I awoke to the sound of my door opening. For obvious reasons, things like that caught my attention whether I was sleeping or not. Alessia poked her head in and rolled her eyes at me.
“My God, Drew. Can you please? Gross!” she said and then laughed.
“What?” I asked, confused and looking around. It took me a second to realize I should try looking where she'd been looking, but that was just at me. Oh. And the tent I was making out of my sheets. I glared at her. “I'm allowed. It's my room. It's not like you haven't got a stiffie in your room. I mean, the female version.”
She guffawed as I slid out from under the covers and turned my back to her to pull up some sweatpants. She sat on my bed and said, “Can you imagine if a cooch got hard when women were aroused? I mean, great form of birth control I guess – two blocks of wood bumping against each other. Talk about having unhappy sex to get pregnant!”
I glanced at her and her cheeks were red as she tried to look at me seriously. It didn't last, not for either of us.
“I have to pee,” I told her as I headed for my door.
“Teo says you have to do the leaning tower! It's the best way to handle your, um, situation!” She burst out giggling and I shook my head as I crossed the hallway to the bathroom. Alessia was weird this morning. I thought about that as I washed my face. She'd been mostly pleased lately since things were going so well with Brax. Usually she burns a boyfriend out in about a month, two at the most. She and Brax had been together about a month now, and this was easily the best relationship she'd had. I crossed back to my room and was about to question her about why she was acting strangely, when she swooped on me and grabbed my arm.
“Want to talk about this bruise?” she asked, all traces of humor gone.
I pulled my arm back. “It's nothing. Don't worry about it.”
“Did she do that?” she asked coldly.
I sighed. I opened my closet and as I looked at the clothes I said, “I can handle it.”
I heard her sit on my bed. “That's bullshit, Drew. Did she hit you again?”
I grabbed a sweatshirt from the shelf and pulled it on. As my head popped through I turned to look at her. “It's fine, Allie. It was...you know how she can be. This was nothing.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Don't you 'Allie' me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently.
“You only pull that when you're trying to get around me. It's not working. I don't care how cute you are when you say it.”
I widened my eyes at her. “You think I'm cute?”
“Shut up,” she said, rolling her eyes and I chuckled. “I want to know about this bruise.”
The smile I'd had from teasing her faded. “It's okay. I don't want to talk about it.”
She studied me for a moment. “She hit you.”
“It's embarrassing, Allie. Please, let it go.”
She chewed her lower lip and I walked over to sit beside her. I pinched the bridge of my nose, closed my eyes and exhaled. “When I came home from work, she acted like I was late. She accused me of sleeping with Monique.”
“Monique? How did she get that idea in her head?” she asked in shock.
I inhaled and let my nose go, opened my eyes and regarded her soberly. “Talia was commenting to me in homeroom that Monique's sweater looked nice. I agreed, to be polite, and she told me I should tell Monique her sweater looked nice. So I did.”
Alessia groaned. “Monique should have just told you she liked you, for Christ's sake. It's not like she hides it very well.”
“Well she – wait, what?”
“You're adorable, but clueless, Drew. Clueless!” She pinched one of my cheeks and I pulled sharply back from her. “She's wanted your cute butt for a while now. She's so balls out about everything else, I don't understand why she thinks she can't talk to you.”
“She does not!” I spluttered.
“She doesn't what?” She frowned.
“Like me! I'd have known!” I replied defensively.
She snorted. “Nope. Clueless. Boys suck at picking up hints. I mean seriously,” she said, and took on a high pitched voice and placed her fingertips on her cheek. “'Drew! Oh, Drew! Tell Monique you like the way her sweater shows off her boobs. She'd really like it if you did!'” She paused and moved just her eyes to me. “Get it now?”
I stared at her. My face flushed and actually felt heavier. “Shit.”
Alessia grinned at me. “You little heart breaker. Hey! Maybe we can order one of those kits where you make a dildo from your dick and she can have that as a consolation prize?”
I gaped at her. “You're gross!”
“You're gross!” she replied and we laughed at each other. “Anyway, why would your mother think her gay son was slipping the old two-inch to Monique Heverstrand? How did she even hear Monique's name?”
I looked down at my hands, folded together in my lap. “I actually don't know. She was just convinced I'd skipped out on work and had sex with Monique. You know how my mother is – men are shit, they exist just to ruin a woman's life.”
“Well, she's not wrong,” Alessia said and then put a hand on my back. “Present company excepted.”
