“Alec, Mr. Kissick would like to see you in his office.”
Sasha raises an eyebrow at me and I shrug. He frowns and I shrug again, I really don't know why I am going to the principal's office. His look lets me know I'd have some 'splaining to do later.
“Okay,” I reply to the teacher and grab my stuff. Exiting the room I feel a chill run up my back as I walk through the empty halls. It seems so unnatural, a noisy place like a school with no people. My sneakers squeak here and there on the hard stone tiles and my footfalls echo as I turn and head down the stairs. Pushing open the door to the office I smile at Mrs. Waldbaum who looks at me over her glasses.
“Hi,” I say to her and move past the counter and over by her desk. “What am I in for?”
“Detention, if you don't go back to your side of that counter,” she says with a wide smile.
“But, I can't hear you whisper to me from over there,” I stage whisper to her as I take a step back. She's serious, she will give me detention if I don't at least look like I'm complying.
“You won't believe me if I tell you, so just sit tight.” She smiles wickedly and adds, “He'll be done talking to your parents in a minute.”
“My parents?” I look at her, searching for some sign she's joking. She's not joking. Why is she not joking? I wrack my brains trying to figure out what I could have done that would warrant my parents being called in. I am mildly distressed to discover that I couldn't think of anything. It wasn't that long ago that I'd know what I did wrong and have a plan to cover it; this is new territory.
“Keep going,” Mrs. Waldbaum waves her hand in a shooing motion and I realize I've stopped. I step back to my side of the counter and frown.
I haven't done anything! The last bad – their word, not mine – thing I'd done was be caught in the house with Sasha, sans clothes. The only bad part, in my opinion, was that Sasha had not yet lost all his clothes. Come to think of it, if they could have caught us maybe thirty minutes later – assuming that they had to catch us at all – that would have been far better. I mean, really, it is an open secret that Sasha and I are sleeping together. Wouldn't it be weirder if we weren't screwing yet? I mean, come on, it was a year – oh shit! Anniversary!
No, that can't be why the 'rents are here. I wonder if anyone saw Sasha and I in...
“Alec, come on in,” Mr. Kissick says. I glance up at the door to his office to see that he is already moving back to his desk. I cross the office and stand in his doorway – and yes, there are my parents.
“Close the door behind you and pull up a chair,” Mr. Kissick says.
“I hate to ask this, honestly – what did I do?”
“Alec, close the door and join us,” my dad says. I push the door and drag a chair to sit by my folks, but I do so with great suspicion. Something is definitely wrong with this picture. My parents are not angry, Mr. Kissick does not have a folder with my name on it...it is nothing short of bizarre.
“Alec, if we were sitting here at the beginning of last school year I'd never believe that we could have a meeting like this,” Mr. Kissick says to me. “Your parents are similarly pleased with the conversation we've just had.”
“Mom,” I whine, “You know I hate you talking about me behind my back – especially with people that assign me detention!”
“Alec,” she laughs. “I love having a meeting where the principal tells me my son is an example for others!”
“An example? I hate being an example.” I look at Mr. Kissick. “Whenever anyone wants to make an example, a bad one, they seem to like to use me.”
He laughs at me. Can you believe it?
“Well, it's funny you should mention that.” He smiles and leans back in his chair. “Since the incident last year there have been sweeping changes – all to the good. Your family's willingness to work with the school system rather than filing a lawsuit has paid big dividends and that's what I want to talk to you about – one of those dividends.”
“Uh oh.” I look at my parents and ask, “Can we still sue? I'm not sure I want to be a dividend. It sounds like division and we all know how I feel about that.”
“I think you'll be in favor,” my dad says. “Listen for a minute.”
I turn back to Mr. Kissick and he leans forward and laces his fingers together on the desktop.
“Alec, bullying happens in many different forms. Your experience was one of the most severe I've ever heard of. One of the programs that has come out of that is our new mentoring program. What we do is take seniors like you, role models, and assign them to kids who are at risk.”
“What do you mean role model? And what do you mean at risk?” I say with suspicion.
“I know, Alec, it's hard to believe. But you have come through this whole ordeal and become someone other parents want their kids to be like.”
“You can't clone me, I won't give blood. Dad, tell him,” I say, leaning back. What does he mean, role model? And I hate talking about that 'ordeal' as he puts it. The only good thing to come out of it was I had Sasha. Well, that wasn't entirely true, I have to admit, it was just the best thing. I have found a lot of new friends since then, too. Zap and Travis – who will never ask me for advice again, but I can live with that. Chase and Kale, whom I never call by his name. One day he will turn his head when I call him 'Leafy Superfood' and I will have him! It will forever be his name!
They were all good friends, and I actually am glad to have them around. I'd go through it all again for Sash, though. You know it's true love when you find the person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.
“No cloning,” Mr. Kissick says. “But I have noticed your afternoon schedule seems to be arranged to have a lot of study halls.”
“Yes. Yes it does,” I say happily.
“Well, we'd like you to spend those afternoons over at the middle school.”
“Say what, now?'
“We have a child who we think is at risk and could use your...singular talents.”
I think about this for a moment. “You never did explain that whole 'at risk child' thing. And the only singular talent I have is being a smart aaa,” I glance at my mother who is giving me frown number four. “Alec,” I finish.
“A child can be labeled as at risk, Alec,” Mr. Kissick chuckles, “for a variety of reasons. The child I have in mind for you has recently been through an awful lot. He's become isolated and his teachers think that he is struggling with some things that aren't being addressed in...other ways.”
“That sounds sad and kind of cryptic,” I reply.
“There are privacy laws that prevent me from disclosing the student's personal details. You can take my word, I think you are the perfect person for the job,” Mr. Kissick says with confidence.
That's another thing that's different. I get a lot fewer suspicious looks as opposed to confident ones from adults now. I don't mind - it lets me get away with things a lot easier - but in a way I miss the challenge.
“Job? Parents, he's using that three letter word I don't like that usually has something to do with that four letter word I don't like any better.”
Mr. Kissick raises his eyebrows and my mother laughs and supplies, “He means work.”
“Alec,” Mr. Kissick said with a wry grin, “I have a boy that very much needs someone near enough to his own age to take an interest in him. If he takes you into his confidence, then he may tell you things that I can't. More importantly, you have a chance to really do something good.”
His voice changes, growing more serious. “Some of our at risk kids are being bullied and some of them may become bullies. I think this one...needs a friend. So, what do you say? Will you help us?”
I weigh it in my head. Hang out with some little kid or try to get some extra boyfriend time in? That really doesn't sound like much of a choice. Sasha isn't in my study halls, oh no, he is taking some extra electives for college. I have to convince him to get a bathroom pass to see him anytime after lunch. He actually suggested I take the AP classes with him, can you believe it? Well, I'll show him.
“Okay, I'll do it.”
“Excellent. Meet me here after your lunch and we'll walk over.”
“I'm so proud of you,” Sasha says as he leans his head against my shoulder. The cafeteria crowd is noisy and the monitors keep shushing them uselessly.
“That's great, but does it make you horny?”
“Alec,” he chuckles.
“Isn't it enough it makes him happy?” Kale asks.
I narrow my eyes at him. “Of course it does, Leafy. I want him to be happy.” I pause, then add, “And naked.”
“I like the way you think,” Chase says before Kale and Sasha both raise eyebrows at him.
“Oh, dude. You got the double brow. So screwed,” I say.
“What? He said it!” Chase says to Kale.
“You want to see Sasha naked?” Kale asks.
“Uh. How did we get to that?” Chase asks.
“Notice he didn't say no,” I point out.
“Alec! Shush! For once a couple besides us is having drama!” Sasha says to me. “Kale, you were saying?”
“No, wait,” I jump back in. “It's not fair if Chase gets to see you naked and I don't!”
“I am not seeing him naked!” Chase protests.
“Nobody is!” Sasha says in exasperation.
“Hey! Thanks a lot, Chase!”
“How...I just...Alec, that's the last time I agree with you about anything!” Chase says, trying not to laugh. It was pretty absurd, I'll give him that.
“Oh no? You won't agree with me if I say Kale is the hottest super food I ever...uh...didn't eat?”
“No, I won't agree with that. I'd like to get laid,” Chase mutters.
Sasha leans in to me and whispers, “Again.”
I quirk an eyebrow and Sasha gives me a knowing look. I smile at Kale. “Go Leafy Superfood! High five!”
“What?” Kale asks, mystified.
“Who is the poor bastard you're supposed to mentor?” Chase asks. I think that is a pretty smooth change of subject and I decide to show that I appreciate his effort by actually answering his question.
“I don't know. Meet him after we finish lunch,” I tell him. “I don't know much. I can't imagine how bad off he has to be that they decide to ask me to help him.”
Sasha puts a hand on my cheek an says, “Probably because they know if you like him you'll do anything to help.”
