We parted lips, and my hand was forced to withdraw a bit, but Cole was smiling at me and shaking his head.
“Damn, Babe. Where'd that come from?”
“It's Teo's fault,” I told him, heat flaming through my face. That had felt so awesome! The rush of making the decision, the feel of his skin, and the glint in his eye from my being so bold.
“I have to thank him later, then,” he said with a grin. Then, maybe as a metaphor for life, the music changed. Our moment was broken, and we exited the dance floor to cool down.
“Want something to drink?” Cole asked.
“Please,” I said and sat down at our table.
Alessia dropped in beside me. “I saw that! What did it feel like?”
Brax waltzed up behind her, his tongue pushing against his cheek and a knowing smile on his face.
“Really?” I asked, laughing. “You guys weren't occupied enough so you had to watch us?”
“You grabbed his butt!” Alessia stated.
I looked at Brax. “Brax, will you please let her feel your butt? I think she's jealous.”
He obligingly turned and pushed his butt out in her direction and was rewarded with her slapping it. Cole came back with our drinks.
“What's up?” he asked as he handed me a glass of punch.
“They saw me grab your butt,” I said and sipped.
Alessia looked over at Cole, who grinned at her. “It felt good, too,” he said and sipped his drink.
We joked a little but I was surprised with how I wasn't freaking about being so bold with him. Teo had been right, in a sense. There was a time for your head to guide things, and a time for your emotions. I was pretty sure when my dick took over the thinking I could be in for some trouble, but I'd deal with that when it came. Pun not intended.
Cole plopped down beside me. “When we get done, can you stay over? We can play some video games and then watch IT. Both parts are up for streaming.”
I thought for a second. “As long as I can shower before we go over – just to wash the sweat off.” I glanced at him. “You will need one, too.”
“I know,” he said, pulling on the front of his shirt to fan his chest. “Have you read IT?”
“No. I've only read what you loaned me,” I reminded him.
“Shit. Maybe we'll watch something else, then. Hey,” he said with a grin. “Want to read it together?”
“You have two copies?” I asked.
I raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “Yeah, okay.”
Haylee was at the dance, but she seemed wrapped up in Naveen – enough not to notice Cole and me. I saw Joe Fimmer giving Cole the stink eye, but that was all. He didn't even have a bruised nose or anything so Cole couldn't have hit him that hard. I did think about that for a bit, and began to worry that it wouldn't end there. What if Cole had hit him just enough to embarrass him? Now he was pissed and looking for payback.
“I'm going to the bathroom,” I said to Cole and made my way around the edge of the gym. I saw Joe and he glared at me, so I tilted my head, indicating he should come out into the hallway. He narrowed his eyes and followed me out the door. I walked past the bathrooms and turned the corner, waiting about four feet from the end of the corridor. I could hear Joe's shoes on the stone floor, and moments later he stood before me.
“What do you want?” he asked, tilting his chin up in defiance.
“Just to warn you to back off. Cole doesn't need your shit,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm.
A cocky smile settled on his face. “That little bitch is going to-”
I didn't swing wide like the movies, but rather a straight shot at his face. He started to dodge, but was surprised that the 'weird' kid was taking a pop at him, I guess. He wasn't fast enough and I did more damage to his nose than Cole had. Way more. He gave a cry, throttled by him holding his nose and no doubt his eyes were watering and a stinging sensation was spreading across his sinuses. Teo had kneed me in the face once when we were wrestling and gave me a bloody nose, so I think I knew what he was feeling.
This had to be definitive, though. I kicked him in the nuts and as he crumpled I put my knee on his chest. Breathing hard and still feeling wildly nervous I said, “I did warn you. Next time I'll take a few of your teeth as a souvenir.”
I walked away shaking, nerves stretched thin – but fuck Joe. I went to the bathroom, washed my hands and face and took a few deep breaths.
“Dude. What happened to you?”
I turned just as Joe walked in. He looked at me and I locked gazes with him. I approached him and for a moment I thought he'd want a rematch on even terms – but no. He stepped aside. It's true what Alessia said, 'Bullies are only strong until you show them how weak they are.'
I walked back to the dance on unsteady legs, body thrumming with adrenaline, and returned to my table. They were animatedly chatting and I reached out and took Cole's hand. He turned and smiled at me to recognize what I'd done, and then went back to arguing with Teo about some video game thing. A table full of nerds arguing games is kind of cute and helped to steady my galloping heart.
At the end of the night we rode back in the limousine, tired but pleased with the evening. When we arrived at the Petrakises’ house, we all thanked Ashley for the ride and exited, giving him and Teo time for an extended good night.
“We were thinking of going over for a shake or something. You guys want to come with?” Brax asked.
Cole glanced at me and then back to Brax. “We made plans to hang at my dad's. Thanks, though. Have fun, kids,” he said with a grin.
