Home EleCivil Chapters

Leaves and Lunatics

By EleCivil

Chapter 05

Cam leaned over to say something, his lips close to Nathan's ear, but was cut off by an obnoxious tickling sensation. He reached down and scratched at his legs, but it didn't seem to have any effect. He leaned forward, looking down at his legs.

"Oh, son of a..." Cam jumped to his feet, shaking one leg, then the other. Nathan just stared at him from the ground, confused. "Fucking ANTS!"

"Wha...damn it!" Nathan jumped to his feet as well, just now taking notice of the small army of insects marching up his own pant leg. They both shook around, swatting their palms against their legs, trying to knock off the bugs. Cam was getting frustrated. He had even more of them on his shirt, which he ripped off and started swinging against his legs. Nathan followed suit, thrashing his shirt against his legs and screaming some indecipherable battle cry.

All the screaming had gotten the others too curious to stay put. A quick glance at one another was all it took to send them up the hill and back to the other side of the train tracks, where they stood staring down at the clearing.

"Um..." Andrew's eyes shot between the others. "My eyes aren't playing tricks on me, are they? 'Cause from here, it really looks like they're doing some kind of shirtless rain dance."

"I was hoping it was a guy thing," Jill replied, "But if you can't explain it either..."

"Hey, whatever. Looks cool to me." Jerry pulled off his own shirt and ran down into the clearing; screaming, jumping, and whipping his shirt around in imitation.

"You going to join in, too, Jill?" Andrew asked, smirking. He got a punch in the arm as a reply, and held up his hands in mock surrender.

By now, Cam and Nathan had noticed that the youngest member of their group was now with them, thrashing around the way they were. Once they were more or less ant-free, they slowed down and finally stopped.

"What was that about?" Jerry asked, stopping himself.

"Ants." Cam said, out of breath from all the jumping and screaming.

"Yeah. Ants. Lots." Nathan confirmed, sucking in air himself.

Jerry gave them a funny look, shrugged, and pulled his shirt back over his head. It was a lot more fun before he found out that there had been a reason for it. Cam and Nathan started shaking out their shirts to make sure there weren't any of the exoskeletal invaders left. They were just putting them back on when Andrew and Jill joined them.

"Ants." Jerry told them.


"We fell on an ant hill, I guess." Nathan explained.

"Fell, huh? Both of you, on the same ant hill? How'd you manage that one?" Andrew asked. Of course, he had watched them fall to the ground with their arms around each other, but he thought it would be funny to watch them squirm for an answer.

"Uh...I guess I fell into Cam and knocked him over with me. Into an ant hill. So the ants got us both. Heh."

"But if you just fell...how did they have time to swarm you? Seems like you would have had to be laying there for a while..." Andrew was trying his best to hold a straight face, even with Cam and Nathan glancing nervously at each other and Jill shooting him the evil eye.

"Hey, the fireworks ended a few minutes ago." Jill interrupted, breaking the tension. "We should get back home before the parents think we've been...I don't know, kidnaped by 'sex pree-verts', like old Mrs. Gibson is always talking about at church."

Andrew snickered. "Yeah, we all know how many 'sex pree-verts' there are in Gordon."

"Look who's talking, mister 'Aren't-you-going-to-take-your-shirt-off-too?'" Jill said.

"Hey, I take offense to that. If wanting to see a girl topless is perverted, than there isn't a guy on Earth who isn't a pervert. Well, then again, maybe one or t- OW." He glared at Jill, who had elbowed him hard in the ribs. "Jeez. Even if I was a 'sex pree-vert', I wouldn't try kidnaping you. You'd just beat the hell out of me. Which, by the way, wouldn't be too different from our current relationship."

"As I was saying, I've got to go. See you guys later."

The group started to disperse in the directions of their own houses. At the last minute, Cam called to Nathan and motioned for him to wait.

"Uh, I'll catch up with you in a second, Jerry." He called to his cousin. Jerry nodded and kept walking, his brain abuzz with fireworks, ants, pree-verts, and about a dozen other things all at once.

As soon as the coast was clear, Cam grabbed Nathan's hands and pulled him in closer. "You doing anything tomorrow?"

"I don't think so."

"Want to come over to my place? My parents leave for work around seven."

"Yeah I do, but I really doubt I'll be awake that early."

"Yeah, same here. See you tomorrow, then?"


They both knew that they had to leave, but it was still hard for Cam to let go of Nathan's hands and walk away.


"So, what do you make of this?" Jay Jeffries motioned to the kitchen table, where his son was asleep on top of a half-finished jigsaw puzzle.

"Looks like it'll be a scene from Jurassic Park to me, though it's hard to tell without the box." His wife replied. She moved around the table and turned on the coffee pot, going through her normal morning routine.

"When was the last time he fell asleep at the table? For that matter, when did he start doing puzzles? I didn't know we still had any puzzles."

"I'll admit it's kind of odd, but if he's got to do something, better puzzles than drugs."

"Mary...how is it that you always manage to jump to drugs?"

