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CONTROL and KAOS
Seth operated under the conviction that his modest status in life belied the grandeur of his being. He ought to have been rich, but he was born to the wrong parents. He ought to have a license, but he wasn't old enough. And he ought to be treated better than a mere sophomore. The century had begun with three years of oughts, as far as he was concerned.
When Theo had first met him he had joked that Seth was plural. When Seth walked into a room, it felt suddenly crowded. Seth was invariably Bubbly. Seth was Cheery. Everything Seth touched was Superlative. Theo thought of him as existing in a world of Wanton Capitalization. Seth wasn't larger than life -- he was merely larger than his life. That is what had led him to the theater.
He had, in fact, landed a small role in the first show for which he had ever auditioned. That it was a small role didn't particularly bother him. He was a first year student -- it was a three-year high school -- and there weren't that many speaking parts to go around. Theo had auditioned as well, and hadn't even been cast, having to content himself with being on the stage crew. And in the Great Ladder that was high school social interaction it made a kind of unjust sense that he only had a small part. Such were the Immutable Laws of the Universe. Big parts went to upper classmen. Besides, Seth lived by the maxim that there were no small roles -- just opportunities to bitch ebulliently about the people who got the large ones.
Such was how they normally spent most of their time in rehearsals. They would hang out backstage, complaining wistfully about how very bad Jon and Joshua -- the two leads -- were, how they wouldn't know the difference between schtick and acting if it bit them on the ass, and how much better Seth could do it. But not this rehearsal. In this rehearsal, the conversation was altogether different. This wasn't a Bitchfest. This was a patented Seth Effuse-orama.
"When we get married, do you think something wacky will happen at the wedding, like drinking the map to the Melnick uranium mine or something?" Theo took a breath to answer, but Seth continued on without pause. "And do you think we'll live in an apartment like the Smarts, or in a house like the Bradys? I couldn't deal with astroturf in the back yard. Either way, he'll come home every night and we'll fuck and fuck and fuck. Sigh." Since he had been cast, Seth had taken up the habit of speaking in stage directions.
"Don't you think you should get his name first?" Theo asked calmly.
"Name shmame. Oooh! I bet it's something hot, like "Dirk" or "Rock". I bet it's, like, Rock Solid. Wouldn't that be a great name? This is my husband, Rock Solid."
Theo was laughing. "You're over the top, Seth. Even for you. Anyway, how do you know he even likes you?"
"Didn't you see the way he was looking at me? He's interested. He's Definitely Interested. Can you imagine what our kids would look like?"
"Butt babies don't survive long, dear," Theo said, patting his friend consolingly on the thigh as he sat opposite him. Seth giggled.
"With Saxyguy? Anything is possible! Oh!" Seth shouted, interrupting himself. "Can you imagine what the Evil Alex will say when he finds out I'm dating Saxyguy? He'll fucking Shit!"
"Get a grip!"
"I can't. I can't! I'm so excited. So when do you think he'll make his move?"
"I don't mean to burst your bubble, or anything but...Jesus, Seth. He's a senior. Why's he going to go out with a sophomore?"
"'Cause I'm Da Bomb, baby," Seth said in a perfectly convincing voice. "But you're right" he said leaning in and dramatically looking around to make sure no one could overhear, "we need a Plan!"
"Maaaaaaax..." Theo warned.
"Oh lighten up, 99. It'll be fine. It'll be just fine."
Feigning illness, Seth and Theo had skipped out of rehearsal an hour early and were sitting in the stands along the sidelines of the football field trying to make sense of the chaos in front of them. Boys were running alternately at and away from each other in a dance that they suspected was somehow choreographed. One in the middle would grunt rhythmically, then they'd all collide with each other and fall down as a group.
The players on the field existed in helmeted anonymity, which allowed Seth and Theo to focus on the charm of their costumes. Mesh half-jerseys ended well above tight spandex pants creating an array of treasure trails as distinctive as the numbers sewn onto the players' backs.
"Holy Disappearing Hairline, Batman!" Theo was saying, "look at that brown curly one! You know, I see that, and all I can think is how much I want to make it wet."
