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CONTROL and KAOS
Simon Candler had that peculiar combination of qualities that guaranteed universal popularity in a small town: he lived in a large house with a pool and expansive yard and his parents traveled frequently. As a result, the junior hosted regular parties attended by pretty much everyone. Some of Candler's parties had been legendary -- like the time that they had lit a bonfire in the middle of his back yard. The cops came, saw the pile of wood burning in the middle of the lawn, turned to the group of kids nearest to it and ordered them to put it out. That group had included Henry Vaskasian, notorious for his bad judgment when drunk. Unfortunately, Henry had been blitzed at the time, so when the cop told him to put out the fire, he had happily complied. In front of everyone -- including the cops -- Henry unzipped his pants, pulled out his dick, and peed on it.
One was not invited to one of Simon Candler's parties so much as word spread that the party was to occur and everyone just showed up. The network was so efficient that one time Simon himself was one of the last people to know about it. Mrs. Candler, stopping at the supermarket on her way home from work, mentioned to a neighbor that she and her husband were being called away unexpectedly on business that weekend. The neighbor's daughter overheard their conversation, and with a few well-placed cellphone calls from the produce aisle, started the ball rolling. Meanwhile, Simon was across town playing soccer. He returned to the sidelines having been rotated out to hear that he shouldn't worry, a keg had already been procured.
Topher and EJ sat on a couple of deck chairs, pulled back from the rest around the pool, as the party swirled about them. There were already over 200 people there and it was only eleven. The music blared from speakers which had been turned around to play through two windows into the back yard. EJ sat looking at his friend. Topher stared into his beer, watching the foam dissipate.
"Quit moping," EJ said quietly. "You knew she'd be here."
"Yep," Topher replied as another bubble burst.
"What do you want me to say? You want me to go off on what a bitch she is? She is. You want me to tell you you're better off without her? You are. You want me to get someone to beat the crap out of her? Hell, I'd do that myself!"
Topher didn't even crack a grin.
"C'mon, man. Lighten the fuck up."
"I'm sorry, dude," Topher said still staring into his cup, "It just sucks seeing her dance with fucking McReady, ya know? I mean, I knew she'd be here, but I thought...I don't know..." He pulled a long drink from the cup, almost draining it.
"Topher, man," EJ said gently, "Topher, look at me." Topher looked up from his beer. "Man, you're my best friend. You know I'd do anything for you. You know that?"
"Yeah, I know it."
"Then listen to me. It's over, Topher. You're not getting back with her."
"Yeah," Topher said, "I know it."
"No, man. I mean it. It's over. She's fucking McReady. And Tyler. She did Tyler like two weeks before you split. She's not coming back."
Topher stared at him blankly.
"I didn't tell you because...shit. I don't know. I thought I'd tell you when you got over her. I thought you'd be getting over her and I didn't want you to get...fuck, Topher, don't look at me that way."
Topher looked back into his cup.
"Fuck," EJ said. "I'm sorry, man. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought...fuck."
They sat in silence for almost a minute, EJ staring at Topher, Topher staring into his cup. Finally, EJ punched his friend lightly on the arm.
"Say something, bro. Anything."
Topher drained his cup and held it out to EJ. "Get me another beer."
EJ laughed. "Okay, man. That's something. I'll be right back."
Theo and Seth arrived at the party respectably late. They had aimed for earlier, but it had taken Seth far longer than expected to find the perfect combination of flattering shirt and pants. He had settled on a cobalt blue pullover jersey that brought out the yellow of his hair and a pair of ass-friendly khaki shorts that had just the right amount of bagginess.
The whole first floor was packed with people. Dancing, milling, laughing, making out, drinking, being fabulous for and at each other. Seth spotted Evil Alex and Jen talking with Hymie on the far end of the living room. He steered Theo in the opposite direction.
"You see him?" Seth asked.
"Nope," Theo said, "but there's the Oaf and his girlfriend in the dining room."
"There's a Mrs. Oaf?" Seth asked, still scanning the room.
They turned down the hall toward the kitchen, where they fought through the increasingly densely packed crowd. Once there, Seth, holding onto Theo's shirt to make sure they didn't lose each other, wove his way forward. Around couples where possible, through them when necessary, he forced his way past the mostly larger kids toward the vortex of activity which he knew must be where the bar was laid out. They got there just in time to find EJ pouring his second glass of beer.
