DRAMA CLUB, PART 17.5 `Wind of Change/2'

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Drama Club is a work of fiction and all characters are imaginary. The story involves sex between teens so if that's illegal or offensive for you to read, don't. Author retains all rights. DO NOT download/copy/post/link to any site or otherwise reproduce this story without written permission from the author. TragicRabbit does not intend the story to condone any activity or group the characters are involved with; likewise, the opinions or actions of the characters are not meant to reflect beliefs of the author.

`Trembling with tenderness

Lips that would kiss

Form prayers to broken stone.'

The Hollow Men (T.S. Eliot, 1925)

Gene slid a cigarette out and handed the pack to Matty, who took one and pocketed the rest. Gene first lit his own and then passed the silver lighter silently to the other debater. They smoked without speaking for several minutes, watching the drama kids washing down scene flats in the back parking lot. Hoses snaked from the open bay door and murky water filled the gutters along the back of the lot, draining slowly, then periodically replenished as another flat was rinsed down. The light wind kept the drama students chilled, goosebumps rising across arms, as they worked in the noon sunlight. Matty flicked ash against the wall of the building and spoke.

"About Friedman, about staying at his place." Matty spoke in a low voice without looking at Gene, who watched him steadily. "I don't know...its not what I thought, Gene."

Gene sighed, waiting until Matty's eyes were on him to answer. "I told you before you left."

"Yeah, I know but...I dunno, I just...I'm uncomfortable, I guess, and I didn't think I would be." Matty watched as a large flat was lifted up and laid against the wall to dry.

Gene nodded once. "Yeah, well. You can stay at our place, Mom said to remind you."

Matty closed his eyes. "What would Friedman say?"

Gene shrugged. "What's he supposed to say? I mean, your dad doesn't really care where you stay, does he?"

Matty didn't seem to hear him; Gene tapped his shoulder. "Don't do that, Matty."

Matty frowned but his eyes were back on Gene's face. "What?"

"I asked about your dad, I asked if he'd care where you stayed."

Matty snorted. "Not hardly. I just don't wanna piss either of them off, yanno? I mean, Friedman's done a lot for me. I don't want them to get the wrong idea."

"Yeah." Gene studied his friend. "What's the problem, exactly, anyway?"

"I dunno, just...feels funny sometimes. I can't explain it. Maybe it wouldn't be so weird if I didn't know her, if she didn't know me. Just, yanno...listen, what if I stayed at your place now and then, see how that works? I mean, I like having my own room over there and computer access and all that. I'd probably be in your way at your place." Matty winked at Gene. "Or more likely you'd be in my way."

Gene chuckled. "Yeah, maybe."

Matty tossed his cigarette down and leaned back against the wall, looking directly at Gene.

"So...what about I spend tonight over there and we find out?" Matty suggested.

Gene shrugged again. "Fine, not a problem. If you want to wait, you can ride home with me after the GSA meeting. We can swing by Friedman's and you can pick up some stuff."

Matty nodded. "Okay. What about that thing this morning? Do you have to go back?"

"Bobby's mom? No, I don't think so. Only if she calls or something. I think she'd just gonna go get him today. That's what it looked like to me, anyway. I probably won't go back over until he's home." Gene paused and smiled. "She asked me to come over for dinner when he's home."

Matty grinned. "Parents just love you, you make me sick. Hey, maybe you should bring a date to dinner over there."

Gene laughed. "Who, you?"

Matty pretended to look offended. "You could do a lot worse."

Gene raised an eyebrow. "Somehow I don't think Mrs. Boyd is ready to meet a smartass with a dozen holes in his face, even if he is a hotshot debater."

"Seven, asshole, its seven, not twelve." Matty corrected.

"Whatever. I don't think you'd be her idea of a good influence on her son. She seems pretty much a fan of the clean-cut upstanding citizen thing." Gene said.

"Clean-cut upstanding and straight."

"That, too." Gene agreed.

"What a joke, it's so fucking pathetic." Matty said.

"Yeah, well, whatever works. I like Bobby, I told him I'd help, I told Angel I'd help and I'm gonna help. I think his mom is at least half his problem so dinner with Bobby might be a good idea."

Matty's look became mischievous. "Those drama kids say Bobby's not all that ugly."

Gene shrugged.

Matty grinned. "Uh-huh. And that has nothing to do with you helping, of course."

Gene gave Matty an exasperated look. "You're an idiot."

"Yeah, and? Tell me you didn't notice he's cute." Matty said.

Gene rolled his eyes. "Whatever."

Matty grinned, not answering. Gene pulled out his lighter and held out his hand, without meeting Matty's eyes. When Matty didn't hand the pack over immediately Gene snapped his fingers twice and frowned.

"Cigarette." Gene said.

Matty drew the pack out of his pocket, held it out, and then pulled it back just as Gene reached for it.

"What?" Gene asked.

"You like Bobby?" Matty asked, watching his friend's expression.

Gene sighed. "Jesus, Matty, give it a rest."

"It wouldn't kill you to like somebody, Gene." Matty said seriously. "Somebody else." he emphasized.

Gene looked away. "Just gimme the cigarettes."

Matty handed the pack over and watched Gene extract and light one. Gene held the box out but Matty shook his head.

