Cam's eyes cracked open before spilling out over his face like eggs in a frying pan. Still dark. It was still dark and he and Nathan were still in bed, wrapped around each other. For just a few more seconds, at least, he could feel it; that feeling that he was part of someone else, and that everything was perfect.
The sound of movement from downstairs licked across his ears, and it was almost enough to make him cry. Any minute now he was going to have to go down there and talk to his parents, then say goodbye to Nathan. For good. If anything called for some forceful profanity, this was it, but his heart just wasn't up to a spirited round of swearing. Yet.
Nathan stirred beside him, and they reluctantly set about the process of disengaging themselves from one another before rolling out of bed and getting dressed. Nathan slipped back into the clothes he had been wearing the day before, while Cam followed his usual routine of grabbing the closest pieces of clothing to the bed. They were finishing up just as they heard the knock on the door.
"Yeah, coming." Cam called out. He wasn't what you would call a morning person, particularly not in the summer, when his hours of operation didn't normally begin until ten in the morning.
By the time they had each finished their morning rituals and embarked down the stairs, they were feeling a bit more in touch with reality. Cam's parents were at the table, breakfast already made. Once everyone had been seated and gone through a few nervous seconds of silence and chewing, Cam's dad got things started.
"So...How long have you two been together?"
"Since the Fourth of July." Cam replied, Nathan nodding in agreement.
"First of all, I want you both to know that we've got no problem with it. We've talked it over, and we agree that you're both responsible enough for something like this. There are some specifics that we need to talk about one-on-one, but that can wait until later, okay?"
Cam nodded, not looking forward to that particular conversation.
"Now, this is important." Cam's mom started in now. It wasn't like the previous night's tag-team interrogation, though - this was much less threatening. "We need to know why you didn't think you could tell us before now."
Cam thought she looked worried. Was she thinking about what happened before? Almost definitely. He tried not to think about it, but it still snuck up and sucker-punched him now and then. It wouldn't surprise him if it did the same to her.
"It's not that I didn't think I could tell you. I knew you guys wouldn't have a problem with it, because we've already talked about it." Cam said. He was kind of put off by the way everyone, himself included, kept referring to his being gay as "It", but that was an issue for a different time.
"It was me." Nathan said, talking for the first time. "I was afraid, and I don't want my dad to find out just yet."
"I thought...sorry for asking, but weren't you living with your aunt?" Cam's dad asked.
"I was. I still am, I guess. For another few hours, at least." He sighed. "It goes like this..."
Nathan spent the next few minutes basically pouring out everything that had happened from the time his mother died to the present, including meeting and falling in love with Cam. By the time he had finished, Cam had to occupy his mouth with a rather large chunk of toast to keep himself from choking up. He didn't like getting all emotional in front of his parents; there was just something awkward about it. There were two things a guy didn't do in front of his parents except under extreme duress, and those were cursing and crying. Gay or straight, that doesn't change - you didn't break those rules.
That silence from earlier seemed to have only crept off into a corner somewhere rather than leaving all together, because it had most certainly returned. Cam's parents didn't really know what to say, and Cam didn't blame them. What could you say after something like that?
"Is that all you needed to know?" Cam asked after getting a firm grip on his composure and swallowing that dry, scratchy bite of toast that he now regretted taking. His parents looked at each other, sharing one of those parental-telepathy moments, and nodded. "Then, um...can we be excused?"
The parents nodded again, and the boys once again returned to Cam's room and collapsed on the bed together, still fully clothed. It was still a bit early for them, and after a few minutes of whispered conversation, they were asleep again.
Jerry was rather annoyed. No, more than just annoyed, he was pissed off. He liked that expression a lot more. Seemed to imply that he was annoyed to the point of annoyance taking a concentrated liquid form and evacuating his body, which seemed much better than "rather annoyed".
Nathan had ditched him. There they had been, all five of them together, ready to head home. He had started off earlier, knowing that Nathan would want to say goodbye to Cam in private - perfectly understandable. Hell, he was a stand-up guy, being all considerate like that. Then Nathan didn't come home. He went to Cam's instead. And without even telling him! What the hell? All the moron stuff aside, that hurt.
