This is, it turns out, a story about fear and cowardice. Standard disclaimers would apply if there were any actual sex in this but, as it turns out, there isn't. So, if relationship stories freak you out, or you're looking to get your keyboard sticky, now would be a good time to run away. No, really. Probably the best time, thinking about it.
Many thanks to Ashken, Ender, and Kitty, intrepid editors.
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It was the Monday before Christmas vacation, and I'd decided to skip out on lunch today and hit the weight room instead. With play practice starting up, even informally, Rick and I hadn't been spending all that much time together and I was kind of missing him. Yeah, we were still studying together, but Melanie was always with us when we did that, and it just wasn't the same.
I kinda wanted to spend some time with him while I had the chance. My parents and I were going home for Christmas, and then right after the holidays it was rehearsals until the performances at the end of March. Lifting weights didn't seem like the best way to get together, but it was all we really had. So I slammed down my sandwich while I changed, and headed into the torture chamber. It was sort of busy, with maybe a dozen guys in there on the machines and free weights. Rob was even there, though I don't think he saw me come in. He was busy on a weight bench pushing some steel plates up and down. I though that'd do a number on his hands, but ... whatever worked for him, I guess.
Rick was already at work, sitting on one of the machines and pulling a bar down. It was kind of funny to see him go at it -- he must've had almost as much weight on the machine as he was, since he went up almost as much as the bar went down when he pulled. The only reason he wasn't hoisted all the way up was the padded bar he'd braced his knees under. He'd ditched the baggy t-shirts for ones that fit, which was probably a good thing, since there were enough cables, pulleys, and weights that he could really hurt himself if his shirt got caught in the machinery.
"Hey, Rick," I said, as I came up behind him.
I guess I must've surprised him, since he gave a yelp and let go of the bar. The stack of weights crashed down almost as hard as he did. The bar bounced on its cable and started to spin, so I reached out and grabbed it before it smacked someone in the head.
"Justin, hi," he said, gasping a little. "You surprised me." He was looking a little flushed. I wasn't sure if it was from the exercise or the surprise.
"Sorry," I said, feeling a little embarrassed. I hadn't meant to sneak up on him. Looking around it didn't seem like the crash really registered on anyone else in the room. The dozen or so other guys in there were still doing whatever it was they were doing, and nobody was paying us any attention.
"Ah, it's OK," Rick said. "Those Ninja reflexes of yours."
"Yeah, that," I replied, feeling a little better. This was sort of a running joke between us. "Beware my spinning blades of death, or something like that."
"Hi, Justin," came a voice from behind me, and it was my turn to jump. "You OK, Ricky?"
"Yeah, fine Dan," Rick said, looking past me. I turned and saw Dan... someone or other. I didn't remember his last name, but he was that swimmer guy Rick was working out with. >From what Rick said when he made lunch, Dan was an OK guy. He was the big reason Rick was still working out, from what I could tell, since Rick always skipped workouts on days Dan had other things to do. Looking around at all the football player types in the room, I couldn't blame him, really.
"So, Justin," said Dan, "what brings you to jock heaven? Decide you need to bench press Buicks like the steroid set?" Dan's eyes were flicking around as he said that, probably looking at some of the other guys in the room. Some of them were pretty damn big, and it wouldn't surprise me if three or four of 'em could lift my car. He was looking at me, too, from what I could tell, which was sort of flattering, especially since when he was done he ended up looking me in the face, not anywhere else.
I probably should've said that I was here to see Rick, but that seemed kind of needy, even if it was true, and that made me hesitate. That gave me enough time to realize that maybe it wasn't the best thing to say in the middle of the weight room either -- Trevor had been giving me a rundown of things to not say in public, and this felt like maybe it was one of them. "Ah, just figured I'd stop in and see how things were going," I said instead.
"Pretty good," Dan said. "Ricky here's been hitting the machines pretty hard."
"Yup," Rick said. "I've almost doubled the weights I started with." He was sitting up straight and I swear he looked proud of that. The machine he was on was set to sixty pounds, and while I didn't know if that was good or bad overall, it had to be almost half of what Rick weighed so I figured it was good for him.
"Cool," I said. "Sounds like it's working out between you guys?"
"Sure is," Dan said. He'd jumped in pretty quickly. "You maybe want to work out with us too?" Rick was looking at Dan and had an odd look on his face. Granted, "odd" covered a lot of ground for me, so I didn't know what exactly it meant. Maybe he thought I'd be intruding, since this seemed to be something he was enjoying doing with Dan. That hurt a little, but the weight training had definitely been making him feel better, so I didn't want to get in the way.
"Nah," I replied. "I'll pass. Not my thing." I admit, I didn't want to spend too much time in here with the football crowd either. Or with Rob, really. He'd not said anything to me in the past two weeks, not since I'd gone over to his house so he could draw me for his art class he'd been skipping, and I wasn't sure myself what to say. It was even more awkward than normal, and for me that's pretty bad.