"Keep it." he told Gene. Matty looked at his friend. He'd seen Gene look better, no question. Michael had a lot to answer for, in Matty's opinion. What Gene needed were distractions. The Bobby thing sounded like a good one, setting up the GSA sounded like another. Plus, debate, of course, if you could call that a distraction. Spending the night tonight was sounding better all the time. Maybe they could rent a movie. Something hilarious and insane. Evil Dead 2 or Fight Club, maybe. Something they both knew by heart.

Gene continued to examine the ducks that waddled back and forth alongside the pond at the other end of the building. Fuck thought Matty, determined to reengage Gene in the world. A large scene flat hit the pavement behind them with a thump, another victim of the day's wind.

"Later." Matty said, moving to go. Gene nodded absently, not looking. Matty sighed and went into the building. As he passed the drama room, he ignored the redheaded chick in faded jeans who sprawled in the hallway floor surrounded by textbooks, stepping over her without comment. As if they didn't take up enough space around here already, Matty thought to himself, annoyed. Drama people. What a fucking waste of oxygen.

As he walked past the debate room towards the restrooms, he saw the `GSA at 3 P.M.' sign on the door again and groaned inwardly. Jesus, not again, he thought for the hundredth time today. GSA just spelled headache to Matty. His last school had just been forced to allow one on campus after months of newspaper articles, most viciously against and some few cautiously for, culminating in the widely publicized court decision that prevented the school from banning all clubs just to ensure no GSA could meet. Debate, Drama, Future Teachers, Christian Athletes, hell, the fucking Chess Club couldn't even push pawns on campus during the trial. It had been ludicrous, like something right out of Lewis Carroll. Matty had kept expecting the Queen of Hearts to shout, `Off with his head!' to the stupid protagonists, all spouting one-liners into various assembled news cameras like chatty wind-up dolls after each courtroom adjournment.

The impassioned diatribes on the witness stand made even less sense than the Lewis Carroll variety. Fucking psychotic homophobes. Closing down every single club in the school so they wouldn't violate the first court order. And all to prevent filthy alleged teen fags from meeting together on their precious campus.

They should've checked the bathrooms now and then, thought Matty. They'd have known some of us were already meeting pretty fucking regularly. He chuckled to himself and went past the debate room but a movement in the little room just past it caught his eye. He looked in the door and stopped, stunned.

The cutest butt Matty had ever seen was right there, not six feet in front of him.

The guy was leaning over a paper-strewn desk and talking into an old-style telephone with a cord, both elbows resting in the stacks of slim books and desktop kibble. His tight jeans outlined a firm ass and muscular thighs; each time he verbally punctuated a sentence, the muscles shifted deliciously under the denim. Matty's eyes followed each slight movement but other parts of him were responding, too. Damn. Matty saw an armchair just inside and carefully slid in the doorway to sprawl silently into the chair. Telephone Boy didn't seem to notice, he was intent on his conversation.

Matty relaxed back into the chair and admired the scenery. The other boy's tones were low enough that he could pick up most of the words. It was just the higher pitches that got him into trouble, Matty knew. He quashed that line of thought; he needed to relax. His hearing was his least favorite subject and he'd had enough from Kuo already today, not to mention Marina and Friedman. He had the fucking appointment for a new audiogram already, they could climb back down off his case anytime, he thought with irritation. The blonde spoke again, bringing Matty's attention back to the immediate and its attractions. Mmm, nice.

"So when do you think you can come home?" The guy was asking, finishing his sentence with a delightful flex of his gluts. Yum. After a pause, the boy objected. "But I thought you said you were coming home sooner." Another pause and the guy nodded, unseen by the object of his attention, the gesture accompanied by a luscious wiggle. Lovely. "So, when, maybe tomorrow?" Telephone Boy leaned further over the desk, giving Matty a fantastic view. Nice. Very nice. "Damn, Trey, I mean...I miss you." The guy's voice was plaintive now and the rear action was intense, muscles clenching delightfully. "Yeah, I know." Nice shift to the right that tightened muscle groups all down his leg. Matty licked his dry lips. "Yeah, I know. I will, don't worry." Another slump further onto the desk surface, ass higher in the air and legs spreading slightly. "Okay, I'll call after I get home. Yeah. Mmm, yeah, me, too. Okay, I'll call later. Okay. Yeah. Okay, bye."

The guy set the phone into its cradle and stood, turning towards the door. As he did, Matty was confronted with a godawful gorgeous bulge in the front of one seriously tight pair of jeans molded over muscled thighs. Matty felt his heart skip a few beats while his dick tried to climb right up out of his pants to say hello.

Jesus Christ on a fucking crutch. Have mercy on us sinners thought Matty, heartbeat pounding in his throat.

"Just who the fuck are you?" The voice wasn't so dulcet sweet now; the guy sounded fucking pissed.

Matty tore his eyes aware from the tight crotch of the jeans and looked upward for the first time. Well, goddamn and hello there he thought, stunned again. That hard dick was attached to the most beautiful guy he'd ever seen in his life. Now what are the mathematic odds of that, Matty wondered, still too astonished to speak.

Gorgeous face, full lips currently pouting at him, skin kissed just lightly by the sun, sizzling angry blue eyes smudged with gray eyeshadow and lined in black like an Egyptian pharaoh. Tousled honey blonde hair, just long enough to cover his ears and lick against the edges of his neck. Broad shoulders and hands perched now on slim hips as he glared at Matty.

"I asked you a fucking question." The boy repeated. Matty searched for a vocabulary, any handy lexicon, suddenly unable to identify his own native language as he stared. The other guy hesitated, then frowned.

