"Huh! Come on, come on..."
The juggler was working with three clubs, and was doing well until he tried to work in some fancier tricks and patterns. It looked like he was just starting to learn this one, as he kept losing control and clicking his tongue angrily at his props. Every now and then, they'd fly from his fingers in various directions, and he'd have to bend over to pick them up.
Cam was watching him practice from the trees. They were off the beaten path, out by the railroad tracks that cut through the woods. Andrew had been busy that day, so Cam had just started walking around to get a better idea of where everything was in this city. He noticed a small dirt path cutting through the trees and decided to take it. He had been walking for a few minutes when he noticed the other boy in the nearby clearing. He had his back turned to Cam, so he couldn't see his face, but it looked like he was about the same height as Cam, his black hair was matted to his head with sweat. The perspiration on his skin gave him a subtle glow in the afternoon sun, and had he not been wearing headphones, he would have heard the deep breath Cam had drawn through his teeth when he noticed him.
'Good god...' He thought, 'How the hell am I supposed to be normal with guys like this around?'
Still not seen, he had stepped back a bit and stood silently between a few trees and gawked at this boy, who had once again started his pattern, bobbing his head to the music in his ears as he fell into a rhythm. He began branching out more and more, his throws and catches getting more wild and erratic until finally he lost control, the clubs flying away from him.
Well, most of them, anyway. One club, still caught in a spin, collided with one of the others and changed direction. With a viciously fast half-spin, it connected with the juggler's left eye with a loud hollow crack.
"Son of a BITCH!" He yelled, cupping his eye.
Cam forgot himself for a moment and jumped into the clearing. He quickly remembered his position and was about to back away when the other boy spotted him. Too late to just walk away now. He searched for his voice, finding it quicker than he had expected to.
"Hey, are you all right?"
Apparently he couldn't hear, because he slipped his headphones off and just stared blankly at Cam.
"I said, you all right?"
"Huh...? Oh! Right. The club thing." He laughed nervously and shrugged. "Not the first time it's happened, probably not gonna be the last. I can still see and everything."
That voice. Oh wow, that voice. Not exactly raspy, but with a cool whispery quality that made each word he said to Cam seem to slip across the ground before launching up and punching him in the face.
"Oh...Well, that's good. Bye." He turned and started walking away, feeling awkward about the whole situation.
Cam stopped and turned to see that the other guy was walking toward him.
"Um...it does kind of sting more that usual. Can you see if it's bleeding or swelling or anything?"
Cam nodded and looked at his left eye. Then into his right eye. Then into both of them. They were some unusual mix of brown and green...What was that called? Hazel? Something like that. He'd never seen eyes that color up close before. From far off, they blended into one shade, but from up close he could see that they were more like green with small stripes of brown shooting out from the center. The wind shifted, and Cam caught the scent of sweat and sunscreen. He breathed in deeply, still staring into the other boy's eyes.
He was shocked back into the present and remembered why he was staring at the guy's eyes again.
"Hm...doesn't look like it's cut, but it looks like it's puffing out a bit. Compared to your other eye, that is."
Yeah, that'd cover it. He was looking so intently to see if there was any size difference between his good eye and his bad one, to see if it swelled. Perfect.
"Damn...last time that happened, I ended up with a black eye for a week."
An awkward silence fell over them, each of them just kind of looking at the other. It was a few minutes before the juggler spoke up again.
"Well, I'd better get home and get some ice on this."
With that, he gathered up his props and left. Cam stood there in the clearing for a while, just thinking. About Andrew, about this new kid whose name he had forgotten to ask (damn it), about himself.
'Look.' He thought to himself. 'Straight guys don't gawk at other guys. Who the hell do you think you're fooling?'
He sat down against a tree and let himself daze out for a few minutes, staring at the railroad tracks through the trees.
"Damn, I'm messed up." He muttered out loud.
"Oh, hi Messed Up. I'm Jerry."
Cam looked around, blushing. A younger kid was standing there. He looked like he was about eight or nine, with a blond crew cut.
