"So be advised that there will be several unscheduled fire drills over the next few days. In other announcements..."
Ms. Raymond stopped. Two seats down from the front, one of her homeroom students was sound asleep in the second row. No -- worse than that. Asleep and snoring!
She tsk'd-tsk'd. "Mr. Callahan! Rise and shine!"
No response. Dylan was dead to the world. She leaned forward with her ever-present yardstick. Suddenly, a sonic boom caused him to jerk out of his seat, and he staggered to his feet as the class exploded with laughter.
Dylan blinked his eyes. There was his homeroom teacher standing right next to him, scowling and idly tapping her yardstick on her left palm.
The teacher raised an eyebrow. "Dylan? Just a word of advice: can you please try to do more of your sleeping at home, and less of it in my classroom?"
Dylan nodded, then yawned and sat down. Just as the teacher started to add another remark, the 1st period bell sounded and the students scurried for the door.
This day is gonna be royally fucked, he thought to himself as he grabbed his books and made it out to the hallway. He looked over his shoulder at Ms. Raymond, who gave him a stern look, then shook her head and sat back down at his desk.
Dylan sighed. He'd been so exhausted that morning, he'd called Kyle to cancel their early-morning run, just to try to get an extra half-hour sleep -- something he'd only done twice before, when he'd been too sick to make it. He felt a pang of guilt, but he also knew it was unavoidable.
"Dude!" yelled a voice from the hallway. He looked up just as Bryce, one of the 2nd-string centers, jogged up to him and grinned. "Sorry I couldn't make the party on Saturday, man. I didn't get a chance to tell ya how cool that play was in the game last week."
Dylan nodded weakly. "Yeah. I'm lucky Coach didn't kick my ass out for real."
The athlete looked at him. "You don't look so good, man. What's up?"
"I've been havin' trouble sleepin' lately. Lotta shit goin' on. Anyway, I gotta split. Later, dude. See ya at practice."
Dylan made his way out into a sea of students that jammed the crowded hallway. Like many LA schools, Chatsworth High was maxed-out in enrollment. Even ten newly-added portable buildings could barely handle their current student load, and the classrooms were completely filled to capacity. It made getting to classes like battling a human obstacle course, particularly when your schedule required you to go from one extreme end of the campus to the other in the allotted five minutes between periods.
He shook his head again, then grabbed a quick gulp from a water fountain just outside the hallway leading to the J building, where his first class, Humanities, was located. Just as the stream of cool water hit his mouth, somebody tapped him on the shoulder.
"Dylan? Dylan Callahan?"
He looked up, and saw a skinny boy about his age, with bright red spiked hair and an almost-goatee on his chin.
The boy grinned and stuck out his hand.
"Hi! I'm Sean McIntosh. I'm editor of the Chatsworth High Chronicle, and I wanted to see if you'd let us interview you for the school paper."
Dylan frowned, but reluctantly shook his hand. "Listen, uh, I kinda have to get to my next class. Can we do this..."
"Sure, sure," Sean said, hurriedly. "Look, can you maybe come by the office during lunch today? I only need to ask you a half-dozen questions for the story, just some background fill-in stuff. We want to do a story on your touchdowns from last Friday."
He shook his head. "I dunno, man. Coach was ready to kill me, and he only barely let me back on the team as it was."
"I know," Sean replied. "We already interviewed Coach Highland. Don't worry -- our staff advisor censors the shit out of everything we write, anyway. We don't exactly get 'freedom of the press' around here." He sighed, then nervously pushed his glasses back up on the bridge of his nose.
Dylan began quickly walking down the hall, and Sean trotted up and jogged alongside him, carrying a load of books under his arm.
"We just want to get your side of what happened at the game. You know -- human interest, and all that crap. I promise, we're not out to make anybody look bad."
Dylan reached the door to his Humanities classroom, then looked up at the hallway clock and stopped. Just one more minute to the bell.
"Uh, look... What's your name again?"
He looked at the boy. "Right -- Sean. I really don't know... I'm kinda busy, and..."
Sean's face fell. Dylan gave him a glance, then surrendered.
"...oh, alright," he continued. "But just for ten minutes, okay?"
The boy grinned. "Yeah. That'd be fabulous! That's 12:30 in the Chronicle office, room C-8, right next door to the library. Thanks, Dylan!"
* * * * *
Dylan wolfed his way through lunch, nervously glancing at his watch. 12:25. He had just enough time to make it to the newspaper office and give the twerp 10 minutes.
"So what's this editor guy gonna ask ya?" asked Kyle, as he stabbed the last slab of meatloaf on his plate.
"Who the fuck knows?" replied Dylan. He stood up, wiped off his mouth with a napkin and grabbed his tray. "I'll just try to get through it without stepping on my dick too much."
Kyle laughed hysterically and started choking. "DUDE! Not -- cough -- when I got a mouthful of food!"
Dylan grinned and shook his head, then ran up to the front of the cafeteria, tossed his tray in the stack, and tore off down the hall. A minute later, he made it to door C-8, which was bannered with a sign: "Chatsworth High Chronicle Office." Dylan braced himself, then knocked tentatively. It opened immediately.
"Hey! You made it on-time. Thanks again for doing this," said Sean, who led him inside.
Dylan glanced around the small office. A series of ugly gray and white pipes crisscrossed the ceiling. Four antiquated computers and monitors were arranged haphazardly on tables placed on opposites sides of the room, along with several laser printers and scanners, and mock-ups of that week's issue were pinned to a large drawing board. Several lonely and abandoned awards were on a shelf at the back, the most recent being from 1996: "Runner-Up for Best Editorial -- Southern California Division."
