Nathan had been walking for five minutes before he noticed that he had been whistling. What was that song? Beatles, he thought. He hadn't listened to them in a while. Well, to be honest, he never really listened to them on his own. His dad, on the other hand, refused to drive anywhere without the Beatles playing. When he ended up with a car that only had a CD player - no tape deck - the first thing he had done was drive to the store to buy a portable cassette player and an FM transmitter to hold him over while he slowly but surely re-filled his collection on disc.
"Nothing you can...something-something made." He tried putting words to the tune, but couldn't remember most of them. He just needed enough to hit the chorus, and he was sure he'd recognize it. How'd that go again? He whistled the part he remembered again. Bah, how annoying.
It had been nearly a month since he and Cam had started...what was the word for it? Dating? Not that he had really noticed the time. The lack of school usually left him feeling rather shiftless and disoriented as far as time went, but lately it had been even worse. Mentally, he had been measuring time in terms of when he and Cam had been together ("That dentist appointment? Yeah, that was the same day I went to the park with Cam.").
He had always thought of Summer vacation as a giant pot of water on the stove. Starts off calm, still, looking huge and empty, like you could just sit and watch it forever and nothing would happen. The longer it goes on, though, the more things start to move and bubble and churn around, and pretty soon it boils over, sloshes all over the tiles, and cools down.
The beginning of August always marked the beginning of the roaring boil - the point when you could try not to think about it, but the knowledge of the end was always there, clouding over your vision with the steam from the evaporating season. He wasn't looking forward to starting school. Not so much because he hated school, but because it meant no more all-day love-ins with Cam. Plus, it meant Clint Eastwood had to come back, six-shooters and spurs, strutting through the hallways like he was constantly walking into the sunset.
He glanced down at his buckeye pin, the gold five-pointed leaf looking suspiciously like a sheriff's star on his breast pocket. This year...maybe it wouldn't have to be like that. He had friends now. Good ones. Plus, Jerry was going to be in 6th, so they'd be in the same building. West Park Middle School ("West, West, Park M.S. Don't get upset, we're the best!" - God, those stupid cheerleading chants stayed with him forever) was a combined sixth-seventh-eighth, meaning that all five of the leafers would be there. Something caught in the back of his head at this thought, but he brushed it off. Probably nothing important anyway.
Nathan sighed, trying to leave the anxiety behind him on the sidewalk as he turned the corner toward Cam's place. Thinking of Cam changed his mood pretty quickly. By the time he was at Cam's steps, he was whistling again. Whistling what? He tried putting words to it again. "Nothing you can do but you can something-something in time, it's easy..."
It hit him just as Cam pulled the door open, and a smile crossed his face.
"'All You Need is Love.' I'm the sappiest son of a..."
"Nothing. Just a message from my subconscious, as Jill would say."
"Don't tell me you want to be a shrink now, too. I don't think our group could survive two psycho-analysts."
"Nah. 'Sides, I don't do any shrinking of any kind when I'm around you."
"Don't I know it. I swear, I'm gonna end up with a bunch of quarter-sized bruises, all right around this level." He motioned at his waist. "Think the doctor would buy that it was from a really heated ping-pong match?"
"'But doc, my boyfriend's got the hardest serve you've ever seen!'"
"Give the doc a break. If he can manage to see you shirtless and keep his professional attitude, he deserves a medal." Nathan gave Cam a soft shove inside, following him and closing the door behind him.
As soon as the door was closed, the deadbolt clicking its reassuring promise of privacy, Nathan's hands were at Cam's face, trailing up, his fingers tangling into Cam's hair as their lips meshed. He could taste the toothpaste on Cam's breath, the subtle numbness of mint spreading like a slow sheet of ice down his throat and out through his nose. They were both brushing their teeth a lot more these days - seemed like five times a day, at least. Any time there was a chance that they could get some time by themselves. What a breakthrough in the world of oral hygiene. Maybe if he had met Cam sooner, he wouldn't have needed that filling.
