I should have known better.
I stayed up extra late last night and didn’t even play video games. I worked on my English homework like I was supposed to. I practiced my presentation and worked out exactly what I was going to say today in class.
Apparently, no one else puts the same amount of importance on English homework that I do.
When Mr. Boyle announced for the first group to get up in front of the class, they looked terrified. As he surveyed the room, he didn’t see a lot of confidence. So we got an extra ten minutes to practice with our groups.
I like being an overachiever, but I like sleeping, too.
I fish the notes I need out of my backpack and make my way back to the back corner of the room where the other two girls in my group sit. I grab the empty desk in front of them and take a seat.
“It's not going to happen.”
“Don't worry, you still have time.”
Jen looks up at me and flashes an apologetic smile. I'm interrupting their conversation, but it's not like I have any choice.
“I've been dropping hints all week,” Rachel says, “but he hasn't done anything.”
“Ugh,” Jen rolls her eyes. “That makes two of us. Tyler's been avoiding me all week.”
Rachel shrugs. “Maybe he's nervous because he's going to ask you.”
“Or he's not going to and he wants to be as far away as possible when he asks some other girl.”
Rachel turns to me now. “Sorry, Jackson. Winter Dance stuff,” she says. “Be glad you're a boy.”
Jen gives me a dirty look, but not in a serious way. “Yeah, you get to ask whoever you want,” she says. “We have to sit around and drop hints, waiting for these oblivious boys to get it together and ask us.”
If she only knew.
Our school's Winter Dance is a few weeks away, and it's pretty much all the school is talking about. You can hardly walk to your next class without witnessing five proposals in the hallway. I'm not surprised it's on Rachel and Jen's minds.
“Do you know who you’re going with?” asks Rachel, turning to me.
I can feel my cheeks getting hot. I've been fairly successful at not thinking about the Winter Dance, and I'd prefer to keep it that way.
“I'm not sure yet,” I say, hoping they'll leave it alone. Needless to say, my situation makes it complicated. At this point my plan was to stay home and pretend it's not happening.
“You have plenty of time,” says Jen. She lowers her voice and leans in closer. “Judging by the rate at which Tyler and Ben are operating, at least.”
I can’t help but laugh at the way she says it. I know Jen from Drama Club, and she actually reminds me a little bit of Katy. Same sense of humor and a similar tendency to be dramatic about things, but mostly for comedic effect.
Rachel is one of her best friends, and while I don’t know her quite as well, we’ve all had English class together since our freshman year.
“I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” I offer.
That earns me a pair of eye rolls. Boys are dumb sometimes. You won’t hear me arguing.
“So do you know who you’re going to ask?” asks Jen.
It’s an innocent enough question, but I was hoping they wouldn’t ask it.
“Not... not really,” I say.
Jen and Rachel exchange a look. It's like one of Katy's looks. I can tell that it means something, but I'm not sure what. It's in that secret best friend language that so many girls seem to have.
“What?” I ask.
They look at each other again and then back at me.
“What?” I ask again. I'm equal parts amused and annoyed. It's so obvious that they have something else to say.
“Are you gay?” asks Rachel.
The shock of the question hits me and I instinctively start to put all my defenses up. I need to think fast to worm my way out of this one.
But then I stop. I don’t need to run away, or create a diversion, or change the subject. I can just answer her. I can just say that I’m gay, and I feel like it’ll be fine.
Maybe it's the way she asked the question. It was so neutral, like she could be asking me what color ink I'm using in my notes or what page number we should turn to in the book. But maybe it's just me. I haven't really thought about being ‘out’ at school in a while, figuring it would happen in its own time. I suppose that time is now.
“Yeah,” I say, “I am. So that makes it tough. Not a lot of choices.”
“I know, right?” says Jen without missing a beat. “We were just talking about that the other day - hypothetically, not about you. But what options do you even have?”
“I mean, there aren't that many people you even could go with,” says Rachel. “Like, as a date,” she corrects herself.
I shrug sheepishly. “I honestly haven't even thought about it that much.”
I almost have to laugh at myself for getting worked up about telling them I’m gay. I should have known the girls would be more worried about who I want to go to the dance with than the fact that I’m not heterosexual.
“Well, if you don't find anyone to go with, you're welcome to tag along with us,” offers Rachel.
“Not that we have any idea what we're doing for it,” says Jen. “We'll probably end up going...”
She looks at both of us with a confused look on her face.
“What?” asks Rachel.
“When a guy goes to a dance single it's called 'stag,' right?” asks Jen.
We both nod our heads.
“So what's it called when we get stuck going without dates?”
Rachel shrugs. “I dunno. Crone?”
Jen and I burst out laughing.
“Excuse me, Mr. Willard?”
Our English teacher looks at me disapprovingly over the end of his reading glasses. His look conveys an unspoken ‘Shouldn't you be working on your presentation?’
“Sorry,” I mumble as I turn back to the girls.
Rachel and Jen lean in so we're quieter.
“Anyway,” Jen says, “You're welcome to come with us one way or the other.”
