Another night, still no sleep. Cam sighed, climbing to his feet and throwing on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The summer was burning itself out at the highest setting, but thanks to a sudden gust of adolescent modesty, he couldn't bring himself to lounge around the house in his boxers. Ten thirty at night. What was there to do? He had finished all his homework, and the TV would wake his parents.
Fresh air. Yeah, there had to be something to that, right? Parents had been telling their kids to "go out and get some fresh air" ever since the wall was first invented. Get outside where it was cool and just breathe some fresh air for a while. This, of course, meant sneaking out of the house. Window or door, that was the question. The answer came to mind fairly quickly, and without much debate: "Take the door, stupid; you're on the second floor."
He knew that his parents wouldn't wake up from a few creaking floorboards and door hinges - after all, they listened to the radio at night, which was more than enough to drown out whatever noise he made - and yet, he still felt the urge to tiptoe along the side of the wall, easing every door closed, the Mission Impossible theme song playing in his head. The screen door provided the biggest scare of the night, being gripped by a sudden breeze and whipping back toward the house. Cam was barely able to catch it and lock it back into place, eyes having shot to twice their normal sides while his lips silently formed a few choice exclamations.
He started walking, letting the cool air kiss his exposed arms. Aside from a few occasional gusts, there wasn't much wind at all. He started moving faster, faster, until he was running. Not running away anything, not running toward anything, just running; his skin cooling down while his insides heated up. He stopped when he tired, checking the street signs. Not far from Andrew's house.
Andrew. He slept outside when it got this hot, didn't he? Cam wondered if he would still be awake. Probably not. But then again, it wouldn't hurt to swing by, right?
"Hey...Cam? That you?" Andrew sat up, throwing back the top of his sleeping bag as Cam slinked into his back yard.
"Yeah. Man, I still don't know how you can sleep out here with the mosquitoes."
"Between the repellant and the zapper, I say if they're good enough to get to me, they deserve my blood. Besides, I can't sleep up there." He motioned to his window. "The heat makes all these mosquito bites unbearable."
"So, what's up?"
"Nothing. I was just walking around, thought that you might be out here..."
"Nah. Something's got to be up. You're not the out-after-dark type."
"No way. I'd say that you're the most straight-laced guy I know, except for the whole 'not straight' thing." Andrew motioned for Cam to sit down. "Come on, tell me what's up."
Cam sat, surrendering. "Clint."
"No. Well, yeah, but that's not it. I'm used to missing him. But...we kind of had a fight last night, and now we might be broken up."
"Are you serious? You two actually disagreed about something? And here I thought that you shared the same brain and just passed it back and forth." He shook his head. "Seriously, though, I've never seen you guys fight before. What was it about?"
"He...it was just something stupid."
"I wish I knew what to tell you." Andrew said. "I don't know much about this relationship stuff. Hell, all the big talk aside, you've got more experience than me."
"That's okay. I didn't come here expecting you to...I don't know, reveal some ancient relationship secret that fixes every problem I've ever had or anything."
"So you don't view me as an all-knowing wise man? Cam, I'm crushed."
"Wise man? No. Wise-ass? Definitely."
"I'll settle for that. Owner and operator of the wisest ass in town." Andrew's face turned serious once again. "You should probably talk to somebody who knows more about this stuff than me. Somebody older, maybe."
"Like who? My parents?"
"Well...they're married, right? They've probably had fights about stuff before, but they're still together."
"Yeah, but they're my parents. I can't talk about that with my parents. They're...my parents."
"You have a point; your parents ARE your parents. So...who else has experience? You know any high school guys?"
"Nope. Guidance councilor?"
"Impossible. I met my guidance councilor at orientation. She...might be Satan. I'm not positive about it, but there's too much evidence to ignore the possibility."
"Oh, Hutch? Yeah, she probably is Satan. And word is, if she wants to drug test you, she makes you piss in a cup right there in front of her."
"No way." Cam said, snickering.
"Just saying what I heard."
