SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS
by Kai Wailbone
IMPORTANT author's note: this chapter is out of chronological order with the rest of the story except for Chapter Eight-A. The events here are taken from a different perspective of what happens in the middle of Chapter Six, specifically the party that Ashley went to. Repeat: NOTHING IN CHAPTER SEVEN HAS HAPPENED YET. Keep that in mind...
Also - the chapter has been split into three parts. This is part two.
P.S. Sorry about the delay... I've had some trouble with my computer equipment, and had to upgrade and change programs, thus resulting in... well, problems. My thanks to all who are bearing with me.
FOR DAVID, the "Nifty Archivist" - yeah, it was about time, not that I have any illusions about you reading any of the stories you post. But if you do... thanks. You've put up with a lot from me, and I appreciate your patience. None of this would have been possible without you.
DISCLAIMER FOR CHAPTER EIGHT-B
This story is a work of fiction. Yes, it contains characters with the same physical descriptions and names as real people, but those real people have nothing to do with this story. Any similarity in character or circumstance of anything in reality is a mere coincidence. All persons, trade marks, or images, either explicit or implied, are owned by their rightful owners, and in no way reflect the real views, opinions, or lives of anything outside of the author's mind.
The title of the story is from the Underworld album "Second Toughest in the infants." The title of the chapter is taken from the lyrics of the album. The chapter sub-title is from the Velvet Underground song, "All tomorrow's parties."
Second Toughest in the Infants
ChapterEight-B -- Resonator (Part 2.2)
"All tomorrow's parties"
"...fit for one who sits and cries
for all tomorrow's parties..."
- Velvet Underground, "All Tomorrow's Parties"
"So who was that guy?"
Ashley glanced up, startled. He'd been staring out the window, even Nick's presence not enough to stop him from thinking about Jacob. He'd been really upset, as if he'd expected... well, more from him. And running off like that... Ashley just didn't know how to handle a guy who was upset.
"Huh?" Ashley turned to look at Nick, who was smiling shyly, but keeping his eyes on the road. "I'm sorry, I was... thinking."
"Yeah, sure." Nick nodded, no trace of sarcasm in his voice. "I was just wondering who that guy was."
Ashley looked around for a moment, unsure of who Nick was talking about. Nick was driving his jeep through the outskirts of Los Angeles, following the large bulk of Jeremy's car to Will's party. They were the only two in the car, so he glanced at the darkened streets, expecting to see someone famous, or someone he might know.
Nick, glancing over in time to see Ashley looking around in bewilderment, laughed. "Wow, you are out of it, aren't you? I'm talking about the guy back at the studio, the guy you were arguing with."
Ashley frowned. "That was... Jacob. We're... well, we had a fight. I'm not sure if I should even be going out tonight. We need to work things out..." He trailed off, and started looking out the window again.
Nick looked at Ashley strangely. "He a friend of yours?" he asked.
Ashley shrugged without turning around. "Kinda." Obviously uncomfortable with the subject, he turned and said, "So... this party. What's it all about?"
"Ah," Nick said, smiling. "I actually asked Will that very question. Apparently it's some open-house party that these people throw every so once in a while. It's in a nice house by the beach, very big, with pool tables, a large-screen television, a full-sized bar..."
"Yeah... Will actually had one of these about a month ago, I just didn't go."
Nick shrugged. "I dunno. I really didn't know anyone then, and wasn't too comfortable just going to a party."
"And you are now?"
"I guess." Nick lapsed into silence, and Ashley, turning to stare out the window, let it happen.
"So what do you think?"
Jeremy made a strange face as he got out of the car. "I dunno, old son. A bit... gaudy."
Nick grinned as he looked at the large house, a post-modern attempt with metallic siding and large windows, through which he could see crowds of people moving to a beat that could be heard all the way out in the street.
"I think it's great," Ben said, staring.
"You would," Jeremy said mildly, then glanced to where Ashley stood, a short distance away. "Hey, Ash, how're you doin'?"
Ashley shrugged. "Alright, I guess."
"Yeah, I bet..." Jeremy studied Ashley's face. "When's the last time you've been out to a party, anyway?"
"Is there any other?"
Ashley had to think for a moment. "New year's, last year."
"Then it's been a while." Jeremy turned to Nick. "Make sure he stays out of trouble."
Nick didn't stop grinning. "Come on, it's a party. Stop worrying. Let's just have some fun."
Jeremy nodded, then walked with Ben to the door.
Nick watched them go, but hung back with Ashley for a moment. He could see from Ashley's roving eyes and uncertain expression that he was a bit nervous. Hooking his arm in Ashley's elbow, he guided him gently towards the door.
"You okay, dude?"
Ashley smiled, but it was a bit strained. "Yeah..."
"C'mon, man, don't bullshit me," Nick said gently. "You scared?"
Ashley glared at Nick for a moment before smiling shyly. "A bit," he said. Reaching out, he firmly removed his arm from Nick's. "I just have a lot on my mind."
"Well, don't worry. We'll take it slow, have some fun, and for at least one night you can relax, cool?"
Ashley nodded gratefully, and followed Nick through the doors.
The first thing he noticed was the heat, a cloying, humid and heavy thing that descended as swiftly as if someone turned on a switch as he passed through the foyer. The second was the people.
