How I Got Carter

Chapter 10

By Roe St. Alee

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The second time I hear about the party is Friday night. After a few more hours trading the controller back and forth, Ko drives me back to my place. It’s a chilly night, and I’m glad I don’t have to ride my bike.

I’m out of the car and on my way up the path towards my front door when I hear the window roll down behind me. I instinctively do a keys-phone-wallet pat down on my pockets, but it’s all there.

“I almost forgot!” he calls through the open passenger window. “There’s supposed to be a party tomorrow. I can pick you up if you want to come.”

I assume it’s the same party Sam was trying to tell me about after practice. Hopefully Ko knows a little more about it.

“Yeah, I’d be down,” I reply. “Where is it?”

Ko grimaces cartoonishly and shrugs. “I’m still working on that,” he says. “But I’ll let you know when I find anything out.”

Dang, nobody knows anything concrete. At least I’m hedging my bets with two people searching for info. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

“Sounds good,” I call to Ko as I wave good night. “I’ll make sure I can go.”

With that, Ko drives off. Maybe back to his house, maybe to troll for girls somewhere else. I’m sure I’ll hear all about it tomorrow. Having a friend like him is great. I’m not so into the dating and hookup game myself, but I can always live vicariously. That way I get to hear all the crazy, awkward stories without actually having to live through any of them myself.

I get inside my house and after the usual pleasantries with my mom, I go upstairs to my room. It’s a little past ten, so my brother and sister are already asleep. I peek in their room and silently mouth “goodnight” before heading to my own. I know better than to risk waking them up, since they seem to run on an inexplicable source of infinite energy. Even at this hour, if they so much as open their eyes for a second, they might never fall back asleep.

I’m brushing my teeth when I hear my phone go off in the bedroom. After a rinse and spit, I head back to the edge of the bed where I tossed my cell on the way in. It’s from Katy.

[ You free tomorrow? ]

I shoot off a reply that I’m free and throw my phone back down on the bed. Until I heard more about this alleged party I figure I should keep my options open.

I strip off my pants and shirt, leaving me in a pair of blue boxers. They were clean after practice, and all I did since then was play video games at Ko’s house. I could sleep in them, since I usually wear boxers to bed, or I could trade them out with my usual PJs and wear them again around the house tomorrow. I’m still musing over the decision when my phone vibrates.

[ Party at Kris and Laura’s place. You in? ]

Finally, a location. I was starting to wonder if this party even existed, but apparently it’ll be at the Rothson’s house. They’re both in drama with Katy and I, or at least Laura was before she graduated last year. Their family is totally loaded, and they have a huge, ridiculous house.

[ I’m in. ]

That settles it. A party happening tomorrow at the Rothson’s. I’ve only been to their house once for a cast party last year, but it was incredible. And that was with parents and chaperones. If this party is unsupervised, which I’m assuming it will be, it could be amazing.

I make a mental note to let Sam and Ko know about it tomorrow, and then I hop into bed. Blue boxers it is. I’m exhausted from school and soccer, and if there’s going to be an epic party tomorrow night, I need to save my energy. My head full of the visions of partying all night with all my friends, I quickly slip into a deep, restful sleep.

-------

When I wake up, I can immediately tell that I slept in later than I thought I would. Waking up so early for school every day, it’s hard to sleep in much past seven, even on the weekends. I blink my eyes in the morning sun and reach over for my phone to check the time. A few more blinks get enough of the cobwebs out of my eyes that I can well enough to read.

8:28.

Wow. I really did sleep in. I lazily let my phone slip out of my hands as I take a deep stretch. Even with so much sleep, I still feel groggy. I’m in the midst of a big yawn when it occurs to me: Today is Saturday.

I jump out of bed and practically run over to my dresser. I shuck off my boxers and pull on some sweat pants, then find an undershirt from the floor that seems reasonably clean. Within fifteen seconds of getting out of bed I’m out the door and rushing downstairs as fast as I can.

Today is Saturday, and on Saturday mornings, my mom makes pancakes.

My brother and sister, wired little monsters that they are, wake up at 6:30 without fail, every single day. On Saturdays they watch cartoons until exactly eight o’clock, at which time they dutifully turn off the TV and head to the kitchen, where Mom will be taking the first batch of perfect, golden pancakes off the stove.

Saturday morning pancakes has been a Willard family tradition for years, and the only rule is “You snooze, you lose.” Having thus snoozed, I’m crossing my fingers that by the time I make it to the kitchen there will still be a few pancakes left for me to eat.

I’m met with a glorious sight as I enter. My mom is just pouring another batch of batter onto the griddle, and it looks like there’s plenty left. She looks up at me and smiles

“Morning, sleepy head. I was worried you might miss us this morning.”