"Blame drugs, and if it's not drugs, we get to be relieved until the next time he does something weird, and then we blame that on drugs, and so forth." She threw a lot of breath behind these words, as if she were sighing with every one. "It's simple parenting, really."

"Before we became parents, we made a lot more sense."

"We did more of a lot of things before we became parents." She gave him a quick wink before turning back to the coffee.

"Funny. That's exactly how we became parents."


Cam woke up around ten in the morning. Groaning, he stood up and stretched out of the uncomfortable position he had fallen asleep in. He had been up until four a.m. thinking about Nathan. And putting together a puzzle, apparently. He gave it a sideways look and swept it off of the table and into its box, which was lying on the floor. A jigsaw puzzle? Talk about lame. Still, it was something that he could do with his hands while his brain was occupied. Looking down, he noticed that he was still in the same clothes he had been wearing the night before. He could use a shower, too.

Grabbing some new clothes from his room, he rushed to the bathroom, hoping that he could get ready before Nathan came over. The hot water woke him up quickly, and soon enough he was belting out some off-key song over the rattle of the water. By the time he was out and drying himself off, he was feeling more energetic than he usually was after just waking up. He heard a knock at the door and jumped. Just in time. He threw on his clothes as fast as he could, nearly tripping himself over his pant legs before running for the door.

Nathan was almost ready to give up when he heard the lock click open in the door. It swung open to reveal Cam, who was standing there in bare feet with his hair dripping and his lips pulled back into a grin. About a dozen fantasies blasted rapid-fire through his brain at this sight.


Oh jeez, he had been saying something. Pay attention.


"I said, want to come in?"

Nathan nodded enthusiastically, taking the stairs two at a time. As soon as they were inside, Cam slammed the door and locked it, leading Nathan to the living room.

"So, about last night..."

Oh jeez. Was Cam having second thoughts? Say something. Diffuse it.

"Uh...yeah, about that...I'm really sorry if that creeped you out or anything."

"Creeped out? Naw. Besides, I've been sleeping too much, anyway. Staying up all night thinking about you was a good change." Cam groaned at himself mentally for laying it on so thick. He really didn't want to scare him off.

Nathan, meanwhile, was practically melting into his sneakers, wishing that he could think of something that sweet to say. Ugh, how did Cam always manage to do that?

"Um...Cam, I..." His lips had started moving before his brain told them what to say. Not good. Not good at all. "W-would it be okay...I mean, can I..." He cleared his throat, feeling it tighten. "...can I kiss you?"

"You did once yesterday. Do you really think I'd turn it down this time?"

"No, I mean...really kiss you. On the lips." His voice cracked a bit, but it wasn't too noticeable since he was practically whispering at this point. He wondered if it was possible to die from blushing too fast. All the blood rushing to his face...what if it just kept going, and started spraying out everywhere? Not a comforting thought, seeing as since he met Cam, he'd felt like he'd been blushing so much that the heat from his face could make space heaters obsolete in Gordon. He turned his head, trying to hide it.

Cam had seen enough movies to know what he was supposed to do now. He stepped over to Nathan and pulled him into a kiss. Nathan, not sure how to react, twisted his head awkwardly. This position combined with Cam's nervous rushing lead to them being rather off-target, so to speak. His lips were pressed firmly against the underside of Nathan's nose. Not quite like the movies.

'Good thing I didn't try to do any of that fancy tongue stuff everybody always talks about,' Cam thought, pulling back. 'Otherwise, I would have ended up with my tongue clear up his nose.' He burst out laughing at that image, leaning into Nathan for support.

"Wow, I kind of blew that one, huh?" Cam said between laughs, his head against Nathan's shoulder.

"Um...maybe a bit slower this time." Nathan said, lifting Cam's head to his own and snapping him out of his nervous hysterics. This time they both leaned in slowly and carefully, their lips touching for the first time.

The initial contact ripped through Cam like he had just kissed an electric outlet. He gave a short, strong shudder, which Nathan responded to by wrapping his arms around Cam's shoulders and squeezing gently.

Cam couldn't even guess about how much time had passed. To be honest, a street gang could have driven a bulldozer through his living room and he wouldn't have noticed. He eventually had to stop, realizing that he hadn't been breathing the whole time.

"Oh...wow." Nathan breathed. It was times like this that he wished he was the poetic type. He felt almost cheated that he could be allowed to feel something so strongly and not be able to put it to words.

"Yeah. Wow." Cam's knees felt wobbly, and he let himself fall back into the couch. His lungs were on fire, like he had just run a marathon. He let his breath escape in a deep sigh.

Nathan did the same, falling next to him and throwing one arm over his shoulders. Cam sucked in some more air.

"I'm never going to catch my breath if you keep doing that."

"Oh, sorry." Nathan said, pulling his arm back. They sat apart in silence like that for a few seconds before Cam starting breathing normally again. He turned and looked at Nathan; his black hair falling across his forehead, his chest rising and falling under his shirt.

"You know," Cam said, "Breathing's way overrated."

Nathan grinned, practically tackling Cam and pulling him into another kiss.


