"Snowy. What is that?"
"It's not what it looks like. Okay?"
"Calm down. I was just curious anyway."
"It's for my skin. That's what its for."
I nodded as I handed back the small bottle of pills.
"And no. Proactive won't work. I'm allergic to that stuff."
He'd been edgy lately. I sat at the far corner of his bed. We usually worked out together at this time. He had been working on his deltoids and triceps. He had improved a little bit, but we've only had about a month and a week of a good real work out. What most people don't understand is that it takes at least six or nine months to see any real physical improvement. Snowy was one of those people. He didn't meet me up by the gym this morning. I waited for half an hour when I decided to visit him. At first he didn't answer the door. I was about to leave when he finally appeared. He looked tired. He was quiet and unresponsive. It took a while for him to finally admit that he was giving up. He complained about his looks. Again. He talked about his pimples, which were mildly dissipating. It wasn't enough for him. That's when I found the bottle of antibiotics on his table.
He looked in the mirror and said, "I hate myself."
I think it was at this point when I reached a pinnacle of my patience.
He turned around surprised. Snowy had seen the anger and disappointment in my face.
"If you only knew just how special you were you wouldn't need to say that about yourself."
"You think I'm special?"
"Yes. I'm your friend who also thinks you should stop whining about something you already have."
He started to get an angry look on his face.
"That's easy for you to say Ethan. You have the most perfect body and face than anyone I have ever met. You can lecture me about self-confidence and posture, but it's slightly intimidating coming from you."
I stood from the bed and placed an arm on his shoulder.
"Before you become the most astonishing person alive, you have to see past the pimples and skinny body."
I turned him to face the mirror, "See these cheekbones? They're noticeably high when you smile. And your shoulders have gotten thicker. Look at the hair you have. It's a lot shinier and healthier than mine. And your eyes, Snowy, they are truly something."
He turned around to face me.
"If everything you say is true, what is it that you see in Damien that you don't see in me?"
"That was pretty brave of you to ask."
My reflection looked confused and a bit agitated.
"Is it that obvious, Snowy?"
He started to laugh.
"The whole school talks about it. You don't know? I mean after the student death there had to be some type of distraction. But if you ask me, I think he likes you a whole lot more than you like him."
I blushed roses. He told me that he didn't want anyone to find out. But like my fortune cookie said, 'secrets rarely stay secrets long'.
"You don't have to answer my question, Ethan. I guess it's obvious now that I'm attracted to you. Who wouldn't be?"
I forced a smile. The bedroom window was open. Snowy's dorm was on the east side of the school. When the sun rose from the Pacific Ocean, it rose from this side. Palm trees scattered the courtyard and beyond. The beach wasn't as visible on this side as ours was, but it was nice to have the soft morning greet you. It chased the stars and endless dreams away.
"I'm sorry. I don't know how I feel. But other than Sarah Baker in elementary, I've never been kissed before. And Damien makes me feel good."
He nodded his head, like he was an all-knowing being, and sighed. The contours of my thoughts bent like a record player's song. Sophie McKinnon. She had been at the restaurant last night. Damien had told me that he saw her follow me in there when he left. He was still by the traffic light. What was she up to?
The morning periods were a flurry of English and Math. A systematic reading examination on Victorian poems proved to be exasperating, although the new mathematical theorem I had to learn wasn't very thrilling either. I was averaging a B. It was decent but hardly the stuff of Jackman legend. I remembered when I was younger and Lee would always come home with an A+ report. His repertoire as genius and athletic Messiah, however, faded when his new role as single parent crushed his resonating dreams. It made me feel guilty. Did Snowy think he was the only one that ever felt inadequate?
The math equation was menacing. I scratched my head. It was easier staring out the window and daydreaming about... focus Ethan. Remember the order in which exponents are equated before dividing and multiplying. Now apply the new mathematical theory by substituting the letters for numbers. Use the calculator. Got it. I smiled. Now, I have only twenty more to go. Each question was more complex than the last. I sighed. Beside me, Pierre was breezing through each question. Neatly, he wrote down the steps and circled the answers. I imagined switching his brain for my own.