People were everywhere. Backs were turned to him as people clotted the hallways, each struggling to see into rooms as if there were performances or shows going on in each. In many places, even though people weren't pushing or shoving, it took a long time to move simply because no one else was moving. Within the first minute, Nick had somehow made it through the crowd and disappeared, leaving Ashley to fend for himself in a crowd of staring, hot, and uncomfortably close strangers.
When he finally found his way in the middle of what might have been a sitting room or den of some sort, he was completely lost. He wasn't sure which of the doorways he'd come from, or where he could go to find an exit. Several floor-to-ceiling windows lined the walls, and a few stood opened, with people milling through them as frequently as a river flow. The noise of the place was nearly deafening, with people's voices and conversations competing with each other over the loud music, which beat it's insistent tune through speakers that seemed to be everywhere, making it impossible for him to hear himself as he smiled and apologized to the people he accidentally poked or tripped over.
As if by divine intervention, suddenly before him appeared an empty chair, positioned in the middle of the room to group with several other chairs, a couple couches and a low coffee table between them. Making his way through the crowd, he collapsed into it with a deep sigh of relief.
What was he doing here? Ashley lowered his head into his hand. He felt so stupid... mainly because he'd argued with Jacob so bitterly for his right to come, and now... now he was lost, surrounded by strangers, and not having any fun at all. Why had he trusted Nick? He'd just met him... of course he would go off with his own friends, leaving Ashley alone. Well, now he was stuck. He had no idea where he was, or how to get back. A lesson learned, he thought ruefully. Like my mother always said: never take rides from strangers.
Wallowing in his regret, deafened by the noise around him, combined with the fact that the name wasn't his, Ashley at first didn't hear the voice.
"Adam... uh... Ashcroft! Anabelle!"
Finally, the proximity and force of the voice caused him to look up to see a vaguely familiar face waving at him from a few feet away. After a moment, he recognized him as one of Nick's friends, someone he'd met the other night... what was his name? Rob or Kyle or something...
Will, he suddenly thought, and smiled.
"Hi!" he said, but couldn't even hear himself, so instead he waved shyly.
"Glad you could make it!" Will shouted into his ear.
Ashley smiled, about to say something when a plastic cup was pushed into his hands, the amber-colored liquid frothy and cold as a little bit splashed onto his hands. He looked up questioningly, but Will held a second in his hands, knocking it lightly against the one in Ashley's hands before drinking deeply. Ashley raised his cup slightly and drank.
The sour, strong taste of beer caused his throat to clench slightly, more in surprise than anything. Then he took another gulp, smiling his appreciation.
Will nodded, then leaned forward. "Come on," he said. "I'll introduce you to some people."
Ashley hesitated for a moment as Will motioned for him to follow. Right now, he was safe and comfortable in his chair, which he virtually had to fight to get. Others no doubt envied his position and location... on the other hand, he couldn't stay here all night, and Will was the first friendly face he'd seen since he got through the doors.
Standing up, he took another swallow from his cup, then quickly wormed his way through the crowd, following through the rapidly closing pathway that Will created as he passed through. It was slow going, more so than when Ashley had gone alone, if only because Will stopped to wave and say hi to many people along the way. Finally, he was led to a relatively uncrowded corner beside a staircase, where a table sat, a large beer tap sitting conspicuously on it amongst a graveyard of used and empty plastic cups.
Pulling Ashley over by the arm, Will led him to a circle of about six people, four girls and two guys. One of the guys, being spoken to rather animatedly by one of the girls, was Nick. Ashley felt a surge of relief that quickly washed away his earlier frustrations with Nick. For his part, Nick seemed anxious to get away from the girl, but was able only to nod and smile regretfully.
"What's your name, again?"
Ashley started at the voice spoken right next to his ear. Turning, he saw Will looking at him expectantly. Now that he could see him close up, Ashley could see that Will was more than a little drunk, but good-natured and friendly. Leaning forward, he said, just loud enough to be heard, "Ashley!"
Nodding, Will motioned to the other guys. His voice almost incomprehensible over the noise, he said something that sounded like, "Annal, Bearn, Incent, Erry, and Keth. Ohno Nikkacurse." Not feeling like having Will go through them again, Ashley just nodded.
Will then leaned towards a couple of the people, saying something into their ears - Ashley guessed it was his name. One of the girls, upon hearing it, glanced up at him, recognition written on her face. She leaned forward and said something long and complicated into his ears. Smiling, he shook his head. Leaning closer, she repeated it.
"I saw... elevision?"
Enough got through that Ashley understood. He nodded vigorously, but didn't feel like talking over the noise, so he shrugged. The girl smiled, and tapped her plastic cup of beer against his own. He raised his cup and drank, only to find it almost empty. When did he drink it all? He was about to turn to the tap when Nick appeared beside him, another cup full in his hands. Smiling, Ashley took it.
The girl - whose name he didn't catch, but who doubtlessly knew his - waited for a moment, looking curiously at Nick before continuing talking. Ashley caught maybe three words out of every ten she said, but he nodded and laughed at what he hoped were appropriate moments. The nameless girl, either because he was doing something right, or she was too drunk to care, babbled on ceaselessly.