Jay Jeffries, having finished his day's work early, pulled into his driveway at just past five o'clock. He stepped out of the car, twirling his key ring on his fingers and adjusting his sunglasses as he stepped up to the door. When he opened the it, he heard the TV click on in the other room. Strange. His wife was still at work, and Cam was almost always out when he got home. Well, whatever.

He stepped inside, pulling off his sunglasses (always done with a needless flick of his wrist, just for the sake of looking cool) and throwing them, along with his keys, into the basket that they kept next to the door. He was passing through the living room on his way to his bedroom when he saw that Cam was sitting with another boy on the couch, watching TV. They both looked kind of pale.

"Hey guys."

"Hi dad. Home early, huh?"

"Yep." He turned to Nathan. He had seen him (and the rest of Cam's usual gang) hanging around the house before. "Uh...Clint, right?"

"Yes sir."

"No need for the sir. Never has sounded right to me. Hey, was that you doing the juggling on stage yesterday?"

"Yes s-...er, yeah."

"Well, you know what that means?"

Nathan and Cam both looked back blankly.

"You're the closest we've come to having a celebrity in the house."

Nathan blushed, but smiled none the less.

"So, you staying for-" Jay was cut off mid-sentence when he noticed what they boys were watching on TV. "Wait...the weather channel?"

"Er...yeah!" Cam stuttered, looking over at Nathan for a second before turning back. "Uh...we were just going to see if it was...going to rain any time soon."

"Right!" Nathan added. "Um...you know, to see if we would have to...reschedule anything. Because of the rain."

"Oh. Well, you'll probably have better luck with the local news. I mean, I'm pretty sure that isn't even our country." He motioned to the screen, which was currently displaying a map of Argentina (which was, apparently, in for some rough times as that warm front swept in from the East). "Anyway, Clint, you staying for dinner? Looks like I'm home first, so I've got chef duties tonight."

"Um..." He looked to Cam, who shot him a quick grin. "I'll have to call my Aunt first, but if it's okay..."

"Sure, sure. Like I said before, it'll probably be the closest I come to cooking for a celebrity."

"Come on, Dad, you're embarrassing him."

"Right. Well, I'm sick of this suit already, so I'm going to go change." He started off in the direction of his bedroom again. "Oh, Clint - phone's on the counter in the kitchen. Cam'll show you."

As soon as he was gone, Nathan turned to Cam.

"You don't think he suspects anything, do you?" He whispered.

"Relax. He already knows about me. My mom knows, too. They're cool with it. At least, in theory. I don't know how they'll take the actual practice, but I don't think it'll be a problem."

"Yeah, but...I don't know if I want them to know about me yet. I mean, no one does, other than you."

"I think it might have been just enough to make him suspicious, but I don't think he knows what he's supposed to be suspicious about yet. No need to worry just yet."

Nathan was visibly relieved by this. Cam showed him to the phone, where he called his Aunt. A few sentences into the conversation, Nathan pulled the phone away from his face and covered the receiver with his palm.

"She wants to know if I'm staying overnight, too."

"Want to?"

"'Course I do. If it were up to me, I'd never leave." He added that last sentence is a conspiratorial whisper.

"One second, got to go ask my dad." Cam took off for the stairs, which he attacked with a certain vicious disregard for safety. He came back down less than a minute later and flashed Nathan a thumbs-up.

Some more conversation on the phone, and everything was set. The boys retired to Cam's room, where they decided to hang around until dinner. Cam sat cross-legged on his bed, while Nathan sat on the floor and leaned against the wall on the other side of the room.

"So..." Cam started.


"Um, well...I've been meaning to ask you..."

"What?" Nathan asked again, starting to get worried by the tone of Cam's voice. Had he said something that could be taken the wrong way? He started replaying their conversations from that day in his head.

"Why does everybody call you Clint, anyway?"

He nearly fell over with relief.

"That's it?"

"Well, whenever I asked Jerry or Andrew, they'd just say that I'd have to ask you myself. I just assumed it was something that you weren't too happy about, so I didn't want to ask until I got to know you better...and then I just kind of forgot about it for a while, but it's been driving me crazy the last few days."

Nathan laughed and leaned back against the wall. "Should have just asked me, man. My nickname...it didn't start until I moved here. It started when I was first learning how to juggle clubs. One of the first tricks I tried was an under-the-leg throw...and, well, I wasn't too good at controlling my throws yet, and ended up clubbing myself in the groin a few times."

Cam snickered at that, but still didn't quite make the connection.

"I was walking bow-legged for about a week."

"A week!?"

"Well, I was determined to learn it, and I had to stop practicing every time I made one of those groin-throws, so it took a while."

"You mean to tell me that you cracked your crotch with a club - numerous times - and still kept trying?"

"Aye, we jugglers are a crazy bunch." Nathan said in a terrible attempt at some kind of accent that Cam couldn't place.

"You're lucky you're not a sterile bunch."

"I'm not too worried about whether or not I can have kids. After all..."

"Oh yeah. Still, though...you never thought of buying a cup or something?"

"You want to hear this or not?"

Cam motioned for him to go on, clamping one hand over his own mouth.

