Hi, I'm Michael Wapshot and I'm back writing this thing! I'm still at michael.wapshot@gmail.com. Or rather, I am now back there. 2017 sucked hard, and not in the good way. But it's a new year, so here's a new start.


Thanks for reading! Chapter IV picks up where Chapter III left off. And please--remember to donate to Nifty so that the site stays up and running.





KICKED OUT



IV. The American Plot


"That match ran long," said Lawrence as he opened his door to me.


"Ah...yeah, guess it did."


"Nu? I assume the Newts beat the--what is Mount Hermon's mascot, anyhow?"


He only ever said anything Yiddish when it was just us. And while he claimed not to police it, the only times a Yiddish syntax bled into his English sentences was also when we were alone, or around his family.


"They're the Hoggers, if you can believe that," I said, laughing as I stepped out of my shoes and shucked my coat (don't worry, I'd changed my cum-stained shirt in the interim). "And yes. We creamed them."


"Ender."


"Who else?" I said, nervously rubbing my thighs. I sat down cross-legged on Lawrence's bed. Lawrence sat opposite me in the same position, exposing his socks, which were patterned with purple hexagons. He started twiddling his thumbs, and bouncing his knee. He was very fidgety, always. I liked it. Especially when the rest of his body stayed still while his knee was going nutty like it did sometimes--it reminded me of a waterbird. Of a duck gliding serenely over the surface while its feet kick and kick down below.


"The Great Endicott, hm?" Lawrence said. "So, Nick, what is he like up close?"

Big-dicked and smooth and roguish was my unvoiceable first thought. My second paranoid thought was, Oh God, Lawrence knows. My third and at last more measured thought was that of course Lawrence would ask about the campus celebrity. He would naturally be curious. So I tried to relax.


"Well, it's like Fitzgerald says: his `voice is full of money'."


I was so consumed by my sexual impression of Ender that I'd had trouble coming up with something that might better convey what Ender was like. Ender's voice did sound like money. But people from the oldest of old money all sounded that way, and Napier hosted a number of such boys. Ender's speech in particular was interesting, though, because he was one of those Napierans who put on a more casual affect, in a doomed effort to make it seem like they belonged "among the people." Most of these guys were the sort who liked to say that they weren't going to the Ivy League, they were going to be Basque shepherds, or hermit furniture-makers in rural Montana, or whatever. (But almost to a man, these boys ended up getting Ivy League degrees and taking jobs in office buildings after all.) Ender didn't really strike me as that type, and part of it was probably just that he had a tin ear for grammar--but his lazy speech definitely sounded affected. One wondered if it was intended to piss off his parents, or something. Either way, Ender did not sound at all like he actually belonged "among the people." His enunciation and delivery undermined him, you see. For instance, the way Ender said "'cause" or "wouldn't've" still sounded upper class. The words were supposed to sound rough, but his old-money voice smoothed them from gravel into glinting diamonds.


"I think our voices are `full of money' too, sort of," said Lawrence. "Yours more than mine, but..."


"No, not like that," I said. "It's not just money. It's the kind of money where you could go broke and somehow you'd still be rich. A voice like, like crown jewels. Our voices sound like cash and stocks."


I'd been raised to abhor the word "rich," but I'm afraid my family was what you'd have to call rich. However, we were nouveau riche, not old money. Not crown jewel money. As for Lawrence, his family was Jewish, which disqualified them from WASPery to begin with. And while they were well-off, they were certainly not rich. Lawrence wasn't on scholarship or anything, but Napier tuition was a significant expense for his parents. Whereas I'm pretty sure my parents only found out exactly what Napier cost when they got their first bill. My parents, after all, valued education, and would have paid any price for mine....although this sentiment lost its noble ring when you considered that they didn't have to worry whether they could afford any given school or not. Anyway, my parents also had a nouveau riche aversion to asking the prices of things, a tendency which sat at uncomfortable odds with their Puritan bean-counting instincts and their deep financial anxiety. (Said anxiety was of course common among their generation, which had been molded by the Great Depression. My parents were ten and eleven when it hit, respectively.)


In fact, my parents' bean-counting and anxiety usually won out over their desire to embrace their wealth. Personally, I blamed New England. Thank God for New England! For without our weird cultural hangups about propriety and self-sufficiency and moderation, I'm sure my parents would've horribly spoiled me, their precious only child. But instead I'd turned out what I liked to think was pretty close to normal, at least for a kid coming from money. If the price I'd paid for New England's tempering influence was being kind of buttoned-up and cerebral and embarrassed about sex, well, I could live with that. I could also live with having well-off parents who nevertheless would not buy me a cool car, or just throw cash at me, or whatever. Instead they made an effort to keep me from growing up in a money-clotted little bubble. For instance, they discouraged me from living in the rich kid dormitories at Napier, because they didn't think it would be healthy. Not to mention, my dad--who went to a private high school on full scholarship, and later went to college with just about the same amount of aid--remembered what it was like to be the poor kid, and guess what, being the poor kid sucks. I don't think he wanted me getting on any kind of high horse at school, you know? Not that I was that type to begin with. I hadn't wanted to live in the rich kid dormitories, both because I had no desire to be trapped among my most spoiled classmates 24/7, and because I found Napier's practice of allowing people to pay more for the choice rooms to be disgusting.


Anyway, to my quip about our voices sounding not like crown jewels, but like cash and stocks, Lawrence nodded, like, Fair point.


Then he smiled wryly and added, "Although my voice must also sound something like usury."


I just chucked him under the chin and shook my head. Lawrence was one of a small number of Jews at Napier, and he liked to make jokes out of it before other people did. Not that this tactic stopped people from saying stupid or even horrible things--often under the guise of purportedly sarcastic humor--but what could one do in his shoes, I supposed, except laugh.