“Not a chance,” I respond. “Can I help, or…”

Mom waves me off and gestures to the table. “I’ve got it under control. The kids are just about done, so these cakes are all yours once they’re ready.”

‘The kids”are my little brother and sister, Randy and Sarah. They’re twins. They smile mischievously as I sit down, but that’s the look they give me at least half the time, so I don’t let it phase me. Instead, I pour myself a glass of milk and stick my tongue out at them. They don’t react, but I know they got the message.

A lot of people ask me if my siblings are weird, and that assumption bothers me. They assume that just because Randy and Sarah are twins, they must be strange in some way. Not all twins are weird, and I always try to tell people that.

Unfortunately, my twins are the very definition of the word.

Ever since I can remember, they’ve both been smart. Even as babies they were fast learners, and the following years have done nothing to change that. But maybe they’re a little bit too smart. They understand things insanely quickly without needing a lot of explanation, and what they understand better than anything is how to mess with you.

They tease, they put on acts, they gaslight, and they trick, but it’s all just for a laugh. And the fact that there are two of them only makes it worse. It’s like they speak their own language sometimes. It’s only my years of experience in dealing with them that lets me remind myself that I am not constantly being outwitted by a couple of ten year olds. An innocent stranger wouldn’t have a chance.

If was a drop of evil in them, they’d be the perfect little sociopathic serial killers. Fortunately for the rest of us, everything they do is harmless fun, and beneath their outward kookiness, they’re kind, caring, well-behaved kids. I try as hard as I can to pretend I can’t stand them, but it’s impossible not to love those little rascals.

“Explain to me again why you don’t have any socks,” I say through a mouthful of pancakes. That’s apparently what’s on today’s agenda for my mom: Buy more socks for the twins.

“We already told you. We keep running out.” Randy shakes his head but smiles at me, as though to reassure me that it’s not my fault for not understanding the situation already.

“We need to wear socks, Jackson,” Sarah adds.

Mom smiles as she sits down with us to eat the last few pancakes for herself.

“Two weeks ago when I did laundry,” she says as she gives the twins the evil eye, “I thought they were a little short on socks. Last week there were even fewer. And this week…” she trails off and looks disapprovingly at the twins. They exchange glances guiltily. It’s no question that they’re up to something, but it’s beyond the older half of the room as to what that could possibly be.

“It’s not as easy as you think!” Randy finally declares. Sarah puts her hand to her face, disappointed that Randy cracked so easily under pressure.

“What’s so tough about socks?’ I ask. This ought to be good.

“Well,” Randy says, “there’s two of them.”

“It’s a lot harder to keep track of,” Sarah adds.

“Right,” Randy agrees. He says it as though Sarah’s explanation would stand up in court.

“I’ll have the two of you know,” Mom begins as she put down her silverware. Whenever Mom starts a sentence like that you know you better do exactly what she says. Before she continues, I can already see the twins’ eyes widen and both of them swallow. “I’ll have you know, that when we get home, I’m going to count how many socks you have, and if there are any fewer next week…”

Moms don’t need to finish sentences like that. All three of us can perfectly well imagine what punishments might be in store if such a thing were to happen.

Rather than waiting around to hear what fate awaits them if they lose any more footwear, Randy and Sarah ask to be excused and tear off into the other room to watch more cartoons and presumably plot how to do whatever it is they’ve been doing to their socks without getting caught.

I scoop up our dishes from the table and make my way over to the sink to rinse and load everything in the dishwasher.

“Any plans for the day?” Mom asks as I work.

It’s an innocent enough question, but I know what it really means. This is the part of the morning where I get my chores for the day. If I play this just right, I’ll be in good shape.

“Just a little homework, but I might put it off until tomorrow.”

“Hm…” she says thoughtfully, looking around the room for things that need to be cleaned, swept, and dusted. Now’s my chance.

“Tonight a few people were talking about a little get together.” I try to play it off like it’s no big deal. Just a little “get together.”

“A ‘get together?’” The eyebrows raise up incredulously, and I know I’m not off to a good start. “Is that like a party?”

The million dollar question. I need to somehow deflect the accusation and downplay how much of a rager this thing could be. I weigh my options. If I tell her that all my friends will be there, it’s a good thing, because my friends are good people that my mom likes and trusts. However, if I mention that everyone I know is going, it might indicate that I expect hundreds of other people to show up in addition. I decide to take the middle route.

“It’s at the Rothson’s, and Katy wants me to go with her. I think it might be fun.” I bite the inside of my lip and wait for the answer.

“How about this,” she suggests, “if you can get everything vacuumed and clean up the rest of the kitchen, then I’ll consider that a fair trade for you to go to this party. How does that sound?”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

“Sounds great,” I tell her. In my heart I want to jump up from my seat and run to the hallway closet where we keep the vacuum. But that might be too enthusiastic. I can’t act like I got away with anything.