There it was, the last night they had together, and Nathan had missed it, probably to play kissy-face with Cam. It was obvious: Cam meant more to Nathan than he did. More than their years of tradition when it came to visiting the each other's houses with family.
Their tradition was, of course, that whenever one of them had to leave, they would stay up all night laughing at bad infomercials, playing games, and generally having fun until eventually sneaking out of the house to race around the block a few times at sunrise. Then, the one that had to face the six hour car ride home was able to sleep the whole way and not be bored. It was a tradition that went back as far as Jerry could remember, and he had really been looking forward to it.
But no. Nathan wanted to spend his last night with Cam, and didn't even let Jerry know about it. He had been stood up, plain and simple, and he didn't like it.
He woke up in a bad mood, crossed over to his bedroom door, and locked it. If Nathan didn't want to see him, fine, he wouldn't have to see him. He could come in, grab his stuff, and drive off with his dad, probably weeping over some picture of Cam the whole time. Screw him, then.
He brooded for a while, listening to his headphones. Ah, Jawbreaker - a raspy voice and an electric guitar; what else was there to music? Then he remembered that Nathan had given him that CD for his last birthday, and pulled off the headphones to spite him. Who wants to listen to some guy rasp about breakups, anyway?
A knock on the door caught his ear.
"Who is it?" He called, not feeling like getting up.
"Me." Uncle Adam, Nathan's dad. He didn't have any particular problem with him, so he went to unlock the door and let him in.
"'Morning. Is Nate in-" He stopped abruptly, looked around at the otherwise empty room, and shrugged. "Oh, guess not. He wasn't in his room either."
"He's not here. He stayed over somewhere else." Jerry stayed relatively blunt, not wanting his anger to show.
"Oh, that's right!" Nathan's dad struck himself in the forehead. "I can't believe I forgot. Just not as sharp as I used to be, I guess. I was thinking he'd be stumbling around here looking sleep-deprived and zombie-like as usual."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too. But he's in love now, so it's okay for him to be a moron." He said, sarcastically. Wait, did he just say that? Damn, damn, damn. Being pissed off and just getting out of bed don't go well together when it came to controlling one's tongue, it appeared.
"Nothing." He prayed that he would just let it drop at that, but he honestly doubted it would happen.
"No, you said Nate was in love. Is that right? My son found a girl out here?"
"Yes!" Jerry replied a bit too enthusiastically. He was pissed, but not pissed enough to let his cousin's deepest secret slip. This would work. "Yeah. He's been going out with this girl for a while. That's where he is. Staying with her."
"Wow, why didn't he tell me? What's her name?"
"Um..." He hesitated, then said the first female name he could think of. "Jill! That's it."
"Jill, huh? Hm." He walked off, looking deep in thought.
"Ah, jeez." Jerry muttered, sitting down.
Jill was the only one home when she heard a knock at the door. She opened it up to see Andrew standing there, shifting in his shoes.
"Hey." She said, stepping back to let him inside.
"Hey. I was thinking we could walk over to Clint's place. You know, help him get ready, say goodbye, that kind of thing."
"Yeah, just let me find some shoes." A task that would be a lot easier if she had the habit of taking them off in the same general area, but instead complicated by the fact that she was never quite sure where she had left them. Still, a few minutes later she was ready to go. She locked up and followed Andrew outside, where they fell into stride on the sidewalk.
"After this, do you want to go to a movie or something?" Andrew asked, seeming to be forcing himself to sound casual.
Jill paused for a second. "You mean like, with the group, or...?"
"I was thinking...just us, maybe?" Now it looked like he was trying his hardest to look at her without actually looking at her, his eyes straining to one side while his feet kept the same pace.
"Are you asking me out?"
"Trying to, yeah."
Jill grinned. She couldn't help it - seeing Andrew, Mr. Confidence himself, stumbling around the subject like that was just...well, cute.