"I know, it's not much," said Sean with a shrug. "It's just me, another guy, and two girls. That's the whole staff. It takes a lotta work to get the thing out every week, even though it's only 8 pages. Let's do it in my office over here."
Dylan followed Sean into a smaller room to the left, which held a small desk with a keyboard and a monitor. The boy sat down and gestured towards the only other chair in the room, then began fiddling with a small cassette recorder on the tabletop.
Dylan looked up at the wall behind Sean's desk and froze. There was a large framed black and white poster of a strikingly-handsome athlete, wearing only a pair of loose-fitting blue jeans. The young man was completely ripped: sweating, straining muscles and sinews bulged from every inch of his body, and he was carrying two large black rubber tires. A silver dog-tag hung from a chain around his neck, dangling on his powerful chest, marred only by a few smudges of black oil, which seemed to enhance the image's eroticism.
Shit, thought Dylan, as he stared at the poster. And I thought I was buff.
"Okay, we're all ready," said Sean. He clicked a button on the machine and placed it directly in-between them, in the middle of the desk, then picked up a steno pad and pen. He cleared his throat and began. "This is an interview with 2nd-string quarterback Dylan Callahan, on October 9th. So, Dylan, how long have you been on the team?"
Dylan blinked, then looked down at the boy. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
Sean chuckled. "Cool picture, isn't it?" he said, nodding his head behind him.
"Yeah," Dylan replied, quickly looking away. "I guess so. Anyway, you were saying..."
"It's by Herb Ritts. He's a famous photographer. That one's one of my favorites. It's in all kinds of art galleries and stuff, won all kinds of awards. Ritts is known for that kinda material -- you know... erotic stuff."
There was something about the way Sean said those last few words, as if he was trying to share some kind of intimate secret with him. Dylan didn't like where the conversation was headed.
"Look, uh... let's just stick to football," he said, quickly.
"Sure -- okay. So, you've been on the team for two years?"
"No. Just this year. I was on JV last year."
"Got it." He jotted something on his pad, then pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. "And you're from where? Phoenix?"
"Yeah. But I'm here now," he said, irritated.
"Right. And now you're 2nd-string quarterback and ball holder for the team." Sean grinned.
Again, there was a subtle emphasis in the last few words. What was this guy tryin' to say?, Dylan thought.
Sean paused, leaned back in his chair, and gave Dylan a long hard look, eying him from his shoes to his head. Dylan suddenly felt like he was being mentally undressed, maybe even compared with the poster-boy.
He stood up. "Look, Sean -- let's just get this over with. It's simple: I screwed up at the game. I acted like a jerk, I used bad judgment, and Coach was right. I just kinda got carried away. It won't happen again. There. That's your interview."
Sean looked up at him, startled. "No, wait! I just need some background details..."
Dylan stormed out of the office and started to open the door that led out to the hallway. Sean jumped up from behind his desk and put his hand out against the door, shutting it.
"Listen, Dylan. I only have a couple more questions. We've still got a couple of minutes 'till 5th period."
"No," said Dylan, icily. "Coach is mad enough as it is. I don't want to say anything that'll make it worse. Whatever he says is what happened. I'm just glad he gave me the opportunity to stay on the team."
"Okay, I'll put that in the article. But look -- just give me two more questions."
"Alright. But just two."
Sean looked at Dylan carefully, then took a deep breath. "You think there's any gay athletes here at Chatsworth High?"
Dylan froze. Was it that obvious? he thought. He felt a roaring sound in his ears, and fought the urge to flee for his life and race through the hallway.
"I have no idea," he said, forcing his voice to stay calm. "I guess it's... possible."
"Experts say 10% of most guys have gay tendencies, especially for teenagers," said Sean, taking a step forward. "So it's more than a possibility."
"I wouldn't know." Dylan prayed that Sean wasn't close enough to hear his heart pounding like a jack-hammer.
"I would. You know about the GSA?"
Dylan shook his head.
"It's the Gay-Straight Alliance," explained Sean, pointing to a small rainbow-bannered poster on a nearby wall. "It's for high school kids to meet and try to understand their feelings, to get past stereotypes... stuff like that. I'm the student president of the group here."
Dylan slowly turned the door handle behind his back. "I don't know anything about it."
Sean sighed. "Look, don't freak out on me, Dylan. It's not that big a deal. We've got a few straight kids who come to our meetings, too. Or maybe people who haven't made up their minds. It's every other Monday afternoon at 4PM, in the library. It'd really be kinda cool if maybe, you know... one of the jocks would maybe come in sometime and hear what we had to say."
Dylan quickly opened the door. "I've got practice every day. Maybe some other time." More like never, he thought, as he hurried into the hallway.
"Thanks for the interview!" called Sean, watching Dylan disappear into the crowd.
Sean shook his head, closed the door, then walked back to his desk and looked up at the poster. There's definitely something going on with Dylan, he mused. My gaydar's on red alert.
Dylan tore down the curved corridor at top speed, dashed across the quad, then ran over to building J, where his book locker was located. He quickly dialed the combination, then froze. What if there's another note inside?
Bracing himself for the worst, he slowly opened the door. Nothing. Just a stack of the usual books, a box of spare pens at the back, two snapshots of Tracy, and a picture of him and Kyle from last summer, with his best friend holding two fingers behind his head like Devil's horns.
Dylan grinned and let out a sigh of relief. Maybe things would be okay this week after all. Just as the bell rang, he grabbed his American History book, slammed the door, and continued over to building H.
* * * * *
By the end of October, Dylan began to relax. Two weeks had passed without incident. The weather was finally cooling off, and while the Santa Ana winds were beginning to rear up, roaring through the West valley, things at school seemed to be settling into a routine. Even Coach Highland seemed to be giving them a break. They'd won their last two games -- though Dylan continued to sit out on the bench -- and the team led their division, for the first time in years.