Will came back frequently, refilling people's drinks and interrupting conversations with barely-heard jokes and wit. At some point, he came over with a burning cigarette-shaped object. Ashley caught the smell, and recognized it as marijuana. By this time he was almost completely ignoring what the girl was saying, and watched as the joint was passed around the circle. Nick took it, and took a couple deep puffs, then handed it to the girl beside Ashley, who shook her head and handed it to Ashley.
It was only a moment's hesitation. Ashley was feeling pleasantly intoxicated by this point, and any qualms he had about drug use earlier that evening were now dulled by alcohol. Figuring he might as well try - after all, Nick had tried - he took a puff.
Ashley had tried cigarettes a couple times before in his life, and even occasionally took one when offered. But the taste of the joint was far stronger, far more bitter than he would have expected. He involuntarily sucked the smoke in too quickly, and coughed dryly and violently. Handing it back to Nick, he washed the taste away with a gulp of beer, finishing off his second - third? fourth? - cup of beer. As if on cue, Will appeared with another, grinning and patting Ashley on the back.
"So... rist eye... smooth, huh?"
Ashley just nodded, smiling wearily.
Nick watched him, also smiling, but there was a strange watchfulness about him. When Ashley turned to him, he seemed to shake out of it, and winked, which made Ashley feel tingly inside.
Turning back to the girl, he took a deep drink.
Jeremy found Nick by the stairs, a small, secret smile on his face, holding a joint. Motioning for it, Jeremy came up beside him.
"What's up, old son?"
"Not much," Nick said, leaning in to be heard. "Where's Ben?"
Jeremy shrugged as he took the joint from Nick's fingers. "Watching a movie upstairs." He took a long puff. "So, where's this English kid you've been fooling around with?"
Nick shook his head. "Not here yet," he said. Glancing behind him, he thought for a moment before turning back. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
Jeremy followed Nick's gaze to see Ashley being talked to by one of Will's female friends, taking a couple cautious puffs from another joint, washing them down with something from his cup.
"How many has he had?"
"What, beers or joints?"
Jeremy stared at Nick. "Joints."
Nick shrugged. "He almost gagged his first time."
"He's had about half of this one."
Leaning towards Ashley, Jeremy snagged his arm. "Hey, kiddo!"
Ashley turned, and smiled, surprised but glad to see him. There was a looseness to his motions that Jeremy wasn't sure he liked, a sure sign he wasn't quite sober anymore.
Pointing to his beer, Jeremy asked, "How many?" Ashley shook his head, motioning to his ear, so Jeremy leaned forward and repeated, louder, "How many?"
Ashley frowned, thinking for a moment, then held up two fingers. After another pause, he held up a third. Jeremy turned to Nick, who, behind Ashley's shoulder, held up five fingers, and after a shrug, held up two fingers on his other hand. Jeremy nodded, a slight smile on his face.
Hooking Nick's arm, Jeremy leaned towards Ashley. "I'm going to take Nick for a while," he said.
Ashley watched Jeremy for a moment, then understanding dawned on him. Trepidation flashed across his face for a moment before Jeremy said, reassuringly, "Don't worry, I'll bring him back." Ashley still glanced nervously at the other people in the circle, but finally nodded. When Jeremy left him, he was taking another puff from the joint in his hand.
Leading Nick to one of the opened windows, Jeremy wove expertly through the crowd, and finally out to the pool-side terrace, where the music and noise was muted, the air was cooler, and there was a greater chance of having a conversation.
Taking a deep breath, Jeremy laughed shortly. "Looks like you two are having a good time."
Nick shook his head. "I think he's a bit too drunk to know what he's doing."
"I told you to watch him..."
"Don't worry, I'm driving him home."
"Not for another few hours - you're a bit tipsy yourself, old son."
"Yeah, well..." Nick looked around for a moment. He was surrounded by strangers, though not as crushingly as inside. He'd been introduced to a few by Will, but most of these he had never seen before. Lowering his voice a bit, he said, "So... about Ashley..."
"Yeah?" Jeremy's voice was laced with suspicion.
"Is he... you know... I mean, last night in the car, he seemed a bit... affectionate."
"He's not gay, old son."
"Okay, I figured as much... but might he be bi or something?" Nick spread his hands. "It seems to me he's interested in guys a little bit, at least."
Jeremy opened his mouth to respond, but stopped. After considering for a moment, he motioned towards two empty lawn chairs. "Sit down, old son," he said, reaching into his shirt for his cigarettes. "This needs more than a one-word explanation."
Nick followed him to the chairs, stumbling ever so slightly. The marijuana was starting to effect him, though not unpleasantly so, and he had had a few beers... dropping into the chair, he reached into his pocket for a small metal case. Jeremy watched as he opened it, displaying a row of hand-rolled cigarette paper-wrapped joints.
"I didn't think you had any."
Nick shrugged. "I didn't want Will to know I did." Taking one out, he let Jeremy light it with his dented silver Zippo. After it was lit, he sat back. "So... about Ashley."
"Ah, yes, Ash..." Jeremy shook a regular cigarette out of his pack and lit it before answering. "Truth be told, old son, I don't think it's really an interest in guys as much as... just a disinterest in girls, right now."
"Dis-interest in girls?" Nick frowned. "Because of his girlfriend?"