“I think I might try to get some of that homework done right now since I’ll be out a little later tonight,” I say diligently.

That being settled, I exit the kitchen and head back upstairs to my room. Success!

“We should be back before lunch,” Mom calls up to me, “but if we’re not there’s a little bit of pizza left in the fridge.”

“Thanks!” I call down before closing myself in my bedroom.

That went well. I didn’t expect it to be an issue, but selling the idea of staying out late with a bunch of crazy high school teenagers is not always the easiest thing to do.

Maybe other kids my age don’t have this same issue, but I’m the oldest, so I feel like in some ways my mom is very protective of me. I do a lot to help take care of the family. I babysit, cook, clean, and do more than my fair share of chores. With all that responsibility, I appreciate that Mom gives me a lot of freedom. More than that even, I like how much she trusts me.

Granted, compared to some of the kids I know at school, I’m not even close to getting into the sort of trouble that they will. I’m not a huge fan of drinking, and I don’t do drugs. Plus, it’s safe to say I won’t be getting anyone pregnant any time soon.

I knock out about an hour’s worth of homework, then start with my vacuuming. I take a break when I notice that Adventure Time is on, then move on to the kitchen to finish up my chores. By the time I get everything done it’s getting on noon and I’m ready for a lunch break.

Sure enough, there are a few slices of pizza left from two nights ago when Mom had to work late. Pepperoni isn’t my favorite, but at least I’m better than the twins. They ask for pepperoni or sausage, then they pick it off and eat the plain pizza. I think they like the nice, greasy flavor of it, but not the actual toppings. Weird, but not out of the ordinary when you consider who you’re dealing with.

I throw two pieces on a plate and toss it into the microwave. I punch in twenty seconds on the clock and watch through the glass as my pizza spins its way towards delicious hotness. Within ten seconds the cheese is starting to bubble. Our microwave is powerful. In fact, almost disturbingly powerful.

Five, almost there. Four, so close. Three, just a few more seconds. Two, I can almost taste it. One, it’s pizza time!

BEEP BEEP BEEP

I freeze.

For some reason, it’s the microwave that makes me think of it. While my mind should be fixated firmly on my upcoming meal, it’s instead thrown a huge curveball by my subconscious. A single, terrifying thought floats up into my brain and takes hold.

I have to invite Carter to this party.

It would be stupid not to. He probably already knows about it, so it’s not a big deal. But on the off chance he doesn’t, I need to make sure he gets an invite and shows up. Plus, regardless of whether he has preexisting knowledge of the party, it would be good to give him a personal invite from me.

Will it be weird if I ask him though? Is that where our friendship is these days? Are we at the level where I can just ask him to go to a party with me? Well, not WITH me, but at my request. Or invite. Or something.

There I go again. Always overthinking things. It’s not that complicated. I just need to pick up my phone and text Carter that he should come to a party.

I grab my phone and unlock it. I take a few deep breaths and try to keep my heart from exploding out of my chest, and then I start typing.

[ Have you heard about the party tonight? ]

I type it in and then stare at the screen as the huge, unnecessary spirals of doubt and second thoughts well up in my mind. Before they can work their usual paralyzing magic, I hit the send button and slide my phone across the table and out of my reach. There’s nothing more to be done until Carter replies.

I nervously eat my pizza, then move over to the couch in the living room to try to read a book for english class. I skim through the same paragraphs over and over without making any real progress, my eyes scanning across the words, but none of the meaning getting through. I’m sure I’ll need to reread it all tomorrow, but it does help keep me occupied while I…

A text message! Leaping up from the couch, I run into the kitchen and grab my phone. I open my new text, almost afraid to look at what might be inside.

[ Yeah. ]

What? That’s it?

[ Are you going? ]

Oh, ok, he sent more. And he wants to know if I’m going!

[Yeah, for sure! You? ]

[ Of course. I was actually about to text you and make sure you knew about it too :) ]

Nice. He wanted me to come.

[ Cool, thanks for thinking of me. ]

Is that too much?

[ For sure dude! See you tonight :) ]

Woah, exclamation points and a smiley face. I think I’m in love.

He already knew about it and he’s going, but more importantly he wanted me to come too. As usual, I’m putting a little too much thought and effort into these things. Life (and love) are a lot easier if you just relax. Eventually I think I might actually learn that.

The rest of the day is uneventful. I finish my chores, play with the twins for a while, and get a little bit more homework done. Before long dinner has come and gone, and it’s a mere twenty minutes until Ko and Katy are supposed to pick me up.

It’s time to pick an outfit.

I’m not usually that sort of person, but I’m feeling pretty good about tonight. I want to look good. I rifle through my drawers and eventually come up with what I think will make a nice ensemble.

