I got home Friday afternoon and needed to relax before even thinking about getting ready for the dance. Cole was beyond excited, even though he'd gotten into a fight that morning about his new relationship status. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, as Mrs. Petrakis called out from downstairs. I thought about hiding, but she knew I was there – Teo had driven me home.
“Coming down,” I said, not wanting her in my room for some reason.
“Ah, Andrew,” she said and waved me to a seat in the living room. I sat and waited as she settled herself across from me. “Things have been a little bit crazy, eh?” she asked, a rueful smile on her face.
“Yeah. Pretty weird few months,” I agreed. I hoped she wasn't going to dump a bunch of crap on me. I didn't need a second round of that near-anxiety attack I had before.
She placed her hands together between her knees. “It is past time we spoke,” she said quietly. “There are things that should be said between us.”
“Okay,” I said quietly.
“Teo was a difficult birth,” she said, heading in a direction I hadn't expected. “I had struggled to become pregnant, and then when I did it was very, very difficult. I thought we lost him more than once. It was stressful for both myself and Theódoros. I had to spend a great deal of time in bed.” She rubbed one hand over the other in a washing motion. “I couldn't work, and my company didn't have a paid leave program or any job protections. Theódoros was running his electronic repair store. He had three offices, so he was very busy with work. I went into labor early and Teo was born prematurely.”
“I had no idea,” I said quietly.
“And why should you?” she asked. “Children aren't told these things. We protect them from the things we can, and knowing they were almost never born is a scary thing.” She paused and took a breath. “The doctor said I wouldn't conceive again. But then a few months after Teo was born, I was pregnant again.” She chewed her upper lip. “We were raised to believe that children are a gift from God. My husband and I do not believe in abortion, even when the pregnancy threatened my life. I was sent to bed rest immediately, and although the pregnancy went much better than expected, my husband expected the worst.”
My expression hardened. “He cheated on you while you were on bed rest and pregnant with Alessia? While you were taking care of his son?” I demanded.
She looked up at me in surprise. “Yes,” she said in a small voice. “Why do you sound so angry? This was to your benefit.”
Tears tried to form in my eyes, but I blinked them away. “I was born to an abusive mother who thinks I'm going to get any girl I see pregnant and leave her to raise her child alone. I have a father who has been my next-door neighbor my whole life. I know he's done some things to help. I know he feels some responsibility. But the betrayal – how can you even look at me?”
She smiled wanly. “For many years, I could not. I can see Theódoros in you. I can see how you and Teo are so much alike, and yet your mother's influence is there, too.” She sighed. “Andrew, the issue of infidelity is between Theódoros and myself, now. Nothing will change that. Yes, you have your own things to deal with, but it's over now. You are here. My children adore you, and I think you love them back.” She rubbed her hands again and softly said, “Your mother is not well. We have spoken to the doctors because we are concerned for your future – for the childhood you have left.
“I know you are nearing adulthood at a frightening speed. Soon the world will say you are an adult and give you the chance to go die somewhere on a piece of dirt no one knows the name of. Soon your choices – your mistakes – may come to define you in ways you never expected. Theódoros did not intend to cause pain. He saw a second pregnancy as the likely death of his wife and second child. He consoled himself not by drinking or losing himself in his work, but by losing himself in the arms of another.” She sighed. “You were conceived in love, Andrew. You have done no wrong to me. Your mother...she will not be coming home.”
I looked at her steadily. “What happened to her?”
“I didn't understand everything. The doctor said she had a break. It was made worse by her not taking her medications. Now she faces a very long road to being healthy, but the doctor feels she does not want to be healthy right now. So she will stay in the hospital until she can take care of herself, but the doctor said that may never happen.”
Something inside me crumpled. There had been an invisible weight in the air, the weight of things unknown and things that were going to affect me, but I hadn't known exactly how. Part of that was answered. Without my mother, this house was going to go away. I had no way to pay for it. Which meant I'd have to rely on the charity of others. Most likely the Petrakises.
“In light of this, we think it's best that you move in with us,” she said quietly, but firmly. “This house...it's time for it to have new people. It's time for you to be under the same roof with your siblings, at least for a time.”
I looked at her steadily, masking my tumbling emotions. “What about us?”