"You sure, Justin? That bag over there's looking like it may start something," Dan said with a big grin. He was gesturing with his thumb at the punching bag I'd pummeled the last time I was in here.
I grinned back. "I bet you guys can outrun it if you really try," I said.
I figured it was time for me to just bail out and leave Rick and Dan to their training schedule, so I took an obvious look at the clock over the door, a trick Melanie had told me about. I'd only been in the room for maybe fifteen minutes, but I didn't think anyone'd notice. "Hey, I need to go," I said. "Rick, you going to be backstage last period?"
"Uh huh. Paul and I were going to start working out what we're going to need. Paul wants to get the lighting cues all set and I'm trying to work out what we're going to need for sets and set changes so the art guys can get things built and painted."
"Okay, I'll catch you then. Later, guys." I turned and started to the door.
"Hey, Justin," Dan said, clapping me on the shoulder as I went past. "Don't be a stranger!" I gave him a big smile and hit the locker room.
* * *
I went straight from my physics class to the auditorium, a trip that took me through one of the busy central corridors of the school. With class changing, the halls were packed, but even then Trevor stood out in the crowd. He was tall enough to poke his head above most of the underclassmen, and when he moved he had an unmistakable grace to him. It didn't hurt that he was a damn snappy dresser. Today he had on a tight, intense red knit top, and he was wearing a grey hat out of an old '30s detective movie, so he was really easy to pick out of the crowd.
"Hey, Trevor," I shouted to him over the dull roar, giving a wave as I did. He caught my eye quick enough.
"Justin! Hey!" Trevor hurried over to me, gliding between the dozen or so people in the hall between us. He was really graceful, and kind of attractive for all that he damn near minced some days. It struck me suddenly, watching him move, that he'd be better at aikido than I ever could be. It also struck me that, if things were different, I could really fall hard for him. It was kind of a shame he was straight.
It was also funny to see the other people in the halls watch him as he moved. There were a couple of guys with some nasty body language, but most everyone else just got out of his way almost by instinct. There was also one guy in a beat-up denim jacket that was openly staring at Trevor's ass as he went past. Brown hair, medium height, with some zits bad enough to see from forty feet away, not that that was uncommon. When he saw me watching, he turned and paid a lot of attention to his locker.
"You've got an admirer, Trevor," I teased as he got in close.
"What, who? She pretty?" Trevor turned and scanned the crowd behind him. He even reached up and tipped his hat at his mystery watcher.
"Sort of plain. The brown-haired guy in the jean jacket over there," I replied. I nodded in the direction of the guy who'd been looking.
"Oh, him." Trevor scowled. He turned and started walking down the hall towards the auditorium. "One of the rats. They're always giving me a hard time. Probably wants to kick my ass in the parking lot after school."
"Maybe," I said, not convinced. "I'm not sure that's what he had in mind for your ass, though."
"Great," he groaned. "Don't you start in on my ass, Justin."
"Yeah, I know," I said, grabbing his hat off his head and putting it on my own. "Off limits." I dropped back a step and made a big show of staring at him. "Pity, it's kind of nice."
"What? Really? You like my ass?" Trevor twisted his body around, trying to take a look himself. It didn't work, but it did look kind of funny.
"Yeah, it's worth looking at," I said. "A very nice ass." I waggled my eyebrows at him and tried to leer. I'm sure it looked really stupid, and probably wouldn't do a damn thing for Trevor's reputation, but then again I'm not sure your reputation can go too far downhill from 'screaming queer'.
Of course, Rob's near-perfect timing didn't help, since he rounded the corner ahead of us just as I was ogling Trevor's butt. Which, truth be told, wasn't all that bad, especially in the tailored grey slacks he was wearing.
Rob looked like he was in pain, too. Guess he'd overdone it in the weight room earlier. Given the size of the plates on the weight bar he was using, it didn't surprise me any. I gave him a sympathetic smile. I know what it's like to overdo, and he still had another class to go before school was out.
As Rob walked up to us, Trevor edged closer to me. "Justin," he said, "can we go?"
"Huh?" We were in the middle of talking, and I wasn't sure why he wanted to leave right now.
"I think I really want to go, Justin," he said, staring at Rob. It sort of made sense, then -- Rob was wearing his football workout stuff, and I figured Trevor'd caught his share of crap from the football team. I'm sure there weren't many happy memories there.
"Don't worry," I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. I was trying to be reassuring, but I don't think Trevor was all that reassured. I could feel him shaking a little under my hand. "We're OK, right, Rob?"
"Um, Justin, I..." Rob hesitated, just looking at us. "Never mind," he said. Then he turned and almost ran away.
"See? No problem. Anyway," I said, starting to walk again. We were almost to the side entrance to the auditorium, and I knew a bunch of the cast and crew was in there. It turned out that while there were usually twenty-five or so people in the drama classroom last period, only about half of them were actually taking the class, and most of them could skip if it meant they were working on things for the play. "I want to try and work on my lines. Think you can help?"