"Shelli..." The way Jeremy said the name, it was obvious he didn't think much of her. "Yeah."
Nick waited, but Jeremy didn't continue for a long time. "Well?" he finally asked. "What about her?"
As if shaking himself awake, Jeremy started. "Huh? Oh... yeah. Shelli." Taking a puff from his cigarette, he stared up at the sky. "Well, Shelli... how to say this... she used Ashley."
"Used him? How?"
Jeremy smiled, a sad, bitter smile. "You've never met her, dude. Once you do, you'll understand. Suffice it to say... she was a couple years older than he was, and saw all men the same way - as little boys who follow their dick. Which is mostly true, especially for one as young as Ashley. She just... she manipulated him, using sex."
"But... he knows that, doesn't he?"
"If he does, he never mentioned it."
"He said she could be a bitch..." Nick tried to remember what Ashley had said to him. "But he sounded like he was really attached to her."
"Oh, he was... another thing she took advantage of."
"So... I still don't get it."
With a deep sigh, Jeremy turned to Nick. His eyes were tired and slack, staring without focus. "It's all about control. Look at it: she got what she wanted, then gave Ashley sex like some treat to a dog. He's been emasculated. And now... now, it's the oldest cliché in the book - the victim becomes the predator."
"What? Wait... you're saying that Ashley..."
"Is a control freak," Jeremy interrupted. "That's all I'm saying. It could get out of hand, but it could also just lapse into nothing. Of course, with all the stress he's under, I don't hold out much hope." Jeremy took another puff. "Then again, no one really listens to me."
Nick tried to consider what Jeremy had said - and all that it could imply. For a young man to go through what Jeremy claimed Ashley went through... it was difficult to imagine such a sweet, innocent young guy going through that, and still remain so sweet and innocent. Unless... well, Jeremy had as much said it was an act, unconsciously done to manipulate others as he had been manipulated. Shaking his head, he inhaled deeply from the joint in his hand before offering it to Jeremy.
"So," Nick said, blowing the smoke out slowly. "About Jacob..."
Jeremy blew smoke from his nose, watching Nick carefully. "Yeah...?"
"Him and Ashley have a thing going on?"
Jeremy took another puff, then handed the joint back. Standing up, he swayed for a moment, then blew the smoke out. "You'll need to ask Ashley about that one," he said at last. Without turning back, he walked unsteadily back to the house.
Nick sat for a few minutes more, pondering what Jeremy had said.
Will turned at Nick's voice, and smiled drunkenly, saying something Nick couldn't hear.
Leaning forward, Will shouted, "He went to find another tap." Pointing to the one on the table nearby, he made a motion with his hands, implying it was empty. Nick nodded.
Will thought for a moment, then looked around. Finally, he pointed to the far side of the room.
The party had, if possible, gotten even more crowded as people continued to arrive. Nick found it difficult to push through the crowd without shoving or stepping on people's feet. Smiling apologetically as he went, it still took him several minutes before he reached the other side of the room.
A long table sat along one wall which had obviously once had large pictures hanging from it. The squares of unfaded paint showed where they once were. Idly, Nick wondered if they had been taken down for the party, or if someone had stolen them. Shaking off such thoughts, he glanced at the three beer taps arrayed on the cup-littered table. Ashley wasn't near them, so he glanced around the crowd.
Finally, he saw a flash of blond hair and dark shirt, and found Ashley laughing next to a guy he didn't know. A half-full cup was in his hands, and, to Nick's amusement, another joint in his hands. As Nick approached, he saw Ashley take another puff before handing it back.
Ashley turned to him, and a broad smile crossed his face. "Nick!" Even above the music and noise his voice was audible.
Nick smiled and nodded to the guy Ashley had been talking to. Leaning forward, he asked, "Are you having fun?"
Ashley nodded vigorously, and dropped an arm around Nick's shoulders. "A great time."
"Good, good..." Nick started feeling a little shy with Ashley so close. Glancing up, he saw the other guy lean forward, say something into Ashley's ear, then turn to leave. "Who was that guy?"
Ashley shrugged. "Dunno," he said. "Why... jealous?"
Nick was about to protest when Ashley laughed harshly, stumbling slightly and leaning heavily on Nick's shoulder. Taking the drink from Ashley's hand, Nick set it down on the table. "Okay, dude, you've had enough."
"Oh, come on." Ashley reached for his cup again, but Nick pushed it out of reach. Looking up into Nick's face, he said, "You really know how to ruin a party, don't you?" Before Nick could respond, he said, "But you're really cute, so I can forgive you."
Words died in Nick's throat as he stared into Ashley's eyes. Their faces were close - very close - and Nick could feel the warmth of Ashley's breath against his cheek. He swallowed hard, his nervous brain pumping adrenaline through his blood.
Nick was about to lean back, or turn away, or something - he had meant to lead Ashley outside so they could get some fresh air - to break the tension when Ashley leaned forward and kissed him.
The shock of having something like this happen to him, something he wasn't sure he even wanted, but which was nice nonetheless, nearly overwhelmed him. Then his conscience kicked in.
I shouldn't be doing this, he thought. Ashley's drunk, probably a little high... hell, probably high as a kite, and doesn't know what he's doing. It's not right, I shouldn't be doing this, it isn't right...