But Dylan was content. His grades were decent, and his parents were leaving him alone for a change. Most importantly, he had Angel. After a particularly rough day at school, he and his boyfriend decided to use the outdoor family jacuzzi -- but only after Angel promised to keep his hands to himself.
"C'mon, lil' dude," he whispered, sitting next to him in the bubbling waters, which reflected shafts of gold and yellow from the setting sun on the horizon. "My folks are gonna be home any minute."
Angel grinned, then made a little grab under water.
"Ooof!" Dylan winced. "Angel! Save it for later, 'kay?"
The boy slid closer, then started to put his right arm around Dylan's shoulder.
"Dylan! We're home!" yelled a nearby voice.
Both boys immediately slid apart by several feet and looked up just as Dylan's mother stepped out onto the patio. She smiled.
"Hello! You're Angel, aren't you? I've heard all about you. How are you?"
Angel smiled. "Hi. I'm fine. You have a great place, Mrs. Callahan. And you look really cool! That's a dynamite outfit."
She laughed. "Dylan, is this boy Angel, or is he Eddie Haskell?"
Both boys looked confused.
She shook her head. That was from another time, another era, she thought. "Don't worry about it," she said over her shoulder, as she stepped back into the kitchen. "Tell your friend he can stay for dinner if he wants something to eat."
"I'll tell you what I really wanna eat," Angel whispered, moving closer to Dylan.
"Wait 'till later," Dylan said hoarsely.
Angel pulled him towards him and kissed him roughly.
"NO!" cried Dylan as he shoved him away, then immediately regretted his outburst.
Angel glared at him for a moment. "Fuck you," he spat, starting up the steps.
Dylan sloshed through the water and caught up with him. "Look -- Angel, I already explained it to you," he said quietly. "My mom and dad don't know anything about... you know. They wouldn't understand."
Angel sulked. "My mom knows all about me," he said icily. "And she doesn't give a shit."
"Great for you. But you're not me, man! Just let me handle this my way. Look, let's just go up to my room and get dressed for dinner, 'kay?"
The boy nodded glumly and followed him up the steps. Lady trotted over from her nearby doghouse, which was directly under the eaves of the guesthouse, and started to walk into the kitchen with them.
"No, Lady!" snapped Dylan, grabbing onto her collar with his hand. The dog looked up at him and whimpered mournfully.
"Can't she come inside?" asked Angel.
Dylan shook his head. "Mom's allergic. We gotta keep Lady out here, or Mom'll kill us."
Angel dropped to one knee and gave the dog a hug. Lady gratefully slurped on the boy's face, and he giggled.
"I'll slip ya some steak later on," he whispered to the dog.
Dylan laughed. "I'm the one who's gonna slip you some meat later on," he whispered.
They both laughed.
* * * * *
After a brief shower in Dylan's bathroom, they got their clothes back on. Dylan stood in the mirror, combing his hair, and Angel casually walked around the room, eying each shelf.
"Wow," he said, looking through the row after row of videos and CDs. "It's like you've got your own Blockbuster in here!" he marveled. "You've got every movie ever made!"
Dylan laughed. "Naw. That would be my Dad. He's the big movie fan. You oughta see his set-up downstairs. He's got a big home theater room, theater seats... even a popcorn machine, the whole deal. I'll give ya the demo sometime."
"Cool." Angel sidled over to a nearby desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of eyeglasses. "Hey! Since when do you wear glasses?"
"I used to. Dad let me get Laser-K a year and a half ago, along with him and Mom. Now I'm 20/20 without contacts. I couldn't wear glasses and play football too well, so this worked pretty well for me."
Angel looked up at him and smiled. "Yeah. I really like your eyes," he said softly.
Dylan's face reddened, then he smiled. "But they're not as cool as yours, lil' dude." Like glittering emeralds, he thought.
"Thanks. That's what everybody says."
Angel turned and sat down in the chair, then hit a few buttons on the keyboard. "Hey, you're runnin' OSX!" he said, staring at the 20" flat-screen display. "We don't even have that on the Macs at school yet."
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. Dad's state-of-the-art in all that electronics shit. I guess it's cool."
"You mind if I check my Hotmail account on the Net?"
"Go ahead," Dylan replied. "Just don't get any viruses!"
The boy laughed and hit a few keys and clicked the mouse. After a few moments, he shook his head. "Naaa. Nothin'. I was kinda hopin' my Dad would send me somethin'." He sat and stared sadly at the screen.
Dylan stopped. Angel had never talked about his father before. He walked over and leaned on the desk.
"Hey. Don't feel bad, li'l dude. I'm sure your Dad loves ya, and all that."
Angel nodded, then hit a few more keys and the computer screen went to black. "Yeah, right. He's supposed to visit me once a month in California, but he hasn't even done that yet."
Suddenly, the telephone intercom chirped. "Dylan! Supper-time, baby doll," said Yolanda through the speaker.
"We'll be right down, Yo'."
* * * * *
Dylan was surprised by Angel's total change of personality at the dinner table. It was like a pod-person had replaced his rambunctious friend: the boy was quiet, respectful, and even knew just what to say to his father.
"I think AOL-Time Warner's gonna tank," said Angel, reaching for a second helping of green peas. "They're over-extended, the studio hasn't had a hit all year, and the cable division has topped out. I think the CEO's gonna be history by December."
Mr. Callahan stared at the young boy, then burst out laughing. "Do you have relatives in the business, Angel?" he asked, bemusedly.
The boy shook his head. "Naaa. But I read the paper every day. That was on the front page of the business section on Monday."