"So anyway, I was walking around bow-legged at school for a week. I bumped into this guy in the hall. I'm not sure who he was, really, but that's not important. Anyway, he yells out, 'Watch where you're goin' there, pardner. The ranch is that way.' So everybody starts laughing-"

Cam, currently laughing into his hand, tried his best to stifle it.

"And before you know it, everybody's saying things like 'Howdy, pardner' and 'Hey there, buckeroo'. Eventually somebody said 'Hey, Clint Eastwood - how you doing? Good? Bad? Ugly?'"

Cam was cracking up now, picturing it in his mind.

"So anyway, I was getting kind of sick of fighting it, you know? So I thought, maybe if I go along with it for a little while, they'll get bored and forget about it. So I turn to him and say 'Why? Do you feel lucky, punk?'"

"But...that line wasn't even from one of his cowboy movies, was it?"

"I don't know. Doesn't matter. The point is, from that day on, I was Clint to everybody in school. Even one or two of the teachers started calling me that. And you know, I'm kind of shy as it is-"

"Sure, 'kind of'."

"Yeah, screw you. Anyway, it was a new school, and I'm kind of shy, so I was quiet most of the time, and I guess that combined with the nickname made people think that I was more the strong silent type than the scared quiet type. Everybody pretty much left me alone, so I went along with it. I even started introducing myself that way to people. It seemed to make it a little easier to talk to them."

"Oh, I get it...like when you signed up for the talent contest. You said that signing up as Clint made it easier to keep your nerves. You don't feel as shy if you're talking as someone else."

"Yeah. But I didn't tell anybody about that part. Until you, that is."

"So, do you want me to call you Clint?"

"No. I don't think so. With you...I don't feel like I have to be someone else. Oh man, that sounded really sappy." Their eyes locked, and Cam felt something jump in his chest.

"You know what?"


"I didn't want to start anything with my dad in the house, but you're not making it easy for me."

Nathan smiled and made his way to Cam's bed where he sat down next to him. He positioned himself so that he was perpendicular (a word he had picked up in last year's math class, and would no doubt forget in time for next year's math class) to Cam's shoulders, wrapped his arms around him, and pressed his lips softly against his cheek.

"I love you." He whispered into Cam's ear.

Cam's head filled with contradictions. Was this right? Was he really in love with Nathan? He had only known him for a little more than a month, and had only just begun to really know him. Every logical part of his brain was screaming 'stupid teen crush', but as he looked back at him, the way his heart felt like it was about to bruise his chest from the inside out...he just couldn't logic his way out of this.

"I love you, too." He whispered back, no uncertainty in his voice. "Oh man, I really didn't want to start anything just now..."

"Well, technically, I think I started it."

"Yeah, but now I've got a...situation on my hands, and it's going to be really hard to look innocent if my parents call me down for something." Cam thought he saw Nathan's eyes flash down to his 'situation' for a split-second, but wasn't sure.

"Well...maybe we've just got to make sure your situation is rectified, so to speak."

"Uh...it already IS rectified. That's the problem."

"No, no...rectified. It means straightened out, taken care of, that kind of thing."

"Oh. Yeah. I knew that. Rectified. Of course." Cam's eyes shot to about twice their normal size. "Wait, did you just offer to-"

"Um...well, I mean...if you want to...but, that should probably wait until later."

"Oh, yeah, sure, I'm all for taking things slow. Real slow. Like, school zone slow. Snail in January slow. In fact, my teachers always said that I was sl-"

"Well, I meant like...waiting until later tonight, so that your parents don't walk in on us, but if that's too fast..."

"Not at all! I can do fast, too! Faster than a speeding bullet. I mean, yeah, fast, but not too fast. That is...aw hell, I'm bad at this." He sighed, throwing himself off of the bed in exaggerated frustration.


Dinner that night was uneventful. Cam tried his best to avoid making eye contact with anyone, acting as interested as possible in the bowl of soup in front of him. His parents did their usual "getting to know who our son's friends are" routine, grilling Nathan about school, his Aunt, and the town in general. Cam didn't catch any of it. He was too focused on pushing around the various ingredients of the soup with his spoon. He wasn't interested in eating. Not at all. Still, he knew that if he didn't hurry up and down this stuff, he'd be here all night. Not to mention that his parents would most likely blame his lack of appetite on drugs, as they had been known to do. Combine that with the way he had been unable to focus on anything, the funny haze that seemed to surround him wherever he went, and they would have a pretty good case. He was pretty sure he had never done anything stronger than aspirin, but damned if he didn't feel like he had been pegged with a tranquilizer dart.

He spooned the stuff down as best he could, his stomach fluttering as he thought about the boy sitting next to him. This worried him a bit - not eating, not sleeping...if it continued for too long, he could get pretty messed up. Everyone at the table was looking at him. Uh oh. Caught daydreaming.

"What?" He asked.

"I asked if you were feeling alright." Jay replied. "You've been pretty quiet tonight."

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just...thinking about stuff."

Nathan's spoon clattered against the table and bounced to the floor. He made one of those "Oh, clumsy me" expressions and leaned over to pick it up. On the way back up, he brushed his fingers against Cam's hand.