"No problem, Justin." He grabbed back his hat, slouched down, and said, with a really bad Bronx in his voice, "youse can help me with my accent, too."
"I'm not sure there's any help for that," I said as I pulled open the doors.
The side entrance we'd gone in through opened up into the open space between the stage and the first row of seats. Trevor had called it the pit, though the floor was level. There were already a few people in the auditorium, hanging around and sitting in the first couple of rows, including a familiar short redhead. She saw us as we came through and ran over to us.
Trevor turned bright red when he heard that. Steph was next to us a second later. She slipped an arm around Trevor's waist, her hand disappeared behind him, and a moment later I saw him jump. Steph laughed, gave him a kiss, and stole his hat.
"Rabbit?" I asked, feeling confused.
"Yeah," Steph said. "That's because he..."
"Steph!" Trevor squeaked that out.
"What?" she asked. "I'm just saying."
"Well, don't," he grumbled.
"Awww," Steph said, "you're cute when you blush, you know that? In fact..." she pulled him down and whispered something into his ear. I saw Trevor's eyes go wide, then he grabbed her hand and just about ran back out the exit we'd just come in through.
I wasn't sure what that was all about, but it left me by myself, so I climbed up onto the stage to see if Rick was around. He was, sitting at a table backstage with Paul. They had a pair of scripts, some notebooks, and a lot of papers scattered around.
"What's up, Justin?" he asked as I walked over.
"I think I just missed something," I said. I sounded puzzled, but that's because I was.
"What?" They both looked at me
"Steph called Trevor 'Rabbit'. He blushed so hard his face almost oozed blood. I don't get it. Are rabbits embarrassing or something?"
Paul and Rick both started to laugh.
"Dictionary, Justin," said Paul. "Look up 'Bunnies: Fucking like.'"
"Oh? Oh!" Cool, I guess at least part of the plan worked out. It didn't look like Steph was going to leave it as a one-night thing, which was fine by me. Fine by Trevor too, I bet.
"Yeah," threw in Rick. "Trev said his mom caught them yesterday on the couch."
"They were in the living room. His clothes were in the bathroom, and hers were on top of the refrigerator covered in whipped cream." Rick snickered as he said that.
I took a second to process that. "His mom must've nearly killed him."
"Are you kidding?" Rick asked. "She gave him twenty bucks, a box of condoms and dragged his dad out until midnight to celebrate."
I had no idea what to say about that, so I didn't.
Rick and Paul went back to doing whatever it was they were doing. With Trevor and Steph off doing stuff I didn't really want to think about, that pretty much left me alone backstage. Sure there were other drama students, but everyone was sort of doing their own thing. This was my first time doing anything with a play, and I just had no clue what I ought to be doing.
I figured that at worst Trevor and Steph would be busy for maybe fifteen minutes, twenty if they went overboard, so I just kind of wandered around. It was actually kind of interesting -- I'd never seen a play before, the first time I'd ever been in a theater was that time I played my prank on Rick, and I'd never been backstage. It was kind of cool. There wasn't a whole lot of room behind the back curtain, but there was a lot of space off the left and right sides of the stage, and the ceiling had to be twenty or thirty feet high.
And the stuff. There was all sorts of stuff piled around -- tables, chairs, racks of costume parts, a half dozen fake potted plants, piles of plywood and boards, some fancy picture frames, a couple of big bins of hand props, and a big pile of wooden frames with painted canvas stretched over them. Those things had crude scenery painted on them, done in bright colors and bold strokes. They looked really fake up close, but Rick had said they looked a lot better from the audience. That made sense -- since everything looked smaller when you were fifty feet away, I guess you had to be pretty blunt with the scenery.
There was also, for no reason I could figure, a model of the solar system on the back wall. The planets were all velcroed to the wall and looked like any other model I'd ever seen. Well, other than the smiley face painted on Saturn and the top hat that Jupiter was wearing. Venus, Earth, and Mars were all about handful-sized, so I pulled them off the wall and started juggling them as I wandered. It was kind of hypnotic really, and I lost track of time.
Paul brought me back to reality with a shout of "Hey, Justin, catch!" as he pitched a penguin at me. I caught it and shifted from a three ball rhythm to a four ball one without missing a beat. It was surprising and kind of nifty, since my hands had done it without my brain getting involved.
"You're getting good at that, Justin," Paul said, with approval in his voice.
"Yeah, I am." A thought hit me really fast. Everyone always gave Paul a hard time about his obsession, so I figured I would too.
"Oh, God," I said. I let the planets and the penguin fall, dropped to my knees, and tried to put a horrified look on my face. "I am. It's true. I... I'm a juggler! How am I ever gonna be able to tell my mom? She was OK with the gay thing, but this... she'll be so ashamed!"
Paul pitched another penguin at me and caught me square in the chest. "Dork," he said, smiling.
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