“He will,” Alessia said and they departed in Brax's car. We went to my house and I don't know what it was. Maybe it had been building all evening, maybe it was leftover energy from the fight or maybe it was just finally having Cole to myself or a mix of all that. I shoved him up against the wall and pressed tightly to him, smiling devilishly – or hoping I looked that way.
“Oh, hey,” he said with a smile.
“Hey,” I said softly and leaned forward. He flipped me, though, before we our lips could meet and now my back was against the wall and his hands were to either side of me.
I gave him a sly look and pulled him forward by his hips. I leaned forward and he grinned while leaning back.
“Cole!” I whined.
His grin grew wider and he leaned forward, pressing our lips together. We must have stood there for several minutes like that. My whole world was the way his mouth felt on mine, his tongue twisting with mine, his body pressed to mine and the light from the living room that shouldn't have been on. I started and Cole backed up.
“What?” he asked, out of breath. “What's wrong?”
I frowned and slipped past him to find Mr. Petrakis asleep on my couch with a paper scattered all around him. Frowning harder I walked farther into the room and called out to him.
He blinked and looked around with a stunned expression. “Oh. I must have – oh! Damn, this couch!” he said, reaching around to his lower back. “You're back! How was the dance?”
“Fine. What are you doing?” I demanded.
He blinked and frowned. “Don't talk to me like that. I was looking for legal papers for the house, your birth certificate and medical records. We will need them all.”
“Do you think maybe you could do that, I don't know, when I'm here too? Instead I come home to find someone rifling through the papers in my house?”
“Hey!” he snapped. “I own this house! I have paid the mortgage the entire time you have lived here! Don't you tell me when I can come and go!” he said, his voice gaining volume and indignation.
“Yeah?” I asked, stepping closer. “Fine. You want to go through everything while I'm gone like a fucking thief? You go ahead, big man. I'll just get my clothes and go.”
“Go? Go where?” he roared. “You must learn to accept the world around you! This is not some fairy tale! I must sell this house! I must have the papers! I should not have to explain myself to you!”
The front door banged open. “Drew?” Teo called out. He entered the living room and skidded to a stop. “I heard yelling. What's going on?”
“Nothing,” I said venomously. “I was just leaving.”
I turned on my heel and stalked upstairs to pack a bag for the night. I'd worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
“Dad? What the hell?” Teo demanded.
“Don't you start too!” he hollered back.
Cole followed me upstairs and stood at the door while I angrily gathered clothes. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked quietly.
I sighed, stopping my angry scramble. Running my hands over my face I said, “I don't think so. It's just getting clothes for tonight and...and then I'll worry about the rest later.”
He touched me hesitantly and I turned into him quickly, pressing my cheek to his fiercely.
“Okay,”' he said softly. “Just asking 'cause that anger came out of nowhere.”
I barked a laugh. “Joe Fimmer wouldn't think so.”
“What?” he asked, chuckling.
“Nothing. I'm sorry. Watching me losing my shit on him probably wasn't on your agenda tonight.”
He rubbed my back. “Nah, Babe. We've had a rough few weeks. I'm here for you.”
I sighed deeply, relieved I hadn't put him on edge too. It was true, too. He was here for me.
“Can I make a suggestion?” he asked. I grunted an assent. “Teo is ripping him a new one right now. How about you get the shower you wanted, because maybe things will be a little different when you get out. Huh?”
He had a point. Plus he lived in an apartment, so if I were to able to shower there, he probably wouldn't because they had smaller water tanks. I sighed. “Okay.”
I stepped back and he looked at me with an unmistakable fondness.
“You should hate him, too,” I said as I turned and grabbed underwear.
“I'm not a fan, but I'm wondering where you're headed with that?”
“He interrupted whatever I started in the hallway,” I said, teasing him.
“Oh, he's a fucker for that, no doubt,” he said with a laugh.
I leaned in and whispered in his ear. “Who knows where I'd have stopped?”
I was walking backward out of the doorway, looking at his stunned face before he held his arms out and said, “I'm here anytime, any way you want me. You say the word!”
I giggled a little and headed to the shower. I really just needed to rinse the sweat off so I wasn't in there very long. I toweled dry and pulled my clean underwear on before crossing back into my room.
“I just need to grab a few things,” I said to Cole, then noticed Teo was waiting as well.
“You have condoms and lube or shall I run home and get you some?” Teo teased.
“Hah,” I said with a snort. “Where's Ashley?”
“Limo had to get back to the garage,” Teo said with a rueful smile. “I'll see him tomorrow, though.”
“Nice. You guys looked good together,” I told him as I pulled on a shirt and fresh jeans.
“So, my dad,” he said haltingly. “He's kind of losing his shit. He's getting it from all sides these days. I honestly think he came over here to get some peace, because the tension next door is high.”
I frowned. “Did something happen?”
