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CONTROL and KAOS
Theo got to band practice first on Monday, followed shortly thereafter by EJ, who was wearing a pair of blue sunglasses despite the fact that it was an overcast day and he was inside.
"Hey," EJ said, walking over after getting his tenor sax out of his locker.
"Hey," Theo said.
"Theo, right?" EJ asked. Theo nodded. "Thanks for taking care of Topher the other night."
"No problem," Theo said, fitting his clarinet together. They both took their reeds and popped them into the sides of their mouths. "And I'm guessing you took care of Seth, too."
EJ chuckled. "You didn't talk to him yesterday?" he asked.
"Nope. I called him but his mom said he wasn't feeling so good. I don't even know if he's in school today."
EJ told him of the events at the party after Theo had left. Theo used sucking at his reed as an excuse for not looking like he was pursing his lips in exasperation.
Seth walked into the room at that moment, looking slightly wan. Seeing EJ talking to Theo, he did his best to brighten up, dumped his knapsack in his locker, got his clarinet out, and walked over to them. "Cool glasses," he said.
"Thanks," EJ said. "You okay?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be okay?" Seth answered. Theo recognized the tone in his voice. It wasn't defensive. He was actually asking why he wouldn't be.
"No reason," EJ said. "You want to get together later?"
"Love to," Seth replied with a forced smile. "Which lunch do you have? If it's second lunch, we can get together then."
"Yeah, I eat second lunch, but I go out with Topher usually," EJ said.
"That's okay. I usually eat with Theo. The four of us can eat together."
"Deal," EJ said,as the music director began waving for silence. "Meet us in the lot. We'll take you out."
After the warm-ups and the first play-through of the march, Theo leaned over to Seth while the director addressed the low brass.
"Yeah, sure," he said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. "We can eat with them. Fine with me."
"Eye roll," Seth replied.
"We could get in trouble," Theo added. "We're not supposed to leave the campus."
"Don't worry about it," Seth said, looking over at EJ. "What's with the glasses?"
"I don't know. A bunch of guys have them on today."
"They're cool," Seth said. "Kind of sexy."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. So why didn't you call me yesterday?"
Seth turned to Theo. "Would you believe when I woke up I had been sold into white slavery in Mexico?"
Theo laughed. "No..."
"How about I was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning?"
"Closer," Theo said.
"I was so sick I thought I was going to Die? Then I got into the Fight of All Fights with my folks."
"There it is," Theo said. "And no wonder. You drank a lot. You still should have called. It would have been nice to have heard what happened from you."
Seth went pale. "Why," he asked. "What happened?"
"You don't remember?"
"Just bits and pieces. Did we hook up? I'd be so pissed if we hooked up and I missed it. I don't think that happened, though."
"Would you believe you..."
Seth cut him off by taking hold of Theo's upper arm. His eyes had gone wide. "Serious," he said. "What happened?"
"You didn't hook up," Theo said as the director called everyone back to attention, "you threw up."
"Oh, no," Seth whispered.
"Oh, yes," Theo said but was unable to finish because the director was about to start. He took his pencil as if he were marking his score and wrote, in clear block letters at the bottom, "on his sneakers."
Seth went completely white as the band played through the opening strains of Thunder and Blazes.
EJ and Topher got to the parking lot first. They had run into each other in the hall the period before and EJ had filled him in on their new lunch plans. They bumped knuckles when they met.
"You feeling better?" EJ asked as they started scanning the crowd walking into the lot.
"Yeah," Topher said. "Fuck, I was wasted."
"Yeah," EJ echoed. "You weren't alone. You sure it's all right if the boys come along? You okay with keeping the other one busy?"
"No problem," Topher said. "Theo's a good kid."
EJ spotted the boys coming out of the building, and caught Seth's eye. Seth waved and headed toward the pickup.
EJ turned to Topher. "We okay?" he asked seriously.
"Yeah, man," Topher said after a beat. "Not your fault. You were doing what you thought was right." The two looked at each other for a minute, each through his own pair of blue sunglasses.
EJ tried to gauge Topher's sincerity. It wasn't that Topher lied. Topher never lied to him. It was more that Topher wasn't always the best person to ask about how Topher was feeling. Sometimes it took him a while to figure out what he was feeling. Sometimes he thought he was fine when he really wasn't.