But before he could back away, Ashley's hands dropped to his waist and pulled him closer, pressing their bodies together. Instinctively, Nick reached his arms around Ashley's back and allowing himself to get carried away, gently opened his mouth, probing his tongue against Ashley's lips. Ashley parted them willingly, and even ventured his own tongue out. Closing his eyes, Nick tentatively sucked on Ashley's tongue. Ashley, for his own part, pressed even harder into Nick, until the stiffness of his erection was pressed against Nick's thigh.
Feeling that, Nick's hesitation burned away. Fuck it, he thought. I'm only human, after all.
As he allowed himself to fall onto the bed in the darkened room, Ashley reveled in the new feelings coursing through his body, which he was sure was due to his drug consumption.
It felt as if every nerve was on fire, with a thin electricity racing across his skin. He could almost feel the blood rushing through his veins, welling up inside him, from his stomach to his lungs, straight to his brain. Colors danced in front of his eyes, bright greens and reds and yellows, as if he'd stared at a strong light for too long before being led to this room.
Nick closed the door, and in a moment was beside him. He had assured Ashley that there were several rooms set aside for just such a purpose, but at this point Ashley didn't care. He wanted one thing, and one thing only.
Reaching up, he grasped the back of Nick's head as Nick kissed and nibbled at his neck, twining his fingers in the long, thick brown hair. He was in a state of virtual euphoria, and not just from the effect of the drugs and alcohol. Nick was turning out to be just as aggressive and passionate as he'd hoped, a welcome change from the hesitant softness of Jacob.
Nick's hands were abruptly under his shirt, pulling it over his head, squeezing and kneading his chest. Lifting his arms, he allowed the shirt to come off, then gasped as Nick's mouth found his nipples. Instead of just licking, he bit and sucked at the surprisingly sensitive flesh, producing a pleasure Ashley hadn't known was possible from what he'd thought to be useless, vestigial body parts.
Reaching down, he fumbled blindly at Nick's body. His own head was thrown back, his eyes, when he opened them, staring at the ceiling. With clumsy fingers he found the edge of Nick's shirt, and reached under it to the smooth skin of his stomach. There was a slight roughness to Nick's chest due to the sparse, downy scattering of hairs, another change from Ashley's experience with guys - which, admittedly, was limited to Jacob, with his boyish, almost femininely smooth skin.
As Nick raised his head to kiss Ashley on the lips, Ashley reached down and unbuttoned Nick's jeans. He heard Nick gasp next to his ear as he reached past the zipper and into Nick's underwear, clasping the pulsing, hardened flesh that it hid.
Then Nick pulled back.
Surprised, Ashley turned his head to look up at Nick, straddling his chest, with Ashley's hand still buried in his pants.
Nick, still gasping for breath, shook his head slowly, muttering something.
"What?" Ashley asked, trying to lean forward without freeing his hands.
"I said... I can't do this." Nick sighed heavily, running his hands through his hair, pulling it back for a moment before letting it drop into his face.
"What do you mean...?" Ashley grinned, and roughly squeezed with his hands. "It certainly feels like you can."
Nick gently took Ashley's hands out of his pants. "You're drunk," he said.
Ashley's surprise gave a little way to frustration. "So're you," he said accusingly.
"Yeah..." Nick seemed to consider that for a moment, then shook his head, about to stand up, but Ashley grasped his legs, not allowing him to move.
"Nick... c'mon, man..." Ashley was almost surprised at himself - begging another guy for sexual favors. Anger, accompanied by a long-forgotten memory, flashed across his mind, but he quickly pushed it away. Instead, he reached out and took Nick's hands in his own, gently stroking the fingers. "You can't just take me this far and then... you know... back off like that."
Nick bit his lower lip in indecision, and Ashley felt a moment of triumph... then Nick asked something so startling Ashley almost choked.
"What about Jacob?"
Ashley wasn't sure he'd heard correctly. "Who?"
"Jacob." Nick turned his hands around, clasping Ashley's hands carefully. "You two... you've got something going on, don't you?"
Ashley stared at Nick for a moment longer, then laughed. "Jacob?" he said. "Oh, yeah... Jacob. Yeah..." He thought for a moment. When he started talking, he was dimly aware that his tongue had been loosened by alcohol. "Jacob's a nice guy. Cute, too. He just... he's in love with me. No - he thinks he's in love with me. Of course, he also thinks he's gay, which I'm not entirely sure of, myself." Smirking, Ashley found himself rambling, with Nick staring at him intently. "Anyway... yeah, I was talking to Jay - he's a guy we know - and he was telling me it was normal for young guys to fool around and explore without labels and such, so I decided, you know, what the hell, let's have some fun, but Jacob got all clingy and shit, and now he thinks he has some say in who I talk to and go out with..."
"So... you two are together."
"Yeah, sorta, but not really. Just because I don't get out much, and he got all attached and stuff. You know he actually got jealous I was coming to this party?"
"Yeah, it was crazy, talking about how I was unfaithful, but to what I don't know..." Ashley trailed off as Nick slowly stood up and stepped off the bed. "Where're you going?"
"I can't do this," Nick said again, this time with more conviction.
