Cam rested limply against the trunk of a tree, legs hanging from the sides of a particularly thick branch. He was paging through a copy of "The Once and Future King" while watching the bloody suburban sunrise slash its way through the clouds out of the corner of his eyes. A train roared by, but it was a small one, so it was gone quickly and didn't do much to disturb him. Funny how living near tracks could give you a sort of immunity to distraction.
He caught some movement and quietly pulled his legs up to the branch with him in an attempt to be stealthy. He wasn't hiding or anything, he just felt like seeing if he could pull it off. For now, it looked like it was working. He softly closed his book and stuck it under his arm as he leered out from between the leaves.
His eyes lit up as he saw Nathan walk into the clearing. He had his head down, so Cam couldn't see his face. As the boy below came near to where he was lying in wait, he jumped down, landing behind him and shouting something. When it came to things like this, what was said didn't matter nearly as much as the volume with which is was said.
Nathan turned, smiled slightly, then turned back. That wasn't the right reaction at all. He was supposed to jump and spin around with his eyes bugging out, make a comment about nearly having a heart attack, and laugh. But this...this wasn't right at all.
"What's up?" Cam asked, a serious expression on his face.
Nathan turned back to face him. Oh yeah, something was definitely wrong.
"You just kind of surprised me, that's all." His voice sounded softer than usual, weaker.
"I think I know you well enough to know better than that. And I think you know me better than to think that I'd let it drop at that."
"Don't worry about it. It's not a problem right now, so I don't want to think about it, okay?"
"If it's got you looking this down, you obviously are thinking about it. Was it something I did? I didn't forget your birthday or something, did I? Have we ever even gotten around to telling each other our birthdays?"
"October twenty-third. But don't change the subject."
"There is no subject. It's nothing."
Cam frowned. He knew it wasn't nothing. Something had his boyfriend upset, and he couldn't do anything about it.
"I just hate not being able to help, that's all. I'm sorry." He stepped forward to give Nathan a hug, but Nathan pulled back. Cam could clearly see the reflections in his eyes, something that only happened when he was just on the edge of tears.
Nathan blinked hard and turned away. Cam felt his mouth going dry. What the hell was this? Nathan had never outright rejected his advances before, and it hurt.
'Doesn't he like me any more?' He thought. 'What did I do? What isn't good enough? My clothes? My hair? Did I move too fast? Too slow? Tell me!'
"I...I just..." Nathan said. His voice cracked. He was so obviously, painfully holding back.
'Just don't want to see me any more. That's it, isn't it?'
Nathan had let himself sink to the ground, doubled up with his face against his knees.
"I've got to leave." He said.
Cam snapped out of whatever trance he had been hypnotized into by his overactive thoughts.
"What do you mean you've got to leave? Where are you going?"
"Chicago. To live with my Dad again."
Cam sat down next to Nathan, their shoulders touching, as Nathan continued. He explained everything that had happened the night before.
"So, you've got to go." Cam stated simply. He wasn't crying. That could wait until later.
"I don't know. There are some...things."
"Yeah. Like...I could tell child services or something that I'm not comfortable living with him because of his past."
"Yeah, I know. It'd be a horrible thing to do and it would kill him. And on the one hand, I really do want to live with him again. I just...I don't want to leave here."
Cam didn't have anything to say to this. He let one arm encircle Nathan's shoulders, but didn't go any further than that. Still, it was having a noticeable effect. Nathan pressed back against Cam, causing him to feel the heat that seeped between the pores of his shirt.
"I don't want to leave you." He whispered.
Cam stayed silent. He knew that as bad as it may be for him, he would still have the others around. Nathan, on the other hand, would be thrown back to Chicago, where he didn't know anybody. Well, not true, he did know some people before he moved, but he had changed so much in these last few months...not to mention the way he had become a recluse when his mother had first gotten sick.
"When?" He finally choked out, struggling to keep his composure.