"What else?" Lawrence said.


"Ender? Well, it's not an act, he really is a decent guy."


"Not a little conceited?"


"Doesn't he have the right to be kind of conceited?"


"Probably." Lawrence smiled. "Already very loyal, you are."


"Well, Jesus, I'm supposed to tutor him, not think of ways to put him down. Besides, life's shit on him enough already--"


"How on earth does life mistreat Ender Endicott?" Lawrence said, cocking his head, still smiling a little.


"Jeez, man, his brother's dead."


"Oh. Right."


Whit Endicott had died in the fall of our freshman year. During his time at Napier, he'd been a well-liked athlete, and was the valedictorian of the class of '67. Between his legacy at Napier and Ender's own celebrity, there wasn't a person in school who didn't know about Whit's death. Sometimes I wondered what that must be like for Ender, walking around fully aware that everyone you met knew all the tragic details of your life.


I added, "Not to imply Ender's some charity case or anything. I actually do like hanging out with him."


"You do?"


"Yeah, I do," I said sharply. "So what?"


"All right, Spaulding, pax. I didn't mean anything. Only that it's funny, you getting along with a jock."


Funny, was it? Well, I could think of a few things that were funny about Lawrence acquiring a new best buddy in Nat Geddes. And strictly speaking, wasn't I a jock, too? But I swallowed all this, swallowed the urge to blurt something like, "What, pissed I made a friend after you ditched me?" I also had a sudden strange impulse to punch Lawrence, but not even exactly out of anger. I pushed that aside, too.


"I mean, can you have conversations with him?" Lawrence said. "Or is it just business?"


"Do you and Nat have conversations or is it just business?" I shot back.


Lawrence stopped twiddling his thumbs. Looked down at his hands.


"I only--look, that's kind of an insulting question, man," I said. "Right? Or do you just think I like to hang out with idiots?"


"Do you think I like to hang out with idiots?" Lawrence muttered, which made me feel bad. Crap. I didn't want to be mad at Lawrence and I didn't want to be a jerk about things. All gripes aside, I was actually very content sitting here with him.


I took a moment to collect myself and then said, "No." I cleared my throat. "Forget it, man. I'm sorry for snapping at you. Pax Nagelstockia?"


I held out my hand and Lawrence shook it, but when he didn't say anything, I decided it was my responsibility to pick up the conversation again. So I said, after a moment's hesitation, "Yeah, Ender and I talk. I couldn't be friends with someone I can't talk to. I don't know, he's just one of those guys who's easy to get along with."


Lawrence nodded. "I guess he wouldn't be as popular as he is if he couldn't make conversation." Then he looked at me and smiled, and I felt calm again. "So, do you want to pick a record, Spud?"


Of course I did. The world was never complete without some backing music. I went and started flicking through his record collection, which I knew as well as my own, since I'd given Lawrence all his non-classical records. Even his Beatles records were from me, despite the fact that they were the only band he liked when I met him--for after I learned that Lawrence only had the chopped-up American LPs, I gave him my own set of British albums. Many of the records I'd given him were my own copies, in fact. I'd hand them off at the ends of school years, telling him, "I know you liked this one," or, "This won't make sense at first, you have to listen to it at least three times--but you'll enjoy it." He could protest all he wanted about not taking my things, but he always lost. Then over summers I bought replacements for those albums I'd loved, shared, given away to good hands.


This year, since we'd stopped sharing a room, I'd had to pack all those replacements in a box and lug them up to school with me. I'd resented that more than a little.


I put on the Velvet Underground's Loaded. Then suddenly I thought of the conversation I'd had with Ender in his room, back on that first fateful night of tutoring, and I said, "Hey, man, do you think in words?"


"No. We've talked about this before. I think mostly in interlocking hoops. You think in expanding balloons."


"Right. Just checking."


Lawrence smiled at me, really smiled, and then said, "Here, tell me what you think these new pieces should do," and got out what I called his "Glass Bead Game," the thing that had started off as his handmade Chinese checkers board and had evolved, with my help, into something with arcane rules and multiple optional panels and elements. It could be a logic puzzle, a matching game, plain Chinese checkers if you wanted. It could be a number of things. Or combinations of things.


We sat down next to each other on the carpet and I toyed with the new game pieces he'd handed me. I felt suddenly very much at peace.


"Where'd you get these new bits? An abacus?"


Lawrence grinned.


"Yes, I pried apart an old one."


"Any ideas for the pieces?"


"I did think of something, but I'm not sure if it's any good. Here, I'll show you..."


*


The next day, I spent my morning in the library trying to show Ender that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was worth his time, not without some success.


"If someone would've told me it actually got interesting at the end," he said, "maybe I'd've tried to finish it on my own."


"Really? For me, the end is the worst part," I said, and it was true in a way, but I was also trying to provoke Ender into thinking about the book more carefully.


"What the hell, Spaulding, it's the only good part!"

"Tell me what you liked about it."


"O.K., well, when we first got assigned the book, I was happy. First of all 'cause nothing could be worse than that Melville. Man, I knew he wrote Moby-Dick, which sounds worse than anything, but I thought the shorter books were all like Typee and stuff--you know, where at least shit actually happens."


"You didn't like Billy Budd?"


He pulled a face.


"C'mon, Spaulding, you know me a little by now, what do you think?" He glanced at me. "Why are you laughing?"


"I'm not, it's nothing. So you hated Billy Budd. Go on." I knew it wouldn't be his thing, but it still amused me that Ender had found nothing of interest in a book that starred a bunch of muscle-bound sailors, and which certainly had room for, ah, erotic interpretation. Not to mention the title character reminded me a bit of Ender himself. Although I suppose Ender did tell me he hated boats, back on that first day he brought me to the bleachers and said his dad was threatening to force him into the Navy.


