Friday at lunch Cole was sitting next to me and across from Brax. We were just having a normal day until Alessia decided to let me know Fitzpatrick had dropped a test in her fourth period class.
“Not just a quiz?” I asked.
“It was like, twenty questions,” she said. “Multiple guess.”
Cole pulled out his phone and I corrected Alessia, “Multiple choice.”
“Was it hard? I mean, was she testing on current things or more like a review?”
Cole groaned beside me. “What's wrong?” I asked.
“She didn't give me much for the labs I made up and I'm just scraping by!” he said in dejection.
“A test? Now? Christ, it's the last thing I need!” he groaned.
“You're going to do fine! You know the material,” I reassured him.
He shook his head and looked despondent. “I'll get grounded if I'm failing. My mom is watching my grades like a hawk.”
Grounded. Now? Oh, fuck that.
I leaned in and said, “Okay. How about we have a plan B?”
He glanced at me. “What do you mean?”
“I'll write the answers on a scrap and, um, I know! I'll put it inside a mechanical pencil – I have a bunch of them. If you think you're bombing, you can refer to it.”
He gave me a surprised look and then leaned forward. “You could get suspended for that!”
“I don't want you grounded,” I said, quietly.
He bit his lower lip and his cute factor increased by the square root of sexy.
“You think I'll do all right?”
I smiled back, “Honestly? Yes. Just think of the labs. You know this stuff.”
After a moment he nodded. “Okay. No cheating.”
“Are you two done whispering together, yet?” Alessia asked.
“Nope,” I said looking at her and then turned back to Cole. “Doesn't matter what we say, it'll drive her batshit.”
“What? What are you two talking about? Damn it, Drew!”
Later when we reached our last class, science, I tore a thin strip from the top of one of my notebook pages and placed two mechanical pencils on my desk. If he looked panicked, I'd be ready. The test got handed out and we glanced at each other. I gave him an encouraging smile and he looked nervous. I'd never seen him look nervous and what was more was that he was letting me see who he was, how he was feeling. He used to be so closed off until we got to know each other.
As I worked through the test I kept glancing at him, and he was concentrating but didn't seem to be panicking. When I completed the test I started writing down the answers on my paper scrap and pulled the end off one of my mechanical pencils, secreting the answers inside. I glanced over at him and his eyes went wide as he saw the pencil, knowing I'd cheat to help him. He shook his head subtly and went back to his test.
“So?” I asked when class ended.
“I think I did all right,” he said. “I mean, like, cautiously optimistic.”
“I knew you could,” I told him.
He glanced at me. “That why you had the answers ready?”
“Being prepared for something doesn't mean I lack confidence,” I told him. “I knew you could do it, but if you had a brain fart, I wasn't going to let you fail or get grounded.”
“I'm not an idiot,” he said, a little fire in his voice.
“I didn't say you were.”
“Why do you care if I fail?” he snapped.
“Because I-” I turned to look at him and he was smiling, completely belying his tone. “You snot.”
He grinned. “You'd miss me.”
“I just want to see the movie,” I told him.
“Uh huh. Come over after school with me. You can eat with us,” he said.
“Um. Yeah, I guess that'd work out. Just let me text Teo so he knows I'm not getting a ride with him.” Text sent I went by my locker to get my stuff. After slipping on my coat I met Cole in front of the school and we struck out for his house.
“So, talk to Haylee since you guys broke up?” I asked.
“Not much. She's trying to get with this guy, Naveen. You know him?”
“Not really. He's in a few of my classes, but that's all.”
“I guess she likes him.”
We walked a bit in silence. “Must be weird, not talking. I mean, you guys were together for like seven months or something, right?”
“Or something,” he agreed. “She was – is – a nice person. Except she lies sometimes about stupid shit. I text with you more than I did her, though.”
“It's my natural charm,” I joked, but curious about the lying comment.
“It's 'cause you're a fucking insomniac!” he said and laughed. I joined him. I decided not to tell him I was only not sleeping because it was him I was talking to. He was probably still feeling his way forward after breaking things off with Haylee. I didn't want to be a rebound or a mistake for him. His home was a raised ranch in an average neighborhood, and his yard looked like it could use a solid weekend of sprucing up.
Inside we kicked our shoes off into the pile by the door and went up to the second floor.
“Cole? Garbage needs to go out,” a woman's voice called.
“Okay,” he said, kind of groaning. “I brought my friend Drew with me. We're going to watch a movie later.”
A woman became visible as we entered the kitchen. She was nice looking and I could see how Cole had gotten some of his pretty features from her.