He shrugged. “He said something to Mom that set her off – and I mean off, 'cause she's still steamed. I'm guessing he tucked his tail and ran.”
“He was going through records,” I said, growling. “Pissed me off that he just starts going through things.”
“I get that. I don't think he does, but whatever,” Teo said. “He's gone home. You'll bring your ass back here, right? Don't make me hunt you down, or worse, I'll tell 'Liss you're thinking of running away. That girl will find you anywhere.”
I sighed. “I said it without thinking. He just pissed me off. Ruined a moment.”
Teo looked exaggeratedly between Cole and me. “A moment, huh? Cole? You set with the protection and lubrication?”
“Call me,” Teo said making his hand into a phone.
Cole grinned crookedly. “I already owe you a thank you. Made my boyfriend get grabby on the dance floor.”
“Me? I mean, of course I did. Um, what did I do?” Teo asked with a grin.
“Never mind,” I said breezily. “You have a healthy enough ego as it is.”
I hefted my pack pack and looked at Cole. “I'm ready.”
We filed out of the house, Teo heading for home, and I sat in the passenger seat of Cole's car – his dad's, actually.
He pointed the car towards his dad's place and then he said, “So. What did you mean about Joe Fimmer?”
“In your room. I was talking about how you got angry out of nowhere, and you said Joe Fimmer wouldn't think so. What did you mean?”
“Oh,” I said and looked out the window.
I sighed. “He was giving you the hairy eye all night. When you hit him, it didn't do enough damage – just surprised and embarrassed him. He was planning to get even.”
“And you know this how?”
“No raccoon eyes, no swollen nose, no bruising on his face.” I held up a finger for each point. “The way he was staring at you told me he was building up his courage to get you at your weakest. So I told him to stay away from you. He told me how he was going to get even, and I punched him like he should be punched.”
“You hit him?” Cole said, sounding surprised and impressed.
“Then I kicked him in the balls while he was whining about his nose and told him I'd knock out some of his teeth next time.”
Cole chuckled. “Who knew you were such a bad ass?”
I looked down and reached for his hand. “My boyfriend. No one gets to fuck with you but me.”
He chuckled again. “And Alessia and Teo and Brax, I guess,” he said.
“They're family. Can't stop siblings from picking. Besides, I'm reasonably sure none of them would let anyone touch you, either,” I said in a reasonable tone while stroking the back of his hand with my thumb.
“Jeez. Didn't know I needed such protection,” he said with a snicker.
“You're too pretty to risk,” I said with a dramatic sigh.
“Yeah, that's it,” he said and I imagined I could hear his eyes rolling. We drove the rest of the way with only the radio, turned low, and the sound of the tires rolling over the street. He turned into the apartment complex, and as we turned into the lot for his dad's building we saw a large pickup truck with its lights on parked in the road near Cole's apartment.
“What the hell?” Cole said under his breath as he navigated the car into a parking space. As we exited the car, we heard raised voices.
“Morgan, this isn't him. This is you and what happens when a boy sees his dad run off with another man,” said a female voice, sneering on the final word.
“Oh, fuck,” Cole muttered as we walked toward the commotion. I saw his mother with her arms crossed standing about ten feet away from Cole's dad. Another man was with Cole's mom. He had on a red hat, tee shirt and suspenders, with a pack of cigarettes in his front pocket. His pants looked like the dark work pants mechanics wore, and as we drew closer I saw some tattoos on his forearms.
“Morg,” the man said in a gravelly tone. “You're in the wrong here. This ain't got nothing to do with bibles or anything like that. Men and women, makes biological, natural sense. Now, you've made your bed, but Cole is impressionable and what boy doesn't want to please his father? You're doing him wrong with this. See some sense, now.”
“You both can express those concerns in court,” Cole's dad said to them. “Until then he stays here, because he doesn't feel safe with you, Laurie.”
“Yeah. I'm not going anywhere,” Cole said as we approached the group.
The man turned toward us, and I could see he was older. I wasn't sure who he was, yet, or why he thought he had a say.
“Cole Grant, you get your ass in this truck – right now!” his mother said, raising her voice and pointing behind her at a large truck with four doors and some kind of tube-steel grating protecting the lights and grille.
“No.” Oh. Was that me?
“You have no part in this, young man,” the older fellow said. “Now Cole, you mind your mother and get in the truck, boy.”
“Like my boyfriend said: No.” Cole crossed his arms and I moved to stand beside him. Ended up a little in front of him. Oops.
“Boy, you're going to have a meeting with a switch from my back yard if you backtalk anymore. No grandson of mine is going to be a cocksucker. Now you move your ass before I get pissed,” he said. Wow, so that was the grandfather.