"Hey," EJ said to Theo, looking past Seth.
"Hey," Theo returned.
"Why don't you bring these out to Topher. He's out back by the pool. He's waiting for them."
"Sure," said Theo, taking the beers. As he walked past EJ, he turned so that only Seth could see him and animatedly mouthed, "Mr. Yummy!" Seth smiled back as Theo disappeared into the throng.
"You want something to drink?" EJ said, finally turning his attention to Seth.
"Sure, Chief," said Seth. "A coke?"
"I can probably find a coke in here," EJ said. He took two cups, disappeared into the people who were leaning against the counter farther down from where the keg had been set up, and returned with the cups filled. He handed one to Seth and raised his as if in toast. Seth clinked the top of his cup to EJ's, took a deep draft to wet his suddenly dry mouth, and almost did a spit-take. The cup was only half coke.
"What's in this?" Seth asked when he finally caught his breath.
"Coke," EJ said. "And some rum."
"'sgood," Seth said. "I'm not much of a drinker."
"Yeah. I get real stupid real quick."
"Practice makes perfect," EJ said, clinking the top of Seth's cup again and taking a drink.
Theo saw Topher sitting by himself in a lounge chair pulled away from the pool. He wore a gray T-shirt that said Cornell LAX across its stretched front. Theo marveled at the senior's looks. Thick chest, thick thighs, thick lips, thick arms, thick blond hair. The boy was a vanilla frappe. An unhappy vanilla frappe, Theo thought. Topher was frowning at his own knees.
Theo cleared his throat. Topher looked up.
"Would you be Gopher?" Theo asked.
"No, I'd be Topher," Topher said.
"Yeah. Topher. Christopher. You're the sophomore's friend, right?"
"Yup. I'd be Theo." Theo handed him one of the beers and watched in fascination as Topher drained it in four enormous gulps.
"Neo?" Topher asked and belched loudly.
"Theo. Theodore." Not knowing what else to do, he handed Topher the second beer.
"Thanks," Topher said, and finished half the cup in two more gulps. "What'll you drink?"
"I guess I'll go get myself something," Theo said.
"Good. Bring me back one too," Topher said. Theo turned toward the house and smiled. Mr. Yummy wanted him to come back!
By the time Theo got to the counter with the keg, Seth and EJ were engaged in an animated conversation. They had been pushed together and off to the side of the room by the crowd. Seth stood with his butt to the wall while EJ leaned in over him, one hand against the wall over Seth's left shoulder, preventing Seth's escape. As if! Theo thought, and went to get two more cups.
Having fought his way to the keg and drafted two tall ones, Theo turned back toward the door. If possible, EJ had saddled up even closer to Seth than he had been before. Seth had lifted his foot and put its sole against the wall. EJ cradled Seth's bent knee between his thighs. EJ was now leaning his elbow against the wall, which put his mouth almost to Seth's ear, and was telling him something that caused Seth's eyes to glaze over.
When Theo returned poolside, Topher was, again, frowning at his knees, the second cup of beer also drained. Theo sat down in the deck chair next to him.
"Did they do something bad?" he asked, handing one of the beers he held to Topher.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Your knees. You seem unhappy with them. Did they insult you? Steal some money, maybe? Did they break a mad-expensive amphora your dad spent months buying on eBay then blame you for it?"
Topher looked at Theo for a moment in confusion then smiled.
"No, man. Just in a funk. You know."
"Yeah? What's her name?"
"Lise," Topher said, pursing his lips.
Topher laughed. A genuine, deep, resonant laugh. "How'd you know it was over a girl?"
Theo shrugged his shoulders. "I'm wise beyond my years." They clinked cup rims and both drank.
Seth hadn't been lying. He did get real stupid real quick when he drank. The first stupidity came in allowing himself to be convinced to have a second drink. The second came in asking for a third. He found himself by the pool without quite knowing how he got there. He and EJ had taken their shoes and socks off and were sitting with their feet dangling in the cool water. EJ leaned with his back to the side of the diving board. Seth leaned with his back to EJ, who was tracing figure-eights on his upper arm in a way that made him shiver.