When they broke apart, Nathan let his breath escape through his mouth, half expecting to be able to see it like in the winter. It didn't manifest itself, of course, but that didn't matter. He raised his eyes, locking vision with Cam. He had given up on trying to say things at times like these. That was Cam's department, and he knew it. Cam had told him once that he could say more with his eyes than most people could with a whole book's worth of drippy one-liners. Of course, as with all of Cam's drippy one-liners, this had practically melted him.
"So, today's the day, right?"
"What?" Nathan searched his memory banks. What had he forgotten? Well, a lot. What could he remember? Ah, there's an easy one: Not much at all.
"Don't tell me you forgot."
"Well, I could tell you that I remember, but that'd be a lie, and you'd see right through it. Now, are you going to tell me what I was supposed to remember, or are we going to make out some more?"
"Between those two?" Cam's face scrunched up, and he raised his palms skyward, tilting them as if he were a balance scale. "Jeez. Way to give me a tough choice. But I think this is pretty important. You really don't remember what we talked about last week?"
"Hmmm..." Nathan's mind tried scanned as best it could, given the circumstances. "Last week...Oh. Oh, damn. That was a week ago? Already?"
"Yeah. Look, I don't want to pressure you. I never want you to feel pressured with me. Ever."
"No, you were right. We've got to do it before school starts. I guess I just kind of...decided to forget about it."
Cam reached into his pocket, producing his buckeye pin. Nathan looked up at him questioningly.
"I figured taking it off now would save me the trouble of ripping it off later. Didn't want to mess up my shirt."
"Oh. Right." He unfastened his own, dropping it into his pocket. Deep breath. "Ready?"
Jill sidestepped her way between a pair of trees and into the clearing. She wasn't sure what to think about that phone call she had gotten just ten minutes ago, and that annoyed her. She liked to know exactly what was going on at all times, even if it meant reading into things a bit deeper to figure them out - all the cards on the table, even if they were played face-down. Cam's call had seemed less like an upside-down card and more like a slip of notebook paper with "Ace" scribbled on it, shuffled into the deck as a substitute for one that they had lost. There was something artificial about it, and that bothered her.
"You know what this is about?"
Andrew. He was like her, in the sense that he always wanted to have all the answers, too. His question had surprised her, since he usually refused to admit when he didn't know something.
"No idea. Cam called you, too?"
"And me." Jerry stepped forward. "Well, actually, Clint called me...but the caller ID said it was from Cam's house."
"You sure you don't know, Jill?" Andrew asked again.
"I told you, no. I don't know any more than you guys. Why would you think I did?"
"'Cause you always know." Jerry said.
"Yeah. Especially when it comes to people acting weird. You're the authority on that kind of thing. Just like I'm the authority on being...uh...sexiest man alive?"
"Oh dear. That must be it."
"You said it yourself. Sexiest man alive. Every other man on Earth must be dead, or in the process of dying. That's why Cam sounded so weird." She turned and got down on one knee in front of Jerry, gripping his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Jer. Looks like you don't have much time."
She winced at the hurt look that crossed Andrew's face for less than a second. Too harsh? She really hadn't meant it to be. Over-the-top insults were par for the course with the two of them. She couldn't apologize now, of course...he was already playing it off, smirking back at her. Still, she'd have to remember to tone it down a bit.
Cam and Clint came into view, and were practically ambushed by Andrew and Jerry, who began questioning them simultaneously.
"Guys, back off. Let them talk." Jill said, trying to restrain herself from jumping in and joining the questioning. Maybe it was just her Super-Glorious-Female-Empathy (trademarked 2001 by Jill Toliver, all rights reserved) acting up, but she was sure they looked nervous. And determined. Well, Cam looked determined, anyway. Clint was a few steps behind him. It reminded her of a war movie they had seen together - the soldiers always tried to step in the footprints of the person in front of them to avoid landmines. What kind of a minefield did they think they were walking into?
Cam spoke up first, which didn't surprise anyone.
"Um...We wanted to tell you all at once. I..." He looked back at Clint, who nodded. "We...Nathan and I. We're...g-...h-...we're in love."
He twisted backward, as if expecting one of the others to hit him. Jill noticed, however, that he still stayed in front of Clint.