She blinked a couple of times. “We owe each other nothing – no apologies, no apprehensions and no reason not to start knowing each other better. The Father has made clear to me, and I finally understand, that punishing you will not change anything. I can finally accept in my heart that you aren't the responsible party, and being upset with you will not change what my husband did.” She paused and inclined her head. “I am not saying it won't be without its trials. I am only human, and I have blamed you and your mother for a long time.”
I didn't want to talk about this anymore, so I switched subjects. “You talk a lot about God. Not believing in abortions, kids being gifts and stuff. You mentioned Mr. Petrakis had to atone before God. How is it you are okay with Teo and me being gay?”
She looked surprised for a moment. “Because God made you that way, and he is perfect. In his wisdom he sent you both to the world to teach them that God can make a man any way he chooses and that he is still a man. Everyone is a child of God.”
I grunted. “I'm not really a big believer.”
“That is okay. Teo and Alessia struggle to reconcile the faith I have shared with them with the world around them – and their own feelings. Every journey has portions we must walk alone, and some we may have help and wisdom from others.”
I nodded slowly, not sure what the point of my question had really been. “So...is there a plan?”
“Yes,” she said gently. “Theódoros is the legal owner of this house, through his business. He is having a shed built behind our home-”
“Wait! I'm going to live in a shed in the backyard?” I asked, jaw unhinging.
For the first time in my memory I heard her laugh. “No, Andrew! The garage has things that must be stored. We will remodel the garage into your room, but we have to move the things in the garage out first!” She covered her mouth to hide her laughter. I couldn't help but join her.
“Sorry!” I said. “It was just the way you said it.”
She shook her head and her laughter died off. “This will start right away, but will take some time to finish. Maybe three to four weeks. When that is done, you will come live with us and this house will be sold. A boy shouldn't live on his own. You need a family – you need your family and you've been deprived.” She paused. “My children are good people. I want to get a chance to know the wonderful person they say you are for myself.”
“There are times, Drew, when we sacrifice substance for style,” Teo told me. “Now take off the winter coat, and let me see what I have to work with.”
“I don't want to freeze,” I muttered as I followed his instruction. I tossed my coat on his bed and he rummaged through his closet.
“I had this great slim fit coat I bought a few years ago, and I'm not slim enough for it anymore – but I bet you'd look great in it,” he said. “Here it is.” He pulled a light wool coat from his closet with four pockets on the front. The coat was light gray with a black satin-like lining. He shook it out and turned it toward me. “Come on, try it.”
I turned around and he helped slip the coat on, then turned me toward the mirror on the back of his door – the one I'd nearly seen all his goods in from beneath his bed so long ago. I tugged the sides of the coat forward and shifted my shoulders. “It looks nice,” I said.
“More, you look fantastic. Cole won't be able to keep his eyes off of you,” Teo said with a grin.
I raised an eyebrow and reassessed my appearance. “You think so?”
“You look...dapper. Debonair. And when the coat comes off, the way your ass looks in those khakis – mmm, mm.”
I turned toward him in surprise.
“What?” he said with a grin. “We inherited nice butts. I figure we got that from Dad,” he said with a snicker.
I turned back toward the mirror. “I think it's kind of funny that all of his kids like dick.”
Teo laughed aloud behind me and I smiled.
“That's awesome! I should tell him that sometime.”
I sighed and slipped the coat off. “I don't think I can do this.”
“Can't do what? You're wearing that coat. You look amazing in it, better than I did,” Teo said firmly.
I sighed. “I can't...dance.”
He frowned. “It's a high school dance, Drew. Nobody knows how to dance. Besides, it's not like any of this is coordinated. You don't need to know the steps – you just have fun.” He leaned forward. “Except on the slow dances. Then it's about how much you can get away with without a proctor catching you.”
I chuckled. “I don't know. I don't want to let Cole down or get embarrassed.” I looked up at Teo. “He's so excited, it's really cute.”
Teo adjusted my lapels and brushed them free of imaginary dust. “You guys are adorable together. Enjoy tonight.”
I took a deep breath and then looked back in the mirror. Don't worry so much, he already likes you.
“Drew, zip me?” Alessia called from across the hallway. I left Teo to finish getting ready and headed to her room, where she stood before her own mirror, make-up done to perfection. I stepped up behind her and grabbed her zipper, slowing moving it up her back. I looked over her shoulder and met her eyes in the mirror.
