I rode home with Teo and Alessia, and when I got home I was relieved to find that my mother seemed to be sleeping in her recliner. She had a bedroom, but I can't remember the last time I saw her actually use it. I went to the kitchen and grabbed a snack before retreating to my room. With respect to Cole, I figured it would be faster if he made corrections rather than redoing everything – plus it would get him out of my space faster, too. I shouldn't have agreed to help him. My face felt hot as I thought of him, cheeks flushed and his hazel eyes looking needy. Needy for my help. Ugh.
I went through each of his labs and compared them to mine, making notes on what he needed to look at to fix them. It took me about an hour and a half as I kept stopping to berate myself for getting involved, and then thinking about what he'd looked like when he'd asked me. Well, damn sight different from how he'd acted today. Fuck him.
At six-thirty I grabbed my bag, my notes and my colored pencils – because I just knew Cole wouldn't have the supplies to fix his labs. I don't know why, but I was convinced. Maybe a rainbow of colors in his pencil lead was too much for him. Or maybe the night would end early if he brought up the idea I was hitting on Alessia or she was thinking of cheating. Where did he get off, anyway?
With a grunt I headed next door. I walked in the kitchen door and found Mr. Petrakis at the stove.
“Hi, Mr. Petrakis.”
He looked over at me and smiled. “Andrew. Let me have a look, eh?”
Again I felt awkward. I could forget about this mark if it weren't for everyone else being obsessed with it. I was a bit petulant, but I let him look at the mark on my face and he tsked a little. “No more of that, I think. Oh! I almost forgot.” He reached into the pocket of his pants and withdrew my phone. “I have worked this out with your mother. It's on the family account, so you can download and tweet or do whatever it is you do – but don't do what Teo does. I made him get rid of that one where all the men send him pictures of their penis. Don't make me go through your phone.” He waved a finger and smiled at me.
“Seriously? My mom agreed to this?”
He tilted his head from side to side. “What can I say? I have a way with the ladies, eh?”
I stared at him. “I don't want to know.”
He laughed aloud. “Teo went to work, but Alessia is upstairs.”
“Brax and Cole are coming here to do some science work after practice. They should be here soon.”
“She told me. Well,” he turned to me and said with a little smile, “She says 'Daddy, I need you to feed three hungry boys tonight. Go make spaghetti and meatballs.' Can you believe? So rude, that one.”
I raised an eyebrow. “She said that?”
“Go. Ask her. See if she tells you the truth,” he said, a twinkle of mischief in his eye. I set my bag down at the table, and made my way upstairs. I found her lying on her stomach and painting her nails. She smiled at me as she sat up and pulled a headphone out of her ear.
“Hey,” I said, sitting on the bed beside her. “Your dad says you told him he has to feed three boys tonight.”
She laughed. “He's such a liar. I told him Brax was coming with a friend from the football team to study with you, and he started making all kinds of cracks about how you guys would gnaw his leg off if he didn't have food ready when all of you got here.”
I gave her a look of mock suspicion. “Yeah. Sounds like your dad was probably telling the truth.”
“I know it sounds that way, because you guys are pigs, but he has this thing about feeding people. Did Dad give you the phone?”
Irritation flashed through me. “You knew?”
She frowned. “Why are you being like this? Most people our age have one. It's bullshit your mom doesn't let-”
“Don't you think I know that?” I hissed. “Do you think I like the things she does? The way I live? How much worse is it that the only way things change for a while is if your dad says something to her – and why?” I asked, standing up and spreading my arms out. “Why does she listen to him? How come I can't find the balls to argue with her and get my way sometimes?”
She pushed her tongue against her lips and capped her nail polish. She stood and moved in front of me before bringing her gaze to my face. “First, that's not my fault. Second, excuse the fuck out of me if I want you to be treated normally. Third...what if I want to text with you at midnight? Who says this is all about you?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“That's right, you selfish bitch,” she said, the corner of her mouth curling. “You've got me and Teo to talk to, and you're inaccessible because of Mommy Whackjob over there. What if Brax needs advice to get back on my good side? What if Cole needs more homework help after tonight? Huh? Stop making this all about you.”