EJ was talking. Seth wasn't quite sure what he was saying. A carefully laid out argument for why his blue pickup was most assuredly not a shitbox. Seth didn't care. So long as EJ kept holding him he could say whatever he wanted. It was all foggy anyway. Seth loved the feel of EJ's chest behind his head. As much as it made the world swim, he slowly rocked his head back and forth, trying to map the curve of EJ's left pectoral with the back of his skull.
EJ's fingers traced a circle about Seth's elbow. It tickled and Seth trembled in response. Mistaking this for cold, EJ drew Seth closer to him and enveloped him more in his arms.
"No, Chief," Seth sighed contentedly, relaxing into EJ's embrace. "Perfect. So what were...something...shitbox?" The sentence made perfect sense in Seth's mind. He wasn't quite sure how he had lost two-thirds of it in the attempt to make it audible.
"No," EJ replied emphatically. "That's the whole point. It's not a shitbox at all. It's..." Seth lost the line of logic almost as soon as it started, and EJ's voice turned into a steady, soothing drone behind him.
EJ liked Seth. He was certainly cute enough, that was for sure. EJ wasn't sure why he was so taken with little blonds, but the fact remained he was. The little made sense, at least. They fit better -- the way Seth fit perfectly in EJ's arms. But why blonds? They had a silkiness to them in EJ's mind that was irresistible. It was like asking why he liked broccoli and not cauliflower. It didn't matter why, he supposed, he just did. Whatever it was that got him where he needed to go, Seth had it. And Seth was growing more and more adorable as the evening wore on and EJ got used to his face.
It wasn't just the dimples, or the sparkling green eyes, or the satiny smoothness of his skin, or the way his little nipples pushed out his jersey when EJ tickled his upper arm. EJ liked him. Seth was agreeable and interested in what he had to say. He was a good listener. Seth was focused on him, and EJ liked that in a person.
Seth shifted position a bit and his hand found EJ's shin. It was dark tan and covered in scratchy hair which Seth began to comb with his fingernails. By varying the spacing of his fingers, he found he could make wavy trails. Twisting it, he could form little spikes. He found an old scar and measured its length against his thumb.
EJ was still talking, but he seemed to have changed topics. Something about an offensive line. Seth didn't get who had been offensive or what the line he had used was, but it didn't matter. Instead, his attention was taken by the belt buckle that had begun to poke uncomfortably into the small of his back when he started playing with the hair on EJ's shins.
Wait a minute, Seth thought. An idea began to formulate out of the rum and goo that was his consciousness. That's not a belt buckle at all. What was that?
"13, is that you?" Seth asked blurrily.
"Huh?" EJ asked, not understanding the interruption.
"Oops," Seth said, "was that out loud?"
EJ laughed. "Yeah, babe. What did you say?"
"Nothing," Seth answered, recozying himself against the bigger boy behind him. "You talk."
EJ did, picking right up where he left off. Seth used the new position to do some investigation. He rotated his hips by the slightest possible amount. This pushed his lower back against the buckle. The buckle pushed back. No, that wasn't a belt buckle at all.
EJ was saying something about a running game. Making sure to stay in contact with the pokey part, Seth leaned over to the side so that his back was supported by the crook of EJ's arm rather than his shoulder and looked up at the older boy. He liked him. He liked him a lot. And not just because he was stunning. When Seth shivered, EJ wrapped his arms about him. When Seth stroked his shin, EJ popped a woody. Seth could make EJ react, he realized, and that made Seth very, very happy.
Looking up from that angle he could see the stubble underneath EJ's chin. There was a small bare patch on the bottom, nestled just behind the front of his jaw. The imperfection that made him perfect. Seth reached up and touched it. EJ lowered his head, trapping Seth's finger between his chin and chest.
"Who you poking?" EJ said, holding pressure on Seth's finger while he talked.
Seth grinned a goofy, contented grin. EJ smiled back.
"I can make him smile," Seth thought.
"Who?" EJ asked.
"Who what, Chief?" Seth asked, confused.
"Who can you make smile?"
"Oh..." Seth said, "that was out loud again?"
EJ laughed a second time. The motion freed Seth's finger from its trap under his chin. "Yes."