The bell rang signaling the end of the period. I rolled up my sleeves. The humidity in Hawaii was escalating this year. It felt like the air was solidifying us with heat. Back home, it would've been autumn by now. My tattered bag was slung on one shoulder while my other arm held my books. A handful of people had suggested that I buy a new bag. I laughed. I hadn't made enough money at the Dessert Bar yet. Maybe next month I'll get myself something for Thanksgiving.
I walked side by side with Pierre. He seemed preoccupied with something. He'd been on several dates since he broke up with George. George was now seeing our student advisor, Ms. Danvers, for counseling. Abuse was never an issue lightly taken. Pierre was strong though, so I trusted that he'd find some sort of happiness. The French Gold member was known for his good nature. Word was going around that he was having trouble moving on. It was never a question of taste in his part. Personal bonds aren't created over night. I wondered if he knew that there was someone I had in mind for him. I blushed at the thought. Maybe I should try my hand at playing matchmaker.
"Are you even listening to me anymore?"
"Uh yeah. The republicans do have paradigms that are similar to cults."
I nodded. I had no idea what we were talking about. He laughed as we placed our books inside our lockers.
"Sometimes... I really don't know what to say about you. Come on, let's go sit with Damien and the others at lunch today."
He winked. Objection crossed my thoughts, then Carpe Diem. Weaving through the hallways and corridors of boys was easy when you had someone like Pierre with you. He had an air about him that made people want to stop and turn their heads. Plus, he was the secretarial member of student council.
"For you, monsieur."
Pierre held the door to the cafeteria.
"Merci beaucoup," I said in the best French accent that I could muster.
He laughed and said, "You're doing better everyday."
My roommate lightly punched my arm. We each got our meal and set it in chronological eating order on a tray. The windows blew a light breeze that tickled my ear. Tables, chairs, and bodies were organized in stratified groups. Some sat outside, inside, upstairs and down. The Gold members sat at the very core of the cafeteria underneath the fan by the center of the ceiling. Lucky, Damien, Pierre, Joe, Bobby, Boo... they were the boys of Gold. I noticed that there was one missing member. Celly. Together they were the crème de la crème of the crop. They were the upper echelon of high society passed down from birthright by their parents. Money, cars, toys, clothing and even sex, were all in their reach. They ruled the school with an iron fist.
"Pierre, Ethan, come sit and we'll make you some room."
Lucky was the vastly influential president of student council. He was a gifted orator who had the capacity of multi-tasking crucial decisions in stressful times. His list of friends and allies were long... among other characteristics that have come across my ears. On his right hand side was Damien, vice president and captain of the football team.
"My favorite European snack with my favorite blond meal."
He was seductively the most popular of the group and the most physically intimidating. Damien is also a candidate for valedictorian and has achieved high academic standing considering his relaxed attitude in the public sphere. His best friend Boo is the Gold member that most people should be aware of.
"Do you guys want a piece of my sauerkraut? I've got extra."
Boo is the Vietnamese representative of the athletes in the school. He was also the captain of the basketball team and an Olympic level martial artist. His smiling and seemingly innocent appearance hides the lethal weapon of the student government. When attacked in a Mall on the west side of Waikiki, Boo thoroughly kicked ass and broke some bones. On the flip side of this group's muscle was Bobby, the Spanish coordinator of volunteer organizations and the first DJ of the institute.
"Pass the DVD player here. I want to see the part where she's attacked and gets all bloody. It is jokes."
Bobby was the poster child for sainthood with the contradicting demeanor of a young thug. His boyfriend was Joe, the events and activities director.
"Hey! I was using that. So I see you want to get physical, eh?"
Joe's most prominent role was that of class clown. However, because of his managerial skills and his creative ingenuity, Joe was the best contender for his position. The missing member from the table was Celly, the treasurer. Celly had amazing mathematical skills and his friendship with Damien kept him in the group. He was unique because he did not posses the physical attributes that made the others popular. He was simply big boned and overweight.