"Um...hey, didn't see you coming."
"Have you seen anyone else around here? About your size, black hair?"
"Oh, yeah, he just left. Went home to put some ice on his black eye."
"Black eye? What...did somebody punch him? Was it you? Where the hell do you get off beating up my cousin, Mr. Messed Up?" He drew himself up on the balls of his feet and pushed out his arms at his sides, trying to make himself look bigger.
"Maybe I oughta beat YOU up."
"I may be small, but I fight dirty!"
"I'm like a tiger in a cage, man! Vicious!"
Cam was getting nervous. He didn't want to fight a nine year old. He was pretty sure he could win, but beating up kids was the kind of thing that could get you a reputation.
"Hey, shut up and take it like a man! I'll..." The kid tried his hardest to keep the angry look on his face, but it was a losing battle. The corners of his lips kept creeping back up, until he finally broke into a grin and started laughing. "Dude, I can't believe you fell for that! I mean, come on, 'I'm like a tiger in a cage'?"
Cam looked puzzled for a second, then started laughing as well.
"What can I say, you look...uh, 'vicious'!"
They laughed about it for a while, and once it grew quiet, Jerry turned to Cam.
"He pegged himself with a club again, didn't he?"
Cam nodded, smiling.
"Not surprising. He's always coming home with something bruised up or burnt off. Well, until Mom took his torches away, that is."
"Yep. He wants to juggle with The Lunatics, and he says that no one pays jugglers who don't do fire."
"Oh, so he's not a Lunatic now?"
"Nah, they don't let you join until you're eighteen. I think it has something to do with the park being afraid of gettin' sued." He chuckled.
"You know, like if some idiot thirteen year old cracks his eye with a club."
Cam laughed, picturing the look on the juggler's face when he got nailed. It was funny, but on another level, he was thinking about what a shame it was that his perfect hazel eye was going to be obscured by a big puffy bruise.
"I forgot to ask, what's your cousin's name?"
"Clint. Well, his real name's Nathan Hensley, but everyone knows him as Clint."
"Why's that? Middle name or something?"
"Heh...not quite." He snickered. "But you'll have to ask him yourself. He'd kill me if I told you."
Cam made a mental note of it.
"So...you said your name was Jerry, right? I'm Cam."
"Cam? Well, it's no Messed Up, but it'll do. Listen, I was supposed to meet Clint here...so I should probably head home to see how he's doing."
"All right. See you around."
"Yeah..." He started to turn, but snapped back around suddenly. "Hey, you want to come back to my place with me?"
Cam was unsure at first. After all, hanging around with elementary school kids wasn't exactly the fastest rocket to the top of the popularity ladder. Then again, it wasn't like anyone had to know, and it'd be an excuse to get closer to Clint...
Nathan Hensley, just turned thirteen and straight out of seventh grade, sat at home with an ice pack to his face, flipping through the channels the living room TV. He had a set in his room, but it wasn't hooked up to cable or anything. It had been about three months now that he had been living with his Aunt Rebecca, his father's sister. He still wasn't quite sure how to feel about everything. The courts had said that his dad wasn't able to properly take care of him, but he had never felt neglected and certainly not abused. Sure, after his mother died, the loss of one income had made money tight and his dad had started coming home pretty late, but that wasn't so bad. Who the hell did that judge think he was, breaking up their family like that? Of course he had raised objections himself, but he supposed the law must have looked at him and thought something along the lines of "Aw, the li'l guy thinks he knows what's best. How cute! Now, moving on..."
He had always gotten along with his aunt and his cousin, and was always annoyed at not being able to see them more often, but that didn't make up for not having his dad around. The only time he could really forget about it was when he was juggling. It had been a great release for him, allowing his mind to sink away into his hands and just lose track of everything outside of his props. That's why he didn't mind the bruised palms, the aching knuckles, the occasional black eyes. This was the first he had gotten in a while, though, and it was killing him. That guy back by the tracks had said that it was looking a little puffy, but by the time he had gotten home, it was a full-on shiner.