First, red boxer briefs. They’re Calvin Klein. I slide them on and check myself out in the mirror. They look great on me, hugging in all the right places. Even though I’d consider my size to be about average, at right around six inches, the right presentation makes my package look plenty big. My heart skips a beat when I think back and realize these were the same ones I wore to the party a few months ago when Carter and I kissed.

Hell, we didn’t just kiss, we made out. And we didn’t stop there. He was drunk and needed me to get his belt undone for him. Naturally, I complied. I remember the feeling of peeling down his jeans, revealing his bulging underwear beneath. Seeing it up close, it was so hot, perfect, and manly. A few seconds later, we were full on making out, and his hands were just sliding down to the point where they touched the waistband of these boxer briefs...

Yikes!

I decide to finish getting dressed before my own “bulging underwear” makes the task impossible. As usual, it’s just sex, sex, and more sex inside my brain. I decide to continue this thought process later when I have more time to explore all the possibilities my imagination can construct. For now I need to focus on getting ready for the party.

I go for some tightish dark wash jeans and a plain grey v-neck. It’s a simple look, but these clothes fit me so well, and I honestly couldn’t ask for much better as I check myself out in the mirror one last time. My hair is short enough that I don’t need to put anything in it, but I put on a little extra deodorant for good measure and head downstairs.

“Well, don’t you look handsome!” my mom exclaims when she sees me come down.

Leave it to my mother to embarrass me before the night has even started. I guess it’s good that my mom thinks I look nice tonight - better than the alternative, that’s for sure - but it’s not something I want Ko and Katy to hear. Unfortunately, they’ve been sitting in the living room killing time while they were waiting for me to finish getting ready.

“Mom…” I complain. Katy and Ko and loving it.

“What?” she replies proudly. “I think you look handsome and I want everyone to know it. Doesn’t he look handsome?” She looks over to my friends, who are eating it up.

“He sure does, Ms. Willard,” echos Katy.

Jerks.

After a quick kiss on the cheek from my mom and several of the standard warnings and admonitions every high schooler expects to hear before going out on a Saturday night with his friends, we’re out the door, down the driveway, and I’m squeezing into the back seat of Ko’s car.

“My handsome, handsome man,” Ko mutters to himself as we drive away. That earns a laugh from Katy and poke in the back of the head from me.

Damn right I look handsome.

-------

As I mentioned earlier, the Rothson’s house is huge. We park a few blocks away at the country club, and then walk past countless massive homes on our way over. Carter’s house is only a few streets away, but it has nothing on this place. I’m assuming the closer you get to the country club, the bigger your house needs to be, and Kris and Laura’s place is no exception.

We stroll through the unlocked gate and into their yard. I hear Ko whistle as he gets his first view of the building in front of us. Katy and I have been here before, so we know what to expect, but his reaction only makes sense. It’s impressive.

We get to the front door, but it has a note taped to it that says “Come Around Back!” The party must be happening in the huge sunroom on the back of the house. It’s one part atrium, one part screened in porch, and ten parts awesome. Imagine a huge, well decorated pool deck, and then replace the pool with a bunch of nice furniture and an outdoor kitchen. In other words, the ultimate patio. Especially tonight in the somewhat brisk autumn air, it’ll be perfect.

As is to be expected, everybody and their uncle is crowding around the sunroom, waiting to get their hands on some beer. The keg has a sizable line, so we make our way over to get the waiting over with. I make a mental note to come buy beer for the next generation of high school kids once I’m of age. Even if I did it once, it would be enough to make me a celebrity around the school for who knows how long. Months? Years?

“This is nuts,” Ko mutters almost to himself as he looks around the room.

“Yeah,” I agree, “I knew it would be busy, but this is crazy.” There must be forty people in this room alone.

And that’s only the sunroom. I know how big the Rothson’s house is, and it can hold a heck of a lot more people than this. I honestly think half of my school might be here. I’m not sure how kids pull this stuff off. I bring that up with Ko and Katy, and we decide that they probably don’t. What are the chances that nothing gets broken, nothing gets stolen, and the neighbors don’t call the cops or mention the fact that a hundred people showed up one night while you were out of town?

We’re working out the odds that Kris and Laura get caught for having this party and trying to weigh those against the odds that their parents flay them as a result, when I’m suddenly interrupted by a soft punch in the back of my arm.

I turn around to see Carter, looking radiant as usual. His perfect smile sends blood to my cheeks in an instant, but my good vibes are simultaneously dampened by the fact that Beth is in tow.

“What’s up, Jackson?” Carter asks.

“Hi, Carter.” I rack my brain and try to think of something cool to say. “Hell of a party…”

Not my best effort, but it could have been worse.

Carter looks around and shakes his head in disbelief. “I know, it’s crazy. I can’t imagine doing something like this at my house. How’s no one going to find out about this?”