'Bless the guy who invented tablecloths.' Cam thought, giving Nathan's hand a squeeze before bringing it back up to the table and turning his attention back to the soup.


No one there. Good. Maybe.

Andrew made his way into the clearing. Good timing - everybody else was probably eating supper at home right now. The whole day had been confusing. He hadn't seen Cam or Clint at all. That wasn't anything to get worried about - it's not as if they all met up every day or anything. He would usually see one of them in passing, though.

'Probably off doing...I don't know. Something. What do gay guys do, anyway?' From what he had seen on TV, they redecorated houses, dressed up really fancy, and marched in parades. He had seen their rooms, and they weren't exactly neatly decorated. Cam's room was still full of half-unpacked boxes, even a month after moving in. Clint's had a sort of impersonal Spartan emptiness to it, like he was trying to make it so that if he left, there would be no proof that he had ever lived there. He had never paid attention to their clothes, but they sure didn't dress all...you know, like that. And as far as he knew, there weren't any parades going through town.

'Why would they do anything different, anyway? Jeez, you know what they're into. Clint likes juggling, music, horror movies with a lot of blood n' guts. Cam's into books, video games, The Three Stooges. Just because they decided to start being gay...' Start? Yeah, start. They weren't gay before, right? Cam slept over at his house the day before they all met, and he didn't seem gay then. But...if he wasn't acting different now, how could he tell? God, this was weird.

He wasn't one of those...what do they call 'em? Homophobes? At least, he didn't think he was. He still liked Cam and Clint. He just didn't know anything about them now. 'No, no, I do know about them. They didn't change.' Yeah, except that now they're like...a couple? Boyfriends? What's the right term for it? He really didn't know. And how would this effect his friendship with them? He could always try joking around about it whenever it came up - his usual tactic for dealing with things he didn't quite understand. 'But what if I go too far and say something that hurts them? How do I know how far 'too far' is if I don't know...well, ANYTHING?'

'Got to find out about this. I don't want to say something stupid and screw everything up just because I don't know...' Yeah, but how to find out? He couldn't talk to Cam and Clint about it. That'd be too...awkward. You can't just go up to somebody and say "Hey, I hear you're into drillin' other dudes. 'Sup with that?" But he didn't feel right talking to Jerry or Jill about it, either. Talking about them behind their back like that wouldn't be cool. 'What about the internet? Or a book or something?' Yeah, right. Just walk up to the check-out counter with a stack of books about homosexuality. That sure wouldn't earn him any weird looks from the librarian (who just so happened to be a hot college chick, thereby making the library an extremely popular place for college guys looking to score some points with her). Internet was no good, either. His parents had installed one of those stupid parental block things that kept track of every site he went to. All he needed was for them to see that he had been searching for stuff about being gay.

Damn it. Stuck. Stupid.

"So, how much did the pirate charge for piercings?" He said outloud to himself. "A buck-an-ear! Stick around, folks, I got a million of 'em. A pirate walks into a bar. Bartender says 'Hey, you've got a steering wheel in your pants.' Pirate says 'Arr! It's driving me nuts!' See that, ladies 'n gents? What I lack in common sense, I make up for in pirate jokes. Of course you don't see, you're a bunch of trees. But I won't hold that against ya. You're still the best audience I've got. So, a pirate, a ninja, and a hooker are on the Titanic, when the Captain says..."

He wasn't sure how long he was talking to the trees. All he knew was that as long as his tongue was twisting, he didn't have to think. Based on the kind of thoughts he had been having all day, he figured that was for the best.


Cam and Nathan had gone straight up to Cam's room after dinner, but decided after a few minutes that staying alone like that was just asking for trouble. They didn't want to get caught up in the middle of something with Cam's parents right downstairs. On the other hand, they didn't want to go downstairs with them and go crazy trying to not look suspicious, thereby looking extremely suspicious. Finally, they settled on taking a walk.

"How long do you really think we can keep this up?" Cam asked as they rounded a corner.

"You mean staying together, or hiding it?"

"Hiding it. I mean, it's not like we hang out with a huge group that wouldn't notice that we're missing. A few days of not showing up and they'll start to wonder what's going on. And then if we do show up...well, they're not blind."

"Yeah. And Jerry...jeez, I live with him. There's no way that he won't find out. And he's not exactly the secretive type, either." Nathan turned around to face Cam. "What are we going to do?"

"I don't know. If you want to stop..."


"Then I guess...we've just got to take it. Roll with the punches, or something like that." Cam said. "So...the question is, do we do it quick and get it over with, or do we wait for one of them to find out and slowly turn the rest against us?"

"Don't you think we might be being way too hard on them? I mean...'turning against us'...it just doesn't sound like them. Isn't it possible that they wouldn't care?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe we should just get it done with. Like, now. At least then we won't have to worry about it."

"Have you ever done this before? You said that your parents knew, but did you ever tell anybody else?"

"Um...yeah, I did tell somebody, once."