"Anyway," said Ender, "I liked Tom Sawyer and I thought this would be a sequel--well I guess it is a sequel, but I didn't sign up for this raft bullshit! And this depressing crap about slavery. But then, in the last part, it's like Tom Sawyer again."


"How is it like Tom Sawyer?" I said.


"Tom Sawyer comes back."


Ender could see from my face that that wasn't going to cut it.


"And, uh," he said. "I mean, it's fun again, they screw around, they get up to their old tricks."


"That stuff doesn't really match the story that comes before it, though."


"Yeah, that's what I said!"


"Well, that's why I have problems with it. Do you think the point of the book is `boyish hijinks'? Is that really the note it should end on?"


"No, seemed like the whole point up 'til then was Jim. Man, I dunno. I don't think I, y'know, get this book, Spaulding. I'm too dumb. Or maybe the book's too dumb, but it's usually me that's dumb."


"No you aren't, you're getting there," I said. Then I shook my head, trying to remember what I'd been about to say. Ender had slipped his hand onto the small of my back, which was distracting, but somehow I sensed trying to remove it would only kindle further distraction. Besides, I did like feeling his hand on me. I glanced at his face--staring down at the pages, stoned on too much lit for one morning (but we were too close to stop now)--and thought anew how fucking weird it was that we were, what would you call it, involved? Intimate? Whatever it was we were. And since we were back in that same tutorial room, I also couldn't stop thinking about how weird it was that we were sitting only a few feet away from where my mouth had popped its cherry. Right over there, on that couch.


I had to keep shoving all that out of my head, telling myself to stay on task. It did help that it was Sunday; sex thoughts always felt a little wrong to me before noon on a Sunday, even though by this point in my life I only attended church under parental duress.


"Look at it this way, Ender. Is it funny, what Tom and Huck do to Jim? Or is it mean?"


"I don't think they were trying to be mean."


"I'm not saying they mean to be cruel, but it's still pretty awful of them," I said. "For Jim this is incredibly serious, and here are these two boys making a game of it, talking about sawing off his leg like he's a piece of furniture. When the whole book has been Huck figuring out that Jim is a person, not property."


"Yeah, I guess."


"And the thing is, Huck seems to know how childish this all is. He doesn't want to be doing it, exactly. But he does it, because Tom is his best friend...For me, these chapters are hard to read because they're so silly. Maddening. But I think they do something important."


Ender thought for a bit, then came up with, "They prove Huck didn't change after all?"


"You might be able to argue that, sure. Put that on the list of essay ideas if you want. But I mean, I think he has changed--and those last chapters are all about relapse.


"Or rather, they're about why maybe it's never enough for things to change person by person. There has to be a sea change, a whole different Southern morality, or else even people who understand that slaves are as human as they are--they'll be swayed back to the default morality, under social influence. You see? The very last part, I think that's really important too. Huck lights out for the Territory. He can't change Southern civilization, but he can leave it behind. He's lucky he has the choice, to be able to cast it off like that; he can do that because he's white. Look, it's true that in the end Jim gets forty dollars and his freedom, but only because of choices that white people have made for him...and no matter what he does, he'll never be free in the way that Huck is free.


"People like Huck write their own action. They defy where the plot tries to pin them in the end. But people like Jim, they go where the plot--the figurative plot, the American plot--they have to go where it forces them."


Ender had been furiously scribbling notes as I spoke. I hadn't meant to spout off like that and I told him, "Keep in mind, when I say something, it's just my opinion, it's not necessarily `right'."


"Shut up, trying to get that down," said Ender. Then, laying his pen aside, he said, "Jesus, Spaulding, thank you. I didn't understand that last part you were saying for shit, but you still just made more sense than Jughead has in weeks." (Our English teacher's real name was Mr. Judd.) "Man, I thought this book was so dumb before, like Mark Twain got bored or something at the end and made it all funny, which, I mean, I liked that--but it didn't make any goddamn sense. But I guess this book does have a point. Damn. Kinda wish there were still territories to run away to, you know?"


"There's always Puerto Rico."


Ender sighed, stretched, and said, "Guess I have to wait 'til we colonize space. I'll make my own fuckin' planet. It'll be bad-ass."


"You should become a Mormon," I said drily.


Ender stopped in the middle of leaning back his chair. "Uhh. Wait. Are you Mormon?"


I laughed. This was a prep school in New England; almost everyone who was Christian was Mainline Protestant. There were Catholics at Napier, but not too many. And there were no Mormons.


"No, no!" I said, when I saw that Ender was still waiting for an answer. "Of course not. Just making a joke. There's this thing...supposedly they believe you can become a god after death, make your own planet, I guess."


"Freaky. That is some science fiction shit." Ender paused. "So, what are you?"


"Oh, I'm an Episcopalian too. Whatever that means."


"Right," Ender said. "Yeah. I feel like I used to see you in church, I mean way back. When we still went."


It was pretty amusing the way chapel attendance fell sharply within every Napier class after the first couple school years. The usual culprit was students realizing, "Wait, just because my family goes to church doesn't mean I have to." Or else they were former confirmation candidates who'd now fulfilled that rite, and no longer had our chaplain watching to see that they were showing up to services. I mean, why bother attending? We knew very well that our WASP parents went to church for socializing, not religion. We knew they didn't have an actual thing for covenants and plagues and eschatologies. Not that the Episcopal Church, or any of its mainline sisters, was big on those particular things either. But you understand what I'm saying: the word of God was auxiliary to our parents' interest in schmoozing with neighbors and local business owners and perhaps the mayor. (That said, I was pretty sure my parents really did believe in a Christian God. For them it was definitely not just about the coffee hour.) But we teenagers did not schmooze, and any spiritual interests we might possess were, for the time being, lodged deep beneath a sediment of material concerns. Most of us, therefore, had no need for church. Me personally? I was an agnostic, and had realized when I was maybe thirteen that I didn't see the point in regular church attendance. So I stopped going as soon as I got my confirmation certificate a couple years later.