“I was just thinking the exact same thing,” I say in reply.

I feel Ko and Katy rolling their eyes behind me. I’m not sorry in the least for taking credit for the conversation we were all just having in order to relate to my crush. They can deal with it.

“When did you guys get here?” I ask.

Carter thinks for a second and turns to Beth. “What do you think, like half an hour ago?”

Beth shrugs dismissively.

“Let’s go see if Kim and Steph are inside.”

“Yeah, sure thing, babe.” Carter responds without any thought or hesitation, likely due to a conditioned response in having to deal with Beth’s constant, inconsiderate needs.

“Catch you later, dude!” he says, unleashing that big, beautiful smile at the three of us one more time before they head back towards the door to the house proper.

Ugh, Beth strikes again. Carter is the hottest person I’ve ever known, and the more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I’ve realized that he’s a sweet and caring person too. With that combination, he should be able to nail down any girl (or boy) that he wants, and yet he picks Beth.

On paper, she’s a solid choice, but in practice, I can’t imagine what he sees in her. She doesn’t strike me as being smart, and I’ve never heard her say anything funny. She mostly just stands there clinging to Carter with all her might and making slightly unpleasant faces at everyone around them.

As if that’s not bad enough, tonight she’s wearing this hideous aqua-colored shirt. The color would break the outfit in itself, but it doesn’t match her makeup, pants, or shoes in any way, shape, or form. Granted, it shows off her cleavage, which I’m sure was the primary objective. I try not to be a hater, but it’s impossible with a girl like that.

I turn back to Ko and Katy to vent about how much Beth annoys me, but they beat me to it.

“What’s that all about?” Ko asks through a shit eating grin.

“I didn’t know you were friends with Carter,” Katy says with as much phony interest and surprise as she can muster.

Drama queen.

I cross my arms and turn away rather than dignifying the two of them with a response. I suppose this is my punishment for not being up front with either of them about how I feel about Carter. Usually I tell them everything, but for some reason I’ve been playing the Carter thing close to my chest. As stupid as it sounds, I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too much.

That being said, I’m sure they know exactly what the deal is. When people know me, I’m easy to read. Even trying as hard as I can not to mention Carter every other time I open my mouth, I’m sure I talk about him incessantly. Ko and Katy are hardly in the dark.

Thankfully, I’m spared any further interrogation or embarrassment, as we arrive at the front of the line and proceed to fill three cups with beer. We meander away into the sun room and sip our drinks.

Having only drank a few times before this, I’m still not sure what to make of it. It’s foamy and bubbly, and tastes like beer. And as a high school junior, that’s pretty damn awesome.

“So,” Katy says, wiping a swath of foam from her lips, “any plans to displace the insufferable Beth tonight?”

So much for avoiding interrogation.

“No,” I reply “of course not. I wouldn’t displace Beth, no matter how insufferable you think she is.” I say it as though I don’t think she’s the worst person in the world.

“Unless you guys have any ideas…” I mutter, almost inaudibly. I can at least admit that much.

Ko and Katy laugh and Katy puts her arm protectively around my shoulders.

“Do you guys have any classes with her?” I ask.

Ko shrugs. “I’ve had a few.”

Katy nods in agreement. “Same.”

“Is she always like that?”

Ko laughs again, but Katy isn’t following.

“Like what?” she asks.

I try to think of a nice way to say it but my words fail me. “Terrible?” I suggest.

“Yeah?” Ko says tentatively.

He and Katy look at each other and weigh their options before nodding in agreement.

“Yeah,” they both say, with a bit more confidence.

“Ugh,” I say as I turn after in disgust. I kills me to think about this incredible specimen of a human being being squandered on someone so undeserving. The universe is unfair sometimes.

“What does he see in her?” I ask.

Ko doesn’t miss a beat. “Did you see those tits?”

Katy scowls at his answer, but her argument against such a statement surprises me.

“Did you see that shirt?” she asks, grimacing.

They both make a good point, but more importantly I know they both have my back in their own way. Ko tells it like it, and Katy is on my side no matter what. It’s a good balance to have with your two best friends.

“Let me ask you something,” says Ko. “When you see Carter-”

“Oh, hey Katy!”

I’ve never been so happy to see Jeff.

Thanks to an interruption from Katy’s boy toy, I’ll be mercifully spared from whatever from whatever Ko was trying to ask me about.

I’m not sure exactly what Jeff and Katy have going on, but they’re good for each other and it makes Katy happy. While they’re not technically dating, they’ve been spending a good bit of time together since Katy got back from New York this summer. Any social functions we attend with Katy almost always start and end with Jeff, whether we’re talking about him, talking to him, or he’s whisking her away to some place more romantic.