"What the... why? Because of Jacob?" Ashley's voice was almost mocking. "Jacob doesn't mean anything! He's..."
"He's got issues, no doubt," Nick said softly. "But you two need to work this out. I'm not getting involved. I won't... no, I can't live with myself if I break you two up."
"But there's nothing...!"
"Ashley..." Nick laid a finger on Ashley's lips. "Work it out. If tomorrow you two are okay with seeing other people, then we'll finish what we started. Until then..." Nick shrugged, then turned to the door. "I'll see you downstairs."
Ashley stared at the door long after it had closed, unable to believe what had just happened.
"Dave! Wow, you made it!"
"How's it going?"
"Alright, I guess. I saw your friend Jeremy."
"Yeah, he was looking for you."
"Hmmm... well, he'll find me, I'm sure."
"Have you seen Will, yet?"
"No, actually, I haven't."
"Well, he'll find you, don't worry. Just be careful - if he has his way, no one will be able to drive home tonight."
"Eh... he's getting everyone drunk. Speaking of driving, how'd you get here?"
"Theo drove me."
"Oh... really? Where is Theo, anyway?"
"Over there, probably..."
"Okay, I'm going to go say hi, I'll be right back, okay?"
Ashley adjusted himself carefully before stepping out of the bedroom. His erection pressed painfully against the confines of his briefs, and the tip protruded from the top of the elastic band, but if he pulled his shirt down, arranging it a certain way, then it wasn't as obvious.
Gritting his teeth in frustration, he resisted the temptation to slam the door behind him. A low, dull ache was slowly radiating from his groin, a feeling he had become intimately familiar with during his time with Shelli, usually after a particularly passionate session at the end of which she felt no need to satisfy him. His friends in Jr. High had jokingly called the condition "blue balls," but once he had experienced it, he hadn't found it so funny at all.
He had considered jerking off to relieve the pressure, but it hadn't seem right. No - what he should do is find that girl who had recognized him, and who was obviously attracted to him, and bring her back. That would be perfect.
And it would probably be best to completely forget about Nick... who Ashley couldn't help thinking of as a bitchy little faggot slut.
Taking a deep breath, Ashley closed the door partially, then walked as steadily as he could down the hall to the stairs. His feet were still a bit clumsy, and his knees felt like they might buckle under him at any point, so he grasped at the stair railing and moved slowly down the stairs.
He was about halfway down when he saw Nick, talking to a young, dark-haired guy by one of the doors. For some reason, he couldn't just ignore it, but instead he stopped and watched while they talked for a minute. Finally, the young man pointed off somewhere, and Nick nodded. Before he left, though, Nick kissed the guy on the cheek.
A moment of irrational jealousy spurred Ashley forward, then, as gradually as molasses dripping, a thought started forming in his mind.
Ashley smiled warmly at the young man and held out his hand. "I'm Ashley."
"Uh... David." His voice was lightly accented, just discernable over the loud noise around them.
"Good to meet ya'." Ashley glanced around, but Nick had gone out of sight. "You're a friend of Nick's right?"
David looked up, surprised. "Yeah... why?"
"Oh," Ashley said arily, "he's mentioned you."
"Really?" David's excitement made Ashley regret for a moment his deception, but he quickly moved on.
"Yeah... he pointed you out before we came down." Ashley waved back to the stairs. "I was telling him... well..." Pretending to be a bit shy, Ashley smiled ruefully. "I said I was a bit jealous of him, 'cause you're kinda my type."
There was a split second of fear as Ashley wondered if David was gay or not... Wouldn't that be ironic? he thought, then David blushed, looking shyly up in such a way that confirmed his suspicions.
"Yeah, sure!" Ashley felt the excitement pound through his brain, the rush that he was attributing to the marijuana flowing through him like liquid ice. This stuff is great, he thought. Why don't more people do this? Feeling the bold assertiveness that he was used to when a bit drunk, he reached out and lightly brushed David's face. "But, you know, since you're with Nick..."
David blushed even more, but didn't pull away. With a shrug, he said something softly that Ashley didn't hear, but Ashley didn't bother asking him to repeat it. Instead, his heart pounding, he edged a bit closer. Dropping his hand to David's slender hip, he thought, I wonder how close Nick is to him... Thinking about the possible jealousy temporarily satiated Ashley's anger, though he still had a tugging of conscience...
"Want a drink?" Ashley asked.
David, seeming a bit dazzled, nodded.
Ashley grinned as he led David across the room.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
Nick tried to apologize again as he followed Jeremy out of the bedroom. "Jeremy, I swear, I left him in there. I thought he was too drunk to go off somewhere else..." Pausing, he considered his words, unsure if what he'd just said made sense.
Jeremy laughed, but didn't say anything about it. "Chill out, old son." He stopped at the top of the stairs, waiting for Nick to catch up. "We'll find him later. In the meantime, I want to see if this hack of a bartender can make a zombie."
"A zombie?" Nick shook his head. "What's in that?"
"Not sure, exactly." Jeremy started going down the stairs, but slowly, because the noise rose in volume the further down they went. "It's red, and they make them really well in the strip clubs back home..." Jeremy trailed off. "Ashley?"
Nick looked around quickly, but didn't see Ashley on the stairs. Squinting, he tried to see into the crowd. "Where?"
