This story is based in the Fearless/Weghtless universe created by Cynus. Reading those stories first will provide greater understanding of certain characters but isn't required.
The sound of papers being shaken broke my train of thought. I glanced up to find that the person in front of me was holding a handout for class. I took the pages the person sitting in front of me was holding behind them and, thus, nearly in my face. I glanced at the sheet, taking one and handing the rest to the person behind me. The details of my history paper were laid out on the page and, as I went through the page style, font size, word count and information requirements, I mentally ticked through the people I could write about.
History is a favorite subject of mine and the idea of getting to write a paper on something I actually enjoyed had me focused. The principle of the paper was simple, picking a figure from history and writing something of a biography, with the added wrinkles of why they were important to you. It wouldn't have to be read aloud and that was fine with me-public speaking wasn't my thing. But the idea of explaining that Alexander the Great was important to me because he'd been the most powerful man of his time and he'd had a man as his lover; even built a city for him and a religion was started in his name that lasted for some time...that was enticing.
I glanced at Mr. Hathaway, my history teacher, and chuckled to myself. IN a way he'd be the first guy I came out to. Granted, you'd think I'd come out to someone I could date but in this school, there weren't many to choose from.
A sudden clatter from across the room drew everyone's attention. Like the rest, I looked over to see Clint Fjeldsted just standing back up. I'm not sure what he'd done, but he had pulled his desk over in the process, which explained the crash everyone had heard. Interestingly, Clint had brought me full circle because he'd been the reason I'd been distracted when the history paper directions were handed out.
Clint wasn't exactly a stud to look at. His dark brown hair and warm brown eyes were nice; pretty, even and a well-balanced face. Outside of that he was kind of scrawny, but obviously had balls of solid brass. He'd made waves, recently, by deciding to shower after gym class. I'd even heard he'd come out, but I wasn't sure about that. Personally, I wouldn't mind showering. It's the being naked in front of everyone because it's a communal shower I'm not a fan of. I mean, I'd be okay if I could just observe but...well, I wasn't exactly a stud either.
And the fact that Clint wasn't a stud hadn't stopped me for one hot second in picturing him naked and showering. From there it was a short step to picturing others naked and showering. Too bad I wasn't in Clint's gym class, that's for damn sure.
Clint had righted his desk and said something that made Mr. Hathaway chuckle. It was something I liked about this teacher, he didn't seem to take things too seriously. I can think of more than one teacher that would have scolded Clint or even kicked him out. I mean, what the heck was he doing to knock his whole desk over?
Mr. Hathaway brought the class back to order and then the points of the project were reviewed and a few questions were asked-Ake Simonian asked specifically if these would be orally presented to the class and Mr. Hathaway reassured us that we didn't have that kind of time. As these questions played out, I let my mind wander to my own project and thinking of the sources I'd need to cite. Given my parents fanatical control of the family computer and the times they'd let me use it, I'd have to go to the library to print up some material. I flipped the instruction page over and began making notes on the back of it.
The bell rang and I grabbed my stuff and headed to my next class. I didn't think much more about Clint and the idea of him naked for the rest of the school day. There were plenty of guys in my school but relatively few who caught my eye for one reason or another. It was to these other guys I turned my imagination to as I went from class to class. For instance while in Gym, I spent part of the class looking at Curtis Wainwright who'd filled out nicely over the summer break, probably from working on his family's farm. He had that nice, innocent feel about him and a quiet, yet commanding voice when he spoke. His wavy blonde hair and decent complexion only enhanced that.
In math there was Parker Reid and I am still not sure, exactly, what I like about him. Everything about him is about as average as you could imagine: light brown hair with hazel eyes, around five foot seven with-I kid you not-an average build. Well, maybe a little above average but it was hard to be sure since his jeans fit well but were not what you might call form fitting and he preferred longer shirts, usually worn in layers. He rode a skateboard to school, but he didn't hang out with the skater crowd and, really, the only thing that made him look like he could be part of their group was the board itself.
Yet, for some reason, he stood out from the crowd to me. There were hotter guys, smarter and stronger, too. Yet, I enjoyed looking at him and watching him walk. He had an easy grace about his movement that, while I couldn't be sure what part of it was interesting to me, it certainly made me look forward to watching him.