The school chapel was now clanging its sweet-voiced bells for noon.


"Hand me an essay draft in a couple days?" I said.


"Sure, sure." Ender still closed the book with no small measure of relief. "I feel like I might be able to try and write an essay now. Before today--no way. Woulda been two sentences long."


"No problem, man."


He dumped his things into his bag, then smiled, replaced his hand on me, and rubbed circles on the small of my back.


"Got anywhere to be?" he said.


Alas, I did. I had a massive assignment for trig that needed my attention pronto.


"Don't say it, I can see it on your face." Ender's hand crept up to massage the back of my neck. "I oughta go back to my room and do my burpees anyway--that's what I do for exercise on Sundays. That and lift weights." (Recall the campuswide Sunday sports ban.)


His hand felt so good on my neck, and I half-sighed, half-moaned.


"Mm, those noises you make, Stockwell," Ender said as he stood up. "I wanna stroke to that sound. I mean, I'm going to. Later today." He patted me on the head, laughing at my embarrassment. Laughing at something, anyway. Then with a, "Thanks, Spaulding, see you tomorrow," he strode out, and left me sitting there astonished and bright red. And turned on. That last part goes without saying, though, doesn't it?


*


Unfortunately, I couldn't let anything happen between us the following night, either, because of the cross country championship the day after.


"The hell does that have to do with this?" Ender said. His thumb was digging into the sole of my foot, not unpleasantly. We were sitting on the floor of his room, and he was at the end of my stretched-out legs, rubbing my feet. He circulated between that and being more affectionate than I could have ever thought someone capable of being--of wanting to be--with a human foot. It wasn't just the sucking and licking, but the kissing, the sniffing, the lifting it against his cheek like it was a hand.


"I love these feet," he'd said, shortly after I got my socks off. He mouthed the first knuckle of my second toe. "I'd skip Thanksgiving to eat these feet."


I felt flattered and enjoyed the attention, but that stuff didn't do a whole lot for me otherwise. I did have one of his feet resting on my thigh, though, and I liked that. Not that any of this was helping me drill him on the periodic table.


Now I caressed his foot and said, "Look, I don't even jerk off before meets."


"Don't tell me you believe that crap coaches spin," he said, flexing his foot against my touch. "I agree with Marshall Davis--you know, the lacrosse cap? Says that probably only started 'cause coaches don't want players sleeping over somewhere and missing the big game in the morning."


"I don't know, it's kind of held true for me. I just feel better if I don't for a couple days before. Sure it's probably more superstition than anything, but I'm not messing with that."


Ender nodded sagely, suddenly understanding.


"Yeah, man. You never mess with that. You find a good luck charm, you keep it."


"Do you have any?"


"Well, for water stuff I wear my lucky Speedo if I can. If I have to wear the school one instead I at least have to put on my red Speedo one time that day. Then for land sports, I put a penny in my sock, under the sole of my foot. This Indian head penny I found once."


"Doesn't that hurt?"


"Maybe a little at first." A wicked grin crawled over Ender's mouth. "But the pain's worth it. For what comes after."


I found myself swallowing nervously, and I redirected our attention to the noble gases.


Ender was sort of paying attention, but he'd also started stroking my upper thigh with his foot. He laughed when I eventually had to adjust myself.


"Only trying to get you as ready as possible," he told me. "Bet you find out just how fast you can run if you're on the edge of blue balls."


"Argon," I said stubbornly.


"Hardon," Ender whispered.


"If that's what it takes for you to remember it on the quiz, sure..."


*


Well, cross country didn't take third place like we'd dared to hope.


...We took second!!

It was the best anyone could remember Napier cross country performing in a very long time, and our victory was mostly attributed to me. I ran like a madman. Like a man whose balls wanted nothing more in this world than to unload pronto. And so I came in first across the line, before every other runner at the meet. My teammates claimed that seeing me break from the leading pack and charge into a turbo finishing kick had inspired them to go a little nuts themselves, and everyone finished in higher places than normal. At final tally, we were second.


As soon as we were through taking sweaty-faced group pictures with the trophy, our captain said, "Stockwell, you champ you," and slapped me on the ass. I wanted to kick him. A major win was the only time runners got funny with each other, but I didn't need anybody touching me at the moment. Not in a place like that. But too bad for me, because apparently my teammate Cavanaugh thought it would be hilarious to swat me on the ass a second time when we were changing in the Deerfield locker rooms. This time I was only wearing briefs.


"Knock it off!"


All this earned me was another swat from a different teammate while I was distracted.


"I'm going to kill all of you," I said.


"Fine with me," Cavanaugh said. "We already won, I can die happy!"


But if I'd died at that moment, I wouldn't have died happy--because I was itching to jerk off. I'd been abstinent for coming on three days, after all. But I didn't get a chance to do it before our coach hustled us back on the bus, and then when we got back we had to go straight to dinner. There wasn't even time for me to go back to my room and change into my regular shoes.