Business section?, thought Dylan. He was lucky just to glance at the front page and the sports, and that's only if he could get to it before Yolanda tossed it into the trash compactor.
"I had no idea Dylan's friends were that astute," chuckled Mrs. Callahan. "I hope you can get our son interested in my husband's business. Angel. Oh, Yolanda?"
The maid looked up from the counter overlooking the dining room. "Yes, Mrs. Callahan?"
"I think we're about ready for dessert." She looked across at Angel and smiled. "It's apple pie ala mode tonight."
Angel's face brightened. "Hey, that's great! That's my favorite!"
Dylan stared at him. Angel had told him on two previous occasions that he couldn't stand apples. What the fuck was this kid doing?, he thought, shaking his head in disbelief. Maybe he's just trying to make a good impression.
* * * * *
After dinner, they trudged up the stairs to his room. On the way, Dylan stopped and leaned over the banister. "Mom? We'll be in my room studying, if you need me."
"Just be sure to keep it down!" yelled his father.
"I can't keep it down as it is!" whispered Angel as he poked Dylan's posterior, causing him to burst out in a fit of laughter.
Once inside the bedroom, Dylan quickly locked the door and flicked out the overhead light, then turned to Angel, who was smiling seductively at him.
"Let me do it," he said, quietly. The boy reached out and unbuttoned Dylan's shirt, then stepped forward and kissed him deeply, maneuvering his tongue just as the older boy opened his mouth.
"Mmmmph," said Dylan, letting his shirt slip to the floor.
Angel reached down and undid his belt, unbuttoned his pants, then dropped to his knees. He leaned forward and slowly pulled down Dylan's zipper with his teeth.
"Fuck! You've been practicing!" whispered Dylan.
"Saw it in a movie," he mumbled, then released the zipper. He yanked Dylan's pants down the rest of the way, freeing his erection, which was fully aroused. Dylan let his pants drop to his ankles, then deftly kicked them to the other side of the room.
"Two points!" he said, laughing. "Aren't you gonna get undressed?"
"Shut up, slave!" whispered Angel, gently pushing the naked teen over to the bed. "I give the orders around here."
Dylan laughed and pulled the boy close to him. "Anything you say. You're the boss, lil' dude." He kissed him deeply and Angel giggled with delight.
* * * * *
The game that Friday night was exceptional. They were now officially 6 and 0 for the season, with one game tied, making them second only to their arch-rival King High, across the Valley. Just four more games to go, and they'd be a shoe-in for the state finals.
Back in the locker room, Dylan leaned up against the tile wall and let the hot water rush down on him like a waterfall. He sighed. It'd been a great game. Too bad he couldn't have been a part of it. Coach had reluctantly let him go in for a few minutes at the end of the 3rd quarter, but only under strict instructions only to do the coach's plays. Dylan did as he was ordered, but couldn't manage to score even once, even though they'd gained some yardage.
"Tough luck," Coach Highland had said, clapping him on the shoulder. "We'll have to work on our offensive line on Monday. But you did your job, Dylan. Keep at it, son."
Fuck you, Highland, he thought. The hot steam in the shower felt great. That last tackle had really taken the wind out of him, and his back still hurt. Those King High players were unmerciful. He felt like a steamroller had pulverized him into the turf. If Coach had only just let him play it his way...
"Hey, dude," said a weary voice from the shower to his left. He looked up to see Kyle turn on the spray. There was an ugly purple-and-yellow welt on his right shoulder.
"Fuck!" said Dylan, staring at his friend's bruises. "I guess I shouldn't feel too sorry for myself, huh?"
Kyle laughed, then winced. "Yeah. They kicked the living shit outta me in our next to last play, with like 30 seconds to go. That was just chickenshit, too -- we were already winnin' by 13 points! Assholes. I'll have to ice this thing down all weekend. Count me out for Sunday's workout." He closed his eyes and let the hot water splash down over his head.
They stood in silence as the other players entered the shower, talking and muttering. Even though Chatsworth had won the game, their spirits were pretty low. Coach Highland was beating them up every day at practice, constantly criticizing their every move, as if nothing they did was ever good enough. Their previous coach, Wilson, had the opposite tactic: praise 'em when they did it right, then firmly correct them when they were wrong. But Highland had become the evil stepfather, right out of a fairy tale.
Steam billowed up throughout the shower as the other players filed in, nursing their wounds. Dylan idly glanced up and began staring at his friend next to him just as Kyle lathered up his body. Suddenly, it was if he could see Kyle in slow motion, with each drop of water frozen in time. Fuck, he thought. Kyle's body was every bit as well-muscled as his own, with bulging pecs, massive shoulders, and powerful arms rippled with veins. Kyle's body had virtually no body hair, save for a few blond tufts below his belly-button, leading to a light-brown thicket at the base of his crotch. God. I never really noticed how great Kyle looked.
Suddenly, to his shock, he felt his groin surge and his heart pound.
NO! he screamed to himself. Not here!
"See ya at the car," he said, quickly slipping his towel around his waist and shutting off the water.
"What?" yelled Kyle behind him, his eyes filled with soap.
Dylan rushed to his locker, desperately praying that his erection would subside by the time he pulled his clothes out. He deftly slid his rigid member sideways, making sure it didn't tent out and reveal his shameful secret. I've never gotten a boner in gym before, he thought. What's wrong with me?
"Hey, man!" called out Buck Johnson from across the aisle. "You dudes wanna hang with us over at Caballero Rancho?"
He looked up, momentarily startled. He prayed Buck wouldn't be able to see the bulge under his towel.
"Uh, maybe," he said casually over his shoulder. He flipped the dial on his lock, and carefully kept his back to the room. "Where's that again?"