Then there was Ty Menendez who spoke Spanish and, thus, broke the curve for the rest of the class. I liked his skin tone and when he spoke Spanish, in contrast to our teacher, the words sounded exotic and pregnant with meaning. Of course, that was until you realized he just pronounced things properly, unlike the rest of us. Still, I could listen to him all day, not really caring what he said, as long as it was in Spanish.
In science there was, perhaps, the oddest member of the guys I like to look at. Zane walks with a cane but makes it look stylish and aristocratic. It adds so much character to him. It puts you in mind of someone smart, but then he also proves it with his grades and class comments. I don't know him and never asked about his limp, but I definitely appreciated his brain and his dimples, when he chose to smile.
English was another oddity in Travis Beaufort. He was short, had dirty blond and amazingly clear blue eyes. I reflected that he was so quiet, I'm not sure he'd say shit if he were chin deep in it. He was painfully thin, or had been but was filling out well over the past several months. Maybe it was his quietness, I reflected, that I found appealing. Many guys I knew were loud and drew attention to themselves, frequently by tearing down someone else. Travis floated in the background and didn't get involved, though some made it their business to screw with the little guy. He also had a cute, elfin nose; a slight upturn at the end, rounded into a soft point. I liked that.
There were a few other guys, but those were the ones in my classes that I particularly enjoyed. Of course, I didn't actually know any of them. I'd never even considered speaking to them. No doubt they were cool enough to not want to interact with me, anyway, but even if they did they'd probably turn and run once they met my folks.
In a word, my folks were nuts and I didn't have a strong relationship with either one. Mom spends most of her daylight hours sleeping because she works midnights at the battery factory over in Sharpton. Trouble is, she has a hard time sleeping during the day, so she has a few shots when she gets home to settle down and then she has these energy drinks at night to get her back up. I don't really see much of her until her days off, but the up and down of the things she uses to function and the way her sleep is all screwed up makes her kind of cranky when I do.
My father is a fanatic. His first love is guns. He owns a gun shop, takes guns out to shoot regularly, and goes on weekend survival-type trips with other guys. I was always uncomfortable around he and his friends as they talked a lot about the end of society and Western Civilization and how they'd have to protect themselves when 'The Collapse' happened.
I swear, when they say it, it sounds like it should be capitalized: The Collapse. The government falling, law failing, everything descending into anarchy. My father also collected his spent shells and would stay in his workroom making his own bullets from them. If I ever want to storm an installation, I'll talk to my dad. Outside of that, we don't talk much, either.
Embarrassment over my parents was one reason I didn't really engage mush socially with my peers. Even if anyone on my imaginary list of cute guys turned out to be gay, I'd never try to ask him out. At most I'd daydream about dating them, hanging out with them, getting them in bed....
After last bell, I headed to the library. I picked a computer over by the windows so I could watch people as they started to head home from school. I paused as I noted people exchanging hugs or kisses and smiled at them as I enjoyed their little moment. I noticed, then, two boys walking away hand in hand. One kind of thin with dark brown hair and the other...well, he had a cane in one hand and his other hand was locked together with none other than Mr. Shower, Clint Fjeldsted. Clint and Zane. I frowned, and my reflection in the glass frowned with me. Clint was new and I hadn't even known Zane was gay. Not that it mattered, I guess, but it stung a little. Still, I guess that whisper I'd heard of Clint coming out was real enough.
I watched as they moved away and then forced myself to tune them out and turned to the rows of computers. Travis was seated next to a girl I didn't know. She was pretty enough, I guess, and seemed somewhat amused with whatever Travis was doing. I took a seat away from him so I could focus, since my assignment wasn't to look at him. I signed onto a school computer and ran a few searches and printed out three articles that I wanted to read more deeply from than I had time for now, but I was pleased with the start. I then ran a few searches for books in the library but found only one. After locating it on the shelf, I went back to the computer to try and find one more article I could take home with me.
I glanced up to see Ake from my History class hanging his backpack on the chair and sitting in front of a computer.
"Hi, Ake," I replied. Ake was physically interesting because of certain striking features. Ake was about as dark skinned as you could get. His lips were the color of healing bruises and the whites of his eyes and his teeth stood out like fires in the night. He kept his hair trimmed quite short and his dark brown eyes all combined to set him apart from the rest of the school. He was quiet, normally, and I think the most we'd ever done was exchange greetings.
"You working on that history project already?" he asked, shaking his head and smiling. "You're going to kill the curve for the rest of us."