"Yeah, I know." Jerry said. He said it as simply as he would have if they had told him 'You know, today's Thursday.'
Cam and Clint weren't quite as composed. In fact, if their eyes hadn't been attached, they would have probably rolled down their cheeks and bounced off into the trees.
"W-what do you mean, you know?" Cam asked.
"I know. We all do. Jeez, did you think it was a secret or something?"
Jill decided to cut him off now.
"It's true. We've known since the fourth."
"Since the fourth!?" Cam snapped. "How the hell could you have known since the fourth!? We didn't even know until the fourth!"
"Actually, I think she knew before then." Andrew said, eyes to the dirt. "She told me her suspicions just before the fireworks. Told me that we should try to leave you two alone for a while."
"Holy hell." Clint leaned back against a tree, coming out from behind Cam. Landmines be damned.
"Yeah." Cam let out a huge breath as well. "So, you really don't care?"
"Of course we care. Just not in a bad way." She pulled Cam into a quick hug. "You guys can tell us anything."
"Fourteen years old, and you already sound like a mom."
She punched him in the shoulder playfully.
"Uh oh. If she's your mom, does that make me your dad?" Andrew spoke up. "'Cause I am totally not ready for a kid."
"You welch on your child support and I'll kick your ass." Jill replied.
"What is it, half my paycheck? Half of nothing is still nothing, Jill."
"You better find a job. No kid of mine's going to school in government issued shoes."
"Alright, this is bordering on weird." Clint said. A full sentence, too. Looks like the shock had worn off.
"Oh, it's going to get a lot weirder. After all, you're going to have to ask us for permission to date him." Andrew said, leaning against Cam's shoulder. "After all, I don't want my boy here falling in with the wrong crowd, and you jugglers are shifty. And this is where I'd make a balls comment, if I hadn't used them all up for this week."
"Andrew, you're just not a good father figure." Jill said.
"Now now, let's not fight in front of the boy."
Clint was standing up now, next to Cam. Their demeanor had completely changed. Cam was back to giving Clint the eyes, and Clint looked on the verge of giggling. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pin, Cam doing the same when he noticed. He was about to pin it back on, but looked over at Cam, the corners of his lips rising. Carefully, he reached forward and pinned it to Cam's shirt instead. Cam grinned and returned the action, pinning his own leaf to Clint's pocket.
"Awwww..." Jill didn't usually do that, but those two were just too damned cute. They turned to her, blushing, looking like they had just remembered where they were.
"So..." Andrew started, looking down at his shoes. "Uh...anybody hear about that new teacher they're supposed to get at school?"
"Yeah! That guy! Oh man, all the guys in my class are talking about him." Jerry chimed in.
"Who?" Jill hadn't heard anything interesting. But then again, she didn't really hang around with anyone outside of this group.
"Some new English teacher. Teaches eighth, I think. Rumor is he's a real ball buster. They say he's an ex-prison guard or something." Andrew said. He seemed really happy to have changed the subject. "The sixies are already shaking, and they don't even have him for another two years."
"Hey, all I know is what the other guys told me, and none of it's good." Jerry said. "And I'll let the sixies comment slide this time, but if you use it when I'm with the other guys..." He shook his fist threateningly.
"What? Since when are we not allowed to call you guys sixies?"
"Of course it sounds dumb! That's the whole point. If you guys don't get harassed, you won't have any excuse for harassing the next group of sixies, and then neither will they, and so on and so on until eventually nobody's getting harassed. Then where would we be?"
"I don't know. Canada?"
"Wha...?" Andrew looked over at the others.
"Ever since he saw Bowling For Columbine on HBO, he's been convinced that Canada is some kind of paradise where everybody loves each other." Clint explained. "You remember the part about how there's no crime and no one ever locks their doors there?"
"Nope, never saw it. Looked boring. It takes too much for me to convince my parents to let me see an R rated movie. No way am I going to waste it on a documentary." Andrew spat out the word "documentary" the way most people would the term "projectile vomiting" or "open sores".
"The point was, Canada is awesome." Jerry finished.