The latter seems to be his intention tonight. Katy’s look to me and Ko is subtle, but I can read her face like a book. “Sorry this is happening again, but I’m really into this guy and need to make out with him,” she seems to be saying with her eyes.

I give her a sympathetic smile and she prances off with her boy in tow. As much as I was looking forward to hanging out with her tonight, I would never try to box her out when there’s a boy involved, and I honestly can’t complain about Jeff. He’s alright. Let her go have her fun. I’ll just hang out with…

As I turn back to get Ko’s take on the situation, I realize he’s vanished. I do a full 360 of the room and finally see him on the other side of the keg talking to Jamie, a girl who sits at the other end of our table in study hall. I’ve told Ko that she’s his type but he always denies it. While I’m pissed that both my friends have ditched me to pursue conquests tonight, I’ll at least be able to lord over Ko later with the fact that I was right about him, as usual.

Sufficiently lubricated but suddenly on my own, I decide to do a quick tour of the party and see what all is going on. Leaving the keg room behind, I wander down a hallway and into the kitchen. As I would expect at a party like this, a lot of people are milling around and munching on snacks. It’s nothing fancy, but a bowl of tortilla chips is usually enough to hold a drunk teenager’s attention for a good amount of time.

Scoops, Hint of Lime, a jar of mild salsa. The gang’s all here tonight. I wonder how many pantry cabinets were raided across town in the last few hours to cater the party.

I say hi to a few people I know, then step out the back of the kitchen and into yet another sort of living room. My family only has one, so I’m not even sure what they must call all their different formulations of rooms with couches and chairs in them. This particular living room is huge, and it takes up almost this entire side of the house, with various arrangements of seating options, and everything imaginable, from leather bound books to wooden and metal curios in the seemingly infinite number of bookshelves on the wall. There’s a small entryway adjoining the room on the far side, so maybe this a parlor? Who knows?

Wading through the crowd, I finally see a familiar face: Sam.

Sam is positively holding court in his part of the room. Even with all the people and happenings going on in the vicinity, you can tell that Sam’s the focal point of his immediate area. And surrounding him, unsurprisingly (at least to me), are a bunch of big, tough football players. A skinny little ginger sophomore, and everyone’s crowding around to get his attention. Whether it’s obvious to anyone else or not, I can tell from a mile away exactly what they’re up to. They’re lining up to have their dicks sucked.

I catch Sam’s eye as I pass and give him a thumbs up. He flashes a smile and winks at me. No question about it, he’s going to be busy tonight. If not talking to all his new friends, then perhaps other, more intimate things.

Hell, another beer or two and I might hop in line.

With no empty seating in sight and Sam indisposed, I at least manage to find an unoccupied part of the wall to lean against. For the next few minutes, I just sip my beer and watch the man work. The only word I can think to describe Sam’s game is “unstoppable.” Against all the odds, he navigates all the negative feelings people have towards him and gets them to overlook that, all just to get something that they want.

Maybe Ko had a point about boys. They want sex, and it isn’t that hard to get them to sidestep and ignore a few minor things that might stand in the way, like embarrassment, clique, or orientation. Once a boy gets riled up, nothing will stop him, much less himself.

That being said, I don’t want to shortchange Sam’s qualities. It can’t hurt that he’s funny and charming, and without a doubt interesting to talk to. While I’m sure a few guys over there tonight are trying to get him on his knees, everyone crowded in that corner of the room genuinely like him, I have no doubt.

I have a nice, big sigh as I scope out the rest of the room, seeing everyone flirting, coupling off, or in the case of two sophomores immediately to my left, making out. Katy has Jeff, Ko’s hard at work with Jamie, Carter has Beth, and so on. Sometimes I feel like everyone in the world has someone except me, and that I’ll always be the odd man out. It’s tough being gay, because your choices are so much more limited. Heck, the only other gay person I even know is Sam.

Sam.

That’s a thought. If he winds up being free after the party, maybe I’ll hit him up.

No. If I’m being truly honest with myself, that’s not what I want. We’re just friends, and if we try to make a regular thing out of it, it’ll get weird. That’s not something that needs to happen.

Truthfully, he’s not my type at all. He just happens to be first on the incredibly short list of gay people I know, and one and only on the impossibly short list of people I’ve fooled around with.

And who am I kidding? As if he’s not going to be otherwise occupied tonight. He’ll get his pick of who knows how many of the hot, straight dudes at this party. Worst case scenario, Craig is one of the many people gathered around him, and last I heard that was still happening on the regular.

My thoughts are suddenly interrupted and I’m knocked forward into the two girls standing in front of me by someone pushing past. Luckily neither of them were holding a drink, and mine was almost empty, so we didn’t spill anything on the carpet.

The girls turn around as though to demand to know why I just trucked into the two of them, but I shrug and point to my left, where we see a girl storming out toward the sunroom and bumping into plenty of other people. They both give me a look of understanding and turn back to their friends. Whoever that girl was, she sure was in a hurry.