I snorted and ran my hands over my face. Something finally occurred to me and I looked at her. “Hey, what are you doing here?”
She dropped her chin to her chest and looked at me. “Really? Football game? If I have to suffer, so do you.”
“Wait, what? Brax is your boyfriend, so why do I have to suffer?”
“Because you're helping him.”
I stared at her.
“Oh, took me a little bit to figure it out – you're good. I'll give you that, you're good.” She stood up and arched an eyebrow. “That means you like him. That means he's your friend. That means you've helped him avoid me breaking up suddenly with him, which means you get to suffer with me.”
I tried to find a string of logic in that, but gave up. “But you're happy with him!”
“So are you! It's like co-dating. Now this is co-suffering. Take a shower and we'll pick you up in thirty minutes. If you can be ready in twenty we can stop for coffee first.” She paused at my doorway and looked back. She pursed her lips for a moment. “Thanks, though. I am happy with him.” Then she was gone, bouncing down the stairs before I could make the argument that her being happy should let me out of any perceived obligations.
Oh well. Sometimes there were a few nice butts in those tight pants the players wore. After showering I pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved tee before slipping my sweatshirt back on. I had considered putting my sweats back on, but it looked just a little too slovenly for public consumption. I went downstairs and quietly walked into the living room where my mother sat enthroned on her recliner.
She looked at me with suspicion. “I understand there is a game.”
I nodded. “Alessia and Teo are going. Alessia's boyfriend is playing.”
She studied me, her face a mask of indifference. “Will Monique be there?”
I let out a minuscule sigh. “I have no idea. She and I aren't friends – or anything else.”
She stared at me for a minute. “I find that hard to believe. Why else would she call here to look for you?”
So that was what set all this off. “Her friend Talia told me that Monique's sweater looked nice. I agreed, just to be polite. Then she told me I should tell Monique her sweater looked nice. So I did. I guess...she thinks that means more than it does.”
Her gaze hardened. “Men always think that. Oh, the woman is so gullible. If I say something nice, she thinks I'm flirting! Of course if a man flirts and she doesn't like it, then she's cold. Just because you have a dick doesn't mean you rule the world, Andrew.”
I shook my head and wore a defeated expression. “I was only trying to be polite, Ma.”
“Well you just stay away from her. I'll find out if you don't. I'll call her mother.”
“I won't be looking for her, Ma. I promise.”
She snorted, showing me how far my promises went with her. Anger stirred within me, but I turned and put my shoes on before leaving the house. Sometimes, the only winning move was to walk away.
We cheered, but I wasn't sure why. I just copied the people around me. Unlike Teo, who was into games of all kinds, I didn't really care for football. Teo had been right about how they bashed their helmeted heads together like deranged rams. Whatever they had just done on the field was over and Brax was walking beside Cole with their helmets off. I glanced at Teo, because they suddenly reminded me of him from when I met him and Alessia that morning.
It was clear to me Teo had just showered, and his dark hair fell into small curls around his head. The tips were still wet and they made him seem...adorable. The same thought crossed my mind as Brax and Cole drew closer to their bench, as their hair was wet from all that sweating they were doing out there. Wetter than Teos' hair had looked, but the effect was the same. Adorable. Innocent, even. Pure in some way. I should probably see a therapist.
The game was hardly a distraction, though. I was on high alert and studying Teo's every move. I waited for him to make another gesture like he had the night before, but he was just being how he normally is. At one point I squeezed right next to him and he put his arm around my shoulders and I thought I'd finally gotten somewhere, but then he rubbed his knuckles into my scalp and I yelped as he laughed.
“You know what I love about football jerseys?” Alessia asked our group – which was most of the people we sat with at lunch. “How the practice jersey is just a little short and shows off their abs.”
“But none of them are showing abs,” Dina said in confusion. “This is a game, not practice.”
“Girl, why do you think I come to Brax's practices? I'm not just being a good little girlfriend,” she said with a knowing smirk.
Laughter broke around us and I went back to musing about Teo, but wasn't getting any answers. After the game we got tacos together – myself, Teo, Brax, Alessia, Cole, his girlfriend Haylee – don't get me started about the funky way her name is spelled – Dina, Carrie, Julia and Malik. I guess Gordon wasn't feeling well and had headed home. We all sat together and made a lot of noise as discussion about the game faded to nothing and discussion started about the Halloween dance that was upcoming.
“Hey, want to go to the dance with me?” Brax asked Alessia, batting his eyelids comically.