At the dining hall, Headmaster Pickert went on some rambling speech about his pride in Napier Academy sportsmanship, which was interrupted by someone toward the back throwing his voice to scream, "Napier-Ac power!" The hall dissolved into laughter and whoops and some people throwing mock fist salutes. Hardy har har, what could be more mockable than black power? Hepburn and I made eye contact from across our table and shook our heads, as the sophomores at the table giggled nervously and one of the seniors, Dunbar Kleindienst, made a blasting whistle noise. Headmaster Pickert started barking about unacceptable behavior, and the table monitors tried to get everyone to shut up by clapping their hands and standing up to stare menacingly down at us. (At dinner we sat at permanent assigned tables, all manned by at least one adult, supposedly for faculty-student bonding. Everyone hated it--the faculty, I think, most of all. Rumor held that it was the teachers who'd coined the term "Merciful Mondays" for our occasional free-seated dinners.)


I was over it, I was very over it, I just wanted to get out of there. I spotted Lawrence across the room, leaning back placidly with closed eyes and folded arms, off orbiting his own Lawrencey planet. A table over, Nat was still laughing along with everyone else. Another table over, I could see Ender's sadly unoccupied seat.


When at last we were excused, table by table, I trudged out into the night feeling somehow very empty. Even though I had a damn medal around my neck. And I mean, my balls certainly weren't empty right now. Christ.


But then as I was walking back to my dormitory with Hepburn, I smelled cigarette smoke. Smoking was strictly banned among students so as to promote a wholesome atmosphere, and few people would dare stroll around campus smoking instead of doing it in a concealed area. For a moment I looked around for Ender, but he stole up from behind, clapped his arm around my shoulders, and said, "Go speed racer, I hear."


The tenth graders ahead of us craned their heads back to glimpse their square old tablemate under the wing of the sports king. They couldn't help but smile and nudge each other. But then they turned right back around, clearly intimidated. Scared that they might so much as breathe wrong and make Ender Endicott think they were lame.


Hepburn, blinking fast, said, "Hello, Ender." Hepburn was vaguely anti-athletics--he was anti a lot of things--but even he respected Ender.


"Meet my tutor," Ender said to him. Smoke trailed dragon-like from his nostrils.


"Neat," said Hepburn, sounding a lot like me.


"I'm borrowing him," Ender announced. "That O.K.?"


"We were only walking, that's all," said Hepburn. "You can do anything you want."


"Well, thanks, Audrey," said Ender, not to be an asshole but as banter, and Hepburn smiled slightly. The asshole thing would've been to call him Roland, his real and hated first name.


"See you," I said to Hepburn as Ender guided me off-path over toward his dormitory, Mulford Hall. Funnily enough, Hepburn the radical wasn't the suspicious type, not when it came to social things; I supposed he was too focused on the news. So I allowed myself to enjoy the arm around my shoulders rather than wonder what someone might think of us suddenly being buddies of that caliber.


"I do have it straight, right, Spaulding?" Ender said, ashing his cigarette on the ground.


"What?"


"I called you speed racer because you took second. Well, Napier took second. You took first."


He poked the individual champion medal, which I was still wearing around my neck, with his index finger.


"Oh," I said. "Yeah."


"My, my," he said lightly.


"Why weren't you at dinner?"


Dinner attendance was, after all, mandatory.


Ender shrugged. "Oh, didn't feel like it. I get `migraines.' Just have to squint for the nurse and say it hurts." He added brightly, "And then I can eat whatever I want. I keep a whole pantry in my desk 'cause sports make me hungry at weird times."

Sometimes I wondered if Ender understood just how much easier life was for people with good looks and a good name, and a good idea of how to use both those things.


He steered me over to the ivy-shrouded side of Mulford Hall, next to a little windowless expanse of brick wall. We were just around the corner from the entrance. Ender leaned against the brick and flicked the cigarette away. Now that he was no longer smoking, he looked every inch the perfect prep, from the combed blond hair, to the tidy pullover (golf-course green), to the short lace-up boots that the catalog had probably labeled For the discerning wintertime birdwatcher.


He studied me. "Hmm, speed racer, what am I gonna do with you?"


"Huh?" I said, standing there before him with my arms dangling at my sides. Don Juan I was not. To be fair, if either one of us had been a girl things would have been different. Sure I still would've been kind of dumb about it, but facing Ender as a fellow guy, I had no social script at all--nothing I'd seen onscreen or on the page to suggest what I ought to be doing. Not to mention that I always felt this kernel of fear that somehow I was still mistaken about all this, and I'd screwed up terribly by acting like a fag, and should brace for serious consequences. This kernel was sitting right between my lips at the moment, holding me back from doing anything but waiting passively.


But then Ender opened his flask, and the sound of the lid drew me up to him like an animal in the park who's heard a crinkling bread bag. As I took a sip he reached for the one toggle that was done up on my coat and released it, then put his broad hands on my shoulders and pushed the coat open like it was a housecoat--no, like it was a peignoir. I watched his eyes watch my body, and took another nervous nip from the flask. Ender's hands drifted to my torso, and he ran the butt of his palm down my abdomen. I exhaled hard. Now he had both big hands on my waist, like I was a little village maiden or something. He leaned back to survey my torso, or maybe the way his hands looked on my clothed torso, and muttered, "Nice." I went on drinking and glanced toward the building entrance. We could not be seen from there, but people were still arriving from dinner and their voices worried me.


Ender looked at me and said, "Oh, no one's around." He put a new cigarette in his mouth, his left hand still on my waist, and handed me his Zippo. As opposed to that one night in his room, this time when I reached up to light him he grabbed my wrist--and suddenly I was shot through with all the feelings that made me worry the most. The mushy stuff, you could say.


He took a drag, then parked the cigarette in the side of his mouth and reached for my belt buckle. Everything below my waist was screaming at me to keep your mouth zipped, lamebrain, but I couldn't help it, I heard this pathetic voice trickling from my lips saying, "But those rooms right down there, they can hear--can smell--"


"Don't worry about it," Ender said around the cigarette. "They can't hear jack shit."