“And if either of us wind up going 'crone,'” Rachel says, “you can take one of us as your date if you want.”
“Thanks,” I say. I mean it. That’s nice of them to offer.
“But no pressure,” she adds. “With any luck we'll both have dates, but it doesn't hurt if we're all each other's plan B if we need it, right?”
We all laugh again, but this time more quietly so that Mr. Boyle doesn't notice.
We actually take a few minutes and talk about our English project. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who did my homework, and both girls are pretty much ready to go. It’s really just a matter of bringing our three parts together. After a few minutes of ironing out the details, Mr. Boyle calls the class back to order and sends the first group up to give the class an interpretation of the short story they were assigned.
I manage to stay with it for about half the presentation, but then my mind starts to wander.
Jen and Rachel brought up a good point: Who am I going to the Winter Dance with?
I wasn't lying when I told them I hadn't given it much thought up until now. But it's not because I don't care. It's because I'm dreading it.
The obvious choice is to go with Katy. We went together last year and had a good time dancing and goofing off all night. Only upperclassmen are allowed to actually go, so it was a good excuse for her to bring me along as a plus one.
The best part was how low the stakes were for both of us. We didn’t worry about any of the usual drama that plagues people at school dances, we just had fun. While the entire school was completely wrapped up in who was going with whom and what they were going to wear, Katy and I were scouring thrift stores for a 'new' dress for her to wear. That's how little we cared, and it was awesome.
But this year is different now that Jeff is in the picture. While he hasn't officially asked Katy to the dance yet, it's a no-brainer. And if she goes with him it means they'll go in a big group with the basketball kids. So while I can take comfort knowing that Katy will be there, she's not a valid option for who I can actually go with.
My next best option, at least from my perspective, would be going stag with Ko. It would be fun, but mostly because of how much he would hate it. That would be amusing enough to sell me on the idea, but he wouldn’t go for it in a million years. If I even bring it up with him he’ll probably just tell me to come over to his house and play video games instead.
Which, to be honest, doesn't sound that bad.
But here's the problem: I really want to go.
And let's up the ante on that problem, because I don't even have to mention what I actually want to have happen.
I won’t mention it, because it's impossible. Completely impossible. If you made a Venn diagram with what I want to happen on the left and reality on the right, it wouldn’t even be a Venn diagram. It would be two sad, awkward circles about sixty feet away from each other.
But even though there are about ten thousand reasons why it could never, ever happen, I still want to go to the Winter Dance with Carter.
To start, it would basically mean coming out to everyone in the school. That's a huge deal, and regardless of how Carter actually feels about me and where this is all going, I wouldn't expect something like that to happen. Hell, I'm not sure that I'd want to be so public about it, much less make Carter go through the same thing. So I’ll give him a pass on that one.
But even if we went as friends it would raise almost as many questions. If we were going with a big group of singles that would be one thing. If it was just the two of us, that’s totally different, and kind of weird.
Even to me that seems weird, and I’m the one who’s over here fantasizing about it. You wouldn't be able to avoid some awkward speculation from the rest of the school.
And if we wanted to throw a little cherry on top of all that, there's Beth. There's no way she would let Carter get away with that. Even with how little they're hanging out now and how tenuous their relationship might seem to Carter's friends, I'm sure she's going to lock him down for the Winter Dance. Anything else would be tantamount to a breakup, which Carter still doesn't seem like he's ready to do.
So where does that leave me? No Katy, no Ko, and no Carter.
It would be a good excuse for him to go, and we would have a good time. But it raises just as many questions as going with Carter would. If you're going to go stag, why choose to go with the only other openly gay guy in the entire school?
Luckily I remember that I’m in the middle of English class before I let out a huge sigh.
I guess I can wait a week or two and see how Jen and Rachel's plans work out. Plan B if we need it.
With the delay caused by everyone else’s lack of preparation, we don’t even wind up presenting. Us and two other groups get pushed back to tomorrow, and by the time the bell rings I'm no closer to coming up with a good plan for the Winter Dance than I was the last time it rang, at the beginning of class. I gather up my books and head into the halls.
I get to an intersection in the hallway and decide to take the long way to class. Next is a double period of Chemistry lecture, and I don’t really feel like sitting next to Carter with all this dance stuff so fresh in my mind. Even a couple extra minutes of walking around should be enough to clear my head.
This route takes me through the fine arts part of the building, which is where a lot of the sophomore homerooms are. While they’re only a year younger than me at most, it still amazes me how much smaller the kids seem up here. Fifteen seems a lot younger than sixteen, or maybe it’s just another year of high school experience under your belt that makes you seem older.
I’m passing by the drama classroom when I see Sam grabbing a few books from his locker. I figure I still have a minute or two to kill before class, so I move over to his side of the hallway and bump into him.
“Watch where you’re going, sophomore,” I say in my deepest, gruffest sounding voice.
“You’re not scary,” Sam replies, without even turning around.