“Sash!” I say, scandalized. “Don't let these guys think I'm anything but a super genius smart ass!”
“Don't worry, we know,” Kale says dryly.
I think Leafy hates me. Well, I think he hates me sometimes. Like, whenever my mouth is open; so yeah, he hates me.
Mr. Kissick strolls out of the school office just as I approach. He points both fingers at me as if they were guns and then waves me over to walk with him.
“Okay, so this boy you're going to meet is named Lucien Rousseau, he's 13 – almost 14 - and in the eighth grade at Columbia Middle School, of course,” he says as we walk across the large sporting fields that lie between Columbia High and the neighboring Columbia Middle.
“Lucien, Lucien Rousseau,” I say, rolling the words around on my tongue. “That's a cool name. It's like Bond, James Bond but more...”
“French,” Mr. Kissick says.
“No...” I say, hunting for the adjective I want.
“No, really, it's French.”
“Oh. Oh! I see,” I laugh.
“He's a nice kid, from all accounts. I'll introduce you to Vice Principal Stephens and we can go from there.”
“Stephens? Uh, we've met.”
“I'm sure, but this will be under different circumstances.”
“He was pretty unhappy with me, last time I saw him.”
“I dare say that's true for anyone whose job it is to ensure discipline with you.” Kissick remarked dryly. He might be onto something there, I thought to myself.
We walk through a side door and down to the school office. The place still gives me the willies. We walk over to the VP's office and Kissick raps on the open door as he strolls in. I choose to follow his lead and stroll as well.
“Harold, I think you know Alec,” Kissick says by way of introduction.
“Hi, Mr. Stephens,” I say with a wave and a disarming smile.
“I don't believe it. He said yes?” Stephens says, ignoring me and looking at Kissick.
“Yes, I did,” I say pointedly. Screw the disarming stuff, let's go to arms. Armed. Arm...something. Let's stop being nice!
VP Stephens leans back in his chair and looks at me with an appraising eye. I flex my biceps in response and the corner of his mouth quirks up. “Well, Lucien can't ignore him, that's for sure. I'll take you to meet him.” He stands and shakes Kissick's hand. “Thanks, David.”
“Glad to help,” he turns and pats me on the back. “Go do your thing, make us proud.”
Kissick leaves and VP Stephens beckons me to follow him.
“Things haven't been the same around here since you left,” he says conversationally.
“Yep. Not a single assault on the plumbing system.”
“That wasn't my style. I was always verbal, you know that,” I tell him. He is referring to an incident where some kids had gotten hall passes at the same time and flushed three floors worth of toilets all at once. It wasn't me, but I admired their coordination.
“Yes, I agree. But I think you knew who it was. Not that it matters anymore, of course.” He comes to a stop at the doors of the library. He points at a boy through the glass who is pushing a cart laden with books to re-shelve.
“That's Lucien. Listen, Kutsenko.” He turns and gives me a worried look. “He's a good kid. You and I didn't see eye to eye on much, but you were a good person. He needs that, really badly. I'll just introduce you and let you do your thing.”
“Uh, Mr. Stephens? It might be better if you let me try it without a formal intro, first. No kid likes it when someone like you – no offense – sends someone to hang out with them.”
“I think I understand,” he says with an incline of his head. “The teachers and the librarian involved in the periods you'll share with Lucien have all been informed to expect you. Good luck.”
I enter the library and glance around at the familiar space. The librarian glances at me and her nose wrinkles just a little. I was late with a book once and she never forgot. Okay, I may have lost a few of them too. Moving on.
I wander the aisles, an eerie feeling of deja vu flooding through me. These shelves seemed taller, before. I glance around at the tables we used to sit at and not read, and I smile fondly at the memory. Back to my task!
I observe Lucien for a few minutes, but there isn't anything exciting about what he is doing. I assume he helps out in the library instead of a study hall, and I have to wonder why. Maybe he's a book worm? There are worse things, I suppose.
He's a nice looking kid, sandy brown/blond hair and red framed metal glasses sitting on his nose. He's not seriously pale – several shades up from 'corpse' on the old color wheel – but he's a fairly white kid that could use some sun. I judge him to be about five foot two inches tall and maybe a hundred pounds. He fits his clothes well and looks like he's active versus athletic and seems to be a perfectly average, normal guy I'd have drooled over a bit when I was in 8th grade.
I head over to him. He is a little startled when he spots me, but that's because I am standing by his cart when he turns from replacing a book on the shelf. That may have been intentional.
“Hey, do you know where everything in the library is?”
“Uh, some. What are you looking for?” he replies. I like his voice. It's kind of scratchy and I wonder if he'll grow up to sing the blues or something. Nah.
“Oh, yeah. There in the vertical racks by the circulation desk.” He points over to where the woman that never forgets or forgives sits.
“Well, I didn't see the magazine I was looking for. Can you help me find it?”
“Oh.” He looks at me and bites his lower lip for a nano-second, which is very cute if you're scoring at home, and then blurted, “Aren't you a little old for this school?”
“Are you trying to say I don't belong here?” I ask. “Do I look freakishly tall to you or something? Maybe you're just short, ever think of that?”
“No...” he says, his brow wrinkling. “You're wearing a Columbia High football jersey.”
I blink. I look down. Balls, he's right.
“Well, it's like this. You heard of Alec Kutsenko?”
“Who hasn't?” he asks slowly, as if speaking to an idiot.
“Well, he and I...” I wiggle my eyebrows and his eyes widen. “I got this from him after.”
“No, what do you think he is, a slut?” I snicker and put my hand out saying, “Alec Kutsenko.”
“Hey,” I say, wiggling my hand, “Hand out, waiting to be shaken, not stirred.”
“What?” he says, his hand slowly rising to mine. I clasp his soft hand and pump it a few times. Then inspiration strikes.
“I was told you're pretty smart. Looks like I need some help from you, what are your last two classes?”
“Science lab and gym...” he says slowly.
“Yeah, well, it turns out there is this computer glitch, right? And they say I need some credits in gym and – what did you say the other one was?”
“Right, that. I have to do it or no graduation. So I was told to hang with you and you'd be able to help me out.”
He looks like he is struggling to believe me. I go over the story in my head and think it sounds just screwy enough that the school might have done it.
“So...who told you I could help?”
“VP Stephens.” I hold up a hand. “I hope he's not messing with me, the guy never liked me when I was here.”
“I'm not exactly an honor roll student. Besides, I have a lot of my own stuff to do. Maybe you can ask for someone else.” He turns from me and pushes the cart along the aisle. I trail after him.
“Well, I would, you know? I know you probably don't want to help a total stranger. But the thing is, you're one of the few kids that have gym and science lab one after the other.”
“I have science lab first,” he says, looking at me doubtfully.
“That's what I meant,” I say. I have to listen more. I just have to get him to talk about something interesting. “So, are you dating anyone?”
He rolls his eyes at me and pushes his cart along.
“So, why are you here?” I try again.
“Is that a philosophical question?” Lucien asks as he shelves another book.
“It can be,” I concede. “I meant in the library, though.”
He tilts his head to the side and looks at me. “Why do you care?”
“Seems like a normal question to me,” I reply.
“Are you really Alec?” he asks suddenly.
I turn my back and show him my name on the jersey. “Yep. And I didn't even have to sleep with myself to get it. The jersey, I mean.”
“Yes. It's all true. I kicked the ass of every football player there,” I say with a grin.
He sighs, appears to be frustrated, and walks away from me again. Looks like someone else wants me to retell my own personal horror story. I know being honest will connect me with this kid – or would have before he walked away. I decide that boat has sailed for now and simply follow him annoyingly closely for a few minutes.
“What?” he says in frustration. “Why are you following me?”
“Hey, some people would like that I...that I am...following them.” He'd walked away again and I resume my shadow routine. He turns around quickly in frustration and I hold my hand up and say, “Hey, I can't lose you. I don't know where science lab is!”
“Go sit down, I'll come get you. Jesus!”
“You called me Jesus. I thought I should bless you if you think I'm your savior.”
He stares at me, his lip trembling just a bit like he wants to laugh and then he turns and walks away again. I decide to stop antagonizing him and go bother the librarian for the duration. She's not nearly as cute as the little guy, but what the hell, everyone needs a little smart ass in their day.
“Really? Librarians from neighboring schools can give out detention slips and they are good at another school?” Sasha asks. His fingers stroke through my hair as I lie back on his chest. We are in his room, with the door open as per house rules.
“I know,” I say raising my arms and letting them fall to the bed. “I was surprised too.”
“You really shouldn't have said that, though.”
“I know,” I say as I reach up to take the hand that isn't in my hair. “But I was getting nowhere with Lucien. I was trying too hard.”
“Give it time,” Sasha says in a soothing tone. “Not everyone is as impressed with your wit as you are.”