"I'm pretty sure that wasn't what he was trying to prove." Jill said. "It was more about-"
"Yeah, yeah, documentary. Whatever." Andrew interrupted. "Want to go throw rocks at that abandoned car we found in the woods?"
"Wow. You are SO not a good father figure." Jill said. Too late, however - Andrew and Jerry were already cutting a path through the trees. Cam followed shortly after. She looked over to see Clint scooping up a few choice rocks and pocketing them.
"'Let's go hit a car with rocks', they say. But then none of them pick up any rocks." He did a few quick juggling throws before pocketing the rest. "Does this make me the responsible one?"
"I'm pretty sure the responsible one would say something like 'Don't hit that abandoned car with rocks' rather than 'Don't forget to bring some rocks to throw at that abandoned car'."
"Are you saying you aren't going to do it?"
"Of course I'm going to do it." Jill said, starting off in the direction the others went. "I'm just going to do it in a more classy, dignified way."
"Bound to be the most up-scale stoning these woods have seen in years." He said, following.
It took them about fifteen minutes to get to the abandoned car. They had found it a few days earlier, and had planed to smash it up a bit then (after all, that's what abandoned cars were for, and everyone in town knew it), but decided to save it for some other time. They didn't want to wait too long, of course - if they hesitated for too long, someone else would find it and smash it up before they had a chance. The unspoken rule was, if the car was missing an engine and out in the woods, it was fair game for whoever found it, and this particular vehicle fit the bill.
"Well hello, Mister Nissan." Andrew crooned to the car, which was rusted over in most places. The windows were cracked, but not broken. It was rare to find an abandoned one with unbroken windows. This was practically the holy grail of destructive types with nothing better to do. "All right guys, rules. Four small windows, two big windows, five of us. Rock, paper, scissors for the back window, and then all five of us throw at the windshield?"
The others agreed, and Clint passed the rocks he had brought between them. After a few rock, paper, scissors games, Jill ended up with the back window.
"Let's go one at a time, so we can see them all get smashed." Jerry suggested.
"Right. Ten feet back at all times, no do-overs. If you miss, someone else gets your window, and we get to point and call you a pus-" He noticed Jill shooting him one of her classic 'Say another syllable and I kill you' looks. "A loser."
They took turns smashing out the windows of the old, rusted out Nissan. No misses, though one or two of them didn't completely break on the first try, so they got to throw again. Eventually, they reached the finale - a five stone simultaneous salute to the windshield. They selected the biggest of the glass-smashers Clint had brought with him, and stood in a semi-circle around the front of the car.
"Count of three." Andrew called, readying his throwing arm and holding his other in the air with three fingers extended. "I dedicate this window to...uh...hell, I dunno. But I dedicate it to something, for the sake of class." Jill nodded to him. "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...a Nissan with a broken windshield. Stand back, as we bless this pane of glass, hereby giving this car its last rites. Oh Lord, guide this rock, that it may shatter the...all right, I'm running out of class here. If you don't mind, Jill, I'd like to get back to business. Three...two...one...throw!"
On that triumphant shout, he brought down his raised fist and, using that momentum, spun his arm with the rock forward and released with the others, five grey bullets fired from the revolvers of their fists flying smoothly into the windshield and smashing it to pieces in the completion of a ritual as old as...well, as old as abandoned cars.
They stepped forward to get a better look at the damage. There was something special, something beautiful about the art of pointless destruction, and it didn't matter that none of them were quite poetic enough to express it. All the expression that was needed came from the wicked curves and sharp corners of the broken window, the sunlight reflecting from the glass in the grass.
Clint took another step forward. One of them probably called to him to be careful or watch his step or something, but how often did anyone actually pay attention to a warning like that? As it turned out, not often enough. His left sneaker landed on one of the larger, flatter pieces of glass, causing his foot to slip out from under him. He fell backwards, sliding a bit when he landed. It wasn't the pain that first made him aware that he had been hurt, nor was it the sound of his shirt tearing or the sudden feeling of dampness as the blood anointed his skin. It was, quite simply, the expression he saw on Cam's face as he looked up from the ground.
Nathan hissed, his breath cutting its way through his teeth.