Seth swept his finger sloppily to the side and waved vaguely across the pool. "Theo. I can make Theo smile. He's right over there talking with Mr. Y...talking with your friend."
"I bet you can."
"Hi Theo!" Seth yelled across the pool. When Theo looked over, Seth waved. Theo and Topher stared at them for a beat. Theo waved back noncommittally.
Topher had talked through seven more beers, prompting Theo to return from one trip to the kitchen with a twelve-pack. For reasons that neither he nor Theo particularly understood or cared about, weeks of frustration poured from him in a blur of accusation, sadness, anger, desire, swearing and loneliness.
Theo listened patiently to it all, nodding when appropriate, adding an encouraging word or two when it was needed. He heard about how Topher and Lise had met unexpectedly at a party after a game they had just as unexpectedly won. He heard about Topher's efforts to make her happy, from buying her things to agreeing to see ridiculous movies to admitting he was wrong when he knew he wasn't. He heard a long story about a night when a kid had insulted her, so Topher had popped him one. Lise had gotten all pissed off and told Topher to stop being such an asshole. So the next time when some guy disrespected her, he asked the guy to stop and left it at that. Lise hardly said a word to him all night after that, except to suggest that he might want to put on some make up and join her in the girl's room. He heard about her infidelity with a teammate, and how hard that was going to make practices now that he knew. It took almost an hour, but Topher finally talked himself out. Theo watched him for a while in silence.
"Fuck," Topher finally said draining yet another bottle, "I'm fucking sorry. I don't know why I told you all that."
Theo shrugged his shoulders. "Seems to me it just took you this long to find someone who would listen."
Topher looked at Theo, belched and smiled. "You're a good kid. I didn't mean to lay all that shit on you."
"S'okay. It was interesting."
Topher laughed. "Interesting's not the fucking word for it."
"There's just one thing I don't get," Theo said.
"Well, it's pretty clear what she got from the relationship. I mean, you worked hard to make her happy, and you're like the hottest guy in the universe."
"Pffft," Topher waved off the compliment like he was swatting a fly.
"So what did you get from it?"
"What did I get from what?"
"What did you get from the relationship? What did she give you?"
Topher frowned at his knees again in silence.
"Hi, Theo!" It was Seth's voice calling from the other side of the pool. Topher and Theo both looked over and blinked at him. The incongruity of it was not just due to its extraordinarily bad timing -- the mania of his tone, the sloppiness of his wave -- Seth was completely wasted.
Theo smiled wanly, waved noncommittally, and turned back to Topher. Topher looked at Seth lying in EJ's arms a moment, frowned and said, "hand me another beer, will ya?"
Theo reached down, took one of the few remaining bottles out of the twelve-pack, twisted the top off and handed it to Topher. Topher drained half of it.
"Well, for what it's worth," Theo said, "I think someone would have to be pretty fucked up to dump you."
Topher swatted the fly again.
"Don't do that." Theo said.
"Don't do what?"
"Why can't you just take a compliment?"
Topher shrugged. "Out of practice, I guess."
"That's what you need, then," Theo said. "You need someone to point out that you have the sexiest eyes and the most kissable lips within a hundred miles." Topher frowned and waved again. Theo continued, undeterred. "Your body is incredible. I mean, I'd pay just to be able to give you a massage! I would! I'd actually pay you just to touch your shoulders."
"Oh, please," Topher said rolling his eyes.
"It's true. And look at those legs! Your left knee alone could stop traffic!"
Topher laughed. "Left knee, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. No doubt. And there's something else, too."
"Better than my left knee, you mean?"
"You're really sweet."
"I'm not fucking sweet."
"Yes you are."
"Shut the fuck up."
"No, you're sweet. You're really sweet."
"If you say that again, I'm going to beat the shit out of you."
Theo leaned forward. "It's okay," he whispered conspiratorially, "I won't tell anyone. No one else has to know. But you are."
Topher drained the rest of the bottle, looked at Theo and belched loudly at him.
"I'm fucked up. That's what I am."
One half hour later, Seth had deteriorated into a small blond bundle of laughter. Everything EJ said made him hysterical, including the idea that he should have yet another rum and coke.