I mumbled, "What, me worry?"


"All we're doing is having a conversation." Ender took out his cigarette with his left hand. He pulled me closer, then held up his right hand. "Just talking, see? Sign language." His grin was wicked as he took my dick out. Then he held out his hand again and said, "Lick it." So I licked his palm and tried to keep myself quiet as he brought me swiftly to full hardness, the cold night air so, so far away from the warm slick sheath he had on me.


"Agh, fuck..."


"You like this," said Ender.


"God, yes."


"Is this what you were thinking about when you ran today?"


"Yeah. Oh yeah."


Ender laughed to himself, then pulled away for a moment, to my distress. But he was only sticking the cigarette back in his mouth, unbuttoning himself, and taking out his own hard cock. With one organ in each hand he glanced the tips together and I panted madly. Holy shit, that felt good. He pressed our cocks closer against each other, and then made a ring with both his hands and stroked us at the same time. Oh, holy shit. Ender was staring down at our organs, like a boy fixated on a new toy....and I was losing it fast but I couldn't bear to tell him to stop, not after that long wait. I was just lifting my hand a little thinking to reach for Ender's tool when suddenly I knew I'd passed the point of no return--


I could only grab at Ender's elbows for support as I shuddered and started to come, and come.


And come.


"Shit, Stockwell, you weren't fibbing..."


I couldn't say anything as the last of it still came pulsing forth.


"...you haven't whacked this thing for days."


"Ahhh," was all I could manage. There was spunk glistening on my track shoes, and I think on the grass, and definitely all over Ender's very hard cock. He trailed a lazy finger around my pee slit and sucked up what he collected there, then handed me a handkerchief and attended to what remained of his cigarette while I slowed my breathing and mopped up. We were still facing each other, still stealing little looks at each other, still basking in each other's radiant body heat.


Ender stubbed out his smoke against the brick wall, and then, to my surprise, put his cock away even though he hadn't come. Even though it was still covered in my semen, which I found both flattering and sort of vile (oh, how the threshold of disgust changes as soon as you've ejaculated).


He put his hand on my shoulder and stroked my neck very carefully with the back of his fingers. Then he started to toy with my earlobe a little, and felt along the grooves and crannies of the side of my ear, as if he were an ape man wondering if we could really be the same species. And somehow the sensation of his fingertips playing on the folds of my ear cartilage was so intensely outsized that it felt like sex--and not the hot and sloppy kind of sex that I knew. This sex felt like patience and the sharing of breath and multiple orgasms.


At this point I observed that my lungs had not been functioning for some time, and soon I was forced to take a staggering gasp. But when I did, Ender didn't laugh at me or remove his hand from my ear or otherwise disappoint me. Instead he sighed, as if responding to me in our new spirit-language.


Then he rubbed thumbcircles over my earlobe and said, "Damn, Spaulding, we turn each other on."


"Yeah," I whispered, and was grateful for the dark. Capillary vessels can be a real bitch.


"Come upstairs," he said.


I didn't give a shit what for, I was going. I stumbled a little, perhaps because my heart was trying to outpace my body in its rush to follow him, and he turned and caught me by the elbow to make sure I was O.K. Of course I was. He knew that. He let a smile twitch at the corner of his mouth, and then he took me lightly by the hand and pulled me along behind him as we rushed round the corner (there was no one in sight) and slipped inside his dormitory. He turned again and smiled at me all wild as he took us up the stairs--and that moment, oh that moment, can I even describe that moment. That moment was a hurtling of bliss under warm incandescent lights. That moment was walking on lightning, singing the body electric, jolting into some kind of marvelous soul-arrest as upward we vaulted. And I could see slices of his smile, glances of his eye--he had me firmly by the hand now and the palm-on-palm, skin-on-skin of this act again felt like sex, like the full length of another human body in your bed and like the sound not of a grunt but a whimper and like patience patience but also hot yes hot yes yes ahyesthat's--ah, that's, it.


Oh God--oh, God! Ender Endicott really did have me by the hand, didn't he? It kept hitting me. Every other microsecond, I forgot, and thought I was just dreaming. But he did, he was holding my hand and didn't even give a shit, and it didn't just feel good physically--it felt so damn good to know that he was putting me on display as his, even if the only people who could ever be allowed to see it were me and him and God right in this empty stairwell. No, you know what, who fucking cared if anyone saw? Ender was allowed to do whatever he wanted, have it all explained away. That cocky amazing bastard could probably put my mouth to work on him right in the middle of lunch and make people believe it was a new athletic training exercise. God damn, he was incredible. I was drunk on him, I was drunk on this, I was--maybe just kind of drunk, actually. And if I was, that only made everything feel even better.


Upstairs he dropped my hand to get his door unlocked, not a second too soon, as--my stairwell thrill retracted instantaneously back into its armored shell, and all the magic of that moment evaporated--some senior whose name I never got right burst out of his room carrying a popcorn bowl and said, "Hey what's up," as he ambled toward the lounge. He sounded pretty stoned. I mean, this was Mulford Hall, the dormitory of Richie Rich upperclassmen. If there was a hotbed of controlled substances at square Napier*, it was here. (*And really, most old-school preps are and always have been square.)


Then we were alone in Ender's bedroom, standing there in the dark. Ender put his hand on my chest. Turned it over, felt my heart beating against his knuckles. Somehow I could hear him smile. At last he flicked on a desklamp, and flipped the door lock.


"Where's Greg?" I said, more to have something to say than anything else.


"Some bullshit or other," said Ender, and then pushed my coat right off my shoulders and petted my arms. I tentatively squeezed his big biceps and he slapped at one of my hands, pressed it harder onto him.