"Okay, man," EJ said, bumping knuckles with him again. "We can talk more about it later if you want."
The boys arrived. Theo smiled sweetly at Topher. Seth looked artificially cheery. Topher climbed into the bed of the pickup and motioned for Theo to follow him. Seth got into the passenger seat, and they were off.
"Nice glasses," Theo said to Topher. "What are they for?"
"It's a football psych," Topher said. "Everyone on the team is supposed to wear them today. It's 'cause we won on Friday." EJ pulled out of the lot and picked up speed. The wind forced the two boys closer to each other in order to be able to hear. "Look," Topher said, "I wanted to thank you for the party."
"No problem," said Theo. "What else was I going to do?"
"No," said Topher, "I don't just mean getting me home. Fuck, that was the least of it. I mean for...I don't know...for being there, you know? For listening."
Theo just smiled in response.
"It helped, too. It's different now."
"Yeah," Topher said. "Like the day after when you have the flu."
"Glad I could help," Theo said.
"If there's ever anything you need, you just tell me, 'kay? If anyone ever gives you any shit for anything. You know?"
Theo smiled again.
It was a nice smile, Topher thought. The kid was good looking, come to think of it. His large brown almondine eyes capped by thick high eyebrows and full luxuriant lashes gave him an open, sincere look. When relaxed, the middle of his upper lip tilted up a little, showing his two front teeth. His body could be okay too if he worked out. Topher found himself wondering what Theo's chest looked like.
Seth and EJ sat in the cab in silence for the first few minutes of the drive. Seth sat kitty-cornered against the door with his knee bent on the seat between them so he could look at EJ, who was driving with a self-satisfied little smirk on his face, waiting for Seth to talk. Seth frowned at the grin.
"So you're just going to wait for me to say something, is that it?" Seth finally asked.
"Yep," EJ said, the grin growing more pronounced.
Seth swore under his breath and waited another half a minute. "Okay," he said, conceding the round, "I'm really sorry I threw up on your shoes."
"Oh, dude," EJ replied delightedly, "you didn't throw up on my shoes."
"Theo said I did," Seth returned, confused.
"No, babe. You threw up in my shoes."
Seth rolled his eyes and turned to look out the passenger window. EJ laughed heartily. "It's okay, babe," he said, patting Seth's knee. "Really." He left his hand on the knee. When Seth didn't turn back, he gave it a gentle squeeze. "Really. It's mostly my fault anyway. I shouldn't have made you drink that much."
"You didn't make me," Seth said without turning back.
"Yeah I did. But you got me back good. We're even. It's okay."
Seth silently looked out his window as the trees sped by. They were just beginning to show signs of turning color. Every once in a while, he'd see an old oak with bits of yellow, or a maple considering a blush. EJ's hand remained on his knee. Seth extended his leg toward the driver's side by the tiniest amount.
"Really," EJ repeated. He rotated his hand so that his fingers were tickling the inside of Seth's thigh. "Were you serious about what you said?"
Seth finally turned to look. "Which thing?" he asked trepidantly.
EJ laughed again. "You don't remember, do you?"
Seth pursed his lips. "You think this is funny?"
Seth frowned and turned back to the window, pulling his knee away and crossing his legs away from EJ. EJ could have sworn he actually heard the kid mutter the word "mutter".
"What the fuck?" EJ said playfully, "It is funny!" Seth crossed his arms, closing himself off further. EJ looked over at him. "Babe, I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing at me!"
Seth had decided in English class that he was going to control their conversation through pissiness. This, however, was not what he had expected to hear. Despite his inclination to stay angry, he turned back to look at EJ.
"Why are you laughing at you?" he asked, again confused.
"Because I was such an idiot."
"You were an idiot?"
"Oh yeah! I'm, like, doing my suave best to get into your pants, and you hurl in my shoes."
"And how does that make you an idiot?" Seth asked dubiously. EJ stopped at a red light and turned to face him.
"Man, you don't remember, do you?" Seth stared back blankly. "See, I'm like, totally taken with you, right? So I think, how can I get him? How can I get him? and I come up with this great plan to get you drunk so you'll agree to hook up with me. And we spend this great night together, and I'm finally getting to be able to hold you, and you're like, so smooth and warm. And I keep feeding you more and more rum so you'll agree to go upstairs with me, and it turns out you wanted to anyway, and the whole plan was for shit, and all I got for my great idea was blue balls and green trainers."
