Panic!

Chapter 5

By Dabeagle

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The party was a snooze. Lauren seemed to have forgotten who I was or that I was invited and made a subtle eyeroll at Jared for having added Derry to her guest list. Derry and I sat together and he and I started off by making fun of the party, then got to important things like art and music. I found out Derry sang in the school chorus and he was also part of a smaller singing group at school that had won sectionals last year. I peppered him with questions about his singing, the competitions he'd been involved with and what his favorite things to sing were.

It was a real treat to watch him light up as he talked about something he enjoyed, something that meant a great deal to him. That segued into talking about our families and the support they did or didn't provide as far as our interests, friends and just life in general. I was so engrossed in talking to him that I completely forgot that Jared had asked me here to get to know his girlfriend, but I hadn't really spoken to either of them.

After about two hours the party was winding down and Derry checked his phone. "Hey, Delia wants to come over and swim. You want to?"

"Sure, let's bail out of here." We stood and I looked around to tell Jared I was going, but he was looking a little frazzled among a group of his girlfriend's guests. I didn't know why. I shrugged and sent him a text as I was leaving.

We stopped by my house and he insisted I bring my sketchbook. I changed into a bathing suit and he told me he had plenty of towels at his house, so we headed over. Delia was sitting on his stoop, staring at her phone as we pulled into the driveway.

"Hey!" she said brightly as we climbed out of the car. "Oh, Derry has a date. Should I call Ahmed?"

I jerked in surprise and tried to shoot a casual glace at Derry to see his reaction.

Derry shrugged. "Call who you want, woman," he said saucily and stuck his tongue out. Of course this isn't a date, you moron, I told myself. Let's not make the same mistake you did with Luke!

"I will, then!" she said and then turned her gaze to me. "I see you're brought that sketchbook. You know I want to see, right?"

I side-eyed Derry and smiled. "I might have had a warning about that, yes."

"Perfect," she said and looked down at her phone, texting Ahmed I presume.

We went inside and Delia walked me to the pool while Derry ran upstairs to change. "Good, I'll have some straight boy to look at soon," Delia cooed and I chuckled at her. She smiled at me and said, "When you have gay boys to look at it's like having a meal set before you but being on a diet."

"I don't know. That doesn't really seem to work right," I said to her, chuckling.

"I guess. Closest I can come to it," she said as she discarded her tee shirt and wiggled out of her shorts. Derry appeared with towels, tossing them onto a deck chair and grabbing sun block from a small table.

"Don't need my skin to look like my hair," he said with a mutter and started to apply the paste to his pale-as-milk skin. His nipples stood out, red as his lips against the white of his skin. "Delia? Get my back?"

"Isn't that Jack's job?" she asked.

"Don't be embarrassing," he snapped back.

"I can do it," I said. "Without, you know, assaulting you."

"She just thinks she's funny," he said while she jumped into the pool with a large splash. As she surfaced he yelled out, "She's not!"

"Whatever," she replied with a laugh. "I'm tired of saving you from burning. Let someone else have the responsibility for a change!"

I took the tube from him, kind of grabbing it from his hand. I squirted a fair glob onto my hand and looked at him expectantly.

"Don't push me in," he warned. I grunted and spread the sun block over the skin of his back.

"You need this stuff?" he asked when I was done.

"No, not usually," I replied. "My mom says I should, though, to avoid skin cancer, so I use it when she's around. Outside of that? Not really."

"You should do what your mother says," he told me, squirting a glob onto his palm and handing the tube to me. "Turn around."

I turned obediently and he spread the stuff across my back in efficient strokes. I sighed and coated my arms and chest before tossing the tube aside. We jumped in and swamped Delia, and she climbed on my back as she tried to get revenge and push me underwater.

"Hello?"

I looked around, but didn't see anyone.

"Gate's open, Ahmed!" Derry called out. A large gate I hadn't noticed in a board fence at the side of the house opened up and Ahmed came through, then closed it behind him. He was kind of thin, skin dark as midnight, hair cut short to his scalp, and he had a smile on his face.

"My dad won't put a pool in. He tells me to turn the hose on over myself," Ahmed said with a chuckle as he tossed his shirt onto the back of a chair and shed his socks and shoes.

"Woo! Come on, work it!" Delia said, whistling at him. He twisted around a little and it was goofy and funny, so we all laughed before he jumped in like a pencil, arms close to his sides. I lost track of time as we played and splashed. In a way, what so appealed was their easy acceptance of my presence despite what should be something awkward between Derry and me. I wondered for a second if that was right. Should it be awkward? We'd kissed. We'd talked about it. It was well over and no one had been hurt, at least not permanently. He didn't seem to be holding a grudge - and maybe the others didn't know about that event at all.