“What if I was going to beat you up and take your lunch money?” I ask, a little disappointed that he didn’t even flinch. If you can’t pick on kids smaller than you, what’s the point of high school?
Sam laughs and turns around.
“I would just curl up in the fetal position until you left me alone,” he says. “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
I can’t help but crack up. The best part is, that might actually be his defense mechanism of choice. He’s not exactly big and tough, more small and cute.
“It’s lucky you’re not here to beat me up, because I cannot be late for History again,” he says.
History’s clear on the other side of the building, so even now Sam might be cutting it close. I better not keep him.
“I was just saying hi,” I tell him. “I’ll beat you up next time.”
“I’ll grow out my fingernails,” he says, swiping at me like a cat.
“Alright, dude,” I say laughing, “I’ll see you tonight.”
Sam turns back to look at me and tilts his head to the side.
“What’s tonight?” he asks.
I shake my head at him.
“You know what tonight is. Do you want a ride?”
Sam pouts at me. “Yeah, fine. Pick me up at ten to six.”
With that, he walks away in the direction from which I came. We have our end of season soccer party tonight, and for some reason Sam doesn’t want to come. I know he was trying to, or possibly actually hooking up with Craig, our soccer team captain. I wonder if things got sour. I can’t think of why else he wouldn’t want to hang out.
I figure if Ko and I show up at his house to pick him up, he won’t have much of a choice. It’ll nice to get to hang out with him outside of practice. Between the play, wrapping up the soccer season, and all the time I’ve been spending with Carter, I haven’t seen much of Sam lately, at least socially.
Not to mention, it might be a good opportunity to bring up the dance. Even if I don’t ask him outright if he wants to come, I can at least plant the seed and see if he’s interested.
I reach the door of the Chemistry classroom and I vow that will be my last thought about the Winter Dance, at least until after school. Up until my conversation with Jen and Rachel it was hardly on my mind at all, but now I feel like I’m swept up in Dance fever like the whole rest of the student body.
I’m not going to think about it. I’m just going to go to Chemistry, learn some science, and flirt with Carter.
If anything can take my mind off of everything else, it’s him.
“What is it we're doing again?” asks Sam, for maybe the fifth time.
I sigh and roll my eyes. “It's the end of-”
“Yeah, I know,” he says, “it's the end of season party. But what are we doing?”
“We do this every year,” Ko says. “Trust me, it's really fun.”
I see Sam shaking his head in the back seat out of the corner of my eye.
“When I think 'fun,' I think 'roller skating party,'” he says. He doesn't make much of an effort to hide the sarcasm in his voice.
“It's not a roller skating party,” I say. “It's just... at the same place where they have the roller skating parties.”
All three of us laugh as I say it, and Ko takes a left turn into the parking lot of the aforementioned 'place where they have the roller skating parties.'
It's been a tradition for as long as anyone can remember, maybe ever since Coach Finlan took over as the JV coach of our soccer program.
That could have been twenty years ago for all I know. Regardless of when it happened, the result is the same. We have our team's end of the season party at Roller Palace.
Roller Palace has been our town’s dinky little skating rink for ages. My mom remembers skating there as a kid. It’s the family business for Coach Finlan, and it’s a huge point of pride for the guy to host our party.
Sam can be as sarcastic as he wants about it, but the end of season party is awesome. Coach gives everyone thirty dollars worth of game tokens, and we get to play all the games we want. We can trade in tickets for the normal prizes he has, plus a bunch of ones that parents donate for us to win. He puts out tons of pizza and snacks, and opens up the bowling alley and skating area for us to do whatever we want. It's like a playground, but for tweens.
The best part though, is the classic games. The Finlans take pride in their arcade, and most of the games are straight out of the 80s, meticulously cared for by none other than Coach, and his father before him.
We’re talking original arcade hits. Pac-Man. Whack-A-Mole. Space Invaders. Frogger. BurgerTime. It’s stuff you can’t play anywhere else, and most of them are still only 1 Token to play. Needless to say, at least some of us are excited for the party.
Ko parks his car, and the three of us hop out. From the number of cars in the parking lot it looks like most everyone is already here, but we see one or two other stragglers coming in from the as we approach the front doors.
Almost late. Pretty typical timing when Ko is involved.
When we open the front doors, I’m hit with the familiar cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells. Lights flash and alarms blare in every direction, with a multitude of games practically screaming to get your attention. The odor of bowling alley blends nicely with that of popcorn. It’s a strange mix, but a staple of my childhood.
We check in with Coach at the prize area, collect our tokens, and hear a little bit about the prizes we can win. There's a really nice jacket with our team logo on it that catches my eye plus a cool looking iPhone speaker dock. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on either of those, but I secretly prepare myself to spend all my tickets on candy at the end of the night.
“Same plan as always?” asks Ko, stuffing his pile of tokens into his pockets.
I shrug. “I'm down if you are. Sam?”
Sam raises his eyebrows at us. “What plan is this?” he asks.
“We try to play every game in the arcade once,” Ko explains. “But we compete against each other on every one.”