EJ had kissed him twice. Long, languorous kisses that teased as much as they excited. EJ nibbled at his lips, sucked his tongue, tasted his teeth. Both had left Seth breathless. But each time, as Seth sank completely into the kiss, EJ pulled away, leaving him wanting more. When Seth, cradled in the crook of EJ's arm, reached up with his head to steal more of EJ's breath, EJ smiled, retreated and playfully licked the tip of his nose.
"You're mean." Seth said through his giggles.
"Yep," EJ allowed. "And you're tasty."
"Taste some more, Chief."
EJ smiled. "I'm full. And don't call me Chief."
Seth Burst out into ebullient laughter, even finding himself accidentally snorting a few times. EJ frowned. "You don't know why that's funny, do you?" He finally managed when the hysterics passed.
"No. You want to explain it to me?"
"No," Seth said still giggling, "it's too stupid. Sorry. It's nothing. Where were we? It was something about me, right? Eating?"
EJ leaned forward and licked Seth's chin. "Mmmmm. Maybe I could eat a little bit more.
"Yeah?" Said Seth. "Maybe you're thirsty, too?" He dipped his hand into the pool and flicked some water onto EJ's face.
"Oh, you're going to pay for that one," EJ laughed. His hand had been resting across Seth's chest. He reached around and grabbed hold of his rib cage and dug his fingertips in. Seth exploded into fits of squirming laughter.
After the requisite amount of begging, EJ stopped tickling and smoothed the front of Seth's shirt back down. It took Seth a while, but he finally stopped laughing.
"You going to be good?"
Seth nodded. "Promise."
"Then you get a reward." EJ bent his head forward again and brushed Seth's lips with his. When Seth felt EJ's tongue, he closed on it and sucked it greedily into his mouth. EJ allowed it, exploring the pebbly surface of Seth's tongue with his.
"'nf Mio" Seth said into EJ's mouth.
EJ finished the kiss in his own time, temporarily ignoring Seth's attempt to talk. When he was done, he sat up, looking down at Seth, who had become a puddle of swoon in his arms.
"What's that then?" EJ asked.
"Yeah, yeah. You can make him smile."
"No, it's Theo here. Hi, Theo," Seth said cheerily, waiving at his friend.
EJ turned around. Theo was standing above them on the diving board staring down at them.
"Hi," Theo said.
"What's up?" EJ asked, somewhat annoyed at the interruption.
"I think your friend needs some help getting home," Theo said.
"He just tried to get up to go to the bathroom. Kind of fell flat on his face."
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time," EJ said.
Theo stood there looking down at the assemblage of limbs before him and waited for EJ to offer to do the right thing. When no offer was forthcoming, he shrugged. "You want me to walk him home?" he asked.
"He only lives a few blocks from here. 147 Pine. You know where Pine is?"
"His room is over the garage. There's a separate stairway on the outside that leads up to it. Key's under a clay pot at the bottom of the stairs if he can't find his. Just don't wake up his parents. But their bedroom is in the main part of the house. If you're careful, you shouldn't have any problems."
Theo nodded again. EJ turned back to Seth. "Now where were we?"
"Bye, Theo!" Seth waved again. Theo nodded and turned back to collect Topher from where he sat on the pavement on the other side of the pool.
When he was gone, Seth pulled EJ's head down so that his ear was next to his mouth. "I have a secret!" he whispered hoarsely.
"Yeah? What's that?" EJ said then nipped at Seth's ear lobe.
"Mmmmm. That's nice," Seth said.
"That's no secret."
"Noooo. That's not the secret, silly," Seth slurred. "The secret is...the secret is that Theo has the hots for Mr. Yummy."
"Who's that, then?"
"Your friend! Mr. Yummy!"
"Topher?" EJ asked.
"Yeah! Theo has it for him. Shhhhh. It's a secret."
EJ laughed. "Mr. Yummy?"
Theo and Topher didn't so much walk home as they wound home. It was all Theo could do to keep the larger boy upright, let alone heading forward. At first he tried letting him walk on his own, but Topher kept falling off the curb. Next he tried holding his hand to keep him on the sidewalk. That idea was dropped when Topher decided he wanted to surf a hedge and the two of them ended up face down in a shrub. Finally Theo hoisted Topher's arm over his shoulders and wedged himself into Topher's armpit, fighting Topher's superior height and weight with leverage.