I squeezed the bridge of my nose and tried not to laugh at her. She wrapped her arms around my neck.
“You want to yell at your mom? Go ahead. If she throws you out, you come live in my closet. My dad thinks you’re his anyway. You're practically another brother in here.” She leaned back and I looked at her face. “But I'll never apologize for looking out for you. You'd do the same for me.” She smiled a little. “It's why I know Brax is headed the right way. If he were a dick, you'd have helped him crash and burn instead of managing my moods, so let's not act like I'm the only one manipulating things around here.”
I chuckled. “Your closet? Really?”
“Easy access for me, so duh!” she said and released me. “I guess Brax is falling behind in science so when Cole told him you were going to help, he was all over that.” She sat down and picked up her polish again. “I guess his mom has been on his case about it, and he's not used to struggling in a class.”
“Must be hard, coming to a new school. They might be doing the same material, but are ahead or behind where you were at your old school, I guess.” I sat down beside her again.
“It's nice of you to help Cole out,” she said, changing the subject.
I sighed. “I wasn't going to, but...yeah.”
“Haylee thinks they are going to break up, soon. But she's been saying that for months.”
I frowned. “I thought they were still having sex and stuff? Don't you kind of...I mean, isn't that awkward?”
She shrugged. “It doesn't sound like it's good sex. I mean, you're right, she should just break it off if she's not getting what she needs, but maybe she sees him like you do – cute and she's getting some. I guess people will put up with a lot over cute.”
I grimaced, thinking of why I was helping Cole. “Well, explains why Brax puts up with you.”
“Wow. Nice back-handed compliment, Drew,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Thinking of Cole and the idea of cute – and also wanting to put a stop to it – I thought about how he'd reacted when I'd more or less come out to him. “So I think Cole is an asshole. Pretty sure.”
“Well, this afternoon he noticed the mark on my face – and is it really that bad? No one else said anything besides you and Teo.”
“I know what your face is supposed to look like,” she said dismissively. “What did he say about it?”
“He just started to ask, but then I said you'd told me about it that morning and he went all kinds of weird – like got defensive about Brax and like I'd try to steal you from Brax or something.”
She frowned and laughed all in one. “He what? I mean, okay, so Brax is his bestie – you protect them, but why did he think I'd cheat?”
I shrugged. “Somehow he thought I could be enough to steal you from Brax. I told him off, though. Kind of rude to assume you'd cheat.”
“Yeah,” she said, dismissing the idea. “Kind of a dick thing, but I can see him warning someone away from his bestie's girl. Looking out for their relationship.”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah. I guess that's a good point.” I shook my head. “Anyway, I pretty much told him I was gay because I'd sooner date Brax than you.”
“Right? You guys would make a hot couple, but he's mine – oh my God! Are you crushing on Brax?”
“You so are! Oh, I'm going to tell him!” she teased.
“Delusional,” I said with a grin. “Nice chest though. I'll allow that much.”
“Right? Oh! He sent me this.” She capped her polish and started to shake her fingers to dry the nails. Not nearly long enough as she picked up her phone and tapped through a few screens before turning it toward me. Music came from the phone and a short video played of Brax lifting a weight bar while lying on a bench. Cole was behind him, spotting him. Brax's shirt rode up a little showing off the band of his underwear. After a few reps, he and Cole swapped. Cole's shirt also rode up and I felt thirsty again. Then Brax did this dumb thing he does with a lot of his pictures, making a 'v' sign. Cole lifted his shirt to wipe his face in the background.
“I need a glass of water,” I said.
“I know, he's such a hottie,” she agreed; she didn't realize I meant Cole.
Her phone buzzed. Brax was texting that they had just pulled up. We headed downstairs and she went to the front door to meet them while I went to the table to get my stuff ready. That was put on hold, as I'd forgotten about the food. A covered pot was on a trivet on the middle of the table and a stack of shallow pasta bowls beside it. A pile of silverware with a canister of Parmesan completed the meal.
Well, I hadn't eaten yet anyway.