For a few brief seconds I saw Damien's eyes wonder over in my direction. His eyes lingered on Pierre's arm, which was casually leaning against my shoulder. I wondered if he was ashamed of me. He didn't speak a word or acknowledge my presence to any real extent. I felt as though I didn't belong.
"So, Ethan, have you had sex yet?" Joe asked with a menacing smile.
He quickly turned to Damien and Boo.
"Ok, guys, pay up!"
It took a few more seconds than I needed for my thoughts to wrap around what was happening. Boo quickly took out his thick wallet. Wads of cash were passed down to Joe. Damien was hesitant before doing the same.
I was confused when Boo turned to me and smiled, "Wow. You must be made of stone or something. Did you know about the bet?"
A bet? The jigsaw puzzle was coming together. Pieces of interconnecting shapes formed in my head. For the first time in my life I felt like an object. Like a toy mended to play with. I remembered the moment my dad taught me how to ride a bike. 'Remember the balance, son'. It never occurred to me that it was I who rode the bike and not the other way around.
I forced my own smile, "No. I didn't. I have to go do some homework that I didn't finish last period. I'll see you guys later."
They were quiet. Damien was quiet. I fixed my passed-me-down shirt, slung over my tattered bag, and picked up my tray. Angry. Upset. I tried not feeling those things. It's ok. It was just a bet. You did the right thing. I did the right thing. All those times I almost... at least the façade's over now.
I know that if I called my brother I'd feel better. Back when I was still a little kid and everything from the simplest joke to the wrong words would upset and disappoint me. Lee was always there. He'd straighten up my shoulder and tell me in the most non-offensive way to 'just get over it'. 'Get over it, Ettie. It's no big deal'. He wanted me to be stronger. If I were to call him, I'd still be that weak little kid.
A large and strong hand grabbed my wrist. I turned around to see a large bicep and even larger shoulder.
"Don't go my sexy boy. It was a joke. There was no bet."
And with that he pulled my tray and me closer to him as he kissed my forehead.
"You and Pierre were trying to make me jealous, right? The way he was clinging on you was driving me crazy, so I told Joe that you deserved the same medicine."
He got it all wrong. Make him jealous? No. But... he was so deceptive. What do you want from me Damien? He was going to pull in for another kiss, this time directed at my lips. It was the first time that he was showing public affection. The loud sound at the entrance of the cafeteria saved me from pulling away. The doors slammed and three police officers followed Sophie McKinnon and her dark blue blazer with matching pants. They marched quickly pass staring students. Silence. They were heading closer to our direction. Sophie's gaze and pointed index finger was towards Damien. She approached us. Her eyes glared darkly at him. But then she passed right through us and directly behind us.
He was confused.
"You're arrested for the murder of Kyle Pennington."
One officer grabbed Lucky and handcuffed him. His face hit the table. Tears were streaking down his face.
"I didn't do it. I swear. I-"
Sophie showed a school staff member her ID. And then turned towards the student president. Her short curly chestnut hair nestled softly by her neck. Her gray eyes were focused.
"Save it for the court. You have the right to remain silent."
The other two officers cleared the way.
"I would never hurt Kyle!"
"Anything you say will be used against you in the court of law."
"I loved him! I - this - it - wasn't supposed to be this way!"
He was led away. All we could do was stare in disbelief. The Gold member table was empty. They stood. Some of them had their hands on their mouths. It was still quiet, like one of those silent films. All we could hear were Lucky's crying and pleading voice, and the marching that led him away. From the corner of my eye I could see two figures. One had a wicked grin on his face. Celly was less transparent. Timmy Montega, son of the owner of the school, was gleeful. He, along with Celly, were ugly people. And that had nothing to do with how they physically looked. The silence ended when the doors of the cafeteria slammed shut.
It was our first home game. I caught the ball off the point guard. We had only lost one game this season, and our chances for making the finals were good. Boo was distracted. It was not his game. Our own crowd was not as cheerful. We were thankful that our opposing team was less than amateur. We were definitely... lucky.