"It went...okay." Cam threw on his best poker face. He didn't want to scare Nathan with his horror stories. The time he had spent hiding had been even worse than finally coming out, and he didn't think he could take that again.

"Oh. So it might not be too bad. Still...I don't know. Maybe we should wait a little while. You know, until..." He trailed off and nodded in Cam's direction.

Cam looked down at his chest, thinking at first that there was something on his shirt. Then he turned around and saw that Jill was behind him, walking in their direction. He raised his hand and waved. She nodded to them, smiling.

"Hi guys. What's going on?"

What was that supposed to mean? That tone...it was somehow set off alarms in Cam's head. It was like she was implying something.

'Got to be my imagination.' Cam thought. 'She couldn't possible know. Not already. It's impossible. I'm just paranoid about it. Deep breath. Now, say something.'

"Nothing. You headed for the tracks?"

"Where else? You too?"

"Guess so."

Now that Jill was there, the conversation swung back to less controversial topics, and stayed that way until they hit the clearing.

"So then the pirate wench says, 'Is that a mast in yer pile o' doubloons, or be ye just happy to-" Andrew stopped mid-sentence and turned to the others, who had just caught him in the middle of his stand-up act. "Oh, hey. Heh. Just, um...talking to myself."

"Right..." Jill said, "And you usually talk to yourself in a pirate accent?"

"Uh...doesn't everybody?"

"Can't say I do. Cam?"

"Nope. Nathan?"

"Nope. Looks like you're alone on that one."

"Bah, you're just jealous of my amazing vocal stylings, and you know it. Go play with your balls, Clint."

"Alright, man. That was your first reference to juggling and testicles for this week." Nathan held up two fingers. "You know the rules. Only two more, and then I get to smack you for 'em."

"Well, why waste time? You know, you've got to respect a man with five balls."

Nathan lowered one finger.

"One more, huh? Hm. Jugglers do it with their balls in the air?"

"Damn straight we do." He lowered his hand. "You know, one of these weeks, you're going to actually use one that I haven't heard before."

"You bet your balls I am." This was answered with a punch to his shoulder.

"Ugh. I've got to get some female friends." Jill muttered.

"You'd be back in a day. Face it, talking about lipstick and boy bands just can't compare to our three-balls-and-you're-out rule." Andrew grinned, tightening into a ridiculous pose and lowering his voice so that he sounded almost like a TV voiceover guy. "Besides, no one escapes the Rowan charm, fabled in song and story."

"Such songs as 'Walk Away, Renee'..." Nathan said.

"And such stories as 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'." Cam finished.

"Solitude this." Andrew said, maintaining the voice and holding the pose, but flashing a rather unwholesome gesture in their direction.

"Guys!" Jerry came crashing through the trees and into the clearing. "Oh good, you're all here."

"Yeah. What's up, Jer?" Jill asked.

"Oh man, I found the coolest things!"

Andrew broke his pose, leaning in like the rest of the group.

"I was at the gas station, getting some batteries, right?"

"Batteries. Gas station. I follow you so far, but slow down, this is complicated business." Andrew said. Jerry ignored him and continued with his story.

"And I was going up to pay, I get out my wallet..." He pantomimed this with his hands, as if there were no way the rest of them could grasp the concept of taking out a wallet without a visual aid. "But then I drop it, so I kneel down to pick it up...and then I saw it."

He was on his knees now, holding his hands in front of him as if he were both reaching for and bowing to whatever was in front of him.

"It was like...the most perfect looking-"

"Jerry." Jill interrupted him. "If the next word out of your mouth is 'ass', I swear to god, I am never sitting though one of your stories again."

"Seconded." Nathan added.

"Motion carried." Cam said, banging his fist against a nearby tree.

"Guys, come on!" Jerry got back to his feet. "It was this display of pins. You know, the small, cheap ones that they sell at gas stations. I saw these really cool ones. Like, gold buckeye leaves."

"You're impressed by buckeye leaves? Man, this is Ohio. You can't take three steps without seeing a buckeye leaf. Look, that's a buckeye tree right there!" Andrew was right, it was.

"Yeah, but these...I don't know. They're the five-point kind. And there were exactly five of them. And you know, I was thinking...there's five of us, five of them, five points on each leaf. It was like fate or something."

That was one thing Cam had noticed about Jerry. No matter what he did, it always had to be epic. If it was boring or even average (for instance, buying batteries at a gas station), he'd find a way to make it interesting, or he just wouldn't do it. His mother had become aware of this when his teacher called to inform her that the margins on Jerry's math homework were always crammed with small doodles of the numbers getting into knife fights and shootouts.

"So I checked the price, and you know how much it came to when you added in the batteries I was there to get? Five dollars. Almost exactly. Fate, like I said. So of course, I had to get 'em." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of the pins he had described. Five gold buckeye leaves (not real gold, of course), each about the size of a nickel. He held out his hand motioning for everyone to take one.

"You sure you just want to give these to us? I mean, I could pay you back however much it was..." Cam said, taking one.

"Nah, they were like fifty cents. No big deal. I just thought it would be cool if we could all wear 'em. Like a club, or something." He pinned one on to his front pocket.