Getting him up the stairs when they got to his house was another trial. At least while they were walking, Topher had been talking somewhat coherently. By the time they got to his house he was alternatingly responding to the group of friends he thought he was with and collapsing entirely. Theo all but dragged him up to the second story of the detached garage.
The door he finally managed to unlock opened to a spacious, if messy bedroom. Out of breath from the exertion, Theo dragged Topher to the bed and unloaded him. Finally free of support, Topher rolled sideways onto the mattress. Momentum took over and he rolled too far. Theo winced as Topher's head hit the far wall with a dull thud. A quiet snore shortly thereafter reassured Theo that he hadn't killed him.
It took ten more minutes to undress him. When he was done, Topher was lying in his boxers with the sheet pulled over his waist. Taking a moment to catch his breath, Theo sat on the side of the bed and surveyed the older boy in the dim moonlight that came through the window.
Topher had big muscles. His chest was wide and deep, his shoulders were meaty, and his arms were thick. He wasn't model-buff, though. For one thing, his belly was full with all that beer. But more than that, he still had a small layer of padding that covered everything and softened the lines. Theo suspected if he ever called it "baby fat" he'd be threatened with a bloody nose.
Theo couldn't really see the hair on Topher's chest, but in the moonlight his edges seemed to be covered by a tiny line of translucent silver that shimmered as he breathed. It was transfixing, and Theo found himself wanting to run his finger up and down it. He leaned in for a closer look but retreated when Topher smacked his lips a couple of times in his sleep and sighed an indecipherable syllable.
It wasn't that it didn't occur to Theo the kind of fun he could have with Topher in this state, laid out before him. A part of him was dying to feel Topher's skin, to get into bed next to him, to peek under the boxer shorts. He wondered why he wasn't going to do any of those things when he knew he could probably get away with any or all of them. Instead, he just sat and studied the curves and colors and textures of him. He sat for a long time, content to watch Topher breathe.
The sun was about to come up when Theo finally broke the spell with an indecipherable sigh of his own. Making sure the door was locked on his way out, he left and headed for home, wondering if he could still catch the smell of Topher's armpit on his shoulder.
Despite the fifth rum and coke, Seth had a pokey thing of his own, which had been caused by EJ lifting the bottom of his shirt and lightly stroking the lower part of his belly. He was lying with his head in EJ's lap by this point, looking blearily up at the way the Tarheels cap framed EJ's face so beautifully.
For his part, EJ was stoked. Seth was hot and responding perfectly. He looked down at the green eyes that were looking up at him. Seth had the prettiest eyes. They were widely spaced across a little nose whose bridge held some light freckles.
He had pretty lips, too. Their pinkness stood out against the paleness of his skin. Eminently kissable. And those dimples!
"You're pretty," EJ said quietly as he brushed the hair from Seth's forehead.
"You're too pretty," Seth burbled.
"Too pretty to what?"
"No, I meant it the other way around," Seth said giggling. "You're pretty, too."
EJ smiled, and bent forward. In this position, they were kissing upside down. This time, EJ didn't hold back at all, giving in to what he knew they both wanted. By the time he was finished, Seth was out of breath.
"That was nice," Seth said, eyes still closed.
"I have another secret," Seth whispered.
"What this time?"
"You promise not to tell anyone?"
"Okay. Shhhh. Here's my secret. Stage whisper. I'm totally drunk."
EJ laughed. "I know," he said. "I got you drunk."
"You did?" Seth whispered with genuine surprise. "Why did you do that?"
"Because I'm going to hook up with you tonight, babe." EJ whispered.
Seth's reaction was not what EJ had expected: he burst into laughter. But not just your everyday kind of laughter. Seth was overcome by a fit of tears-down-the-face, feet-stamping-on-the-ground, can't-breathe, shrill, sidesplitting laughter. It was loud and drew attention. As it continued, EJ became annoyed.
"What's so funny?" he finally asked.
It took Seth another half a minute before he could formulate the words. "You are, silly!"
"You didn't have to get me drunk to hook up with me, dope. That's why I'm here!"
And then Seth did a second thing that EJ didn't expect at all. Having finally caught his breath after the hysteria subsided, he rolled gracefully out of EJ's arms and wretched his guts out onto the pavement.