"I doubt that," I demurred. "Who did you pick to profile?"
"Haile Selassie." His fingers flew over the keyboard as he entered his log on ID.
"Who is that?" I asked with interest and ignoring my screen.
He turned and smiled widely. "He was the Emperor of Ethiopia."
I raised my eyebrows. "Ethiopia had an emperor? I never knew that. What else?"
He shook his head. "You'll have to wait and read my report."
"Okay," I replied, nodding and thinking about looking up Haile Selassie for myself.
"Who did you pick?"
"Alexander the Great," I replied.
He shook his head. "Too well known. What can you say most people haven't heard already?"
"Well," I said, turning to give him my attention. "There's his childhood influences, for one."
"The Sacred Band of Thebes," I replied promptly. "Also, there is his relationship with his general, Hephaestion, and how he built a city in his honor and how a cult sprang up to worship Hephaestion as a god."
Ake's face wrinkled into a frown. "A God? There is only one."
Realizing he was sensitive to the subject, I shrugged and turned back to my computer to find that extra article before I called it a day. I had chores to do at home before my father got home from the gun shop and if they weren't done by then I would be.
"Doesn't that bother you?" he asked. "How silly, how...arrogant of man to think he could place himself on the same level as God?"
I pursed my lips and decided I had enough to start with, for now, and moved the cursor to log off. "Well, Ake, I think we should probably leave that one alone."
"You mean you approve? Shane, how could you say that?" he asked, his voice indignant.
I stood and looked at him as I pulled my bag to my shoulders. "I don't, Ake. But you and I clearly have different views about religion and gods so I think it's better we don't get into it. Okay? Good luck with your project."
I slipped past him, but he stood and said, "Shane. How could your view be any different than mine? The truth is the truth."
I turned and took a few steps backward. "Ake, let it go, man."
"No," he said in a tone I like to call 'religious-reasonable'. It's the false patience that is adopted as they pretend to have a discussion but aren't there to exchange ideas. Religion and politics seems to be two fine examples of this phenomenon. "I'm saying Alexander was arrogant and that God is higher than man. How can you disagree with that? With all God can do, all he has given man, how can you disagree?"
I paused and pushed my tongue against my teeth. "Well, first because Alexander predates your religion, so you can't really hold that against him."
"Granted," he said with a sharp nod. "The good news had not yet been spread. And the rest?"
I shrugged and let out a sigh. "Ake, I don't believe in any god. So I don't really care if-"
He was shaking his head. "Shane, Shane! No! Everything flows from God. Even you and you're skill in history are just gifts of God working through you! Don't you see?"
I shook my head and backed away again with a mental groan. "I don't see it that way, Ake. Let's just drop it, okay?"
I turned to go, but his voice followed me. "You are turning away from truth, Shane. Your creator has endowed you with such blessings and yet you turn your back on Him and His love for you?"
"Ake, I'm just a guy. Nobody special. There is no reason for any deity to take a special interest in me."
"God takes interest in all his children, Shane. And even if you do not believe in God, He believes in you!"
I sighed. "And what about things like childhood cancer? Where is the Almighty's interest there?"
He shook his head slowly. "I do not always understand His plan, His mysteries."
"Yeah, well. Seems convenient. Goodnight, Ake."
Ake stood suddenly, a startlingly quick movement, and he made as if to reach for me. "You are turning away from the good news of your lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Do not choose to go to hell, Shane. Open your ears and your heart and ignore the objections of your intellect! Embrace the spirit before it is too late."
I paused in my retreat. "Go to hell?"
"Yes!" he said, nodding vigorously and thinking he'd inspired fear in me, I suppose. "We make choices; God gave us free will! Do not choose to go to hell, Shane."
I shook my head. "You know what, Ake? It's your religion, your rules, your God. You go to hell."
As I made my way home I reflected on the conversation and wished it had gone differently. The only thing that could possibly be more damaging to me than coming out as gay was to come out as an atheist. I'd read an article recently where people actually were more suspicious of atheists than any other group.
In the fifth grade I'd gotten pneumonia and was stuck at home for a week or so. To fill that time, I'd read books that delved into the lives of the ancient Egyptians. Since then, and with reading about other ancient civilizations, I'd looked on religion with increasing skepticism. The more I looked at the ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Romans and others, I realized that gods, for them, explained the world around them. Given that it made it really hard for me to accept the ideas of any religion as much more than an attempt to explain things we didn't yet understand.