I paused when two players from the other team surrounded me. I contemplated before passing it to a teammate. Score. It was their defeatist attitude that brought them their loss. We had won. But even after our success, and even after Coach Decker told us how proud of us he was, it still felt like we lost.
"That was a good game guys. I'm proud of you."
After the game we headed over to the change room. No looks. No eyes. There was only that empty feeling. We felt that way when we buried Kyle. I didn't know him well, but I still lost something. I lost the chance to get to know someone very special. But what we didn't know was that we would be losing so much more. I peeled off my sweaty jersey. The shower water was warm. I expected the warmth. It was something you expect because you trusted where the handle pointed. I would have reacted differently if what I had expected were different.
I didn't talk to Boo at all. He was quiet. So I left with my tattered bag. The hallways were empty. I should have not been surprised to find her there. She was sitting at the end of my bed, with her legs crossed and eyes forward. Sophie. She had been waiting.
"Did you know?" I asked her.
She shook her head.
"We found what looked to be a confession letter."
I nodded and placed my tattered bag by the chair beside my desk.
"You really are a cop now?"
"Sort of still in the process of training. They needed someone young to infiltrate the school."
She hadn't moved. I headed towards my closet to place my jersey along with my other soiled garments.
"You came here because of Lee?"
"Yes. But it's not because I'm still after him. I'm over it. I just wanted to make up for all the grief I put him through. It was along time ago, and I was only just a girl with a silly dream."
I went back to my bag to retrieve my homework.
"I guess I understand. What were you doing at the restaurant?"
"Following a lead. Damien. But we also had another source. To be honest, I just wanted to see him. Just once. I called him a few times to discuss what was happening considering he was the only legal guardian living within the community."
"So Kyle really was murdered. Do you think that Lucky actually did it?"
"Who knows? The evidence was pretty damaging. I can't tell you more than that, but we did have help from someone in the school."
"Ok. Then what are you doing here?"
She tilted her head to the side, her chestnut colored hair rested by her right shoulder.
"To apologize. I lied to you. I didn't want to, but I had my orders. Liam told me that you wanted to give me another chance."
Tears were forming in her eyes; "I've worked so hard to change who I am so that people could acknowledge me even if they always see me for all the horrible things I've done. But when I heard what Liam said it made me happy. Because I felt that I changed, even just a little, in your eyes."
She sighed, "And that's worth more to me than anything you can imagine."
Sophie McKinnon stood and walked towards the door. Her beautiful gray eyes were soaked.
"Thank you, Ethan."
And then she left.
It took two and half-hours to finish my assigned homework and readings. Between that and our game and everything else that happened today... I was tired. He called around that time. His voice was tired too. There was something about the tropics that made people restless after certain time and the opposite during the other. The highs and lows of everything centralized on the patterns of the weather.
"Let's go out for a walk."
The sun was setting when I got outside. Scattered clouds formed over the horizon of orange and purple pastel colors. The stars were already visible from the east, reflecting the glitter and sparkle of the ocean. He waited at the spot like he said he would, wearing his football jacket. Damien was staring out towards the Ocean, and from my distance he looked like a postcard. All he needed were greetings from Hawaii. I stepped beside him. He was unmoving.
"I'm glad you're here, my sexy boy. It's been one hell of a day."
He didn't turn his head to see me and it made him look like he was talking to himself.
"How are you doing?"
"I wish I could say something funny as a response. Sorry. It just sucks to even think about it. And I don't believe it. I won't."
I nodded. I wish I could do more.
"It gets worst," he continued, "I just came from a school meeting. I had to get out of there. A close friend of mine is dead. Another close friend is arrested for his murder. And now my best friend has betrayed me."
Confused, I asked, "How? Who?"
He smiled, "What? Where? When? It was Celly. I did so much for him and now he pulls this shit. It'd be real easy to blame Timmy for all this."
He was quiet before he began to explain again.
"We went to visit Lucky today, after school. He was upset and said that even if he proved that he were innocent that he would not want to stay president anymore. When we got back we had a meeting. As Vice President, I should have taken the responsibility, even if I didn't want it. Or we would vote a prominent student to that position. As a candidate, I can't make the decision. So it was up to the rest of the guys. So Timmy shows up and says that he should take it."