"It's that new Rave in the West valley. It moves around all the time, jes' to keep it on the D-L. Tonight it's gonna be somewhere over on Sherman Way, near Canby. Here's the flyer."
The huge linebacker leaned over and handed him a small red flyer, emblazoned with the logo "Rancho Caballero -- A Good Time to Be Had by All, and Yo Mama."
Must be 21 to enter, he read. He chuckled. He'd been to a few raves before, and nobody had ever even checked an ID. Maybe I need to get wasted tonight, he thought.
"Yeah, sure," he replied, still flipping the dial. "Sounds cool." The lock finally clicked, and he opened the door and reached in for his shirt. His heart stopped when his fingers met paper instead of cloth.
"Dude!" yelled a voice behind him. He turned just as Kyle pulled off his towel.
Shit, he thought. Kyle's dick looks almost as hard as mine. Then he shook his head. What am I thinking?
"I'm up for this rave thing if you wanna go," Kyle said, idly tossing his towel on his locker door and reaching for his underwear. "It's up to you, man."
"Yeah," nodded Dylan nervously. "Sure." He casually shoved the piece of paper to the back of the locker and grabbed his own underwear. Luckily, he was flaccid again. That was too close, he thought.
"You and Trace wanna go out tomorrow night?" quipped Kyle, as he pulled his shirt down over his head. "I can give what's-her-name a call, if you wanna double-date. Joanne."
"Yeah. We can see that new Ben Affleck movie if you want."
"That'd be cool," Kyle replied, pulling up his boxers.
Dylan zipped up his pants and glanced over at Buck, who had an ear-to-ear grin on his face.
Kyle laughed. "Hey, man! What's your problem?"
"Nothin'," the large teen replied, pointing to Kyle. "But you got a big problem. Actually a little problem, if you ask me."
Seizing his chance, Dylan surreptitiously took the piece of paper from his locker and slipped it into his pants pocket.
Kyle looked around. "What problem?"
Buck laughed uproariously. "Put the mouse back in the house, you homo!" he laughed, gesturing to Kyle's crotch.
Kyle looked down, then embarrassedly shoved the head of his penis back inside the flap of his boxers. "So what are you doin' lookin' down there?" he taunted.
The huge lineman rolled his eyes. "Oh, shaddup, man. It's not like anybody would've noticed somethin' that small!"
"It is not!" Kyle protested.
Looked pretty big to me, thought Dylan.
"Shit, man!" laughed Buck. "Mine was that big when I was five years old, and that's a fact." Lamont walked up behind him laughing, and the two high-fived each other.
Kyle grinned. "Yeah, but I'm still pretty fly for a white guy, right?"
"I say you're an asshole, especially on that last reception you fucked up, McDermott!" yelled out Charlie Stephenson, walking up to Kyle. Charlie had thrown all the winning passes in the game that night, and wasn't about to let anybody forget it. "I'm tired of carrying you dick-heads every game!"
Buck and Lamont, the team's two biggest linebackers, chortled. "I ain't seen you carry none of us yet, Stephenson!"
Charlie grinned. "Chill out. I just mean these douche-bags over there," he said, gesturing to Dylan and Kyle. "They're a buncha loads. I say, you two pay for drinks at Caballero's -- got it?"
"No problem," called Dylan, trying desperately to stay calm as he walked to the restroom. "Lemme hit the can, and we'll go."
His heart was pounding in his ears. He quickly ducked into one of the stalls, closed and locked the door, sat down on one of the toilet seats, and reached for the piece of paper in his pocket. His hands were shaking as he unfolded it. In the dim light of the toilet, he read:
WHAT ARE YOU GONNA
WHEN EVERYBODY FINDS
YOU SUCK DICK?
GET AIDS AND DIE
WHEN EVERYBODY FINDS OUT
YOU SUCK DICK?
GET AIDS AND DIE
Dylan was reeling. He felt his stomach churn, then quickly rolled off the toilet and vomited, several times, into the bowl.
"Dude?" called Kyle from outside. "You okay in there?"
"Yeah," he said in a low voice. "Just... lemme finish in here. I'll meet you by the car in a couple minutes."
Dylan grabbed a piece of toilet paper and wiped off his face. He winced at the taste of bile burning in his mouth and throat, then stood up and stared at the note again.
What do they want from me?
* * * * *
The music inside the warehouse was deafening. The floor throbbed with the pulse of the beat, and hypnotic laser lights ricocheted through hazy waves of smoke. Over a thousand teenagers were jammed up against each other on the dance floor, and the heat from their bodies radiated waves of sweat and intensity. A fully-stocked bar was against one wall, while a DJ near the other wall had several mobile racks of turntables, CD players, and amplifiers.
"Cool, ain't it?" said Kyle, sipping an ice-cold Corona.
Dylan gazed across the room. From the outside, the place had looked like a typical disheveled Van Nuys warehouse building, with a faded "For Lease" billboard on the roof. From the inside, though, it was an entirely different world. It was as if somebody grabbed a balls-to-the-wall nightclub and just plopped it down, materializing right out of thin air. And yet by the next day, the place would be completely empty, as if someone waved a magic wand and turned Cinderella's carriage back to a pumpkin.
"How do they get away with this?" he hollered over the din. "I mean... isn't this illegal?"
Kyle shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows? Let's just enjoy it while we're here."
Dylan nodded, then leaned over to check his wristwatch in the dim light. 11:14. He sighed. What the hell, he thought. We can hang here for an hour or so, then get home before the folks panic.
"Hey, Kyle!" yelled a familiar-sounding voice.
Dylan and Kyle looked up as John Kincaid, star player from the team last year, waded through the crowd. He was wearing a UCLA Bruins letter jacket, and had medium-length stylish brown hair, precisely framing his handsome, angular face.