That other guy. He was something else. The way he just popped out of nowhere, just when the club had spun back into his eye. At first he had thought that the club had knocked him senseless or something, because he could swear that he hadn't seen anyone there a second before. He immediately clicked off his MP3 player and turned toward him, but when he saw him, all he could do was stare. Guys weren't supposed to look that good. That just wasn't how things worked. He had said something about his eye hurting him, asked the boy to see if he was bleeding or anything. He knew that he would be swelling up, but it gave him a chance to look into the other guy's eyes. He shuddered now, just at the memory. A light, light brown...almost yellowish.
He heard the door slam, but didn't give it any mind. He was too busy thinking about the boy from the railroad tracks. The one with that short, wild hair that seemed to fly off in every direction at once. The one with those killer eyes that had drawn him in. The one...the one that had just walked into his living room with his cousin? The hell?
He sat up straight. That nickname had annoyed him to death at first, but now he thought it was funny. Well, most of the time. He wasn't sure he wanted the other guy to be calling him that, especially if it led to him questioning the origin...
"Jerry. Oh, that's right, I was supposed to meet you-"
"Yeah. Don't worry about it. Hey, I met this cool guy at the tracks."
Nathan groaned on the inside. Ever since he had moved in here, Jerry had been trying to get him to make friends with nearly everyone his age that he deemed a "cool guy". He guessed that his aunt had said something about "helping him fit in", and that he had taken it to heart.
"Yeah, we met." He stood up, shifting the ice pack. "I'm Nathan."
"Cam. Your cousin was telling me that you're kind of new in town."
"Yeah, I've only been here a few months. Still kind of getting used to it."
"Me too. I got here two days ago."
"Wow, really new, huh? Well, from what I've seen, very few of the Gordonites walk around hitting themselves in the face, so don't get the wrong idea."
Cam laughed at the use of the term "Gordonites", thinking back to his conversation with his dad. The sound made Nathan smile, which he covered up by turning it into a smirk.
"Hey Cam, want to play some video games?" Jerry asked, eager to challenge someone new.
"Well, so long as Na-..er, Cli-...er, your cousin won't feel too left out..."
Nathan motioned for them to go ahead, and his younger cousin ran over to the TV to set up their game console. He handed Cam a controller before sitting down in front of the screen. The title screen lit up, and Cam smiled.
"Hey, I'm pretty good at this one. You sure you want to go through with it?"
"Bring it on. Remember, I'm vicious."
After a few rounds, Cam was way ahead in the standings.
"Hey, show me how to do that thing."
"You know, that thing that always kills me."
"My secret weapon? Well...alright, I guess some competition never hurt anyone."
Cam explained the series of moves to Jerry, who spent the next few rounds perfecting them. When they were done, Jerry was anxious to use them against his cousin.
"Hey Clint, want to play me one round?"
"Sorry man, I've got one hand stuck holding this ice bag."
"That's okay, Cam will hold it for you. Right, Cam?"
The two older boys laughed nervously at the thought.
"Uh, I don't think he'd really feel comfortable doing that, Jer. I mean, we just met and everything..."
His eyes darted over to Cam, who looked away.
"Um...I...I guess I could."
"I don't want you to feel weird about it."
"N-no, it's...it's no problem."
Cam's heart was pounding. The idea of being so close to Clint, holding his
head in his hands...there was no way he could let the opportunity get away.
"Well, if you're sure..."
The same thoughts were going through Nathan's head, as he was suddenly thankful for his black eye.
"Hurry up, then." Jerry called.
Nathan walked over to where Cam was sitting and changed places with him on the floor. Cam stood behind him, ice pack in hand, holding it gently to his face. As the cousins began to play, Cam's legs started to tire. At least, that's what he told himself as he rested his free hand on Nathan's shoulder for support. He didn't seem to have any problem with it, so he left it there. As the game progressed, Cam started to notice an impending problem rising, so to speak. With his position, this particular problem would be jabbing Nathan in the back of the neck if he didn't do something.