"Down, Boy Wonder," Seth returned, "we're on a serious Bat Mission here."
"Yeah, but look at the ass on that one over there," Theo said more quietly, indicating with a slight point of his chin which player he was talking about.
"What, the fat one?" Seth asked, crinkling his nose in disgust.
"No -- next to him. On the left."
"Oh, him!" Seth said. "That is, indeed, a mighty ass."
"A mighty, meaty ass, to be sure," Theo echoed.
"That'd be a good team name, don't you think? The Mighty Asses?"
"I'd play for them," Theo allowed, lost in the view.
"Like you know anything about playing football," Seth said.
"Who said anything about playing football?" Theo asked without breaking his gaze.
Seth turned to him, blinked, and cracked up.
"So which one is he?" Theo asked, still scanning the field. "Are you sure he's in there?"
"Yep. He's in there," Seth said. "He's got to be. He wears the jersey in band on Fridays. I think that's when they play."
"We should have paid attention to what number he wears. How are you going to find out which one he is?"
"How long we been here?" Seth asked.
"I said, how long have we been here?"
"I don't know," Theo shrugged. "About 10 minutes."
"Like this, then." Seth stood up and stretched languorously. As the grunting player in the middle of the field grunted his last grunt and shoved his hands between the legs of the player in front of him -- Seth could learn to like this game, he thought -- Seth reached down, crossed his arms, took hold of the hem of his T-shirt and lifted it clear over his head, pulling it off altogether. He turned around and bent over to fish into his knapsack making a big show of waving his ass in the direction of the field. Finding a long-sleeved jersey, he pulled it out and popped it over his head, turning back just in time to see the ball fly across the field to hit a player who had turned to look in his direction in the side of the head.
"There ya go," Seth said, sitting down again. "That would be him. Number 32."
"Too bad it's not 86, huh?"
"That would be cool," Seth answered smiling.
The Grunter walked over to the guy at whom he had just thrown the ball and began yelling at him, taking off his helmet in the process to reveal a sweaty mass of coarse blond hair.
"Ooh," said Theo, "who's Mr. Yummy, and why is he yelling at your boyfriend?"
The second helmet came off to reveal Saxyguy's angry face as he yelled back at Mr. Yummy. The two exchanged a few more indeterminate invectives before they walked back to the crowd and took their places squatting in the faces of other boys who squatted right back. But not before Number 32 glanced again, this time with mild annoyance, at Seth.
"We can go," Seth said.
"That was it?" Theo asked incredulously. "You're not going to wait for the end of their rehearsal? You're not going to talk to him?"
"No need," Seth said. "It's the old take-off-your-shirt-and-wave-your-ass- to-get-the-attention-of-the-guy-you-have-your-sights-on trick. Works every time."
"Yeah," Topher repeated for the umpteenth time, "he's cute. But you still shouldn't'a let him distract you like that."
"I know, I know," EJ replied, dismissively waving with his free hand as he drove with the other, "I shouldn't have."
"Next time keep your eye on the fucking ball." Topher wasn't amused at all. All may be fair in love and war, but football was fucking football. EJ looked across the cab of his pickup and grinned.
"But you've got to admit," he said, "he is cute." Topher merely glared back. EJ returned his gaze to the road, sliding into one of his many accents. "And I told you he were interested. That boy want it bad. And he gonna git it. He gonna git it real gooood."
"Seems to me like you're the one got it bad," Topher said. This observation caught EJ short. He all but screeched the truck to a halt on the side of the road, and turned in his seat to face Topher full on. Topher continued his condemnation. "You're the one going fucking gaga at a little tit and ass, dude. You're the one fucking up at practice. Who gonna git what?"
EJ's brows knit. "You think?" he said.
Topher nodded ominously.
"Well that's not good," EJ said. "That's not good at all. If I'm gonna ride, I'm driving."
"That's alls I'm saying, dude. I mean, a fucking sophomore..."
EJ frowned. "Okay," he said, turning in his seat back to the road and starting the pickup again, "I got it."
"So what're you going to do?" Topher asked.