His voice began to quiver with anger.
"There was no way a little bitch like him was going to be president. I told him to get out. But Celly then said that he'd vote Timmy in. I couldn't believe it. Celly said that it was always the good looking guys that got these high positions and that it was time that someone more average looking be in the spotlight. I've never seen him so angry. All Timmy needed were two more votes. Boo and Pierre already made their minds. They didn't want that bastard to be there either. But then Timmy said something."
Damien finally looked towards me. My hands were in my pocket.
"Remember when I told you about Joe, Bobby and their videos? We thought that they had been destroyed last year. We sent a lawyer after the producer's ass in a bid to stop the production. We won. So we assumed that everything had been cleared. But Timmy shows us a tape. It was a copy. He blackmailed Joe and Bobby. The both of them had been planning this since the very beginning."
Damien reached out for my shoulders.
"Now, Timmy is the new president of student council and leader of the Gold members. What the fuck happened to us?"
He hugged me. It didn't occur to me that he wasn't talking about the group as a whole. He was talking about losing his best friend. I pulled Damien's head down and I kissed him on the forehead.
"I don't know..."
It was the morning assembly of the academy that changed our daily schedule. The school had its own lecture hall near the library. This lecture hall also served as a theatre. Pierre once told me of the secret passageway that connected from here to the gymnasium. Props. That's what it was used for. The entire school filled the seats. Young men from the ages of fourteen to eighteen lined up along the aisles. They were seated according to their classroom. My class sat on the second row from the top on the left wing of the lecture hall.
We waited fifteen minutes before the student council appeared. There was a podium on the middle of the stage. The six remaining gold members sat in chairs behind it. Timmy Montega appeared on stage to address the institute. He wore a cardigan vest and his hair was neatly gelled to one side. Timmy reminded me of a first year college student. He had that wonting academic exterior. I shuddered.
"Good morning teachers and fellow students. As you are well informed, my name is Timmy Montega. My last name would indicate that this school was built under the foundation of my father's beliefs."
A few rows below me I saw Mr. Buchanan shake his head.
"This institute is the holistic personification of an era where people can learn to prosper through the acceptance and tolerance of sexual preference. Wars are duly raised to honor and defend a belief and a way of living. However, the war is over. We can now walk hand in hand with our heterosexual brothers and sisters. We can now live and breathe along with them without the fear of persecution and ghettoization. I come before you today to let you acknowledge that I, Timmy Montega, will represent this new world."
Damien shifted in his chair.
"Lucky is no longer the president of the student body. I am honored that the student government has elected me to be your new president."
There was something ice cold in the words he gave us. We were silent for a while. After the speech we all applauded. But there was no feeling behind it.
With the assembly over, we headed back to class. Earlier, Ms. Fox had asked us what our greatest fears were. I was thinking of telling her that height was, but after Timmy's speech I realized that there was something more I was afraid of. I was afraid of losing the memories of my parents. My head was like a turntable of specific recorded moments. Each moment surged in the crevices of my brain. Family picnic, my mom's shampoo, my dad's aftershave, a watch, a necklace... everything had a story behind it. But when I plunged myself deeper I couldn't remember the exact words my mom said to me on my very first day of school. I can't remember my dad's work number. It was the scariest thought to lose any more memories.
The day went by like it did every other day. English, math, lunch, ethics, gym, homework... and now I was getting ready for work. My second shower of the day seemed almost futile. But I needed to clear my head. Soap bubbles cascaded over the curves of my skin. The shampoo foamed over my blond hair. I thought about getting a haircut. I scrubbed in-between my legs. I thought about masturbating. But instead I only rinsed. I turned the tap off and reached for the towel from the rack. I watched the water swirl at the bottom, around the tiles. The water was sinking and draining, just like our lives. It wasn't until the water was completely drained that something happened in my head. I had an epiphany. And I also heard the door knock. I wrapped the towel around my slim waist and headed towards the door.