“Oh, like, sure – you're so hot, Mr. Quarterback!” she cooed.
I laughed at them, but noted a sour expression flit across Cole's features before his face smoothed out. He glanced at me and frowned. What crawled up his ass and died? After we'd eaten and taken up space at the restaurant longer than the management would have liked, we broke up and went our separate ways. I rode home with Teo while Alessia rode home with Brax.
“So. Alessia told me about Monique,” Teo said, turning the radio off.
I sighed. “It's over.”
“Not the hitting.”
I looked out the window. “It was one time.”
“This time. Last time how many was it?”
I looked at him. “I got this.”
He frowned. We climbed from the car and he walked over to my front porch with me and we sat down on my steps.
“You know we worry about you,” he started.
“I know,” I said, placing a hand on his to stop him. “But I'm okay. I can handle it.”
He gripped my hand in his. “You're not supposed to have to handle anything. It's your mom, for God's sake.”
I took my hand back and stuffed both of them in the pockets of my hoodie. Then I realized I had just kind of held hands with Teo. I sighed. “Can we talk about something else? I've already gone over this with Alessia.”
He blew out a breath. “I was watching this video, and it was really interesting. It was talking about a ton of things, like societal constructs in our daily lives. Like how we get named after our fathers and have such a patriarchal society. Or how about boy and girl colors, right? Total fake shit.”
I liked this side of Teo – the nerd. He would geek out about stuff and spout for hours if you let him. I figured there was more to it than just pink and blue, so I asked him what he meant.
“Well, first it's just bullshit – they're colors, you know? But back in the day, pink was the boy’s color because it was perceived as stronger and blue was fragile or something. Time magazine even ran an article on the 'appropriate' color for the sex of the baby. In the 40s neutral colors started to come in, but advertising took over when companies figured out people would buy new cribs – everything, actually – in a new color. Like making a nursery completely pink or blue depending on the sex of the baby.”
I snorted. “Can you imagine them trying to figure it out now with all the non-binary folks walking around?”
Teo chuckled. “One of two ways – embrace it and try to sell all colors or figure out which colors are cheapest and try to make people think they only need one or the other.”
“Societal constructs,” I said, tasting the words.
“Yeah. Things like virginity and it being so important and pure. It's mostly about men making sure the woman always remembers them – it's a power thing. They argued that gender is a societal construct. I mean, the video got a little out there. Like it was talking about the numbers behind incest – I mean, gross, right? I can't imagine bumping uglies with Alessia.”
“Hey! Don't 'eww' my sister,” he said, pretending to be offended. We chuckled.
“So they defended incest?” I asked skeptically.
“Well, more that they pointed out that it's one of the most commonly shared morals humans have – and that extends to animals and even plants. One thing they discussed, and I'm still kind of weirded out by it, was that people who are adults and who won't reproduce – like gay people or if someone is sterile or something – shouldn't be held to that moral taboo.”
I wrinkled my nose. “But still.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “They say there is some kind of internal 'ick' factor with most people that dissuades us from sleeping with our families.” He shivered. “Ugh.”
I started to laugh. “How did we end up talking about this?”
He turned to look at me. “Because you didn't want to talk about how your mom is still hitting you.”
I pursed my lips and looked away. He placed his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to his side and I grudgingly leaned toward him. He pulled my head over and tilted his cheek down to the top of my head.
“We worry, Drew.”
“I know,” I said quietly.
My mother glared at me from her recliner, but said nothing. I chose to leave that alone. After zapping a TV dinner I wanted to study for a calc test in my room, but my mind was twisted around as I thought about Teo and our discussion. I mean, I started there, but I kind of moved on to the idea of attraction in general. If we have some kind of internal 'eww, shouldn't bang that' kind of spidey sense then it stood to reason that there were internal things that directed us to find certain others attractive. Lately I was finding Teo kind of attractive, or more so than I had before. I kind of wanted to analyze that a little and figure out what it was I did like.
I mean, male, hello. After that, I guess I really liked how knowledgeable he was and how he liked to talk about all these things he discovered. I'm sure if I had the internet or an unlimited phone plan I could look at a lot of these videos myself – but Teo had also said you couldn't trust the video all by itself; you had to do some research from reputable sources. There was no video about what I was interested in, but I guess a healthy curiosity would be a plus. He made me laugh, another plus. He was...handsome. I thought back to how he'd looked with his hair still a little damp from the shower – just the tips.