“Hi,” she said to me and looked back at her son. “If you're watching one of those gory things it'll have to be late. Ginger has a date and I'm meeting Candace for dinner – don't give me that look! You can spend time with your friend, but you have to watch your sister.” She glared at him and his shoulders drooped. “I'll give her a bath. Make sure she's in bed by eight.”
“Okay,” he said resignedly.
“Now get that garbage out before you get into whatever you're going to do,” she said, and turned back to the kitchen sink.
“Come on. You can wait in my room,” he said. I followed him and put my back pack down by his bedroom door. His room was small with a single bed pushed against the wall and a dresser on the opposite wall. After telling me he'd be right back, I started to look around his room. His hamper was overflowing, his dresser was littered with junk and his bed was a rat’s nest. I liked it immediately. It felt like a place he spent a lot of time in. There was a small desk beside the dresser with an old desktop PC. I wondered what sort of things he did on the PC? Gaming? Porn?
“Okay, back,” he said. “Glad to see nothing bit you while I was gone,” he said with a grin.
“Your room is a dump, Thomas,” I said to him and laughed as he feigned anger.
“It took me a lot of laziness and ignoring instructions to clean up to get it like this. Don't you mock all my efforts!” he stated, sending us both into snickers. “Come on, want a drink? We can go downstairs and play some Mario Kart if you want.”
“Totally,” I replied and fell into step behind him. He grabbed bottles of Vitamin Water from the fridge and we went down the two half-flights of stairs to the lower floor. To the left was a closed door and the right opened into a large room. One side was dominated by a love seat placed in front of a TV with a game console in front. The other side had tubs against the wall for toys – maybe for the sister he's supposed to watch.
He turned things on while I sat down. What happened next was one of the most fun times I'd ever had playing a video game. We bumped each other, tried blocking each other from seeing the screen – anything to gain an advantage. Soon winning became secondary to interfering with the other. We were so preoccupied that we both lost to the computer! Eventually the pretense was cast aside as we dropped the controllers and just started to wrestle. The love seat skidded across the floor as he tackled me onto it, and then he made a solid thud as I rolled him to the floor.
I was on him in a flash and we were giggling, rolling and hitting furniture and making a lot of noise.
“Cole Grant! What the hell are you doing down there?”
“Playing Mario Kart – ow!” he called out, then giggled some more.
“I'll Mario Kart your friend right on home if you don't settle down. No roughhousing!”
“Okay!” he called out and wiggled his fingers at me.
“No more tickling, you bastard,” I said to him, trying to catch my breath.
“C'mon. Let's try MK again,” he said as he held a hand out to pull me up. We straightened the love seat and squished down together, and basically started the whole thing over again. Well, we were giggling and pushing, but we didn't drop the controllers and completely disobey his mother.
His little sister, Emily, got home about an hour later and there was an immediate fight as his mother tried to give the girl an early bath. I guess Emily isn't a fan of baths. We switched games to Super Smash and pummeled each other virtually until Emily came down in her pajamas and wanted us to play Legos with her. We did, but it was still hilarious. Cole made two not-very-round 'balls' from blue parts and placed them near his crotch. I built on that by making an enormous Lego penis, but you really had to use your imagination to see it.
His sister was clueless, thank God. I'd have been so embarrassed.
Eventually his mother said she was leaving and we could have leftovers. Emily started to complain that she was hungry, so we went upstairs and Cole started to heat up plates of leftover meatloaf, green beans and mashed potatoes.
We sat at his dining room table and his sister watched a cartoon on TV while Cole and I sat beside each other.
“You like meatloaf?” he asked.
“Yeah. I'm not very finicky,” I told him.
“My dad cooks better than my mom,” he said offhandedly.
I was sitting with my feet to either side of the chair, curled behind the front legs. I was conscious of his knee suddenly touching mine and the heels of our feet touching. Heat flooded my face and I glanced at him. He was blushing and as he turned to look at me, I smiled and looked away. I couldn't hold his gaze – it was too much!
“So, um, you finished the book?” he asked his voice scratchy.
“Um, yeah, I did actually,” I said. “I didn't think it was as gory as you'd mentioned, but then maybe you were thinking of the movie.”
“The book was like the kernel of the idea,” Cole said. “The movie actually fleshed out things more. Usually I like the books better.”
“Totally,” I said. Then I hunched down. “ I really did like the Harry Potter movies, though.”
He stared at me. “You're a Potterhead too?”
I raised an eyebrow. He grinned widely and said, “The books were still better.”