There was a lot of verbal teasing and I ended up in the middle of any two people who were running from or pursuing someone else. Delia shrieked at me once to grab Derry, and I did. I had both my arms around him, his back to my chest and he howled and wiggled, but I held fast. When Delia got close, though, I didn't want to give him up so I turned my back to her. We kept that up for a minute and then she just jumped on my back and I let Derry go, giving him a shove as I went under. Delia was stronger than she looked.

It was probably for the best, anyway. Holding Derry had given me a soft-on and that could have gotten embarrassing pretty fast.

"Who decided to throw a party and leave me out?" a woman asked as she stepped through the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. Her hair was similar shade of red compared to the color of Derry's hair. She was tall, slender and freckled. Derry hadn't gotten much of the freckles that I could see - unless they were hidden under his swimsuit.

"Hi, Mom," Derry said, gliding across the top of the water and to the side of the pool. "How was your day?"

"Not as much fun as yours," she said with a smile. She looked at the rest of us. "Hi, Delia. How's your mom?"

"She's good, thanks," Delia replied.

"Ahmed, is she being nice to you?" Mrs. Keefe teased.

"Not nice enough, no ma'am," Ahmed said, then had to move fast as Delia tried to drown him.

"Hi, I'm Derry's mom. You are?" she asked, looking at me and smiling.

"Mom, that's Jack Kaniecki. I told you about his drawing, remember?" Derry interjected. His mom's eyes open a little wider as she glanced at Derry and then back to me. I blushed, wondering what that look meant.

"Yes, nice to meet you, Jack. Derry's been singing your praises. I'd certainly like to see your portfolio."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Keefe," I replied. I couldn't help feeling a little deflated that Derry had only told her of my drawings. What did I expect, that he'd confide a crush? Or if he had, that she'd mention it? Did I just think that? Moron. "My sketchbook is inside my car."

"Well don't you run off before you let me see!" she said and smiled at me. She looked down at Derry. "I'm going to get changed. Who had the dumb idea of an open house on a Sunday, huh? Me! Boy am I dumb!"

"Can we look now?" Delia asked me. "I mean, as long as we don't touch since we're wet?"

"Uh, yeah," I said and headed for the side of the pool. Mrs. Keefe turned as she was entering the sliding doors.

"Derry? How does pizza sound?"

"Yes, please!" he said loudly. I climbed from the pool and grabbed a towel from the stack, drying myself quickly. I walked over to the side of the house to the gate and walked around to get to my car. Damn, driveway had gotten kind of hot, should have slipped my shoes on! After snagging my sketchbook I retraced my steps. Ahmed and Delia were sitting at the edge of the pool and Derry had stretched out on a deck chair. My fingers itched to draw him like that, sun shining on him and the speckles of water acting like minuscule mirrors.

Derry's eyes were closed, but as Delia clamored to see my progress on Derry's drawing he grinned and waved toward her. "Go ahead, look! Admire! But don't touch the merchandise!"

Delia made sure her hands were dry and then accepted the sketchbook from me. As she studied the drawing, still incomplete, I went over to where my shirt lay and picked up my phone. I sidled over to Derry and swallowed.

"Derry?"

He opened one eye. "'Sup?"

"Mind if I take a picture of you? I want to practice drawing musculature," I said, only half lying.

He quirked his eyebrow up and shrugged. "Go for it." He closed his eye and I woke my phone. Huh, message from Jared. I'd grab that later. I brought up my camera app and took several shots of Derry rather than a single encompassing one. It would help me add detail when I drew this pose later, something I'd keep for myself.

Delia was very excited about the drawing of Derry, but she ended up flipping through the book to look at other things I'd drawn.

"Man! I was hoping for some sketch porn in here, but this is all legitimately art. Jack, you disappoint me!" she said with a laugh and placed my sketchbook on my shirt. "Would you draw Ahmed and me sometime?"

"Sure," I said with a smile.

"When do you think Derry's will be done?" Ahmed asked. "How long does something like this take you?"

"Um, depends on the level of detail."

"Is that why you took so many pictures of Derry just now?" he pressed.

"Yes, actually," I said, my voice a little tight and heat flaring in my cheeks. "One image I could use to make a sketch, but if I want to add in detail that makes it way better, multiple shots is the way to go. Besides, the water drops will dry so I'd have to keep getting him wet and the water would be in different places, so this time a picture is best to work from."

"They make those clear bump dots for blind people to use. You should stick a bunch of them on Derry's body and then sketch him." Delia looked at me with a serious expression and I smiled at her joke.

"Hah, no," Derry said as he sat up. "Jack's just doing this one drawing for me. Nobody is gluing crap to my body."