"So, it's either go to my parents, find some high school guy and hope that he won't want to kick my ass when I tell him that I came to him for help with my gay love life, or go see the Devil who may or may not make me piss in a cup?" Cam counted the options on his fingers as he spoke.
"Sounds about right. You could try Jill, but I think she's in the same boat as me."
"Yeah. Maybe." Cam tipped his head back and looked at the sky. Not a single visible star. "I should probably get back home."
"And I should probably get back to sleep." He lowered his voice and threw on a ridiculous accent as he sank back into his sleeping bag. "'Dis cat don't get no sleep, 'dis cat jus' don't swing, dig?"
Cam walked home, smiling.
Every year, just before school started, Jerry noticed himself feeling bored and actually wanting to go back to school. And, every year, it took only two days of school to make him wish that he were back on break. This year was no exception. This school, much like the last one, was full of boring classes, homework in seven different subjects each day, and a bunch of people that acted like total pricks. And yet, if he left, he'd be the one to get in trouble, not the boring teachers and the obnoxious students. Crazy system. Yes, he had made up his mind, and decided that middle school wasn't very high on his list of likes. This morning was not about to change his assessment.
He stood at his locker, spinning the dial on his lock with his combination in his hand. Then, his combination wasn't in his hand. Rather, it was in the hand of the seventh grader standing behind him. Jerry turned and stared at him.
"You're not supposed to have these after the first two days. They could get stolen, and then somebody could steal from your locker, or fill it with porno or something." He wasn't huge, but he was still bigger than Jerry, and had a tough look to him. Not someone Jerry would want to fight.
"Can I have that back?"
"Got twenty bucks?"
He shook his head; he was about eighteen dollars short.
"That's too bad. You don't want this to get spread around."
"Look, what do you want from me?" Jerry had two flights of stairs and three packed hallways between him and his next class, and his patience had never been that great to begin with.
"Simple." He said. "You don't want me to give out your combination, right?"
"Well, right now, there's nothing stopping me from giving it out. I mean, it doesn't hurt me at all. Right?"
"So, what you want to do is change that. Make me not want other people to get into your locker. See where I'm going?"
"Alright, let me break it down, since you're a bit slow. I put some of my stuff in your locker. Then, if someone else got the combo, they could steal my stuff." He spoke in a patronizing tone, using a lot of hand gestures. "Since I don't want people to steal my stuff, I will do my best to make sure that no one else ever gets into your locker. Make sense?"
"Right. So if you start to see some stuff in there that isn't yours, don't touch it. We clear?"
"You don't have this memorized yet?"
Jerry shook his head. The guy nodded and pulled out a pen. He grabbed Jerry's arm and copied the series of numbers onto his forearm. It hurt.
"There you go. Now you go memorize that, then wash it off before anyone sees it. I'll be taking this," he nodded to the combination sheet that he had stolen from Jerry, "so that no one else gets the idea to make you his locker-bitch. Oh, and I'd really prefer not seeing you here when I want to use this locker. Sound good?"
Jerry nodded, knowing full well that he would never see the inside of that locker again. As the locker-thief walked off, Jerry took all of his stuff and stacked it before slamming it closed. He could barely lift the stack of books, notebooks, folders, binders, and other supplies. Backpacks weren't allowed to be carried to class for safety reasons. Looked like he would be walking around bow-legged, at least until he figured out which of his teachers didn't use the text books. Yeah, middle school definitely wasn't looking that great.
Andrew watched as his socio-political rival, Mike What’s-his-name, leaned over and whispered something to Jill. Again. They had been playing mind-games against each other since the start of the school year, but now Mike was taking it too far. One-on-one was fine, but involving the girl he was going out with (Andrew still didn't have the guts to call Jill his "girlfriend", not even in internal monologue) was another thing all together. He had been whispering to her like that for practically the entire class period, every now and then reaching down and taking her hand for a split-second.
Now Jill had passed him a sheet of paper. And now he had torn it in half and was passing half of it back. Note-passing that close to the board? Damn, Mr. What’s-his-name had balls. Andrew started glaring at the back of his head, hoping to summon up some latent psychic powers and bore a hole through Mike's skull. It wasn't working very well.
