognized that he wasn't right for you. Some little part of you that recognized he was related. People get strange senses about things sometimes.” “Maybe,” I said. “So...how are you feeling about all this?” “Ugh. My father is a pig. I like that my bestie is my brother, though. I'll never lose you, now.” I looked up at her in surprise. “Really?” She looked offended. “Did you think I'd hold this against you or something? Drew! We've known each other our entire lives! We've shared secrets. Our lives are, like, incomplete without the other. For crying out loud, I showed you when Bryce Crandall sent me his dick pic!” I grinned. “It was a nice picture.” “Too bad he was a bigger dick than the one hanging between his legs,” she said and snorted. She looked at me for a quiet moment. “What about you? How are you feeling?” “Like I said – angry. My mother has beaten me, bullied me and kept me a virtual prisoner. She was projecting all her problems onto me. I told her I'm done listening to her. I just hope I'm...you know, able to stick to that. I'm kind of used to what she does to me.” “I'll help you,” she said confidently. I smiled wanly. We talked for a little while longer, then we watched a video or two that she had saved on her phone. She finally headed back to her house because she was yawning, but I felt good by then. I had my brother and sister on my side, and I knew I wouldn't have to face any of this crap alone – or anything else, for that matter.
  12. Dabeagle

    Chapter 5

    Alec. Folks love to mix Alex and Alec. Smart Alec. 🙂
  13. I rode home with Teo and Alessia, and when I got home I was relieved to find that my mother seemed to be sleeping in her recliner. She had a bedroom, but I can't remember the last time I saw her actually use it. I went to the kitchen and grabbed a snack before retreating to my room. With respect to Cole, I figured it would be faster if he made corrections rather than redoing everything – plus it would get him out of my space faster, too. I shouldn't have agreed to help him. My face felt hot as I thought of him, cheeks flushed and his hazel eyes looking needy. Needy for my help. Ugh. I went through each of his labs and compared them to mine, making notes on what he needed to look at to fix them. It took me about an hour and a half as I kept stopping to berate myself for getting involved, and then thinking about what he'd looked like when he'd asked me. Well, damn sight different from how he'd acted today. Fuck him. At six-thirty I grabbed my bag, my notes and my colored pencils – because I just knew Cole wouldn't have the supplies to fix his labs. I don't know why, but I was convinced. Maybe a rainbow of colors in his pencil lead was too much for him. Or maybe the night would end early if he brought up the idea I was hitting on Alessia or she was thinking of cheating. Where did he get off, anyway? With a grunt I headed next door. I walked in the kitchen door and found Mr. Petrakis at the stove. “Hi, Mr. Petrakis.” He looked over at me and smiled. “Andrew. Let me have a look, eh?” Again I felt awkward. I could forget about this mark if it weren't for everyone else being obsessed with it. I was a bit petulant, but I let him look at the mark on my face and he tsked a little. “No more of that, I think. Oh! I almost forgot.” He reached into the pocket of his pants and withdrew my phone. “I have worked this out with your mother. It's on the family account, so you can download and tweet or do whatever it is you do – but don't do what Teo does. I made him get rid of that one where all the men send him pictures of their penis. Don't make me go through your phone.” He waved a finger and smiled at me. “Seriously? My mom agreed to this?” He tilted his head from side to side. “What can I say? I have a way with the ladies, eh?” I stared at him. “I don't want to know.” He laughed aloud. “Teo went to work, but Alessia is upstairs.” “Brax and Cole are coming here to do some science work after practice. They should be here soon.” “She told me. Well,” he turned to me and said with a little smile, “She says 'Daddy, I need you to feed three hungry boys tonight. Go make spaghetti and meatballs.' Can you believe? So rude, that one.” I raised an eyebrow. “She said that?” “Go. Ask her. See if she tells you the truth,” he said, a twinkle of mischief in his eye. I set my bag down at the table, and made my way upstairs. I found her lying on her stomach and painting her nails. She smiled at me as she sat up and pulled a headphone out of her ear. “Hey.” “Hey,” I said, sitting on the bed beside her. “Your dad says you told him he has to feed three boys tonight.” She laughed. “He's such a liar. I told him Brax was coming with a friend from the football team to study with you, and he started making all kinds of cracks about how you guys would gnaw his leg off if he didn't have food ready when all of you got here.” I gave her a look of mock suspicion. “Yeah. Sounds like your dad was probably telling the truth.” “I know it sounds that way, because you guys are pigs, but he has this thing about feeding people. Did Dad give you the phone?” Irritation flashed through me. “You knew?” She frowned. “Why are you being like this? Most people our age have one. It's bullshit your mom doesn't let-” “Don't you think I know that?” I hissed. “Do you think I like the things she does? The way I live? How much worse is it that the only way things change for a while is if your dad says something to her – and why?” I asked, standing up and spreading my arms out. “Why does she listen to him? How come I can't find the balls to argue with her and get my way sometimes?” She pushed her tongue against her lips and capped her nail polish. She stood and moved in front of me before bringing her gaze to my face. “First, that's not my fault. Second, excuse the fuck out of me if I want you to be treated normally. Third...what if I want to text with you at midnight? Who says this is all about you?” I raised an eyebrow. “That's right, you selfish bitch,” she said, the corner of her mouth curling. “You've got me and Teo to talk to, and you're inaccessible because of Mommy Whackjob over there. What if Brax needs advice to get back on my good side? What if Cole needs more homework help after tonight? Huh? Stop making this all about you.” I squeezed the bridge of my nose and tried not to laugh at her. She wrapped her arms around my neck. “You want to yell at your mom? Go ahead. If she throws you out, you come live in my closet. My dad thinks you’re his anyway. You're practically another brother in here.” She leaned back and I looked at her face. “But I'll never apologize for looking out for you. You'd do the same for me.” She smiled a little. “It's why I know Brax is headed the right way. If he were a dick, you'd have helped him crash and burn instead of managing my moods, so let's not act like I'm the only one manipulating things around here.” I chuckled. “Your closet? Really?” “Easy access for me, so duh!” she said and released me. “I guess Brax is falling behind in science so when Cole told him you were going to help, he was all over that.” She sat down and picked up her polish again. “I guess his mom has been on his case about it, and he's not used to struggling in a class.” “Must be hard, coming to a new school. They might be doing the same material, but are ahead or behind where you were at your old school, I guess.” I sat down beside her again. “It's nice of you to help Cole out,” she said, changing the subject. I sighed. “I wasn't going to, but...yeah.” “Haylee thinks they are going to break up, soon. But she's been saying that for months.” I frowned. “I thought they were still having sex and stuff? Don't you kind of...I mean, isn't that awkward?” She shrugged. “It doesn't sound like it's good sex. I mean, you're right, she should just break it off if she's not getting what she needs, but maybe she sees him like you do – cute and she's getting some. I guess people will put up with a lot over cute.” I grimaced, thinking of why I was helping Cole. “Well, explains why Brax puts up with you.” “Wow. Nice back-handed compliment, Drew,” she said, rolling her eyes. Thinking of Cole and the idea of cute – and also wanting to put a stop to it – I thought about how he'd reacted when I'd more or less come out to him. “So I think Cole is an asshole. Pretty sure.” “Oh? Why?” “Well, this afternoon he noticed the mark on my face – and is it really that bad? No one else said anything besides you and Teo.” “I know what your face is supposed to look like,” she said dismissively. “What did he say about it?” “He just started to ask, but then I said you'd told me about it that morning and he went all kinds of weird – like got defensive about Brax and like I'd try to steal you from Brax or something.” She frowned and laughed all in one. “He what? I mean, okay, so Brax is his bestie – you protect them, but why did he think I'd cheat?” I shrugged. “Somehow he thought I could be enough to steal you from Brax. I told him off, though. Kind of rude to assume you'd cheat.” “Yeah,” she said, dismissing the idea. “Kind of a dick thing, but I can see him warning someone away from his bestie's girl. Looking out for their relationship.” I nodded slowly. “Yeah. I guess that's a good point.” I shook my head. “Anyway, I pretty much told him I was gay because I'd sooner date Brax than you.” “Right? You guys would make a hot couple, but he's mine – oh my God! Are you crushing on Brax?” “What? No!” “You so are! Oh, I'm going to tell him!” she teased. “Delusional,” I said with a grin. “Nice chest though. I'll allow that much.” “Right? Oh! He sent me this.” She capped her polish and started to shake her fingers to dry the nails. Not nearly long enough as she picked up her phone and tapped through a few screens before turning it toward me. Music came from the phone and a short video played of Brax lifting a weight bar while lying on a bench. Cole was behind him, spotting him. Brax's shirt rode up a little showing off the band of his underwear. After a few reps, he and Cole swapped. Cole's shirt also rode up and I felt thirsty again. Then Brax did this dumb thing he does with a lot of his pictures, making a 'v' sign. Cole lifted his shirt to wipe his face in the background. “I need a glass of water,” I said. “I know, he's such a hottie,” she agreed; she didn't realize I meant Cole. Her phone buzzed. Brax was texting that they had just pulled up. We headed downstairs and she went to the front door to meet them while I went to the table to get my stuff ready. That was put on hold, as I'd forgotten about the food. A covered pot was on a trivet on the middle of the table and a stack of shallow pasta bowls beside it. A pile of silverware with a canister of Parmesan completed the meal. Well, I hadn't eaten yet anyway. “Eat! Eat!” Mr. Petrakis said from the living room, probably talking to Brax and Cole. They entered the room trailing Alessia, and Brax held out his fist for me. “Bruh, this smells good. I want to eat before we do this. That cool?” “Totally,” I said, bobbing my head. I glanced at Cole. His cheeks were red, maybe from the cold. “Hey,” he said quietly. I nodded at him. Alessia started to chat as we all sat down and had a bowl of food. Brax and Cole had three helpings; I limited myself to two. Pasta always makes me feel weird if I eat too much. Alessia was teasing them about being pigs. Mr. Petrakis stopped in once to ask if we liked the food. With the dishes in the sink and the pot cleared from the table, we finally got started. “Cole, I made these notes for you,” I said and handed him the sheets I'd prepared. He accepted them with quiet thanks and began to review them. Brax pulled his labs out and we started to go over them. “Are you kidding me with this using a straight edge shit?” Brax demanded. “She takes points off for that?” I nodded. “It's stupid, but she tells everyone at the start. She wants them all super neat.” He frowned. “You'd think it'd be more important that the information is correct than how it looks.” “She claims that we'll be in college soon and it'll be really important, then,” Cole muttered. “I asked her after class today.” “I call bullshit,” Brax muttered. As I went over Brax's work I realized he was making the same mistakes Cole was. “Do you guys copy each other's work?” I asked. “Sort of,” Brax said. “We did the labs together, so we agreed on the formulas and stuff.” We went over the labs individually, and I even found where I'd made a mistake. We corrected their labs, and I was right to have brought my colored pencils, though I didn't feel as vindicated as I expected. Brax was in better shape than Cole, so when he finished up Alessia got all excited and said she had to 'show him something' and whisked him away. I rolled my eyes and continued to work with Cole. I figured if we got this all done, he'd know what he was doing and there wouldn't be anymore of these awkward working sessions. Cole looked up in the direction Brax and Alessia had gone. I was growing uncomfortable with the quiet and decided to break it. “Ten bucks says Brax comes back with shiny lips,” I said. Cole turned to look at me with a look of amused confusion. “What?” “They're making out right now, so Alessia's lip gloss will be all over his lips.” I tapped my lips for clarity, as if he might not know where lips are located on a human face. The corner of his mouth pulled up in amusement, then dropped down and he blushed again. I wish he'd quit doing that. It's distracting. “Um. I'm sorry about...what I said. Brax is my friend, and when you said you'd talked to her that morning I had this...weird image in my head. Like, you know, waking up to someone kind of morning.” My jaw dropped. I mean, it was patently silly – and kind of eww as well – but I was also impressed that he was apologizing. I mean, it didn't seem like it was in character for the Cole I knew. Maybe I didn't know him very well. “Wow, Cole. You think I slept with her – on a school night? That's a step too far,” I said, trying to keep a straight face. He looked at me and broke into a nervous chuckle, blushing again. Why is he blushing so much? Did I break him? “Well, I mean, if you're going to do it, I think available time matters more than when that time is. Right?” He looked up at me and I had the distinct feeling that the time he meant, sort of, was right now. I looked away from him as my own cheeks felt hot. I cleared my throat. “How many more do you