"A week. Before the new school year, you know? When you want to totally rip out a guy's heart, you've got to be practical about timing, I guess."
Cam shifted in position so he was kneeling behind Nathan with his arms clasped across his chest. He let his chin rest on Nathan's shoulder, their cheeks touching, his breath sliding down the front of Nathan's shirt.
"Just one week?" Cam repeated, still somewhat in shock.
"More like five days, really. We're going to leave on Friday morning."
"Then I want to be with you every second of those five days. We're going to make them count, alright? No more crying and moping around. We'll have plenty of time for that once we're apart, but as long as we're together, we're going to make these the best five days ever. Okay?"
"Sure." He didn't sound very enthusiastic. Still, Cam tried to make the best of it.
"Hey, want to go see a movie?"
"As long as it's not-"
"Do you really think I'd take you to a chick flick in the first place? Come on. I promise we'll find something with so much blood that we'll be pissing red for the rest of the day." Cam said.
"But how're we going to get in to anything good? They started checking IDs for R-rated movies now."
"Yeah, but they never actually check to see which theater you go into. We buy some tickets for a PG-13 movie, then walk into the good movie's theater. The only ushers in the place are at the front where they can't see you, and most of them are burnouts who couldn't care less what a couple of thirteen year olds do."
Less than an hour later, they found themselves in a dark, half-filled theater. The movie had "death" in the title and was followed by a Roman numeral, so they were fairly safe in assuming that it was full of pointless violence and free of that boring plot and character development stuff. They slid into a row near the back, away from everyone else.
"You know," Cam whispered, "I think this is the first time we've ever done this. Well, by ourselves, that is."
"Yeah. Usually we're either with the others or we're at your place. I wonder why we never did this before."
"Maybe we really did move too fast. Missed all the normal 'couple' things like going to movies."
"Yeah." He sounded sad, and the sub-text couldn't have been more obvious: "We've missed that stuff, and now it's too late."
Cam slid his hand onto Nathan's, and he jumped. He looked over with a wild look in his eyes.
"You crazy? We can't do that in public!"
"Why the hell not? You're leaving, so it's not like you've got a reputation to keep up."
"Yeah, I'm not worried about me, but what about you? You really want to open up to the rest of the world before even starting school here?"
Cam reluctantly let his hand fall back onto his lap. He sat that way for a few minutes before turning to Nathan with a determined look in his eyes.
"You know what? Screw that. I love you more than anything, and I'm proud to say so. I'm not about to go march in a parade or put a rainbow bumper sticker on my car - well, when I get a car, that is - but I'm not going to miss the chance to hold hands with my boyfriend because society doesn't like it. And fuck them for saying I'm not supposed to love you. No matter what happens next, meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I'll never be ashamed of that."
Nathan was gaping back, eyes wide. A group of people had walked in and taken the seats a few rows over while Cam was speaking, and they were doing the same. He hadn't been speaking loudly, but it was still loud enough for them to hear. No one else in the theater seemed to be close enough to notice, though.
"Damn." One of them said after a few seconds of silence. "If I could do that, maybe I wouldn't have failed speech."
"Not to mention that you'd probably be able to keep a girl for more than a week." Another replied. The first guy slapped him in the back of the head before turning back to the screen as the lights dimmed.
As soon as the lights were off and the screen was filled with messages about fire exits and proper refuse receptacles, Nathan leaned over, kissed Cam on the cheek, and took his hand. Cam grinned and leaned in as well, letting their shoulders touch over the plastic armrest.
The movie started out slowly. They were about half an hour in before it finally showed some signs of getting good. On screen, a man in a blue and white uniform swung a flashlight around a dark room.
"Security guard. It's about time. These guys always get it." Nathan whispered.
Cam nodded, recalling something that Nathan had told him before. "Everybody says the black guy always dies first," he had said, "But that's not true. A white security guard will get killed before a black guy any day. And it's usually incredibly violent."
True to this theory, half of the audience cringed and the other half grinned as blood splattered across the screen.