But that view wasn't very popular and, along with my aforementioned parents, I'd kept my opinions and myself away from others because of it. Well, that and I can't really keep my mouth shut, like I just proved again with Ake. I know he really believes what he's saying to me, but I also know it's what he's been taught to believe. It's not as if a mystical being came to him and explained how things are with actual proof and set him forth to convert folks. That was probably his pastor. If he'd grown up elsewhere he'd be addicted to Allah or Buddha or maybe the Flying Spaghetti monster.
I regretted the conversation, though. I figured it'd bite me in the ass, later.
I crossed my lawn and pulled my key from inside my shirt where it hung from a chain around my neck. Entering the house, I dropped my school things in my room and then set about my chores. The first was the easiest, checking all the house garbage cans and emptying those in need. Then it was to empty the dishwasher, if I'd run it that morning, or to load the breakfast things into it. Next was wiping down the kitchen counters and checking for a note on the fridge door as to what to pull from the freezer to defrost for dinner.
Being as my dad has this survivalist thing going on, he knows how to cook a few things. His preference was to make a pot of something so he didn't have to cook again for a few days, but it looked like he was going to make some chicken dish tonight, according to the note. I pulled the chicken from the freezer and dropped it into the sink to defrost.
With my chores done, I retired to my room with an apple to munch as I skimmed the articles I'd printed for my project. I found, though, I couldn't concentrate with thoughts of Ake and our conversation and, interestingly, Zane and Clint holding hands in front of everyone. I'd liked that.
The close of the front door announced my father's arrival home and I stayed in my room rather than greet him. Shortly the smells of dinner reached me but I stayed in my room and tried to focus on the articles I'd printed out, highlighting items I'd want to reference and making notes about where they came from, since I'd have to cite sources.
I hadn't heard his steps but there is something oppressive about when my father leans in my open doorway. The smells of the chemicals he works with, the gunpowder perhaps; I don't know. But it's not just that, either. It's his physical presence, looming over me. His silent disappointment that I don't see the world as he does. His push to make me see it that way. It was the most non-verbal oppression I ever knew of.
"Shane. Doing homework?"
"Yes," I said quietly.
"Good. I'm starting dinner, it won't take long. You should wash up." He paused and said, "I'm going up in the mountains this weekend. You're coming with me."
My stomach flipped and tied itself into knots at the idea of one of his weekends trips. "Well, I just got this history paper," I said and picked up the pages I'd been highlighting. "It's a big part of my grade. I printed out some articles at school and got a book to reference."
He pushed his lips out almost as if exaggerating a kiss. "Well, you could read that book in the evenings. I think you need to learn some skills outside of your books, Shane. Life doesn't happen in books and schools. One day, maybe sooner than we think, you'll need skills besides reading."
I bit back my retort. It was no use. 'Skills' meant he'd want me to kill something and skin it without throwing up. He'd want me to walk a patrol and stay awake as if we were at war. He'd want me to practice breaking down one of his guns and cleaning it, then put it back together. Dressed in camouflage and burying your shit in the dirt...and of course I'd fail. He'd call me weak with a shake of his head and a small frown. He couldn't go back to his survivalist buddies and say how strong I'd be and what and asset I'd become when The Collapse happened. It was the same thing every time and he didn't get that I wanted no part of that life, that line of thinking.
He sighed and left me, which I was relieved for. I went and cleaned up, as he'd said, and joined him at the kitchen table. Conversation was largely one sided as he talked about the encroachment of government and business on our food supply, regulatory overreach and, in direct contradiction to his previous statements, the lack of oversight on criminal corporations.
Personally, I felt that none of them could be trusted. After all, government can be just as corrupt as a corporation because they are all run by people. People are motivated, the world around, by greed, religious fervor, a unique set of morals, superiority complexes-you name it, we'll screw it up. This is why I didn't buy into his theories about collapse, not an overall one anyway. Maybe war or something might cause some of it, but in the end there were too many people making too much money to change anything significantly.
After dinner he went out to his workshop to make bullets and I went back to my report. Sort of. My mind wandered back to Zane and Clint holding hands. Instead of showers I started to wonder what it'd be like to hold someone's hand. Maybe get in a kiss or two. Did Zane and Clint kiss? I'll just bet they did! Who'd blame them?