“If you beat the other players, you get to keep all the tickets from that game,” I say.
“It should be even better with three people,” Ko adds.
We both look at Sam expectantly, hoping he'll try it. It makes it a lot more fun, because you have to really crush it to keep the tickets from the game.
“Alright, I'm in.”
We stop in front of our first game, in the farthest corner of the arcade: Whack-A-Mole.
I grab the whacker and line up in front of the machine. This game isn't my best, but it tends to spit out a good number of tickets. I take a few deep breaths and focus as Ko grabs a token out of my hand and puts it in the machine.
The whole contraption erupts into life in an instant, blaring some circusey tune and flashing multicolored lights. Suddenly the first mole pops up and I nail it with the mallet. Another comes up, then another. I thrash the mallet in all directions, whacking mole after mole, only missing a handful throughout the course of the game.
As the machine turns off, I check out my score. 210.
I grab the 21 tickets out of the base of game and step back to let Ko have a shot. He saunters up to the machine and feeds his token in.
As I move in next to Sam to watch, I look over at him. He’s totally focused on the game, so he doesn’t notice me check him out. Not ‘check him out,’ but I take a look at him. As usual, he’s dressed impeccably, even for a thing like this. Well-fitted maroon corduroys with a slim gray v-neck. He’s so thin, but he makes it look pretty good.
It’s hard to believe he only came to our school a few months ago. Maybe it’s because I see him so often at soccer practice, but it feels like he’s been around forever. Part of it’s the way he carries himself, though. He has a good sense of acting like he’s been there, and never making himself seem younger than the people around him. It’s probably because he’s switched schools a bunch. I imagine he doesn’t want to act like the new kid all the time.
I can’t help but smile a little bit when I think about that. Sam came out to me the first day I met him, and soon after that I found out why he was switching schools. I never would have guessed that from the first time I saw him, the skinny little ginger kid coming by Nizen’s class so I could show him where the locker room was to get ready for soccer.
What would this year have been like if Sam hadn’t shown up?
He gets a lot of credit with my own comfort in coming out to a few more people. He makes it seem so easy and natural, and isn’t afraid to be freely out in school, which doesn’t seem to have slowed him down at all socially.
And that’s not the only way he’s helped me assert myself this year. It was amazing to hear how candid he was about blowing a bunch of guys at his old school, and even wilder to have him tell us that he planned to do the same thing here at ours. And then he actually put his money where his mouth is, so to speak.
It’s weird to think of a blow job as changing my life, but maybe it did. Something about Sam’s confidence and camaraderie in doing what he did empowered me. I doubt I would have ever had the guts to make a move on Carter. My now familiar mantra, “bold action, bold action, bold action.” He’s the inspiration for that, his blowjob the original ‘bold action.’
I'm taken back to the conversation I had this morning with Jen and Rachel. I don't know what made me think of it, but suddenly I can't get it out of my head. I need to find someone to go with me to the Winter Dance.
If Sam’s oral was the original, somehow wrangling Carter to go with me to the dance would be the ultimate bold action. But how the hell could I make that happen?
You'd think being somewhere like an arcade would help me to forget about that. There are so many noises and distractions. It's literally a place filled with machines that are designed specifically to grab your attention, and still I can't stop thinking about the dance.
I try to shake it off and get focused. Winning these games is important right now, not finding a date to the stupid dance.
Ko winds up beating me at Whack-A-Mole with a score of 240. Sam is terrible at it, and barely manages to get 150. Ko grabs our tickets and leads us to the next game.
We play a few more and each of us manages to win at least one of them. For everything he was saying earlier, Sam is having fun. He didn’t even pretend to be bored when he killed us both at Jumpin’ Jackpot.
The smell of pizza hits us, and we decide to take a break for some food soon. Next up is Skee Ball, then Super Skee Ball (which, as far as I can tell, is the same game but with all the points multiplied by 1,000), and then a break to grab some pizza.
The best part about Skee Ball is that we can all play at once, since there are four of each game and the three of us are the only ones here right now.
While we line up and fish out our tokens, I start thinking about the damn dance again. I can't get it off my mind. I finally decide that I have to at least talk about it, if only to satisfy the urge and get it out of my system. There’s no way I’ll win Skee Ball if I’m all bottled up like this.
“You taking anyone to the dance?” I ask Ko.
He throws his head back and groans at the mere mention of it.
“Oh god, you too?” he asks. “That's all anyone would talk about today.”
Sam nods in agreement. “Even a bunch of the underclassmen were,” he says.
“Yeah,” I admit, “some girls in English cornered me about it today.”
Ko picks up his first ball and moves to the starting line.
“To answer your question, not a chance.”
He tosses it right up the middle and sinks a 50-point shot.
“There is literally nothing I want to do less than go to that stupid dance.”
That answers that. Looks like I won't be going with Ko.
Sam and I line up and toss our first balls, then I turn to him while he’s grabbing his second.
“What about you?” I ask.
“I'm certainly not that opposed to the idea of the dance,” he says. There’s something in his tone but I can’t tell what it is. Is it disappointment that he isn’t able to go unless an upperclassman takes him?