"This is a drama office." The blonde said in a calmer tone.

"Oh?" Matty said. Brilliant, fucking brilliant. Now think of something else moronic to say. "Um?" Oh, great, let me die now, please, God.

But the blonde was smiling at him now for some reason and leaned back against the edge of the desk, his thighs spreading deliciously apart as he relaxed and continued to watch Matty a little uncertainly, as if he were trying to place the debater's face. The guy's blue eyes were gorgeous, an intense mysterious shade like something you'd find in a silent forest pool of water. Matty watched as the expression slowly altered to a deep dimpled smile that revealed white straight teeth and seemed to brighten up those blue eyes so that they crinkled in the corners. Damn, damn, damn.

"You didn't answer me." The smiling boy observed, eyes twinkling.

"Huh?" Oh, just fucking bury me now. Matty coughed and sat up a little, unable to hide the effect the guy was having on his body.

"Um...Matty. I'm Matty. My name is Matty." He got out in a rush of words. Matty felt his face flush with embarrassment. Jesus H. Christ. And his sister Susan.

The other boy just laughed and walked towards the chair Matty was still half sprawled in. He leaned down with a hand on either armrest and kissed Matty full on the lips, a slow leisurely kiss with just enough tongue action to shut back down whatever parts of Matty's brain had managed to come online after the visual assault. He pulled back to survey the damage he'd wrought, searching Matty's heated face and then smiling again.

"I sure like the tongue stud, Matty." He said in a low voice just this side of downright sultry. He stood and walked to the door, then turned. Matty's eyes followed him like iron filings on a magnet.

"My name's Jaye." The blonde said with a wink and left the little room. Matty's eyes dropped to that ass just before it disappeared. Drama office, huh? Fuck, where do I sign up?

Matty laughed at himself, sitting up in the chair and shaking his head. Goddam, next fucking thing you know I'll get religion.

`In their Master's chamber,

They are gathered for the feast;

They stab it with their steely knives

But they just can't kill the beast.'

Hotel California (Eagles, 1977)

Michael wrapped the towel around his waist and prayed the shower was empty; he couldn't wait any longer and still be on time to his next class. The room was noisy with athletes dressing and talking, steam wafted in from the shower and wet footprints evaporated slowly in the aisles between lockers. He crossed the room, trying not to notice the stares, trying to will himself to become invisible. No one had actually said anything outright to him so he pretended he didn't catch the occasional word tossed in his direction. Angel did this and so could he, Michael told himself yet again.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. No doubt the guy who made that up was really trying to convince himself, thought Michael. Words certainly felt as if they hurt. Michael would almost have preferred the sticks and stones. It'd have been a hell of a lot more honest, unlike this, unlike guys turning their heads to pretend they hadn't spoken, pretend they hadn't been staring. Hell, maybe he was invisible. No such luck, he knew. Michael had known gym with the team would be bad, he just hadn't known exactly how bad. This had been the longest class of Michael's life, this interlude in Gethsemane, and he couldn't imagine how he was going to finish the year like this. Something would have to change, but what? How the hell did Angel do this, he asked himself again, amazed. Michael could feel the animosity of the others; their eyes hitting him like futuristic laser guns, square on his naked back as he entered the shower. Christ, why do they care?

Michael draped the towel on a hook and stood under the shower, turning the water on and gritting his teeth as the cold water hit his skin first. He closed his eyes as the water heated and tingled warm across his body. Relax; relax, Michael told himself, and this cup of suffering might pass you by.

"So I hear you're a faggot now, Morrison." Came a rough, low voice near him.

Michael opened his eyes and then wished he hadn't. Sticks and stones. Ryan Sellers stood fully dressed inside the doorway of the shower with Billy Silverson and Scott Prior, who had spoken, just behind him. Billy was Ryan's shadow, always ready to agree to anything, always eager to be included. Scott was something worse, a little guy who took out resentment of all his own shortcomings, and they were many, on a world rendered pliant in Ryan's wake. There was nothing quite like the fury of short man who dreamed of size in every department and God save anyone foolish enough to make him feel small. Forever walking a step behind the school star quarterback did nothing to improve Scott's temperament. The three of them now watched, as Michael stood, frozen with a bar of soap in his hand, face carefully expressionless.

"Wonder why he's taking his shower all alone?" Scott said with a sneer. "You'd think he'd be hot to see the rest of us naked."

Michael didn't visibly react but laid the soap back into the wall tray.

Ryan laughed but the sound wasn't pleasant. Billy looked from Michael to Ryan, a spectator following a tennis match that was almost beneath awareness. That Scott had lobbed a ball into the court didn't make him a player and Billy knew it.

"We heard you were hanging around that drama kid today, the one with all the makeup." Ryan said conversationally. "What's his name, again?"

Scott feigned surprise at this news. "Who, Angel?"

Ryan's eyes glittered and never left Michael as he answered his friend. "Yeah, that's it, Scott, Angel. Michael and Angel, that's what we heard. So, what's up with that, Mike?"

Billy laughed nervously. Michael stepped out from under the shower spray and reached for his towel. Scott plucked the towel from the hook just before Michael's fingers touched it.

Michael took a deep breath. "I'd like my towel, Scott." He forced himself to look in their eyes calmly. It's incredible how vulnerable you feel, Michael thought, if you're the only one naked. His body wanted him to cover himself and he fought the urge to conceal his genitals behind his hands. He could stay calm; it was a question of will. He would not show them how he felt, not with words and not with body english. It wasn't helping that Scott was looking at his crotch. Michael's dick couldn't decide whether to hide or get hard, the scrutiny was sending one too many confused signals to his brain.