We talked books for a while, long after the food was gone. We watched a cartoon episode with Emily and then it took from about a quarter to seven all the way to eight-thirty to get her to bed. At nine he made us popcorn and we went downstairs to watch the movie. He turned down the lights and we sat on the love seat with the popcorn bowl between us.
“Don't spill the popcorn if you get scared,” he teased.
“You want to wear it now?” I asked. He merely snickered.
The movie followed the book very well, and while the special effects looked fake, they were also very gory. We both gasped and laughed at each other when hooks went through skin, and we made jokes to cover the queasy feeling from watching all that gore. When it ended, he let the credits scroll up and then go to the menu screen. We turned toward each other and he raised an eyebrow.
“Thumbs up,” I said. My phone buzzed in my pocket.
“Getting checked up on?”
“Probably,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Mind you, this is more freedom than I've ever had, but they still have an electronic leash on me.”
“Oh? You into that kind of stuff?”
I opened my eyes wide. “You're gross!”
“You're gross!” he countered while we both laughed. Upstairs the a door opened and closed.
“Down here,” he called.
“Well, come here,” his mother demanded.
“Be right back,” he said with a roll of his eyes. I checked my phone. Alessia.
U staying over?
Wasn't asked to.
No, just got done w/ a movie. U?
Putting up w/ my dad asking me what u r doing. Teo is out if u need a ride.
Probably. Cole's mom seems mad.
“Drew? Ice cream,” Cole called out. I got up and went up to find him. He was in the kitchen scooping ice cream into bowls for us. “You like pistachio?”
“Hey,” his mother said, entering the room. She was already in sweats and a long tee shirt. “Are you staying?”
She threw a hip out and gave me a weird look. “Cole lives here, so I think he's covered.”
“Stay, Drew,” he said immediately. “We can watch part two!”
“Uh, yeah, okay. Let me just text home,” I said. I thumbed the message to Alessia, Invited to stay. See you tomorrow.
I want all the deets.
I rolled my eyes and put the phone away. “I have to work at ten so I need to be up by eight, though.”
“Really? You're such a night owl,” Cole teased.
We sat at the dining room table and ate the ice cream, then his mom told him to shower. He protested, but she gave him the stink eye. I went downstairs to wait for him. I thought about how odd it was that I was here. Two or three months ago, this would be unlikely at best. Now? I just wanted to hang out with him. His mom seemed like a grouch. I thought she'd be in a better mood after going out with her friend, but she was unchanged.
Fifteen minutes later Cole came back downstairs in a tee and joggers. Those joggers fit snugly. His hair was the perfect damp-after-shower. I was reminded of seeing him at the football game, hair weighed down by sweat – glistening. How the tips hung down with moisture, darker than the rest. His tee shirt was spotted with water like he hadn't dried off thoroughly. His face was fresh scrubbed and his cheeks red. Fucking angelic is how he looked. My thoughts upon seeing him were not angelic in the least.
He opened a closet door and pulled out a fuzzy blanket. Settling on the couch he lifted one side and beckoned me over.
“Come on. It'll start getting cold down here. Mom turns the heat down around nine.”
It was probably bullshit, but I didn't care. We were shoulder-to-shoulder under the blanket and we watched the second movie, which was gory as hell and that was awesome – except I was conscious of his shoulder. Of his forearm as ours eventually ended up pressed together. Lightly, not like either of us was being brazen. But the heat of our skin touching was more than distracting. I imagined I could feel the tiny hairs on our arms getting tangled. He smelled clean and fresh. It made me wrestle with the idea that he was low-key flirting – and I was flirting back. I was getting caught up in the fantasy that he was going to ask me out, and for some reason some little voice in the back of my mind reminded me it wasn't that long ago that he was boning Haylee. I didn't want to be a rebound. I didn't want to have him and then lose him right away – or worse, think that I'd had him when I hadn't.
That might break my heart.
I wanted to move away because of that. Well, I didn't want to – but I probably should have. I didn't. If he was flirting, I just wanted to enjoy it for a bit. It felt good to have someone so cute possibly showing some interest in me. I thought about what Alessia had said, how she thought it was obvious I was into Cole. I thought about how Brax had said we'd be good for each other. Had Cole confided that he was interested in me? Alessia had said we both blushed too much around each other.
Cole bumped me, his forearm sliding against mine. I realized the movie was over and I'd missed a lot of it.
“Did you get scared or something? You're sort of zoned,” Cole asked, his tone concerned. Curious, but concerned.
“I...was just thinking.” Ask about him. His life. Leave the movie behind. “Your mom seems kind of unhappy.”