I turn around and notice that I wasn’t actually leaning against a wall, but against the edge of a door frame. That explains it. The girl must have come out of the door behind me. While it’s not an ideal place for me to be loitering around, it’s still not ok to barrel into people on your way out.

Beth!

It takes me a few seconds to put it together. The girl who pushed by us had shoulder length black hair and a horrible teal shirt. Put that on top of a bad attitude and there’s only one person it could be.

Beth.

Seriously, what is her deal? She launches herself out the door, slams into me, and then storms off without so much as a word of apology. I’ve never found her to be likable, but still, it’s a little ridiculous to think she meant anything by it. I always assumed she found me uninteresting at the worst, but not that she had anything personal against me.

And then another thought occurs to me. If Beth just burst out of the room behind me, and Carter was nowhere in sight, then chances are good that Carter might still be in there. I wonder what he’s doing now that the harpy is gone.

I let myself wonder for a few seconds, then I down the rest of my beer. There’s only one way to find out. Bold action.

I quietly test the handle with a slight twist and find that the door is unlocked. I’m off to a good start. I take a quick look back into the parlor, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s paying much attention to me. I steel my nerves one final time, then twist the knob the rest of the way and go into the room.

My eyes slowly adjust to the dim light in the room and I see that I’m in a little entry hallway leading into what seems like it might be a guest bedroom. Off to my right there’s a bathroom, and as I quietly walk farther into the room, I see the foot of a bed, confirming my suspicions. I hear a little bit of noise coming from what I assume is on the bed, but with the music and chatter coming through the door behind me, I can’t make it out.

I pause at the corner and put my back against the wall, trying to hear more of what might be happening in the room. I’m suddenly starting to think that I might not be right about this at all. While I’m expecting to pop around this corner and see Carter, it really could be anyone, and they could be doing anything. And at a high school party loaded with hormones and fueled by alcohol, I have a pretty good idea what might have been going on.

Which, now that I think about it, would also explain the hasty departure from Beth. She walks in here to use the bathroom, but instead is confronted by something she didn’t want to see. So she takes off in a hurry.

I’m about to follow suit when a voice calls out from within the room.

“Beth?”

It’s Carter.

Stepping out as though I haven’t been hiding in the entryway for the last thirty seconds scoping the situation, I try to act casual, like I just happen to be passing through. Which, now that I think about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“Hey,” I say, feigning surprise at seeing him here.

“Oh,” he says, returning my look of surprise with one of his own. Granted, his shock at seeing me here is real. “It’s you.”

His tone is surprisingly dark, and not his usual friendly one. It almost implies an unspoken “of all people” at the end of his sentence.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask.

“Did Beth send you in here?”

Now I’m even more confused.

“No,” I reply, “I just…”

It’s not my best argument. I trail off, and redouble my efforts at looking nonchalant.

“You just happened to walk in here, right this second?” He sounds skeptical.

“I…” I can’t think of any reasonable excuse for it, so I decide to come clean. “I saw Beth storm out, and I thought you might be-”

He cuts me off and dismisses the whole thing. “Whatever, it’s been a weird night.”

All of a sudden, I notice Carter doesn’t have a shirt on. It would usually be the first thing I notice, but his interrogation caught me off guard, and the only light in the room is coming in from the the entryway. Now, however, it’s my turn to ask the questions. Namely, “Why the hell are you sitting in this bed with your shirt off thinking your girlfriend sent me in here to talk to you?”

In reality, I try to be a little more helpful and a little less accusatory.

“Are you ok?” I ask.

He perks up for a second at my question, and even in this low light I can see thoughts racing in his eyes. There’s conflict happening behind those beautiful light green eyes of his, and I wish I knew what it was about. He wants to tell me something, but he’s holding back.

His expression suddenly changes as he surfaces out of his thoughts.

“Let’s talk,” he says with forced cheerfulness. He plasters a tentative smile on his face and looks back at me. I wonder if it’s an attempt to ease himself into sharing whatever it is that’s bothering him or just to change the subject.

“Ok,” I reply. “What about?” The more I can get him to steer the conversation, the more chance I have of seeing what’s really on his mind.

He thinks for a second then looks back at me. “You pick,” he says.

Damn. He’s put the ball back in my court. I decide to go big.

“What’s the deal with Beth?”

Bingo.

The smile falls from his face and his entire facade deflates before my eyes. Apparently, I hit the nail on the head.

“Nothing good,” he mumbles.

I make my way over to the edge of the bed and tentatively have a seat near him.

“What sort of ‘nothing good?’” I ask.