“Really?” I ask and turn my head up to look at him.
“Nope,” he confirms with a smile.
“I thought that was how you fell for me.”
“I fell for your heart, not your mouth,” he said as he leans over me and kisses me upside down.
“You seem to like my mouth now,” I note with a grin.
“It's hard not to,” he admits. We kiss like that for a bit, silly little kisses really. His hands are on the sides of my head to keep me in place.
He leans back a bit and touches his nose to mine and then asks, “So what are you going to do?”
“About Lucien?” I ask and he nods. “I'm not sure. He seems like a nice kid, but trusting people takes time. We have some time off from school at Thanksgiving and then it's just, like, four weeks to the winter break. I still don't know much of anything about him. I don't even know why they assigned him to me.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Please do. We know how things went last time someone wanted advice from me!” I chuckle and Sasha smiles down at me.
“Zap did end up with Travis, so it wasn't all bad – speaking of which, have you seen Travis lately?”
“I don't think so. Why?”
“He went to the GSA meeting at the beginning of school that you missed for football. He said he thought we should consider expanding the name of the GSA, since it sounds like only the two are represented.”
“Hm. Was he coming out as bi?”
“He was! I just had to hug him after, that was really brave.”
“Isn't the GSA all inclusive and stuff?”
“Yeah, but the name makes it sound like it's one thing or the other – you know, only gay or straight.”
“There's a lot of new labels out there,” I mused. “Personally, it's too much to remember.”
“Yeah, but think about the person that identifies with one of those other labels. Maybe straight, gay or bi doesn't cover it for them.”
“I don't care, they can love whomever they want to. As long as I have you, I don't care.”
“Every once in a while you render me speechless.”
“See? Two things my mouth is good for. I can show you a third,” I say with a wicked smile.
He glances at the clock. “Dad will be home in twenty five minutes.”
I roll over and smile at him, “I love a challenge.”
I dress a little preppier the next day. I want to show a different image to Lucien than football player and world class ass gets kicked...er. I figured that conversation would have to come out at some point, but when it does it has to count. I don't want to have some casual conversation about it – I still wake up with the sweats sometimes. But if it can help me reach this kid, maybe show him whatever shit he is in can be overcome, then I'll give it a try.
Hanging with Lucien the day before hadn't given me much to go on. He hadn't really answered any questions and he was pretty focused in class. I actually thought I might learn something in science lab with him. Gym was a different story.
Lucien is in shape and I know he's turning heads, but he doesn't seem to enjoy gym. Yesterday was the last day for football and I was enthusiastic about that, but Lucien was far more reserved and hesitant to participate. I decided to hang with him and realized he was getting crap from a few of his classmates. I was more optimistic for today since it was the start of track in gym, which was more solitary.
The morning passes by with no problem. I annoy Leafy at lunch, try to get Chase to say something to get him in warm water – I don't really want them to fight – then kiss Sasha and go to work. Unfortunately, Lucien is a big ball of 'go sit down until we leave for science lab'. I drum my fingers on the table and pretend to read a magazine while he works, quietly gliding through the aisles and putting books back in their places.
I wonder about who he's dating, if at all. He's got to have suitors – but he seems shy. No, not shy, he's kind of closed off, like he won't let people get close. It's not snobby, but more like...defensive.
Lucien taps me on the shoulder. “Time for class. Did you enjoy your 'Woman's Day'?”
I look down. Balls. “I was saving it for you,” I cover.
“Very funny. I see it didn't take long,” he snaps and walks out leaving me to scramble in his wake. For a smaller dude he has a very purposeful stride. Also he is awfully touchy about my choice of magazine for him.
The halls are crammed so I don't get to talk to him and then the class is pretty busy. It isn't until we are all out on the field for gym that we can talk at all. The coach just wants us to do laps and to time ourselves by the clock on the scoreboard. He talks about muscles in the legs and how to stretch before and after exercise, the usual stuff. Lucien and I stretch and then jog out onto the track.
“So, I think your story is bullshit,” Lucien says.
“Yeah. I can maybe understand science lab, but gym? Who fails gym?”
“Well, I didn't exactly say I failed,” I reply.
“Why else would you need more credit?”
“Well, a certain amount of classroom time has to be spent, you know, in the classroom.” I shrugged, “I got in trouble a lot.”
We jog in silence for a lap or two, but because I am watching him I know he is slowing down and looking at the high school gym class on the adjacent field. Our third lap he slows to a walk and takes his time, letting his eyes rove. They are playing a modified form of lacrosse with a light ball. Even though it is brisk they are playing shirts and skins with some people subbing in. I watch Lucien as his eyes focus like a laser on a dark-haired boy who gets up from the bench, strips his shirt off and heads in for one of the other players. Hey, I know that kid!
“You know Robin Kirkwood?” I ask.
He turns to me, “No, who is that?”
“The slim guy that just stripped his shirt off over there.”
Lucien's cheeks pale and his mouth starts to shake and I immediately feel bad.
“Hey, it's all right,” I say as Lucien comes to a stop and puts a hand over his mouth, turning away from me. “Look, he's a great guy, nothing like his brother, Leafy. I can introduce you if you like.”
Lucien's shoulders are shaking, just a bit, almost as if he were shivering instead of quietly freaking out. He sniffs once, twice and turns away from me and starts to jog back towards the class. I stay with him, but try to give him space. Is he struggling with his sexuality? Is that why Kissick thought I was perfect for this kid? So far all I am doing is making him righteously uncomfortable.
A couple guys speed past me and then slow by Lucien. I can hear them saying something to him in that shitty tone all bullies seem to have. Do they all go to the same school for that or what? I speed up and one of them pushes Lucien into his friend who roughly shoves him back the other way. Okay, that is enough, I decide.
I leap forward and run right into the back of the first kid, who stumbles and goes down on one knee, skinning the palms of his hands. The second pulls up and sets his face in a snarl.
“What's your fucking problem?”
“You.” I say, boring my eyes into his.
“Well, you better step off, asshole.”
“My brother is on the football team, he'll kick your ass!”
“Oh really?” I say and lean in close. “What's his name, you little liar.”
“Mike Thomas,” he says confidently.
“Mikey?” I say, wide smile across my face. “Mikey, the defensive lineman? Wait till I tell him his little brother is being a little punk bully and using his brother's name to back it up!”
He looks uncertainly at me and I stick my hand out. “Alec Kutsenko, defensive captain.” I lean in close and snarl, “Mikey and I are acquainted. Scram.”
He walks away sullenly and his friend joins him. I watch them go and make a mental note to speak to Mike, who definitely won't be happy with his sibling.
“Why'd you do that? Now they'll just give me shit when you're not here twice as bad!” Lucien storms up to me, stopping himself from bumping my chest.
“Because it was wrong?” I ask incredulously. “Why would I ever stand by and let them bully someone?”
“They won't stop, though. They'll do it twice as bad once your back is turned. Didn't you see they weren't scared of you at all?”
“They were,” I say assertively. “A little. Besides, I'm with you in gym, they won't try anything. I'll be your bodyguard!”
“Why? What do you want from me?” he says dejectedly. “What do I do about lunch? They pick on me there, too.”
“I'll figure it out. As for what you can do for me? How about you be my new best friend.”
“You don't have a best friend?” he asks doubtfully.
“Well, my boyfriend. But, you know, since he's practically my husband I gotta audition people to fill that role, you know? So what do you say?”
He looks at me, light green eyes that seem to want to hope and nods his head. Hey, it is progress.
Sasha lies on me as we stretch out on my couch and pretend to watch TV. My hand had wandered under his shirt and is stroking his skin as we talk about Lucien.
“So you think he's gay?” Sasha asks.
“I don't know, he hasn't said. He sure seemed to like Robin, though.”
“How would he know him? Robin is a grade or two ahead of him, right?”
“I never asked,” I say, running my thumb over his nipple. “I usually just tease Kale.”
“I think you're a little mean to him.”
“I don't try to be, honest.”
“You should try picking on him less. I like having a gay couple to hang out with.”
“You're afraid I'll ruin it?”
He turns over and I move my hand so I am now stroking the skin of his back. He looks at me and smiles.
“Alec! Not everyone gets you!” he says with a chuckle. “You are easiest to love when someone knows the real you. The smart ass isn't your best feature.”
I am about to ask if my ass is my best feature, but decide not to prove his point for him.
“People who only see this side of you, they dismiss you. It's not until something catastrophic happens and you step up to show who you really are that they know.”
“But,” I say, trying to phrase this right. “All I have is my humor. What else do I talk about?”
“Things you normally talk to friends about. Look, have you asked Kale how he's feeling since the surgery, for instance? Wait, that's not a good example.”
“I was going to say, he's a little touchy about that. He's a real private guy.”
“He is and he isn't.” Sasha turns on his side and rests his head on my thigh and I start to stroke his long hair. “I guess he was afraid Chase wouldn't want him with that scar.”