My temperature rose. The anger – the fury – I'd only so recently drained away came rushing back. I've never been one that was quick to anger, but it seemed I had no problem getting angry any more. I moved further in front of Cole and was getting ready to lace into this fucker who didn't look like he was old enough to be a grandfather and could probably kick my ass. It didn't matter, I was riding on a wave of righteous fury. I opened my mouth, and Keith cut me off.
“Take your red hat, shove it up your ass, take this bitch with you, and ride your hillbilly pickup truck ass out of here before I show you just how in the wrong you are,” Keith snapped, striding from his front door and getting about three feet away from Cole's mom and grandfather.
“Go inside, you goddamn faggot,” Cole's mother sneered. “You've got no say about anyone's children.”
“Sissy, go back to your cookin' or sewing or whatever it is you do. I'll rack you from one end of this parking lot to the other,” the grandfather growled. “No goddamn sissy-boy is hanging onto my grandson. Fucking pervert.”
“You aren't touching him,” Keith snarled. “And you're right – I'm as sissy as they come.” He moved forward, unintimidated by the two. “But all it took was one pissed off drag queen and we had a riot down at the Stonewall. I have no shame in saying I'll claw your fucking eyes out.”
The grandfather frowned. Someone hollered out their window to shut the fuck up before they called the police. As it happens, it was too late for the threat, because a cruiser pulled into the lot and turned on its flashers. The next hour was filled with the cops talking to everyone involved and finally sending Cole's mom and grandfather on their way with a warning that without a court order Cole could legally be with his father – and that they would be wise to refrain from any other visits of this nature before court, because it could be used against them.
We finally got inside and I was struggling to let the anger slide away. I had to say something to Keith. He hadn't even been happy Cole was here. If he'd stayed inside, perhaps Cole would have gone for some stupid reason, like trying to keep the peace. I don't know. He does dumb things sometimes, like not punching assholes hard enough. Cole and his father were talking in quiet tones so I followed Keith to the back of the kitchen, where he was getting ready to go out to smoke.
“Thank you,” I said.
He turned with a look of mild surprise, then smiled. “A girl has to keep her promises. Besides, he's not so bad.”
“No. He's not so bad,” I agreed.
“Was it fun? A dance? Did he dance with you?” Keith asked, a trace of hopefulness in his voice.
I smiled at him. “He danced with me. We slow danced and, um, I grabbed his butt.”
“You didn't!” he gasped with pleasure. “Right there in front of the whole school? And what did he do?”
“Finished kissing me, first,” I said with a grin. “Then he wanted to know what that was for. Seemed pretty happy.”
“Aww. Darling boy, that warms my heart. Go. Be with your boy. Us old ladies need a smoke,” he said with a little smile. I nodded and thanked him again before going to rejoin Cole. We put our shoes by the door and I carried my bag to his room. I dropped my bag beside his closet door, turned and found him watching me from about a foot away. He regarded me with a serious expression.
“I think you like me,” he said calmly, no trace of teasing in his tone.
I swallowed, feeling like this was a big moment for us. “You're not wrong. Why do you say that?”
Solemnly he said, “Twice tonight you stepped in to protect me.”
I cleared my throat. “Well. I wasn't sure your mother would give you back to me. Seemed like a risk I wasn't willing to take.” I hesitated, nerves bunching up in my guts. “And I think it's more than like.”
He bit his lower lip for the briefest moment and then opened his arms to me. I sank into him gratefully and held him closely.
“It's been a hard few months,” he said quietly. “My parents – my dad coming out. Me fighting with myself. Haylee. Now it looks like there's going to be war in my family.” He let out a breath. “But you're so worth it.”
“You're right, it has been a hard few months. I'm happy where I am, though,” I replied quietly. “I love you, Cole.”
He tightened his arms. “God, I love you too, Babe.” The waves of emotion were huge and threatened to topple me. I held onto the the center of my world, and he held onto me as well. Together we were anchoring one to the other. It was a bond that couldn't hold forever – everything breaks. But this one, I had a feeling, could be renewed indefinitely whenever one of us felt as if life threatened to make us drift away.
“I'm going to shower,” he said tiredly.
“Yay,” I said, leaning back and grinning at him.
“What?” he asked with a smile.
“It's just something I like,” I told him as I let him go. He pulled his shirt off and I stopped talking to admire his chest.
“What is it you like?” he asked, stepping closer and grinning like a fool, the awkwardness of exposing our hearts passing.
“Not telling,” I said, rubbing a hand over his pecs. “You'll use it against me.”
“Aww, come on, Baby,” he said quietly.
I ignored him, entranced with his smooth skin.
“Hmm. Feels good,” he said softly.
“Yeah. It does,” I agreed, my voice as if I were in a trance. I let my hand run up his chest, past his shoulder and to the back of his neck, where I pulled him forward. I wanted to finish the kiss we'd had interrupted, and this time I could let my hands roam the skin of his back as I did. He leaned back, a happy grin on his face.