"Whoa, and with his own arm! Hah, there goes the other one! Spectacular." Nathan whispered.
"Told you we'd find something good."
"Excuse me." A thick flashlight beam hit them dead on, making them jump apart and spin around to find its origin. An usher, complete with orange vest and cone-shaped flashlight, was standing behind them. "May I see your ticket stubs, please?"
Cam squirmed in his seat. They had stubs, but they were for the PG-13 romantic comedy that was playing in the next theater over. Caught theater-hopping. Definitely not the best way to spend the day.
"Ticket stubs, please?" The usher repeated.
"Uh..." Cam started checking his pockets, knowing perfectly well that it wouldn't do any good. They were, in completely clinical terms, boned.
"Hey, did you two drop these?" The guy from earlier, the one who had failed speech class, leaned over with his hand extended. He had two stubs between his thumb and finger. "They were on the floor over here. Looks like you dropped them on the way in."
Nathan reached reached out and took them, mouthing "thank you" as he did. He passed them to the usher, who used his flashlight to check them. They were for the current showing of the movie they were watching, all right. He wasn't blind, of course - he knew exactly what had happened. Still, he was getting paid minimum wage. He wasn't about to make a big thing out of this. Not when he could just as easily slip into a theater and watch whatever movie was playing. He nodded and walked away, leaving Cam and Nathan sighing heavily.
"Hey, thanks." Cam whispered to the speech-failing guy.
"No problem. Just doing my part to corrupt America's youth through violence and strong language. A hell of a lot of strong language, damn it."
Someone further up hushed in their direction, so they shut up. Cam and Nathan resumed their former position, paying more attention to each other than to the now almost constant blood-spray.
"Oh, wow." Nathan whispered as fifteen more security guards poured on screen. "Not a good day for the security industry."
They had never had a leader. There wasn't one of them that the others could salute and say "Oh Captain, my Captain." Some other, less dignified hand gestures were known to be exchanged, but no saluting. Still, when one of them initiated a meeting and cited some sort of importance, the others took it seriously, even if it led to something as "important" as, say, putting on a lot of sweaters and cranking up the heater.
Jerry had made the calls today, which was a rare occurrence. He had sounded a bit upset, despite his attempts to hide it. Andrew hated to get calls like that, because they invariably led to drama. He despised drama. He especially despised drama when it slithered its way into an otherwise excellent streak of easygoing days. He just plain didn't know how to handle it, and wasn't afraid to admit it. Well, not to himself, anyway. His ways of dealing with such unpleasantness usually involved a delicate combination of bad puns and obscene songs, one of which he was partaking in on the way through the woods.
"Oooohhhh...some men go to colleeeege, but we think they are wussies. While they get all the knowleeeeedge, we get all the- Ow!" His singing was cut short by a sharp punch to his shoulder. He didn't even need to turn around. "Damn it, Jill. Must you always interrupt my spirited ribaldry?"
"Any idea why-" She stopped mid-sentence as she caught up to him, falling in stride at his left and shooting him a sideways glance. "Spirited ribaldry?"
"You know those 'Word of the Day' calendars? I just got around to opening up the one I got for Christmas last year. My parents wanted me to improve my...er..." He placed his hand on his chin, appearing to be deep in thought. "You know, all the words that I use and stuff."
She gave him a funny look for a few seconds, which made him grin. He loved that look. It meant that he had successfully thrown someone off ballance and made them ask themselves whether or not he was serious. The best jokes, he had always thought, were the ones that generated reactions like that.
By then they had reached the clearing, where Jerry was waiting for them.
"Alright, good, we're all here."
"Cam and Clint aren't coming?" Jill asked.
"Doubt it. Clint ran off this morning before I was even up, probably to go see Cam. Didn't even take the time to tell me what was up. I had to piece it together from what my mom told me." He sounded a bit resentful.
"Piece what together?"