"Yo, dude!" yelled Kyle over the din. "Johnny! How ya doin'? What's happenin' at UCLA? You playin' yet?"
The tall, athletic 18 year-old shook his head. "I'm still a red-shirt freshman. If I'm lucky, they'll move me up to varsity next year, or maybe when I'm a junior. I warn you guys -- it's real tough, once you get outta high school. It's not like it was back at Chatsworth."
They nodded their heads. Both knew that the world of college sports was on a completely different level where they were at now. Despite the fact that Kincaid came in as runner-up for "High School Quarterback of the Year" in their division, he was practically a nobody, now that he was a university freshman.
"You doin' okay, man?" asked Kyle, concern in his voice.
Dylan raised an eyebrow. Kyle and John had been close friends over the previous summer. For awhile, Dylan had been a little jealous of the amount of time Kyle spent with Kincaid, but he chalked that up to their mutual interest in getting wasted on the weekend.
Kincaid nodded. "Yeah, I'm cool. I got some stuff tonight to ease the pain."
He reached in his pocket and pulled out half-a-dozen small pills, then stuck his palm out.
Dylan looked down. Each of the pills resembled a green cloverleaf from a popular children's breakfast cereal.
"I take it those aren't Lucky Charms?" yelled Dylan over the thunderous music.
The older athlete looked at him incredulously. "You're kidding. You've never had any 'X'?"
Dylan shook his head, while Kyle laughed.
"I told you before, Johnny -- Dylan's weird about this shit. He's like 'Mister Straight.' I have trouble even gettin' him to drink beer!"
Kincaid laughed and clapped Dylan on the shoulder. "Here, man," he said, handing Dylan a small pill. "You look a little down. This'll definitely put a little love in your heart. Great shit, too. Go for it, dude!"
Dylan nodded and eyed the tablet warily. It looked so dull and unassuming. What could it hurt?
Then he remembered the blackmail note again, and his stomach lurched. Better not try this tonight, he thought. I'm wacked enough as it is. He knew enough about Ecstasy to know that now wasn't the best time for him to take anything.
"What the hell," he lied, as he palmed the pill in his hand and feinted taking it in his mouth, then followed it with a mouthful of Cerveza. "How long before this shit takes effect?" he asked, deftly moving his right hand down and slipping the pill into his side picket.
"Give it 10 minutes -- 15, tops," yelled the athlete over the music.
Kyle grinned. "Anyway, bud, the team's doin' just great -- even without 'King John'," he laughed, invoking Kincaid's nickname as the quarterback the year before.
John laughed. "Yeah. By the way, I was really sorry to hear about Latrelle. They totally hung all that shit on Coach Wilson, too. That's a buncha bullshit. That wasn't his fault."
All three were silent, and continued to look out on the dance floor for a few moments.
"To Latrelle!" said Kincaid loudly, holding out his bottle.
"To Latrelle," they said, clinking their beers together. I hope you're havin' a lot more real ecstasy than we are, thought Dylan.
* * * * *
By 12:45AM, Dylan had had enough. Despite his popularity at school, Dylan found most of the faces at the club to be unfamiliar. Aside from a half-dozen players from the team, most of the teens were from nearby schools in Canoga Park and Woodland Hills. He'd lost track of John and Kyle, who were on the other side of the dance floor a half hour ago. Dylan had spent the last fifteen minutes talking with Bobby Guiterro and Charlie Stephenson from the team. Bobby had monopolized most of the conversation, whining about his break-up with his girlfriend the week before.
Dylan sighed and rubbed his eyes. The club's inside temperature had risen dramatically, the dance music was pounding even harder now, and his brain seemed to throb with every beat. I'm gonna have a major fuckin' headache tomorrow morning, he thought, finishing the last of his beer -- his third of the night. He tossed the bottle into a nearby metal barrel, and the glass quietly shattered -- barely a murmur against the thunderous roar of the music blasting out from the loudspeakers.
"Dude!" called a voice from the crowd. "Where ya been, man?"
It was Kyle, who by this point, had shed his T-shirt and was dancing like a half-naked maniac on the dance floor. With him was Randi Weber, one of the wilder girls from school, who was gyrating like a stripper. Kyle grinned at him and sang along with the music -- an extended dance mix of 'N Sync's "Bringin' Da Noise," which he'd heard from their last album.
Dylan stared at his friend's body. Sweat oozed from every pore, and his skin was illuminated in a shimmering, hazy blue glow. Kyle's muscles rippled and glistened as he bounced around the girl, completely immersing himself in the music. Shit, he thought. I never knew Kyle could dance that well.
"We really oughta go, man!" Dylan called over the din.
Randi pulled the shirtless athlete towards her and giggled. "I think your friend is a party poop!"
Kyle laughed. "You'd like him if you got to know him!" he yelled, just as he spun around in a whirl and held his arms over his head.
Dylan rolled his eyes. "Dude! Meet me at the car in five minutes!" he called over his shoulder.
He eased his way through the crowd. An hour ago, he thought the place was filled to capacity. Now, he estimated there were at least another 500 drunken teenagers pushing their way in. He wiped some sweat off his forehead. It must be at least 95 degrees in here already, he thought.
A metal sign to the far left of the exit showed the international symbol for 'Men,' and he turned and entered the bathroom. The place was dimly-lit and empty. Half a dozen wet paper towels and tissue papers lay on the concrete floor, and a noxious stench filled his nostrils. Dylan wrinkled his nose, then walked over to one of the urinals, unzipped his zipper, and let out a sigh as a long yellow stream splashed off the back of the porcelain.