Seth's eyes narrowed as he scrutinized EJ, but his lips betrayed a slight grin. "You were really taken with me?"
"And you did all that just so we could hook up?"
"Yep." The light turned green and EJ turned back to the road. Seth uncrossed his arms and put his knee back on the seat between them. EJ finished shifting and put his hand back on Seth's knee. "So you see why I think it's pretty funny? I usually don't have this kind of problem with hooking up with guys."
"Yeah," Seth allowed putting his hand on top of EJ's. "That is pretty funny."
The cool wind in the back had forced Topher and Theo into a corner of the bed of the pickup so they could hear each other. When they talked, they each turned so that they were mouth to ear.
"Did you talk with EJ yesterday? Are things okay?" Theo asked.
"We talked a little."
"Did you tell him you were pissed at him?"
Topher shrugged noncommittally.
"Well, you should," Theo continued. "You should tell people if you're angry at them."
Topher nodded, looking at the trees as they sped past.
"But you're not really angry at him, anyway, right?"
Topher looked at Theo and narrowed his eyes. "I'm not?" he asked.
"Naw. You're mad at her. Just feels like you're mad at him."
Topher stared at Theo for a moment. Finally, a slow, sideways grin spread across his face. He punched Theo playfully on the shoulder. "How did you get so smart?" He said.
"Ouch," Theo replied, rubbing his shoulder.
The truck pulled into the pizza shop lot, and the four piled out.
Emilio's was a favorite lunchtime haunt for upperclassmen with open campus privileges. Seth and Theo had been there plenty of times, of course, but never during school. It was filled with juniors and seniors they recognized from the halls, a good number of whom were wearing blue sunglasses. EJ and Topher greeted each of these with a hail and knuckle bump.
Seth and Theo stood in line while EJ and Topher schmoozed with their friends.
"You're looking cheerier," Theo said, leaning over conspiratorially.
"Oh, yeah," Seth answered with an easy smile. "Got it all planned out."
The guys joined them in line. EJ stood close behind Seth. Throwing his right arm over Seth's right shoulder, he found Seth's left nipple and tickled it a couple of times. Seth leaned back into him, making contact from chest to hips and reached up to hang onto EJ's forearm. It was strong and wiry under his hands. EJ rocked slightly back and forth a couple of times, bumping his groin into Seth's ass. Seth giggled.
EJ bent his head down so that he was speaking directly into Seth's right ear. "We are going to have such a good time," he whispered. Seth stroked EJ's forearm in response and pressed his hips back, mashing EJ's dick against his butt. He felt it pulse in reply.
The four of them ordered, found a table, and sat -- EJ and Topher opposite Seth and Theo. Automatically, all four started dabbing the excess oil off the pizza slices with paper napkins. This was par for the course at Emilio's, which was renowned throughout the county for the oil you could soak up off the top of pizzas. People one hundred miles away had been identified as being from their town by that peculiar custom.
For his part, Topher couldn't stop wondering what Theo looked like without his shirt. Once that idea had gotten into his head back in the cab of the pickup, it wouldn't leave. Theo noticed Topher repeatedly glancing at his chest and started to become self-conscious.
Meanwhile, in the silence that happens when boys begin to eat, Seth had surreptitiously slipped off his left shoe under the table, raised his foot into EJ's lap and was tickling his balls with his toes. EJ almost choked when the foot first arrived. His thighs snapped closed, trapping Seth's foot before it could find its mark. But Seth was smiling over his slices, watching EJ's face as he ate. He spiked his eyebrows up and down a couple of times, trying his best to look suggestive. EJ grinned from ear to ear and relaxed his legs, allowing Seth full access.
"You gotta work out," Topher finally said, unaware of the drama that was happening next to him.
"I do?" Theo asked.
"Yeah. You should. You got a good body. You could get some good definition. You ever lift?"
Theo turned to Seth. "I have a good body," he said as if it were an aside that only Seth and the TV viewing audience could hear.
"Conspiratorial wink," Seth replied.
"No," Theo said, turning back to Topher. "I don't know how. I'd probably drop the thing on my neck and decapitate myself."