"I asked you a fucking question, Mike." Ryan said in a voice like iron. Scott laid the towel over his shoulder and leaned against the tile wall of the shower, folding his arms across his chest, his eyes on Michael. Billy moved back a step almost instinctively.

The sounds in the dressing area were fewer now, lockers slamming, and the occasional volley of good-byes. Michael thought again of the image over the de la Torres breakfast table this morning, The Sacred Heart of Mary. There had been another very like it in the front room, of Jesus with that same bare wounded heart. Unbidden from his memory came the words: Help us face the darkness where we are weak and steady us when we are afraid. Michael remembered Angel's delighted face when Michael had agreed to go to mass with him, remembered the feel of the tiny golden crucifix so often around his lover's neck. God doesn't condemn us for who we love but he sure might object to haters, Michael thought to himself. And I do believe that. I have nothing to be ashamed of he told himself. I won't let them see the hurt they cause. He steeled himself, willing his stomach and his lungs to quiet.

"What do you want, Ryan?" Michael asked, his voice a thousand times calmer than he felt.

Ryan's expression was filled with distaste. "So is it true?"

"Is what true?" Michael asked softly.

"That you're queer." Ryan's voice was cold, his mouth curled in disgust, but his eyes were searching Michael's face.

Michael sighed. "I don't see what business it is of yours, Ryan, but yeah, I'm gay. If you wanna fight about it, at least let me get dressed first." Michael's stomach lurched and he fought down the urge to run, to cry, to vomit up his heart. This guy wasn't worth it, none of them were worth it, none of them were worth the least little moment with Angel, with Gene, both better people than Ryan could ever hope to be.

Scott was snickering; Billy's face was unreadable. Ryan seemed to be trying to find something in Michael's face; his muscles were tense.

"And that Angel, he's your...what?" Ryan asked in that flat voice.

Michael tensed. "Leave him out of it. Leave him alone, Ryan. You bother Angel and you'll deal with me like you never have, like you can't imagine." Michael said in a low voice, his eyes like knives on Ryan.

Ryan's expression shifted. "Jesus Christ, Michael, him? Fuck, he's barely what you'd call a guy and he's...he's not even white. He's..."Ryan groped for words, anger just beneath the surface of his face. "Jesus, Mike, what the fuck did he do to you?" Ryan asked finally, his eyes desperate.

Michael took a slow breath, watching Ryan. "He didn't do anything to me, Ryan, I was born this way. I don't see what the hell difference it makes, either. I'm the same guy I was before you knew."

Ryan's brow creased. "It makes a difference, Mike, because you're not like him, you're supposed to be one of us. You've always been one of us. Fuck, Mike! Queer, gay, what's the difference what you call it, you're gonna go to hell for this shit."

Billy laughed nervously and Ryan shot him a vicious look.

"Go to class, asshole." Ryan told Billy. Billy hesitated, looking from one to the other of them, then, with a resigned look, left the shower. A moment later the outer door could be heard. Ryan stared at Scott who only looked back, his expression surly.

"You too, Scott, piss off." Ryan said in a dangerous voice.

Scott's eyes slitted as he studied Ryan. Finally, he pushed up off of the wall, shrugging Michael's towel to the floor. "Fuck you, Ryan." Scott said under his breath.

Ryan ignored him, turning his attention back to Michael. Scott left, muttering and angry.

Ryan looked at his wide receiver, trying to remember if there had been any clue, anything Michael had done in the past that would explain this and make it understandable. His father had told him all his life that queers were sick, the judge's judgement, and Ryan knew it was true but how the hell could someone like Michael be that way? It just didn't make any fucking sense. Guys like Angel and those other drama fags, sure, but Michael, a football player, hell, a great football player, his teammate? Shit, what had that little drama queer done to him? How could Michael call himself those things?

"Mike, listen. You're not qu--...you're not...gay. Jesus, you like girls as much as I do."

Michael shook his head, not speaking, his green eyes on Ryan's face. I would give a lot to have that towel in my hand, he thought, fighting not to think about his nakedness. Ryan looked at him, frowning.

"Does your dad know?" Ryan asked him.


"And? Christ, he can't be okay with it, Mike, it's sick, what you're saying is sick." Ryan said, his voice heated.

Michael casually stepped towards his towel on the floor, not taking his eyes from Ryan's.

"I don't happen to agree with you. And neither does my father." Michael said calmly.

Ryan's gaze moved down Michael's naked body, taking in the hickey on his neck with a grimace, and moving downward. Michael again fought the urge to cover himself and steadied his breathing. He'd known Ryan's family most of his life and nothing bad could happen here, he told himself. Ryan's eyes were on his dick and Michael felt a flutter of fear. He didn't like the look in the quarterback's eyes but he couldn't quite name why.

"Does he..."Ryan asked softly, his eyes between Michael's legs. "Does he suck your cock for you, Mike?"

Michael felt a tremor pass through his body. This was going right on past weird into something surreal. He felt his dick twitch; he couldn't help it. Dear God I need the towel, Michael thought desperately but kept his expression neutral. He took a step toward the towel and knelt down, his eyes leaving Ryan as he hooked his fingers in the rough white terrycloth. He stood up and froze.