“I guess as a sophomore you can’t-”
I freeze in my tracks. Maybe that’s not what he was implying.
“I won't go to the Winter Dance with you,” he clarifies.
“Ouch,” Ko mutters to himself as he throws another one of his balls.
I was trying to play it cool and build up to subtly hinting that Sam could only go if he went with me, and then I'd ask if he really wanted to go, and then I'd make a big show of realizing that he could just come with me as a workaround. But instead I've been sniffed out and turned down hard, in front of Ko no less.
I decide to play dumb and cover my tracks.
“What?” I ask in disbelief. “I wasn't asking if-”
“Yeah you were,” Sam says, giving me a playful punch in the arm. “You're a pretty good actor, but not when it comes to boys.”
I hold up my hands in confusion.
“Plus you're all red,” he adds with a smile.
I feel my face get even hotter, and I lean down to get another ball to throw.
“Ok, I was,” I admit, “but I actually thought you might want to go.”
“I kind of do,” Sam replies, “and I’m flattered that you thought of me. But I can't go to the Winter Dance with you.”
“Because you're going with Carter,” he says.
I shank my throw high and to the left. It clangs off the cage on the top of the machine and drops back down into the 10-point slot.
“No I'm not,” I say. Why would Sam think I’m going to the dance with Carter? Obviously I would have told them if something like that was happening.
“Why not?” Sam asks. He tosses his ball up in air and catches it.
I trail off. If I don’t say it, I won’t have to admit it to him or myself.
“Because he's going with his girlfriend.” Sam finishes the thought for both of us.
I lean down to get another ball and stay there so Sam can’t see the crushed look on my face. We both know exactly why Carter can't go to the dance with me, I'm not sure why Sam feels like he has to rub my nose in it.
“Hey now,” Sam says lightly. He steps up next to me and puts a hand on my shoulder. “I feel like you need to say it out loud sometimes. You know what’s going on, you just need to admit it.”
“Thank you,” Ko says as he launches his second to last ball. It hits a 100-point hole and the machine lets loose a siren wail.
The noise snaps me out of it and I stand back up. I take a deep breath and turn back to them.
“Ok,” I admit, “you're both right. Carter isn't going to the dance with me, and it's because of his girlfriend. Are you happy?”
“No!” they both say in unison.
I shrug my shoulders at them and throw my ball, way too hard.
“But you shouldn't be happy either,” says Ko.
“He means you shouldn't be satisfied,” Sam adds. “Carter likes you, there's no denying that. But for some reason he's still hesitating.”
“Yeah,” Ko agrees, “you can't hesitate.”
With that, he throws his last ball up in the machine and hits another 100. He totally cleaned up on Skee Ball. There's no way I'm going to beat him now, especially with my angry, 10-point throws. I chuck my next ball in even harder.
“Can you at least try to get me some tickets?” Ko asks.
I laugh and it makes me feel a little better. If Ko wants to get under my skin, I’ll get under his.
“You're a nice guy, Jackson,” says Sam. “Maybe a little too nice.” He sees the look on my face and reconsiders. “That’s why we like you, and that’s probably why Carter likes you, too.”
“Whatever,” I say.
“He wouldn't be doing this if he didn't like you,” Sam says. “And you make it easy for him, because you're such a nice, understanding guy. But you can’t let your understanding get in the way of getting what you want.”
It makes sense, but it doesn't really solve my problem. If I flip out and make demands, Carter will bail, and then I'm right back where I started. I throw another ball and manage to hit a 40, much to Ko’s delight.
“So what do I do?” I ask.
Sam strokes his chin for a second and thinks.
“Here's the deal,” Sam says, having apparently hit on a solution. “Carter, for whatever reason, can't take you to the Winter Dance. And I guess you can live with that.” He pauses, then adds, “I couldn't, but I am a selfish, impatient person.”
Ko and I both laugh, because it's true in a way.
“Carter can't take you to the dance,” he says, “but he sure as hell can't take Beth.”
Ko nods and points his finger at Sam in agreement.
“So he won’t go with me, but he can’t go with Beth?”
“Exactly,” says Sam.
Ko finally chimes in. “He has to choose you, even if only means that he doesn’t go with Beth.”
Damn it, they’re always right.
Sam has a way of telling me things like this. Things I already know but have been trying to avoid thinking about. And Ko knows me way too well to let me fool myself.
Carter can't have it both ways. I can't keep letting him have that escape route, just in case he suddenly decides that I was some kind of mistake. It's my neck sticking out on the chopping block indefinitely while he gets to pick and choose what he wants to do, whenever he’s ready to do it. It's not fair, and I need to put an end to it.
As enlightening as this realization is, however, it sort of just makes me sad.
Sam notices the sudden downturn in my expression and he softens his stance a little.
“It's just something you need to think about,” he says.
“I know,” I admit.
“I'm sorry,” says Sam. “I wasn't trying to make you upset.” He looks around as though he might find something to distract me. “Skee Ball?” he suggests, handing me my last ball.