“Eat! Eat!” Mr. Petrakis said from the living room, probably talking to Brax and Cole. They entered the room trailing Alessia, and Brax held out his fist for me.
“Bruh, this smells good. I want to eat before we do this. That cool?”
“Totally,” I said, bobbing my head. I glanced at Cole.
His cheeks were red, maybe from the cold. “Hey,” he said quietly. I nodded at him. Alessia started to chat as we all sat down and had a bowl of food. Brax and Cole had three helpings; I limited myself to two. Pasta always makes me feel weird if I eat too much. Alessia was teasing them about being pigs. Mr. Petrakis stopped in once to ask if we liked the food.
With the dishes in the sink and the pot cleared from the table, we finally got started.
“Cole, I made these notes for you,” I said and handed him the sheets I'd prepared. He accepted them with quiet thanks and began to review them. Brax pulled his labs out and we started to go over them.
“Are you kidding me with this using a straight edge shit?” Brax demanded. “She takes points off for that?”
I nodded. “It's stupid, but she tells everyone at the start. She wants them all super neat.”
He frowned. “You'd think it'd be more important that the information is correct than how it looks.”
“She claims that we'll be in college soon and it'll be really important, then,” Cole muttered. “I asked her after class today.”
“I call bullshit,” Brax muttered. As I went over Brax's work I realized he was making the same mistakes Cole was.
“Do you guys copy each other's work?” I asked.
“Sort of,” Brax said. “We did the labs together, so we agreed on the formulas and stuff.”
We went over the labs individually, and I even found where I'd made a mistake. We corrected their labs, and I was right to have brought my colored pencils, though I didn't feel as vindicated as I expected. Brax was in better shape than Cole, so when he finished up Alessia got all excited and said she had to 'show him something' and whisked him away. I rolled my eyes and continued to work with Cole. I figured if we got this all done, he'd know what he was doing and there wouldn't be anymore of these awkward working sessions.
Cole looked up in the direction Brax and Alessia had gone. I was growing uncomfortable with the quiet and decided to break it.
“Ten bucks says Brax comes back with shiny lips,” I said.
Cole turned to look at me with a look of amused confusion. “What?”
“They're making out right now, so Alessia's lip gloss will be all over his lips.” I tapped my lips for clarity, as if he might not know where lips are located on a human face.
The corner of his mouth pulled up in amusement, then dropped down and he blushed again. I wish he'd quit doing that. It's distracting. “Um. I'm sorry about...what I said. Brax is my friend, and when you said you'd talked to her that morning I had this...weird image in my head. Like, you know, waking up to someone kind of morning.”
My jaw dropped. I mean, it was patently silly – and kind of eww as well – but I was also impressed that he was apologizing. I mean, it didn't seem like it was in character for the Cole I knew. Maybe I didn't know him very well.
“Wow, Cole. You think I slept with her – on a school night? That's a step too far,” I said, trying to keep a straight face.
He looked at me and broke into a nervous chuckle, blushing again. Why is he blushing so much? Did I break him?
“Well, I mean, if you're going to do it, I think available time matters more than when that time is. Right?” He looked up at me and I had the distinct feeling that the time he meant, sort of, was right now. I looked away from him as my own cheeks felt hot.
I cleared my throat. “How many more do you have?”
“Labs,” I said, pointing to the papers before him.
“Oh. Um, just two.” He paused and then looked over at me. For a second I thought he took a deep breath, but I must have been seeing things. “Uh, after doing this I realize how bad I am at them. Do you think we could meet again? Maybe when the next lab is due?”
I paused for a moment. I hadn't seen this coming, but I found with his apology, I was fine with helping him out.
“Yeah. I'm sure we can work something out.”
“Cool,” he said, blushing a little. Probably just doesn't like asking for help, I reasoned. We finished the last of his labs and he let out a big sigh.
“This is a fucking relief,” he said. “You have no idea how much pressure I've been getting.”
“From Mrs. Fitzpatrick?”
He shook his head. “No. My mom.” He hesitated, glanced at me and then started to gather his work. “My parents are divorcing. Right now it's like nothing matters until they notice, then it's the end of the fucking world.”