Ryan was scant inches in front of him, his piercing blue eyes intense as he looked down at Michael.

"I know how it is, Mike, I know how girls are, the way the bitches tease and say no. I mean, that's what it is, right? Fags don't tease, right? I mean, you're just horny, right, Mike?" Ryan swallowed hard. "I mean...I can understand that, fuck, any normal guy can understand that. You wanna get off and that fag sucks your cock for you. I mean...yeah, sure but, shit, that doesn't make you a fag, too, Mike. You're not gay, Mike, you're not, you're just not!" Ryan was breathing hard, his face flushed.

Michael held the towel in his left hand, not daring to move, not sure of what he saw in Ryan's face. There was no sound now from the locker room, no sound in the shower but a steady drip from the far faucet. Ryan leaned closer; Michael could feel the other boy's breath on his skin.

"You're not a fag, Mike, just cause you're horny, that doesn't make you...gay." Ryan insisted under his breath, his eyes on Michael.

Michael shook his head, forcing himself to hold still, not to give in to the urge to pull away and run. Among other things, Ryan outweighed him by quite a lot and he didn't think he could leave if Ryan didn't want him to. Better not to try and fail, he told himself. He looked deep into Ryan's ice-blue eyes. This isn't what I expected but what this is, no way could I say. Ryan's eyes didn't quite look angry anymore.

"Guys like you and me can't be gay, Mike." Ryan said softly.

Oh, Christ thought Michael. He felt the back of Ryan's hand brush across his dick and he froze. Michael closed his eyes, thought processes shutting down in shock.

"Guys help each other out, Mike, normal guys like us, and that doesn't make them queer."

Ryan's voice was low, a rumble in his massive chest that Michael felt as well as heard. Ryan's erection touched against Michael's hip and his body responded. Michael felt sick, his stomach stirred again and he tasted bile.

"You got it wrong, Ryan." Michael said quietly, cautiously, without opening his eyes. "I'm gay, I've always been gay."

"This..."Ryan's hand pressed lightly on Michael's half-hard dick as he whispered, "...this don't make you gay, Mike. It just makes you...a guy, a normal guy. Guys get horny, it don't mean anything. Guys like us aren't gay, okay, Mike?"

Michael drew in a shaky breath and took a step backward, ashamed that he was erect. He wrapped the towel tight around his waist and tucked in the end. Michael opened his eyes and looked at the blonde young man he'd played sports alongside for so many years. Ryan's blue eyes were wide open and serious; his jeans were full in the front, his expression difficult to discern. Michael drew in a breath and spoke carefully.

"You're right, this doesn't make me gay. What makes me gay is who I fall in love with, Ryan, not who I jack off with. I've never been in love with a girl and I guess I never will be, either. I tried but I'm not like that. I'm...gay and I'm okay with it. And so's my father." Michael told him.

Ryan's face flushed dark as Michael spoke. "In love? With what, Mike, that little Spic?"

Michael tensed.

Ryan's voice was a sneer now. "You let him suck your cock, that doesn't mean you're in love, Mike, shit, you sound just like a girl. Love, love, love. Just because your dick got hard. Fuck, I almost let him suck me this morning, Mike, and I fucking know what that was, and it sure as hell wasn't love."

Michael clenched his fists at his sides, furious. "Fuck you, Ryan. You go near Angel, you'll be sorry."

Ryan laughed. "What, can't he suck me too, Mike?"

Michael's fist shot out before he could think but Ryan blocked it easily with his right. And then the floor lifted up and slammed into the back of Michael's head.

Jesus, how could I forget that left of Ryan's? was Michael's first clear thought as his brain swirled and threatened to go dark. Michael turned his head and vomited weakly onto the wet tile floor. He heard the outer locker room door.

I'm such a fucking hero, thought Michael groggily. How can I take care of Angel if I can't even take care of myself?

Michael saw the coach's worried face over his and groaned. Time to walk to Golgotha, he thought, as he let his coach help him to his feet. I will get through this day, he told himself. I will get through this and come out the other side, no matter what anyone thinks, no matter what anyone says or does.

We all have our crosses to bear, Michael told himself, but not everyone has an angel waiting at the end of the road. I can do this; I can be strong. For Angel.

I know who I am, Michael thought, and I'm not ashamed. If Angel can do this, so can I. He felt the coach's fingers on his head and winced. What does not kill us makes us stronger is the saying, Michael remembered. At this rate, I'll be a superman by tomorrow.

Maybe then I can be Angel's hero.

`Something amazing-

A boy falling out of the sky.'

Musee de Beaux Art (W. H. Auden)

"You must be that famous little drama fuck, Angel de la Torres." said a mocking voice as Angel entered the debate room at 3:05.

"Vai tomar no cú." Marina Pereira Abrantes snapped in her lovely contralto to the bleach-blonde boy who had spoken. "What were we just telling you?"

"Eat me." Matty suggested. "And don't talk to me in that fucking Brazilian." Matty was scrunched down in a chair near the door examining Angel's tight jeans and lacy shirt. Angel is just a little more yin than I usually liked in my yang, Matty decided. Several other debaters worked on tables around the room, Friedman was in his office with the door closed.

"Portugese, you dickless shit." Marina corrected automatically, her tone mild and her attention returning to the case folders stacked in front of her.

Nice, thought Angel. Debaters are such sweethearts. Great place to have a meeting.

"So, Marina," Angel asked the beautiful dark-skinned debater, "Does the dickless shit have a name?"