I sigh and turn to the machine. I don’t even feel like pissing off Ko anymore. Maybe we should table Super Skee Ball until after we get pizza. That might make me feel better.
I take a step back to line up my throw, but bump into someone behind me.
“If you really want to feel better,” Sam says softly into my ear, “I know just the thing that might do it.”
I pause and try to think of what he might mean. He knows just the thing that might do it...
I look up and see Ko cracking up, so I turn around to see what he thinks is so funny. Sam drops his hands to his side as soon as I see him, but not fast enough that I miss what he had been doing. He was moving his hand back and forth in front of his mouth, miming a blowjob. He wags his eyebrows up and down suggestively at me.
“I will seriously throw this ball at your head,” I say, trying to look threatening, but my laughter gives me away.
As much as they lay into me about Carter, Sam and Ko are my friends. It’s good that they have my back, and they always know how to cheer me up too.
“Is that your solution to everything?” I ask.
Sam shakes his head. “Sometimes you have to use violence to solve problems,” he says, “but blowjobs do the trick like, ninety percent of the time.”
I toss my last ball and pull out the handful of tickets I managed to win. I can't be mad at Sam. He’s just trying to help, and he can always make me laugh by being his usual, ridiculous self. I'm actually thankful to have him around for stuff like this, since Ko isn't usually too interested in trying to psychoanalyze me.
I hand my tickets to Ko, but he shakes his head and points to Sam. I look up at the scores in surprise. I figured he would beat me, but Sam actually beat both of us. He’s a Skee Ball natural.
“Pizza?” I suggest.
Sam and Ko both nod in agreement. Looks like I wasn’t the only one getting hungry.
“What do you think?” I ask.
Ko isn’t usually the best person to ask about stuff like this, but I still haven’t come to terms with our conversation from earlier. Now that Sam’s run off, he’s the only other person to talk to.
Ko shrugs before throwing his ball. We’re back at Super Skee Ball, picking up right where we left off.
“I think he's right,” Ko says.
He turns around, for no other reason than to see the frown that appeared on my face.
“Don't get all mopey about it,” he says, laughing. “But he's not wrong, ya know?”
I nod in agreement, but I don't like it.
Ko rolls his eyes and turns back to the game.
“Dude, you'll be fine.”
Ko sinks a 100,000-point ball to finish his game. It's a decent score, but nothing amazing. If I can focus, I can beat him.
I line up my first shot and sink a 50,000. Not a bad start.
“I think you’ll be fine,” Ko says. “I mean, I've been with people in way crappier situations. But I guess with less at stake,” he adds.
I turn back to him and raise my eyebrow. “All you care about is what's on your stake.”
Ko nods. “Hell yeah, man.”
I can see him grab his crotch in the corner of my eye and my burst of laughter sends the next shot wild.
“You can't grab your dick in an arcade,” I say. “That's how you wind up on one of those lists.”
Ko laughs and I finish the rest of my game. I wind up beating Ko with my eighth shot, so I can afford to play aggressive on the last one, and I sink another 100,000 for good measure. He begrudgingly hands me his tickets and we head over to the next game on our tour.
“Anyway, if you ever stop getting... ‘staked,’ that's when you should get worried.”
“You think so?” I ask.
“For sure,” Ko says. “If he's hooking up with you, then he wants to be with you. If he answers when you booty call, then you have nothing to worry about. Everything else is just details.”
If anyone would know how these things work when you're doing a causal relationship, it's Ko. He's been slightly involved with plenty of people, but he's never actually gone for a girlfriend. This is the kind of stuff he has to deal with all the time.
I shake my head as I think about it. How could you not get more involved?
“I don't know how you do it,” I say.
Ko smiles. “Usually with my cock.”
“Gross,” I respond. “No, I mean like you have to deal with this every time you're with anyone.”
He shakes his head. “It's not the same. You like Carter.”
“And you don't like all the chicks you get with?”
“I like them enough,” he says. “But you want something real with this kid.” He thinks for a second. “Don't you?”
“Yeah,” I say without hesitation, but then I have to think about it. Do I?
Do I want a relationship with Carter?
This all happened so fast. A year ago Carter was just this hot guy that I knew from summer swim team. Three months ago he was a boy that I had a big crush on and drunkenly kissed at a party. Now he's a guy I'm hooking up with fairly regularly, but still won't commit because of his girlfriend. Do I want to try and turn him into the guy who's my boyfriend?
After everything we've done and how far we've gone together, I pretty much have to. Why wouldn't I?
He's the man of my dreams. Hot, popular, smart, and fun to be around. Half the girls in our school would probably jump at the chance to even get as far as I have with Carter, much less to have him be their boyfriend. And while we haven't quite ‘sealed the deal’ yet as far as that goes, I'm making progress.
“You don’t sound very sure.”
Ko's words bring me back to our conversation.