have?” “Huh?” “Labs,” I said, pointing to the papers before him. “Oh. Um, just two.” He paused and then looked over at me. For a second I thought he took a deep breath, but I must have been seeing things. “Uh, after doing this I realize how bad I am at them. Do you think we could meet again? Maybe when the next lab is due?” I paused for a moment. I hadn't seen this coming, but I found with his apology, I was fine with helping him out. “Yeah. I'm sure we can work something out.” “Cool,” he said, blushing a little. Probably just doesn't like asking for help, I reasoned. We finished the last of his labs and he let out a big sigh. “This is a fucking relief,” he said. “You have no idea how much pressure I've been getting.” “From Mrs. Fitzpatrick?” He shook his head. “No. My mom.” He hesitated, glanced at me and then started to gather his work. “My parents are divorcing. Right now it's like nothing matters until they notice, then it's the end of the fucking world.” “Wow. Um, that sucks. I'm sorry.” He shrugged and started stuffing pages into his folder. “Uh, oh, no – stop that,” I said, pulling the folder from him and opening it to the messy contents of the labs we'd just done. “What?” “She's a neat freak,” I chided him. “Now that you did all the work, you can't turn it in like you balled it up first.” I smiled and chuckled at him so he'd know I wasn't trying to be a jerk. “Oh,” he said, and blushed lightly. “Yeah, duh.” He paused. “Um. Thanks, really. For the help.” I smiled and hoped I wasn't blushing at him. “No problem.” After organizing his folder I handed it back and he placed it carefully in his bag. He stood up and stretched, twining his fingers together over his head. His shirt rode up and I couldn't stop staring at his smooth stomach over the thick waistband of his underwear. He made a small noise and it broke my trance. I glanced up at his face and his eyes were closed, only opening after he'd finished his stretch. “Man, I'm glad football is almost over.” “Really? Why?” He rested his hands on the back of his chair. “We only have, like, a game left – maybe two if coach gets this other team to play he's been talking about. But he conditions us like crazy. We can't go outside right now, so he's got us on the weight benches and stuff. Makes you kind of sore and tired.” “Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” I could rub his stomach for him. I shook the thought from my head. “When I went to see coach the other day, I saw these guys that looked more fat than muscle – and one guy that looked like he had tumors under his skin.” He frowned lightly and appeared to think. “You probably saw Vince and Tyru. They play on the line. They do look soft, but they are like brick walls. The muscle guy was Kinsey. He's being recruited to play in college. Dude lifts a ton, but I think he's a 'roid head, too.” “Hey, guys,” Brax said as he reentered the room, holding Alessia's hand. She trailed just behind him and looked pleased with herself. “Hey, Brax. Open up your mouth.” “Say what?” He grinned. “Say ‘Ah,’” I told him looking at Cole and smiling a little. Brax opened his mouth comically and looked at both Cole and I. “So?” I looked at Cole. “See? I told you. Look how shiny his tongue is. She gets that lip gloss everywhere.” “What?” Brax asked, laughing. Cole started to snicker, but Alessia is never one to give me the last word. “Baby, want to show them how shiny your dick is?” Brax looked at her with wide eyes and I know mine were at least twice the normal size. Alessia looked at Cole and me innocently, then said, “Gotcha.” Brax and Cole headed out and I got my bag ready to head for home. “Sorry to abandon you with Cole, but I had to. Brax needed my attention,” Alessia told me as if it had been a burden. “I'm sure it killed you to make out with your boyfriend,” I said with a shake of my head. “It's my cross to bear,” she said with a dramatic sigh and then smiled. “So did you get Cole caught up?” “Yep! He's ready to turn stuff in tomorrow.” “Probably have a snow day, Teo thinks,” she said. “Check your phone first and if we do, go back to sleep. Don't show up here in the morning.” “Yeesh, okay!” I said, holding my hands up. “Your mom wasn't happy to see me, that was for sure.” She frowned. “She's not the warmest. Most of the time she sits in her room and watches TV while dad is in the living room, watching TV. Probably the same show.” I frowned. “That's weird. Your dad has taken us places, but your mom never comes. He said she doesn't like traveling.” “She doesn't like much of anything,” she replied. Then she got a devilish smile on her face. “So. Did you enjoy sitting alone with Cole.” Heat filled my face. “We did his homework. Not like you and Brax – and I can't believe you brought up giving him a blow job. You know it's on his mind, now.” “Yeah. I know,” she said with a grin. I stared. “You're thinking about taking that step with him?” She gave me a considered look. “I am. Thinking about it. I mean, you're a gay guy. Haven't you thought about it?” I snorted. “Never been in a relationship.” “Not the point. You must have whacked it over some of the guys in school. Maybe thought about giving them a blowie, right?” I stared at her, my cheeks still feeling warm. “Maybe.” “Well, I'm thinking about it, too. Now that the thought's in his head, we'll see where it goes.” “I mean, to be clear...you want to?” She tilted her head and looked at me. “Yeah. First time for everything.” On that note we parted. I headed for home, kicking off my shoes by the front door. I glanced in the living room where the TV was on to find my mother staring at the screen, but not acknowledging my presence. I guess this is the change from Mr. Petrakis talking to her. For now. I went upstairs and stripped down for bed. After washing my face and brushing my teeth, I stretched out on top of the covers. Alessia had talked about making out with guys before, and she'd definitely made comments about bulges and whatnot, but she'd never wanted to do anything to her boyfriends other than make out. My mind slipped to seeing Teo in his underwear, the bulge of his sex evident. For some reason, I thought of the dark hair curling on his stomach above the waistband and my mind shifted to this evening, when Cole was stretching. Oh, yeah. Flat, smooth stomach – maybe some really light golden brown hair to catch the light, but not like Teo or myself. Teo had more hair than I did, and I was thankful, as the majority of mine was on my legs. But Cole's stomach – the thought of it – had me slipping my hand beneath the waistband of my underwear. Damnit, Cole, you made me make a mess. ~PCE~ I woke to my alarm and slipped out of bed. After hitting the bathroom I checked my phone – yep, snow day. Teo called it. I stretched and immediately thought of Cole stretching. This was stupid, but I was going to enjoy it. I wondered if that workout video with Brax and Cole had been a public posting, and if I could see it. I couldn't remember if he'd mailed it to Alessia or not. That thought flew out of my head when I remembered Cole standing next to Brax in the locker room, dressed down to his underwear. I looked down at the reaction my body was giving and sighed. “Cole, what are you doing to me?” I needed a shower afterward, and then got dressed before going to find some breakfast. I ate quietly, assuming my mother was asleep in her recliner. As I ate I thumbed through the pages of Alessia's photos until I found Brax tagged and then moved to his photos. I found the video of him and Cole, and then I set the phone down and had a set of thoughts that kind of sucked. First was that I wasn't as interested in Brax, I think, because I know he's straight and Alessia is dating him. So straight and taken. If that is true, what the hell am I doing fantasizing about Cole Thomas? Cole is straight. Alessia told me he's fucking Haylee – and Jesus I hate that spelling! I mean he's not just dating her or hanging out with her – he's having sex. He's getting naked, and sweaty and – I hope – using protection while he...okay, her part isn't nearly as interesting. But essentially those are the same reasons for not going very gaga over Brax. But Brax was pretty nice looking – good chest, ears stick out a little but not like a cartoon character or anything. He had a cool personality, very easy-going and I honestly liked the guy. Cole is cold. Well, I mean, he wasn't last night. He started off more awkward than cold, and maybe that was because of the chat we'd had in science. Maybe I should be cutting him some slack because of what's going on at home for him – but he's still straight! And taken! And actively screwing that lucky bitch's brains out! Oh. My. God. Did I just think that? I did. I have jacked off twice in less than twenty-four hours over this guy, and for what? I was starting to feel resentful about this whole thing – he didn't even have to be here to piss me off. Around nine my phone rang. It kind of startled me because I'm not used to it. Even the ringer on the house phone is turned off. “Hello?” “Bruh. Come sledding with us.” I paused. “Brax?” “Yeah?” “How did you – Alessia. Never mind. Wait, why are you calling and not her?” “First, bruh, I'm allowed to call my friends. Second, she said she's not asking you because you won't come with us, but I said you're coming with us. So, come with us.” I frowned. “Why should I be a third wheel?” “You won't. It's me, 'Less, Cole, Haylee and Teo.” My heart twitched at Cole's name, but then settled a bit low in my stomach hearing Haylee's name. “Um. Well, nah. You guys go ahead.” “I'm on your front porch. Come on, bruh.” “You're – what?” “Come on. Please?” I heard Alessia in the background. “I told you.” The phone rustled. “Drew? Cole. Come hang with us.” Shit. “Um.” “I'm going to ring the doorbell.” “No! My mom's asleep!” I hope! “Ten seconds, Science-boy.” Ugh. “Okay, okay. I'll get ready!” I heard Brax give a tiny cheer and say he won, and Alessia making a sound of disbelief. I checked on my mother, but she was still asleep as I'd hoped. I left her a note that I went with Teo and Alessia sledding and that I had to work that night. I walked out the front door and Brax started in on Alessia. “Pay up, babe!” Figures, a bet was involved. That also means Cole was trying to get me out the door for Brax to win – totally looking out for his buddy. We took turns sledding, throwing snowballs and pushing one another for a while. Cole seemed fine with Haylee, so I'm not sure if what Alessia said she'd heard about them was true or not. Brax and Alessia were cute together, though. Maybe that was the difference between the couples? There was something intangible between Brax and Alessia that wasn't with Cole and Haylee? Maybe why one looked 'fine' versus 'cute' together? I don't know. Teo had fun burying us in snowdrifts as we barreled down a hill. I was always worried there would be a tree stump or something under a mound of snow, but he didn't seem to care. Truthfully I was enjoying the time he was spending on me, and it got me to wonder how he felt about me – and how I felt about him. It was odd. I should be sweating bullets and hoping he kisses me again. I wouldn't mind, but I wasn't sweating it. I think it was because I was going googly about Cole yesterday. I bet when Teo kisses me, it'll blow my mind. Teo also spent time taking pictures of us all sledding, throwing snow and of various groups of us smiling on demand for his lens. I swear, I don't know why he doesn't go into photography since he likes it so much. Then again, he likes so many things. I had to call it for me about noon, though, since I had to work at one-thirty. Teo ran me back to my house, and I waited a pregnant moment to see if there would be any move on his part before I climbed from the car, but no. Nothing. As I opened my front door, Teo called out and was suddenly running up my walk. “You dropped your phone,” he said, taking the front steps in a single bound. “Oh, crap. I'm not used to having it,” I said. He smiled and handed it to me in his left hand. I reached for it and as I did he reached up with his right hand, placing his fingertips just behind my jaw as he had the other morning. My heart sped up. This was it. I looked up at him and he closed the distance, placing his lips on mine. They were kind of chapped. Oh! Move my lips! I started to open my mouth, and his tongue darted forward. It felt weird, and I pulled back slightly. “Close the God Damn – what the Christ are you doing!” I turned ridiculously quickly to face my mother who wore a mask of outrage. But she wasn't looking at me. “Are you sick?” she shrieked – and I do mean that. It was like a banshee. Her voice went through my head. “What is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how disgusting that is? Get out of here! Stop that, you pervert!” Teo jerked his head back. My mother had probably never raised her voice past a conversational tone with either he or his sister. “Get out of here! You're sick! Andrew Chambers, get in this house right now!” “Olivia? Why are you screaming at the boys?” I whipped my head over to the porch next door where Mr. Petrakis was standing, clutching the front of his sweater closed. “Teo was kissing Andrew!” she shrieked. My head was vibrating with the octave she was hitting. Mr. Petrakis's jaw dropped, and then his face seemed to go blank. “Teo. Come home.” “Dad! It was just-” “Theodore! Now!” his father said in a tone I'd rarely, if ever, heard him use. Teo jumped at the tone, recognizing that now was not the time and with a final glance at me, he descended from our porch. His car was still running so he climbed in and backed it up so it was in front of his own home. I assume he went in then, but my mother grabbed my arm and yanked me in the front door, where I tripped over the sill. “God damn it, Mom!” I yelled. “Stop it!” “Don't you-” “No! You fucking stop putting your hands on me!” I yelled back, spreading my feet and preparing to take an unprecedented stand against my mother. She didn't seem to notice. She began raving as she slammed the door behind her. “That is sick! Don't you let him touch you!” “I'm gay! I want guys to touch me!” I yelled, failing to note this was my official coming out to my parent. “Not him!” she said, raising her voice again. “You can't kiss your brother! It's vile! Disgusting! Sick! Wrong!” “It's not – what?” Her nastiness sloughed off my conscious mind and I stared at her, mouth open.
  14. Dabeagle