“Chase isn't that kind of guy,” I say without a thought.
“Oh, I know. I think Kale knew it too, but he is still pretty self-conscious about it.”
“I don't know how to make friends with him. Besides, I told you I already asked Lucien to be my best friend.”
“Yeah. I thought you and Chase would kind of do that.”
“He's pretty cool, isn't he?” I say. “Good thing he kissed Kale or who knows how long before Leafy would have come out.”
“Stop that,” Sash says and smacks my leg lightly.
“Stop calling Kale 'Leafy'.”
“I shall call him Leafy and he shall be my Leafy.” I say and Sasha covers his face and laughs at me.
“His name reminds me of this old joke about people that name their kids after the first thing they see after they are born.”
“I know I'm going to regret this...”
“Well, obviously they looked out a tree and saw a Robin chirping along. With Kale, well, he must have been born in the produce department,” I say and Sasha giggles madly, slapping me.
“You're so mean!” he snorts and asks, “How to you explain Jamie then?”
“Isn't 'Jimmy' slang for a body part? I don't know, I keep telling you I don't have all the answers,” I giggle. I start thinking seriously about Chase and Kale and what Sasha has said. Even though Chase and I are a little closer in temperament, it doesn't take much to see Kale is all important to him. If I hurt Kale, which I don't want to do, Chase will react as if I've hurt him. How can I show Kale I'm not just a one line wizard using him as a punch line?
The hell of it is, I actually do like Kale. We have a lot in common, except for he comes from money, drives a BMW, has a beautiful house and two siblings, one of whom still seems to think he lives in the jungle. Even though he could be kind of snobby, it didn't seem to be intentional. He had loosened up quite a bit since we started to hang out – he even invited us to his church group one night. I think he wants to hang with Sash more than me, but if I was him I'd want that too. In every way Sasha is my better half and I think everyone else knows it too.
So how do I show Kale I'm not a complete waste of oxygen? I also have to solve Lucien's lunch problem...oh, wait.
“Hey. What if I talk to Kissick about getting Lucien to eat lunch at the high school and then I can walk him to the library? I know it doesn't make the bullies disappear, but if he sits with us he'll know it can get better, you know?”
“I think that's brilliant!” Sasha replies and moves up to reward me with a kiss. I think it might also have the side effect that the guys can see I do care about things, about people. Like right now? I care a whole lot about Sasha and his lips. A whole lot.
“So I'm eating lunch at the high school?” Lucien asks. I can't tell if he is excited, scared or both.
“Yep. I need to introduce my new best friend to everyone. Stephens realizes that's a big deal.” I reply.
“Why would your friends want a middle schooler hanging with them?” Lucien asks. He isn't sold but he is walking across the fields with me anyway.
“Because they are my friends, that's why. They aren't snobs -uh, even though one of them seems that way sometimes.”
“Will your...boyfriend be there?”
“My future husband, Sasha Buchanan, will be there. He's very excited to meet my new best friend.” I nudge him and say. “He'll fill you in on everything the position requires.”
“What do you mean?” Lucien says nervously. By now we have reached the rear door to the school and I smile as I open it.
“Lucien, relax! Trust me!”
He trails behind me as we get in line and pick out our food. Kissick is great about arranging things with Stephens and we have no trouble moving through the line and joining everyone at the table.
“Guys, this is Lucien Rousseau. Lucien, these are the guys.”
“Hi, Lucien, I'm Sasha,” he holds his hand out to Lucien after he sits down.
“Oh, hi. You're...”
“Yes, his boyfriend.”
“Future husband,” I stage whisper.
“I don't see a ring,” Kale says mischievously. Oh, who knew he had a sense of humor?
“Leafy,” I say in a warning tone. “Don't start. I will chop you up and add you to soup.”
“I'm Kale,” he says offering his hand to Lucien. “This is my boyfriend, Chase.”
“Hi,” Lucien replies timidly.
“Lucien is my new best friend,” I inform the table.
“Did you sign anything? We can probably still get you out of this,” Chase jokes.
“See that?” I say to Lucien. “That's what you have to defend me from, as my best friend.”
“Oh, please. You're as defenseless as a Sherman tank,” Kale scoffs. “My dad is a judge, though, so if you need legal help...”
“Only if its a war of words,” I reply. I realize that this conversation isn't going anywhere in terms of helping my relationship with Kale, which Sash thinks is jeopardizing our chances to hang out with our own kind. I decide to switch gears and let Lucien just listen.
“Kale, how's the fam?”
Kale looks at me suspiciously before saying, “Fine.”
“Jamie's almost paper trained,” Chase giggles. Kale cracks a smile at that.
“It's the swearing that gets him. He still thinks it's cool.”
“I meant to ask,” Sasha says, “how are things with Robin and...what was his name? I always forget.”
“Charlie?” I ask. Sasha turns and points at me.
“That's it. I don't know why it's so hard for me to remember that.”
“They're good,” Kale replies. “Charlie is over our house or Robin is over to Charlie's. I swear Robin's never home anymore.”
Lucien's face sags a bit and I slap myself mentally. Didn't think of that, did you Kutsenko? I'm mad at myself now and grow quiet trying to figure out my next move. Conversation goes on around me, but my focus is on Lucien who has been drawn into conversation by Sasha and kept there by the guys. Kale is comparing teachers and grades with Lucien, something I never thought to ask about. I ruefully think that Kale should be mentoring Lucien - at least he's academically inclined.
We walk back to the middle school in relative silence. I'm hesitant to break it because I feel like shit for bursting his bubble over Robin. I mean, realistically, Lucien and Robin would never have been a couple, anyway. They were, what? Two years apart? Something like that? How did Lucien even know Robin? Or is he just seeing him at gym and falling for him? I guess Robin is cute enough, but what really sells him is who he is – just a sweet kid. That's all I ever think after talking to him – except for the time we bumped doors, then he was a little fuck stick. But, in retrospect, he was being loyal to his brother and his beemer.
Of course I got most stuff second hand. Sasha was the one everyone liked and talked to. He told me how close Kale and Robin are; in fact he'd seen Chase comforting him as he worried about his brother after the surgery. Lucien couldn't have picked a nicer guy to fall for; too bad he was taken.
I realize, at some point, that I am walking alone. I stop and glance around, spotting Lucien about fifteen feet behind me. He has his hand on the fence and is looking out over the fields. I walk back to him and stand for a moment and just let him be.
“So. You know, then,” he says in a very soft voice.
“I know now,” I reply. “No big thing.”
“But it is,” Lucien says with a whimper.
“Naw, just one part of you,” I say. I risk putting a hand on his shoulder and he tenses, but doesn't move away.
“Why are you really here?” he asks, voice nearly lost to the outdoors.
“I'm here because I survived. There are some folks that think maybe you are struggling right now and think I can help.”
“Funny,” he says as he looks down at his shoes and a tear hangs from his eyelashes. “I thought you really did fail science lab, you stink so bad at it.”
I chuckle. “I'm just following your lead, man.”
We stand in silence for a few more minutes. The library lady is probably wondering what's up, but I won't worry about that now. I feel like we're on the cusp of something big and this time I'm going to be smart and keep my mouth shut.
“I think I'm a freak.”
“Nah. You should see the offensive linemen; now they are freaks.”
“Not like that, not physically. Mentally.”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugs and blows out a shaky breath. “I didn't know his name. Not until you said it yesterday.” He glances up at me nervously, maybe confirming if I am still there to listen and then looks away a bit but doesn't drop his eyes to the ground again.
“Robin you mean?”
“Yeah,” he nods. “When I first saw him he was on the practice field, over there,” he waves a hand towards the fields. “I couldn't see his face but he had on this sleeveless tee shirt and his shorts were kind of riding up on his legs when he ran...”
“Well, Kale is his older brother. He's a nice looking guy, too, so I can see where you'd be interested. His whole family hit the genetic lottery, really.”
“He...” Lucien looks away and kicks a loose stone with his shoe. “He took off his helmet and that dark hair was pasted to his head. He pulled off his shirt and...”
“You liked what you saw.”
“He was beautiful,” Lucien confirms, his voice soft and far away. “He looked strong and...I just wanted him to hold me.”
“Sounds like I'd have enjoyed it, too.”
“You have a boyfriend, though,” Lucien looks at me in confusion.
“Hey, that doesn't mean we don't still know when someone looks good. It just means, at least for Sash and I, that it all ends there. Look but don't touch.” I shrug. “Some couples have different rules.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” He looks around and hesitates.
“What? If you want to ask me something, go ahead,” I say. But I know what he wants to ask, I know what I have to say.
“Those things they say happened to you. The...beatings. The belt...”
“It was all true.” I say thickly.
“That could be me, then.”
“No! No, no way. No one will ever have to go through that, Lucien. I promise you that.”