"You could put a circle of them around your nipples to let guys know where they should go; kind of give them some guidance, you know?" Delia said flippantly.

"Shut up," Derry growled.

I cleared my throat, feeling a little weird. "Anyway, Derry's needs more detail, and I was actually going to ask - Derry, did you want to wear a costume of some kind or did you want this to be in the shorts and tee you were wearing before? How do you want me to detail this?"

Derry got a thoughtful expression on his face. "Could you, like, have me shirtless with tattoos or something?"

I frowned. "Yeah, I could."

"What? You don't like that?"

"Not a tat fan, but it's your picture, not mine."

"Thank you," Delia muttered. "So nasty."

"Silence, woman!" Derry said, puffing out his chest. "Then men-folk are talking important business!"

"Oh, please," she said with an eyeroll. She turned to me and said, "Draw him with skinny jeans, that tee shirt and barefoot. He'd look like a real rock star then."

I looked at Derry and raised an eyebrow.

"If I had leather pants it would be better - and no shirt!" Derry insisted.

"Well, you don't have leather pants, but I guess you could take off your shirt. Someone might find it sexy, somewhere," she said, snickering.

"I'm sexy, damn it," Derry muttered, his mouth curling in a smile.

"Guys! Pizza!" Mrs. Keefe called out. I ate with everyone and then headed for home. Derry said we could get together during the week to work on the sketch, and I was good with that. When I got home my dad was home and my mom was in their bedroom with the TV on loud.

"Hey, buddy. Where were you today?"

"Jared asked me to a party at his girlfriend's house," I said. "It was boring. I ended up hanging out with this guy from school, Derry, at his place with a couple of his friends."

"Oh. Derry - or his friends - good looking?" my dad asked, giving me a tired smile.

I rolled my eyes. "Dad, stop."

"I know, I know. Hey, when you get home tomorrow, please clean the kitchen for me? What's your work schedule like this week?

After dad and I talked about the upcoming week I headed up to my room and kicked off my shoes. I pulled my phone out to set on the desk when the blinking light reminded me of Jared's text from earlier.

Jack, call me when you get this.

Curious. I changed out of my swimsuit and into comfy sweats before calling Jared.

"Jack. Where you been, man?"

"I went to Derry's to swim and work on the sketch," I said. "Why? What's up?"

He sighed. "Lauren was being a monumental bitch," he said, adding in a groan for good measure. "She gave me all kinds of shit because I invited Derry, then she was pissed you guys were talking to each other and then it was somehow my job to help keep people entertained. It wasn't even my party!"

"Huh. Sucks," I said neutrally.

"Jacky-boy! Don't do that! You know I always come back to you," he said and laughed.

I sat down at my desk and opened up my sketchbook to a blank page. "I would just like it if you could balance out whatever shiny new thing you have going with remembering you have a best friend. That's all."

I started to sketch in the wooden slats that comprised the deckchair at Derry's.

Jared sighed. "That's fair, Jack. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"Me, too," I said. "Did you guys break up?"

"Nah, not yet. More of that and we will, though. I've never seen that side of her. Do you know anything about her? You don't, right?"

I hesitated for a second, but then plunged forward. After all, he'd asked - I wasn't trying to be self-serving. "I heard she took at the credit for a project her lab partner did."

"Bitch," he said softly.

We agreed to see each other the next day and I hung up. I plugged in my phone so it wouldn't die and brought up the images I'd taken of Derry that day. I began going through each one, sketching carefully and spending way too long looking at each image. At some point my dad said goodnight, but it barely registered. I sat at my desk, flipping between the images and sketching. I didn't just want to translate the images from the camera to the page, but I wanted to transfer the feeling of seeing Derry laid out like that. I wanted the wet skin to be tantalizing, the hair damp with stray strands running over his forehead and a few twitching in the slight breeze. I wanted the pure desire I felt at seeing the water droplets scattered across his bare skin to set the viewer's mouth to watering. I wanted straight boys to question their sexuality looking at this.

~P!~

"Jack. Jack! You're late, buddy."

I shifted in my chair, blinking slowly and wiping drool from my chin. I looked down at my desk, seeing my work from the night before and beside it my spit glistening from where my face had been. Well, at least I didn't ruin the sketch.

"Sleep in your clothes again?" My dad asked as he stepped into the room, seeing my sketch and taking a second look. "Whoa! Who is this? Is it Derry?"

"Dad!" I groaned and stood up to stretch. "I'm getting in the shower, don't care if it makes me later."

"Seriously, is this Derry? He wants you to draw him like a French postcard?"