“You look beautiful, Allie,” I told her, resting a hand on her shoulder.
She smiled. “I hope Brax agrees with you.”
I smiled back at her. “He already does. Looking forward to the dance?”
She got a wistful look. “Looking forward to hanging out with everyone. So much more special with you and Brax there.”
“Think Brax will clean up nice?” I asked.
She reached up and placed her hand over mine. She smiled. “He's pretty good, isn't he?”
“I think he's pretty great, honestly.” I hesitated then said, “Good enough for you.”
She raised an eyebrow and smiled wider. “Good enough for me? He passes the Drew test?”
She turned from the mirror and we faced each other. “Yeah. I think the guy loves you, Allie.”
Her lips quivered. “Yeah. I think the feeling is mutual.”
I smiled widely at her.
“But look at you! Damn. Brax might swing your way, tonight!” she teased.
“Yeah. I just want to keep Cole's attention,” I said. “You need anything else?”
“No. I just need my shoes and purse. See you downstairs?”
“Yep,” I said, departing to wait with butterflies in my stomach. Would it really be as easy as Teo thought? Or would Cole end up laughing at me, or would we not be spending time together because he'd be dancing and I'd be at a table drinking Kool-Aid or something? It was kind of silly how much I wanted to spend time with him. It didn't really matter what we were doing. Thursday before I went to work we just read our books while snuggling on the couch. Cole seemed to like cuddling me as much as I liked being cuddled.
That was another thing. I didn't know I liked being cuddled. It was a little embarrassing how much I craved it, but maybe I was making up for lost opportunities. So we watched movies, TV shows, read books, listened to music and sometimes just talked while cuddling. I missed him when we weren't together. I have it so bad....
The elder Petrakises made approving noises over each of us and took some pictures. Brax arrived shortly before Cole, and then there were more pictures. Brax was looking fine with his bright white shirt, black bow tie, dark mustard khakis and polished black shoes. Cole, though...fine wasn't enough of a word. He wore a black button up with a copper colored bow tie that made his hazel eyes pop like they were polished pennies. Black slacks and black suede shoes finished his outfit. He had a black wool coat, very similar to the light gray one I was wearing. I glanced at Teo. I don't remember him wearing any light gray wool coats before....
Then Ashley showed up. I don't know what his deal was, but Teo's description of him being extra rang true when he showed up in a limo. I mean. How extra can you be? He invited us all to see the inside, but I didn't care that much. Teo was appropriately impressed that Ashley was going so far to make it a special night. Maybe he had high hopes for another blowjob? If so those hopes were dashed, or postponed, when Teo said there was enough room for everyone. Since we were going out to dinner before the dance it made plenty of sense.
At first I wasn't thrilled with the idea. I wanted Cole to myself, but then I looked around the room at my friends – my family – and maybe that was one category instead of two. Seeing Alessia smile and blush as Brax smiled gently at her was worth going – they really looked happy together. It made me happy. I guess it was sort of like that old saying about a rising tide raising all ships.
“So. You look nice,” Cole said.
I turned to him and raised an eyebrow. “And you look stunning. I love your tie and how it makes your eyes stand out like searchlights. Do you have any idea how pretty you are?”
His eyes went wide and he laughed. “Whoa! Compliment overload!”
Feeling silly I tried to play it cool and shrugged. “I calls 'em like I sees 'em.”
“Well, I had to work hard to keep up with you.” He leaned in and whispered, “You look so fucking hot right now.” I shivered.
Ashley was what one would call a dishwater blonde, I think. Pale to the point of being white, almost. He looked like someone who wasn't athletic, but perhaps didn't eat too many sweets either. He'd dressed in a white shirt, black bow tie with a black blazer and pants. His shoes were the mirror shine kind of shoes you see with dress military uniforms. He was definitely making the most of taking Teo out tonight, and Teo looked like he was enjoying the effort.
I reached out to take Ashley's hand. “Thanks for the ride out tonight. Teo tells me you’re his kind of nerd.”
Ashley blushed really, really hard. “Um, yeah. We like some of the same things, I guess.”