“How can you make that promise?” he snorts.
“That's part of why I'm here. The school learned from what happened to me. I'm here to make sure it doesn't happen to you.”
“I don't know how you're going to do that but...okay.” He glances around shyly and purses his lips. I think he's about to say more about it, but he simply says, “I should get to the library.”
“Lucien,” I hold his arm gently. “It's okay if you just want to talk. I can fix it with Stephens.”
“Like you did lunch today?” he asks quietly.
“What about tomorrow?”
“I'll meet you after that last class and walk you over, then I'll bring you back. Just like now.”
“But for how long, Alec?”
“As long as it takes.” I put my arm around his shoulders, “I'm your bodyguard, remember?”
“I don't feel like I'm being your friend, let alone a best one. Seems like our bargain is a little uneven.”
“Well, maybe you can give me some insight. That guy, Kale? You think he hates me?”
Lucien thinks it over and shakes his head, “No. If I had to guess I'd say he's not entirely sure what to make of you. Why?”
“Well, Sasha thinks that Kale might not like that I tease him so much. My future husband likes having another gay couple to hang with, so...”
“So you're trying to make the situation better.”
“I'm cold. Can we talk in the library?”
“Sure. Anything for my best friend.”
We trudge inside and the librarian is less than pleased to see me. She must know what I'm here for, though, since she doesn't confront either of us. We sit at a small table by a window and Lucien folds his hands in front of him.
“Alec, can I ask you a serious question?”
“Will you really take me over there for lunch every day?”
“Even if I have to buy it myself,” I nod. He looks relieved.
“I come here instead of a study hall. Those guys? Roy Thomas and Steve Simpkin have it out for me; I don't know why.”
“Mikey will take care of Roy; I spoke to him already. I'll ask around about Steve, see what I can do.”
“If they leave me alone...God this sounds lame! But if they leave me alone, how can I justify going to lunch with you and...the guys?”
“That's not your job, that's mine. You let me worry about it.”
“Is that what my bodyguard is for?” he smiles weakly.
“It's also what your friends are for.”
“Yeah, it's nice to have at least one,” he says with, perhaps, the first genuine smile I'd seen from him.
“No, I guarantee you have three others. Jesus, Sasha will want to adopt you!”
Lucien's face goes from the smile to stormy and guarded in moments flat. “It's time for lab.” He gets up and I trail behind, letting this turn of events sit for a bit. I'm not sure what set him off, was it the adoption comment? Maybe I should tell him Sasha is adopted. I can get him out of the library work without much explaining, I think, but lab is a whole different thing. We get through it and he has calmed down to his normal self by the time we get to gym. We stretch and start jogging along the track.
“I'm sorry,” he says.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” I assure him.
“Stop, stop,” Lucien grabs my arm and I turn to face him. “Don't do that! Don't let me off the hook when you know as well as I do I was rude!”
“Look, if it really hurt my feelings I'd say so, but it wasn't a big deal, okay?”
“I...okay. Okay,” Lucien says and starts to walk the track. I keep pace next to him and his gaze drifts over. By pure dumb luck, Robin is chasing a soccer ball across the field and is within maybe fifty feet of us. I suddenly know how I'm going to protect Lucien next year and afterward. What he really needs is friends, and I know someone who is rumored to be a great one.
“Run, Robin, Run!” I holler. He glances up, smiles and flips me off. As he does, he catches up with the ball and steps on it, going down in a heap.
“That was Karma!” I call out as I head toward him. Lucien follows me uncertainly. Robin regains his feet and tests his ankle, wincing a bit but working the kink out.
“You're a prick, Alec,” he laughs.
“Yeah, I know. Hey, Robin, I want you to meet my new best friend. This is Lucien Rousseau.”
“Best friend?” Robin steps up to Lucien and holds the back of his hand to his forehead, “You feel okay, Lucien?”
“Uh. Yeah, I'm okay.”
“No, Alec's infected you! Come here, quick! Before you devolve into a smart ass!” Robin says while putting an arm around Lucien and dragging him a few feet away from me. They are both giggling.
Robins' friends are yelling for the ball and he picks it up and waves, “Bye Lucien, nice to meet you. Bye asshole!”
“He doesn't seem to like you,” Lucien comments as we head back to the track.
“He loves me. Now, if I hurt Kale, he'd hate me. But outside of that, he doesn't seem to be the hating type.”
“Uh,” Lucien hesitates and then blurts, “Why'd you do that? You know how hard I'm crushing on him and he's got a boyfriend.”
“Yeah, but I also know you need a few good friends. He'll be a good friend to you, even if you guys aren't an item. It's long term planning,” I say while tapping my head.
I'm pleased with my progress today. Lucien joins us for lunch the rest of the week and I'm right, Sasha wants him around all the time. Unexpectedly, he seems to be bonding with Kale as well, though I shouldn't be surprised – Kale has younger siblings. Lucien is just waifish enough that Kale probably looks at him like an extra brother. I'm struck by that thought, for a minute. I wonder what it would be like to have a little brother?
Sasha leans over to kiss me before Lucien and I walk back to the middle school and extends the kiss into a hug. He whispers in my ear, “Why don't you see if we can hang out with Lucien this weekend?”
I lean back and squint. “Did you just fake wanting to hug and kiss me so I could get us a little brother for the weekend?”
“Not entirely,” Sash smiles. “But maybe a little.”
He and I start back across the field and Lucien is animatedly talking about the guys. I let him go, just kind of enjoying the turn around in his attitude. I have to admit, I'm shocked at how fast it happened but I guess he really did just need a friend.
“Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” I ask.
“Reading my book,” he replies.
“Want to come hang out with us?”
He stumbles a step and then comes to a stop. I turn and look at him, the question plain on my face. His face is moving, warring between emotions I can't identify. His eyes flick up to mine and then look away, across the space between the buildings.
“I keep wondering when this is going to fall apart,” he says quietly. “I want to tell you...”
“You can tell me anything, buddy.”
He flicks his eyes back to me and lets them drop just a bit. “I told you how I was...watching Robin play lacrosse?”
I nod. “Hot, sweaty guy. Real sweetheart, from what I hear, despite the names he calls me.”
“Yeah.” A smile flashes across his face and is gone. “I...gee, this is harder to say out loud than I thought.”
“What? He was in your spank bank? No shame in that.”
“No...I mean, yeah he was – is – but that's not it.” Lucien stumbles, smiling shyly at admitting, again, his attraction. “It's...I like to daydream when I go to bed.”
“Isn't that what we were just talking about?”
“No, not that kind of daydream,” he pushes me and I feel good, he's still engaging with me. “I used to dream that he'd...I told you I wanted him to hold me, right?” His voice has dropped to a whisper and I begin to think tears are threatening again.
“Yeah, you did,” I say.
“I...wow this sounds stupid.” He sniffs and brings his eyes to meet mine. “I dreamed he'd rescue me from...everything. I dreamed that he was this sweet, protective guy who'd...love me,” he hesitates, “and he'd just take me away with him and we'd be happy together.”
“I don't know why that's embarrassing, Lucien. It sounds like a great dream.”
“It's all just wishful thinking,” he replies and glances around. He blows out a breath and then says, “I live in a group home. My dad...I lived with him after my parents divorced – my sister and I did.”
“Oh, man, divorce. I'm sorry, bud.”
He waves my words away, “It was a long time ago. But he died. He had too much to drink after work one night and he hit a tree. Died right away.”
“Oh..Lu, I'm so sorry.”
He sniffs and I put a hand on his shoulder. He sniffs again and went on.
“We went to live with my mom. I remember, when I was little, she was always kind of weird but nothing I could put my finger on. There were a few...incidents. We lived out in Harpursville and she...she'd have these freak outs. She'd scream at us or accuse us of stealing stuff or, I don't know, whatever. It was like her mind just made things up.
“The cops came out a few times, the county sheriff's office, you know? They always left us there with her until the day she came after us with a knife.”
“What?” My hand moves up to his neck, keeping him close. If he starts to bawl I want to be there, ready to yank him close.
He nods, continuing to sniff and keep the tears back. “She chased us out of the house in her bathrobe and nothing else, her tits flopping all around while she screamed at us and waved a knife,” he splutters when he said this, as if trying to inject some humor into a scary, sad situation.
“We ran to a neighbors house like, two miles away. I was told, later, my mom is schizophrenic. So...”
“Lu, you don't have to,” I say, rubbing my hand in a circle on his back.
“I know.” He looks up at me and my heart just breaks. “But I haven't been able to tell anyone. I hate my therapist and...can I tell you anyway, Alec?”
“Yeah, anything you need, bud. I'm here.”
He nods and swipes a few fat tears away. Taking a deep breath he continues.
“They sent us to a foster family in Binghamton. They couldn't have kids and were really, really religious. They told us that having us was their calling from God and they'd raise us right, to be God-fearing people.”