Arg, why couldn't he have worn some thick, heavy jeans or something?
He took a step back, leaving some space between them. Nathan felt Cam's backing away, and assumed that he was starting to feel uncomfortable with the whole situation, so he rushed through the rest of the game, letting Jerry destroy him with the new moves he had learned.
"All right, that's it for me." He said, dropping the controller and throwing up his hands in mock defeat. He reached up to take hold of his ice pack again, his fingers brushing against Cam's, which were freezing cold from holding the ice. Cam immediately stuffed his hands in his pockets to cover up his situation.
"I...um, I should probably get going." Cam said, blushing. "I'll see you guys later."
Nathan, always trying to be a good host, showed Cam to the door. He was feeling terrible about embarrassing Cam by making him play nursemaid for him. Although, he admitted to himself, he does look pretty cute with his cheeks all red like that.
"Listen, I'm sorry about that." Nathan explained, doing some blushing of his own. "It's just, when Jerry gets an idea in his head, he doesn't back down, you know?"
"Oh, that's no problem. Really." Cam eyed the floor. "Uh...you want to trade numbers? Maybe we could get together and hang out some time."
It took all of Nathan's willpower to avoid jumping up and shouting "YES!" at the top of his lungs. He hadn't blown it after all! He had managed to become...well, he didn't want to jinx it, but...aw, hell, just say it. He had managed to become friends with this awesome boy! Not only cute as hell, but funny and nice and cool enough to hang out with his younger cousin without making a big deal about it. Now if he could just keep his damned hormones under control around him...
"Yeah, sure. Hang on, I'll go grab some paper."
Cam sauntered home around four in the afternoon, whistling. If he knew how to do cartwheels, he would have turned a few on the way in. Not only had he made two new friends, both of whom lived only a few streets away, but he was starting to feel like this town really was his home. He sat down for a bit, mindlessly flipping through TV channels, but decided that he was too excited to just veg out. He got up and started walking around aimlessly through his house, randomly tapping on walls and looking for anything interesting.
Once he reached his room, he decided that he might as well start hanging up his clothes. He had been putting it off for the last few days, just living out of the cardboard moving boxes, but now that he was too amped up to sit still, he figured that he might as well get something done. He flipped on the light and walked into his closet, knowing that this would probably be the last time he would be able to do that. He stopped when the toe of his shoe hit something hard. Sounded like metal. Weird. He grabbed the object, which felt like a light metal box, and pulled it out into his room to inspect it. Yep, a metal box. He opened it up, noting the hinges on one side. Empty. Bah, no hidden fortune this time. He shut it again, now noticing the way the front was built. It had a sort of metal clasp on a hinge that came down from the lid and slid over what looked like a sideways washer. For a lock, he figured out.
He walked over to the corner of his room, where he had left his backpack from school. Just as he thought, the lock from his old locker was still clasped around one of the straps. What was that combination again?
Seven...nine...eighty-five...pop! It snapped open, and he pulled it off.
He snapped it shut around the clasp of the lockbox. Cool, it fits. He popped it open again, flipping up the lid, and digging through his backpack. Yep, there it was. His journal. He had thought about throwing it away after that incident a few weeks ago, but couldn't bring himself to do it. Too many memories. Even if they were pretty sad at times, he wanted to know that he could go back and look at them if he ever needed to.
He threw it into the box.
He hadn't written in it since that day, he remembered. Pulling it out and flipping to the next empty page after his last entry, he took out a pen and started writing. Running away, the truck yard, Saint Jake. All the way up until the move. Then, he closed it and pulled a new, empty notebook from his backpack. He started writing in this one, too...everything that had happened since he moved. Meeting Andrew and Mr. Rowan, seeing The Lunatics, meeting Jerry and Clint Hensley. Once he was done writing, he flipped it closed and wrote one word on the cover: Gordon. He took the old notebook and repeated this action: Northtowne. He threw them both into the box and locked it before pushing it back into the back of his closet, which he then started loading with clothes. A whole new notebook. A fresh start.