"Aw, take it easy, ya big baby." Cam said, applying the washcloth to the fresh gash in his partner-in-crime's arm. "It's just peroxide. If it gets infected and they have to cut off your right arm, how're you going to pass all those long, lonely nights at home?"
"I'm pretty sure I could become a lefty. In fact, I've always kind of expected to lose an arm somewhere along the way. I just figured it would be from...say, getting drunk and trying to juggle chainsaws or something. Something better than an infection from a stupid chunk of windshield."
"Yeah, well, we told you to be careful. I guess this is why they always tell us not to smash up the abandoned cars. And yet, we do it anyway. Go figure."
Nathan jumped as Cam re-applied the cloth to his wound. It was more out of reflex than anything, but it still made Cam ease up on the pressure a bit.
"I'd say that I'd kiss it and make it better, but we're trying to prevent infection, and you don't know where my mouth's been." Cam said, holding the cloth in place as he pulled a few band-aids from their box with his other hand.
"I think I know exactly where it's been, actually."
"...All right, I'll give you that much. Look away for a second."
"Look away. I'm going to stick these things on you, which means I have to drop the washcloth. If I drop the cloth, you'll be able to see the cut, and it always hurts more if you can see it."
"Where'd you hear that one?"
"That's not me talking, that's medical science. It's called, um, optic...nerve...translation. Yeah. It's science, man."
"While I seriously doubt your knowledge of medicine, I acknowledge your BS-ing skills."
Cam sighed and took hold of Nathan's face, physically turning it in the other direction before setting to work with the band-aids. It wasn't a deep wound, but it stretched out for at least six inches. Definitely too long for just one bandage. Luckily, the bleeding had mostly slowed down, so applying the adhesive strips wasn't hard.
Nathan, from his sitting position on top of the counter in Cam's bathroom, watched the scene play out in the mirror. He saw himself sitting there, his bare chest exposed (that piece of glass had ripped right through his sleeve, and leaving it dangling there would have just made cleaning up inconvenient), with Cam working diligently on his right arm. He could have done it himself (planned to, in fact), but Cam had insisted. If it had been anyone else, he would have felt insecure about it, no doubt thinking of it as putting him in a weak, babyish position, but that was never an issue when he was with Cam.
"All right, consider yourself disinfected." Cam's head popped back into view in the mirror. "Just don't go wading shoulder-deep in the sewer or anything, and you'll be fine."
"Waist-deep it is, then." Nathan tested his arm, moving it around and feeling the awkward pull of a second skin that fresh band-aids always left. "Did it really look that bad?"
"Not really. I don't think it'll scar or anything. Which is too bad, 'cause chicks dig scars."
"Looks like I'll just have to wait for a more serious injury before becoming a ladies' man."
"Could be a while before you get permanently disfigured. Think you'll be able to hold out?"
Nathan jumped down from the counter and kissed Cam on the lips.
"Yeah, I think I'm going to make it just fine."
Cam threw his arms around Nathan, who felt him shudder slightly. He could feel some moisture building on his shoulder.
"What's wrong? Cam?"
"Scared the hell out of me. I didn't know it was just a small cut. I thought that maybe...I don't know, I kept picturing you landing piece that was sticking up, and stabbing you or going through your throat or something, and..."
Nathan hugged him back, and he trailed off. They stayed like that for what felt like hours, but was in reality only a few minutes.
"It's okay. I was just being stupid. Lost my ballance and cut myself, it happens all the time. You know how banged up I tend to get. This is nothing, really."
"I know. I know, but still...just the idea..."
"I know." He handed Cam another washcloth to wipe his face, and kissed him hard as soon as he was done. "Want me to make you feel better?"
Cam laughed. "You're the injured one. If anything, I should be making you feel better."
"You already did." A smile crept across his face as he lead Cam to the counter and motioned to the same place he had been seated not long ago. "Come on, my turn to help you out."
Cam, with some forceful assistance, climbed onto the counter. His legs hung off the side, like Nathan's were just minutes before.
"Love you." He whispered, leaning in and planting a soft, gentle kiss on Cam's cheek, his hands attacking his belt buckle.