    Chapter 4

    Great conversation! Grades are handed back for each item so a student can mark their own progress as the semester and year progresses. I can access a system that shows me if my kids have turned in work, what present grades are and so forth. 'Doctoring' the coffee would be adding cream and sugar. Fixing coffee I never liked because it implies a fault to be repaired. I am always looking for better, more universally interpreted phrases so please feel free to offer up things that would work in your areas! Dressed down can be used both ways here, though I can certainly see the confusion in the way I wrote it. I'll keep that in mind. When it comes to ways to discuss the ideas and normal conclusions to masturbation without sounding clinical, it can be dodgy. I know I've had certain terms expressed to me as unpleasant or icky in terms of describing cum, as a for instance. Unfortunately I have to make choices about what sounds correct coming from a particular character or in a situation. For instance some people don't care for people referring to themselves as having fucked. To them the term should be making love. I do think they can be distinct things, and fucking doesn't declare the absence of love. In my mind fucking is a more aggressive thing, more lust-driven as opposed to making love which in my head is a slower, more considerate affair. Those may mean entirely different things to you. I have struggled at times with reading British English settings and language as well, so I hear what you're saying. I won't address where the story is going other than to say I hope people still enjoy it whether they are right or wrong on their speculations. Brax is white/Caucasian. I rarely write black/African-American/Colored characters because of a lack of knowledge other than that they are people. Culturally there are things I wouldn't know and I have concerns about being able to competently represent them, and the larger the role the more I should know in order to portray them accurately. There is some evidence that many mannerisms that may have been considered to be identified with the black community are copied by other youth of many cultures and I try to reflect that with him, nothing more. I do understand some of his language comes across that way - and that may be my own ignorance in trying to portray a southern teen transplanted to upstate NY. Also with who Brax is based on, I tried to stay true to my knowledge of the real person. Thanks for the great discussion!
  15. Dabeagle