Marina and several other debaters laughed, causing Matty to scowl.

"Yeah, querido, he's Matty, Gene's new partner. Lucky Kuo, huh?" Marina told Angel.

Angel looked at the boy, surprised to learn that he was a debater. Besides the bleached and spiky hair, he wore metal in his lip, ear, nose and both eyebrows. His tight black tee shirt had `I'm only wearing black until they come up with something darker' lettered in white across his pectorals. Matty seemed the polar opposite of Gene Kuo and Angel couldn't imagine Gene speaking to him, let alone debating with him. Angel sat down in the chair next to Matty, ignoring the debater's look of distaste. Matty looked away as Angel studied him, folding his arms across the slogan on his chest.

"Where are you from?" Angel asked.

Matty didn't answer; Angel frowned.

"What's your problem anyhow?" Angel asked him, laying his hand on Matty's shoulder as he spoke.

Matty started and turned to look at Angel with eyes briefly wide, then frowned. And that's when it registered.

Keeping his eyes on Matty's, Angel asked softly, "Are you Deaf?"


Matty slapped Angel's hand from his arm.

"Fuck you, kid." Matty answered.


Angel looked at Matty, at his angry posture and his nasty expression. Gene's partner, thought Angel, there has to be more to him than just being a jerk. Angel tried to remember what Gene might have said about a new partner but could think of nothing except that he might be from California. Angel remembered how he had acted when his father was still at home; Jaye never let him forget what a shit he'd been to everyone. It had been so much easier to be a shit, though; it had seemed so much safer for such a long time. Angel looked thoughtfully at Matty's scowling face and the rigid muscles in his arms.

Angel leaned close and kissed Matty lightly on the cheek. Matty snarled and pushed him away, then got up and shoved out the debate room door. Two other debaters glanced up then back down to their work. Marina caught Angel's eye and smiled, lighting up her coal black eyes.

Angel slowly smiled in return. He stood and followed the spiky debater.

Angel caught up with Matty in the smoking area outside. The blonde debater was smoking a Marlboro and leaning into the wall, right hand thrust into his jeans pocket. He was looking out across the pond as he exhaled, smoke wreathing his head before dissipating. Angel leaned next to him and waited.

After a moment, Matty turned his head to regard Angel without expression, smoky elvish eyes raking up and down the slender form beside him. Matty's blue eyes were so unlike Jaye's, darker and almost gray, clouds pregnant with undelivered rain.

"Why do you wanna look like that?" Matty asked him quietly.

Angel smiled. "Why do you?"

Matty's answering smile was faint, mostly playing around his lips and eyes, but it was definitely there.

"I hear you fuck anybody." Matty didn't ask.

Angel raised his eyebrows. "Only friends."

Matty's smile came to rest on his lips. "Got a lotta friends have you, Angel?"

Angel chuckled. "Not so you'd notice. Mainly in drama."

Matty half-closed his eyes and looked at Angel from under thick lashes.

"And in debate?" Matty asked casually, tossing down what was left of his cigarette.

Angel smiled slightly. "There, too."

Matty studied Angel's languid posture. "Gene?"

Angel paused, then answered. "Yeah, Gene, these days." At Matty's sharp look, Angel added, "Not that kind of friend, not Gene."

Matty watched Angel; the tension in his face and body easing. "I see. Not cute enough for you?"

Angel blushed and shook his head. "Gene's...he doesn't have to be cute. He's Gene."

Matty's eyes sparkled suddenly. "Yeah, I know."

They looked at each other for a long moment. Matty pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and offered them to Angel, who hesitated.

"Uh, I'm not supposed to." Angel told him.

Matty grinned. "You only do what you're supposed to, Angel?"

Angel blushed again, deeper. He watched Matty withdraw a cigarette and light it, again offering him the pack. God, he wanted one but John was on campus and Camelot auditions were Wednesday. Angel watched Matty exhale slowly, the pack still in his hand.

"Okay, just one." Angel said reluctantly.

Matty lit a second cigarette and handed it to Angel, sliding the half-empty pack into his back pocket.

"I won't tell." Matty promised Angel.

Their eyes met as they smoked in silence. The wind ruffled Angel's hair, black strands glinting in the afternoon sunlight.

"So you're running this GSA thing?" Matty finally asked.

Angel shrugged. "Sort of. Mainly Jaye...and Gene, I think."

Matty coughed on his cigarette. "Jaye?"

Angel nodded. "Yeah, it was his idea, really. You know Jaye?"

It was Matty's turn to blush. Angel looked on, fascinated, as the debater colored deeper while he watched.

"We've met." Matty admitted, dropping his eyes.

Wow, thought Angel, but said nothing. He watched Matty regain control of blood vessels; his face fading back to the whiter shade of pale he'd worn before. Angel touched Matty's arm lightly.

Matty looked up.

"So...you and Gene?" Angel asked.

Matty flushed and Angel held up a hand, trying not to smile.

"Debate, I mean debating." Angel clarified.

Matty nodded. "Yeah. That's why I moved here. We've known each other for years, Gene and me."

Angel concentrated on not showing what he was thinking. Curiouser and curiouser as Alice said while falling down the rabbit hole, thought Angel. This Monday certainly was chock-full of vitamin goodness from A to Z.

A head popped out from around the corner near the door and Angel jumped, throwing down the cigarette and stomping on its remains.

Camille laughed. "I won't tell John."