"Clint's dad came back from wherever it is that he was - they still haven't gotten around to telling me - and he wants to take Clint back to Chicago. That much I know for sure. My guess is that Clint's pretty upset that he has to leave his boyfriend behind." The resentment was even more clear in his tone now, the sub-text obvious - he's upset about leaving Cam, but me? Not so much.
"Jer..." Jill started. Andrew kept quiet. He wasn't about to audition for this drama.
"Nah, don't worry about it. It's nothing, really. Just that my cousin, who I've known since forever, who's been like a brother to me, cares more about some guy he met two months ago than about me. No problem. I mean, hey, he's been ditching me to be alone with him pretty much every day. I'm used to it."
"You know it's not like that."
"Don't tell me what I know! You're always doing that! Playing like you're some kind of therapist or something. Like you know exactly what's going on in everybody else's head even better than they do."
Andrew stayed still, not sure what to do. He had done pretty well as far as staying out of the drama was concerned, but now it looked like it was about to erupt all over the place and bury this clearing up to the leaves, and he never had been very good at climbing trees.
"Stop that! You know you're not really mad at me, and you shouldn't be mad at Clint either." Jill said, trying her best to keep her composure.
"I said stop telling me what I do and don't know! What do you know about it? All you know is what I told you! Yeah, you had to hear it from me, okay, so don't come here with your stupid mind games and your 'You know that isn't true'."
Jill's expression hardened into one that Andrew recognized easily. That was the "I don't have to take this crap from YOU" expression, the one that came up whenever their normally playful back-and-forth was on the verge of going too far. When she was in no mood at all for any spirited ribaldry, so to speak.
'Tread lightly, kid.' He thought.
"You're right. I won't tell you what you know again. Next time, I'll just assume that you don't know anything." She turned and started walking away.
Andrew exhaled. Good. Separate. Don't make things worse.
"Bitch." Jerry muttered.
'Not a good call.' Andrew thought, inching backwards. 'Come on, let it go. Just let it go. Chalk it up to emotions or male idiocy or rap music or Grand Theft Auto or something, and let it go.'
Jill spun around on her heel, glaring. Nothing about her stance seemed to indicate any intention to let it go.
"You heard me. That's why you always hang around with guys, but can't get them to go out with you. 'Cruz you're such a bitch."
Her eyes were wide, her face pale. Her hands curled into fists at her sides. "You...little fucker!" Whoa. She almost never used that kind of language. Her voice had a quiver to it, like she was about to cry. She wouldn't, though. No way. No signs of weakness. She looked like she was seconds away from launching herself at Jerry, who looked like he was digging in his heels for a fight.
This was wrong on so many levels. Guys weren't supposed to hit girls. Older kids weren't supposed to hit younger ones. Friends weren't supposed to come to blows over...what the hell were they even fighting over? Name calling? No way. It wasn't going to go down like that.
"All right, damn it." Andrew said, finally admitting defeat to the god of dramatic confrontation and letting himself get involved. He stepped between them and pointed to Jerry. "You. Come with me." He then turned his attention to Jill. "You. Cool off."
She probably would have said contested it - the very idea of being ordered around seemed annoy her - but Andrew was already dragging Jerry by the collar to the other side of the tracks. Once they were by themselves, Andrew spun Jerry around to face him.
"Dude. What the hell was that?"
"I should say not. She's taller, stronger, and she fights dirty. That would've been the most unfair fight since...hell, I don't know, but you're crazy for even thinking about it."
"That's not what I meant."
"No, I didn't think so. You want to tell me what's up?"
"It's just...Clint and me were like best friends, you know? Even when we were younger, me and mom used to drive out to Chicago to see him and his parents on holidays, and they'd even let me stay over for a week or two in the Summer. And then he meets Cam and goes all gay and everything, and he doesn't hang out with me any more. Not unless it's with the rest of the group." Jerry said, his eyes on jumping between the grass and the gravel. "Either we're all together, or he's with Cam. We had the nights most of the time, since he lived with me, but now that he's going back, we won't even have that. And he doesn't even care about that, he just cares about Cam. Cameron-fucking-Jeffries."