    Chapter 4

    You raise many excellent questions - I only hope I answered them! 😉 You're very much asking the right questions, though I'm not sure what's up with the huge amount of white space.🤔
  16. Oh God, oh God, oh God. Did he see me leave his room? Is he about to tell me what a pervert I am for spying on him while changing? I mean, I didn't set out to do that – that has to count for something, right? Shit, shit, shit. “Yeah, it's me,” I said, trying to steady my voice. Teo stepped into the doorway. “Didn't you sleep in? Two hour delay, buddy,” he said and smiled. He smiled at me as he stood in the doorway in just his underwear. Sweet Jesus. I admit to having rubbed a couple out over Teo, especially when I first found out he was gay. I'd thought fervently about him as a possibility at the time. That had mellowed and I really hadn't thought of him that way again...until the last few days. And now, of course. “Uh, didn't know.” He frowned lightly. “Right, no phone or internet. I wish your mom would believe you're gay.” Desperate to change the subject, I blurted, “Why did you and Hector break up?” He paused visibly. I think I was staring. I'm kind of sure he noticed me staring, or began to realize. He looked down at himself and then grinned at me. “You mean why did he give all this up?” he asked, waving at his barely covered body. “Well. Not, uh, my words,” I sputtered. His smile relaxed into something more gentle than amused. “It's because all he wanted was this, Drew,” he said quietly. He walked a few steps closer to me, bringing him within arm's reach. He studied my face, and I'm not sure what he saw or thought he saw there. “I'm...not sure what...what you mean,” I said haltingly. “What's my favorite game, Drew?” I frowned lightly, confused by the change in topic, but it did allow my mind to lurch into motion. “Board, card, video or sport?” He pointed at me. “That's what I'm talking about, Drew. He didn't get me – so he doesn't get me.” We looked at each other for a moment. A long moment. An eternal moment. He raised his hand and cupped the side of my face, and then it happened. His lips were soft. I felt hot, too hot. His lips massaged against mine and it occurred to me, too late, that I should do that too. Instead he pulled back and pressed his lips into a tight line. “Sorry.” “I. Uh.” “You're not ready,” he said. Frustration washed through me. I whispered, “But I liked it.” The corners of his mouth turned up. “I'm glad.” We stood there for a moment, and it was broken by the sound of Alessia hollering up the stairs for us. We both jumped a little. I glanced over at her bed and snagged her back pack. Teo paused in the doorway and looked at me consideringly, then smiled and headed back to his room. Teo kissed me. I'm pretty sure I was lousy at it. Still, I was spinning. He'd given me some kind of look in there. He liked me. I think. Did he? Did this mean he wanted more? Did I? Were we dating now? I sleepwalked downstairs and hung Alessia's bag off the back of her chair and moved to the coffee machine like a zombie. Teo kissed me. Teo, my neighbor. Teo who only dates older guys. Teo who said I wasn't ready – ready for what? Sex? More kissing? Dating? What wasn't I ready for? One thing I was ready for was trying that whole kissing thing again. I mean, I'd been kind of stunned at the start, but I think I could get the hang of it. “Are you going to pour that coffee, or just act like a coffee commercial?” Alessia asked me. I glanced at her, then back in front of me. I was holding the pot, but hadn't actually poured a cup. “Oh. I guess my battery ran out,” I said, smiling at her. Jesus that sounded stupid. I poured the coffee and doctored it before sitting back at the table. Teo came bounding down with his hair damp, but not the way it had been before. He didn't look innocent or adorable. He looked unreadable. He plopped down at the table with us and began to inhale his omelet. He didn't give me any special looks. No wink, no subtle acknowledgment that we'd crossed a line. His body was hidden under his joggers and a loose sweatshirt – was that deliberate? I'd seen him ten minutes ago in just his underwear, and I'd been straining to see more than that not so long before. Heat settled into my face, and a little shame. I was curious about how he looked naked, but I was pretty sure I went about it the wrong way. Still...I wished I'd seen more. “So, gossip time,” Alessia said as she set her cup down. Teo raised an eyebrow, but I turned to face her. I had forgotten she was going to tell me about Haylee and Cole. I wasn't sure I actually cared about them – but anything to get my mind off the hamster wheel it was on about Teo and that kiss. “So, Haylee says it only took her about three weeks to get Cole into bed, and ever since he's been kind of a wham, bam, thank you ma'am sort.” I snorted. “Sounds like Cole.” She tilted her head. “What do you mean?” I shook my head. “He's always been kind of a dick. Standoff-ish.” I shrugged. “Well,” Alessia said as she returned to her subject. “I guess he's been kind of...like, they have sex but he's not really there. She says he's not doing the things that Brax is doing that make her feel special to him.” She wrinkled her nose. “I can't figure why she's still dating him.” I held up a finger. “He's stupid cute.” I held up another finger. “She's getting dick.” “Cole? Cute? Please.” She frowned. “Brax better not act that way. I'll dump his ass.” “Cole and Brax are polar opposites. I don't even know why they’re friends,” I said. “Well,” Alessia said, sounding like she wasn't entirely happy with what she was about to say. “I hate to say it, but Cole has some legitimate shit going on in his life that kind of might be affecting him. I mean, I don't see how it can't.” “Like what?” I asked, glancing at Teo. He was looking at his phone, zoning out on the conversation. “Well,” she said, warming to the telling of gossip. “I guess his dad walked out right after Christmas last year – and he's living with his boyfriend.” I raised my eyebrows. “Damn.” She nodded. “So loss of dad for him, loss of husband for his mom. His older sister is at college, but I get the feeling she may not be able to finish, because the divorce is really nasty and the parents are using up everything in lawyer fees.” “Fuuuck,” I said, feeling a little bad for Cole. “Time to go,” Teo said, standing up and still staring at his phone. “Looks like big snow overnight Thursday into Friday. Might get a snow day.” I wondered if Teo might come over and keep me warm. The ride to school was normal, and that was almost worse. It felt like getting screwed around with that he wasn't looking at me in the rear view, giving me a smile or something. Was I reading too much into this? I thought you kissed people if you were attracted to them? I chewed my lip on the ride over, trying to figure out exactly what it all meant, but I was essentially chasing my tail. I didn't have enough information, nothing to compare it to. He kissed me, so he must like me. Right? Our classes were shortened, but disaster struck – or devilment if you like – in science class. First I checked my school grades on my phone and was panicked to see I had a failing grade in gym. Gym! How does that even happen? I thumbed through the gym grades and found a zero listed for the test we'd taken on hockey last week. It was the last grade of the marking period and there were only three grades in that class – a test for football, one for hockey and a participation grade. I had to go see Coach Obermayer about this grade before anything got sent home! I have no idea what my mother would do to me! “Hey, Drew.” I glanced up and was surprised to see Cole. “Hi,” I said distractedly. I did the test – there was no way I got a zero. I'm not into games like Teo, but I'm not a moron. “Um.” I glanced up. Oh, Cole was still here. “Sorry?” He looked uncomfortable. “Uh, Mrs. Fitzpatrick said I should talk to you. I'm messing up the labs and she said you're...good at them.” “Oh. Uh, sorry. I thought you were just saying hi, not that you needed to talk to me,” I said. He nodded his head in acknowledgment. I held my hand out for the papers in his hand and he gave them to me. I looked over his lab sheets and I saw immediately a few things he needed to address. Thing was, I wasn't just going to say 'You fucked this up and this and this,' because he'd probably be a jerk to me. I'm sure he wasn't exactly thrilled to come to me for help to begin with, and I didn't want a fight with the guy. “So...any advice?” he asked quietly. Subdued. Beaten. I glanced at him. He wasn't looking at me. He was looking down at his hands that he was slowly rubbing together, cheeks flushed. I cleared my throat and he looked up at me. “Is she letting you resubmit these?” “Yeah. She said I can have until Friday.” I nodded. “Okay, well, she's a real bitch about neatness. It looks like you hand drew these lines for your graph.” He frowned lightly. “I traced the line on the graph paper.” I leaned in toward him so the teacher definitely wouldn't hear what I was going to say. “Believe it or not, she's torched people's grades for doing that. That's half your problem. You need to use a ruler or some other straight edge to make your lines.” He let out an incredulous, defeated sound. “Are you serious right now?” he asked softly and then frowned hard at her before looking back to me. “I'm failing, Drew. You have no idea the trouble I'm in right now.” “Well, like I said, that's half of it. The other half – wait, let me get my lab out.” I went into the folder that had my completed labs for this month and pulled out the appropriate one. I laid them both side by side and started going over the calculations and the differences between our labs reports. He shook his head and rested his forehead on his arm, both of which were on my desk. “I'm so screwed.” He lifted his head. He looked at me for a moment, and I was uncomfortably aware of his eyes. He let out a breath and reluctantly asked, “Would you help me out?” “I thought I was,” I told him. “I mean – I'm going to forget this in thirty seconds. I need to get my grades up. Can you help me redo these labs?” “You mean copy my stuff?” He frowned, hard. “No, not copying yours. I've only got three days and I have five labs to redo completely. I got the formulas wrong.” I let out a breath. “I'm not sure how I can.” I didn't need this. I wasn't a teacher or a tutor. I looked at Cole, and his face just made my resolve melt. His hazel eyes were filled with pleading and his hair fell just so...stupid pretty boy. Not only that, Alessia's words about how things were for him right now echoed in my head. Still, I hesitated. I don't have people to my home. “Maybe if your mom talked to mine.” He tilted his head. “Why?” I bit my lip and looked away from him. “Because she doesn't let me go out, Cole. If she knew your mom was there then maybe. Best case, she lets you come to my house. Or we go to Teo and Alessia's.” “Jesus,” he whispered. How stupid could I be? I could just get Alessia or Teo to bring him over. I suggested the idea to him and he nodded in relief. “I don't want my mom to know. She's stressed enough without flipping on my stupid ass.” “Okay, I'll talk to Alessia and she'll call you or something.” He frowned. “Why don't you call me?” I sighed. “I'm not supposed to have a phone.” “But you do,” he said, pointing to the one in my hand. “Yeah, but....” I thought for a quick second. This will definitely bite me in the ass, but...why not? Fuck mom and her rule. “Give me your number.” ~PCE~ I let Alessia know I'd be a few minutes late and then grabbed my stuff from my locker. Then I darted around people to the other end of the school and to the gym. I took the steps to the locker room two at a time – the locker room was under the gym, boys on the right, girls to the left. Voices hit my ear as I opened the door to the locker room, what sounded like a great many voices. Oh, right, football team. I'd assumed that with a delay they wouldn't have practice, but I guessed it was probably a weight room day or something. I started passing the rows of lockers and realized the team was in the process of changing. I couldn't help but notice. A few huge guys looked like they had more fat than muscle, which was kind of a surprise. They get the uniform and the pads on and you'd think they were like super-soldiers and would be fit as anything. It honestly never occurred to me that they wouldn't be all muscle under there. One guy with buzzed hair was nothing but muscle, and I can't even imagine how many hours he had to work out to look like a bunch of tumors were under his skin. “Hey, Drew!” I glanced over and saw Brax waving to me. He had gym shorts on and his tee shirt was dangling in his hand. Beside him was Cole, and something in my gut flipped and then flopped. Cole had a nice chest, but not hulked out. He was no lineman – maybe a receiver. I don't think anyone would immediately think football player for either of them – more just like active. Healthy. He was wearing colorful boxer-briefs and his legs looked so smooth and tanned that I swallowed involuntarily. Teo called hot guys a thirst trap, and damn I was thirsty. I forced my eyes up to Cole's face, but he was turned toward the locker. He had a bit of red in his cheek, and his nose was sort of perfect on him. Jesus, he was hot. Brax broke my line of sight and flexed once, twice and then struck a truly goofy pose. I rolled my eyes. “Hey, Brax.” “What brings you to locker room country?” he asked before slipping his shirt on. Behind him Cole pulled on gym shorts and a sleeveless tee. He was still smoking hot. I dragged my gaze back to Brax. “I have to see coach about a test grade. He marked me down as a zero, but I know I didn't get a zero on the hockey test.” Brax grinned at me. “You're seriously here after school to see about a test grade? Couldn't you talk to coach when you have gym?” “Have to fix it before my mother sees it,” I said tightly. Cole looked up at me, his gaze guardedly curious. “Hi, Cole,” I said, my face feeling very warm. “Drew,” Cole said quietly. He looked at Brax. “We better get up there.” “Yeah. See ya, Drew,” Brax said, and bumped his fist on my shoulder. “Bye, Brax. Cole.” I watched them for a minute, and yes, I was checking out their asses. I'd noted a few guys before—I'm no prude—but after Teo kissed me that morning, I seemed to be awakened somehow. Jury was out on if that was a good thing or not. I headed into coach's office and he glanced up, appearing as if he were just about to leave the office. “Drew Chambers. Come to join football? Little late in the season.” I cleared my throat. “No, Coach. I wanted to ask you about this grade for my hockey test. It's a zero.” He frowned. “That can't be right. I'll have a look tomorrow. Probably just missed a keystroke.” “I just wanted to ask,” I said quickly. “Do you know if that was put on the report card? I know grades were due.” He paused for a second. “I think so, yeah. I mean, we can adjust the grade – but the cards are electronic now, so it'll dynamically update. If you're worried about trouble at home, don't be.” “Okay,” I said and let a breath out. “Okay.” “You need to relax, Mr. Chambers. You're too