It isn't that simple. This isn't an easy thing for either of us. Carter has plenty of reasons not to want to be in a relationship with me. He still doesn't seem confident with his sexuality, and whether he's gay or bi it's not an easy thing to figure out. It's not just a change for him, but for his friends and family, and then of course his girlfriend.
Ugh. Even thinking of Beth puts a bad taste in my mouth. That's the nagging thing that I can't push out of my head. Beth.
It's one thing to keep your options open, but usually that means staying single and avoiding commitment, not staying in an entirely different relationship. Not only that, but a relationship he doesn't even seem to like very much in the first place. From day one Carter's done nothing but complain about Beth, and for some reason he won't take that final step and end it once and for all.
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I pull it out to check my messages instead of responding to Ko's looming question. He probably imagines that he stumped me with that one, and he's already playing the basketball game we’ve stopped in front of. He can think whatever he wants for the time being.
It's a Snap from Sam.
I pull up the app and wait for it to load. A photo. I tap it to check-
It's a cock. And it looks like a pretty nice one.
Why is he sending me this?
Not that I'm closing it. I get a full ten seconds to look at this thing, and I'm damn well going to enjoy it. It doesn't look like Sam's, at least from what I've seen sneaking a few glances in the locker room after soccer practice.
After we ate a few slices of pizza, Ko and I rallied up for the second half of our arcade tour, but Sam had other plans. He gave me all the tickets he had won - Ko was not thrilled with that - and took off. He said he’d see us later, but didn’t give any more details than that. I was going to grill him for more info, but he took off before either of us could really respond.
Another Snap arrives, and I glance up to make sure Ko is still fully focused on his game. He got enough baskets in the first round to get another 30 seconds on the clock. He won’t be paying any attention to me for a while.
Another photo. I look around to make sure no one else is walking around near me and I open it.
This time it's not just the cock from the first picture, but Sam's lips around it, buried about halfway down the shaft.
I contemplate taking a screenshot, but decide against it, instead just savoring it for the ten seconds it gives me. I can feel a throbbing in my underwear, and I'm glad I chose to wear briefs tonight. Even under jeans you'd probably be able to see a good sized lump if I was wearing boxers.
“Yo, you're up!”
I gasp as Ko jams a basketball into my stomach. I slip my phone into my back pocket and move up to the machine. I look up at the game and try to clear my mind.
Don't think about Sam sucking a cock. Don't think about Sam sucking a cock. Don't think about Sam sucking-
“You have to put money in it.”
I look back at Ko and he's cracking up. I worry for a second that he knows what I'm looking at, but that's impossible. Of course he thinks it’s funny that my cage is so rattled I can't even remember how arcade games work. I pop in two tokens and wait for everything to light up. I slap the start button and get ready to make some baskets.
I feel a vibration in my pocket. I just got a message.
The machine springs to life and I start shooting the balls. I make one, then miss one. Make another then miss two. Sam is sucking someone off right now and sending me pictures of it. I miss another one.
“Come on, noob! Get it together,” Ko says.
I can't think about that. I can't think about the boner trying to push its way out of my pants, or the hot photos that Sam is sending me, or how I want to hook up with Carter, or anything like that. I just need to play basketball.
The machine stops, and the gate comes down to keep the balls from coming through the return. I look up at my score. Pathetic.
“Dude, I wanted to win, but I don't want you to suck this bad.”
Ko grabs the few tickets that the machine spit out and and adds them to his pile. He looks like he has about two hundred. I might have seventy, and that’s including what Sam gave me.
“Sorry,” I say, “I'm just, uh, not on my game tonight.”
“Beating you doesn't help me if you don't win any tickets for me to steal,” says Ko.
I shrug and we walk over to the next game. That last thing on my mind right now is tickets, or prizes, or anything. I have a message burning a hole in my pocket, and I want to see what Sam has in store for me this time. He made some cryptic comment at dinner about figuring something out to cheer me up, but I'm not sure if 'horny' really equates to 'cheered up.’ Maybe, maybe not.
I let Ko get set up for his next game, this one an old-style shooting gallery. It's one of those ones that you point the gun down in the machine, and then targets pop up. It uses forced perspective to make it seem like the targets are really far away, but the machine is only about three feet deep. As a kid I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I’ve wasted enough tokens playing the thing over the years that I’m pretty good at it. Maybe after I look at this picture I can get my head screwed on and actually win some tickets.
It's not a picture, it's a video.
I take a deep breath and another look over each of my shoulders, then I open it.
My cock immediately pushes against the front of my pants, begging for release. It's a full on video of Sam's head bobbing up and down on the dick. It's from the top down, which means Sam got the person he's sucking to film it.
Sam pulls off and lets the whole thing out of his mouth for a second, and I suddenly realize who it is. Craig. The captain of our soccer team. He's the only person I know who's here right now who could possibly have a cock this big.
I’ve only ever seen it in the showers after practice, and even then I’ve only seen it soft. But it doesn’t disappoint, even then. Hard, it's got to be eight inches long, and pretty damn thick. I’d love to try sucking on something like that...