I frown, “That always sounds so weird. Why fear something that is supposed to love you?”
“They were pretty good at the fear part,” Lucien says bitterly. “They took us to church on Sunday for six hours at a time. Sunday school, catechism and morning and afternoon services. We even had lunch at the church.”
“That's a lot of church,” I say.
“Yeah,” he nods. “My sister...she went totally into it. I think she was looking for something to believe in, something she could count on and this worked for her.”
“Kale's family goes to church. They seem to be okay,” I say.
“I'm not talking like that. She started wearing long clothes to cover herself entirely. She carried a rosary with her and a small bible. She retreated from everyone into that religion. She even turned on me.” His shoulders slump and I pull him to me sideways; not a hug, precisely, but I sense it is coming.
“One day the subject of homosexuality came up at the church. The pastor was okay about it, I guess. He wasn't a 'go to hell, do not pass go' kind of guy. But when we got home my foster parents were kind of fired up about it. They were talking about making a fuss, that the pastor should have taken a firmer stance on the issue. Then they watched the news, and they did a report on one of those states that's fighting marriage equality. They were kind of raging...and my sister outed me to them.”
“Yeah. Oh.” He shook his head and leans into me and I keep up the one armed hug. I have a feeling things are about to get a little worse.
“So they freaked out and they prayed and splashed me with water and all kinds of stuff. The next day they took me to the social services office and left me there, said they couldn't have me in their home. There were no other foster homes that would take a teen, I was told, so they dumped me in the group home. I've been like that, alone, since then.”
He didn't break down, but the tears that had been threatening fell large and hot from his eyes. I pull him to me and hold him as he lets his pain out. His arms slowly move and he holds me fast until his tears run dry.
“Thanks for telling me that, Lu. I know it must'a been hard.” He just nods into my chest, perhaps feeling safe.
“I had to tell you,” he says quietly. “That's why I can't go with you this weekend, even though I really want to.”
“What? Why not?”
“I have to go with an adult and they have to be cleared by the county, first. I can't even sign out and go anywhere on my own. I always have to have staff take me places.”
“Well,” I say, my wheels working on a plan, “You just let your bodyguard worry about that.”
“Okay,” he says and reluctantly pulls away. Wiping his eyes we head in for science lab. When we dress out for gym I walk over to the coach, Mr. Schott, and explain that I'd like to walk Lucien over to the high school class for a few minutes.
“Is this part of that mentoring program? Does Coach Rivers know about it?”
“Uh, he might need a call,” I concede.
“Okay. I'll give a ring over there.”
I always liked coach Schott. Lucien and I stretch and I tell him we are going over to the other class for a bit.
“Why?” he asks. “You're not going to try and break Robin up for me...are you?”
“No,” I say and frown. “I'd never do something like that!”
“Oh, okay,” he says. “I mean, I'd totally try to get to know him if he was single. But I'd never want to make him sad, you know, by going through a break up.”
“I'm sorta impressed you think my super powers extend to breaking people up,” I say as I nudge him.
“I don't know, it seems like there's nothing you can't do.”
I'm amused by this as we approach the high school gym class, which is just separating into teams for lacrosse. Coach Rivers gives me a little head tip, letting me know all is well. Lucien and I sit down on the benches next to Robin, who is starting this round on the bleachers.
“Hey, is your breast actually red?” I ask Robin as we sit. He eyes me evilly and lifts his shirt, exaggeratedly looking down.
“Doesn't seem to...” he gets no farther as I smack his nearest pec, leaving a red mark on his pale skin.
“Now it is,” I giggle.
“Ah, you tricky fucker,” he says, laughing despite his shock. He looks at Lucien. “Don't pick up any of his bad habits!”
“Actually, Robin, I thought maybe you could explain lacrosse to him? He has a passing interest and you're on the team, right?”
“Yeah,” Robin answers and he smiles at Lucien. “I'll explain the basics. Gym class isn't the same, but I'll point out the rules.”
So saying he starts to point out the things that are happening on the field and I watch Lu basking in the attention. I figure the more he knows Robin the less Robin will seem like the hero in his fantasy and more like the friend he can be. I also want Robin to get a chance to like and care for Lucien, so he can look out for him next year. I rub my hands and thought to myself in a Wile E. Coyote voice, 'Alec Kutsenko, soooper genius!'
“Hey, we can sub in, come on,” Robin says and pulls off his shirt. Lucien is a little stunned but follows suit slowly. Robin tugs his arm and they go into the game.
“Hey, Alec.” I turn as a boy sits down next to me, fresh from the game, and wipes his chest with his shirt.
“Hey, Zap! I didn't realize you were in this class. How are you, man?”
“I'm good, thanks. How are you and Sasha?”
“In there like swim wear, Zap. I heard about what Travis said at the GSA. Pretty bold move.”
Zap smiles widely, “That's just Travis. He says there are probably plenty of kids like him that aren't one hundred percent straight or gay. He just wants them to be okay to come to meetings and be accepted.”
“You're not worried some chick will try and steal him from you?” I nudge him.
“No, not at all. He might think someone's pretty or cute or whatever, but Travis loves me and I love him. I don't worry at all.”
“Hey, what grade are you in?”
“You see the pale guy over there?”
“No, not the one sparkling like he's from Twilight. The one with the red glasses? Doesn't look like a corpse?”
“I don't think Robin's a vampire, and he'd be a hot corpse,” Zap laughed. “Yeah, I see him. What about him?”
“He's going to be here next year, I'm doing some mentoring and he could use a few guys to watch his back. I'm going to try and pull off an epic plan for this weekend, think you might want to help out?”
“Well, I guess I owe you one,” he says with a grim smile, “but it seems like a good cause. I'm in. Can I bring Travis?”
“Yeah, absolutely. Call me or Sash tonight, I hope to get things worked out.” The plan is still forming in my head, but I am liking it more and more. One thing is for sure, my parents are going to get way more out of this mentoring thing than they ever suspected. Zap subs back in for Robin and Lucien is still running around. Robin drops down next to me and must look something like what Lucien saw at practice. I admit, for an underclassman – actually, no qualifier – he is an awfully tempting package.
“He's a natural,” Robin says between gulping for breath and completely oblivious to my noticing his hotness.
“Hey, Robin, isn't your dad a judge?”
“Yup,” he smiles, “Why? You need help getting out of something?”
“Ha, ha,” I say. “What kind of judge is he?”
“He covers a couple of things right now. He is the county circuit judge but old judge MacMillan died last June and hasn't been replaced yet, so Dad's been covering family court.”
“Okay, good. You think I can talk to him tonight? It's important.”
“Uh, I guess. Why, though?”
“My best friend needs some help,” I tell him and we both look out at Lucien who smiles happily and waves at us.
“Family court, that's the part your interested in,” Robin says with some steel in his voice. I'm surprised he's so perceptive but I nod in response. “I'll make sure Dad's there. Can you stop around 7?”
“Yeah. We can have a rematch of the flamers and the figs after.”
“No! You tried to say my boyfriend is a flamer last time!”
“You have seen his hair, right? It looks like it's bleeding and on fire,” I say, tweaking Robin.
“I like his red hair,” Robin snorts.
“Is he a...natural red head?” I ask. Robin looks at me and his cheeks go very red – which is quite fetching with his pale skin.
“Yes,” he says with a defiant, gleeful grin.
“Robin, jeez! Is everyone in your house getting some?”
“No, Jamie is still pushing girls off their bikes to tell them he likes them,” he deadpans and we burst out laughing.
“Parents, thank you for coming,” I say as we are all seated around the dining room table.
“We live here, Alec,” my dad says dryly.
“So you do,” I say formally. “I'd like to know how come you never gave me a little brother.”
“I...certainly wasn't expecting that,” my mother says with a smile and raises her hand to her chest. “The truth is I couldn't have children, after you.”
“Not that you weren't plenty challenging,” Dad says with a smile. “Where is this coming from?”
“Well...I've been spending time with that kid I'm mentoring, Lucien? It's only been a couple of weeks but I've gotten through to him.”
“Alec, that's wonderful! Mr. Kissick was right, you were the right person for the job!” my mom says while patting my hand.
“Yeah, maybe. I had some help and I'm going to be looking for a lot more. I have to tell you some private things about him, and I'm being totally serious.” So I repeat Lucien's story, leaving out the bit about his mom's flapping tits, and it has the effect I'd hoped for from my parents.
“So here's the thing,” I say after they get done making their comments about how sad and horrible that story is. “I'm going to see Kale and Robins' dad tonight; he's a family court judge. I want to see if he can swing it so that we can have Lucien come over Saturday afternoon and hang out with us all. It's supposed to be kind of crappy weather, rain and cold temps and I think it would be a cool thing.”
“That sounds good; we'll be happy to help,” Dad says.