That jolted me to Brax and Cole walking off the field, looking the same way. Was Brax cute? Definitely. Somehow, though, his straightness was sort of like a yield sign – let him pass by. Or something. I mean to say, I like the guy a lot, but I guess something in the back of my head tells me to keep looking. Was that some kind of internal setting or just good sense? I don't have much when it comes to social competence – look how I misread the situation with Monique.
Teo and I were alike in some ways – we both had dark hair. His was much curlier than mine. We both had coarse, dark hair dotted across our legs, though much less on our upper bodies. He was far more fit than I was with his sports – games, he'd correct me. Sports sounds like you take things too seriously, was his rule. I guess I could see his point – it makes it a lot easier to say it's just a game.
I thought about some of the other guys I knew. Gordon was kind of thick all over. Not fat, exactly, but it was like he'd never gotten rid of that extra layer of baby fat. Malik was thin to the point of transparency – though his older brother was, too. He tried to gain weight and build muscle, but his body seemed to be built for being attached to string and flown like a human kite.
There was Cole, of course. He had a pretty face, and dressed well. He was smart, though he tended to scowl a lot. Like tonight when Brax and Alessia had been teasing each other about going to the dance. Did he not like relationships where people teased each other and were silly together? Or was he jealous of Brax, moving here and scoring a girl like Alessia? Cole had been dating Haylee – truly, I hated her name – for at least the last six months. I'd heard a rumor that they'd literally hooked up at the spring dance last year, to the point a clandestine abortion had been required. If that were true, I'm not sure how they held it together – I mean, that sort of pressure would break most young couples.
I guess I wanted someone with Cole's appearance and some of Teo's personality. I mean, ideally. But basically I'd be willing to take someone with a penis. Okay, I could do better than that, but that was a basic, non-negotiable starting point.
Wednesday, or as I shall call it henceforth, the devil's day, was really, truly, horribly...devilish. I know. I thought I'd get something better than that in my head. I woke up a little late – not fatally so, but I was still rushing. I got downstairs and glanced out the window, surprised to see snow. I mean, it had been cold over the weekend, and I guess I hadn't really been outside – Teo showed up to bring me to and from work. When I asked him why, he said I couldn't possibly be out fucking Monique if I were with him. I felt embarrassed as all hell, but he was right. My mother wouldn't question it.
Anyway, so there's snow on the ground. I pull on my shoes and hightail it next door, and I found it odd that Teo's car wasn't warming up. I head around to the back door and walk into their kitchen, setting my shoes by the radiator. The house is quiet, which is also odd. I hear the shuffling noise of socks on a wooden floor, and suddenly there is Mrs. Petrakis.
“Oh my God! Jesus and Merry Jingle Bells!” she cried out, placing a hand on her chest.
I had jumped from her being so startled. “I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”
“What are you doing, Andrew?” she asked, a small frown settling in on her face. Mrs. Petrakis had never liked me as much as the rest of the family; I didn't know why.
“I came over to ride to school, but nobody’s downstairs,” I explained.
She rolled her eyes. “That's stupid – there’s a two hour delay for school, due to the storm. Go home.”
“Oh, crap. A delay? I'm sorry,” I said, feeling embarrassed and angry. She didn't need to be mean, but she also knew my mother didn't allow me to have internet or a phone – so I never knew when we had delays or cancellations.
Just as I turned Mr. Petrakis walked in wearing his boxers and an untied robe. He spotted me and started for a beat, then smiled. “Andrew! What a nice surprise. Sit down. I'm going to cook breakfast since my lazy children are sleeping in. But not you, eh? You can come cook with me.”
“Oh, uh, I was just going to go home,” I said uncertainly, trapped between them.
“I have to go get ready,” his wife said and left the room.
So I started cutting things up to his specifications so he could make the world famous Petrakis omelet, according to him. “The secret, my boy, is the Feta cheese. You like that, right? Of course you do – what am I saying?”
Alessia bounced down twenty minutes later. “Drew, you're going to make a perfect wife for me someday.” She came over to look into the pan, which was cooking up the first omelet. Alessia started the coffee pot and a few minutes later she and I were sitting at the table, enjoying breakfast together. The front door opened and closed, the only sign of her mother leaving. I decided it was better not to ask if it was normal for her mom to not say goodbye to anyone before she left.
She turned her phone screen to me. “I like getting that first thing in the morning.” It was a picture of Brax, probably lying in his bed without a shirt. He had oval aureoles, like squished. Nice pecs though. There was a banner that said something like 'sleep well princess, can't wait to see your beautiful face in the morning' or some shit like that. Damn. Really nice pecs.