tightly wound.” Thinking of the kiss, of Cole's dressed down form, of Teo standing around in his underwear and my mother's obsession with whatever I was doing, all I could do was nod. “If you were me, you'd be tightly wound, too.” ~PCE~ I met Teo and Alessia in the parking lot, and they dropped me off at work but didn't stay. I was the register person for that night, and I divided my time between restocking behind the counter, ringing up customers and wiping down tables. I was hoping Brax would stop in for food after practice again, but it wasn't to be. Instead the night dragged, and all I could do was think about Teo and that kiss. And how he'd looked in his underwear. And how upset I was that I hadn't gotten to see him naked, even though I should have felt bad about perving on him. Honestly, though, I hadn't seen anything I hadn't seen before. We'd gone swimming plenty of times, and more than once he'd just jumped in wearing underwear. If I'd seen the rest of him, I guessed I'd have more grounds to feel guilty. Right? It felt right, but it also felt like a bit of a cop out. But no one would know, so I guessed it worked out. What did everything that came after mean, though? If he liked me, wouldn't he steal glances? Smile like we had a secret? Or do older guys with some dating experience not do things like that? I was tempted to try and look up something on my phone, but I had very little data left. Besides, how would I even frame that question? How do you know if a guy likes you? First the search engine would probably assume I'm female and reply with things like 'he brings you flowers' or 'compliments your dress' or 'is gentle touching your boobs.' What would the male equivalents be? Do guys bring each other flowers? I suppose he could compliment the way I dressed, but he was barely looking at me – and he wasn’t reaching for my body in any way. Shit. I thought I kissed him wrong – or more to the point, not at all. If someone kisses you, you're supposed to kiss back. It's like a cosmic law or something. On the other hand, Alessia had been with us all the time after the kiss. Maybe he was playing it cool around her. Maybe...yeah. Maybe she'd think it was weird because he dated older guys, and maybe even a bigger point was that we practically grew up together. I mean, they're practically my brother and sister. Except you don't kiss your brother. I mean, some people do but...ick. When I got out of work I walked briskly home, disappointed Teo hadn't come to get me. He didn't always, but I thought he and Alessia were worried about my mother bruising me, so they would make sure I got back home fast enough that she wouldn't think I was fucking Monique, or whatever other name she pulled out of her ass. Teo had a life too, though, and was probably working. We were both in fast food, essentially, although mine – Flubberbuster Burgers – was on the lower end of that chain. He worked at a Panera, which seems nicer than a burger joint to me. I did have a text from Cole, though. Talked to Alessia. She said I can ride back with you tomorrow after school. Cool? I thumbed a reply. Sure. Her house? A half-block later he said, She didn't say. Kk. I switched to Alessia's number. Are we meeting at your house to help Cole? She must have been on her phone to begin with as she replied right away. My house. Brax is coming. I guess his labs suck, too. They'll be there after practice. Kk. I reached my house and kicked off my shoes inside the door. “Andrew?” I sighed internally. “Yeah, Ma. I'm home.” “I called the school to see about your grades.” I started to sweat. “Yeah? I talked to coach. He said he entered a grade incorrectly.” I moved into the doorway leading to the living room where she sat, enthroned on her recliner. She looked at me coldly. “I doubt a teacher would make such an error.” I shivered. Then I felt hot and ashamed. “He said he would fix it tomorrow, Mom.” She glared. “Don't you lie to me.” “I'm not!” I protested. She looked at me with suspicion. I waited, not wanting to turn my back on her. Finally she said, “Homework.” Then she looked away from me toward the curtains. I decided it wasn't going to get better than that, and at least she hadn't hit me. Belatedly I realized I'd walked into that – she hadn't said anything about a specific teacher and I had just served up my gym grade on a platter. I went upstairs and hit the shower. The warm water felt fantastic, and even though I was tired the image of Teo dressed down was still fresh in my memory. I closed my eyes and thought of him – chest, legs, his bulge – and quickly reached my end. I reached out and placed my hands against the wall and let the water splash the top of my head and cascade down my body. My breathing was quick, but slowly returning to normal. I felt a little guilty – it was Teo, for crying out loud! The same set of questions I had no answer for – why did he kiss me, did he like me, would he do it again – all swirled through my mind. As I looked down at the drain I wished the questions would swirl and disappear to nothingness until answers presented themselves. “You bastard! I knew it!” My mother screamed and startled the hell out of me. That only got worse when she whipped the shower curtain back and held my cell phone in her hand. “Mom!” I yelled, covering myself. “Is this how you make plans with Monique? Is it?!” She was screaming, deranged and a spike of fear ran through me. She reached down suddenly and I jerked back at the sudden movement. Then she had the plunger in hand and started to swing. I felt vulnerable and dazed at how quickly she'd gone off the deep end. Then, of course, it started to hurt. “Ow! Stop! Mom!” “Bastard! Liar!” She swung the plunger, the rubber end stiff but not as bad as a belt or actual stick. Still, I was naked and being beaten by my mother with something meant to push shit and paper down a toilet. It was humiliating and dispiriting. I don't know why I wasn't angry instead – maybe it had been beaten out of me at some point. One of her wild swings tangled the plunger in the shower curtain, and when she pulled back the curtain popped off a few of its hooks. She started to swear, flailing and I took my chance to run from the room, naked and wet, into my own room where I slammed the door and leaned against it, chest heaving. The door thumped with her first blow and she screamed. God how she screamed. I think she was crying, too. It made me feel guilty, then angry that I should feel any guilt – this wasn't my fault! She yelled every vile thing she could think of, and all I could do was hold the door closed. I couldn't dress as she'd be in the room – my door had no lock. My heart hammered and I wiped some water off my brow that was running into my eyes. I spotted the contents of my backpack upended on the floor and mentally groaned about having to organize it all again. Bitch! I didn't know why my mother was the way she was. I'd spent too much time thinking about it, and the best I could think was it had something to do with my father and the fact that he wasn’t there. She'd always told me about how I would be a deadbeat if I wasn't watched, and how boys couldn't be trusted. When I'd entered puberty her verbal attacks escalated, and in her paranoia she assumed I was sleeping with any girl whose path I may cross. She was convinced I would get a girl – or all of them – pregnant and leave them to raise a child alone. The only girl she never brought that up with was Alessia. I frowned and blew drops of water from my nose that were dangling and tickling. What was so special about Teo and Alessia? They were my oldest – and nearly my only – friends. I had carte blanche to go to their home and hang out, do homework, watch a movie. Meanwhile if I were at home there was no internet, because – according to my mother - I'd watch porn and figure out ways to make more girls pregnant. No phone because I'd take pictures of myself and send them to girls who didn't want to be pregnant, but somehow I'd talk them into it, I guess. The whole situation was surreal. Eventually I heard my mother go back down the stairs. I opened the door and crept across to the bathroom where I grabbed a towel and, as an afterthought, turned the water off. Crossing the hall I spotted the plunger in the hallway, but elected to leave it. Maybe she'd come up in the dark, trip on it and break her crazy neck. I was cold now, so I pulled on sweats to sleep in and started picking up my papers for school. I sat down at my small desk and started to organize things – science first since I'd be helping Cole the next day. That was a bizarre thought. I recalled that I'd said something to Brax about Cole being less-than-nice, and it was true. He was kind of cold – closed off. He wasn't outright hostile, but he gave off this vibe that seemed to tell people to keep away from him. I didn't think he had always been like that, but honestly I had my own problems and he'd only been something nice to look at once in a while. I don't know why Brax adopted him, but they seemed close. In a way I was glad that Brax and Alessia would be there for this study session or whatever it would turn out to be. I was sure they could keep things from becoming too awkward. I was exhausted by the time I organized everything. I took my chair and wedged it under my doorknob in the hopes I wouldn't wake up to her hitting me with a plunger – or worse. I put my head on my pillow and sighed at the loss of my phone. Teo wouldn't give me another – not that he had one. Maybe Alessia had her old one, but it was probably bedazzled or something. I shuddered. I slept fitfully and woke to my alarm feeling as if I hadn't slept at all. I got ready for school quickly, brushing my teeth while keeping my face to the doorway in case of incoming mother. I crept downstairs and spotted her in her recliner, slumped over. I watched her, wondering if she'd died in the night from a stroke over the idea I was impregnating girls through the phone, but her chest rose and fell and she let out a small mumble. I grabbed a package of pop-tarts and headed over to the Petrakises'. It was too cold to wait outside, so I slipped in through the back door. Alessia was sitting at the table looking at her phone and drinking a cup of coffee. She glanced up at me, then did a double take. “What happened to you?” I paused. “What?” “That mark on your face.” Her eyes narrowed. “Did she hit you again?” I lifted a hand to my face as if I could feel what she was talking about. I didn't remember her hitting my face, specifically. “Other side,” she said as she gained her feet. She turned my face by using my chin as a handle and frowned. “What?” I asked, pulling out of her grip. “Do I have a bruise?” “It's sort of yellow.” She frowned hard. “What happened?” I pursed my lips in resignation. I can't hide something on my face. “She found the cell phone last night. I was in the shower and she...was swinging a plunger at me.” My face was hot, and I felt utterly ridiculous. Who gets assaulted with a plunger for the love of.... She gritted her teeth. “Dad!” she said loudly. “No! Stop! What are you doing?” I demanded, or tried. It probably sounded a lot more like pleading. “Dad!” she yelled louder. “Allie! Please!” “No!” she said, rounding on me. “We let that bruise on your arm slide, and we shouldn't have! She doesn't get to beat on you!” “Don't I get a say?” I demanded. “I can handle it!” I couldn't, really, but what was the option? “What's the yelling?” Mr. Petrakis asked as he entered the room, button-up shirt hanging open. “I'm trying to get dressed for work.” “She hit him again,” Alessia said deliberately. Her father whipped toward me and immediately examined my face. “I'm fine,” I grumbled. “She hit him with a damn plunger dad. That's disgusting on top of being abusive,” she snapped. “Last time I tell you anything,” I mumbled. I was out of control, even of the little I normally had. Mr. Petrakis had gone to talk to my mother before when she'd gotten harsh with me, and for a while It would be better. I was tired of it, though. I was old enough that I shouldn't be letting her hit me anymore, even if I wasn't standing up for myself. I felt weak and pathetic to have him go tell my mother to stop hitting me. Was I ever going to grow up? Was I ever going to decide I'd had enough if someone else fixed things for me? “Stay here,” he said firmly and headed for the door. “Mr. Petrakis! You don't-” I was cut off by the door rattling in the frame as he slammed it and left the house. “Shit,” I mumbled. I turned toward Alessia. “What the hell? I can take care of myself!” She looked at me like I was stupid. “Of course you can't. You can't pay rent or buy a car. You can't stop her from hitting you – honestly, if it weren't for the fact that foster care would take you away from me, I'd fucking call them. Am I being selfish? Yes! I don't want to lose my best friend!” “But....” I balled my fists impotently, but then she was hugging me. And sniffling in my ear. It was hard to stay angry with her. “What was the yelling?” Teo asked as he entered the kitchen. I looked at him from my perch atop her shoulder and he must have seen the bruise-like thing on my face. His expression hardened and he crossed the room, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Drew-” “I'm fine. Plunger. Your dad is next door. Very embarrassed.” My monotone was enough to make Alessia let me go and flash me a small smile. I busied myself by pouring a cup of coffee and sipping it until we had to leave. Their father had yet to return. He'd spoken to my mother before – I didn't know why. I had no idea why she even tolerated him being in the house. It was too much for my head. The school day went all right. Coach told me he'd fixed my grade. Cole approached me at the end of science class with a handful for lab sheets in his hand. “I thought I should show you the ones I messed up,” he said, stopping at my desk and placing the sheets in front of me. “Okay,” I said. I flipped through the sheets as he pulled a chair up to sit beside me. I turned to look at him and said, “We can go over these tonight, but if you want I'll hang onto them and compare them to mine to see where you need to fix stuff.” “That'd be really cool. Um. Are you...never mind.” His cheeks filled with a red tinge and he broke eye contact. “Cole? Is there something...?” “Nah.” He paused and then lifted his gaze. “I just saw the mark on your face. I didn't think it was there yesterday.” I sighed. “No teachers have said anything. Is it that bad? Alessia made a huge deal about it this morning.” “Are you...I mean, she's dating Brax,” he said, bristling a little. I frowned. “She's my best friend. Brax is also a friend.” He looked unconvinced and I sighed. “Brax knows I'd rather date him than her, okay? She's safe. Although, it's kind of offensive you think Alessia would cheat on Brax. You better hope she never finds out, or you could be in huge trouble. Huge.” He stared at me for about thirty seconds before standing abruptly. “I have to go.” I sighed to myself. Either me being gay freaked him out, or hearing me talk about a girl kicking his ass made him uncomfortable. Or maybe he was embarrassed for saying stupid things? I didn't know. It irritated me.
  17. Dabeagle