The bell rang just as Andrew thought he could see a few wisps of smoke creeping up from the back of Mike's head. Sadly, he'd never get to know for sure. Forty-five minutes just wasn't enough time to tame the untapped powers of the human mind. He'd have to wait until next year, when he got to high school and block scheduling. Pity to those who would sit in front of him.
He caught up to Jill in the hall and fell into step with her.
"What was that about?"
"The talking with what’s-his-name the whole time we were there."
"That was nothing." Jill stopped and faced Andrew. "You're not jealous, are you?"
"Naw. That was nothing to be jealous about. Was it?"
"He kept asking to borrow things. Pencil, calculator, notebook paper, scrap paper, eraser. It's like he doesn't realize that pants come standard with pockets."
"Oh, wow. That was smooth." Andrew said, an admiring tone to his voice.
"He was playing mind games with me. Making me think that he was hitting on you, but without actually crossing the line and doing it. That's so...devious. Man, I should be taking notes from this guy."
Jill gave him a deadpan look.
"He was borrowing stuff from me to screw with you?"
"Yeah. We've got this...this thing."
"What kind of thing?"
"It's like...I do stuff, and then he does...other stuff. And then people notice this stuff, and...well, I don't know what happens at that point. But the point is, we do this...stuff. I don't know how to explain it, but it's like he's plotting against me."
"Plotting to do some nonspecific stuff."
"Exactly. And I don't know if I can beat this guy."
"Beat him at doing nonspecific stuff."
"I'm going to not dig any deeper into this."
"Probably for the best." Andrew said. "And make sure you get all of your stuff back from him. I'm not saying he's a voodoo witch doctor, I'm just saying that we can't rule that out just yet."
"Gotcha. See you after school, alright? If neither of us gets hexed?"
"As long as hexing isn't contagious, I'm up for it either way."
Cam's eyes happened to drift over to the clock before growing wide and snapping back down to the still empty blanks of the paper on his desk. How could he have possibly spent fifteen minutes daydreaming in the middle of a quiz like that? Well, actually, that was fairly obvious - lack of sleep the night before, preoccupation with a possible breakup with is first love, a tendency to daydream even when not preoccupied or tired in the least - but it still came as a shock. He could swear that he had just started this quiz, just finished putting his name at the top of the page.
Stop thinking about it, you've just lost another two minutes! What's this quiz about, again? Why did I have to get so upset with- No. Quiz, words, blanks. Verb tenses. Past perfect tense. Past perfect...present not feeling too good at all. Damn it, you're drifting again! Pen on page. Move wrist.
He was only half finished when the bell rang. He started out, dropping his paper on to the pile with the others.
"Cam. Hold on a second." Mr. Hall called out before he had a chance to leave. This was it. He had been expecting it since the first day. Bringing up that early-morning expedition in May. He didn't know why he was dreading it so much, but Cam didn't want to talk about it. Ever. "Do you feel like you're doing alright in this class?"
"Uh...yeah, I'm doing fine, I guess."
"You never raise your hand or even look up from your desk during class. You know this stuff. I can tell from the written work."
"You haven't seen this quiz yet."
If he heard that sentence, he chose to ignore it. "If this class is moving too slowly, I could get you into honors English. It's early enough, and your transcript says you've got the grades for it."
Honors? Cam had always had a rule when it came to honors classes - more work for the same amount of credit? No thanks. Absolutely nothing wrong with coasting.
"No, this is fine."
"And you're sure you're okay with me? This isn't too awkward? You'd be just as quiet in any other class?"
"Okay. About this last quiz, though..." Hall said, leading Cam.
"Yeah, I probably failed it."
"But you knew the material, didn't you?"
"You spent a good twenty minutes staring out the window."
"Fifteen. But yeah, daydreaming, I guess. Should've waited and done that on the way home. Speaking of the way home..." He trailed off, attempting to segue his way out the door.