Jeremy pointed. Following his finger, Nick looked across to a pair beside the windows against the far wall. Sure enough, he saw Ashley, plastic cup in one hand, with his arms around a slender form that seemed... so... familiar...
"Dave?" Jeremy asked sharply. Looking up again, he muttered, "Oh, dear God..." Jumping down the rest of the stairs, he started making his way through the crowd.
Nick considered following Jeremy, but after being left behind so rapidly and completely, he decided to watch from his place on the stairs. He watched, unsure of why Jeremy had been looked so angry. Jeremy was making his way rapidly across the room, to arrive where Ashley and David stood, flushed and obviously upset.
Jeremy grabbed at Ashley's arm, who turned, startled, to face Jeremy. Even from across the room Nick could see the look of shocked guilt flash across his face as he jumped away from David as if he suddenly realized he was holding a snake. David, for his part, seemed confused and more than a little afraid.
There was an argument. Nick had no chance of hearing anything, but he could see as Jeremy gestured wildly with his hands, and Ashley's defensive shrugging. Finally, after several jabbing points at David, Jeremy said something that Ashley got upset at, causing him to point accusingly and shout, but Jeremy just turned and made his way back towards the stairs.
Nick hurried down the stairs to meet him, but Jeremy just pushed past him.
"To find Ben," Jeremy called back. "We're leaving."
Nick stood at the bottom of the stairs, staring after him, but Jeremy offered no other explanation.
Nick sighed in mild frustration, and not for the first time. Dragging Ashley from the car, through the lobby of the hotel, and into the elevator would have been hard enough when Ashley was drunk, but Ashley was also incredibly, and irrationally, furious at Nick, refusing his help at every turn.
"Come on, Ashley, stop..."
Ashley waved Nick's hand away again, and continued to punch methodically at the elevator doors, as if to force them opened in mid-journey. His head was lowered, pressed against his other arm, which was leaning heavily against the elevator wall. His eyes were staring blindly at the mildly reflective surfaces of the door, his mouth slack-jawed and opened.
Finally, the elevator stopped with a metallic ring, and the doors slid opened. Nick reached forward and caught Ashley before he fell out, only to be beaten back by Ashley's flailing arms.
"I c'n do't m'sulf," he said, his voice slurring even as he started stumbling down the hall.
Nick followed him, praying Ashley would stay quiet enough to not wake up the other people who doubtlessly slept behind the other doors. Ashley, oblivious to this, ran his hand along the wall, knocking insolently on the doors as he passed, even occasionally rattling the doorknobs. After what seemed eternity of near heart attacks for Nick, Ashley stumbled to a halt on the carpeted floors, then stopped in front of one of the doors.
"Is this it?" Nick asked.
Ashley didn't answer, instead curling his lip in confused frustration as he searched his pockets. Nick bit his lip, wanting to help, but unsure of how. When Ashley at last produced a key-card marked with the hotel logo, he nodded, but put the key in the wrong way.
"Ash..." Nick reached forward, but was batted out of the way. "Ashley, it's... turn it..."
Ashley, after stubbornly putting the key in upside-down several times, finally turned it over. The small LED over the knob blinked green, and they were able to push into the room.
"See? Toldja could do't m'... m'self."
"Of course you did," Nick said indulgently as he led Ashley into the room.
Even in the darkness Nick could see that the floor of the hotel room was littered with clothes, the suitcases by the walls seeming to be caught in the process of vomiting them up. From the brief light provided by the hallway through the opened door, Nick caught a glimpse of two beds, one of which, he had no doubt, was the resting place of Ashley's roommate. Not wanting to wake him up, he tried to see which one was being slept in, but the door closed behind them too swiftly for him to see.
Turning to Ashley, he whispered, "Where's your bed?"
Ashley, seeming more tired than angry now that the end was in sight, calmly waved to the nearest bed, which was piled high with clothes. "Thissun," he said. Stumbling away, he collapsed on his stomach on the bed.
Nick couldn't help smiling. Ashley had virtually collapsed, one of his arms bent underneath, and his shoes still on. "That doesn't look very comfortable," he whispered as he knelt beside the bed, carefully unlacing Ashley's sneakers.
"Iss fin'," Ashley mumbled.
"Of course." Nick briefly wondered why Ashley would leave all these clothes on top of his bed, as if he hadn't expected to sleep in it tonight... but pushed the thought out of his mind. Sliding Ashley, shoes off, he set them down neatly by the bed, perhaps the only things laid side-by-side in the whole room. That done, Nick straightened. "Well, I'm outta here."
There was no response, and upon closer inspection, Nick noticed that Ashley had passed out. He looked so cute... Nick shook his head as he pulled Ashley's legs onto the bed - they had been hanging off, and Nick knew they would be incredibly stiff and numb, their circulation all but cut off, if they stayed like that all night. He considered rolling Ashley over on his back, but decided against it, if only because Ashley was a bit heavy, and since he would have to clear the bed, he wasn't sure how anyone would feel about a pile of clothes on the floor in the morning... although he doubted it would be noticed. So he fluffed the pillow and slid it under Ashley's head, turning his head so his neck wouldn't be aching in the morning. Leaning down, he kissed Ashley on the forehead before turning to leave.