Angel let out his breath in a whoosh. "Jesus, you scared me."

Angel saw Matty eyeing the ballerina.

"Camille, Matty, Gene's new partner. Matty, Camille, the best ballerina in four counties." Angel offered.

Camille snorted. "Competition's not that tough in these counties, Angel, but thanks. Hi, Matty. I'm glad Gene has someone new, I know he needed it."

To Angel's surprise, Matty flushed again but said nothing.

"Debate partner. Matty's a debater, too." Angel explained.

Camille's dark eyes roamed down Matty's compact body slowly and back up before smiling at him enigmatically.

"Yeah, I hear Gene needs that, too." Camille agreed, eyes alight. She looked pointedly at Angel.

"Meeting's starting." Camille told him.

Matty ground out his cigarette and followed the two dramaheads into the building, feeling naked. Jaye and the GSA. I should have guessed Matty told himself, remembering Jaye's forceful kiss.

That guy was way too cute to be heterosexual.

And so Matty went inside to sit near Gene, pulling the debate room door shut behind him.

Dr. Ira Friedman watched as Gene shuffled through the printouts in his hand, running slim fingers through dark hair in the unconscious gesture so familiar to his coach, Gene Kuo organizing his thoughts before speaking. He'd known Gene since the boy was in eighth grade and his junior high speech teacher had brought him to watch senior Northsiders debate in a local finals round. Ira had been fascinated by the boy's rapt attention to the complex, high-speed debate. He'd let the boy watch him flow the round, leaning over Ira's shoulder to look at the crabbed notes, eyes flicking up periodically at the speakers. He was always pleased to find new prospects but, even from the first, Gene had promised to be something special. Gene had met every expectation in the years since and then exceeded them, becoming one of the top cross-ex competitors in the country and likely to have his choice of university debate scholarships. Gene looked out at the group in the debate room and cleared his throat, launching into a concise explanation of GSA guidelines and goals for the attentive, nervous eyes of his audience.

There were more people here than Friedman had expected, two other teachers and about two-dozen students, most of whom he'd never seen before. He'd really expected John Ironwood to make an appearance but the dance teacher was absent, having said nothing to Friedman's general attempts to bring the subject up today. John had seemed uncomfortable and not met Friedman's eyes. Ira would have bet anything that John was gay himself which was why he'd tried to initiate discussion. The young theater teacher seemed a natural advisor for gay or questioning students but the man just wasn't interested. That was too bad but what could Friedman do? Maybe John would change his mind when he saw the group gain numbers and acceptance. Friedman was sure it would with Gene overseeing it despite the problems other schools around the country had had with similar programs. Only last year, a school was forced to allow the group after a widely publicized court decision so Northside administration wasn't likely to interfere with civil liberties in the same way. This didn't mean there'd be no trouble; just that it wouldn't be official. Ira looked forward to seeing how that worked out. He hated bigots, he'd dealt with them enough in his life to know how they worked and planned to stay close to Gene for awhile, just in case.

Marina Abrantes stood behind his wheelchair, her hand curling absently around one of the handles. He knew her expression without looking; she was worried. She was fond of Gene, of Angel and many of the others, and didn't want to see them hurt. Neither did he but he had a lot of faith in Gene's ability to deflect difficulty. Right now, Gene looked calm as he fielded questions about the program and took suggestions, Jaye Patterson standing at his side. An interesting side note was the way Gene's new partner Matty tried to avoid looking at the blonde drama student who kept smiling at him. Friedman smiled to himself and felt Marina's hand squeeze his shoulder. Ever sensitive to Ira's thoughts, she'd noticed, too. Certainly a curious development, thought Friedman. Matty was such an odd duck but Ira never took his peculiarities and outbursts to heart, understanding all too well how prickly being different could make a person. God knows he'd spent much of his own life trying to stave off pity with an abrasive personality.

Matty was bisexual, he'd told Friedman, but that was only part of his difficulty with his parents and peers. His hearing had never been good but over the last year had taken a definite downswing, setting off a series of wild attempts to deflect attention that included, unfortunately, the punky tough look Matty had shown up with over the weekend. The facial piercings would have to go before the weekend and Friedman didn't want to think about where else Matty might be wearing metal. None of his business, really. He knew Gene had been as much amused as annoyed, though, and was grateful, confident the two boys would work it out on their own. One reality of debate they were all aware of was the premium put on appearance and he knew they were both committed to a successful year of competition that would ease them into a full scholarships with a university debate teams after graduation. Friedman wanted to see Gene at Harvard, the school that had turned its nose up at Ira so many years ago despite his record. The Harvard coach then hadn't said so but he'd not wanted a smartass Jew in a wheelchair on his team. Friedman had taken enormous pleasure in defeating his teams on a regular basis for the four years he'd competed as an undergraduate at Stanford. Petty, yes, but so damn gratifying. Seeing Gene on debate scholarship there would take the last of the sting from that old wound.