"In that case, I'd love to."
Andrew smiled back, and held out his hand. She took it and they continued walking, only letting go to knock on Clint's door. A tall blond guy answered.
"Um...hi. Is Nathan here?" Jill asked.
"Oh, no. He's out right now, but he should be back soon if you want to wait for him. I'm Nate's dad, by the way."
"Oh, hi. I'm Jill, this is Andrew."
"Oh, you're Jill? Glad to meet you." He held out his hand. She gave a quick glance to Andrew before shaking it. Something about the way he said it seemed...off. "Come in, come it."
He seemed to hustle Jill inside and into a chair in the living room, leaving Andrew to shamble inside a few seconds later. He joined them in the living room and shot Jill a questioning look. She shrugged.
"So, tell me about yourself. When did you and Nate meet?"
"Um...well, it was earlier in the summer. I happened to run into him and Jerry on the path in the woods."
Jerry stuck his head into the room and motioned wildly for Jill to join him in the hallway, but Adam Hensley was too busy grilling her. Andrew caught her eye and nodded to Jerry before slipping out of the room.
"Are you in the same grade?"
She swore she heard Andrew trying to suppress a laugh from the hallway.
"Uh...yeah, we're both starting eighth this year. We didn't have any classes together, though." She was getting a bit nervous about this. She supposed it was normal for a parent to want to know something about the people their kids are hanging around with, but this was getting to be awkward.
Andrew and Jerry came into the room. Jerry looked pretty shaken up, while Andrew looked like some rare combination of nervous and amused.
"So, I thought Nate would be with you. Didn't you say something about him staying over with her, Jer?" Adam asked.
"Huh? With me? No, he's probably with Cam." She saw the boys wince at that.
"Cam. Cameron...Diaz." Jerry interrupted, his voice sounding strained. "She looks kind of like Cameron Diaz, the actress, so we call her that as a joke."
"Yeah!" Andrew added, "Her name's Jill, too. A different Jill, though. We've...we've got a lot of Jills here in Ohio."
"Which is why we call her Cam. To tell them apart." Jerry finished.
"Wha-" Jill started to say something, but was cut off by Andrew.
"Um, excuse us for one second, Mr. H?"
"Um...sure." He tried to work out exactly what had just happened while the kids left the room.
"Cameron Diaz? That the best you could do?" Andrew snapped as soon as they were inside Jerry's bedroom, door closed.
"Oh, sorry I couldn't come up with a masterpiece like 'Boy, there sure are a lot of Jills in Ohio!'" Jerry argued. "I'm doing the best I can after Jill here dropped Cam's name."
"What are you talking about? What the hell was that? Why does your uncle think Clint spent the night at my house? I swear, every time I think I know what I can expect from you guys..." Jill sighed, shaking her head.
"Oh jeez! You know that Cam's going to be coming here, right?" Jerry exclaimed.
"You're right. We've got to catch him and explain everything before he introduces himself." Andrew took a contemplative pose. "All right, there are only two doors to the house. If we each take one-"
"Somebody tell me what's going on!" Jill yelled, exasperated.
"'Morning. Who's this?" Adam Hensley asked, motioning to Cam.
"Oh yeah. Dad, this is Cam." Nathan explained.
"Cam?" He repeated back, activity apparent behind his eyes. "Doesn't that get kind of confusing?"
"I mean, you've got one friend named Jill, one named Cam, and one whose name is Jill but goes by the nickname of Cam. Phone conversations around here must be pretty confusing."
"I...what?" Nathan started with an almost complete thought in mind, but the more he turned it over, the less it made sense.
"Never mind." He mumbled. "I'm going to go load up the car." He said, stepping past them to the front steps.
"Alright, here's the plan." Andrew strode purposefully from the hallway, Jerry and Jill in tow. "I'll take front door. Jerry, you take back. Jill, take lookout on the street. If you think they get past you, whistle three times and-"
Jerry jabbed him with an index finger and motioned to where Cam and Nathan were standing.