    Chapter 9

    Sorry, it's complete. Hope it finishes well for you!
  18. I awoke to the sound of my door opening. For obvious reasons, things like that caught my attention whether I was sleeping or not. Alessia poked her head in and rolled her eyes at me. “My God, Drew. Can you please? Gross!” she said and then laughed. “What?” I asked, confused and looking around. It took me a second to realize I should try looking where she'd been looking, but that was just at me. Oh. And the tent I was making out of my sheets. I glared at her. “I'm allowed. It's my room. It's not like you haven't got a stiffie in your room. I mean, the female version.” She guffawed as I slid out from under the covers and turned my back to her to pull up some sweatpants. She sat on my bed and said, “Can you imagine if a cooch got hard when women were aroused? I mean, great form of birth control I guess – two blocks of wood bumping against each other. Talk about having unhappy sex to get pregnant!” I glanced at her and her cheeks were red as she tried to look at me seriously. It didn't last, not for either of us. “I have to pee,” I told her as I headed for my door. “Teo says you have to do the leaning tower! It's the best way to handle your, um, situation!” She burst out giggling and I shook my head as I crossed the hallway to the bathroom. Alessia was weird this morning. I thought about that as I washed my face. She'd been mostly pleased lately since things were going so well with Brax. Usually she burns a boyfriend out in about a month, two at the most. She and Brax had been together about a month now, and this was easily the best relationship she'd had. I crossed back to my room and was about to question her about why she was acting strangely, when she swooped on me and grabbed my arm. “Want to talk about this bruise?” she asked, all traces of humor gone. I pulled my arm back. “It's nothing. Don't worry about it.” “Did she do that?” she asked coldly. I sighed. I opened my closet and as I looked at the clothes I said, “I can handle it.” I heard her sit on my bed. “That's bullshit, Drew. Did she hit you again?” I grabbed a sweatshirt from the shelf and pulled it on. As my head popped through I turned to look at her. “It's fine, Allie. It was...you know how she can be. This was nothing.” Her eyes narrowed. “Don't you 'Allie' me.” “What do you mean?” I asked innocently. “You only pull that when you're trying to get around me. It's not working. I don't care how cute you are when you say it.” I widened my eyes at her. “You think I'm cute?” “Shut up,” she said, rolling her eyes and I chuckled. “I want to know about this bruise.” The smile I'd had from teasing her faded. “It's okay. I don't want to talk about it.” She studied me for a moment. “She hit you.” “It's embarrassing, Allie. Please, let it go.” She chewed her lower lip and I walked over to sit beside her. I pinched the bridge of my nose, closed my eyes and exhaled. “When I came home from work, she acted like I was late. She accused me of sleeping with Monique.” “Monique? How did she get that idea in her head?” she asked in shock. I inhaled and let my nose go, opened my eyes and regarded her soberly. “Talia was commenting to me in homeroom that Monique's sweater looked nice. I agreed, to be polite, and she told me I should tell Monique her sweater looked nice. So I did.” Alessia groaned. “Monique should have just told you she liked you, for Christ's sake. It's not like she hides it very well.” “Well she – wait, what?” “You're adorable, but clueless, Drew. Clueless!” She pinched one of my cheeks and I pulled sharply back from her. “She's wanted your cute butt for a while now. She's so balls out about everything else, I don't understand why she thinks she can't talk to you.” “She does not!” I spluttered. “She doesn't what?” She frowned. “Like me! I'd have known!” I replied defensively. She snorted. “Nope. Clueless. Boys suck at picking up hints. I mean seriously,” she said, and took on a high pitched voice and placed her fingertips on her cheek. “'Drew! Oh, Drew! Tell Monique you like the way her sweater shows off her boobs. She'd really like it if you did!'” She paused and moved just her eyes to me. “Get it now?” I stared at her. My face flushed and actually felt heavier. “Shit.” Alessia grinned at me. “You little heart breaker. Hey! Maybe we can order one of those kits where you make a dildo from your dick and she can have that as a consolation prize?” I gaped at her. “You're gross!” “You're gross!” she replied and we laughed at each other. “Anyway, why would your mother think her gay son was slipping the old two-inch to Monique Heverstrand? How did she even hear Monique's name?” I looked down at my hands, folded together in my lap. “I actually don't know. She was just convinced I'd skipped out on work and had sex with Monique. You know how my mother is – men are shit, they exist just to ruin a woman's life.” “Well, she's not wrong,” Alessia said and then put a hand on my back. “Present company excepted.” I snorted and ran my hands over my face. Something finally occurred to me and I looked at her. “Hey, what are you doing here?” She dropped her chin to her chest and looked at me. “Really? Football game? If I have to suffer, so do you.” “Wait, what? Brax is your boyfriend, so why do I have to suffer?” “Because you're helping him.” I stared at her. “Oh, took me a little bit to figure it out – you're good. I'll give you that, you're good.” She stood up and arched an eyebrow. “That means you like him. That means he's your friend. That means you've helped him avoid me breaking up suddenly with him, which means you get to suffer with me.” I tried to find a string of logic in that, but gave up. “But you're happy with him!” “So are you! It's like co-dating. Now this is co-suffering. Take a shower and we'll pick you up in thirty minutes. If you can be ready in twenty we can stop for coffee first.” She paused at my doorway and looked back. She pursed her lips for a moment. “Thanks, though. I am happy with him.” Then she was gone, bouncing down the stairs before I could make the argument that her being happy should let me out of any perceived obligations. Oh well. Sometimes there were a few nice butts in those tight pants the players wore. After showering I pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved tee before slipping my sweatshirt back on. I had considered putting my sweats back on, but it looked just a little too slovenly for public consumption. I went downstairs and quietly walked into the living room where my mother sat enthroned on her recliner. She looked at me with suspicion. “I understand there is a game.” I nodded. “Alessia and Teo are going. Alessia's boyfriend is playing.” She studied me, her face a mask of indifference. “Will Monique be there?” I let out a minuscule sigh. “I have no idea. She and I aren't friends – or anything else.” She stared at me for a minute. “I find that hard to believe. Why else would she call here to look for you?” So that was what set all this off. “Her friend Talia told me that Monique's sweater looked nice. I agreed, just to be polite. Then she told me I should tell Monique her sweater looked nice. So I did. I guess...she thinks that means more than it does.” Her gaze hardened. “Men always think that. Oh, the woman is so gullible. If I say something nice, she thinks I'm flirting! Of course if a man flirts and she doesn't like it, then she's cold. Just because you have a dick doesn't mean you rule the world, Andrew.” I shook my head and wore a defeated expression. “I was only trying to be polite, Ma.” “Well you just stay away from her. I'll find out if you don't. I'll call her mother.” “I won't be looking for her, Ma. I promise.” She snorted, showing me how far my promises went with her. Anger stirred within me, but I turned and put my shoes on before leaving the house. Sometimes, the only winning move was to walk away. ~PCE~ We cheered, but I wasn't sure why. I just copied the people around me. Unlike Teo, who was into games of all kinds, I didn't really care for football. Teo had been right about how they bashed their helmeted heads together like deranged rams. Whatever they had just done on the field was over and Brax was walking beside Cole with their helmets off. I glanced at Teo, because they suddenly reminded me of him from when I met him and Alessia that morning. It was clear to me Teo had just showered, and his dark hair fell into small curls around his head. The tips were still wet and they made him seem...adorable. The same thought crossed my mind as Brax and Cole drew closer to their bench, as their hair was wet from all that sweating they were doing out there. Wetter than Teos' hair had looked, but the effect was the same. Adorable. Innocent, even. Pure in some way. I should probably see a therapist. The game was hardly a distraction, though. I was on high alert and studying Teo's every move. I waited for him to make another gesture like he had the night before, but he was just being how he normally is. At one point I squeezed right next to him and he put his arm around my shoulders and I thought I'd finally gotten somewhere, but then he rubbed his knuckles into my scalp and I yelped as he laughed. “You know what I love about football jerseys?” Alessia asked our group – which was most of the people we sat with at lunch. “How the practice jersey is just a little short and shows off their abs.” “But none of them are showing abs,” Dina said in confusion. “This is a game, not practice.” “Girl, why do you think I come to Brax's practices? I'm not just being a good little girlfriend,” she said with a knowing smirk. Laughter broke around us and I went back to musing about Teo, but wasn't getting any answers. After the game we got tacos together – myself, Teo, Brax, Alessia, Cole, his girlfriend Haylee – don't get me started about the funky way her name is spelled – Dina, Carrie, Julia and Malik. I guess Gordon wasn't feeling well and had headed home. We all sat together and made a lot of noise as discussion about the game faded to nothing and discussion started about the Halloween dance that was upcoming. “Hey, want to go to the dance with me?” Brax asked Alessia, batting his eyelids comically. “Oh, like, sure – you're so hot, Mr. Quarterback!” she cooed. I laughed at them, but noted a sour expression flit across Cole's features before his face smoothed out. He glanced at me and frowned. What crawled up his ass and died? After we'd eaten and taken up space at the restaurant longer than the management would have liked, we broke up and went our separate ways. I rode home with Teo while Alessia rode home with Brax. “So. Alessia told me about Monique,” Teo said, turning the radio off. I sighed. “It's over.” “Not the hitting.” I looked out the window. “It was one time.” “This time. Last time how many was it?” I looked at him. “I got this.” He frowned. We climbed from the car and he walked over to my front porch with me and we sat down on my steps. “You know we worry about you,” he started. “I know,” I said, placing a hand on his to stop him. “But I'm okay. I can handle it.” He gripped my hand in his. “You're not supposed to have to handle anything. It's your mom, for God's sake.” I took my hand back and stuffed both of them in the pockets of my hoodie. Then I realized I had just kind of held hands with Teo. I sighed. “Can we talk about something else? I've already gone over this with Alessia.” He blew out a breath. “I was watching this video, and it was really interesting. It was talking about a ton of things, like societal constructs in our daily lives. Like how we get named after our fathers and have such a patriarchal society. Or how about boy and girl colors, right? Total fake shit.” I liked this side of Teo – the nerd. He would geek out about stuff and spout for hours if you let him. I figured there was more to it than just pink and blue, so I asked him what he meant. “Well, first it's just bullshit – they're colors, you know? But back in the day, pink was the boy’s color because it was perceived as stronger and blue was fragile or something. Time magazine even ran an article on the 'appropriate' color for the sex of the baby. In the 40s neutral colors started to come in, but advertising took over when companies figured out people would buy new cribs – everything, actually – in a new color. Like making a nursery completely pink or blue depending on the sex of the baby.” I snorted. “Can you imagine them trying to figure it out now with all the non-binary folks walking around?” Teo chuckled. “One of two ways – embrace it and try to sell all colors or figure out which colors are cheapest and try to make people think they only need one or the other.” “Societal constructs,” I said, tasting the words. “Yeah. Things like virginity and it being so important and pure. It's mostly about men making sure the woman always remembers them – it's a power thing. They argued that gender is a societal construct. I mean, the video got a little out there. Like it was talking about the numbers behind incest – I mean, gross, right? I can't imagine bumping uglies with Alessia.” “Eww.” “Hey! Don't 'eww' my sister,” he said, pretending to be offended. We chuckled. “So they defended incest?” I asked skeptically. “Well, more that they pointed out that it's one of the most commonly shared morals humans have – and that extends to animals and even plants. One thing they discussed, and I'm still kind of weirded out by it, was that people who are adults and who won't reproduce – like gay people or if someone is sterile or something – shouldn't be held to that moral taboo.” I wrinkled my nose. “But still.” “Yeah,” he agreed. “They say there is some kind of internal 'ick' factor with most people that dissuades us from sleeping with our families.” He shivered. “Ugh.” I started to laugh. “How did we end up talking about this?” He turned to look at me. “Because you didn't want to talk about how your mom is still hitting you.” I pursed my lips and looked away. He placed his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to his side and I grudgingly leaned toward him. He pulled my head over and tilted his cheek down to the top of my head. “We worry, Drew.” “I know,” I said quietly. ~PCE~ My mother glared at me from her recliner, but said nothing. I chose to leave that alone. After zapping a TV dinner I wanted to study for a calc test in my room, but my mind was twisted around as I thought about Teo and our discussion. I mean, I started there, but I kind of moved on to the idea of attraction in general. If we have some kind of internal 'eww, shouldn't bang that' kind of spidey sense then it stood to reason that there were internal things that directed us to find certain others attractive. Lately I was finding Teo kind of attractive, or more so than I had before. I kind of wanted to analyze that a little and figure out what it was I did like. I mean, male, hello. After that, I guess I really liked how knowledgeable he was and how he liked to talk about all these things he discovered. I'm sure if I had the internet or an unlimited phone plan I could look at a lot of these videos myself – but Teo had also said you couldn't trust the video all by itself; you had to do some research from reputable sources. There was no video about what I was interested in, but I guess a healthy curiosity would be a plus. He made me laugh, another plus. He was...handsome. I thought back to how he'd looked with his hair still a little damp from the shower – just the tips. That jolted me to Brax and Cole walking off the field, looking the same way. Was Brax cute? Definitely. Somehow, though, his straightness was sort of like a yield sign – let him pass by. Or something. I mean to say, I like the guy a lot, but I guess something in the back of my head tells me to keep looking. Was that some kind of internal setting or just good sense? I don't have much when it comes to social competence – look how I misread the situation with Monique. Teo and I were alike in some ways – we both had dark hair. His was much curlier than mine. We both had coarse, dark hair dotted across our legs, though much less on our upper bodies. He was far more fit than I was with his sports – games, he'd correct me. Sports sounds like you take things too seriously, was his rule. I guess I could see his point – it makes it a lot easier to say it's just a game. I thought about some of the other guys I knew. Gordon was kind of thick all over. Not fat, exactly, but it was like he'd never gotten rid of that extra layer of baby fat. Malik was thin to the point of transparency – though his older brother was, too. He tried to gain weight and build muscle, but his body seemed to be built for being attached to string and flown like a human kite. There was Cole, of course. He had a pretty face, and dressed well. He was smart, though he tended to scowl a lot. Like tonight when Brax and Alessia had been teasing each other about going to the dance. Did he not like relationships where people teased each other and were silly together? Or was he jealous of Brax, moving here and scoring a girl like Alessia? Cole had been dating Haylee – truly, I hated her name – for at least the last six months. I'd heard a rumor that they'd literally hooked up at the spring dance last year, to the point a clandestine abortion had been required. If that were true, I'm not sure how they held it together – I mean, that sort of pressure would break most young couples. I guess I wanted someone with Cole's appearance and some of Teo's personality. I mean, ideally. But basically I'd be willing to take someone with a penis. Okay, I could do better than that, but that was a basic, non-negotiable starting point. ~PCE~ Wednesday, or as I shall call it henceforth, the devil's day, was really, truly, horribly...devilish. I know. I thought I'd get something better than that in my head. I woke up a little late – not fatally so, but I was still rushing. I got downstairs and glanced out the window, surprised to see snow. I mean, it had been cold over the weekend, and I guess I hadn't really been outside – Teo showed up to bring me to and from work. When I asked him why, he said I couldn't possibly be out fucking Monique if I were with him. I felt embarrassed as all hell, but he was right. My mother wouldn't question it. Anyway, so there's snow on the ground. I pull on my shoes and hightail it next door, and I found it odd that Teo's car wasn't warming up. I head around to the back door and walk into their kitchen, setting my shoes by the radiator. The house is quiet, which is also odd. I hear the shuffling noise of socks on a wooden floor, and suddenly there is Mrs. Petrakis. “Oh my God! Jesus and Merry Jingle Bells!” she cried out, placing a hand on her chest. I had jumped from her being so startled. “I'm sorry! I'm sorry!” “What are you doing, Andrew?” she asked, a small frown settling in on her face. Mrs. Petrakis had never liked me as much as the rest of the family; I didn't know why. “I came over to ride to school, but nobody’s downstairs,” I explained. She rolled her eyes. “That's stupid – there’s a two hour delay for school, due to the storm. Go home.” “Oh, crap. A delay? I'm sorry,” I said, feeling embarrassed and angry. She didn't need to be mean, but she also knew my mother didn't allow me to have internet or a phone – so I never knew when we had delays or cancellations. Just as I turned Mr. Petrakis walked in wearing his boxers and an untied robe. He spotted me and started for a beat, then smiled. “Andrew! What a nice surprise. Sit down. I'm going to cook breakfast since my lazy children are sleeping in. But not you, eh? You can come cook with me.” “Oh, uh, I was just going to go home,” I said uncertainly, trapped between them. “I have to go get ready,” his wife said and left the room. So I started cutting things up to his specifications so he could make the world famous Petrakis omelet, according to him. “The secret, my boy, is the Feta cheese. You like that, right? Of course you do – what am I saying?” Alessia bounced down twenty minutes later. “Drew, you're going to make a perfect wife for me someday.” She came over to look into the pan, which was cooking up the first omelet. Alessia started the coffee pot and a few minutes later she and I were sitting at the table, enjoying breakfast together. The front door opened and closed, the only sign of her mother leaving. I decided it was better not to ask if it was normal for her mom to not say goodbye to anyone before she left. She turned her phone screen to me. “I like getting that first thing in the morning.” It was a picture of Brax, probably lying in his bed without a shirt. He had oval aureoles, like squished. Nice pecs though. There was a banner that said something like 'sleep well princess, can't wait to see your beautiful face in the morning' or some shit like that. Damn. Really nice pecs. “Nice,” I said. “He learns his lessons well from you, anyway,” she said with a knowing smile. “It's one thing to know what will make you happy,” I said pointedly. “For him to actually follow through is all him.” She considered that. “True. And I could do worse – poor Haylee.” I snorted. “I hate how her name is spelled. I wonder if her dad's name is Lee. Maybe after she was born her mom was still all high on the drugs and when they asked what the baby's name would be, she looked at her husband and said 'Hey, Lee? Get me a candy bar from the store.' And the nurse went 'Oh, Haylee. That works.'” “You're so mean,” she said as she giggled. “I admit her name is ass, but she's nice. And Cole is just dead weight.” I grunted. “She said he's really distant.” I raised an eyebrow. “What about the whole,” I glanced around to make sure her father – kind of old-fashioned about some things – was out of earshot, “abortion thing?” “Andrea Trujillo started that rumor,” she said dismissively. “She asked him to the spring dance last year.” She yawned widely, then continued in a sleepy sounding voice. “She's frustrated – but she's also understanding. Things are hard for the Thomases right now.” “How?” “Ugh, need coffee before gossip,” she said and grunted. I laughed. “Shit, left my bag up in my room,” she said as she stood. We scraped up the last of our food and then went to put our plates in the sink. Alessia reached for the coffee pot and then swore under her breath. “What?” She glared at me, then at the machine. “I forgot to start it.” I snorted, and she turned a full strength glare on me. “Um, I'll just go get your bag.” “Yes. Scurry, minion,” she said and gave a mock-evil laugh. It was kind of spot on as evil laughs go, though. I headed up the stairs and paused at the landing. I could hear the shower running. Mr. Petrakis was in the living room reading news on his tablet, the Mrs was gone, so that meant Teo was showering. I swallowed. I glanced at his bedroom door. I'd been in there before, of course. I don't know what possessed me. Maybe the fact that I thought he was interested, or could be. That I thought he was attractive and had a good personality. Either way – or something else I wasn't thinking of or wouldn't entertain for a split-second – I walked to his doorway, hesitated, and then entered his room. It was pretty messy. My mom forced a pristine appearance on my room, so Teo's room was making me itch right between my shoulder blades. His room felt different. This was thrilling, not because it was forbidden exactly, but because I wasn't supposed to be here. That's the bed he sleeps in – and probably strokes one out. Does he think of me? My face warmed up and I look around the room at his posters, his computer, the...science experiment that may have been a sandwich but now may be the thing that makes Teo patient zero in a disease that wipes out the world. Maybe I should bring that...thing downstairs. I crossed the room and was reaching for it when two thoughts raced across my consciousness like bullets. One was if I took that plate downstairs I'd be proving that I'd been in Teo's room when all I was supposed to do was get Alessia's bag. Second, the shower had stopped and I wasn't sure when that had happened. The sound of the bathroom door opening sent a spike of fear through me – this would be mortally embarrassing! Desperate, I took a step toward the closet – no! He has to get clothes, stupid! I threw myself under his bed and rolled to a stop against some of his discarded clothing. Oh, God. I hope there isn't a mass of used socks under here. More so, I hope they aren't garments he uses to clean up with. Then those thoughts were flushed as I saw Teo's legs up to his calf. He tanned well due to his genes – being Greek had some nice benefits. He tanned better than I did, that was for sure. He dropped the towel and kicked the door so that it was only open a crack. His feet adopted an odd position and...he was fucking posing in front of the mirror on the back of his door! My angle only let me see just past his knee, and I'm not proud of what I did next. Not proud. Just...I was suddenly very horny. I mean, really attractive, gay, naked guy about four feet away from me. I shifted forward an inch and was dismayed to find my shirt snagging on his bed frame. I glanced toward him in a panic, able to see up the back of his thighs a bit more than I had. I reached up quietly, trying not to hyperventilate or panic or both, and freed my shirt. I turned back and froze as Teo's feet were now aimed in my direction. Was he still posing? And who checks themselves out that thoroughly in a mirror? He turned again and took a few steps, and then I heard a drawer slide open. Shit! I inched forward, peering out and just saw the top of his butt as he finished pulling up his underwear. Rats! “Shit. Forgot your deodorant in the bathroom again, Teo,” he muttered to himself and left the room. I seized the opportunity and rolled out from under the bed and darted across the hall. “Drew?”
  19. Dabeagle