"That's why you have a spotter," Topher said, always happy finally to be able to be the one who explains things. "See, this is what we do: we start you off on a simple program working two body parts a day. You can do four sets of, like, twelve, ten, eight and six reps, and we won't go 'till failure for a couple of weeks..."
EJ laughed at the expression of horror on Theo's face. "You're scaring him, dude."
"Naw, Theo's the Man," Topher said taking an enormous bite of his pizza. Theo looked over for help from Seth.
Seth smiled sweetly back. "Evidently, you're the man," he said.
"Max!" Theo mouthed. "Help!"
"Theo usually comes over my house after dinner and we do homework," Seth said turning back to the senior side of the table and unable to think of anything better.
"Maybe I could too," EJ said. "I got some work I need help with."
Seth smiled, ran his toes along the length of EJ's woody and began to rotate his foot around the tip. The motion caught Topher's eye. He pushed away the table cloth and saw what was happening in his friend's lap.
"Jesus fucking Christ," he said, half disgusted by the public display -- not his style at all -- and half amused by his friend's uncanny ability to get it from anyone he wanted it from. "I'm eating, here."
EJ patted Seth's foot, and gently pushed it off his seat. Seth flashed his dimples at being caught.
"Good job, Max," Theo said.
"Almost got away with it, 99," Seth replied. "Missed it by that much." Instead of indicating a half an inch between with his thumb and forefinger, he indicated a good eight inches between his two palms. Theo gagged on his pizza trying not to laugh.
"What the fuck are you two talking about?" Topher said.
"We watch a lot of TVLand when we do our homework," Theo said, trying to regain his composure. "You know. Sitcoms from the sixties and seventies and stuff. Mostly Get Smart. Sometimes we try to...I don't know...challenge each other with obscure references. Just a game we play. Don't worry about it."
The conversation continued easily among the four of them. Theo figured he had managed to avoid the subject until they were half way home.
"So seriously," Topher said into his ear as they rode in the back of the pickup, "you going to work out with me?"
They turned heads so that Theo could answer. Topher had curly yellow sideburns where he let them grow. Below that, Theo could see the bright stubble where he shaved. It covered a large round muscle on the side of his jaw which helped make what would otherwise be a thin face more square. Jesus, Theo thought, even his jaw has muscles. The blue of the sunglasses intensified the blue of his eyes as he waited patiently for an answer. Theo's resolve melted.
"Well, I think it's probably a monumentally bad idea, but yeah. I guess I will."
"Word!" Topher said happily, throwing his arm around Theo's shoulders and drawing Theo's head to his chest in a playful headlock. He threw in a couple of light nuggies for good measure. It was a combination of moves whose intentions Theo would spend the rest of the afternoon questioning. "Come over after dinner. You know where I live?"
"I've been there," Theo reminded Topher's left nipple.
"Oh, yeah!" Topher tousled Theo's hair and let him go. "See you at 8:00 then."
In the cab, EJ and Seth had picked up right where they had left off in the restaurant. Seth hadn't bothered to buckle in, sidling over to sit next to EJ instead. He had never been in a truck that was old enough to have a bench in front rather than two seats. It was kind of fun. In return, EJ put his right arm around Seth's shoulders and drew him even closer. Except for the constant need to readjust to shift, it was a very comfortable arrangement. They chatted about nothing for the ride back to the campus. When they pulled into the lot and parked, Seth turned to face EJ, tilted his head back, and shut his eyes.
EJ got the message and complied. Their kiss was tender and sharing. Seth was more of a participant than when he had been drunk, but he still let EJ's tongue do most of the heavy lifting. EJ, holding onto Seth's back while he explored with his mouth, could actually feel Seth melt. When he finished the kiss, they both needed a moment just to breathe.
"So," EJ said not letting Seth out of his embrace, "when we gonna hook up? I can't walk around with a hard-on all the time like this."
"And quite a hard-on it is!" Seth exclaimed giddily as he tickled the length of it through EJ's jeans.
"It's yours, babe. Just give the when and where."
"That depends," Seth said, breaking free from EJ's arms and opening the door.
"Yeah?" EJ asked. "On what?"
"On how nice you are to me." Seth shot a dazzling display of dimple across EJ's bow. "Thanks for lunch!" he said, and, to EJ's consternation, tripped happily back toward the school.