"C'mon, Stockwell, we're both men here, don't piss around like it's made of china."

So he clenched his muscles, and I squeezed like I meant it, and, assumption confirmed, Ender felt to be as strong as an ox. Ender laughed at my probably goggly expression, then swiftly started grappling with me, pummeling for dominance. I fought back a bit. He was messing around, of course, and fighting at low strength, but I appreciated his attempt to play soft for my amusement.


But then he switched into his full strength--and I was honestly so shocked that I just immediately hopped back and out of the fight. I didn't even try to hold my own. I mean, I couldn't have held my own, not in a thousand years.


Ender let me step away, and smiled.


While I tried to avoid wrestling around the way guys are wont to do--it would be an extreme pain in my ass to break my glasses--sometimes I did it anyway, and it wounded my pride a little to back off from Ender, even though I'd stood no chance. I was just so surprised. Sure, I'd felt him hug me in place under those bleachers in the natatorium, but it was different to feel his power coming straight through our clinch. I'd roughhoused with stronger guys before, but Ender was something else, so much so that my body had acted on some deep-rooted survival instinct and expelled me instantly from our grapple before I got my ass killed. Christ...


Ender just gave me a teasing slap on the cheek, and went to kick off his shoes and tear off his sweater. He launched himself backwards onto his bed--which was lofted as high as it would go, and therefore required a little effort to get onto.


"Get up here."


But first I bent down to untie my laces, because I'm afraid that's just how I am. Ender rained one sock, then the other, down on me, and then batted my head with his bare foot.


"I'm going as fast as I can."


"Go faster, cocktease," he said, then helped pull me up by my forearm. He was smiling and reclining against the pillows at the head of the bed. I just sat there on his bed for a moment, kneeling next to his calves. I stared at him, unaccountably nervous all of a sudden.


Ender could see this, and he pulled me up over his legs. Spread them when I did nothing, and moved my head to crotch level. At this, I at last stopped being such a moron and began undoing his belt. After I unzipped him he leaped impatiently into action and got his underwear and pants down to the knee, and pulled me closer in by the back of my neck. I began to stroke him with my hands, getting reacquainted in the process with the remains of my own cum. It didn't take long to get him back to full mast, and when he was there he nudged me with one of his muscular thighs and said, "Hey. Relax."


"I am relaxed."


"No you're not. Relax. You can lay down, man. It oughta be easier to do me this way."


I tried to follow this advice and started getting myself out of my animal crouch and into something more horizontal, but then he said, "Actually, wait, take your shirt off first."


I hesitated. Look, anyone would be nervous to show how unremarkable their body was before someone like Ender. And then on top of that there was the fact that, perversely, my body hair seemed all but unsightly in front of him. You've got to understand that up until now, my chest hair had always been a good thing, a source of pride. A feature envied by those who could remove their one little sprout of hair with tweezers, or who had no hair at all. And with regard to hairlessness, I'd been taught to think of the school swimmers as androgyne freaks, at least when it came to their grooming habits. Guys like me were Real Men, and since there weren't a whole lot of ways in which I'd ever be a Real Man, I knew I ought to treasure my chest hair. And I had, at least until Ender came along and upended the paradigm. Now suddenly I felt chimp-like even though I wasn't hirsute, just had a healthy amount of hair. Believe me, that was not how you were supposed to feel about your chest hair in the '70s. But at that moment I felt it.


"Go on," said Ender, but I hesitated. Then I decided fuck it, and I ripped my shirt off like a band-aid. "Oh, that's it, speed racer." And flung the shirt off the side of Ender's bed. "That's it!"


I draped my medal around a bedpost, and Ender leaned forward to stop me from lying right back down again. Raked his fingers down my chest, looked me over. Grinned.


"That's it..." he said, and leaned back all happy.


Well, that made me feel better about my body, and I resolved to stop worrying about it. My body did not matter at the moment. Ender's body was the only thing that mattered.


So with his cooperation I pushed his pants down to his ankles and then settled in between his legs, took his fat cock into my mouth. It was indeed easier this way. And I'd gotten a little better at cocksucking, too. I was taking more of his length than I'd ever previously managed, and in between quiet moans he was giving me this delighted sort of laugh that was about the best sound I'd ever heard.


"Yes, Spaulding, yes yes yes."


Then he bumped the side of my head with his knee until I looked up.


"Rub my balls," he told me. That's right, I'd forgotten. I swiftly put a hand on them, caressed them lightly. Then I had a better idea: I licked them. Ender made a sound of brute pleasure, at that. I sucked one into my mouth, and he seized the bedclothes with both fists.


"Yes, dammit."


He moaned deeply, and I kept that up for a while and then moved back to his cock. He leaned forward to run his hand through my hair and said again, "Relax." He groaned when I said, "Mmhmm," around his cockhead, then recovered and said, "Don't think about your mouth, just look at me."

So I did, and he thrust deeper into my mouth. I gagged.


"Just look at me, listen if I'm getting them right."


He started reciting the nonmetals on the periodic table, and I flicked his thigh with my finger when he said silicon.


"O.K., O.K., not silicon...that's a...can't be a fuckin' metal."


"Mh, mm," I said ambivalently.


"Ahh, yes, I...silicon, semi-metal."


"Mmhmm."


"Hey Spaulding."


"Mmm."


"Look how much you're taking."


Holy shit, I was taking him deep, getting close to the entrance to my throat. My gag reflex usually threw a total fit if I even thought about taking him so deep. For a split second my mouth and throat thought to rebel, but Ender grabbed the top of my head and held me in place until I got over it.