It must be hard to talk about. Teenage boys aren’t renowned for their ability or willingness to talk about their feelings. Maybe from my experience coming out to my family and friends I got more in touch with how I feel and how I can communicate it, but I remember how impossible it always seemed before that. Half the time you can’t figure out how you feel, and the other half you wouldn’t expect anyone to understand it anyway. I get it.

“It’s just…” He stops short and looks more hurt and vulnerable than I’ve ever seen him before. My instincts get the better of me and before I can stop myself, I put my arm around Carter’s shoulder and pull him into me.

But don’t get the wrong idea. While I’d love to have my way with Carter any day of the week, right now I’m just trying to be there for him. I was raised by my mom and she’s the person I know who’s always been there to comfort me. She’s the person I channel when I know someone is hurting, and this is what I think she would do if she was here.

For a second he doesn’t say or do anything, and I worry I’ve overstepped my bounds a bit. Then, slowly, with a little hesitation at first, he leans into me and accepts my embrace. Once he’s there he relaxes a little bit - the closeness seems to be doing him some good.

He starts a sentence a few more times, but nothing of substance comes out. Finally he sighs, and I give his shoulder a little squeeze in response, just to let him know that I’m here and listening.

“What is it?” I ask him. “You need to get it out.”

He still doesn’t say anything, so I do something I hoped I wouldn’t have to. I take another page straight out of my mom’s book and tell him something that she always tells me.

“It’s hurting you a lot more on the inside than it will on the outside,” I say.

It sounds surprisingly natural when I say it, and not hokey, which was my fear. I didn’t know I had it in me.

Carter slowly but surely starts to nods his head in acknowledgment. Even he can’t deny it: Moms are always right.

“If I tell you this, will you promise not to ever talk about it to anyone?”

I nod my head. Of course I would never tell anyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know every single one of Carter’s secrets and use them to make him fall in love with me. Thus, I do feel a tiny bit of guilt in accepting his trust in me, but I don’t ever plan on breaking that promise.

He lets out another sigh, and I can tell he’s weakening to the critical point.

“I don’t know how to say this”

My heart is pounding so hard in my chest I’m almost afraid I won’t hear him. What I hear, however, is unfortunately not Carter’s confession of undying love for me. I don’t even get to hear some other juicy but equally crucial secret.

It’s actually more like what I already heard and didn’t process due to all the excitement. It’s that the bedroom door opened, and someone walked into the room. And that person is now standing at the foot of the bed and looking right at us, with a very confused expression on his face.

To my knowledge, time actually froze in that moment. We all stayed right where we were, not moving a muscle, and stared awkwardly at each other for thousands of years. My arm around the shirtless Carter, the two of us staring up at the dumbfounded Robert for the rest of time eternal. That’s what it felt like, at least.

“Sorry,” Robert says, finally regaining his composure. “Not the droids I’m looking for.”

He turns without further conversation and heads straight back out the door.

Carter and I sit in stunned silence for several more seconds before we both burst out laughing.

I’ve never seen Robert embarrassed in my entire life, and seeing him not only surprised and embarrassed but actually speechless is something I would never have expected. I’m not sure what bothered him more about the situation. The fact that he walked in what he probably thinks was something between a heart-to-heart and full on gay sex, or that it took him several seconds to think of something even remotely funny to say, and it wasn’t a particularly amusing quip at that.

“Man,” Carter says shaking his head once we both stop laughing, “I’m done with this party. What about you?”

“Yeah,” I respond, eager to agree with whatever he decides to do, “me too.”

He looks off into the distance for a second and his face falls. He’s clearly dwelling on something, but I’m not sure what it is. Beth? Me? The fact that Robert, someone we all know loves to talk and tell stories, saw us sitting together in bed in what could be construed as some sort of intimate moment?

Carter doesn’t elaborate, but he gets up from the bed and starts hunting around the room for his shirt. I didn’t see it anywhere when I came in, so I’m not much help.

“I need to find Ko and Katy,” I mutter to myself while inching my way to the door, not eager to miss out on a second of Carter walking around without his shirt on.

“Oh,” Carter says, looking a little bummed and turning back to face me, “did you guys have plans or something tonight?”

He finally finds his shirt halfway under the comforter where it hangs off the side of the bed and touches the floor. He puts it back on, which is always a shame.

“No,” I respond, “but Ko’s my ride home. I’m sleeping over at his place tonight. He’ll probably be ready to head out eventually, but…”

I stop talking not a moment too soon. My words weren’t contributing much to the situation beside sounds and noises, and Carter looks like he wants to say something.

“We can walk back to my house,” he suggests, shrugging. “If you want to hang out or something.”

“Yeah,” I say with as much enthusiasm as I dare. “That’d be cool.”

“Good,” he says, as his smile returns full force. “Let Ko know and I’ll see you outside. I need to…” He hesitates for a second before brushing aside whatever it is he’s thinking about. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

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