Fuck, he thought as he wearily closed his eyes and leaned his head against a chrome pipe. I'm definitely toasted. He couldn't wait to get home. Saturday was gonna be a busy day -- he had his barn chores to do in the morning, followed by taking Lady to the vet, then brunch with his parents at 11. Once his family obligations were out of the way, he had karate practice at 1PM. After that, he was gonna try to see Angel in the early afternoon. Then by 5, he had to race home to make a dinner-date with Tracy. They were going to try to see the new Matt Damon picture that had just opened, if they could get in. Maybe I could get the tickets ahead of time, right after I see Angel, he thought.
Just then, another person stepped up to the urinal next to him. It was John Kincaid. Judging by the dazed look in his eyes, the rocket had already left the launch pad.
"Hey, man," he said in a slurred voice. "How's it hangin'?"
Dylan managed a slight smile as he continued urinating. "Hey, John. Me and Kyle are gonna pack it in. We're like, really wasted."
Kincaid unzipped his zipper and leaned into the porcelain bowl. "No way. You're not wasted at all, not this early. I got some more shit if you want."
Dylan shook off the last few drops and looked up. "Seriously, dude -- I'm totally out of it. Maybe another time."
The older teen grinned. "You lookin' for any action?" He pulled his groin away from the urinal and turned towards him.
Dylan felt his stomach flutter when he looked down to see that Kincaid was fully aroused. He felt a pang. From the looks of it, Kincaid's erection was much larger than his own.
"N-n-no," he stammered, hurriedly looking away, as he zipped up his fly and flushed the handle. "I really gotta go."
"What's your hurry, dude?" said Kincaid in a low voice. "Nobody's in here. Lemme give ya just a quick one in the stall. You'll love it, man."
He took a step closer and brushed the head of his penis against Dylan's leg.
"I always liked you, Dylan," he whispered. "You're really hot."
He put his hand out and caressed the younger teen's shoulder, then quickly moved his face closer as if to kiss him.
"NO!" screamed Dylan. In a blur, he delivered a crushing blow to Kincaid's stomach, then grabbed him and slammed his back against a large metal dispenser on the tile wall, sending hundreds of paper towels onto the floor. Momentarily stunned, the older athlete cried out and put out his hands as a feeble defense.
Dylan yelled out in utter rage, smashing Kincaid's face with his fists, followed by a savage kick to his side, then another blow to his chest. Then again. Then again. Three years of Karate training had given the ability to strike almost without even having to think.
At last, Kincaid lamely pulled his arm back as if to throw a punch, but Dylan quickly blocked it and kneed him savagely in the groin. The older player doubled up in agony, sinking to the floor on his knees.
Finally, Dylan pulled the older boy's face up by his hair and delivered the last blow into his nose, which resonated with a sickening crunch. Kincaid fell backwards onto the floor, twitching and moaning, holding his bloody face.
Dylan drew back his foot as if to stomp him in the stomach, when a voice cried out from the doorway.
"DUDE!" yelled Kyle. "What the fuck is goin' on?"
Dylan was shaking with anger. "He tried to... he tried..." He couldn't get the words out.
Kyle ran over to help Kincaid up. Seconds later, there was a flurry of activity from outside the door. Voices began shouting, and the music abruptly stopped.
An onlooker ran inside. "Shit! It's the cops!"
A bullhorn blasted from the dance floor outside the restroom. "This is the police! Everybody stay where you are, and put your hands up!"
"Fuck!" said Kyle. "We gotta split!"
There was a broken window at the back of the bathroom. Dylan and Kyle ran over, kicked out the loose panes and peered out. The coast looked clear. Dylan could see his BMW, less than a block away, parked by the curb. He ran his hands along the frame. Six rusted iron bars in the brick facade had already been pried loose, giving them just barely enough space to squeeze out.
"I'm gonna make a run for it," he said. "Let's go!"
Kyle put out his hand to stop him. "What about John?"
Kincaid was struggling to his feet, pulling himself up by a nearby sink. "You guys get outta here," he said, waving them away. "Hurry up, before the cops come in."
Dylan began pulling himself through the window. "Dude!" he whispered loudly. "Hurry up!"
"You gonna be okay, man?" asked Kyle, staring at Kincaid.
The older player nodded, holding his side in pain. Blood was running profusely from his nose and mouth, and his UCLA jacket was wet and muddy. "Yeah," he mumbled, wincing as he rubbed his jaw. "Get outta here."
The two boys quickly slipped through the window, dropped to the pavement, and made it out to the car in seconds. Dylan floored the engine and tore out, just as two more of LA's finest came screeching into the parking lot behind them.
When they were about four blocks away, Dylan looked in his rear-view mirror. His heart was still pounding in his ears.
"Are they... are they followin' us?" asked Kyle, in a slurred voice.
Dylan shook his head, then glanced over at his friend. Kyle looked completely disheveled, his eyes glassy.
"Jesus, man. What the fuck did you take?" he asked, panting.
Kyle looked up and smiled at him dreamily. "Buncha shit. Glass -- that's like a Speedball, only better. Special K, too."
Dylan rolled his eyes. That was the new buzzword around school -- veterinary cat tranquilizer, aka 'Special K'. It was cheap, easy to get, and gave you a good numb kind of high for over an hour.
"But X is the best," said Kyle, stretching back in his seat and closing his eyes. "This feels fuckin' grrrrrrrrreat..."
To try to avoid any police attention, Dylan kept the BMW down to no more than five miles over the speed limit, and took several shortcuts across the valley and back out to Chatsworth. He slowed down to a snail's crawl every time a patrol car zoomed by, but they'd completely ignored them.
As they rounded the corner onto Devonshire, Kyle blearily opened his eyes and looked out the windshield.
"Duuuuude," he drawled, "you missed the turn-off for my street."