"Sel, uh, Selenium," he said, correctly, beginning to thrust up some to meet my own efforts, and, incredibly, it was working, this technique of his...my mouth was taking him, it really was. Much as I wanted to figuratively sit there admiring the moment, I knew I would choke, quite literally, if I let myself think about it. So since Ender had gotten too wrapped up in pleasure to keep reciting anything, I found myself trying to remember important phone numbers and then silently repeat them backwards. There was saliva trailing down my chin, no, pouring down my chin...I toyed with his pubic hair, then his balls, back and forth...I rubbed his hips, the sides of his buttocks...I'd gotten hard again. I looked up at him with a smile that reached my eyes, and he smiled back with his mouth.


But then I gagged very unattractively, and started panicking, and pulled off again. We had to start taking it very slowly again, and my movements were very cautious and shallow.


Ender did not complain, but after a while he laid both hands on my head and told me to hold still. Hold still, Hot Lips. That's what he called me, and I liked it, and willed my mouth and my gag reflex to be sweet for him. They were: they relaxed and for a little while they let him thrust fairly deep into my mouth with little complaint. I was swimming happily in the sensation of his hands on the back of my head, in the heat coming off his body. Then he yanked me off him with a slick pop, his breath ragged.


"Mmmm," I said, all inarticulate and dreamy, like a hypnotized kitten being held by the scruff.


"O.K., slow, slow," Ender said, sounding himself about as capable of speaking English as a caveman, and released me from his grip.


I drifted back down, kissing his inner thighs, and proceeded to make what could only be described as sweet, slow love to his cock. Then at last he seized me again, fucked my mouth for only a few seconds, and came hard, hard, hard. And vocally.


"Oh-aww!" he groaned, a little too loudly. (One could only hope the walls were thick. Well, at least Ender had the side of the room that had a storage closet next door instead of another room.)


A string of quieter curses followed as I swallowed and swallowed--really enjoying that part for the first time, even though as per usual I was choking trying to do it with his cock still in my mouth. When it was all but over he moaned, "Yes!," at a volume that was not quite within my comfort zone, although at least it wasn't as loud as the first noises had been. Finally I pulled off him. I took a moment, then returned to gently clean him up. He sighed.


At last I wiped my arm across my mouth and chin. Finished. Content.


Ender eyed me and smiled.


"God, I knew you'd take to it. You are taking to it, man."


He pulled me up by the elbows so that my head was on his chest. Then he flopped his own head back on a pillow, sinking into his recovery phase.


I put one nervous hand on his clothed ribcage, unsure how much I was really allowed to touch him above the waist. But then I relaxed and let my head rest its full weight on him, as I ran a finger slowly back and forth along one of the stripes on his shirt. At last I closed my eyes, hoping my glasses frame wasn't poking him too hard.


After a bit, Ender raised himself up on an elbow and smelled my hair. I grunted with contentment.


"You smell so goddamn good right now," he said. "Like sweat."


"Yeah, never showered after the race."


"Good," he said, lying back, and I knew what he meant; the smell of Ender's sweat made me want to rut like a springtime buck.


I was drifting away somewhere when he said, "You hard again?" My crotch was pressing into his left thigh. It had to be pretty obvious.


"I'm O.K."


"That's not what I asked," he said, and rubbed at my back.


I smiled up at him.


He was just starting to sit up and maneuver me slightly when there came a hammering at the door. Had to be Downing the downer.


Neither of us moved for a second, then Ender yelled, "Hang on!" and shoved himself out from under me onto the floor, yanking up his pants. He tossed me my shirt.


"No, man, it's inside out," he said, even as he waved at me to hurry, so I had to pull off what I'd put on of it, turn it right-side out, and tug it back on. Of course it had to be a long-sleeved shirt, today--although at least it wasn't a button-up.


Ender opened the door the same second I finished flipping my shirt down over my stomach.


As Greg Downing entered he peered over at me--sitting cross-legged on Ender's rumpled bed, my hair all unkempt--and his face acquired a Look.


"What's he here for?"


"Helping me plan your funeral," Ender said, with a wink.


Greg did not crack a smile.


"Tutoring," I said.


"No one ever said anything about it to me."


"Yeah, well, we're finished now, so be cool," Ender advised.


"What were you studying?"


"Chemistry," I said quickly. Ender and I did not look at each other, I think not trusting that we wouldn't make nervous faces or laugh if we did. I clambered down from the bed to put my socks and shoes back on. Greg sat in his desk chair and said, "It smells funny in here."


"He thinks everything smells funny," Ender said in my direction. But I had a feeling it really might smell like sex in the room.


"It's probably me." I grabbed my medal and draped it over my neck again. "I didn't shower after the race today."


"Gross," said Greg.


"Sorry."


I pulled my coat on and nodded at Ender, who gave me the slightest wink. Then I hurried out of there, tripping a little over one of Ender's stray barbells. As I shut the door I could hear Ender saying, "Man, you are not being cool," and Greg saying, "I hate knocking on my own damn door, can't you pal around or get high"--the door clicked shut at this point, but I could hear with my ear held close, pressed to a paper cutout of our school mascot, Newton the Newt--"or whatever it is you do, somewhere else? Why do you get to decide when I can and can't be in my own room--"


"Oh, come on. As if you didn't agree to it."


"Well what else was I going to say? You're--"


"Good night, Greg," said Ender very pointedly, and it got quiet inside.


I crept away before someone saw me trying to listen in. Then I returned to Wyeth Hall, showered at long last, came again before I went to bed, and fell asleep reliving that night's sense-memories: Ender's lips on my hair, his cock going deep inside me. His fingers playing over my ear. His palm snug against my palm.


Ender was the skipper, I was the schooner. And now without him at the rudder, I drifted aimless across the night sea--where I happened onto an island chain of sensual dreams.