    Chapter 2

    The owner was wont to name his places of business with whimsical names - but he wasn't a very good businessman. Yes, indeed, the burger joint was named for Finius T Flubberbusters, which has been closed these last several years. It was a bar/restaurant, not a burger joint but I did borrow part of the name. Well done!
  20. I felt like a zombie the next day. I wasn't up early enough to steal some coffee from mom's pot, so I had to ask Teo to swing through a drive-thu. I sipped the hot, sugary liquid and mentally urged it to do its thing. “Did you pull an all-nighter again?” Alessia asked me, looking concerned. “Global test,” I replied. She frowned harder. “You destroy in global.” I sighed and sipped my coffee. I had decided on a long-sleeved tee that morning. There was a small bruise where the belt had landed on my arm the night before. I bruise easily, I guess. I saw Monique and Talia at the front of the room, but I just ducked my head and took out my global notes. When Monique did come to my desk I apologized, but told her I was cramming for a test and couldn't talk. Of course, I wasn't studying. I was looking over the odd thing I couldn't recall as I ran through a mental list of questions, but now that I was confronted with Monique I realized she was interested in me. Although I'd readily told Braxton my sexuality, it was only because it had come up; it wasn't common knowledge. I kept to myself quite a bit at school because my mother made things weird. Want me to come to your birthday party? Beware that my mother may show up to watch me, to be sure I don't sneak off to a closet and get some girl pregnant. I asked who my father was a few times, but my mother would just get angry. She'd rant in a way that didn't make sense to me. 'He made his choices and pays to ease his guilt,' was one of her favorite lines. My mother was paranoid that I was going to leave some other girl high and dry like my father apparently did to her. It didn't help that she was later diagnosed with agoraphobia and was essentially a prisoner in the house, which also meant I could no longer attend uncomfortable birthday parties with her hovering. I suppose that means I could run away – but to where and to what? I'd tried being rebellious and staying away from home to avoid her wrath, but that only increased how angry and unhinged she could be. Teo's dad had gone over to talk to her a few times because she'd bruised me up enough for Alessia and Teo to notice. Of all people, theirs was the only home I could more or less freely go to. The Petrakises' house was a refuge of sorts – somewhere I could be a little closer to an average kid versus being under my mother's thumb. From homeroom I went to Mr. Rockland's class, and he gave me that same, sing-songy greeting with a little grin to match. “Morning, Mr. Rockland,” I said and yawned. “Oh ho! Someone was up late! Were you reading? Something besides those dreary chestnuts you do reports about, hmm?” he asked. I stopped. “I thought my reports were good.” “Of course they are,” he agreed. “But don't you think it's time to grow beyond A Tale of Two Cities and other assorted mail-order classics?” People were filtering in and I closed the distance, standing beside his podium. “My mom....” “Mmmhmm.” He nodded. “How angry would she be if I were to assign you a book?” “Uh. I don't know for sure. I mean...I've never had to take it home for before. I mean an assigned book.” He gave me a pensive look. “I value my books. I expect it back, but if it gets...savaged...It's a paperback, so don't sweat it too much.” He handed me a worn paperback book titled The Thief of Always. I licked my lips and glanced at him. “When is my paper due for this?” His eyes glittered, perhaps that I was interested in the book. “I'll give you two – no three – weeks.” He smiled. “Make it a good one, Mr. Chambers.” I was barely able to restrain myself from reading the book immediately. Even so, it was probably better that I didn't. I was overtired and wouldn't have retained much. Second period I finally got that global test put to bed, but I was sweating the answers as my head swam from truncated sleep. Alessia was making faces at me which was irritating, but also helping to keep me awake. After the class I approached Mrs. Vasquez, screwing up my courage to ask once more for something she'd not been pleased to deal with the first time. “Mrs. Vasquez?” She gave me a little smile. “Hi, Drew. What's going on?” I sighed. “I know the answer, but I have to ask again. Is there any way I can get a heads up about when tests will be scheduled?” She shook her head. “We're covered this – and your mother has pushed. But each class works at its own speed, so some classes don't even take the test on the same day. I have to be flexible for my students and I can't lock myself into a schedule for one student.” I deflated. “I understand. It's just that my mom...I understand.” I let out a small sigh. “Drew,” she said with some concern. “I feel like I have to ask – why is this such an issue?” I coughed lightly. “My mom wants me to be able to study the night before, so she wants me to make sure my work schedule doesn't interfere with my studying.” “That's admirable, but you're very intelligent. You could do this class with your eyes closed,” she said with a smile that was meant to reassure me. “It's not about me being smart,” I said quietly. “It's not about me being dumb. It's about my mom forcing me to quit my job if she imagines it's interfering.” Realization of my situation, maybe even more than what I was just saying, flashed across her face. “Well, I can try to let you know approximately when we have a major test.” She paused. “Is everything all right at home, Drew?” I nodded. “I've got it under control.” She looked at me with concern, and I had to look away. “If you're sure.” “I'm sure. Thanks, Mrs. Vasquez.” I got out of there, sped by my embarrassment. At lunch plans were being finalized for a movie that night, and Brax leaned over to speak in my ear. “So...what kind of movie should I pick?” I smiled tiredly at him. “No way, Brax. Everyone will judge you by your movie choice, and I can't wait to see what you decide.” He grinned. “Bruh. You suck.” He chuckled and I nodded in agreement. After school I met Alessia and Teo at his car. They brought me by Flubberbuster Burger to get my check – and cash it right there. My mother took my check and claimed it was going into the bank. She said I'd only blow the money anyway. The only cash I got was when they divided up the tips at the end of the week. “I wonder what kind of movie Brax will pick,” Alessia mused. “Something sappy to appeal to his girlfriend,” Teo said firmly. “I bet it's something with explosions and guns,” she countered. Turning in her seat she asked, “What do you think, Drew?” I considered for a moment. Brax wanted to make a good impression every time. I'm not sure that was just with Alessia, and I don't know if he's nice to me only because of his girlfriend, but my gut said he was a decent sort. “I think he's going to pick a sentimental favorite,” I told her. “See? A cry movie,” Teo said in a satisfied tone. “I don't mean that,” I said. “I mean a favorite movie of his. Something that means something to him.” Alessia looked at me for a moment. “Are you falling for Brax? I'll fight you both if I have to.” She comically looked between Teo and myself. I chuckled. “He's nice looking, but very straight. No crush, here.” “Me either. Too sporty.” “Says the captain of the soccer team,” his sister said skeptically. “That's different,” he retorted. “In my sport we're not supposed to try and tackle the other guy. Those morons are getting brain damage every time they act like they're rams or something – seriously. Have you seen them bash heads together when they get excited? Better get kids out of him before he gets his nuts punctured or something,” he said seriously. Alessia dropped her chin to her chest. “Really? You're gross.” “You're gross,” Teo mimicked. “Drew, help me out. He's talking about my boyfriends balls being crushed. Gross?” she asked me. “I don't want to talk about Brax's balls,” I said with a snort. She looked back at Teo. “You're gross.” Once I was home, my mother took my pay and the pay stub to be sure I wasn't keeping anything for myself. I said nothing as she took my money, even though irritation flickered in my chest like a dying flame. I went to my room and thought about reading my new book. I went so far as to take it out, but started to yawn. Glancing at the clock I decided I'd just rest my eyes for a minute. I usually woke up more tired than before if I napped, so that was out. Tucking my book under my pillow I decided on just a quick.... “Drew.” The voice was soft, and fingertips brushed across my forehead. I stirred and felt as if my mind were slowly surfacing through an oily slick. I opened my eyes to find Teo looking down at me, and then smiling gently. “You really need to quit these all-nighters, Drew.” “Teo?” I sat up slowly and an enormous yawn stretched my mouth to its limit. “What time...?” “Seven-thirty. Did you eat? Come have a plate before Brax gets there. Don't want to miss the movie, do you?” “Blech.” I made a smacking sound and pushed myself out of bed. “Let me just use the bathroom. Try to wake up,” I mumbled. “You always did suck at taking naps, Drew,” Teo said and snickered. “Ugh. Shut up.” I stumbled to the bathroom, feeling like my limbs were made of lead. I pulled off my shirt and splashed my face with water before grabbing the bar of soap. Once my face was clean, I felt a little more awake. I went back to my room and tossed the shirt in my hamper before digging out a replacement. I ran my fingers through my hair and turned to look at Teo, who was sitting on my bed. “What did your dad make for dinner?” I asked. “Meatloaf ala Petrakis.” I frowned. “What does that mean?” “That only Mr. Petrakis knows what's in the meatloaf,” he said with a snicker. “Ugh. Okay, let's go.” He threw a companionable arm around my shoulders and squeezed me for a second, forcing another little yawn out of me. Then we were off down the stairs and cutting from my back yard to his back door. Entering through the kitchen I was greeted by the sounds and smells of their home. My home was sterile compared to theirs. The scent of cooked food lingered in the air. The TV was playing in the front room. The house was warm, inviting you to relax. The longest there had been a scent in my house was when my mother put fish in the microwave. “There he is!” Mr. Petrakis said with a smile, grinning at me. “How are you, Andrew?” “I'm good, Mr. Petrakis. How are you?” “Well, I'll tell you,” he said, resting his butt against the counter and leaning toward me. “My wife went to a wine and paint class. It's costing me fifty dollars for her to drink cheap wine and try to paint a man naked. I told her, we can do that here for a lot less! Am I right?” He reached out and punched my arm lightly as he laughed. “Dad! You're gross!” Alessia said, emerging from the direction of the front room. She was dressed in the kind of revealing shorts girls seem to wear and guys don't. Her tee shirt was snug, but not scandalously so. Her hair was done up behind her head in a messy bun. She smiled at me. “We saved you a plate.” “Petrakis Meatloaf Surprise!” “Guess what? The meatloaf has no meat,” Alessia told me as she grabbed a plate from the microwave. “Surprise!” Mr. Petrakis said, clapping his hands together. I picked out a fork from the silverware drawer and sat down as Alessia put the plate before me. Then they all hovered around me, staring. I looked back at them. “You guys are creeping me out.” “I want to know what you think!” Mr. Petrakis said. “I want to know if you like it,” Alessia said. “Tell me if it tastes like meat to you,” Teo said, dropping into a seat beside me and pulling his phone out. He held it up with the camera lens facing me. “Reaction shot as Drew eats the no-meat meatloaf!” “Really?” I said, rolling my eyes and laughing at him a little. I forked a piece and popped it in my mouth. It tasted like meatloaf. Maybe it had a little zing to it regular meatloaf didn't have, but that could just be a spice. “So?” they all said, staggering it as if it were an echo rather than three people. I then did something I could never do in my home. I opened my mouth and showed Teo the ground up food in my mouth. “Dude!” he groaned while also laughing and trying to hold his phone still. “Ugh, gross! You think that’s funny? Boys are gross!” Alessia exclaimed. “Jesus, where's my boyfriend? I need to keep him away from you guys!” I grinned and swallowed before looking at Mr. Petrakis. “It's very good. Thank you for sharing with me.” He smiled and mussed my hair before going back to whatever he'd been doing. I ate two helpings, just finishing when Brax arrived. He was soundly greeted, and when he saw me eating meatloaf he laughed. “Drew, you work at a burger joint. Don't you get enough hamburger?” “Oh! Someone needs to try the Petrakis Meatloaf Surprise!” “Dad! Brax doesn't need meatloaf!” “Yes he does!” Teo chimed in. “Just a little piece!” Mr. Petrakis insisted. Brax sat down beside me with a bemused expression and a slight blush. “Good cooking?” I grinned at him. “It's a surprise.” “Bruh, you going to do me like that?” he asked, chuckling. He ate the slice before him in good grace and approved. They all told him it wasn't actually meat and he was pleasantly surprised and approving. We moved to the living room and Alessia pulled Brax into an overlarge chair with her, where they cuddled. “Oh, you think you got the market cornered on cuddles? C'mere, Drew,” Teo said and yanked me down onto the love seat with him. “Urk!” I grunted as I flopped down on the cushion, Teo's arm around my neck. I tapped his arm. “This isn't cuddling, it's strangling.” He laughed and let me go. As it happens Brax actually brought a DVD with him. I mean, no shit. Do they make those anymore? “So, it's a football movie,” Brax said. “I'm still in the running,” Teo said, leaning forward eagerly. “Go on.” “What? In the running for what?” “We tried to guess what kind of movie you'd pick,” I told him. “Go on.” “Bruh,” he said, shaking his head. Obviously he now realized why I wouldn't advise him. “What did y'all pick, huh?” He glanced around the room. “Guns, explosions. Wait,” Alessia said, growing excited. “Does the football stadium explode?” “No!” Brax replied, laughing. He looked at Teo. “How about you?” “Feelings flick because you're watching with your girl.” “Damn right, she's my girl,” Brax said and swaggered for a second before laughing. “Some feelings., Yeah, a few feelings. Not a chick flick, though. How about you, my sneaky bruh?” I grinned crookedly. “I said you'd pick out a movie that was personally important or meaningful to you.” He stared at me for a second. His gaze flickered toward the kitchen, then he lowered his voice and pointed at me with the corner of the movie case. “Fuck you, bruh. Get out of my head.” “Seriously? A football movie is personally meaningful to you? Gross!” Alessia complained and then stood to hug him. “You will cuddle me throughout this farce, right?” “Damn right,” he said with a grin. So we watched 'Remember the Titans'. Well, they watched. What I saw of it was really good, but before I knew it I was waking up and my head was bouncing. Bouncing off a soft surface. Like shaking, not bouncing like a basketball. I blinked and looked around. Oh. I fell asleep and somehow ended up using Teo as a pillow. And he was chuckling. Apparently I was amusing him. “Drew, dude, no more all-night study sessions! You get good grades!” Teo teased. “Sorry,” I mumbled and brushed the back of my hand across my mouth. “I was enjoying that movie, too.” I stretched and fell over a bit, and Teo pulled me down and rubbed my hair. “You still need a nap, little boy? Can you walk or should I carry you to your room?” “Jerk,” I said and snorted. Sitting up I slowly gained my feet, but wobbled a little. “That picture is gold,” Alessia said with a giggle. I raised an eyebrow at her and she turned her phone toward me. It showed me asleep on Teo's chest, nestled into the thick sweatshirt he was wearing. He'd used a filter that put a dog's nose, tongue and ears on my face and captioned it 'puppies are so cute when they sleep. Aww!' I looked at Teo and he cracked up. “You're an asshole,” I told him, smiling as I stretched and they all continued to laugh at me. “So everyone is coming tomorrow, right?” Brax asked, looking at Teo and me while he held Alessia in a loose, one-handed grip. “Yeah. I'll get Drew in the morning,” Alessia said. “Wait, what?” I asked. “My game is tomorrow. You're supposed to come cheer me on, bro,” Brax said to me. “Oh. Um.” “We'll get him there,” Teo assured Brax. He was right. For whatever reason, my mother never fought anything in terms of my going anywhere with Alessia or Teo. It was bizarre. I really wasn't allowed anywhere else, not even school events – unless I was going with Alessia or Teo. I never asked her why, just in case it made her rethink that. Alessia walked with Brax, kind of glued to his side as she walked him out. I headed for the back door, and Teo joined me on the back porch. “Hey, Drew,” he said, pulling on the hem of my shirt. I turned to face him. “What's up?” He reached down and took my hand, which sent a wave of confusion through me, before pushing my shirtsleeve back a little to reveal my bruise. “You shifted a little when you got comfortable.” He stared at my face. “Is everything okay?” I pulled my arm back. I didn't jerk it back, just reclaimed it. “It wasn't anything.” “Drew.” “I'm okay,” I told him. He put his hands on my shoulders and I looked up at him. “Drew...you know I'm here for you. Right?” “I know,” I said, my voice dropping. His eyes tracked back and forth, and I wasn't sure what on my face was so interesting. His right hand slipped up from my shoulder to my neck, then his fingertips were just behind my jaw. It was a surreal moment. As I looked at him looking at me, I had the sense that he was on a ledge. He was teetering between one decision and another, but I wasn't sure what the choices were. Then I had the stupidest idea. Was he thinking of kissing me? He leaned back and looked in my eyes. “I'm here for you. Are you sure you're okay?” “Yeah,” I said, my voice a whisper. His thumb stroked my cheek and he nodded slowly. “See you in the morning, then.” “Yeah,” I agreed, though even I could hear how dazed I sounded. He gave me a tight smile, and turned to go back inside. I wandered across the lawn to my own home, barely registering kicking off my shoes and climbing the stairs to my room. I tossed my shirt aside and slipped my jeans off. I peeled my socks off and climbed on top of my blankets. I lay on my back and looked up at my ceiling as my mind swirled. What the hell? Teo had never done that before. Had he actually been thinking of kissing me? Alessia had never done that. She'd pecked me on the cheek once or twice after I'd done or said something she'd found sweet, but that was it. I had a long history with them to draw on, too. There was a pond across the road from our houses – the very one they used to justify the Lily Pond Estates name. Four winters ago it had been so cold the pond had frozen and Alessia and I were daring each other to walk on it, to go farther out from the shore. It was a kids’ game of dare, and we didn't have any real fear of the ice breaking. But it did break. Teo had grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out of the cold water. I have spent countless days and nights at their home. Alessia and I baked together for class bake sales, we played video games together – and Teo would join us. He was also big into card games, board games and sports games. Anything that could at any point be termed a game, he liked. Pokemon, Magic, DnD, soccer, baseball – Teo liked it. In all that time, he'd never kissed me. He'd hugged me on rare occasions, messed my hair up more times than I could count, but never kissed me. Why had I felt like he'd been on the verge of changing that? Was it too many romantic scenes from books or movies? Was I just growing desperate and seeing something that wasn't there? And me? I'd never kissed anyone. Did I want that to be Teo? Did I have a thing for him, now? Is this all my subconscious at work, telling me that he's good looking and gay and I could do worse? Did this mean...but Teo dates older guys. Warmth flooded through me as I thought about Teo, and the possibility of his interest in me. What about me? Did I return that interest? I rolled that over in my head. We had a few guys at school who were pretty good looking. I'd fantasized about more than one, and I wasn’t ashamed to admit that. I'd even thought about Teo once in a while, but I'd always thought of him as being as distant as other pretty guys like Cole Thomas. Had all that just changed? I lay awake all night dreaming that I had been awake and wondering what would have happened if he'd kissed me, or if I really had been awake – and still dreaming about what if.
  21. Dabeagle