"Oh. Um...tactical retreat?" Andrew turned on his heel and maneuvered behind the others.
Cam looked at Nathan for an explanation, but he just shrugged and moved to join the others. They re-grouped in Jerry's room, knowing that Nathan's would be even more empty than usual.
"So, is something going on, or am I just really out of it?" Nathan asked.
"Alright, it goes like this. Jerry accidentally said something to your dad-" Andrew started, before Jerry cut him off.
"But I covered it by saying that you were with your girlfriend."
"Who he said was named Jill-" Jill broke in at this point.
"But then he met Jill, and Jill told him that she wasn't the right Jill-"
"Right, and that the right Jill really goes by Cam-"
"Because she looks like some actress and there's a lot of Jills in town-"
"So we tried to get to you guys to warn you not to introduce Cam as Cam-"
"Because he'd think Cam was the Jill that goes by Cam-"
"Which he obviously isn't, since imaginary Jill-Cam is a girl and Cam-Cam is a guy-"
"Which would only make things even more confusing-"
"And might lead to him catching on to the whole thing. But, uh...I think we handled it pretty well."
Nathan had lost track of who had said what just a few sentence-fragments into the conversation, and was now looking between the three speakers with one eye squinted and his mouth half-open.
"That was..." Cam tried to say something, but he didn't think the right words existed to formulate a decent response to that. "That...my head hurts."
"So, wait...does he think I'm gay, or does he just think you guys are insane?" Nathan asked.
"I don't think he knows. But just remember, you've got a girlfriend named Jill." Andrew replied.
"Who everyone calls Cam because she looks like Cameron Diaz." Jerry added.
"And you'll probably have to make up a last name and some other vital stats, too, because I'm sure he's going to grill you on the road." Jill finished.
"Wow. You know, maybe I should just tell him. I mean, it'll be hard and everything, but it's got to be easier than this."
"You mean it?" Cam asked.
"Yeah. I mean, I can't hide it forever, right? And look at the situation it put you guys in. You shouldn't have to lie for me." He said. "Though I must admit, you are pretty good at it if you managed to pull that one off."
"It's...it's a pretty big step, though. Don't rush it for our sakes." Jill said.
"Don't worry. I was already thinking about it before all this stuff. Last night, when I saw how Cam's parents treated him..." He trailed off. "How did you tell them, Cam? You never did get around to telling me about it."
"Oh." Cam said with a bit of a start. "Um...I didn't tell them. They just kind of found out. They read some stuff I had written down, and...yeah."
"Wow. How did that go?"
"Oh, you know. Normal parent talk. You heard the kind of stuff they said last night. More of that. Then we just didn't mention it for a while. Not until...well, last night, really."
"Nathan! Almost ready?" Mr. Hensley's voice echoed through the hall and into Jerry's bedroom.
"One minute!" He called back.
He turned to his friends, his cousin, and his boyfriend and shrugged. They were silent for a second before Jill stepped forward and hugged him.
"Bunch of males...can't show any emotion until I do, right?" She laughed, but there was a sad, cracking quality to it. Her eyes were shining with misty pre-tears by the time she backed off. "See you, Clint."
Jerry followed suit, throwing just one arm around his cousin to keep things from getting too awkward. "See if you can talk your dad into coming down for Thanksgiving, all right? Play the 'stick with family' card. Never fails."
Andrew stepped forward next, sighing. "I never do this. My parents have to force it out of me." He stood a few steps back from Nathan, a look of indecision crossing his face. "I mean, I don't...it's hard, you know? I've never..." Jill placed her hand against his lower back and shoved him forward into Nathan. He gave him a quick hug and stepped back. "Get back here soon. Without you around, I've got no one to make up ridiculous strings of lies for."
Finally, Cam stepped forward and kissed Nathan hard on the lips. Neither of them said anything.
The next thing Cam knew, he was listening to Adam Hensley's beat-up old Cadillac pulling out of the driveway. He couldn't bring himself to look out the window and watch it roll down the street, carrying Nathan, the first and only boy he had ever loved, away from him.