“Nice,” I said.
“He learns his lessons well from you, anyway,” she said with a knowing smile.
“It's one thing to know what will make you happy,” I said pointedly. “For him to actually follow through is all him.”
She considered that. “True. And I could do worse – poor Haylee.”
I snorted. “I hate how her name is spelled. I wonder if her dad's name is Lee. Maybe after she was born her mom was still all high on the drugs and when they asked what the baby's name would be, she looked at her husband and said 'Hey, Lee? Get me a candy bar from the store.' And the nurse went 'Oh, Haylee. That works.'”
“You're so mean,” she said as she giggled. “I admit her name is ass, but she's nice. And Cole is just dead weight.”
“She said he's really distant.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What about the whole,” I glanced around to make sure her father – kind of old-fashioned about some things – was out of earshot, “abortion thing?”
“Andrea Trujillo started that rumor,” she said dismissively. “She asked him to the spring dance last year.” She yawned widely, then continued in a sleepy sounding voice. “She's frustrated – but she's also understanding. Things are hard for the Thomases right now.”
“Ugh, need coffee before gossip,” she said and grunted. I laughed. “Shit, left my bag up in my room,” she said as she stood.
We scraped up the last of our food and then went to put our plates in the sink. Alessia reached for the coffee pot and then swore under her breath.
She glared at me, then at the machine. “I forgot to start it.”
I snorted, and she turned a full strength glare on me. “Um, I'll just go get your bag.”
“Yes. Scurry, minion,” she said and gave a mock-evil laugh. It was kind of spot on as evil laughs go, though.
I headed up the stairs and paused at the landing. I could hear the shower running. Mr. Petrakis was in the living room reading news on his tablet, the Mrs was gone, so that meant Teo was showering. I swallowed. I glanced at his bedroom door. I'd been in there before, of course. I don't know what possessed me. Maybe the fact that I thought he was interested, or could be. That I thought he was attractive and had a good personality. Either way – or something else I wasn't thinking of or wouldn't entertain for a split-second – I walked to his doorway, hesitated, and then entered his room.
It was pretty messy. My mom forced a pristine appearance on my room, so Teo's room was making me itch right between my shoulder blades. His room felt different. This was thrilling, not because it was forbidden exactly, but because I wasn't supposed to be here. That's the bed he sleeps in – and probably strokes one out. Does he think of me? My face warmed up and I look around the room at his posters, his computer, the...science experiment that may have been a sandwich but now may be the thing that makes Teo patient zero in a disease that wipes out the world.
Maybe I should bring that...thing downstairs. I crossed the room and was reaching for it when two thoughts raced across my consciousness like bullets. One was if I took that plate downstairs I'd be proving that I'd been in Teo's room when all I was supposed to do was get Alessia's bag. Second, the shower had stopped and I wasn't sure when that had happened. The sound of the bathroom door opening sent a spike of fear through me – this would be mortally embarrassing! Desperate, I took a step toward the closet – no! He has to get clothes, stupid! I threw myself under his bed and rolled to a stop against some of his discarded clothing.
Oh, God. I hope there isn't a mass of used socks under here. More so, I hope they aren't garments he uses to clean up with. Then those thoughts were flushed as I saw Teo's legs up to his calf. He tanned well due to his genes – being Greek had some nice benefits. He tanned better than I did, that was for sure. He dropped the towel and kicked the door so that it was only open a crack. His feet adopted an odd position and...he was fucking posing in front of the mirror on the back of his door!
My angle only let me see just past his knee, and I'm not proud of what I did next. Not proud. Just...I was suddenly very horny. I mean, really attractive, gay, naked guy about four feet away from me. I shifted forward an inch and was dismayed to find my shirt snagging on his bed frame. I glanced toward him in a panic, able to see up the back of his thighs a bit more than I had. I reached up quietly, trying not to hyperventilate or panic or both, and freed my shirt. I turned back and froze as Teo's feet were now aimed in my direction. Was he still posing? And who checks themselves out that thoroughly in a mirror?
He turned again and took a few steps, and then I heard a drawer slide open. Shit! I inched forward, peering out and just saw the top of his butt as he finished pulling up his underwear. Rats!
“Shit. Forgot your deodorant in the bathroom again, Teo,” he muttered to himself and left the room. I seized the opportunity and rolled out from under the bed and darted across the hall.