"These are kind of cool." Andrew said, turning one over in his hand. "Good find, Jer."

Jerry was practically beaming at this. Though no one ever came out and said it, it was fairly obvious that he looked up to Andrew. He saw him as most people did - Easy-going, athletic, always ready with a sarcastic comment. Plus, as a ten year old boy, he couldn't help but respect a guy with such a large stable of off-color jokes. Nothing too dirty, or course, but the kind of things that were just racy enough to get girls to roll their eyes and groan when he repeated them.

Once they all had them pinned in varying locations, they stood and admired the accessories. They were big enough to see, but small enough that they could get away with wearing all the time without calling attention to them. Plus, the fact that they were buckeye leaves gave them the excuse of being proud Ohio citizens if anyone asked. Luckily, these were shaped so that they were obviously buckeye leaves. Cam had seen some buckeye leaf designs that he could swear looked more like pot leaves, and he knew he wouldn't be able to get away with wearing something like that. Not even if it was in support of the state.

"So...what do you guys want to do now?" Jerry asked.

"I brought a deck." Jill said, reaching into her back pocket and producing a worn box wrapped in a rubber band. "Up for some poker?"

"Sounds good to me. What kind of an unruly teen gang would we be without gambling?" Andrew said.

"So, do we have to start dealing drugs and stealing hubcaps now, too?" Jill asked, shuffling.

"Nah. The drug market's already covered by the high school kids, and I don't know about you guys, but I don't know how to take off a hub cap. I guess if we have to, we can start up a prostitution ring, though."

"Oh, sure. Like we don't know who's going to be doing all the work there." Jill started dealing out the cards.

"I think you underestimate my whoring potential."

The others just watched. Andrew v. Jill was always a good spectator sport. Even when they weren't fighting they always had to one-up each other, even if that meant something as seemingly innocent as building on each other's jokes. Occasionally one of the others would get in a line, but it was always buried under an avalanche from the two main competitors. They commenced playing hand after hand of cards, substituting pebbles from under the train tracks for poker chips and philosophizing about whatever topics came to mind. It seemed like no time at all when they heard a train coming.

"Oh man, that's the nine o'clock." Nathan noted.

"Yep. Time for another showing of the Gordon Mobile Art Gallery." Jill said. This was a city-wide in-joke of sorts - the idea that Gordon's culturally elite could make up for the lack of a real art museum by watching the graffiti-covered trains going by, decorated with such beautiful works as "fuck the government!" and "suck my cork" (occasionally sections of the paint wore off, leaving chunks of letters missing) written in five-foot tall letters. "But as much as I'd like to stick around and watch the ol' profane train make its rounds, it's getting late."

"Yeah, we'd better get back, too." Cam said.

"We?" Jill asked.

"Er..." Cam looked over to Nathan, unsure.

"Clint's spending the night at Cam's place." Jerry said.

Nathan's head spun toward his cousin. "How'd you know that?"

"Mom told me. You know, since we do kind of live together, she figured I should keep up with everything."

"Oh, right."

"Uh, yeah, I should get going, too." Andrew said. Cam could swear he looked really uncomfortable all of a sudden. He slipped out of the clearing and went on his way.


"Watch this." Cam motioned to his bedside alarm clock. "Almost 10:03."

"What happens then?"


Just as the clock clicked over to 10:03 pm, they heard a knock at the door.

"Come in."

Mr. Jeffries stuck his head into the room, said good night, and disappeared just as quickly.

"10:03, every night. It's like it takes them exactly three minutes to turn off all the lights and get to my room."

"So, they're going to be asleep soon?"

Cam grinned, standing and walking over to Nathan, who stood up as well. The only word Cam could think of to describe the kiss that followed was "passionate". At least, he assumed that it fit. He had heard the word before, and had even seen it used in some of books that he'd read, but he had always skimmed past those boring romance scenes. After all, he had seen his parents kissing before, and that was nothing too fascinating. Definitely nothing worth writing or reading about. At least, not before...

He gasped, feeling Nathan's cool hands slipping under his shirt and moving across his back. He was pressing into him forcefully now, like he was trying to borough his way though Cam's chest. With a little mutual assistance, they were both shirtless. As they broke apart, Cam felt himself shudder as he looked at Nathan's form. His shirt had messed up his hair as it slipped over his head, and it was now sticking out wildly.

"Looks like your, uh...situation's come up again."

"Likewise." Cam said. "But I've got the cutest guy on Earth just a few feet in front of me. What's you're excuse?"

"If you're just going to steal my answer like that, I'll need more time to think about it. Maybe if I did some research..." His hands reached Cam's waist, a few fingers slipping under the fabric of his jeans.

Cam was breathing heavy, his mind reeling. Nathan's forwardness was surprising. Maybe he really did feel more confident with him.

Nathan let out a frustrated sigh, fumbling with the button on Cam's pants. "Um...little help? I don't mean to break the mood or anything, but I've never had to unbutton one of these from this side before."