    Chapter 1

    I will likely run ahead on my own site, per normal. I may post here once per week and twice at mine - I haven't decided yet as I also want to entertain folks during our extended strangeness.
  22. Everything is made to be broken. Well, not designed specifically I guess – and before anyone thinks this is some kind of emo kid, lame philosophy – it's not. Everything dies. Everything wears out – breaks, in other words. No matter how well you make something, it's going to go away someday. Even things we have now that are hundreds of years old like Pyramids, the Pantheon and Betty White will disappear one day as if they had never been. Sometimes it's not a bad thing – like an old relationship has to break in order to reform into something better. Sometimes it's just a worn out part, and once it's replaced the whole is better off. My phone dinged and I glanced down at the screen. Alessia. I rolled my eyes as I read her trite crap. The best relationships are the ones you never saw coming. Ever since she started dating Braxton Floyd she'd been on this kick of rainbows and butterflies and sunshine coming out of her ass. Braxton did get lucky. He moved from down south somewhere – I didn't pay attention when he said where – and he hit it off with Alessia right away. He was a nice enough guy, so far, but I'd be happier when she was through this honeymoon phase. I just hoped I wouldn't have to deal with the phase where she is posting things to social media and texting me things about how guys are supposed to treat girls. Please. I shut my phone off, to ensure that my mother wouldn't hear it vibrate if I got a text message, and hid it in a pocket on the bottom of my bag. She never looked there. I slung my backpack on my shoulder and headed downstairs. My mother was in the kitchen waiting for the coffee pot to finish brewing. She glanced over at me. “Do you have your key?” I patted my chest, where my house key hung on a chain from my neck. “Yep.” “Let me see.” I paused and bit back my sigh. I reached along the collar of my shirt and lifted the chain out to show her the key attached to it. She pursed her lips as if disappointed I was responsible enough to have my key. “Come straight home after work.” “I will,” I said and continued past the kitchen door. I slipped my shoes on and headed next door. Alessia and her older brother, Teo, were just coming out the front door. “I don't think so,” Teo said to Alessia as I met them at the bottom of their porch steps. He glanced at me. “Hey, Drew.” “Morning,” I replied. I fell in with them as we walked to Teo's car. “Hi, Drew,” Alessia greeted me with a smile, then looked back at Teo. “I mean, I can understand why people might think that.” “Think what?” I asked. “That blood is blue until it’s oxidized, then it turns red,” she said promptly. I looked at her skeptically. “People believe that?” “Well, yeah,” she said. “Some people believe the Earth is flat, Drew. Am I right?” Teo said with a roll of his eyes. I laughed and we climbed in for our ride to school. I'm old enough to have a license, but my mother won't allow it. She brings up the cost, and how responsible you have to be and how irresponsible she thinks I am. She points out she doesn't have a car, and why should I need one if she doesn't? She also forbid me to have a phone, but Teo gave me his old one and I pay for a card every month or so so I'm not completely cut off from my peers. Alessia and Teo are the ones to contact me most often, but still – it's the principle of the thing. Once we got to school Teo headed off to his homeroom and Alessia and I headed off in the same general direction. She was looking at her phone as we walked and I tugged her by the elbow to keep her from running into things. “Oh my God, he's so sweet!” she said, squealing yet trying not to. “Look!” I glanced at her screen, kind of unwillingly. Braxton was looking back out of the screen and there was text in front of his face. Slobbery prose about how beautiful Alessia was and how he wanted to make her happy and blah, blah, blah – excuse me while I throw up. I grunted to acknowledge I'd read it, and went back to making sure she didn't run into anyone. I sat down in homeroom and went through my bag, even though it really wasn't necessary. Because my mother was always up my ass I had everything organized. It didn't matter much, she'd still go through everything and find fault no matter what I did. I pulled out my folders and made sure they were in order by the time of day I had the class. I checked inside each folder for my completed homework and compared it to my agenda. “Drew.” I glanced up as Talia Devries rested her butt on my desk. “Hey, Talia,” I said as I started replacing the items in my bag. “Did you see the sweater Monique got? Isn't it fabulous?” she asked. I don't know why she was asking me. I glanced over at Monique, who had the darkest skin of any person I'd ever met, and looked at her sweater. It was fuzzy – and I mean really fuzzy. It sort of looked like it was shedding, the threads were that long. But it was a light thread, so sort of like actual fur. Whispy fur. Is that a thing? “Looks warm and fuzzy,” I said, looking back up at Talia. “You should tell her. I'm sure she'd like to know you like her sweater,” she advised me. The bell wasn't ringing soon enough. I leaned around Talia. “Monique – nice sweater. Very...fuzzy.” Monique smiled radiantly. I don't know if her teeth were whiter than average or if it was just the contrast with her skin, but it was a mega-watt smile. Then she got up and started to walk toward me. “You like it?” she asked as she drew closer. “It's totally unique,” I said honestly. “It's called mohair,” she said as she continued to smile and look down at the garment before straightening it a little, drawing it a bit tighter across her chest. “So, what animal's hair is that anyway?” Talia asked. Having no idea what mohair was, I looked to Monique for the answer. “Um. A Mohawk?” “That was a native American tribe and a haircut,” I said, waiting for her to change her statement or pick one of the choices I'd given her. She looked confused and glanced at Talia, who was looking it up on her phone. “It says it's made from...goat hair? Eww,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Liar!” Monique accused and tried to take Talia's phone. Thankfully the bell did ring then, and I got the hell out from between them. “Drewbie-doobie-do, how are you?” Mr. Rockland asked, singing his little dittie to the tune of Scooby Doo as I entered his classroom. “Morning,” I said, trying not to smile at his stupid greeting. Mr. Rockland was my favorite teacher. He taught English, and we were heavily into reading independently as well as creative writing. I'd no sooner sat down than Braxton rushed over and dropped into the chair beside me. “Drew, help a brother out?” I looked at him with confusion. “Alessia. She's pissed at me.” I raised an eyebrow. “Already?” “I know!” he said, adjusting his ball cap. “What's she angry about?” I asked. He frowned lightly and dug his phone out of his pocket. He was a nice looking guy, had a little southern accent to go with his brown hair and eyes. His ears stuck out a little, and he was annoyingly good looking in braces. “She said I should have texted this morning?” he said, his tone one of disbelief. He looked up at me. “Dude, I sent her some sappy shit last night so she'd see it first thing and she seemed totally happy. Now I'm in shit?” I sighed as the bell rang. Mr. Rockland had the attendance sheet at his podium and was glancing between it and the classroom. “Put a nice note in the pocket of your hoodie and give her the hoodie,” I said. He raised an eyebrow at me. “Should I apologize?” I shook my head. “No. Just tell her how much you've been thinking of her. Miss her. That sort of thing.” He glanced down and then back up to me. “My hoodie?” I nodded as Mr. Rockwell started class. To the casual observer it may have just looked like I'd sold my best friend down the river by giving her boyfriend tips on making her happy. This is true, to a point. No one can completely figure out Alessia, and Braxton seemed like a genuinely decent guy. Alessia liked him a lot, so helping him out a little was equivalent to helping her out as well. Besides, she had a motto. Actually, one of several mottos. It went something like 'If a girl gets upset over little things it's because she cares. If you don't want that, get some hoe who doesn't care about you or what you do.' I think it was just license to be a brat. She'd dated enough that I'd seen things that were smart moves with her, and ones that would get you broken up with publicly. After English I had Social with Alessia, then Algebra and computer lab before getting to lunch. I noted Alessia wearing Brax's hoodie and smiling stupidly at me as I approached our table. “He wrote me the sweetest note,” she said. “Yeah?” I asked as I took my seat. “I want to do something nice for him. What do you think?” “I think he would like it if you were nice to him,” I said, knowing that wasn't what she meant. “That's not what I meant,” she snorted. “I'll invite him for a movie. I'll even let him pick it out as long as we cuddle. What do you think?” I nodded. “Sounds like a smart move.” “We need to get someone for you,” she said absently. I ignored her and unpacked my sack lunch. Our table filled up with a few people – Brax, his two buddies Gordon and Malik. Not long after, Dina, Carrie and Julia joined us and the table was a hotbed of talk about apps, music, politics and stupidity. But I repeat myself. “Ugh, I hate you!” Alessia said to Brax while smiling in a most unhateful way. “You did not see them live, did you really?” “I did. Want to come with me? They're playing in like two weeks.” “Shut up!” “Who?” Dina asked. Alessia turned toward her excitedly. “The Avatars. Have you listened to them? So freaking good!” “Oh, yeah,” Dina said, sounding less than sure. “They're going to be playing close by?” Alessia turned back to Brax, and he nodded. “My mom works at the Arena, and she told me she can get tickets if I want.” The Arena was a local venue that hosted concerts mostly, but a few other odd-ball things like monster trucks and home shows. Alessia was totally wrapped up in her excitement, so I pulled my phone out and checked through a few apps – one for news, one for general crap and the few social media accounts I followed. Teo was pretty good at taking pictures with his phone and there were a ton on his account. The newest was kind of odd, though. It looked like it was from that morning and was of Alessia and I walking down the hall. It must have been taken right after we separated to go to our separate homerooms. I scrolled back through his images. Teo is gay and there were a few pictures of guys he'd dated, along with just general pictures. He seems to like older guys, and by that I mean guys in college. He'd dated three or four of them. I never really met them, and he didn't talk about them all that much. In between the images of his old flames were pictures of trips to the beach, selfies doing stupid stuff like flexing after a workout and eating cereal for some reason I don't understand. Who takes a picture of themselves eating? Answer: Teo does. He had one picture of the three of us with a skin care mask on that was kind of a teal color. We looked like idiots, but it was a fun memory. I'd grown up next door to them and had always been close to their family. They were a welcome respite from my mother. After school I met Alessia and Teo in the parking lot. I worked at a chain burger joint that was on the way home, more or less. They brought me to work, and then decided to come in and get some junk food before going home. I had about thirty minutes before I had to clock in, so I got some fries and hung out with them. Teo bit his finger trying to shove too many fries in his mouth at once. It was typical of him to do random things like that. “Where's your boyfriend?” Teo asked his sister. “Football practice,” she said and wrinkled her nose. “One downside is he loves football and I'm supposed to be a good girlfriend and go support him. I don't think he can take too many more hits to the head, though.” “Is he having trouble in school?” I asked. “I don't think so. He can just be kind of special sometimes,” she said, a smile playing about her lips. “But he's sweet as hell, so I guess I can put up with it,” she said breezily and then laughed. She looked over at Teo as if she just thought of something. “Why are you asking about Brax? You have your eye on my boy?” Teo looked at me then back to her and laughed. “No. You can keep that one.” “I told Drew I was going to invite Brax for a movie. I'm thinking tomorrow night, since it's Friday. Are you dating anyone? Want to make it a double?” she asked. “Nah. Hector and I broke up a few weeks ago,” he said. “Really?” I asked. “I thought you guys looked good together.” He smiled at me a little indulgently. “Thanks, Drew. We weren't good together, though. Nothing in common.” “Well, since you're both single, Drew can come and not feel like a third wheel because you'll be there, too. Right?” she asked. Teo grinned while chewing a fry and looked at me. “What do you think, Drew? Want to come over and watch a movie, maybe make fun of my sister's boyfriend?” I chuckled. “Sure, if my mom will let me out of the house.” “I'll check with her,” Teo assured me. They headed out and I clocked in. The night was going steadily and was typical for a weeknight. Business was moderate, someone peed all over the men's room floor and a diaper was left full and open on the changing table in the women's room. Just once I'd like those reversed for the sake of equality – better yet, people could learn to aim and clean up after themselves. Around seven-thirty Brax came in with a buddy from the football team. They were both sweaty, their tee shirts soaked in a V from their necks down the front of their chests. While Brax had dark hair, his friend had golden brown hair that was streaked darker with sweat. Brax's friend was Cole Thomas, and I wasn't really sure why they were friends. Cole was really cute, but kind of a jerk. “Hey, Drew,” Brax said to me and gave me a little wave. “Hey, Brax.” Cole glanced at me and jutted his chin out. I nodded at him and they went to the counter to order. A woman came in a moment later, phone pressed to her ear and fussing with her purse as she caught up with the guys to pay for their food. Cole headed to the bathroom and Brax filled his cup before wandering over to me. “You are the Alessia Whisperer, man. Do you know everything about her?” I shrugged. “A lot. We've been friends a long time.” He shook his head. “Why aren't you dating her then? I mean, no-homo, but you're a nice looking guy.” I chuckled. “You're a nice looking guy, too.” I pointed at myself. “Total homo.” His eyes opened a little wider and he chuckled. “Damn. I just stepped in it, didn't I?” I shrugged again. “Not so much as others.” I glanced toward the restrooms where Cole was emerging. He glanced at us, then headed to the counter for his cup. “Cole? He gives you shit?” Brax asked, sounding surprised. “No, I wouldn't say that,” I demurred. “I have to get back to work before the boss sees me.” “Hey, Drew,” he said, taking a half-stop toward me. “If anyone says...I got your back, man. You've been nothing but good to me. Y'hear?” I smiled lightly and bobbed my head. “Thanks. I think I can kick Cole's ass if I need to.” “Yeah, maybe,” he said with a chuckle. “But as long as I have your back, try not to pick really big enemies that might kick my ass, okay? Little consideration?” I laughed at him, then Cole was there. “What's up?” “My man Drew has been keeping me in my girl's good graces.” “High maintenance,” Cole snorted. His cheeks were a little flushed and it made him look cuter. “She is,” Brax agreed and smiled. It was a nice smile, kind of whimsical I think. “But she's worth it.” Cole shook his head. “Okay.” I finished wiping the tables down and headed back though the employee door to stock before I clocked out. I had gotten a good feeling from Brax before, but those were some next level words from him. He didn't have to say any of that, and I found myself feeling pretty good. After punching out I popped my headphones on and dialed in some music from my ancient iPod. My mother refused to allow me a phone, so Teo had given me his old one. It was hooked into his family's wifi, and I tried to squirrel away enough to buy prepaid cards for it. I was careful with the data, but enjoyed being able to text a few people or follow some social media accounts of the people I knew. I got home in about fifteen minutes and left my shoes by the front door. “Andrew?” “It's me, Ma,” I said and headed for the stairs. A shower to wash off the burger smell would be nice. “Andrew! Come here!” I sighed and turned back, standing in the doorway of the living room and leaning against the door frame. “I stink, Ma. What's up?” She had muted the TV and pursed her lips. “Why did it take you so long to get home? Did you stop somewhere?” I frowned lightly. “No. I walked straight home.” Her eyes narrowed. “You're lying. Where were you? What's her name?” “Mom! There's no one!” I exclaimed. “I punched out and walked straight home. I have a test tomorrow, so I have to shower and study.” “A test? It wasn't on your schedule!” she snapped. I sighed. “It's for Global.” “I have told him and told him,” she said with real anger. “You may have to quit this job if I can't get notified when you have conflicts at school.” “I'll talk to him, mom,” I promised. I waited a moment and when it seemed she was done, I turned only to be halted by her voice. “Theodore stopped by. You're invited to a movie next door. Tomorrow night.” I turned back toward her. “He said he was going to check with you.” She studied me for a moment. “What are you going to watch?” I shrugged. “Alessia invited her boyfriend, Braxton. She said he was going to pick.” “Braxton? Is he black?” I frowned. “No.” “Southern?” “Yeah. I forget from where, but he moved this year.” “Smells like a southern name.” “Don't you mean sounds?” She glared at me. “No. Smells. As in it stinks of their hypocritical values.” I waited to see if she was going to clarify. When it seemed she wasn't, I said, “I'm going to shower and get to my studying.” She stared at me and then said in a deadly calm voice, “Who is Monique?” I was momentarily puzzled. My school acquaintances rarely came into contact with my home life. “Um, girl from school. I have her in homeroom.” She stared at me for a moment. “Still want to act like you didn't stop anywhere on the way home from your...job?” I frowned again. “I'm not acting.” “I'm going to call your manager. Just to see if you actually were there for a whole shift,” she said, her voice sounding predatory. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “She'll tell you,” I said, my voice taking on a tremor. She continued to glare for a moment, and my heart slammed inside my chest. “Undress.” I widened my eyes. “What?” She stood suddenly, and I noted the belt in her hand. “I don't think you were at any job mister. You might think I'm stupid, but you didn't work – you went to screw this Monique whore, didn't you? Didn't you?” “What? No!” “That's why you want to clean up so quickly, isn't it?” she asked, a mean gleam in her eye. “Strip, now!” “Mom,” I said, my voice faltering in resignation. I wasn't fast enough and she lurched, bringing the belt around so that it slapped the skin of my arm. “Ow!” I yelped and started to comply with her demand. I felt ashamed, but I knew where this would go if I didn't. I'd woken up more than once to her hitting me for some perceived slight. I pulled my shirt off, unbuckled my belt and then the buttons of my pants before pushing them down around my ankles. She quickly stepped closer and leaned in to look at my neck, poking me with her finger as she looked for something incriminating. She turned my face by pushing on my jaw, studying my neck. She growled and looked down. “You screwed her, didn't you?” “Mom-” “Males are all alike!” she snapped and pulled on the waistband of my underwear. I jerked back in surprise and embarrassment, but she hung on, yanking them down and exposing me. “Hold still!” I was still bowed away from her, instinctively trying to hide my genitals. She glared at them and then frowned deeply. She looked up at me. “You wore a condom. Didn't you.” “I didn't have sex, mom!” I said, my voice cracking from stress and extreme mortification. Her eyes narrowed. “If I find proof, I'll cut your balls off. Do you hear me?” I nodded jerkily. She made a disgusted snort and turned from me. I quickly pulled up my pants and underwear, and carrying my shirt I took the stairs to my room two at a time. I had no tears to shed, only wrestling with a complex twist of emotions – self-loathing, disgust, anger and an empty feeling I really, really didn't want to dwell on. I took a minute to gather myself and then got in the shower. I felt ashamed that my mother treated me that way, and more that I allowed it. She had cowed me for years, and the few times I'd fought back she'd become enraged and found ways to catch me off guard – like waking me in the night, beating me with a belt or some other object. I'd locked my door at night after that, only to find that she had the door handle replaced so there was no longer a lock. As much as she pushed me in school, I actually wanted to excel so I could escape her. I wasn't sure if that was possible – she'd probably always be in my mind. After getting clean, I sat down at my desk and opened the notes I had for Global. I glanced at the clock on my nightstand and sighed. It was a quarter to ten, but if I studied for about three hours, I shouldn't be too tired tomorrow. With that thought, I turned back to my notes and the worksheets we'd done on this section and started to work.
  23. Drew lives a strange life with his mother who abuses him, his neighbors who act more like a family than his mother - the complications of being different from the average by being gay seems silly to add on. He plans to study hard and get away, but then something unexpected happens with his neighbor Teo. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Maybe both?
  24. Dabeagle

    Chapter 3

    @ReaderPaul No, I haven't. It's tough to bring some Sanitaria Springs stories here because there is so much supporting work that happens with other stories to flesh out an individual chapter, that I try to be careful what I post here. For instance with Bell's story, Broken, you leave out the backstory of Philip, which is a central character in Broken. Phil mostly appears as a supporting character across several episodes, so it would be hard tot ell his story completely enough for it to be coherent to read in Broken. Sorry 😞
  25. My editor has completed his first pass through A Perfect Confluence of Events and I should have it back next week, I hope. It's exceptionally long for me, and very different from my most recent effort, Corners. I look forward to sharing!

    1. Sam Wyer

      Sam Wyer

      I'm looking forward to it :) 

    2. Dabeagle


      I gave you a break, Sam - no beta reading this time 🙂

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