Gene's mood lately had worried Friedman. He knew it had something to do with his friend Michael but hadn't asked any questions. He suspected they'd been lovers though he and Gene never discussed it but recently something had changed. What that something was had become clear fifteen minutes ago when Michael had pulled Angel de la Torres onto his lap in the corner of the debate room and the slender drama student had wrapped his arms easily around the football player's neck. Gene had lost Michael to the other boy, that much was clear. Friedman resented Michael's open display right here in the debate room, Gene's unofficial territory, but the couple was oblivious to the dark looks Ira shot in their direction. This was going to be more difficult for Gene than he'd thought if Michael had no more sensitivity to his former lover than that. Friedman had never thought much of the athlete, considering him somewhat less than Gene deserved despite his good looks and friendly personality. Maybe Gene would find someone else while helping with the GSA, someone more dependable. Ira wondered if he should call Barbara Kuo, wondered how Gene was doing at home. No, that wasn't his business either and he didn't think Gene would appreciate interference. Still, he couldn't help wanting to reach out, to help in some way to make Gene's life a little easier. He'd have to wait for Gene to come to him, though, but he doubted it was going to happen. Gene was too damn independent. Ira smiled to himself. That was very much the pot calling the kettle black and he knew it. He felt Marina's hand massage his neck and relaxed. Friedman would think of something with her help, some way to let Gene get past this. Marina was much better than he was with matters of the heart.

Jaye listened to Gene with half an ear, unable to fully concentrate on setting up the Northside GSA even though it had been his own idea. Two things distracted him, warring for his attention. Angel sat on Michael's lap to his right, arms wound around the athlete and leaning into his muscled body with a contented look on his face. There was no question that they were lovers now, that Angel had a boyfriend for the first time, and the way that made Jaye feel confused him. He should be happy for Angel but he just couldn't be. He wasn't as angry as he had been but he sure as hell wasn't happy watching Michael sneak kisses from his best friend. Jaye tried not to look but couldn't seem to stop himself. Beside him, Gene seemed calm and Jaye wondered how he managed it. He remembered Gene's face this morning when they'd watched their friends walk to class together. Gene wasn't a happy camper any more than he was. What a lousy thing to have in common, he thought.

The other thing that drew his eye was Matty, seated near the door and slouched down in a chair. Every time Jaye looked over, the boy flushed and looked downward but Jaye wasn't fooled. Matty was watching him and the thought electrified Jaye. He was very conscious of Matty's body in the tight tee shirt and jeans, his legs angled out lazily in front of him in the chair. He thought of their kiss earlier and felt his body and face heat. The way Matty looked at him made even Trey's admiration pale in comparison. Oh, he wasn't planning on anything serious with Matty, hell, if he wanted a boyfriend, Trey would be his first choice, no question. But it was nice to be looked at that way and his body responded to the fire in Matty's eyes. Jaye didn't want a boyfriend anyway, he'd never wanted one, but it looked as if he had two new distractions in his life. Some things to take his mind off Angel and Michael. Something to salve the hurt from Bobby's problems and the distance Bobby had always kept from him. It was amazing to Jaye how Bobby could be naked with him and still hold back, leaving Jaye a little wounded after each time they'd been together. It didn't hurt to be treated differently, to be wanted as badly as Trey and Matty seemed to want him. And they weren't ashamed of how they felt. That made more difference that Jaye had ever realized.

Still, he looked forward to seeing Bobby and he wondered how difficult that was going to be now, how tough Mrs. Boyd was going to be with Bobby when he came home. He had a feeling that the last people she'd want to see around her son were Jaye and Angel; he remembered how she had looked at the two of them last week at the hospital. Her son had just swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, had tried to end his own life and all she seemed worried about was whether the two of them had been doing anything they shouldn't with Bobby, as if they'd infected him with homosexuality like a virus. What a bitch, thought Jaye. Maybe I'll just visit Bobby without her knowing; maybe I'll tap on his window sometime this week. The thought sent blood rushing fast to several parts of him. Jaye thought that would address a lot of problems, there was nothing like a little friendly cuddling to take your mind off your unhappiness. He could just imagine that Bobby's time at Exodus had been awful and he desperately wanted to make sure Bobby wasn't any worse than he had been; he wanted to comfort his friend. The memory of that place, of their lurid pamphlets and the hateful attitude evident in their wall notices infuriated him. Just who the hell did they think they were to claim that God preferred heterosexuality, even from homosexuals. It would be funny if it weren't so serious. The thought of Bobby alone in that place terrified him and it had frightened Angel, too, Jaye knew. He really hoped Bobby was okay. Jaye looked over again at Matty and paused, caught in those smoky blue eyes, forgetting where he was for a moment. Damn.

Matty looked down again and Jaye smiled. Matty was pretty cute for a debater. Jaye wondered what else was pierced on the other boy under those clothes and felt his face flush hot. Damn, damn and double damn. He absolutely had to get Matty's phone number before he left today.

Outside, dappled drama ducks hunted for scraps left by the departing hordes, snapping and snipping at each other beside the rippling water of the Northside pond. The landscaped campus gradually cleared of people, luring back the silence as the afternoon faded into evening. Ducks sailed out across the pond in a fleet of sleek gray feathers that broke the water's surface, folding light water back onto dark. A breeze fluttered across their wake, mussing the neat edges and stirring the reeds that clustered along the near shore.

The wind had changed at Northside.

`I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:

The notion of some infinitely gentle

Infinitely suffering thing.'

Preludes (T.S. Eliot, 1917)

[End of Part 17.5]

Thanks again for your support! I'm still learning and all of you are helping me even if it's just by reading Drama Club or joining the list, but the emails really keep me going TragicRabbit11@aol.com


Other fiction/poetry by Tragic Rabbit, including the Drama Club spoof chapter `The Farewell Tour' and regular Drama Club chapters before they hit Nifty are available only at: www.awesomedude.com


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