The next few days were tense as I waited for the fallout from my chat with Ake. He'd shot me some looks that were hard to parse, but so far...nothing. I wasn't sure what to make of that. It seemed to me that people actually changing their minds about something was a rarity. Even I was not immune, sticking to the things I'd discovered for myself over the things people taught or held as truth. I'd like to say that was different, but I can't honestly say that I remember the last time someone changed my mind.
That, in a nutshell, was another part of why I held myself apart from others. I spoke when spoken to but my conversations frequently ended like the one I'd just had with Ake. I didn't need to be in a public war of words and ideas with everyone around me, after all.
Frankly speaking, it's that very idea that made my Friday afternoon so abysmally weird and completely unlike me.
I was just stepping out of the front doors of the school when I realized I'd left my book on Alexander the Great in my locker. I'd had gym last period and, of course, hadn't brought reading material. If, however, I was to be stuck with my father in some survivalist weekend shit-show, I'd need it. I scooted back inside and was heading to my locker when I heard noises from around the corner. Sort of a...whoofing noise, like the wind was being knocked from someone.
I stuck my head around the corner to see some kid, large by my standards, holding up someone by their shirt and driving a fist into their stomach. The kid being punched stumbled back into the lockers behind him and, in so doing, slipped from his attacker's grip. He coughed weakly and tried to suck in a breath and when he did, I realized it was plain old Parker Reid. Who the hell could be angry with him?
"Hey!" I said as I walked toward them. "Stop that!"
The other kid turned to look at me and I didn't recognize him. He was larger than I was, likely an upperclassmen. He lifted an eyebrow at me, clearly in derision, and turned back to administering his beating. He reached down for Parker, who'd slid down to the floor and, in a stunning display of ill considered stupidity, I took a few running steps before leaping, feet first, and planting a solid kick to the guy's ass which sent him sprawling.
"I said stop that," I told him as I quickly pulled myself up from the floor. Graceful wasn't the way I'd have described landing after kicking him. My voice had a tremor I didn't like and adrenaline coursed through me, charging my muscles with nervous energy. Fear was wadded like a cold rock in my belly, but it wasn't large enough to control me. Not yet.
He recovered quickly, and was on his feet and striding back toward me with menace emanating from his every move. I planted myself and tightened the muscles on my stomach just before his blow landed. It hurt, oh man did it! I hadn't lost my wind, though. Trying to give myself some space and give him something to react to, I turned my back to him and started to slip from my pack, hoping he'd think I was trying to turn and run and he'd grab at it in an attempt to pull me back. As I felt it yanked I continued to spin and brought my fist around for a haymaker punch.
I didn't exactly land it the way I'd intended. Instead of landing on an eye or on the side of his nose, I hit just under his chin. I was completely confused, though, as to why he started screaming and spitting blood. I mean, really. Spitting blood. I looked down at my fist in amazement.
"My tongue! You fucher!" he yelled. I was reasonably certain he was calling me a fucker, but his speech was slurred. Had he pinched his tongue when I hit him?
I glanced down to see Parker scrambling to his feet, but looking down at the floor in front of him. I followed his gaze to see a tiny piece of...oh. That's why he was talking oddly.
Whoever this guy was, he was trying to pick up the very tip of his tongue from the floor. Parker and I seemed to share the same thought and grabbed our things and departed in a hurry. He went one way and I another but all I could think of on the way home was...what the hell did I just do? First arguing with someone about religion and now getting involved in a fight?
At least I could explain the second one a little better than a momentary loss of control. I liked Parker. He was about the most inoffensive guy, ever. How could anyone be so mad at him as to try and beat the crap out of him? It wasn't like there was anyone there to see so there were no 'social points' to be made. What was the point of winning a fight in high school if no one saw you do it?
But beside that I just kept coming back to the fact Parker Reid was getting beat up. What for? What could he possibly have done to ignite such a response? All the way home I turned over everything I could think of about Parker, but that brought me to the truth: not much. I stopped in my tracks and was hit with the fact that my very deliberate decision to limit contact with people made it so I was seeing Parker as an object. I knew nothing about him outside of his appearance and that I liked him for some vague reason.