Suddenly, with only 2 seconds left on the Snap, Sam jerks his head forward and buries it to the hilt in his mouth. Holy shit! Not even Carter could pull a move like that, and he's way better at deep throating than I am. I can't believe what I'm seeing.
“Ugh, oh god!”
I close my phone before the snap ends and try to look casual.
I forgot I had the volume turned up, and in the din of the arcade I hadn't even noticed that there was sound on the video. But as Sam's lips hit the base of Craig’s cock, he decided to moan super loud, and right next to the camera at that.
On one hand, it was enough for me to hear that it was definitely Craig, but unfortunately it was also loud enough that...
“What the fuck are you watching over there?” Ko asks.
He still has his face pressed up against the gun and is shooting targets as they pop up, but I can see the smirk on his face.
“Nothing,” I say.
The smirk spreads a little bit.
I can act in a school play, but I wish I was a better liar.
“Sounds like something pretty interesting,” Ko says.
“No,” I say. I try to think fast. “Just a stupid snap from somebody.”
Ko shoots his final target and the game spits out about twenty tickets.
“Alright,” Ko says, gesturing me towards the game, “you don’t have to tell me what you’re watching. But I am going to need you to win me some tickets on this one.”
I line up the gun and look down into the game. I play through the order of the targets in my head. It’s always the same, and I’ve probably played this a hundred times. If I can focus, I can win.
“I haven't seen Sam for a while,” Ko says.
The first target pops out. I hit it. I get the next one too. This shouldn't be too bad.
“You know who else I haven't seen in a while?” Ko asks. “Craig.”
My heart starts pounding and I mostly feel the blood pulsing through my cock again. I miss a target.
“I swear I saw him earlier, but I haven't seen him since.”
I can't get the image of the video out of my mind. Sam taking him all the way, the way he moaned when Sam hit the bottom and held him there. It's the hottest sound a guy can make, that yelp of surprise at how good it feels to get deep throated. A cry and a shudder.
“I wonder where those two have gotten off to...”
I give up. I take my hands off the gun and let the last few targets pop up without the threat of being gunned down. I turn around to stare daggers at Ko, who's wearing the biggest smile I've seen all night.
“You're a dick,” I tell him. I point over to my tickets and let Ko have them.
Ko laughs as he takes my winnings. He's smarter than he lets on, especially socially. He likes to pretend he doesn't understand things, or that he doesn't care. But he hears all the gossip going on around him and fills in the blanks faster than almost anyone I know. He knows about Sam, and he knows he's been tagging around with Craig, and he knows they're both here tonight, and he heard the Snap.
So he knows. Or at least he knows enough to use this information to harass me.
“God I love beating you at stuff,” he muses as he walks by. “Let's go look at the prizes and make some plans. Maybe we can pool together and get something cool.” He looks back at me and cocks his eyebrow. “If you can get your shit together, that is.”
I turn to follow him and shake my head. You can't fool your best friend.
As we walk over to the prize area I try to will my boner away. I still have most of a raging hardon in my pants, and I need that to go away before I even think of doing anything else. This is an arcade, not really an ideal place to slip away and jack off, but I'm not sure what other options I have.
I haven't been jacking off very much lately since I'm spending so much time with Carter. It's more like quality over quantity. Probably since about eighth grade, I jack off once a day. Hooking up with Carter seems like it's worth about a week. But at times like this, when I get all pent up, I just need to get it taken care of.
We take a seat at a booth in the dining area, and Ko gets up to start scoping out prizes. I take the opportunity to adjust myself into a slightly less uncomfortable angle in my briefs.
All I can think about now is Carter. Last time we were together was amazing. I've never cum that hard before. And the way he reacted when he let me eat his ass – all the squirming and moaning. It was heaven.
We just talked about this. Carter isn’t my best option here. He isn't really giving me what I want. He's being selfish and refusing to put himself out on the line for me, when I'm doing it for him day in and day out. He's still clinging to his girlfriend and to his 'options.' And I'm getting left out to dry. That's what we decided, right?
Carter's the one who came back to me, not the other way around. I had sworn him off and was ready to be done, and he came back to me. He showed up at my play with flowers in his hand and an apology on his lips. He kissed me. I didn't ask for any of that, it was all Carter.
And he invited me out last time. Actually, the last few times have all been something he planned. He wanted me to hang out with his friends, and then to stay at his place afterward. He threw me down on the bed and pulled my clothes off.
Plus, maybe Ko has a point from before. If I'm getting it, why should I worry?
I take my phone back out and go to my text messages. I was originally going to head home with Ko after the party and hang out at his place. But now I think I might have some other plans.
My mom is working a double tonight, so she won't be home until later in the morning tomorrow. Since I’m not home to watch them, the twins got shipped off to my aunt’s house. She’ll take them to school. That means I have the house to myself from now until I go to school in the morning.
I reach down to adjust myself again. I definitely might have some other plans.
[ What are you doing tonight? ]
I don't even have to put the phone back in my pocket before I get a response.
[ Nothin. You? ]
I smile to myself.
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