"You're too fucked-up to go home," Dylan insisted. "Your parents will freak. Sleep it off at my place, and I'll drop you off in the morning."
Kyle nodded, then leaned back in the leather seat and closed his eyes again. "Thanks, man."
By the time they pulled into the Callahan's garage five minutes later, Kyle was looking pale and was beginning to tremble.
"I feel like total crap, man," he moaned.
Dylan helped him out of the car and up the stairs to his room. He took a quick look down the dimly-lit hall. Good, he thought. At least Yolanda and the folks are already asleep.
"I need to go to the BATHROOM!" yelled Kyle, as he staggered and tripped on one of the steps.
"Shut up, dude!" he whispered loudly, gently pushing him through the door to his room. "Use mine in here."
Seconds later, he could hear his friend retching loudly into the toilet. Dylan winced. Kyle had been getting wasted a lot more often lately, but Dylan knew better than to try to stop him. After a few moments, he heard the toilet flush, and the boy staggered back in the room and flopped down face-first onto the bed.
"I feel like my brain's on fire," he moaned.
"Yeah," Dylan replied. "Look, just sleep it off here. We'll talk about it in the morning."
He slipped off his shirt, pulled off his pants, and slipped into bed. Kyle looked up, glassy-eyed, then leaned over to him.
"What happened between you and Kincaid?" he asked quietly.
Dylan thought for a moment, then decided to tell the truth. Kyle deserved that, at least. He looked his friend right in the eye. "The guy was a fuckin' fag," he said, spitting out the words. "He wanted me to grab his dick or something. I think he wanted to suck me off in one of the stalls."
"I can't believe he'd do that." Kyle shook his head and sighed. After a moment, he sat up and pulled off his pants, then slipped under the covers. "I'm sorry that happened, man. I swear, Johnny was a really cool guy on the team last year. We were good friends... for awhile, anyway."
They lay there in silence for a few uncomfortable moments.
"You think there's any other fags at school?" asked Kyle quietly.
He nodded. "Yeah. That Sean guy -- the editor of the school paper. He's definitely a fudgepacker," whispered Dylan. The memory of the poster in the boy's office came back to haunt him.
Kyle chuckled softly. "Yeah, there's big fuckin' news! Like nobody knew about him. That guy is so gay, he's gay-squared."
Dylan eyed his friend. "Shut up and sleep, dude. My head's splittin' as it is." He reached over and flicked a switch on his nightstand, plunging the room into darkness.
Kyle let out a long sigh, then turned to him. "Thanks for... gettin' me outta there."
Dylan grinned. "No problem, man."
Kyle rolled over, and within a few minutes, his breathing grew steady.
Dylan lay on his back and stared at the ceiling, then glanced over at his friend. As close as they were, this was one of the very few times they'd slept in the same bed. Since moving to California three years earlier, he wasn't anxious to repeat the experience he'd had with Corey back in Phoenix.
Dylan sighed. Kyle had looked great tonight, both in the shower, and at the dance, with his shirt off. Shit, he thought. His groin began to stiffen and throb under the sheets. Down, boy!
* * * * *
Dylan awoke eight hours later to the distant sound of the shower. He rolled over. The bed was empty.
"Dude!" he called. "You in there?"
Seconds later, Kyle stuck his head out of the door. His hair was soaking wet, and he had a towel wrapped around his waist.
"Yeah," he said. "I'll be done in a second."
Dylan looked up and grinned. "Jesus. You look like total shit!" he said.
Kyle winced. "It's even worse on the inside. My shoulder's totally wiped from last night. But thanks again for gettin' me outta there." He ducked back in the bathroom and started running the water in the sink.
Dylan rolled out of bed, then stumbled on his pants, which were lying on the floor. The blackmail note, he thought. He pulled the crumpled piece of paper out and stared at it again. Who could be doing this? What the fuck do they want from me?
"Bathroom's all yours if you wanna use it," said Kyle, walking nonchalantly into the room.
Dylan looked up, then immediately averted his eyes away from his friend's nakedness. He tossed the piece of paper into a nearby desk drawer, then started for the bathroom. Before he reached the door, the phone on his desk rang.
"I'll get it," called Kyle behind him.
Dylan partially closed the bathroom door as he emptied his bladder into the toilet, then sighed and leaned wearily against the wall.
That was a close call last night, he thought, closing his eyes. Last year, Coach Wilson had axed two football players who had gotten arrested at a Rave club and charged with being drunk and disorderly.
Dylan flushed the toilet, then washed his hands in the sink. Just as he reached for a towel, Kyle opened the door, his face white.
"Dude? What's up?"
Kyle was in shock. "It's Coach Highland on the phone. He wants to talk to you. It's about Charlie, Charlie Stephenson. He was in a wreck last night, and he's in intensive care. He may not even live." His voice caught on the last word.
Dylan blinked. It wasn't possible. They had just seen Charlie hours before at the Rave. He'd been just fine.
He walked out of the room and took the phone from Kyle, his hands shaking.
"Dylan! I'm glad we got hold of you. Listen, son -- Stephenson's in bad shape. His car flipped on the 170 freeway on the way home from the game. He's just been moved over to Cedar-Sinai, to have a second brain operation."
Second brain operation?
"Dylan, you listening?"
"Yeah," he said. "I just can't believe it."
The coach sighed. "Yeah. Neither can we. Listen, it's touch and go, but at least it looks like he's gonna live. But he'll be out of commission for the rest of the season. It looks like fate has made this your big chance."
"My chance?" he asked, still in a state of shock.
"That means you're our new quarterback, son!" said the coach. "Now, don't let me down, or I'll kick your ass all the way to Barstow. You got me, Callahan?"
Dylan nodded and stared at the phone. "Yeah," he said. "I got ya."