It wasn't until much later, bouncing along a dirt road in my father's SUV on the way to his survival weekend that I realized I'd never gotten my book from my locker. As a result, when standing guard duty that night, I allowed my thoughts to turn inward and reevaluate my decision to ostracize myself from my classmates. If I thought them so uncompromising and unable to accept me, was I any better when I knew as little about them as I, apparently, did? If I were willing to stand up and defend someone just because I was, sort of, attracted to them then what did that say about me?
Saturday morning I was roused after only a few hours of sleep. My father wanted me to shoot my breakfast. The idea turned my stomach and, of course, I ended up scaring the creature away and my consequence was going hungry. That was okay, I could live with it for now. I'd gone weekends without much more than water before to stand by my principle of not wanting to kill something.
I could see, plainly, my father's disappointment. I mentally shrugged as he was just one more person I couldn't relate to. The weekend passed slowly and I felt uncomfortable the entire time as people walked around with their guns casually slung from their shoulders. Others looked like they wanted to be alone even with this group. They sneered at the more cavalier members, if they noticed them at all. Even here, among their 'peers' they didn't fit.
Oddly, for the first time, I could relate to something here.
Monday went by nearly as quickly as the previous Friday, except that I kept reevaluating these guys I thought I'd liked. Did I really like them? Was it enough to step in to help someone just because you were attracted to them? Maybe so, after all beauty was worth preserving, right?
Smirking to myself, I wondered how Clint, Ty, Parker, Zane, Curtis or Travis would feel about being referred to as an object of beauty.
In math class, Parker kept shooting me looks I couldn't decipher. I wonder if we'd bond, having participated in a fight together. Did that make me like my father's survivalist buddies? If Parker liked to crap in the dirt it would be a serious blow to my interest in him.
One of the few classes I didn't have someone that interested me was computer programming. We were working on a project in class so I sat down and just started to code. Coding was frustrating, sometimes, because whatever wasn't working on the page didn't flash in red or point out that it was the part that crashed. It just...didn't work and left me gnashing my teeth and wondering why.
"You didn't close that tag."
At first I hadn't realized I was being spoken to. Then a finger stretched in front of me and said, "There. Close the tag at the end of that line."
I glanced at the girl sitting next to me, thinking she was vaguely familiar, and looked back at the screen. She was right, I'd missed a closing tag. I added it in, compiled it and the code ran correctly.
I turned and smiled. "Thanks. I hate when it doesn't work."
"I know what you mean," she said while keeping her eyes on her own screen. "I wish it would show up in red or flash or smoke or something to tell you what's wrong."
"Totally," I said.
"Or you could pray, I guess."
I paused and looked at her from the corner of my eye. She was shaking with laughter and I was instantly relieved that I wasn't about to be sold another pitch about my salvation or something.
"Prayer doesn't seem to affect computers much," I replied. Looking back at the screen I said, much lower, "Doesn't seem to affect anything, actually."
She snickered and I glanced at her, my lips curling in amusement.
"Don't like people praying for you?"
"I don't care either way," I replied honestly. "Usually they are praying I see things their way, and that hasn't affected me at all. As long as they don't sacrifice any animals, I don't really care."
She paused as if in deep thought. She turned and smiled, quite wickedly and said, "I wonder if there are any missing cats in Ake's neighborhood. Maybe he's trying to keep you from going to hell by sacrificing fluffy?"
I giggled as she covered her mouth. "That's evil," I told her.
"Yeah, I know. It's kind of my thing."
I titled my head as I looked at her face. "You were sitting with Travis in the library. Now it makes sense," I said. In fact, the whole conversation made more sense, now.
"Yep. I especially liked it when you told him to go to hell. I'm Angie Fjeldsted," she said, nodding at me.
"Oh," I replied dumbly. This was Clint's sister, obviously. Now that I paid some attention, the resemblance was clear. "Um, Shane Blankenship."
"Nice to meet you."
I nodded and stopped there, not wanting to say something stupid about having thought of her brother naked.
I glanced at her screen and saw she was working on a set of code I'd had trouble with. "How did you do that?" I asked and pointed at her screen.
I glanced at her and she glanced at her screen. "Honestly? I look at code on websites that are already doing what I want, or close enough. Then I adapt it. Why don't we compare code and see what you can do to fix yours?"
After school I debated going back to the library, but I wasn't sure I should chance hanging around at school in case I ran into that upperclassmen from Friday. With that thought in mind I bounded down the front steps and started for home. I was a little surprised, though, when Parker skated up next to me, stepped on the back of his board to flip it up into his hand, and fell in beside me. We walked nearly half a block side-by-side with nothing more than passing cars and the occasional bird to break the silence.