“Wow. Um, that sucks. I'm sorry.”
He shrugged and started stuffing pages into his folder.
“Uh, oh, no – stop that,” I said, pulling the folder from him and opening it to the messy contents of the labs we'd just done.
“She's a neat freak,” I chided him. “Now that you did all the work, you can't turn it in like you balled it up first.” I smiled and chuckled at him so he'd know I wasn't trying to be a jerk.
“Oh,” he said, and blushed lightly. “Yeah, duh.” He paused. “Um. Thanks, really. For the help.”
I smiled and hoped I wasn't blushing at him. “No problem.”
After organizing his folder I handed it back and he placed it carefully in his bag. He stood up and stretched, twining his fingers together over his head. His shirt rode up and I couldn't stop staring at his smooth stomach over the thick waistband of his underwear. He made a small noise and it broke my trance. I glanced up at his face and his eyes were closed, only opening after he'd finished his stretch.
“Man, I'm glad football is almost over.”
He rested his hands on the back of his chair. “We only have, like, a game left – maybe two if coach gets this other team to play he's been talking about. But he conditions us like crazy. We can't go outside right now, so he's got us on the weight benches and stuff. Makes you kind of sore and tired.”
“Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” I could rub his stomach for him. I shook the thought from my head. “When I went to see coach the other day, I saw these guys that looked more fat than muscle – and one guy that looked like he had tumors under his skin.”
He frowned lightly and appeared to think. “You probably saw Vince and Tyru. They play on the line. They do look soft, but they are like brick walls. The muscle guy was Kinsey. He's being recruited to play in college. Dude lifts a ton, but I think he's a 'roid head, too.”
“Hey, guys,” Brax said as he reentered the room, holding Alessia's hand. She trailed just behind him and looked pleased with herself.
“Hey, Brax. Open up your mouth.”
“Say what?” He grinned.
“Say ‘Ah,’” I told him looking at Cole and smiling a little.
Brax opened his mouth comically and looked at both Cole and I. “So?”
I looked at Cole. “See? I told you. Look how shiny his tongue is. She gets that lip gloss everywhere.”
“What?” Brax asked, laughing. Cole started to snicker, but Alessia is never one to give me the last word.
“Baby, want to show them how shiny your dick is?”
Brax looked at her with wide eyes and I know mine were at least twice the normal size. Alessia looked at Cole and me innocently, then said, “Gotcha.”
Brax and Cole headed out and I got my bag ready to head for home.
“Sorry to abandon you with Cole, but I had to. Brax needed my attention,” Alessia told me as if it had been a burden.
“I'm sure it killed you to make out with your boyfriend,” I said with a shake of my head.
“It's my cross to bear,” she said with a dramatic sigh and then smiled. “So did you get Cole caught up?”
“Yep! He's ready to turn stuff in tomorrow.”
“Probably have a snow day, Teo thinks,” she said. “Check your phone first and if we do, go back to sleep. Don't show up here in the morning.”
“Yeesh, okay!” I said, holding my hands up. “Your mom wasn't happy to see me, that was for sure.”
She frowned. “She's not the warmest. Most of the time she sits in her room and watches TV while dad is in the living room, watching TV. Probably the same show.”
I frowned. “That's weird. Your dad has taken us places, but your mom never comes. He said she doesn't like traveling.”
“She doesn't like much of anything,” she replied. Then she got a devilish smile on her face. “So. Did you enjoy sitting alone with Cole.”
Heat filled my face. “We did his homework. Not like you and Brax – and I can't believe you brought up giving him a blow job. You know it's on his mind, now.”
“Yeah. I know,” she said with a grin.
I stared. “You're thinking about taking that step with him?”
She gave me a considered look. “I am. Thinking about it. I mean, you're a gay guy. Haven't you thought about it?”
I snorted. “Never been in a relationship.”
“Not the point. You must have whacked it over some of the guys in school. Maybe thought about giving them a blowie, right?”
I stared at her, my cheeks still feeling warm. “Maybe.”
“Well, I'm thinking about it, too. Now that the thought's in his head, we'll see where it goes.”