"You don't have to catch a bus, do you?"
Cam sighed and set down his backpack.
"No, I guess not."
"Is everything alright at home?"
"Huh? Yeah. Home's fine."
"Just checking. Nothing I wouldn't do for any of my students. Is there something else bothering you?"
"Well..." Cam's face twisted into concentration. He wasn't sure he wanted to spill his guts to the teacher, but on the other hand, Mr. Hall had already seen him at his lowest once before, and had helped slap some sense into him. As Andrew had mentioned the night before, talking to someone older and with more experience would probably help. "Let's say that there was this girl..."
"Yeah. There's this hypothetical girl. My hypothetical girlfriend, I guess. And she moved away just before school started."
"Yeah. And we got into this fight over the phone. Hypothetically. And now I'm not sure if we're broken up or not."
"And you don't want to call her, because then she might really break up with you?"
"Exactly my hypothetical problem."
"That's a tough one, all right. I've...er, hypothetically seen it before. You want to hear my take on it?"
"Keep in mind," Mr. Hall said, "This isn't teacher-to-student type advice right now. Feel free to completely ignore everything I say."
Cam nodded again.
"What you need to ask yourself is, which is worse? Not being sure and driving yourself crazy with second-guesses, or being broken up and having some closure?"
"Yeah. Let me put it this way. Say you met someone new, right now. Great girl who you'd love to go out with. Since you're not sure as to whether or not you've broken it off with the first girl, you'd end up feeling guilty about getting to know this one. If you call, and she breaks up with you, then at least you can move on."
"Yeah...but I don't want to move on. I still love him more than anything. At least, I think I do. Hypothetically." Cam mentally swore as soon as he realized that he had forgotten to switch to a female pronoun that time.
"Well, it's your hypothetical choice. I'm sure you'll make the right one in the end. You know her a lot better than I do, right?"
Thank god, he's still saying "her", Cam thought. But it's true - I know Nathan. I've spent hours at a time just knowing him. I know him better than possibly anyone else on the planet.
"Yeah. Thanks." Cam threw his backpack over his shoulder.
"Oh, and this last quiz wasn't worth much. Don't worry about it. Just don't phase out like that again, hm?"
"Yeah. Thanks." Cam was in the process of replaying the conversation with Nathan yet again, but this time really thinking about everything he knew about him. In short, he had phased out again.
Nathan was in his room when he heard the front door slam, followed by a lot of heavy, rapid footsteps around the living room. Then came a knock on his door.
"Nate, hey." His Dad said, leaning into his room. "Mind if I borrow some of your juggling balls for a little while?"
"Really?" This surprised him. His Dad didn't juggle. "Sure, no problem. What kind do you want?"
"You know those ones that are kind of heavy, but easy to squeeze?"
"Stress balls?" Nathan reached into his prop bag and pulled out a set of the ones his Dad was describing - heavy, slippery things filled with some kind of gel - and handed them to him. The kind of balls they tell you to squeeze to relieve stress. "They're not very good if you're just learning."
"That's alright. I just need two of them." He tossed one back to Nathan and proceeded to dig his fingers into the other two.
"Um..." Nathan wasn't looking forward to saying this. "The water isn't working, so you might not want to flush the toilet or anything."
"Thanks for the heads-up." His Dad said, straining to smile and squeezing even harder as he left the room. "I'll see what I can do."
Nathan heard the door close again, a little softer this time, but not by much. He wondered if he should have mentioned the phone and internet services being cut off, too. Too late now. He grabbed a set of clubs and started practicing meditatively. He had to do it while kneeling to avoid hitting the ceiling, but it wasn't too much of an adjustment. Still, it was just another thing to make him miss the open spaces of Gordon.
That was when he realized that he had barely been out of the apartment since he had moved back. He really didn't feel like re-joining the city, but he couldn't stay locked up for too long before he was hit with a wave of wanderlust. He decided to put it off until school started. By then he'd have to leave the building, so he might as well savor the time he had left as a hermit until then.
One of his clubs spun out of control and hit him in the eye.