Later, Nick would never be able to say why he looked up at that moment. Most of the time he wrote it off to curiosity, or some deep-down desire to make sure Ashley's roommate lay undisturbed. Whatever the reason, Nick paused and idly glanced up at the other bed. To his surprise, he found two bright eyes glittering in the dim light. Squinting down, he saw a cute, angelic face framed by a spread of spiky dreadlocks, wisp of goatee...
The figure in bed shifted slightly. "Yeah."
Nick sat down on the edge of Ashley's bed, and smiled. He and Jacob hadn't had any time to talk while he had been on the video set... in fact, Jacob hadn't been anywhere near where he had been, even though he'd wanted to talk to him after all Jeremy had said about him. But as he thought of it, he figured he shouldn't be surprised he and Ashley were rooming together.
Jacob just stared at him for a moment. "Did you guys have fun?"
"Yeah..." Nick laughed softly. "I think Ash had more fun than I did. Jeremy was afraid he might puke in the back of his car."
"Jeremy drove you back?"
"Yeah..." Nick noticed that Jacob's questions were cold, almost angry. Wondering if it was because they had been too loud, he apologized. "Look, I'm sorry if we woke you. I tried to keep him quiet..."
"Yeah, sure," Jacob interrupted and turned away.
Nick frowned. What was going on? He was trying to be nice... "Um... did I do something wrong here?"
He heard Jacob sigh before saying, "What do you mean?"
"Well... I wanted to meet you before we left. Jeremy's been going on and on about you since I met him." Nick smiled inwardly as he remembered Jeremy and Ben talking about Jacob as if he were a favorite cousin or something. "But it seems like... you know, you were avoiding me or something. And now, it just feels like you don't like me for some reason."
"Oh, really? And why do you think that is?"
Nick suppressed a sigh. He had a pretty good idea, but how could he explain to a jealous boyfriend that he respected him? And especially to Jacob, who seemed more than just jealous, that nothing happened... or at least, nothing really? "Just so you know... Ashley told me about you two." Jacob didn't turn to face Nick or respond, so Nick rushed to continue. "I just want you to know... I'm not here to split you two apart -"
"Fine job you're doing."
Nick had to struggle to keep his smile. "Why?"
Jacob snorted. "Oh, just that I always accomplish just what I don't mean to do when I..." Jacob stammered, then trailed off. "You're not doing a very good job," he finished petulantly.
Jacob's faltering, almost juvenile jealousy made Nick's smile more genuine. This poor guy... Nick could imagine he was either in denial or recently just out, and wasn't sure how to handle a boyfriend, much less one like Ashley. And Ashley hadn't been too clear as to whether or not Jacob was gay or not... he made a note to ask Jeremy later.
Thinking about the possibility, for a brief instant, he wondered what it would be like to show Jacob something more real...
"Well, I'm sorry... for that," Nick finally managed to say, careful not to let his amusement show. "But you can rest assured, that I have no intention of ruining what you two have."
Jacob finally turned ever so slightly. "So... what, you're not interested in Ashley or something?"
The incredulity in Jacob's voice almost made the giggle welling up in Nick escape. "Nah," he said honestly. "He's not quite my type."
"Yeah... he's a bit too California clean-cut-kid type." Nick was surprised to find how true it was. Ashley was cute, that he couldn't deny, but he was also confused... and a bit too cute, like a rabbit or chipmunk or something. "I mean, he's cute, and if he wasn't involved with someone else, I'd probably even enjoy fooling around with him. But..." Nick felt a moment's worth of guilt as he thought of just how close he had come to fooling around with Ashley. "But, personally, I like the more scruffy, lost puppy dog look." Nick's smile grew to a grin. "Kinda like you." Unsure of it would even be visible in the dim light, he winked at Jacob teasingly before he stood up. "Anyway, I'll let you get back to sleep. Just... watch Ashley tomorrow. He'll have one hell of a hangover."
Jacob opened his mouth to say something, but Nick didn't stay to see what it was. Crossing the room swiftly, he slipped out the door, allowing it to click closed behind him.
It wasn't until he was down the hall and in front of the elevators, waiting for the doors to open, that he allowed himself to laugh. It wasn't all amusement, since Jacob hadn't been all that funny. Just... he was too nervous and excited. Because, as cute as Ashley was, Jacob was adorable. And not just adorable... even just watching him, Nick could sense an intelligence to him, in spite of the few fumbling words he addressed to Nick, that wasn't present in Ashley. It was like comparing a bunny rabbit to a baby seal.
The doors pinged as they opened, and Nick stepped in. For a moment he wondered if there was any way he could trade Ashley for Jacob... and chuckled in spite of himself. Go from a confused straight boy to his jealous lover... no, he had played these kinds of games before, back when he allowed himself to fall in love with straight boys and married men... and he'd sworn never to do it again.
Pressing the button for the lobby, he shook his head. Nope, he had other things to worry about.
Okay, thus ends the second part of chapter eight. We have by now been brought to the different perspective of chapter six. With the third part of chapter eight, we will finally get to the part I know you've all been waiting for - what's up with Dan. So... stay tuned -- Kai Wailbone firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming soon -
Second Toughest in the Infants
Chapter Eight-C - Resonator (part 2.3)
"The way out is through"