Timmy Montega's smug smile stood behind the door. His large bulging eyes drifted from the flesh beneath my neck.
I crossed my arms.
"Can I come in?"
"I don't mean to be rude, but what are you doing here?"
He welcomed himself in and walked around.
"How do you live here? It's so small and utterly cluttered. The paint job is horrible and the view is humiliating."
"It's more than enough for me."
Closing the door behind me, I walked towards my bedroom. Timmy shamelessly followed me.
"Let me get into some clothes first," I told him.
"It's ok. It's just us guys here. Pretend we're in the boy's change room."
He had a wicked smile. I felt uncomfortable but I tried to shrug it off. My back was towards him as I searched for things to wear. After the towel dropped I quickly grabbed a pair of underwear and slid them through my feet, ankles, calves, thighs and over my hips. I felt his cold wondering eyes.
"So you haven't explained what you're doing here Timmy," I tried pulling his attention away.
"Business," he simply said.
I found an old pair of jeans and a wife-beater.
"I have a proposition for you."
He was looking around my room. His hair was slicked back.
"What kind of proposition?"
Timmy turned his head towards my direction and stepped closer.
"I want to make you the most popular kid in school."
I frowned. The new student president caressed the side of my face with the back of his hand.
"I want to make you an honorary Brown member."
I stepped back.
"You're already pretty popular and you're also gorgeous as hell. It only makes sense. You don't have to say yes right away."
He was grotesque.
"But the seats for the Brown members is already full."
Timmy placed a hand in his pocket, attempting to indicate the hardness that was rising from his pelvis.
"Max hasn't been coming to the meetings anymore. His spot is yours for the taking."
I nodded. Max had become very distant and quiet. He had feelings for Damien but they were crushed when Damien finally told him that he didn't feel the same way. Eric had told me recently that Max didn't even want to stay at the school anymore.
"Can you give me time to think about it? It's just that I have a lot of responsibilities now between basketball and work."
He smiled, "No problem, Ethan. I'll give you my e-mail address."
Timmy took out a pen from his breast pocket and began to scribble it down on a note pad by my desk. His watch was shimmering with diamonds. We heard four consecutive knocks. I excused myself and went to see whom it was. When I opened the door a pair of lips met mine.
"Damien," Timmy called out.
The football player quickly pulled and snarled.
"What the hell is he doing here?"
Timmy casually walked towards us with his hands on his hips. He passed in-between Damien and I. The school president was in the hallway when he finally replied.
"Business, Damien, its just business. Ethan, we shall talk later."
Damien slammed the door shut.
"He wants me to be a Brown member."
I explained it to him. He stood there and nodded. Arms were crossed. I know that everyone had been telling me how good looking he was, but I never saw him the same way I was seeing him right now. I've always liked his hair. The light brown strands were combed to one side when he was at school. At night, when he was out with his friends, he would spike it up a bit. His face was strong and confidant but it was also relaxed and mischievous. Underneath his face were his broad shoulders and playful large hands. He had the body of an athlete, but it was the way he walked that I found was really sexy. And it was the way he looked at me that... Was he wearing cologne again? It hadn't occurred to me that this was the first time that he'd been here. When our eyes met, he licked his lips.
"I know that you aren't ready for... you know? But, can I spend the night here? I promise I won't touch you if you don't want me to."
Deep within my chest, my heart pounded.
"I'd have to ask Pierre -"
"He knows and he won't be here tonight. He was really upset about everything so he's going to his own comfort zone."
"Do you want to take his bed? I'll -"
He didn't. Instead, he removed his shoes, socks, and walked towards the bedroom. He hopped on the bed, lying on his stomach. But it was my bed he was lying on.
I bit my lower lip. He needed space. So he chose mine. I looked out the window. The sun was close to setting. I climbed into the bed. One hand went around his shoulder. His eyes were closed tightly. But he wasn't asleep. I leaned my lips closer to his ear.
"I'll help you... I'll help you dethrone Timmy Montega."
He opened his eyes.
"Damien. I have a plan."