It was interesting to hear his voice directed at me. It was scratchy, smoky and I instantly liked the sound. Of course, there was no question what he was referring to, even being so efficient with his words. I glanced at him and nodded. "Sure."
We walked in silence, save a madly chittering squirrel whose home we were likely too close to. The wind was still and the trees were poised, waiting for a breeze to cause them to wave in a thousand directions as each leaf shook in the air.
"Why'd you do it?"
My lips twitched involuntarily at the sound of his voice. Of course I couldn't tell him some vague theory about protecting him because I thought he was, somehow, pretty. Especially when you consider how I couldn't tell you exactly what was pretty about him except that, when taken as a whole, he just was. I adjusted my bag and glanced at him before looking back down at the sidewalk. "Seemed like the thing to do."
He thought on that for about six feet before replying, "Not much of a reason."
"Yeah. Just because it's right never seems like enough, does it?" And as I said it, I knew the truth of it. People didn't do much, it seemed, just because it seemed the right thing. Greed, lust, laziness...simply doing right never seemed to be worth much effort. Even Mother Theresa considered converting people more important than healing them.
He dropped his board to the sidewalk and kept pace beside me. The sound of his board, sort of an echoing, woody sound was odd to hear so close and for so long.
"He's my brother."
"Really?" I asked in surprise. Why in the hell would his brother attack him? "Why would your brother...never mind. None of my business."
He skated in front a few feet and then slowed. Stepping on the back of his board again he grabbed it and turned to block my path.
He looked at me with narrowed eyes, but not from anger. I saw something of determination instead. "You got in a fight for me. Kind of seems fair you should know why." He paused, his voice lingering in my ears before he darted forth in his abrupt style. "Parents kicked him out last year. He's gotten busted for stealing, underage drinking and some pot selling. Kind of a small time scumbag." He paused again and tilted his head. "He wanted me to bring some of his stuff to school and sell it for him."
"Did you ask for too much of a cut?" I asked, aiming for humor. He smiled, just enough to show he had taken it for the weak joke it was.
"I said no. Anyway," he said, looking away and rubbing the back of his neck. "I owe you one."
"Nah. It's all good," I said and stepped around him. He brought me to a stop by grabbing me by the bicep.
"No, man. I don't think anyone else would have stepped up for me like that. I don't really buy your reason, either, but that's cool. You can keep your reasons to yourself. But if you need something I can help with...just say the word."
I glanced down at his hand, still on my arm and he blushed slightly and let go. "Sorry. I'm not a fag or anything."
I stiffened. Then I had an idea. Speaking softly I said, "Actually, there is one favor you can do for me."
"What's that?" he asked, brushing his hair off his forehead.
"Don't use that word anymore."
His eyes cast about as he thought for a moment. Looking back at me he said, "Fag?"
I nodded once.
"Okay, that's easy. Not really a big thing, though. I think I still owe you."
I shook my head and said, "Not hearing you say that is a big thing. At least, it is to me."
He studied me, actually taking a step back and taking me in. He nodded slowly. "Right on. Um, you know, I heard a rumor that a new club is starting up."
I tilted my head. "So?"
"It's a GSA. Are you going to go?"
A GSA? Here? Me, attend? "Um, I don't know. Maybe. Why?"
He looked down and away, appearing bashful and a hole just seemed to open in my chest. What the hell was that?
Bringing his gaze back up to meet mine he said, "It seems like something like that might be important to you. I think...maybe then, we could be sort of even."
I turned this over in my head. "People might say you're gay then, you know. Guilt by association?"
He shrugged and a defiant tone filled his voice. "So? They all think I'm a burnout loser because of my brother anyway. Fuck these people."
"I didn't." I coughed as he tilted his head. "I didn't even know you had a brother."
He glanced around and said, "Want to hang out or something? I'm kind of done with standing around."
"I'm not allowed to have friends over while my folks are out," I said, regretting every word.
"So? My house is close. Unless you just don't want to. That's cool if you don't."
I mentally calculated how much time I'd need to get my chores done and decided that, if I put the meat for tonight in the microwave to defrost, I could spend an hour or so with Parker.
"Sounds good. Lead on," I said.
The corner of his mouth turned up. "Cool."Next Chapter