"What can I say?" Andrew shrugged. "Clint's a moron."
Jerry stared at him in a combination of shock and confusion.
"What? It's true. Cam's a moron, too. Fact of life, dude. Guys turn into morons when they get girls. In their case, I guess it would be guys, but same difference, really." Andrew explained. "As soon as a guy thinks he's in love, he becomes a moron, plain and simple. That usually means ditching all of their friends to be with the one they think they're in love with. In our case, we were lucky. Since they were both friends with all of us, we still got to see them a pretty good amount of time when we all got together. But, every chance they had to get alone, they took. They didn't think about anyone else, because they're morons. Me and Cam used to hang out a lot more, too. You know, after we met you guys but before he and Clint got official."
"Didn't it piss you off?"
"Kind of. But then I remembered that Cam's a moron, and that some day I'll be a moron, and I wouldn't want him to hold it against me."
"So, what, we're just supposed to accept that they're morons?"
"Well, either that, or you can go back to picking fights with girls. An original approach, don't get me wrong, but not one that I'd recommend."
"Aw, hell. Jill's gonna kill me."
"Right now? Yeah, she probably would. That was pretty harsh."
"I know. I'm...I didn't mean it. She just...you know."
"Yeah. Listen, let me see if she's calmed down at all. Once she's not so homicidal, you're going to go over there and seriously kiss her ass."
Jerry nodded. He may not have been too happy about it, but he also didn't want the group to split up over something stupid that he started.
Andrew started over the hill, back to the other side of the tracks. He braced himself for the worst. Screaming, spitting, raving. All that fun stuff. When he reached the other side, however, he didn't see anything like that.
She was sitting with her back against a tree, her face resting against her hand, which was resting against one of her knees. He took another step forward, and the light caught her face. A few thin streams of moisture snaked their way across her cheeks. He expected her to jump up, wipe off her face, and act like it hadn't happened. Once again, his expectations were shot down. She just looked up at him.
"Come to see if the crazy bitch has calmed down yet?"
God, she looked sad. He hadn't seen her looking sad before. Happy, angry, pretending to be angry, pretending to be happy...those he was familiar with. This was the first time he had ever seen her openly displaying sadness like that, and it scared him a little.
"None of us thinks of you like that."
"No, just as the quick-to-anger girl who's always spoiling your fun. Interrupting your spirited whatever-the-hell-you-said. Everybody's friend but nobody's girlfriend. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong, but you know it's true."
Andrew stepped over to her and held out his hand. She turned her head the other way, but he didn't move. Finally, she gave up and took it, letting him pull her to her feet so that they were at eye level. The tears on her face just looked so unnatural, so out of place. He looked down and noticed that he was still holding her hand, but didn't let go.
"Wow." He mumbled.
"I'm a moron."
She gave him that strange look again. He loved that look.
It was just starting to get dark by the time Cam and Nathan reached the sidewalk in front of Nathan's house.
"Call me tomorrow?"
"Yeah." Nathan nodded.
"Cool. I just...I want to spend every last second of this week with you."
"Me too." He glanced around nervously. "Love you."
"Always." Despite his earlier declaration of never hiding his feelings for Nathan, he knew better than to try kissing him on the street in front of his house. There was still an unspoken rule of secrecy as far as the parents and guardians were concerned.
Walking back to his house alone left a kind of dull throb in Cam's head. A sort of anxious, preemptive feeling of emptiness. Even though he knew that when he woke up in the morning he would be able to go see Nathan, he knew just as well that in five days that wouldn't be the case. That he'd have to wake up with the knowledge that his first love was a five hour drive away. He kept it together for now, though. He had to be strong. He had to be tough for Nathan's sake. Once he was in his room with the door locked he would let himself cry, but not until then.