“I mean, to be clear...you want to?”
She tilted her head and looked at me. “Yeah. First time for everything.”
On that note we parted. I headed for home, kicking off my shoes by the front door. I glanced in the living room where the TV was on to find my mother staring at the screen, but not acknowledging my presence. I guess this is the change from Mr. Petrakis talking to her. For now. I went upstairs and stripped down for bed. After washing my face and brushing my teeth, I stretched out on top of the covers. Alessia had talked about making out with guys before, and she'd definitely made comments about bulges and whatnot, but she'd never wanted to do anything to her boyfriends other than make out. My mind slipped to seeing Teo in his underwear, the bulge of his sex evident. For some reason, I thought of the dark hair curling on his stomach above the waistband and my mind shifted to this evening, when Cole was stretching.
Oh, yeah. Flat, smooth stomach – maybe some really light golden brown hair to catch the light, but not like Teo or myself. Teo had more hair than I did, and I was thankful, as the majority of mine was on my legs. But Cole's stomach – the thought of it – had me slipping my hand beneath the waistband of my underwear.
Damnit, Cole, you made me make a mess.
I woke to my alarm and slipped out of bed. After hitting the bathroom I checked my phone – yep, snow day. Teo called it. I stretched and immediately thought of Cole stretching. This was stupid, but I was going to enjoy it. I wondered if that workout video with Brax and Cole had been a public posting, and if I could see it. I couldn't remember if he'd mailed it to Alessia or not. That thought flew out of my head when I remembered Cole standing next to Brax in the locker room, dressed down to his underwear. I looked down at the reaction my body was giving and sighed.
“Cole, what are you doing to me?”
I needed a shower afterward, and then got dressed before going to find some breakfast. I ate quietly, assuming my mother was asleep in her recliner. As I ate I thumbed through the pages of Alessia's photos until I found Brax tagged and then moved to his photos. I found the video of him and Cole, and then I set the phone down and had a set of thoughts that kind of sucked. First was that I wasn't as interested in Brax, I think, because I know he's straight and Alessia is dating him. So straight and taken. If that is true, what the hell am I doing fantasizing about Cole Thomas?
Cole is straight. Alessia told me he's fucking Haylee – and Jesus I hate that spelling! I mean he's not just dating her or hanging out with her – he's having sex. He's getting naked, and sweaty and – I hope – using protection while he...okay, her part isn't nearly as interesting. But essentially those are the same reasons for not going very gaga over Brax. But Brax was pretty nice looking – good chest, ears stick out a little but not like a cartoon character or anything. He had a cool personality, very easy-going and I honestly liked the guy.
Cole is cold. Well, I mean, he wasn't last night. He started off more awkward than cold, and maybe that was because of the chat we'd had in science. Maybe I should be cutting him some slack because of what's going on at home for him – but he's still straight! And taken! And actively screwing that lucky bitch's brains out!
Oh. My. God. Did I just think that? I did. I have jacked off twice in less than twenty-four hours over this guy, and for what? I was starting to feel resentful about this whole thing – he didn't even have to be here to piss me off.
Around nine my phone rang. It kind of startled me because I'm not used to it. Even the ringer on the house phone is turned off.
“Bruh. Come sledding with us.”
I paused. “Brax?”
“How did you – Alessia. Never mind. Wait, why are you calling and not her?”
“First, bruh, I'm allowed to call my friends. Second, she said she's not asking you because you won't come with us, but I said you're coming with us. So, come with us.”
I frowned. “Why should I be a third wheel?”
“You won't. It's me, 'Less, Cole, Haylee and Teo.”
My heart twitched at Cole's name, but then settled a bit low in my stomach hearing Haylee's name. “Um. Well, nah. You guys go ahead.”
“I'm on your front porch. Come on, bruh.”
“You're – what?”
“Come on. Please?”
I heard Alessia in the background. “I told you.”
The phone rustled. “Drew? Cole. Come hang with us.”
“I'm going to ring the doorbell.”
“No! My mom's asleep!” I hope!
“Ten seconds, Science-boy.”