Cam probably would have laughed at that, but right now he couldn't really do much of anything but nod. Even with his hands shaking, he was able to quickly unbutton himself. Nathan got back to work, unzipping him and pushing him back toward his bed. Cam barely noticed he had been moving when he felt the edge of his mattress against the back of his legs. Soon he was off his feet, his pants around his ankles. He kicked them off, leaving him in his socks and boxers.

"Dude." Nathan snickered. "Sorry, sorry, broke the mood again, but..."

He motioned to Cam's boxers, which were currently feeling extremely tight on him. Cam looked down only to remember which ones he was wearing. A pair of novelty boxers he had gotten for his birthday a year ago, black with a Three Stooges pattern across the front.

'Not the opportune choice for such an event,' Cam thought, noting how ridiculously Larry Fine's grinning persona was being stretched and starting to laugh himself.

"Guess I should've gone with some plain ones for today."

"Hey, they may not be the most romantic things ever, but they're a tension breaker at least." Nathan leaned in and kissed Cam, his hand sliding across Larry, Curly, and Moe. He pulled back, eyes watching intently as he started pulling down his boxers. His hand was on Cam as soon as he was free of his constraints. Cam was shaking, supporting himself with his arms behind his back, trying to keep his eyes open and his mouth closed as Nathan's hand was slowly sliding up and down. Finally, he couldn't take it any more. He let himself fall backwards, and in his last seconds of sanity, he reached for his pillow, which he pressed hard over his face. It did a decent job of muffling the sounds he made as a series of explosions ripped through him, his legs kicking out as bombs went off behind his eyelids.

He lay there for a few minutes, the pillow over his face leaving the world dark. As he finally pulled it off, the first thing he saw was Nathan standing over him. The light from his lamp stung at first, but he couldn't look away. Now that he had had some time to recover, he pushed himself up and grabbed Nathan lightly by his shoulders, spinning him around and switching places with him. He mirrored Nathan's actions, lips busy while his fingers worked simultaneously on his pants.

No weird novelty boxers. Instead, just a plain grey pair of boxer-briefs. That did nothing to reduce the amount of time Cam stood staring. It took him a while, but he snapped out of it and gently pushed Nathan back onto his bed, kneeling in front of him while he stripped him of his remaining coverings.

"Whoa." Cam looked up. "You're...you're not, I mean..."

"Oh yeah. Guess I never mentioned it. Yeah, I'm blond. Dyed it black a while ago. That is, the stuff on my head, not..." He trailed off.

"Had no idea. Whoa." Cam repeated, running his fingers through the sparse light colored strands that adorned the area above Nathan's soldier, currently standing at attention. At the thought of that analogy, a half dozen "private" and "rifle" jokes flashed through his mind, but none of them stuck around long enough for him to really realize it.

His fingers wrapped around it slowly, working their way from the base to the top. Nathan's face twisted, and he reached for the same pillow that Cam had used. Soon he was on his back, the pillow pressed against his face. Cam's eyes were glued to the business at hand (so to speak). He had a sudden urge to lean in and kiss it, but was to nervous to try. Then, Nathan's legs bucked and his hips shot up, a few modest squirts of fluid landing on Cam's hand.

He waited a few seconds, watching Nathan's chest rising and falling, listening to his breathing. He looked at his hand.

'No, don't be stupid. That's way too weird.' He thought in reply to the ideas running through his head. 'But he's got a pillow over his head. No one's going to know...'

He sighed, giving in. He lifted his hand to his mouth, slowly, nervously, his tongue slipping out and barely touching the liquid. Weird. Not bad, really, but weird. He nearly had a heart attack when he looked up to see Nathan watching him.

"Jeez! Um, I...there was..." He stuttered, not able to think of a single excuse.

"Don't worry about it."

"I'm sorry. I didn't want to freak you out or anything."

"Who's freaked out?" Nathan shrugged. "Besides...what do you think I was doing while you had the pillow over your face?"

"You're amazing, you know that?"

"Nah. Just lucky." He reached out and took Cam's hand, pulling him onto the bed and kissing him. "I really do love you."

"You ever get that feeling like you just got punched in the stomach and beaten over the head with a shovel at the same time? Like if you don't grab on to something, you'll fall clear off the planet and burn up in the atmosphere like in that movie about the space shuttle?"


"Well, if that's what love feels like...then I'm way past that. I don't know if there's a word for that yet, though, so I guess I've got to stick with saying that I love you."

"Fuck man, you always have the best lines. Do you write these in advance or something?"

"Actually, I was thinking most of that last night. I was about to say it, too, but the ants got me."

Nathan snickered. "No wonder you were so pissed."

"Speaking of pissed...as much as I'd love to fall asleep in nothing but my socks with you, I think it'd be a lot easier to explain being in boxers. You know, just in case."

"You could explain boxers?"

"Not easily, no."

"Alright, just so we're clear."

They located their shorts and semi-clothed themselves. Cam climbed into bed, motioning for Nathan to join him. It wasn't really big enough for two people, but they weren't planning on having a lot of space between them anyway. Cam flipped off the bedside lamp, noticing the way their clothes were scattered all across the room.

"Yeah, like that's not obvious."




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