He wasn't my kind of cute, but he looked nice with Teo – and more importantly, I thought Teo looked kind of happy with him. How strange that he was doing a one-eighty and seeing someone younger than he was rather than aiming for a guy a little older. I guess who you are may just be more important than what you look like – even if both were important to whoever was dealing with you.
“We look coordinated, somehow,” I said to Cole.
“Yeah. Weird, huh?” he said with a grin.
I wasn't going to ask. Obviously Teo – and possibly Alessia – were trying to help. Well, that was just fine. We climbed into the limo and were taken across town to the Fratelli Esposito Italian restaurant, which I'd never been to but had heard Teo talk about glowingly. He'd been taken on a date there once – by a professor I think. How did a guy that old end up with a high school senior? Wait, he wasn't a senior then, was he? It must be all the hair. Teo has to shave twice a day it seems, and he still has a 'five o'clock shadow.' I glanced over at him. He's more sneaky than I ever gave him credit for.
The restaurant had fluted columns outside the ornate overhang and gold lettering in script on the glass. Once inside we were led to a large round table where we paired off. Then Alessia started to be an instigator.
“Joe Fimmer got a bloody nose today,” she said, glancing around the table.
“So?” Teo asked. “And who is he?”
“He's a guy with a big mouth, and now a bloody nose,” Brax said with a grin and a glance at Cole.
I looked at Cole. “Is that who you got in a fight with today?”
“Honey, the county knows,” Alessia said. She frowned, yet smiled which looked kind of creepy. “Joe Fimmer. If you look him up in the dictionary his face would be next to the word 'Vomitrocious.'” She looked around at us. It was an interesting word, but I could only figure part of the meaning at first.
“Does it have something to do with being so disgusting you vomit?” I asked.
“I was going to guess that,” Cole said.
“It means something so terrible it makes a tiny bubble of vomit come up to the back of your throat.”
“You're gross!” Teo said with a laugh.
“You're gross!” she countered.
“Classy, 'Less. Big word score in Scrabble, but totally gross for where we are,” I said. I leaned over to Cole. “That would make an awesome book title.”
“We should totally become a writing team,” he agreed.
“What would you write?” Ashley asked. I guess we were louder than we realized.
“It would have to be super gory,” Cole enthused. “The goal would be to make the reader actually feel vomitrocious.”
“That's my new favorite word,” Brax said and started to laugh.
Our waitress dropped two baskets of bread and olive oil on the table and took our drink orders. We started to look at the menus, but Cole having been fighting was kind of on my mind and it made me curious. I figured Joe had said something about Cole dating me, but what could have been bad enough that Cole lost his cool? He hadn't struck me as the violent type.
“So what did Joe Fimmer say?” I asked.
“I'm glad someone asked – I'm dying to know!” Ashley said.
“Just running his mouth,” Cole said, looking at his menu.
I frowned. “Did he call you something? One of those famous and popular insults?”
“No. He was just being an asshole,” Cole said, not looking at me. I frowned, wondering why he was being evasive.
“Joe was being loud in the locker room for gym,” Brax said quietly. I glanced at him and back to Cole, who was still behind his menu. “He said some minor shit, but Cole shrugged the slug off. Then he claims he told Cole not to be a faggot and tap Haylee last year.”
“See? Vomitrocious,” Alessia said firmly.
I looked at Cole. “Why would you punch him for that?”
He folded the menu and laid it on his plate. “It's no big deal. It was my own fault.”
“I don't think so,” Brax said. Cole looked up at Brax, who jerked his chin away from Cole and toward me, indicating to Cole he should tell me – I think. Cole sighed.
“He said if I were going to fag off, I should have picked someone who wasn't so fucking weird.”
I paused, annoyed but not angry. “That wasn't even that bad. Wait,” I said, putting a hand to my forehead. “He called you names and you let it go, but he says something stupid about me and you punched him?”
Cole looked at me with an abashed expression, yet smiling. “Duh.”
“My boy!” Brax said in a silly, booming yet hollow voice and held his fist out. Cole bumped it with his fist and the handshake of stupidity was complete.
“Okay, first, I can kick Joe's ass if I need to,” I said.
“You weren't there,” Cole replied.
“Well, you don't need to get in trouble for me,” I told him.
He grinned cockily. “Too late.”
I frowned. “What did you do?”