“Not done yet, Pop,” I smile. “I'd also like him to come stay with us for Thanksgiving and the school break that goes with that.”
“That's a wonderful idea, Alec. I'm not sure I understand why you are concerned about asking about that, though.” My mom is smart and I know if I give her a few more minutes, she'll figure me out. She is never more than a half step behind me.
“Well, here's the thing. I think that, if you spend some time with him, you're gonna love him as much as I do. I want him to come live with us. Permanently.”
My parents look at each other, clearly surprised. I try to squash a little pride that I've totally foxed my mother on this, but I hear Sasha in the back of my mind telling me to cool it.
“Having another child in the house would put a cramp in your sex life,” my father says slowly, mocking me.
“I don't care. Sash and I have the rest of our lives to disprove the theory that two guys can't make babies. Lucien needs a family, and he needs it now.”
“Well,” my mother says, looking back and forth between the men in her life. “I think we should try for the Thanksgiving visit and see how it goes. No promises.”
“Will you guys seriously think about it?”
They glance at each other again and Dad says, “I promise.”
“Okay, great! You guys are going to love him, everyone does,” I enthuse as I stand from the table and then pause suddenly. “Uh, does he count as my Christmas present or can I still ask for one big thing?”
I'm always impressed by the Kirkwood's home. I always wonder if they have cleaning people sneaking out the back door before people arrive to keep it up so well. Sasha and I are rudely greeted at the door by Jamie - I won't repeat what he says - and we run into Kale momentarily.
“Hey guys,” he smiles in greeting. Chase's arms loop around Kale's waist from behind and his chin rests on Kale's shoulder. He greets us and kisses Kale's neck.
“Hey...who, Chase, get a room, man,” I smile and ask, “Is your dad home, Kale?”
“Yeah, and Robin won't tell me why you need to talk to him. Is everything all right? I mean,” he smacks his forehead and holds a finger up to me. “Don't say something sarcastic about how things can't be all right if you need to talk to a judge.”
“Sash,” I stage whisper, “It's like he's in my head. Make it stop!”
Kale stares at me for perhaps ten seconds, his face flashing through a couple of emotions I can't identify. “You know what? Screw it, I don't want to know,” Kale snarls and stalks deeper into the house. I admit to being puzzled as my joke wasn't offensive, I don't think. Kale leads us to the living room and introduces me to his dad.
“I think we're not supposed to hear this, so I'll go pry Robin and Charlie apart and get ready to go. Sasha, coming with or staying here?” Kale says, a grumpy edge to his voice.
“I'll come up, I've always been the one being pried apart. I wonder what it looks like from the other side.” He smiles and Kale gives him a lopsided grin. No Fair. Leafy just likes Sasha and not me. Sash is going to kill me when they don't want to hang anymore. Oh well, first things first.
They depart and I take in Mr. Kirkwood. He's in a button-up shirt and slacks, and his black work shoes are still on. Only his tie has been removed, and it is draped over the arm of his chair. The TV is muted and he is waiting for me, expectantly.
“So, Judge,” I begin. “I have this friend.”
“Let me save us some time. Lucien Rousseau? I'm familiar with the history. What's your interest?” he asks. His words are all business but his tone is much more understanding.
“He told me his story. I'd like to get him to come over tomorrow, spend the day with my family and friends and have a movie night with us.”
“An adult in your home has to be cleared,” he says thoughtfully. “Impossible to do after hours on a Friday.”
“Well, I think this will do,” I say as I pull a crumpled sheet from my pocket. Mr. Kirkwood takes the paper and smooths it with one hand while plucking his reading glasses from his shirt pocket.
He looks at me over the top of the glasses. “Your mother is a bookkeeper for a daycare?”
“Yes, sir. She got cleared in case she has to help out or they get short staffed. It happened a couple of times where folks came down with the flu. She likes the kids.”
“Sounds like you're set on that count, then, as long as your mom is there with him at all times. Did you want me to call the group home to facilitate this, then?”
“Yes, please. I also have another question.” I explained my Thanksgiving plan and he took his glasses off and idly chewed on the end of an arm.
“Well, Lucien isn't freed for adoption, yet,” he says, seeming to think out loud. “However, if your folks are interested, we could probably push through an emergency foster license that's contingent on them becoming full foster parents within a year.”
“You can do that?” I say, excited.
“We operate with the simple idea that we do what's in the best interests of the child. A loving home is always better than a group home.”
“We can be that,” I say firmly.
“Maybe you can,” he says with a smile.
“Shit, I can't find my wallet,” Kale says as Chase enters team names in the bowling computer.
“Did you leave it at home? I can cover the bowling,” Chase says offhandedly.
“No, I had it. I must have dropped it in the car, if I'm lucky. My license is in there, I need it – what if we got stopped?” He runs his hands over the pocket the wallet should be in again and shakes his head when it doesn't magically appear. “I'm going to go out and look for it.”
Robin and Charlie are at the snack bar getting something unhealthy and Sasha and Chase are giggling, typing and erasing things on the computer. I smile, knowing this is exactly what Sasha wants and I'm happy he's getting it. They finish setting up the names, which are forgettable as team names go – nothing like figs and flamers – and we start.
“Kale's up next, where is he?” Chase asks.
“You go ahead, I'll walk out and check on him. He's probably admiring his pretty car in the moonlight,” I snicker. I get a few exasperated looks as I walk down the long alleyway and out the doors. I can hear a deep voice rumbling somewhere; an angry rumble, that. I walk over to the row we parked in and my ears prick up as I hear Kale's voice full of fear.
“Okay, okay, I'm sorry!”
“You think just because you get handed a pretty car you're better'n me? I had to work for mine! Did you just get it for your birthday?” The voice is much older and sounds like it is slightly slurred. His voice goes up in a sing-song when he says 'birthday'. Shit, he goes to the same bully school – something about that tone of voice. I round the corner of Kale's car and there is a guy easily twice his size who shoves Kale in the middle of his chest, slamming him back against his car.
“Hey! That's my friend, back off!” I snarl. He looks at me and I realize he's twice my size too. Dammit.
“You're friends with this snob? Look at how he parks! Fuckin' brat with a car cost more 'n I make in a year!” The man points at Kale's slightly – okay completely – off center park job. It wasn't like he parked across three spaces or something. Nearly two, true, but more like it was poor parking than being a douche.
“Yeah, Leafy's my friend. So he got lucky with his car, so what? He doesn't act like an asshole – unlike you.”
“The fuck you say?” he grates, turning fully away from Kale and focusing on me.
“I said you're an asshole and he's my friend. Leave Leafy alone.”
Sometimes it's just your attitude that makes people like him turn away and not fight. He is clearly wondering if he was making a mistake, whatever passes for good sense warring with the alcohol infused anger he was full of.
“Look, why don't you go home and we'll go bowling and forget the whole thing, huh?” I say, spreading my hands out. He wavers, looking for something to salvage his so-called pride.
“You'll move his car?” He points a shaking finger at the apparent cause of all this. Besides the fifth of whiskey on his breath.
“No problem,” I say. The drunk nods uncertainly then makes his way slowly to a beaten up old Buick and gets behind the wheel. A belt squeals in protest as he cranks the wheel and motors slowly out of the lot. I make a mental note to call in a drunk driver to the cops.
“Thanks,” Kale says.
“No problem,” I say, turning from watching the guy leave. “Can't have anyone bruising my Superfood.”
“You know, I've been trying to figure you out. I couldn't be sure if you were making fun of me to be mean or...”
“Nope,” I say and then lapse into a more serious tone. “Kale, I tease. It's my thing – sometimes it's my only thing. If I ever hurt your feelings, I'm honestly sorry. Sasha loves you guys and, even though my teasing might not make you think so, I do, too. ”
Kale purses his lips and nods. “We're good.”
I turn to go, only to be hauled around by Kale's voice again.
"Alec, wait." Kale hesitates and I wait, thinking maybe he's more shaken up than I thought. "Why'd you do that?"
"Why'd I do what?"
"Why..." Kale looks kind of miserable and I see what Sash is talking about – someone who is scared under a layer of grumpy, thorny protection. "I haven't been very nice to you, either."
"Well, I just figured you didn't like me," I say.
"It's not that." Kale looks away and says quietly, "Can I talk to you? Like, seriously talk for a minute?"
"You scare me."
"Say what, now?"
"Every bad thing I ever dreamed could happen to me when I came out, you went through. I saw you in the locker room...after."
I coughed and said, "I lived."
"I couldn't have done it. I'm afraid all the time...I'm afraid, and I'm a coward."
"Oh, no, that's totally not true. You came out, didn't you? That's courageous."
Kale snorts derisively. "I came out because I was afraid I'd lose Chase if I didn't. I can't lose Chase."