"Dad!" I growled and stomped out of the room. Parents were so embarrassing. The day passed easily and I went to work after school. We have a local legend in town - a hot dog stand that was famous, locally, for its meat sauce and 'everything' hot dogs. They were mini sized, and super good. I worked the counter and cleaned up for the most part and it wasn't as bad as working fast food. We didn't have but three indoor tables and there were a few picnic tables outside, so all in all it was pretty informal.

That night I went home and worked on the the sketch of Derry in the deckchair, slowly adding in detail and color. It took me a while to work out which reds would combine best to show his hair color. My eyes felt heavy, but I wanted to just finish one more little piece and before I knew it, it was one in the morning.

Derry was working the next night and Jared was taking Lauren to a movie or something - I stopped listening when he said they were going somewhere. I wasn't too unhappy, though, since I was really into working on the deckchair Derry sketch. At nine-ten Derry called. I put it on speaker so I could continue the detail work on his sketch.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Working on a drawing," I said, trying not to let it come through that I was drawing him.

"Don't you need me to pose? You're not working on another drawing, are you?" he asked, sounding scandalized.

"Dude," I said with a snicker. "I'm always working on another drawing."

"Well, shit. I thought I was special." There was a pause. I considered saying something like he was special, but I wasn't sure how stupid that would be. "So I'm off tomorrow night. Want to get together and work on my sketch?"

"Yeah," I said. "Did you pick out jeans?"

"I totally did. I even went through some old crap in the garage and found a microphone from an old karaoke player my mom bought me a few years ago. I figured it'd make a good prop."

"It'll be good for a few reasons," I told him as I got to the point of merely tinkering with one of the best drawings I'd ever made. Actually, I think it was the best. "Hands can be tough to draw, so having your fingers around the microphone instead of me trying to imagine it will make it easier."

"Sweet!" Derry replied, sounding enthused. "My parents are having people over for dinner tomorrow, but I'm not required. Okay if we do this at your house?"

I glanced around my room, suddenly worried that Derry would see me living like a slob. "Uh. Yeah, that would work fine," I said. "The lighting might be different, but we'll figure it out."

After Derry hung up I started cleaning my room, thoughts of the drawing lingering in the back of my head. I knew I'd put a lot of my emotion into that drawing, a lot of desire. I flushed thinking of that. With all my clothes in the hamper I took the basket down the all to the laundry room and started the washer. Returning to my room I started an inspection with a critical eye. Well, how much dust was acceptable, really? Who set that bar? Ugh.

After getting some cleaning supplies I spent the next couple hours spiffing up my room, tossing things out that were either junk, no longer used or actually trash. I won't discuss the number of hot pocket wrappers I found; some things are best forgotten. After putting my stuff in the dryer I vacuumed my room. It was right about then that my mom poked her head in my room.

"Wow, look at this!" she said with a boozy smile.

"Like it?" I asked.

"I've never seen it so nice. Did you do this for you or for...oh, hell, why ask?" She laughed. "What's his name?"

I waited a beat. "How come you and dad never made a big deal about me being gay?" I blurted.

She looked at me, her gaze the tiniest bit unfocused. "What would have been the point? You are who you are and we don't get to decide that."

Glutton that I am, I asked, "Do you wish I were straight?"

She sighed. "I don't wish for things, Jack. There is what there is and what there isn't." She paused and looked at me, and I thought the look was slightly more coherent. "If you think it matters to me...it doesn't. It never has."

I nodded slowly, not sure why I'd broached the subject now and a bit alarmed that I wasn't feeling something logical like relief or security. Perhaps the anxiety that resides in me so much of the time doesn't drain out quickly enough for me to transition to other feelings.

"I think I'm done watching TV for tonight," she said, breaking the awkward silence.

"What were you watching?" I asked.

"Some show about decluttering," she said dryly. "It was horrifying."

"Why?" I asked, a smile on my lips.

"They said to start with your closet and empty the contents of your closet onto your bed." She eyed me. "It was very specific about the bed. Then you pick up each piece and ask if it brings you joy. If it doesn't, you get rid of it. Now, there are very few items of clothing that bring joy to anyone," she said. She paused and said, "I said joy, Jack. Not lust."

I my face felt hot. "I wasn't thinking that."

"Uh huh," she said with a nod and a knowing smile. "You were just thinking of that redhead from your drawing. You never did mention his name."

"Derry," I said, trying to not sound dorky. I think just about anyone would sound dorky, no matter what tone they took in reply.

"Anyway," she said, smiling at me. "I buy clothes that I think are cute, or when I like the cut or color. I don't buy them for joy. If I listened to this woman, going through each item in my closet - heaped on my bed, no less - I'd be naked and sleeping on the couch for days."

"Dad might not mind," I teased, feeling silly for saying it. A half-second later I felt stupid, instead, as her expression fell to neutral.

"Good night, Jack," she said with a weak smile and headed down the hall to her room.

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