He let out a small sigh. “It's her personality. Her dad was in the military and is kind of gruff. She thinks that's a real man. She used to yell at my dad, when they'd fight, because he was too nice – especially to me.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” I turned toward him, putting my leg on the couch between us. He pulled a leg up and wrapped his hands around his shin.
“You seem to want to know a lot about me,” he said cautiously.
“Duh. Obviously.” I paused and he waited, watching me. I smiled. “I'm curious. We started getting to know each other like six weeks ago. Now you're one of four people I count as friends, and I'm related to two of them. Why wouldn't I want to know everything about a friend in a group that small?” I wasn't sure if that response was what he wanted or would be enough, but it was true. It would also have been true to say I thought he was dead cute and just wanted to know every detail of his existence.
He nodded slowly and gave me a small smile. “She's always been good with the girls being 'daddy's girls', but she thinks he's too soft on me. Truth is my dad is mostly just a really nice guy. He's the kind of guy that talks to the clerks at a store instead of just treating them like crap for being behind a counter.” He paused. “When I got into trouble he'd usually try explaining things to me. I'd get a consequence, but not what my mom thought I should get.”
“What kind of...consequence did your mom think you should have?”
“Belt. She's a big believer in a belt, but mostly for boys,” he said bitterly.
“I guess she's under stress now, huh?”
“She's not really any different,” he said and shrugged. “I mean, it's quieter without my dad here because they aren't fighting. She's always been, like, grouchy though.”
“Oh. I just figured maybe it was with the divorce and the lawyers, money was tight and all,” I said, thinking of what Alessia had said she'd heard from Haylee.
He gave me an odd look. “They don't have lawyers, at least not yet. Where did you hear that?”
Now it was my turn for an odd expression. I felt uncomfortable with him knowing I'd been listening to gossip about him, but...I wouldn't lie. “Alessia heard it from Haley. She said your older sister had to come home from college because of the high lawyers’ fees. Really nasty divorce.”
He rolled his eyes and frowned all in one. “She's such a liar. Ginger didn't want to go to college. She's working at an office as an assistant to some middle-aged paper pusher. She got hired because she shows cleavage. My dad hates it. Says the guy is objectifying her, but my mom says a woman has to use her assets to get ahead.”
“Why did Alessia give you gossip on me?” he asked, his voice laced with curiosity.
I smiled at him. “I told her I thought you were a jerk. She told me to give you some slack because you had stuff going on – like the divorce. Your dad moving in with his boyfriend.”
“Fucking Haylee,” he said, voice angry. “I never should have said anything to her. We were arguing a lot the last few months, you know? I was more and more sure I was doing the wrong thing and I wanted out, but my mom was all over me about how you treat a girl and telling me how everything with Haylee seemed to be my fault. It was so fucking annoying how much she was trying to, like, be a part of that relationship.”
“I'm sorry,” I said.
He shook his head and let out a breath. Looking down he said, “It's not your fault. I know I was wrong for dating her. For staying with her. I would have broken it off sooner, except my mom was all over me about it. It was uncomfortable as hell.”
“Um. Just tell me if I'm getting too personal,” I said. “But you said you guys had sex. I mean....”
He bobbed his head and then looked over at me. “Yeah. I told you about that. I was trying to be straight. My mom would never accept me.”
“Did you, um, like it?”
He shrugged. “There were parts of it that were okay. I wasn't interested in keeping things going. I think I told you I did it when she was in the mood – I think she thinks that's how relationships stay together or something.”
I let that hang in the air for a second. “What do you think?”
He was staring off into space. “About what?”
“Sex and relationships.”
He turned back toward me. “I guess it's a part of things. People should be able to hang out and actually want to be together, though. Not just in the bedroom. I didn't really want to hang with her much.” He paused and frowned. “I can't believe she was not just gossiping about my family, but lying, too.”
I studied him for a few minutes. He was wrestling with some things in his head, that was for sure. I wanted to be there for him, but I didn't want to push things towards dating. I mean, I did. I could totally date Cole. I could easily see myself getting into sexual situations with him. I could feel my affection growing for him with each passing breath. My fear that he was rebounding kept me in check, though. If I was going to get Cole, I wanted it to last for a while.
He glanced at the clock and stretched. “It's almost one. We should probably head to bed so you can get up in the morning,” he said.
We headed upstairs, and I shamelessly stared at his butt the whole way. He got me a toothbrush that he said I could use if I ever came back. He inflated an air mattress in his room and made my bed for me. He pulled his joggers off and draped them over the foot board, and my fear was suddenly eclipsed by raw lust. I was reminded of him being dressed down while changing in the locker room, but this was worlds hotter. I was simultaneously happy and devastated that he didn't take his shirt off for bed.