Ugh. “Okay, okay. I'll get ready!”
I heard Brax give a tiny cheer and say he won, and Alessia making a sound of disbelief. I checked on my mother, but she was still asleep as I'd hoped. I left her a note that I went with Teo and Alessia sledding and that I had to work that night. I walked out the front door and Brax started in on Alessia. “Pay up, babe!” Figures, a bet was involved. That also means Cole was trying to get me out the door for Brax to win – totally looking out for his buddy.
We took turns sledding, throwing snowballs and pushing one another for a while. Cole seemed fine with Haylee, so I'm not sure if what Alessia said she'd heard about them was true or not. Brax and Alessia were cute together, though. Maybe that was the difference between the couples? There was something intangible between Brax and Alessia that wasn't with Cole and Haylee? Maybe why one looked 'fine' versus 'cute' together? I don't know. Teo had fun burying us in snowdrifts as we barreled down a hill. I was always worried there would be a tree stump or something under a mound of snow, but he didn't seem to care. Truthfully I was enjoying the time he was spending on me, and it got me to wonder how he felt about me – and how I felt about him. It was odd. I should be sweating bullets and hoping he kisses me again. I wouldn't mind, but I wasn't sweating it. I think it was because I was going googly about Cole yesterday. I bet when Teo kisses me, it'll blow my mind.
Teo also spent time taking pictures of us all sledding, throwing snow and of various groups of us smiling on demand for his lens. I swear, I don't know why he doesn't go into photography since he likes it so much. Then again, he likes so many things.
I had to call it for me about noon, though, since I had to work at one-thirty. Teo ran me back to my house, and I waited a pregnant moment to see if there would be any move on his part before I climbed from the car, but no. Nothing. As I opened my front door, Teo called out and was suddenly running up my walk.
“You dropped your phone,” he said, taking the front steps in a single bound.
“Oh, crap. I'm not used to having it,” I said.
He smiled and handed it to me in his left hand. I reached for it and as I did he reached up with his right hand, placing his fingertips just behind my jaw as he had the other morning. My heart sped up. This was it. I looked up at him and he closed the distance, placing his lips on mine. They were kind of chapped. Oh! Move my lips! I started to open my mouth, and his tongue darted forward. It felt weird, and I pulled back slightly.
“Close the God Damn – what the Christ are you doing!” I turned ridiculously quickly to face my mother who wore a mask of outrage. But she wasn't looking at me. “Are you sick?” she shrieked – and I do mean that. It was like a banshee. Her voice went through my head. “What is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how disgusting that is? Get out of here! Stop that, you pervert!”
Teo jerked his head back. My mother had probably never raised her voice past a conversational tone with either he or his sister.
“Get out of here! You're sick! Andrew Chambers, get in this house right now!”
“Olivia? Why are you screaming at the boys?” I whipped my head over to the porch next door where Mr. Petrakis was standing, clutching the front of his sweater closed.
“Teo was kissing Andrew!” she shrieked. My head was vibrating with the octave she was hitting. Mr. Petrakis's jaw dropped, and then his face seemed to go blank.
“Teo. Come home.”
“Dad! It was just-”
“Theodore! Now!” his father said in a tone I'd rarely, if ever, heard him use. Teo jumped at the tone, recognizing that now was not the time and with a final glance at me, he descended from our porch. His car was still running so he climbed in and backed it up so it was in front of his own home. I assume he went in then, but my mother grabbed my arm and yanked me in the front door, where I tripped over the sill.
“God damn it, Mom!” I yelled. “Stop it!”
“No! You fucking stop putting your hands on me!” I yelled back, spreading my feet and preparing to take an unprecedented stand against my mother.
She didn't seem to notice. She began raving as she slammed the door behind her. “That is sick! Don't you let him touch you!”
“I'm gay! I want guys to touch me!” I yelled, failing to note this was my official coming out to my parent.
“Not him!” she said, raising her voice again. “You can't kiss your brother! It's vile! Disgusting! Sick! Wrong!”
“It's not – what?” Her nastiness sloughed off my conscious mind and I stared at her, mouth open.