“I punched him – but look! He was being stupid, I was wanting to punch him anyway, but then he went after you and everyone laughed – so I punched his nose.”
“Do we know what we'd like to order?” the waitress asked, appearing from thin air.
“Joe Fimmer's balls on a plate, flambe,” Alessia growled.
I looked at her and pointed. “No. He's probably learned his lesson.”
She stared at me. “Do you know who the first one was to put that you guys fucked on Cole's post when you fell asleep on him? Which was adorable, by the way. Nice shot, Cole!”
“Okay, I'll just give you all a few more minu-”
“Guys! I'm hungry! Do you know what you want to eat?” Teo asked. Then he turned to the waitress. “I'm going to go with the lobster ravioli.”
We pulled up menus and started placing orders. What do you do with a boy who won't put up with someone saying anything about you that's – admittedly stupid – but even slightly defamatory? I don't want the cute dumb ass getting in trouble or hurt. Once we were done and the waitress had made her escape, the conversation continued.
“Can I just say, before this goes farther, I loved that picture,” Ashley said with a shy smile. “That was relationship goals right there.”
“I had a great subject for my photography skills to exploit,” Cole said smugly. I rolled my eyes.
“No more fighting, you,” I told him, poking his chest.
“But,” Ashley continued as if we hadn't spoken, “there was a couple of guys who were real jerks on that thread. I don't know if you guys are doing it, but if that was going to be joked about, it should be your friends – not rando jerks on some app.”
“Well, the world is full of assholes,” I said. “I've met a lot of them.”
“Well, I have a way to get even with Joe, at least.” Ashley looked as if he were surprised he'd spoken.
“Oh?” This from several people.
“Yep. We cut his face from some picture – he probably has some online – and then we put it into some bestiality video or something and post it anonymously.”
I know I was staring at him slack-jawed. I have no idea what anyone else was doing.
“That is both genius and a real nuclear option,” Teo said. “I love it, but let's keep that in our pocket for now, okay?”
Ashley blushed under Teo's gaze and Teo smiled, and looked away. The conversation turned and the fight, along with Joe Fimmer, were lost for a time. The meal was good and I had a great time feeling very independent – adult-like – even though everything had been paid for by others. I had some cash, my last check, and I used a big chunk to make sure the waitress got a good tip. It made me feel good to do that. Waitresses probably see a group of kids and think 'plenty of work, crappy tip', but she'd also been a good waitress. We walked out front and I took Cole's hand. It was still a new thing for me, but Cole acted as if we'd been holding hands in public for years.
The dance was okay. The DJ looked bored and his playlist reflected that. Kids from school were all dressed up, and it was really weird to see people who normally walked around in sweats and looking like they just rolled out of bed do their best to imitate a GQ model or like something from Elle. My anxiety came crashing back when Cole pulled me out to dance with him, but I guess I did all right. We sort of group-danced and I was able to relax. It took no time at all under that kind of movement for dress shirts everywhere to become untucked.
The lights went down a bit and a mirror ball splashed tiny dots of light around the room. I moved close to Cole and wrapped my arms around him for a slow dance. We had our heads on each other's shoulders, cheek to cheek and he was whispering things I could barely hear – complimenting me, telling me how happy he was – all very storybook and Hollywood.
I spotted Teo dancing with Ashley, and I recalled our conversation in his room earlier that night. “You don't need to know the steps – you just have fun,” he'd said. “Except on the slow dances. Then it's about how much you can get away with without a proctor catching you.”
A streak of excitement ran through me. I moved a hand down Cole's side to his hip. I was starting to sweat. I mean, I had been hot from the dancing and both Cole and I had put our ties in our coats and unbuttoned our shirts a bit, but this...this was different. I'd be crossing a line. And then I thought – why just cross it? Leap across that line.
I moved my hand up from his hip, slipping it under his shirt so my palm was on the skin of his side. I looked around quickly, but I figured if I was fast I'd get away with it. I moved forward, placing my lips on Cole's and he responded immediately, and then I obliterated that line. I slipped my hand behind him and down the back of his pants, catching a little on the waistband of his underwear, and gripped his bare cheek in my hand.
That's right, Cole. I can surprise you, and make you jump – and wow. Your butt feels so freaking awesome. His jump made us stumble a little, but I held onto that butt cheek.