"We'll show the twink who's in charge."
Procession of the Nobles was a bitch to play, even for the second clarinets. It was all he could do to keep his fingers from tying in knots. Theo wasn't in much better shape and was taking this play-through to write in every flat individually on the score. This, Seth knew, was his way of looking intently busy while not playing things he couldn't play. The first three musical skills Theo had learned were to look as if he were playing, to blame his reed, and to point at his stand partner whenever things went wrong. These were qualities Seth would have admired were he not the stand partner.
Having finished the play-through, the music director turned his attention to the trumpets, which allowed the boys some time to chat.
"So explain to me again why we didn't wait to the end to go over to talk to him?" Theo asked.
"What if I told you he had to write a sonnet to me, exclaiming his love for me in nine different ways before I'd consider it?"
"I wouldn't believe you." Theo answered, happily reciting his lines from the script.
"Would you believe a haiku expressing mild interest?"
"How about a limerick about a boy from Nantucket?"
They smiled. It was a tired routine, but they loved it. Theo waited for the real reply. When Seth figured out that the question was serious, he sighed.
"Because," he began with enough of an eye roll to indicate that this was something Theo Really Ought to Know Already, "then he'd think he could have it anytime he wanted it."
"But he can. Like you'd ever say no to that?"
"Well of course he can. But he doesn't have to know that, does he? Why buy the cow if it'll milk you for free?"
Theo giggled. "So he has to ask you out? You can't ask him?"
"Seems a tad stupid to me," Theo said.
"I don't make the rules. I just live by 'em."
"And what if he doesn't?"
"Condescending pat," Seth said while patting Theo's knee condescendingly. "He will."
"I've got secret weapons," Seth whispered, conspiratorially.
"No," Seth answered seriously. "These." He smiled broadly showing two large, deep dimples. "And these." He tilted his head down so he was looking up at his friend. The yellow specks in his green eyes twinkled from below his eyelashes.
Theo grinned. He was well-familiar with these weapons and the effects they had on people. Seth had always been completely adorable, even as he matured. He played the angel so well that very few people other than Theo knew about the twisted little devil deep inside.
The music director was calling for attention again, having dispensed with the trumpets. Instruments were readied, postures were straightened. Theo rewet his reed and set his embouchure ready to look like he was playing. Seth did the same, ready to actually play, when out of the corner of his eye a blue UNC Tarheels cap turned in a direction it shouldn't have, distracting him from his music.
Clarinet in mouth, he glanced to the other side of the band while the music director raised his baton. Saxyguy, evidently, had an itch that couldn't wait. While his tenor hung on its strap from his neck, one hand held the hem of his shirt up slightly while the other was pushed directly down the unbuttoned front of his jeans where it was scratching things that three quarters of the school would have gladly volunteered to scratch for him. He wore light blue boxers with penguins on them. The penguins danced a little as he scratched beneath them. The hem of the boxers were pulled out from his stomach by his embedded wrist, and Seth could barely make out the penguins on the top doing their best to peek inside. They weren't alone. Seth spontaneously and unconsciously levitated nearly an inch to try to get just a little better viewing angle. Unfortunately, this was at the same instant that the director's baton came forcefully down and the entire band played, forte, the first chord of the piece. The shock of the sound popped Seth back into time and space, where he collapsed back into his chair and blew for all he was worth.
If only it had been the right note! (Or even the right octave!)
Looking back on it, he couldn't tell which was worse -- that he had made a sound so intensely ugly that the baton had actually flown from the hand of the conductor on the upbeat as if it, itself, were trying to flee from the cacophony; that before the squeak had even finished ringing, Theo was pointing directly at him in a far-side-hand, over-the-head point that Absolutely Everyone could see; or that everyone else's head had instantly snapped to look at Seth except Saxyguy's. Saxyguy hadn't moved a muscle save for calmly taking his hand out of his pants and quietly rebuttoning the front of his jeans. In particular, he hadn't snapped his head around. This was because, Seth realized to his horror, he had been staring at Seth all along. And he was smiling. A victorious, self-satisfied, smirky little smile.