"Leafy,” I say, wagging a finger at him. “Even if you do something courageous because you're scared, it's still courageous. Why were you afraid to come out? "
"Because of what happened to you, partially. I can't defend myself like you, there's no one on the football team that will stand up to help me. Plus, there's my brothers to think about. For instance if I come out, does that make them targets?"
"What I went through..." I lick my lips, feeling oppressed by the memory. "Look, I could have folded up with all that stuff and just, you know, given up. But I had Sasha. If you think that anyone would stand by and let you get stomped on, you have seriously misjudged me, Sash and Chase – not to mention your brothers." I put a finger to my chin and added, "In fact I can see Jamie being an advantage in a situation like that."
Kale barks out a laugh, but bites it off as he purses his lips. "But you do think I'm a coward?" he asks.
"You're confusing me again. I thought we just covered that."
"You...you asked Robin to look out for Lucien next year, but you didn't ask me. I'm his big brother, I'm supposed to look out for him."
"Kale...I didn't ask Robin," I say.
"But you said...your plan..." Kale looks at me in confusion.
"I said I wanted to build a bridge between them. It makes sense, Lucien is already attached to Robin. Hey, I know you'll be looking out for Robin and I had no doubt you'd do the same for Lucien. I see the way you treat him at lunch, he's like little brother number three." I put a hand on Kale's shoulder. "Kale, I didn't ask you because I knew I didn't have to."
Kale looks at me uncertainly. "Are you making this up?"
"You give me too much credit," I smile.
"I'm really in awe of you, you know," Kale says, looking away from me. "Chase wants to hang out with you guys really badly, it means a lot to him. I was afraid I was pushing you guys away."
"Kale, I'm really nothing to hold up as an example. In fact, I'm not a fan of being an example," I smile. "But I have to tell you...I was worried about the same thing."
"Being an example?" Kale frowns.
"No. I thought you hated me and Sash is afraid you guys wouldn't hang with us because of me."
"That's...kind of funny," Kale admits. "I just wish I wasn't so afraid all the time."
"You know, I haven't known you that long, but you have nothing to be scared of. You have this great family and I'd kill for – well, I'd kill for one of your little brothers, you can keep the other one. Unless we were in a fight, then Jamie's welcome. He can go all 'berserk barbarian' on them and swear up a storm to distract them."
Kale giggles, releasing nervous energy.
"But really. Ever since you had surgery, it's like your heart grew three sizes that day, Mr. Grinch."
Kale's face clouds. I know this is a sore spot, but I also think it is a potential point of strength.
"Kale," I say and wait for him to meet my eyes. "You survived. That scar? Yeah, you may not like it but I guarantee Chase loves it. I guarantee Robin and Jamie and your folks love that scar."
"That's fucked up to say," Kale replies uncertainly.
"No, man. That scar means you survived. Every time they see that scar they know they get you for another day. If you didn't have that scar, if they never saw it then they wouldn't have you man."
"I never...thought of it like that."
I nod and ask him softly. "Can I see it?"
His head jerks back and he starts to shake it from side to side, but he stops himself. He seems to be thinking, considering. Then, slowly, he lifts his shirt up to his neck. He is right, it is a long scar. It is there, noticeable, and I feel for him, how scared he must have been. How scared all his friends must have been. I lift my hand toward him and he flinches. I look him in the eye and say, "Can I...?"
He nods, nearly imperceptibly. I put my hand on the scar, feel the slight ridge and the shudder of his breath. I nod. "It's a beaut', Kale. I'm glad to see it and that you're still here." I smile and flick one of his nipples before he drops his shirt. "It's kind of sexy. Guys dig scars you know."
"You're an asshole," Kale says, but he's smiling.
"Aw, Leafy, that might be the sweetest thing you've ever said to me."
“Alec...thank you. Really.” He holds out his hand. “Friends?”
“What?” I say, stricken. “No hug? Well, maybe you're just not ready for that yet. Friends,” I say, taking his hand.
He nods and smiles. “Are you ever going to stop calling me Leafy? It makes me sound like a pot dealer.”
“Nah. You'll always be Leafy to me,” I reply and toss an arm over his shoulders. "Hey, I need you guys to come over tomorrow from about two o'clock on. Think you can swing it?”
“I guess so. Why?”
So I explain the master plan. Kale looks at me in shock and shakes his head. “I'm an asshole,” he mutters.
“Uh, why?” I leave off the 'this time'. Hey, we're friends now.
He sighs and kicks the sidewalk. “When you came to the house and were all secretive it kind of pissed me off. But if you're trying to get Lucien adopted...willing to do all that...then you needed to talk to my dad 'cause Lucien's in foster care or something.”
“I just...I thought the worst of you, without really knowing.” He squints at me and says, “You're not really who I thought you were, Alec.”
“You're exactly who I thought you were,” I say, backing off slowly. “Green and full of vitamins.”
“I can't pay you a compliment, can I?” Kale lifts his arms and drops them loudly to his sides and gives me an exasperated look.
“Sorry,” I say, a little abashed. “Thank you?”
“One more thing,” Kale says, ignoring my attempt at reconciliation. “Why are you talking to my brother in gym so much? We're both wondering but think it has something to do with Lucien so he doesn't want to ask with him around.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Lu kind of has the hots for your brother. He's got good taste!”
“Why would you bring them together then?” Kale asked, frowning, “You know he and Charlie are dating. Wait, you said something earlier that I let pass about building a bridge between them? What are you plotting?”
“Where's the trust?” I say, injured.
“Alec, you're still you.” Kale says dryly.
“Oh, right. So here's the thing. Yeah, he's got the hots for him, but not strictly in a 'come on I want to hump ya' way.” I explain. “He's daydreamed about someone strong – not just physically but, you know, a total package – to save him. He looks at Robin and he sees hope. Sexy hope.”
“That...almost makes sense,” Kale says with a shake of his head.
“Lucien needs friends and, from the little I've talked to Robin, well, your brother is the best, pretty much.”
“Yeah,” Kale says thoughtfully. “He's the best of us, really. He's not scared like I am and he doesn't have Jamie's...vocabulary.”
“Uh, yeah he does. He calls me an asshole. He's mucho less cute when he does that.”
“Noted,” Kale says with a smile. “But, seriously. You couldn't have found a better guy. If I had to lose to someone, it'd be Robin.”
“Hey, what's taking so long?” Robin asks, poking his head out of the bowling alley door.
Kale and I look at each other and grin, “We're just talking about you,” I say.
“I don't think I like that. Kale, come back from the dark side!”
“No!” I cry out. “My Leafy!”
They dissolve into giggles and my work is almost done. A thought jolts me and I look at Kale.
“Did you find your wallet?”
“Oh, shit!” he throws his hands up and starts walking back to his car.
It's 10:30 on Saturday and the movie's credits roll up on the screen. Sasha smiles at me and pokes his chin at Lucien who is breathing slowly, fast asleep on Robin's shoulder. Charlie is tucked into Robin's side and Robin can't move anywhere. He doesn't seem to mind, though. Kale is looking at him affectionately and I think it might be tough to figure out which one of them was really the best. Well, Jamie could be disqualified. Travis and Zap are stretching and looking for their shoes.
Thanksgiving goes off really well and we all spend a ton of time together during the break. Lucien is melting my parents hearts a little each passing minute and I just know he's never leaving. He and I pal around all day the last day of break, Sunday, just the two of us. I take him to the Sanitarium ruins and tell him about my first date with Sash. We sit on the hood of my shit box and he leans against me. I hook my arm around his shoulders and he sighs.
“I wish this would last forever,” he says.
“Who says it can't?”
“Tomorrow is back to school – back to the group home – and real life. I'll only see you guys at lunch,” he starts to cry, then sits up and savagely squashes them away.
“Hey, hey, no tears,” I say softly.
“It's not fair!” he screams, getting off the car and letting out a huge battle cry at the universe. “I want to stay with you and Sasha. I want to eat lunch with Chase and Kale and fall asleep on Robin's shoulder and laugh with Charlie. I hate that it's all being taken away!”
“Whoa, whoa. Okay, let's just back that train up a bit. First, I got it on good authority this morning that you're not going anywhere.” It was true, I'd spoken to my parents while Lucien slept and they were willing to try. More than willing, they'd fallen for Lucien like I'd known they would, like I had.
“What do you mean?” his green eyes settle on me, fear warring with hope.
“I mean I want you to be my little brother,” I said.
“What?” he says, astonished. I explain my grand plan as he starts to cry, hugs me and pulls away to cry again.
“I guess,” he says through his sniffles, “I should have dreamed you'd save me, not Robin.”
“Aw, cut it out,” I say, my cheeks afire. Then something catches up in my brain and I give Lucien a sly look. “Hey, how did you know it was Robin you fell asleep on?
His eyes grow wide and then he giggles. “Oops.”Cole says not to forget to put 'The End'.